Sports Q&A 2016 College Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

After the controversy of the 2014 season, the Oklahoma Sooners won the conference outright in 2015 and represented the Big 12 in the college football playoffs. While their stay was a short and embarrassing one, it showed that the conference has earned the right to remain in the championship conversation on a yearly basis. Oklahoma is again the team that many have predicted to be the conference the best team — especially with the turmoil at Baylor — but will there be any surprises. What if Oklahoma St. solidifies its run game? What if the “thrill” returns at TCU? What happens if this is the year that Charlie Strong finally gets it together in Texas? These are questions, that if answered the right way, could change the landscape of the conference and make it hard for the Sooners to repeat despite being the prohibitive favorite.

In the wake of the sexual assault/rape scandal, the Baylor Bears not only lost its head coach but a handful of key 2016 recruits decided to take their talents elsewhere… talk about the worst summer ever. New head coach Jim Grobe’s primary goal is to right a ship that almost capsized and with Quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood and receiver KD Cannon still in Fort Worth the Bears can be competitive. The defense also has some remaining pieces as trio Ryan Reid, Orion Stewart, and Chance Waz look to improve a defense that was ranked 62nd in total defense. We will soon find out how important Art Briles was to this program and if the Bears falter this year, how many boosters will go chasing after him.

There are a lot of holes to patch for first-year head coach Matt Campbell and the Iowa State Cyclones, but Campbell’s ability to recruit and high energy could fill those holes sooner than expected. There is talent at receiver and running back as junior Allen Lazard is the best out of an experienced receiver group. While Mike Warren may only be a sophomore his freshman campaign surprised many as he led all freshmen nationally in rushing with 1,339 yards. Desmond Tucker leads a Cyclones defense that is looking to improve on a 107th ranking in total defense. Safety Kamari Cotton-Moyo has all-conference potential but he needs to take his game to the next level. It still may take time for Campbell to make Iowa state competitive but he is on the right path.

After finishing 2015 0-12 there is nowhere to go but up for the Kansas Jayhawks. The inexperience on the offensive line could mean two things — either an infusion of new talent or unproven commodities that aren’t ready for the big time — either way they will be called on to protect quarterback Ryan Willis. The 6’4 sophomore has the talent to succeed but will a pocket passer be able to survive behind a brittle offensive line. If he does, he’ll have a new favorite weapon in big play threat and Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Defensively the hope for defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is that his six senior starters are finally ready to perform. Having the best name in college football, safety Fish Smithson led the nation in solo tackles with 111 last season and looks to build upon a good career despite not seeing many wins.

Bill Snyder continues to show how great of a coach he is as he guided the Kansas St. Wildcats to another postseason despite losing his two best players in quarterback Jesse Ertz and safety Dante Barnett. Both return in 2016 and should give the Wildcats enough on both sides of the ball to be competitive. Even with the return of Ertz the running back duo of Charles Jones and Winston Dimel will be looked upon to add to their 2015 combined totals of 782 yards and 11 touchdowns — if nothing more but to help the beleaguered pass defense. Without Barnett, KSU gave up more big plays than normal and dropped to 120th in pass defense nationally. It’s not as if they didn’t get to the quarterback — returning defensive end Jordan Willis led the team with 9.5 sacks– they just didn’t have anyone to defend the back end.

In 2015 the Oklahoma Sooners had luck on its side as its three toughest opponents — Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma St. — lost their quarterback to injury the week before playing the Sooners. Oklahoma probably won’t be that fortunate this year and will have to rely on talent to get the job done. The good thing is that they have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Baker Mayfield and a pair of great bat running back in Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon that will keep them in every game. The defense looks to replace 5 starters but defensive end Charles Walker (six sacks) and cornerback Jordan Thomas are good building blocks. The new starters will be tested early as Oklahoma faces Houston and OSU in its nonconference schedule.

The talent is there but you have to wonder about the psyche of the returning Oklahoma State Cowboys players after losing their final three games in 2015. Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington are the offensive stars but they still are looking for someone to step up at running back. Graduate Transfer Barry Sanders Jr looks to add juice to a running game that was ranked 114th in the nation. If the Cowboys are able to find any type of ground game, it could help the defense significantly. The problem with a potent passing offense means your defense spends a lot of time on the field as well and finishing ranked 100th in total defense isn’t good for a team with Big 12 title hopes. Jordan Sterns and linebacker Jordan Burton lead a defense that hopes the duo doesn’t have to register 100+ tackles again.

The thrill is back in the DFW. After spending his first two years in College Station, TX, Kenny Hill is in the Dallas area and hopes to recapture the magic that saw him become a top recruit out of South Lake Carroll High. The TCU Horned Frogs welcome him back with open arms as they embark on the post-Treyvon Boykin era that had its ups and downs. The offense will be retooled as the only returning starter is junior Joseph Noteboom at left tackle. Defensively Gary Patterson has more to work with as injuries in 2015 forced him to play younger/inexperienced players who will be prepared for bigger roles in 2016. Duo Travin Howard and Montrel Wilson benefitted the most from the playing time and will be counted on to lead a unit that was middle of the pack nationally in scoring ( 64th) and total (63rd) defense.

This is a pivotal year in Austin for the Texas Longhorns and it looks like it will be hitching its offensive train to a true freshman quarterback in Shane Buechele. The young signal caller passed for 300 yards in the spring game and has won over many of his older teammates. His best friend this year should be bruising back D’onte Forman who rushed for 681 yards on only 95 carries as a backup. The defense has the talent but it must improve on the disappointing rankings of last season — 106h in total defense, 111th in rushing defense. If the returning players can’t get the job done, head coach Charlie Strong recruited enough talent on that side of the ball to replace them. One player, he won’t have to worry about is sophomore Malik Jefferson. The sophomore is the leading returning tackler and is expected to take the next step this year.

As with many programs in the conference the Texas Tech Red Raiders will be led by its offense in 2015. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes looks to build upon a monster 2015 season where he passed for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns and head Coach Kliff Kingsbury thinks this will be a bigger year for the senior because he didn’t play baseball in the offseason to concentrate fully on football. Mahomes will have his share of weapons as the Red Raiders will go 8-10 deep at receiver with junior Ian Sadler looks and JC-transfer Derrick Willies leading the way. As good as the offense was in 2015 (2nd in scoring, passing and total offense) the defense was just as bad statistically (124th in scoring and 126th in rushing and total defense) Defensive coordinator David Gibbs has to make substantial strides with this unit or it will negate all the success that offense has. Rush end Gary Moore will be relied on to put pressure on the opposing quarterback in hopes of adding to that +2 turnover margin.

A strong showing in the 2015 Cactus Bowl has fans of the West Virginia Mountaineers expecting big things out of Morgantown. The offense, led by quarterback Skyler Howard, has some pieces but will it be able to take the next step — especially in a conference known for high-octane scoring. In a damaging four-game losing streak in 2015 the offense only averaged 24.5 points per game and if they want to get to the next level in the conference, it must be able to score against the good teams. Defensively, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson put the unit in position for success as it was second nationally in interceptions and eighth in forcing the most three and outs, but can he replicate that success with only four starters returning this year? Leading sack master defensive end Noble Nwachukwu returns and looks to build upon a 2015 season that saw him get to the quarterback 8.5 times.

Conference Champion:

Quinne- Oklahoma Sooners 

The Sooners have a history of not handling prosperity well — since 2009 every year Oklahoma has been ranked in the top 5 they finished the year with at least three losses, including two years with five defeats — but when you look at every other team in the conference no one seems to have the talent to challenge Baker Mayfield and the two headed monster of Perine and Mixon. Defensively the Sooners may be challenged but this is the Big 12 where defense is optional, so they could still walk away with the conference championship with an average defensive unit. The season finale against in-state rival Oklahoma St. could very well be the defacto conference championship game and with it being a home game, the edge has to go to the Sooners.

Al- Oklahoma Sooners

This may be the year for Bob Stoops to prove that his is one of the most underrated head coaches with a championship ring. Baker Mayfield is a preseason Heisman candidate and looks to improve upon his 3,700 passing yards season. This offense is a well-oiled machine and they will need to carry the team until the defense finds its identity. If the Sooners run the table, they won’t have to worry about not having a conference championship game, because they will be in the playoffs.



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