2017 Big12 Preview

1. Oklahoma Sooners– They have quite a few holes to fill up as the fall approaches but, Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners enter the year as the projected favorites to win the conference title once again. This is a team that will be almost two years removed from an appearance in the playoffs. After another solid season, quarterback Baker Mayfield enters the 2017 campaign as a Heisman trophy finalist. However, he enters the season with the core of his offense gone. Running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are both in the NFL and standout receiver Dede Westbrook also expired his eligibility. The Sooners have options at running back with Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson the expected frontrunners for carries, and junior college recruit Marquise Brown should help right away at receiver. The strength of this offense is the line which will return all five starters from a season ago. The biggest concern for Oklahoma is on the defensive side of the football. This unit will be without linebacker Jordan Evans, linemen Jordan Wade and Austin Roberts and safety Ahmad Thomas. Jordan Thomas is back to anchor things in the back end of the secondary.

2. Oklahoma State Cowboys– They’ve won at least ten games in three of the last four seasons and Mike Gundy seems to have a team that’s more than capable of competing yearly in the conference. It all starts with quarterback Mason Rudolph who decided to turn down the NFL to come back to Stillwater for one more season and receiver James Washington is also back after turning down the chance to go pro. Washington will be joined by LSU transfer Tyron Johnson, Marcell Ateman and Jalen McCleskey at receiver, while running back Justice Hill returns after a 1,000-yard season as a freshman. As a defense in 2016, they ranked seventh in the Big 12 and the question now is will they be able to keep up that and improve on that total after losing defensive tackle Vincent Taylor to the NFL along with linebackers Jordan Burton and Devante Averette. They’ll have a challenge in the schedule this year with road trips to Texas and West Virginia and both Oklahoma and Kansas State come to Stillwater.

3. Kansas State Wildcats– Bill Snyder will always have this team ready to play and each week, they leave everything they have all on the field. They won six of their final seven games to close out the 2016 season and they can be in the mix to win the conference in 2017. The offense is in great shape on the ground, as quarterback Jesse Ertz (1,012 yards) and rising star Alex Barnes (442 yards) return for 2017. Reloading the defense will be the biggest priority for the Wildcats if they want to compete and win games. Replacing End Jordan Willis, linebackers Charmeachealle Moore, Will Davis and defensive backs Dante Barnett and Dante Starks have expired their eligibility. This will be a young defense that will be challenged early on.

4. Texas Longhorns– They maybe the most intriguing team to enter the fall. The Charlie Strong era has ended and the University of Texas has lured former Houston head coach Tom Herman and hired him to run their football program. He can help this program take a significant step in 2017 but how far is the program willing to go? The talent is there. Shane Buechele anchors an offense that averaged 32 points a game and star running back D’Onta Foreman is gone, but Chris Warren is expected to step in and handle the ground game. As great as Texas was offensively, they have struggled big time defensively as they gave up close to 33 points a game. Linebacker Malik Jefferson, end Bryce Cottrell and hybrid end/linebacker Breckyn Hager are a key trio for new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to build around.

5. West Virginia Moutaineers– Coming off a 10-3 record, way in the beginning, there were many questions about coach Dana Holgorsen and his job security. After the regular season, he signed a five-year extension to remain with the school. Although both sides of the football suffered some losses, they are still projected to compete and be a top 25 team in 2017. Will Grier, a transfer from Florida is expected to be the team’s starting quarterback and the backfield is stocked with options, including Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy. The defense will undergo another significant overhaul in 2017. This unit will regain the services of safety Dravon Henry-Askew after he missed all of 2016 due to a knee injury. End Noble Nwachukwu and cornerback Rasul Douglas won’t be easy to replace.

6. TCU Horned Frogs– They’ve been a nice program over the years. For just the third time in Gary Patterson’s tenure, they are coming off a losing season but there’s also some optimism in this fact. After a losing record, they’ve always bounced back in a big way and won at least 11 games the following season. Kenny Hill had his share of ups and downs but is expected to win the starting quarterback job once again and the running attack will be in good shape with running back Kyle Hicks returning. The receiving corps is in great shape with the return of Taj Williams, John Diarse and KaVontae Turpin. The offensive line was a big struggle for the Frogs in 2016 as they gave up 31 sacks altogether last season. The defense will once again be a strong point. Patterson has been one of the best defensive minds in the country for years and this unit has not ranked lower than third in the Big 12 in fewest yards per play allowed since 2012.

7. Baylor Bears– Art Briles is out and the school decided to hire Matt Rhule, Temple’s head coach and I thought this was a fantastic hire. However, he has a lot of work to do in Waco in his first season. Quarterback Zach Smith showed potential after taking over for an injured Seth Russell under center. Smith will face competition from Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon for the starting nod. Smith and Solomon are surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including running backs Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty and four starters on the offensive line. Rebuilding the receiving corps is the biggest concern for Rhule after KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora left early for the NFL Draft. Safety Orion Stewart and linebacker Aiavion Edwards are the biggest losses on defense. Depth on both sides of the ball is a concern.

8. Iowa State Cyclones– Matt Campbell has Iowa State trending up entering 2017. The Cyclones finished 2016 with a 3-9 record, but this team won two out of its last three games and lost five by 10 points or less. Jacob Park and Joel Lanning shared time at quarterback in 2016 and both players are slated to return next fall. Park (12 TDs, 5 INTs) is the better thrower, while Lanning (518 yards) is a superior runner. The running back position is in good hands with David Montgomery (563 yards) and Mike Warren (559). Allen Lazard is one of the top receivers in the Big 12 and turned down the NFL for one more season in Ames. Deshaunte Jones (37 catches) joins Lazard as a key target in the passing game after a promising freshman season. The biggest concern for Campbell remains up front on the offensive line and on defense. The Cyclones must replace three standouts in the trenches, as Mitchell Meyers, Demond Tucker and Jhaustin Thomas have expired their eligibility. Cornerback Brian Peavy and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya should be two of the Big 12’s top defensive backs in 2017.

9. Texas Tech Raiders– It’s no secret 2017 is a critical year for coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Red Raiders are 7-11 in Big 12 play over the last two seasons and have missed on a bowl in two out of the last three years. As usual, scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas Tech. However, the defense has surrendered at least 40 points per game (on average) over each of the last three seasons. Can this unit take a step forward next fall? Coordinator David Gibbs returns a good chunk of the depth chart, including linebacker Jordyn Brooks and end Kolin Hill. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes leaves big shoes to fill after deciding to enter the NFL Draft. Nic Shimonek is the frontrunner to start at quarterback after throwing for 464 yards and six scores in four games in 2016. Shimonek won’t be hurting for options at receiver, as Jonathan Giles (69 catches), Keke Coutee (55), Cameron Batson (61) and Dylan Cantrell (57) return for 2017.

10. Kansas Jayhawks– David Beaty has this program moving in the right direction, but the Jayhawks might be a year away from escaping the Big 12 cellar. The hire of Doug Meacham from TCU was a huge addition for an offense that averaged 20.3 points per game in 2016. Meacham was instrumental in TCU’s improvement on offense over the last three seasons and takes over the play-calling duties after Beaty called the plays last year. Peyton Bender arrives from the junior college ranks (and a stint at Washington State) as frontrunner to start at quarterback in 2017. The Jayhawks need to generate more production out of the ground attack, but the receiving corps features three talented players, including LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Steven Sims and Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot. The defense allowed 6.04 yards per play in 2016 but that was a slight improvement from the 6.96 mark in 2015. End Dorance Armstrong (10 sacks) is quietly one of the Big 12’s top defenders, and safety Mike Lee is another promising player for Beaty to build around on defense.

Prediction: I like the Oklahoma Sooners to win this conference for the third year in a row. I’m expecting another big year from Mayfield. With Stoops now retiring from coaching, Lincoln Riley will be the new coach in Norman. The Oklahoma Sooners have won double-digit games in six of the last seven years but hope to get back into the national championship picture in 2017. The Sooners have a lot of promising players returning from last years squad and hope this is the season they can run through the Big 12 and get back to the college football playoffs.