Big 12 Football Predictions
Oklahoma State won their first outright conference title since the post-World War II era in 2011. The Cowboys would have had a chance at a national title if not for an upset 37-31 loss to Iowa State in double-overtime. They rebounded with a 44-10 victory over rival Oklahoma in their regular season finale to finish 8-1 in the conference, one victory ahead of surprising second-place Kansas State. OSU would go on to beat Stanford 41-38 in the Fiesta Bowl for a school-best 12-1 campaign.
It has been a very interesting year for the Big 12 off the field. This conference appeared on the verge of extinction when it was thought that both Texas and Oklahoma would join the “Pac-16”. Nebraska and Colorado had both left the previous year, so things were certainly unsettling in the Big 12 to say the least. Instead of breaking up, they went out and paid big money to get both TCU and West Virginia. What was already one of the toughest conferences in the country has gotten even stronger considering both TCU and WVU are expected to be ranked at the start of the season. Here are my predictions on where all 10 teams will finish in 2012.
Big 12 Predictions
1. Oklahoma – After opening last season as the preseason #1, the Sooners stumbled to a 10-3 record despite outgaining teams by an average of 113.3 yards per game. With 15 starters returning, including QB Landry Jones, the Sooners are not only primed to win the Big 12, but to also compete for a national title. Oklahoma will likely be undefeated before road trips to West Virginia and TCU over the final three weeks of the season. Even if they lose one of those two, the Sooners will still win the Big 12 title with one conference loss.
2. Texas – After going 15-1 in Big 12 play in ’08-’09, the Longhorns have fell flat on their faces with a combined 6-11 conference record the past two years. Texas figures to have one of the best defenses in the land after allowing just 22.2 points and 306 total yards per game last year. The Longhorns couldn’t have been much worse offensively in 2011, but with nine starters back and improved quarterback play, this team could make a run at Oklahoma for the Big 12 title.
3. West Virginia – I expect the Mountaineers to make some noise in their first year with a new conference. WVU returns 14 starters from a team that won 10 games last year, included eight starters on offense from a unit that put up 37.6 points and 470 total yards per game. Geno Smith and company figure to boast one of the best offenses in the Big 12. The defense is a bit of a concern, but the schedule sets up great as the Mountaineers get five Big 12 home games. That will be a huge advantage considering teams will have to travel far east to face them.
4. Oklahoma State – It was a great run for the Cowboys last year en route to winning the Big 12 title. However, this 2012 team returns just 12 starters, which is the second-fewest in the conference. The Cowboys lose their two best players in QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon, who are simply irreplaceable. They do have a favorable schedule with just four conference road games, and they get Texas, TCU and West Virginia at home. A trip to Oklahoma is likely their only sure loss, but I expect the Cowboys’ magical run to come to an end this season.
5. TCU – The Horned Frogs won the Mountain West with an 11-2 record in 2011, which included a shocking win at Boise State. TCU returns just 11 starters from that team, but they have all of their skill players back offensively. QB Casey Pachall filled the shoes left by Andy Dalton nicely, and this figures to be one of the best offenses in the conference. There is some concern along the offensive line and on defense, where just five starters return. TCU could open 7-0 before facing a gauntlet over their final five contests. The Frogs will have to travel Oklahoma State, WVU and Texas while also facing Oklahoma at home.
6. Kansas State – Despite being an underdog in nine of their 13 games last year, the Wildcats went an impressive 10-3 to finish second in the Big 12. It was such a surprising season that Bill Snyder earned Coach of the Year honors. What was amazing was the fact that Kansas State was actually outgained by 106.8 yards per game, which was the second-worst mark in the Big 12. They simply came up with timely turnovers, and turned many of them into touchdowns. The Wildcats have five conference road games, and they play both Oklahoma State and Texas at home. Despite having 14 returning starters, this team won’t come close to matching their 10-win total from a year ago.
7. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders entered last year with a string of 16 consecutive winning seasons. After a 4-0 start, and a shocking 41-38 road victory over Oklahoma to get to 5-2, this team appeared well on its way to another one. Instead, Texas Tech basically packed it in and would lose its next three games by a combined 126 points. The Red Raiders lost their final five games of the season to finish 5-7. This squad returns more starters (17) than any other team in the Big 12, so the potential is there for a big turnaround. Their toughest games are at home against Oklahoma, Texas and WVU. I just don’t believe the Red Raiders are going to improve enough defensively to finish in the top half of the conference.
8. Iowa State – While many will have the Cyclones picked to finish in the bottom two spots of the Big 12, right alongside Kansas, I’m going to give this team the benefit of the doubt. Nobody expected them to make a bowl game in any of Paul Rhoads’ first three years on the job, and he has taken them to two. ISU has a knack for upsetting teams that overlook them, which was the case in their 37-31 victory over Oklahoma State last year. Seven starters are back on offense, and the Cyclones have the best set of linebackers in the country with A.J. Klein (116 tackles) and Jake Knott (115 tackles) both back. I have them beating both Kansas State and Baylor at home, while also likely winning at Kansas.
9. Baylor – The Bears lose their best three players in Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (4,293 passing yards, 699 rushing yards, 47 total TD), WR Kendall Wright (108 receptions, 1,663 yards, 14 TD) and RB Terrance Ganaway (1,547 yards, 21 TD). I know there’s still some talent on this roster, and they have 14 starters back, but this is clearly a rebuilding year in Waco. Home games against Kansas and Kansas State are their two most winnable Big 12 games, but I have the Bears losing all four of their road contests at Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State.
10. Kansas – The Turner Gill experiment is over at Kansas after a combined 5-19 record in two seasons. The Jayhawks have a lot of reasons to be optimistic with the hiring of Charlie Weis, who ran a tough spring camp and brings in a lot of talented transfers to the program. Former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist will be a huge upgrade at the position. However, I just don’t think the Jayhawks have enough in the cupboard in year one to escape the basement of the Big 12. They have five conference road games, and their only real winnable home game is against Iowa State on November 17th.