CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: The Big XII, err, 10, but 12 or 14 soon…
And the fun begins.
— FrogDog (@bloneyhuh) July 25, 2016
Conference realignment is the holy grail of offseason college football absurdity. Since about 2011, the Big XII has been the center of that conversation– from Chip Brown reporting the Pac-16 master plan, to Chip Brown reporting FSU and Clemson to the XII, to the formulation of the Longhorn Network. The handwringing is excellent and makes the summer months bearable. After six months of back-and-forth, Bob Bowlsby FINALLY announced that they would expand, depriving us of a summer of speculation.
After the “One True Champion” debacle kept them out of the playoff in 2014, unrest among the natives not named Texas, unrest AT Texas, and
the whole Baylor thing that we’re not discussing in this preview, the Big XII is a beautiful dumpster fire.
There are clear tiers here, which is nice.
10) Kansas. They’re going 1-11, an improvement over 2015. This isn’t football.
9) Iowa State. I think Matt Campbell was a sneaky-good hire. I thought about going all HOT TAKE-y and putting them above the rest of the bottom tier on the strength of home games against the next three teams, but man, its still Iowa State. Back to expansion, I bet they’d love to exile KU and ISU and pick up the four teams in the tweet above for a nice, even…well, 12.
The second tier is a group that could have one team emerge and replace Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma in the top tier with a breakout year. There’s precedent for all four.
8) Kansas State. They return only 12 starters from a 6-7 team and add a road game at Stanford in week 1. Unfortunately, I think this is the end of the road for BillSnyderDaGawd.
7) Texas Tech. Average score last year: 45.1-43.6. Average yardage: 579-548. That’s…amazing. Patrick Mahomes returns, so those numbers should hold. Given the leaguewide reputation of chuck and duck, there are a lot of surprisingly coherent running games that should be able to keep the offense off the field. Opponents AVERAGED 280 on the ground last year, with the Red Raiders only holding three teams under 227. Yikes.
6) West Virginia. The ultimate win the games you should, lose the ones you should team in the XII (other conference comps: N.C. State, Tennessee, like 8 B1G teams, Arizona).
5) Texas. So, they’re going spread after fielding a sad offense this whole decade. True freshman Shane Buechele won the job outright in the spring. I like Texas, I LOVE Charlie Strong (like if Texas fired him and hired Larry Fedora, I’d take a straight up trade love), and will cheer for them to turn the corner. The defense returns four true sophomores who were starters last year. They could make the leap…or fall flat and back up a Brinks truck to Nick Saban.
4) TCU. I still can’t buy TCU as a big winner, and I know that’s ridiculous. They just lose too much on offense for me to be a believer. IDK. I don’t have anything else to warrant this low pick. I’m just ready to watch Gary Patterson sweat again.*
*- You may recall their 31-point comeback win in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon, where Gary sweated through his purple shirt, changed into the black one you see above, and sweated right through it too. Indoors.
3) Baylor. Seth Russell returns, and the offense stays the same (read: awesome) with Kendall Briles still in the fold. Problem is, they lose basically their whole line on both sides of the ball. They’ll be 6-0 heading into a Halloween weekend showdown at Texas, and the nation is going to lose its collective shit trying to figure out how to develop a narrative around them.
2) Oklahoma State. In an ode to one of my favorite comedies, “17 starters returning, 42 lettermen. Lookin’ tough.” Mike Gundy and his mullet should be improved over last year’s 10-3 team, but the record may not indicate it. Or, ya know, they could win the league. They won’t because they play at all three of Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma.
1) Oklahoma. I’m so nervous about this pick, because of the Oklahoma corollary: low expectations, high ceiling, high expectations, disappointment. They’ll probably finish 7-5. On the other hand, this is a team that ran for at least 232 yards in every game after the Texas debacle (until Clemson), made Baker Mayfield a legit Heisman candidate, outscored conference opponents 425-184 (27 point margin per game– making them the only team over 400 scored and the only one under 250 allowed), and did not lose Lincoln Riley to a random head coaching job.
Five Games Worth Watchin’
- TCU at Baylor, Nov. 5: The “we’re not rivals” rivalry, there’s really only one likely combined loss between these two teams if they hold to the form of the past two years. That’s what we call fun.
- Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 8: In the hypothetical where Texas loses to Notre Dame and at either Cal or Ok. State, this is a must-win for Charlie Strong. They won the weirdest game ever last year, and have actually won 2 of 3 vs. OU despite, you know, sucking. Weird dynamic for our generation, who watched Bob Stoops skulldrag Mack Brown for the better part of the 2000’s.
- Oklahoma State at Baylor, Sept. 24: We learn so much about both of these teams early, after we learn nothing about them for three weeks (OSU/Pitt the week before notwithstanding).
- Houston vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 3: Future XII rivalry? I’m sneaky excited about this game, because Houston has everything lined up for a test case (or class action lawsuit) for a G5 team making the playoff. Beat Oklahoma, beat Louisville late, run the table…how do you leave them out?
- Oklahoma at TCU, Oct. 1: This is sandwiched between Ohio State and Texas for the Sooners. Between SMU and Kansas for TCU. One of those things is bad, the other seems manageable.
There are more awesome non-con games to watch: Notre Dame at Texas the Sunday of opening weekend, Ohio St. at Oklahoma and Pitt at Okie State on Sept 17, Arkansas at TCU week 2. El Assico, the annual Iowa/Iowa St. debacle takes place on Sept. 10, Kansas hosts Rhode Island and Ohio the first two weeks in genuinely winnable games, and…okay, I’m done.
Players to See
QB’s on random teams: Mason Rudolph, OSU, Patrick Mahomes, TT, Skylar Howard, WVU: I hate the term ‘video game numbers’, so let’s say these three will put up ‘numbers the average XII quarterback puts up against XII defenses.
Jordan Sterns, S, Oklahoma St: If you follow these previews closely, you know I’m a sucker for an in-the-box safety with some semblance of coverage skills. Sterns fits the bill– 108 tackles and 2 picks last year.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas: He was tasked with quarterbacking the defense from game 1, snap 1 last year. While he was a little inconsistent, he was the most electrifying freshman defender (non Derwin James edition) in football last year.
Seth Russell, QB, and K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor: Cannon is better than Corey Coleman. Russell was en route to a 12-0 season and an easy Heisman** before last year’s neck injury. They’re going to be fun.
James McFarland, DE, TCU: Missed all of last season, but had 7 sacks as a reserve in 2014. If he is back at full speed, the TCU defense will be a problem and I’ll be wrong about picking them fourth.
Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Either could win the Heisman** and would not shock me.
**- Listen, I think the Heisman is a stupid award. Its a popularity contest of who has the best stats on the best team. I pay a lot more attention to the individual position awards, but hey. It’s the Heisman, and I’m generating web content. Its not hyperbole to mention the three players above in the early conversation. Especially when you consider the “great story” that Russell (recovery from injury,
overcoming program turmoil) or Mayfield (former walk-on) would be. Ugh.