Big XII: 2015 Preview
The Big XII is proof yet again that brands trump math.
Using the Roman numeral for 12 makes their operation look academic. Maybe they do that to further obscure the fact that the conference only has ten teams.
But that list include two of the top teams in the nation -- as perceived right now -- along with regulars Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State.
Baylor and TCU are still miffed they did not earn a spot in last year's College Football Playoff, and one or both are favored to be in the playoff this season.
Coming off an 11-2 season and a brutal bowl loss to Michigan State, Baylor will lean on quarterback Seth Russell to replace Bryce Petty. Shock Linwood returns at running back as do receivers Corey Coleman and KD Cannon.
The Bears can actually sleepwalk through their first five games before a home re-match with West Virgina, who beat them last season. November is a brutal month for Baylor, with Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and the big one with TCU coming right in a row.
TCU lost a defense-optional shootout to Baylor last season, 61-58, costing them a shot at the national championship. The Horned Frogs demolished Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl and returns Trevone Boykin to run the offense after his record-setting 2014 season.
Josh Docston, Boykins' favorite target, returns; so does running back Aaron Green. TCU's defense is better than Baylor's and their schedule is a little more spread out, making it easier to be unbeaten heading into their late November showdown.
Oklahoma almost beat TCU and gave away games against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, finishing 8-5 last year.
Coach Bob Stoops and the Sooner fans were not happy and have selected Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield as their starting quarterback. They do return running back/battering ram Samage Perine but are thin at reciver and iffy on defense. They also face a brutal stretch in November, when in consecutive weeks, they face Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State.
Texas, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia are all trying to move up in the Big12.
The Longhorns lost their last two games under first-year coach Charlie Strong and finished 6-7 last season. This year, they open at Notre Dame and have to play TCU and Oklahoma back-to-back. Tyrone Swoopes is the quarterback for now, while Jonathan Gray can pound the ball for Texas. The defense should be decent, as Strong tries to get the Longhorns back to where they think they belong.
Oklahoma State will be led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, who could turn out to be one of the best in the league. The Cowboys' defense should improve, and the schedule is manageable until the end, when they get Baylor and Oklahoma back-to-back.
Inconsistent West Virginia has coach Dana Holgorsen on the hot seat after after three straight medicore seasons. This year, they need the defense to step up and quarterback Skyler Howard to have a breakout season.
Somehow, the Wildcats finished 9-4 last year, losing tough games to Auburn, Baylor, and UCLA. This time around, they need a new quarterback and better running backs, but the defense will be strong. The Wildcats are odds-on upset someone along the way, because that's what Snyder-coached teams do.
The remaining three teams are rebuiding and/or trying to become relevant.
This is Year Three for Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech with the Red Raiders registering a 12-13 record in the first two. DeAndre Washington gives them hope at running back, and if they can find a quarterback and play some defense, the Raiders will be in games and might even win half of them.
The schedule is not kind early, though, as they play Arkansas, TCU, and Baylor on consecutive weekends.
Iowa State comes off a winless conference season, putting coach Paul Rhoads in the usual jeopady Cyclone head coaches find themselves after a couple of seasons.
Quarterback Sam Richardson will be counted on to lead whatever improvement there might be this season along with receiver Quenton Bundrage. The Cyclones have a long way to go, though, and that's putting it mildly.
So does Kansas, which defeated Iowa State for their only conference win.
There's still no title game in the Big XII, but it gets full marks for being the only Power Five outfit with a round-robin schedule. That in itself is almost enough to excuse its teams' pathetic non-con schedules. But not quite.