Sunday, August 2, 2015

College Football 2015 Preview: Big 12

The Big 12 thought they had a final four birth locked down last fall between either Baylor or TCU, or both. They failed to get either in, and then the grumbling began. It went down in pretty easy to understand terms. Out of conference strength of schedule means something. Baylor, whom everyone favored for a spot, played an incredibly weak out of conference schedule against SMU, Northwestern State, and Buffalo. SMU and Buffalo failed to go bowling, and Northwestern State is a second level FCS school. TCU did slightly better when they played Samford, Minnesota, and SMU, but again, it's a fairly weak slate, with Samford not being an FCS power, and SMU being just awful. Minnesota gave TCU more of an argument, but when you look at Oregon (played Michigan State), Florida State (played Oklahoma State), Alabama (played West Virginia), and Ohio State (played Virginia Tech), they all had higher profile out of conference scheduling. Let's face it, the Big 12 wasn't exactly sterling in conference either last fall, with several programs falling well short of expectations. Here's where it could bite these schools and this conference once again...nothing has changed in the scheduling game. TCU will visit Minnesota, so that could be a boost, but also plays Stephen F. Austin and rival SMU. That's a plus, followed by two minuses. Baylor will play at SMU (really makes no sense), and follows with FCS weakling Lamar and Rice. If it comes to decision time again this season for a final four birth amongst five or six schools, Baylor won't have a hell of a lot to argue on with that slate. Until the schedules get beefed up, there really is no beef.

Projected Order of Finish
1. TCU
2. Baylor
3. Oklahoma State
4. Oklahoma
5. Kansas State
6. Texas
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

All-Conference Team
QB-Trevone Boykin, TCU
QB-Davis Webb, Texas Tech
QB-Sam Richardson, Iowa State
RB-Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
RB-Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB-Charles Jones, Kansas State
WR-Cory Coleman, Baylor
WR-KD Cannon, Baylor
WR-Josh Docston, TCU
WR-Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

DL-Shawn Oakman, Baylor
DL-Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
DL-James McFarland, TCU
DL-Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
LB-Erik Striker, Oklahoma
LB-Ryan Simmons, Oklahoma State
LB-Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
LB-Nick Kwiatkowski, West Virginia
DB-Xavien Howard, Baylor
DB-Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
DB-Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
DB-Justin Nelson, Texas Tech

PK-Matthew McCrane, Kansas State
P-Taylor Symmank, Texas Tech
KR-Alex Ross, Oklahoma
PR-Cameron Echols-Luper, TCU

Team Previews

TCU Horned Frogs
2014 Record: 12-1
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Gary Patterson (132-45, 15th)

The Good News: The Frogs are loaded on offense, again. Trevone Boykin is the closest outright contender for the Heisman that the Big 12 has this season. He passes for 3901 yards and hit for 33 TDs last fall, and managed to toss just 10 picks with all of that throwing going on. He can also run like the wind, but takes a pass first mentality, which has evolved his career several levels. Hala Vaitai at LT, LG Jamelle Naff, C Joey Hunt, and RG BradyFoltz. The passing game should completely excel once again, as all four starter return at WR. Josh Docston is the leader after catching 65 passes for 1018 yards and 11 TDs. Kolby Listenbee is back at XR, Ty Slanina at YR, and Deante' Gray at HR. Look for this offense to pop from day one, and get better as the season progresses.
Five starters return on defense, including three up front on the line. Josh Carroway is back at DE, as is Terrell Lathan. James McFarland is also back at DE, and as part of that rotation last fall, as he led the team with seven sacks, and is an all league pick heading into the season. Ranthony Texada is back at CB, and Derrick Kindred is back at FS.
Jaden Oberkrom is back at PK after hitting 22/27 FGs last fall.
The Bad News: If one has to nitpick, the RT job is open heading into camp, but both leading competitors are sophomores in Joseph Noteboom and Austin Schlottman. That's as bad as it gets on offense. The run game may also need to step up this fall.
Defensively, TCU must find six new starters, and must replace both LBs from a unit that ranked 9th nationally against the run in 2014. Freshman Mike Freeze and Sammy Douglas are slated to start, with Ty Summers and Alec Dunham are both competing as well, but both are freshmen. Aaron Curry and Tevin Lawson are battling to plug the hole at DT. Three members of the secondary must be replaced as well. TCU ran very well last season overall, but it would be nice to find a 1000 yard rusher. Aaron Green could hit that mark this season, but fell short with 922 yards last fall. Again, this is a nitpicking item.
The Overview: There are concerns on defense for certain, but the offense ought to be able to generate enough scoring and should hold the ball long enough to keep the defense from having to bear too much of the load as they learn to come together on the field. The schedule lines up nicely to go unbeaten, and TCU could be pushing for a final four birth this January, as they have one of the best QBs in America. If TCU loses just one game, they could be left out in the cold. Either way, TCU is in for one amazing season.
First Game: 9/3 at Minnesota

Baylor Bears
2014 Record: 11-2
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Art Briles (55-34, 8th season)

The Good News: Eight starters return for the Bears, who are flying high as a program. Shock Linwood, an all league back returns after rushing for 1252 yards and a solid 16 TDs. The line should be a solid wall this season, as all five starters return. LT Spencer Drango, LG Blake Muir, C Kyle Fuller, RG Jarell Broxton, and RT Pat Colbert will fill out the cast. KD Cannon is back as an all league pick, as is Cory Coleman, who caught 64 passes for 1119 yards and 11 scores last fall. Jay Lee rounds out the group of starters returning.
Nine starters are back on defense, including every starter on the line. KJ Smith and all league pick Shawn Oakman are both back at DE, while Andrew Billings and Beau Blackshear man the middle tackle spots. Oakman returns after recording 11 sacks last fall. Taylor Young is back at WLB after recording a whopping 92 tackles as a freshman last fall. The secondary is loaded with every starter returning there as well. All Big 12 pick Xavien Howard and Ryan Reid are back at CB, and the Safeties are Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt.
Chris Callahan was awful to start the season at PK, but rebounded nicely, and finished the season on a solid hot streak, finishing with 18/26 FGs. He will likely improve a great deal this fall.
The Bad News: Bryce Petty is gone, and Seth Russell is replacing him. Russell got some time in during blowouts last fall, and passed for eight TDs against just one pick. He should step in and be fine, but starting over at QB is never fun. However, this is Baylor, and it is what they do. Nitpicking.
Baylor has to replace a bulk of the LB group, as Grant Campbell and Aiavion Edwards will compete at MLB, and BEAR is a battle between Travon Blanchard and Patrick Levels. The secondary returns intact, but that unit could not stop a third grader from shredding them, as they ranked 107th against the pass, giving up 264.2 yards per game last fall.
The Overview: Baylor is going to push TCU every step of the way in the Big 12, and the conference title likely comes down to that game on October 27th. Look for Baylor to step up and get Russell going right away, and not miss a beat. The offense should be stellar. However, the loss of Petty is really a huge difference for me between TCU and Baylor winning the league, and that Baylor pass defense is not encouraging either. That being said, Baylor is going to push for that conference title and final four spot themselves, so this should be a wild ride.
First Game: 9/4 at SMU

Oklahoma State Cowboys
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Mike Gundy (84-44, 11th season)

The Good News: If OSU can find health at QB this season, they should be the best of the next tier in the Big 12 race. Mason Rudolph was pushed into duty late last fall, but was a major spark that got the Cowboys bowling during an up and down season. Rudolph should be a really nice piece in the larger puzzle. He should have plenty of targets to throw to as all four starters return at WR. Marcell Alamas, Brandon Sheperd, David Gidden, and Jhajuan Seales are all back. Other than Gidden, the Cowboys need the other three to step up a bit more.
Seven starters are back on defense. The edge is set on the line in DEs Emmanuel Ogbah (all league pick) and Jimmy Bean. Ryan Simmons (all league) and Seth Jacobs are back at LB. All this is good news, as the Cowboys strong suit was run defense, and even then, they finished 57th nationally. The secondary boasts three returning starters in CBs Kevin Peterson and Ramon Richards, and FS Jordan Sterns.
Ben Grogan is back at PK after shaking off a slow start, and hit 22/28 FGs last fall.
The Bad News: Three new starters must be found on the line, and that's bad news for a team that ranked just 99th in rushing per game at 136.6 yards per game. This is an area that must see an upgrade, and it is up to Rennie Childs and Chris Carson to bring it.
The Cowboys need to replace both DTs, and that could harm the run defense early on. The Cowboys need one more LB to step into a starting role, and they need a new SS as well. The Cowboys were awful against the pass last fall, ranking just 111th in that area giving up 269.2 yards per game. THe Cowboys will need to keep teams from running up scoring as well, as they gave up 31.2 points per game. The defense as a whole gave up 432 yards per game.
The Cowboys need a new punter, and will likely go with freshman Zach Sinor.
The Overview: The Cowboys could make a push if they can find a fix for the run game, and the defense can shore up somewhat. Look for Oklahoma State to be a dark horse candidate in the conference race, but they still are not ready to run with Baylor and TCU overall. They will need a few lucky bounces, but this could be a very good football team, and third place behind the Frogs and bears would be just fine.
First Game: 9/5 at Central Michigan

Oklahoma Sooners
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Bob Stoops (168-44, 17th season)

The Good News: Samaje Perine is becoming a superstar at RB after rushing for 1713 yards and 21 TDs as a freshman last fall. He is by far the center piece of this offense heading into the 2015 season. WR Sterling Shepard is back as well, and had a solid season last fall. He caught 51 passes for 970 yards and scored 5 times. Durron Neal returns for his senior season at WR as well.
OU is loaded at LB with two all league selections in Dominique Alexander (107 tackles) and Erik Striker (9 sacks). Jordan Evans returns as well to give the Sooners one of the best LB groups in the conference. Zack Sanchez returns at CB after picking off six passes, and FS Ahmad Thomas returns as well.
On special teams, Alex Ross is one of the best KRs in the nation, and will be the showpiece of that unit.
The Bad News: QB has to be settled, and it's not at  this point. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield has the edge heading into camp over incumbent Trevor Knight who largely struggled last fall. The Sooners need four new starters on the line, and that could unsettle the run game, and may be a huge issue for a developing QB situation.
The line, which was incredible last season, will struggle this fall, as three new starters are needed. DE Charles Tapper is the lone returning starter there. Half of the secondary must be replaced, which is bad for a unit that allowed 276.2 yards per game last fall. The Sooners need someone to step up and play even coverage with what Sanchez is doing.
Both kickers must be replaced in camp, which could both have a negative effect on an offense that is seeking an identity, and a defense that will need field position above all else.
The Overview: The Sooners are sliding as a program. Could it be that Stoops is finally wearing out? I find that unlikely, but something has to give for a program that is sliding well behind Baylor and TCU in conference play. Sooner fan demands that this program competes for titles, not for Alamo Bowl births. The tide has got to start turning, and quickly.
First Game: 9/5 Akron

Kansas State Wildcats
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Bill Snyder (187-94-1, 24th season)

The Good News: The line is a staple of Bill Snyder football, and nothing should change there this fall, as four starters return in LT Cody Whitehair, LG Boston Silverton, RG Luke Hayes, and RT Matt Kleinsorge. Charles Jones could be a key to the offense this fall after rushing for 13 TDs last fall. The job is all his this season, and he may really blow up. Kody Cook and Deante Burton both return at WR, and it may take both to step up to the level that the offense needs after losing Tyler Lockett.
The secondary should be quite decent this season, as three starters return from a unit that needs to see some improvement after giving up 229 yards passing per game last fall. CBs Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns are both back, as is SS Dante Burnett. Snyder always seems to find quality replacement parts on the D line, but only DE Jordan Willis and DT Travis Britz return.
Matthew McCrane is back after hitting 18/19 FGs as a freshman last season. HE should be one of the best PKs in the nation this season. Nick Walsh averaged just over 41 yards per punt, and could be better this season.
The Bad News: Finding a new QB after the departure of Jake Waters is paramount to success this fall, and Snyder always seems to find one somewhere. Three different players are in a battle that will head into camp. The loss of Tyler Lockett will hurt as well, as the returnees are not nearly up to his skill set.
The defense must replace both starting LBs this fall. That could be a difficult transition, as the line also needs a new DE and DT to fill in. K State may struggle to maintain their ranking of 33rd against the run. Overall, the front six will have some serious competitions going on in August.
The Overview: Snyder always keeps the Wildcats relevant. He has some serious issues on offense at QB and WR, so those situations will be key in camp. The Wildcats struggled running the ball, but Jones should be a huge key, and if he can blow up, he will carry this offense. The defense has some interesting battles heading into camp as well. All that being said, it's hard to see how the Cats overcome the loss of Waters and Lockett and really be able to compete in the upper half of the league this season. Still, Kansas State has enough talent to just sneak into a lower tier bowl this season.
First Game: 9/5 South Dakota

Texas Longhorns
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (6-7, 2nd season)

The Good News: If the offense is going to get going this season (it was dead in the water last fall), it will have to go around the returning starters on the line in OGs Sedrick Flowers and Kent Perkins, and C Taylor Doyle. That group will be key early on blocking for QB Tyrone Swoopes, who showed flashes at times last season. He has to get over the hump this season. As Swoopes goes, as does this unit.
The secondary was quite good last fall, and should be once more, as three starters return. Duke Thomas is back at CB, while Dylan Holmes and Jason Hall will both be back at Safety. There is some help up front on the line as well with the return of DE Naashon Hughes and DT Hassen Ridgeway. Ridgeway recorded six sacks last fall, but will need to bring more this fall.
The Bad News: The Horns were one of the worst offenses in the nation last fall, ranking 106th in scoring and 110th in total offense. That may be a tough task to break through those numbers in 2015. There is limited, at best, talent on the roster, and even though Strong and staff are working hard to correct this issue, there is just too much of a gap to win now. Jarrod Heard could easily move Swoopes to the side at some point and take over at QB, but is only a freshman. Johnathon Gray could break through at RB, but has never really lived up to expectations. Duke Catalon could push through as a freshman to move past Gray on the depth chart, but he needs a big camp to prove that he can. There's limited experience/talent at WR, and both tackles need to be replaced.
Texas was solid on defense last season, ranking 25th nationally in total defense. This season, they have to replace half the line, and they have no returning starters at LB. This unit could very well take a step back before taking a step forward again.
Both kicking jobs were a mess last fall, so the Horns need some competition and new blood there as well.
The Overview: I am a believer in Charlie Strong as coach of this program. Things had gotten severely stale under Mack Brown, so Strong has his work cut out for him moving forward. Texas is nowhere near dominating the Big 12, but Strong should have this team playing very good football in a year or two. It's just going to take a little time.
First Game: 9/5 at Notre Dame

West Virginia Mountaineers
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen (28-23, 5th season

The Good News: With Clint Trickett and Kevin White gone this fall, the Mountaineers may have to rely more on the run game, and they have a decent back to rely on heading into the season in Rushel Shell, who rushed for 788 yards and seven scores when the offense really didn't rely as much on the run game. Shell should have a breakthrough this fall, as he could help a new QB get adjusted in the system. Jordan Thompson and Wendell Smallwood will be stepping into roles as leading receivers this season, with Thompson having caught 49 passes last fall. Three starters return on the line as well in LG Adam Pankey, C Tyler Orlosky, and RT Marquis Lucas.
WVU wasn't great against the pass last fall (71st nationally), but the secondary could be a strength this fall, as every starter returns. CBs Daryl Worley and Terrel Chestnut are both back, as are Safeties Dravon Henry and Karl Joseph. SPUR KJ Dillon also returns. There are holes at LB, but WVU is highly fortunate because SLB Nick Kwiatkowski is the one returning starter there after recording 103 tackles last fall. The three man line should be decent as well with DE Noble Nwachukwu and NT Kyle Rose both returning.
Josh Lambert hit 30 of 39 FGs last fall, an amazing amount of both made and attempted kicks. Nick O'Toole is also back at Punter after averaging 41.81 yards per punt. That was a drop from the year before, but still impressive.
The Bad News: Clint Trickett and Kevin White are indeed both gone, and that is concerning as the offense tries to keep moving forward. WVU ranked 12th nationally in total offense last fall, and that may be tough to keep up. Skylar Howard is stepping in at QB, but only attempted 110 passes last fall. He did have an interesting 8/0 TD to INT ratio however, so he may be ready. He'd better be.
Other than Kwiatkowski, WVU must replace the other two starters at LB. The Mountaineers need to step up defensively if they are to move to the first tier in conference play. They weren't horrid defensively, but there are improvements needed across the board, as their best category was against the run, where they ranked 63rd nationally giving up 168.2 yards per game.
The Overview: Dana Holgrosen needs to get this team playing for more than a third tier bowl game birth. Even with some serious offensive weapons last season, WVU still barely managed to finish 7-6. Some people believe that this is an eight win football team. I don't believe that, and I do believe that WVU may even miss a bowl birth this season. Every team in front of them is just solidly better at this point, and the Mountaineers have a ton to prove heading into year five of Holgorsen's tenure.
First Game: 9/5 Georgia Southern

Texas Tech Red Raiders
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (12-13, 3rd season)

The Good News: Tech did not disappoint when they finished 10th in the nation in total offense last season, racking up 504.1 yards per game overall. Most of that came in the passing game, as the Raiders passed for 351.1 yards per game. Davis Webb returns after passing for 2539 yards and 24 TDs last fall. He still managed to toss 13 picks in eight games before injuring his shoulder. Patrick Mahomes II stepped in and played well over the final four games, and should be a quality backup this fall. Jakeem Grant is back at WR after catching 67 passes for 938 yards and seven scores. Reginald Davis is back as well, so there are quality targets to get the ball to. Four starters return on the line, so the passing game should have more time to get going in the pocket than it did last fall. LT Le'Raven Clark, LG Alfredo Morales, C Jared Kaster, and RG Baylen Brown all return. DeAndre Washington is back at RB as well after rushing for 1103 yards last fall.
The entire secondary returns on defense in CBs Nigel Bethel II and Justin Nielson, and Safeties Keenon Ward and JJ Gaines. That's where the good news ends defensively. Taylor Symmank is the best returning Punter in the conference this season after averaging 42.65 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: The Red Raiders were so good in so many ways on offense, but with all of the yards that they rolled up last season, how is it possible that they only ranked 52nd in scoring and 80th in rushing? Tech needs to find a way to get the ball into the end zone on a regular basis, even though they scored 30.5 points per game. That's still not enough, especially not in this league.
Why is that not enough scoring? Simply put, the Red Raiders are one of the worst defensive teams in the nation, and they gave up 41.3 points per game (123rd). They could not stop the run to save their lives (121st), giving up a whopping 259.5 yards per game. They gave up a grand total of 512.7 yards per game (112nd) which was ninth in the conference last fall. There are very few teams in the country worse than Tech on defense, and that will be massively costly.
The Overview: Kingsbury came on the scene as a super star young coach on the rise. His star is falling like a rock now, and he is popping up on hot seat lists all over the country, including mine. Tech is a mess without any identity on defense at all, and I don't see that changing this fall. As great as the offense can be in moving the football, they can still do more, and have to do more to get this team just to average. Kingsbury came in fast, but he maybe should have had the opportunity to build slowly, but he is getting to play with more and more of his own kids, and it's not working out. Something has to give, or else Tech is making another change. Maybe they never should have fired Mike Leach. Just a though.
First Game: 9/5 Sam Houston State

Iowa State Cyclones
2014 Record: 2-10
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Paul Rhoades (29-46, 7th season)

The Good News: Eight starters are back on offense, and that unit as a while was largely hit and miss during a 2-10 season last fall. Sam Richardson is back at QB after the Cyclones passed for 248.4 yards per game. Richardson is one of the best returning QBs individually in the conference this season, and if the offense has any success at all, he will be the driving force. Three starters return on the line in LT Jake Campos, C Jamison Lalk, and RG Daniel Burton. Richardson should have some decent receivers to toss the ball to in returning starters D'Vario Montgomery and Allan Lazard, but someone needs to step up and become a big time threat.
The secondary should be in good shape with the return of three starters in CBs Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune, and FS Kamari Cotton-Moya. Cotton-Moya is the best tackler coming back for the Cyclones after rolling up 77 tackles last season. DE Trent Taylor is the only other returning starter on the defensive side of the football.
Cole Netten is strong at PK after hitting 11 of 14 FGs last fall, and should return as a valuable point producer.
The Bad News: Despite having Richardson at QB, ISU struggles on offense like a team with no weapons at all. They finished 96th in scoring (23.2 points per game), 105th in rushing (124.1 yards per game), and 89th in total offense (372.5 yards per game). The Cyclones simply need weapons around a talented QB, and it's not visible currently that anyone has the ability to step into that role. The Cyclones will be young at RB with sophomore Tyler Brown and freshman Mike Warren. They have experience at WR, but this group lacks a big time play maker.
The front seven on defense was decimated by loss after last season, with only Taylor coming back at DE. He has to be the leader now, but that means stepping up and making plays, something that he has not been a force at up until now. That being said, ISU was already largely awful on defense, ranking 115th in scoring defense (38.8 points per game allowed), 120th un rush defense (246.3 yards per game), 119th in pass defense (282.7 yards per game), and 125th out of 127 schools in total defense (528.9 yards per game).
With such a terrible defense, punting is important, and the Cyclones struggled there as well. Cole Downing returns after averaging just 39.4 yards per punt last fall.
The Overview: The Cyclones should once again be a mess and finish at the bottom of the Big 12. They likely won't finish dead last, but they will be close. Paul Rhoades has been in Ames for six season to this point, and there is no signs of a turnaround coming. It's my guess that the Cyclones have a long season, and they are out looking for a coach this winter.
First Game: 9/5 Northern Iowa

Kansas Jayhawks
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach David Beaty, 1st season)

The Good News: There is not much in the way of good news heading into the 2015 season for the Jayhawks. Only three starters return on offense for new coach David Beaty, and two are on the line in C Joe Gibson and RT Larry Mazyck. Michael Cummings is back at QB, but suffered a knee injury in spring ball. He was decent over the last seven games last season after winning the starting job, however, he may not be the best fit in the new offense. He was expected to battle with Montrell Cozart for the starting job this fall, amongst others likely, including freshman QB Ryan Willis.
Only three starters are back on defense as well, one in each area from the line, LB, and secondary. DE Ben Goodman is the lone returning starter on the line, Jake Love at WLB, and Tevin Shaw at NB in the secondary. It's basically a total rebuild job on defense, with a new scheme, which is the same situation on offense.
The Bad News: David Beaty has to build from the ground up in Lawrence after years of coaching instability since firing Mark Mangino. Beaty may or may not be the right hire for the Jayhawks after coming over from his job as WR coach at Rice. Beaty has coached at Kansas before, and seemingly has connections in the high school game in Texas, but all of that is useless when you need to see viable credentials. He may be in way over his head.
Without beating up on Kansas more than I already have, they are just an awful program right now. There is zero chance that Kansas outperforms incredibly low expectations. I must enforce my view here that this is a complete rebuild job on all fronts. There isn't even a slab for a base to build on right now. Kansas football is essentially an empty dirt lot right now.
The Overview: It can only get better, right? Wrong! It can get worse, much worse. Kansas is in a zone right now where they can end up being the Columbia of the 80s in the Big 12 of today. They could literally go decades at this point without winning at all or going to bowl games. That is a very real possibility at this point in time. What Beaty and the administration do next will basically chart the future of Kansas football for a long time to come. Fail now, and this becomes one of the most basic bad jobs in college football coaching today, and it's not far from there right now.
First Game: 9/5 South Dakota State

Next: PAC-12 2015 Preview

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