Big 12 Football Predictions and Expert Handicapper Power Ratings
As I have stated each year, in handicapping specialization is the KEY to success, as it is in all walks of life, and handicapping college football is no different. I key on four conferences for about 65 percent of my weekly selections, which gets me in close information loops on a finite number of teams and games instead of looking at 60-70 games and deciphering all the different lines and angles for all those games.
The Big 12 has always been my first love because I am a Husker fan (alum), and while they left for the Big Ten and broke my heart I still love this conference. I also concentrate on the Big Ten, PAC-12 and Mountain West. The Big 12 is a key BCS football conference, loaded with good teams and a wide-open aspect to their offensive attacks, which always makes for good football. Knowing this conference like I do and handicapping it for 25 years, I have keen knowledge of the ins and outs of weekly games, long-standing traditions and trends, coaching tendencies, and also with my radio connections have relationships with beat sportswriters that have insight not found on the news outlets.
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The big news out of the Big 12 involves Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who stepped down in June out of nowhere and shocked Sooner Nation and the college football world. Those who think this is not a huge ordeal do not know football well as he was everything in Norman and a huge key to Sooner Success over his tenure. Of course, injuries to key players, especially to highly-ranked teams who lose a QB, or a key skill player, during the season will affect the final outcome, but this is in a perfect world ranking with everyone healthy headed into Week 1.
I feel this year that the Big 12 has a Final 4 BCS team in the playoff and I think Oklahoma State will be that team.
Here is how I see it in 2017 - Ranked in order with Power Ratings.
1. Oklahoma State - PR 84
This is Mike Gundy's year to prove he is as good as he thinks he is, and it might well happen. Oklahoma State is flat out an offensive machine this year and has all the weapons in place at skill positions, big-strike capability from anywhere on the field, speed galore, a great OL, and a QB that makes NFL throws and should play on Sundays sometime soon. This could be Gundy's best team ever in Stillwater as they are just flat out loaded from head to toe for lack of a better term and have 13 starters back and the best punter in the Big 12.
The Bedlam game with big brother and arch rival Oklahoma has been moved from the last game of the season to early November, which is a huge plus, and they get them in Stillwater this year as well. Oklahoma State is ranked as high as No. 5 in some preseason polls folks, and they are no joke. Mason Rudolph is a rock star at QB, and they had the ninth-ranked passing offense in 2016 and on offense scored 38 ppg last year. He is complimented by James Washington at WR, an NFL future draft pick, and has Jalen McCleskey, Chris Lacey, and Marcell Ateman back off injury (Ateman had more than 1,300 yards in receptions in 2015). This is a Top 2 receiving unit in the country with a stud QB and an outstanding OL as well, virtually unstoppable against anyone, folks, including teams like Alabama. They may be in the Top 3 in scoring this season. Did I mention Justice Hill, their RB, yet? He went for more than 1,100 yards rushing last year in a passing offense!
The defense is an issue, ranked 92nd overall last year, and they will be better. And when you have an offense capable of scoring 40+ a game, an average defense will suffice in most cases. It may hurt them in big games or a big bowl game or possible final 4 spot, but getting through the Big 12 should not be an issue. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State are all at home this year, and their biggest game in nonconference action is at Pittsburgh. Road games at both Texas and West Virginia in back-to-back weeks loom largest, and Oklahoma is the week after that is a brutal 3 weeks, but Oklahoma State is my favorite to win the Big 12, and a 1 loss regular season record would not shock me at all.
2. Oklahoma - PR 81
Many writers out there have Oklahoma listed No. 1 in this conference as they won it last year, but I disagree. First of all in the preseason polls they are ranked No. 9 or No. 10, and that is well behind Oklahoma State. Secondly, you just lost a legendary head coach with Bob Stoops surprisingly stepping down in June out of nowhere. Now Lincoln Riley steps in -- he was Offensive Coordinator for them last year - and there is absolutely no way you cannot miss a beat or two with this transition. Add in the fact they lost two stud RBs and a stud WR, all to the NFL, despite having Baker Mayfield back at QB, and you have to think they may not reach nine wins this year.
OU plays Ohio State on the road after opening up against UTEP this nonconference season, and last year with a better team, OU got their rear end handed to them 45-24 in Norman by Urban Meyer and his boys. They will again this year at the Shoe, and with a new coach, it is how they bounce back under new leadership that is a question mark for me. They have talent, they have recruited well the past three years and they will contend in all games, although I think Ohio State beats them with ease. They have the Bedlam game in Stillwater this year, have Texas in the annual Red River Shootout in Dallas and Kansas State on the road.
On offense QB Baker Mayfield is everything, and Mayfield has had 75 TD passes in the last two seasons but he lost his three big weapons, and losing Dede Westbrook at WR is a big hit. A good offensive line but unproven playmakers is going to be an issue. They have size and potential but little experience other than their tight end Mark Andrews and the RB position is in transition and up in the air right now. With a suspect defense this No. 2-ranked overall offense in 2016 is going to drop.
On defense the bad news is Mike Stoops, Bob's brother, did not retire and frankly in my opinion he is a bad DC. This was the same guy who ran Arizona's program into the ground before getting fired. The Sooners defense was 111th against the pass last year in the NCAA and they return only five starters from a defense was that was below average. The line is decent and the LBs are good, but the secondary is a mess outside of Jordan Thomas. This will hurt them in big games against potent offenses, and the Big 12 has plenty of potent offenses. Special teams is average at best, a new coach, a tough schedule, and a learning curve at skill positions, a below average secondary leaves me no choice but to say I doubt they repeat as Big 12 Champs.
3. TCU - PR 79
A surprising six-win season last year, when Kirk Herbstreit picked them to win the Big 12 on national TV, was a shock to many. That said, TCU had a tough year adjusting to Kenny Hill at QB (transfer from Texas AM), and it showed with the loss of key players from the previous year's team on offense. They also got beat in a bowl game by Georgia 31-23. The good news is they have 16 starters returning and look to be a major player on the scene here this season. THIS IS MY SLEEPER PICK THIS SEASON AS A SURPRISE TEAM WHO CAN WIN THIS CONFERENCE.
If Kenny Hill can get going on offense, they will be a handful. They are loaded at RB to balance their attack and Kyle Hicks is a flat out stud burner and is effective catching passes out of the backfield as well and he has support with Hill throwing to a fully healthy WR unit this year. The O-line has three seniors on it and is above average. The bottom line for the inconsistency in 2016 was a new OC, and QB Hill threw a ton of picks, and I think that changes this year and they establish the run game more and balance things out. Even though they struggled in 2016 on offense at times, they were ranked 29th overall in the NCAA, and I see that improving.
On defense, in my opinion, they are better than average, and in the Big 12, not known for defense that is a big deal. They must replace two solid pass rushers, but at day's end they are big up front and recruited that way the past two years and brought in some transfers as well as people ran all over them last year. Ty Summers is the best LB in the Big 12 and returns and is the leader of the defense. Their kicking game stunk last year but has been adjusted and they have a solid punter returning. West Virginia, Texas and Baylor all are at home, but games with Arkansas early, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all on the road loom large. On September 23 they play Oklahoma State, and that will be the barometer as to how ready they are to tackle this conference.
4. Texas - PR 77
Tom Herman comes in from Houston to take the reins of a talented-yet-misguided Texas Longhorn team that really has not been a factor in the Big 12 for five or six years, which is shocking considering the talent they have recruited. He will bring an up-tempo offense to the table he used in Houston with great success, and has a capable QB and 18 returning starters overall, 10 of them on defense. Just like Oklahoma losing a head coach, although not as severe since Charlie Strong was not a legend, there is going to be a learning curve here.
On offense they return eight starters, including slated starting QB Shane Buechele, who had a hell of a spring game this year and has matured since his freshman year last season, and he has a veteran OL and a WR Unit that has six players with starting experience to throw to and all will be used. I do not expect Texas to be a huge running threat, and it is unusual the Longhorns do not have a household name at RB, and they are thin at the position in my opinion and starter Chris Warren has injury issues and has yet to have a good season. Plus, his backups are untested.
The defense has a solid and hard-hitting secondary and the DL was called out before the spring game by Herman as not being conditioned well and they have concentrated a lot in the middle as the LB unit is average at best. DC Todd Orlando has a ton of speed and talent here, and I think they improve greatly against the pass, which was ranked 105th last year. Under Herman this unit will be a lot more aggressive and they have playmakers in the secondary.
At day's end they will compete, but the Horns have a brutal schedule. They are at USC their third game of the season, have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks, and having Oklahoma State after the Red River Shootout, which is always a huge emotional game, is just a bad draw. Following those two games they have both Baylor and TCU on the road! Not even Alabama wants those four games in a row. A very tough schedule and new head coach, all leads to a decent run by Texas, butfourth place in this conference and a decent bowl game would be a huge step forward.
5. West Virginia - PR 76
I try and get behind Dana Holgorsen every year with his wide-open, no-holds-barred offensive attack, but again playing little or no defense and trying to outscore everyone just does not work in big games, and in a 10 win and two loss 2016 campaign, they lost key games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and then got throttled against Miami in a bowl game because they had no defense.
West Virginia is a dangerous team to play and has the biggest home field advantage in the Big 12. It is a brutal road trip that requires flying and then busing 2.5 hours to get there, and the home town fans are rabid. Their strength on offense is QB Will Grier (Florida Transfer), who is a solid all-around QB. They lost their starting QB, RB, two WRs and a part of the OL from last year, and they won't miss a beat. RB Justin Crawford was newcomer of the year in the Big 12 last year, and despite not being the main starter in 2016 he had more than 1,100 yards and is a game breaker. You have David Sills, Gary Jennings and Ka'Raun White, who all had a huge spring game at WR, and QB Grier can run this style of offense. They ranked 17th in total offense last year but only 50th in scoring, and both those stats may improve and surely will not get any worse.
The defense was and is always a problem and they return only three starters, but the secondary is in good shape, and their LBs are actually very solid with David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton, but the DL is a huge issue with all talent gone and needing replaced and any team who can run it well will hurt them. Special teams were horrible last year, and they do return a kicker and punter, like it or not, and their return yardage was deplorable and has to be improved on. They won 10 games last year, and while they have to play at TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and end the season at Oklahoma all on the road. This could be a 9-win team who may surprise and move up to challenge a top 3 spot in the Big 12 this year.
6. Kansas State - PR 74.5
Wily and veteran coach Bill Snyder, one of the most underrated coaches in college football, enters his 26th year as head coach. And he has had an off season scare with cancer, but word is he is ready to go. Kansas State's football program is an enigma wrapped in a riddle to always handicap as coach Snyder does more with less than any other coach in the nation, and he will flat out give you a game anywhere, anytime, and the next day you will know you were in a ballgame the day before.
K State comes back with 15 starters, a solid QB in Jesse Ertz, who is a major dual threat and had more than 1,000 yards on the ground last year. Speaking of the ground game, they will shuffle three RBs during the game, and all three of them can move the chains behind a good OL. Justin Silmon is the best of the bunch and look for WR transfer Byron Pringle to emerge as a big time star and playmaker as he had a huge Bowl Game against Texas AM last year.
The Kansas State Wildcats were the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big 12 last year and return almost all their studs, but the LB position is questionable and I have issues with K State when it comes to teams who spread it out a lot and have balanced attacks. They also have a solid kicker in Matthew McCrane and punter Nick Walsh is rock solid. Special teams is always a big point with Bill Snyder, and they rarely give up big plays and execute well in this area. This is a dangerous team, and laying big numbers against them is doom as they bring it with a discipline and physical nature in every game and easily are an eight-win team here.
7. Baylor - PR 73
Matt Rhule from Temple takes over this troubled program this year and will try and straighten things out from the Art Briles era, including having a more balanced attack on offense and a more physical nature all around. Thirteen starters are returning from a team that dropped their six last regular-season games and then out of nowhere beat Boise State in a bowl game. I expect some more consistency this season from Baylor as Rhule has a proven track record.
Looks like it will be Zach Smith, who played some at QB last year in a starting role (four starts when Seth Russell went down), and word is he edged Arizona State transfer Anu Solomon out of the starting QB spot in the spring game, but I think he will use both QBs. There is ample talent at WR with Chris Platt, Blake Lynch, and Denzel Mims that can all make plays and stretch the field. Terrance Williams at RB is a 1,000-yard rusher from last year, and he also can hurt you on dump passes. They will use a pro-style attack as well as some spread looks, and if they find some chemistry with that then they could be dangerous.
The defense returns five from last year, and Phil Snow, who is a throwback-type DC, will have them much more physical than previous year's editions, which frankly were nothing to brag about. The DL is good, the LBs average and secondary is young and unproven -- in the Big 12 a bad secondary is doom unless you can score 35+ a game, so this is a big concern. Depth is an issue at skill positions on both sides of the ball, and Baylor's off-field issues have been a huge distraction and cost them coaches, scholarship players and pride. I think Matt Rhule is the right guy to turn it around and have the Bears being no pushover in 2017 and a bowl team. They very well could be 3-0 headed into the Oklahoma game to open Big 12 play, which is in Waco.
8. Texas Tech - PR 71
The biggest knock on the Red Raiders, who are always entertaining to watch, is the fact their head coach Kliff Klingsbury simply is not a good head coach. He's a former Tech player and former Tom Brady backup in the NFL for a short stint, but his offensive makeup is just gunning the ball all over the place seemingly with no game plan, and playing little or no defense gets you a quarter and a cup of coffee and that's about it in the Big 12. There are not many teams, if any, less disciplined than Texas Tech. In spite of losing with this philosophy he continues to use this as the blueprint in Lubbock.
Offense is the same old same old, a quick tempo blow and go type spread offense, and a new QB this year means nothing different. Nic Shimonek starts as a senior and is a transfer from Iowa, and he saw basically two quarters of football last year against Kansas, which really does not count honestly. They have four solid WRs led by KeKe Coutee that can fly but no running game and little talent there let alone depth and a very young and inexperienced OL. They were 123rd in running the football last year, which gets you nowhere. They need to incorporate RB Justin Stockten into the offensive game plan to keep defenses honest, they just refuse to for the most part.
The defense is always an issue at Texas Tech, and they were damn near dead last in every stat category that counted in the NCAA last year and gave up a whopping 43 ppg, which is why they had only five wins and no bowl game. Their ranking of 128th total on defense must improve to even compete against the high-octane offenses of the Big 12. They are filling gaps with JUCO transfers, and frankly this is an unknown secondary unit and DC David Gibbs has his hands full. They have Houston and Arizona State in the nonconference schedule and Oklahoma State to open the Big 12 season in Lubbock. They potentially could be 1-3 after four games. I am down on Tech this year, a fade team.
9. Iowa State - PR 65
Toledo's entire coaching staff took over the Cyclones in 2016 under Head Coach Matt Campbell, and while Iowa State did compete better and had a few bright spots, they still ended up 3-9 and looking up from the bottom as usual. They may in fact be better than Texas Tech this year and may exceed more than three wins this year, something they have not done in four years in Ames.
Jacob Park, a former Georgia QB transfer, won the starting job midway through the season last year at QB, and he does have some weapons this season and a 1-2 punch RB unit with two very talented runners in Mike Warren and David Montgomery. They have a three-deep WR unit led by All Big 12 WR Allen Lazard. As a matter of fact, if your secondary is not good or is inexperienced, Iowa State can and will score on you and this is a very deep and talented group. If they run with success to set up the pass they can and will exceed the 27 ppg they had last year on offense and cover some bigger numbers in the process.
The defensive line is a big issue, and they will be young. The LB unit is slightly sub-par and one of last year's QBs is now a starting middle LB (Joel Lanning), and the secondary is average at best with some JUCO talent coming in that is untested. The secondary will not be as bad as last year by any stretch, and the Cyclone offense, if they can get on the field, will move the chains and be troublesome for some teams. They can win five games this year and surprise a lot of people who overlook them.
10. Kansas - PR 61
They Jayhawk faithful will again be waiting for basketball season so they can scream and holler "Rock Chalk Jayhawk", because while Kansas played better in 2016 in football, they won only two games and one was a shocker over Texas. David Beaty is 2-22 as a head coach, but in the past two years he has recruited well in spite of the fact he is at Kansas, and they should be able to win more than two games this year as improvements and confidence continue to build. However, only nine starters return, which is a big issue in key spots.
They did get a new Offensive Coordinator from TCU, Doug Meacham, after being ranked 120th in scoring in 2016. He has QB Peyton Bender, a transfer from Washington State who can throw it or Mike Leech would have never recruited him. They also have Alabama transfer WR Daylon Charlot and 2 solid RBs in Octavis Matthews and Dominic Williams. The bright spot on defense is end Dorance Armstrong Jr., an All Big 12 selection in 2016, and they have a better-than-average DL and also better-than-average LB unit, but the secondary is a mess and unproven outside of safety Mike Lee, who is a good one. In the Big 12 you have to trade punches on the scoreboard on offense, and while Kansas has made some strides on that side of the ball they are in no way a prolific offense despite the transfer at QB. Kansas is still a work in progress, and a tough schedule, including two MAC Schools in the nonconference schedule, adds to the worries about exceeding three wins in 2017. If Kansas gets to four wins, it would be a huge success, but this team will not lay down and will play hard under coach Beatty.
POWER RATING KEYS - Max Points
Offense - 30 Points
Defense - 30 Points
Special Teams - 15 Points
Coaching - 10 Points
Turnover Ratios - 5 Points
Intangibles - 5 Points
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