Now that the college football season has ended, we take an early look at the state of each Big 12 program entering 2017. Here are predictions and storylines for next season.
The past season in the Big 12 played out to mixed reviews. On the one hand, it was the only Power Five conference to not be represented in the College Football Playoff. But on the other, the league enjoyed a solid postseason, headlined by strong finishes from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
It may only be January, but it’s never too early to start slowly peeking ahead at what to expect from each Big 12 program in 2017.
Whatever you knew about Baylor from the past decade is basically irrelevant these days.
The Bears are emphatically turning the page on the era of Art Briles, who gave way to Jim Grobe last May for his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by his players. Enter Matt Rhule, an East Coast guy who just led Temple to its first conference title since 1967.
Rhule’s offense will be more conservative, and the defense feistier and more fundamentally sound. However, patience will need to be exercised since cultural and philosophical shifts require time before becoming ingrained.
Briles left behind playmakers, and true freshman QB Zach Smith logged four valuable starts after Seth Russell was injured. The defense, though, will needs nurturing and pass rushing complements to DE K.J. Smith. Fortunately Rhule lured to Waco Phil Snow, a vastly underrated coordinator with a track record of coaching up his personnel.
Matt Campbell laid the ground floor in 2016. The upcoming season in Ames will be all about building on it.
Record aside, it was a successful debut for Campbell, whose team hung with Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma and was playing its best ball down the stretch. Much better days are ahead for the Cyclones, especially on offense. Both halves of the two-quarterback system, runner Joel Lanning and passer Jacob Park, are returning, as are the team’s top two rushers and 1,000-yard receiver Allen Lazard. And veteran OT Jake Campos will be back to lead a rebuilding line after missing the entire season with a lower leg injury.
Win-loss progress will hinge on the development of a soft defense that can ill-afford to lose all-star S Kamari Cotton-Moya, the subject of graduate transfer rumors when the regular season came to a close.
Baby steps. Expecting anything more in Lawrence is just not realistic right now.
The Jayhawks inched closer to competitiveness in 2016, even beating Texas on Nov. 19 to snap a 19-game Big 12 losing streak. But the journey remains a long one for a program that’s lost at least nine games in seven consecutive seasons.
The encouraging news for coach David Beaty is that he used very few seniors last season, so depth and experience will be less of a concern in 2017. The quarterback competition will dominate offseason headlines now that Washington State transfer Peyton Bender is eligible to join the three holdovers who started games last fall. The winner of the battle will earn the right to throw to Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzales, who combined for 134 catches in 2016. Defense continues to be Kansas’ chief worry, even though linemen Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Wise are legit stars up front.
Bill Snyder is planning to return for at least one more season. All is well in Manhattan.
The Wildcats quietly exceeded expectations in 2016, winning nine games, including the Texas Bowl over Texas A&M, when six or seven were expected. What else is new for the perennial overachiever? More of the same is expected in 2017, provided Snyder and his staff can adequately fill the sizable defensive voids left by the graduations of DE Jordan Willis, LB Charmeachealle Moore and SS Dante Barnett. For a change, the offense could shoulder more of the load in the early going.
The team is supremely confident in a ground-based attack headlined by 1,000-yard rushing QB Jesse Ertz, three of last season’s top four backs, playmaking WR Byron Pringle and all but a single starting lineman. Ertz is entering his senior season, and this program tends to peak under Snyder when a veteran is behind center.
The Sooners have two clear goals for 2017, winning a third straight Big 12 title and returning to the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma finished 2016 about where it started, as one of the nation’s half-dozen or so best programs. But early losses to Houston and Ohio State nixed playoff hopes, despite a torrid finish that included 10 straight wins and a Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn. The Sooners now plan to take the next step, particularly since QB Baker Mayfield is back as the offensive catalyst for a final year and an O-line that was young last fall could be among the country’s most dominant.
OU will have a list of spring priorities, none bigger than mining new targets for Mayfield now that Dede Westbrook is gone and bolstering the defense. While the D played much better down the stretch, it’ll have to be consistent from start to finish for the Sooners to avoid landmine losses in the upcoming season.
Now that the pitch-and-catch combo of Mason Rudolph to James Washington has elected to remain in school for a senior engagement, the Cowboys won’t be content with just another garden variety 10-win season.
Oklahoma State will aim high this fall, and why not? The offense will again be dynamite, and Bedlam will be staged in Stillwater this November. The Pokes can score on anyone behind a diverse attack that received a huge boost when Rudolph and Washington surprisingly chose to put off the NFL until 2018.
But cranking out points has never been a problem for Mike Gundy. Stopping opponents, on the other hand, is a central reason why the program last won a Big 12 crown in 2011. And turning around the D won’t get any easier after losing five of seven all-stars, namely standout DT Vincent Taylor and FS Jordan Sterns. Gundy needs SS Tre Flowers and sophomore ends Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid to blossom into stars this offseason.
Now that Gary Patterson has suffered through just his third losing campaign in the last 16 years, it figures to be a tense and grueling offseason in Fort Worth.
The Frogs followed up back-to-back 11-win years by going 6-7 and sticking out as the Big 12’s biggest disappointment. That won’t cut it for a program that worked so hard to become a player in the league after relocating from the Mountain West in 2012.
The good news at TCU is that a swath of starters returns to both sides of the ball. The potential stumbling blocks, though, are at quarterback and on defense, usually a strength under Patterson. Kenny Hill was wildly inconsistent in his debut succeeding Trevone Boykin, finishing eighth in conference passing efficiency. And a D that yielded the school’s most points since 2004 must replace three of its best linemen, DT Aaron Curry and ends Josh Carraway and James McFarland.
Coveted Tom Herman was hired away from Houston to continue what Charlie Strong started on the Forty Acres.
Strong did some good things in Austin, like improving the overall talent level and bringing more accountability to players. But it didn’t pay off where it matters most, as evidenced by three straight seven-loss seasons.
Herman inherits a roster dripping with young talent, such as QB Shane Buechele, LT Connor Williams, NT Chris Nelson, FOX Malcolm Roach and LB Malik Jefferson. And while the Horn running game won’t get better by losing 2,000-yarrd rusher D’Onta Foreman to the NFL, the program is confident in the ability of Kyle Porter and a healthy Chris Warren to pick up the slack. Purely in terms of personnel, Herman and his new staff are teed up for a fast start on a campus and in a community that’s hungry for some forward progress.
Whatever equity Kliff Kingsbury enjoyed when he returned to his alma mater in 2013 is quickly drying up.
Since debuting with seven straight wins, Kingsbury has gone 17-26 in three-plus seasons in Lubbock. There’ve been plenty of points, records and entertaining shootouts, but quality wins have been virtually non-existent.
As the Red Raiders slip further behind the Big 12 elite, Kingsbury is facing ramped up pressure to engineer a turnaround. He’ll have to do so without his best weapon, QB Patrick Mahomes, who has declared for the NFL Draft. But readying Nic Shimonek or McLane Carter to be Mahomes’ heir is not Tech’s biggest offseason issue. Nah, the staff, specifically coordinator David Gibbs must fix a defense that’s allowed more than 40 points per game for the past three seasons. As long as the D remains a sieve, the Red Raiders can expect to be no better than a .500 team that partakes in weekly track meets.
The Mountaineers are back on track, winning 18 games over the past two seasons, including 10 this past year. Dana Holgorsen, armed with a lucrative contract extension, wants to keep his program from drifting back into the Big 12.
West Virginia was a pleasant surprise, bolstered by a group of blue-collar veterans. Beginning in the spring, the Mountaineers will begin plugging holes, especially on a defense that’s going to miss LB Justin Arndt, star CB Rasul Douglas and all three starting linemen.
The offense, though, has exciting potential. Florida transfer QB Will Grier hopes to be eligible after serving a suspension for the use of a banned supplement. Justin Crawford, who rushed for 331 yards versus Oklahoma, headlines a deep backfield. And receivers Shelton Gibson and Ka’Raun White will be on the receiving end of Grier’s tight spirals. West Virginia’s biggest offensive hole will be at the pivot, where Tyler Orlosky leaves behind a gaping void.