Now that 2016 has ended, it’s time to release the first of multiple Big 12 power rankings for the 2017 season ahead.
Plenty will occur between now and the start of the 2017 college football season in early September. There’s a Signing Day looming another spring session of evaluation and countless other additions and attrition yet to be factored into the equation. But based solely on last year’s results and this season’s returners, the Big 12 Power Rankings do have a starting point as the long offseason without live action begins.
Early Big 12 Football Power Rankings
There’s a glimmer of optimism in Lawrence, even if the Jayhawks remain stuck in the Big 12 cellar. Kansas showed improvement on both sides of the ball in David Beaty’s second season, despite employing just a few seniors.
The offense will continue inching forward, especially as Washington State transfer Peyton Bender joins the crowded quarterback competition to play catch with top receivers Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzales. On defense, DE Dorance Armstrong and DT Daniel Wise can play for anyone in the league, but the pair needs a lot more help to turnaround a unit that’s been gashed for at least 30 points per game each season of this decade.
9. Texas Tech
No one in the Big 12 is facing more pressure in 2017 than the Red Raiders and their beleaguered coach, Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury has entered the probationary period of his tenure in Lubbock, the byproduct of going 16-21 over the last three seasons.
While prolific passer Patrick Mahomes is NFL-bound, Tech’s bigger concern is somehow fixing a defense that surrendered more than 43 points per game and ranked last nationally during last year’s dismal campaign. With the pace of the offense, the philosophy of the program and the middling overall personnel, it’s doubtful this D makes any kind of a quantum leap this fall.
8. Iowa State
Iowa State could be a program no one wants to face next year, especially when it has the ball. Matt Campbell laid the foundation in his debut, and he and the staff are determined to build upon it in 2017. The Cyclones probably won’t win many games with defense, but then again who does in this conference? Tom Manning’s offense, though, could be special. He deftly used his complementary quarterbacks, passer Jacob Park and runner Joel Lanning, a season ago. And the Clones return their two best backs and top two receivers, including 1,000-yarder Allen Lazard who surprisingly held off on entering the NFL Draft.
The Bears are the league’s biggest wild card, all because of the myriad changes taking place in Waco. On the one hand, a massive transition is taking place in the aftermath of the firing of Art Briles last May. These types of regime changes don’t happen without intermittent missteps and setbacks. On the other, though, Baylor has landed an outstanding coach, Matt Rhule, who inherits a roster that still houses a fair amount of talent. Remember, Briles was recruiting very well in his final few years. Plus, Rhule recently added graduate transfer QB Anu Solomon from Arizona to compete with young Zach Smith and add much-needed depth to the position.
The Horned Frogs only became a factor in the Big 12 after Gary Patterson opened up the offense, specifically dynamic QB Trevone Boykin. Without Boykin last year, the offensive production plummeted and the team slipped below .500. What’s worse is that Patterson’s trademark D was inconsistent for a second straight year. Now, that defense loses three of its best linemen to graduation, and Kenny Hill has a long way to go before making the locals forget Boykin.
While doubting a Patterson-coached team can be precarious, there might be too many question marks in Fort Worth for this team to escape the middle of the pack.
5. West Virginia
Now that Dana Holgorsen has engineered a breakthrough in Morgantown, winning 10 for the first time in the Big 12, he and his staff are determined to remain contenders. The defense is going to miss CB Rasul Douglas, LB Justin Arndt and three veteran linemen, so the offense will need to shoulder more of the load. And the unit might very well be up to the challenge.
Florida transfer QB Will Grier is an upgrade in pure arm talent from Skyler Howard. Plus, barring any more early entry announcements, the Mountaineers will be in good shape at the skill positions with backs Justin Crawford and Kennedy McCoy and receivers Jovon Durante and Ka’Raun White.
4. Kansas State
Bill Snyder just keeps doing more with less, winning at least eight games in five of the last six years. And as long as he continues to stave off retirement, the Wildcats are going to remain in that second tier of Big 12 contenders. With the returns of QB Jesse Ertz, RB Alex Barnes and WR Byron Pringle, the offense figures to pick up where it left off last year, when it scored at least 30 in each of the final six games. It’s on defense, usually the bedrock in Manhattan, that Kansas State needs to fill vacancies. Three of last year’s top four tacklers are gone, and leading sacker Jordan Willis leaves a gaping hole up front.
No one in the Big 12 will generate more storylines and interest this offseason than the Longhorns. And why not? Texas hired a hot new coach, Tom Herman, and a lot of young talent is eagerly looking to be molded into champions.
Herman and his staff will have a shot to get out of the gate quickly, especially now that QB Shane Buechele’s rookie season is in the rear view mirror. The Horns must replace RB D’Onta Foreman, OG Kent Perkins and not a whole lot else after using a ton of underclassmen in 2016.
This program has a high ceiling provided Herman pushes the right buttons and the recent culture of mediocrity is quickly eradicated.
2. Oklahoma State
Looking for a team that can be a surprise playoff contender in 2017? Get to know the Cowboys, who are capable of outgunning their way to a sixth 10-win season this decade under Mike Gundy.
The offense will be as potent as any in the Big 12, including the one down in Norman. Gundy caught a break when QB Mason Rudolph and all-league WR James Washington elected to remain in school as seniors. Plus, RB Justice Hill and WR Jalen McCleskey are terrific complements in an offense that averaged 38 points last year.
The rub in Stillwater? The D is just average, or worse if DT Vincent Taylor and FS Jordan Sterns aren’t adequately replaced.
The Sooners are the Big 12 standard-bearers and the prohibitive favorites to win a third consecutive league title under Bob Stoops. At Oklahoma, it all begins with QB Baker Mayfield, the physical and emotional leader of the program. However, the veteran will need to redevelop chemistry this offseason with a new supporting cast, since star WR Dede Westbrook and gifted backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are taking their games to the pros. If the scoring machine in Norman suffers even a small hiccup, it’ll be incumbent upon the Sooner D to build off last year’s strong finish in the second half of the campaign.