Following is our Big 12 preview courtesy of Senior Editor Chuck Sippl.  As always, teams a re presented in order of predicted finish, with 2105 straight-up, spread, and "over/under" results included, along with last year's bowl appearances, where applicable...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor  

                                            by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

TCU (SUR 11-2; PSR 7-6; O/U 6-7. Defeated Oregon 47-41 in OT in the Alamo Bowl)...Despite some questions to be answered on his team, it seems pretty clear that Gary Patterson will have his Horned Frogs in contention once again this season, his 16th as HC in Fort Worth. Long an advocate of defense-first football, Patterson (a former safety & LB as a player and always a defensive coach as an assistant) has admitted on more than one occasion to be rather horrified at the ultra-rapid pace and constant back and forth of so many games these days in the Big 12. But give him credit for adjusting. Patterson’s team is 23-3 SU the L2Ys since switching to an Air Raid offense directed by former Oklahoma State and Houston assistant Doug Meachem and former Texas Tech QB and assistant Sonny Cumbie.


Two years ago, the Frogs’ only loss was a wild 61-58 defeat at Baylor, where TCU blew a 21-point lead in the last 11 minutes. In 2015, the only setbacks were a 49-29 defeat at 8-0 Oklahoma State, where the injury-thinned TCU defense was easily ripped, and a 30-29 setback two weeks later at 9-1 Oklahoma. This despite the loss of more than half a dozen defensive starters from the beginning of the season! Still, the Horned Frogs were able to survive, escaping with a 28-21 in double-OT vs. Baylor and 47-41 in triple-OT vs. Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. For the last four games, A-A WR Josh Doctson and dual-threat QB Trevone Boykin were either out or hampered by injuries, or suspended. Despite all the problems, the victories kept coming, with the attack producing 42.1 ppg, 76th in the nation.

Such is likely to be the same this season, even though Boykin (31 TDs, only 10 ints.; 9 TDR), Doctson (14 TDC), and top RB Aaron Green (1272 YR) are gone. Moreover, the QB starter remains undetermined, the OL must replace four starters, and the secondary must prove it has recovered from injuries. Patterson has been able to steadily upgrade TCU’s recruiting from the school’s days in the WAC, C-USA, and Mountain West. He has been able to further ramp up recruiting after joining the Big 12 four years ago, including a strong class for this season.

This year’s QB duties will go to either 6-1 former Texas A&M starter Kenny Hill, a former Texas high school POY who got caught up in a numbers game in College Station, and 6-5 soph Foster Sawyer (11 of 27 LY), a four-star recruit with a powerful arm. Neither should be expected to play immediately at the high efficiency of Boykin last season. Jr. Kyle Hicks (262 YR) gets the first shot at RB, with several talented youngsters behind him.

Jr. LT Joseph Noteboom is the only returning starter up front, but 6-7 jr. G Matt Pryor and 6-6 jr. C Austin Schlottman both have useful starting experience and possess the height and length coaches like to have in the Air Raid scheme.

WR should be a position of strength and depth even with the departure of Doctson (No. 1 draft pick of Washington). Which is good, as the receivers take many heavy hits in the Air Raid. Electric 5-9, 155 soph mini-wideout KaVontae Turpin had 8 TDC last year. Experienced 6-4 jr. Emanuel Porter and 6-3 soph Jaelan Austin also return. 5-10 sr. Deanté Gray (8 TDs in 2014) is back TY after missing 2015 due to a knee injury. 6-1 jr. Ty Slanina was lost in the fourth game LY with a collarbone injury. Then, there are LSU transfer John Diarse, juco A-A Taj Williams, and four-star true frosh Isaiah Graham. Shot and tall, inside and outside, TCU has receivers.

The count of defensive starters returning will vary depending upon the physical condition of those recovering from LY’s injuries, but eight of 2015's top 10 tacklers are back. Also expected to return are sr. DE James McFarland (7 sacks in 2014, but out LY with a foot injury), sr. S Kenny Iloka (ACL in Game Two LY), and jr. CB Ranthony Texada (out last 10 games with a knee injury). No spring ball for many of the injured, so the status of their recoveries won’t be known until August.

However, the front six of Patterson’s pet 4-2-5 defense will be deeper and more experienced than LY, as sr. DE Josh Carraway (9 sacks LY), and sr. DT Aaron Curry (3 sacks) will lead a strong rotation.  If last year’s wounded players return to form, Patterson’s 4-2-5 should easily cut into 2015's generous allowance of 27.2 ppg and finish of 63rd in total defense. The Horned Frogs had an okay 32 sacks, but only 7 interceptions LY. Both numbers are likely to increase in 2016.

Summary...The Horned Frog offensive production might decline a bit early in the season, but the defense should be improved over last year. If TCU beats Oklahoma in Game Five October 1st, the Purple should be in the hunt for the Big 12 title the rest of the way. This is the final season for the Big 12 without a championship game. If TCU’s QB situation stabilizes early, the Frogs will be a major conference contender late.

Note that the Air Raid Frogs are 5-0 as dogs the last two seasons.

OKLAHOMA (SUR 11-2; PSR 9-4; O/U 8-5. Lost 37-17 to Clemson in Orange Bowl in the College Football Playoff Semifinal)...High-scoring Oklahoma (43.5 ppg LY) did well in overcoming its surprising October upset suffered vs. Texas last year to make it to the College Football Playoff. Once there, however, the Sooners collapsed in the second half vs. relentless Clemson, being out-scored 21-0 in a 37-17 loss. QB Baker Mayfield threw two ints., and OU found itself out-rushed 312 ro 67.

The Sooners received some good news in the offseason when the Big 12 approved another year of eligibility for the dynamic Mayfield (68%, 3700 YP, 36 TDs vs. only 7 ints. LY; 405 YR and 7 more TDs on the ground). The transfer from Texas Tech, an initial walk-on with the Red Raiders, at first was not allowed to count his transfer year as a redshirt season. But now Mayfield begins 2016 as a junior in terms of eligibility. (While that might be good news for the Sooners, it might not be for Kyler Murray, the one-time Texas A&M starter who transferred to Oklahoma in the winter and is sitting out his transfer year.) Veteran Trevor Knight himself has transferred to Texas A&M, so this year’s projected backup to Mayfield is four-star true freshman Austin Kendall, who reported early and demonstrated lots of promise in spring.

However, one of the major concerns for the 2016 Sooners is the intermediate health of its prized QB after Mayfield suffered two concussions in the last three games. Overall, Mayfield was sacked 41 times LY while working behind a young OL that included freshmen at both tackle spots. Those two—6-8, 357 LT Orlando Brown and 6-4, 277 RT Dru Sumia—are now experienced sophs, but are still far from finished products. Jr. G/C Jonathan Alvarez also returns to a starting spot, but once again the OU line will be young...and likely better at run blocking than pass protection.

That’s okay with the Sooners’ deep, high-quality cast of RBs, led by the quick and powerful Samaje Perine, whose rush yards dipped to 1349 LY (from 2014's 1713), due mostly to the presence of controversial soph RB Joe Mixon (753 YR), who was suspended for his entire freshman season after punching a female student. Much like Baylor and other spread proponents, OU has found increasing success running the ball in recent seasons vs. defenses loaded with DBs to counter the pass. Perine ran for 6.0 ypc; Mixon 6.7.

Following the loss of go-to WR Sterling Shepard (188 recs. L3Ys) to graduation, HC Bob Stoops went into spring with some concerns about that department. But he came out of spring with his worries mostly allayed. Sr. Dede Westbrook (46 recs. LY) flashed upside potential, as did 5-11 jr. Michiah Quick. Also coming aboard TY is Penn State transfer Geno Lewis, who had 90 recs. in three years with the Nittany Lions. And don’t forget extra-dimension 6-5, 245 soph WR/TE Mark Andrews, who had 7 TDs on just 19 recs. as a RS freshman LY.

At least five starters have been lost from the defense (18th at 22 ppg allowed in 2015), and they will not easily be replaced. OLB/DE Eric Striker left with 23 career sacks. CB Zack Thomas had 7 ints LY. Both were first-team all-Big 12, as were ILB and top tackler Dominique Alexander and DE Charles Tapper. The immediate future of starting CB Jordan Thomas (5 ints. LY) is in doubt following a June arrest.

However, where there is talent, there is hope. And Oklahoma has both. The biggest concern is probably the front six of the morphing 4-2/3-3 nickel defense. Soph DT Charles Walker (6 sacks LY) and sr. LB Jordan Evans (83 Ts LY) are the veteran pillars. Jr. DT Matt Romar is a proven interior player. Evans is the only returning starter at LB, but in Norman, the cupboard is rarely bare.

Summary...While loaded at the skill positions, Oklahoma goes into the season with some concerns in the off. line and questions to be answered on defense. Also, four of the Sooners’ first five games figure to be severe tests—Houston at Houston, Ohio State in Norman, TCU in Fort Worth, and improving rival Texas in Dallas. The usual tough slate in the rest of the Big 12 follows. Dynamic QB Mayfield experienced concussions near the end of last year. Despite the ever-bubbling Bob Stoops’ fountain of talent, a slight downturn seems in store in Norman in 2016.

OKLAHOMA STATE (SUR 10-3; PSR 5-7-1; O/U 8-5. Lost 48-20 to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl)...Basketball great John Wooden used to say it time and again. What is the key to victory? Balance. Balance. Balance. The lack of such cost Oklahoma State greatly last season.

After taking full advantage of just about every break afforded them early in the season to mount a 10-0 start and gain a place in the College Fooball Playoff rankings, the Cowboys plummeted quickly and precipitously in their final three games, losing all three, by a combined score of 151-78. Included in that trio were an embarrassing 58-23 home defeat to arch-rival Oklahoma and a 48-20 Sugar Bowl blowout at the hands of Mississippi.  In short, OSU didn’t possess the requisite balance to keep up with the “big boys” at the end of their schedule. 

First, there is 6-1, 215, now-senior RB Carson, a juco last season who coaches believe still has a substantial upside in Stillwater. Then, there is an experienced OL, with all five starters returning. That unit has had more than its share of erratic moments in the last two years, including 32 sacks LY. So Gundy has increased the competition among his veterans this year, signing junior college A-A LT Larry Williams and 6-6, 330 jumbo four-star frosh OLman Tramonda Moore. Said Gundy about his big hogs up front after spring: “They’re better. They have a long way to go. But we’re improved.”

The passing attack should again be one of the best in the nation, led by the still-developing Rudolph (62.3%, 3770 yards, 21 TDs, 9 ints.), who didn’t assume the starting reins until late in 2014 and has NFL scouts keeping a close watch. The Cowboys are loaded with talent at WR, led by star target James Washington (1087 yards and 10 TDs LY on only 53 recs.; 20.5 ypr). 6-4 sr. Marcel Ateman (45 recs. for 17.0 ypr) provides a taller target, while 5-10 soph Jalen McCleskey offers waterbug quickness. 6-3 true freshman Tyrell Alexander is an incoming four star with possible immediate impact, while sr. Blake Jarwin (17 recs.) provides a seasoned TE when called upon.

The big question mark on defense is at DE, where sophs Trey Carter and Jarrell Owens are being counted upon to somewhat replace the constant pressure of Emmanuel Ogbah (second round, Cleveland), who racked up 13 sacks LY. Junior DT Vincent Taylor had 5 sacks while holding down the middle along with sr. Motekiai Maile. Due to Baylor’s on-going internal problems, 6-0, 305 former Bear recruit DT DeQuinton Osborne has decided to play at Ok. State instead. Two of three starting LBs return, as Jordan Burton and Chad Whitener combined for 191 Ts, 5½ sacks, and 3 interceptions.

This year’s secondary is expected to improve on its 2015 numbers of 252 ypg allowed, just 95th in the nation. Only one start has been lost from a unit that was 14th in the nation with 17 ints. LY. Safeties Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers provide a solid backbone after 191 Ts and 4 ints. LY.

Summary...OSU plays its conference opener at Baylor. Will the Bears be on a downer after this spring’s offseason developments, or super-jacked instead? The result of that game could be a key for the Cowboys, who appear to have the material to be a major contender in the Big 12, but whose last two games are at TCU and at Oklahoma. But to seriously flirt with the CFP, Oklahoma State is going to have to run more effectively in order to balance out its offense and to provide more protection for its defense.

TEXAS (SUR 5-7; PSR 5-6-1; O/U 5-7)...Baylor’s losses have turned out to be Texas’ gain. For decades, it’s been the other way around, with Texas signing the top players in the state. Longhorn coach Charlie Strong, under fire for his team’s wildly inconsistent 5-7 season in 2015, had already improved UT’s recent recruiting after it declined in the latter years of the Mack Brown era. But the Lone Star State is too big for one team to lock up by itself, and teams such as Baylor and TCU made major inroads into the high school ranks previously dominated by Texas and Oklahoma.

However, the sexual assault scandal that has rocked Baylor and has cost HC Art Briles his job quickly helped boost Strong’s Austin program even further after UT’s top-ten 2016 recruiting haul was already in the barn. Freed from their enrollment obligations by the scandal in Waco, four BU recruits have changed course and are now headed to Austin. Included in the group are WR Devin Duvernay, with 10.27 100-meter speed and thus among the fastest preps in the country, and 6-5, 335 Patrick Hudson, considered the top prep G in the nation and easily developed enough to start from the get-go. Also changing course are OT prospect J.P. Urquidez and Duvernay’s twin brother, Donovan, likely a DB and KR for the Longhorns.

In 2015, with Texas’ passing offense (117th in the country) sputtering like your pipes after a major plumbing job, the Horns suffered embarrassing losses like 38-3 at Notre Dame, 50-7 at TCU, and 24-0 at Iowa State. Yet there was enough overall talent on hand for Texas to shock heavily-favored Oklahoma (16½-point favoriute) 24-17 in the Red River Showdown and to edge banged-up Baylor 23-17 in Waco. Now, with his third straight year of “strong” recruiting, the no-nonsense head coach appears to have the his Horns on the verge of a breakthrough. Most importantly, Strong needs some consistent play at QB after UT has converted only 36.6% on third down under the former Louisville coach, who is 11-14 SU in his two years in Austin.

That hope comes in the form of 6-1 true freshman Shane Buechele (son of former MLB third baseman Steve), a 6-1 early enrollee with a live arm who appeared all spring to be the better passer among 6-4, 250 sr. jumbo holdover Tyrone Swoopes (50.5% LY) and speedy 6-2 soph dual threat Jerod Heard (57.9%; 556 YR). Even if the promising Buechele suffers through the anticipated growing pains, UT is expected to be more competent in the aerial game this season. Strong, who helped develop skinny true freshman Teddy Bridgewater into a three-year starter and All-American at Louisville, now should also be able to get more out of the inaccurate Swoopes and the often jittery Heard.

After last season’s offensive struggles, Strong made a major offseason move to accelerate the Longhorn attack. Incoming from brief stays at Bowling Green and Tulsa is well-regarded offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, an Art Briles disciple who came up through the Texas prep ranks. With HC Strong entering 2016 on tenuous ground, Gilbert was coaxed away from Tulsa with a three-year contract worth $850,000 per.

Gilbert inherits some high-quality players as a base, including UT’s “Smash Brothers” RBs, those being jr. D’Onta Foreman (6-0, 238; 681 YR in 2016 on 7.2 ypc) and 6-2, 252 soph Chris Warren III (470, 6.6 ypc). Three starters return in what should eventually be a very good OL, led by soph LT Conner Williams. True freshman C Zach Shackelford enrolled early, went through spring practice, and is likely to start in the middle, flanked on one side by the five-star talent of the aforementioned freshman G Patrick Hudson.

Last year’s Texas stop unit allowed 30 ppg and was 106th in total defense, frequently caving vs. quality attacks. Even though five starters from that unit have departed, Strong’s impressive recruiting appears quite up to the task of filling in, although most of the best talent are sophs and frosh. The best and brightest is OLB Malik Jefferson, who had 61 Ts and 2½ sacks LY as a freshman All-American. The 6-3, 238 soph is still growing. So is 6-2, 228 soph ILB Anthony Wheeler.

Up front, jr. DE Naashon Hughes had 5½ sacks, sr. DT Paul Boyette Jr. had 3, and jr. DT Poona Ford had 2½. That veteran trio is being counted upon to step up their leadership to help guide a very young DL rotation that will include soph DEs Charles Omenihu & Breckyn Hager and five highly decorated DLmen in this year’s UT freshman class—Jordan Elliott, Chris Daniels, Marcel Southall, D’Andre Christmas-Giles, and Gerald Wilson. Recruiting services have tagged all with big-time potential.

Summary...Charlie Strong’s truthful, tough-love, core-values approach has been a success on the recruiting trail, especially among key family members of high schoolers. Says Strong, “You find out who the decision maker is, and then you work them. I don’t take no for an answer.” In his third year at Louisville, the Arkansas native went 11-2. In his fourth, 12-1. This is his third in Austin, but Big 12 is a deeper, tougher league. But Strong—who booted nine players from his first Texas team—now appears to have his program in Austin well under way. The Longhorns will be improved this season; the development of UT quarterback situation will determine just how much.

WEST VIRGINIA (SUR 8-5; PSR 5-8; 0/U 4-9. Defeated Arizona State 43-42 in Cactus Bowl)...The pressure is on this season in Morgantown. And not just on excitable, intense HC Dana Holgorsen, who is 36-28 in five years at West Virginia and who has guided the Mountaineers’ transition from the Big East to the much tougher Big 12. After Holgorsen rejected a proposed extension from the administration in the offseason, an improved offer was not forthcoming. So Holgorsen, an acknowledged offensive expert whose contract runs out next season, appears set to enter this season in search of either a more lucrative offer or a better job.

Against that background, the Mountaineers go into August camp with a very promising offense (34 ppg LY; 8 starters back) and plenty of question marks on defense (24.6 ppg LY; only four starters back).

One thing that Holgorsen is counting upon this season is continued development from sr. QB Skyler Howard, who had perhaps his best game in WV’s 43-42 shootout victory over Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl, hurling for 532 yards and 5 TDs. But prior to that contest vs. the porous Sun Devils, Howard had plenty of ups and downs as the replacement for previous starter Clint Trickett. Even including that out-pouring vs. ASU, Howard completed only 54.8% with 26 TDs vs. 14 interceptions. On the plus side, Howard was quick enough on his feet to run for a useful 502 yards and 6 TDs. Like most first-year starting QBs, Howard struggled the most vs. quality opposition, tossing at least one int. in every league game except the finale at Kansas State, where he was only 19 of 42.

Partly because of Howard’s ups and downs throwing, Holgorsen began to rely more on the Mounties’ strong running game. And that idea should pay off again TY. Four of five starters return in the OL, led by sr. C Tyler Orloskey and rock-solid G Kyle Bosch, who originally enrolled at Michigan.

Even though productive scatback Wendell Smallwood (1519 YR, 6.4 ypc; 26 recs.) has now moved on to the pros (Eagles), WV should again be strong at RB. Slowly-blossoming Rushel Shell (708 YR LY) is back for what should be a strong senior season. And he’s backed by a couple of young blue-chippers—true freshman Kennedy McKoy, an early enrollee who turned heads in spring, and juco Justin Crawford, the JC Offensive POY while playing for unior college champion NW Mississippi CC.

Defense might be another matter, as five of the top six LBs have departed from WV’s 3-3-5 set, while the five-man secondary lost three stalwarts to the NFL! That aggressive secondary helped produce a helpful 31 takeaways, including 23 interceptions. Holgorsen remains optimistic, however, as deeper recruiting classes in recent years are now providing seasoned replacements who are juniors and seniors with occasional previous “injury” starts or lots of snaps as backups or special teamers. Said, Holgorsen in spring, “If you look at the first-string defense right now, it’s made up of juniors and seniors.”

That may be, but the proof will come on the playing field for a largely-rebuilt unit that allowed 32 ppg in eight games of league play LY, when excluding overmatched Kansas. That will be especially true for the secondary, where sr. backup CBs Nana Kyeremeh and Rasul Douglas are the tentative projected starters to face the myriad top-notch wideouts in the Big 12. There will be an influx of new CB talent in the person of sr. transfer Antonio Crawford, who has starting nickel-back experience at Miami-Florida. Also on the way is graduate CB Maurice Fleming, who played in all 14 games with Iowa LY. The safety spots are more settled, with two-year starter Dravon Askew-Henry (59 Ts LY) and sr. Jarrod Harper (9 starts LY). Incoming is 6-3, 215 juco Kyzir White, who seems to have the ideal size to play the hybrid S/LB spot in WV’s 3-3-5.

Valuable PK Josh Lambert (21 of 28 FGs LY) will be back for his final season, but he is suspended for the first three games (Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU) due to a violation of Big 12 eligibility rules.

Summary...The Mountaineers seem well-set to run the ball and throw the ball. And if QB Howard improves further, WV’s Big 12 schedule (five league home games, including TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor) is favorable for staying in contention if the Mounties get off to a good start. The rebuilt defense isn’t likely to match LY’s 23 interceptions. So it will be up to the offense to generate more ball control and key scores when needed.

KANSAS STATE (SUR 6-7; PSR6-7; O/U 8-5. Lost 45-23 vs. Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl)...In many respects, Kansas State deserves considerable credit for putting together even a 6-6 regular season in 2015 and earning a quality bowl bid. After all, the Wildcats lost promising starting QB Jesse Ertz to a knee injury after the first offensive snap of the season! And they don’t line up four and five-star QBs in Manhattan like they do at Ohio State, Southern Cal, and Notre Dame. If the Wildcats can land a good one now and again, and coach him up, Bill Snyder’s boys are usually capable of pulling more than a few upsets in the Big 12.

Last year, Ertz (98 TDP in high school; the Iowa prep POY in 2012) was supposed to be that guy. Until the first snap, that is. Then everything changed. To make matters even worse, the Wildcats lost speedy, dual-threat, true freshman QB prospect Alex Delton in the second game! That put the KSU offense in the hands of 6-5 former walk-on and marginal passer Joe Hubener (47.5%, 9 TDs, 10 ints. LY) and WR/QB Kody Cook (45.5%) for the rest of the season. Hubener was a versatile walk-on who had never started a game at QB at any level, usually playing other positions. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats finished an unacceptable 108th in passing. In this age of explosive offense, K-State completed only 47% of its passes for only 14 TDs all season.

After spring, the No. 1 QB spot in Manhattan was still undetermined. Ertz is the best passer, but the mobile Delton is the more versatile. Hubener (613 YR and 13 TDR last season) figures to be a useful, experienced situational reserve, but he shouldn’t be ruled out as the starter after showing improved passing in the spring.

With its passing game limited, opposing teams were able to zero in on K-State RB Charles Jones, holding him to a team-leading 696 YR. Not a lot by 21st century measuring sticks. Soph smurfs 5-8 Dalvin Warmack (65 YR) and 5-10 Justin Silmon (355 YR) are back to provide support, but no K-State back will remind anyone of Barry Sanders.

One area that did show substantial improvement in spring ball was the WR corps, which greatly missed the game-breaking abilities of former star Tyler Lockett LY. Expected to provide that element TY is 6-2 soph juco Byron Pringle, who sparkled nearly all spring. 6-2 sr. Deonte Burton (38 recs. LY) and 5-9 soph Dominique Heath (23) bring experience to the group. And there is other new blood incoming in 6-2 true freshman Corey Sutton, who also flashed potential in spring, and 5-11 RS freshman Denzel Goolsby, a former Kansas high school player of the year as a RB who spent LY learning the WR position.

The big question mark on the offense—and the entire team—is the OL, which lost four solid senior starters from LY. The Wildcats are set at center, with soph Dalton Risner back from LY and on the early Rimington watch list. No OL depth chart was present after spring, with competition continuing for the other four spots. But 6-5 redshirt freshman Scott Frantz seems ticketed for one of the tackle jobs, and jr. Reid Najvar headed for one of the other three spots.

Much like the QB platoon on offense, the secondary on became an early trouble spot last year on defense when sr. S Dante Barnett—with 28 career starts and three 2014 ints.—was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in 2015's opener. Without the experience, depth and leadership they expected LY, the Wildcats ended up playing more read-and-react zone than they had planned, ending up 121st in the nation vs. the pass and yielding 31.5 ppg. Despite a unit that produced a decent 38 sacks, the Wildcats picked off only five opponents’ aerials, three of them by returning LB Elijah Lee. The 2015 stop unit was exposed as pretty helpless in the Wildcats’ one-sided bowl loss to Arkansas in the Liberty, as the Razorbacks led in yards 569-242 in their 45-23 victory.

The Wildcats appear well set at LB with the aforementioned Lee (80 Ts, 5 sacks LY to go with those 3 ints.), plus sr. Will Davis (54 Ts) and Charmeachelle Moore (55).

The DL returns two outstanding performers in high-motor DE Jordan Willis (9½ sacks LY) and jr. DT Will Geary (3½ sacks). But the search for more playmakers and depth up front continues.

Summary...With their returning injured players plus their newcomers, the Wildcats have more talent, more depth, more speed, better passing, and better balance than LY. Yes, the QB/OL units remain unproven, but the aerial game now has much more potential. The season opener at Stanford do-everything back Christian McCaffrey appears to be a tall mountain to climb. But the rest of the early schedule offers opportunities. Speculation is rife in Manhattan that after preaching discipline, family and community for nearly three decades, Bill Snyder (turns 77 in October) might be calling it quits after this season.

Note that K-State is a dominating 18-1 SU and vs. the spread its last 19 meetings vs. Kansas when the team has been under the guidance of Bill Snyder.

BAYLOR (SUR 10-3; PSR 6-7; O/U 8-5. Defeated North Carolina 49-38 in Russell Athletic Bowl)...It can be argued with considerable safety that no top-25 team has had endure to the offseason upheaval that has Baylor. No program has been impacted so precipitously by a single, lingering situation since the Penn State revelations and dismissals in 2011.

And, at this writing in mid-July, the tumult continues, with highly-regarded soph QB Jarrett Stidham—one of the more decorated recruits to land at Baylor—announcing plans to transfer. Interim head coach Jim Grobe has acknowledged that the Bears’ roster numbers have dipped to about 70 players, well below the NCAA limit of 85 scholarships. At least 12 signees from BU’s top-20 recruiting class of 2016 will not be with the team this season (worse yet, many of those players are headed to other Big 12 schools). A few other veterans besides Stidham have transferred. Medical issues and disciplinary dismissals have cost the team a few other players.

All this has come about in the wake of the nine-month investigation into how Baylor University has responded in recent years to reports of sexual assaults. The findings in the report by the Pepper Hamilton law firm have not only cost Baylor its very popular and successful head coach, Art Briles, but also the school’s president and its athletic director.

Sixty-four-year-old Jim Grobe, the straight-arrow head coach who produced five winning seasons in 13 years at at tiny Wake Forest—including a rather amazing 11-3 mark and ACC championship in 2006—was a wise choice to try to hold the program together during this time of difficulty, with a national search for a coach being mounted to take over after 2016.

In handicapping terms, Grobe inherits a team loaded with more offensive talent then he ever dreamed of while in Winston-Salem. How well Grobe can deal with those player defections and cope with a short roster over the course of the season in the rugged Big 12—a league in which the Bears have made few friends in recent years due to their many blow-out wins—is yet to be determined. Grobe has retained virtually all of Briles’ staff, including Kendal Briles, Art’s son and the team’s aggressive offensive coordinator.

Even with only four starters back on offense, Baylor still appears to be plenty potent after leading the nation in scoring (48.1 ppg) and total offense (616 ypg) last season. With opponents trying to get more DBs on the field to counter the Bears’ devastating, deep-strike passing game, Baylor finished second in the nation in rushing last year with 327 ypg, trailing only option-oriented Georgia Southern (which was last in passing). 6-3 sr. QB Seth Russell (29 TDP, 6 ints.; 402 YR and 6 TDR) led the team to a 7-0 mark LY before suffering a neck injury. With Russell now cleared to return, Stidham (not to mention No. 3 QB and part-time receiver Chris Johnson) announced their transfer plans, leaving 6-4, 225, true freshman early enrollee Zach Smith as Russell’s backup. [Now you get the idea about the type of attrition Grobe might have to deal with this season.]

Jr. KD Cannon (50 recs. LY with 6 TDs) is set to become the new first-option as the only returning starter at wideout. But speedy backups such as sr. Lynx Hawthorne and Chris Platt, plus 6-4, 220 Ishmael Zamora, got plenty of reps during 2015's frequent early-season blowouts. And Hawthorne ended up seeing action at QB vs. Texas when fill-in starter Chris Johnson was injured.

The defensive line is also rebuilding, having lost all four starters, including 6-9, 280 DE force Shawn Oakman. JCAA Jeremy Faulk was expected to take over at one DT spot; sr. Byron Bonds, the other. However, Faulk was caught up in the tightening suspicions and allegations at BU, and 6-0, 305 fellow juco DT recruit DeQuinton Osborne nixed his choice of Baylor in wake of the looming turmoil and headed north to Stillwater instead. Projected starting DEs K.J. Smith and Brian Nance are talented, but unproven as starters.

With the strength of the front seven now at LB this season, def. coord. Phil Bennett says the Bears will use more three-man fronts than in the past. 5-10, 225 hitting machine Taylor Young (80 Ts, 13½ TFL, 4 sacks) is an overachiever at one LB spot, while sr. Aiavion Edwards (61 Ts) racked up 17 T in the bowl victory over the Tar Heels. Essential to the defense is nickel-back/LB Travon Blanchard (84 Ts, 2 sacks, 2 ints., 4 forced fumbles), whose rangy, 6-2, 210 presence allows the Bear defense to morph into a five-DB nickel without substituting.
Three other DB starters return, including sr. CB Ryan Reid (3 ints. LY) and safeties Orion Stewart (64 Ts) and Chance Waz (70). Redshirt freshman Jameson Houston more than impressed in spring, easily winning a starting job. Despite its decent collection of DB talent, however, the Bear defense too often disappointed in the clutch last season, finishing 75th vs. the pass and allowing 35 points or more five times!

The kicking game was also a bit erratic LY, as Chris Callahan hit 8 FGs in 13 chances, but none longer than 39 yards (in three chances), sometimes discouraging the team from long FG tries.

Summary...Once again, Baylor’s non-conference schedule (Northwestern State, SMU, Rice) is not very challenging. And the Bears face three tough Big 12 road games after October 28—at Texas, at Oklahoma, and at West Virginia. The rebuilt OL needs at least a little time to jell, and the defense is going to be much younger up front. A thinning roster must be a worry for HC Grobe as the season goes on, injuries mount, and the schedule toughens dramatically in the second half. This is to say nothing about the possibility of a big decline in the Bears’ previous swashbuckling approach. Thus, a run toward the top of the league late in the season seems very unlikely. Especially if something happens to Seth Russell and the Bears go from redshirt senior at QB to true freshman.

TEXAS TECH (SUR 7-6; PSR 7-6; O/U 10-3. Lost 56-27 to LSU in the Texas Bowl)...In addition to the usual complement of graduation losses, high-scoring Texas Tech sustained a few other departures that will once again make it difficult for the Red Raiders to rise above the middle of the pack in the contentious Big 12.

The unavoidable departures were bad enough, as top RB DeAndre Washington (1492 YR), electric WR Jakeem Grant (90 recs, for 1268 yards and 10 TDC, not to mention two TD runs and one TD throw), and stalwart LT Le’Raven Clark (No. 3 pick of the Colts) all completed their eligibility. Then, the spring arrests of starting LB Dakota Allen, and OLmen Robert Castaneda & Trace Ellison resulted in their dismissal from the team. Allen was the top returning tackler (87) on a team without many quality defenders. Castaneda and Ellison were being counted upon to provide depth for am OL unit replacing 3 of 5 starters. Plus, former starting QB Davis Webb transferred to Cal for his final year of football, leaving TT with virtually no experience to back up marked-man QB Patrick Mahomes. Except for RB and WR, all the losses came at positions of need in 2016.

The offense in Buddy Holly country will still keep coming in 2016 as long as TT can keep QB Mahomes healthy. The 6-3 jr. could be even better TY after hitting 63.7% for 36 TDs (15 ints.) and 4653 YP. He was also fleet of foot enough to rush for another 456 yards and 10 TDs. One concern this season is that TT is rebuilding in its OL. Sr. C Tony Morales is on the Rimington watch list, while sr. LT Baylen Brown is an experienced starter at several positions. Soph RG Justin Murphy, RS frosh LG Madison Akamnonu, and RS frosh RT Terence Steele have been groomed to step in. But one or two injuries might make the Red Raider OL real young, real quick.

The situation is much better at RB and WR, where Kingsbury has had success recruiting talent for his relentless offense. 5-10, 192 jr. Justin Stockman (367 YR, 6.0 ypc) is likely to start at RB, with at least three quality youngsters behind him.

At the key Air Raid receiver positions, jr. Devin Lauderdale (43 recs. LY), jr. Ian Sadler (42), sr. Reginald Davis (38), and jr. Cameron Batson (29) are all experienced contributors. So is 6-3 jr. Dylan Cantrell, who missed LY due to injury. But coaches are extremely excited about the arrival of 6-3 juco Derrick Willies (previously at Iowa), who had 14 TDs LY in the JC ranks while gaining 23.6 yards per reception! Plus, 5-11 juco De’Quan Bowman was considered the top JC punt returner LY.

The situation is not as rosy on the Raiders’ defense (5 starters back), where dismissed LB Allen was expected to be a key member of the developing soph nucleus that includes DT Breiden Fehoko, LB D’Vonta Hinton, and hard-hitting 177-pound safety Jah’Shawn Johnson (2 ints., 4 forced fumbles). However, the unit is still undersized at several positions, young overall, and dangerously thin. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs is counting on two transfers from big-time programs to help immediately, those being former Notre Dame DE Kolin Hill and one-time Michigan NT Ondre Pipkens. And there is plenty of experience at CB if the front seven can generate a decent pass rush. 6-1, 220 LB Johnathan Picone enrolled early in immediately impressed. Any quality help will be greatly appreciated on this unit, which appeared to be invisible at times in allowing 638 yards (212 YR and 5 TDs to Leonard Fournette) in LY’s 56-27 bowl loss to LSU.

Soph PK Clayton Hatfield (14 of 16 FGs LY) should get even more chances TY.

Summary...Texas Tech last earned a title as co-champs of the old Southwest Conference in 1994. That was four years before Kliff Kingsbury even arrived as a player. Attracting quality defenders to west Texas remains a problem for Kingsbury, who is 19-19 in his three years. So expect the pyrotechnics to continue for a team that allowed 44 points or more eight times in 2016. But if the rebuilt OL keeps QB Mahomes healthy, the Red Raiders will still be tough hombres to deal with. Lots of fun, another bowl, but no title again this year for Texas Tech.

With its uptempo, high-scoring offense and its thin, undersized defense, Texas Tech has a 41-20-1 over/under mark the last five years.

IOWA STATE (SUR 3-9; PRS 6-5-1; O/U 4-8)...
A renewed movement starts at Iowa State following the full-faith effort of former head coach, Iowa favorite son Paul Rhoads. Few considered Rhoads incompetent. He has moved on to become the DB coach at Arkansas. But after a 7-6 mark (3-5 in the Big 12) in his first season in Ames in 2009, Rhoads was unable to climb any higher, as the Cyclones failed to finish above .500 in Rhoads’ ensuing six campaigns, although he got close (suffering bowl losses after entering with 6-6 teams in 2011 and 2012).

Following in the wake of recent ISU mentors Dan McCarney, Gene Chizik and Rhoads is Matt Campbell, who posted a 35-15 record the last four seasons at Mid-American Conference force Toledo. Earlier in his career, Campbell won three Division III titles as a defensive lineman at Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, then two more as the team’s off. coord. in 2006-06. Now, the Massillon-born son of a coach takes on his biggest challenge, trying to make a contender of hard-fighting, but perennial Big 12 whipping boy Iowa State.

If his past performance is any indication, Campbell should give a good account of himself. For one thing, he has demonstrated a sound fundamental approach. A former OL assistant and running game coordinator at Bowling Green and Toledo, Campbell has promised that his ISU team will run the ball. His 2014 Toledo team was 12th in the nation in rushing ypg. Last year, after the Rockets had lost their entire starting OL to graduation, the Rockets were 27th on the ground.
That OL/run-game knowledge will come in handy TY, as 6-8 jr. LT Jake Campos is ISU’s only established “big ugly” up front returning for 2016. And he’s coming off hip surgery in the offseason. Campos has 23 NCAA starts under his belt. The rest of this year’s Cyclone OL has only one! 

That reconstruction up front was immediately on the mind of Campbell when he took over the ISU operation last November 29th. Campbell says the key planks of his coaching platform are “recruit, retain, and develop.” And he demonstrated success with the first plank by landing one of Iowa State’s best recruiting classes in years, ranking in the top 50 by some. Campbell has brought in 36 newcomers overall, including five who earned four “stars” coming out of high school. With his OL needing replenishment, the incoming crew includes highly-regarded 6-8 T Sean Foster, as well as juco Gs Karson Green and Oge Udeogu (6-3, 330).

While the Cyclones’ OL might be in flux much of the season, the offense (only 25 ppg LY; 93rd in the country) has good potential elsewhere. RB Mike Warren racked up 1359 YR as a freshman in being named the Big 12 Freshman POY. The redshirt soph is now stronger and bigger than LY’s 196 pounds and has been mentioning the 2000 figure in the offseason.  ISU also has an excellent go-to guy at WR in 6-5, 223 jr. Allen Lazard (56 recs., 8 TDs LY), who is expected to be okay after a hand fracture in spring.

At the helm of the attack will be QB Joel Lanning, a 6-2, 232 bruising pass-run threat who is fast enough to rip off substantial gains if he gets out of the pocket. Tasked with improving Lanning (only 55.4% LY, 10 TDs, 4 ints. LY) will be passing-game coordinator Jim Hofher, the former HC at Cornell and Buffalo. HC Campbell will have to avoid the temptation of using the physical Lanning too frequently in the running game, as pounding through Big 12 defenses will be much more difficult than mushing through the many undersized stop units in the MAC.

This year’s defense will change to the increasingly-popular 4-2-5 nickel scheme under Campbell, the better to deal with the many pass-happy spreads in the Big 12. That unit had seven starters returning from LY until sr. ILB Jordan Harris (70 Ts LY) decided to transfer after spring in order to play his graduate season elsewhere.

The strength of the defense will be the secondary, where sr. CB Nigel Tribune has 26 career starts. And talent at that position runs so deep that the experienced Tribune might not even start. Soph Brian Peavy grew literally by leaps and bounds LY, becoming the team’s top cover corner while recording 82 Ts and 2 interceptions. Also, 5-10 juco D’Andre Payne (a four-star recruited initially signed by Tennessee) flashed his considerable skills as a CB/nickel-back in spring.

The DL has two high-quality performers in sr. DT Demond Tucker (6 sacks, 13 TFL) and 6-6, 265 DE Jhaustin Thomas (who must improve his 2016 sack total of just one). However, as usual in Ames, overall size and depth up front for the Cyclones is a concern. With Harris gone, the top LB becomes 6-1 soph OLB Willie Harvey (59 Ts, 2 sacks LY). Depth and experience at the position need to be developed.

Summary...If Campbell can keep his “triplets” (QB Lanning, RB Warren & WR Lazard) healthy and find some depth for his front seven, ISU has the potential to be a pest in the Big 12's round-robin race. A bowl at the end of the year? That would be a surprise, but not impossible, as four of the Clones’ last five games are at home, and, by then, some of Campbell’s numerous newcomers might be contributing more than learning.

KANSAS (SUR 0-12; PSR 3-9; O/U 6-6)...It’s the second season for David Beaty at the helm of KU, and he’s still looking for his first victory. Overall, the Jayhawks have dropped 15 straight, and 20 of 21, with the sole victory in that stretch occurring in November of 2014 vs. Iowa State. In KU’s lost, 0-12 season of 2015, the Jayhawks trailed by a depressing cumulative total of 348-89 at the half! It was the team’s first winless year since 1954. The attack generated only 15.3 ppg, 122nd in the nation. Only five teams scored less. So, to say that Beaty has an incredibly difficult challenge ahead of him is to say the least.

Here are some of the things the 45-year-old HC intends to do for 2016 in an attempt to make Kansas competitive once again in the high-scoring Big 12. First, Beaty, a recent A&M offensive assistant (2012-14), intends to assume the play-calling duties himself. Second, even though his offense is laden with youth (four true freshmen were starting by the end of LY), Beaty intends to try to go nearly “full Air Raid” on the attack, increasing the KU tempo with the idea of keeping rival defenses on the field and on their heels, just as so many of the Big 12's high-scoring outfits do these days.

The problems with such a strategy are numerous, starting at QB. Last year’s promising “rookie” passer, now-soph Ryan Willis (8 starts, 52.1%, 1719 YP, 9 TDs, but 10 ints.) was held out of spring practice because of a wrist injury suffered playing pickup basketball. That left the top job in spring to dual-threat jr. Montell Cozart (4 games, 3 starts, 752 YP, 63% LY), who missed the last 8 games of 2015 due to a shoulder injury. However, despite showing some positives, Cozart tossed three ints. in the spring “game.” Sr. Ke’aun Kinner (566 YR LY) was a quality RB LY, but depth at the position is dubious, and the 5-9, 191 sr. isn’t built to absorb lots of punishment. The OL, even with three starters back, is still youthful and lacking the required size in spots, and it gave up 40 sacks LY (a figure not as bad as it might seem, considering KU trailed for virtually all of the last ten games).

There is a promising situation at receiver, which is good considering Beaty’s uptempo Air Raid plans. Sophs Steven Sims Jr. (30 recs. LY) and Jeremiah Booker (23) both got their feet wet LY. 5-10 jr. transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who followed Beaty to KU from A&M, was a high-ranking recruit in College Station and was the offensive star of TY’s spring practice in Lawrence, demonstrating big-play potential. True freshman WR Evans Fairs is a well-regarded incoming freshman. And 6-5, 245 jr. TE Ben Johnson (only 13 recs. LY) has the potential to expand his production.

Seven to nine starters return on the team’s 4-2-5 defense, depending on how you count the returnees on a unit that was basically overwhelmed in every game LY except one, that being a 23-17 loss at TCU, where Horned Frog star QB Trevone Boykin and A-A WR Josh Doctson were both injured early. Only four times did the Jayhawks hold an opponent to fewer than 40 points. The team’s 46.1 ppg allowance was the worst in the nation. So the coaches are looking for anyone who can contribute on a consistent basis.
Yet there is a bit of hope on the stop unit, as 80% of team tackles in 2015 return TY. The unit is best established in the back seven, as jr. LB Joe Dineen Jr. (86 Ts, 3 sacks) and sr. LB Marquis Roberts (71 Ts) are back. Four seniors might start in the base nickel defense, led by S Fish Smithson (111 Ts, 2 ints. LY) and nickel-back Tevin Shaw (65), who anchor the deep middle. But the Jayhawk corners need to win more battles TY vs. the many elite wideouts in the Big 12.

In the DL, DE Dorance Armstrong (3½ sacks LY) developed rapidly as a true freshman LY, but needs to add muscle to his 6-4, 227 frame. Penetrating soph DT Daniel Wise had an impressive 7 sacks LY as a redshirt freshman, but played at about 275 LY. Wise was up to about 290 by spring, but KU still needs more heft and depth in its front four to help him.

Summary...Kansas should be improved TY, and not just by definition after its winless 2015 campaign. But the Jayhawks still lag far, far behind the rest of the Big 12 in terms of overall talent and depth. If KU doesn’t snap its losing streak in this year’s first two games (vs. Rhode Island and vs. Ohio), there is definite danger the Jayhawk drought might stretch into 2017! In the intermediate future, the powers that be in Lawrence at hoping that Texas native Beaty can use his well-established Lone Star State connections (as a high school coach and college assistant) to fortify KU’s ranks with a significant influx of Big 12-level talent. In the near future, look for an all-out effort vs. FCS Rhode Island (1-10 LY) in the Jayhawks’ opener.


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