2018 Big 12 Preview
July 3, 2018
By Marc Lawrence
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2018 BIG 12 PREVIEW
Call Me Champ
In its 22-year history, the Big 12 championship has been won by nine different schools... three of who are no longer members of the conference. The current Big 12 champion is the University of Oklahoma Sooners who have won the most championships with 11.
From its formation in 1996 until 2010, the championship was determined in the Big 12 championship game. Following the departures of two schools in 2010, the conference discontinued the championship game in favor of a round-robin format to determine the champion. Today the teams reside in two divisions with the winners squaring off in a Big 12 title game to determine the league champ.
Of the ten teams currently residing in the Big 12 only Oklahoma owns a winning record against all other foes, posting a 421-147-24 all-time mark. Only Texas (312-141-10) and West Virginia (36-31) sport overall winning records against the same ilk.
There are currently eight ongoing rivalries in the conference, led by Kansas-Kansas State (Sunflower Showdown – 115 games), followed by Baylor-TCU (The Revivalry – 113 games), Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Bedlam– 112 games) and Oklahoma-Texas (Red River Showdown – 112 games).
Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
BAYLOR (Offense - *9/2, Defense – 9/3 52 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: MISSION CALLING
When he came to Baylor from Temple, head coach Matt Rhule immediately signed 27 recruits. The Bears featured 54 different players that started at least one game last year – the most in the land. And with it, his 27 first-time starters in 2017 were the third most in the nation. As a result, the Bears return 93% (2nd nationally) of their offensive production, plus 88% of their defensive leaders, including 16 of the top 20 tacklers. In addition, the Bears inked five Division-1 transfers to the roster in 2018. So yes, the times are a-changing in Waco. However, while Baylor is a “mission team” in 2018 the fact is the Bears are just 1-17 in their last 18 regular season games.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In Rhule’s first year at Temple the Owls were 2-10. They improved to 6-6 the following season.
IOWA STATE (Offense - *6/3, Defense – 6/2, 46 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: SOUP’S ON
The Cyclones snapped a 4-year losing skid with an 8-win breakout season under 2nd-year head coach Matt Campbell last season. In the process, they defeated a school-record three ranked teams and made a Top 25 appearance for the first time since since 2005 – while winning their fourth bowl game in school history. With nine players back on offense who have seven or more career starts, and six starts back on defense who all earned conference honors, they appear to be in good hands. They institued the slogan “Win in The Dark” for 2018. The concept is simple. Games are won or lost in the offseason when nobody is watching. Remember... four of last season’s 5 losses came by a TD or less.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Seldom-used walk-on QB Kyle Kempt stunned Oklahoma as a 31-point dog in his first college start last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Kansas State (11/24) - *KEY as a favorite
KANSAS (Offense - *9/3, Defense – 10/3, 61 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS
The tenderfoot Jayhawks started only 8.7% of their games with seniors last season, the fewest in the nation. With only 3 wins in three seasons at Kansas, head coach David Beaty needs the seeds of consecutive Top 20 recruiting classes to start bearing fruit immediately. QB Peyton Bender started 8 games last season while becoming the fastest Wildcat quarterback to reach 1,000 passing yards in the school’s 127-year history. Still, with KU just 1-32 SU against FBS opposition under Beaty – and being forced to face 8 bowl squads in their final eight games of the season – they’ll need to win early and often in order to save his hide. Behind a suddenly experienced unit, look for the best season in Beaty’s tenure in 2018.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kansas is 5-74 SU in conference games since 2009.
PLAY ON: at Kansas State (11/10)
KANSAS STATE (Offense - *8/4, Defense – 5/2, 37 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: YOUTH IS SERVED
While slipping in the stats on both sides of the ball in 2017, the Wildcats also gave up claim to being the only team in the land to finish in the Top 15 in Red Zone offense for three straight years when they finished mid-pack (No. 63) last season. It was disappointing considering Bill Snyder had started the youngest team in his career at KSU in 2016 when underclassmen made 135 starts. The Wildcats then combined for 123 starts by sophomores (114) and freshmen (9) last season. The cardiac Cats notched three wins last year after trailing by 10-plus points – the most in school history. Snyder’s troops have also been the best team in the nation in non-offensive touchdowns the last 19 seasons, netting MORE THAN 2.5 more preseason than the yearly average. They also held their final 8 opponents under their scoring average last season. With a pair of 1K rushers in Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon back, a re-adjustment looks in store in 2018.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Bill Snyder is just the fourth person in the history of college football to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an active coach.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Oklahoma State (10/13)
OKLAHOMA (Offense - 6/3, Defense – 6/2, 42 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: LINCOLN LUXURY
According to Fansided.com, from the Big Hit List, the Sooners are #16 overall with player losses from last year including 15 players from the 2-deep gone. It’s one reason they will turn to 43 freshmen players on the roster. The biggest loss, of course, was last year’s Heisman Trophy winning QB Baker Mayfield, the former walk-on and No.1 pick in this year’s NFL draft. His replacement is Kyler Murray, former Texas A&M quarterback and a high school legend in Texas. Lincoln Riley hired former Nebraska and Notre Dame DC, and UConn head coach, Bob Diaco in what may be the best offseason move made by the Sooners. That’s a really good move considering all three non-conference games are versus bowl foes.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Oklahoma is 124-27 in regular season Big 12 games since 2000. That’s 21 more wins than the next best school (Texas).
PLAY ON: at Iowa State (9/15) - *KEY
OKLAHOMA STATE (Offense – 5/2, Defense – 7/3, 39 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TRUE COWBOY
Mike Gundy has spent more than half of his life either quarterbacking or coaching at Oklahoma State. His team currently presides over the greatest success in the history of the program. Yes, he is a Cowboy through and through. However, he’ll need to replace record-setting QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, the most lethal duo in OSU annals. Rudolph tossed for a whopping 13,618 yards and 92 TDs in four seasons, while Washington finished his career No. 7 all-time in the FBS with 4,472 yards and 39 TDs. Remember this before signing off on the 2018 Cowboys, though: OSU is one of only five schools to appear in every set of College Football Playoff rankings since 2015, joining Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys are 11-0 SU and 10-1 ATS off consecutive wins versus an opponent off consecutive losses under Gundy.
PLAY ON: at TCU (11/24)
TCU (Offense - 5/2, Defense – 6/2, 44 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: OVER THE HILL
While no one left early for the NFL, no FBS team must replace more offensive starters this season than TCU, who tied UTSA with nine. Only Colorado State (15) must replace more total starters than the Horned Frogs, and only Navy (21) and UTSA (20) lost more seniors from their two-deep than did TCU (19). Included among the missing is QB Kenny Hill, who bailed the team out when Trevone Boykin left early for the NFL draft two years ago. Head coach Gary Patterson will once again leave the play calling to OC Sonny Cumbie, whose ground attack ran the ball 55% of the time last season. Meanwhile, Patterson will no longer coach the LBs this season, allowing him to concentrate solely on head coaching duties.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: TCU forced 55 TOs the last three seasons. The Frogs forced 100 TO’s the previous three seasons
PLAY AGAINST: at West Virginia (11/10)
TEXAS (Offense - *7/3, Defense – 6/2, 37 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: YOUNG HORNS
After Texas started the 2nd most underclassmen in the nation in 2016, highly touted new head coach Tom Herman continued to proceed on a similar course in his debut with the Longhorns in 2017. As a result, UT freshmen have now started 138 games the last three seasons. With it, Texas landed 7 of the state’s top 10 recruits this offseason. Note that five of UT’s six losses last season came by 10 points or fewer, while four of them were by 7 points or fewer. Both of those marks were the most among Power Five Conference teams in 2017. Also, the Longhorns are the only program in college football to play 11 Power Five opponents in each regular season from 2015-18.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Longhorns head coach Tom Herman is 9-1 ATS in his career as an underdog.
PLAY ON: vs. Maryland (9/1)
TEXAS TECH (Offense - 7/5, Defense – 10/3, 85 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: CHANGING OF THE TIDE
Kliff Kingsbury was able to utilize the same starting lineup the final 11 games of the season last year. And while the Red Raiders’ prolific offense slipped mightily, Kingsbury will benefit from having all five OL starters, plus the bulk of the backups, returning in 2018. The headline-making news last season, though, was a DEFENSE that improved 110 YPG behind DC David Gibbs – from a team that had yielded 508 YPG collectively under Kingsbury prior to last year. For as improved as the Texas Tech defense was in 2017, expect the stop-unit to be even better this season. That’s because 10 starters (154 career starts) and 10 additional two-deep players are on Texas Tech’s list of defensive returners. It’s what happens when freshmen make 144 starts over the past four seasons. Now that’s a change.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: As a head coach and an OC, Kingsbury’s teams have ranked an average 6th in total offense in his career.
PLAY ON: at Kansas State (11/17) - *KEY
WEST VIRGINIA (Offense - *7/4, Defense – 6/3, 40 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TIME WILL TELL
SR QB Will Grier, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, returns. He completed 250-of-388 passes for 3,490 yards and 34 TDs before a broken finger in the first quarter of the Texas game ended his promising season. Considering the fact that the Mountaineers bring a total of 303 starts back from last season’s squad, they are more experienced than they might appear on the surface. Included are Grier’s top two WR targets David Sills and Gary Jennings, who passed on the NFL for another season in Morgantown. However, a normally reliable stop unit could be a sticking point as they allowed a Big 12-worst 204 rushing YPG last season. In addition, WVU must also replace three senior starters from the secondary. Not having any consecutive road games will help but the team will only go as far as its revamped defense carries it.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Mountaineers are 13-4 SU and 14-3 ATS away against foes coming off a SU favorite loss.
PLAY AGAINST: at Texas Tech (9/29) - *KEY as a favorite
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