Sports handicapper Ian Cameron provides the first of a two-part preview of the Big 12 for the upcoming College Football season, and review the projections of each team.
Here is Part 1 of my two-part betting preview of the Big 12 for the upcoming College Football season:
Turmoil was the word of the offseason in Waco in the wake of the investigation into how Baylor responded in recent years to reports of sexual assaults. The investigation results have led to the dismissal of Baylor's most successful head coach Art Briles along with their president and AD. They have seen their scholarships diminish from 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. The scandal has trickled down to players getting out. With the number of players on the roster down to 70, which is well below the 85 player limit, the program was dealt another blow when their extremely talented QB Jarrett Stidham, announced that he was transferring out.
Baylor made an odd choice of head coach to fill the Briles shoes bringing in former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe which isn't necessarily a great fit. The good news for Baylor is they will have Seth Russell back at QB for this season but he has just three other starters returning with him on the offensive side of the football. Russell had a great start to last season leading the Bears to a 7-0 start before a neck injury derailed his season but there is not the same depth at QB behind him with a freshman in Zach Smith as his backup after Stidham's transfer so he must stay healthy. They lose a couple key WR's including Corey Coleman from last season but they still have K.D. Cannon, Lynx Hawthorne, and Chris Platt to be the new lead receiving options. The defensive line is rebuilding with four starters from last season departing but the LB corps is solid. The secondary brings three starters back but overall this is a defense that has plenty of youth in it at all levels. I think it's realistic to expect Baylor to decline at least slightly this season but how much depends on how healthy this team is in late October (with depth being a major concern now) when they hit the toughest portion of their schedule with road games at Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State will see a new face on the sidelines this season as former Toledo head coach Matt Campbell takes over as head coach of the Cyclones following the lengthy tenure of Paul Rhoads who was fired after last season. This will be Campbell's toughest challenge yet having to turn Iowa State from a perennial bottom tier squad in the Big 12 to a contender. Expect Iowa State's offense to look very atypical of many of the other Big 12 offenses which feature the downfield passing game as the Cyclones are going to be a run-first team without a doubt. The issue facing Iowa State as they look to have an effective ground attack this season is their offensive line returns only one starter and only 24 career starts along the OL so a lack of experience with that group is another obstacle they must overcome. QB Joel Lanning has potential for Iowa State and the projected starter has dual-threat capabilities but he must improve his completion percentage and accuracy this season. Iowa State does have a good RB in Mike Warren and some solid weapons at WR but how quickly the inexperienced and young OL develops will be the key to any success Iowa State has in moving the football and putting up points. There will be a new scheme on defense for Iowa State which could provide a learning curve and an adjustment period for the team on that side of the ball.
There are question marks up front on the DL and at LB but the secondary should be a strength for the team which is important considering all the good passing attacks within the Big 12. Matt Campbell has a big job ahead but he has recruited well prior to his first season in Ames and given time and if this team stays healthy, the potential is there for them to make some noise at the end of the season with a lot of home games in the final month and this team just might push for 6 wins and a bowl berth.
Kansas has been the Big 12 bottom feeder for years and I'm not sure anything will change this season. The Jayhawks had a beyond brutal season a year ago with a 0-12 SU mark and despite being power rated extremely low, they still managed to be a money burning 3-9 ATS last year. David Beaty enters his 2nd season as head coach still looking for his first win at KU which tells you all you need to know about the dismal state of the program. Beaty is taking over as OC this season and will assume all the playcalling duties on offense and he wants Kansas to become a full-on uptempo, Air Raid passing attack this season on offense but the problem with that philosophy is whether or not they get enough quality play from the QB to put up points and sustain drives in their faster paced offense. Ryan Willis showed glimpses of potential last season but still struggled with completion rate and INT's and is battling with Montell Cozart for the starting QB job and Cozart was every bit as erratic during his playing time last season. The offensive line has three starters back but they struggled last season big time to protect the QB so the jury is out on them. There is not much RB depth which is the bad news but there is some good news at WR where they should have a bit more depth and considering they want to be a Texas Tech type of heavy passing team, the multiple options at WR might be a good thing for the Jayhawks. There are plenty of returning starters upwards of 8 on defense but that was a horrendous stop unit a season ago so while there is plenty of experience back it isn't necessarily “good, high quality” experience.
The DL is still a bit shy on depth but they should have a lot of experience and depth in the secondary which should at least help to some extent against so many of the conference's strong passing attacks but the unit must produce better than it did last season when they got burned by many big plays as evidenced by the fact Kansas allowed a whopping 46 points per game on defense last season. Kansas should be improved and they have a glorious chance to finally snap their ugly 15 games losing streak when they face FCS Rhode Island and Ohio in their first two games both winnable but after that, wins will be very hard and maybe impossible to come by. It's important to quantify improvement here. Yes, Kansas is better but they still lag WAY behind the rest of the Big 12 and it's hard to imagine them escaping the basement in this conference.
Kansas State Wildcats
Considering all the injuries and midseason changes at QB last season, Kansas State reaching 6 wins and a bowl game was impressive. Now they have a more stable QB situation with three QB's returning and all of them battling for the starting job between Jesse Ertz, Joe Hubener, and dual threat Alex Delton so the team has options at the QB spot. The RB corps is average but WR should be improved with the Wildcats boasting an improved group of targets in the passing game regardless of who ends up being the QB. They lost four senior starters along the offensive line and that is undoubtedly one of the biggest areas of concern heading into the season. On defense, Kansas State really got torched all season in the secondary and an early injury to their senior safety Dante Barrett made matters worse. K-State had one of the worst pass defenses last year but they do have some experience back and are likely to show improvement.
The defensive line has some talent but lacks a bit of depth as well. LB is the strength of the defense with 189 tackles combined between the returning linebackers for this season. This could be the last season for Bill Snyder at the helm here in Manhattan and if it is, it's been a hell of a ride and I think this last ride might be a joyous one as I think the Wildcats have it in them to improve on their 6 win season of last year.
The Oklahoma Sooners are the Big 12 favorites and a national title contender prior to the start of this season but living up to lofty expectations have been a repeated problem for Oklahoma and head coach Bob Stoops in recent years. They must manage their way through an always challenging Big 12 schedule but also have to deal with a season opener against a very good Houston Cougars program which will pose a threat to the Sooners. Oklahoma had a fine season last year getting to the College Football Playoff before getting run out by Clemson 37-17 in the Orange Bowl national semifinal. They have their strong QB Baker Mayfield back in the fold to lead the offense once again. With Trevor Knight's departure to Texas A&M, true freshman Austin Kendall becomes the backup QB and the 4-star recruit has plenty of promise. Mayfield suffered multiple concussions last season which was a product of inadequate pass protection from a young offensive line which should be improved and have more experience this year. Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon return to form a dynamic and dangerous duo at RB. Oklahoma lost Sterling Shepard at WR but senior Dede Westbrook, junior Michiah Quick and Mark Andrews all have potential and upside for this team. They also get Penn State transfer into the rotation at WR in Geno Lewis.
On defense, they have some holes to fill with their top pass rusher, top tackler and top corner all gone but they do have some depth along the DL. It's at LB and secondary where things are murkier and those two units may need time to gel. There are legitimate question marks along the offensive line and on defense for this team and those will need to be answered if this team is to be as good or build on their season of a year ago. The expectations are high in Norman but there is no guarantee those will be met.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State sunk like a ship down the stretch last season starting off 10-0 and then getting wiped out by Baylor and Oklahoma followed by a 48-20 Sugar Bowl loss to Ole Miss. The good news for Okie State is they have a lot of key pieces back for head coach Mike Gundy. QB Mason Rudolph flashed potential and should be better this season leading the offense. They have all five starters back on a solid offensive line. The Cowboys are loaded with talent at WR, led by star WR James Washington along with senior Marcel Ateman and speedy sophomore Jalen McCleskey and there is plenty of depth behind them.
The defense has some concerns up front but the secondary should be much better after losing just one starter from that group. I never undersell an Oklahoma State team coached by Mike Gundy as he is an underrated head coach and always seems to have the Cowboys in the Big 12 mix. I expect more of the same this season.
Be Sure To Check Out Part 2 Of Our Big 12 Preview