Sports handicapper Ian Cameron delivers Part 2 of his Big 12 Preview for the upcoming College Football season.
Here is Part 2 of my two part preview of the Big 12 for the upcoming College Football season:
TCU Horned Frogs
TCU has undergone a severe makeover offensively the last two years as before they were a methodical, run first offense but they have adapted the same popular uptempo, pass heavy, spread offense that so many teams utilize in the Big 12 but it hasn't lessened the success of the Horned Frogs football team who have enjoyed a 23-3 SU run in the last two years combined since turning things over offensively to the uptempo style of attack. Despite the departure of their tremendous QB Trevone Boykin, I would still expect this team to possess a potent offense regardless of whether it is Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer at QB for the team while junior RB Kyle Hicks is set to take control of the backfield.
They do have some issues to sort out on the offensive line with only starter back but the word is they have recruited well in that area with players to fit the style of offense they like to execute. TCU loses their top receiver Josh Doctson but they have tons of quality and depth in that group this season including Ty Slanina who is back from an injury suffered midseason last year. 8 of the top 10 tacklers are back on TCU's defense this season. The Horned Frogs have a lot more experience and depth on defense with three senior leading the way on the defensive line and plenty of upperclassmen returning in the secondary. TCU had a mediocre defense last season by head coach Gary Patterson standards but I expect an improvement from the TCU stop unit here in 2016. I think this team's defense is much better and while it may take some time for the offensive line and their new starting QB (either Hill or Sawyer) to get in a groove, the Horned Frogs are still a force to be reckoned with and one that should be in the Big 12 title hunt.
Charlie Strong has clearly reaped the benefits of the off field issues that plagued Baylor this offseason. Texas has one of its strongest recruiting classes in some time and Strong managed to grab 4 Baylor commits away from Waco and bring them here to Austin. The talent base is much better and stronger for Texas but can Strong (who is on the hot seat) turn it into wins and a bigger impact in the Big 12? It all starts at QB where the performance level simply has to be much better…period. The Texas offense was awful a season ago and it will be up to likely starter Shane Buechele who clearly established himself as a frontrunner for the QB job in the spring. He possesses a very strong arm and some mobility that endeared him to everyone in the spring.
He is likely to emerge as the starting QB ahead of returnees Tyrone Swoopes and Jerod Heard. After last season's offensive struggles, Strong made a major offseason move to switch up the stagnant Texas offense by bringing in Sterlin Gilbert as his new offensive coordinator. He is a disciple of former Baylor head coach Art Briles so expect him to bring an uptempo, fast paced offense to Texas but the team will still require much better production at QB. They have a strong RB duo with D'Onta Freeman and Chris Warren III and should have a solid offensive line with three starters back and plenty of quality recruits waiting in the wings. On defense, they lose five starters from a unit that allowed 30 points per game last season but the newcomers are all highly recruited and have immense talent and Strong feels they have added some of the best defensive players the program has seen in a while. I think Texas could be ‘bet on' material this season and if the QB play can improve significantly, this team could become a conference sleeper.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech has personnel issues galore to figure out before the season kicks off. They lose their top WR, top RB and their left tackle who was drafted 3rd overall in this year's NFL Draft and now a bunch of players have also been kicked off the team due to offseason incidents including their leading tackler from a season ago. There are suddenly depth concerns all over this team especially at QB where Patrick Mahomes will need to stay healthy because there isn't much experience at all behind him. The offensive line is replacing three starters but the depth is a major concern as any sort of major hit from an injury perspective to this OL could mean big trouble for the Red Raiders. They do have good skill position talent with plenty of solid recruits incoming at both the RB and WR positions.
The defense is a mess. They only have 5 starters back and the dismissal of their top tackler leaves this team thin from a depth standpoint and they also lack quality depth and size up front. The secondary is the stronger area of the defense but even that group will have a tough time matching up against a slew of prolific pass catchers that reside here in the Big 12. The stop unit has really done in Texas Tech in past seasons and it looks to be on shaky ground once again this season. Texas Tech hasn't been a monster Over the total team by accident over the years. Their offense is always good enough to move the football and score points and should be again this season but that defense still has plenty of holes which is bad news in a conference like this so expect plenty more high scoring shootouts involving Texas Tech this season and for the Red Raiders to finish in the usual 6-7 win range.
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia has been solid in the Big 12 since Dana Holgorsen took over the program as head coach but they've yet to experience that big time breakthrough to the top. This year, they might have to outscore opponents to win games with what looks to be a very explosive offense returning but a very suspect defense coming back as well. The offense returns 8 starters from a group that exceeded 30 points per game last season including their QB Skyler Howard who struggled at times but really improved late in the season and should be ready to take a major step forward this year. The Mountaineers have 4 of their 5 starters back along the offensive line which should help keep the ground attack going strong led by returning RB Rushel Shell and allow Howard to take advantage of it with several deep shots down the field. On the other side of the football are where the problems lie.
The defense has lost a ton from last year's solid unit as they lost five of their top six at LB and a handful of key contributors in the secondary. The defensive line should be the strength with 4 of their top 6 players along the DL returning but they will need to generate a pass rush consistently to help what will be a very revamped, new look and much less experienced pass defense which is a major issue when facing the potent offenses the Big 12 has to offer. I think the Mountaineers should be able to score points but I think they have too many warts on defense to trust them to be a major contender in the Big 12. I peg West Virginia to be more of a middle of the pack team in the conference than a top contender and would also expect this team to be playing some Overs especially early in the season in their games while their defense takes time to adjust and assimilate themselves.