The Big 12 famously was left out of the first College Football Playoff and is looking to rectify that situation by avoiding another off-season of tumult and rumors of expansion without a league title game. Let's check out how things are shaping up.
*Will a re-tooled defense not mess things up for TCU?
The switch to a more high octane offense led by Trevone Boykin paid massive dividends last year for the Frogs. Typically known for their defense, TCU will be put to the test while replacing 7 starters on that side of the ball. In a wide open offensive league will this bite them early on?
*November road games to define Baylor
You'll have to search for a while to find someone who doesn't think new QB Seth Russell will be yet another ridiculously productive Baylor quarterback. Almost everyone is back on defense too. The key for the Bears is the last month of the season when they face Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU on the road.
*Are we expecting too much from Oklahoma State?
The Cowboys might win the Big 12? Pundits have been carefully floating that one out there this off-season. The coaches aren't buying it (ranked 28th) for a team that went 7-6 last year. But, remember how much people love momentum and Okie State finished last year winning Bedlam and beating Washington in their bowl game.
*How will OU adapt to the Air Raid offense?
Despite not being a great defense for several years and giving up at least 30 points in each of their 5 losses last year, the Sooners are doubling down on offense. They brought in Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to run the show, and while Samaje Perine is bound to get the ball a lot, expect a wide open system for OU.
*Is the Strong house cleaning program taking root at Texas?
Notre Dame will get the first crack at Charlie Strong-led Texas 2.0 in just a few weeks. We'll have more on the Longhorns soon. Compared to the top teams in the Big 12 the Longhorns have a much more difficult schedule which doesn't bode well for a big turn around in 2015.
*Mountaineers finding balance with some defense
West Virginia is going to do what they do on offense, we know that. Heading into 2015 they might actually be able to rely on their defense though. 9 starters are back from a unit that had some good moments last year. The key for WVU is going to be a crazy middle portion of their schedule. They'll finish OOC play against Maryland then run into OU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and TCU right in a row. That sucks, but may allow them to finish with 5 straight wins going into bowl season.
*What wizardry will Snyder spin?
Not much to say about the Wildcats which is just the way they like it. Like West Virginia they have an avalanche of top teams coming at them starting in early October but they play a few patsies to start the season. Get prepared for K-State to fall back in the middle of the season then make a run to 7 to 9 wins late.
*Can Tech be more disciplined?
28 turnovers and 89.2 penalties per game. The former stat was one of the worst in the country and the latter stat was the worst in the nation. Koach Kliff had a nice 8-5 debut in 2013 but fell hard to 2-7 in league play last year. Greater discipline and improved defense have to be top priorities in 2015. Remember, they gave up 82 points to TCU.
David Beaty, Kansas
The Jayhawks are turning to a native Texan to begin the massive task of rebuilding the football program. Beaty spent 3 total seasons at Kansas in the past and is coming from Texas A&M where he was the receivers coach under Kevin Sumlin.
Best of luck following in Charlie Weis' footsteps.
The Favorite and Confidence in Said Favorite
If I had to pick just one team TCU is the safest bet. If you don't believe they'll be upset at Minnesota to begin the season (mildly interesting but a long shot) the Frogs will have plenty of time to break in new defenders before serious challenges come their way. They should be heavy favorites in most games until November.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for Baylor too. The Bears and Frogs are way out front right now but this league is shaping up to be wild and crazy down the stretch. I wouldn't be shocked with a 3-way tie of 10-2 teams.
Top Non-League Matchup
Oklahoma vs. Tennessee
I'm not saying this isn't a fun game, or maybe a game I'd be interested in watching. But when this is the top non-league matchup you've got scheduling problems. When will the Big 12 learn?
Last year the young Vols went into Norman and got slowly dragged down the drain. This year the Sooners have to go to Neyland Stadium, and while the Vols are still young, bigger things are expected out of the SEC team. Could this be the early 2015 game that vaults Tennessee to a SEC East title?
Top League Matchup
Baylor vs. TCU
You can't pick any other game right now.
For the sake of college football awesomeness it'd be great if both are undefeated when they meet on November 27th. Last year's game was stupid crazy. TCU looks like they have the edge as the home team and while they have to play at Oklahoma the week before, Baylor has to handle Oklahoma at home and Oklahoma State on the road prior to seeing the Frogs.
Freshman to Watch
Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech
A defensive player from the Red Raiders, are you serious? Well the easy pick would be linebacker Malik Jefferson but we'll talk enough about him in the lead up to the Texas game.
Fehoko comes from Hawaii and enrolled early at Tech. He finished as the 50th player nationally in the Composite rankings and is expected to make a big impact as a freshman on a poor Red Raider defense. This has all the makings of a nice stat line from a first year player.
Sell that Stock
If you're still holding KU stock I'd assume it's simply due stubbornness. It's time to give it up now.
Beaty could work a miracle but it seems unlikely someone with zero head coaching experience at this level is able to do anything for a number of years in Lawrence. Thanks to Weis stocking up on JUCO's the Jayhawks are welcoming back just 5 starters, and quite literally starting from scratch on offense.
With Memphis and Rutgers out of league play a 0-12 season is a definite possibility.
Buy that Stock
I was going to pick Iowa State (who I haven't talked about yet, there now I have) but I like Tech's roster quite a bit more. They might only improve by a couple games, though. Progress is progress! They lost handily to Arkansas last year and travel to Fayetteville this year which is why they probably won't get those 3 built-in wins like some other Big 12 teams.