This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
This edition is the third and we will start predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.
15. (Big 12) Oklahoma State will lead the Big 12 in points scored – The Cowboys have 7 starters back on offense including the key skill positions. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards (63.4%) with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Three of his top four targets from 2016 return led by James Washington. Washington had 71 catches for 1,380 yards with 10 touchdowns while Jalen McCleskey had 73 receptions for 812 yards and 7 touchdowns. There is also the threat of Justice Hill in the backfield with Rudolph as he had 1,142 yards and 6 touchdowns. With three starters back on the line, this team should eclipse 2016’s numbers of 38.6 points and 495 yards per game.
The Big 12 is full of potent offenses starting with Oklahoma. The Sooners had 43.9 points per game in 2016 and lost four big names: head coach Bob Stoops, receiver Dede Westbrook, and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Even with Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield back, the Sooners could see a slight step back on offense.
Another potent team is TCU who returns 10 starters from a group that underachieved in 2016 when only 2 starters returned. Every top skill position player returns for the Horned Frogs and they will easily eclipse the 31 points per game they averaged in 2016.
Both Texas and Baylor welcome new coaches. Texas has Tom Herman and his offense though there will probably be a few hiccups as it is installed. Baylor is typically one of the highest scoring offenses (over 44 points per game from 2011 through 2015) but Matt Rhule has a more pro-style system.
The other big threat to the scoring title is Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury’s high flying offense. The Red Raiders lose quarterback Patrick Mahomes and top receiver Jonathan Giles, but most other key pieces return. They will still put up points, but with a new starter might lead to a drop off in points (43.7 per game in 2016).
14. (Big 12) TCU will win the Big 12 Championship – 2017 sees the return of the Big 12 Championship Game ostensibly to help the conference from getting left out of the College Football Playoffs. We will see if the re-introduction has the intended effect. As for the return of the game, we like TCU to win the 2017 edition.
There is no doubt that 2016 was a subpar season for the Horned Frogs when they finished 6-7. The offense had only 2 starters back and averaged just 31 points per game (down 11 points per game from 2015). The biggest disappointment was defense, which actually got worse with 8 starters back. In 2016, they allowed 28 points and 427 yards per game (about 1 point and 30 yards per game worse than 2015).
2017 sees a much more experienced offense with 10 starters back. Kenny Hill had an up and down season with 17 touchdowns and 13 picks, but he returns all of the key position players. After putting up 31 points and 463 yards per game in 2016, they should get close or even go beyond 40 points per contest.
On defense, 7 starters are back including 5 of the top 6 tacklers. Travin Howard (130 tackles) and Ty Summers (121 tackles) will command the secondary and linebackers respectively. Even in a high scoring league like the Big 12, the defense should improve from the 28 points and 427 yards per game they allowed in 2016.
The Horned Frogs have five Big 12 road games including some tough ones at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and even a potentially tricky game at Iowa State. The Oklahoma State game is in week four and could end up deciding one of the participants for the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU is flying under the radar and this team is in a very good position to win the Big 12.
13. (Big 12) Iowa State will reach a bowl game – The Cyclones have not been to a bowl game since 2012 when they played in the Liberty Bowl, but lost to Tulsa 31-17. Matt Campbell was hired in late 2015, just a day after former coach Paul Rhoads coached his final game. Iowa State went 3-9 in 2016 and the biggest highlight was their dismantling of Texas Tech 66-10 in the penultimate game of the year.
The second year should see improvements on both sides of the ball. The offense had a respectable 27.7 points per game in 2016 with just three starters back, a new coach, and constant quarterback shuffling. Jacob Park is the man now after throwing for 1,791 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The top two receivers and running backs return including Allen Lazard. Lazard had 69 catches for 1,118 yards with 7 touchdowns and needs 678 yards to become the school’s all-time leading receiver. The offense should top 30 points per game with more quarterback stability and more experience and knowledge of the offense.
The defense did okay in 2016 with a new coach and 7 starters back. They allowed 31.3 points and 453 yards per game, which was actually 1.4 points per game less. Six starters are back and a slight improvement would go along way for this team.
The schedule starts with Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road trip to Akron. The Cyclones need a 2-1 at worst to give them any shot of reaching a bowl. They only get four home games in the Big 12 (Texas, Kansas, TCU, and Oklahoma State) and will probably need to win at least two of those. The five road games are at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas State. There is no margin for error given their schedule, but the Cyclones have the pieces to get 6 wins in Matt Campbell’s second year.
12. (Pac-12) Washington State will reach double digit wins – We are very bullish on the Cougars this year thanks to 16 returning starters (7 on offense and 9 on defense) and schedule (not easy, but manageable).
Mike Leach will be in year 6 at Wazzu with a very experienced Luke Falk. Falk is a senior in 2017 and he loses two of his top three wideouts (Gabe Marks and River Cracraft). Despite those two, Falk distributing the ball will help absorb the losses. Also returning are the top three running backs who averaged 120 yards per game in 2016. That was the highest amount for the offense under Leach at Washington State.
One of the bigger surprises the last two seasons has been the defense. In 2015 they allowed 27.7 points and 417 yards per game while 2016 was small improvements to 26.4 points and 406 yards per game. Those have been the best numbers under Leach and coincides with the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. With 9 starters back in 2017, there could be even more improvement in the numbers.
The schedule is not easy, but the Cougars do not play a road game until October. They open with five straight at home against Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State, Nevada, and USC. The Broncos and Trojans will be tough contests, but being in Pullman will give them a better chance to win both games.
October is road stretch with Oregon (away), California (away), Colorado (home), and Arizona (away). All four are winnable though a resurgent Oregon team might be the trickiest. The schedule closes with Stanford (home), Utah (away), and Washington (away) after a bye week.
The Pac-12 North looks very competitive, but the Cougars are set up for success on offense and defense. Washington State is a dark horse to win the North so long as they take care of USC and Washington, but those would both be big upsets.
11. (Pac-12) Colorado will reach a second straight bowl game – Colorado surprised many in 2016 when they made the Pac-12 Championship Game as the South division winners. A repeat of that in 2017 would be just as surprising, but they still have a great chance at reaching a second straight bowl.
The offense returns mostly intact with 9 starters back, however, they lose quarterback Sefo Liufau. His replacement is Steven Montez and he did get some playing time in 2016 when Liufau was injured so the drop off may not be as severe. All the top receivers return as does running back Phillip Lindsay (1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns). The offense put up 31.1 points and 437 yards per game in 2016 and should get close or top those numbers again this season.
Defense is a major concern with only three starters back from a group that allowed 21.7 points and 343 yards per game. Three of the top five tacklers are back with two of those in the secondary. There are quite a few upperclassmen as projected starters, but the numbers will still get worse.
The Buffs will start with four games within the state of Colorado: Colorado State (in Denver), Texas State, Northern Colorado, and Washington with the latter three at home. The CSU game may not be the walk in the park as expected because the Rams will have already played one game and look like a contender in the Mountain West.
Three of the next four are away: UCLA, Arizona (home), Oregon State, and Washington State. The season concludes with California (home), Arizona State (away), USC (home), and Utah (away). There are enough wins on the schedule (both home and away) for the Buffs to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004-05.
That concludes the third set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 10 through 6, which will be one more prediction for the Pac-12, three for the ACC, and one for the SEC.
Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10
We have now entered the final full month of regular season action the 2016 college football season. Week 10 offers us #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, TCU at #13 Baylor, #10 Florida at Arkansas, Iowa at #20 Penn State, and the two biggest games on Saturday night: #1 Alabama at #15 LSU and #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State.
We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Louisville at Boston College (11/5 at 12 PM) – Ever since Louisville lost at Clemson they have not looked like the same team. They struggled against Duke at home, took care of NC State at home, but then struggled at Virginia. They needed a late touchdown to defeat the Cavaliers on the road and now they go to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College.
The Eagles sit at 4-4 overall and still have a solid chance at making a bowl game even with a loss. However, they can give Louisville fits if their defense is playing at their very best.
This game is bigger for Louisville because they have struggled since the loss at Clemson. They still have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff, but how will the Committee view them if they continue to squeak by teams? A big win would help Louisville here.
2. Air Force at Army (11/5 at 12 PM) – The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is at stake in this game for Air Force. Both teams are 5-3 and win puts Air Force in a bowl while Army would still need another victory due to their schedule containing two FCS schools.
Air Force started 4-0 including a 28-14 win at home against Navy. They then lost the next three games before needing a rally against Fresno State to reach 5-3. Army started 3-0 before back-to-back close losses to Buffalo and Duke on the road. They crushed Lafayette before North Texas soundly defeated the Black Knights. Army was able to get a big win last week against Wake Forest on the road to reach 5-3.
Army can also win the CIC Trophy by defeating Air Force this week and Navy to end the regular reason. This will be a fun game to watch the old school triple option offense from both teams.
3. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (11/5 at 12 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications for both teams. Georgia Southern is 4-4 overall with their final three games consisting of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State (away), and Troy. They will probably be favored in two of those games and a bowl game still looks likely even with a loss here.
The same cannot be said for Ole Miss and they must treat every game as a must win. They are currently 3-5 with Texas A&M (away), Vanderbilt (away), and Mississippi State after this game. They can lose only one game the rest of the way and still make a bowl. Given their schedule (read as: Texas A&M), this is not the one to drop.
4. Texas at Texas Tech (11/5 at 12 PM) – Neither of these squads will be winning the Big 12, but the bowl implications are huge. Both teams sit at 4-4 overall and their schedules to end the season require little margin for error.
Texas will face West Virginia, Kansas (away), and TCU after this contest. Texas Tech will play Oklahoma State (away), Iowa State (away), and Baylor. Now we can see why the winner of this game will be in much better position to make a bowl.
Looking beyond this game and season, could either or both coaches be fired if they fail to make a bowl game? Some outlets already have marked Charlie Strong as a lame duck. What about Kliff Kingsbury? That would make it two of four years that Texas Tech did not reach a bowl under Kingsbury, assuming they do not win two of their final four games in 2016. He probably will not be fired if the Red Raiders fail to make a bowl game, but his seat will undoubtedly be warmer.
5. Pittsburgh at Miami (FL) (11/5 at 12:30 PM) – What a difference a month makes for both teams. Pittsburgh was 2-2 going into October, but have come out ahead with a 3-1 record last month to make them 5-3.
Miami was 3-0 after September and it was 4-0 after defeating Georgia Tech, but it has been all downhill since. The Canes have lost four in a row with three games determined by a touchdown or less. Miami has a forgiving schedule the final month with games against Pitt, Virginia (away), NC State (away), and Duke, but nothing can be taken for granted with the slide they are currently on.
Pittsburgh has Miami (away), Clemson (away), Duke, and Syracuse to end the season. Both teams look likely to make a bowl game based on the schedules, but this game will be worth watching to see how they respond to losses last week.
6. UT-San Antonio at Middle Tennessee (11/5 at 2:30 PM) – Both teams are alive in their respective Division races in Conference USA. UTSA is 3-2 in the West and sit a game out of first place. Middle Tennessee is 3-1 in the East and are a half-game behind Western Kentucky in the win column, but the Hilltoppers own the head-to-head victory.
A loss for either team will probably end their hopes of making the Conference USA Championship Game. Middle Tennessee faces Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic to end the season. They will probably be favored in all three of those, but would still need a loss or two from Western Kentucky to make the Championship Game.
UTSA faces Louisiana Tech (away), Texas A&M (away), and Charlotte to end the season. A loss here and they would be 4-5, out of the West Division race, and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game. The Roadrunners are also 1-2 on the road this year. Their win was over lowly Rice by a score of 14-13. This game is very big for the Roadrunners.
7. Hawaii at San Diego State (11/5 at 7 PM) – San Diego State can put a hammerlock on the West Division of the Mountain West with a win. The Aztecs sit 4-0 in conference while Hawaii is 3-2. Hawaii is currently the only other team in the West Division that has not lost at least 3 conference games.
The Aztecs are also still in the race for the Group of 5 bid to one of the New Year’s Six Bowls. They need some help with Western Michigan still undefeated as well as Boise State having only one loss. Those two may also face in the Mountain West Championship Game.
As for Hawaii, they are currently 4-5 overall and will need to reach 7 wins to make a bowl game. They wrap up with Boise State, Fresno State (away), and Massachusetts. This is basically a must win game for Hawaii to reach those 7 wins.
8. Georgia at Kentucky (11/5 at 7:30 PM) – This is weird to fathom, but Kentucky is currently the second placed team in the SEC East and also have a better overall record (5-3) than Georgia (4-4).
Georgia really has not looked good since their opening win against North Carolina. They struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri to reach 3-0, but are just 1-4 their last five games including devastating late game losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home.
Kentucky started 2-3 this year, but have reeled off three straight wins to reach 5-3. Kentucky has not finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East since 2006 when both teams finished 4-4 in the SEC and Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs that year.
With a win Kentucky will be in a bowl, but probably would make one even with a loss against Georgia. They face Tennessee (away), Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). For Georgia, they face Auburn, UL-Lafayette, and Georgia Tech all at home to end the season. A loss is not crushing for the Bulldogs, but it will make things far easier for this inconsistent and underachieving team.
Check back next week for the week 11 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
Part ten of the 2015 College Football Preview will look at the Big 12. Last year was a rough year for the Big 12 after having both Baylor and TCU left out of the College Football Playoff. Below is the schedule of previews left, as well as the previews already published.
Below is a look at each of the ten teams that make up the Big 12.
1. TCU Horned Frogs
Gary Patterson has led TCU since 2000 when he was the head coach for the bowl game that year. Since then, he has led TCU through Conference USA to the Mountain West to the Big East (for a moment) and finally here to the Big 12. During that time, he has had only two losing seasons and was close to leading TCU into the inaugural College Football Playoff last year.
TCU went from 25.1 points and 345 yards per game in 2013 to 46.5 points and 533 yards per game in 2014. The scariest part is that TEN starters return making this one of the best offenses in the nation. Trevone Boykin threw for 3,901 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also rushing for 707 yards and 8 touchdowns. Top running back from 2014, Aaron Green, ran for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns while also returning. Wide receivers Josh Doctson (65 catches for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns), Kolby Listenbee (41 catches for 753 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Deante’ Gray (36 catches for 582 yards and 8 touchdowns) all return as well. The defenses in the Big 12 better watch out for this incredible TCU machine.
TCU’s defense has only five starters back from a unit that allowed 19 points and 342 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line has three starters back including defensive end James McFarland, who had 41 tackles, 7 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Nebraska transfer Aaron Curry also joins the fray. The linebacking unit has been hit hard by losses with the top three gone leaving this the most inexperienced part of the defense. The secondary has both Ranthony Texada and Derrick Kindred back from a group that allowed only 48.5% completions. The TCU defense is the top priority for Patterson and it would be surprising to see them struggle for long during the season.
TCU opens with a road game against Minnesota before back-to-back home games against Stephen F Austin and SMU. The Big 12 plays a round robin schedule, which means TCU will face each team in the conference. TCU faces Texas (home), Kansas State (road), Oklahoma (road), and the biggest game against Baylor is also at home. TCU very well could run the table and make up for last year’s snub from the College Football Playoff committee.
2. Baylor Bears
Baylor used to constantly finish in the Big 12’s cellar prior to the hiring of Art Briles. Since then, Briles has led the Bears to a bowl game every year since 2010 and double digit win totals in three of the last four years. Last year, Baylor nearly made the College Football Playoff, but were left out by the committee.
Briles will have his most experienced offense since his first season at Baylor in 2008. There are nine starters back from a group that put up 48.2 points and 581 yards of offense. Gone is quarterback BrycePetty (3,855 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and 63.1% completion), but Briles is renowned for producing stellar quarterbacks. Seth Russell is ready to take his turn after throwing for 804 yards with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception while getting some playing time with Petty’s injury last season. ShockLinwood is back to run the ball after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns. The top two wide receivers return as well with Corey Coleman (64 catches for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns) and the speedy KD Cannon (58 catches for 1,030 yards and 8 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and Baylor should continue to put out points at will in 2015.
The defense for Briles will be his most experienced since he has taken over at Baylor. He has nine starters back from a group that allowed 25.5 points and 382 yards of offense per game. That was done with only four starters back for 2014 as well. The defensive line returns intact including the imposing ShawnOakman. Oakman had 51 tackles, 11 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss last year, but is probably best known for his imposing stance in last year’s Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. Linebacker lost one starter, but does return Taylor Young, the team’s second leading tackler at 92. The secondary also returns all four starters from a group that allowed only 54.6% completions.
Baylor has an easy non-conference schedule with games against SMU (road), Lamar (home), and Rice (home). In conference, Baylor has a brutal schedule to close out the year. The final five games are against Kansas State (road), Oklahoma (home), Oklahoma State (road), TCU (road), and Texas (home). That finish to the season could ultimately cost Baylor the Big 12 title, but they still have an excellent shot at getting to the TCU game undefeated to set up an unofficial Big 12 title game.
3. Texas Longhorns
Charlie Strong took over at Texas prior to last season after 16 years of Mack Brown at the helm. Strong instituted much more discipline, which resulted in some losses, but still guided the team to a 6-6 regular season before losing the Texas Bowl to Arkansas by a score of 31-7.
The offense averaged 21.4 points and 337 yards per game in Strong’s first season. This year, seven starters are back including quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Swoopes threw for 2,409 yards with 13 touchdown and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jonathan Gray may finally get his chance to get all the carries at running back after rushing for 637 yards and 7 touchdowns as the team’s second leading rusher. John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were the top two receivers last year, but have departed leaving Marcus Johnson as the top returning receiver. He caught 27 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown. The entire offensive line returns and the offense should perform better in 2015 with a year of Strong’s schemes under their belts.
The defense returns only five starters, but the strength of Strong’s coaching tends to be on this side of the ball. Two linemen return including tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who had 43 tackles, 6 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss. The line gave up 164 yards rushing per game in 2014 and will probably improve on that in 2015. The linebackers are all gone leaving this unit very inexperienced, but Malik Jefferson is expected to start immediately as a true freshman. The secondary has three starters back led by safety Dylan Haines. Haines had 86 tackles to finish third on the team while also tallying 7 pass breakups and 4 interceptions. The defense gave up 23.8 points and 349 yards per game in 2014 and should have a similar year this time around as well.
Texas has an interesting non-conference schedule with games against Notre Dame (road), Rice (home), and California (home). They face Oklahoma State (home), TCU (road), Oklahoma (Dallas), Kansas State (home), and Baylor (road). They also have a tricky road game at West Virginia. Strong has recruited well and should be able to get Texas back to a winning season this year.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma has been good under Bob Stoops, but only won a single National Championship (2000) during that time while playing in three others (2003, 2004, and 2008). Stoops has produced many double digit win seasons, but the lack of National Championship appearances in the last 7 years has left some weary.
The Oklahoma offense has seven starters returning including quarterback Trevor Knight (2,300 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), but he may not be the starter. That could be Baker Mayfield. Mayfield started at Texas Tech in 2013 (2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions) where he had an excellent start, but decided to move on to Oklahoma. Whichever player is behind center, they will have running back Samaje Perine to handoff to. He ran for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman. Also returning are the top four receivers led by Sterling Shepard with 51 catches for 970 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offensive line has only two starters returning, but the unit as a whole should be able to match 2014’s output of 36.4 points and 465 yards per game.
The defense under Stoops has been consistent with most years giving up points per game in the low to mid 20s and less than 400 yards per game. 2014 was no different at 25.9 points and 383 yards per game. There are six starters back and only one of those is on the line in Charles Tapper. Tapper had 37 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss while the group allowed only 106 yards rushing per game. Three of the four linebackers return including Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans. Alexander had 107 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss while Evans finished 2014 with 93 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. The secondary has two starters back in Zack Sanchez and Ahmad Thomas while giving up 276 passing yards per game and 56.3% completions. Expect another typical finish for the Sooners on defense.
Oklahoma opens the year with Akron at home, Tennessee on the road, and Tulsa at home before a bye week leads into conference play. In conference, they will face West Virginia (home), Texas (Dallas), and Kansas State (road) early. The last three games consist of Baylor (road), TCU (home), and Oklahoma State (road). The Sooners could surprise this year if the defense improves, but Stoops’ teams have a tendency to underachieve a bit.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State has three double digit win seasons since 2010 and have been to a bowl game each year since 2006. 2015 has a chance to produce another one of those double digit win totals.
There are eight starters back on offense for the Cowboys from a group that put up 27.6 points and 379 yards per game. Daxx Garman threw for 2,041 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but has opted to transfer. Mason Rudolph started the last three games and finished 2014 with 853 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Rudolph is expected to beat out JW Walsh and John Kolar for the starting spot. The top two running backs are gone with Ronnie Childs the top rusher returning from 2014 with only 294 yards and 3 touchdowns. Chris Carson arrives from junior college in the fall while coming back from injury is Sione Palelei. Wide receiver is not an area of concern with the trio of BrandonSheperd, David Glidden, and James Washington returning after posting at least 450 yards and two touchdowns each. The offense should get back to putting up a lot of points in Stillwater.
The defense struggled last year giving up 31.2 points and 432 yards per game with only four starters returning. The number of starters returning doubles to eight this year. The defensive line is hit the hardest with two starters lost, but still have two starters coming back in Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean. Ogbah was excellent last year with 49 tackles, 11 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups. Linebacker is strong with the duo of Ryan Simmons (96 tackles, 2 sacks, 10 tackles for loss) and Seth Jacobs (92 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions) back. Three starters are back in the secondary led by JordanSterns. Sterns was best on the team in tackles last year with 103 while also recording 4.5 tackles for loss and 4 pass breakups. The defense should be better in 2015 with the amount of experience they have returning.
Oklahoma State has a very easy non-conference schedule with Central Michigan (road), Central Arkansas, and Texas-San Antonio on the slate. In conference, they have Texas and West Virginia on the road, but get Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma all at home. Oklahoma State has a shot of getting back to 10 wins in 2015 with just an upset or two.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder retired in 2005 and handed over the program to Ron Prince. However, Prince led KSU to records of 7-6, 5-7, and 5-7 prompting Snyder to come out of retirement. Snyder has led KSU to at least a .500 record or better in the last six years including two double digit win seasons.
The Wildcats have six starters back on offense, but the losses are heavy with quarterback Jake Waters as well as wide receivers Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, and Zach Trujillo all departing. The quarterback job is not settled and will come down to freshman Alex Delton, junior Joe Hubener, sophomore JesseErtz, or junior college transfer Johnathan Banks. Charles Jones led KSU in rushing last year, but had only 540 yards while scoring 13 touchdowns. The top receivers back are Kody Cook (20 catches for 251 yards and a touchdown) and Deante Burton (17 catches for 171 yards). Four offensive linemen return from a unit that scored 35.8 points and put up 422 yards per game. The offense probably will not match those numbers in 2015, but Snyder always gets the best out of his teams.
The defense also has six starters back from a group that allowed 23.2 points and 369 yards per game. The line has two starters back in Jordan Willis (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and .5 tackles for loss) and Travis Britz (27 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss). Linebacker has no starters back, which will hurt the defense, but three starters return in the secondary. Dante Barnett had 77 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions last year. The defense will have another solid year under Snyder.
Kansas State has an out of conference schedule comprised of South Dakota (home), Texas-San Antonio (road), and Louisiana Tech (home). They will face the TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia at home while going on the road to play Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech. KSU should take a step back, but still be able to make a bowl game this year as well as pull an upset or two in the Big 12.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech began sparklingly in 2013 going 7-0 and reaching as high as tenth in the nation. An eight point loss to Oklahoma started a five game losing streak that ended with four consecutive blowouts. Texas Tech finished that season 8-5 thanks to a win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, but high hopes for 2014 were dashed following a 4-8 record. Kliff Kingsbury needs to have a bounce back season in 2015.
The offense has nine starters back including two quarterbacks who played last year. Davis Webb started the year, but was injured late in the season and finished with 2,539 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Patrick Mahomes started the last four, throwing for 1,547 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. DeAndre Washington, who ran for 1,103 yards and 2 touchdowns last year, returns at running back. Washington also caught 30 passes for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jakeem Grant (67 catches for 938 yards and 7 touchdowns), Devin Lauderdale (31 catches for 589 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Ian Sadler (23 catches for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns) all return at receiver with only the number two guy (Bradley Marquez; 65 catches for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns) departs. Four starters also return on the offensive line and the Red Raiders are likely to beat their 2014 output of 30.5 points per game this year.
The defense has eight starters returning, but struggled mightily last year. With four starters back, the defense allowed 41.3 points and 513 yards per game. Those numbers were over 10 points and nearly 100 yards per game higher than 2013. Defensive end Pete Robertson led Texas Tech in tackles last year with 81 while also recording 12 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. Micah Awe returns at linebacker after tallying 69 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss. The secondary has all four starters back and should improve on their 253 passing yards given up per game in 2014. Overall, the defense should get back to 2013 numbers of 30.5 points and 419 yards per game.
Texas Tech opens with Sam Houston State and UTEP at home before traveling to face Arkansas in their final non-conference game. In conference, they face TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State at home. They will face Baylor in Arlington, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas on the road. Texas Tech will need to pull a couple of upsets to reach bowl eligibility, but they certainly are able to do so.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia moved to the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season and has seen some success. They have gone 7-6, 4-8, and 7-6 in their first three seasons while having some potent offenses. 2015 will be Dana Holgorsen’s fifth season with the team.
Six starters are back for West Virginia on offense, but two of those will not be quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receiver Kevin White. Skyler Howard is expected to lead WV after throwing for 829 yards and 8 touchdowns (no interceptions) after starting the final two games. Rushel Shell ran for 788 yards and 7 touchdowns while Wendell Smallwood ran for 722 yards and 2 touchdowns with both of those backs returning. Jordan Thompson is the top returning wideout after grabbing 49 catches for 598 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offense put up 33.5 points and 500 yards of offense last year and may come up short of reaching those numbers this year with a new quarterback and the loss of White.
The 2015 defense will be the most experienced under Holgorsen with nine starters returning. Two starters on the defensive line, but linebacker is where the top returnee is. Nick Kwiatkoski led the team with 103 tackles, but also had 0.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups. The secondary has all four starters back as well as KJ Dillon (62 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) at the Spur position. The secondary should be the best part of the defense this year.
West Virginia has three non-conference home games to start the year with Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Maryland all going to Morgantown. Also going to Morgantown in Big 12 play will be Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Texas. West Virginia will have to travel to Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, and Kansas State. West Virginia will be close to bowl eligibility this year and should get there with an upset in the Big 12.
9. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads has led Iowa State to three bowl games in six seasons, but also has five losing seasons at Iowa State (two years of 6-7 records). Iowa State went 3-9 in 2013 and 2-10 in 2014. Rhoads will need to improve in 2015 if he is to keep his job in 2016 and beyond.
The offense has seven starters back led by Sam B. Richardson and his top two wide receivers. Richardson threw for 2,669 yards with 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 421 yards and 3 scores. He will be throwing to D’Vario Montgomery (44 catches for 605 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Allen Lazard (45 catches for 593 yards and 3 touchdowns). A top running back will need to be found with Tyler Brown (109 yards) and Martinez Syria (47 yards and a touchdown) the top returning rushers behind Richardson. The offense will be guided by Mark Mangino in his second year. After putting up numbers of 23.2 points and 373 yards per game, Iowa State should be able to match those numbers on offense.
The defense last year was the worst under Rhoads. The unit gave up 38.8 points and 529 yards per game. Now, six starters are back (five were back in 2014) and Rhoads’ work is cut out for him. The defensive line has Trent Taylor back (37 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss), but adds in two highly rated junior college transfers in Bobby Leath and Demond Tucker. Linebacker has only Luke Knott returning, but he had 74 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and an interception last year as a starter. The secondary is bring back three starters in Sam E. Richardson, Nigel Tribune, and Kamari Cotton-Moya. Cotton-Moya was the teams leading tackler in 2014 with 77 stops and was named the Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. It is hard to see the defense not getting better under Rhoads this year.
Iowa State opens with rivalry games against Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road test against Toledo. They open Big 12 play against Kansas at home in a game that could determine who finishes last in the Big 12. They also TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma State at home while facing Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and West Virginia on the road. Iowa State usually gets a shocking upset or two against Big 12 foes and that should be expected in 2015. However, it will probably not be enough to get the back to bowl eligibility.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Given the current state of Kansas’ football program, it is surprising to think they were one of the top teams in 2007 when they reached #2 before a loss against Missouri in the regular season finale. Kansas went on to win the Orange Bowl 24-21 over Virginia Tech. Since then, it has been downhill with Kansas having six straight losing seasons. Since Mark Mangino was fired after the 2009 season, the Jayhawks have not won more than three games in a season. David Beaty is now in charge of turning the Kansas football program around and it will be difficult in 2015.
Kansas’ offense has not averaged more than 20 points per game in a season since 2011 when they hit 22.3 points per game. In 2015, there will be only four starters back for Beaty to work with. Montell Cozart (1,715 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) and Michael Cummings (701 yards with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) back from 2014. Also with a chance to win the starting QB spot are TJ Millweard, CarterStanley, and Ryan Willis. Corey Avery ran for 631 yards and 5 touchdowns last year, but was suspended for spring and kicked off the team in June. That leaves De’Andre Mann as the top returning rusher with 399 yards. Ke’aun Kinner transferred in from his junior college and is expected to get snaps as well. Wide receiver was crushed by losses with the top six receivers gone. Kent Taylor, who was one of the top tight ends in 2013, has transferred in from Florida. The line returns two starters and Kansas may not even match last year’s production of 17.8 points and 324 yards of offense per game this year with a new coach and schemes.
Defense is also an issue for Beaty in year one. He has only three returning starters from a unit that allowed 33.3 points and 453 yards per game in 2014. Ben Goodman is the only starter returning on the line after recording 21 tackles, 1 sack, and a tackle for loss last season. The other two starters returning are at linebacker with Jake Love (53 tackles, 3 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss), and nickelback with Tevin Shaw (36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss). The defense should be in store for another rough year.
Kansas opens with South Dakota State and Memphis at home before a bye week leads into a road game at Rutgers. Their Big 12 slate opens with a road game at Iowa State that will probably determine the bottom team in the Big 12. It is hard to see Kansas getting more than a victory or two in 2015 and Beaty has a lot of work ahead of him if Kansas is to get back to being competitive in the Big 12.
The Big 12 looks like a two horse race between TCU and Baylor for the title. However, the second tier of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State could surprise with a few upsets or the top two do worse than expected. Texas Tech and West Virginia will be battling for bowl eligibility while Iowa State and Kansas will play to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.
5. Oklahoma State
6. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
Check back on Tuesday, August 4 for a preview of the ACC’s Coastal Division.