As a reminder, I’m posting one thought per day in a series of 15 posts over the course of 15 days until we get to game day.
With 9 days left until kickoff, this is the seventh post of the series.
If you missed the other posts, the links are below
The Longhorns don’t have to end the season on top of the Big 12 standings for 2016 to be deemed a successful year, though that would be one heck of a ride if it were to happen.
Texas does need to finish in the top half of the conference, however, with a respectable record to show that things are pointed in the right direction for 2017.
The big question is whether or not the season will play out that way...
Thoughts on last season
While putting together the most recent posts of this series, I’ve been digging around in the Big 12 stats from last season. As I continued to look through stats, a few reoccurring thoughts kept revealing themselves to me.
Before I give my Big 12 standings predictions, let’s briefly look back at the conference last season. (Teams are in order of the 2015 Big 12 standings)
Oklahoma - I almost still can’t believe Texas beat Oklahoma. That was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen live. Even with the one loss to Texas, though, Oklahoma was the best overall team in the conference. It was a very balanced squad.
That Sooners team could run the ball, pass the ball, get to the quarterback, defend the pass, create turnovers, score in the red zone and keep teams out off the board in their own red zone. They either led or were near the top in most of the stat categories from last season.
Aside from stubbing its toe against Texas, the Sooners lost to the eventual runner up to the National Championship, Clemson. Looking ahead to this season, this could be a strong Sooners team again but it will be tested early with Houston and Ohio State.
Oklahoma State - Looking at stats alone, it’s damn near whacky how Oklahoma State ended second in the conference. It took turnovers and pulling out close games to get it done. Four of their first seven conference games were won by seven points or less. They beat Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia, and Iowa State by a combined total of 16 points.
The Oklahoma State offense was a group that could put up some points. But it ranked just 5th-best in conference play, and 4th best among the conference the entire season for total offense if we include non-conference games.
The Cowboys also ranked in or near the middle of the conference in a lot of other stats. If that happens again, it will be interesting to see if the win column is as full this season.
TCU - It’s easy to argue that this two-loss, injury riddled, TCU team could have won the Big 12 and made it into the College Football Playoffs had it stayed healthy.
The first loss came in Stillwater against Oklahoma State on a night where Josh Doctson left the game at halftime with an injury, TCU committed four turnovers that led to 21 points for the Cowboys, and Cowboys wide receiver James Washington torched a depleted TCU defense for three touchdowns.
The second loss came against Oklahoma with Trevone Boykin sidelined the entire game with an injury. Baker Mayfield actually left this game at halftime. But the TCU offense was anemic without Boykin. And the Sooners ground attack was too much to handle in a one point loss to the Sooners.
Baylor - For once, I’d like to see Baylor get tested early in a season. The Bears’ non-conference schedule consisted of SMU, Lamar, and Rice. Baylor’s three losses came in the last four weeks against Oklahoma, TCU and Texas.
The non-conference schedule this season is vanilla again with Northwestern State, SMU and Rice the first three games. But the Bears do open conference play with Oklahoma State their fourth game. I’ll absolutely be watching that game.
West Virginia - The Mountaineers were able to post an eight win season while going just 4-5 in conference play with the help of a cupcake, non-conference lineup of Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland. They outscored those teams 130 to 23.
With Notre Dame and Cal included in its non-conference schedule, Texas probably needs a winning record in conference play to get to eight wins if it loses to one of those two teams.
Texas Tech - The 2015 Red Raiders’ offense was pretty much responsible for all seven wins that team mustered up. The offense was second to only Baylor in the entire country and ranked first in conference play. If I’m Patrick Mahomes, I’m saying “Your welcome” for even seven.
Texas - Going 4-5 in conference play, things actually could have been worse for the Longhorns. And I know that’s not what you want to read after a 5-7 season. But let’s be honest, this team was a mess offensively before kind of figuring out an identity to at least stick with each week. And the defense was average at best over all.
Kansas State - Similar to TCU, injuries hurt Kansas State last season. Different from TCU, they don’t have the type of roster or talent to survive in this conference without their key players remaining healthy.
Iowa State - The highlight of their season had to be beating Texas. Other than that, two wins in conference play and three wins over all left them next to last.
Kansas - Without basketball, Kansas would be a FCS team by now. It didn’t win a single game last season. Remember in 2007 when the Jayhawks went 12-1 with Todd Reesing as the quarterback and Mark Mangino as the head coach, won the FedEx Orange Bowl over Wake Forest and Jim Grobe (head coach), and ended as co-champions of the Big 12 with Oklahoma after the Sooners upended Missouri and quarterback Chase Daniels?
Yea, since that wild and weird season, Kansas has gone 25-72 with three wins in the past three years.
2016 final Big 12 standings - prediction
Note: Records are conference only
- Oklahoma - 8-1 - Instead of averaging almost 47 points in conference play and 43 points per game overall, the scoring will dip without Sterling Shephard. But Baker Mayfield and company will get this team hovering at or just above 40 points a game again.
- TCU - 7-2 - My biggest leap of faith before the season begins is in Kenny Hill and the TCU offense. Gary Patterson will have plenty to work with on defense. But If OC’s Meachem and Cumbie get Kenny Hill and the offense going, this team could be tough for anyone to beat.
- Oklahoma State - 6-3 - The Cowboys will be a pesky team to beat again this season but for different reasons. Their turnover margin will drop, the pass-rush won’t be as strong, and they may not be as lucky in close games. But this will still be a good offense, and the defense will play well enough to get the Cowboys to at least six conference wins, probably nine overall.
- Texas - 6-3 - I predicted an 8-4 season for the Longhorns. Though 7-5 is pulling at me, I’m not wavering from eight wins now. Getting to 8-4 means this team has to play better against conference opponents, though. And both the offense and defense need to take steps forward. I’ll admit 5-4 in conference play has been tough to fight off. That would translate to a 7-5 season in my view with a chance at the 8th in a bowl game.
- Baylor - 5-4 - Sure, Baylor returns Seth Russell at quarterback, K.D. Cannon at wide receiver, and Shock Linwood, Johnny Jefferson and sophomore Terence Williams at running back. But to think this team won’t be effected by the loss of Art Briles seems illogical. Kendal Briles may still be on staff, but the Bears still need to replenish both the offensive and defensive lines. I’m expecting this team to struggle some this season.
- Texas Tech - 4-5 - When looking at stats, If Oklahoma state was whacky team #1, Tech was #2. It was at or near the top of almost every offensive category, yet the defense was at or near the bottom of every stat categories. The offense may take a small step back after losing receiver Jakeem Grant, running back DeAndre Washington, and four starting offensive linemen. But Patrick Mahomes is still the quarterback and he’ll have other weapons to use. Defensively, things can’t get much worse than 2015. Tech will again hover around .500 in the conference.
- West Virginia 4-5 - I view this Mountaineers team as a lesser extreme version of Texas Tech. The offense will put up points, the defense will struggle to stop people.
- Kansas State - 3-6 - Kansas State could surprise people and win five or so conference games. I’m not buying it, though. The Wildcats will probably beat Iowa State and Kansas. And they’re probably good for one other Big 12 win, maybe two.
- Iowa State - 2-7 - The Cyclones may have found a solid option at head coach in Matt Campbell, formerly with Toledo and Bowling Green. And a turnaround could be coming in the near future. It just won’t happen this season.
- Kansas - 0-9 - After going scoreless the entire season last year, just getting a win should be the goal the entire season.
The way I look at it, the conference is Oklahoma’s to take. It’s hard to bet against Baker Mayfield and that tandem of running backs. If the Sooners aren’t careful, though, TCU could creep up on them. That game in Fort Worth will be one to watch. Fortunately for Oklahoma, it gets a bye week before that game.
And TCU’s season will largely be reliant on how well the offense comes together. But if Meachem and Cumbie could turn Boykin into a star, there’s a good chance they can do the same with Kenny Hill, right?
Oklahoma State is tough to project given the weird season it had last year. Regardless, it will probably still be a tough team for anyone to beat.
Beyond that, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas will probably beat each other up. Kansas State may even enter into that ring.
Iowa State and Kansas will bring up the rear again.
There you have it, my 2016 Big 12 predictions. I’m glad it’s Friday, I need a drink after working through that conference.