Too-early 2015 Big 12 Power Rankings
There's one college football game left this year, but the Big 12's season is done. That means it's time to forge ahead. What will the league look like in 2015?
I'll update these rankings before spring (aka after Signing Day) and again after spring, but heading into the dark, gray time we call the college football offseason, here's how I slot the Big 12.
1. TCU: The Frogs could challenge Ohio State as the preseason No. 1 next fall. This is the luxury of closing the season with Big 12 and bowl trophies and returning a quarterback. Trevone Boykin will be on the short list of Heisman contenders next fall. The Frogs have to replace five starters on defense, including linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Paul Dawson, but the Frogs are the same team who lost a one-time Big 12 DPOY just before fall camp in 2014 and still won 12 games. Cornerback Ranthony Texada and ends Mike Tuaua and Terrell Lathan may break out next year.
2. Baylor: Seth Russell likely steps in to replace Bryce Petty, but the Bears return 18 starters from a title-winning team and got a huge boost when DE Shawn Oakman and OT Spencer Drango announced their plans to return to campus next year. Oakman, a likely first-round pick, seemed a sure thing to leave for the draft. He lacks Petty's prototypical size and arm strength, but Russell is capable, experienced and a bit more mobile than Petty. The uncertainty at the game's most important position will be the only reason TCU gets the nod in preseason polls ahead of Baylor. The Bears will have an outstanding chance for a 3-peat.
3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were one of college football's youngest teams this year and were exposed by the meat of their schedule, losing five consecutive games by at least 21 points. Late in the year against Baylor and in wins over Oklahoma and Washington, you saw the Cowboys turn a corner. Mason Rudolph, promising as he may be, was not the only reason. An extremely green offensive line began to gel and the youth in the secondary started to figure it out. OSU loses just one player from 11 in its secondary two-deep. That pays off in the Big 12 and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is a legit Big 12 DPOY candidate next season. Additionally, never underestimate the value of a winning culture. Mike Gundy has established that at Oklahoma State.
4. Oklahoma: There's a lot of gloom and doom in Norman after losses to Oklahoma State and Clemson and more coaching changes sure to be made, but the Sooners still have two of the best players in the league in running back Samaje Perine and linebacker Eric Striker. A big-time hire at offensive coordinator might bump OU over Oklahoma State in our next update, even without WR Dorial Green-Beckham, the former No. 1 recruit who will never play a snap in Norman. Being this low at this time of the year is something new for OU, but the Sooners still have some upside. Baker Mayfield offers the Sooners a little hope in the spring after Trevor Knight failed to make much progress in 2014. For all the negativity swirling around OU, it should still have one of the Big 12's best offensive lines and returns defensive stars Charles Tapper at defensive end and Zack Sanchez at corner.
5. West Virginia: Clint Trickett wore down late in the year and the Mountaineers paralleled his health. You saw this team's potential when it gets great play out of its quarterback. WVU knocked off Baylor. Can Skyler Howard take a step this offseason? Or is it time for the William Crest Era in Morgantown? Karl Joseph is sticking around another year, which is a big boost for a defense that returns nine starters and all four starters in the secondary. Daryl Worley, Joseph, and Dravon Henry should give WVU one of the league's best secondaries. Mario Alford and Kevin White are gigantic losses for the offense. WVU has potential at the position in guys like Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts, but can they grow into impact players?
6. Texas: The Longhorns will be salty on defense again. Another year in Charlie Strong's multiple defensive scheme should help, but UT was second in the Big 12 in yards per play this season and went 6-7. No John Harris and no Jaxon Shipley leave the offense in a tough spot. If you look at the Big 12 scoring offense rankings (points per drive can be a bit more accurate), it's often shares a strong correlation with the conference standings. Texas was ninth in scoring in the Big 12 last year, and doesn't have a ton of reason to expect gigantic improvement in 2015. You know what might change that? A senior transfer quarterback.
8. Kansas State: Maybe I'm guilty of underrating Kansas State, but I was high on the Wildcats last year and they largely met my expectations, finishing third in the Big 12, right where I picked them. K-State feels like a fringe bowl team with no Tyler Lockett, no Curry Sexton and a new quarterback without a proven running back. I don't see big things for the Wildcats in 2015. Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman are gone for the defense, too. I can see six or seven wins for this team, but that still might mean a seventh or eighth-place finish in the Big 12. The biggest reason why K-State might make me look stupid this year: Four offensive linemen return.
9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson impressed me when he was healthy. Iowa State gets receiver Quenton Bundrage back this year and sophomore receiver Allen Lazard is a stud who'll only improve and gives ISU even more explosiveness in the passing game. Lazard has a rare ability to physically dominate defensive backs. If Paul Rhoads can find some impact players among a front seven that returns five starters, this could be the year ISU jumps back into a bowl game. The Cyclones have a whole lot of upside in 2015.
10. Kansas: Clint Bowen found a little something and helped KU be more competitive than its been in a long time. In its final seven games, it had one win and three losses by two touchdowns or less. Bowen is sticking around as defensive coordinator, but the offense has miles to go before any bowl talk surfaces. KU has finished 118th or lower in scoring offense the last three seasons.
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