Ranking the Big 12 Conference
2015 Record: 0-12 (0-9 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 15.3
Opponents Points Per Game: 46.1
The Jayhawks went winless in David Beaty’s first season as head coach, including a loss to FCS opponent South Dakota State. As of now, the road to success looks to be a bit rough. Quarterback Ryan Willis returns but has been limited in Spring practice with a wrist injury, as does running back Ke’aun Kinner but playmakers are thin on this roster. Defensively, the team returns a majority of starters but the team gave up 46.1 points per game last season. Seats could get hot in a hurry in Kansas.
Key Game: Rhode Island, September 3
After Week 1, it’s hard to find and easy win on the Jayhawks schedule. Getting in the win column is key for Coach Beaty in his second season as a bowl season is probably 2-3 seasons down the pipeline. If the Jayhawks can win against the Rams, Season 2 for Coach Beaty shouldn’t be so bad.
9 Iowa State
2015 Record: 3-9 (2-7 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 25.0
Opponents Points Per Game: 32.7
The Iowa State Cyclones were competitive at times but not consistently enough to make last season a huge success. Matt Campbell comes from Toledo with a three bowl appearances and a 35-15 record looking to change all of that. With one returning offensive linemen, the Cyclones will look to the playmaking ability of running back Mike Warren and dual threat quarterback Joel Lanning who fared well starting the last six games last season. The Cyclones defense returns eight players, including 2015 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Demond Tucker, who tied for first on the team last season with 13 tackles for loss and was second on the team with six sacks. The Cyclones should take a step forward on defense, but on offense, questions remain.
Key Game: @Iowa, September 10
The Cyclones are 3-2 in their last five meetings in their annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk series with Iowa taking last year’s meeting 31-17. The Cyclones visit their rival in a Week 2 matchup and as the Cyclones have some experience on their side, this game could be one where they keep the Hawkeyes on their toes all night.
8 Kansas State
2015 Record: 6-7 (3-6 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 29.9
Opponents Points Per Game: 31.5
Getting back to a bowl game is reasonable, returning to the top of the Big 12 is key for the Wildcats in 2016. Two quarterbacks went down early last season with season ending injuries; Jesse Ertz tore his ACL in their season opener, Alex Delton was ruled out a week later with a torn meniscus. And just like the Wildcats season was in a flux. If they can stay healthy, the Wildcats have the defense in linebacker Elijah Lee and defensive lineman Will Geary and Jordan Willis to make 2016 a special season. The pieces are in place, now comes the hard part: staying healthy.
Key Game: @Stanford, September 2
The Wildcats aren’t wasting any time getting 2016 off to a fast start with a meeting on the road against the Stanford Cardinal and running back Christian McCaffrey. If the Wildcats want to get the attention of voters everywhere, it’s with this game. They’ll have their hands full trying to contain McCaffrey and company, but they should be up for the challenge.
7 Texas Tech
2015 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 45.1
Opponents Points Per Game: 43.6
Texas Tech saw a coming out party for starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes last season but losing a wealth of experience on the offensive line and at the skill positions certainly hurts the progression entering 2016. The Red Raiders had the #1 scoring offense last season but also the 125th ranked defense. Things will need to change this season if the Red Raiders want a chance at success in the Big 12. Youth drives the boat with Mahomes leading the way.
Key Game: @Arizona State, September 10
The Red Raiders visit the Sun Devils in Week 2, a team looking for it’s identity as well. This is the Red Raiders chance to show they are ready to take a step forward and at least for a week remain in the national spotlight. With a favorable Big 12 schedule, the Red Raiders could use this game as momentum towards a possible 8-win season.
2015 Record: 10-3 (6-3 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 48.1
Opponents Points Per Game: 28.3
The Baylor Bears return quarterback Seth Russell after a season that saw him throw 29 touchdowns and six interceptions through seven games, however, the departure of Art Briles could show some. The Bears have to replace four offensive lineman and Russell is also coming off season ending neck surgery. The offensive fire power is there still with receiver K.D. Cannon and running back Shock Linwood returning, but will it be enough to carry the Bears all season? Only time will tell.
Key Game: @Texas, October 29
The Bears dropped their meeting last season with the Longhorns 23-17 and of late, they’ve been getting the better end of this rivalry. The Bears are 4-2 against Texas since 2010, if 2016 is to be of any success, they have to beat the Longhorns, and handily.
2015 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 26.4
Opponents Points Per Game: 30.3
5-7 isn’t so bad in Charlie Strong’s first year as head coach but as he’s gotten a recruiting cycle under his belt, the expectations are a bit higher in 2016. Quarterback Shane Buechele enrolled early and rocked Spring practice and many expect he’ll be the starter this fall. The defense has concerns on the defensive line, but that just means the five recruited prospects they brought in this offseason will see plenty of playing time sooner rather than later. Linebacker Malik Jefferson, a freshman All-American in 2015, should set the tone for them early. 2016 should be a year Texas returns to the top of the Big 12.
Key Game: Notre Dame, September 4
The Longhorns open the season against Notre Dame, the bar has been set extremely high for them. The Fighting Irish are no slouch and will definitely be prepared but if the Longhorns can keep pace and make it interesting, maybe 2016 won’t be so bad for them.
4 West Virginia
2015 Record: 8-5 (4-5 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 34.0
Opponents Points Per Game: 24.6
The Mountaineers should have one of the better offenses in 2016 with the return of Skyler Howard at quarterback who finished strong in their bowl victory over Arizona with 532 passing yards and five touchdowns. The issues rely on the defensive side of the ball where the Mountaineers lost much of their highly touted secondary. The Mountaineers could struggle a bit but offense will keep them in games a lot this season.
Key Game: BYU, September 24
The Mountaineers welcome the Cougars to Morgantown this season and if they can get a victory and set the tone on defense, consider 2016 one where the Mountaineers reach 10 wins for the first season since 2011, which was Dana Holgersen first season as head coach.
2015 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 42.1
Opponents Points Per Game: 27.2
The Horned Frogs return the least amount of starters on offense but there’s a quarterback battle brewing which could see former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill reemerge as a star, this time in the Big 12. Replacing four offensive lineman could be an issue, but the Air Raid thrives on a dual threat quarterback like Hill in order to be successful. The defense has the foundation to be solid, safety Travin Howard returns, he led the team in tackles last season. Experience should carry them in Big 12 play.
Key Game: Oklahoma, October 1
The Horned Frogs lost last season’s contest to Oklahoma 30-29 with 51 seconds left to play. That certainly leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of TCU entering 2016 especially since Oklahoma is their first Big 12 conference game of the season. Game 1 of conference play sets the tone, if the Horned Frogs can give the Sooners a run for their money, a Big 12 title could be on the horizon as well.
2 Oklahoma State
2015 Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 39.5
Opponents Points Per Game: 30.5
The Cowboys return nine starters on a team ranked 22nd in the NCAA in total offense and 14th in scoring. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington will star for an offense looking to strengthen its case for best in the Big 12 with another 10 win season. Despite the loss of Emmanuel Ogbah to the NFL, the defense should have some experience under its belt that carries over into this season. The Cowboys have a chance to make a run in the Big 12 barring injury, if they can find some momentum early, they could dethrone Oklahoma as the best team in the Big 12.
Key Game: Pittsburgh, September 17
The Cowboys face arguably the best rushing team in the nation. If they want to set a tone and gain some momentum, they need to be ready for the Pittsburgh Panthers. They very well could come to town and upset the Cowboys if they aren’t ready. The Big 12 season starts after this so if things go bad, the reason is because of Pittsburgh.
2015 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)
Points Per Game: 43.5
Opponents Points Per Game: 22.0
The Sooners enter 2016 looking to make another College Football Playoff run, but this team with better results. 2015 was a good one for Baker Mayfield in his first season as starter for Oklahoma, throwing 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Mayfield finished fourth in Heisman voting as well. The Sooners return running back Samaje Perine as well, who accounted for 1,349 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. The defense lost most of its playmakers, but second team All-Big 12 candidates Charles Walker, Jordan Evans, Ahmad Thomas, and Jordan Thomas are all back ready for bigger seasons in 2016.
Key Game: Ohio State. September 17
If the Sooners want another shot at a College Football Playoff, this game is a must win game. The Sooners 37-17 loss to the Clemson Tigers still has to sting a bit and with it still looming on their minds, this game means more than just another game on the schedule. Look for the Sooners to give the Buckeyes a game of the season type of performance.