Why TCU And Baylor Will Dominate The Big 12 Again

The Big 12 was left out of the College Football Playoff despite excellent seasons from Baylor and TCU. The two shared the conference crown, but TCU was jumped in the last week of the regular season by eventual champion Ohio State. The two enter the season as the favorites again in 2015, but there are plenty of question marks after those two programs.

1. TCU

After missing out on the College Football Playoff in 2015, TCU is ready to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and that the Horned Frogs should be considered one of the top programs in the country. The 2014 season was a remarkable turnaround, as Gary Patterson allowed his offense to open up and truly maximize the talents of returning quarterback Trevone Boykin. Boykin, who set nearly every record in TCU’s passing record book in 2014, is a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and will be surrounded by plenty of talent in the second year of TCU’s adoption of the Air Raid offense.

TCU's Trevone Boykin (2) points to the sideline after throwing a touchdown pass in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Boykin was 22 of 39 for 433 yards while setting a career high in yards passing for the second week in a row in the 82-27 TCU win. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Patterson is known for coaching up defenses, and he’ll need to live up to his reputation to propel this team toward the end goal of a national championship. The Horned Frogs lost All-American linebacker Paul Dawson and their best secondary player in Chris Hackett to the NFL, but talent is on campus. Schematically, there aren’t many better defensive minds than Patterson. If his defense can duplicate last year’s group, TCU will earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor

If any team can knock off TCU in 2015 it will be Baylor. Led by offensive mastermind Art Briles, Baylor has transformed from Big 12 punchline to national powerhouse. There are questions surrounding the quarterback position with Seth Russell taking over for Bryce Petty, but Briles is a master of fitting his offense around the strengths of his signal-caller and this year will be no different. Russell has the best receiving core to target in the country and a running game that is much more effective than people realize. Add in an offensive line led by future NFL first-round draft pick Spencer Drango and there is little doubt Baylor will once again put up huge numbers.

The biggest improvement for Baylor since Briles took over is on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Shawn Oakman is the president of the Back-Alley Team. He is a physical specimen who will wow scout when he reaches the NFL combine. Oakman was a third-team All-American last year and set a school record with 11 sacks in one season. Add in Andrew Billings, who may be the best defensive tackle in the Big 12, and Baylor will be dominant in the trenches.

If the secondary can perform at a high level, Baylor is going to give TCU a run for its money this fall.

3. Oklahoma State

Expect Oklahoma State to bounce back from its worst season since 2007. It was known that 2014 would be a rebuilding season, and it proved to be just that as the Cowboys failed to reach eight wins for the first time since Mike Gundy’s second season in Stillwater. The turnaround this season will hinge on the arm of Mason Rudolph, whom Gundy wanted to redshirt but ended up playing late in the season. That decision led Oklahoma State to a win over OU and a bowl berth.

Running back is a question mark, but Oklahoma State returns nine of its 10 top receivers and received a boost along the offensive line when Victor Salako joined the program from UAB. Chris Carson, a JUCO transfer, may be the answer to the issues at running back.

Defensively, Oklahoma State should take a big step forward with an improved offense and added depth. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah doesn’t get the headlines many prime time pass rushers get, but he was the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year last season after recording 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Vincent Taylor became a force on the inside, and Jimmy Bean is no slouch at the other defensive end spot. Add in senior Ryan Simmons to lead a talented young linebacker core and Oklahoma State may boast the best front seven in the Big 12. However, much like Baylor, Oklahoma State has questions to answer in the secondary outside of cornerback Kevin Peterson.

4. Oklahoma

Lack of consistency in the passing game derailed an Oklahoma season that many predicted would end in a 2014 Big 12 championship. The lone bright spot on that side of the ball was freshman running back Samaje Perine, who ended up setting a single-game rushing record against Kansas and topped Adrian Peterson’s freshman season. However, the OU offense won’t look the same under new offensive play-caller Lincoln Riley, who is known for his spread offense.

Oklahoma’s season will come down to finding a quarterback and replacing four starters from the offensive line. It is still unclear which quarterback will get the start in the season opener, but signs point to former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, which might not be a good sign for the Sooners. Trevor Knight, a San Antonio native who was last year’s starter, is also in the mix.

The defense looks good on paper, but it must improve from last year’s squad that allowed way too many big plays. Jordan Phillips leaving for the NFL created a hole in the center of the OU defense, but linebacker Eric Striker was a first-team All-Big 12 selection who may end up being the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. Zack Sanchez returns at cornerback, but if the secondary can’t cut down on big plays, it’ll put too much pressure on an offense that will need time to find its groove in a new system.

5. Texas

Charlie Strong inherited a mess at Texas last year, and that mess is still in the process of getting cleaned up. Texas struggled on offense in 2014, and there is no tangible reason to feel like it will get a ton better in 2015 unless Tyrone Swoopes makes a large leap this season in an offense more geared toward an up-tempo approach. The Longhorns hope the new offense can help the squad make leaps like TCU did in 2014, but nothing has suggested Swoopes, or backup Jerrod Heard, is capable of the season Boykin had at TCU.


Johnathan Gray and the running backs should be very good once again, but question marks remain along the offensive line and at wide receiver. John Harris is gone, so that leaves Texas searching for a No. 1 target in the passing game. Texas needs to create big plays and prevent mistakes because the margin of error isn’t as big as the Texas teams during the best years under Mack Brown.

Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford are two of the best defensive minds in the conference, but there is a lot of talent to replace on the Texas defense. First-round NFL draft pick Malcom Brown is now with the New England Patriots, and Texas lost its two best linebackers — and maybe its third when Dalton Santos went down with injury this spring. True freshman Malik Jefferson was impressive this spring as an early enrollee, but it is dangerous to count on young players in a conference known for its offense.

The defensive line will be a strength for the defense with Hassan Ridgeway and the return of defensive tackle Desmond Jackson. Texas lost cornerback Sheroid Evans to injury this spring, so someone needs to step up opposite of Duke Thomas, but the safety position looks strong entering the season.

6. Texas Tech

It is almost reaching a now-or-never moment for Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech. After a solid season to start his career as a head coach, the Red Raiders took a large step backward in 2014 thanks to a really bad defense. Kingsbury is a Texas Tech alum who has brought momentum to the program off the field because of his charm and good looks, but eventually the team needs to win. This may be the year the Red Raiders start to put it together.

No one expects Texas Tech to compete for a conference title, but it needs to start winning some big games against solid competition or it risks falling further behind programs like Baylor, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M in the recruiting world.

Texas Tech has a potential star at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, who should start in front of Davis Webb. The Red Raiders return four starters along the offensive line and have DeAndre Washington back at running back. Consistency is needed from a young wide receiver core, but Ian Sadler and Devin Lauderdale showed promise late in 2014.

The offense will most likely put up points, but the major question within the program is on defense. Kingsbury recognized the need for change and hired David Gibbs to help the team force more turnovers and limit big plays in the passing game and against the run. Gibbs has a reputation for doing all of those things from his time at Houston, but he’ll need some unproven and young players to step up in order for that transformation to happen as quickly as the faithful in Lubbock expect.

7. West Virginia

West Virginia will either shock people in 2015, or it will be a rebuilding season as Dana Holgorsen tries to find a new quarterback, coach up an offensive line that has very little experience and break in new wide receivers. And that’s before we even mention revamping a defense in a conference known for explosive offenses. It won’t be an easy task, but the Moutaineers need a winning season or Holgorsen may be in trouble after going 18-10 over the past three seasons.

Skyler Howard, a JUCO transfer who played toward the end of last season, is Holgorsen’s best bet at quarterback. However, even though it isn’t the norm for Holgorsen, West Virginia may be best relying on a running game led by Rushel Shell, who if healthy is a legit game-changer. The offensive line and wide receivers will need to gel quickly or West Virginia could finish even further down the list.

The defensive line should be decent, but defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has to work some magic at linebacker and in the secondary to take some pressure off the West Virginia offense.

8. Kansas State

Never bet against a Bill Snyder team. On paper, there is no reason for Kansas State to be a threat to the top programs in the conference, but that has never stopped the Wildcats from proving people wrong before. Snyder’s team won nine games for the 13th time in his tenure, which is insane to think about when looking at how the program recruits.

Snyder will need to pull another trick out of his hat for Kansas State to reach those same heights in 2015 because there are holes to fill, starting at quarterback. No matter who starts at quarterback, expect Kansas State to rely heavily on the running game behind an offensive line that returns every starter but the center. Controlling the clock and making each game ugly has to be the formula for Kansas State this year because the firepower isn’t there to compete with the top half of the conference.

The secondary will be stout, but the front seven needs bodies to come in and provide a spark right away due to the loss of Ryan Mueller at defensive end. Travis Britz is an all-conference defensive tackle, but he can’t hold it down alone.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones lost to Kansas last year and aren’t expected to be much better. Paul Rhoads is a good coach, but Iowa State will once again be an off week of sorts for everyone not named Kansas this season.

10. Kansas

David Beaty takes over Kansas after years at Baylor. He’s a good coach and a really good recruiter, but 2015 is going to test his patience. The Jayhawks will be bad. When does basketball season start?

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