Pete Fiutak’s Big 12 Predicted Order
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Here we go again. The Bears finished No. 1 in the nation in total offense and scoring thanks to the high-octane passing game and a strong, decisive rushing attack. All-star tackle Spencer Drango leads a strong, veteran line with four senior starters paving the way for All-Big-12 RB Shock Linwood and a dangerous backfield. The receiving corps is devastating with Corey Coleman and KD Cannon forming one of the nation’s best 1-2 punches, and there’s more pass catching talent where they came from. The spotlight, though, is at quarterback where Seth Russell appears ready to take over for Bryce Petty the Next QB Up in the system. While Russell isn’t the same passer as Petty, he has 4.5 speed and can add a different element to the mix. Be shocked if this isn’t one of the nation’s five best offenses.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: While everyone likes the flash and dash of the offense, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is putting together a D that’s every bit the killer. The secondary in the 4-2-5 alignment is a little bit of a question mark with some banged up players returning to a group that was lit up like a Christmas tree over the second half of the season. Fortunately, the phenomenal defensive line is going to get behind the line and to the quarterback early and often. Shawn Oakman is one of college football’s most intimidating ends, while the interior combination of Andrew Billings and Beau Blackshear is among the best in the Big 12. Taylor Young is growing into a special linebacker who should earn all-star honors as a do-it-all playmaker on the outside.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Is it time to party like it’s 2008 with Lincoln Riley coming in as the offensive coordinator? He learned his trade at Texas Tech and put up massive numbers with the East Carolina offense over the last few seasons. But does he have the quarterback who can make it all fly? There are three options led by Trevor Knight and former Texas Tech starter Baker Mayfield, but even with the renewed emphasis on the passing game, it’ll be easier just to hand it off to Samaje Perine and the loaded group of running backs. The receiving corps is bringing in some help for Sterling Shepard, while the rebuilt line should once again be a strength with a little bit of time working around C Ty Darlington. While the Sooners need to be more explosive, now they need to be more consistently great.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has to get more out of his pass defense. The run D should once again be fantastic with one of the Big 12’s best linebacking corps. Eric Striker leads a deep and talented group working behind yet another good line – even if it needs a little bit of reworking. It’s going to get into the backfield on a regular basis and it’ll be a brick wall against the run at times. Now the secondary has to do its part. Zach Sanchez is a terrific corner to start with, and Ahmad Thomas is a good-looking free safety, but overall the secondary has to hold up against the outstanding Big 12 passing attacks.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: After massive struggles moving the ball in 2013, co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham put together a devastating attack that couldn’t be stopped. As good as last year’s offense might have been finishing second in the nation in scoring and fifth in yards, it could be even stronger. Triggerman Trevone Boykin is back along with his top targets, Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee. The veteran offensive line should provide plenty of time for Boykin to operate and should provide a terrific push for Aaron Green and a great group of backs.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: There’s plenty of rebuilding to do, but don’t weep for a TCU defense that always reloads in a hurry. The front four will be the rock with a good rotation at end around Davion Pierson inside. Top tackling linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet are gone, but the young group has the speed and athleticism to crank out a ton of tackles behind the active line. Star corner Kevin White is gone, but Darrick Kindred is one of the Big 12’s best safeties and the corner tandem of Torrance Mosley and Ranthony Texada should be solid.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It’s going to be a work in progress after averaging just 337 yards and 21 points per game. The line that was such a disaster at times throughout last year after dealing with injuries and other issues comes back full of experience. The recruiting class from the JUCO ranks will help, but if the line isn’t far better, the offense won’t improve. The goal will be to increase the pace a bit, but the line has to give Tyrone Swoopes more time to work. There’s a good young group of backs to rotate in with Johnathan Gray, but defenses will load up to stop until the receiving corps finds new performers. The top two receivers – John Harris and Jaxon Shipley – are gone, and it’s going to take a few out-of-the-blue performances to improve the air attack.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Despite not getting any help from the offense, the defense did its job – for the most part – especially against the pass. This year, there’s an overhaul of talent, and there might not be enough experience, but the upside is for a more consistent season. The line should be fantastic with a strong tackle tandem of Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson, while super-recruit Malik Jefferson will fill in a role as a pass rusher as either an end or a linebacker. The back seven should swarm with safety Dylan Haines and corner Duke Thomas leading a great secondary that can get around the ball. The linebackers might need a little bit, but the talent is there to be fine in a 4-2-5 alignment the Longhorns are normally running.
5. West Virginia
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Excellent last season, especially through the air, the offense should be terrific again despite the loss of star receiver Kevin White. Skyler Howard is ready to rise up and shine as the program’s new statistical monster quarterback, and he’ll be helped by the 1-2 rushing punch of Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood. The line might not be dominant, but it’s going to be good enough with a few moving parts and with enough talent to be fine. There isn’t a White at receiver, but there are several good receivers who can produce in the West Virginia system – don’t expect a massive drop in production.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Be very, very shocked if this isn’t the best defense of the Dana Holgorsen era by far. The pass rush in the 3-4 alignment has to improve in a big way, but there’s size and experience on the front three – it should be a good group against the run. Nick Kwiatkoski leads a tremendous linebacking corps that has depth and experience across the board. If the playmaking in the backfield comes from this group, the D could be better by leaps and bounds. The safety tandem of Karl Joseph and Daryl Worley is terrific as the main men for a secondary that should be among the best in the Big 12.
6. Oklahoma State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: This might not be one of the devastating OSU offenses of the past, but it should be better. Expect a big rebound after an off year. The quarterback situation was a mess with injuries and inconsistencies, and the line play was awful. The front five should be stronger with three returning starters and hope with decent depth to start relying more on. The ground game is the big concern after losing the key parts, but Rennie Childs leads a promising group that should be fine if the line is better. The emergence of QB Mason Rudolph is the big key, with the size and downfield arm to start stretching out the attack far more. The receivers might not be killers, but they’ll be good enough.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Look out, quarterbacks. The end tandem of Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean should be among the nation’s most disruptive, and with the expected emergence of some big young bodies inside, the line has the potential to be devastating. Ryan Simmons is a strong veteran linebacker to work around, but as long as the line is doing what it’s supposed to, the run defense should be better. The secondary now has to do its job after getting bombed on too easily. Kevin Peterson is one of the Big 12’s most talented and fastest corners, and Jordan Sterns is a big-hitting safety, but in the pass-happy conference, allowing fewer than 269 yards per game is a must.
7. Kansas State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: What’s the offense going to be this year? Last season it was outstanding at getting the passing game going cranking up 287 yards per game, but with Jake Waters gone, who will the quarterback be throughout the season? Where are the receiving playmakers to make up for the loss of Tyler Lockett? Even with the loss of C B.J. Finney, the line should be a strength, but the skill stars have to rise up. The ground attack has to be far more effective, and again, the passing game components have to come together in a hurry.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: It’s a no-name defense that might turn out to be the best in the Big 12. The secondary is the star with SS Dante Barnett and CB Danzel McDaniel two terrific tacklers who should earn all-star honors. With Elijah Lee looking like a keeper on the outside, the linebacking corps should be very active and very productive. The pass rush will come from several spots with Ryan Mueller gone, but Jordan Willis outside and Travis Britz inside form a nice tandem to work around.
8. Texas Tech
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Expect more of the same, even more of it. The offense that averaged over 500 yards per game and finished fifth in the nation in passing should be even better once the quarterback situation is settled between Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes. The receiving corps needs more weapons around Jakeem Grant, but there are several nice options. Le’Raven Clark and the line will be strong, but it’s not deep and will be in big trouble if a rash of injuries strike. The passing game is the star, but DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton will be among the Big 12’s most dynamic rushing tandems.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: One of the nation’s worst defenses is trying to start over with new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. After finishing 122nd in the nation in total D and 123rd in scoring defense, there’s nowhere to go but up. The pass rushing tandem of Pete Robertson and Branden Jackson should be outstanding, but the entire front four has to be better against the run, especially on the inside. The linebacking corps is the defense’s big question mark with three new starters, but Micah Awe is a good one on the inside. The rough secondary will be helped with more from the defensive front, but J.J. Gaines is a good safety to build around and Justis Nelson is one of the Big 12’s bigger corners.
9. Iowa State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Cyclones weren’t consistent and they couldn’t keep up the pace with the high-powered Big 12 offenses. The ground game didn’t work early on, and then it was abandoned time and again after getting down too quickly. This year, the passing attack should be able to shine just enough to make some big moments with a deep, talented and very big receiving corps. Sam B. Richardson has been around long enough to be a more consistent quarterback, but he needs time to work behind a veteran line that gets four starters back. The running backs might be young and inexperienced, but they’re good enough to add a little more pop.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Awful, the Cyclones finished dead last in college football in total defense, having equal problems against the run and the pass. The defensive front might be full of new starters, but it should be a wee bit better – it can’t be any worse – with JUCO transfer Demond Tucker helping the interior. The secondary should be okay if it’s helped by a pass rush – there are enough veterans to expect more big plays. Luke Knott and Kane Seeley form a decent 1-2 linebacking punch, but they have to hold up far, far better against the run.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Get ready for Kansas to try to open it up a bit more as head coach David Beaty tries to turn the attack into Texas A&M’s. The problem? Where are the players? The O line returns just two starters from a group that didn’t generate much of a push, leading rusher Corey Avery was suspended from the team this spring, and the top four wide receivers are done from a passing game that couldn’t keep up the pace. It’s going to be a faster offense that tries to keep defenses on their heels, but it might take a while to get there.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense didn’t get much help from the offense, but it didn’t do much to come up with stops, either. The Jayhawks finished 106th in the nation in total defense and couldn’t figure out how to stop the run. That’s not going to get much better without heart-and-soul LB Ben Heeney around. However, the linebacking corps should be the team’s strength early on, and the secondary has a nice safety in Fish Smithson, and he’ll need to shine with Isaiah Johnson gone. The line needs to learn how to get into the backfield more and the corner situation is a concern, but compared to the offense, the defense should be ahead of the game.