A year after being left out, the Big 12 was represented in the College Football Playoff by the Oklahoma Sooners. Bob Stoops’ team was one of the hottest in the country following a suprising loss to Texas. Can the Sooners, behind superstar Baker Mayfield, take another step forward? Is next season Baylor’s time to shine? How about Mike Gundy and the Cowboys? While it’s still too early to predict with any certainty how next season will shape out, it’s never too early to talk about the contenders and pretenders. Below are way-too-early Big 12 football rankings for 2016.
Early 2016 Big 12 Football Rankings
2015 might have been just the beginning to what the Sooners can do with their revamped offensive style. Baker Mayfield is back along with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to form one of college football’s top backfields. There are some hits to the receiving corps, and the line loses two starters, but the attack will be deadly. Zack Sanchez is gone from the secondary, and the line loses Eric Striker and Charles Tapper, but this should still be one of the Big 12’s top defenses. As of now, the Sooners look to be the class of the conference and sit atop the early Big 12 football rankings.
The Bears aren’t slowing down with all the quarterbacks coming back, and as the bowl win over North Carolina showed, enough firepower to roll at will with the talent in place. The problem? The O line gets back just one starter. The defense loses three key starters up front, but the secondary is all back full and the linebacking corps is going to be just solid enough to be an improvement.
3. Oklahoma State
The finish of the 2015 season might have been a dud, but there are plenty of reasons to be jacked up going forward with QB Mason Rudolph, all the top running backs, and six of the top eight receivers back. Best of all, all five starters are back on the line. The defense loses pass rushing star Emmanuel Ogbah, and the secondary needs reworking, but the Cowboys will be built for wild shootouts.
4. West Virginia
Can the Mountaineers bring that Cactus Bowl offense to the 2016 season? QB Skyler Howard leads a deadly attack with all the running backs and most of the top receivers returning behind a line that gets four starters back. The linebacking corps is starting from scratch, but the secondary should be terrific and the line has the upside to be strong with a little bit of reworking.
Is there life after Trevone Boykin? The quarterback situation is the big question mark, but the receivers should be okay and there are just enough out decent backs returning for the O to be okay. The problem? The line gets back just one starter. The D that dealt with so many problems comes back solid with seven starters including a much stronger linebacker situation than last season.
Things have to be better after going through all the lumps with all the youth, right? Chris Warren leads a strong group of running backs, while Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes form a deadly 1-2 quarterback punch. The receiving corps should be good, while the line might be okay with a little bit of retooling. The key will be a loaded defense with nine starters back working around the linebacking pop of Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler.
7. Kansas State
Can the passing game start to work a little bit better? Joe Hubener is a runner, not a passer, and he has help with a good rushing attack returning. The problem is an offensive line with just one starter returning, but the receiving corps should be okay. The Wildcat defense always has to undergo several big changes, but there should be some continuity with the entire linebacking corps back along with enough experience on the line and secondary to be decent.
8. Texas Tech
The Texas Tech offense will be the Texas Tech offense with Patrick Mahomes rolling with another good receiving corps, but four starters are gone off the line and the graduation of RB DeAndre Washington is big. The defense was a problem last year and it’ll be a bigger issue up front with all the starters gone off the line. All four starters return to the secondary and the linebacking corps should be fine, but the run D needs to be night and day better.
9. Iowa State
This still isn’t a team built for shootouts, but it’ll be better. New head coach Matt Campbell has to rework the O line that loses four starters, but gets back Mike Warren and a good group of running backs. There’s just enough talent returning to hope for more from the offense, while the defense has good upside with eight starters returning depending on the alignment.
The nightmare of a 2015 season had one big positive – the young talent got plenty of time to take their lumps. Is Ryan Willis the answer at quarterback? There are options to play around with this offseason, and the line should be better with four starters back to pave the way for Ke’aun Kinner. The defense that was so awful gets back everyone in the back seven along with enough depth to form an okay rotation. The line that was so young should be an improvement. But until the Jayhawks show us otherwise, they’ll be slotted at the bottom of the Big 12 football rankings.