Big 12 Football Preview 2016: Early Conference Lookahead

The 2016 Big 12 football preview, featuring the key games, players, pro prospects and coaches on the hot seat.

The Big 12 apparently thinks it needs improving.

If it’s just about getting a team into the College Football Playoff, the Big 12’s current incarnation is more than fine – a 12-0 team will always get in, and, considering 2014 was an aberration, an 11-1 champ will almost always finish in the top four. But everyone wants the league to have a conference championship game, and everyone seems to believe expansion is not only necessary, but inevitable.

Yippee. Adding Memphis, or Cincinnati, or Houston still doesn’t make up for the loss of Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado, and that won’t make Texas want to dump its network. Regardless, the addition of teams will be front-and-center in every discussion throughout summer and probably into the fall, and that’s a shame.

The Big 12 should be as fun and entertaining as ever, and the teams and top players need to be in the spotlight more than whatever adding a few mid-level TV markets might do.

TCU’s Trevone Boykin is gone, but almost all the top starting quarterbacks return to a league that boasted the top three offenses in college football – Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU – and six of the top 23. Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell, Skyler Howard, Patrick Mahomes, Mason Rudolph are just some of the big names returning under center, and that doesn’t even include the TCU situation if former Texas A&M starter Kenny Hill gets the job.

Even the teams without the high-powered attacks should be fascinating.

Kansas State returns a killer defense that should make this yet another one of those years when Bill Snyder doesn’t have the talent, but wins a ton of games.

Texas, like Kansas State, might be the square peg in the round hole of Big 12 styles, but Charlie Strong finally has a good team in place with a killer ground game and an improving defense to start taking that proverbial next step forward.

Iowa State got a rising star of a head coach in Toledo’s Matt Campbell, West Virginia should have one of its best offenses in a long time under Dana Holgorsen, and Kansas is at least experienced, even if it’s not all that great.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s offense has the talent and potential to be even more explosive now that everyone knows what they’re doing. Baylor’s offense isn’t going to slow down, Texas Tech’s should be even better after finishing No. 2 in the nation, and Oklahoma State might be unstoppable.

But talk Big 12, and the conversation inevitably steers toward expansion, expansion, expansion.

The everyone-plays-everyone schedule truly makes this conference champion the most deserving of all the Power Five leagues. With a great late slate and eight teams varying from rock-solid to sensational – along with Iowa State and Kansas – the Big 12 title chase will be as must-watch as any in college football.

Enjoy the 2016 Big 12 season for what it’s about to be. It might be the last time a major college football conference is able to finish with One True Champion.

Big 12 Football Team That Will Surprise

Texas – With a great ground game, an interesting quarterback situation, and an improved defense – at least it had better be – Texas will again be a factor. It might not be in the Big 12 title chase at the end, but it’ll show enough of an improvement to think 2017 could be massive. Charlie Strong didn’t catch a break in his first two years; this time around the program is all his.

Big 12 Football Team That Will Disappoint

Oklahoma State – Four reasons why: at Baylor, at Kansas State, at TCU, at Oklahoma. The Cowboys should be good enough to win some of those, but considering the relatively easy non-conference schedule, manageable home games, and the tremendous offense returning, anything short of going into the final weekend against the Sooners with a shot at the Big 12 title will be a letdown.

Big 12 Football Game Of The Year

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 12 – The Oklahoma date with Texas will take on an even bigger meaning this year with the pressure on for both – more than ever – to come up with the win, and every week will have a different season-changing shootout, but the mid-November fun between the Bears and Sooners should decide the Big 12 championship.

5 Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight

Five players who have been a bit under the radar, but should rise up and be some of the Big 12 season’s best players – again.

1. RB D’Onta Foreman, Texas
2. S Fish Smithson, Kansas
3. LB Travin Howard, TCU
4. LB Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
5. DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State

5 Big 12 Coaches On The Hot Seat

Five Big 12 football coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure is on to produce up to expectations, and beyond.

1. Charlie Strong, Texas
2. Art Briles, Baylor (for reasons beyond happens on the field)
3. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
4. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
5. David Beaty, Kansas

5 Non-Conference Games The Big 12 Had Better Take Very, Very Seriously

The Big 12 doesn’t have the killer non-conference showdowns some of the other top leagues do – even with Ohio State coming to Oklahoma – but these games are dangerous traps that need plenty of attention.

1. Louisiana Tech at Texas Tech, Sept. 17
2. Central Michigan at Oklahoma State, Sept. 10
3. San Jose State at Iowa State, Sept. 24
4. Northern Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 3
5. Florida Atlantic at Kansas State, Sept. 17

5 Best Big 12 Pro Prospects

1. WR KD Cannon, Baylor (Jr.)
2. DT Charles Walker, Oklahoma
3. RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (Jr.)
4. S Steven Parker, Oklahoma (Jr.)
5. WR James Washington, Oklahoma State (Jr.)

Players With The Biggest Shoes To Fill

1. Baylor WR Ishmael Zamora for Corey Coleman
2. TCU QB Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer for Trevone Boykin

3. Oklahoma State DE Jordan Brailford for Emmanuel Ogbah
4. TCU WR KaVontae Turpin for Josh Doctson
5. Oklahoma WR Geno Lewis for Sterling Shepard

MORE: Big 12’s Top Non-Conference Games For 2016