By Ryan Decker
College Football is finally here.
California and Hawaii kicked off the season last week in Sydney, Australia, and the rest of college football begins play in the coming days. A pair of teams ranked in the Top 25 play Thursday, three more start their season Friday, and the games get better as the weekend progresses.
Big 12 teams are involved in two of the biggest games in the opening weekend of the college football season, they being No. 3 Oklahoma facing off against No. 15 Houston at noon Saturday, and unranked Texas hosting tenth-ranked Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night.
Although the rest of the Big 12 teams don’t start off with as noteworthy games, it’s still key to take care of business in the opening weeks before conference play begins.
With the start of each season comes a new slate. Last year is now truly in the past. Each season also comes with expectations, though.
Below are my expectations for each team.
There may be no other team in the nation that is looking forward to the start of the college football season more so than the Baylor Bears. That’s not because there’s a shot of playing in the College Football Playoffs, it’s because Baylor fans would like to hear their school’s name mentioned something in other than an off the field issue.
Luckily for Baylor, more so than anyone else, that’s what the first three weeks of the season are for.
The Bears continue to start off their campaign with a very weak schedule, and even after a Week 4 meeting with Oklahoma State, their schedule is still pretty light. However, the last five weeks of the season include games against two ranked opponents, one at home against a highly touted Texas Tech offense, and then on the road in a tough environment in Morgantown against West Virginia.
With all the distractions that Baylor has had to deal with this offseason, it’s hard to see Baylor having an overly successful season, despite the talent that is still on the roster.
Baylor will walk into its game versus Texas with a 5-1 record, lose in Austin, and then proceed to lose four of their next five, ending the season with a 6-6 record.
Prediction: 6-6 overall; 3-6 in conference
Positive news for the people of Aimes is that the football program sounds like it is “on the rise.” The bad news is that they likely picked the wrong year to be “on the rise.”
Iowa State‘s schedule consists of five games against ranked opponents, including on the road back-to-back weeks against Iowa and TCU. Three weeks later, the Cyclones take a trip to Stillwater to play a good Oklahoma St. team.
Looking at the schedule, there isn’t a great spot for Iowa St. to go on a long win streak, maybe other than its last three games of the season, which are all winnable contests.
Joel Lanning, who is now the starter for good after he replaced Sam Richardson midway through last season, is a more athletic quarterback than Richardson, and along with him are the Cyclones leading rusher and pas catcher from a season ago.
After a rough start to the season, a much-needed bye week results in a win over K-State, and after a hard fought game against the Sooners, ISU registers two more wins over Kansas and Texas Tech.
Prediction: 5-7 overall; 3-6 in conference
Kansas failed to win a game last year, marking the first time since 1954 that the Jayhawks ended the year with a zero in the win column.
It did, however, extend the streak of consecutive losing seasons to seven in a row.
Things won’t be much better this year.
Kansas will start off its season getting a win over a bad Rhode Island team – at the end of the day a win is a win.
After that the Jayhawks schedule includes four-straight games against Top-25 teams, including two on the road.
If there’s a positive to point out for Kansas, it’s that Cozart Montell – the only Jayhawk to have better than a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio – is the starter. However, Montell is a bit out of place in a conference filled with good quarterbacks.
Prediction: 1-11 overall; 0-9 in conference
So, is this the year that will officially be Bill Snyder’s last? If so, it may be a sour note to go out on.
Kansas State starts its season tonight on the road against No. 8 Stanford, a game which, unless Snyder has some more magic up his sleeve will end in a loss for the Wildcats. After that will be at least two wins, and likely a third against West Virginia, a team that Snyder has never lost to.
What follows is one of the toughest stretches of games for anyone in the conference.
Luckily for Snyder and company, the experienced Wildcat defense is composed of eight upperclassman. That defense, however, won’t be able to make up for an offense that was average at best last year, and lost three of its top six wide outs.
In the Big 12, you have to score a lot of points.
A 3-1 start will turn into a long losing streak that finally gets snapped against in-state opponent Kansas.
Prediction: 4-8 overall; 2-7 in conference
There are lofty expectations for Oklahoma heading into the 2016 campaign. Those aren’t just coming from inside the conference; nation wide the Sooners are expected to have a big year.
That hasn’t always been a good thing for the Sooners, who each of the last four times they were ranked in the AP Preseason Top 5, failed to finish the season outside the Top 10, twice finishing the season unranked.
But I don’t see that happening this time around.
Baker Mayfield is the real deal – a duel threat quarterback leading one of the nations best offenses onto the field. Dede Westbrook is good replacement of Sterling Shephard to be Mayfield’s top target on the outside.
Oh yeah, on the other side of the football, 10 upperclassmen are slated to start, with six more in the second unit.
Oklahoma is experienced for sure, and Bob Stoops and company are well equipped to go on a championship run.
A few potential stumbling blocks stand in the way: Week 3 vs. No. 6 Ohio State, Week 5 at No. 13 TCU, Week 10 at Iowa State (major trap game on a Thursday night), and the last week of the season at home against No. 21 Oklahoma State.
It won’t be easy at all, but the Sooners will be playing in the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row. This year, with a better record than last.
Prediciton: 12-0 overall; 9-0 in conference
#21 Oklahoma St.
On the other side of the Bedlam Series rivalry stand the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They may not be equally as talented, but they’re equally as hungry.
Mike Gundy and company registered double-digit wins for the fourth time since 2010 last year, but the narrative seemed to remain the same – unable to win the big game when it mattered most.
Maybe this will be the year.
An easy start in the non-conference portion of the season will help the Cowboys get off on the right foot. Three more quality wins lead them into their first bye week with a perfect 6-0 record, which is followed by a game in Lawrence against Kansas. That’s a win.
The first loss of the season will likely come at home against a West Virginia team that (according to predictions below) will need the win to not let a losing streak go on for too long.
Two definite losses are on the schedule, both coming on the road in the last two games of the season.
Prediction: 9-3 overall; 6-3 in conference
Dear Texas Longhorn benefactors and alumns: Get off Charlie Strong’s back. Really, for five seconds give him a chance to be the head coach without hearing a comparison to Mack Brown, or without a pitchfork being sent to his office.
If you do, he’ll show you he’s a pretty good head coach. The players showed you that last year when they hoisted him on their shoulders following a victory over Oklahoma in last year’s installment of the Red River Rivalry.
We’re at the point now where the players on the field for Texas are players that Strong recruited to come to Longhorn nation.
After just a five-win season in 2015, the Longhorns will do better than that in 2016.
Despite a tough start to the year – three games against ranked teams –, and starting a freshman quarterback, Texas will have a winning record at season’s end. Three-game win streaks will go on both sides of a tough road loss in Lubbock against Texas Tech.
Prediction: 8-4 overall; 6-3 in conference
#13 Texas Christian
When someone asks what you did this summer, most people say, “I went on vacation,” or, “We took a road trip.” If you ask Garry Patterson, he’ll say something like, “Oh, nothing much. I just had a statue of me put up on campus.”
Who didn’t right?
The winningest coach in program history doesn’t have to prove anything to his loyal fans, but winning 10-plus games for a third straight season wouldn’t hurt.
TCU is a little young at the offensive skill positions, but Patterson has worked with a less-talented group.
A trip to the College Football Playoff isn’t necessarily out of the question, but I don’t see it happening. After starting the season 4-0, the Horned Frogs run into the Sooners and suffer a tough loss at home.
TCU will get back on the winning wagon, with quality wins on the road at Baylor and WVU and at home against Texas Tech and Oklahoma St. A loss at Texas crushes all hopes of the playoffs.
Prediction: 10-2 overall; 7-2 in conference
If there’s a dark horse in the Big 12, it’s the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Patrick Mahomes is being projected by many to put up video game-like numbers; we’re talking over 5,000 yards passing and a whole lot of touchdowns. That’s certainly possible as six of the seven players to haul in over 300 receiving yards in 2015 return for another year.
Kliff Kingsbury’s high-power offense is ushering in a new starting running back in Justin Stockton, although he did rush the ball 61 times at a rate of six yards per carry, as well as an offensive line that is rather young, composed of two sophomores and a freshman.
Mahomes’ strong arm and athleticism should be enough to keep defenses off balanced enough early on in the year for Stockton and the O-Line to find their rhythm.
The bend-but-try-not-to-break defense will ultimately be the downfall record wise, but will also create a lot of exciting games.
After a high scoring game on the road against Arizona St., escaping Kansas St. with a victory on a Thursday night and the thriller at home against WVU, Texas Tech will walk into its meeting with Oklahoma with a 6-0 record.
The Sooners and Horned Frogs will hand the Red Raiders their first loss of the season, and they will play .500 ball the final four weeks.
Prediction: 8-4 overall; 5-4 in conference
Howard returns for his senior season with a number of talented wide outs that, after a year where Dana Holgorsen ran the ball more than he ever has before, should return Holgorsen to the air raid mindset.
The Mountaineers’ game against Texas Tech on October 15 in Lubbock could be the highest scoring game of the year.
Already, though, WVU has taken some hits to its roster.
Adam Pankey will miss the first game of the season due to suspension, two defensive players including Xavier Preston will also miss time due to being in the dog house, and kicker Josh Lambert is ineligible to play in the Mountaineers first three contests. Along with the suspensions are two ACL injuries on a defense that is replacing eight starters from a season ago, and replacing running back Wendell Smallwood who ran for over 1500 yards last year.
WVU certainly has a challenge ahead of itself, and it starts Week 1 against an SEC, Missouri defense.
The ‘Eers will head into conference play with a 2-1 record, but then lose its next three straight, ending the losing streak out of necessity with an upset win over Oklahoma St. in Stillwater. WVU wins its final two games of the season over ISU and Baylor.
Prediction: 6-6 overall; 4-5 in conference
Projected Final Standings
- Oklahoma St.
- Texas Tech
- Iowa St.
- Kansas St.