Key Big 12 Questions For 2017
What are the biggest questions for the Big 12 going into 2017?
Key Big 12 Questions
Just how far has Baylor fallen on the field?
The controversy will continue to be a cloud over everything part of the Baylor program, but on the field, new head coach Matt Rhule has a job to do.
The offense won’t be nearly as dominant as anything Art Briles ever put together, but Rhule knows how to crank out great defenses. Seven starters are back on D – with a good-looking defensive front to start with – along with just enough strong parts to run an interesting-looking offense.
It’ll be different, but the O will crank up a good pace, there are two good quarterback options in Zach Smith and Arizona transfer And Solomon, and the line gets back four starters.
Compared to a few years ago, on the field this won’t be a College Football Playoff contender. But now that the coaching situation is settled, a top four conference finish isn’t a crazy goal.
Iowa State Cyclones
What’s missing before Iowa State can turn a corner?
There were plenty of positives out of Matt Campbell’s first season, including several close-call losses, but 3-9 is 3-9.
The offensive skill players are there, the secondary should be solid, and there’s hope among the young players in the rotation, but the Cyclones can’t do anything unless the lines rise up.
The defensive front has to replace three starters, and the O line has to replace four. But Jake Campos is back after missing all of last year with a broken leg, to go along with Julian Good-Jones, the starting right tackle of last year with left tackle upside.
Improve against the run, be better for the ground game, and the Cyclones might just be good enough to go bowling.
The skill players are there for am even better season
Really, is there any hope?
With six starters gone on defense and an offense that only averaged 20 points per game, things might look a little grim.
The real problem is identity. What does Kansas do at a high-level? What’s its style? What do teams have to worry about? The passing game hasn’t been efficient or effective under David Beaty, there’s no production from the lines, and there’s no differentiating factor.
Will there be one this year? It starts with starting to win the turnover margin – KU was 123rd in the nation last year – and there has to be some semblance of offensive pop to keep up with the pace with the Big 12 big boys. It’s hard to win in this league when you don’t score more than 24 points against any FBS teams.
So, really, is there any hope? That’s where new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham comes in. If he can come close to doing for Kansas what he helped do for TCU, all of a sudden, Kansas football could be interesting. That’s at least a start.
Kansas State Wildcats
Is it possible for the Wildcats to win the Big 12, or are they stuck in the land of the very, very good?
The Kansas State style and formula might be just good enough to go bowling every year and be above-average in conference play, but to beat the Oklahomas and Oklahoma States of the world, the passing game has to be more efficient.
The Wildcat D will always be strong, the running game will always work, and the quarterback play will always be tough, but the downfield passing game has to be there from time to time. Averaging 6.6 yards per pass isn’t going to cut it in a league with the Sooners averaging close to 11 yards per throw and Ok State averaging more than nine.
Of course, taking chances with the passing attack isn’t what Kansas State does, but with QB Jesse Ertz back, and three of the top four receivers returning, the explosion has to come – occasionally.
Is it possible to be better with all the skill position issues?
The Baker Mayfield off-field off-season issues are well in the rearview mirror, and he’s had time to adjust to the new head man as the head man – and vice versa for Lincoln Riley – but he needs playmakers to work with.
With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon gone, the running game will end up falling to the hot hand at the right time. Rodney Anderson has been around, but can he stay healthy? Can star recruits Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon rock right away? Is JUCO transfer Marcelias Sutton going to be ready out of the box?
Star TE Mark Anderson might be back, it’ll be wide receiver by committee without a superstar No. 1 target like Dede Westbrook – at least not yet.
With a trip to Ohio State early on, there’s almost no time to find any chemistry. It’ll have to come together in a big, big hurry.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
What’s missing before Oklahoma State can be a Big 12 champion?
All that’s missing a is just a little bit more defense.
The Cowboys have the offense to keep up in any sort of a firefight, but they need to come up with a few more stops to make it easier on QB Mason Rudolph and company.
To do that, the Cowboys have to lock up the defensive interior. Losing leading tackler Jordan Sterns from the secondary and LB Devante Everette hurts, but not having tackles Motekiai Maile and Vincent Taylor will be the big problem early on.
So where should the bar really be set at in Tom Herman’s first year?
Win the Big 12.
It’s not like Herman is taking over a team in the Big Ten East, SEC West or Pac-12 North. The Big 12 is going to be fine, it’s going to be entertaining, and it’s going to be competitive, but it’s hardly an unmanageable killer.
Depending on the alignments you want to go by, 19 starters are back. There’s depth, experience, and all the other pieces in place for Herman to step in and reap the rewards from years of Charlie Strong building the program back up.
The Oklahoma State and Kansas State games are at home, and even if there’s a loss to Oklahoma, there’s a possible redo with the Big 12 Championship game potentially still to play.
There is no honeymoon. You’re Texas. Win or bust.
TCU Horned Frogs
Is the TCU defense going to be the TCU defense again?
The defense hasn’t been miserable over the last few years, but it hasn’t been up to the normal TCU snuff. Last season, the D couldn’t come up with a third down stop and couldn’t make up for the inconsistencies on the offensive side.
The goal this offseason is to be more disruptive, and that’s why Gary Patterson is tinkering more than usual. DT L.J. Collier will work out on the outside, while several new guys are seeing time at new positions. Every team does that, but TCU is really experimenting.
In all, seven starters return, the depth is terrific, and there should be a huge improvement in big plays. The D only came up with 35 takeaways over the last two seasons. The 2014 defense came up with 40.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Is there any hope for the defense?
When you have the nation’s top offense and top passing attack, you should be good enough to go bowling. The Texas Tech offense put up 43.7 points per game, the defense gave up 43.5, and there was your 5-7 season.
That’s what happens when you ranked dead last in college football in total and scoring D.
Help is on the way for defensive coordinator David Gibbs, with a slew of JUCO transfers coming into to help the cause along with the potential for a stronger linebacking corps around D’Vonta Hinton and last year’s leading tackler, Jordyn Brooks.
Six of the top nine tacklers are done, but that’s where the JUCO guys have to step in. LBs Dakota Allen and Tony Jones, and corners Octavious Morgan and Jaylon Lane all have to be fantastic right away.
West Virginia Mountaineers
So, is Will Grier really ready for primetime?
He’ll be great … when he gets on the field.
Here’s the problem. It’s been assumed that he’ll be fantastic in live action after the NCAA chilled a bit on the two-year suspension that wouldn’t allow Grier to get on the field until the middle of this season, but now he has to produce from the start and be fantastic.
This is a good Mountaineer team, but it’s also reloading in several spots after a year of not winning the Big 12 title. Now, the O has to be more explosive and even better – and that means Grier needs to live up to the expectations.
So what if Grier is out for six games? Virginia Tech (in Landover), East Carolina, Delaware State, at Kansas, at TCU, Texas Tech. It’s survivable.