At long last the Big 12 will have a conference championship game this season. The Big 12 title game will be December 2 at AT&T Stadium (Jerry's World) in Arlington, Texas, a move that should increase the chances for a playoff team. Oklahoma went undefeated in Big 12 play last season and didn't make the playoff.
Over the last eight seasons, the Big 12 football conference has had six different teams win a conference trophy. No other Power 5 conference has had as many different champions since 2009.
Bowl Me Over
The Big 12 concluded postseason games with a .667 winning percentage, the second-highest among all conferences. In addition, Big 12 defenses were the nation's best in bowl games as they surrendered an average of 21.5 points, holding five of six opponents below their season average.
Plus, Big 12 offenses had the second-highest scoring average in postseason among the Power Five leagues at 29.0 ppg. Oklahoma's current 10-year bowl skein is the longest in the nation.
No Cupcakes Allowed
After years of devouring non-conference cupcakes, the Big 12 is manning up in 2017. Nine of 10 teams (save Kansas) have dates with Power Five teams on the docket, including the likes of Ohio State, USC and Virginia Tech.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
BAYLOR Off *7/3 Def 7/4 66 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NEW RHULES
The first step in torching any traces of the Art Briles era a coach who was 50-15 SU during his final five years with BU was the immediate hire of squeaky-clean, hard-nosed Matt Rhule, former Temple head coach. The first thing he'll clean up was the fact that the Bears led the nation in most penalty yards per game in 2016, and were the 3rd most penalized team in 2015. FYI: Rhule's Owls ranked 21st in the land in fewest penalty yards per game last year. Baylor was rocked by player defections following the end of last season, but Rhule signed 27 recruits and a number of them will likely find playing time in 2017. Rhule's troops were grinders at Temple, averaging 69 plays per game the last two years. Conversely, the Bears' up-tempo offense tallied 85 plays per game over the same span. Our guess is we'll hardly recognize the players in Bears uniforms just the way the brass wants it.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bears are 30-0 SU in their first six games of the season the last five years.
IOWA STATE Off *5/1 Def 7/1 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SOUP'S OUR MAN
Sophomore coach Matt Campbell's work with the Cyclones in his inaugural season last year proved he's the right man for the job. Inheriting a program with depleted numbers on both sides of the ball, the Cyclones displayed gradual improvement throughout the season. Iowa State played the 2016 campaign with 38 combined starts from true or redshirt freshman (only 20 teams had more). On defense, the Cyclones also improved, holding five of their final seven opponents to under their season scoring average. FYI: For the second year in a row, the Cyclones boasted a freshman running back who led the team in rushing as Mike Warren and David Montgomery bring talent and experience aplenty. Once Campbell is able to knock down a ranked foe (Cyclones 0-21 SU against the same) it will be safe to say he is 'the man' in Ames.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cyclones suffered four losses by a TD or less in 2016.
PLAY ON: at Kansas State (11/25)
KANSAS Off 7/3 Def 5/3 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BUILDING BLOCKS
Despite the usual mix of expected blowout losses and close-call defeats in 2016, Kansas finally managed to crack the win column in head coach David Beaty's 2nd season in Lawrence. KU's first 8 losses last year were against schools that were 62-9 combined in 2015. The big news? Beaty is making inroads on the recruiting trail landing a consensus Top 20 2018 Class, while even extending offers to the Classes of 2019 and 2020. Beaty understands that Kansas is a school that has to do this sort of thing, build relationships with kids early on so they can have a chance at signing them before the "power schools" come calling. They also have to begin to learn to win conference games, where they are 5-65 SU since 2009. Beaty's rebuild is on.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ball security? Hah! Kansas was the worst team in the nation in most turnovers lost last season (36).
PLAY ON: at TCU (10/21)
KANSAS STATE Off *8/4 Def 6/3 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: KIDS R US
As we alluded to last year on this page, Bill Snyder is on a youth kick. A total of 47 redshirt or true freshmen combined to make their first start in 2015. To top it off, the 2016 team was the youngest in Snyder's 25-year career at KSU, with a combined 135 starts coming from freshmen (42) or sophomores (93), including DE Reggie Walker the Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year. And lest we forget, the Wildcats are the best team in the nation in non-offensive TDs with 106 since 1999 plus they've scored on 42 kickoffs and punt returns since 2005, 14 more than any other FBS school. Yeah Gramps can coach.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wildcats are the only team to rank in the Top 15 nationally in red zone offense each of the last three seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: at Texas Tech (11/4) - *KEY
OKLAHOMA Off *9/5 Def 7/1 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: AND LIKE THAT... HE'S GONE
No, not Keyser Soze from 'The Usual Suspects.' We're talking about Big Game Bob Stoops, who shockingly resigned as Oklahoma's head coach on June 7th. In Stoops' 18 years at the helm, OU won a national championship and had more Big 12 titles (10) than home losses, while averaging 10.5 wins per season. Lincoln Riley, 33, takes over after two seasons as the Sooners' OC. Under his direction, OU led the country in team passing efficiency in 2016, and returns 99.4% of last year's passing yards (read: QB Baker Mayfield), plus all five starting OL. Lincoln, though, has never been a head coach, so this will be a huge test. With Oklahoma entering 2017 riding a nation's-best 10-game win streak, perhaps Stoops is right to say, "Now is the ideal time to make this transition." We'll see.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: OU is the highest scoring football program of all-time, and its 7.5 yards per play in 2016 rank as 2nd most in school history.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Ohio State (9/9)
OKLAHOMA STATE Off *8/3 Def 5/2 39 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: LETHAL WEAPON 3
When a baseball team possesses three home run hitters at the No. 3, 4, and 5 spots in the order, they are considered offensively threatening. When a college football team owns three similar caliber players at its QB, RB, and WR positions, they are lethal. In Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, and James Washington, OSU has the best quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio in the Big 12 and perhaps the nation heading into 2017. Collectively, they played together for one of only two schools in the nation with a 4,000-yard passer, and 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver (Clemson was the other). Watch out for the Cowboys!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys are 11-0 SU and 10-1 ATS off back-to-back wins versus a foe off back-to-back losses under Mike Gundy.
PLAY AGAINST: at Texas (10/21)
TCU Off *10/4 Def 7/1 55 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: LEAP FROG
It's safe to say the Frogs were hopping mad (sorry about that) after falling from 11 wins in 2015 to 6 last season when the offense slipped 11 points and 100 yards per game. As a result, TCU suffered only its second losing season in 16 years behind head coach Gary Patterson. Patterson went to work, hiring Sonny Dykes, the former California head coach, and son of longtime Texas Tech head football coach Spike Dykes, as his offensive analyst/consultant. After winning six one-possession games in 2015 (2nd most in the nation), and then reverting to 1-3 in the same games last year, look for Patterson's squad to revert back to their winning ways in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In the two losing seasons Gary Patterson has endured at TCU, his troops went 11-1 and 12-1 the following years.
PLAY ON: at Arkansas (9/9) - *KEY
TEXAS Off *7/4 Def 10/4 46 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FRESH NEW FACES
After starting 3-4 each of the last three years all losing seasons Charlie Strong was dispatched and Tom Herman was hired to turn the tables in Austin. The glowing look on new head coach Herman's face is hard to dismiss. That's because only 16.3% of the starts made by the Longhorns last year were by seniors the 5th fewest in the nation. The reason being is underclassmen accounted for 54.4% of all teams starts by the Horns in 2016, the 2nd most in the nation. In fact, UT freshmen have now started 109 games the past two seasons, tops in the nation. Five losses by a TD or less in 2016 made the difference between 2017 being Charlie Strong's 4th season on the 40 Acres versus Herman's first. Thus, you can understand Herman's desire to get this party started.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Longhorns haven't suffered four consecutive losing seasons since 1938.
PLAY AGAINST: at Baylor (10/28)
TEXAS TECH Off 9/4 Def 7/1 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FIRST AND LAST
The Red Raiders were the nation's No. 1 ranked team in total offense in 2016. They were also ranked last (No. 128) in total defense, which made TTRR an 'Over' machine all by themselves. Unfortunately, they lose the cannon-like arm of star QB Patrick Mahomes, who left early for the NFL (1st round, Kansas City Chiefs). More important, though, is Kliff Kingsbury's ridiculous disguise of a defense, one that has surrendered over 500 YPG in three straight seasons. How bad is it? It's so bad, opponents rushed the ball for 40 or more attempts in 29 of 37 games in that span. The good news is freshmen played in a total of 104 games. That should help this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: SR QB Nick Shimonek has served as a backup to four QBs in the NFL: Jake Ruddock, C.J. Beathard, Davis Webb, and Patrick Mahomes.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Baylor (11/11)
WEST VIRGINIA Off 6/3 Def 3/0 36 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TOOL TIME
With the 3rd highest percentage of starts by seniors of all FBS teams last season (60.1%), HC Dana Holgersen will be forced to re-tool his troops in 2017. Helping out will be Jake Spavital, who begins his first year as OC, returning to WVU after stints at Texas A&M and California. He'll be operating without QB Skyler Howard who graduated with 7,302 yards and 60 TDs in his career. Howard's replacement is Will Grier, who transfers from Florida where he started six games as a redshirt freshman. The good news is the Mounties return three of their top four running backs, led by Justin Crawford (1,100 yards), the returning rushing leader in the Big 12.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Mountaineers from Morgantown are 9-1 ATS as conference underdogs from Game Ten out.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Oklahoma (11/25)
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc's 2017 Conference USA Football Preview!