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#25 Baylor Bears





HEAD COACH: Phil Bennett, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kendal Briles | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Bennett

Baylor's 2016 outlook has shifted dramatically since late May. Coach Art Briles was dismissed after the results of an independent investigation into the program's response to sexual assault allegations was released on May 26. Briles was an instrumental part of Baylor's rise to a Big 12 power and one of the nation's top coaches. In addition to the coaching uncertainty, the Bears return only nine starters and face a significant rebuilding effort on both lines of scrimmages. The offense will be explosive once again, headlined by quarterback Seth Russell, receiver KD Cannon and a deep group of running backs. Reloading in the trenches on defense is Phil Bennett’s top offseason priority. 

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Previewing Baylor’s Offense

With two surgically repaired quarterbacks and a receiving corps thin on experience, Baylor’s perennially potent offense certainly has its issues. But the Bears’ biggest problem is up front, where four of the five starters have to be replaced. Other than senior center Kyle Fuller, who has 26 consecutive starts under his belt, the extent of Baylor’s returning experience is sophomore Blake Blackmar’s fill-in start in the regular-season finale against Texas. It’s not like the Bears are turning to wet-behind-the-ears recruits, though. Fuller is flanked by junior college transfer Dom Desouza and third-year sophomore Patrick Lawrence at the tackles and Blackmar and former Texas Longhorn Rami Hammad at the guards.

Quarterbacks Seth Russell (neck) and Jarrett Stidham (ankle) are coming off season-ending injuries. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles says Russell was “playing elite as anybody in America” through the first seven games last season, when he passed for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns.

After All-America receiver Corey Coleman’s early exit to the NFL, junior KD Cannon is next in line. But there’s a definite gap in experience behind Cannon and fifth-year senior Lynx Hawthorne.

Easily the most loaded position is running back, with Shock Linwood and bowl game MVP Johnny Jefferson coming off 1,000-yard seasons. Sophomore Terence Williams is a short-yardage specialist, while redshirt freshman JaMycal Hasty is a breakaway threat.

Previewing Baylor’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The situation up front is even more sobering on defense, where the Bears lose All-America nose tackle Andrew Billings and the other three starters. But if defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is worried, he’s not letting on. “I think we’ll be fine,” Bennett says. 

K.J. Smith is a former Freshman All-American who can play end or tackle. Senior Byron Bonds has made eight career starts at tackle, and junior college All-American DeQuinton Osborne should provide immediate help.

Baylor’s second line of defense is filled with much more experience, with Taylor Young at linebacker, Travon Blanchard at the Bear position and Ryan Reid, Orion Stewart and Chance Waz in the secondary. There’s even surprising depth at the cornerback position, though redshirt freshman Jameson Houston is the probable starter opposite Reid.

“I think we have talent, but we have work to do,” Bennett says. “I like these kids. We’ve just got to be hungry.”

Previewing Baylor’s Specialists

Punter Drew Galitz was solid enough as a freshman with a 40.7-yard average, 11 kicks inside the 20 and no touchbacks. And he might be the answer at kicker as well if Chris Callahan continues to struggle with consistency. Baylor’s return game was lackluster in 2015, surprising for a team with so much talent at the skill positions.

Final Analysis

Prior to Briles' dismissal, it was easy to pencil in Baylor as the No. 2 team in the Big 12 for 2016. However, that's not the case anymore. How will the Bears respond to interim coach Jim Grobe? There's no question the Bears still have a lot of firepower on offense, but how quickly can this team reload in the trenches and improve on defense? A top-10 ranking is certainly not out of the question, especially if Russell and Stidham come through as expected. But with the massive rebuilding jobs in both lines, making a run at a conference championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff seems unlikely. Without Briles leading the way, Baylor could slip to fourth in the Big 12 pecking order this season.


#17 TCU Horned Frogs





HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson, 143-47 (15 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sonny Cumbie, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chad Glasgow

TCU entered last season as one of the favorites to win the Big 12 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff but injuries and roster turnover on defense prevented coach Gary Patterson’s team from claiming the conference title. Even with the departure of quarterback Trevone Boykin and a revamped offensive line, the Horned Frogs aren’t expected to take too much of a step back in the win column in 2016. Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill is locked into a tight battle with Foster Sawyer for the starting quarterback job, and the winner of this competition will inherit a talented group of skill players. The defense improved over the course of 2015 and could be the best in the Big 12 this fall. If all of the pieces fall into place, TCU could challenge for double-digit wins for the third consecutive season.

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Previewing TCU’s Offense 

TCU has won 23 of 26 games since switching to the Air Raid. But now it needs new players to throw and catch the ball in the offense. Without Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson to terrorize the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have to figure out if Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer is the next quarterback to operate an offense that has averaged more than 40 points each of the last two seasons — and who will be the targets. There are lots of candidates. KaVontae Turpin, Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart combined for 76 catches, 1,051 yards and 11 touchdowns as freshmen. Veteran slot receiver Ty Slanina will be back from a broken collarbone that sidelined him in Week 4. Deanté Gray, who had eight touchdown catches in 2014, returns after missing a year recovering from knee surgery. 

But will there be enough time to throw it and catch it? TCU must replace four starters on the offensive line, although center Austin Schlottman and guard Matt Pryor played the last three games as injury replacements.

Previewing TCU's Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

TCU had to scrape together a linebacking corps on short notice last year. Now, it is the team’s strength on defense. Travin Howard, Ty Summers and Montrel Wilson ranked first, third and fifth, respectively, on the team in tackles. Howard and Wilson were backup safeties a year ago who were forced to cover for the loss of Sammy Douglas (Week 1 knee injury) and Mike Freeze (Week 1 personal leave). Summers? Merely a high school quarterback signed to play linebacker. But the presence of those three, along with the return to health of Douglas, provide a combination of experience and athleticism at the position, a key spot in Gary Patterson’s defense.

The defensive line is short on experience at tackle, but high on potential at defensive end with Josh Carraway, the 2015 sack leader, in place, and James McFarland, the 2014 sack leader, returning from a broken toe that sidelined him all of last season.

The secondary will miss do-it-all safety Derrick Kindred. At cornerback, Jeff Gladney and converted receiver Tony James have plenty of speed, but neither has started a game in college.

Previewing TCU’s Specialists

There will be new kickers in 2016 after four years of stability. Jonathan Song and Ryan Graf will compete to replace Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12’s all-time field goal leader, and Adam Nunez is first in line at punter in place of Ethan Perry. Those are big jobs. Oberkrom and Perry held them for four years, so TCU hasn’t had to worry about them for a long time.

Final Analysis 

Quarterback play matters in the Big 12, and if TCU gets quality play out of the position, there is enough talent on hand in the other spots to make for a championship-contending team. Co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie turned a former receiver into a Heisman candidate quarterback in Boykin. With Hill, they get an athlete who has won at the highest level of prep football in Texas and put up gaudy numbers in the SEC while at Texas A&M. So it’s not unreasonable to believe TCU will develop a quarterback for a deep, young, promising receiver corps.

On defense, Patterson knows what he has — four starters whose 2015 seasons were cut short by injury are expected back to join seven other returning starters. Patterson’s best defenses have been his most experienced defenses, and this edition can certainly be called experienced.

The coaches will have to do quick work — Arkansas visits in Week 2, and Oklahoma arrives in Week 5. But the raw materials are there.


#24 Oklahoma State Cowboys





HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 94-47 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

rebounded from a 7-6 record in 2014 to a 10-3 mark last year. The Cowboys have won at least 10 games in two out of the last three seasons under coach Mike Gundy and enter 2016 with a chance to match last year’s victory total. The offense is led by quarterback Mason Rudolph and a deep group of options at receiver headlined by big-play threat James Washington. Improving the ground attack and offensive line is an offseason priority for Gundy. The defense loses standout end Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s a solid foundation in place with seven returning starters. The schedule presents its share of challenges, as Oklahoma State catches Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma in road matchups.

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Previewing Oklahoma State's Offense

Oklahoma State’s talking points provide plenty of optimism: Nine returning starters contributed heavily to an offense that ranked 22nd nationally in total offense and 14th in scoring. The continued development of quarterback Mason Rudolph, who passed for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns. A stable of receivers, led by gamebreaker James Washington, the Big 12’s leading returning receiver after totaling 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns on 53 receptions a year ago.

What’s not to like?

The running game’s not to like, at least as it performed a year ago, with no guarantees of dramatic improvement going forward. The Cowboys finished No. 114 in rushing in 2015, leaving Rudolph and the receivers to carry the offense, which they did rather well, considering a 10–3 final record and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. But the lack of a run game was exposed late, just as Oklahoma State rose into College Football Playoff contention, with three straight losses at the finish.

There was blame to go around, with the offensive line unable to open running lanes and the backs lacking the burst to create their own space or make defenders miss. With all five starters back up front, plus the addition of junior college All-American Larry Williams, there’s hope that the unit will be improved. There’s hope, too, that Chris Carson will be better in his second season at running back, while Stanford graduate transfer Barry J. Sanders — the son of Cowboys legend Barry Sanders — also arrives amid promise of amping up the ground attack.

Previewing Oklahoma State's Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Cowboys defense cratered during that late stretch of losses, surrendering far too many yards and points. Injuries and ultimately fatigue conspired against the defense, which was also left to cover for a suddenly scuffling offense. Now the unit must deal with the loss of All-American end Emmanuel Ogbah and three other valuable starters. And yet, the defense should be improved, pending better health.

Safety Jordan Sterns and linebacker Jordan Burton, first-team All-Big 12 picks, headline a group that features explosive athletes across the board. Young ends Jarrell Owens, Jordan Brailford and Cole Walterscheid played well in auditions as redshirt freshmen a year ago and look to thrive in greater roles. Vincent Taylor, a disruptive force inside, heads a deep tackle rotation.

There’s a physical aggressiveness that marks the back seven, inspired by Burton and Sterns, who combined for 206 stops a year ago as the team’s top tacklers.

Previewing Oklahoma State's Specialists

Placekicker Ben Grogan has been streaky yet has made 49 field goals in three seasons. Zach Sinor thrived as a freshman punter, averaging 40.1 yards per kick with 31 kicks downed inside the 20. McCleskey improved as a punt returner as the season progressed, taking one for a touchdown, and could be dynamic in the role. Carr’s speed is a plus on kick returns. Sanders could get a look there as well.

Final Analysis 

Last season ended in disappointment. Yet 2016 was always pegged as the year the Cowboys would return to prominence both in the Big 12 and nationally. And it still could happen, with a premium quarterback in Rudolph, 16 returning starters and 38 players returning from the bowl two-deep to form a more mature group, both physically and mentally. The running game must make strides. And a testier schedule that involves road trips to face all the league’s other top contenders — Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma — must be navigated. But the Cowboys have the pieces. And it’s a group that captured quality road wins a year ago at Texas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. If they can avoid the major injuries that sideswiped them a year ago, the Cowboys could make a run through the Big 12 and beyond.

The Debate

Where does Mason Rudolph rank among Big 12 quarterbacks for 2016?

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