The Big 12 ended 2014 with a debate about whether or not Baylor or TCU was the league’s best team. That conversation will continue into 2015, as the Bears and Horned Frogs are the favorites to win the league this season, and both teams are also in the mix to claim a playoff spot.
The depth of the Big 12 will be a storyline to watch in 2015 with Texas and Oklahoma each facing key question marks. The Sooners and Longhorns are picked to finish in the top half of the league, but West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Kansas State or Texas Tech could easily push their way into the top tier.
5 Key Questions That Will Shape the Big 12 in 2015
As mentioned above, this has been the top storyline in this league since last season. And very little separates Baylor and TCU once again in 2015, which means this battle will go down to the wire or the league title could be decided on Nov. 27 when these two teams play in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have a clear edge at quarterback with Trevone Boykin returning, but the Bears always seem to find the right answers under center since Art Briles was hired in Waco. New Baylor quarterback Seth Russell has experience, and the junior inherits one of the nation’s top supporting casts, which includes a deep receiving corps and all five starters on the line. Defense could play a major role in how these two teams are separated in 2015. TCU – which usually rebuilds with ease on defense under coach Gary Patterson – must reload in the back seven. Baylor returns more in the way of proven talent on defense (nine starters) but improvement is needed on the stat sheet. Each team has personnel concerns to address. However, adding to the intrigue to this battle is the personnel issues (Baylor – quarterback, TCU – defense) are usually the strength of these programs under the current coaching staffs.
2. Oklahoma’s Offense
Oklahoma has lost six games in Big 12 action over the last two seasons, which is the most in a two-year stretch under coach Bob Stoops. Last year’s 8-5 final record also snapped a streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, and the Sooners finished unranked for the first time since 2009. Winning at a high level over an extended period of time is never easy, and Stoops heads into 2015 looking to steer the program back among the top 10 in the nation and into conference title consideration. The offense will be under the direction of new coordinator Lincoln Riley, and Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is expected to start at quarterback. Even though the Sooners are shifting offensive schemes, running back Samaje Perine will see plenty of opportunities after leading the team with 1,713 yards in 2014. Perine isn’t the only option in the backfield, as redshirt freshman Joe Mixon and junior Alex Ross help to form one of the nation’s top running back corps. Quarterback play is garnering all of the offseason attention in Norman, but Oklahoma must replace four starters on its offensive line. The Sooners still have plenty of talent. If all of the pieces fall into place, Oklahoma could easily exceed our projected final ranking (No. 17 nationally).
3. Year 2 for Charlie Strong
Charlie Strong essentially hit the reset button when he took over in Austin. The Longhorns are still in the process of overturning the roster and restocking both sides of the ball with talent, but Texas is trending in the right direction. However, even though Strong’s second season should be better, improvement may be minimal in the win column. The quarterback battle between Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard will continue into the fall, there’s a lack of proven options at receiver, and line coach Joe Wickline is still looking for the right combination up front. Texas should be strong on defense once again, but standout tackle Malcom Brown will be missed, and the Longhorns could start two freshmen – albeit very talented players – at linebacker. Combine personnel question marks with road tests at West Virginia, Baylor and TCU and non-conference dates against California and Notre Dame, getting to 7-5 or 8-4 would be a good second season for Strong.
4. Oklahoma State on the Rise
It was no surprise Oklahoma State took a step back in 2014. After all, the Cowboys lost nearly 30 seniors from the 2013 team and entered last season with less than 10 returning starters. The outlook on Oklahoma State was altered at the end of 2014, with talented quarterback Mason Rudolph making his first appearance for the Cowboys. Rudolph went 2-1 as the starter, which included a 38-35 win over rival Oklahoma (largely due to a late punt return for a touchdown by former Cowboy Tyreek Hill). With Rudolph at the controls for a full year and proven talent returning on both sides of the ball, Oklahoma State could push for a top 25 spot. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is underrated nationally after recording 11 sacks in 2014, and the Cowboys should have one of the Big 12’s top defensive backfields and linebacking corps in 2015. With Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU visiting Stillwater, Oklahoma State could have a huge role in determining the Big 12 champion in 2015.
5. Texas Tech Searches for Answers on Defense
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas Tech under coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the other side of the ball has been an issue for the Red Raiders. In 2014, Texas Tech allowed over 500 yards per game and gave up 41.3 points per contest. Kingsbury’s hire of David Gibbs as the team’s new defensive coordinator should pay dividends in 2015. Gibbs arrives in Lubbock after a successful two-year stint as Houston’s defensive coordinator and inherits a unit that has some promising players at each level. End Pete Robertson recorded 12 sacks in 2014, Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell is expected to play a key role at linebacker, and there’s a promising core of talent in the secondary. If Gibbs makes an impact as expected, Texas Tech should return to the postseason after a disappointing 4-8 mark last year.
Other Key Storylines to Watch: David Beaty rebuilds at Kansas, Kansas State reloads on offense without quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett and West Virginia looks to replace receiver Kevin White.
Big 12 Team Previews for 2015
Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2015 Big 12 Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 10 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year.
Big 12 Predictions for 2015
Big 12 2015 Superlatives and Season Predictions
Coach of the Year
Coach on Hot Seat
Jordan BurtonLB, OSU
Top Coordinator Hire
Key Position to Watch
Hardest to Evaluate
Coach on the Rise
Ranking the Big 12's Coaches for 2015
1. Art Briles, Baylor
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
3. Gary Patterson, TCU
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2015
1. Trevone Boykin, TCU
2. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
3. Seth Russell, Baylor
4. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
5. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Ranking the Big 12's Running Backs for 2015
1. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
2. Shock Linwood, Baylor
3. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
4. Aaron Green, TCU
5. Johnathan Gray, Texas
The Big 12's Top 5 Players on the Rise for 2015
1. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
2. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
3. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
4. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
5. Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia
Top 5 Non-Conference Games for 2015
1. Oklahoma at Tennessee - Sept. 12
2. Texas at Notre Dame - Sept. 5
3. TCU at Minnesota - Sept. 3
4. Texas Tech at Arkansas - Sept. 19
5. Maryland at West Virginia - Sept. 26
Key Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
2. David Gibbs, Defensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
3. Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
1. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
2. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Baylor
3. Breiden Fehoko, DL, Texas Tech
4. Neville Gallimore, DL, Oklahoma
5. Anthony Wheeler, LB, Texas
6. Chris Warren III, RB, Texas
7. Holton Hill, DB, Texas
8. Ricky DeBerry, DL, Oklahoma
9. Kris Boyd, DB, Texas
10. Patrick Vahe, OL, Texas
11. P.J. Mbanasor, DB, Oklahoma
12. John Burt, WR, Texas
13. Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma
14. Jovon Durante, WR, West Virginia
15. Will Sunderland, DB, Oklahoma