Do I share the public's optimism for everyone in the conference?
It has not been a dull offseason for the Big 12, highlighted by the departure of longtime Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. In addition, more news kept coming out of Baylor. Unfortunately, it was predominantly negative.
As for the 2017 season on the field, expect plenty of points to be scored and the Big 12 to get plenty of opportunities to improve its standing and reputation as it relates to the national landscape.
Below, you will find a brief look at each Big 12 team and whether I like the over or the under in terms of their respective win total. I’ll touch on coaching, returning starters and the schedule among other things. When it comes to public perception as it relates to this exercise, the general consensus is optimism for just about every team. Because of that, I'm trying to find reasons to take the plus wager.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of the South Point sports book
(Over 7.5 -105...Under 7.5 -115)
New head coach Matt Rhule comes over from Temple and is inheriting a bit of a mess off the field. Still, he was able to cobble together a nice recruiting class and has some building blocks at QB with Zach Smith and Anu Solomon, a transfer from Arizona. Terence Williams is a solid running back, but the WR corps could miss KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. Defensively, Phil Snow is an underrated coordinator, but he has just five returning starters and none of those are in the secondary. The schedule starts out real easy with home games against Liberty and UTSA. Baylor also gets Oklahoma at home. The total opened at 8 and quickly went down to 7.5. I think this feels like a 6-6 season for the Bears. Take the under unless it falls much farther.
(Over 5 +105...Under 5 -125)
This offense is going to be a lot of fun to watch with David Montgomery and Mike Warren in the backfield as well as Allen Lazard out wide. QB Jacob Park showed some good stuff last year for ISU. Hopefully he'll have time to throw the ball with just one returning starter along the offensive line. On defense, the Cyclones have to get bigger and tougher up front after ranking near the bottom of the league (and FBS in run defense). Still, this team showed some fight at the end of the season. The Cyclones open up with a pair of in-state home games against Northern Iowa and Iowa. They cannot take the Panthers lightly, even though they are an FCS team. I don't hate the over here as I can see five wins entering the last three games against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State. If Iowa State can figure out the defense, the over will be an even better play.
(Over 3 -110...Under 3 -110)
Defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise form a solid duo up front for a Jayhawks team that will need to replace most of its starters on that side of the ball. Former TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham should be able to get more from an offense that finished 120th in the FBS in 2016. LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims Jr. are solid wide receivers. The quarterback job will most likely go to junior college transfer Peyton Bender. Kansas must get off to a good start by beating FCS member Southeast Missouri State before facing back-to-back MAC opponents (Central Michigan, Ohio). Last season, the Jayhawks lost to the Bobcats 37-21 at home. Three is a pretty good number for the win total. If I had to lean either way, it would be an under because I think Kansas wins just one non-conference game.
(Over 8 -120...Under 8 EVEN)
Bill Snyder is in his 26th season and he's got a pretty good team in 2017. The offense returns Jesse Ertz under center, the team’s leading rusher in 2016. He will be complemented by Alex Barnes and Winston Dimel on the ground as the Wildcats want to control the clock. On defense, Reggie Walker will anchor the front line after putting together a solid freshman campaign. The secondary should be solid and will need to be with the top three linebackers from last season gone. Five of Kansas State’s first seven games are at home with the two road matchups coming at Vanderbilt and Texas. I think the over is a real good play. The Wildcats have a chance to start 5-1 or 6-0 entering their Oct. 21 home date with Oklahoma. With Kansas and Iowa State part of the second half of the slate, I think at least eight wins are attainable for Snyder and company.
(Over 9.5 -130...Under 9.5 +110)
Lincoln Riley takes over in Norman following the unexpected retirement of Bob Stoops. Riley is a great offensive mind and he's got Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield to run his attack. Mayfield has entire offensive line back, but will have to identify some new weapons. Watch out for Kentucky graduate transfer Jeff Badet, who could emerge as Mayfield’s new No. 1 wide receiver. Defensively, it all starts with cornerback tandem Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker. Even with the coaching change, Oklahoma has College Football Playoff aspirations and has a week 2 date at Ohio State to show everyone it belongs in that conversation. There also are tough trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State in Big 12 play. I don’t have a real feel for this one. I would have taken the under when it opened at 10, but now I’m asking the Sooners to lose three times and I don't know if they will.
(Over 8.5 -115...Under 8.5 -105)
Mason Rudolph is a sneaky choice for the Heisman after he threw 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2016. He's got top target James Washington back as well as Marcell Ateman and Jalen McCleskey. Justice Hill ran for more than 1,000 yards and should be productive out of the backfield once again. The problems for the Cowboys come on the defensive side where they return just five starters. Oklahoma State must face Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia on the road, but get Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. I like the over and I may even consider a small wager on the Cowboys to win the Big 12. Even with the question marks on defense, OSU’s offense is good enough to overcome those concerns.
(Over 8 -120...Under 8 EVEN)
It was a down year for the Horned Frogs, who lost four one-score games. Stop me if you heard this before, but TCU has a good offense coming back led by Kenny Hill. Hill does need to cut down on his mistakes, but he shouldn’t lack for playmakers and has three returning starters up front. The kicking game has to be better, as it proved to be the difference in several games in 2016. On defense, TCU returns seven starters and should be fairly solid in the secondary. The Horned Frogs alternate home and road games for the majority of the season before closing things out with two of their final three away from Fort Worth. I actually think the under is a good play at EVEN money. TCU’s tough Big 12 road slate (at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma) could minimize any perceived advantage it has regarding the home matchups.
(Over 7.5 -120...Under 7.5 EVEN)
Charlie Strong is out and Tom Herman is in as head coach. Herman inherits some talent, especially on defense where 10 starters return. The school is paying new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to fix a unit that allowed more than 30 points per game in 2016. I think there's a lot of talent here and improvement should come. The offense lacks true depth, but QB Shane Buechele, RB Chris Warren III and WR Armanti Foreman are back. The offensive line is pretty much intact. The Longhorns play at USC early after opening at home against Maryland and San Jose State. I think the under here could also be a good play as long as it stays EVEN. There are some growing pains to be had under the new administration.
(Over 4.5 -130...Under 4.5 +110)
Someone other than Kansas has to bear the brunt of the losses to the better teams in the conference. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is filling the pressure in Lubbock after managing just 13 Big 12 wins in four seasons. Unfortunately, it could be another rough go with just five starters returning from one of the nation’s worst defenses. Additionally, prolific dual-threat quarterback Patrick Mahomes is gone, but new starter Nic Shimonek does have plenty of options to throw to. One thing seems pretty clear – expect the Red Raiders to be engaged in plenty of high-scoring affairs. Eastern Washington, Arizona State and Houston represent the non-conference games. That's where two wins are going to come from. I have no real lean for Texas Tech. Things could be bad, but the Red Raiders do get some winnable opportunities at home.
(Over 6.5 -140...Under 6.5 +120)
Dana Holgorsen has a total of seven starters returning, but one potential reason for optimism is the arrival of quarterback Will Grier. The former Florida starter has been cleared to play against Virginia Tech in the opener. He has running back Justin Crawford to lean on but will need to identify his primary targets in the passing game. On defense, the Mountaineers’ 3-3-5 will look quite different, especially up front and on the back end. Besides the Hokies, WVU also faces East Carolina and Delaware State out of conference. I don't hate the under here, especially at this price.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.