The Big 12 has ruled the headlines this offseason for good and bad reasons. The conference decided to go back to having a championship game. This of course brought thoughts about expansion, which the conference says will not occur right now. Of course, there also was the massive black cloud that hung over Baylor and Art Briles. The Bears will be glad to get on the field. To me the Sooners are leading the way, but there are a whole host of teams that are capable of chasing them down.
Related: Big 12 Football 2016 Predictions
For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will fall into the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of South Point Casino
(Over 9.5 wins EVEN...Under -9.5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-3
Returning Starters: 9 (4 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: For those who followed me last year, I talked up quarterback Seth Russell as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and he may have been in the mix if he played all 13 games. He’s back with Shock Linwood, KD Cannon and Lynx Hawthorne around him. The problem is a new offensive line and a change in philosophy with Jim Grobe taking over as interim head coach.
Defense: The defense could be an issue with the team looking for a new front four essentially. The Bears do return a lot in the secondary, but they may be covering longer if the team struggles to get pressure on the QB.
Schedule: Fluff outside the Big 12 per usual with matchups against Northwestern State, SMU and Rice. There really isn’t that tough of a stretch for Baylor, which gets Oklahoma and Texas on the road. The Bears do finish out the year with two games outside of Waco.
Selection: I’m leaning to the under. It’s a very manageable slate, but who knows where this team is at mentally. These players have gone through defections, coaching changes and a lot more attention than needed for a 10-3 offseason. Grobe has his work cut out for him.
(Over 3.5 wins EVEN...Under 3.5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 2-7
Returning Starters: 12 (4 on offense, 8 on defense)
Offense: Offense: Joel Lanning takes over under center and he threw 10 touchdown passes last year. He’ll benefit from new head coach Matt Campbell coming over from Toledo where the offense was good. Allen Lazard is an underrated WR while Mike Warren is a stable RB.
Defense: This side of the ball struggled to say the least. The Cyclones allowed 32.7 points per game in 2015. The secondary could show some improvement with a couple of solid CBs and Kamari Cotton-Moya at safety.
Schedule: Northern Iowa, Iowa and San Jose State are the non-conference matchups. The Cyclones play four of their final five at home, but will it only be for respectability or for a bowl appearance.
Selection: I think Iowa State limps its way over the total. ISU smacked Northern Iowa last year to open up the year, but the Panthers are better and could win in Ames. If that’s the case, the first win may not come for a while.
(Over 1.5 wins -110...Under 1.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 0-12, 0-9
Returning Starters: 12 (5 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: The Jayhawks turn to Ryan Willis and Montell Cozart at QB. There’s not a lot returning around them and a group that scored 14 points or fewer seven times last year could match that in 2016.
Defense: Once again, a lot of returning players doesn’t mean an improvement. KU gave up 46.1 points per game last year and were heaven for those (me) who took the over in its games. No reason to think that changes.
Schedule: Rhode Island is a winnable opener as the Rams managed just one victory last year. Ohio and Memphis are the next two opponents before the rough conference schedule. October is TCU, at Baylor, home to Oklahoma State followed by at Oklahoma.
Selection: Well the good news is that the Jayhawks won’t go winless. Kansas should take week one, but after that, it doesn’t look very good. Still, I’ll give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt and say that a second win may come somewhere. No play here, but the lean is to the over.
(Over 5.5 wins -120...Under 5.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 3-6
Returning Starters: 9 (3 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Injuries derailed this side of the ball. Quarterbacks Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton both got hurt last year so they’ll be looking to make an impact in 2016. The offensive line has just one returning starter at center. There are a lot of questions here.
Defense: The Wildcats were horrendous against the pass and that’s a problem in the Big 12. Elijah Lee returns along with a few front line players. Improvement will be needed for KSU to make a move in conference.
Schedule: The year starts out with a road trip to Stanford before home matchups with FAU and Missouri State. The conference did KSU no favors with road games at West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU.
Selection: Small lean to the over. The good thing about getting the tough games on the road is that it means the lesser teams are at home. Bill Snyder should be able to get this team to at least .500.
(Over 10 wins -110...Under 10 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 11-2, 8-1
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Baker Mayfield returns at quarterback along with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in a stacked backfield. Dede Westbrook represents the best WR out there. Perine and Mixon have to hope that the offensive line gels quickly as they have a couple of holes to fill. Mayfield may be the sleeper Heisman Trophy candidate out of this conference.
Defense: There are a lot of losses to overcome with four all-conference players gone. The good thing is that there are some solid returnees. Jordan Evans brings senior leadership to linebacker which is needed considering the other two will be a little younger.
Schedule: A tough non-conference opener to start the season in a matchup against Houston in NRG Stadium. The Sooners then host ULM and Ohio State before entering conference play. After getting the Horned Frogs and Longhorns, the next seven games aren’t that bad.
Selection: The number is spot on here. The Sooners’ offense is going to be one of the best in the country, but the defense may not be able to get the crucial stops needed. If the D figures things out, OU could punch its ticket for a return to the College Football Playoff.
(Over 8.5 wins -110...Under 8.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 7-2
Returning Starters: 16 (9 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: I’m a huge Mason Rudolph guy and he’s the full-time QB this time after sharing duties last year. He’s got James Washington and Marcell Ateman to throw to. The offensive line is pretty much back so the Cowboys will approach 40 points per game like they did last year.
Defense: This unit has safety Jordan Sterns and linebacker Jordan Burton back, but the loss of lineman Emmanuel Ogbah is big. This defense needs to improve big time, but there will be some continuity. Ben Grogan is back for his senior season at kicker.
Schedule: The Cowboys get SE Louisiana, Central Michigan and Pittsburgh to start out the year. They have six of their first eight games at home which is very beneficial. Oklahoma State does finish out the year at TCU and Oklahoma.
Selection: The over is the play here. Ten wins is very possible with a fast start. The Cowboys will be highly motivated to show that last year’s three-game losing streak to finish things off was not a sign of things to come. Bedlam will be fun this year.
(Over 8 wins -125...Under 8 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 11-2, 7-2
Returning Starters: 8 (1 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: It’s going to be a brand-new offense with quarterback Kenny Hill coming over from Texas A&M. Everything around Hill will be pretty new to starting. Sophomore KaVontae Turpin has a chance to be a solid contributor along with Deante Gray out wide.
Defense: The defense is going to have to carry things early on. Josh Carraway and his nine sacks are back as well as Travin Howard at linebacker. The secondary returns just three interceptions from 2015.
Schedule: The Horned Frogs host South Dakota State in an intriguing FCS/FBS matchup. They also take on Arkansas and SMU in non-conference play. The toughest stretch is probably at Baylor, Oklahoma State then at Texas in November.
Selection: I think this one goes under the total. It’s a lot to ask this TCU team to improve upon with such a tough schedule. I don’t think the Horned Frogs will lose to South Dakota State, but they will be pushed. The tougher games are at home, and I think TCU loses at least one of these.
(Over 6.5 wins -110...Under 6.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 4-5
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: The Longhorns ran the ball real well last year, checking in at 17th in rushing yards per game. They’ll struggle to match that this year with a new backfield potentially. Freshman Shane Buechele figures to be under center, but he’ll be pushed by Tyrone Swoopes.
Defense: Linebacker Malik Jefferson is back, but the front four could be a bit of an issue. The good thing is Charlie Strong and his staff focused on that in recruiting this offseason so help is on the way. The special teams were a wreck last year and could struggle in 2016.
Schedule: The Longhorns host Notre Dame and UTEP before playing at California. Luckily they have an extra week to prepare for a road matchup with Oklahoma State which comes before the annual Red River Showdown game in Dallas against Oklahoma.
Selection: I think this is another under. Texas has a bright future in terms of recruiting and Buechele to build around. I just don’t think the Longhorns are there yet. This conference is real tough to grow up in especially with a potentially shaky defense.
(Over 7 wins -110...Under 7 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 4-5
Returning Starters: 10 (5 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Kliff Kingsbury always has a good offense in Lubbock. Quarterback Pat Mahomes is back for another season, but he’s going to have to get to know a lot of new pieces. Ian Sadler leads the WRs with 42 catches last year. If Kingsbury can get even 40 points per game from this group, then that’s an awesome coaching job.
Defense: The Red Raiders’ defense was horrible again last year and has to practically rebuild the front seven. The secondary returns several pieces, but this is a group that ranked 127th last year in passing yards allowed.
Schedule: Texas Tech plays Stephen F. Austin, Arizona State and Louisiana Tech to start out the year. Five of the first seven are at home, but the final three games are on the road. Getting Oklahoma and Texas at home is nice.
Selection: I think this is another under. Bad defense plus a growing offense equals a rough season for the squad out of Lubbock. The early home stretch is helpful, but the end is a bit brutal.
(Over 6.5 wins -130...Under 6.5 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 4-5
Returning Starters: 11 (8 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback Skyler Howard has one more season to continue his growth. I expect big things out of him with wide receivers Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante back as well as Rushel Shell to run the ball. The offensive line is pretty much back as well.
Defense: The 3-3-5 alignment has a lot of issues potentially with all three linebackers and four of the five in the secondary gone from 2015. I do like Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown up front, but the loss of safety Karl Joseph will be felt.
Schedule: Missouri, Youngstown State and BYU represent the start of the season as the Mountaineers play five of their first eight in Morgantown. The Cougars game takes place in Landover, Md., at FedEx Field so West Virginia figures to have the fan advantage. Dana Holgorsen’s team also gets Oklahoma and Baylor at home late in the slate.
Selection: I lean to the over here. I don’t like the price as -130 is a definite bite into your profits. I think the over could be good in these games with an offense that put up 34 points per game last year and should be able to match that.
— 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.