The Big 12 is going to be a hotly contested conference this season. Last year there were five teams within three games of first place Baylor and TCU. Those two schools figure to be leading again with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State waiting to take advantage of an injury or a bad loss in front of them. Two teams who will not be much of a factor this season will be Kansas and Iowa State.
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 in 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 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 10 wins -140...Under 10 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 11-2, 8-1
Returning Starters: 17 (8 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Bryce Petty is gone, but Seth Russell inherits the keys to one of the nation's most potent offenses. Russell threw eight touchdowns last year in spot duty for the Bears. He's got Shock Linwood in the backfield and solid WRs in Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The unit has its entire offensive line back as well.
Defense: Shawn Oakman is worth the price of admission. He had 11 sacks last year and resisted the temptation to go pro. The entire secondary also returns, although that unit was ranked 107th against the pass last season.
Schedule: A road trip to SMU starts things off before home games against Lamar and Rice. A weak non-conference schedule didn't help Baylor last year and it's not going to be looked upon favorably this year either. Three of four are on the road in November, including the big tilt with TCU on Thanksgiving weekend.
Selection: Vegas got this one right, as I came up with 10 wins for the Bears. The offense will be fun to watch while Oakman and the defense will get pressure on the quarterback. This schedule really isn't that difficult
(Over 3 wins -140...Under 3 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 2-10, 0-9
Returning Starters: 10 (6 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: The Cyclones bring back Sam Richardson at QB. He's not only the team's leading returning passer, but rusher as well. With Aaron Wimberly gone, Iowa State will be looking for a new lead RB to take over. Wide receiver Quenton Bundrage figures to be healthy at some point this season and will be a nice pairing in the passing game with D'Vario Montgomery.
Defense: There's not much to like on this side of the ball. The front seven is devoid of returnees outside of senior DE Trent Taylor. Last year this team gave up 528.9 yards per game and it could be that bad again in 2015.
Schedule: Each one of the non-conference games present their own challenge with home contests against Northern Iowa and Iowa before a road game at Toledo. FCS teams have tripped up ISU in the past. The Cyclones close out the year with three of four on the road.
Selection: It's going to be a rough season for Iowa State. The lack of talent and the EVEN price tag for the under makes me lean in that direction. If the Cyclones don't get one of Northern Iowa or Iowa to start things off, then they could be staring at a one-win season.
(Over 1.5 wins -185...Under 1.5 wins +145)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-8
Returning Starters: 6 (3 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: This unit has a lot to work on. They return just seven catches from last season. Montell Cozart could get the call at QB after Michael Cummings' injury this past spring. The offensive line needs to replace three starters.
Defense: There's not to like on this side of the ball either. Not a single member of last year's secondary is back. This team allowed 34 points or more in five of their last six in 2014.
Schedule: The non-conference slate features home contests against South Dakota State and Memphis followed by a road game at Rutgers. Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State each come to Lawrence.
Selection: It's hard to take the under when the total is so low. There's no margin for error with a low number like that. That said, if I had any selection for this one, it would be the under. I just don't think they win a single conference game and may struggle with the other FBS opponents.
(Over 7 wins -130...Under 7 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 7-2
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Joe Hubener will be under center for the Wildcats. The WR corps loses Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, which will be an issue. At least the team has most of its offensive line back, which should help an uncertain RB position as well.
Defense: Tom Hayes' bunch did not close out the 2014 season well, giving up 38 points or more in three of the last four games. The unit returns the majority of the secondary from last year led by Dante Barnett and Morgan Burns.
Schedule: South Dakota leads things off with a road game at UTSA to follow. The last non-Big 12 game is a home contest against Louisiana Tech. The Wildcats have Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma at home where they've been tough traditionally.
Selection: I lean to the over for Kansas State although not with much confidence. There are some holes to fill, but Bill Snyder's teams always seem to find a way.
(Over 9 wins -110...Under 9 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-4
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: It starts and ends with Samaje Perine, who had an incredible season. Perine ran for 1,713 yards as a freshman, with 21 touchdowns on the ground. Sterling Shepard (5 TD catches) is a solid WR, but question resides at quarterback and who will be getting the ball to these weapons.
Defense: Dominique Alexander is back and he'll quarterback the defense along with Jordan Evans. Charles Tapper up front is solid along with linebacker Eric Striker, who had nine sacks last year. Mike Stoops has a lot of pieces to make this side of the ball work.
Schedule: Oklahoma gets home games with Akron and Tulsa as well as a road tilt with Tennessee, who the Sooners beat 34-10 last year at home. October has Bob Stoops' team on the road for three of its five games.
Selection: Slight lean to the under for the Sooners. The November stretch of Baylor (road), TCU (home) and Oklahoma State (road) is a killer and will decide the win total. I think Oklahoma will lose two of those to go along with road games at Tennessee and Kansas State.
(Over 7 wins -280...Under 7 wins +200)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 4-5
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Mason Rudolph was extremely solid last season under center, beating Oklahoma and Washington. He has multiple returnees at WR including Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales. The Cowboys picked up Victor Salako, who came over from UAB and will help the offensive line.
Defense: Emmanuel Ogbah is back and so are his 11 sacks from last year. There's plenty returning on every level of the defense. It should be noted that Ben Grogan was real good at kicker and he too is back.
Schedule: The Cowboys play at Central Michigan before home contests with Central Arkansas and UTSA. Oklahoma State closes out the year with TCU, a road trip to Iowa State before hosting Baylor and Oklahoma.
Selection: I'll say this...there is a definite case for the under if you aren't a fan of this team. Oklahoma State will not lose a non-conference game, but almost every conference contest has its own pitfalls outside of Kansas and Iowa State.
(Over 10 wins -155...Under 10 wins +115)
Record Last Year: 12-1, 8-1
Returning Starters: 15 (10 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Trevone Boykin is a contender for the Heisman this season. Boykin had 33 touchdown passes last year and will have pretty much every weapon back again. Aaron Green returns in the backfield while Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee lead the way at wide receiver.
Defense: A real good defense is going to have to fill the holes left by the departing Paul Dawson and Chris Hackett. James McFarland is back with his seven sacks as well as a few members of the secondary. Jaden Oberkrom has the most made FGs of any active kicker.
Schedule: The Horned Frogs should enter Big 12 play 3-0 with a game at Minnesota followed by Stephen F. Austin and SMU at home. TCU's November will be full of tests with road tilts at the Oklahoma schools as well as Baylor coming to Fort Worth.
Selection: This team should be favored in almost every contest. Still I think TCU slips up and lands right on the 10 number. This will be one of the best offenses in the country, but with a vulnerable defense, it's hard to project more than 10 wins.
(Over 6.5 wins +145...Under 6.5 wins -185)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 5-4
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard represent a tough race at QB. Swoopes had 11 interceptions last year to just 13 passing TDs. Johnathan Gray is a nice place to start at RB. There's going to be a lot of competition at WR and offensive line.
Defense: Texas was one of the best against the pass last year, giving up 184.2 yards per game. The Longhorns return three of four in the secondary, which will be huge considering the question marks up front.
Schedule: The Longhorns have three straight home games after an opener at Notre Dame. Road games at TCU, Baylor and West Virginia will test Charlie Strong's bunch.
Selection: I have no problem with taking the over at this price. Texas will probably lose to Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. If the Longhorns can win at Iowa State or West Virginia then the over is attainable.
(Over 6 wins -105...Under 6 wins -135)
Record Last Year: 4-8, 2-7
Returning Starters: 15 (8 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: A decision has to be made at QB with Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes vying for the position. The offensive line is a stout group with four of five returning to open holes for DeAndre Washington. He put up over 1,000 yards on the ground last year although it led to only two touchdowns.
Defense: David Gibbs has been brought over to help out a unit that allowed over 40 points per game last year. The secondary is intact with the defensive line almost all back as well. Linebacker Pete Robertson led the way last year with 81 tackles and 12 sacks.
Schedule: The Red Raiders host Sam Houston State and UTEP before a road game at Arkansas. They have five of their first six overall at home, but then play three of their next four on the road.
Selection: Six wins is a very good number from Vegas. Texas Tech has some opportunities for upsets at home against Baylor and TCU, but the rough closing stretch will hurt.
(Over 8 wins +150...Under 8 wins -190)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 5-4
Returning Starters: 15 (6 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Skyler Howard got a taste at QB last year and threw eight touchdowns without an interception. Rushel Shell will be a threat if he can stay healthy. Shell ran for 788 yards and seven touchdowns despite an ankle problem. Wendell Smallwood and Jordan Thompson have some big shoes to fill at WR with Kevin White and Mario Alford departing.
Defense: The defense is loaded in the secondary and on the front line. Nick Kwiatkoski had 103 tackles from the LB position. This unit was 72nd last year in scoring defense, allowing 27.6 points per game.
Schedule: It's a home-friendly September as Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland all come to Morgantown. It's a road-heavy start to conference play with three of four on the road while November features three home games out of four.
Selection: Once again the Vegas number is right on the money. If you believe the Mountaineers can win at Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU or Kansas State, then go with the over. The defense will have to play well while the offense works itself out.
— 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.