2015-09-02

FBS - Preview 2015 - The BIG12 Conference

Next conference would be the big loser of last years 1st edition of the national championship playoffs.
Since only 4 teams are selected to play for the title and there are 5 so called power 5 conferences, at least 1 conference title winner has to be left out of the mix, each season.
Last season it did hit the BIG12.

Big 12 Conference

The teams for the BIG12 had a great and really interesting season, but 2 1-loss teams were not good enough as conference title winners to justify a spot in the playoffs.
The missing conference title game was blamed and the conference tried many things to overcome this issue, even a petition to the NCAA to grant the right to play a title game with only 10 teams in the conference.
Nothing did help, so no wonder the big dicussion is on, should the conference expand to 12 teams again.
You can find even list with potential candidates, like UCF, Memphis, BYU, Notre Dame and many more.
Even a "get Nebraska back" campaign exists.
Time will only tell, if the conference will expand and under which conditions.
I think they will expand, just to get the championship game and to have the conference big enough for future developments.
There are some voices saying that there will be eventually a split in the FBS, between the power 5 teams and the rest and for sure would in that case a conference like to be big enough to survive.
And 10 teams is 1 or 2 teams away to become too small for a conference at all.

The teams are:
Baylor University Bears
Iowa State University Cyclones
University of Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas State University Wildcats
University of Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma State University Cowboys
University of Texas at Austin Longhorns
Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs
Texas Tech University Red Raiders
West Virginia University Mountaineers

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Baylor Bears
There Bears are on the highest note they ever were.
The last time the team had won back to back conference championships was 1915 and 1916. No wait, 2013 and 2014.
The team won 11-2 games the last 2 seasons and some might wonder why Art Briles is still the coach of the Baylor Bears and not the coach of As-Much-Money-As-You-Can-Eat.
Well, maybe that's coming at some point this season or the next, but don't be afraid, he has a decent salary already.
The Bears will the 7th season in a row and they will take probably a small step back.
With 10 teams in the mix, each BIG12 team will play each other team and do only add 3 non confrence games.
Baylor will start their season against SMU (road), Lamar (FCS) and Rice, which should be easily 3 wins.
If we then look at the BIG12 games, I would pick 3 games as crucial.
They play Oklahoma at home, which should be a gain, but the Sooners might become a contender this season and this game will not become a sure win.
The TCU game is on the road and this season the Bears might lose this.
And as 3rd game I pick the Texas game, at home.
If the Longhorns get their stuff together, this might become an instand classic.
I doubt that the fate of the conference title is battled out in this game, but you never know.
As summary I see a very potential team, which might end up in the TOP3 of the league.

Iowa State Cyclones
I'm still stunned that Paul Rhodes is still the HC of the Cyclones.
Last season was his worst with the Cyclones, winning only 2 games.
Overall he had in seasons 3 seasons worth a bow and 3 really bad seasons. In total 5 or the 6 seasons had losing seasons, because his team did lose 2 of the 3 bowls they played in and had in those seasons each a 6-7 record.
So, now in his 7th season, the Cyclones better bounce back to the winning half of the conference, which won't be easy.
Northern Iowa (FCS), Iowa and Toledo are are non conference games and they might lose some of those.
My pick is, they will lose only 1, most likely the rival game against Iowa.
The 3 most crucial games inside the conference will be Kansas (at home), West Virginia (on the road) and probably Texas Tech (also an away game).
The top teams, like TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas are very likely out of scope and even Kansas State and Oklahoma State do play very good football over the last few seasons and will challange the big teams.
That leaves the mentioned crucial games.
Chances for winning those are slim.
I think their best chance is with Kansas, under new management.
Texas Tech and West Virginia are very likely better and winning against those on the road gets even tougher.
Overall I think it will end with a big disapointment for the cyclones fans.
If Rhodes will keep his job? I'm not sure.

Kansas Jayhawks
Oh man, the is no fun being a Kansas fan in the last few seasons.
Mark Mangino had the team, a better known team for basketball, so far that it won the division of the BIG12 in 2007.
They lost more games the next 2 seasons, but Mangino did lose his job because of reports of violant behaviour against his players and stuff, which left the university no choice but to cancel his contract.
They hired Turner Gill, a coach under the "next hot thing" hype at Buffalo at that time, and he won 5 games in 2 seasons.
He was let go and is now a successful coach at Liberty.
The university then hired in a big splash the then OC of Florida, Charlie Weis.
I'm still sure Weis is a good, if not very good OC, but I'm also sure he is not made to guide a team as HC.
His Notre Dame gig was a failure and his Kansas gig was a desaster.
The Jayhawks did win 6 games in 2+ seasons under Weis, who was fired after 4 games in 2014.
Now, David Beaty, last seasons Texas A&M WR-coach and recruiting coordinator, was has hired as new HC.
His connections to Kansas are 2 stints as assistant under Mangino and Gill.
It's his 1st gig as HC on college level.
I'm not expecting much in his 1st season.
Not that he might be a good coach, but the curcumstances are just not good.
The program did slide several seasons, the players are Gills and Weis players and the schedule is not an easy one in the BIG12. Never will be.
South Dakota State (FCS) will hopefully be beaten, Memphis could become a tough cookie and Rutgers on the road will very likely be a loss.
I'm expecting 1 win out of this.
Inside the conference the tough games are sure losses, everything else would be a huge surprise.
So they will have to focus on the weaker teams, if there are some.
Iowa State could be 1 of those, but on the road.
Texas Tech at home might be possible, but the Red Raiders are on a rise, so probably no winning here.
West Virginia will be played also at home, but they might even become a contender and Kansas State, also at home, are regularly a mid field team or higher.
What's left? None.
At that's my pick.
They will win maybe 1 conference game, more likely none, and will end up last.

Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats are under Bill Snyders 2. watch since 2009 and overall this is his 24th with the team as HC.
There is probably not much he doesn't know about Wildcats football.
The last few seasons did the team end up in the upper ranks of the conference, after winning a share of the title in 2012.
The team will probably be ready to repeat a winning season, but I'm pretty sure they will not play for the conference title.
Looking at the non conference games does reveil not a single threat.
South Dakota (FCS), UTSA and Louisiana Tech should be beaten, but the Bulldogs games, even at home, might become tougher than expected.
Inside the conference there are some games they should win to get a nice season results.
Assuming wins against Iowa State and Kansas, the team should look for the games against Oklahoma State (road), Texas Tech (road), Texas (road) and West Virginia.
As you see, those games against teams I expect in the same territory are most of the time on the road.
So they will very likely drop some of those.
They need to win at least 1 or 2 to get into a bowl.
Of cause, there can be also an upset against one of the other teams, but my pick is, the Wildcats will drop a bit in performance this season.

Oklahoma Sooners
This team is ... strange.
The Sooners are a powerhouse, no doubt, there is also no doubt, the team does lose crucial games.
In fact, Bob Stoops, now in his 17th season, is one of the worst coaches in this category.
And he won a national championship and several conference titles.
How this does fit?
I don't know, but several stats are articals based on those stats do all point into one direction.
If the Sooners are in a close game, normally they lose more often than they win.
But on the other hand, they do avoid the close games and do win big, maybe that's the trick.
Last season they won only 8 games.
The last time time they did that was 2009 and before that it was 2005.
Chances are high they will rebound.
Playing Akron will be a nice easy starter, Tennessee on the road will be tough and evenually a loss, Tulsa at home should better be won.
The Sooners should watch out for the big guns this season, means Texas, TCU, Baylor and maybe Oklahoma State.
The rival game against Texas will be played on semi-neutral site (Cotton Bowl in Texas), TCU will be played at home, Baylor is a road trip and the rival game against the Cowboys will be played as guests in Stillwater.
Those are not the best conditions to win the conference.
I think they can top the output of last season, but my pick for the conference title is on TCU, even if they have to play at Norman gainst the Sooners.
So I see the Sooners at 2nd or 3rd.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys had some good and bad seasons under Mike Gundys 10 season watch.
Highlight was probably the conference championship win in 2011.
Last season was one of the worst seasons ever.
If you put aside the 1st season (2005), a Gundy lead team had only 3 7-6 seasons. 2006, 2007 and 2014.
So, where will they go from here?
The rise of TCU and Baylor to contenders did hit the established big teams and with a full round robin schedule, there is no escape.
The basic mathematics of sports are: if someone gets a win, someone had to lose.
Oklahome State did suffer some losses and might face another bad season this year.
Gundy is back in his 11th season and his team is for sure not the favorite to win the conference.
With Central Michigan, Central Arkansas (FCS) and UTSA as non conference games did the team pick some easy wins.
It would be surprising seeing them lose one of of those.
Now let's pick some crucial games for the Cowboys, assuming that they are not TOP 3 material this season.
They play Texas on the road, West Virginia on the road and also Texas Tech, on the road.
Only Kansas State comes to town and therefore I see dark clouds on the horizon.
I can see them winning 3 to 4 games inside the conference, not more.
A bowl is possible, where they might get another win, but it will be tough to top the 7 wins of last season, unless some other team does fall.

Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns are in for a new start. Well, that was last season, when Charlie Strong came in and took over the Longhorns.
Now, in his 2nd season, the team will have to get better than the 6-7 record from his 1st season.
No Strong lead team did play poor for very long, so it's valid to assume the Longhorns will take a step into the right direction.
Only that it might not happen this season?
They will play Notre Dame on the road as season start. That could become a loss.
As second game they play Rice and as last non conference game they play Cal.
I pick them winning those 2 and they will finish their non conference schedule 2-1.
Now, if they want to play with the big boys, they will have to win the big games.
TCU is a road trip, Oklahoma a neutral semi home game, West Virginia is a road game and Baylor also.
You see the problems?
I think Texas will win some games and maybe even some of those tough road games, but I doubt a full sweep on those games.
If they want to be better than last season, they have to win at least 4 conference games, better 5.
I think they will have a hard time doing this.
As much as I think they will score an upset win at some point, I think they will also get a defeat they shouldn't have got from todays perspective.
Overall the Longhorns will go to bowl and maybe win this one, but I doubt a massive rise in the BIG12 ranks this season.

TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs did rebound from a 4-8 campaign in 2013 with a 12-1 record in 2014, including a bowl win and they lost only to Co-Conference Champ Baylor.
There were discussions regarding TCU (and/or Baylor) being worth a spot in the playoffs, but at the end did the BIG12 not send a single team into the playoffs.
Gary Patterson is in his 15th season and has one of the safest coaching seat of all coaches in the FBS.
This season, expectations are high to not only win the conference again, but to get a spot in the college football playoffs.
Chances are good.
They will start with the usual 3 non conference games, playing Minnesota on the road, Stephen F. Austin (FCS) and SMU.
The only question mark regarding 3 wins is the Minnesota game.
The Gophers are capable playing good football and as 1st game of the season, they might be able to upset TCU.
I doubt, but it can happen.
This would ruin all the plans for the playoffs fast.
But I pick the 3-0 in the 3 games and they will have to get their head together for the BIG12 fast.
Top games will be Texas (home), Oklahoma (away), Baylor (home) and probably West Virgina (home).
This looks promising.
Toughest game will probably be the Oklahoma game.
The Frogs do have a valid chance to win the conference.
I pick them as favorite for the BIG12, but it will be a close race.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
And here do come one of the stangest teams of the BIG12.
They have a very young coach (under 40) with Kliff Kingsbury and in his 3rd season it will be fun to see, if the team can get back to 2013 form (8-5) or 2014 form (4-8).
Last season did the team suffer some injuries and fell in the ranks very fast.
I'm not sure what to expect from them.
There is basically everything possible. And that's true. From full sweep to full desaster.
That's why they are so strange.
They will most likely end up not too bad, but if the Red Raiders do win some games, some teams have to lose.
And which should that be?
I have a tough time finding those losses.
The non conference games do look fine, with Sam Houston State (FCS), UTEP and Arkansas.
Don't expect them to win the Arkansas game, but if they do, this will be a great indicator for a good season.
I can't see them winning against TCU, Baylor or Oklahoma.
They should win Iowa State and Kansas.
Which leaves Oklahoma State (home), West Virginia (road), Kansas State and Texas (road).
So, which one should or can they win?
All? Maybe, but unlikely. I pick the Kansas State game, but that's it.
Which would mean, they would win about 5 games overall.
My guts are saying, they will win more, but I can't name some.
I have to pick the team quite low in the standings.

West Virginia Mountaineers
And another strange team.
Dana Holgorsen is in his 5th season and I'm not sure if he will stick around very much longer, because he is a failure (and gets fired) or a sucesss (and gets another, better paid job).
So far he won as BIG12 team never more than 7 games.
That's not enough in the State of West Virginia.
Scenario 1 (firing) might be the more valid scenario in that case.
But the circumstances are tough, the BIG12 is tough and other teams did rise to become contenders, faster that Holgersens Mountaineers.
He might also be bought to stay at West Virginia.
This season could be a step forward to get more wins.
Georgia Southern, Liberty (FCS) and Maryland at home are beatable.
A 3-0 start can happen.
Inside the conference there are promising games.
Oklahoma State at home, Texas Tech and Texas also.
I don't see them winning against Oklahoma on the road, as both other road games, TCU and Baylor.
Which leaves smal room for improvments.
They could end up with 7 to 8 wins before the bowl season.
That would be a nice turnaround and maybe they will have Holgersen back, next season.

So my TIP is:
TCU Horned Frogs
Oklahoma Sooners
Baylor Bears
Texas Longhorns
West Virginia Mountaineers
Kansas State Wildcats
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Iowa State Cyclones
Kansas Jayhawks

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