First Run At Big 12 Predictions

Everybody is getting juiced up about college football. This will serve as the end of our spring Big 12 series. However, I reserve the right to amend these predictions. There will be more reading, the purchase of a multitude of preseason magazines, some worth the paper they are printed on and some not, and Phil Steele's magazine which is worth much more than the paper it is printed on.

I make these picks not lightly, but having looked at several factors such as how many and who are the starters returning, what does the schedule look like, and a feeling for the culture that each of these programs in operating in and around these days.

Like I will do again in the summer, I looked at and predicted every single game that every team has on its schedule, including the nonconference games and in the case of several teams those nonconference games play heavily into how they are likely to come into and perform in conference play.

The Sporting News came out with their preseason top 25 and Phil Steele has projected what he things the Associated Press Top 25 will look like. Neither had Oklahoma State in there and that is fine as the Cowboys are more of an unknown for college football observers outside this region. I would hate to have to pick the SEC, Atlantic Coast, or Pac-12 conferences as I don't have local and historical perspective good enough for those leagues to get it right this far out.

It's fun and like I said I will go back and do this again in the summer. Here goes with 2015 Big 12 Conference predictions.

1. TCU Horned Frogs
2014 Record: 12-1 (8-1)
2015 Prediction: 13-0 (9-0)
The Frogs are loaded and have ample swagger to keep the winning rolling. Quarterback Trevone Boykin had spring surgery and missed spring practice, but that allowed the backups to get more reps. The offense brought in by Doug Meacham and his helper Sonny Cumbie will be even better the second time around. I compare that process to being similar to what has happened at Texas Tech with Mike Leach and Oklahoma State with Dana Holgorsen. TCU has a good schedule, OU is on the road, as is Oklahoma State but the key game with Baylor on the Thanksgiving weekend is in Fort Worth. Watch the defense as head coach Gary Patterson wasn't happy with the progress of new linebackers. I think they will be fine, but that might be the only possible drawback to this team.

2. Baylor Bears
2014 Record: 11-2 (8-1)
2015 Prediction: 11-1 (8-1)
A good source inside the Baylor program told me that quarterback Seth Russell is ahead of where Bryce Petty was when Petty took over the starting job. That is a very serious and for the rest of the Big 12 a very dangerous statement. Russell will have ample weapons to distribute the ball too. Running back should be okay and the offensive line as well. Baylor has NFL-caliber talent as Shawn Oakman returns at defensive end and he will be a first-round NFL Draft choice, as will offensive tackle Spencer Drango. TCU has swagger, but so do the Bears and it emanates from head coach Art Briles. Baylor has to go to Stillwater for what could be a tough game and that is a place the Bears have really struggled even when good. The game with TCU on Thanksgiving weekend is the showdown and it is in Fort Worth. As usual the nonconference is silly puddy.

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2014 Record: 7-6 (4-5)
2015 Prediction: 10-2 (7-2)
For the rest of the nation Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy isn't walking around with that huge smile because his goats are taking blue ribbons at the county fair. In some cases, they are taking blue ribbons but his team is loaded with two quarterbacks that can win games and can stretch defenses in different ways. He hired four coaches in the offseason and all four have proven to be outstanding hires and have the players busting their tails. Attitude and body language are two Gundy hallmarks and they are at a premium on his team. My broadcast partner Dave Hunziker likes to say if you are going to challenge for Big 12 championship honors and more then you have to have next level talent. Already defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is a top-10 pick on 2016 NFL mock drafts. Cornerback Kevin Peterson could join him and the future NFL players on the team range from a bunch of defenders to quarterback Mason Rudolph to receivers to both starting offensive tackles. The losses we predict are both at home to TCU and Baylor. Expect Oklahoma State to contest those games at Boone Pickens Stadium.

4. Oklahoma Sooners
2014 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
2015 Prediction: 8-4 (6-3)
Oklahoma needs to find a quarterback to operate the new wide open spread authored by new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. I believe it will be Baker Mayfield, and he makes the most sense with the experience in the offense in Tech's version. He will need to curtail some of his chance taking as Oklahoma can't survive negative turnover games as the defense may be a little improved but not dramatic. The offense will be better because the ability to run the football out of the spread will enhance the passing game. Oklahoma has better receivers than a year ago and juco transfer Dede Westbrook is a future NFL talent. Going to Waco and Stillwater take two of the losses. TCU will win in Norman as so many teams did last season. The nonconference loss at Tennessee will need to be overcome as that could trigger a spiral if not handled tough mentally.

5. West Virginia Mountaineers
2014 Record: 7-6 (5-4)
2015 Prediction: 8-4 (5-4)
Yes, I have the Mountaineers in the upper division and the reason is they have 10 returning starters on a defense that held Baylor to 27 points in beating the Bears and held the Horned Frogs juggernaut to 31 points in a 31-30 loss. Granted both games were in Morgantown and this year they have to go to Waco and Fort Worth, but they aren't going to beat the Bears or Frogs this season. They can beat many others in the league. The game with Oklahoma State will be crucial and a win could move the Mountaineers up even more. The nonconference diet of Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland will be a good momentum building start for an offense that will need it.

6. Kansas State Wildcats
2014 Record: 9-4 (7-2)
2015 Prediction: 7-5 (4-5)
Bill Snyder will be tested this season as he has to craft some vital new parts. It is a good thing that he has experience, lots of it, and he is good at it. The defense should be okay. It's the offense where a new quarterback must surface and a mainstay running back would be nice not to mention another receiver named Lockett, but Snyder may be out of coaching before the next generation of Locketts make it to Manhattan. The nonconference schedule is the way Snyder likes it and that will allow opportunity to iron out issues and discover the right parts for the machine.

7. Texas Longhorns
2014 Record: 6-7 (5-4)
2015 Prediction: 5-7 (3-6)
If Charlie Strong thought last season was difficult then welcome to the new age as Texas graduated NFL talent. If there is a plethora of next level players on the Horns now then they are primarily young enough that they have not totally revealed themselves just yet. The quarterback position is still very uncertain and that is bad news in a quarterback driven league. The defense will be much younger and again that is not good news in a quarterback driven league. The opener at Notre Dame looks sexy, but instead could serve as a very quick wake-up call for a team that needs momentum early. The games with Rice and Cal in Austin are not gimmes.

8. Iowa State Cyclones
2014 Record: 2-10 (0-9)
2015 Prediction: 4-8 (2-7)
It used to be Iowa State could win its three nonconference games and count on scratching through with at least three wins in the conference and fill a bowl slot. Those days appear over. Iowa State will have improved skill talent this season and their quarterback play and depth may be envious for some other teams in the league, but on the offensive line and defensive front the Cyclones will be outmanned.

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2014 Record: 4-8 (2-7)
2015 Prediction: 3-9 (1-8)
Texas Tech fans love to attack the outsiders that forecast doom and gloom for their program. Tech is a little like their now SEC cousin in College Station in that they tend to over value their worth. Actually, A&M has improved in the SEC and been a relevant team after being overrated and underperforming in the Big 12. Texas Tech needs a talent boost, they need to get faster and more athletic on defense and they need it yesterday. The first two games are wins, but they will come fact to face with the reality of their situation when they travel to Arkansas.

10. Kansas Jayhawks
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-8)
2015 Prediction: 1-11 (0-9)
I'd love to predict a better beginning for David Beaty at Kansas but the highlight of the Jayhawks spring game was an 89-year-old scoring a touchdown in the Alumni flag football game and the low light was one of the two candidates for the starting quarterback job Michael Cummings going down to a knee injury from friendly fire. Kansas had three players drafted in the NFL Draft, all on the defensive side of the ball, which held the program together the past two seasons. I'm not sure the Jayhawks still have that kind of talent and they will need it this season. The rub is that the nonconference is there for a 3-0 start, although I have picked losses for the games at home with Memphis (bowl winner last season) and at Rutgers. The conference opener is at Iowa State and that could be a win if the Jayhawks get rolling. The next week is Baylor and it just gets tougher from that point on.

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