Big 12 Conference

Reviewing the Season: Looking back at the Big 12

With the season finally, finally over, Horned Frog Insider welcomes the offseason with a full look-back at the college football season

With Alabama claiming another national title, the worst part of the year has arrived. College football is 228 days away from returning, which means that it's time for offseason news and few updates, sans the craziness of recruiting.

With that, the staff at Horned Frog Insider looks back at their earlier predictions and notes what went right and what went wrong in the 2015 edition of college football. Today, the staff reviews the Big 12's showing.

Looking back at your Big 12 predictions, which predictions made you feel like a genius?

Mitchell Stehly: When asked which game might be a trap game for TCU, I chose the Texas Tech matchup. While TCU came away with the victory, it was a lot closer than most expected and ended in a dramatic fourth down throw tipped into the waiting hands of Aaron Green. 

J.D. Moore: Although by no means was it a soothsayer's call, I said that this year's playoff picture wouldn't be as difficult to determine as last year, and that an 11-1 Big 12 champion would get into the playoffs. Undoubtedly, Oklahoma got in at 11-1, and there was no controversy this year over who the last four teams would be.

Brad Hardcastle: None of them really. Except that Baylor would disappoint this year. But Baylor's demise was more due to a lot of injuries hitting them late in the season, so I can't take too much credit there. Other than that, I didn't much else right. 

And conversely, which ones made you feel like an idiot?

MS: I predicted that TCU’s success would hinge on the development of two young linebackers, Montrel Wilson and Mike Freeze. While Wilson saw some playing time, Freeze left the team after the season opener. Instead, Gary Patterson “coached up” two promising young players in Travin Howard and Ty Summers. 

JDM: I bought big into the idea that West Virginia was going to be a surprising defensive powerhouse in the Big 12, getting nine wins and upsetting the Frogs in Fort Worth. Instead, West Virginia would settle for a defense that was certainly near the top of the pack, but in-line with Baylor and TCU, giving up nearly 400 yards per game and 5.3 yards per play. TCU also ransacked the Mountaineers 40-10.

BH: I thought Kansas State could be a surprise, but they weren't very good at all. I thought Texas could be a trap game, but it ended up being TCU's biggest Big 12 blowout of the year.

What was the Big 12 storyline that surprised you the most this season?

MS: The sheer impact of backup quarterbacks on the Big 12 title race was the most surprising. While Oklahoma was a deserving champion, it also benefited from facing the backup quarterbacks of Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Baylor won their bowl game with the combination of the “Wild Bear” and third-string quarterback Chris Johnson. TCU won its bowl game on the shoulders of Bram Kohlhausen, a former Houston-transfer and career backup. 

JDM: The University of Texas had back-to-back losing seasons for just the third time in the program's history. They were slaughtered by Notre Dame and TCU, and Iowa State - the 113th best defense in the nation - shut out the Longhorns. Despite that, Texas beat two Top-15 programs in Baylor and Oklahoma. You literally cannot explain that to me.

BH: I guess Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leading the conference until the end. Both teams were expected to be in the middle of the pack, considering both had very underwhelming seasons last year. But both were able to get good play from their quarterbacks and their defenses for most of the season, which transformed them into contenders. Perhaps TCU and Baylor's injuries also had a role in both the Sooners and Cowboy's dominance, but both were much improved, regardless.  

What player from the Big 12 deserves the most praise from the year 2015?

MS: The obvious answer is Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. The difference in the Sooners offense after Mayfield took over for Trevor Knight was “knight” and day. (Sorry).

JDM: Never apologize for a pun Mitchell. Ever. That said, my pick is Josh Doctson. I firmly believe that if he hadn't been hurt for the final handful of games for the season, he would have beat out Corey Coleman for the Biletnikoff and gone down as one of the Big 12's greatest receivers. He's already the greatest receiver in TCU history, and for his efforts this season, I go Doctson.

BH: Josh Doctson. The guy missed nearly three games and ended up 11th in receiving yards and 5th in receiving touchdowns, nationally. When healthy, no one could consistently cover him. Without him, TCU was an entirely different team. He'll go down as one of the greats in the conference's history. 

Should this season be considered a success for the Big 12?

MS: I think so. The Big 12 went 3-4 in its bowl games despite some tough matchups. And the Big 12 can finally breathe a sigh of relief with Oklahoma reaching the playoff after the fiasco that occurred in 2014. 

JDM: Marginal success for the league. For starters, they got a team in the playoff - that's already a huge win. Despite the so-so bowl record (and the Oklahoma schools getting beat down in their marquee bowl games), the Big 12 got wins over Top 25 opponents in the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 this season. The league is still top-heavy, and still needs better results when playing outside the league, but with a playoff appearance and some decent wins, the league is trending in a better direction.

BH: Not really. Although Oklahoma made the playoffs, they didn't have a good showing against Clemson. And really, most of the conference didn't have a good year. In order for the Big 12 to gain more respect, teams like Texas Tech, Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas need sustain more consistent success. Of course, every one has down years, but you should have your fifth best team finish the regular season 7-5. There needs to be more consistency across the board for the conference, as a whole to be taken more seriously.  

What do you make of the Big 12’s bowl season performance?

MS: Like I said previously, 3-4 wasn’t ideal but the league came away with wins over highly ranked North Carolina and Oregon. The Big 12 needs to find its way to a National Championship sooner than later, however. 

JDM: There's something to be said when the league's "best" two teams are thoroughly quarantined in the biggest bowl matches of the year. TCU gave the league a great thrill, but no one in the league could have been happy about the 31-0 halftime deficit. When WVU, TCU and Baylor are the only successful teams in bowl season, that's a sign of change and a sign of worry for the Big 12. Texas, Oklahoma, et. all need to start getting back to their former glory again if the league is going to be taken seriously again.

BH: I think we saw how deficient some of these defenses are compared to those of other conference. TCU gave up 41 points to Oregon, Baylor gave up 38 to UNC, Oklahoma State gave up 48 to Ole Miss, West Virginia gave up 43 to Arizona State, Texas Tech gave up 56 to LSU and Oklahoma gave up 37 to Clemson, which was the least amount of points surrendered by a Big 12 in a bowl game this year. For awhile, Big 12 fans have been justifying their team's defensive failures by noting the offenses their teams have to face in conference play. While there is some truth to that, the fact still stands, the Big 12 defenses are bad, and if the conference wants to be recognized as one of the best, more teams need to improve their defenses.  

Where does the league now stand against the other P5 conferences?

MS: This is a tough one. Some people think the conference is towards the bottom of the Power Conference totem pole, but I disagree. The Big 12 has just 10 teams, four of which (OU, TCU, BU and OSU) bounced around the top-15 all year. That’s a strong conference.

JDM: The Big 12 had four good teams this year - Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor. West Virginia flung their way past the finish line as Texas Tech hit the stone wall of Leonard Fournette. Other than that, there was nothing else remarkable about the Big 12, and that hurts. The Big 12 is still the P5 conference outside looking in, and until they beat more opponents in OOC (Hi there, OU-Ohio State, TCU-Arkansas and Texas Tech-Arizona State), that perception isn't changing.

BH: I would say top-to-bottom, the Big 12 is the fourth best Power Five conference, ranked ahead of the ACC. Why? Because it's a 10 team conference, with just a few competitive teams, as of now. Again, there needs to be consistency from the teams in the middle of the pack, and probably a couple additions that can strengthen the conference as a whole. 

Is a conference championship game still something that the Big 12 should push for?

MS: If the conference expands, absolutely. But with the current round-robin format, I don’t see the need to play that extra game.

JDM: Nope. As OU proved this year, the Big 12 can get into the playoffs without it. Given the size of the league, there's no reason to jeopardize the conference's playoff bid with a heartkiller game.

BH: With 10 teams? No. Everyone played each other already. Would it help them for playoff consideration, possibly. But that's harder to say with certainty when there's only 10 teams competing. 

Is expansion a viable, or even a good, idea for the league?

MS: Sure. But the conference shouldn’t expand just for the sake of expanding. I’m intrigued by the idea of adding BYU for football only. Scheduling, with extensive travel, might be difficult to pull off with every sport. Another great option is Memphis. The Tigers have a history of success in basketball, and have grown tremendously in football. Their commitment to athletic facilities helps too. 

JDM: Viable, sure. Good? Hell no. The Cincinnati/Louisville option left the figurative train station nearly four years ago and the Big 12 is far too behind to catch up. If there were good options still left, the Big 12 would have already expanded. Until then, there's no reason to poach anyone right now.

BH: Yes and yes. I think teams like Houston and Boise State could do pretty well in the Big 12. It would also make a championship game possible, and I think this conference really needs one. 

How can the Big 12 best improve between today and one year from now?

MS: The Big 12 needs Iowa State and Kansas to show significant improvement to avoid the perception of the large drop-off towards the bottom of the conference. Outside of that, the conference needs to schedule (and win) big-time non-conference games. I’m looking at you Baylor. OU will get the opportunity to do just that as they take on Ohio State and Houston to start the 2016 season.

JDM: Win games, and stop getting embarrassed when they play other conferences. Ole Miss over OKST and Notre Dame over Texas cannot happen if the conference wants to be taken seriously. There are some marquee games with Texas-Notre Dame pt. II, Ohio State-Oklahoma, ASU-Texas Tech, West Virginia-Missouri, Kansas State-Stanford and others this upcoming year. If the Big 12 can win half, and not get beat by two or more scores in their losses, that will help tremendously. Same applies for the bowl season. Just win, baby.

BH: 1. Expand. Add a couple good teams to get a conference championship game and improve the overall strength of the conference.  2. Add a championship game. 3. Hire new officials. 

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