Who will win the Big XII conference? Is it Oklahoma's to lose? Can TCU replace so many key players to keep pace? Will Baylor overcome it's own internal turmoil? Is this the year Charlie Strong's Longhorns start making noise?
Oh, and here's another question; is the Big XII truly ready to expand? We'll save that for another day, but as you have read there are plenty of Big XII story lines that are set to be answered this fall.
Oklahoma has to be the favorite going into the season. They have a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Baker Mayfield and a running game is strong as anyone in the country. Questions remain about the defense that was shredded in a national semi-final game against Clemson, but most everyone was shredded by Clemson. The Sooners schedule is tough. They open with Houston and then Ohio State two weeks later. The next game is the Big XII opener and perhaps it's toughest conference game; at TCU. If the Sooners survive the early run of strong teams, they could ride that momentum to a Big XII repeat.
TCU is going to give Oklahoma a serious run at the conference title. I believe the offense, led by top assistants Doug Meacham and Sonny Combie, is a well oiled machine and doesn't need an elite athlete like Trevone Boykin to run it. Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill is expected to win the starting quarterback job, and he has big shoes to fill now that Boykin is in the NFL. The Frogs are replacing several quality defenders, but if there's one thing that's certain it's that Gary Patterson will find guys who can play "D." A win against Oklahoma early during the conference could set the tone for a memorable season. Plus, it's always fun when TCU plays Baylor. This year it's November 5.
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Oklahoma State is flying under the radar, which I don't completely understand. Football fans forget that this team started 2015 with a 10-0 record overall and a 7-0 mark in the Big XII before losing it's last three games. How the Cowboys handle the conference road games will determine this team's fate, because it's going to be difficult. OSU opens the conference schedule at Baylor, then closes at TCU and Oklahoma. Quarterback Mason Rudolph can sling it with the best of them and he has a deep receiving core to throw to. The Cowboys should have one of the conference's best defenses despite losing stud DE Emmanuel Ogbah to the NFL.
I believe Texas Tech is ready to make a jump in the standings. Kliff Kingsbury's teams have started out hot and cooled off significantly as the season goes along, but this year will be different. Don't be surprised if QB Patrick Mahomes gets Heisman consideration because he's going to put up monster numbers. But what will the Red Raiders do about a defense that allowed 43.6 points a game last season? If Texas Tech can be an average defense, they'll upset a few teams in route to a solid season.
I'm not buying the hype on the Texas Longhorns yet. I still believe Charlie Strong is going to be successful, but they're still a year away. The Horns will be tough on defense, led by rising star Malik Jefferson. The sophomore is talented enough to potentially lead the Longhorns in every meaningful defensive category. The reason I'm still slightly skeptic is because of the quarterback position. It looks like Texas will start true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele. I watched Buechele sling it around at Arlington Lamar for the last few years and he'll absolutely be a difference maker who could be the quarterback Longhorns fans have yearned for since Colt McCoy. But, he's a true freshman. He wisely graduated high school early and participated in spring football, but he'll have growing pains like any young quarterback.
Baylor is a mess. I don't need to go into details, you know the story. How different will the Bears look without Art Briles? Will interim coach Jim Grobe change the football play as much as he'll change the football culture? It's hard to say, but at least Baylor has a quarterback. Seth Russell can flat out play and he'll have plenty of weapons around him like wide receiver K.D. Cannon. Ultimately, Baylor's 2016 is the great unknown and success will be determined in ways other than wins or losses.
The final four consists of West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas. It's still hard to win in Morgantown, WV regardless of how the Mountaineers are playing. Same goes for Manhattan where Bill Snyder's Wildcats will fight to the bitter end. Iowa State will likely struggle, but don't be surprised if they pull of an upset or two. Finally, the Kansas Jayhawks will continue being the worst team in college football.