Our examination of the Big 12 2017 units continues with the 6-10th place finishers from 2016. The second biggest question with this back half is whether one of these teams can climb up and out of the bottom half and the biggest question is whether that will be Tom Herman’s Texas squad.
Here we go…
There’s that one guy, D’Onta Foreman, who ran for over 2k yards last year despite missing a game (although he got enough carries in several games to more than make up for it). He’ll probably be a significant loss, especially given new coach Tom Herman’s love of downhill football.
Texas is also losing reliable hammer-back Caleb Bluiett, steady if unspectacular safety Dylan Haines, and veteran OG/OT Kendrick Perkins. That’s pretty much it unless we see a wave of transfers running from the new regime.
Herman will probably find it easier to build out a downhill-blocking OL at Texas than he did at Houston thanks to inheriting future 1st round LT Connor Williams, Texas’ two best guards (Patrick Vahe and Jake McMillon), and promising freshman center Zach Shackleford. The WR corps is loaded and returns just about everyone with promising freshman QB Shane Buechele back to throw to them. There’s also several athletic options at RB to audition for the role of replacing Foreman.
The defense was not good this past year, but it had tons of promising components if new DC Todd Orlando can get them working together within his scheme. There’s talent and youth aplenty at CB, LB, and S and some of it is likely to translate into sound and athletic play at some point.
Prospective identity in 2017
I’ve detailed how Herman will likely build around the component he’s found waiting for him at Texas, I think it might look somewhat like the Mason Rudolph Oklahoma State offense with a touch more QB run game and a very different defense.
It’ll be interesting to see how he navigates the demands of turning Texas’ roster of young, talented, but thus far ineffective players into the kind of team that can win this league.
He gone. Patrick Mahomes has declared for the draft, leaving Kliff Kingsbury’s life a stupid rotten mess heading into a make or break 2017 season that will likely determine his future in Lubbock. He has Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek around, who can probably throw for 4k yards in this offense, it seems like just about everyone else can. He’ll also have JUCO transfer McLane Carter, who ballooned at Tyler JC this year after a very strong HS career with the state champions Gilmer Buckeyes under coach Jeff Traylor. Carter is now 6-3, 220 and was pretty impressive at Tyler.
Tech is losing LT Baylen Brown and center Tony Morales from a decent OL and a couple of veteran DBs that weren’t anything to write home about. They AREN’T losing DC David Gibbs evidently. I figured Kingsbury would be forced to make changes there but he was able to hold onto his guy, which is probably for the best since they need things to click immediately in 2017.
There was very little that was good about Texas Tech’s defense a year ago. There’s not a ton of continuity from the overall unit but that frankly might be a good thing at some spots. Their biggest problem was up front, where they completely lacked playmaking or disruption.
At LB they’re finding a certain type of continuity from bringing back Dakota Allen, who spent last year at a JUCO after Tech kicked him out for burglary last offseason. Allen was their most promising LB and now returns with D’Vonta Hinton and freshman starter Jordyn Brooks to try and stabilize the middle of their D. Top DB Jah’Shawn Johnson is also back, he was a feisty guy if totally overmatched trying to clean up the flow of errors committed in front of him.
They’re also adding JUCO CB Jaylon Lane, who was highly sought after across the B12 a few years ago until he got kicked out of school and charged with a crime, driving him to a Cali JUCO where he made good on his football promise. Kingsbury is vouching for these guys and removed another player recently who got into trouble but this still feels slightly desperate. From what little I’ve heard of these guys’ stories I’m hoping they are redeemable.
Prospective identity in 2017
It’s been party time in Lubbock since Kingsbury arrived…
…but the party is almost over. They’re going to need to be known for having the kind of martial, disciplined culture that brings about good defense in addition to explosive offense or else Kingsbury won’t be the head coach in 2018.
In the past Tech’s identity has been a fearsome passing attack that often overlooks the run game and can’t stop anyone on defense. They’re trying to add an identity as a team that can run the ball as a constraint and force turnovers on defense but I’m not sure if they’re really up for it.
This offense will probably look like the one they had in 2014 before Mahomes took over. Good, not great. They have some nice weapons in Cameron Bateson and Justin Stockton to do some damage and their spacing is always good and tough to handle but teams with depth at DB and a pass-rush can sort them out. Or just outscore them.
The entire coaching staff is now gone, which may be a sort of plus without Papa Briles to guide them nor their grim offseason fate to demotivate their coaching or recruiting efforts. QB Seth Russell is gone, but he was knocked out before the season ended, revealing a very talented replacement in Zach Smith.
The two best players on offense were probably center Kyle Fuller and WR KD Cannon, both of whom are now gone with Fuller exhausting his eligibility and Cannon leaving early for the NFL.
Three-year starting safety Orion Stewart is moving on, inside-backer Aivion Edwards, hybrid DB Pat Levels, and longtime CB Ryan Reid, but the defense still returns a lot of pieces. These were guys that Phil Bennett had fashioned into really tough, sound football players and had some really solid athleticism but a good defensive culture should be able to crank out more guys just like ’em.
Baylor played like a different team in the bowl game, I think gaining direction from a new coaching hire lit a fire under their young players while Smith’s superior arm unlocked more of the potential of their passion game. Perhaps the biggest issue was just KD Cannon wanting to audition for the NFL and seeing an opportunity with a nationally broadcast bowl game and improved distribution, he torched the Boise State defense.
Baylor’s offense now looks to be aiming for more of an Oregon-style spread with the recent hires, or at least a similar spread-option style built around the available QBs, which will be something of a departure from what they’ve normally done. This OL and TE unit is used to firing downhill at people while the WRs are used to running “vertical or not” routes outside the hash marks, but they’ll now be attacking horizontally more.
All that said, it’s still the spread and it’s still football, Baylor will have several OL and WRs back like Chris Platt, Blake Lynch, Quan Jones, and Ish Zamora to throw to. RB JaMycal Hasty should benefit from the new style and increased opportunities to get going laterally. OL Blake Blackmar might have to slim down from his current 340.
The defense is also going to change quite a bit from the simple, Over-match/quarters scheme they’ve been running for years and years under Phil Bennet. However, they have versatile DB Travon Blanchard, CBs Jameson Houston and Grayland Arnold, and versatile OLBs Taylor Young and Clay Johnston all back. Inside, they don’t have rust belt tough kids like they did at Temple but KJ Smith and Ira Lewis showed potential and the whole cast returns up front.
Prospective identity in 2017
Baylor will be finding themselves in a lot of ways next year. I don’t anticipate that they’ll be that good or really nail down what they are aiming for, but presumably they’ll aim to leverage their size and speed on the perimeter with their remaining size up front via Smith’s knowledge of the RPO game. On defense they’ll be more multiple and probably somewhat confused at times. There’s a lot of solid defenders here for Rhule to work his schemes with, it’ll be interesting to see what he does with the OLB positions where he prefers to have DE/OLB hybrids but is inheriting a quality pair of undersized guys in Young and Johnston.
I imagine they’ll probably bring a lot of pressure but use 4/5-man combos to do so and hope to get teams behind the chains. Rhule’s goal is to build a physical team that can run the ball and smack you in the mouth, which they already had, the challenge now is getting back there with new strategies and a depleted roster lacking developed upperclassmen.
It can make for a tough life getting into bare knuckles brawls with teams that already have established toughness.
Not many, they’re losing 10 or so starters but no one that they were really building around or that shouldn’t be theoretically easy to replace within the program. Most of the positive attributes of this team last year related to overall discipline and chemistry they developed than any particular player. At least, any of the particular players that are now moving on.
There are rumors that star safety Kamari Cotton-Moya might move on, the senior-to-be has been battling injuries and just graduated so there’s a chance that could be a real loss. Judging by Coach Matt Campbell’s response to those rumors I’d say there’s probably a lot to those rumors but we’ll see.
Nose tackle Demond Tucker is gone, but while he was capable of disruption in bursts, that kid never showed the kind of conditioning or motor to be a great player. One play he’d be all over the place and the next he’d be getting washed out, it’s hard to win that way.
The only place that might be a challenge is OL, where they were finally finding guys that were able to gel and work well together and now nearly all of them are moving on. Hopefully being in year two of the program will allow some of the younger guys to step in and gel together more quickly then it took last season to find the best five.
Allen Lazard is back, as are promising young RBs Mike Warren and David Montgomery, as are all the TEs that Campbell sought to stockpile as soon as he arrived in Ames. QBs Jacob Park and Joel Lanning are both back after decidedly mixed 2016 seasons and very promising young slot WR DeShaunte Jones is back.
The skill talent at Iowa State is not the reason for their lack of competitiveness within the Big 12, it’s the infrastructure along the lines and at QB. Campbell only took two JUCO linemen in 2016, both on the OL, and is adding three JUCO DL in 2017 so his plan to build up the kinds of Midwestern trenchmen he had at Toledo is partly a long-term process. That’s probably the best way to do it.
The defense showed immediate improvement, interestingly enough, and between that and Arkansas’ struggles I’m starting to wonder how effective a defensive coach Paul Rhoads is these days. His Cyclone Ds really tanked once Luke Knott and AJ Klein graduated and those guys were initially recruited and taught by Gene Chizik. The star of the defense was Willie Harvey, a quick, stocky LB built for the Big 12 who returns this season.
I think this staff is capable of getting these kids to play a team concept with greater discipline then much of their competition, I’m not sure how close these QBs are or this OL is to being able to make the most of the overall talent. The DL has to get a lot better, they caused very few problems for opponents last year. Most of the starters are moving on but that might be beneficial to getting younger, more talented players up to par.
Prospective identity in 2017
Iowa State wants to be a team that runs the football and plays a multiple but disciplined defense that can take away the right arm of an offense. Their QB play would ideally be geared around choosing guys that can punish opponents for how they play the run, but they have to be able to establish the run as a legit threat first.
They should be better in this regard, with a big emphasis on “should.” My guess is that they’ll be a team that’s tough and physical who no one wants to play in Ames (particularly as it gets colder) but who aren’t ready to actually start piling up wins yet.
You’re very welcome for drudging through the Kansas depth chart to examine what exactly we’re looking at here for this hapless team. One loss I was expecting to see would have been Montell Cozart, who I feel has been there forever. Cozart is back, which may be a negative if that means the staff is tempted to throw him back out there at QB. It’s more likely though that they’ll turn to Carter Stanley, who QB’d the win over Texas and was actually fairly solid down the stretch. QB Ryan Willis is also back but it should be Stanley’s show.
RB KeRaun Kinner is also gone and he was a really solid player for them, but finding backs is less of a thing in the Big 12 then simply building out your OL and constraining the run game with athletes on the perimeter. A true power back can really do work in this league but Kinner wasn’t that.
The big issue they’re facing is the departure of what almost amounts to their entire secondary (young safety Mike Lee is back). That’s a grievous loss in this league and some of those guys weren’t half bad. For that reason…Kansas may be horrible on defense again.
Their top two receivers LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims are both back, which is actually somewhat interesting since these guys are legitimately hard to keep under wraps when their offense is actually in rhythm. They have a bunch of OL back, for whatever that’s worth, some of them will probably grow into solid players with more time. Particularly younger guys like Hakeem Adeniji who had to play as a freshman last year at something like 270.
The big plus for the Jayhawks is returning young DL Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong, both of whom are amongst the top players at their position in the league. Wise is a solid, disruptive DT while Armstrong is now arguably the best pass-rusher in the Big 12. It’s kind of surprising they weren’t able to get more out of Armstrong’s pass-rush in conjunction with a veteran secondary last year but they’ll sure benefit from breaking in new DBs with him working up front.
Just watch, they’ll have a better looking secondary in 2018 and then Armstrong will move on to the NFL…poor Kansas. They’re slowly getting their overall talent levels up to a respectable level though and perhaps this year we’ll see the star of the 2016 class Maciah Long get involved. He was expected to be a star LB but they actually put him at TE where they already had some other solid players. Regardless, keep an eye out for him.
Prospective identity in 2017
The one bright spot of the Kansas season was beating Texas and killing the Charlie Strong era, and frankly that might have been as much of a win for Texas as it was for the Jayhawks.
However, Kansas could be intriguing this year and perhaps provide an unpleasant shock to someone once again. Their ability to build around two quality WRs and a young QB makes them a bit dangerous, as does the presence of an impact pass-rusher who could potentially dominate a game. Like Iowa State, they’re scrambling to build up some surrounding infrastructure to allow them to make the most of these skill assets.
Unlike Iowa State, they’re trying to beat everyone else at their own game, which is a bit more challenging. Kansas probably improves but that might show up more in their non-conference win-loss record then in the Big 12.
So, after taking my first glance at 2017 here’s my pre NSD power rankings for the Big 12. The real key is “who finishes on top” and nothing else matters that much. In 2016 Oklahoma proved to be the clear superpower, Oklahoma State was a clear no. 2, and there were very gradual steps down for the next few programs that were evident from more than the pure win-loss records.
That said, schedule is everything and could be the biggest delineator in a 2017 Big 12 where the best teams all return their QBs.
- Kansas State
- Oklahoma State
- West Virginia
- Iowa State
- Texas Tech
The Sooners are still the class of the league and are a few breaks away from even having a nationally competitive team. Namely, they gotta find some ILBs while also solving the issue of their second CB position.
Kansas State has elevated to OSU’s level as primary challengers to the throne. Both of these teams need to fill some key spots on defense and I like K-State’s chances there a tad better. I’d probably give Gundy the benefit of the doubt against anyone else.
TCU’s 2017 season go see them vault up as a third challenger to the throne or it could see them be a dangerous, rebuilding team depending largely on what they do at QB. I’m slowly breaking down the DeSoto vs Steele championship game with an eye on Shawn Robinson’s current level of QB development which may hold the answer here to what TCU does in 2017.
Texas is technically the most talented team in the Big 12 and also have a wide range of plausible outcomes. I’m going to split the difference for now and have them with TCU as just below the second tier.
I regretted ruling against West Virginia last year but I was fooled by spring practice reports that had the Mountaineer secondary playing like garbage in the wake of losing Chestnut, Joseph, Worley, and Dillon and once Henry went down I was outta there. Well, their big question is the secondary again…at some point Tony Gibson will have my trust. For now I’m curious to check out their 2017 class and wait for word on how Grier looks as the new starter. They too could go up a bit.
Everyone else I think will take a pounding going against the top six with Baylor doing the best job of landing some counterpunches thanks to a few standout talents that Briles left behind. Iowa State could vault them if they find some trench warriors this spring, Texas Tech could climb the list if they start playing defense, neither of those are outcomes I anticipate.