Yesterday some vegas odds on total wins for the Big 12 came out and had Twitter and the message boards alight with people mocking Vegas for their silly numbers.
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) May 7, 2018
My original reaction was dismay and scorn for a lot of these numbers but on reflection many of them are pretty interesting. Let’s survey some of these.
Kansas: 3 wins
The Jayhawks lost their starting center Mesa Ribordy this offseason to concussions and the estimable Kevin Flaherty tells me that this is a grievous loss as he was the leader of the OL. The article I’ve just linked in bold also includes notes like David Beatty saying that an offseason goal for Kansas is to become the toughest team in the league.
Look y’all…this team is going down in flames again and Beatty will be a recruiting ace/position coach next year while Kansas starts over with a new regime. They play Nicholls State, Central Michigan, and Rutgers as their non-conference and I think 1-2 is in play there. Then they’d have to find two wins from the B12 schedule to go over. I don’t see it.
Baylor: 5 wins
The Bears get ACU, UTSA, and Duke in their non-conference. The Roadrunners barely took them down a year ago with a first round pass-rusher on their team so you figure the Bears probably figure that game out. ACU should be a gimme and Duke is at home.
Even if they only go 2-1 in that stretch once you count Kansas it gets pretty feasible for Baylor to find their way to five wins. Between their inevitable growth on defense in year two and the return of the Charlie Brewer-to-Denzel Mims combo I think this team probably makes a leap from “hopeless” to “bowl eligible.”
Texas Tech: 5.5 wins
I really don’t know what to make of this team. The defense returns a lot of nice pieces and could be improved yet again but one can look really silly betting on good defensive play from a Tech team. Meanwhile the offense looks a little more questionable without a sure answer at QB, a new cast of skill players, and Kingsbury apparently tinkering with bolstering the run game. But then, you can look pretty silly betting against good offensive play from a Tech team.
This is the team that could sneak up on me (there’s one every year) and have things break in their favor so that they’re a lot better than I projected. Or they could suck and Kingsbury could be fired. I dunno, I’d rather bet on other teams which means Tech goes under.
Iowa State: 6 wins
This is the easiest money of the whole list. The non-conference schedule includes Akron (tough but not tough enough), South Dakota State just lost Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert, and Iowa is always tough but they’ve been playing them close. You probably want to assume 2-1 coming into conference play and then you need five wins to beat the over.
I think this team could contend for the league title so finishing 5-4 in conference play seems like a good bet.
Texas: 7 wins
I think Texas wins the Big 12 so yeah, over 7 seems a pretty easy bet.
Texas was better last year than a lot of people realized but they didn’t have any depth on offense and couldn’t handle losing their starting LT, RT, and TE early in the year. This next season they should be better overall and also have much better depth. The people doubting Texas this year are not the people who have kept up with what has brought the team down and noted the differences in the roster.
Starting a freshman QB again? Not likely, Sam Ehlinger will be the man as a sophomore and junior Shane Buechele can step in as needed. Depleted and filled with holes across the OL? Not so much with Calvin Anderson transferring in and Elijah Rodriguez back from injury to serve as a swing man. Lack of identity on offense? Not the issue this time, they’ll overpower teams in the middle of the field with the run game and throwing to ultra-versatile WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Inexperienced interior on D that can’t stay in position? They have a seniors across the DL, a senior star LB (Gary Johnson) and either a junior or senior next to him, and then upperclassmen at the safety positions with lots of experience.
West Virginia: 7 wins
I thought this was probably an easy over until I looked at the schedule. They play at Tennessee, host Youngstown State, and play NC State. They could go 3-0 in that stretch and I’m sure that’s what their fans expect but there are no gimmes in that slate.
Then you factor in their shaky history in the Big 12 and you start to get kinda nervous. I’d probably say over since this could be a 10-win team if the defense fits together but I’d be less confident here than on some others.
Kansas State: 7 wins
There are a few relatively big unknowns with Kansas State that give me pause. One is the direction of the offense. To me it’s a no brainer that you run the same playbook, start Delton, and think make your big changes on defense to try and improve the pass-rush.
Instead it seems that they might actually start Skylar Thompson, are experimenting with using more tempo and pass game, and intend to keep things relatively unchanged on defense and hope that their young collection of DEs can produce a 10-sack kinda player.
Usually the story on K-State is that they’ll be decent or better on D and if they also have an established, quality QB that stays healthy then they’ll win nine games or more. The former is plausible and the latter seems really plausible so you probably want to go over here.
TCU: 8 wins
I like the under here. TCU plays Ohio State in the preseason, which is almost as much of a guaranteed loss for a young offense and retooling defense as Kansas is a win. Then you have the lack of certainty at QB, the unproven nature of the OL, and what should be a strong D but will have to sort through losing four of their six best players on that side of the ball.
TCU fans have been eager to point out how much young talent is on this team and how the promise and ceiling of this roster could be higher than we’ve seen from past Frog teams while berating me for low expectations for their 2018 campaign. I get all that and see similar promise, but something has to give somewhere and you don’t want to make the big bet on the young team that hasn’t been in any wars yet.
Oklahoma State: 8.5 wins
Oklahoma State has two gimmes in the non-conference but then also a date with Boise State, who I expect will be a superior squad this season. I expect they’ll be 2-1 going into conference play and then trying to stand out from a dense middle of the pack without Mason Rudolph, James Washington, or a particularly formidable defense.
I don’t see it.
Oklahoma: 10.5 wins
So, presumably a conference title game and bowl game factor in here? It’s pretty easy to see OU underachieving relative to the Baker Mayfield era but still making the conference title game and the bowl game. But assuming something like a 9-3 season they’d then have to win the B12 title game AND the bowl game to beat this over.
They could easily go 3-0 before conference play because UCLA sounds like they’ll be bad, Army is usually bad, and then FAU could surprise OU but will probably be overmatched. Then they’d have to drop three games in conference play to realistically go under. I can see it but I imagine most won’t want to bet on that.
At Iowa State, Texas in the Cotton Bowl, and at West Virginia are the most obvious contenders for defeats. The schedule is pretty forgiving overall. If the postseason counts then 10.5 is a good number, I think I’d go under with the assumption that enough things are going to go wrong for Oklahoma that they can’t quite meet expectations but it’ll probably be close.
I think the teams that are set up to run the ball and play defense are going to stand out in a league where most teams are lacking established QBs. Iowa State and Texas are going to be hard for anyone to blow away and some teams will be overmatched when they can’t stop those offenses but struggle to put up their typical 30+ point games. This could be true of Kansas State and TCU as well but I’m more confident in the Cyclones and Longhorns at this point because of K-State’s holes on D and TCU’s inexperience on O.
The Oklahoma schools have depended on overpowering everyone for the last three years with deadly offenses so in the Vegas algorithms they have this established track record of being really formidable in that fashion. But the last three years have featured Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph, who are now gone. I’m sure they’ll still be solid or good but I like the upstart, physical programs to fill the vacuum.