Big 12 power rankings?

Boise State should help us sort out what the actual B12 pecking order will be in 2018.

One of the big questions I keep getting heading into the season is my official, 1-10 rankings of the Big 12 for the 2018 season. I’ve made my pick to win it already, the Texas Longhorns, but people are keen to see how I think the rest of the league will shake out in terms of final standings.

I’ve typically been resistant to investing a ton of time and energy sorting that out for the simple reason that teams 3-7 in the Big 12 are generally extremely close. The normal way things have gone is that there are 2-3 teams in a given year that are actually a cut above the rest of the league and then 3-5 other teams that are all just a cut above the top, perhaps only because they were less lucky with injuries.

Every team tends to have a few good skill players that no one else can really handle and then it’s a matter of how strong their depth is and whether the inevitable injures that occur hit them at a point where they have depth or not.

I like the Texas Longhorns to win the league this year because they have some DBs that could actually allow them to erase big time skill players along with two pass-rushing DEs that are going to be a real handful for opponents. Generally when a team has TWO good pass-rushers on the same DL, they win this passing-oriented league.

Just look at the champions since the round robin era:

2011: Oklahoma State. DEs, Jamie Blatnick (eight sacks) and Richetti Jones (four sacks).

2012: K-State. DEs, Meshak Williams (10.5 sacks) and Adam Davis (seven sacks)

2013: Baylor. DEs, Chris McAllister (five sacks) and Jamal Palmer (five sacks).

2014: Baylor. DEs, Shawn Oakman (11 sacks) and K.J. Smith (five sacks).

2015: Oklahoma. DE/OLB, Charles Tapper (seven sacks) and Eric Striker (seven sacks).

2016: Oklahoma. DE/OLB, Obo Okoronkwo (nine sacks) and a committee.

2017: Oklahoma. DE/OLB, Obo Okoronkwo (eight sacks) and D.J. Ward (four sacks).

Oklahoma won in 2016 and 2017 with just one legit pass-rusher and then a pair of historically great offenses led by Baker Mayfield. In 2015 the OL was still coming along but they had Striker and Tapper to bring some pressure on what was actually a solid defense. In 2017 they also won the Big 12 over TCU, who had the Mat Boesen/Ben Banogu combo at DE.

2013 Baylor was sort of an exception, McAllister and Palmer were both good but not great DEs, but even that proved a dangerous combo. Also, Eddie Lackey added another 4.5 sacks and the LB trio of him, Sam Holl, and Bryce Hager was one of the better LB units of the decade. The 2014 Bears had a similar deal going with Taylor Young capably replacing Eddie Lackey and adding four sacks as a blitzer. Ditto 2011 OSU, who had one great pass-rusher in Blatnick and then a solid second fiddle in Richetti Jones but also a particularly strong back seven.

The point is, if you can simultaneously bring good, consistent pressure simultaneously from two guys at two different areas of the protection scheme, you can do real damage to Big 12 offenses. Texas should be able to bring good pressure from two or even three spots this coming year while playing tight coverage with a pair of senior CBs with NFL futures. That’s a good formula for winning.

So there’s some of my reasoning for a Texas title, but the obvious follow-up beyond, “but Texas’ offense sucked last year” is “okay, so then where are you ranking OU, K-State, TCU, etc?”

I’m going to take this on differently this year. Instead of giving you a 1-10 power ranking, I’m going to build a list that we update all year of “teams that are good enough to win the Big 12.” That list is going to start on the high end and winnow down as we see how injuries shake out, which rising players are legit, and how team identities come together against good competition.

Here’s how that list is going to start and shake out.

Missing the cut right off the bat…

Kansas is not going to win the Big 12 this season. Their offense is probably going to be horrendous because of OL/QB play, like every other year, and while their D has some nice components that has rarely amounted to much in the way of real results for their team efforts.

Baylor ain’t gonna win it either. I know they have a lot of intriguing weapons on offense now with Mims back, Jalen Hurd joining the party, and Charlie Brewer back at the helm. They also have a pretty iffy OL though and a defense that lacks the kind of DL or DB play that you need to hold up in the Big 12. Baylor may have an intriguing season and have more games like the WVU or OU games last year when they offered a scare, but I just can’t see them competing for the title.

Texas Tech is in this group as well. I just can’t see this team really coming up out of nowhere with this roster to win the league. For all the  solid defenders on this team that the media put on the All-B12 lists they ranked 88th in defensive S&P+. Their offensive identity is also suspect due to the question marks at QB and how they’re going to use the inside positions to dictate matchups and stress points to the defense. The best case scenario I can see is that Kingsbury works more magic on offense and the defense continues to improve, but that’s the description of a team that wins something like eight games or MAYBE nine and not one that plays in Arlington on December 1st.

Still in the running…

Obviously I have Texas in the running and will continue to do so up until they prove that their offense is still hopeless or that they have some big flaw on defense (like struggling to stop the run without Poona Ford, Malik Jefferson, and DeShon Elliott). The big moment for this team will be that early stretch facing TCU at home and then K-State in Manhattan before they play Oklahoma. We should know before the RRS if this Texas team has B12-winning knockout power and stamina or not.

I still have Oklahoma as a league contender despite my serious doubts about their ability to carry on their winning ways of the past three seasons. Orlando Brown, Erik Wren, Dmitri Flowers, Mark Andrews, Baker Mayfield, and Bob Stoops were all major sources of cultural and schematic infrastructure for three-peat title run by the Sooners. One of two likely scenarios I foresaw for the post-Bob Sooners was that their struggling D would actually completely unravel without Bob’s quality control at the top. That proved to be the right one but now Mike is still back which begs the question of what will happen as more players are put into key positions that haven’t had ANY coaching from Big Game Bob?

The Sooners open with FAU and while that game won’t make or break their B12 title hopes, I think a defeat out of the gate would certainly say a lot and beg more questions like:

-Does Kyler Murray have the charisma, credibility, and conviction to lead this team past early struggles like Baker consistently did? After all, Kyler never even lost in HS and left A&M after they didn’t make him the starter out of the gate. His track record against adversity isn’t very long before you factor in the $5 million reasons for him to start focusing on baseball.

-Why should we believe that a team that can’t stop the spread run game will win the B12 in a year in which K-State, Texas, Oklahoma St, Iowa State, and TCU all loom as potentially dangerous spread to run teams?

West Virginia plays K-State early in the year, the week before Texas does, and that game could say everything about this team. Their offense is going to be good, that seems certain, but I’m also very confident that it won’t be near as good as the offense that OU just leaned on to win the 2017 league title. The Mountaineer D needs to be good, something like top 40 or better, in order for them to finally break through the ceiling. Kansas State figures to be good on offense and if they just roll over the Mountaineer defense that won’t be a good indicator.

Speaking of K-State, I could draw up a ton of packages and looks from their massive playbook that could suit either Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton so I can only imagine what Bill Snyder and his staff could do with whichever of those proves the superior option. They draw Mississippi State in week two and while that won’t be the final word it should be very revealing if they are or are not competitive in that contest. Then they get the early stretch against West Virginia and Texas so we’ll be crossing some of these teams off the list quick.

The Horned Frogs play Ohio State, Texas, and Iowa State over three weeks after warming up with Southern and SMU. I think the Buckeyes will tell us most of what we need to know as both Texas and Iowa State will bring some comparable physicality and approaches against Patterson’s young unit shortly afterwards. I’ll mostly be looking for Shawn Robinson’s grasp of the offense.

Iowa State plays Iowa in their non-conference every year but this year also comes after taking on the frisky South Dakota State Jackrabbits (who do have to replace Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke finally) and then they get Oklahoma before they even finish their non-conference run against Akron. What we need to see from this team is whether they have the OL to finally move some people out of David Montgomery’s way, Iowa will give us an indicator on that dimension.

If Campbell’s Cyclones, who may be playing for a chance to send their coach to Columbus the following year, blow Iowa’s defensive front out of the way then they’ll probably do unspeakable things to Oklahoma. The Hawkeyes are replacing a ton at LB but they train and turn over guys up front much better than OU at this point.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys didn’t seem to get the memo that B12 teams are expected to schedule P5 non-conference opponents, or else everyone gave them a pass because they invite Boise State to town in week three. Honestly, I’m expecting Boise State to beat the tar out of the ‘Pokes so anything short of that and I’m looking at Gundy’s crew in a different light for the 2018 season.

So for now we have seven teams that I think could feasibly round into Big 12 title teams depending on a variety of variables. We also have some big time early games not only in the non-conference schedules but in weeks one and two of Big 12 play that could narrow things down in a real hurry. Stay tuned as we whittle this down.

20 Comments

  1. System Poster

    The case for Texas Tech making a big defensive jump is that, while sure, they were only 88th in S&P last year, everybody but Jah’Shawn Johnson and Mych Thomas (and sort of Dakota Allen) were either underclassmen or first year juco transfers. If those young guys with the benefit of a ton of experience, particularly in the secondary, make a leap forward, then perhaps the defense can make a jump into the top 50.

    The big problem on offense that nobody seems to be talking about is the complete lack of inside receivers, the second most important group in Kingsbury’s offense. Not just a lack of experience, as those guys have tended to be somewhat plug-n-play over the years, but the complete lack of any recruited players at the position. Ian Sadler retired, Coutee left early, Giles transferred, JoJo Robinson was kicked off the team, Xavier Martin has been seriously injured and on top of that, Kingsbury just sort of skipped recruiting inside receivers for two recruiting classes in 2016 and 2017. So he’s stuck with relying on former walk-ons, Seth Collins who showed up in the fall from Oregon State, or true freshmen. That could be what truly take Tech out of being even remotely competitive for the big 12 title.

    • ianaboyd

      I had thought that with Bowman and some other guys that there were still okay numbers there. Kingsbury took obscene numbers at WR his first few years before circling back to D. His overall program management seems to have grown considerably over the years but he’s paying for past mistakes.

      Anyways, I’m not buying that huge of a leap from this before I see it. There’s not a ton of reason to believe the pass D is going to skyrocket in performance.

      • System Poster

        The post-spring depth chart was Bowman, backed up by a walk one. The other side was a walk on, backed up by a 6-5 225 pound hybrid tight end type who hasn’t really seen much action.

        As far as a jump in performance in passing defense, I think not being first year starters will give at least somewhat of a benefit, but for a bigger leap, they’re going to need to change up the schematic emphasis on stopping the run and the question is can they do that without becoming a sieve against the run. And it doesn’t look like that sort of change is in the cards, which probably caps out any potential defensive improvement at around ~60 to 70ish, best case scenario.

        • ianaboyd

          Yeah that’s what I’m thinking. That’d be good enough to boost one of those Mahomes teams in a major way but not this one.

    • Clayton Davis

      “The case for Texas Tech making a big defensive jump is that, while sure, they were only 88th in S&P last year, everybody but Jah’Shawn Johnson and Mych Thomas (and sort of Dakota Allen) were either underclassmen or first year juco transfers. If those young guys with the benefit of a ton of experience, particularly in the secondary, make a leap forward, then perhaps the defense can make a jump into the top 50.”

      This is pretty similar to my case for OU making a jump on defense. There’s just a lot more depth in their defense and talent in that depth than there was last season, despite the loss of a few key pieces. It’s not all that different than Ian’s faith that this is the year that Texas will somehow find the production they need on offense. I can totally understand needing to see it before you believe it, though.

      • ianaboyd

        I don’t see it that way at all. OU is in good shape at corner with better depth there but their interior is iffy looking from the DL back to the safeties.

        The belief with Texas is that playing an OL with starting XP at every position in this system while getting a year older at QB, RB, TE, and WR where they were young a year ago in the same system for the first time since 2012 will yield big dividends.

        The hope for OU has to be that a DL losing DJ Ward, Du’Vonta Lampkin, and Obo Okoronkwo is better while an uber young and unproved interior five at LB and S figure out what they’re doing quickly under the leadership of Mike Stoops. It’s a wildly different scenario.

        • Clayton Davis

          Do you really think Ward and Lampkin were that pivotal? If Gallimore can stay healthy, it would more than make up for the loss of Lampkin, who only had 2 starts last year. Otherwise most everyone has been around for a couple of years with some game experience and starts under their belt.

          The big question is seeing who is going to cause havoc for the Sooners with Obo gone.

          • ianaboyd

            Ward was pretty good, nothing great. Mann has been decent but then they also tried to upgrade over him with the ND transfer (Hayes) that bailed on them to go to Georgia. Losing Ward hurts mostly because they’re also losing most everyone else. Bledsoe and Gallimore are a solid pairing, I’m not sure if either is ultra-disruptive but at least they can be hard to move.

            The cost of losing Lampkin was more of an opportunity cost for 2018, that dude was really freaking hard to block last year when he was on. He was just unreliable. They needed him to get right and come back strong but instead he flushed out.

            This is the thing that everyone is ignoring when promoting this “OU is going to have better talent on D now!” narrative that Riley is driving. Lampkin was a real DT talent, Obo was the best edge rusher in the league for two years, Steven Parker could play man on slots, Emmanuel Beal ran a freaking 4.4 40 at the combine. Oklahoma already had talent, that wasn’t the issue.

  2. Cameron

    I’ll put my computer projections for conference wins here with a few comments, just to add another perspective:
    1) OU – 7.0
    2) UT – 5.7
    3) OSU – 5.6
    4) TCU – 5.1
    5) WVU – 4.3
    6) ISU – 4.2
    7) TTU – 4.0
    8) BU – 4.0
    9) KSU – 3.7
    10) KU – 1.5

    Essentially, the model sees OU having a bad defense, but not so bad it drags down their likely terrific offense from the top spot. Texas returns a bunch of pieces and is within relative striking distance, but still projected to be a step behind. Okie Lite and TCU aren’t going to be bad of course, but both lost a lot and project to regress a bit from 2017 but are still a step above the others. Then there’s a big middle class where if anyone of them can catch a few breaks, they could have decent odds of making the title game. Kansas is expected to be better than in 2017, but that isn’t saying much.

    At the end of the day, the computer pegs about 90% odds the title winner comes from any one of the top 4. And I really don’t disagree with that assessment.

    • ianaboyd

      Something about your model discounts Kansas State and Iowa State and I bet I can guess what it is with only one try.

      • Cameron

        Give it your best shot.

        But the main point isn’t that the projections have both KSU and ISU regressing (quite the opposite), but that teams like Baylor and Tech being much better than last year. So its more of a “expect a lot of these teams to trade wins” -type projection.

        • ianaboyd

          Recruiting rankings?

          K-State and Iowa State don’t recruit better than the rest of the league, K-State probably recruits amongst the worst in the league. XP is a factor for Iowa State but less so for the Wildcats.

          I can see the teams in the middle of the league trading blows a lot, that leaves the question of which teams are best equipped to stand out and why? I think K-State’s XP at QB, Iowa State’s XP at QB and defensive prowess, and then Texas’ D and overall physicality are all reasons those programs have a leg up on most of the others this season.

          • Cameron

            Recruiting rankings are about 25% of the model, and so that does hurt KSU a bit. Though recruiting rankings don’t really hurt Iowa State, at least as compared to the rest of the middle class.

            And while I have no problem with the idea of KSU and ISU overachieving their projections via close games, I am a little more skeptical of either having a significant chance of winning the conference title. It could happen, but I think it is pretty unlikely.

          • ianaboyd

            It’s happened in recent history though, back in 2012. 25% is a lot and I find that the rankings routinely underrate exactly the sort of players that K-State and ISU rely on. Namely, multi-sport midwesterners with major growth potential.

            I don’t know if either wins the league this year, that’s tough, but your model seems to have them way down and I don’t think that will hold up.

  3. Clayton Davis

    Bledsoe is actually the more disruptive defensive lineman. He had a couple of sacks, including one against Texas, a few TFL, and a very notable forced fumble against TCU in the title game on TCU’s opening drive. Gallimore is fast but he is more of an anchor.

    • ianaboyd

      Right, I think the Bledsoe-Gallimore pairing is probably the strongest part of the OU D save for maybe the CB tandem depending on how those guys look in year two together and what all that half-crazed defensive staff gets up to.

      Lampkin was the most physically talented of that group but he was also an undisciplined buffoon.

  4. Ryan

    Ian,

    I understand where your loyalties lie but my impression is that you are not a Lincoln Riley believer at this point. Is that the case or do you believe that Stoops is too much of liability on defense for Riley?

    I have many if the same questions about the staff at Texas that lost a lot of talent.

    Both teams are recruiting at an elite level again so I anticipate dog fights in Dallas with the rest of the Big 12 on the outside looking in

  5. Will

    I agree that WVU’s offense isn’t going to be one of the greatest units in college football history like OU was last year. But what do you think reasonable upside is? I’m thinking that if the offense stays reasonably healthy, a top 5 finish in S&P+ is realistic. They finished 25th last year with Grier hurt.

    I think a top 40 defense is also on the table. WVU has reached that two out of the last three years and last year’s unit was very inexperienced, even for a WVU defense that is almost always turning a lot of guys over year-to-year. This year they will almost certainly have the best DL WVU has had since being in the Big 12 and known playmakers at LB and S. Word out of camp, which generally conveys a vibe if not explicitly what the coaching staff is thinking, suggests the defense looks pretty good.

    One thing I read today, which is similar to something you note in your other post about Herman’s coaching style, is that the DL has been talking about the value of going against WVU’s massive OL in preparation for the season. WVU is likely to have one of the best lines in the league this year and the other side of the ball seems to be benefiting from that in camp.

    Great write up as always. I cannot wait to see these teams go at it this year. The OOC schedule is challenging enough that we should have a good sense of who is legit come conference play.

    • ianaboyd

      The passing game is really good and will be good this season. Ceiling on offense will come down to how well they can create leverage outside with matchups on the interior and how well their run game works.

      What their TE offers them in terms of passing game matchups and run blocking is huge, also whether they have a back that can really burn teams for all the space they’ll probably have to yield.

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