SEC: West / East
Big Ten: East / West
ACC: Atlantic / Coastal
Pac-12: South / North
MW: West / Mountain
Oklahoma – under 10.5 (+105) – 1*
I still think the Sooners should be the favorite to win the league, but it’s more in doubt than it has been the past couple years.
Baker Mayfield was awesome and led a couple of the greatest offenses in CFB history. I didn’t think that would be replicated last year, but Kyler Murray was able to do it, if not make it better.
This creates impossible expectations for Jalen Hurts. Hurts could average 40 PPG and it would be a letdown compared to the previous four years that Lincoln Riley has ran the offense in Norman. I like Hurts, but he’s always struck me more as a runner who could pass than a passer who could run. He had good numbers at Alabama, but the Tide also improved more than a TD per game once he was benched.
The Sooner O also loses four starters from their dominant O-line. I wouldn’t expect a massive drop-off offensively, but it would be a surprise to see them match the Mayfield/Murray years.
Defensively, I think it’s fair to expect the opposite. Lately, they’ve been just average enough to allow their offense to seal the game. You can’t merely chalk up their struggles to playing with a fast-paced offense. They weren’t efficient at all. But they bring back 17 of their top 20 tacklers and bring in DC Alex Grinch. Grinch played second fiddle to Greg Schiano at Ohio State the past couple years, but was responsible for turning around the Wazzu defense before that.
History shows that the Sooners will falter at least once. They’ve lost five games in the regular season the past four years and they’ve been favored by an average of 13 PPG in those games. On the surface, they probably will be favorites in every game, but if the defense doesn’t make strides, you could see a 9-3 or 10-2 season.
Texas – under 9 (-105) – 1*
The value is long gone on this one. Deep down I’d like to think that my never-ending under betting on the Longhorns has caused this. But this probably is more of a function of Texas returning only eight starters this year. And for the record: I like them more than usual this year.
I talk about returning starters a lot, but they are just a factor of the equation. It matters less when the replacements have experience and are more talented than the guys they are replacing, which is the case with Texas this year.
Sam Ehlinger loses his top rusher, top receiver, and three offensive linemen. To me, the only real loss is leading receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. The run game was subpar anyway, it can’t get much worse when they have as much talent as they do.
The defense only has three starters back and none of them come in the front six of their 3-3-5 defense. However, all the replacements as a group are probably more talented than their predecessors.
The schedule is tricky for Texas. The Week 2 game with LSU at home is a massive one and I’m not sure the home field advantage is enough. There’s a group from 3-to-6 in the league that may contend for a conference championship berth. The Horns have three of those matchups on the road. The OU game is on a neutral field, as always. It still feels like if Texas has a year coming, it’s next year.
Iowa State – over 8 (-105) – 1*
After back-to-back 8-5 seasons, it wouldn’t be a stunner to see the Cyclones in the Big 12 Championship this year. There are eight starters back on each side of the ball.
The two biggest losses to the roster are both offensive skill guys, RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler. Montgomery was a tackle-breaking machine the past couple years.
There’s a couple ways to view Montgomery’s departure. While he did break a ton of tackles, the ISU running game was still pretty inefficient. With all five starters back on the O-line and a stable of capable backs, it’s possible the running game could improve. On the flip side, maybe the O-line doesn’t improve much and now things get worse without someone breaking a million tackles.
Butler may be tougher to replace. After the Cyclones lost Allen Lazard, Butler stepped into the WR1 role last year and averaged four more yards per catch than any other Big 12 receiver, which is really saying something in this league, specifically.
But the #2 and #3 guys are back and they add in Arkansas’s leading receiver. The passing game should still be very good with Brock Purdy back at QB1. The offense averaged 13.4 more PPG after Purdy took over during the Oklahoma State game last year.
I think the Cyclone defense will be the best in the Big 12 this year. They held nearly everyone under their season average last year. The corners are both being replaced, but nearly every one of the DBs has experience because they had so many injuries last year. I think the front six is clearly the best in the league.
There’s a couple of notable stretches in the schedule this year for ISU. Starting on Sep. 28 they’ll travel to Baylor, back home for TCU, and then road trips to WVU and Texas Tech. That’s three road games in four weeks and they’ll probably need all of them to make the title game.
After their bye week they have to play Oklahoma and Texas back-to-back.
TCU – under 7.5 (-110) – 2*
Quarterback is arguably the most important position of any sport and the Gary Patterson era at TCU might illustrate that point better than any other out there. There’s a lot of offenses or defenses out there that you can pretty much pin down how many points they’re going to put up on a year-to-year basis, no matter who leaves or joins the roster. Boise State is a prime example.
TCU does not have one of those offenses. In 2013 they averaged 25.1 PPG. In 2014 they jumped over three touchdowns a game and averaged 46.5 and followed that up with 42.1 in 2015. The next couple years they were in the low 30s and last year they were all the way back down to 23.5 PPG.
It’s not that hard of an equation to figure out. The Horned Frog offense has peaked with Andy Dalton and Trevone Boykin as upperclassmen. It bottomed out with young Boykin and Casey Pachall when Pachall was getting suspended and Boykin was splitting time between QB and WR as an underclassmen.
They found a new bottom last year with a rotation between Shawn Robinson, Mike Collins, and Grayson Muehlstein starting. Robinson and Muehlstein are now gone. They add in Kansas State transfer Alex Delton, Ohio State transfer Matthew Baldwin, Georgia transfer Matthew Downing, redshirt freshman Justin Rogers (played in the bowl game), and true freshman Max Duggan.
Apparently the six-way battle has been narrowed down to Delton and Duggan.
Delton played some at Kansas State, but has always been a better thrower than runner. Duggan is obviously a true freshman, a very good recruit, but not an elite one. Neither of those guys give me a lot of hope that the offense is going to make a big jump this year, although they have Jalen Reagor back at WR, their top two backs, and four starters from the O-line.
The defense is usually pretty good under Patterson and much more predictable than the offense, but they do lose seven of their top eight tacklers. Included in that is two stud DEs that were early draft choices. In fact, 26 of their 36 sacks from last year are gone.
The schedule rates easier overall, but they’ll need to win some road games. They have six of them. You can pencil in the Frogs winning their first three home games, but Texas and Baylor will both give them games in Fort Worth. All six road games are with potential bowl teams and teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State may be playing for more than that.
Baylor – over 7.5 (-115) – 3*
Matt Rhule’s first two years at Baylor have a striking resemblance to his first two years at Temple, at least in terms of his record.
Year 1 at Temple: 2-10, 1-7 in AAC
Year 1 at Baylor: 1-11, 1-8 in Big 12
Year 2 at Temple: 6-6, 4-4 in AAC
Year 2 at Baylor: 7-6, 4-5 in Big 12
Year 3 at Temple: 10-4, 7-1 in AAC, played in AAC title game, ranked for 2nd half of season
Year 3 at Baylor: ?
You can lose a lot of money betting by just assuming that history is going to repeat itself when the history is a pretty limited sample size. But in this case, it’s not outlandish to think it just might.
The Bears have continuity on both sides of the ball. Charlie Brewer is back and appears to be getting better all the time. Bowl games are overrated, but Brewer had nearly 500 yards of offense against Vandy without his top WR.
The only loss in the skill group is Jalen Hurd. He was their top WR, but the passing game will be fine without him. O-line will still be a question mark this season. They’ve given up a ton of sacks the last couple years, but were much better last year in run-blocking than Rhule’s first year.
The defense showed some mild improvement last year, but I’d expect more this year with most of their best players back.
The schedule sets up about as good as one could hope. The non-con should be three easy wins. They get the top three – OU, Texas, and ISU – in Waco. Two of their road games are at the Kansas schools. It could be a great year for the Bears.
Oklahoma State – under 7.5 (-125) – 1*
How do you properly evaluate a team that went 4-1 against Top 25 teams, lost by a point at Oklahoma, but then also got killed at home by Texas Tech and at Kansas State and finished 7-6?
It appears that Mike Gundy is planning on playing two quarterbacks. This is a cause for concern at a lot of places, but Gundy usually figures it out in QB situations like this. He’s got two pretty good options.
He also has a new OC. Mike Yurcich was a good one, but he brings in Sean Gleeson from Princeton. Not the most conventional hire, but it appears to be another good one. Gleeson’s Princeton offense averaged 47.0 PPG last year on their way to going 10-0. The Tigers scored 50+ in half of their games. Not bad.
As long as the QB situation gets figured out, it should be a great offense. Chuba Hubbard averaged 6.0 yards per carry last year and the line will be more experienced this year. Tylan Wallace is one of the best WRs in the country and both of the slot guys are back.
The defense has less reason to be optimistic. They were bad last year and now they have to replace their entire defensive line and will be relying on transfers and JUCOs to make a difference.
The schedule in conference is a mix of good and bad. They play at Texas and Iowa State, but get OU, TCU, and Baylor at home. The non-con appears pretty weak, but early road trips to Oregon State and Tulsa could be tricky if the QBs aren’t ready to go.
Texas Tech – under 6.5 (-140) – 1*
Texas Tech’s regular season records since Craig James got Mike Leach fired: 7-5, 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, 4-8, 7-5, 5-7, 6-6, 5-7. That’s pretty damn consistent.
Now throw in new head coach Matt Wells, whose last five years as a HC look like this: 10-4, 6-7, 3-9, 6-7, 11-2. That’s pretty damn inconsistently consistent.
Wells is also a guy that is known much more for his steady defenses. The offenses he had at Utah State were all over the map, ending with an elite one that propelled him to this job.
It’ll be interesting to see what Wells and his DC Keith Patterson can do in Lubbock. While there were significant strides made the past couple years on defense here, it’s far from a finished project.
Health of the QB position will be the key to the offense. Alan Bowman clearly established himself as the best option, but battled a collapsing lung and was in and out of the job. There’s experience back at RB, but obviously that hasn’t been a featured position. The leading returning rusher is actually backup QB Jeff Duffey.
The top two receivers are gone, but the O-line has four starters returning.
The Red Raiders have six road games this year and two of them are Oklahoma and Texas. They start the year with two layups, but have to go to Arizona for Week 3.
Kansas State – over 5.5 (+130) – 1*
Best of luck to Chris Klieman. The last guy they picked to take over for Bill Snyder had the second-highest winning percentage in school history and they ran him out of town after three years. Of course, Klieman is a little more experienced with this role than Ron Prince. Klieman took over for Craig Bohl after Bohl won three straight national titles. Klieman responded by winning four out of his five years as the head man.
Klieman isn’t taking over the Wildcat program at its peak. They were just 5-7 last year and only averaged 22.5 PPG.
Skylar Thompson is back at QB, but he loses basically all of his backfield mates and now will be joined by a pair of transfers. Also gone is basically anyone Thompson threw to last year, with the exception of Dalton Schoen. Three starters are back on the O-line, but one of the losses is All-American Dalton Risner.
The defense has eight starters back. Getting pressure on the QB has been an issue the past couple of years. While new DC Scottie Hazelton did a good job at Wyoming, they didn’t get a lot of pressure on the QB, either. With that said, this is clearly the stronger side of the football for K-State.
West Virginia – over 5.5 (+150) – 3*
I probably like a few 2* picks a bit better than this one, but the value here supersedes some of the fears I have with this team.
The market’s predicting a bowl-less season for the Mountaineers and it’s not hard to figure why. They only have eight starters back, gone are Will Grier and his top four pass-catchers, and Dana Holgorsen is gone, too. They also play a pretty tough schedule.
Two big reasons I’m going the other way: program history and Neal Brown.
WVU has made a bowl game in 16 of the last 17 seasons. Not many programs can boast that type of consistency.
And Neal Brown is why I expect that run to keep going, if not get even better. Brown spent four years at Troy. He took over a 3-9 program and immediately turned it around. They went just 4-8 in Year 1, but that doesn’t really signify how much better they got immediately. They improved the scoring margin by 14 PPG, despite playing three Power 5 teams on the road. All four wins were blowouts and they lost three close games.
The Trojans then rattled off three seasons with double-digit wins. They went 20-4 in the Sun Belt. Their three losses outside of conference play were to Clemson (by six) and Boise State twice. They also won at Nebraska last year. They won all three bowl games.
What I’m trying to say is that Neal Brown is an awesome fucking coach and it’s an unbelievable win for WVU that they were able to get him so late in the coaching carousel.
Now there is a lot of turnover to deal with on the roster. But a good place to start is transfer QB Austin Kendall. From the sounds of it, Kendall pretty clearly won the job this offseason. And it should come as no surprise. Kendall was a stud recruit who’s been waiting his turn at Oklahoma until all the Heisman winners and #1 overall picks clear out of the room.
They do lose the top four pass-catchers, but all is not lost in the receiving department. They still have four guys coming back that caught over 15 passes and had a touchdown. The running back room is loaded and should be a great benefit to Kendall.
The defense loses their top tackler and pass rusher in LB David Long, but Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan may end up being just as good. The problem is he’s suspended for the first four games.
The secondary should be the star of the show, but don’t sleep on the D-line. DC Vic Koenning turned Troy’s front in to one of the best in the Group of 5.
The schedule is fairly difficult. James Madison shouldn’t be a problem in the opener, but still, they’re probably the second-best FCS program in the country. The Mountaineers then go at Missouri and home for NC State to round out the non-con. The road schedule in league play: OU, Baylor, TCU, K-State, and Kansas.
Kansas – under 3 (-130) – 1*
Les Miles taking over makes a depressing program infinitely more fun, but they’re probably still going to suck.
BEST BET TO WIN BIG 12
The schedule sets up really well for the Bears and if they improve as much as they did last year, they’ll be a contender.