Welcome to our college football conference previews, in which we will tell you what you need to know about various conferences, with an emphasis on watchability. First up were the Pac-12. and the SEC. Now, the Big 12

How Good Is The Big 12 Actually?

It’s okay. The mediocrity of the conference is partially masked by the fact that they have two playoff-capable teams in Baylor and TCU, one of which, thanks to their Big 12 schedules, will probably go undefeated this year. The rest of the teams range from “good” to “HAHAHAHAHA.” The league is a shell of what it once was and that’s not going to change this year.

The biggest knock on the conference is that it doesn’t have a championship game, which led to a tie between TCU and Baylor last year and ultimately kept the Horned Frogs out of the playoff. Ohio State, which nabbed the No. 4 seed and proceeded to dominate Alabama and Oregon to win it all, got the nod because it went into the Big Ten championship game and absolutely shat all over Wisconsin in a 59-0 beat down, establishing itself as the clear-cut top team in the conference.

Since Baylor had edged out a win against TCU earlier in the season, things were up in the air as to which was the conference’s top team despite TCU being ranked No. 4, and while a title game could have settled this, the Big 12’s decision to function as one conference instead of breaking up into divisions made the playoff committee’s decision an easy one. The Big 12 is going to keep shooting itself in the foot like this unless it institutes a championship game. Until that day comes, the Big 12 will always be a bit of a joke.

The Two Teams Worth Watching

The Horned Frogs are the real deal, and with quarterback Trevone Boykin back, they’re going to jostle with Baylor for the top spot in the conference once again. Including Boykin—who threw for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns and ran for 707 and eight more scores last year—TCU returns 10 (!) starters on offense. It’s frightening that a team that finished 12-1 and CRUSHED Ole Miss 42-3 in a bowl game is probably going to get better this year. But the Horned Frogs aren’t the only elite team that is going see improvements from a year ago.

Advertisement

Baylor was the only team to beat TCU last year, coming back after being down by 21 in the fourth quarter to nail a last-second field goal and win 61-58. The Bears lost Bryce Petty to the NFL, but if things go as planned in Waco, Petty might be the only thing they lose this year. Baylor has the potential to come back and be even better, as new quarterback Seth Russell will step into the starting role with nine returning starters surrounding him. Art Briles’s offense averaged 581.5 yards and led the nation with clip of 48.2 points per game last year, and this year should see little variance considering they’re returning All-American tackle Spencer Drango, a 1,000-yard rusher in Shock Linwood, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Corey “CoCo” Coleman and K.D. Cannon.

Baylor also has defensive end/destroyer of worlds Shawn Oakman, who is more or less Galactus in football pads. The Bears have the talent to dominate the Big 12, and absolutely have a shot at the playoff this year.

Advertisement

The Mehh Teams Not Worth Watching

From this point on we’re going to be dealing with teams that are not worth your precious Saturday hours, but you should still get to know them so you can talk about them when they end up in those bowl games you watch because it’s December and you’ve got nothing else to do. First up, Oklahoma.

Really, the Sooners only have one guy that makes them remotely watchable: running back Samaje Perine. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Perine rushed for damn near a quarter-mile in one game last year.

Normally, I’d suggest taking Perine’s record with a grain of salt because it happened against sorry-ass Kansas, who allowed Duke’s Shaun Wilson to break the school record, but 427 yards is a lot of running and Perine deserves the shine. I’d have to take a breather if I tried to do that right now, and that’s without people trying to mash my body into the ground.

Advertisement

But outside of Perine, wide receiver Sterling Shepard is about all the explosiveness Oklahoma has to offer. The Sooners lost a few lineman, and though they return Trevor Knight at quarterback, he hasn’t been locked in as a starter, as Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is challenging for the open role. Although some folks will advise against counting out Knight with stupid reasoning—Boykin’s surrounding offense was much, much better—I think Mayfield is the better option here.

Oklahoma returns roughly half its starters from a team that lost 40-7 to Clemson in is bowl game. The Sooners will be a fringe top-25 team and seems to have a pretty solid lock on third place in the conference, but when you can watch Baylor or TCU, I’m not sure the Sooners are quite convincing enough to be worthy of your time.

Oklahoma state had a shit season last year by their standards, as they just barely squeaked into the postseason by beating Oklahoma in the final regular season game. But this year may have better luck in store for Mike Gundy and his squad. Back at quarterback will be Mason Rudolph, who filled in when Daxx Garman was lost to injury. Rudolph was actually pretty good in his three starts, tossing over 250 yards and a pair of scores in each game. On defense, Oklahoma State will be led by 2014 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, Emmanuel Ogbah, who racked up 11 sacks last year and should be a terror again this season.

Bill Snyder is still doing it, man. He’s 75 years old and still coaching the Wildcats, and is doing a fine job for someone who should be playing shuffleboard in Florida. But Kansas State is still out here, winning something like 7-9 games a year with no-name players—their starting quarterback this year entered the program as a walk-on athlete. It speaks volumes to what Snyder’s established, but unfortunately, they have to play in the same league as Baylor and TCU, who have great coaches and great recruits. The Wildcats don’t have anything resembling a winning quarterback, and although their secondary will be among the most established in college football, they’re probably going to be very average team this year without former quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett around.

Advertisement

West Virginia is next up in the Big 12’s “Mehh” teams. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but the Mountaineers were actually a solid program up until 2011, and could be counted on for a 10-win season every once in a while. Oh wait, that’s right. They moved from the somehow more-garbage Big East to the Big 12. Now, anything around or over seven wins is a welcome sight in Morgantown.

All that being said, the Mountaineer offense was actually pretty explosive last year, compiling 499.8 yards per game behind the likes of receiver Kevin White and quarterback Clint Trickett. But White and Trickett have moved on, and that spells bad news for Dana Holgoreson. Teams don’t get better by losing an NFL talent on the edge and returning a mediocre defense.

Texas hasn’t been good in so goddamn long, so I’m not giving them the benefit of the doubt. In theory, a program with a rich history and laundry list of wealthy donors should be able to bring in the most money, which allows them to bring in the best coaches, which hauls in more money, results in nicer facilities, and, ultimately, earns them the ears of the nation’s best recruits. It’s a massive system of payoffs, and the big programs all have this advantage. Texas, for the last five years, has squandered this privilege.

Tyrone Swoopes will be the Longhorns’ quarterback, and he was okay last year, but throwing for 2,409 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions is nothing to brag about. And with the receiving corps losing its top two options, it’s not apparent that Swoopes will get any better. Running back Johnathan Gray is the best option Texas has on offense.

Advertisement

Defense is the only area of positivity for the Longhorns, as they return a very solid secondary that can make some noise in a pass-happy conference. Things will have to be shored up on the defensive line, though, as the Longhorns lost six players to NFL this past spring, the biggest loss being standout defensive tackle Malcolm Brown. Defense will only get Texas so far, because the Big 12 isn’t a league dominated by defense; the elite teams in this conference go for 40 points on anyone, and if you can’t hang, you’re fucked.

The Unwatchables

The worst of the worst in the Big 12 is an elite category of suckage, surpassed only in sheer lack of talent and coaching ability at the bottom of the ACC Coastal’s shit barrel. But someone has to come in second, and the Big 12’s bottom-feeders are up to the challenge.

Advertisement

This Texas Tech team is not fun to watch. The Raiders went 4-8 in 2014, posting a losing season for the first time since 1992. The defense has to improve at least. The unit finished 126th out of 128 teams in points allowed per game at 41.2. Unless Texas Tech’s coaches are just mindless zombies ambling around Lubbock looking for flesh, they’ve had to have coached up the eight returning defensive starters at least a little bit. Patrick Mahomes will likely be the starting quarterback, and his backup will be Vincent Testaverde Davis Webb.

I don’t have a ton to say about Iowa State. They won two games last year, one at Iowa and one against Toledo. The Cyclones return 13 starters and will once again be awful. It’s disheartening to look up “highlights” of their best players, and watching a full game required every ounce of self control to not snap my laptop in half. It’s bleak, and things are going to stay that way.

Remember when I was talking about teams that were “HAHAHAHA”-level bad? I was alluding to Kansas. The program is among the worst in college football of the past four years. Baylor won more games last year than the Jayhawks have since 2010. Also, Charlie Weis was the coach up until they canned his ass last September.

Advertisement

The Jayhawk defense was one of the most pathetic units in college football last season, as it allowed 33.2 points and 453.2 yards per game, which is 129 more yards than the offense averaged. In non-conference play, they went to Duke where a true freshman ran up on them for 245 yards and three touchdowns. As I mentioned earlier, Perine also took a lap around the track on them.

The only thing you have to know about Kansas is that whenever Baylor or TCU plays them, they will give up least 50 points and records will be threatened. The only time you should ever watch the Jayhawks this year is when they play Oklahoma, and that’s just so you can see if Perine can break his previous mark.

A Big 12 Game Worth Watching

Nov. 27: Baylor vs. TCU

Last year’s game was an absolute barn-burner, and even though Bryce Petty has moved on to the NFL, the Bears and Horned Frogs still have potent offenses capable of video-game numbers. I would say that this game will definitely decide the Big 12, but seeing as they don’t have a championship game because nobody wants to play with them and teams end up tied at the top, I will refrain. Anyways, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t watch this game.