CFT Preseason Previews: The Big 12

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Let’s start with the good news: it can’t get any worse.

Right?

After a season in which the conference produced its first ever 9-0 champion in its 6-year round-robin era, yet that champion was effectively eliminated from contention by the third week of September, the Big 12 missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in the system’s 3-year history. On top of that, Texas started strong but then crashed and burned, Baylor was an ongoing public-relations garbage fire, Texas Tech fielded a defense that would’ve struggled to stop FCS offenses, TCU was uncharacteristically down, Kansas was still the worst Power 5 team (but managed to beat Texas) and Iowa State was actively rebuilding.

Heading into 2017, though, every single team in the conference has an active reason to believe it will be as good or better than it was in 2016. Who knows if that will be enough to reach the Playoff, but it should make for a fun, competitive season.

1. Oklahoma (11-2, 8-1 Big 12): There’s reason to believe the Sooners will take a step back in 2017. The vast majority of their wildly efficient offense now collects NFL paychecks, plus the heart and soul of their defense in linebacker Jordan Evans. And, uh, that Bob Stoops guy. Still, if you’re in the prognostication business you’d much rather be made a fool by picking OU too high than too low, particularly when they return the best quarterback in the conference in Baker Mayfield.

2. TCU (11-2, 8-1 Big 12): Gary Patterson is always dangerous when coming off a losing season. His last two squads to do such a thing went a combined 23-2, won at least a share of their respective conference championships and finished in the top-10. This time around, TCU is tied for third nationally in returning starters, including quarterback Kenny Hill. The Frogs lose only to Oklahoma, once in Norman and once in the re-inaugural  Big 12 Championship.

3. Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12): Mike Gundy‘s best team since his coulda-woulda-shoulda national champions of 2011 trips and falls early against TCU, then is effectively removed from contention after falling at Texas but salvages the season by knocking Oklahoma out of Playoff contention with a Nov. 4 upset in Stillwater.

4. Kansas State (9-3, 6-3 Big 12): Kansas State is different from the rest of the Big 12. When everyone else plays in a race to 45 points, K-State is happy to sit on the ball and score 24 points, as long as you score 23. In what is very possibly Bill Snyder‘s final season, that formula will work quite well for them.

5. Texas (8-4, 6-3 Big 12): Tom Herman has the front-line talent to compete with anyone in the Big 12. Problem is, the depth isn’t there. At least not yet. The ‘Horns will drop games to USC, Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State, but close the year winning five of their final six games. Coupled with what will be the Big 12’s best recruiting class, the sky will be the limit for Texas in 2018.

6. West Virginia (6-6, 4-5 Big 12): West Virginia is notoriously the hardest team in the Big 12 to peg. Add in that Florida transfer Will Greer, an enigma himself, will start at quarterback and it gets even tougher. But the Mountaineers return only eight starters, the third-lowest in FBS, and three off of that fabulous defense. Give them a year to rebuild.

7. Iowa State (5-7, 3-6 Big 12): Coaching matters more in college football than any other sport. That will be evident with Matt Campbell‘s troops at Iowa State. The Cyclones won’t get there in 2017, but pencil this team in for a bowl in ’18.

8. Baylor (5-7, 3-6 Big 12): Baylor is in phase one of the transition from Art Briles to Matt Rhule. The Bears are battling depth issues due to the Briles-era fallout and may start true freshman Zach Smith at quarterback. Let’s check back in a year or two.

9. Kansas (4-8, 1-8 Big 12): Are you sitting down? I hope so, because there’s an outside chance Kansas starts this season 6-0. The Jayhawks face Southeastern Missouri State, Central Michigan and Ohio to open the season, then get West Virginia, Texas Tech and Iowa State to begin conference play. I believe KU will win four of those and get skunked in the second half. But, hey, progress is progress.

10. Texas Tech (2-10, 1-8 Big 12): Look at it this way: Texas Tech lost its top-10 pick quarterback with a you-can’t-teach-that ability to make things happen on the fly, but it returns the worst defense in FBS. And it’s not as if the Red Raiders imported a bunch of 5-star defenders in the meantime. The Red Raiders are simply too good offensively to go 0-fer on the season, but with a non-conference schedule that features Arizona State, Eastern Washington and a road trip to Houston, there isn’t a single layup on the schedule.

Baker Mayfield, what derailed Sooners’ 2014 season? ‘I blame Katy Perry’

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Well, that explains it.

Oklahoma began the 2014 season a perfect 4-0 and was ranked fourth in the country before heading into Fort Worth for a showdown with No. 25 TCU. ESPN‘s College GameDay was in Oxford for the huge Alabama-Ole Miss matchup, with Katy Perry serving as that weekend’s epic guest picker.

At one point during the show, the pop singer famously — or infamously if you’re an OU fan — very seductively hit on Trevor Knight, telling the Sooners’ starting quarterback to “call her.”

Knight waited four months before publicly acknowledging the offer. Coincidentally or not, OU, including the 37-33 loss to TCU, went on to finish out the 2014 season on a 4-5 skid, including a 40-6 pasting at the hands of Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Knight missed three of those nine games because of injury, throwing nine interceptions in the six games he did play in after throwing three in his first four pre-Perry flirtation.

Monday, Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ current starting quarterback who was a transfer from Texas Tech during that 2014 season, was asked what OU’s downfall that year was.

I blame Katy Perry,” the 2017 Heisman front-runner said.

Way to go Katy. Or Trevor, for not immediately following up with a call and triggering the jinx that killed OU’s season.

That said, I’m fairly certain neither the call for action or the inaction to the call for a call had anything to do with the Sooners’ collapse that season.  A defense that gave up more than 30 points in each of the losses, as well as once in one of the wins, though, is certainly a prime and more realistic suspect when it comes to laying blame for the collapse.

One final note: Katy Perry is easily Top 3 when it comes to all-time GameDay guest pickers.  And that’s not up for debate.

Nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2015 granted release from Auburn

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One of the top players in the Class of 2015 will reportedly ply his football wares elsewhere.

As reported by 247Sports.com‘s Brandon Marcello and subsequently confirmed by al.com, Byron Cowart requested a release from his Auburn scholarship at some point Monday.  Tuesday morning, the former reported, that release was granted.

There’s no word yet on what stipulations were attached to the release, or the reasons behind the original request.

Regardless of the why, there’s little doubt the defensive lineman’s on-field play failed to live up to his recruiting pedigree.

A consensus five-star signee, Cowart was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 while 247Sports.com had Florida product as the No. 3 player overall on its composite board.  In 26 career games, Cowart was credited with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  He was one of four Tigers arrested for marijuana possession in May of last year.

This past spring, Cowart was moved from end to tackle in an attempt to jumpstart his career.  In three games at his new position this season, he had three tackles and half a tackle for loss in three games.

‘Highly questionable’ Florida CB Duke Dawson plays vs. Kentucky

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Duke Dawson suffered a head injury in Florida’s wild win over Tennessee in Week 3.  On his personal Twitter account, the Gators’ most veteran cornerback indicated that he will play in Week 4 against Kentucky despite the injury.

Dawson’s head coach, though, tapped the brakes on that notion.

Jim McElwain has, at least for now, labeled the fifth-year senior as “highly questionable” for the matchup against the unbeaten Wildcats in Lexington. The door, though, is not completely closed.

We’ll see where that is as we go throughout the week,” the head coach said.

Dawson started seven of the 12 games in which he played last season. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the season-opening loss to Michigan, then had a key interception in the win over rival Florida.

Lamar Jackson leapfrogged by Baker Mayfield as Bovada’s Heisman favorite

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So much for that wagering momentum, I guess.

Entering the 2017 season as not only the reigning winner but also as seemingly an afterthought, a pair of scintillating performances to open the year pushed Lamar Jackson to the head of Bovada.lv‘s Heisman Trophy pack.  Coming off a 26-point Week 3 loss to now-No. 2 Clemson in which he totaled nearly 400 yards of offense and three touchdowns, the Louisville quarterback has seen his odds lengthen a bit from 7/4 a week ago to 11/2 in Bovada‘s latest Heisman release.

Bovada’s new betting front-runner?  Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who went from 4/1 to 7/4.  Sam Darnold, 6/1, also saw his odds shorten slightly to a Jackson-match 11/2.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, 10/1 in the previous odds release, is now at 9/1, same as the holding-steady-from-a-week-ago Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

There’s also, interestingly, one true freshman on the board: J.K. Dobbins.  The Ohio State running back went from off the board to 40/1 odds.  His starting quarterback, J.T. Barrett, saw his odds go from 25/1 to 33/1.

Below is the latest set of 2017 Heisman Trophy odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv.