CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

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The Big 12 was left on the outside looking in of the College Football Playoff party a year ago, but it looks as though the odds are good the conference is not left out this season. TCU opens the 2015 season as the second-ranked team in the major polls and the Horned Frogs are joined by Baylor as popular picks to make a playoff push in 2015. But what about Oklahoma and Texas you ask? This year should see some improvements with both blueblood programs, although progress at each will be measured differently.

It is time for me to go on the record with some Big 12 predictions. Let’s just say I have a weird gut feeling about some of these.

1. TCU (Last year: 12-1, beat Ole Miss in Peach Bowl)
TCU returns a loaded offense with 10 starters coming back in 2015 from last season’s surging offense. That includes quarterback Trevone Boykin, who may be my top contender in the Heisman Trophy race this season thanks to his experience and supporting cast. TCU needs to replace just one offensive lineman, which puts TCU ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the conference. The schedule does have its challenges ahead of the Horned Frogs, including a season opener on the road against a solid Minnesota squad and road trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. But I think TCU can manage to get away with wins in all three. In fact, I see TCU winning every game on the schedule this season, which would be a remarkable feat for this program on the rise. Most importantly, if TCU does live up to this prediction, there is not a shot they miss out on the playoff at the end of the season. None. There are some questions on the defensive side of the football, but I trust Gary Patterson will be able to address those concerns enough to get by while the offense is cooking.

2. Oklahoma (Last year: 8-5, lost to Clemson in Russell Athletic Bowl)
I feel rather optimistic about the Sooners this season, although I wonder why I feel this optimistic. Heck, I’ve even calling for Oklahoma to win a road game at Baylor. Call it gut instinct if you will. Oklahoma lost every game against a ranked opponent last season and holes were exposed by Baylor and Clemson. But Oklahoma hung in there with Kansas State and TCU and the Sooners have the best running back in the conference with Samaje Perine. I’m looking for a big year from Perine, if the rebuilt offensive line can help him out. I think Oklahoma gets off to an OK start, with the game at Tennessee a toss-up (I have it marked as a loss right now). I think Bob Stoops comes through with some solid performances to surprise some along the way to a second place finish in the Big 12.

3. Kansas State (Last year: 9-4, lost to UCLA in Alamo Bowl)
Here is what I have come to learn about Kansas State over the years. Bill Snyder is a good coach and finds a way to put together a solid team more often than not. You can look at Kansas State on paper and suggest there is no reason to be too excited about the Wildcats in 2015, and that is fine. Snyder will find a way to make it all come together, and he will have three fairly easy games and a bye week at the start of the season to get it all worked out before jumping into Big 12 play. That could get off to a rough start as well, but the bye week before hosting Baylor could be huge. I think Kansas State finishes strong in Big 12 play after the bye week.

4. Baylor (Last year: 11-2, lost to Michigan State in Cotton Bowl)
This one is sure to raise some eyebrows, and I fully understand. Baylor is seen by many as a Big 12 favorite and legitimate playoff contender. Eight starters are back on offense, and nine more on defense. If not for a slip up at West Virginia last season, Baylor would have been in the playoff with an undefeated record. Just like last season, the margin for error is extremely thin for the Bears. This may be a solid test for Art Briles, as he looks to work his quarterback magic once more with Seth Russell taking over a talented offense. With an experienced offensive line protecting him and Corey Coleman and KD Cannon as targets and running back Shock Linwood in the backfield, things should look pretty good for Baylor, right? I’m going with the gut instinct again here to explain why I have Baylor down so low in the Big 12 standings. I think Baylor gets off to a great start, but hits a road block after the second bye week. I’m putting Baylor down for back-to-back losses against Kansas State and Oklahoma and one more two weeks later against TCU. But they may be the best three-loss team in the nation.

5. Texas (Last year: 6-7, lost to Arkansas in Texas Bowl)
When Charlie Strong was hired as the head coach of Texas I said it might take a few years for him to have the Longhorns ready to compete for a Big 12 title. Entering year two, I think we start to see some signs of progress. With a couple of coaching changes on the staff, the hope is the offense begins to show some more consistency and efficiency. The Longhorns have to decide whether to go with Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard at quarterback and replace both starting tackles on the line, but things should start looking a little more stable on offense. After experiencing a setback in the season opener in South Bend against Notre Dame, the Longhorns rebound before hitting TCU and Oklahoma before the bye week. We will see this season there is still work to be done for Texas to compete against the best fo the conference, but it should start proving to us things are getting better.

6. Oklahoma State (Last year: 7-6, beat Washington in Cactus Bowl)
Another relatively low expectation for the Cowboys compared to many of the preseason previews out there. The big hang up for Oklahoma State for me will be the schedule. The road game at Texas I think ultimately goes down as a loss as the Longhorns look to make a bit of a statement. A road trip to West Virginia could go down as a loss as well, and TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma could all be home losses as well. Oklahoma State is probably more likely to go 1-2 in those big three games in the last half of the season, but I have them as losses right now.

7. West Virginia (Last year: 7-6, lost to Texas A&M in Liberty Bowl)
West Virginia should once again be somewhere in the middle of the Big 12, and will be one of those teams capable of pulling an upset. West Virginia will not be a pushover and should have some back-and-forth games, but the Mountaineers are not quite equipped to make a run at the Big 12 title. They are dangerous though as long as Dana Holgorsen is commanding the offense and a defense returning nine starters (including safety Karl Joseph). West Virginia’s biggest weakness is in the trenches. There won’t be enough of a push from the defense and the offensive line may not be the most dependable. The start of Big 12 play could be rough (at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State, at Baylor, at TCU after bye).

8. Texas Tech (Last year: 4-8)
The best thing about Texas Tech is Kliff Kingsbury and his swagger. But good looks do not translate to wins on the football field, and Texas Tech is the textbook example of that right now. I have little faith in Texas Tech’s ability to be consistent enough on offense and I have even less confidence in Texas Tech’s defense to stop anything. Sure, shootouts may be fun to watch at times, but the Red Raiders need a lot of things to start turning around if we are ever going to see this program recapture the magic the Mike Leach era offered at times.

9. Iowa State (Last year: 2-10)
You may not find a harder working two-win team in the country than Iowa State. Yes, it could be another long season for the Cyclones, and that could place head coach Paul Rhoads in some unfortunate territory at the end of the season, but there should be some bright spots for Iowa State along the way. Wide receiver Allen Lazard will be tough to slow down and could have a big season. And hey, they’re not Kansas.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
I have Kansas down for one win this season and even that might be a stretch. New head coach David Beaty has his work cut out for him, but at least he is bringing some passion to the rebuilding project in Lawrence. He will need it with just three starters returning on each side of the football field, and his quarterback was injured in spring practice. If Kansas does not beat South Dakota State in week one (not a given by any means), then the Jayhawks will be staring down an 0-12 record this season.

Western Michigan announces firing of DC Tim Daoust

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Tuesday night, Western Michigan was officially removed from MAC West contention.  Less than 24 hours later, WMU removed one of its top assistants.

Wednesday night, the Broncos announced that they have “parted ways” with defensive coordinator Tim Daoust.  The move comes after WMU gave up 42 points in a loss to a three-win Ball State team that came into the game 99th in the country in scoring (24.5 points per game).

All told, the Broncos gave up 51, 59 and 42 points in three straight losses that knocked them out of the West race and handed the division title to Northern Illinois.

“I appreciate Tim and his family’s dedication to the Bronco football family these past two seasons,” head coach Tim Lester said in a statement. “At this time I felt we needed to go in a different direction.”

This was Daoust’s second stint in Kalamazoo as he was an assistant with the Broncos from 2006-09.  Prior to this two-year stint at WMU, Daoust was the coordinator at Ball State.

Daoust will be replaced for the remainder of the year by defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Lou Esposito.  WMU, which is bowl-eligible for a school-record fifth-straight year, will close out the 2018 regular season against West champion NIU next Tuesday.

SEC lands three of five Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalists

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A conference known for its defense is front and center for an award that honors that side of the ball.

Of the five finalists for the 2018 Bronko Nagurski Trophy announced Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America, three of them hail from the SEC — Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen, LSU safety Grant Delpit and Alabama nose guard Quinnen Williams.  The other two –Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins — come from teams which are ranked in the top four of the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.

North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb was the 2017 winner of the Nagurski.  Houston’s Ed Oliver was a finalist for that award and was eligible again this year, but a knee injury has sidelined him for the last three games and will likely keep him out for a fourth — if not longer.

The 2018 winner will be honored at a Dec. 3 ceremony in Charlotte.

After 53 straight losses, D3 program decides to take 2019 off

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There will be no football played at Division 3 Earlham College in Indiana next season. The school is taking next season off with the intent on returning to the field in 2020, hopefully, with a game plan for improving the football program.

The news of Earlham shutting the program down for a year comes following a 53rd straight loss, an NCAA Division 3 record. Head coach Nick Johnson has already been informed he will no longer be a part of the program but will take on a new role within the university. The last time Earlham celebrated a win was Oct. 26, 2013, according to a Richmond Palladium-Item report.

“As President of Earlham College, I am well aware of the many ways in which a successful athletics program can enhance and strengthen the overall well-being of a college,” interim Earlham College president Avis Stewart said in a released statement. “However, it can reasonably be argued that our inability to field competitive teams has significantly hampered our ability to recruit a sufficient number of student-athletes who seek a positive, quality intercollegiate athletics football experience. Therefore, I have decided that our community needs to take a fresh approach to building and sustaining a competitive football program.”

A year off for any college football program is a difficult decision to make, and at the lower levels of football, it comes with more doubt about the potential return of a program. Fortunately, perhaps, this plan is already mapped out as opposed to when UAB decided to shut its program down for good, only to reverse course and bring the football program back after a brief hiatus.

Earlham College will plan on bringing the football program back in 2020 as long as it is determined doing so will not pose a risk to the school’s academic integrity, the school feels secure in the ability to fund the program, and it can find a suitable head coach to lead the program.

Well, Bobby Petrino is available.

Week 12 division clinching scenarios in college football

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Two teams from the state of Illinois will play for their respective conference championships in a couple of weeks. Northwestern wrapped up the Big Ten West Division last week with a win at Iowa and a bit of help from around the conference. Last night, Northern Illinois clinched the West Division in the MAC without having to play a down, as a loss by Western Michigan guaranteed the Huskies a trip to the MAC Championship.

Tonight, Buffalo can clinch the other spot in the MAC Championship Game with a win at Ohio. A win by the Bulls would capture the MAC East Divison and should help make a case for including Buffalo on your radar for the Group of Five New Years Six, even if that requires Buffalo to get some help from the AAC and Mountain West Conference.

With two weeks of the college football regular season to play, a few more divisions could potentially be clinched this week. Some are more complicated than others, but here is a rundown of what it will take for teams in clinching scenarios to clinch their respective divisions this week in college football.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

East Division

  • UCF clinches with win vs. Cincinnati

If Temple beats South Florida on Saturday afternoon, things could get pretty interesting in the division as a Cincinnati win over the Knights would open up a three-team tie for first place with one week to play, thus giving UCF, Cincinnati and Temple something to play for in the final week of the regular season.

Nobody can clinch the West Division this weekend with SMU, Houston and Tulane tangled in a three-team tie and Memphis just one game out of first place.

ACC

Coastal Division

  • Pittsburgh clinches with win at Wake Forest or Virginia loses at Georgia Tech

The Pitt Panthers are in a good spot to wrap up their first division championship since joining the ACC. With head-to-head tiebreakers already stacked up against Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, Pat Narduzzi’s program can clinch the division outright with a win or a Virginia loss this weekend. And having that all locked up before having to travel to Miami, where the Hurricanes could be looking for revenge after last year’s game, would be nice.

Clemson clinched the Atlantic Division last week.

BIG 12

The Big 12 may not have divisions, but a spot in the Big 12 championship game could be clinched this week by Oklahoma or West Virginia. The Sooners would guarantee themselves one of the two spots in the Big 12 championship game with a victory over Kansas and an Iowa State victory over Texas. In that scenario, Oklahoma would finish conference play with no more than two losses and they own a head-to-head tiebreaker with Iowa State (Texas owns the H2H tiebreaker with Oklahoma).

West Virginia could also reserve their spot with a win over Oklahoma State and a Texas victory over Iowa State, thus eliminating the possibility of a head-to-head tie with the Cyclones. West Virginia would win a tiebreaker with Texas.

BIG TEN

East

  • Michigan clinches with win vs. Indiana AND Ohio State loss at Maryland

It is highly likely the East Division will be decided by the result of next week’s regular-season finale between Ohio State and Michigan in Columbus, but the Wolverines could potentially take care of the division this week. Beating Indiana at home should not be too much of a problem, although the chances Maryland stuns Ohio State to send the Buckeyes home with a loss are not very inspiring for the Maize and Blue.

Northwestern clinched the Big Ten West last week.

CONFERENCE USA

East

  • Middle Tennessee clinches with FIU loss at Charlotte

The Blue Raiders are stepping out of conference this week to play at Kentucky. While they do that, they will pay attention to what Florida International does on the road at Charlotte. A loss by the Panthers against the 49ers would ensure Middle Tennessee State can do no worse than finish the regular season with two conference losses and a tie for the top spot in the division with FIU or Marshall. Middle Tennessee would then have to wait a week to sort out the division race. If FIU wins this week, Middle Tennessee would clinch the division next week with a win at home against UAB or an FIU loss to Marshall.

UAB clinched the West division last week.

MAC

East

  • Buffalo clinches with win vs. Ohio

Buffalo and Ohio square off in Wednesday night play with the division on the line. A Buffalo win would wrap up the East division for the Bulls, but a win by Ohio leaves the Bobcats in the running for another week. A loss to Ohio still leaves Buffalo sitting in a favorable spot as they would have to beat a two-win Bowling Green team next week to clinch the division. An Ohio loss to Akron would clinch the division for Buffalo as well.

NIU clinched the West on Tuesday night as a result of Western Michigan losing to Ball State.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

Mountain

  • Utah State clinches with win at Colorado State AND Boise State loss at New Mexico

West

  • Fresno State clinches with win vs. San Diego State

It is possible both divisions in the Mountain West Conference could be clinched this weekend, although it is more likely the Mountian Diviosn will have to wait a week to see who wins a matchup between Utah State and Boise State. The West Division is probably the more likely division to be clinched this week with Fresno State getting a chance to play at home against San Diego State. Things get a bit more interesting for the final week of the season if the Aztecs come away winners though, as it opens the door for Nevada to have a shot. We can explore that more in the event San Diego State does win, but for now we’ll keep it simple. If Fresno State wins, the division is a wrap.

PAC-12

North

  • Washington State clinches with win vs. Arizona AND Washington loses to Oregon State

South

  • Utah clinches with win at Colorado AND Arizona State loses at Oregon AND Arizona loses at Washington State

Odds are the North is going to be decided in next week’s Apple Cup between rivals Washington and Washington State, but the Cougars do have a scenario to root for this week. And even though it is a more complicated path to clinching for Utah, it may be the more likely scenario to play out this week. The Utes have to win a game at Colorado to finish up their Pac-12 record at 6-3 with just one non-conference game to play next week against BYU. If they do that and both Arizona and Arizona State lose on the road, then the division is theirs.

SEC

Alabama and Georgia already clinched their respective divisions and are heading to a potential College Football Playoff play-in game in the SEC Championship.

SUN BELT

East

  • Troy clinches with win vs. Texas State AND Appalachian State loses to Georgia State

West

  • UL Monroe clinches with win at Arkansas State AND Louisiana loses vs. South Alabama

The stage for the inaugural Sun Belt championship game could be set this weekend, although it is more likely to come down to the wire next week. Troy and UL Monroe are each in positions to clinch their respective divisions this week. Troy will likely have to take care of business next week in a matchup with Appalachian State to decide the East Division. UL Monroe may have a tough time doing what needs to be done to gain the crown in the West this week with a road game at Arkansas State. A loss by UL Monroe sets up a good finish in the West Division next week.