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