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CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The Big 12

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The Big 12 is the most quarterback-driven of all QB-driven leagues, and 2018 represents a major changing of the guard. Gone is Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, and so, too, are Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, TCU’s Kenny Hill, Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek and Kansas State’s Jesse Ertz. West Virginia returns Heisman candidate Will Grier, but the next-highest returning passer is Texas’s Sam Ehlinger, who threw for all of 1,915 yards as a true freshman in 2017. This is going to be a wide-open year and, as such, a year where the unpredictable will reign supreme over the predictable. It’s an off-year in the Big 12’s your turn/my turn College Football Playoff rotation with the Pac-12, and a year where a young, ascendant team (Baylor?) is likely to rise up and wreck the season of a favored team who is among the best in the land (Oklahoma? West Virginia? TCU?) who’s wobbly from the most difficult week-to-week grind in college football. (Don’t @ me.)

Oklahoma enters as the prohibitive favorite, but the Sooners lose a lot of production from 2017. You know about Mayfield, but Lincoln Riley also loses All-American pass rusher Obo Okoronkwo, All-American left tackle Orlando Brown and All-American tight end Mark Andrews, as well as Swiss army knife fullback Dimitri FlowersKyler Murray will add an extra dimension to Oklahoma’s running game, but can a 5-foot-9 quarterback sit back in the pocket and pick people apart when necessary?

West Virginia enters as OU’s top challenger, and the combination of Grier, Gary Jennings (97 catches for 1,096 yards in 2017) and David Sills (60 grabs for 980 yards and 18 touchdowns) is easily the conference’s most fearsome passing attack. Dana Holgorsen thinks his team finally has the defense and the depth to survive the year-long grind of the Big 12, but he seemingly says that every year. Making four cross-country trips a year is a unique challenge that any program would struggle to solve, though WVU does get Oklahoma and TCU in Morgantown. TCU replaces Hill with Gary Patterson‘s highest-regarded quarterback recruit ever in sophomore Shawn Robinson. He should team with KaVontae Turpin and Jalen Reagor to give the Frogs plenty of sizzle, and TCU’s front seven is probably the scariest in the league, but the Frogs’ four new offensive line starters will have to grow up in a hurry.

Texas has a lot to like on an individual level, but skepticism is warranted until the quarterback position is sorted out. This is a league where 40 touchdowns responsible for from your starting quarterback is a prerequisite for winning the conference title, and Ehlinger and Shane Buechele combined for 22 in 2017. Oklahoma State won’t be as good as they were last year after losing Rudolph and James Washington but will still be much better than you assume they’ll be, which is exactly how Mike Gundy prefers it. Iowa State will be just good enough to ruin your season but not good enough to seriously contend for the league title. Texas Tech enters the year with more question marks on offense than defense for the first time since the 19th century, which could be considered a very good sign considering Kliff Kingsbury will never field a bad offense. Baylor was much better than last year’s 1-11 record, and Matt Rhule‘s 17 returning starters, led by sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer, means this will be the league’s most improved team — and perhaps the country’s. Kansas State will be about as pleasant to play as a root canal, and junior quarterback Alex Delton will again be a nightmare to contain. David Beaty returns 19 starters and enters a last-chance season to show marked progress with new AD Jeff Long watching.

Before we get to the predictions, consider that the Big 12 is annually a league where the gap between No. 3 and No. 8 is small enough to slip a notecard through, and especially so this year.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Oklahoma
2. Texas
3. West Virginia
4. TCU
5. Iowa State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Kansas State
8. Baylor
9. Texas Tech
10. Kansas

IN SHORT…

Oklahoma storms out to 17-0 lead, but TCU chipping away in Big 12 championship game

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The Big 12 Championship Game is finally back, for some reason, and Oklahoma was ready to welcome it back in a big way. The Sooners blew the doors wide open in the first quarter with a 17-0 start, but TCU regained some control of things in the second quarter and we have ourselves a ballgame in Arlington. With the Big 12 title on the line, No. 3 Oklahoma holds a 24-17 lead on No. 11 TCU, setting the stage for a really good second half.

Oklahoma took the game’s opening drive down the field and settled for a field goal to open the scoring. The lead was quickly expanded when Caleb Kelly returned a TCU fumble for a score on the first offensive play for the Horned Frogs.

TCU’s first full offensive possession resulted in a punt, and the Sooners tacked on more points. Baker Mayfield made some plays with his arm and his legs to keep the drive alive and he ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Mark Andrews from five yards out to push Oklahoma out to a 17-0 lead.

TCU finally got things together on offense in the second quarter with Kenny Hill connecting on a 29-yard pass to Jalen Reagor early in the second quarter. Hill again got TCU in the end zone through the air on their next possession with a 12-yard pass to John Diarse. The Sooners responded on the ensuing possession following a solid kickoff return and TCU penalty to work on a shorter field. Mayfield pushed the lead to 24-14 with a six-yard pass to Andrews.

A win for Oklahoma would just about guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma lead the way when it comes to the 2017 All-Big 12 Football Awards

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To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Big 12 is headlined by Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield when it comes to the conference’s annual regular season awards.

The Sooners star signal-caller (and prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite) was named the 2017 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year on Thursday according to a release, capturing the honor for the second time in three seasons in Norman. Teammate Ogbonnia Okoronkwo also took home some hefty hardware from the conference, as he was named co-Defensive Player of the Year with Texas’ linebacker Malik Jefferson.

Also notable was the Chuck Neinas Coach of the Year Award winner, which went to Matt Campbell after he took the Cyclones to a 7-5 record (5-4 in conference play).

Other Big 12 honors handed out included:

  • West Virginia QB Will Grier was name Offensive Newcomer of the Year
  • TCU defensive end Ben Banogu was the Defensive Newcomer of the Year
  • Co-Offensive Freshmen of the Year were Baylor QB Charlie Brewer and TCU wideout Jalen Reagor
  • Co-Defensive Freshmen of the Year were Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray and TCU DT Ross Blacklock
  • Special Teams Player of the Year was Texas punter Michael Dickson, an Aussie who won the trophy for the second straight season
  • Offensive Lineman of the Year was Orlando Brown, the Sooners’ left tackle who won for the second year in a row
  • Defensive Lineman of the Year honors went to Texas senior DT Poona Ford

According to the conference, Oklahoma won the most individual awards in the 21-year history of the Big 12 with a whopping 39 after this year’s haul. All the selections were voted on by the league’s coaches, which were not allowed to vote for their own players.

No. 8 TCU survives, advances past No. 23 West Virginia

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The tenor of No. 8 TCU’s game and season changed before the Frogs took the field today. Thanks to No. 3 Oklahoma’s stunning home loss to Iowa State, TCU’s date with No. 23 West Virginia changed from a challenge for a Big 12 College Football Playoff front-runner to a survive-and-advance test for the Big 12 College Football Playoff front-runner.

The Frogs survived, outlasting a physical West Virginia team for a 31-24 win in Fort Worth.

Trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, TCU booted away its third punt of the day but was gifted the ball right back when a Mountaineer player blocked a TCU defender into West Virginia punt returner Jovanni Stewart, which TCU’s Vernon Scott recovered at the West Virginia 33-yard line. The Frogs punched in their only score of the first half on a 2-yard direct-snap keeper by Sewo Olonilua at the 14:16 mark of the second quarter.

After a field goal of their own to open the third quarter, Nick Orr intercepted a Will Grier overthrow and returned it 34 yards to the West Virginia 45, and Kenny Hill (15-of-28 for 188 yards, seven carries for 28 yards) pushed the lead to 17-3 on a rainbow to Jalen Reagor one play later.

However, two deep strikes from Greer pulled the Mountaineers even. The first one came on a mix-up in the TCU secondary, where Greer hit a wide open David Sills for a 64-yard score. His very next pass found Ka'Raun White for a 76-yard catch-and-dash, and less than five minutes after trailing 17-3 West Virginia had tied the game at 17-17.

TCU answered with its best drive of the game, a 4-play, 75-yard march completed when Hill raced in a 48-yard score on a throwback from KaVontae Turpin, giving the Horned Frogs a 24-17 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.

An exchange of punts gave West Virginia the ball at the TCU 49, and a series of Justin Crawford (19 carries for a game-high 111 yards) runs set up Grier’s (25-of-45 for 366 yards) third touchdown pass of the second half, a 4-yarder to Sills, knotting the game at 24-24 with 9:50 remaining.

TCU see-sawed back in front with, if not its best possession of the season, then its most important. The Frogs ate 70 percent of the remaining clock, using six minutes and 57 seconds to travel 65 yards over 13 plays, eight of them runs. The final run came on a 3-yard keeper by Hill, who avoided two blockers to stretch across the goal line on 3rd-and-goal, staking the Frogs to a 31-24 lead with 2:53 to play.

Needing a touchdown to extend the game, West Virginia momentarily advanced near midfield, but an offensive pass interference penalty turned what was a first down completion to Sills into a 1st-and-25 at their own 25. The Mountaineers advanced to the TCU 32 but moved no further, and TCU expired the clock after West Virginia turned it over on downs.

The loss dropped West Virginia to 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in Big 12 play, meaning they will likely fall out of the polls tomorrow even though they showed themselves every bit worthy of their No. 23 ranking in challenging the No. 8 team in their house.

TCU (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) will now rest up from this physical game for another physical test at Kansas State next week.