Who is going to win the Big 12 this season? Here is the big problem in trying to predict what will happen in the Big 12 this year. It is a conference that is going through its second big transition in two years.
The Big 12 lost Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A & M in the past 2 years. Now they’ve gained an entirely new dynamic in West Virginia, who comes from a totally new geographical location. They also add TCU, who is transitioning from a non-bcs conference status to their first BCS conference.
The Two New Teams
It is very easy to just dismiss both of these teams in their first year in the Big 12. West Virginia because they come from the worst BCS conference in the country, and TCU because they are going from playing the New Mexico’s and UNLV’s week in and week out to playing much better and deeper BCS schools.
In fact West Virginia and TCU are entering a conference that in 2011 was strong enough to qualify 8 out of 10 of their members for a bowl. And one other team who played their last game for a 6th win qualifying spot, and came up just short. So top to bottom the Big 12 was much tougher than either of the conferences that these two new members have come from.
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Both of these two new members have some redeeming qualities that makes me think they can compete well in this league. TCU because they have one of the best coaches in the country in Gary Patterson. TCU also won a BCS bowl game over Wisconsin a couple years ago.
West Virginia because they have won their conference numerous times over the last decade and have 3 BCS bowl wins under their belts. They also have a loaded offense this year that ended the 2011 season on a high note with their 70 point explosion over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Both Newcomers Have Issues
A month ago my thinking was that TCU, because they were so young last year, had more upside potential than West Virginia. But with the recent drug scandal and suspensions, which included their best linebacker, I’m having my doubts about the Frogs in this first season in the league. Plus the fact that TCU loses most of their defensive backfield in a pass happy conference like the Big 12 is not a good combination.
West Virginia could have the same kind of problems on defense after losing their excellent underreated defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who joined Rich Rod at Arizona. They also lose two of their best pass rushers on the defensive line, including NFL first round draft choice Bruce Irvin at defensive end. Which isn’t a good thing when going up against the high powered passing attacks of OU, TCU and Texas Tech.
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They are also going to the 3-4 defense from the 3-3-5, which can sometimes be a liability when going up against some of the better rushing attacks in the conference like Texas, KSU and Okie State. So although there aren’t really any questions surrounding West Virginia’s offense, which could be the best in the country, their defense is the wildcard here. They will also need to adjust to a new travel dynamic and play an entirely new schedule of teams that they aren’t familiar with.
Big 12 Scheduling Advantage
The two teams with the most favorable schedule in the Big 12 are Texas and West Virginia. This is something we can’t take lightly in what will be a tightly contested conference race. This is the reason OU is + money to win it (+105). Much of this number is based soley on the name brand more than it is the Sooners being the standout team, which they’re really not.
With the transition that is happening in the Big 12 and the different schedules each team has to adjust to, and the possibilty that even more teams will be added on in the next couple years, I think it’s going to be an extremely difficult conference to predict until it becomes stabilized.
I would like to give you an idea of exactly how West Virginia and TCU will match up against the best in the Big 12, but I think it’s a tough call. Anybody who tells you differently is just guessing at it. I’ve heard and read from a lot of experts in the field, and even they can’t agree on what will happen this season.
One thing I feel pretty strong about is nobody from the Bug 12 will be competeting for the National Championship in 2012. There are just too many question marks involving the top teams. I don’t believe anybody in the Big 12 will get out with less than 2 losses each. In fact two losses will probably win it or tie for the conference title this year. West Virginia won their conference with a 9-3 record last year. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we saw something similar happen in the Big 12 this year.
Way Too Early Big 12 Rankings
Right now my order of team strength based on my best guess from returning personnel and schedules are:
1. Oklahoma: A shakey number one because of their WR situation and the loss of their 4 best defensive players. A difficult schedule includes playing West Virginia, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas on the road. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we see for the second year in a row neither OU or Texas winning the conference title. It’s THAT tight folks!
2. Texas: Only because they have the most room for improvement from last season. Plus they’ll have the best defense and one of the most favorable schedules in the conference. Something tells me though that they are probably a year away. It all depends on the progress of QB David Ash and the offense.
3. West Virginia: By a whisker. Mainly because of a favorable schedule and the offseason problems at TCU. If everything falls right and this team somehow wins the conference in their first year, I see things getting much more difficult for them after Geno Smith leaves, and their schedule gets much harder. They are catching the Big 12 at the best possible time when they are relatively down from last season, and in transition.
4. Kansas State & TCU (tie): KSU will need to replace 3 starters on the OL. Plus they won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year. That’s a big deal because KSU played 8 games last year that were decided by a TD or less, and they went 7-1 in those games. This season their schedule is brutal in having to travel to West Virginia, OU, TCU, Iowa State and Baylor, in addition to playing Miami at home.
The Wildcats went 9-3 ATS last year. Although I think they’ll be very competetive in every game, I don’t see another 10-2 season. I think 8 wins is a more realistic number. Another big problem for TCU is their Big 12 schedule. It is very bottom loaded with their last 5 games played against KSU, OSU, WV, Texas and OU…Ouch!
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