If anything was learned in the 2015 college football season, its that you don’t count out Bob Stoops. In 2014, Oklahoma was a preseason top five team with national championship aspirations. That plane crashed into the mountain with an 8-5 season, including a 40-6 curb stomping in the Russel Athletic bowl at the hands of the Clemson Tigers. Considering that catastrophe, it’s little wonder that expectations were so low for last years outfit. Bob Stoops had something up his sleeve. He completely revamped his program. Out was OC Josh Heupel, in came rising star Lincoln Riley. Riley delivered in a serious way. He awakened the stagnant Oklahoma offense. Last fall, Riley’s offense averaged a staggering 530 yards and 43 points per game. That jumped OU from 24th to 7th nationally in total offense. The Oklahoma defense followed suit and the Sooners were in for a special season. OU won the Big 12 outright, secured a spot in the College Football Playoff and restored their place at the top of this league. Coming into this season, the Sooners are a top five outfit and my clear pick to win this league and once again vie for a playoff spot.
This Sooners squad is a fantastically well balanced group, with star power aplenty. First off is the point man, Baker Mayfield. The Texas Tech transfer had an enormous coming out party in 2015. He threw for 3700 yards, completing 68% of his passes for an average of 9.3 yards per attempt. His yards per attempt is tied for 3rd nationally and his completion percentage is tied for 4th. Those figures are insane. This dude is a gamer and the emotional leader of this team. If he can replicate that kind of success this fall, this OU squad is in for very big things. The offensive embarrassment of riches does not stop there. The Sooners have the best 1-2 punch at RB in the country. Samaje Perine ran for 1350 yards and 16 Tds while Hoe Mixon had over 1100 yards from scrimmage. These two are terrific, and together they are Must See TV. OU will need DeDe Westbrook, Geno Lewis and the rest of the receiving core to pick up the slack in the wake of Sterling Shepard’s departure. This is an important, yet manageable task considering the offensive weaponry on hand in Norman. The Sooner defense should be terrific as well. They return six defensive starters including three of their top five tacklers from a year ago. The potential Achilles’ heel for the 2016 Sooner train is the pass rush. Gone are Eric Stiker and his 7.5 sacks, and Charles Tapper with his 7 sacks. That is a lot of production to replace and its extra-important considering the pass-happy league they play in. Like any team, unproven players, like Caleb Kelly and Tay Evans, will have to pick up the slack. This is a minor concern. Overall there is talent aplenty for the pass rush to be more than adequate and to make this defense amongst the best in the Big 12.
Looking at this squad, and studying the rest of the league, there is no reason why they can’t win the Big 12 going away. There is too much offensive firepower and what appears to be a seasoned group all the way around. They are head and shoulders the best team in this league. No other team can match their star power, experience and balance. They are the obvious choice. There is one potential fly in the soup. The last four times Oklahoma has been in the preseason top five they have not finished higher than 15th. Two of those times they were unranked altogether including the 2015 fiasco. That sets a clear trend for the OU program as a piss-poor front runner. There is no escaping a top 5 preseason ranking with this group. Bob Stoops must manage the situation and keep his team hungry. I think he will be successful in that area. This team, without question, remembers 2014. That memory will serve to focus and motivate them on their way to a Big 12 title and possible playoff berth.
Gary Patterson is one of my favorite coaches in college football. The man is simply fantastic. He is a great coach who has built an awesome program. As long as he is in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs have a chance. His team this fall will be pretty good as well. The defense brings back eight of their top ten tacklers from the second-ranked scoring defense in the big 12. Defensive End Josh Carraway recorded nine sacks last fall and will lead this unit along with LB Travin Howard. Offensively, the Frogs will have to replace Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, Aaron Green and Kolby Linstenbee. That’s a tall order. If new QB Kenny Hill isn’t absolutely magical, I don’t see TCU having enough offense to contend for a title despite a top-shelf defense.
The Baylor Bears have exceptional talent. Art Briles, for all his failings in Waco, has produced an impressive array of talent. From Seth Russell, to KD Cannon to Shock Linwood, there is plenty of experienced playmakers on this roster. The problem is simple. The noise. There is far too much noise and controversy for this team to focus and contend for a Big 12 title. That says nothing about the architect getting shit-canned for all the nonsense he brought to the program. Jim Grobe is a nice man, a good coach, but there is no way he can just show up and lead Baylor to a conference title regardless of the talent on hand.
Oklahoma State is a forgotten team in this league. Losing your last three games by a combined 73 points has a way of doing that. Let’s not forget that prior to that, the Pokes won ten games last fall. Most of that team returns. Mason Rudolph is a pretty damn good QB, who completed 63% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. That is not where OSU needs to improve. This team was ninth in the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry within conference play. Yowza!! That entire offensive line returns and they add Barry Sanders. Maybe not the 1988 Heisman winner, but he should still give this run game a boost. The OSU defense should be pretty good as well. They return their top four tacklers from a team that had 40 sacks and produced 19 turnovers in Big 12 play. This is a good team, but not good enough to beat OU at their best. However, if the Sooners falter like they did in ’14, this team could sneak up and steal a conference title.