The Big 12 has been teetering on the brink of unplanned obsolescence for the last couple of years. As the only Power 5 Conference without a postseason Conference Championship Game, the league powers have been a little paranoid that other predators from the West Coast, the Deep South, and the Upper Midwest, might pillage them and leave them without a job. The Pac-12 is anxious to change its name to the Pac-16. The SEC and Big Ten realize that it is easier to work with 16 rather than 14 teams. The ACC has 15 in all sports except football, but even in football, Notre Dame plays basically five conference games per year.
What does a league do with just 10 members? It cannot play a conference title game until it has 12. Obviously, the league must expand by two to six teams, or else, their members will be searching for greener futures and high payouts.
In the meantime, the Big 12 continues to provide some of the most exciting football on the planet. The quasi-renegade league provides the alternative to the SEC’s and Big Ten’s blood and guts play, just like the old American Football League of the 1960’s sold itself as the more entertaining league to the NFL. The AFL had all the razzle dazzle stars like Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Daryle Lamonica, John Hadl, Cookie Gilchrist, Lance Alworth, and others, while the NFL was all about bruising fullbacks running between the tackles and halfbacks running power sweeps behind pulling guards.
The Big 12 is the pass-happy league with wide open offenses, blitzing and gambling defenses, and no game secure even if a team has scored over 50 points. Who can forget the day in 2014 when undefeated TCU led undefeated Baylor by 18 points in the fourth quarter and lost 61-58? You could have watched Alabama beat Arkansas 14-13 that day. Michigan beat Penn State 18-13.
2016 promises to be an interesting season in the Southwest. Oklahoma represented the league in the NCAA Playoffs, after two 11-1 teams failed to earn a spot the year before. The Sooners quickly bowed out in a semifinal loss to Clemson, but OU is loaded this season and in contention for the top overall spot.
The Sooners will not receive a free pass to the playoffs this year. Their schedule is tricky with a pre-conference matchups with Houston at NRG Stadium to start the season and Ohio State on September 17. Then following a bye week, OU has a road game with TCU, and the annual Red River Shootout with Texas the following Saturday. If Coach Bob Stoops can guide his squad to a 5-0 start, a 7-0 finish is very likely.
A group of four teams figure to be the main challengers to the Sooners, or in a probable case, a quartet fighting for a Sugar Bowl berth as the league runnerup. Oklahoma State, TCU, and Baylor figure to be on most pundits’ lists, but the PiRates believe that Coach Charlie Strong will bring the Texas Longhorns back to near the top of the standings this year and even give Oklahoma a run for its money. If he doesn’t, the UT alumni may be advertising for a new coach in 2017.
For the Longhorns, the season kicks off with a Sunday tilt at home against Notre Dame, and a win in the opener could give the burnt orange a shot in the arm. A road game against Oklahoma State precedes the fight with the Sooners at the Texas State Fair the following week, and pulling off back-to-back wins over their rivals to the north is most unlikely. Thus, we believe that Texas can win 10 games and vie for the Sugar Bowl bid, but they cannot win 11 or 12 and contend for a playoff spot.
TCU begins the season ranked ahead of Texas in our ratings and actually within shouting distance of Oklahoma, but the Horned Frogs have to rebuild on offense due to heavy losses, including their star quarterback, running back, and wideout. The defense is still solid, but they may be on the field for too many plays in crucial games. Road games at Baylor and Texas could eliminate any gain made by possibly upsetting Oklahoma ar Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Oklahoma State is flying a little under the radar to begin the season. The Cowboys were 10-0 last year, before losing to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss to end the year at 10-3. Their offense could top 42 points per game this year with experience and depth returning, while the defense should be on par with last year’s defense. OSU wins games by outscoring opponents, so scores like 45-31 are frequent happenings, and this team can win double digit games again while giving up 30+ points per game.
Baylor faced a minor rebuilding project heading into this season, but off the field events have wounded the Bears enough to where second half of the season depth issues could cause a minor fold. We do not expect BU to contend for the Big 12 crown, and we would not be shocked if the losses began to mount beginning with a trip to Austin on October 29.
Kansas State, West Virginia, and Texas Tech represent the next wave. In most years, KSU plays one of the softest non-conference slates, guaranteeing themselves of three wins before taking the field, and thus needing just a 3-6 conference mark to earn a bowl bid. However, the Wildcats will begin the season 0-1 with a Friday night game at the Farm against Stanford. The likely 3-6 conference record will leave the guys from the Little Apple home for the holidays.
Texas Tech faces a similar situation. The Red Raiders are looking at 3-6 or even 2-7 in league play, as they must play Kansas State and Iowa State on the road. Playing at Arizona State in September could prevent TTU from going bowling as well.
West Virginia may actually be a tad weaker than the previous two teams, but the Mountaineers have the favorable schedule that could give them the three wins they need to pair with a 3-6 conference mark and finish 6-6.
Iowa State is not ready to compete for bowl eligibility this year, but the Cyclones are moving upwards slowly. They could even sneak into a tie for 7th if the ball bounces their way, but they should win more than one conference game this year.
Kansas still has basketball season to await. The Jayhawks are likely destined for yet another last place finish, but this year KU should at least win a game after finishing 0-12 in 2015. The season opener with Rhode Island is the only for sure winnable game, but the Jayhawks might be confident enough to pull off the mild upset over Ohio the following week. It looks like another 0-9 league mark for the Jayhawks, but then by the time they host Texas on November 19, all will be okay with the Rock Chalkers at Allen Fieldhouse.
Here is how the Big 12 Media predicted the 2016 order of finish.
|2016 Big 12 Conference Media Poll|
Here are the initial 2016 PiRate Ratings for the league.
|Big 12 Conference|
The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.
Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls, and notice that this league will not provide the needed number to fill all of its obligations, thus benefiting other leagues like the Big Ten and Pac-12, who both may have extra bowl eligible teams this year.
|Big 12 Conference Projected Standings|
Coming Monday, August 22: The Pac-12 Conference with wide open races in both divisions. Is there a surprise team ready to emerge as the new league beast, or is it more of the same old fare?