The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 16, 2018

2018 Big 12 Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

Today, the PiRates begin to preview the Power 5 conferences. With five leagues and four playoff spots, one Power 5 conference is guaranteed to miss out every year. Last year, with two SEC teams making it, two Power 5 leagues did not make the cut. The Big 12 was one of the fortunate leagues as Oklahoma won the revived Big 12 Conference Championship Game and gave Georgia all it could handle in the National Semifinals before losing in overtime.
The Sooners still have quite a lot of talent remaining in Norman, but Coach Lincoln Riley faces a minor reloading project. Because Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Iowa State are solid this year, and because this league is the only one in which every team plays every other, we believe the champion could easily be 7-2 and miss out on the playoffs.

Oklahoma has stolen the title of Quarterback U. from BYU and Stanford in the last 20 seasons. From Josh Heupel to to Jason White to Paul Thompson to Sam Bradford to Landry Jones to Trevor Knight, the Sooners always had an A+ passing attack and sometimes complimentary running threat. However, Baker Mayfield was in an A++ class by himself. Mayfield averaged 11.5 yards per passing ATTEMPT when most NCAA teams do not average 11.5 yards per completion these days! He threw 43 touchdown passes versus just 6 interceptions. Oklahoma averaged 362 passing yards per game to go with 218 rushing yards per game and Riley’s first year offense scored 45 points per game.
Mayfield is now the new hope in Cleveland, and Oklahoma turns to another future pro as their new quarterback. Kyler Murray will be playing for pay soon, but it will not be in football. He signed with the Oakland Athletics for $4.66 million, and one has to wonder if every time Murray drops back to pass against blitzing monsters, he will subconsciously think about that contract and throw the ball a bit too soon to avoid an injury that would end his baseball career before it starts.
Oklahoma will still be the decided favorite to win the Big 12 thanks to the running game. Backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon teamed up to run the ball 309 times for 1,905 yards. They combined to catch 33 passes for 420 additional yards. They scored 25 total touchdowns, and the dynamic duo have another fine offensive line opening holes for them this year.
Murray will have a trio of top flight receivers catching his passes this year. Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb, and Mykel Jones all have the quickness to turn a 7 yard route into a 50 yard touchdown.

If Oklahoma falters this year, or should we say when, it will be because the opponent scored points easier than they could. The Sooner defense is vulnerable this year with a green secondary and a questionable pass rush following the loss of some incredible talent. Linebacker Kenneth Murray and cornerback Parnell Motley return, but the Sooners lost too much talent from a defense that gave up 27 points per game last year, and a couple opponents will top 40 points and most likely beat OU in 2018. The schedule doesn’t offer much help, as the Sooners always play Texas in Dallas and face West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State on the road. 10-2 looks like the ceiling for this team.

Tom Herman’s first season at Texas was somewhat positive and somewhat disappointing. The Longhorns did not immediately take to his spread offense, and the offense was not as strong last year as it was during Charlie Strong’s final season. The defense was strong and kept the burnt orange in many games. Narrow losses to USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech could easily flip to the win column this year, as UT is poised to be a serious contender in the conference race and stands a good chance of making the Big 12 Championship Game.

Sam Ehlinger appears to have a slight lead over Shane Buechele to be under center when the Longhorns kick off the season against Maryland. The Longhorn roster is short on talent at running back and receiver, and the offensive line is good but not outstanding, but there is room for improvements. Expect Texas to increase their offensive output by a little.

It’s the defense that will allow the ‘Horns to possibly contend for the Big 12 title. Ironically, Herman, the offensive guru lowered the point total given up by 10 points a game over prior defensive guru coach Strong. Texas gave up 21 points per game in 2017, which is about like giving up 15 points a game in other Power 5 conferences. As good as the defense was last year, this year’s edition will be better, maybe much better. The roster is packed with talented stars, especially in the trenches, where ends Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager are the best duo in the league. Anthony Wheeler anchors the second line of defense from his middle linebacker position. He’ll team with Gary Johnson and Malcolm Roach to form the best trio in the league. Arguably, Texas also has the best secondary in the league with potential All-American Kris Boyd returning at cornerback.

The schedule is as favorable for the Longhorns as it is unfavorable for Oklahoma, so we believe Texas has a grand chance at earning one of the two playoff spots.

West Virginia is the sexy choice this year to win the Big 12. The Mountaineers have the top quarterback in the league, when he remains healthy. Will Grier was 6-0 as the quarterback at Florida in 2015. He is 12-4 lifetime at Florida and West Virginia, but he has not complete either season in his short career. His season ended last year in the Texas game when he suffered a fractured finger. When healthy, Grier is a difference maker. He was fifth nationally in passer efficiency rating.

Grier has two elite receivers returning in Gary Jennings and David Sills. The duo teamed up for 157 receptions last year; Jennings is the possession receiver, and Sills is the touchdown machine. For any passing team to be consistently good, the pass blocking has to be outstanding, and the Mountaineers have that type of interior line, as good as the line at Oklahoma.

What will likely keep WVU in the 8-win area is a porous defense. The Mountaineers gave up 31.5 points per game and did so by allowing more than 200 yard rushing and 200 yard passing. It may be considered a good thing that most of that weak defense is no longer around, but the Mountaineers will actually take a step back this year with major concerns on the front line and in the secondary. There is talent in every unit, but not enough to be a force in the league. Linebacker David Long returns after making 15 1/2 tackles for loss last year. Defensive end Ezekiel Rose led the team with 5 sacks, while Dravon Askew-Henry mans the highly important spur safety (a hybrid safety-linebacker position that can make the defense a 3-4 or 3-3-5) spot.

West Virginia has two tough non-conference opponents to face prior to Big 12 play. They open with Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina, and two weeks later, they play at North Carolina State. The close the season with a home game against Oklahoma, which could have serious conference championship implications for one or both teams.
Oklahoma State’s string of three consecutive double-digit win seasons is in serious jeopardy in 2018. The Cowboys’ spectacular passing game will take a major hit this year. Mason Rudolph led the nation with more than 4,900 passing yards last year. That number in 13 games topped every NFL quarterback by almost 400 yards! Rudolph is now a backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. New OSU quarterback Dru Brown has never taken a snap as the Cowboy quarterback, but he’s not a newcomer to FBS football. Brown started the past two years for Hawaii, and he will assume the controls of Coach

Mike Gundy’s offense and bring a new style to the team. Brown does not have Rudolph’s arm strength or quick release, but he can take off and run for a lot of yards in a scramble. OSU might even add a wrinkle or two where Brown fakes to top-flight running back Justice Hill and boots in the opposite direction. Defenses will have to concentrate extra defenders when Hill is a running threat. He burned defenses for 1,467 rushing yards and 15 TDs, while coming out of the backfield to catch 31 passes.
Losing two star receivers that caught 133 passes for 2,705 yards and 21 socres is going to make the passing numbers go down more than having Brown replace Rudolph. OSU still has talent in the receiving corps, but James Washington and Marcell Ateman are not easily replaced.

The Cowboy offensive line is rebuilding this year, and the holes and pass protection just won’t be there like they were the last three years. Oklahoma State averaged 45 points per game in 2017 and finished second in the nation with 569 total yards per game. The numbers could take a 10-point and 100-yard hit this year. The defense might be marginally improved over last season, but after giving up 29.4 points per game, improving to 28 per game may mean the win total will be reduced by two or three.

TCU has more offensive retooling to do than Oklahoma State, as they lost quarterback Kenny Hill, running back Kyle Hicks, their top three receivers, and three offensive linemen. The Horned Frogs feature defense first, and there is enough talent returning to continue the stellar play on this side of the ball in 2018, but not excellent enough to return to the Big 12 Championship Game. There is talent in all three units, led by end Ben Banogu. Last year, Banogu made 16 1/2 tackles behind the line including 8 1/2 sacks. He forced three fumbles in the process.

Stong-side linebacker Ty Summers can stop the run at the line for little or no gain, and he can cover the short passing zones with competence. Safety Niko Small leads a talented secondary that should continue to limit opponent passing by about 25-30 yards under their average.

TCU led all Big 12 teams in scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense. It will take a repeat of that feat to contend for second place in the league, and even if the Frogs repeat, the offense may be off just enough to come up a win short.

Iowa State was a major surprise in 2017, as the Cyclones topped Oklahoma in Norman and TCU in October on the way to an 8-5 season. Coach Matt Campbell, who had previously done wonders at Toledo, became a hot commodity in the big-time coaching market, and another 8-win season in Ames could see several rich offers coming his way. The Cyclones left something on the table last year, as narrow losses to Iowa in overtime, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State could have made 2018 a historic high in Ames.

The Cyclones actually return more starters than any of the other contenders in the league, but overall, they are still a few players short from becoming a serious contender. Quarterback Kyle Kempt was the major cog that turned the season around for ISU, as he torched Oklahoma’s defense for 343 passing yards and three touchdowns. His being granted a 6th year of eligibility means that ISU is an outside contender for the Big 12 Championship Game. Stubby back David Montgomery bulled his way to 1,146 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He won’t run the toss sweep down the sideline for a long touchdown, but he rarely goes down on first contact, and it frequently takes two defenders to bring him to the ground.

The receiving corps lost a stud in Allen Lazard, who is turning heads in Jacksonville as an undrafted free-agent that will most likely make the Jaguars’ roster. Hakeem Butler was a fine second option last year, and he should be the go-to guy this year, as the other receivers on the roster are possession receivers lacking the ability to turn a 7-yard pattern into a 50-yard gain.

Iowa State’s big jump happened because the defense no longer resembled 11 matadors against bulls with the letter “O” somewhere on their helmets. The Cyclones finished a close second to TCU in scoring defense last year. Enough talent returns this year to keep this unit strong. The front seven is second or third best in the league. As weak-side edge rusher JaQuan Bailey goes, so goes the ISU pass defense. Bailey has the ability to meet the quarterback about one second after the quarterback takes his fifth step in his drop. Defenses will have to double up on him, so it will be important for outside linebacker Willie Harvey to step up and improve on last year’s numbers.

Kansas State enters most seasons as an also-ran in the league, but the Wildcats always beat one or two teams they are not supposed to beat. KSU knocked off Oklahoma State in Stillwater and then knocked off Iowa State to earn a Cactus Bowl bid at the 11th hour last year. The Wildcats lost close games to Vanderbilt, Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, meaning they were not farm from being 12-1. Only TCU dominated them on the scoreboard. Expect more of the same in 2018, as Coach Bill Snyder guides his team to one or two upsets and earns yet another bowl bid.

Texas Tech has not been a factor in the Big 12 race since Mike Leach was fired. The Red Raiders tried the Tommy Tuberville way for a few years and fell back into the middle of the pack. Former TTU quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has taken the program down another couple notches, as the Raiders have struggled to get six wins during his tenure. If Kingsbury cannot right the ship this year and take his team up a notch or so, there probably will be a new man walking the sidelines at Jones Stadium next year. Prospects are not all that excellent for this TTU edition. The team has not been able to produce a running game that forces defensive coaches to have to stop it, so the passing game has to “struggle” to put up gawdy numbers. Too often, the defense stays on the field too long and tires, eventually succumbing to opposing offenses that punish tired defenses. The Red Raiders gave up 444 yards per game and 32+ points per game last year, and the schedule offers them no favors with out of conference games against Ole Miss and Houston. Additionally, the one toss-up game on the conference schedule, versus Kansas State, will be played in the Little Apple, making KSU a decided favorite.

Baylor has a long way to go to return to prominence. Matt Rhule turned the program around at Temple, but quite frankly, that was easier than having to win in the Lone Star State where 100 FBS teams recruit the state like they play their home games in Dallas. The Bears were plainly the ninth best team in the league, both offensively and defensively. They lost at home to Liberty, and had it not been for the worst FBS team also being a Big 12 team, BU could have gone 0-12 last year. There is a little talent in Waco this year, but it will take a gargantuan improvement for the Bears to improve from one to six wins. Having the easiest opening schedule of any Big 12 team could allow Baylor to enter October with two or three wins, but they may lose out the rest of the way.

Kansas is worse in the Big 12 than the Cleveland Browns are in the AFC North Division. The Jayhawks went 1-11 last year with the lone win coming against FCS member Southeast Missouri State, a team that went 3-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Coach David Beaty is now 3-33 in Lawrence through three years. He won’t see a fifth season if he is 4-44 after this season. The Jayhawks should be a better team this year, especially on defense, but then it is harder to be worse when you finish in last place in the league in offense and defense and lose to the next weakest team at home by more than four touchdowns!

Here is how the Big 12 Conference Media voted in the preseason poll

Big 12 1st Place Points
1. Oklahoma 46 509
2. West Virginia 2 432
3. TCU 1 390
4. Texas 1 370
5. Oklahoma St. 0 300
6. Kansas St. 2 283
7. Iowa St. 0 250
8. Texas Tech 0 149
9. Baylor 0 125
10. Kansas 0 52

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat after the top.

Big 12 Conference
Team B12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 0-0 0-0 119.5 117.7 119.8 119.0
Texas 0-0 0-0 113.2 111.9 112.8 112.6
Oklahoma St. 0-0 0-0 113.2 110.8 112.7 112.2
T C U 0-0 0-0 112.7 112.0 111.5 112.0
Iowa State 0-0 0-0 110.7 108.8 110.2 109.9
West Virginia 0-0 0-0 110.0 108.8 109.1 109.3
Kansas St. 0-0 0-0 107.4 106.0 106.8 106.7
Texas Tech 0-0 0-0 106.0 104.0 104.2 104.7
Baylor 0-0 0-0 102.9 100.6 102.3 101.9
Kansas 0-0 0-0 93.9 92.3 91.6 92.6
Big 12 Averages 108.9 107.3 108.1 108.1

New Coaches
There are no new coaches in the Big 12 this year, but there are a couple on very hot seats, and 2019 might see some new faces.

David Beaty needs to show some kind of advancement at Kansas, or the Jayhawks will be in the market for a new coach, possibly one from the Dakotas and the FCS ranks.
Kliff Kingsbury needs to win at least seven regular season games and look competitive in the losses, or else Texas Tech may look to move in another direction, maybe hiring a power-style coach.

Dana Holgorsen cannot afford to see West Virginia disappoint this season with so much offensive firepower. Anything short of nine wins would be a disappointment, and there are some restless fans in Morgantown.

Matt Campbell can do no wrong in the eyes of the fans at Iowa State. However, another 8-win season would most likely see him receive job offers with contracts too rich for Iowa State to match or top. His name has already been bantered among heavy-hitters at Ohio State should Urban Meyer be dismissed.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt.   

Team Conference Overall
Oklahoma 9-0 13-0*
Oklahoma St. 7-2 10-3
Texas 7-2 10-2
TCU 6-3 8-4
Iowa St. 5-4 7-5
West Virginia 5-4 7-5
Kansas St. 3-6 5-7
Baylor 2-7 4-8
Texas Tech 1-8 3-9
Kansas 0-9 2-10


Bowl Tie-ins
1. Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA
2. Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX
3. Camping World Bowl in Orlando, FL
4. Texas Bowl in Houston, TX
5. Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN
6. Cactus Bowl in Tucson, AZ
7. Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX

Coming Tomorrow–The Pac-12 Conference

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