In the Great Plains, you will discover the Big 12 Conference. While they are considered a relatively new conference compared to the other power conferences, the 21-year-old Big 12 can trace its roots back to the old Big 8 and Southwest Conferences, both of which date back to the early 1900’s. The state of Texas is well represented, with four of the ten teams in the Big 12 residing in the Lone Star State. In spite of this fact, we have seen more teams from the state of Oklahoma, of which there are only two teams, win the Big 12 than from the state of Texas.
While the Big 12 has not hosted a Championship Game in a few years, they are reinstating a Championship Game at the end of the upcoming 2017 season to determine a definitive winner to the Big 12. Instead of dividing the conference into divisions, with the two division winners squaring off in the conference championship game, the participants in this title game will be the two teams with the best conference record after the regular season.
It is time for a trip to America’s Heartland, as we preview the Big 12 Conference.
University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) – Oklahoma missed the College Football Playoff in 2016 despite winning the Big 12 Championship. With most of the offense returning for 2017, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in Quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will look to blow opponents defenses right off the field. The dynamic in the locker room will be interesting to watch, as longtime Coach Bob Stoops abruptly retired in June, leaving the team in the hands of young Lincoln Riley. It is an unforgiving schedule for Oklahoma in 2017, as the Sooners must make trips to play at the Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and Kansas State University. With such a powerful weapon guiding the way in Mayfield, all signs point to Oklahoma once again taking the Big 12 Conference Championship in 2017.
Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OkSt) – Over the years, Oklahoma State has fought, to no avail, to emerge from the shadow of their bitter in-state rivals at OU. Even with a Big 12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl victory under current Head Coach Mike Gundy, it hasn’t been enough for the Cowboys to be viewed even as equals to OU though not for a lack of trying. Oklahoma State has had teams in the past with the talent to succeed in the Big 12, yet have been unable to win a conference championship since their lone Big 12 Title in 2011. In 2017, the talent level at Oklahoma State will be no different. The Cowboys are coming off a ten-win season in 2016, which saw Quarterback Mason Rudolph throw for an amazing 4000 yards with only four interceptions. Overpowered defenses are abundant in the Big 12, meaning Rudolph along with Receivers James Washington and Jalen McKleskey, both of whom are up for the Biletnikoff award for nation’s best receiver, will need to surpass their production from 2016. If they can do this, then Oklahoma State should have no trouble competing for a Big 12 Championship. It may come down to whether or not the Cowboys can take down their hated rivals at Oklahoma.
Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (TCU) – It has been a bit of a downhill slide for Coach Gary Patterson’s TCU team since their Big 12 Championship in 2014. In 2016, TCU won just four out of nine conference games, on their way to a disappointing 6-7 record for the season. After nearly a decade of dominance in college football, Texas Christian suddenly looks mortal in the eyes of many. That being said, when one thinks of a Gary Patterson coached team, all eyes are on the defense to get things going, and this season, that should be no different. Linebackers Ty Summers and Tarvin Howard are both in the running for the Bednarik Award for the country’s best defensive player. Offensively, Quarterback Kenny Hill brings with him tremendous talent both throwing and running the ball. Unfortunately, it will be a difficult road for the Horned Frogs, as they must travel to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech University, and Kansas State. I enjoy watching TCU succeed, especially when their defense plays strong football, and they have the talent and resources to compete for a Big 12 Championship in 2017. However, a result short of a Conference Championship this season is more likely, which can only be viewed as a disappointment for TCU.
University of Texas Longhorns (UT) – When you fire your head coach, it is generally a sign that things were not working the way they should have been. Texas fired Charlie Strong last season, and has brought in the next big thing in coaching, former University of Houston coach Tom Herman. Herman made an instant impact at Houston upon his arrival, leading the Cougars to a 13-1 season, an American Athletic Conference Championship, and a Peach Bowl victory over the heavily favored Florida State Seminoles. The Longhorns are looking to duplicate that success with Herman’s arrival to the team. With Quarterback Shane Beuchele entering his second season as the starter, Texas will look for him to improve his leadership on and off the field, an improvement that Coach Herman says he has already observed. Most of the defense from 2016 returns, led by Linebacker Malik Jefferson, a semifinalist last year for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker. Is there some magic brewing for the Texas Longhorns with the arrival of Tom Herman, as there was when he arrived at Houston? There just might be if you ask me. The turnaround might not be as swift as it was in Houston, but Texas may just be the Cinderella team for 2017 that everyone will be talking about.
The Big 12 is known for explosive offenses, and with the firepower coming back from 2016, several teams may be even more explosive this time around. Oklahoma has to be the favorite coming into this season, with Baker Mayfield returning among the best Quarterbacks in the entire country. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, will be looking to dethrone their in-state rivals for the first time since 2011. While both TCU and Texas have taken a step back in recent years, only one will make the abrupt leap into the conference championship picture this season. With the upward momentum brought in by Tom Herman, Texas may make their return to the top even faster than many are expecting.
Who comes out on top? Come back Sunday at Midnight when I reveal my conference champions, only at tedtalksports.com!