Earlier this week, we’ve discussed non-conference scheduling and players to watch. Today, we’ll gaze into our respective crystal balls and predict which team will be the most pleasant surprise in 2016.
Q. Which team will be the biggest surprise in the Big 12 Conference?
On Twitter: @CFBZ
I really, really want to say Kansas but I just can’t pull the trigger. Looking at teams that are most likely to improve this season, I have to say it’s going to be Texas.
For Charlie Strong’s career aspirations, it has to be Texas. After disappointing 6-7 and 5-7 seasons, Strong is now in his third year. That means a lot of the talent on the team is talent that he has put there. He’s now starting to play with a roster that is filling with “his” guys. The time for excuses is over for Texas. This is the year that Strong and Texas have to flex some muscle, and I think they will.
They won’t win the conference but they will get back into the upper half and by next season will be pushing to get back to the top.
On Twitter @EliHershkovich
A season ago, Texas Tech finished 7-5, losing all five of its games against schools in the AP Top 25 Poll. This season, though, don’t be shocked if Red Raiders develop into the surprise team of the Big 12.
In his fourth season as the head coach, Kliff Kingsbury must be sweating all night long, wondering if his defense will finally make strides in 2016. In the previous campaign, the unit ranked No. 127 (of 128 teams in Division I) in total defense, allowing 547.7 yards per contest, along with giving up 43.6 points per game. On top of that, they surrendered at least 55 points five times, including a 70-53 loss to Oklahoma State in Week 9, No, you’re not hallucinating.
Still, defensive coordinator David Gibbs has a history of coaching stout groups on that side of ball. In ‘99, he led Minnesota’s club to yield just 16 points per contest, and worked similar magic at Auburn in ‘05, conceding only 15.5. Following linebackers Micah Awe’s graduation and Dakota Allen’s dismissal, who combined for 213 tackles a season ago, cornerback Jah’Shawn Johnson must inherit more leadership on defense. The sophomore placed No. 3 on the team in tackles (85) and collected two interceptions, too.
Offensively, quarterback Patrick Mahomes II torched opposing defenses last campaign, posting 357.9 yards each contest. Overall Texas Tech stood as the No. 2 scoring offense among FBS schools (45.1 points per game). Although, wideout DeAndre Washington, accumulating 1,492 yards and 14 touchdowns in ‘15, departed for the NFL, the Red Raiders brought in three 4-star receivers, displaying their depth and talent at the position. With an up-and-coming receiving core, the junior signal caller’s ceiling is roofless.
On Twitter @SectionTPJ
My first thought was Texas, but that almost seemed to obvious. After the Longhorns beat Oklahoma last season, my first thought was, “once these younger players get some experience, this team is going to be darn tough to beat”, so that’s not exactly a surprise.
By the same token, I can’t pick Kansas State. Sure, the ‘Cats finished with a losing record last year, but the team was completely decimated by injuries. As long as KSU avoids the injury bug, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish in the top half of the league. No coach in the country does a better job of reloading on a year-to-year basis than Bill Snyder.
That’s why I’ll choose Iowa State. Sure, the Cyclones aren’t going to win the Big 12, but they will be much better this year under the leadership of Matt Campbell. Although he didn’t win a championship at Toledo, Campbell’s teams were able to beat a few of the big boys during his tenure, including a 16-12 victory over Arkansas last year. If he can beat an SEC squad on the road with MAC talent, how much more could he do with a roster loaded with power 5 conference talent?
We’ll find out this fall.