Saturday, September 5, 2015

2015 College Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

The 2015 College Football Season begins this week and this will be the second year of the College Football Four-Team Playoff format.  This week I will be giving my preview of the major teams and players to watch for in 2015.  One of the elements that makes the College game so exciting is the unpredictability. There’s no preseason, always new players coming in as freshman, and past players leaving via graduation or early exit for the NFL.  Also, I enjoy watching College Football for the many different styles of offenses and defenses run on the field each week.  Unlike the NFL in which only a few different schemes are utilized each week, the College ranks over the last few decades have seen so many variants of styles and we the viewers have seen some of the greatest players succeed with these unique game plans.

Today I will highlight teams to watch from the Big 12 Football Conference:

University of Texas
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-0
Make or Break Games: 9/5 @ Notre Dame, 9/19 vs Cal; 10/3 @ TCU; 10/10 vs Oklahoma; 11/14 @ West Virginia; 12/5 @ Baylor

Synopsis: Entering his second season at Texas, Head Coach Charlie Strong has to lead his team through one of the toughest schedules in the nation.  If playing Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana wasn’t enough, Texas gets to host one of the top offenses in the nation in California a couple weeks later.  Then that brutal inter-conference schedule: Having to travel to play at TCU, at West Virginia, and at Baylor.  What Texas has going for them is a young, but very talented defensive unit headlined by freshman Malik Jefferson who is a special player at Linebacker.  I am unsure if Texas has the offensive firepower to keep up with their competition, especially if the games turn into shootouts.  Time will tell if starting Quarterback Tyronne Swoopes is up for the challenge.

University of Oklahoma
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/12 @ Tennessee; 10/10 vs Texas; 10/24 vs Texas Tech; 11/14 @ Baylor; 11/21 vs TCU; 11/28 @ Oklahoma State

Synopsis: Oklahoma has a name that demands respect in the college football world for years, but this year they may have too much to overcome.  We know the offense will be talented with Baker Mayfield at Quarterback and Freshman Running Back Joe Mixon.  But the defense is still young and lacks depth at certain positions, leaving Oklahoma susceptible when facing high powered offenses like Baylor, TCU, and don’t discount that Texas Tech game.  Mayfield, who transferred to Oklahoma from Texas Tech, will have the luxury of facing his old school on the Oklahoma home field.  But don’t assume that equals a win that day because Mayfield was recruited by Texas Tech and his old coaches may make him look bad.

Texas Tech University
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/19 @ Arkansas; 9/26 vs TCU; 10/3 vs Baylor; 11/24 @ Oklahoma; 11/7 @ West Virginia; 11/26 @ Texas

Synopsis: While Texas Tech is still rebuilding through recruiting missteps after the saga that ended the Mike Leech era in Lubbock, Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury has many talented pieces to work with on both sides of the ball.  While not announcing who the starting Quarterback will be, both Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes showed last season they can run this high powered offense.  While their defense is still suspect in terms of depth, they are getting better.  This season’s team will give inter-conference opponents trouble because it’s another full season for players in Kingsbury offensive system.  Senior Wide Receiver Jakeem Grant is poised for a breakout season while Texas Tech is setting up to walk away with some up upset victories in 2015.

Baylor University
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 10/3 vs Texas Tech; 11/5 @ Kansas State; 11/21 @ Oklahoma State; 11/27 @ TCU

Synopsis: In Baylor’s 56-21 win last night over SMU we got to see what makes this team so good: talented starting Quarterback in Seth Russell with dynamic wide receivers and an underrated running game opening up the offense for the Baylor Bears.  But we also saw the underwhelming defense that is Baylor’s weakness coming into the 2015 season.  No offense to SMU, but this game was closer than it should have been early on.  It is obvious that this team will have another season averaging around 40 points scored per game, but can their defense slow down high powered offenses such as Texas Tech and TCU?  I do not expect Baylor to be winning the Big 12 championship when three of Baylor’s final five games this season are on the road against tough inter-conference opponents.

University of West Virginia
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 10/3 @ Oklahoma; 10/17 @ Baylor; 10/29 @ TCU; 12/5 @ Kansas State

Synopsis:  Never did I ever expect the day to come I would to say or write the following: West Virginia may have the best defense in the Big 12 Conference.  The West Virginia Mountaineers have for years before known for their offensive skill players, only sending one major defensive NFL prospect to the profession ranks in the last several years.  But with eight returning starters on defense, a unit that includes Safety Karl Joseph, Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, and Cornerback Daryl Worley, West Virginia has a chance to be the foil of the Big 12 power teams in 2015.  Also don’t forget about the two headed running attack lead by Running Backs. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood have the chance to frustrate many opponents who lack the linebacker depth to compensate.  The biggest question in Morgantown is if Junior Quarterback Skyler Howard is ready to be the starting Quarterback for a full season after spot duty last season?

Texas Christian University
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/26 @ Texas Tech; 10/29 vs West Virginia; 11/21 @ Oklahoma; 11/27 vs Baylor

Synopsis: Entering the 2015 College Football season as the number two ranked team in the country, TCU has come a long way under Head Coach Gary Patterson.  Several years ago TCU was playing in a mid-level conference causing National upsets with great defense and an underrated offense.  This year the script has flipped with a high powered offense led by starting Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who is considered an early front runner for the Heisman Trophy.  The defense is not at the caliber of past TCU teams and that is what may be the tripping point for Gary Patterson’s team who is on a mission to be the Big 12 Conference champions and get into this year’s College Football Final Four Playoff.  Matchups with high powered offenses like Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Baylor will be major tests of TCU’s defensive depth and efficiency.

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