Quality depth at WVU; Texas, TCU are improved
MORGANTOWN – The new looks in the Big 12 Conference aren’t that fancy and shouldn’t mean the “have’s” of the past will stumble and fall or that the “have not’s” will come from the bottom and feast at the top of the standings.
Three new coaches and a first-seen conference championship game are among the new looks. But Kansas and Iowa State won’t make much progress and Baylor still has to find the ways to shed all the dust and debris from the fallout when its coach was forced out along with the school’s athletic director.
By playing a conference championship game between the top two teams in the regular season standings the conference hopes to get a team in the semifinals of the national playoffs.
After a 10-3 season in 2016 that included a bowl win, West Virginia chases its colleagues with more depth than it has seen in a number of years. And still the Mountaineer chances will be pegged to its transfer quarterback Will Grier, a starter at Florida before off-field problems made his move to another school the only answer.
Grier comes to a league where a premium is always placed on offense and a whirlwind of points. Running back Justin Crawford has produced in the past and Kyle Bosch could be an all-conference lineman. Dravon Henry-Askew returns to the secondary from a season-ending injury.
Oklahoma is one of the teams with a new coach (Lincoln Riley), but the new man was last season’s offensive coordinator for the Sooners. Baker Mayfield usually racks up points and tight end Mark Andrews, offensive lineman Orlando Brown and linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo have already been capable and reliable.
It’s rare that Oklahoma State can contain league opponents, but it’s also rare when the Cowboys get outscored with back Justice Hill and receiver James Washington.
Always the most overlooked team is Kansas State and its beat-you-by-a-point Wildcats.
Linemen Dalton Risner (offense) and Reggie Walker (defense) are K-State’s best players. When the Wildcats win, 20-19, cornerback D.J. Reed had something to do with it.
Texas always lets its money do much of the talking. An overall three-year losing record sent its previous coach (Charlie Strong) out of Austin with the reins going to Houston’s former coach, Tom Herman, with the new man now wearing burnt orange and shouting “Hook ’em Horns” as if born to the job. Texas will present linemen Connor Williams and Malcolm Roach as well as linebacker Malik Jefferson, but the eyes of Texas will focus on the Longhorn offense in the early season.
Fort Worth was crying when its beloved Horned Frogs lost more often than they won in 2016. A reliable defense has never shown its face at Texas Christian. Kyle Hicks and center Austin Schlottermann lead the offense and linebacker Travon Howard can make plays.
Where will the shattered green and gold pieces fall in Waco? Nobody expects Baylor to be in the league championship game, but a point-producing offense could deny other teams a place in that game. K.J. Smith is Baylor’s best lineman for incoming coach Matt Rhule.
Out in Lubbock, defensive players Jordyn Brooks and Jah’Shawn Johnson are Texas Tech’s most polished players.
It’ll take more than a cyclone to get Iowa State near the top of the standings. A bowl game of any kind would bring more attention to the team than all the corn and hogs in the state. Allen Lazard (receiver) and Kamari Colton are the players the Cyclones rely on the most.
And then there’s Kansas. Just get us to basketball is the cry heard most of the time in Lawrence. But the Jayhawks have defensive stalwarts in Dorance Armstrong and Joe Dineen.
The Big 12 tries to dispel the notion that it doesn’t have the depth and overall quality found in the Southeastern, Big 10, Atlantic Coast and Pac 12 conferences. A magical season from WVU would help validate the so far thinly-wrapped claims made by league officials.