Well, we’ve had some earth-shattering news this week in the BigTen which just happens to be one of the two conferences we’re covering this week.
Last year’s champion: Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield stamped (with authority) his legacy in the Big XII by winning the conference for the third straight season, which was also then-first year HC Lincoln Riley’s first conference title. Mayfield and the Sooners smashed all before them in the Big XII and made my prediction of Oklahoma State winning the Big XII look foolish.
Predicted champion: Oklahoma
I learned my lesson.. until further notice, I will never, ever pick against Oklahoma in the Big XII. The Sooners are a well-oiled machine and have been since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman back in 1998. Now a full year under his belt, Big XII title and playoff appearance in hand, second year HC Lincoln Riley presides over one of the true blue blood programs in the country running at near maximum efficiency. Last year the Sooners had to replace two 1,000 yard backs, and a Heisman trophy finalist, Biletnikoff Award winner (Best WR) in Dede Westbrook and made it look easy. I expect more of the same here until the Texas Longhorns get their act together.
Player(s) to Watch: WVU’s Will Grier (QB)
Grier began his college career playing for the Gators, starring for them in 2015 as they surprised many to claim the SEC East crown. But all wasn’t well for Grier as he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended mid-way thru the season. Grier transferred to West Virginia where, last year, he was third in the Big XII in passing yards and efficiency. Grier will lead a high powered offense in Morgantown that’s expected to be the best Mountaineer team to compete in the Big XII since West Virginia arrived in 2012.
Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (QB)
Kyler was the #1 dual threat QB in the nation coming out of high school as part of the class of 2016, where he starred for Allen as they won three straight Texas 6A state championships and never lost a game. Murray, at the time, had committed and enrolled at Texas A&M. Fast forward to last year, Murray played in several games as a back-up to program legend Baker Mayfield. But in those games we got a taste of what Kyler can do – he threw for 359 yards last year on only 21 attempts, and averaged a mammoth 17 yards per attempt. Also, Murray started the game vs West Virginia last November as Mayfield missed the first series due to suspension. Murray promptly took the first snap of the game 66 yards down the sideline and was tackled inside the 20. This off-season, Murray was drafted by the Oakland A’s but chose to play his senior season at Oklahoma before turning pro in baseball. Look out for this stud athlete to tear up the Big XII this season.
Teams with Question Marks: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State
Three teams with three very different question marks.
Oklahoma State – Missing their long-time starter QB Mason Rudolph, who has graduated and is in the NFL, along with James Washington, who led the Big XII in receiving last year. Lots of production missing that needs to be replaced. However RB Justice Hill and his 1,400 yards of production on the ground returns, that said I’m expecting a rough year in Stillwater.
Texas – What will we see from Texas this year on offense? They made (and won) a bowl game last year, which was great, however, offensively they were a mess. They didn’t have a passer with over 2,000 yards or a rusher with over 500! Then-freshman QB Sam Ehlinger can’t do it all for them as he did last year – his body just won’t hold up. He played his heart out against Oklahoma in Dallas and was definitely out there playing concussed. Texas needs to find a way to keep him healthy and limit his run responsibilities in the offense in order for them to progress as a program. Ehlinger is the real deal and has potential to be a legend in Austin.
Kansas State – HC Bill Snyder is 78 years young and seems to be holding the university hostage on his future. Will he step away and name a successor (likely his son) or will he be pushed out by the administration who has their own visions for the program? It’s an interesting dynamic as Snyder built the Wildcats up from a doormat to a very respectable and, at times dominant, program.
Last year’s champion: Ohio State
The Buckeyes won the conference, which was a big prediction by many, but it wasn’t pretty. Ohio State needed to pull a miraculous comeback against Penn State at home and needed the Nittany Lions to lose a game at Michigan State for them to cement their place in the BigTen title game, where they battled Wisconsin to a tight 27-21 win.
Predicted champion: Penn State
With J.T. Barrett finally exhausting his eligibility and the turmoil in Columbus, one would assume I changed my pick of Ohio State to Penn State. I assure you, I have not changed any picks. I had Penn State written down as my team to win the conference before the Meyer story broke Wednesday, and here’s why: QB Trace McSorley is Baker Mayfield Lite. McSorley doesn’t just pick your defense apart, he rips its heart out by avading the oncoming rush and throwing darts downfield. Yes, Penn State is going to be without RB Saquon Barkley, but McSorley is the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions and I’m expecting a big year from him to lift Penn State over pretenders like Michigan and Ohio State.
Player(s) to Watch: Penn State’s Trace McSorley (QB)
Oh, did I mention Trace already? He led the BigTen in passing yards and was second in passing efficiency.
Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez (QB)
He might be a true freshman, and he might not start right away, but I’m expecting big things from Adrian Martinez, whose mobile acumen will make him an incredible threat to defenses under center and in Huskers’ HC Scott Frost’s Oregon-inspired attack.
Teams with Question Marks: Ohio State, Michigan
Ohio State was going to be in transition even before the news of the university’s administration placing Meyer on paid leave came out Wednesday. But that transition wasn’t supposed to be in regards to the head coach. It is a very real possibility that Meyer will lose his job, and likely his career, over the Zach Smith domestic abuse scandal. You can read more on that here. Hard to say what we should expect from a Meyer-less Buckeyes this season.
Michigan is in a “show me” year for fourth year with HC Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is 1-5 vs main rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, and hasn’t led the Wolverines to a conference title game since arriving on his $9 million/year contract in 2015. Expectations are high for the Wolverines to make a move in the challenging BigTen East with the arrival of Ole Miss transfer QB Shae Patterson. But, let’s crash the “Patterson for Heisman” parades in Ann Arbor – in his career against winning teams, Patterson was 1-5 and threw two touchdown passes to six interceptions. (I’m not include Patterson’s two TD passes against Auburn in garbage time).
Football is so close you can taste it! On Deck: C-USA, FBS Indy’s, Mid-American, and the Mountain West.