The Big 12: it’s been behind the times for years. Since 2012, it’s lacked a conference title game that would consolidate one of its teams as a true national power. But those days are now past, and the poorly named ten-team conference will see its top two squads meet once the regular-season slate wraps up. The new dynamic will help the Big 12’s national championship hopefuls, especially if they lose a regular-season game, as they’ll have the chance to etch another quality win into their College Football Playoff resumes.
Which Big 12 teams will be in the mix for the conference title, and who’s the best value at this early stage? Let’s continue our power-conference betting previews (which already covered the ACC and Big 10).
2017 BIG 12 TITLE FAVORITES
Oklahoma Sooners: 20/23
There were a lot of questions about the Sooners early last season. They lost two of their first three games, falling to Houston (33-23) and Ohio State (45-24). Following that tough start, Oklahoma ran the table in the Big 12, mostly blowing teams out. They capped the year with a 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
Legendary coach Bob Stoops retired in June (handing the reins to Lincoln Riley), but the Sooners have 16 starters back, including Baker Mayfield, one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He’ll need to find some weapons to utilize, with Didi Westbrook and Semaje Perine in the pros.
An early non-conference game with Ohio State will be key to the team’s CFP credentials, and get them prepped for their biggest conference tests versus Texas (October 14) and at Oklahoma State (November 4).
Oklahoma State Cowboys: 41/10
Though rumors that coach Mike Gundy may go elsewhere have been present for a few years, the Oklahoma native and OK State alum is back for season number 13. He’s 104-50 with the Cowboys, overall, 63-39 in conference play, and has won at least 10 games in five of the last seven seasons.
Last year, Oklahoma State went 10-3, falling early on to Central Michigan (30-27), dropping a 35-24 contest at Baylor, and losing to Oklahoma (38-20) before whipping Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
Twelve starters are back including QB Mason Rudolph and six other offensive starters. While Rudolph is the lynchpin, he’ll be able to lean on James Washington, a terrific number-one wideout, and Justice Hill, who showed tremendous promise at running back last year as a freshman. The defense is serviceable with linebacker a strength.
While a road game at Pitt is dangerous, the Cowboys should emerge from non-conference play undefeated, and they have the advantage of hosting rival Oklahoma in the regular season.
Texas Longhorns: 27/4
Mack Brown was fired after going 8-5 in 2013. The last three seasons under Charlie Strong, the Longhorns went 6-7, 5-7, and 5-7, with a combined league mark of 12-14. That got Strong fired, and Tom Herman now takes over after going 22-4 in two years at Houston. Herman has some power-conference credentials, winning the Broyles Award (top assistant in the country) while serving as the Ohio State OC in the team’s 2014 national championship season.
Strong didn’t win a lot of games, but he recruited good players, and the Longhorns will be one of the more experienced teams in the conference. They return seventeen starters, including 10 on defense. The offense will be led by sophomore QB Shane Buechele, and promising running back Chris Warren, who will tote the rock behind a veteran line.
Texas’ schedule shapes up pretty well; they face Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at home in back-to-back weeks during mid-October. A conference title isn’t impossible in year one under Herman.
Kansas State Wildcats: 39/4
One of these years, Bill Snyder is going to retire, again. They thought his 2005 retirement was a good thing after going 4-7 and 5-6 in back to back years. But the program bottomed out in the four years Snyder was gone, only to see it resurrected since his return. At the age of 77, Snyder is coming off a 9-4 campaign that included a win over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl.
With fourteen starters back, 2017 could be even better. QB Jesse Ertz, running back Alex Barnes, and a veteran offensive front lead the way. On defense, Elijah Lee and Jordan Willis are gone, but overall things look solid.
Schedule-wise, Snyder has it pretty tough; K-State plays both Texas and Oklahoma State on the road this year.
TCU Horned Frogs: 47/4
After the Horned Frogs went 12-1 in 2014 and 11-2 in 2015, they fell to 6-7 last season. Virtually the entire offense is back, with seven starters returning on defense, too. Most of the offense is promising, including the line, the running backs, and the receivers. The biggest question mark is at QB, where Kenny Hill must be more consistent if TCU is going to get back to its high-scoring ways.
On defense — a completely-ignored side of the game in the Trevone Boykin years — linebackers Travin Howard and Ty Summers are a dynamic duo, and the Frogs need the entire unit to be one of the better Ds in the conference if they’re going to compete.
On the whole, the team should be improved, but it is a tall task to go from 6-7 to double-digit wins, especially when the schedule includes road games against Oklahoma and OK State.
THE BEST BET
For the first time since 2010, the league is holding a title game. That means, if someone beats Oklahoma in the regular season, they’ll likely need to hold off the Sooners a second time with a championship on the line.
The Sooners are not the play, though, for a few reasons: they’re huge chalk; they have a new coach; and they have a tough schedule, both in and out of the conference.
The third-tier teams, Kansas State and TCU, may both be improved, but probably don’t have the horses to compete for the championship.
Because the Sooners are such a huge chalk, and have a new coach, they are hard to bet on.
That leaves Oklahoma State and Texas, who both offer value at the moment. Texas is the better play at this stage: while their also in year one under a new coach, Herman is a significant upgrade over Strong, and he has a ton of talent to work with, plus a favorable conference schedule. He’s got a great chance to be in the title game which just so happens to be in Arlington. If Texas reaches the Big 12 championship, the crowd will be full of Longhorn die-hards.