Preseason camps have wrapped up around the Big 12, and it’s time teams focused on their openers this weekend.
It’s also time for the first Big 12 power rankings, which will appear on the blog at the beginning of each week throughout the season.
This list will change, obviously, but here is the starting point for how the Big 12 teams stack up going into Week 1:
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were competitive last season, despite shuffling through three inexperienced quarterbacks. Even if Mike Gundy makes good on his promise to play both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh, quarterback figures to be a strength this time. Weapons abound offensively, and seven starters return on defense. The schedule also favors the Pokes, with TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all slated to visit Stillwater.
2. TCU: The Horned Frogs have the best defense in the league, maybe by far. Among the contenders, they also have -- by far -- the most difficult schedule, which begins this weekend with a neutral-site showdown with LSU. Can TCU survive the gauntlet? That hinges heavily on Casey Pachall, who has the talent to quarterback the Frogs to the Big 12 title -- even against a brutal schedule.
3. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops stunned the college football world last week by announcing Trevor Knight as his starter. There could be bumps in the road early for the redshirt freshman quarterback. But Knight’s potential appears to be vast, and he could become a lethal weapon out of the Sooners’ new read-option offense. If that happens, and Mike Stoops can get something out of an unproven defense, there’s no reason OU can’t win a ninth Big 12 championship.
4. Texas: On paper, the Longhorns would deserve to be at the top of this list. Unfortunately, for them, football is not played on paper. Texas returns 19 starters and appears formidable at every position on either side of the ball. Something, however, has been missing intangibly from this program the past three years, underscored by two consecutive no-shows in the Red River Rivalry. Can the Horns rediscover their mojo? If so, the rest of the league could be in trouble -- because the talent and experience is there in Austin.
5. Baylor: The Bears deserve to be in the same tier with Oklahoma State, TCU, OU and Texas. In other words, they are a viable Big 12 title contender. Seven starters return on a defense that uncovered an opportunistic identity last November, and the offense is, well, loaded. Then again, there’s something to be said for having done it before, which Baylor has not. The schedule is favorable early, but the Bears’ mettle will be put to the test in November-December when they face all four teams ahead of them in the power ranks.
6. Kansas State: Bill Snyder’s bunch has surprised the past two years with heady quarterback play and stingy defense. With a QB battle ongoing and only two defensive starters returning, it’s difficult to envision K-State winning double-digit games again with the same formula. That said, the Wildcats might have the best blocking line in the league, and three of the better playmakers in Tyler Lockett, Tramaine Thompson and John Hubert. You know Snyder will have his team well coached, too. In other words, the Wildcats should not be discounted.
7. West Virginia: West Virginia lost three of the best offensive players in the history of its program, and yet there’s still a lot to like about this offense. The Mountaineers added some talented junior-college transfers, and Houston transfer Charles Sims could be a star in the Big 12. Even though the defense will be improved, it probably won’t be good enough for West Virginia to contend; but it might be enough for the Mountaineers to top last year’s win total.
8. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are in a state of flux at the moment with their quarterback situation. Projected starter Michael Brewer continues to battle a bad back, which means first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury could wind up starting a true freshman Friday night at SMU. With running back Kenny Williams, wideout Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro, there’s more than enough around the quarterback for Tech to be prolific offensively. But unless Brewer gets healthy, it’s hard to see Tech maximizing its offensive potential.
9. Iowa State: Consistent quarterback play has been the one thing that’s kept Iowa State from becoming anything more than a .500 team in the Paul Rhoads era. Can sophomore Sam Richardson finally be the guy who turns that around? The Cyclones are banking he is. Richardson has some tools, and he played well in limited action last year with eight touchdowns compared to just one pick. He’ll need to stay efficient to offset a defense in rebuilding mode.
10. Kansas: Coach Charlie Weis said last month Kansas doesn’t deserve to be put anywhere but in last place. The Jayhawks should be better than last season, especially with former blue-chip prospect Jake Heaps now quarterbacking them. Running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson are dynamic, too. But will that be enough to pull Kansas out of the basement?