In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we debate who the most improved offensive and defensive units will be this season:
Who will have the most improved offense?
Brandon Chatmon: You might want to sit down, this is going to sound a little crazy. I'm picking Texas to have the Big 12's most improved offense. Simply put, the Longhorns were awful in 2014, finishing eighth in yards per play (4.92), ninth in points per drive (1.49) and eighth in third down conversions (34.3). Even though the quarterback position remains a major question mark, I'd be surprised to see UT fail to improve on those numbers and jump into the top half of the Big 12 in those offensive categories. I'm going out on a limb but I'm betting Charlie Strong finds some offensive playmakers in Year 2.
Jake Trotter: Wow, Brandon with a stunner. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. To me, it's Oklahoma State that will have the most improved offense, and quarterback is the biggest reason why. The Cowboys were awful offensively for much of last season, scoring 9, 10, 14 and 7 points in a row at one point. But that was before Mason Rudolph took over from behind center. He has a chance to be the second-best QB in the league behind Trevone Boykin. Receivers Brandon Sheperd and James Washington are back as well after breakout seasons, while the offensive line should be dramatically better with the addition of Victor Salako and healthy return of Zachary Crabtree at the tackle spots. Under Gundy, the Cowboys have a track record of putting up big points. Coming off a down year, they look like they'll return to that in 2015.
Max Olson: I'm excited to see how rapidly Oklahoma's offense evolves this season under Lincoln Riley. He's as good a guy as you can find to jump-start a passing attack that ranked dead last in the Big 12 in conference play at 185 yards per game last season. For comparison's sake, Kansas' ninth-place passing offense still averaged 213. Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook should put up impressive numbers to balance out the punch of the run game, just another reason why I think OU will drop off big numbers this season.
Who will have the most improved defense?
Chatmon: Oklahoma State will be much improved defensively. The Cowboys are more experienced, more athletic, deeper and faster. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah could be the best defender in the Big 12, Jimmy Bean could be the most underrated defender and Kevin Peterson and Jordan Sterns solidify the secondary with a pair of top-notch playmakers. The Cowboys allowed 5.79 yards per play (seventh in the Big 12) and 2.14 points per drive (seventh in the Big 12) in 2014. I expect Glenn Spencer's defense to improve both numbers, particularly with the help of a Cowboys offense that could return to its high scoring ways.
Trotter: West Virginia isn't known for playing tenacious defense. But that's exactly what the Mountaineers could have in 2015. Strong safety Karl Joseph, cornerback Daryl Worley and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski lead the way as all-Big 12 caliber players. Free safety Dravon Henry is not far behind coming off a freshman All-American season. There's concern up front, notably with stopping the run and getting to the passer. But if the Mountaineers can find a replacement for Shaq Riddick off the edge (Larry Jefferson? Xavier Pegues?), then this could be the best defense that Dana Holgorsen has fielded and one of the better ones in the league.
Olson: Texas Tech won't have the best defense in the Big 12, but this group can make a run at being most improved. When you're one of the worst in the country at run defense, turnovers and penalties, there really is nowhere to go but up, right? As long as new coordinator David Gibbs sticks around for the entire season, we're going to see growth. I like what they're working with along the defensive line, and their young corners will play with noticeably more confidence. The flaws with Tech's D were so obvious and fundamental that a sharp coach like Gibbs shouldn't have a hard time addressing and coaxing out needed improvement. At the very least, it's safe to say we're not going to see another 82-point embarrassment.