Way-too-early Big 12 power rankings

Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-too-early Big 12 power rankings:

1. Oklahoma Sooners: Though they came up short against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal, the Sooners still had a banner campaign, capturing their ninth Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Going into next season, the backfield of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon figures to be as prolific as any in the country. Oklahoma does have some glaring holes to fill defensively following the unexpected early departures of cornerback Zack Sanchez and linebacker Dominique Alexander. But if the young offensive line can continue to improve and somebody steps up as a go-to receiver to replace Sterling Shepard, the Sooners will be equipped to defend their Big 12 title and challenge again for a spot in the playoff.

2. Baylor Bears: The Bears graduate four starters off one of the top offensive lines in Big 12 history, which is no small loss. Still, Baylor will remain loaded offensively at the skill positions with quarterbacks Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham, running backs Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson and wideout KD Cannon. If All-Big 12 defensive tackle Andrew Billings decides to come back on top of that, the Bears rightfully will start out the year as part of most playoff conversations.

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Mason Rudolph and James Washington return to give Oklahoma State one of the top quarterback-receiver connections in the country. But can the Cowboys flank their passing game with a competent rushing attack? Mike Gundy is hopeful additional depth and experience will bolster the offensive line. But that won't matter unless Oklahoma State unearths a difference-maker at running back, whether that's via transfer (Stanford's Barry J. Sanders?) or other means. That said, the Cowboys still won 10 games this past season, without much of a running game. With one, they could be lethal.

4. TCU Horned Frogs: Due to a rash of injuries this past season, Gary Patterson was forced to play several young defenders sooner than he would've preferred. The silver lining in that, though, is that many underclassmen like Travin Howard, Ty Summers and Nick Orr will be experienced for 2016. Offensively, former Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill will have every opportunity to succeed Trevone Boykin at quarterback. If Hill -- or another quarterback -- emerges, the Horned Frogs will have a chance to fight their way into the conference title picture again.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders: The Red Raiders will have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore this past season. But will Tech have enough on the other side of the ball to finally be relevant in the conference? Kliff Kingsbury has revamped his staff alongside defensive coordinator David Gibbs. After owning one of the country's worst defenses the past two years, it's time the Red Raiders showed life defensively.

6. West Virginia Mountaineers: Even after their first eight-win season since joining the Big 12, the pressure will be on Dana Holgorsen in 2016, underscored by athletic director Shane Lyons having to issue a statement in December affirming Holgorsen's return as coach. West Virginia loses the bulk of its defense and Big 12 rushing champ Wendell Smallwood, who declared early for the NFL draft. But quarterback Skyler Howard is coming off the best performance of his career in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. If he can build off that, the Mountaineers, with a budding young receiving corps, could be dangerous.

7. Texas Longhorns: 2016 could be the make-or-break season for Charlie Strong. In two years under Strong, the Longhorns are 12-14, which just doesn't cut it at a place with the tradition and resources of Texas, no matter what circumstances Strong walked into. The Longhorns have some budding standouts defensively and along the offensive line. But will they also get the quarterback play, as Texas transitions into a new offense under Sterlin Gilbert? The answer to that figures to go a long way in determining what happens to the Longhorns in a pivotal season.

8. Kansas State Wildcats: Bill Snyder announced Monday that he's returning for the 2016 season, which makes the Wildcats a team to watch. The defense could be rather salty with the returns of Will Geary, Jordan Willis, Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore, Duke Shelley and potentially Dante Barnett. If the Wildcats get someone to emerge at quarterback (Alex Delton? Jesse Ertz?) they'll be a threat to finish in the top half of the conference.

9. Iowa State Cyclones: First-year coach Matt Campbell takes over with a roster not devoid of talent. The QB-RB-WR trio of Joel Lanning, Mike Warren and Allen Lazard should be the best the Cyclones have boasted in years. Iowa State brings back several key parts defensively, as well. The Cyclones really weren't that far off from being a bowl-eligible team this past season with the narrow losses to Toledo, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Can Campbell and the new staff get Iowa State back to a bowl game in their first year?

10. Kansas Jayhawks: The Jayhawks showed progress under first-year coach David Beaty this past season, which is all anyone really could've hoped for. Since wins will be almost as tough to come by again in 2016, marked improvement will be the true barometer for Year 2 of the Beaty era in Lawrence.