Below is our post-spring Big 12 power poll:
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): It's a little alarming that a pair of true freshmen (Mike Freeze, Alec Dunham) debuted on the post-spring two-deep at linebacker. But according to coach Gary Patterson, TCU took a step forward in answering its other big question defensively with sophomore Torrance Mosley surging at cornerback opposite budding standout Ranthony Texada. Patterson’s big worry on the other side of the ball this spring was backup quarterback, which only underscores just how stacked the Horned Frogs are going to be on offense.
2. Baylor (2): New starting QB Seth Russell was asked this spring which would be more painful: Taking a blindside shot from Shawn Oakman or diving at the knees of LaQuan McGowan. The correct answer to that question is, well, both would hurt a lot. Once again, Baylor’s loaded roster is teeming with athletic freaks, ranging from its 6-foot-9 defensive lineman to its 400-pound tight end.
3. Oklahoma State (3): The chance of Mason Rudolph encountering the sophomore slump that fellow quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Davis Webb endured last season remains. But Rudolph showed no signs this spring that will happen, dominating Oklahoma State’s spring game with yet another pristine performance. Given Rudolph, the Cowboys' deep array of receivers and an improved offensive line, this figures to be the most explosive Oklahoma State offensive attack since the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon barrage of 2011.
4. Oklahoma (4): The Sooners were a disaster at receiver last season after Sterling Shepard, who missed the last third of the season with a groin injury, went down. Shepard is back to 100 percent, and Oklahoma has added a pair of potential difference-makers to the lineup in speedy juco transfer Dede Westbrook and versatile redshirt freshman tight end Mark Andrews. The Sooners won’t emerge into contender status until they get better play at QB, though. And the spring game did little to alleviate those concerns, as Baker Mayfield, Knight and Cody Thomas all struggled with their decision-making.
5. West Virginia (7): As Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech carry QB competitions into the fall, West Virginia has its man in Skyler Howard, who ended the Mountaineers' spring QB derby early and emphatically. West Virginia still has questions at receiver with Kevin White and Mario Alford no longer around. And the October schedule, which features road trips to Norman, Waco and Fort Worth, is beyond brutal. But if Howard builds off last season's encouraging performances, and West Virginia’s veteran secondary plays up to potential, the Mountaineers could finish with eight wins for the first time since joining the league.
6. Texas (5): One spring later, it remains unclear which direction the Longhorns will go at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard flashed promise during the spring game, but Charlie Strong still has Tyrone Swoopes as the starter. Either way, the Longhorns will need more than a “game manager,” as Strong put it, to finish in the top half of the Big 12. Remember, the Longhorns must replace their leading rusher (Malcolm Brown), two leading receivers (Jaxon Shipley, John Harris), two best defensive linemen (Malcom Brown, Cedric Reed), leading tackler (Jordan Hicks) and top defensive back (Quandre Diggs) off last season's team. That’s a Bevo of production.
7. Kansas State (6): Having outperformed preseason expectations year after year, Bill Snyder probably deserves more benefit of the doubt. That said, it’s impossible to overlook K-State’s looming issues offensively, with quarterback, running back and wide receiver all still undefined heading into the fall. The Wildcats could outperform expectations again, but it will require one of Snyder’s best coaching jobs.
8. Texas Tech (8): Hope springs again in Lubbock thanks to the arrival of new defensive coordinator David Gibbs, hotshot freshman DT Breiden Fehoko and Ohio State transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell. Those three alone should boost a defense that was among the worst in Big 12 history last season. The litmus test will come on Sept. 19, when Tech travels to Arkansas, which battered the Red Raiders last season. If they show improvement defensively there, the Red Raiders could prove to be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the Big 12.
9. Iowa State (9): Despite the 2-10 finish last season, there’s reason to believe the Cyclones could return to bowl eligibility in 2015. Sam B. Richardson is the league’s most experienced QB; the receiving corps has prolific pieces; the offensive line is seasoned, and Iowa State appears to have the run-stuffer it so desperately lacked last season in juco transfer Demond Tucker, who was the story of the spring game. It’s imperative that Iowa State gets off to a good start, though. The Cyclones have opened the last two seasons with demoralizing losses to FCS opponents. In September, they open with another in Northern Iowa, which sent the Cyclones into this mini-tailspin with its win in Ames in 2013.
10. Kansas (10): This spring was quite cruel to the Jayhawks. They lost quarterback Michael Cummings to a knee injury, and leading rusher Corey Avery and receiver Rodriguez Coleman to indefinite suspensions. It wasn’t like Kansas was flush with playmakers to begin with. Godspeed, David Beaty.