As we close in on season-openers, we’re taking a big-picture look at two Big 12 teams that have an opportunity to answer this question: Who will be the TCU of 2015? Which team is poised to rise and surprise in this conference the way the Horned Frogs did last year?
Take 1: Brandon Chatmon – Oklahoma Sooners
The similarities are pretty striking.
New Air Raid-style offense. Established, experienced stars on defense. Uncertainty at quarterback. A disappointing showing the previous season.
The combination of a new offense and quality quarterback play completely changed the destiny of the 2014 Horned Frogs. When Trevone Boykin emerged as a big-play threat who could also run the new offense with relentless efficiency, any ceiling on the Horned Frogs’ title hopes was blown away.
The same could happen to Oklahoma in 2015. True enough, the Sooners' defense hasn’t been on the same level as TCU’s since 2012 -- TCU averaged 1.56 points allowed per possession while OU allowed 1.83 points per possession in conference games during that span -- but Bob Stoops’ defense should be good enough to put the Sooners in Big 12 title contention, or even battling for a College Football Playoff berth if the offense can hold up its end of the bargain.
If Baker Mayfield or Trevor Knight can continue the playmaking ways they’ve shown in snippets during their 26 combined games in college football and add smart, efficient decision-making to the equation, the sky is the limit for the Sooners.
Take 2: Max Olson -- Oklahoma State Cowboys
The offseason hype machine that we’re all guilty of feeding has built up Oklahoma State as potentially one of the better dark horses in college football this year. But we haven’t talked much about how the Cowboys’ season in 2014 actually went prior to the Bedlam upset.
After beating Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas, the Pokes lost five Big 12 games in a row. All five of them by at least 21 points. The average margin was nearly 27 points. And while it’s easy to argue that Mason Rudolph didn’t play in four of those games, the Pokes’ defense didn’t show up either. They allowed 40 points per game during that month of losing, gave up more than 6.6 yards per play and ranked No. 125 in FBS in pass defense.
The reality is, Oklahoma State was one play away from being a forgettable 5-7. Had they not pulled off that Bedlam surprise, they would’ve looked a lot more like that TCU team from 2013 that only managed to defeat the Big 12’s worst teams.
The 2015 version of the Pokes profiles a lot more like last year’s Frogs: A vastly more experienced roster, a confident quarterback, an array of skill talent that’s getting underestimated nationally and enough veteran leadership on defense to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Big 12.