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Early Big XII Preview

Early Big XII Preview

Many felt like adding a Big XII title game would cost the conference a possible playoff bid but last season Oklahoma managed to survive a rematch with TCU and was selected into the national field. In four seasons Oklahoma has represented the conference twice in the College Football Playoffs but no other team has been selected and the conference is still searching for its first victory on that stage.
This season the conference lacks a clear frontrunner as getting a team to go 10-0 in the always deep league looks unlikely. Last season the Sooners were able to shake off the home upset loss to Iowa State on the strength of their victory over Ohio State in non-conference play but they won’t have that margin of error this season. Ultimately a competitive race looks likely on top of the conference this season and getting a one-loss team in the tournament might be a challenge. Here is an early look at the 10 Big XII teams ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Texas: Tom Herman led Texas to its best win count since 2013 last season even if the expectations were much higher as a high profile hire that led dramatic success at Houston in just two seasons. Texas lost exclusively close games last season and had erratic defensive performances despite being one of the nation’s top run defenses. The offensive production also dropped by nearly 100 yards per game compared with Charlie Strong’s 2016 squad in Austin. This year’s team will be one of the more experienced Big XII groupings. The schedule is similar to last season facing both Maryland and USC again for a tough non-conference schedule but the Trojans will visit Austin as will TCU and West Virginia. Ultimately the Red River Rivalry game will determine whether or not Texas takes a big leap or has another decent season that isn’t up to the expectations of the Longhorns brass.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma was stunned at home against Iowa State last October but the Sooners rallied to return to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in three years. Oklahoma wound up on the wrong side of an epic battle with Georgia but it was an impressive first season for Lincoln Riley who took over suddenly for Bob Stoops last summer. Replacing the #1 pick in the NFL draft plus several other top contributors will be a challenge but this should remain a top offense team with Kyler Murray likely to quarterback the team for one season before pursuing a baseball career. Oklahoma was not an elite defensive team last season and it will be difficult to match the amazing production the Sooners had under Baker Mayfield. The schedule offers Oklahoma a realistic opportunity to run the table but they won’t have a marquee non-conference win like they did last season after beating Ohio State. That could mean little margin for error for a program that always seems to have at least one stumble in the regular season.

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TCU: Gary Patterson has led TCU to 11 or more wins in three of the last four seasons as it would be foolish to count out the Frogs as a serious Big XII threat. TCU loses a lot of key players from a very good defense from last season and they also need to break in a new quarterback. TCU faces Ohio State, Texas, and Oklahoma in the first seven games of the season as there will be opportunities to move up in the national and conference race with notable wins but it also means the Frogs could reach last season’s loss count rather early. TCU has gone undefeated at home three of the past four seasons and if they accomplish that again in 2018 a top three finish in the Big XII looks assured with five of nine games in Fort Worth, although a road heavy September could take a toll on the season goals.

West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen should finally feel some security in Morgantown with winning results in six of seven seasons. Will Grier returns for the Mountaineers after posting some of the nation’s best numbers last season prior to an injury that changed the trajectory of the season. TCU and Oklahoma will visit Morgantown this season as the Mountaineers will have opportunities for big wins with an offense that should be among the most productive in the conference if not the nation. The defense struggled at times last season however and has minimal depth back in action as shootouts should be the norm with Grier capable of being the top quarterback in the conference and a Heisman sleeper.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has won 10 or more games in six of the last eight seasons but they have been stopped at 10 the past three seasons with expectations of a possible breakthrough to a Big XII title or a playoff bid. Highly productive quarterback Mason Rudolph departs but most of the backfield is intact as this can still be an above average offensive team. The defense should remain a stable though not dominant group but the schedule ahead in 2018 looks like a challenge. Five Big XII road games are ahead including several difficult tests and a non-conference game with Boise State lurks as a dangerous September matchup. Matching the 10-win level of recent years looks like a reach for the Cowboys this season.

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Kansas State: Kansas State lost five times last season but four of those misses were by seven or fewer points as the Wildcats found a way to compete even with one of the lesser offenses in the Big XII and a revolving quarterback situation. The offense could be better this season with much more experience but the defense could regress for a second straight season. While Kansas State had mostly close losses last season they also had several narrow fortunate wins as this team was soundly out-gained on the season despite a solid scoring differential. Coach Snyder always finds a way to keep this team in the mix as another winning season shouldn’t be ruled out.

Iowa State: Matt Campbell eschewed opportunities elsewhere to stay in Ames where last season’s 8-5 campaign was a historic rise for the Cyclones. Wins over Oklahoma and TCU were incredibly impressive and the Cyclones also stopped a great Memphis offense for a bowl win. Matching that success will be a challenge and Iowa State plays the heavyweights early in the Big XII campaign this season. Several key players are back as this is a program with average experience and while there were narrow wins last season all five losses came by 10 or fewer points as well as a more dramatic breakthrough had been possible. Iowa State is no longer the conference doormat and will be a competitive team likely on the bowl border.

Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury has done enough to stay on in Lubbock with five underwhelming seasons and a 30-33 record. There have been some close calls but still a few blowout losses every year to paint the gap between the Red Raiders and the elite teams in the conference. Texas Tech showed a dramatic improvement on defense last season and with 10 starters back the Red Raiders can take another stride to shake off their former reputation as perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the nation. The offense has some question marks however needing a third new starting quarterback in three seasons and losing most of the top receivers from last season. Oklahoma and Texas both play in Lubbock but that might mean fewer realistic opportunities for wins with a pair of challenging non-conference games in September as well.

Baylor: Matt Rhule stepped into a very tough situation at Baylor and a 1-11 season was the result. Baylor did show signs of progress late in the season and should show improvement but getting back to being a Big XII force looks like it will take a long rebuilding process. This will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation thanks to a lot of young players getting time last season and Charlie Brewer gave the offense life after taking over at quarterback. Statistically this didn’t look like a 1-11 squad that lost to a FCS school in September and if the Bears play all season like they did last November a handful of wins will follow.

Kansas: Kansas has been patient with a major transition hitting year four for David Beaty and a combined three wins in three seasons. The non-conference schedule offers three viable opportunities for Kansas but the gap with the rest of the Big XII remains severe with only one Big XII loss even within 15 points last season. 19 starters return for Kansas as the pieces are there to take a step forward but it remains a steep uphill climb in Lawrence and the best opportunities for conference wins this season will unfortunately all be road games.

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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#917 Oakland Athletics (Manaea) -125 over Texas Rangers (Moore) 7:05 PM CT

The Rangers are just 7-13 vs. left-handed starters this season and Texas has the AL’s worst team batting average at just .228. Texas has 68 home runs on the season but that is seven fewer than Oakland’s count with the Athletics also seven games ahead in the standings and 82 runs better in net scoring differential. Oakland is a winning team at 16-14 on the road while the Rangers are just 11-19 in Arlington this season.

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Matt Moore is only 28-years-old but the left-hander has seen his career trajectory fall off a cliff the past two seasons, now 7-20 in his last 27 decisions with a 6.02 ERA. His strikeout numbers continue to fall, on pace for a career low at just 7.4 K/9 in 11 appearances this season while his 4.4 BB/9 is difficult to overcome. Moore has a .396 BABIP right now which is sure to go down but even with a major adjustment he remains a below average AL starter and so far he has posted disastrous numbers in his home starts where batters are hitting .340 against him with a .934 OPS.

Sean Manaea hasn’t lived up to his brilliant April numbers but he has allowed four or fewer runs in all but one start this season and he remains a viable option on the mound. His season ERA is just 3.60 while he has allowed only 14 walks in 75 innings of work this season. Manaea has a lower ERA on the road and June has often been his best month in his career so far and he has strong career numbers vs. the Rangers. Oakland isn’t a great hitting team vs. left-handers but Manaea is the more reliable option backed by the stronger lineup and bullpen with the Rangers in a potential flat spot in the first game back at home after a west coast trip.

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Thursday Night NCAA Football

Thursday Night College Football – Texas at Iowa State

The Big XII is in the spotlight Thursday night, following a top 10 program from the conference falling from the ranks of the undefeated last weekend. Both Texas and Iowa State have more modest goals in the rebuilding process after bowl absences the past two seasons. The victor this week will be in a much stronger position to reach the postseason through the remaining conference slate.

Match-up: Texas Longhorns at Iowa State Cyclones

Venue: At Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 28, 7:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Texas -6½, Over/Under 63½

Last Meeting: 2016, at Texas (-14) 27, Iowa State 6

The contrast in national presence for Big XII rivals Texas and Iowa State couldn’t be more severe with Texas listed as second nationally in total revenue, just short of 200 million dollars while Iowa State pulled in (and spent) 78 million in the 2015-16 financial calendar. The results the past two seasons haven’t been too far apart however with back-to-back losing Big XII seasons and bowl game absences for both programs.

There is optimism on both campuses this season with regards to the 2017 football seasons with expectations of improvement and bowl bids very possible. Late in the 2015 season Iowa State won 24-0 in the last meeting hosting Texas but it wasn’t enough to save Paul Rhoads who was released after seven seasons in Ames, getting the team to three bowl games but ultimately unable to sustain a run of respectable play.

Ahead of last season Iowa State hired Matt Campbell after four successful seasons at Toledo, ironically a team that beat Iowa State in the 2015 regular season. Campbell is one of the younger coaches at the FBS level and he brought a lot of his staff from Toledo with him. Last season’s transition featured some struggles, starting with a loss to FCS Northern Iowa and an embarrassing 42-3 defeat vs. rival Iowa. Ultimately the Cyclones finished 3-9 to match the team’s 2015 record but there were respectable late season showings with two Big XII wins and several other narrow defeats vs. quality teams including close calls at home vs. ranked Baylor and Oklahoma teams.

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This year’s team avenged the loss from last season to Northern Iowa in the opener, a quality FCS program and then took rival Iowa to overtime. Iowa State also handled Akron in its first road test to sit at 2-1 heading into a difficult Big XII schedule. Iowa State plays five road games in conference play and outside of a mid-October home game with Kansas, this is one of the more favorable home dates with TCU and Oklahoma State also visiting Ames as bowl hopes for the Cyclones might hinge on getting this Thursday night upset.

Iowa State used two quarterbacks substantially last season but this season but junior Jacob Park has held the position with strong numbers, throwing for over 900 yards in three games with eight touchdowns as the offense is starting to resemble the productive attacks Campbell led in the MAC. David Montgomery has been a bright spot in the backfield with 321 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry as the offense has featured decent balance, though certainly with a lean to towards preferring to throw.

The issues for Iowa State remain on defense with Campbell’s 2016 team showing no improvement over the marginal 2015 numbers and this year’s team is only marginally ahead of last season’s pace with the toughest games still to come. Iowa State has allowed 402 yards per game with particular vulnerability in the air, currently 112th nationally allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game.

Tom Herman was a high profile hire for Texas in the offseason with Texas failing to make a bowl game the past two seasons under Charlie Strong. Herman went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston after coaching under Urban Meyer at Ohio State for three years. Herman was actually the Iowa State offensive coordinator for the first three seasons under Paul Rhoads here at Iowa State from 2009-2011. In three games at Texas he is already halfway to the loss count he had in two seasons in Houston.

Texas expected instant results from Herman with a wealth of returning talent on the roster but the 1-2 start has featured encouraging performances since a surprising opening week loss to Maryland. Texas dominated San Jose State in a shutout win and then in the last game took a highly regarded USC team to double-overtime, even playing without quarterback Shane Buechele.

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While that defeat earned some respect for Herman’s transition and bolstered his big game reputation, the reality is that Texas has little margin for error remaining on the season. After this game Texas will in succession face three of the top contenders in the conference with games against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State to start October as a 2-5 record wouldn’t be unrealistic heading into the final five games of the season.

Buechele’s status isn’t clear for Thursday night. He returned to practice this week but is still limited. Freshman backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger has had mixed results with three touchdown passes but also two interceptions and a low completion rate. The running game has been marginal for the Longhorns in trying to replace 2,000-yard rusher D’Onta Foreman as Texas has gained 4.6 yards per rush with the best results coming from junior Chris Warren III. Sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson has been the big play threat in the offense with 366 yards on only 16 catches. The kicking game has been an issue for Texas with only one made field goal in four attempts.

The numbers for the Texas defense are slightly better than for Iowa State, particularly against the pass and that is even with facing preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Sam Darnold who Texas intercepted twice in the last game, including getting a return touchdown. Texas has scored three interception return touchdowns plus a blocked field goal return touchdown this season and one big play could prove to be the difference in this type of game.

Last Season: A week after Texas had lost a tough 45-40 game with Oklahoma they looked like an upset risk hosting Iowa State riding a three-game losing streak. A tight first half broke open in the third quarter as Texas took turned a 3-6 deficit into a 24-6 edge, eventually winning 27-6 as a two-touchdown home favorite. The yardage results were even more lopsided with a 505-280 edge in one of the best performances of the season for the Texas defense. Two years ago Iowa State won 24-0 hosting Texas as a slight home underdog, the final win for Rhoads with the program.

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Historical Trends: Texas is 11-2 S/U but 6-7 ATS in this series since 1998, with Iowa State covering in three in a row until last season. Texas is on a 16-11 ATS run as a road favorite since 2008 though 1-4 ATS in that role the past two seasons. Iowa State is 7-1 ATS in the last eight instances as a home underdog though producing only two S/U upsets in that run. Iowa State is 11-4 ATS overall at home the past two+ seasons, though 6-9 S/U. In four seasons at Toledo Campbell held a 19-5 S/U record at home, going 12-10-2 ATS. Herman went 6-4 S/U and ATS in road games in his two seasons at Houston.

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Big XII Preview

Big XII Preview

08/09/2016

The Big XII figures to add a few teams in the coming years but in 2016 the 10-team conference will play again without a championship game and will hope for a better showing in the College Football Playoff. Last season there were a few clear cut national contenders in the league while this season there is more mystery with Oklahoma again projected to excel but a few others outside of the spotlight potentially ready to make the leap.

FAVORITE: Oklahoma

The Sooners survived an early season loss to Texas to take the Big XII title last season as injuries hurt a few of the other contenders and Oklahoma wound up 8-1 in the league and good enough to qualify for the College Football Playoffs. Oklahoma had a nice win over Tennessee early in the season but in the biggest Big XII games down the stretch the Sooners faced the top teams with back-up quarterbacks for some major scheduling breaks. Oklahoma was exposed in a 37-17 loss to Clemson in the national semifinals for tough finish to an 11-2 campaign and a tough debut for the Big XII in the short history of the College Football Playoff, a year after the league made a lot of noise about being left out. Oklahoma is a serious threat to return to the national stage but they again have a huge early season test out of the conference with Ohio State visiting Norman in Week 3. Oklahoma also faces Houston in the opening week in a dangerous game with the Cougars again a national threat from a smaller conference and a prime candidate to join the Big XII down the road. The schedule is front loaded as four of the toughest games of the season for Oklahoma will be in the first five games through early October but if the Sooners get by with only one loss they have a great shot to win out and put the program in a similar position as last season. Prolific passer Baker Mayfield is back after throwing for 3,700 yards last season as is top running back Samaje Perine. The Oklahoma defense will again present the most question marks and that unit will need to be up to the task early in the season with the pair of non-conference tests and perhaps the two toughest conference games being the first two games of the Big XII season with the opener at TCU ahead of the Red River Rivalry with Texas in Dallas.

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CONTENDER: TCU

Last season was supposed to be the year for TCU and the Horned Frogs fell a bit short of national goals, slipping from 12-1 in 2014 to 11-2 in 2015 with both losses in the Big XII. While TCU won’t get as much national attention early in the season as last year, the team may have a favorable path for a great season that could feature a rise to the top of the Big XII. Two big early season games at home will determine whether the Frogs are serious contenders, hosting Arkansas outside of the conference and then hosting Oklahoma in a key revenge game after losing 30-29 in Norman last season. Late season road games at Baylor and at Texas will be challenging but if Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill can smoothly take over the offense, the Horned Frogs figure to have one of the better defenses in the Big XII. It was a young defensive group depleted by injuries early last season but late in the year Gary Patterson’s defense stepped up in big overtime wins over Baylor and Oregon. With several other starters from last season absent on the offense it will be difficult to match the huge production of the past two seasons but the top of the conference also looks less formidable than last season and TCU will get to host likely the biggest game of the season on October 1.

CONTENDER: Texas

The Longhorns have made a habit out of failing to reach preseason expectations much of the last decade with a disappointing run for the program, featuring at least four losses in each of the last six seasons. After failing to make a bowl game last season this is a pivotal season for Charlie Strong in his third year in Austin and he appears to have the makings of a team capable of a breakthrough. The opening week game with Notre Dame will determine whether or not the Longhorns have arrived back on the national stage or whether they will simply lurk as a Big XII sleeper. The Big XII season will open in October with a road game at Oklahoma State and a Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma after Texas stunned the Sooners 24-17 last season. Those two games figure to shape the season for Texas and if they find a way to win both they would move to the forefront of the conference picture as they will get to host the other possible contenders in big late season games with Baylor and TCU. Texas is returning a lot of experience on both sides of the ball and after several highly regarded recruiting classes the pieces should be in place for the results to shine. Texas is only 6-6 S/U at home the past two seasons under Strong however and for the Longhorns to have any hope for a title they will need to lock down wins at Memorial Stadium.

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SLEEPER: Baylor

There has been nothing but bad news this offseason for Baylor with Art Briles eventually ousted after misconduct was revealed and former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has taken over. There have been numerous players and recruits opting to leave the program and ultimately there are a ton of questions on and off the field entering the season for a Bears program coming off three consecutive double-digit win seasons. There are enough returning players to expect that Baylor can still compete at a high level and the early season schedule should allow the Bears to ease into the season. Baylor has a light non-conference schedule highlighted by games with SMU and Rice before opening the Big XII season with Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Kansas. A 6-0 start still seems very realistic for the Bears heading into heavyweight matchups in the second half of the season. It is hard to envision Baylor beating Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma in successive weeks but the path to a surprise contending season amidst adversity is possible for a Baylor team that looked like one of the nation’s elite much of last season

IMPROVED: Kansas State

The Wildcats fell to just 6-7 last season for the worst season for the program since Bill Snyder’s first year back leading the team in 2009. Kansas State wound up starting 3-0 and then losing six games in a row before a 3-0 finish to the regular season but very competitive losses vs. highly ranged squads Oklahoma State, TCU, and Baylor were included in the slide. The Wildcats struggled mightily on offense last season, dropping almost 90 yards per game on average compared with the previous season and the defense had a similar regression in what was a very strong conference in 2015. Kansas State has a number of difficult road games but Manhattan should return to being a very tough place to play with the Wildcats capable of winning all of its home games in 2016, through they may be dogged hosting Texas even though the Longhorns haven’t won in Manhattan since 2002. The defense returns most of the key players from last season and the schedule lines up more favorably this season as the Wildcats won’t have to face all the top teams in consecutive weeks as they did last season. Expect a marquee upset at least once this season and an improved win count for a Kansas State program that should be back in the postseason.

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SINKING: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys were a great story last season with a 10-0 start to the season, climbing into the top 5 of the national polls. It was clearly a mirage as they had a very soft non-conference schedule and a back loaded conference slate.10-0 became 10-3 with double-digit losses in the final three games of the season including an embarrassing 35-point loss to Oklahoma and a 25-point loss in the Sugar Bowl vs. Ole Miss. Mason Rudolph returns at quarterback with a veteran roster but the schedule is demanding with five Big XII road games including four of those games likely being against the top half of the conference. Mike Gundy has delivered a great 11-year run in Stillwater with several overachieving seasons so anything is possible but it looks like a step-back season for a program that has alternated strong and mediocre seasons the last five years. Another bowl season looks very likely as Oklahoma State could definitely win all three of its non-conference games and with a few breaks the Cowboys could be a contender but it looks like a much tougher path than last season

SINKING: West Virginia

The Mountaineers are 17-21 in four seasons in the Big XII with a 5-4 2014 season being the best conference result. Despite underwhelming results since Dana Holgorsen led the Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl in his first season as head coach the team has improved in record each of the past two seasons, getting eight wins last year after a wild bowl win. Continuing that trend looks like a serious challenge in 2016 as West Virginia has two formidable non-conference games plus the Big XII schedule that brings the top contenders to Morgantown. West Virginia went 6-1 at home last season and if they repeat that record they could be in the title hunt as they host Missouri, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma, and Baylor. With a productive senior quarterback in Skyler Howard leading a veteran offense West Virginia can certainly score a few big wins but doing so and also taking care of business in several coin-flip road games will be a tall order with West Virginia winning just once on the road last season. West Virginia did show slight improvement on defense with nine starters returning last season but it still wasn’t enough to compete with the top Big XII teams and this year almost all of the key players from the 2015 defense are gone. Expect some shootouts in West Virginia games but the most likely scenario is a fall back to a .500-type season.

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