Biggest reason for hope for every Big 12 team
The offseason is the time for optimism, and as cliche reminds us, every team starts the season at 0-0. This week we’re taking a look at one reason for hope for every Power-5 program — and today brings us to the Big 12:
Baylor: Dominant run game returns
Last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl performance by Baylor might have been a sign of things to come for the Bears. They probably won’t rush the ball 84 times for 645 yards in a game every week, but the Bears can rely on a strong ground game to succeed this year. They’ll be led by the one-two running back punch of Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson, both of whom graded very well last season. Linwood forced 60 missed tackles and finished with the nation’s ninth-best elusive rating of 106.5. Jefferson saw a snap increase over the Bears’ last three games with Linwood’s injury, and posted the highest rushing grade of all college RBs over those three games, at +11.6. They also get QB Seth Russell back after he was injured last season. At the time of his injury his +9.9 rushing grade was seventh in the nation among QBs, and he was averaging 10.3 yards per designed run.
Iowa State: Brian Peavy has shutdown corner potential
Iowa State is in the midst of a rebuilding process, and so there is not a lot of established talent throughout their roster. However, one bright spot to look forward to this season should be redshirt sophomore corner Brian Peavy. Last season he allowed just 470 yards on a 53.8 percent catch rate and had eight passes defended, which led to the 17th-highest coverage grade among corners at +11.4. Quarterbacks throwing his way had a rating of just 73.4. If he can play up to that level or even better this season, it could have a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the defense and take some pressure off of them to make big plays, which could help push their rebuild further along than anticipated.
Kansas: It can’t get worse than last year
There’s not much to say about last season for Kansas. They finished 0-12, and had a cumulative overall grade of -521.1, the worst among any college team we graded (second worst was -359.0). The biggest reason for optimism this year is that the players get another year to improve. The Jayhawks will get 29 players back who played over 200 snaps last season. While nobody on the team graded particularly well, the freshman wide receiver trio of Steven Sims Jr, Tyler Patrick and Jeremiah Booker combined for 82 catches, 843 yards, four touchdowns and just a -5.8 receiving grade. Not bad when considering what a mess the rest of that offense was. If those three can all improve, it could be good news for a team that desperately needs any kind of playmakers.
Kansas State: Defensive line duo could change games
The 2016 season for Kansas State will see the return of two standout defensive linemen, who should give any fan of the team reason for excitement. Defensive tackle Will Geary made 36 defensive stops last season, which was the sixth-most among all defensive tackles. His run defense grade of +28.6 was 11th-best among all interior defenders. Defensive end Jordan Willis finished the year with seven sacks and 47 total pressures, which was good for 23rd among defensive ends. He also finished with a +11.4 run defense grade, which was a top-20 mark among DE’s. The two of them should give this Kansas State team a defensive line to fear this season, and could help them improve on their three conference wins from last season.
Oklahoma: An early Heisman favorite at the quarterback position
Quarterback Baker Mayfield. An early Heisman favorite, Mayfield is the player that will ultimately determine Oklahoma’s success this season. He was the third-highest graded quarterback last season at +49.6, behind only Matt Johnson and Jared Goff. His accuracy percentage of 77.2 percent was the third-best among returning QBs, and his 51.7 percent accuracy rate on deep passes is fourth-best. His 9.34 yards per attempt last season led the entire nation. His decision making is impeccable, as a mere 1.63 percent of his attempts were turnover-worthy throws last year. While the loss of top WR Sterling Shepard hurts, Mayfield showed that he was good enough to carry this team last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again in 2016.
Oklahoma State: Mason Rudolph and his receiver friends
Oklahoma State finished second in the Big 12 last year, and it has the potential to be even better thanks to what should be an elite passing game. Quarterback Mason Rudolph finished with a passing grade of +43.5 last season, which is the second-highest among all returning QBs. His deep passing accuracy percentage of 57.3 is the highest in the nation. He’ll also get back two of his top three receivers from last year in Marcell Ateman and James Washington. The two combined for 99 receptions, 1853 yards, 15 touchdowns and a combined +19.1 overall grade. That pass game trio could be even better this season, and that’s scary for the rest of the conference.
TCU: Strong secondary should carry them defensively
Offensively, the Horned Frogs have a lot to overcome with the loss of QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson. But on the defensive side of the ball TCU’s secondary figures to be one of the best in the conference, if not the NCAA. Led by safety Denzel Johnson, the fifth-highest graded returning safety, the TCU secondary features four players that posted coverage grades above +5.0 last season. That doesn’t include corner-turned-safety Nick Orr, who found success when moved to a more rangy free safety role late last season. The Frogs also have three linebackers returning who posted positive coverage grades, led by Ty Summers. Summers allowed just 0.48 yards per coverage snap last season, a top-20 mark among ILB’s. With all these players returning, the Horned Frogs should be able to handle the elite passing games in their conference.
Texas: Power-and-power runningback duo
It was a tough year for Texas last season, but they have a chance to improve on that this season. The key lies in their ability to run the football. While the quarterback situation remains a bit of a mystery, both Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes posted well-above average rushing grades last season (+11.7 and +12.9 respectively). But the real strength will be the power running back duo of D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III. Foreman forced 24 missed tackles on just 94 attempts, and averaged 7.2 yards per rush, leading to a +8.7 rushing grade. Warren gained 59 percent of his 470 yards after contact (3.9 yards after contact per attempt, one of the best marks in the country). If those two can get it going again, it’ll make it easier for a Texas passing game that doesn’t figure to be on the same level as the run game.
Texas Tech: Patrick Mahomes leading the offense
Texas Tech lost a few of their star players from last season, so they’ll have to rely on dual-threat quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to carry them to success this season. Mahomes graded at +15.3 last season, with +9.8 of that grade coming from his rushing ability. He has the ability to extend plays and was excellent against the blitz last season, completing over 50% of his throws for 1160 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception. He’ll be helped by the return of RB Justin Stockton, who played well in limited snaps last season. He gained 342 yards receiving and six touchdowns on just 22 receptions, and also forced five missed tackles. He also had a +6.2 rushing grade. The Red Raiders defense had a lot of issues last year and likely won’t see a huge improvement this year, but if Mahomes can take the next step, this offense could compete with anyone in the conference.
West Virginia: Defense, defense and more defense.
The Mountaineers were caught right in the middle of the Big 12 last season, able to beat the lower rankings teams but unable to beat the big four of Oklahoma, OK State, Baylor and TCU. This season, they bring back ten defensive players that played over 100 snaps last season, and all of them posted above-average grades. They’re led by defensive end Noble Nwachukwu, who posted a +16.3 overall grade thanks to 31 defensive stops as well as eight sacks and 45 total quarterback pressures. Also there’s the potential of safety Jeremy Tyler. A backup last season, he found playing time towards the end of the year and earned himself a +8.2 overall grade over the last four games, the third-highest among safeties in the NCAA. If all those returning players play as well or better than they did last season, the Mountaineers should be able to slow down the high-powered Big 12 offenses this season.