TCU leads Big 12 in projected standings for 2015
Who will win the Big 12 in 2015? We dug into our PFF college football data — which includes grades for every player on every play of every game involving at least one FBS opponent last season — to help produce projected standings for this season.
Here’s how we expect things to turn out, based on the strength of each team’s rosters, and the quality of talent they saw leave after the 2014 season.
1. TCU Horned Frogs
Offensive snaps lost: 2,084 (17.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 5,334 (48.3 percent)
TCU almost rode their potent offense all the way to the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014, and this year they return almost every key offensive player for another crack at it. Trevone Boykin (80.8 overall) is the most dangerous quarterback in the conference and gives the Horned Frogs a one-two punch on the ground paired with running back Aaron Green (77.2). TCU also has a talented trio of receivers in Josh Doctson (81), Deante’ Gray (80.3) and deep threat Kolby Listenbee (69.8 percent of his yards came on passes that travelled at least 20 yards downfield in the air). The losses were more dramatic on the defense, but there is talent, not least in the shape of edge defender James McFarland (77.2). The schedule sets up well for the Horned Frogs. They host Baylor on the final week of the season and that home advantage gives them the edge in the conference race.
2. Baylor Bears
Offensive snaps lost: 3,112 (23.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 1,833 (16.5 percent)
Baylor is the best represented Big 12 team in our top 50 college football players list with four players making the cut, and the talent pool doesn’t end there. Spencer Drango (86.1) leads a strong offensive line, while receivers Corey Coleman (83.3) and KD Cannon (80.2) give the passing game a real cutting edge. There is a new quarterback, Seth Russell, but he gained some experience in 2014 and has time to get comfortable before the schedule gets tough. The defense is just as talented, which may be something of a surprise for a program that is synonymous with explosive offense. Defensive tackle Andrew Billings (86.7), defensive end Shawn Oakman (84.4) and linebacker Taylor Young (82.6) are among the conference’s best defensive players. Baylor is arguably the Big 12’s most talented team, but the road trip to Waco is the difference between ranking them best and second-best.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Offensive snaps lost: 4,675 (43.3 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,601 (31.8 percent)
Change is in the air for the Sooners, with Lincoln Riley bringing his air raid offense to town. That’s good news for quarterback Baker Mayfield, and even better news for star receiver Sterling Shepard (84.9). It may not be such great news for powerful running back Samaje Perine (80.9), as his touches may drop in an offense less disposed to pound the rock. On the plus side though, Perine will get the ball in space more often, and that is a defensive back’s nightmare, Perine forced 74 missed tackles on runs in 2014, tied for second in the nation. Defensively the Sooners are led by Eric Striker, and with a 91.8 pass rush grade, Striker is one of the most dangerous edge rushers in the nation. Oklahoma needs some breaks with players settling into the new scheme smoothly, but if they get them they have the talent to compete with Baylor and TCU for the conference crown.
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Offensive snaps lost: 3,451 (32.9 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,008 (26.4 percent)
Despite coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, there are genuine reasons for optimism in Stillwater. In quarterback Mason Rudolph (77.8) and wide receiver Brandon Sheperd (80.8) they have one of the most dangerous QB-WR duos in the Big 12. With just three starts and 218 snaps to his name, Rudolph still has much to prove, but he’s definitely got his Cowboys career off to a great start. Defensive ends Jimmy Bean (77.8) and Emmanuel Ogbah (75.5) accounted for 15 sacks and 83 total pressures in 2014. Both return this year and their pressure helps corner Kevin Peterson (80.3), who is already one of the best in the Pac-12. Oklahoma State is a dangerous team, but an over-reliance on an inexperienced quarterback and the passing game on offense could keep them from sustaining a title challenge right through to the end of November.
5. West Virginia Mountaineers
Offensive snaps lost: 5,649 (44.4 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,516 (22.6 percent)
The good news for the Mountaineers is that they return the majority of a defense that was solid in 2014 — the bad news is that the opposite is true on offense. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (79.9) led the team with 60 stops last season and should be key again. However, the strength of the defense should be the secondary with corner Terrell Chestnut (7.3), along with safeties Dravon Henry (78.5) and Karl Joseph (75.1), all returning. Center Tyler Orlosky (81.8) and right tackle Marquis Lucas were the best players on the line a year ago, and both return, but elsewhere on offense the turnover has been high. There is talent on hand, but will enough players step up? Dana Holgorsen generally fields a dangerous offense, but can ill afford a return to the Mountaineers 2013 form.
6. Kansas State Wildcat
Offensive snaps lost: 4,656 (45.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 4,304 (41.7 percent)
Few coaches have shown Snyder’s ability to consistently reload while remaining competitive, often overcoming perceived talent limitations. That talent will be tested again in 2015 when the Wildcats are effectively building a new passing game from scratch, having to replace the quarterback and best receivers from 2014. However, they do return four starters on a strong offensive line, with tackle Cody Whitehair (90.6) and guard Boston Stiverson (87.9) forming a rock solid partnership on the left. Defensively Kansas State has lost both their leading pass rusher, and their top cover corner. In their absence the 2015 defense can build around defensive tackle Travis Britz (83.3), and safety Dante Barnett (81.2). It’s never wise to bet against one of Bill Snyder’s Wildcats, but on paper at least, this doesn’t look like his strongest team.
7. Texas Longhorns
Offensive snaps lost: 3,201 (30.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 5,410 (48.6 percent)
The buildup to Charlie Strong’s second year as the Longhorns head coach looks much like his first. The team building is far from complete, attrition continues apace, the roster has gotten younger, and the wait for a legitimate starting quarterback continues. Can Tyrone Swoopes change that? His freshman season didn’t offer a lot of hope, but he was playing behind an offensive line that struggled mightily. That line will hope to be better for the experience, but it’s difficult to imagine the offense will suddenly become prolific, which puts the onus on the defense to keep games tight. Corner Duke Thomas (80) and safety Dylan Haines (79.9) had seven picks between them in 2014, while defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (79.6) flashed as a pass rusher. Ridgeway should be partnered by a fit-again Desmond Jackson. The defense should be good enough, but there are too many questions on offense to expect 2015 to be the year when the Longhorns rise again.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Offensive snaps lost: 2,472 (22.6 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,928 (26.3 percent)
The Red Raiders are sure to score a lot of points, but they tend to concede them in equal measure, making wins difficult to come by. Regardless of which quarterback earns the starting job, they will have a favorable situation, passing to wide receivers Jakeem Grant (75.3) and Devin Lauderdale (2.7). Somewhat unusually for the Red Raiders, the most productive member of the offense may be running back DeAndre Washington (81.4). Washington finished fourth in the nation with a 107.3 elusive rating last season. Outside linebacker Pete Robertson (77.0) was the defenses best player in 2014, coming up with seven sacks and 34 total pressures, however he had too little support and it’s not clear that has changed. If the defense is even a little better, then the Red Raiders have the offensive firepower to challenge some teams above them on this list.
9. Iowa State Cyclones
Offensive snaps lost: 4,059 (38.9 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,538 (31.4 percent)
The Cyclones have won five games in the past two seasons and head coach Paul Rhodes cannot afford for that trend to continue. The good news is that there is some reason for optimism on offense, with guard Daniel Burton (79.2) one of the Big 12’s better linemen. Quarterback Sam Richardson (69.2) is more dangerous as a runner (84.0) than passer, but should have a stronger group of wide outs to throw to. Junior D’Vario Montgomery (77.5) in particular, appears poised for a bigger season. Defensively the situation looks less promising. The Cyclones conceded 38.8 points per game in 2014, and several of the better performers have left. Iowa State needs to get off to a strong start by claiming three or four wins from their first five — after that, the schedule gets rough.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Offensive snaps lost: 6,081 (62.4 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,327 (62.2 percent)
It’s all change in Lawrence — first time head coach David Beaty has taken over, bringing a fast-paced spread offense with him. However he inherits a job loaded with challenges. The Jayhawks were poor in 2014, finishing ninth in the Big 12 with a 3-9 record. Now they must cope with extreme roster turnover which left them with just 64 players on scholarship. With such extreme attrition it’s tough to pick out any returning players on offense that Kansas can lean on. Defensively at least, safety Fish Smithson (78.0) gives the Jayhawks a proven performer. In time, the changes should make the Jayhawks offense more effective, and exciting to watch, but for now it’s likely to be a difficult beginning for the new staff.