While the school isn’t exactly in the midst of a golden era, the Oklahoma Sooners have won the Big 12 title in each of the last two seasons. For the first time in nearly two decades, though, Bob Stoops will not be patrolling the sidelines in Norman. Stoops abruptly resigned earlier this year, leaving the head coaching duties in the hands of former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield is back, of course, which means the Sooners remain the odds-on favorites to win the conference again this season despite the head coaching change. Oklahoma did lose a bit of talent in the draft, but they remain a heavy favorite in the Big 12. Oklahoma is listed at -135 to claim a third consecutive conference crown.
However, the Big 12 has been full of parity over the last several years. We see shocking upsets on the regular in this conference, which certainly has no shortage of dynamic offenses. Will the Sooners go back-to-back-to-back, or will another team rise up and steal their crown?
The following are a few contenders we think are capable of giving Oklahoma a serious run for the Big 12 title in 2017.
TCU Horned Frogs +1000
The Horned Frogs may not be as potent offensively as they were during the Trevone Boykin glory days a few years ago, but Gary Patterson continues to pump talent into Fort Worth. TCU is easily the smallest of any of the Big 12’s ten schools, but few teams in America can match the Frogs’ consistency over the last two decades.
As a result, TCU may feature a more run-oriented attack than we’re used to seeing. The sketchiness of the receiving corps probably won’t help much, but if Hill can cut down on his mistakes this could quietly become one of the more potent offenses in the conference. He threw a Big 12-leading 13 picks last season.
It all really comes down to which version of Hill emerges. If he can rediscover his form that had him lighting the world on fire during his early days at Texas A&M, TCU will be a seriously sneaky threat to the Sooners at the top of the conference. Patterson has beefed up his defense by adding some legitimate size, and they’re returning a few key contributors on that side of the ball, as well.
The Frogs are always competitive, and they have never been intimidated by bigger schools with Patterson in charge. As a result, TCU is always a threat to make some noise. They’re a fine punt value bet at +1000 to win the Big 12 in 2017.
Texas Longhorns +450
Following a series of mediocre seasons under Mack Brown and Charlie Strong, the Longhorns finally made a splash by luring Tom Herman away from Houston. Herman did a miraculous job in turning the Cougars from a doormat into a borderline powerhouse, and he’ll now be tasked with returning the Horns to their glory days.
Steve Buechele enjoyed a solid freshman season under center last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards along with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the inconsistent Longhorns. He also completed better than 60 percent of his throws, which is an encouraging sign moving forward.
Herman has had a way of grooming QBs in the past. He’s worked with the likes of Braxton Miller, Greg Ward Jr, Cardale Jones and JT Barrett in the recent past, and his next task will be to help Buechele take the next step. We can optimistically expect Buechele to continue to show growth as a sophomore passer.
D’Onta Foreman left for the NFL, which means the Horns’ running back job is fairly wide open. Kyle Porter, Chris Warren III, Toneil Carter, Kirk Johnson and Roderick Bernard are all players that will be vying to separate themselves during preseason workouts. Porter was the next man up behind Foreman last year, so he may have an edge on the field entering camp.
Texas may still be a year away from truly competing for the conference crown, but Herman turned Houston around almost overnight. There’s more competition in the Big 12 than there was for Herman’s Cougars in the AAC, but we certainly believe he’s the right man for the job. Texas doesn’t have the value TCU does at +450, but there are still some positive signs.
Oklahoma State Cowboys +350
First off, we’d be remiss if we did not talk about head coach Mike Gundy’s fabulous mullet when discussing Oklahoma State. Gundy epitomizes everything about Oklahoma with that hairstyle, and it is absolutely glorious. Live on forever, Mike.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph led one of the nation’s most fun offenses last season, and he’s back at it again. He averaged over 14 yards per completion last season, completed 63 percent of his throws and threw just four interceptions all season long. He’s not afraid to sling it around, and he’s managed to do so without making tons of mistakes.
The defense is a bit more sketchy, but when you can score as quickly and easily as Oklahoma State does, you don’t really need a shutdown defense. That may ultimately come back to haunt the Pokes in their quest for a national title, but they should be able to survive with a so-so defense in the Big 12.
This is the most offense-heavy league in the country, and Okie State may well have the most potent offense of the bunch. There may not be a more fun-to-watch team in the country this season, and you know they’re going to give their in-state rivals a serious run for their money. Do not overlook Mullet Mike Gundy’s men this season.
West Virginia Mountaineers +1600
The Mountaineers went 10-3 last season, but most believe the upcoming campaign will be a rebuilding one. 2016 marked the first time in five years that the team finished ranked in the AP top-25 poll, and they boasted wins over the likes of BYU, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
There are reasons for concern heading into this season. Five of the team’s top seven offensive linemen from last season are gone, and two of the top three receivers are out, as well. That’s an awful lot of roster turnover, and ex-Florida quarterback Will Grier is going to start under center for the first time since transferring.
If all goes right, though, Dana Holgorsen could have a legitimate contender on his hands. Grier was a blue-chip recruit for a reason. It just never worked out for him with the Gators. If he’s able to channel his immense talent, there may be no better quarterback in the Big 12 outside of Baker Mayfield.
Really, taking the Mountaineers at +1600 is a total flier. Few expect them to truly compete for much, but we’ve seen Holgorsen accomplish more with less in the past. There are no clear-cut powerhouses in the Big 12 these days, which means it can easily open up for an opportunistic team. Why not WVU?