The College Football Playoff system has been in effect for three seasons, and the Big 12 has been left out twice. Oklahoma made the four-team field in 2015 and lost to Clemson, and last year the conference wasn’t particularly close to having a team in the field.
As a result, conference officials decided to start a Big 12 championship game. There are no divisions, so the top two teams will square off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The league is deeper than ever, and it will be the most fascinating conference to watch each week in college football.
Three new coaches enter the league, including two at the most prestigious schools in the conference. Lincoln Riley takes over for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma after the latter suddenly retired in the offseason, and Tom Herman inherits a talented Texas squad from Charlie Strong, who was fired after last season. The Matt Rhule era begins at Baylor, and the three new coaches are balanced out by several veterans.
In other words, the Big 12 could get really, really weird this year. What else can you expect from a league that employs the oldest (Bill Snyder) and youngest (Lincoln Riley) head coaches in college football.
Editor’s Note: wagering on sports is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada, so these lines and picks are for entertainment purposes only.
Big 12 Championship Picks
Lance Barton: I think Oklahoma State is the best team in the Big 12, and I believe Mike Gundy and his beautiful mullet are going win the conference title this season. The Cowboys’ offense will be almost unstoppable this year. Quarterback Mason Rudolph returns, as well as the best receiving corps in the nation led by preseason first team All-American James Washington. Reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and 1,000 yard rusher Justice Hill also returns in addition to three offensive linemen. The conference schedule sets up nicely as they welcome rival Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU and Baylor to Stillwater. I’m taking the Cowboys over Texas in the Big 12 title game. The Pick: Oklahoma State +300.
Cole Frederick: While Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas have stolen the headlines this offseason, the Kansas State Wildcats quietly return a veteran team that finished last season with a 9-4 record. The Wildcats have been a model of consistency, and it all starts with 77-year-old head coach Bill Snyder. Snyder has had tremendous success in Manhattan, and his team returns 14 starters from last year’s team.
Kansas State was a year ahead of schedule a season ago, and quarterback Jesse Ertz is back to lead the offense. Offensive tackle Dalton Risner is one of the best linemen in the country, and the offense returns eight starters from a very efficient unit. The Wildcats can control the clock and wear defenses down despite lacking in explosive plays. They play Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia in Manhattan, and I think they get to 10-2 and finish the regular season in second place behind 11-1 Oklahoma State. After Kansas State beats Oklahoma State to win the Big 12, Bill Snyder will retire and ride off into the sunset. The Pick: Kansas State +600.
Big 12 Dark Horse Championship Picks
Cole Frederick: I suppose Kansas State at +600 is a sufficient dark horse pick since I believe they will win the conference, but the only other long shot worth taking a flyer on is Baylor at +3300. New Bears head coach Matt Rhule will get the most out of that defense, and there is still plenty of talent on the roster leftover from the Art Briles era. The Pick: Baylor +3300.
Big 12 Overs
Lance Barton: This is one of my favorite picks across the board in college football. I have Oklahoma State winning the wide open Big 12 and competing for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Mason Rudolph is the nation’s No. 2 active leader in career passing yards per game at 300.5, and he put up video game-type numbers last year as he threw for 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and only four picks. Rudolph has multiple weapons on the outside returning, led by James Washington, whose 19.4 yards per catch led all of college football in 2016. LSU transfer and former five-star recruit Tyron Johnson will add depth to an already deep receiving corps. There will be a few holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, but head coach Mike Gundy believes this could be the most athletic defense of his tenure at Oklahoma State. They have a favorable schedule, and I have them getting to 11 wins in the regular season. The Pick: Oklahoma State over 9 (-125).
Cole Frederick: I’ve already touched on how I feel about Kansas State this season, and I feel confident in the Wildcats going over eight wins on the year. I’m with Lance on Oklahoma State over nine wins, but taking the Wildcats over eight is a lock in 2017. The Pick: Kansas State over 8 (-165).
Lance Barton: There is almost zero value with this pick being set at -200, but I feel confident in laying these odds with the Horns. Texas is my prediction for most improved team in 2017, and it all has to do with new head coach Tom Herman. There are very few coaches in college football I would label as program changers, and Herman is on that short list. He had an impressive 6-0 record against the top 25 while at Houston, and there aren’t many coaches in college football who work better as an underdog. Also, Charlie Strong left him an experienced roster as 37 of 44 players return in the two-deep depth chart. The most important returnee is quarterback Shane Buechele, who is back for his sophomore campaign and should flourish in Herman’s offense. The Longhorns should be much improved on the defensive side of the ball with 10 returning starters. Their toughest game on the schedule is a non conference game at USC in Week 3. They have the talent and the coach to compete with anyone in the Big 12. On his way out, Charlie Strong said whoever was coaching Texas in 2017 would win 10 games, and I absolutely agree. The Pick: Texas over 7.5 (-200).
Big 12 Unders
Cole Frederick: One team we haven’t really mentioned so far is the team who’s actually favored to win the conference. Oklahoma has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Baker Mayfield, and they also have perhaps the best offensive line in all of college football.
But the Sooners also lost a wealth of talent, including star receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Perhaps the biggest loss for Oklahoma was head coach Bob Stoops, who retired during the offseason. Stoops was 190-48 in 18 seasons at Oklahoma with 10 conference titles. He left the program in great shape for 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, who was the offensive coordinator for the Sooners since 2015.
Riley has his work cut out for him right from the start. Oklahoma travels to Ohio State in the second week of the season, and they have other road games at Baylor, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State and a neutral site game versus Texas. They can only lose two of those game to hit the over, and they will likely be underdogs at Ohio State and Oklahoma State. I think the first season without Bob Stoops in nearly two decades will prove to be a difficult transition for the Sooners as they stumble to an 8-4 record. The Pick: Oklahoma under 9.5 (+110).
Big 12 Heisman Picks
Lance Barton: There is some incredible value in this pick. I’ve already written about Rudolph’s impressive stats from last season, and I actually think he’ll improve this year. He has so many weapons around him, and I think he benefits from another year in Gundy’s system as well as playing against weak defenses. If the Cowboys are contending for a Big 12 title and playoff spot, look for Rudolph to be a serious contender in New York. The Pick: Mason Rudolph +2500.
Lance Barton: There is also some great value with this pick considering he has been invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York for the last two years. Mayfield was the catalyst of the nation’s No. 2 ranked total offense in 2016 when he threw for 3,965 yards, 40 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Mayfield lost some of his major weapons from last season to the NFL draft, but the Sooners always have a next man up mentality at the skill positions on offense. His top target could be Kentucky graduate transfer Jeff Badet, who tallied 1,385 yards for the Wildcats last year. Mayfield will also be protected by an experienced offensive line that returns all five starters. Bonus Pick: Baker Mayfield +800.