Big 12 Play Begins
While Baylor prepares for a likely cake-walk against Rice this weekend, four Big 12 teams are playing conference games. We get a great match-up when Oklahoma State visits Texas, and a match-up when West Virginia visits Kansas.
In general I’m not a conference-rooter-forer (I lived in Alabama for several years and it annoyed the hell out of me when fans would blindly root for whichever SEC team was playing, so I figure I have to be consistent), but the Big 12 had a good showing this past weekend, as Kansas State, Kansas, and West Virginia all had surprising wins while OU and Texas handled inferior opponents.
My Pre-Season Rankings
To give a frame of reference for my forthcoming current rankings, this is what I thought coming into the season. My general thoughts were that in the large middle class of the league, a couple of teams would separate themselves while others fell by the wayside. That still may happen, but early returns look like every team is at least somewhat competent and the middle might be a real bloodbath.
- Iowa State
- Oklahoma State
- Texas Tech
- Kansas State
- West Virginia
Travis’ Current Big 12 Power Rankings
In parentheses after the team I will post their current SP+ ranking along with their SP+ “rating.” In SP+, the rating approximates how much better the team is than the average FBS team. For example, Oklahoma’s 25.8 rating means that, on a neutral field, SP+ would predict a win by 25.8 points vs the average FBS opponent (currently Northwestern or Vanderbilt, as both teams have ratings of 0.0). It is helpful to know the ratings because sometimes the rankings can have groups of very closely rated teams where small deviations can cause rises or drops by significant spots.
- Oklahoma (SP+ Ranking: 6. Rating: 25.8). Oklahoma looks about the same as the past couple of years. Their offense is slightly worse, but still the best in the country. Their defense does look markedly better (they finished 2018 at 84, are currently at 53), but the question is how much better. I think they’re about as good as they were last year, the question is whether someone else in the conference can hang with them in 2019.
- Texas (SP+ Ranking: 28. Rating 12.0). Texas’ picture is becoming more and more clear. They have a highly talented but relatively inexperienced defense that is really struggling to stop the pass paired with what is becoming a dynamite offense. Because of the youth, there is a lot of upside if their defense can start to figure things out. Of course, they need Ehlinger to stay healthy. Really intrigued to see their match-up against Oklahoma State this weekend.
- Baylor (SP+ Ranking: 29. Rating: 11.5). I am all in on Baylor defensive improvement, and the offense looks marginally better than last year. Baylor is currently 33rd in offense and 43rd in defense. I expect Baylor to remain around a top 25 offense for the rest of the year, and if the defense can be around average (which they’ve been better than so far) you’re looking at an 8-10 win regular season. Last year, Texas finished 27th on offense and 44th on defense and made the Big 12 title game. My biggest concern is defensive depth, particularly at LB where a true freshman is backing up the most important player on the D, Clay Johnston.
- Oklahoma State (SP+ Ranking: 20. Rating: 14.1). Per SP+, Oklahoma State is the second best team in the conference. The problem I have with them thus far is that while Spencer Sanders has put up some gaudy rushing numbers, he has been suspect in clear passing situations. Their offense remains legit but they’ve been dominating on the ground with star RB Chuba Hubbard along with Sanders. Also, their DL is very young and the D has been a mixed bag thus far (currently ranked 61st). If Sanders can progress as a passer and OK State can beat Texas this Saturday, they might become the favorites to make the conference championship game as they get Baylor, K State, TCU, and Oklahoma at home.
- Iowa State (SP+ Ranking: 35. Rating: 8.6). Per every preseason ranking, Iowa State was entrenched at the number 3 spot in the conference, but they’ve looked shaky thus far. I was very high on them, but I added the huge caveat of “They need to find guys to replace David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler,” which currently looks like a failure. Despite this, they still have a very good defense and a good QB, a good combination to have. I no longer think they have much of a chance to make the Big 12 title game, but I fully expect them to be competitive, especially at home.
- Kansas State (SP+ Ranking: 49. Rating: 5.0). After washing the floor with two bad opponents to start the season, I was very intrigued to watch them vs Miss State this past Saturday. I watched the entire game and was very impressed. Despite some horrific fumble luck,Kansas State came out ahead and it was no fluke. I know their offensive numbers weren’t incredible, but Miss State has some dudes on defense that few Big 12 teams have and K State QB Skyler Thompson looked like an entirely new QB. Their current ranking is deflated due to preseason projections but they should continue to rise with a decent D and a good QB.
K-State, by the way, is the only SP+ top-50 team that started the season worse than 62nd. It's really hard to move up that far when preseason projections still carry 80% weight.— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 16, 2019
SP+, in other words, *loves* K-State.
There. I'm sure that will quell ALL future complaints!
7. TCU (SP+ Ranking: 25. Rating: 12.4). Here is where I have the largest disagreement with the AP poll, where they’re ranked in the top 25, and even SP+. First, my reasoning: I do not think that you can get by in the Big 12 with such bad QB play, particularly when most other teams have it. TCU’s defense is great, maybe even dominant, but you can only do so much with a bad QB. Last year’s D finished 16th in the country per SP+, and the team barely made a bowl because of their 91st ranked offense. I think their offense is even worse this year, and the D is about the same. They currently are 19th on defense and 65th on offense, and I think that offensive number is inflated due to preseason rankings calculating that their QB was returning but in actuality he has been hurt. They have some dudes on offense to be sure, notably Jalen Reagor and Darius Anderson, but if their QB play continues to be so poor they do not have a high ceiling. Think about it this way: even with a dominant D last year, they gave up 26 ppg in Big 12 play. Against how many teams can TCU score 26 points with their current QBs?
Before I get accusations of it, I don’t think this is (too much) bias on my part. My true bias is towards good QB play. When I was at Baylor, Texas was clear and above Baylor’s biggest rival, and I’ve always disliked them more, yet I have them at second.
8. Texas Tech (SP+ Ranking: 44. Rating: 6.2). Hilariously, SP+ currently has Tech with a much better defense (34th) than offense (79th). I hadn’t watched their first two games, but I watched their entire game against Arizona and came away rather unimpressed. Their D actually does look pretty good, particularly in the secondary where they have some experience. But their offense, against a very bad Arizona defense, was poor and did not inspire much hope. Their skill talent is well below Big 12 average.
9. West Virginia (SP+ Ranking: 56. Rating: 3.3). Somehow, despite all of the attrition in the off-season, Neal Brown has managed to churn out a decent defense. The offense is bad, though, particularly on the offensive line. Other than highlights, I haven’t watched them play yet this year so I don’t have much else to say.
10. Kansas (SP+ Ranking: 101. Rating: -10.0). Like the Democratic candidates complimenting Beto the other night at the debate because they know he is not a threat, Big 12 fans everywhere rejoiced as moribund Kansas improbably opened a can of whoop-ass on perennially average Boston College. Usually you can find them closer to 130 than 100 in SP+, so this is some definite progression. They still are bad and you should feel bad if you lose to them.
The Big 12 Is So Fun
This league is honestly tremendous to be a fan of. SP+ currently has 9 of the 10 teams as above average in the FBS, and only one team (Oklahoma) as clearly elite. Every week there are going to be interesting matchups. It is time to sit back and enjoy the show.