As is the case every June, preseason college football magazines have arrived in droves at newsstands over the past week. Unlike in most summers, insight about the upcoming Big 12 race is horribly skewed and out-of-date in most of those publications because of recent events at Baylor.
The makeup of the Bears’ 2016 roster has changed on a recurring basis since last month’s departure of coach Art Briles, who was dismissed by the school’s board of regents in the wake of the Pepper Hamilton report into allegations of sexual assaults by Baylor players and possible cover-up actions taken by football staffers in response to those allegations.
The bottom line is that Baylor, a near-unanimous second-place finisher to Oklahoma in most preseason projections about the 2016 Big 12 football race, should no longer be viewed in that light. Not with an interim coach (Jim Grobe) in charge of players he met less than two weeks ago, coupled with whatever additional roster deletions happen between now and the start of fall drills.
Toward that end, two questions surface: How far should pundits drop the Bears in regard to realistic expectations for a team in turmoil? And who replaces Baylor as the best bet to unseat Oklahoma in the Big 12 race?
The answer to the second question is TCU, which has an Oct. 1 date against the Sooners in Fort Worth. That contest is one week before the Sooners’ annual Red River Rivalry matchup against Texas and, if OU finds itself looking ahead to that contest in the Cotton Bowl, the Horned Frogs could be operating from the inside lane in the Big 12 title race by midseason.
As for Baylor’s realistic hopes, that is a matter of complete conjecture. But a fifth-place finish feels about right. At least it does today. By August, that could change in either direction. For now, here’s our updated take on the projected pecking order in the 2016 Big 12 football race in light of recent events:
Oklahoma: The league’s most complete team and a likely repeat champion if the Sooners remain healthy.
TCU: Too many pundits are sleeping on the Frogs, who will be better on defense and should thrive on offense under QB Kenny Hill.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are solid on both sides of the ball, as well as experienced.
Texas Tech: If the defense improves, dynamic QB Patrick Mahomes is capable of making this a special season in Lubbock.
Baylor: Until we know more, the Bears start the season here. But the available talent level suggests a higher finish.
West Virginia: A likely bowl team, and possibly more, if a rebuilt defense jells quickly.
Texas: The roster brims with young talent. But wins won’t come in bunches until this group shows consistency from week to week.
Kansas State: A borderline bowl contender that needs more clarity at several key positions.
Iowa State: A first-year coaching staff will lean on RB Mike Warren and several veteran defenders in hope of earning a bowl berth.
Kansas: A second-year coaching staff seeks its first victory after last year’s 0-12 debut.