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Who will derail OU’s bid for 11th Big 12 title?

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Sooners are a unanimous choice to win their third straight (11th overall) Big 12 Conference football championship this fall as posted by some Internet publications. Some of the publications have revealed their Top 25 national ratings but no conference ratings.

Athlon magazine, College Football News, Sporting News, SB Nation, USA Today and the Big 12 media representatives all agree OU will finish atop the league. But who will make a push to unseat the Sooners this year?

I previewed the Sooners and Cowboys in January

So, let’s take a look at the other top contenders:

Three of the publications (SB Nation, Sporting News, and the media) have picked Oklahoma State to finish second place, while the other two have projected Texas to rise from the ashes and make a push for Big 12 supremacy after seven years of mediocrity.

Texas, like OU, has a new head coach. Lincoln Riley has slipped to the wheel of a smooth sailing vessel taking over for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Herman is taking over a burnt orange dinghy that has sailed through rough waters (46-42, including three straight losing seasons) since 2010. Shoot, the Longhorns haven’t had this bad a stretch since the 1930s.

Herman came to Austin from Houston, where he led the Cougars, a non-Power 5 conference team, to a 22-4 record in two seasons.

The Horns’ biggest task will be to find a replacement for tailback D’Onta Foreman who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year. Sophomore quarterback Shane Beuchele wasn’t impressive his freshman season last year, and he is being pushed by freshman Sam Ehlinger, a four-star, dual threat from Austin. Four of the team’s receivers return, and the right side of the offensive line must be replaced. Junior left tackle Connor Williams is one of the best linemen in the league.

All but one starter returns on defense, which must be more physical this year. The Steers ranked 94th nationally in total defense and 89th in scoring defense a year ago. Junior punter Michael Dickson is back. Last year he was third in the country with a 47.4-yard average.

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder knows how to rebuild his teams, and after a 9-4 campaign last year, the 26-year veteran will have his Wildcats primed for a conference run this year.

The Cats’ offense is going to be efficient and effective running the ball. They are patient when marching downfield and led the Big 12 three straight years (and four of the last five years) in time of possession.

Junior all-conference fullback Winston Dimel returns along with sophomore tight end Dayton Valentine, a punishing blocker. Four of the starters return to the front wall.

Dual threat QB Jesse Ertz, a senior, is dangerous when he takes off with the pigskin. He averaged 5.5-yards per carry in ’16 and had three games where he rushed for more than 100 yards in the league. Ertz must work in his passing since he was last in the Big 12 a year ago.

K-State led the league in run defense last year but was dead last in defending the pass. Still, junior cornerback D.J. Reed is the Wildcats best defensive player. He was third last year with 75 tackles and led with three interceptions, broke up two passes and forced two fumbles.

The defense should be decent up front (three of four return on the line), but the Cats must replace all-Big 12 end Jordan Willis. Snyder also must find new linebackers as two (Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore) of them were the top two tacklers last year.

Junior Byron Pringle will again be a threat returning kickoffs (28.7-yard average). TCU and West Virginia should battle for middle of the pack.

TCU’s defense should be better this year after being too soft against the run last year. The Horned Frogs yielded 198.2 rushing yards in conference play in 2016, the most yards since joining the league five years ago. The D gave up 44% on third downs last year compared to 28% the year before.

The linebacking corps—seniors Travin Howard (all-Big 12 last year) and Sammy Douglas, and junior Ty Summers will be one of the Big 12’s best.

Senior QB Kenny Hill threw for 3,208 yards with 17 TDs last year but threw 13 picks, He also ran for 609 yards. Hill must be consistent in the passing game if the Frogs want to make some noise in the league. If he and his receivers get on the same page, they could be dangerous.

Shaun Nixon returns after missing last year with a knee injury and will join the team’s top seven receivers who return this year.

Junior KaVontae Turpin will be back to return punts (12.5 avg.) and kickoffs (28.4).

West Virginia will be breaking in a new (sort of) quarterback. Will Grier transferred from Florida and should have a decent offensive attack. Two of the top four receivers return so, Grier will need help with a good running game. Senior RB Justin Crawford. He ripped off 1,184 yards a four TDs last year, including 331 yards against the Sooners and 209 against Baylor.

The Mountaineers only return two players on the O-line (both on the right side). WVU will have to rebuild a defense that was tops in the league last year. Only three players (two linebackers and one defensive back) return.

Baylor has a new head coach, but the waters in Waco are even murkier than in Austin with all the rape charges and lies. Texas Tech will never win a conference title until it learns to play defense and Iowa State is well, Iowa State and the Cyclones get Kansas in their backyard this year.

The Jayhawks did beat Texas last year to snap a 19-game conference losing streak, so coach David Beaty might have another upset up his sleeve. Still, Kansas will again dwell in the basement when the ink dries on the 2017 season.

Of course, the teams that finish with the two best records during the regular season will meet again on December 2 in Arlington, Texas for the Big 12 Championship Game. Could be a lot of Sooners and Cowboys swarming AT&T Stadium for an all-Oklahoma rematch.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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