I'm honestly not a fan of preseason rankings but I do see them as a necessary evil. I mean we've got to argue and debate something before the season kicks off, right? So we might as well indulge ourselves in the, "which team deserves to be where" debate.
Granted you can't really predict intangibles such as new coaches and coordinators, new position starters, and JUCO transfers. Therefore these rankings are based solely on how the teams finished in 2014 and who they have returning this fall. It is by no means an indicator of how I believe the final conference standings will appear come early December.
1. TCU (12-1) | The Frogs are the legitimate frontrunners to win the conference and they'll have a legitimate Heisman contender in quarterback Trevone Boykin.
Question: How quickly can a reloaded defense begin to click? Gary Patterson is a defensive specialist and will undoubtedly have his guys ready from an X's & O's perspective but anytime you look at replacing six starters you have to be prepared for a few mistakes.
Bank On: The TCU offense will be the best in the Big 12. Defensive coordinators are going to have nightmares leading up to their games against the Frogs...and rightfully so. When tight end and right tackle are the only two positions you're breaking in new starters then you're sitting in a pretty good spot.
Name to Know: Linebacker Paul Dawson is gone but now defensive end James McFarland will step in as one of the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12.
2. Baylor (11-2) | The Bears should have represented the Big 12 in the first ever college football playoff but the conference dropped the ball when they didn't name "one true champion." It worked out well for Ohio State though as they were the team that got in instead.
Question: How good is quarterback Seth Russell? The junior signal caller takes over for Bryce Petty and will be looked upon to keep the Baylor offense as one of the most potent in the country.
Bank On: Shock Linwood will be the most significant person in the offense. The junior running back has already compiled over 2,000 rushing yards during his first two seasons and will be looked upon to steady the Bears' attack while a new quarterback gets broken in.
Name to Know: Receiver KD Cannon is fast...really fast! He averaged 17.8 yards per reception in 2014 and cracked the 1,000 yard barrier.
3. Oklahoma State (7-6) | The Pokes had a losing record in conference play in 2014 (4-5) but ending the season with a Bedlam win in Norman and a 30-22 win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl took a ton of pressure off Mike Gundy following a five game losing streak.
Question: Is there enough talent around Mason Rudolph? There's no doubt that the sophomore has the intangibles to be a record setting quarterback but the Cowboys are in a bit of a reloading phase with their offensive skill position guys. Of the five returning starters on this side of the ball three are on the offensive line.
Bank On: Brandon Sheperd being the go to guy for Rudolph. The senior receiver averaged 18.9 yards per reception in 2014.
Name to Know: Free safety Jordan Sterns led the team with 103 tackles last season and also blocked two kicks.
4. Oklahoma (8-5) | The Sooners are coming off the worst season of the Bob Stoops era and while few will doubt the talent on campus many will doubt the heart and desire based off of recent results. Oklahoma laid an egg in the Russell Athletic Bowl which was pretty much a microcosm of the last month of the season.
Question: Who is going to play quarterback? Trevor Knight was nowhere close to being the guy that Oklahoma fans saw in the Sugar Bowl, following the 2013 season, and Baker Mayfield seems to be the fan favorite. Don't fall asleep on Cody Thomas though.
Bank On: Even in Lincoln Riley's new fast paced, spread attack offense you can bank on Oklahoma feeding the ball to their running backs on a regular basis. The old regime is out and the new one is in. Riley knows where his bread is buttered and will be giving Samaje Perine plenty of touches.
Name to Know: OU desperately needs to get Sterling Shepard help at the receiver position. That's where JUCO transfer Dede Westbrook looks to make his mark. Speed is his game and getting the ball to him in space will need to be a priority.
5. Texas (6-7) | Not that he's in any type of trouble but 2015 is an important year for Charlie Strong. The Longhorns were middle of the pack in the conference last season and dropped the Red River Rivalry game to an Oklahoma team that lacked identity. A blowout loss in the bowl game ended the season on a sour note and left fans in Austin looking for something to boost their confidence heading into the spring.
Question: Is Tyrone Swoopes the answer at quarterback? Part of Strong's big year needs to be getting big production from his quarterback. At 6-4/248 Swoopes seems to be the best option as "the guy" but maturity must lead to better decision making. If Swoopes struggles early in the season then there could be some serious controversy in Austin.
Bank On: I don't see how the Longhorns' offensive line can't improve in 2015. Outside of the right tackle position they are set and the four returning starters are all upperclassmen.
Name to Know: Junior Hassan Ridgeway is the only returning starter in the middle of the Texas defense. He placed second on the team with six sacks and, among players returning, is the conference leader, among defensive tackles, in sacks.
6. West Virginia (7-6) | After a hot start to the 2014 season the Mountaineers faded and dropped four of their final five games, including a 45-37 loss to Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. With 18 returning starters in 2015 Dana Holgorsen is hoping to take another step forward with the program this fall. Returning experience at running back and three offensive linemen back will greatly help the cause.
Question: Quarterback play is the theme for these middle of the pack teams and WVU is no exception here. Junior Skyler Howard seems to be the guy but can he run Holgorsen's offense equal to or even better than Clint Trickett did? No picks in 110 passing attempts last season seem to indicate that he can.
Bank On: Josh Lambert being the best place kicker in the Big 12. Dude was clutch in 2014 and even made four of five kicks of fifty yards or more.
Name to Know: Sophomore receiver Shelton Gibson is the man tabbed to replace Kevin White as a downfield threat. He only caught four passes last season but will be a valuable asset in the Mountaineer's offense this fall as one of the fastest players in the conference.
7. Kansas State (9-4) | When expectations are the lowest in Manhattan Bill Snyder seems to be at his best. There's a reason why he's dubbed as the wizard. It's because he always seems to know the magic formula to keep the Wildcats in the thick of the conference race. He'll need to pull a rabbit out of his hat again this year as he returns just five players on offense.
Question: Is it possible that the Wildcats will start a freshman at quarterback? It certainly looks like a very real possibility with Alex Delton. He's a perfect fit for the KSU offense and enrolled in the spring to begin the necessary adjustments to compete for the starting job.
Bank On: The Wildcats will be very good in the secondary. All four players currently slated to start are seniors and three of them are returning starters.
Name to Know: Linebacker Elijah Lee made school history last season by becoming the first true freshman to record 4.5 sacks. His playing minutes will grow in 2015 as he takes on a starting role which means his potential to make big plays will increase as well.
8. Texas Tech (4-8) | During one stretch of the season last year the Red Raiders lost seven of eight games, with the lone win being against the Big 12 cellar dwellers Kansas Jayhawks. Heading into his third season as the head coach, Kliff Kingsbury is 12-13 and must either produce a winner or face the hot seat.
Question: Can Texas Tech learn to play defense? They were downright awful in 2014, allowing opponents 41.3 points and 259.5 rushing yards per game.
Bank On: Kliff Kingsbury is a Mike Leach disciple and you can bank on the Red Raiders continuing to toss the ball all over the field. Regardless of whether its sophomore Patrick Mahomes or junior Davis Webb under center the Red Raiders will be one of the top teams in the conference in terms of passing attempts.
Name to Know: Running back Deandre Washington averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2014 and with Tech having four returning starters along the offensive line I would expect him to put up big numbers again this fall.
9. Iowa State (2-10) | If it's not "Do or Die" time for Paul Rhoads then it's as close as he'll get. In six season in Ames he's 29-46 as the head coach and the Cyclones were 0-9 in conference play last season. With 13 returning starters this fall a core is in place for the Cyclones to make a run at a bowl berth but there will be some key holes to fill in the roster first.
Question: Who will run the ball? The Cyclones struggled with the nation's 96th scoring offense last season and were 105th in rushing. Aaron Wimberly led the team in rushing last season (4.4 YPC) and quarterback Sam B. Richardson was second (3.4 YPC). With Wimberly gone someone has to compliment Iowa State's dual-threat quarterback.
Bank On: Paul Rhoads is a defensive specialists and despite the need to replace six (perhaps seven if Luke Knott can't return) starters you can expect the Cyclones to improve from a defense that was 115th in scoring in 2014.
Name to Know: Sophomore receiver Allen Lazard placed second on the team last season with 45 receptions and 593 rushing yards. At 6-5/218 he's a big body target who should see more passes coming his way in 2015.
10. Kansas (3-9) | With just five returning starters the cupboard is pretty bare for first-year head coach David Beaty but that may not be a totally bad thing. The Jayhawks were 115th nationally in scoring offense last season and 104th in scoring defense. It was past time for a turnover in personnel anyway.
Question: Can the Jayhawks build an offense to compete in the Big 12 this fall? Center Joe Gibson and right tackle Larry Mazyck are the only returning starters on offense. Kansas is starting over at every other offensive position, including quarterback where it's very probable a freshman will be starting.
Bank On: A new coach brings a fresh start which will also bring a fresh attitude. This will be a long season for Kansas but you can bank on the Jayhawks building for the future and their attitude reflecting that in 2015.
Name to Know: JUCO transfer running back Ke'Aun Kinner was the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 and averages nearly 2,000 per season in his two years of junior college ball.