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TGS 2018 COLLEGE FB PREVIEW...A LOOK AT THE BIG 12

                                by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We continue our TGS previews for the 2018 College Football season with a look at the Big 12. As usual, teams are listed in their predicted order of finish, with 2017 straight-up, spread, and over/under records included.

Maybe we saw something in Texas (2017 SUR 7–6; PSR 8-4-1; O/U 3-10) last season that few in the sports media bothered to notice. While the majority of those sorts on ESPN and elsewhere seemed to be going out of their way not to put new HC Tom Herman in a more-positive light than the deposed Charlie Strong (who landed at South Florida), from our vantage point it looked like the Longhorns were much upgraded and very close to a breakthrough. After underwhelming (that‘s putting it mildly) in an opening loss to Maryland, Texas was a different team, desperately unlikely to lose in OT two weeks later at USC, then pushing Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma to the limit in Dallas a few weeks later. Another OT loss to Mason Rudolph and Oklahoma State, plus a late loss to desperate and dangerous Texas Tech in the regular-season finale, meant Herman’s UT lost four times by five points or fewer, all games in which the Horns could have won. Like we said, not far away, and nothing like losing to Kansas as Strong had done to seal his fate the previous year. Throttling a hot Missouri and QB Drew Lock in the Texas Bowl indicated that Herman has the program more on track than LY’s 7-6 SU mark would suggest. Then, in the offseason, Herman went about securing one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Why aren’t the masses more impressed?

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We don’t mind going out on the limb with the Horns because we think the coaching is in place, as are the players. A rough-hewn true frosh last year, QB Sam Ehlinger almost engineered those upsets over the Trojans and Sooners, and with a bit more refinement looks a better bet than jr. Shane Buechele, not the physical force as is Ehlinger (also the leading returning Horn rusher with 385 yards). Now, Herman and co-o.c.’s Tim Beck and Herb Hand (over from Auburn) are going to have to find a featured RB; one of those ballyhooed frosh, RB Keontay Ingram, might be the man. Leading receivers jr. Collin Johnson (54 catches LY) and all-name jr. Lil’Jordan Humphrey are back in the fold, and Rice grad transfer LT Calvin Anderson should help along a promising OL, now tutored by Hand, considered one of the best in the biz. After the “O” scored almost 30 ppg in a transition year, expect more pop this fall.

The “D” was good enough a year ago that d.c. Todd Orlando has been given a salary bump up to $1.7 mil per. That’s what happens after your defense allows only 21 ppg, paces the Big 12 in 3rd-down defense, and leads the nation on non-offensive touchdowns (seven). Of the many incoming Texas blue-chippers, most Big 12 insiders believe the majority of them step right into the breach on the stop unit. The recruiting haul includes the nation’s No. 1 (Caden Sterns) and No. 3 (B.J. Foster)-rated safeties, both of whom enrolling in time for spring work. Meanwhile, CBs Jalen Green and Anthony Cook were each rated as top 100 recruits by various services, and DeMarvion Overshown was “only” the No. 6-rated safety. Expect some or all of these newbies to make their presence felt as the shrewd Orlando navigates around some not insignificant departures from 2017.

Herman, who won big at previous stop Houston after a decorated run as Urban Meyer’s o.c. at Ohio State, gets a chance to atone for those losses to Maryland and USC within the first three weeks, and the Horns need to be up to speed with TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma in a row to kick off Big 12 play. But UT was close to beating everybody in 2017, and if the Horns are as good as we think for Herman, they won’t flinch at any of the assignments in front of them. Here might be your stealth Final Four contender.

Spread-wise, Herman’s prowess as an underdog, stretching back to his Houston days, has been an eye-opener; last year, his Texas was 5-1 as the “short” and back to 2015 at Houston, he’s 10-1 as a dog. Note also that Herman’s teams are “under” 18-7 their last 25.

We never thought Bob Stoops was capable of the sort of apparent Machiavellian move that he pulled off before last season when stepping down from his 18-season run as HC at Oklahoma (2017 SUR 12-2; PSR 8-6; O/U 7-6-1) in early June. Ask some Big 12 insiders, and they’ll tell you that Stoops believed the late switch would prove the best for o.c. and designated successor Lincoln Riley. An experienced staff would likely stay in place at that stage, easing the transition for Riley, who maintained his play-calling duties. The only significant staff change was adding mentor and former East Carolina HC Ruffin McNeill as assistant HC. Only Barry Switzer in 1973 would have a better first year at Norman than Riley, who took OU to the Rose Bowl and Final Four before a bitter OT loss to Georgia ended the dream.

The encore might be a bit more treacherous, though we hardly envision OU slipping too much. The offense is going to have to make a go of it minus Heisman winning QB Baker Mayfield, the heart-and-soul of recent Sooner attacks and not easily replaced after moving to the Browns as the number one overall pick in April’s NFL draft. Moreover, Mayfield isn’t the only key departure; TE Mark Andrews and T Orlando Brown were both third-round picks by the Ravens and will also play for pay this fall. Still, the cupboard is hardly bare for Riley. Electric RB Rodney Anderson was carnival tilt-a-whirl fun last fall when piling up 1161 YR despite not starting until the eighth game. Deep threat WRs Marquise Brown (nearly 20 yards per on his 57 receptions last fall) and CeeDee Lamb can stretch the field, and even minus Brown, the OL looks a strength. But Mayfield’s shoes are big to fill, and we’ll see if pocket-sized former Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray (also an Oakland A's baseball draftee), whose skills suggest more comfort piloting a read option, or soph Austin Kendall can step into the breach. Riley likely retains play-calling chores even after adding respected asst. Shane Beamer, heisted from Kirby Smart’s staff.

Mayfield’s presence also camouflaged some defensive flaws that were fully exposed by Georgia on New Year’s Day, and the stop units of d.c. Mike Stoops have finished outside the top 50 in total “D” four times in six seasons (including a year ago, at 67th). The platoon is young, with only two seniors (DT Marquise Overton & SS Khalil Haughton) back in projected starting roles from last year’s Rose Bowl team, and must proceed minus 2017 Big 12 Defensive MVP, edge rusher Ogbonnio Okoronkwo (17 TFL and 8 sacks LY), drafted by the Rams. If jr. DE Amani Bledsoe can play up to his projections, Stoops might have a disruptive force in the Okoronkwo mold. But only four upperclassmen are among the 13 scholarship players in the secondary, and more playmakers must step to the fore.

The Sooners don’t usually have an easy go of it in their non-conference schedule and have a few banana peels to worry about in September, though Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic, UCLA with new HC Chip Kelly, and the Army option (a potentially very awkward assignment) all visit Norman, sandwiched around a revenge game at Iowa State. Safe to say that Mayfield ruffled some feathers in the Big 12 and several league foes will be taking direct aim at OU, wearing a very big target this fall. We’re thinking OU falls a bit short of its accomplishments from a memorable 2017.

Spread-wise, Bob Stoops had ceased to become a pointspread force after the Sam Bradford era, partly due to inflated premiums. Interesting, then, that Riley handled most of the big numbers last season (Sooners 4-1 laying 20 or more). No Mayfield might reduce the spreads this fall, but without him, can OU handle what still figure to be numerous hefty imposts?

For the past 50 years, since Clay Stapleton retired and moved full-time into the AD chair, coaches have rarely stuck around Iowa State (2017 SUR 8-5; PSR 9-2-2; O/U 4-9) for any testimonials. Those who won the most “sold high” and moved when they were hot commodities; think Johnny Majors (to Pitt in 1973) and Earle Bruce (the only Cyclone HC since Charles Mayser from 1915-19 to finish his Ames career with a winning record; to Ohio State in 1979). Gene Chizik didn’t win in his two years at Ames in 2007-08, but was well-regarded enough from past assistant work to jump right into the Auburn HC job. Several other coaches from the past half-century hung around for a few years (think Donnie Duncan, Dan McCarney, Jim Walden, and Paul Rhoads) before they were either pushed out the door, or jumped themselves before they were pushed. Which brings us to 3rd-year HC Matt Campbell, who looks a candidate to go the Majors-Bruce-Chizik route to a bigger job after the Cyclones’ surprise 8-5 mark a year ago. All before Campbell reportedly said “no, thanks” to several openings after last season, though prospective suitors could also have been spooked by a heavy buyout price. Whatever, Campbell, only 38, has proven he can win (35-15 at previous stop Toledo), impressed us and others greatly during media days last summer, and apparently believes he has unfinished business in Ames.

We have no problem pushing ISU into the top half of the Big 12 after last year’s breakthrough that saw the Cyclones open many eyes with a win at Oklahoma on October 7. That was the first career start for QB Kyle Kempt, who had made a brief earlier stop at Oregon State but whose savvy and ability to limit mistakes (reflected in 15 TDP and only 3 picks in just over a half-season of work, despite playing with a bad shoulder down the stretch) proved a perfect fit for the Campbell offense. The real good news for Campbell, however, is that Kempt was granted a sixth year of eligibility in the offseason and returns to pilot an attack that returns much of what should be an improved OL, not to mention underrated RB David Montgomery (1146 YR LY), who among other things was the nation’s leading runner in forced missed tackles. The NFL has taken note. Primo target Allen Lazard has moved to the NFL (Jaguars camp this summer) but another receiving corps that could pass for an NBA frontline remains, led by 6-6 jr. Hakeem Butler (41 catches in 2017), 6-4 sr. WR Matt Eaton, and 6-7 TE Chase Allen.

As much as the “O” impressed last fall, so did a stop unit that shaved more than 10 ppg off of its 2016 allowance and leaped from 86th in scoring “D” to 26th (20.9 ppg), not to mention also jumping 60 spots (to 23rd) in rush defense, on top of ranking 6th in forced TOs and contributing to a superb +10 TO margin (good for 13th nationally). Spiritual leader LB Joel Lanning (a onetime QB) must be replaced, but the presence of near-immovable jr. NT Ray Lima allowed ISU to switch to 3-4 looks which fueled the turnaround and allowed jr. JaQuan Bailey to move to an OLB spot, where he finished fifth in Big 12 sacks with 7. The front seven is deep, with OLB Marcel Spears (sixth in Big 12 tackles LY) another honors candidate, and sr. CBs D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy have 54 career starts between them. A newcomer to watch is juco S Greg Eisworth, a former Ole Miss signee who was all over the field in spring.

The return of Kempt gives Campbell a shot in two big September back-to-back dates at Iowa and home vs. Oklahoma; realistically, ISU does well to be 2-1 after the Sooners tilt, then can go about the rest of the Big 12 slate. The Cyclones lost three games by four or fewer last season and had a look at the other two losses, then beat a dangerous Memphis on its home field in the Liberty Bowl. So we don’t think we’re sticking our necks out to project results at least as good this fall in Ames.

Spread-wise, Campbell has been a force for years, reflected in the 9-2-2 mark LY, and now 16-5-2 since early in the 2016 season. His teams are also 22-11-2 as a dog since his Toledo days.

By this point it seems safe to say that HC Gary Patterson isn’t leaving TCU (2017 SUR 11-3; PSR 7-7; O/U 4-10) anytime soon. Patterson has had his chances to bolt and is a name du jour every year when a major opening occurs somewhere. On Patterson’s watch, however, TCU has become one of those major jobs, with facility upgrades befitting a top-tier program. When visiting Fort Worth and the campus for the first time in several years in April, we couldn’t believe the changes (all for the better) in what is now a state-of-the-art athletic complex, with the remodeled Amon Carter Stadium the jewel. Patterson is now into his 18th year on the job, usually threatens the top ten, and bowls almost every year (only two misses in 17 seasons), sometimes in the big games (with a Rose Bowl win in the mix). The neat campus also sits in a dynamic city right in the middle of a recruiting hotbed. Why go anywhere else?

As has often been the case in the Patterson era, defense will likely carry the load this fall. Though sage coordinator and longtime Patterson sidekick Dick Bumpas retired a few years ago, the Frogs have not dropped off much, if at all, on the stop end, and ranked in the top 20 in most stat categories a year ago. Plenty of playmakers return, including star sr. DE Ben Banogu, who bypassed early entry into the NFL draft for one more shot at the Big 12 after recording 8.5 sacks a year ago, when TCU also owned the Big 12's top rush defense (and fifth best nationally). Patterson and d.c. Chad Glasgow are high on soph DTs Ross Blacklock and Corey Bethley, who both shined as frosh a year ago. Meanwhile, sr. LB Ty Summers enters this fall on course to set a school tackle record (he’s only 72 away). Northern Illinois transfer Jawuan Johnson likely fills in at another LB spot. There is also a veteran look in the secondary with sr. returning starters such as FS Niko Small and SS Ridwan Isaahaku.

Only three starters return on offense but Big 12 sources insist that o.c. Sonny Cumbie has plenty to work with, especially soph QB Shawn Robinson, a ballyhooed recruit last year who flashed some of that upside in limited work that included a win on short notice at Texas Tech. Another touted QB recruit, frosh Justin Rogers, enrolled early but likely redshirts as he rehabs from a knee injury in HS. The recent blue-chip brigade also includes three four-star RBs (including frosh Fabian Franklin, who flipped late from Mississippi State) and three four-star WRs (watch two in-state frosh, Tevailance Hunt from Texarkana and Taye Barber from Cypress). If the OL can successfully replace three starters, and the talent is as good as advertised, the “O” might hum, but it also might take much of the season for the gears to mesh.

It will be hard to not get distracted by the Sept. 15 intersectional vs. Ohio State at nearby Jerry Jones AT&T Stadium in Arlington; the Frogs are advised not to overlook Metroplex rival SMU the preceding Friday. Then TCU travels to Texas the week after facing the Buckeyes. If the Frogs come out of September above .500 they’ll be doing well; if they emerge unbeaten, they’ll be in the top five and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram will be filled with Final Four talk. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Spread-wise, Patterson has uncorked the occasional “wow-sa” season (like 2014 when 11-2 vs. the line), but has been a bit overvalued the past three years and is just 17-23 vs. the line since. The Frogs didn’t cover a game at home in 2016, but at least remedied that a bit a year ago when 3-3 vs. the line at Fort Worth. Note the current 4-game win and cover streak vs. Texas, outscoring the Horns 153-33 (!) in the process.

We’ve seen this type of team before, at West Virginia (20-17 SUR 7-5; PSR 5-7-1; O/U 7-5-1) and elsewhere in places like Conference USA and the MAC. Lots and lots of offense. But not a lot of defense. A similar Big 12 version of video football in recent years at Texas Tech has usually resulted in a series of .500-type finishes. We’ve seem the Mountaineers in this sort of situation before, too, most recently 2012, when a Geno Smith-led offense looked like it could outscore everybody. Except what turned out to be six different foes that would score more than WVU.

So, here’s what we’ve got this fall in the latest lab experiment for HC Dana Holgorsen; the Mountaineers look like they can score on the New England Patriots. Former Florida transfer QB Will Grier is on a short list of serious Heisman candidates after passing for almost 3500 yards and 34 TDs last season. That includes missing a couple of late-season games that the Mountaineers lost, including a hideous Dallas Bowl vs. Utah when Holgorsen didn’t have a QB (or a competent one; not sure backup Chris Chugonov qualified). But Grier, fully recovered from the broken finger that set him down late in 2017, plus AA-WR David Sills (nation’s best 18 TD catches last season) and LT Yodny Cajuste, all decided to bypass the NFL draft to give it one more shot in Morgantown. Grier has most of his targets in tow; besides the big-play Sills, sr. wideout Gary Jennings caught 97 passes a year ago. Alabama transfer C.J. Simmons adds more depth to the WR corps. A seasoned OL returns four starters, with both tackles (the aforementioned Cajuste and Colton McKivitz) likely high NFL draft picks. At RB, Kennedy McKoy gained almost 600 YR spelling the graduated Justin Crawford last fall and looks ready to step into a featured role. Local eateries are forewarned to be careful of promotions that reward customers for points and TDs scored by the Mounties...it might prove costly.

So much for the good news. The defense even gave up 34 points to Kansas last September and finished a poor 106th overall, and we’re not sure things are going to get better after the platoon was ravaged by departures and injuries in the offseason. It started when DT LaMonte McDougal, a Frosh A-A in 2017, left Morgantown in the spring for Washington State. Adam Shuler, a DE who started 10 games last fall, has moved as a grad transfer, likely to land at Florida. A couple of key LBs, Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns, went down with ACLs in spring drills. Standout WLB David Long missed all of spring after shoulder surgery, status unknown for fall. Both starters need to be replaced on the corners. There are a couple of reinforcements, including USC transfer DE Kenny Bigelow (who has battled knee injuries) and a few jucos brought in for immediate help, including touted LB Charlie Benton. But the “D” was subpar last year and not sure it improves any this fall.

The only soft landing on the schedule is a visit by the DeBartolo’s hometown team, Youngstown State, on Sept. 8. Mountaineer fans will be wearing out the route from I-64 to I-85 in September with a pair of games in North Carolina, the opener vs. Tennessee (in Jeremy Pruitt’s Vol HC debut) at Charlotte on Sept. 1, and two weeks later at Raleigh vs. NC State. If the defense is gassed by November, things could get really tough with a brutal closing stretch that finishes on Thanksgiving Friday vs. Oklahoma. Holgorsen will have a puncher’s chance in every game, but if WVU turns out to have another glass jaw, it will suffer some KOs, too.

Spread-wise, note the Mounties haven’t recorded a winning mark vs. the number since 2014, not covering more than five in any of the three years since. Holgorsen is also 2-9 his last 11 as a dog,

He’s still here! We’re talking out indefatigable 78-year-old HC Bill Snyder, now amazingly into his tenth season of a second run at Kansas State (2017 SUR 8-5; PSR 6–6-1; O/U 6-7) that bookended a magical 17-season span from 1989-2005 in which the Wildcats rose from the depths of the college football ranks into annual contender status. K-State has not been quite as dominant in Snyder II, but the locals would not mind if Snyder coaches until he’s 100, especially those who recall the abject depression of the pre-Snyder decades, and the quick dip into irrelevance in the three-year reign of Ron Prince between 2006-08. Still, we’re well into a phase where Snyder’s status is a year-to-year proposition, and while few believe Snyder outstays his welcome as did Bobby Bowden at Florida State (after all, there are certain perks when your name is on the stadium), there is no clear succession plan yet in place in Manhattan. Part of the reason is that Snyder has never given blessing to any suggested successors; some sources say Snyder is lobbying for son Sean, on staff as special teams coordinator. Other Big 12 sources wonder if someone like Bret Bielema, who once worked for Snyder and available again, might be the answer. The situation hasn’t yet gotten to the point where it becomes an overriding distraction (as it did at FSU with Bowden), but at some point, provisions need to be made. We’re not there quite yet.

In the meantime they’re more than happy at K-State as Snyder reached a bowl for the eighth straight season (indeed, the Wildcats have only made two bowls all-time minus Snyder, who has qualified for 19 of ‘em) and figures to do at least as much this fall. This looks like a prototypical Snyder offense, able to pound on the ground (as was the case in bullying UCLA during the Cactus Bowl win last December) with all five starters back along the OL. A platoon of runners led by punishing 227-lb. Jr. Alex Barnes (819 YR LY) can get physical as Snyder prefers, and there is some experience in the receiving corps led by jr. Isaiah Zuber (51 catches LY), though it would help if a deep threat would emerge (watch RS frosh Chabastin Taylor). At QB, both Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton were injury fill-ins last season and flashed considerable upside; Delton rushed for 158 yards and 3 TDs in the bowl win. New o.c. Andre Coleman will likely wait until fall camp to name his starter.

Snyder’s defenses are usually gnarly and this year should be no exception, though graduation took a bite out of the stop unit, and star CB D.J. Reed left early for the NFL draft, where he was picked by the 49ers. Junior SS Denzel Goolsby, however, was Defensive MVP of the Cactus Bowl, and jr. DT Trey Dishon can pick up the slack for departed All-Big 12 Will Geary, spending summer in the NFL Eagles camp. The LB corps must be replaced en masse but Big 12 sources are impressed with the athleticism on hand.

Snyder usually eases into the season and as is often the case begins the campaign with three straight at home, with a Sept. 8 date vs. Mississippi State a featured early test. Lose that one, and hard to see the Cats moving into the top half of the Big 12, but as usual for a Snyder team, K-State will not be an easy out. The main question is whether Snyder announces at some point that this season might be his last; stay tuned for further developments.

Spread-wise, it’s been a while since Snyder flashed his old bully tendencies that long ago prompted us to routinely lay big points with the Cats. The link to the glory days, however, remains Snyder’s prowess as a dog (3-2-1 last season; 27-14-1 since 2011).

It is understandable that the knee-jerk reaction these days for Oklahoma State (2017 SUR 10-3; PSR 7-5-1; O/U 9-4) is to assume the best. After all, the Cowboys have notched three consecutive 10-win seasons for the “Mullet Man” himself, HC Mike Gundy. But there are some in the Big 12 who believe OSU undershot a year ago, as hopes were high with QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington returning to Stillwater for their senior seasons. But OSU lost three at home a year ago to derail any plans of threatening the Final Four. Now Rudolph and Washington are both with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and four other All-Big 12 selections have departed. Gundy hasn’t yet changed his hairstyle, but we suspect he might before this campaign completes.

Before assuming the worst for the offense, consider that Gundy’s strike forces have been humming for most of the last decade, and it’s not as if there is no experience at the QB spot. That’s because Dru Brown arrived from Hawaii as a grad transfer after spending most of the past two seasons taking snaps in Nick Rolovich’s offense that was not too different in design from Gundy’s. Big 12 observers believe Gundy would prefer to start the season with the experienced Brown rather than immediately handing the reins to touted true frosh dual-threat Spencer Sanders. Though the strike force will likely lean heavily upon jr. RB Justice Hill, who rocked for 1467 YR a year ago. Senior wideout Jaden McCleskey looks ready for a more-featured role after snaring 152 receptions the past three seasons as a secondary option behind Washington, and true frosh WR C.J. Moore is a blue-chip addition. But a pair of new tackles must also adjust quickly as the offense learns to live minus Rudolph, who was in the saddle since late in the 2014 season.

Gundy has been a bit disappointed in his defense the past few years and stole respected coordinator Jim Knowles away from David Cutcliffe at Duke in hopes of bolstering the Cowboy stop unit this fall. Knowles brings his 4-2-5 alignments with him from Durham and inherits a platoon that returns seven starters. Gundy believes the Knowles scheme better fits the talent on hand that includes established playmakers at every level (DE Jordan Brailford, LB Justin Phillips, and CBs A.J. Green and Rodarias Williams, all honors candidates).

The schedule ramps up slowly with Mizzou State and South Alabama before the first real test on Sept. 15 when Boise State invades Boone Pickens Stadium for an intriguing intersectional. The meat of the schedule looks to come in the second half of the slate, by which time Gundy hopes to have settled any questions at QB and elsewhere on the offense. If it doesn’t, however, Gundy might visit his local barber and get himself a different haircut. OSU will be doing real well to reach double digits wins again.

Spread-wise, Gundy has been ho-hum for a while now, especially in a Stillwater chalk role that he once excelled; OSU is just 10-10 laying points at home since 2014. The Cowboys have, however, covered six straight non-Big 12 tilts.

It’s an odd dynamic, when a coach on the hot seat remains a rock star with the fan base. Meet Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech (2017 SUR 6-7; PSR 6-6-1; O/U 5-8), though no-nonsense AD Kirby Hocutt is not the type to swoon. The fact everyone in Lubbock seems to like Kingsbury, a onetime Red Raider QB and architect of a high-tech, guns-blazing offense, has helped with the locals, but from Hocutt’s perspective, Kingsbury probably needed to win that reg.-season finale last November at Texas, which finally got Tech bowl-eligible after losing 5 of 6 down the stretch. For Kingsbury, pulling that one out of the fire was akin to Belgium’s last-second goal against Japan to advance from the Round of 16 in the recent World Cup; it likely saved his job for another year. But at some point, Kingsbury has to get off of this .500-level merry-go-round if he wants to extend his stay much longer at his alma mater.

Kingsbury’s offenses always move the ball in the air, and the lack of an established QB does not make us believe the Red Raiders are about to turn into a Big 12 version of Army or Navy. After all, last season, sr. QB Nic Shimonek was an unknown quantity, yet Tech again finished in the top ten of national passing stats. More of a legit concern this fall might be lack of established weapons around the QB; the receiving corps, in particular, is rebuilt, losing 70% of its production from a year ago. There’s a chance the Tech attack might have a slightly different look and feel, as top QB candidates McLane Carter and Jett Duffey are more dual-threat types who can run and throw, unlike the many pure fastball pitchers in recent Tech offenses. The OL returns in tact. Expect more work for ex-juco RB Tre King, who blasted out of nowhere last fall to gain an impressive 623 YR. Improvement, though, is needed from the PKs who made only 12 of 23 FG attempts in 2017.

Lost amid the Kingsbury storyline last fall was that the Tech defense finally did make some improvements under beleaguered co-coordinators David Gibbs and Zac Spavital, both well-regarded at previous stops. Ranking 98th in scoring defense a year ago might not sound like much, but it was a 30-spot jump from the previous year. The rush defense did that one a bit better by improving from 116th to 62nd, but that was nothing compared to a Bob Beamon-like 106-spot leap in TOs gained from 112th to 6th. Nine starters are also back in the 4-2-5 looks, led by LB Dakota Allen, a potential A-A candidate, and ball-hawking nickel back Justus Parker. For the first time in memory, might the Red Raiders actually win some games with their stop unit this fall?

The opener vs. Ole Miss in Houston has a fork-in-the-road type feel to it for Tech; a win there and a 3-0 break from the gate into Big 12 play looks possible. When the dust clears, we can envision the Red Raiders squeezing into another bowl, but whether AD Hocutt is satisfied with another 6-6 type season remains to be seen.

Spread-wise, Kingsbury has been pretty good as Lubbock chalk lately (7-3-1 last 11), and is 8-3 his last 11 as a visiting dog, so would keep an eye on those spots for the Red Raiders this fall.

Be careful what you wish for! That might apply at Baylor (2017 SUR 1-11; PSR 5-7; O/U 5-7) to second-year HC Matt Rhule, who about 20 months ago was one of the hottest stocks in the coaching world at Temple. Now, CNBC’s Jim “Mad Money” Cramer would likely to be charting Rhule with one of his inverse graphs indicating “sell” on the Mike Piazza look-alike, whose hire in Waco after 2016 puzzled a bit. Rhule was able to almost write his own ticket after rampant success with the Owls, yet picked a school recovering from the Art Briles scandal and in a definite transition phase. For all of the anti-Briles rhetoric the past two seasons, on the field, his teams were pretty good, and the offenses dynamic. Throw out Briles, as Baylor did, and everything associated with his regime, and don’t expect a quick recovery. After sinking to 7-6 under interim Jim Grobe in 2016, losing the opener to Liberty set the a nightmare tone in the debut campaign for Rhule, whose only W would come against woeful Kansas in November. Oh, how Rhule must have missed tuning into WIP or ordering a hoagie at a local Wawa last fall.

Rhule’s Bears fell behind early in almost every game last season and had to throw to make up ground, so in the end the pass statistics don’t look too terrible. The 98th rank in scoring (24.3 ppg), however, was a bit more indicative of the Bears’ 2017 plight, and a precipitous drop from the high-flying days of the Briles era. The QB position has been a merry-go-round since Bryce Petty departed after 2014; six QBs have taken snaps since (including Jarrett Stidham, now a Heisman candidate at Auburn). Soph Charlie Brewer stepped into the breach late last season and in his four starts showed enough promise to be considered “the man” moving forward, not to mention being named Big 12 Co-Offensive Frosh MVP after 1562 YP and 11 TDP in limited work. Brewer’s go-to receiver, jr. Denzel Mims (61 catches LY), returns, but the infantry, a dangerous diversion in the Briles era, sagged a year ago. There is hope an OL that returns 4 of 5 starters plus Clemson transfer LT Jake Fruhmorgen is on the upswing. One thing that worked last season was now-jr. PK Connor Martin, who converted 20 of 24 FG attempts.

The Bears didn’t often win with defense in the Briles era and that dynamic didn’t change last fall. But finishing up the track in national defense stats when the offense was forcing ping-pong type matches is different than allowing 36 ppg when the offense isn’t scoring much. It is hoped that d.c Phil Snow’s schemes will become better absorbed in the second year with the defenders, but some Big 12 observers believe Snow is well past his sell-by date as a coordinator, and don’t expect an immediate turnaround. Much reloading is needed along a graduation-depleted front seven, where it’s hoped that Texas A&M transfer DE James Lochkart can make an immediate impact. Slowing the learning curve for the Snow defense was a spate of injuries that kept most of the key LBs out in spring. The stop unit is also in desperate need of playmakers as last season’s poor 124th ranking in TO margin suggests.

After last year’s Liberty debacle, Rhule will not be overlooking Abilene Christian in the Sept. 1 opener. With Kansas later in the month, Baylor could easily be 3-1 by the time it faces Oklahoma in Norman on Sept. 29. The Bears, who listed 28 frosh and soph and just 7 seniors among their season-ending two-deep last November, should be better this fall. But a bowl looks a reach, and still hard to see the light at the end of this tunnel for Rhule.

Spread-wise, Baylor has been sagging since late in the Briles regime, just 12-20 vs. the line since mid 2015. Not developing more of an edge at modern McLane Stadium (just 2-6 last 8 vs. points at home) has been another minus. We’re compelled to remind, however, that Rhule was 22-6 vs. the line his last 28 on the board at Temple.

Were Kansas (2017 SUR 1-11; PSR 3-8-1; O/U 7-5) the old Washington Generals, and HC David Beaty a substitute for the unforgettable Red Klotz, then it could be said he has succeeded wildly with the Jayhawks. Indeed, Klotz might have thought Beaty’s 3-33 mark since 2015 with KU to be out of this world. In the land of modern college football, however, Beaty has less job security than a member of Trump’s cabinet. More so now that a new AD, Jeff Long (formerly at Arkansas), has been hired to replace the redoubtable Sheahon Zenger, forever more known as the only man who thought hiring Charlie Weis was a good idea in 2012. The well-meaning Beaty had proven even less adept since plucked off of the Texas A&M staff (compare his hire to Iowa State pulling Matt Campbell from Toledo, when the Cyclones were ostensibly at the same level as KU a few years ago). Beaty, however, knows he’s looking at an 0-2 count, as if he had to be reminded when Chancellor Douglas Girod, upon announcing Zenger’s dismissal in spring, included a not-so-thinly-veiled warning to Beaty that things had better start improving on the field...and fast. Lots of Big 12 observers believe the chances are less than 50-50 that Beaty lasts the season.

With that as a backdrop, Beaty goes about trying to keep his job this fall, but this might be a save beyond Mariano Rivera at his best. Nine starters do return on defense, but from a platoon that allowed a nation’s worst 43.4 ppg, we’re not sure that’s a good thing. Clint Bowen, the d.c. who filled in admirably as interim HC after the Weis dismissal in 2014, is wisely considering wholesale personnel changes despite the experience on hand. Several of Beaty’s many juco recruits are likely to see action, and maybe some true frosh, including CB Corione Harris, who might be able to help with the anemic four interceptions recorded by the stop unit in 2017. Among the returnees, LB Joe Dineen, Jr. led the nation in solo tackles per game (7.6) in 2017. But the best thing to say about the Jayhawk “D” is that it can’t be worse than a year ago.

History is already repeating itself on offense, as for the fourth straight season, Beaty exited spring without naming a starting QB. It could be former juco Peyton Bender, who took most of the snaps last fall but was predictably inconsistent (just 10 TDP and 10 picks). The RBs were slowed by injuries last fall, and another of Beaty’s top recruits, all-name true frosh Pooka Williams, should get some carries. Senior wideout Steve Sims (59 catches LY) looked to be the one KU weapon that could have earned playing time elsewhere in the Big 12 a year ago. The OL exited spring a right mess, with hope that LT Hakeem Adenjii can return from two offseason shoulder surgeries.

Like a year ago, when beating FCS SE Mizzou State for the only win of the season in the opener, KU gets Nicholls State at Lawrence to kick things off on Sept. 1. Beaty loses that one, and he might not make the Sept. 8 game at Central Michigan. For Beaty to last to Columbus Day he likely needs two wins in September; new AD Long knows he has a former interim HC (Bowen) on staff. Rest assured Beaty doesn’t need to check a weathervane to know how the winds are blowing in Lawrence.

Spread-wise, aside from a surprise four covers in a row to end 2016, Beaty is 9-23-1 vs. the line since 2015. Before betting the farm against KU, however, perhaps avoid games where Beaty is a home dog, as he is 5-2-2 in that role the past two seasons.


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