2018 Big 12 early conference primer: Biggest games, Heisman hopefuls and one big prediction

Four times, college football has staged a playoff. And twice, Oklahoma was invited. The Sooners’ trophy case now includes 11 Big 12 Conference titles (one shared) in 18 seasons, including each of the last three.No other Big 12 team has made the playoff yet. Baylor and TCU came close in 2014, but the only other team to get close to consideration was two-loss Oklahoma in 2016. While the Sooners have clearly been the class of the league, the Big 12 may be primed for a change at the top in 2018. West Virginia might have what it takes to topple the Sooners this year. Many think Texas is back, though the Longhorns need to prove it on the field first first. Others will pretend as well. They all face a stark reality: The Sooners could easily four-peat.Sporting News takes an early look at what the Big 12 may look like in 2018:Way-too-early ranked teamsTop storylineWill there finally be change at the top? Oklahoma has won three Big 12 titles in a row, but Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and his teammates have moved on. It seems unlikely that perennial bridesmaid Oklahoma State — itself undergoing a major rebuild on both offense and defense — will seize the opportunity. Runner-up TCU is also breaking in a new quarterback. Texas isn’t back under Tom Herman yet, is it? West Virginia has the horses on offense to win the league this year. Or maybe  Kyler Murray steps in and revamps the Sooners offense like Baker Mayfield did, and Lincoln Riley’s second season goes just like his first: with a championship.2018 LOOKAHEAD: ACC | SEC | B10 | P12Impact freshmanWith Mason Rudolph and his two biggest big-play wideouts gone to the NFL, Oklahoma State’s offense could look totally different in 2018. Or it could look familiar, especially if Spencer Sanders of Denton, Texas, comes in and wins the job as many insiders expect. Sanders, Texas’ 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year, will play alongside the Big 12’s best run上海夜生活_上海品茶夜网_夜上海论坛ning back (Justice Hill) and a fast, versatile receiving corps. Sanders could put up good numbers.New Big 12 coachesNone. Even with Bob Stoops’ unexpected retirement last summer, stability is the standard in the Big 12. Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, TCU’s Gary Patterson and OSU’s Mike Gundy have a combined 40 years’ worth of coaching experience (57 if you include Snyder’s first Kansas State stint from 1989-2005). West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen has seven, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury has five and Kansas’ David Beaty has three. Even Iowa State’s Matt Campbell (two years) is no longer a newcomer. Baylor’s Matt Rhule, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas’ Tom Herman just finished their first season.Big 12 Heisman hopefuls Coming off two injury-shortened seasons, Anderson had just 34 yards on 12 carries after five games in 2017. But he ran for 1,127 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Sooners’ last nine games, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. One of the top running backs in the country will find yards a little tougher without college football’s most prolific passing game. But that also might mean more opportunities for Hill, who ranked 13th nationally with 1,467 yards finished 17th nationally with 15 rushing touchdowns in 2017. Grier threw for 300 yards or more nine times in 10 full games before missing his final two with a dislocated finger. He also threw for two touchdowns in every game and had five touchdowns in three games. He still has Gary Jennings and David Sills to throw to in 2018, as well. The Cyclones would need a big season, maybe even a run at the title, and Montgomery — statistically, the hardest running back to tackle in FBS — would need massive numbers. He ran for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Receivers almost never win the Heisman, but Sills could. He caught 60 passes for 980 yards last season and led the nation with 18 touchdown receptions. If his numbers climb in another year with Grier (that is, if 97-catch Gary Jennings doesn’t take too many), Sills could earn a trip to New York.Best nonconference games Early test for West Virginia? New Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt sure hopes so. Kliff Kingsbury can help his cause in Lubbock by beating Matt Luke and the Rebels. It’s Chip Kelly versus Lincoln Riley, which means offensive innovation. As Kansas State chooses its new quarterback, Mississippi State hopes Nick Fitzgerald is ready under new coach Joe Moorhead. Oklahoma State’s new defensive coordinator must deal with four-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien. It’s a classic clash of successful coaching philosophies. Tom Herman’s second year gets an early litmus test vs. the rebuilding Trojans.Team to watchWest Virginia. Oklahoma will rightly get all the buzz — the Sooners’ success makes them the Kansas basketball of Big 12 football — but with Grier, Jennings and Sills, West Virginia has enough talent to offset the graduation of running back Justin Crawford and receiver Ka’Raun White. The offensive line returns four starters, and the defense will be improved. Bold early predictionKyler Murray will win the quarterback job at Oklahoma, and the fleet-footed Texas A&M transfer will change the way Lincoln Riley thinks about his offense. Riley has had elusive quarterbacks, but never a gifted runner like Murray. With two new offensive linemen, a stable of tough, talented tailbacks and track speed at wideout, Riley will break out his Air Raid version of the read option.Three-year trends: Overall recordRANKTEAMWLPCT1Oklahoma346.8502Oklahoma State309.7693TCU2912.7004West Virginia2514.6415Kansas State2316.5806Texas Tech*1820.4747Baylor*1820.4748Texas1720.4599Iowa State1423.37810Kansas333.083(* Indicates tie-breaker broken by best overall record)Three-year trends: Big 12 recordRANKTEAMWLPCT1Oklahoma252.9262Oklahoma State207.7413TCU189.6674West Virginia1611.5935Kansas State1413.5196Texas1215.4447Texas Tech*1017.3708Baylor*1017.3709Iowa State918.33310Kansas126.037(* Indicates tie-breaker broken by best overall record)

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