- Oklahoma is the obvious betting favorite to win the conference crown, but TCU, West Virginia and Texas all have the talent to make a run for the title.
While Oklahoma is a clear favorite to win the Big 12 in 2018, it's not a prohibitive one. At +125 to take the conference, the Sooners' odds aren't as strong as Washington's (-138) to win the Pac-12, Alabama's (-138) to win the SEC or Clemson's (-200) to win the ACC. This all makes sense given that it's a transitional year at quarterback for Oklahoma, and also because the competition is stiff: TCU's defense will be as tough as always, West Virginia will be difficult to keep out of the end zone, Oklahoma State keeps plenty of depth from last year and Texas might finally be ready to compete on a weekly basis.
Odds to win Big 12:
Oklahoma State +700
West Virginia +800
Kansas State +2000
Iowa State +2500
Texas Tech +3300
(In order of predicted finish)
Make no mistake: Baker Mayfield was in no way a system player at Oklahoma, and Kyler Murray will not replicate his production nor leadership. That said, Murray brings plenty to the table as a former five-star recruit with athleticism to burn, and this Sooner offense should keep rolling along in Lincoln Riley's second season as head coach. Running back Rodney Anderson is a dark horse to make a Heisman run of his own with three returning all-conference linemen in front of him, and wideout Marquise Brown has Dede Westbrook-level speed over the top. But while defense (or lack thereof) is often taken for granted in the Big 12, this unit's performance will determine Oklahoma's ceiling in the national landscape. Having won three straight conference titles, the Sooners are the favorite here for a reason.
In a conference known for exciting offenses, TCU has built an identity of perennially fielding one of the nation's most thrilling defenses. That should be no different this season, as Gary Patterson's D is fast and deep, and headlined by game-changers like DE Ben Banogu and LB Ty Summers. Plus, the linebacking corps added graduate transfer and former Northern Illinois standout Jawuan Johnson. There aren't many known entities on offense, though, save for veteran receiver KaVontae Turpin. Plus, to actually win a Big 12 title, the Horned Frogs will probably have to beat Oklahoma—something they've only done once since joining the league in 2012, and failed to even come close to doing in two opportunities last season.
3. West Virginia
There are plenty of legitimate questions in Morgantown, which is why preseason hype for the Mountaineers has been met with a backlash of equal intensity. Dependably excellent RB Justin Crawford is gone, depth is severely lacking on both sides of the ball, and the schedule is painful to even look at. Back to that hype, though: Will Grier might be the best quarterback in the country, and David Sills V could make a case for best wide receiver. Given that Grier is protected by a battle-tested O-line and Sills is surrounded by several other legit weapons at wideout, it's perfectly reasonable to believe WVU could hit double-digit wins.
Given the resources available to this program, it has been impossibly frustrating to watch the Longhorns wallow in mediocrity for nearly a decade now. This year, however—and apologies if you've heard this before—could be the start of the turnaround in Austin. Tom Herman didn't find a real solution at quarterback last season between Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, and solving that conundrum is his obvious top priority. He should be able to give it his full attention, though, given how solid coordinator Todd Orlando's defense is shaping up to be. While stars like Malik Jefferson and Poona Ford are gone, the unit as a whole actually figures to improve thanks to a solid core of veterans and a promising pool of highly touted youngsters.
5. Oklahoma State
It never felt like Oklahoma State quite reached its ceiling during the Mason Rudolph/James Washington era, which is unfortunate given that the team seems likely to take a step back without them. But Mike Gundy has achieved commendable consistency in Stillwater, and there's plenty of talent still in town. Running back Justice Hill now becomes the focal point of the offense, and he's capable of ripping off big runs even when getting a high volume of carries. For the defense, a still-young secondary needs to step up. An experienced front seven should make it easier on that unit to do so.
6. Kansas State
If inking your 78-year-old coach to a five-year contract extension isn't a vote of confidence, I don't know what is. The legendary Bill Snyder has earned it, of course, overachieving with this Wildcats roster seemingly every season. This year's roster isn't bleeding with top recruits, either, but there's enough for Snyder to work with. Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson—both captains—figure to share quarterbacking duties, with Delton considered the better runner and Thompson the better thrower. The defense won't scare anyone, but should be at least adequate to keep the team in games.
There were plenty of reasons to look away from the Baylor Bears and their 1-11 campaign in 2017. Believe it or not (and like it or not), Matt Rhule's team might be relevant again already. It's a little hard to tell, given the utter chaos of last season's lineup, but some key pieces appeared to fall into place. Quarterback Charlie Brewer was downright good in the starting job as a freshman. Wideout Denzel Mims topped 1,000 yards receiving and will be joined at receiver by ex-Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd. Rhule undoubtedly has plenty of work ahead of him still, but Vegas setting the Bears' preseason win total at 6 accurately reflects a generally bullish attitude in the college football world toward this team.
8. Iowa State
An eight-win season—including upsets over Oklahoma and TCU, plus a series of close losses—made 2017 a banner year for the Cyclones. They shouldn't drop off too far this season, but expectations for a similar run in conference play would be overly optimistic. Plenty of tough games will come on the road, and superior OU and TCU teams will be out for blood. 1,000-yard rusher David Montgomery returns to pace the offense, and Matt Campbell is one of the foremost rising stars in college football's coaching ranks.
9. Texas Tech
Lubbock has frozen over: There's currently more faith in the Red Raiders' defense than there is in their offense. The D took huge strides from 2016 to 2017, and now almost everyone is back from last year. On offense, Kliff Kingsbury needs to break in a new quarterback, a new running back and new wideouts. The line is strong, though, forming a solid foundation for a unit that has consistently been among the nation's best throughout this century.
As the above preseason conference title odds indicate, Kansas is far and away the worst team in the Big 12—I'd actually be more curious to see what their odds would be to finish not last. It's difficult to gauge the precise hotness of head coach David Beaty's seat, given that few coaches with a 3-33 program record would be given a fourth year to prove themselves. The Jayhawks will at least get a decent shot at a Power 5 win when they host Rutgers on September 15.
Pick to win the Big 12: Oklahoma
Lincoln Riley erased any doubts about his capability as a head coach last season, and Oklahoma is still the most talented team in the Big 12. While a strong group of challengers awaits it in conference play, it's hard to pinpoint a single one that seems likely to rise up and take the crown.
Best value bet: TCU +700
If Kyler Murray and the Sooners offense falls significantly short of the standards set by the Mayfield-led groups of the past two seasons, the Horned Frogs are the competitors best positioned to overtake them for a Big 12 title.