Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)
Last year it was hard to tell who was the Big Twelve's worst enemy, the College Football Playoffs, or itself. After floundering around after both TCU and Baylor shared the top spot the conference finally decided that it would have "co-champions" which, in conjunction with Ohio State's 59-0 shellacking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, meant that they were the first "Big Five" conference to have the red-ass at season's end.
Of course, conspiracy theories abounded and many people noted, rightly so, that had Oklahoma or Texas had been in the mix they would have gotten in because of their bankability. Instead, we were splitting hairs between Baylor, who had a great season but played no one outside of conference, and TCU, who had a more difficult schedule but couldn't get past Baylor in Waco, with both teams eventually left out of the tournament.
This year I think the Big XII is in for more of the same. The battle for the top spot will be pitched between TCU and Baylor, with an improving Texas and resilient K-State making up a pretty strong second-tier. My biggest variance from the experts is Oklahoma, who I feel is a program in decline and getting closer and closer to the point where Head Coach Bob Stoops needs to be shown the door (or, better for everyone, show himself the door).
Of all the Big Five conferences I still think the Big XII is the weakest, by far. I don't see this improving any time soon and I think over the long run this will be the conference that's dissolved as we move to 4 16-team super conferences in the future.
Here's how I see it finishing in the Big XII:
1. TCU 12-0 (9-0 Conference) Conference Champion
2. Baylor 11-1 (8-1 Conference)
3. Texas 9-3 (7-2 Conference)
4. Kansas State 8-4 (5-4 Conference)
5. West Virginia 8-4 (5-4 Conference)
6. Oklahoma 7-5 (5-4 Conference)
7. Iowa State 5-7 (3-6 Conference)
8. Oklahoma State 5-7 (2-7 Conference)
9. Kansas 2-10 (1-8 Conference)
10. Texas Tech 2-10 (0-9 Conference)
Again, I think the differential between TCU, Baylor and the rest of the league is sizable. I do think Texas will be improved this year because I think Strong is a very good coach. I believe Texas is a pretty solid #3 team here. There is very little to separate K-State from Oklahoma State and the middle of this league could fluctuate with any of these teams getting wins over the other and improving their lot. The bottom of this league is way below the remainder of the rest of the conference in terms of talent and ability. I think Kansas is on the rise again however, but not this year.
That leaves us with Texas Tech, who I want to spend a minute on because I think that head coach Kliff Kingsbury is entering his final year. It's clear he's not ready to man the top spot, and the team is suffering for it. Maybe on the next coaching search Tech will remember that it needs to win games and not just be hip on social media.
This year, I think TCU wins the conference outright and finally gets the nod into the College Football Playoff. I do, however, think they make it as a #4 seed.
Besides Kingsbury, there could be a lot of movement in the coaching ranks this year as I'm thinking Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and possibly Oklahoma and Kansas State (if Snyder retires) could be in the market for new program leaders.