BIG 12 WEEKLY FEATURES
Co-Owner Brett Ciancia is joined by Big 12 experts Zach Kinder and Zach Sepanik to provide weekly game previews each Wednesday, and a look back at the league's top performers each Monday. Be on the look-out for additional feature articles, and we invite you to join the discussion and follow us on Twitter:
Big 12 Game Previews - WEEK 1 By Zach Kinder, Big 12 Staff Writer @ZachKinder
Oklahoma St. @ Central Michigan
Thurs., 6 p.m. CST
Entering the south corner are the up-and-coming Cowboys from Oklahoma State, returning a wealth of experience from an underwhelming team in 2014. Don’t be fooled by the five game losing streak the team suffered in the middle of the season; the Cowboys should look like a more talented version of the team that knocked off Oklahoma in Norman and Washington in the Cactus Bowl. On the other side comes Central Michigan. Last seen erasing a five-touchdown deficit against Western Kentucky, the Chippewas are under new management with coach John Bonamego. Central Michigan returns only 10 starters from that team, but that includes quarterback Cooper Rush, who threw seven touchdowns in that wild comeback. While OSU has the talent to field a top 15 team, Athlon Sports ranked Central Michigan near the bottom of FBS. The Chips do have home field advantage and play on Thursday, a typically upset heavy day, but lack the pieces to slow down what’s sure to be an electrifying OSU offense.
SCORE: Oklahoma State, 45-20
No. 2 TCU @ Minnesota
Thurs., 8 p.m. CST
A year ago I picked TCU to win this game in a blowout, and the Horned Frogs delivered (30-7, pitching a shutout until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter). TCU returns to the spotlight this season as Big 12 favorite and playoff contender, but travels to face an underappreciated Minnesota team. Coach Jerry Kill has built a dangerous Big Ten team up north. The Gophers gain home field advantage for this highly anticipated rematch, but return only four starters on offense against a Patterson-coached defense. Quarterback Mitch Leidner returns, but running back David Cobb is off to the NFL. Heisman contender Trevone Boykins will have to shake off the rust quickly in this one as Minnesota returns two All-Big Ten corners, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. De’Vondre Campbell, who called TCU “a lot” better than Ohio State a year ago, is the player to watch. He’s been looking forward to this game all offseason. The Gophers play TCU tough, but TCU comes out on top.
SCORE: TCU, 34-17
No. 4 Baylor @ Southern Methodist
Friday, 6 p.m. CST
Baylor comes into the 2015 season slightly disrespected. The Bears are co-favorites in the Big 12, but behind TCU, a team they beat in 2014. The Bears have not represented the Big 12 well in the postseason the previous two years, but stand poised to rectify that this season, returning a plethora of offensive weapons and a stout defense. Standing in their way first are the SMU Mustangs, a team Baylor shut out a year ago. I’m still not quite sure how the Mustangs won a game a year ago with one of the worst defense/offense combinations in memory. SMU scored just one offensive touchdown through its first four games a year ago, and allowed nearly 50 through its first five. It returns only 11 starters for a first year head coach, who must feel like he got thrown to the wolves with Baylor coming in hot to open the season and TCU just two weeks later. Will Baylor pitch another shutout? It’s certainly possible. But you can bet Baylor won’t let off the gas too early.
SCORE: Baylor, 52-3
Kansas vs. South Dakota St.
Sat., 11 a.m. CST
Pretty much the only teams Kansas has been able to beat outside of Iowa St the past several years are its annual FCS opponents. The Jayhawks last loss to an FCS opponent came in 2010 at the hands of the infamous Bison from North Dakota St (4-time defending FCS national champions). However, Kansas rolled South Dakota State in its previous matchup, 31-17 in 2012. South Dakota State is ranked at No. 19 in FCS this season, and they have a legitimate receiver threat in Jake Wieneke. However, stout running back Zach Zenner is gone. When Kansas won this game in 2012, it didn’t win another game the rest of the season. That’s exactly how this season could shape up for the Jayhawks this season, returning only eight starters for new head coach David Beaty.
SCORE: Kansas, 27-13
Texas Tech vs. Sam Houston St.
Sat., 2:30 p.m. CST
Who can forget the epic showdown a year ago between Texas Tech and Central Arkansas? It took Tech all four quarters to secure a win against the Bears. This season, the Red Raiders will host FCS No. 3 Sam Houston State and its stellar quarterback K.C. Keeler, who threw for more than 3000 years and rushed for nearly 1000 more. Keeler headlines a team that returns 19 starters. Fortunately, Tech also returns most of its starting lineup. Tech has not yet named a starting quarterback (the battle wages on between Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes), and that could cost Tech. Typically FCS opponents offer FBS teams the opportunity to tinker with formations and players, especially in situations when a starter hasn’t been determined at a key spot like quarterback. Given Tech’s performances under coach Kliff Kingsbury, I’m not sure this is the spot for that. Still, Tech should have the firepower to handle Sam Houston St in its first game of the season. It might be a bit rusty, but I’m guessing Tech picks up steam throughout the season as one quarterback stands out over the others.
SCORE: Texas Tech, 41-24
No. 19 Oklahoma (0-0) vs. Akron (0-0)
Sat., 6 p.m. CST
I can’t imagine there’s a team in college football more excited and ready to take the field than the Oklahoma Sooners. A playoff favorite in 2014, the Sooners struggled to an 8-5 record, including a lopsided loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Head coach Bob Stoops brought in a new offensive coordinator to fix TCU-like problems, and made headlines when he declared Tech transfer Baker Mayfield starter over incumbent Trevor Knight. The Sooners also return starts at running back and receiver, as well as several key players on the defensive side of the ball. The player to watch might be redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, whose story gained national attention when he was suspended for the entire 2014 season. The Sooner weakness a year ago was its pass game, an area that shouldn’t be too heavily tested in this matchup. Quarterback Kyle Pohl has thrown 23 touchdowns to 18 interceptions while completing only 55 percent of his passes over the past two seasons. Under the lights in Norman, the Zips just aren’t strong enough to compete.
SCORE: Oklahoma, 52-13
Kansas St vs. South Dakota
Sat., 6:10 p.m. CST
South Dakota schools must enjoy making trips to the Sunflower State. Both schools travel south to take on Big 12 Kansas teams in college football’s first weekend. South Dakota isn’t as good as its fellow state school, and plays the more talented and better coaches Wildcats. The Wildcats will be breaking in several new starters, including quarterback Joe Hubener, while looking for a replacement for the electrifying Tyler Lockett, now with the Seattle Seahawks. Unlike Texas Tech, Kansas St shouldn’t run into problems messing with formations and lineups against the less talented and outmatched Coyotes.
SCORE: Kansas St, 33-10
No. 11 Notre Dame (0-0) vs. Texas (0-0)
Sat., 6:30 p.m. CST
This is one of the more intriguing matchups of college football’s opening weekend. Unfortunately, both of these storied programs have fallen on hard times as of late. Notre Dame stands poised to return to the college football elite with a loaded roster, returning nearly its entire defense. Both of these teams are sure to field stout defenses capable of shutting the other team down. The defensive affair may come down to who can make the most plays on offense, and Notre Dame has the pieces Texas is missing. Quarterback Malik Zaire has proven a capable playmaker, even against the toughest defenses, with a strong performance against LSU in his first career start. Meanwhile, Texas has no player who stands out on the offensive side of the ball other than running back Jonathan Gray, who returns from an injury. Against Notre Dame’s deep and athletic defensive line, the run back will not be able to get it done for the Longhorns.
SCORE: Notre Dame, 24-10
West Virginia (0-0) vs. Georgia Southern (0-0)
Sat., 6:30 p.m. CST
A couple years ago, Georgia Southern knocked off SEC power Florida on the road, eliminating the Gators from the postseason. In its first season in FBS, the Eagles won nine games and the Sun Belt conference. Its old-fashioned triple option attack led the nation in rushing at more than 380 yards per game. Proven time and time again, it’s nearly impossible to prepare for the triple option when you only play against it in a single game while spending the majority of the season preparing for the spread. That said, West Virginia will struggle with the Eagles more than expected. Not only is the attack hard to prepare for, but it also takes two of the Mountaineers best defensive players out of the picture. Corner Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph are two of the Big 12’s best, but will need to be prepared to stop the run instead of cover wideouts down the field. Meanwhile, West Virginia will be breaking in a new quarterback against a defense that led the Sun Belt in scoring defense a year ago. West Virginia’s defense could prove to be one of the conference’s best, while Dana Holgorsen will surely have the offense ready to go. The Mountaineers won’t pull away from a feisty Eagles team, but should come out on top.
SCORE: West Virginia, 31-24
Iowa St. vs. Northern Iowa
Sat., 7 p.m. CST
FBS transfers at quarterback (Aaron Bailey) and running back (Savon Huggins) pace No. 11 Northern Iowa, giving it a shot in this contest. Iowa State underperformed a year ago, but coach Paul Rhoads is sure his team can improve. While I still believe backup quarterback Grant Rohach is the Cyclones best chance to win games, starter Sam Richardson will have numerous weapons to throw to. Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage are as dangerous a combo as any in the Big 12. The defense was a sham a season ago, finishing No. 125, but added a couple of junior college transfers to pick things up. The secondary returns mostly intact, including safety Kamari Cotton-Moya, Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, and corner Sam E. Richardson. Two years ago, Iowa St. had hoped to return to the postseason for its third straight year under Rhoads, but the season started off on a sour note after a loss to none other than Northern Iowa. Some say history repeats itself. Northern Iowa has the pieces to take down the Cyclones, and it could happen again Saturday. If Northern Iowa is able to knock off Iowa St., it will be the Cyclone’s third straight FCS loss.
SCORE: Northern Iowa, 38-34
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