In this week’s Big 12 roundtable, we’re taking a closer look at the offenses around the conference this spring and making a few predictions about which units are going to be trending up and down in 2017.
Which Big 12 offense is set for a jump in 2017?
Mitch Sherman: West Virginia's offensive marks from 2016 look solid on paper with 31.2 points and 485.5 yards per game. But the Mountaineers faltered at the wrong times, committing turnovers early and often against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and failing to show up against Miami. Quarterback Will Grier and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital might provide instant upgrades. WVU returns enough skill-position talent, especially at running back, to start 2017 in a better spot than it ended last year.
Jake Trotter: Kansas State has a chance to make the biggest jump. The Wildcats surged down the stretch last season, but they also struggled early in the year. With quarterback Jesse Ertz now being a veteran, and skill talents like sophomore running back Alex Barnes and Cal transfer wide receiver Carlos Strickland in line to play key roles, all behind a terrific offense line, the Wildcats could boast one of more complete offenses in the Big 12.
Max Olson: I have enough faith in Sonny Cumbie and the depth he’s working with at wide receiver and running back to believe TCU can make big improvements in 2017. The Frogs dropped to No. 8 in the Big 12 in scoring last season (31 ppg), but I like what they’ve got coming back and I think they’ll be stronger up front. They need to get receiver KaVontae Turpin back, of course, and quarterback Kenny Hill needs to be a lot more consistent.
Which Big 12 offense is heading for a decline in 2017?
Sherman: The end of last season got out of hand, but I don’t think the sky is falling at Texas Tech. Nevertheless, the departure of quarterback Patrick Mahomes means that production is set to drop for the Red Raiders. The challenge for Kliff Kingsbury, of course, is first to upgrade the defense, then find some balance on offense and reduce the inevitable damage associated with the loss of an extraordinary playmaker. If Tech fails there, it’s in store for a big drop.
Trotter: We’ve grown accustomed to Baylor automatically being one of the top scoring offenses every season. This season, that could change. With KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora having declared for the NFL draft, the Bears just don't have the firepower at receiver they've enjoyed over the past decade. Zach Smith is still finding his way at quarterback, and could get supplanted by Arizona transfer Anu Solomon anyway. And the offensive line is a far cry from the 2015 group that was one of the best in Big 12 history.
Olson: Let me put it this way: Texas Tech can have a better season in 2017 without gaining the FBS-best 566 yards per game they averaged last fall. I really do not expect significant drop-off with veteran Nic Shimonek taking over at quarterback, and I definitely would not call the Red Raiders' offense declining. But statistically speaking, it’s going to be difficult to match what Mahomes accomplished last season.
Which Big 12 offense is the biggest wild card?
Sherman: For me, it’s TCU. The Horned Frogs have a senior quarterback (Hill) and solid pieces around him. Or do they? Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham left for Kansas, but Gary Patterson lured Sonny Dykes from Cal -- as an analyst. It’s all quite murky on the offensive side in Fort Worth. And after the disappointment of last season, I could see a significant swing of the pendulum in either direction.
Trotter: The easy answer here is Texas. The Longhorns have talent. But can they finally put it all together? That will hinge heavily on what happens at quarterback. But everywhere else, including wide receiver, running back and the offensive line, Texas has impact pieces just begging to play within a cohesive unit.
Olson: I’m not going to make assumptions about Baylor declining on offense in 2017 because, well, we really don’t know what Baylor is doing on offense. Matt Rhule has said Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas are going to build a system mixing their multiple Temple offense with Chip Kelly principles. I can’t wait to see what it looks like, but they’re a wild card for now until we see how smoothly that install goes and how the quarterbacks adapt.