1. Oklahoma – Redshirt junior quarterback Baker Mayfield helped propel OU to an 11-1 record and a conference championship. But Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman race, and the Sooners lost to Clemson with a spot in the National Championship on the line. Expect an already talented Oklahoma squad to have extra motivation.
2. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys are returning 10 starters on offense, including junior quarterback Mason Rudolph. He threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. With Rudolph in the fold, Oklahoma State has the talent to challenge Oklahoma in a de-facto Big 12 Championship game on Dec. 3. Bedlam awaits.
3. TCU – Losing a star quarterback, wide receiver and starting running back isn’t ideal in a league that leans heavily on offense. But Gary Patterson built his dynasty in Fort Worth with a stout defense, and senior defensive end Josh Carraway should anchor yet another solid defensive unit.
4. Texas – The Longhorns continue to search for a quarterback capable of taking the program back to the top of the Big 12. Will it be true freshman Shane Buechele? Whether the Arlington-native starts or not, the defense must improve for Texas to avoid its third losing season in as many years under head coach Charlie Strong. Texas gave up 462.6 yards per game last year – 107th in the FBS.
5. Baylor – The offseason departure of head coach Art Briles and seven recruits from the 2016 class should be enough to plummet any program in the country. But Baylor still has the talent to win 10 games for the fourth straight season.
6. Texas Tech – Junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes might be the most talented QB in the conference, but his arm and legs can only carry the Red Raiders so far. Tech’s defense gave up 576 points last season, worst in
7. West Virginia – Senior quarterback Skyler Howard threw for a postseason school record 532 yards in WVU’s Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State last winter. If he continues to shine, West Virginia will quickly climb its way up this list.
8. Kansas State – Junior quarterback Joe Hubener completed just 47.6 percent of his passes last year and had more interceptions than touchdowns. Seventy-six-year-old head coach Bill Synder is in jeopardy of recording back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since he returned to the helm at K-State in 2009.
9. Iowa State – The Cyclones managed to pummel the Longhorns 24-0 in Ames last fall, but ended 3-9 last season. It will be an up-hill battle for Iowa State.
10. Kansas – The Jayhawks were winless in 2015, and have two conference victories in the last five seasons. Enough said.