Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Anyone who wanted to lament the stagnancy of college football’s elite could cobble together a compelling case with four of the five major conferences headed into the 2015 season.
Alabama, USC, Ohio State and Florida State — an undeniable collection of royalty that’s combined to win six of the last 11 national championships — are all favored to add to their school’s hulking trophy cases with conference titles.
The Big 12 is where the argument would fall apart. The scent of change fills the mid-America air, as two programs that were complete afterthoughts as recently as a decade ago are perceived as a cut above the rest.
TCU and Baylor enter the season as two of the four best teams in the country, according to oddsmakers’ power ratings and futures odds to win the national championship alike, and runaway favorites to win the Big 12.
There’s a 51 percent chance either the Horned Frogs or Bears beat their more established rivals to emerge as conference champions, according to betting lines at CG Technology. That’s a higher probability for two teams than any other Power Five conference aside from the Big Ten, where Ohio State has more than 60 percent likelihood on its own.
It’s a new age for the Big 12, the nation’s most unpredictable conference over the past half-decade. Six of the 10 teams in the conference have at least earned a share of the championship over the last five years.
Four of them came into the season not among the top two choices to win the league, which pits history against TCU and Baylor. But bettors have resisted the idea that a third team belongs in the conversation.
Oklahoma joins TCU and Baylor with odds of less than 100-to-1 to win the national championship at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook — the Sooners are 30-to-1 to the Horned Frogs’ 5-to-1 and Bears’ 12-to-1 — but has gotten minimal support.
In a sport typically so steeped in tradition, it’s unprecedented that the consensus regular-season game of the year will take place between two teams that haven’t won a national championship in 77 years. TCU lays six points at home to Baylor on Nov. 27 in a meeting many are already projecting to decide the Big 12 championship.
Unlike last year, there will be “One True Champion” in the conference as the Big 12 changed its rules to account for head-to-head performance in case of a tie.
The change doesn’t guarantee the Big 12 a place in the college football playoff after last year’s exclusion, but with the excitement encircling TCU and Baylor, it’s hard to imagine one of them being left out with a championship.
Check below for a team-by-team preview of the Big 12 including betting odds, analysis and picks at the bottom of the page. Last year, Talking Points went 102-80-2 against the spread in college football picking the 10 biggest games each week and every bowl game. Future prices come from the Superbook, while CG Technology provides win totals.
Odds to win the Big 12: plus-130
Win total: 10 (over minus-195, under plus-165)
Week 1 line: TCU minus-14 at Minnesota
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Oct. 3 TCU minus-19 vs. Texas; Oct. 10 TCU minus-9.5 at Kansas State; Oct. 17 TCU minus-29 at Iowa State; Oct. 29 TCU minus-20 vs. West Virginia; Nov. 7 TCU minus-9.5 at Oklahoma State; Nov. 21 TCU minus-1 at Oklahoma; Nov. 27 TCU minus-6 vs. Baylor
Overview: During last year’s magical season, everything went right for both the Horned Frogs and their bettors. TCU posted the best against the spread record in the nation at 11-2. Unfortunately, that’s not the only number bound to regress in 2015. TCU went 3-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown, and had the country’s third best turnover margin at plus-18. Even with sure-handed quarterback Trevone Boykin, who didn’t throw more than one interception in a single regular season game, back along with his top three targets — Josh Doctson, Kelvin Listenbee and Deante’ Gray — it’s an unsustainable rate. The strength of the returning offense, which also includes running back Aaron Green and all but one starting offensive lineman, has invigorated the public to make TCU quite possibly the preseason’s most popularly bet team. The Horned Frogs are the second choice to win the national championship, trimming from 8- to 5-to-1. Their odds to win the Big 12 went down at a similar clip, from plus-170 to plus-130. And all the money has come in on the over as far as the win total.
Just as important as what’s coming back on offense, however, is what’s not on defense. TCU lost six of its top seven tacklers from last year’s team, which ranked 12th in the nation in giving up 4.7 yards per play. Aside from a couple of notable lapses — most notably in the 61-58 loss to Baylor where TCU blew a 21-point lead in 10 minutes — the Horned Frogs were quietly just as effective on defense as they were on offense. Sharper bettors have noticed the losses, and acted on oddsmakers being so high on TCU. At the Golden Nugget, enough money came in against TCU to drive down point spreads in four of the eight games posted. A proposition wager at venerable offshore shop 5 Dimes asks bettors whether TCU will make the playoff this year with the “yes” at plus-190 and the “no” coming back at minus-270, denoting just a 30 percent likelihood. Last season might not have finished the way TCU wanted, but it’s going to be even harder to get back in the same position this year.
Odds to win the Big 12: plus-230
Win total: 10 (over minus-140, under plus-110)
Week 1 line: Baylor minus-34 at SMU
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Oct. 17 Baylor minus-17 vs. West Virginia; Nov. 5 Baylor minus-10.5 at Kansas State; Nov. 14 Baylor minus-11.5 vs. Oklahoma; Nov. 21 Baylor minus-8 at Oklahoma State; Nov. 27 Baylor plus-6 at TCU; Dec. 5 Baylor minus-16.5 vs. Texas
Overview: Bettors aren’t as enamored with Baylor as they are with TCU, which is curious considering all that the Bears return. They bring back even more production than the Horned Frogs, and rank in the top five nationally in experience with 18 returning starters. That includes lines that mauled opponents on both sides of the ball, led by big-time NFL prospects in center Kyle Fuller and defensive end Shawn Oakman. Baylor has stayed static at a 12-to-1 price to win the national championship, tied for fourth in the country, and only attracted marginal interest on their over 10 wins.
It would register as a shock — no pun intended with running back Shock Linwood poised to lead the offense — if the Bears started anything other than 7-0. They’re going to be favored by at least 17 points in every game, before a bye week leads them into the meat of the schedule with Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas in consecutive weeks. But Baylor has more than handled conference foes lately, going 16-2 straight up over the last two years. The Bears have five straight years of winning against the spread records over the Big 12 with coach Art Briles’ overall totals standing at 33-27 straight-up, 36-24 against the spread through seven years. Those are remarkable figures considering Baylor had never managed a winning season in the Big 12 before Briles arrived. The most likely reason the Bears haven’t been a public darling in the offseason is the absence of a returning superstar quarterback like Boykin. But it’s worth remembering that their offensive production only endured minimal drop-off between Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence a few years ago. Bryce Petty, the starter the last two years, similarly experienced no learning curve. Junior Seth Russell steps into an advantageous situation with top receivers Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon to his side in the nation’s highest tempo offense.
Odds to win the Big 12: plus-350
Win total: 8.5 (over Even, under minus-130)
Week 1 line: Oklahoma minus-31 vs. Akron
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Sept. 12 Oklahoma pick’em at Tennessee; Oct. 3 Oklahoma minus-10 vs. West Virginia; Oct. 10 Oklahoma minus-8 vs. Texas in Dallas; Oct. 17 Oklahoma minus-3 at Kansas State; Nov. 14 Oklahoma plus-11.5 at Baylor; Nov. 21 Oklahoma plus-1 vs. TCU; Nov. 28 Oklahoma minus-3 at Oklahoma State
Overview: More than a decade-long sample size suggests Oklahoma flounders when coming into the season rated as one of the top teams and plays better when it’s more under the radar in the coach Bob Stoops era. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Stoops may have suffered his worst year in 2014 when the Sooners were extremely hyped going into the season but finished 8-5 straight-up, 5-8 against the spread. Stoops has only failed to hit 10 wins three previous times in 16 years as Oklahoma’s coach. In the next season, his teams have gone 36-5 straight-up and 23-15-3 against the spread.
Those numbers would caution to watch out for the Sooners, but the betting market is provoking danger. The Sooners had the biggest move on their under win total of any team in the Big 12, with the price on the over 8.5 wins going from minus-165 to Even money. They’ve climbed from 12- to 30-to-1 to win the national championship, and an implied 15 percent chance to win the Big 12 is among the lowest of Stoops’ tenure. If nothing else, they should be able to run the ball and stop the run. Sophomore running back Samaje Perine set the single-game record last year with 427 yards against Kansas, helping Oklahoma gain 6.1 yards per rush attempt for the season. That fell in the top 10 nationally, as did the Sooners’ defense for holding opponents to three yards per rushing attempts. They return three of the conference’s best linebackers in Dominique Alexander, Jordan Evans and Eric Striker.
Odds to win the Big 12: 5-to-1
Win total: 7.5 (over minus-210, under plus-175)
Week 1 line: Oklahoma State minus-23 at Central Michigan
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Sept. 26 Oklahoma State plus-2.5 at Texas; Oct. 3 Oklahoma State minus-5 vs. Kansas State; Oct. 10 Oklahoma State plus-3 at West Virginia; Nov. 7 Oklahoma State plus-9.5 vs. TCU; Nov. 21 Oklahoma State plus-8 vs. Baylor; Nov. 28 Oklahoma State plus-3 vs. Oklahoma
Overview: For the first time in nine years, Oklahoma State was unprofitable to bet on in the 2014 season. The Cowboys, by far the Big 12’s best bet over the last decade, were doomed by a five-game losing streak against the spread in the middle of the season. But then Mason Rudolph arrived. Coach Mike Gundy pulled Rudolph’s redshirt and the true freshman quarterback led Oklahoma State to covers in each of its last three games. Rudolph’s emergence culminated with outright upsets of Oklahoma in the regular-season finale and Washington in the Cactus Bowl, where Oklahoma State caught 21 points and 6.5 points on the point spread respectively. The Cowboys finished 6-7 versus the number, 7-6 straight-up but almost everyone expects them to improve in 2015. That extends to the sports books, where Oklahoma State has drawn heavy action on its over win total and seen three line moves in its favor in the games of the year market.
Odds to win the Big 12: 7-to-1
Win total: 7.5 (over minus-120, under minus-110)
Week 1 line: West Virginia minus-18.5 vs. Georgia Southern
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Oct. 3 West Virginia plus-10 at Oklahoma; Oct. 10 West Virginia minus-3 vs. Oklahoma State; Oct. 17 West Virginia plus-17 at Baylor; Oct. 29 West Virginia plus-20 at TCU; Dec. 5 West Virginia plus-5 at Kansas State
Overview: The Mountaineers have seen their chances to win the Big 12 improve more than any other team over the last couple of months, according to the betting market. They more than sliced their Big 12 future odds in half after opening at 15-to-1. It’s interesting movement considering West Virginia has drawn virtually no action one way or the other on either its game of the year lines or win total. The Mountaineers have largely cost backers money since joining the Big 12 alongside TCU in 2012. Although they’ve flirted with a breakthrough on a few occasions, it’s never fully materialized. West Virginia is 11-16 both straight-up and against the spread in its new conference, where it’s struggled to make use of a once formidable home-field advantage. The Mountaineers are just 7-12 against the spread in Morgantown, W.V., over the last three seasons.
Odds to win the Big 12: 12-to-1
Win total: 6 (over minus-200, under plus-170)
Week 1 line: Texas plus-10 at Notre Dame
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Sept. 26 Texas minus-2.5 vs. Oklahoma State; Oct. 3 Texas plus-19 at TCU; Oct. 10 Texas plus-8 vs. Oklahoma in Dallas; Oct. 24 Texas minus-3.5 vs. Kansas State; Dec. 5 Texas plus-16.5 at Baylor
Overview: Not even the $8 million video board at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium could make the Longhorns’ offense look pretty last season. They averaged 4.8 yards per play, one of the 20 worst averages in the nation and only better than Kansas in the Big 12. The lack of offense reached a nadir in the Texas Bowl, where Texas managed 59 total yards in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas. Most of the same personnel return on that side of the ball in 2015, including quarterback Tyrone Swoopes who’s locked in a battle with redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard for the starting job. The hope is that a healthy and experienced offensive line can help whoever plays quarterback and senior running back Jonathan Gray, once a five-star recruit as one of the nation’s most decorated high-school players, live up to their potential. Defense kept Texas in games last season, but the unit loses six of its top seven tacklers. Bettors seem to realize coach Charlie Strong won’t field a vintage Texas team in his second season, as they’ve allowed their national championship odds to increase from 40- to 200-to-1. The Longhorns’ odds to win the Big 12 have also boosted after posting at 7-to-1.
Odds to win the Big 12: 13-to-1
Win total: 7 (over minus-135, under plus-105)
Week 1 line: None yet (vs. South Dakota)
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Oct. 17 Kansas State plus-3 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 24 Kansas State plus-3.5 at Texas; Nov. 5 Kansas State plus-10.5 vs. Baylor; Nov. 28 Kansas State minus-24 vs. Kansas; Dec. 5 Kansas State minus-5 vs. West Virginia
Overview: Kansas State loses virtually all of its best players, and is getting ignored by the betting public. In other words, it’s reminiscent of almost every year under coach Bill Snyder. And the 75-year-old legend of the plains almost always proves gamblers wrong. In 24 years coaching in Manhattan, Kan., Snyder is 155-105 against the spread. He’s 47-29-1 versus the number in his second tenure, which began in 2009. Much of his success comes from protecting his eponymous stadium. Kansas State is 26-15 against the spread at home over the last six years including 8-4 as an underdog with five outright victories.
Odds to win the Big 12: 40-to-1
Win total: 5.5 (over minus-130, under Even)
Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Sam Houston State)
Golden Nugget games of the year line: None
Overview: Mike Leach’s final year was the last time the Red Raiders posted a winning record against the spread. Defense is the recurring issue, as Texas Tech was again miserable in 2014 surrendering 6.3 yards per play. The good news is, the unit improved as the season went on and helped the Red Raiders cover in each of their last three games including a 48-46 near miss against Baylor as 26-point underdogs to end the year. Texas Tech brings back the second-most experience in the conference, including two quarterbacks in Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes who threw for more than 4,000 yards collectively. Whoever wins the job has the luxury of five of their top six receiving targets returning including dual threat running back DeAndre Washington.
Odds to win the Big 12: 150-to-1
Win total: 3.5 (over minus-115, under minus-115)
Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Northern Iowa)
Golden Nugget games of the year line: Sept. 12 Iowa State plus-4.5 vs Iowa; Oct. 17 Iowa State plus-29 vs. TCU; Nov. 7 Iowa State plus-3 at Oklahoma
Overview: The Cyclones could use some positivity after bottoming out to a 0-9 straight-up, 2-7 against the spread record in Big 12 play last year so here it goes: Las Vegas is indicating imminent improvement. Their win total boosted a half-game from opening at 3, which is uncommon and means action came in on the over. Before last year, Iowa State had pulled at least one upset in the conference every year under coach Paul Rhoads. Kansas will be the only Big 12 team Iowa State is favored against in 2015, but senior quarterback Sam Richardson and top receivers D’Vario Montgomery and Allen Lazard should threaten teams with shaky defensive backfields.
Odds to win the Big 12: 500-to-1
Win total: 1.5 (over minus-140, under plus-110)
Week 1 line: None yet (vs. South Dakota State)
Golden Nugget games of the year line: None
Overview: Odds give the Jayhawks less than a 1-in,1,000 chance of winning the Big 12, after adjusting for the house’s hold percentage, and they have the lowest win total of any team with a line in town. Those two facts speak volumes to the state of the Kansas program in 2015, where David Beaty will become the fifth different coach in six years. Kansas has managed one straight-up Big 12 win in each of the last two years, but it’s a longer shot this season with one of the least experienced teams in the country. Kansas has come in as an underdog in 47 straight Big 12 games — an average line of plus-18.5 — with no apparent end in sight.
Six pack of picks: Oklahoma over 8.5 wins at Even money, Kansas State over 7 wins at minus-135, West Virginia under 7.5 wins at minus-110, Texas under 6 wins at plus-170, Nov. 7 Oklahoma State plus-9.5 vs. TCU, Nov. 27 Baylor plus-6 at TCU