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November 18, 2018

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Countdown to college football: Picking every team’s win total in the Big 12

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AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

Oklahoma wide receiver Jeff Badet (2) catches a touchdown pass in front of Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Dallas, Texas.

Bettors love to wager on points in the Big 12, throwing all caution aside to load up on “over” in practically any game involving the conference with the reputation for producing the most offense.

Last year, the strategy backfired in a major way. Big 12 teams collectively went 71-58-1 towards the under.

It was partly defensive improvement, but more so oddsmakers aggressively escalating costs to ensure gamblers were paying a premium if they bit on the over. Take teams like TCU and Texas, for instance.

Those two had the best defenses in the league, and yet still saw more than half of their combined games with an over/under of more than 60 points. The Horned Frogs and Longhorns led the under charge, with a collective 7-20 record towards the under.

It’s something to monitor in 2018, but Talking Points is here to analyze a different over/under. The Big 12 is the penultimate conference in the blog’s series picking the win totals of every college football conference.

Read below for team-by-team Big 12 picks — separated into three confidence categories — and come back Wednesday for the ACC preview to finish off the countdown to college football.

Baylor

over/under: 6 (minus-110, minus-110)

Last Year: 1-11 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

Baylor is guaranteed to improve in coach Matt Rhule’s second season. The question is if it can improve by more than five games, which would be quite a drastic leap. Working in the Bears’ favor is nearly every starter getting extended playing time during last year’s lost season and attracting several transfers, including former Tennessee running back turned receiver Jalen Hurd and former Clemson left tackle Jake Fruhmorgen. The Bears also practically have an extended preseason with Abilene Christian, UTSA, Duke and Kansas scheduled the first four weeks, where they could have an opportunity to jell.

Guess: Over 6 wins at minus-110

Iowa State

over/under: 6.5 (minus-120, Even)

Last Year: 8-5 straight-up, 11-2 against the spread

As the nation’s most profitable team last season, Iowa State was like an ATM for sports bettors — any time they punched in a ticket on the Cyclones, they got money back in return. This year, the account might be dry. Iowa State comes into the season power-rated much higher than before, meaning value will be hard to find. The Cyclones look like a classic case of a team that will fall more within their historical norms after one outlier of a season. Replicating a fortunate plus-10 turnover margin will be near impossible, as will replacing a veteran, playmaking secondary.

Lean: Under 6.5 wins at Even money

Kansas

over/under: 3 (plus-155, minus-185)

Last Year: 1-11 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread

The Jayhawks only need to beat Nicholls, Central Michigan and Rutgers to tie their win total in the opening three weeks of the season. That’s a lot more difficult than it sounds at Kansas. Now in his fourth season, David Beaty hasn’t shown anything to inspire confidence. The Jayhawks are 3-33 straight-up, 13-23 against the spread under his watch. Kansas does have a standout on each side of the ball, running back Khalil Herbert and linebacker Joe Dineen, but few players around them would start for any other Big 12 team.

Lean: Under 3 wins at minus-185

Kansas State

over/under: 6.5 (minus-125, plus-105)

Last Year: 8-5 straight-up, 6-6-1 against the spread

Is Bill Snyder’s magic finally running out? Nothing can ever take away from what Snyder has achieved in 27 years in Manhattan, Kan., but from a betting standpoint, he’s had a few uncharacteristic seasons recently. The Wildcats have failed to beat their win total in two of the last three years, a span during which they haven’t been a profitable bet against the spread. This season again shapes up as challenging, with Snyder losing both of his coordinators and most of his defensive playmakers. The 78-year-old legend usually overachieves, but overachieving this year may just signify getting to 6-6 and qualifying for his 20th career bowl game.

Guess: Under 6 wins at plus-105

Oklahoma

over/under: 10 (minus-130, plus-110)

Last Year: 12-2 straight-up, 8-6 against the spread

Baker Mayfield probably deserves a second Heisman Trophy for dragging a pitiful Sooners’ defense within a double-overtime loss of a national championship game appearance. Oklahoma gave up 5.7 yards per play last year, and proceeded to lose most of the bright spots of its defense. Meanwhile, Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray slides in for Mayfield. He’s far less polished of a passer than Mayfield, and already has a $5 million baseball contract with the Oakland A’s locked in for next year. The Sooners still have the most talented roster in the conference — running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon are particularly lethal duo — but this feels like a transitional year.

Lean: Under 10 wins at plus-110

Oklahoma State

over/under: 8 (minus-115, minus-105)

Last Year: 10-3 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread

Oklahoma’s Bedlam rival is actually the Big 12 team with the fewest returning starters. The difference comes in expectation level, which is all that really matters from a betting perspective. Coach Mike Gundy has averaged more than 8 wins in 13 seasons with the Cowboys, and many of those years came before the program had its current infrastructure in place. It feels like a low bar for a team that’s currently projected to be favorites in their first nine games. Oklahoma State won’t be near as efficient offensively, but should improve on defense with the arrival of aggressive new coordinator Jim Knowles.

Lean: Over 8 wins at minus-115

TCU

over/under: 7.5 (minus-130, plus-110)

Last Year: 11-3 straight-up, 6-8 against the spread

A bold Big 12 prediction: TCU sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson wins the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award. If that comes to fruition, nothing is stopping the Horned Frogs from their fourth double-digit win season in the last five years. A total of six returning starters undersells the fact that the Horned Frogs have the best defense in the Big 12. They have a pair of hellacious edge rushers in Ben Banogu and LJ Collier, a pair of strong defensive backs in Niko Small and Jeff Gladney and an impact linebacker transfer in Northern Illinois’ Jawuan Johnson. It all hinges on Robinson, but he was a big-time recruit for TCU’s standards, meaning he has the ability to produce immediately.

Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-130

Texas

over/under: 8.5 (minus-135, plus-115)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

Not many people seem to remember how much Texas improved as last season progressed. If it wasn’t for an unlucky 1-4 record in games decided by less than a touchdown, then coach Tom Herman’s first season would have been judged as an irrefutable success — even despite the embarrassing debut loss to Maryland as a 17-point favorite. Expectations are always out of whack in Austin, Texas, which helped obscure the fact that Sam Ehlinger showed some promise as a freshman quarterback with 7 yards per passing attempt. Ehlinger won the job in the preseason, and should be better as a sophomore. Texas looks set on defense; it just needs an offense to match the production. With so many other teams in the league rebuilding this season, Herman has a golden opportunity to lead a breakout a year ahead of schedule.

Lean: Over 8.5 wins at minus-135

Texas Tech

over/under: 6 (minus-155, plus-125)

Last Year: 6-7 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread

By now, it’s established what to expect from a Kliff Kingsbury-coached Texas Tech team, or perhaps any Texas Tech team for that matter: High scores, both for the Red Raiders and their opponents. This season could test that paradigm. Kingsbury actually fielded his best defense last season, and nearly everyone is back. It’s on offense where the Red Raiders are deficient of any proven standouts. Kingsbury has averaged less than six wins per season in five years at Texas Tech, and there’s no reason to pay a high price for him to eclipse that total in a season with a lot of unknowns.

Lean: Under 6 wins at plus-125

West Virginia

over/under: 7.5 (Even, minus-130)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

Country Roads, take the sports bettors home. Lord knows they’re as enamored with West Virginia as the late John Denver was himself. The Mountaineers have been the most popular bet in the conference, raising their win total a half-point. It’s hard not to see what bettors are thinking with West Virginia. Or, more specifically, who they’re seeing. West Virginia sat at 7-3 straight-up, 6-4 against the spread last year before now-senior quarterback Will Grier went down with injury. Statistically, the Mountaineers project around a .500 team once again. But great quarterbacks have a way of skewing projections. And Grier is the Big 12’s lone undeniably great quarterback.

Guess: Over 7.5 wins at Even money

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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