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Handing Out Regular Season Grades

Looking back at preseason expectations, and grading each Big 12 team’s season.

Big 12 Conference

Time for the regular season report card for your favorite team. Let’s find out who made the grade and who might need to retake the class. And yes, we do grade on a curve here. The methodology is preseason expectations compared to on-the-field results with some “eye test” thrown in for good measure.

How do you grade your team’s season? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

Who Gets An A?

Oklahoma (12-1, 9-1)

Oklahoma made no bones about it beginning at the end of last season: Playoffs or Bust. The summer brought controversy as Bob Stoops suddenly retired and Lincoln Riley became the Sooner head coach. The season started on fire with a smack down of the Buckeyes in Columbus. Then quickly looked like it may be on the brink of catastrophe after a stunning loss to Iowa State. However, after finally finding their feet in the Kansas State game, Oklahoma looked utterly unstoppable as it tore through the rest of the conference and destroyed a top notch TCU in the (re)inaugural Big 12 Championship game. The Sooners find themselves ranked third in the country and facing a very good Georgia team in the first round of the playoffs. So far, Lincoln Riley is passing his first season in Norman as the main man with flying colors.

TCU (10-3, 7-3)

This season was always going to come down to the play of Kenny Hill. Preseason expectations had TCU all over the place. We ranked TCU sixth in our own preseason rankings. It’s time for us to eat crow, and credit TCU with masking Hill’s deficiencies while making a run for the conference crown. The TCU defense smothered almost every opponent on the season. Even in the loss to Iowa State the defense gave up only 14 points and less than 300 yards total offense, it is just that TCU could get nothing going offensively. Patterson built a classic Horned Frog team that played lights out defense and controlled the clock on offense. This was a good team that played great football and, honestly, should have finished the regular season ranked much higher than they are. As it is, they are sitting at the head of the class right now.

Iowa State: (7-5, 5-4)

Iowa State went 3-9 in 2016. Year two under Matt Campbell was a completely different story. We predicted a jump in 2017, and the Cyclones didn’t disappoint. The Cyclones were the only team to beat the Sooners this year, and they did it in Norman to boot. A four win increase is truly amazing. It would be easy to ding them for being a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. How do you lose to Texas and Oklahoma State but beat TCU and Oklahoma? That will forever remain a mystery. What is not mysterious is that Matt Campbell is building something in Ames and his recent contract extension will see him there for a while. So, mea culpa on my part for thinking he would bolt. Ultimately, Iowa State finished seventh, right where we had them in our preseason poll. They get an A, because a team that had a string of 3-9 seasons will be finishing with a winning record. Somebody was taking notes in class and it showed up on the test.

Who Gets A B?

Texas (6-6, 5-4)

This is one of the hardest grades to figure out. While a few crazy Longhorn fans predicted a miracle turn around on the 40 Acres and thought Texas could go 12-1 or 13-0, they were always realistically in the five to seven win category. Our preseason rankings had the Longhorns finishing right where they have the last three years. And, the opening loss to Maryland had a lot of people questioning if this team would make it to bowl eligibility. But, then a vintage Longhorn defense took the field for the rest of the season. The Longhorns were offensively challenged all season long (no, dropping 56 on equally challenged SJSU does not count), and injuries didn’t help. This was a team that could have won almost every game; four of their six losses were by one score. It is the defensive prowess and bowl eligibility that bumps this grade up to a B from a C. It will be interesting to watch as Herman gets more of his style of players into Austin. A solid grade, nonetheless.

Texas Tech (6-6, 3-6)

The other team that makes grading hard is the Red Raiders. Preseason expectations had the Red Raiders finishing one step above Kansas. This was because of losing Patrick Mahomes to the NFL after finishing 5-7 last year, and a tougher schedule. However, a couple of stellar out-of-conference wins had us eating crow and set pretty high expectations for the rest of the year. Those expectations came crashing down as Tech lost five games out of six in the second half of the season. All of a sudden, this looked a lot more like the team we expected to begin with. One of the worst things a team can do is to get the hopes up of the fans, just to fall on their face. For that reason the Red Raiders were likely to get a C or even a D, but then, in dramatic fashion, Texas Tech beat Texas to make it to bowl eligibility. A mediocre defense (and we do mean mediocre) was the difference for this team. After being one of the worst in recent years they leaped into the category of “just okay.” Third from the bottom is not good, but going bowling is. In outperforming expectations, the Red Raiders should be very, very happy.

Who Gets A C?

Oklahoma State (9-3, 6-3)

Normally a final regular season record of 9-3 would be something to celebrate in Stillwater. However, this year, it can only be seen as a disappointment. Before the season Mike Gundy called this team as good or better than his famed 2011 squad, which famously got gypped out of the BCS Title Game. Instead of the Playoffs though, this team will be playing in the Hokey Pokie Bowl (a.k.a. the Camping World Bowl). The season was going great, until it wasn’t. A loss to TCU was easily blamed on injuries and a fluke call nobody still understands. Close calls against Texas Tech and Texas were dismissed by Gundy also. But, a three week stretch of a loss against OU, a come from behind victory against a depleted ISU, and a flabbergasting loss to Kansas State made this season a disappointment. With the chance to still reach double digits in the win column it is hard to be too harsh on this Cowboy squad. A solid grade filled with “what-ifs” is what Oklahoma State brings home this winter.

West Virginia (7-5, 5-4)

When Vegas came out predicting that West Virginia would go 6-6 everybody in Morgantown scoffed. This was a team that had just gone 10-3 and, while it was replacing a lot on defense, it had done the same in 2016, and this time around they had a new and improved gunslinger under center.  Our preseason predictions had West Virginia fourth in the conference as a dark horse title contender. Turns out those Vegas folks are pretty smart. Will Grier, while not being as turnover prone as Sklyer Howard, was not the second coming of Pat White, either. WVU was non-competitive against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Texas. But, nearly knocked off TCU and beat both Texas Tech and Iowa State when they were ranked, and lost a close game against Virginia Tech. 7-5 is a solid record, but 7-5 was the floor for Morgantown expectations, and far from the ceiling. A passing grade, but only that.

Who Gets A D?

Kansas State (7-5, 5-4)

Another team that was considered a strong dark horse candidate to be the champion of the Big 12. Many considered it Bill Snyder’s last hurrah after his medical scare this off season, and coupled with his age and senior leaders returning at key positions, it seemed to be a formula for a vintage Snyder team. Instead, this was a team that under-performed for much of the season. But, by the end of the season they started to find their stride by beating Oklahoma State and pulling off a miracle in Ames. Like the three previous teams on our list, the main culprit seemed to be the quarterback position. Skylar Thompson might be the long-term answer there, but he came on too late in the season to salvage anything more than a bowl bid. This season leaves a bad taste in the mouth, solid by most standards but an under showing for things hoped for. The Wildcats seemed stuck in between not failing, but not succeeding, either.

Baylor (1-11, 1-8)

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Baylor was a bowl team last year; waxing Boise State in the Cactus Bowl. However, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the Bears would look with Matt Rhule taking over for this season, and expectations were not high. The Bears were eighth in our preseason poll, and while there were some moral victories and fan enthusiasm was buoyed, the results on the field were pitiful. Much of that was due to Baylor finishing the season with their third string quarterback under center. The opening loss to Liberty, an FCS school, was just a harbinger of things to come. A lone win over Kansas is not enough to salvage the season. Just a few years ago this was the top school of the conference. Now, they are only a pulse above Kansas. Coach Rhule is building, but the early returns point to summer school for the Bears.

Who Failed?

Kansas (1-11, 0-9)

Kansas won two games last year, including a major win over the Longhorns, and looked to build on that this season. It was hoped that the Jayhawks would show more of the same fight as the previous season under coach David Beaty. There were signs of a turnaround as Kansas had, at one point before the season, a surprisingly good recruiting class. But, the win over SEMO was a mirage. Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley could not get the offense going and the defense regressed from last year. The low point of the season came against TCU when the Jayhawks managed a measly 21 yards of total offense for the game, most of which game in the final drive when lets face it, the Horned Frogs were already getting back on the bus. What more is there to say? We have seen this kind of Kansas team too much recently, and expected more this season. Back to remedial classes for another year.

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