Way-too-early Big 12 football power rankings for 2017

Sophomore running back Justin Silmon runs the ball during the football game between K-State and Texas A&M in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in the NRG Stadium in Houston on Dec. 28, 2016. (File Photo by Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

1. Oklahoma State

Heading into the 2017-2018 season, Oklahoma State is the clear favorite. The Cowboys got a big boost when junior quarterback Mason Rudolph and junior wide receiver James Washington announced they would return for their senior seasons. With that deadly duo and their leading rusher, freshman running back Justice Hill, the Cowboys aren’t only a Big 12 title contender, they also have College Football Playoff aspirations.

2. Kansas State

The Wildcats come in a close second to the Cowboys, as they return a plethora of starters for next year. Junior quarterback Jesse Ertz will have a year under his belt and will play a crucial role in determining the Wildcats’ success. Freshman running back Alex Barnes is expected to be a starter after a spectacular second half this past season. Junior linebacker Elijah Lee’s decision to declare for the draft didn’t do any favors for the team, but K-State should still be a force next year.

3. Oklahoma

It’s a little different to see Oklahoma at any other place than the top two spots, but the Sooners are losing a lot. Both running backs sophomore Joe Mixon and junior Samaje Perine are gone after declaring for the draft, leaving the team with little experience in that spot. Junior quarterback Baker Mayfield is returning for his senior season, but he will be without his favorite target, senior wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who graduated.

4. Texas

Texas could be a pleasant surprise this coming year. Charlie Strong is out and Tom Herman is in as head coach, which could be the spark the Longhorns were looking for. After a stellar freshman season, quarterback Shane Buechele should be much improved in his sophomore campaign. Texas will take a huge hit with 2,000-yard rusher junior D’onta Foreman declaring for the draft, but still expect the Longhorns to turn some heads.

5. West Virginia

West Virginia could be the ultimate coin-flip. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard is gone, but Florida transfer sophomore Will Grier, should take over the starting spot. Grier has the potential to be the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, but time will tell if he fits in with the Mountaineer offense. Their 1,000-yard rusher, junior Justin Crawford, averaged 7.3 yards-per-carry last year and will be back.

6. TCU

TCU and West Virginia could have been in either of these spots and nobody would’ve blinked an eye. The Horned Frogs will have a dangerous offensive attack next year as dual threat junior quarterback Kenny Hill returns and junior running back Kyle Hicks will be back. Hicks rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and led the team with 47 receptions. Expect head coach Gary Patterson to have his team ready to play.

7. Baylor

After a year of distractions last season, it’s finally time for the Bears to get back to football. That being said, the struggles at the end of last year could carry over into this season. Freshman quarterback Zach Smith gained valuable experience last year, including a bowl win, and sophomore running back Terence Williams had a solid year, exceeding expectations. It will be interesting to see how Baylor fares this year without all of the distractions.

8. Texas Tech

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury will be on the hot seat this year, and I have a hard time imaging Texas Tech will have much success. Junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes II declared for the draft after a brilliant season where he accounted for 53 total touchdowns. With a defense that struggled all of last year and losing a player that produced so much for the offense as Mahomes did, it could be a long year for Red Raider fans.

9. Iowa State

Iowa State has an interesting scenario coming into next year. The Cyclones will have two capable quarterbacks, sophomore Jacob Park and a dual threat player, junior Joel Lanning. Both will have one of the most underrated players in the Big 12, junior wide receiver Allen Lazard. The Cyclones and Jayhawks battle it out for the last two spots, and right now it’s advantage Cyclones.

10. Kansas

The Jayhawks, to say the least, will still struggle to win a conference game next season. Toward the end of the past season, head coach David Beaty and his team showed a lot of improvement, but they still have a long way to go. Freshman quarterback Carter Stanley showed promise after taking over the starting spot and will have weapons to throw to after both sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. and junior wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez had terrific years.