Big 12 Preseason Power Rankings: Oklahoma is in a class of their own, but will be challenged by three credible contenders

This is the first installment of FanJuicer’s college football preseason conference power rankings. Over the coming few weeks, we will be polling fans with the MaxDiff market research technique to get their team rankings in each Power 5 conference. Why not start with the Big 12?

What you need to know about this research

When was this fielded?: June 20-21, 2018
Number of respondents: 1,097
Who is in this research?: Big 12 fans made up a greater percentage of the sample than I am used to seeing, which is unsurprising because that is who is going to care most about Big 12 rankings. In this research Big 12 fans made up 52% of the sample. By comparison, in the nationwide MaxDiff ranking polls I conduct during the college football season, Big 12 fans typically comprise 13 – 18% of the sample, which I believe to be in line with Nate Silver’s 2011 estimates of fanbase sizes. Regardless, for this research, I wanted the results to reflect an equal mix of Big 12 and non Big 12 fan opinions. In addition, I also wanted to make sure that the larger Big 12 fanbases like Texas and Oklahoma did not sway the results in their favor. As a result, this data has been weighted to reflect 50% Big 12 fans and 50% Non Big 12 fans. To remove homer bias, each Big 12 fanbase was weighted so that each is represented equally in the results. In other words, each of the Big 12’s ten fanbases represents 5% of the total sample, so together the Big 12 fanbases reflect 50% of the sample. This respondent pool is also largely comprised of savvy college football fans; 88% indicated they follow college football closely (4 – 5 on a 5-point scale).

Interpreting The Results

The MaxDiff scores for each team are indexed at 100. For example, the Texas Longhorns’ MaxDiff score of 115 means that team was ranked 15% higher than the average team in the exercise. It is important to note that these scores should not be interpreted as “votes.” See our explanation of MaxDiff if you would like more information.

FanJuicer’s Take On The Results

Unlike in research where there is little agreement among respondents, such as we saw in our NFL logos research, these results show very clear tiers in the minds of fans, reflecting consensus around the strength of the teams. Oklahoma’s placement at the top of the ladder in Tier I by themselves reflects clear agreement that the conference is theirs to lose. Fans feel the Sooners are most likely to be credibly challenged by three Tier II competitors: TCU, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State. While there is less agreement on which of those three will be strongest, our research suggests most will give a slight edge to TCU, although some will disagree and view West Virginia or Oklahoma State as the strongest of the three. Texas’ placement in Tier III reflects a general lack of agreement about the Longhorns’ ability to be a true competitor this season. In fact, the Longhorns’ MaxDiff scores showed the greatest standard deviation of any of the Big 12 teams, which means that of all the teams in this research, fans were least likely to agree about the plight of Texas. A small contingency think “Texas will be back,” but most think it will be at least another season before the Longhorns will be able to compete for the Big 12 crown.

Research Participants Give Their Outlook For Each Big 12 Team

#10 Kansas Jayhawks

  • “I predict Kansas will finish last in the Big 12. The talent isn’t there and the recruiting hasn’t helped. Even Iowa State and Baylor, the other teams I predict to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, have some respectable talent on the depth chart. Kansas may be the worst P5 team, and is certainly worse than a fair number of mid-major G5 teams.” – u/Lucius429
  • “A perennial conference bottom feeder, Kansas has had no big wins in the past few seasons apart from their huge upset against Texas in 2016. With [FORMER KANSAS ATHLETIC DIRECTOR] Sheahon Zenger out of the picture, [KANSAS HEAD HEAD COACH] David Beaty is in a do-or-die season. To keep his job would take at least three, possibly four, wins this season. Knowing Kansas, this is a tall order. More than likely there will be an opening during or at the end of the season, and a new staff will come into place. After that? Who knows.” – u/Polly_the_Parrot

#9 Baylor Bears

  • “Baylor struggled last year with a new coach and a lack of talent. Many of those struggles have been due to the numerous scandals plaguing the program. This year’s Baylor players will have more experience after having multiple freshman and sophomores start last year, but that will not necessarily translate to on-field effectiveness. I expect the offense to see more success than last year if Charlie Brewer is able to step into his role as we expect. The real problem Baylor will suffer from is in the run game and on defense. Running back John Lovett may see success if his offensive line can provide more solid blocking, but if not, then we can expect another abysmal year in the run game for the Bears. I don’t know what to make of the defense. I expect Rhule to make improvements since he is a defensive-minded coach, but the team was so bad last year due to youth and injuries I couldn’t begin to tell you where my expectations lie for them this season. The defense could be above average for the conference, or it could be worse than last year; it’s hard to say. I think they’ll probably be a bottom 3 team this year, somewhere around 4 or 5 wins. I wouldn’t be shocked if they prove me wrong, but its hard to have any serious expectations for Baylor given their performance last season.” – Toe Meets Leather Podcast
  • “Baylor might be the toughest Big 12 team to predict in the coming season. They are coming off an absolutely abysmal 2017 in which they only won one game (against Kansas), but they were still able to finish in the top 40 in recruiting in 2017 and top 30 in 2018. Their team was gutted by the Art Briles scandal, but I don’t think Baylor will regress back to being the pre-Robert Griffin III era. I could see them surprising a lot of people. They got off to an absolutely abysmal start in out of conference play last year, but they played a lot of good Big 12 teams pretty close (most notably OU and WVU). I think they have the talent to begin turning things around this year, but they might still be a year or two out from being truly competitive. If a few things go their way, who knows? At best, I see them finishing 5th or 6th in conference. At worst, 9th ahead of Kansas. My prediction: a 5-7 record and ranked 8th in the Big 12 conference (above Kansas and Texas Tech)” – u/justbigchillin

#8 Texas Tech Red Raiders

  • “This may be the most open the conference has been in at least a decade. The middle of the conference is a giant question mark. With a much improved defense, all it will take is a typical Kliff Kingsbury offense for Tech to be a factor in the conference race. I feel like 9 wins is the ceiling (maybe a little optimistic), but 8 wins is well within reason if Texas Tech plays at the level at which they are capable. Conversely, another 5-7 season wouldn’t be a surprise either.” – u/EnTyme
  • “Texas Tech will probably wind up in the bottom third of the conference this year. They are better than Baylor and Kansas, but that isn’t saying much. If they can find some semblance of a defense, I do think they could finish closer to the middle of the conference.” – Anonymous

#7 Kansas State Wildcats

  • “I see Kansas State in the same situation Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Texas A&M have been in the last couple of seasons. Nothing really screaming out to expect greatness, and nothing screaming out to expect mediocrity. Bill Snyder hasn’t cemented himself in Kansas State history for nothing, and I fully expect them to reach a bowl game. I’m excited to see if he’s able to maneuver his team to overtake a few of the top tier teams from last season with the ability of his veteran QB situation. Between both Thompson and Delton, 168 passes were attempted with 100 completions and a mere 5 INTs last season. That says a lot about both these returning QBs’ ability to read the backfield of a defense and protect the ball. The fact of the matter is good QBs, especially in the Big 12, do not give the ball away. Ultimately, I see a 7-5 (5-4) season with a bowl game toss-up between an equally comparable team. Conversely, I also could even see the possibility of making a run for the Big 12 Championship. This is contingent on Snyder’s ability to use his more experienced, senior talent to exploit his opponents’ inexperience to make the new, younger talent across the Big 12 pay for their lack of game time. An early season gauge will be their production on field against a very good Mississippi State team.” – u/no11223456
  • “Kansas State is a middle-to-bottom of the pack team to me. They are always able to pull an upset due to coaching and organization, but lack the pure impact players to make a difference in a close game.” – Anonymous

#6 Iowa State Cyclones

  • “Iowa State will likely finish in the middle of the Big 12. While they return key players like Montgomery and Kempt, there are a couple of key positions that are short on experience. The safeties and wide receivers lost a lot of the consistency from last year. Iowa State’s defense looks to maintain not giving up big plays at the cost of allowing shorter gains. This tends to work against them when playing patient teams like Kansas State or West Virginia. Offensively, expect Iowa State to have a consistent run game and benefit from rarely turning the ball over. Against the Big 12 competition, they could range anywhere from 3 to 6 conference wins. They have the ability to “upset” teams and put away others, but have lacked the ability to get the job done consistently in close games.” – “Karl”
  • “Iowa State could finish anywhere from 8th to 3rd in the conference. [HEAD COACH MATT] Campbell stole a couple wins last year, and had at least one more stolen from them due to some dubious refereeing. They return Kempt and Montgomery in the backfield, but lose Lazard. I’m not sure how their offensive line looks, but if it’s serviceable, Montgomery will just keep breaking tackles. I can’t really speak to their defense, but Campbell has his boys playing sound assignment football. With some good luck, I can see ISU getting 8-9 wins. With a little bad luck, I can see 5-6.” – u/furion57

#5 Texas Longhorns

  • “Texas is likely to finish in the middle of the pack on the low end. This is largely due to Texas’ poor offense. The offensive line was historically bad last year, which killed both the passing and run games, and it is unlikely to be fully resolved this season. A QB battle that lasted until the end of the season and the lack of a stud running back also do not make life any easier. Tom Herman simply hasn’t had time to rebuild the offensive personnel.” – Anonymous
  • “I think Texas will finish either #6 or #7 in the conference. I expect them to end up above Kansas (of course), Tech, and Baylor. One of either Iowa State, K-State, or WVU could also end up below Texas, but I’m confident that the remaining two along with OU, TCU, and OSU will comprise the top 5. Put simply: Texas isn’t back.” – “Jeffrey”
  • “I believe Texas will take a step forward in year two under Tom Herman because he is a very good coach. However, they will be held back from their full potential by having Tim Beck as their Offensive Coordinator. I see them winning about 8 or 9 regular season games.” – u/GiveItToHyde

#4 Oklahoma State Cowboys

  • “Oklahoma State will certainly be in the top half of the conference once again. However, replacing their starting QB and top WR creates a lot of question marks on offense. If they are able to put together a good passing offense with a heavy dose of Justice Hill, you can expect a conference contender. If not, 4th-6th place seems possible.” – u/guitmusic12
  • “Oklahoma State will finish either third or fourth in the conference. They do not have the firepower to keep up with Oklahoma, nor to get past the TCU defense. They are capable of beating every other team, but the key game will be against West Virginia. The winner of that game will claim third place in the conference” – “Nate”

#3 West Virginia Mountaineers

  • “I think WVU will win 8-9 games. They should be in the second tier of the conference (behind Oklahoma in tier 1). WVU has a good quarterback, but the depth on offense is pretty low and the defense should be bad.” – “Rex”
  • “A lot of folks are really high on West Virginia, and I do get it. They have the best returning QB in the conference by a mile, which goes pretty far. Still, they haven’t proven to be able to consistently string together wins in conference (except for 2016, a historically bad year for the league). Their recruiting has been notably behind Texas, OU, and TCU in recent years, and I trust Snyder and Gundy to do more with less more so than [WEST VIRGINIA HEAD COACH DANA] Holgorsen. I think they’ll play a lot of good games and win their share of them – I could even see them upsetting OU at home, but they feel like #4-5 to me just because of depth and coaching.” – u/gmr548

#2 TCU Horned Frogs

  • “TCU brings the majority of its strong defense back from last year, and [TCU HEAD COACH GARY] Patterson is the best in the conference. Because of this, they’ll be in the top half, battling for the #2-4 spots. However, their lack of experience on the offensive line and the potential for questionable quarterback play will keep them from winning the conference.” – Anonymous
  • “TCU represents a known quantity to me. a team thats solidly in the top 20 but missing a few pieces to be considered in the upper echelon with OU” – u/youngherbo

#1 Oklahoma Sooners

  • “Oklahoma has to replace the best QB in their program’s history, but the other top teams in the Big 12 must also replace highly effective quarterbacks. Oklahoma is the only team besides Texas that can recruit at a high level and Texas has a lot more to figure out than OU.” – Anonymous
  • “While Oklahoma should be the unanimous favorite to win the Big 12 this year, there is cause for concern. They lost arguably the best quarterback in the country, and a ton of talent on defense. The conference is theirs to lose; however, there is an opening for other teams such as West Virginia, TCU, and Texas to challenge Oklahoma at the top.” – u/AJE10
  • “Oklahoma will finish top three in the conference, if not as the Big XII Champion. Kyler Murray will be a step back from Baker Mayfield, but the running back tandem of Anderson and Sermon will be enough for them to dominate the weaker defenses in the conference. The only team I view as more complete is West Virginia, and you can never count out TCU with Gary Patterson heading up the defense.” – “Ben C.”

Big 12 Fans’ Perception of Their League’s Strength

From my previous research, I’ve found that fans from all five Power Five conferences tend to hold their conference’s teams in higher regard than those of the other Power Five conferences. That trend held up again in this research, as unsurprisingly, I found that Big 12 fans tended to feel more positively than other fans about the strength of the Big 12.

However, it is a little more complex than that. I found that generally speaking, Big 12 fans tend to place their league in the spot that the ACC occupies in the minds of other fans. In other words, Big 12 fans feel they are the third best league, whereas everyone else is more likely to feel the ACC holds this spot. This research suggests the Big 12 is most likely to be viewed as the fourth best of the Power 5 conferences among non Big 12 fans.

The Fate of Kliff Kingsbury

A couple of months ago, I conducted some research about coaches on the hot seat for the 2018 – 2019 season. In that research, 500 fans ranked a list of 14 coaches I pulled from in terms of most to least likely to be fired this season. The results revealed Kliff Kingsbury to be the coach second most likely to be fired in the minds of fans. That prompted me to throw in a question to the participants in this research about Kingsbury’s chances, particularly because I knew a good number of Big 12 fans would be participating and that they would likely be more knowledgeable about the situation than fans at large.

The results suggest the average college football fan doesn’t like Kingsbury’s chances. I think it is interesting that a significantly higher percentage of Big 12 fans feel Kingsbury will get the ax (58%) than non Big 12 fans (42%). While it isn’t surprising that non Big 12 fans were more likely to say they were unsure, which I speculate is due to them being less familiar with the Big 12 and its politics, the results suggest that if you were to randomly select a non Big 12 fan, he or she would be more likely to believe Kingsbury will be fired than retain his job as the head man in Lubbock.

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