Which Big 12 middle-class team can be this year’s Baylor?

Baylor Bears, TCU Horned Frogs. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Baylor Bears, TCU Horned Frogs. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The Baylor Bears were the surprise of the Big 12 last year. Which middle of the pack team becomes this year’s Baylor: Is it Iowa State, TCU or someone else?

For nearly all the College Football Playoff era, the Big 12 has belonged to the Oklahoma Sooners.

They have won the conference the last five years, making the playoff four times. However, they do not have a single playoff victory to show for it. While Oklahoma has been the class of the Big 12, who ends up challenging them for second place seems to change every year. This year, it might be the Oklahoma State Cowboys or the Texas Longhorns. Last year, it was the Baylor Bears.

Yes, Baylor of all teams played the Sooners for the Big 12 Championship at AT&T Stadium a season ago. Though they lost their three more important games last year, Baylor almost reached the playoff with a narrow defeat to Oklahoma in Arlington.

But with head coach Matt Rhule going to the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers, Baylor may be going back into a brief rebuild under new head coach Dave Aranda. So who will this year’s Baylor be, a middle-of-the-pack team on the rise in the Big that is destined for greatness? Is it the Iowa State Cyclones? Could it be the TCU Horned Frogs? Is it Baylor again or someone else entirely?

Here are the latest Big 12 title odds, via LVSuperBook.

Updated 2020 Big 12 title odds

The top three likeliest teams to win the Big 12 are as follows: Oklahoma at 6/5, Texas at 3/2 and Oklahoma State at 7/1. Oddsmakers believe it’ll be a rematch of the Red River Rivalry in a slightly bigger, more modern stadium this year in Dallas. For those who want a double-down of some Bedlam Series action, they might have to wait until 2021…or they may not?

As for the next crop of teams, Iowa State’s odds to win the Big 12 are an impressive 14/1, while Baylor and TCU come in at a respectable mark of 25/1 each. For the other four Big 12 teams, none have better than 80/1 odds to win the conference. So who do we like the most to face Oklahoma at Jerryworld if it isn’t Texas or Oklahoma State: Baylor, Iowa State or TCU? Let’s find out now.

Iowa State has regularly been a top-four team in Big 12 play under the leadership of head coach Matt Campbell. Eventually, he’s going to leave for a more high-profile job, college or the NFL. Until then, he’ll coach his team to around an 8-4 record annually. With a few lucky bounces and the right scheduling breaks, maybe the Cyclones can get to Arlington with a 10-2 (7-2) mark one day soon?

Though they play for the CyHawk at Kinnick, Iowa State should be a better team over in-state rival Iowa. It’d be a great early-season win in the non-conference to serve as a tone-setter the rest of the way for the Cyclones. As for Big 12 play, 6-3 or 5-4 seems reasonable. 7-2 could happen, but they’ll have to win one of these three games: at Oklahoma State, at Texas or home vs. Oklahoma.

Frankly, none of those games are impossible. If the Oklahoma game were in Norman, it might be. Then again, the Cyclones beat the Sooners at Gaylord Family during Baker Mayfield‘s Heisman Trophy winning season. Ultimately, Iowa State feels like an 8-4 team that could overachieve to 10-2, but shouldn’t be any worse than 7-5. Campbell is too good of a coach for them to underachieve.

Baylor begins the season with a neutral-site affair in Houston vs. the Ole Miss Rebels. It’ll feature two new head coaches in Aranda at Baylor and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Both teams are rebuilding, though the rebuild won’t be as daunting for Aranda as is the one Kiffin is about to endure. It’d be a huge win for Baylor, as it will go a long way to ensuring the Bears achieve bowl eligibility.

See, that’s the issue with Baylor’s schedule. There are very few “gimme” games for them in Big 12 play. Assuming Baylor goes 3-0 in the non-conference, they must win these three conference games at home to ensure bowl eligibility: Kansas, TCU and Kansas State. Maybe the Bears can win a road game at Texas Tech or at West Virginia? Their other conference games are daunting ones.

Baylor has to play at Oklahoma, at Texas and at Iowa State. They also host Oklahoma State. Baylor would be insanely lucky to win more than one game of that foursome, though they could very well go 0-for in this cluster. In a best case scenario, maybe Baylor goes 8-4? 7-5 is possible, but 6-6 feels more likely.

As for TCU, the Horned Frogs could be a total wild card here with true freshman five-star running back Zachary Evans. His commitment the day after Mother’s Day shocked the college football world, ending the zaniest recruitment we’ve ever seen. TCU lost some talent to the NFL, but we know it’s foolish to ever count out a well-coached Gary Patterson team. What are they up against?

TCU has a tough road game at Cal, so that might be an early-season, non-conference loss. As for the Big 12 slate, the Horned Frogs shouldn’t go any worse than 3-6. Wins over Kansas State, Texas Tech and at Kansas feel likely. As for the other six games in question, there is a pathway they can go 4-2 vs. that half-dozen to get to 7-2 in Big 12 play.

TCU has to travel to West Virginia, Baylor and Texas. A win over the Longhorns feels the most challenging, but the Horned Frogs could get to 2-1 pretty easily, possibly winning them all away from home if they do mess with Texas. Let’s not overlook how important getting Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State at home is. There’s a good chance the Horned Frogs win one of them.

So of the teams in the Big 12 who could be this year’s Baylor, it’s not going to be Baylor. Iowa State is the most logical pick because the Cyclones have been the most consistently good team of the trio of late. Plus, they’ve never played for a conference title before. But let’s keep a close eye on TCU. They have a sneaky-good dark horse feel about them. If they beat Iowa State, it’s them.

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