By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports

The Big 12 was the first conference to experience the heartbreak of being left out of the College Football Playoffs when Baylor and TCU ended the year at number 5 & 6 in the rankings. Ironically, the conference whose slogan was “One True Champion” declared the two schools co-champions after they finished with identical records.

The off season saw a brief reconsideration as to whether the conference should play a championship game before deciding against it. Heading into this year, the conference finds itself with two teams in the top four of the AP Top 25 Poll. It’s the same two teams that dominated the conference last year in the #2 Horned Frogs and #4 Bears. Behind those two teams however, is a bunch of question marks and only one other team appears in that Top 25 (Oklahoma #19). Does that mean the best shot for the Big 12 to reverse the heartbreak of last season comes on Nov 27 when TCU and Baylor meet in Fort Worth?

Pre season Media Poll

1) TCU

2) Baylor

3) Oklahoma

4) Oklahoma State

5) Texas

6) West Virginia

7) Kansas State

8) Texas Tech

9) Iowa State

10) Kansas

Conference Contenders

Baylor- The Bears will have to replace prolific QB Bryce Petty but that’s essentially the only skill position that they don’t return a starter. RB Shock Linwood (1,252 yards & 16 TD’s) pairs with two 1,000+ yard receivers in KD Cannon and Corey Coleman to provide plenty of help for expected starter Seth Russell. Defensively, DE Shawn Oakman headlines a group that returns nine starters.  The Bears will have to play their top competition for the conference, TCU, on the road on Nov. 27.

NCAA Football Preview: Questions Galore At QB In SEC

TCU- The Horned Frogs enter the season with the highest expectations in school history after being ranked #2 in the first Top 25 poll. Head coach Gary Patterson has done a very good job of bringing up the talent level of the program to match the top teams in the Big 12.  This year he returns QB Trevone Boykin who had a breakout year last year with 3,901 yards, 33 TD’s and 10 INT’s.  The weapons around him remain very good with RB Aaron Green (1,000+ yards) and WR’s Josh Doctson and track star Kolby Listenbee (10.23 in the 100m). The defense lost a lot of key guys, but that is Patterson’s specialty. Since 2000, the Horned Frogs have the top rushing defense allowing only 94.8 yards per game.

Oklahoma- The Sooners are coming off a disappointing year and aren’t mentioned much with Baylor and TCU as contenders for a conference title. They have the talent to be in that conversation though. The QB spot will be taken over by Texas Tech transfer and avid dancer Baker Mayfield. In his freshman year in 2013, Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards 12 TD’s and 9 INT’s in 8 games for the Red Raiders before being beaten out for the job last year. He’ll be joined in the backfield by sophomore RB Semaje Perine, who was fantastic as a freshman setting an NCAA record for rush yards in a game with 427 on his way to over 1,700 yards. The defense, in particular the secondary will be the key as the Sooners gave up an average of 267 yards through the air last year. In today’s game, you have to defend the pass well. Especially in the Big 12 Air Raid conference.

Sleepers

Kansas State- The Wildcats aren’t expected to do much this season.  Thing is, they’re almost always underrated. Bill Snyder’s team will be breaking in a new QB and set of receivers, but the defense returns most of the secondary and RB Charles Jones is back off a 13 TD campaign.  Underestimate the Wildcats at your own risk.

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Oklahoma State- The Cowboys fell off after a hot start last season (5-1, then 2-5) but, they return 8 starters on each unit. QB Mason Rudolph is back after a good three game stretch to end the season and is expected to be the starter. The schedule is also kind to them with all of the top teams in the conference (TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma) all having to come to Stillwater this season.

The Rest

Texas- The Longhorns struggled in Year 1 of the Charlie Strong era. Strong is a good coach and has the ability to rebuild this program, but he’ll need to get a QB in and soon. Tyrone Swoopes didn’t inspire any confidence last season and neither did Jerrod Heard. Looks like another tough year in Austin.

West Virginia- Dana Holgorsen’s team brings back 8 starters on defense, mainly seniors, so that unit should be solid.  The offense however, will start over with a new QB after Clint Trickett retired due to concussions. They also bring back only one WR in Jordan Thompson.  The Mountaineers will play teams tough but, the offense is very young.

NCAA Football Preview: Who’s Stopping The Buckeyes?

Texas Tech- The Red Raiders nearly played spoiler for Baylor last season making them sweat in the final game before falling 48-46.  This year, Kliff Kingsbury will choose between Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb to run the offense, but the larger problem was penalties last season.  Texas Tech was the 2nd most penalized team in the nation with 9.3 accepted penalties per game.

Iowa State- Paul Rhoads finds his seat a little warmer after a 2-10 season in which the Cyclones weren’t very competitive including a 52 point loss to TCU. Part of that can be blamed on injuries as only 4 players started every game last season, and they’ll return a solid secondary led by Big 12 Freshman of the Year CB Kamari Cotton-Moya. With road games against Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech on the schedule it’s going to be tough to get back to bowl eligibility.

Kansas- The Jayhawks welcome in another new head coach this time former Texas A&M WR coach David Beaty. Beaty was the recruiting coordinator for the Aggies which is crucial for talent depleted Kansas to get back on the right track. The roster is depleted and it will be a victory to win more than one game this season.

Must Watch Games

September 5- Texas at #11 Notre Dame 7:30 pm

September 12- #19 Oklahoma at #25 Tennessee 6:00 pm

November 14- #19 Oklahoma at #4 Baylor

November 21- #2 TCU at #19 Oklahoma

November 27- #4 Baylor at #2 TCU 7:30 pm

Conference Winner

TCU

The conference title will likely come down to that final game on November 27 in Fort Worth at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The reason I have TCU winning the title is because I doubt that they’re going to lose this revenge game at home. They may lose earlier in the season at Oklahoma, but I don’t see the Sooners going undefeated or losing just one game so it will come down to the head to head winner of this game and I think TCU takes it and secures a spot in the playoff.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.