Oklahoma is the presumed Big 12 winner before the season even begins but there has been no conference in the nation that has put forth as many surprise outcomes and finishes as the Big 12.
TCU appears poised to bounce back from an injury-riddled season. Baylor is still filled with talent despite scandal and offseason upheaval. Texas and coach Charlie Strong are under a lot of pressure but many believe they're poised to prove naysayers wrong. Oh, and Texas Tech has a quarterback who can sling it better than most in the country ... though he is certainly challenged by that "Moxie" fella in his own league.
With the season approaching, our college football team takes a closer look at those that make up the Big 12 both on the field and watching from the sideline.
Best offensive player
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Mayfield's passion causes him some uncomfortable moments with his remarks off the field, but it's the same passion that makes him an elite college player. Mayfield is a rare quarterback whose fearlessness inspires teammates on both sides of the ball. -- Jon Solomon (In agreement: Dennis Dodd, Jerry Palm, Robby Kalland)
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: While the order may shift, it's a common perception that the two best quarterbacks in the Big 12 are Mayfield and Mahomes. I'm going with Mahomes not just because of his talent but because the Oklahoma's offense will be a more balanced attack and Mahomes is more likely to put up ridiculous video game numbers. -- Tom Fornelli (In agreement: Ben Kercheval)
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma: Mayfield may have finished fourth in last year's Heisman voting, but the makeup of this year's Oklahoma offense has me thinking that success may require a heavy dose of Samaje. Perine's numbers may be impacted by sharing snaps with Mixon, but the Sooners' ground game may need to lead the way until Mayfield finds a replacement for Sterling Shepard, the ultimate go-to guy in tight spots. Picking the best offensive player is tough, but picking the best offense sure isn't. We should give this award to [insert Oklahoma player here]. -- Chip Patterson
Best defensive player
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas: Jefferson was a beast in 2015 with 61 tackles (seven for loss), 2.5 sacks and a fumble return touchdown. He did all that as a freshman still making the adjustment to the speed of the college game. With a full offseason in Austin to build off of that performance, look for Jefferson to improve on those numbers and be a massive force in the center of the Texas defense. -- Robby Kalland (In agreement: Jon Solomon, Jerry Palm, Chip Patterson)
Charles Walker, DE, Oklahoma: Walker had a solid season for the Sooners at defensive end last season as a sophomore, and I'm expecting a bit of a breakout campaign for the nearly 300-pounder. He won't lead the conference in sacks, but he did finish with six last year, showing that he can be effective both as a pass rusher and run stopper. Other guys may have better stats, but in my opinion, Walker can be the best defensive lineman in the Big 12 this year. -- Tom Fornelli
Josh Carraway, DE, TCU: Carraway is a fearsome force off the edge. The All-Big 12 and second-team All-American selection had nine sacks for a defense that gave up the most points over more than a decade in the Gary Patterson era. He -- and they -- will be better this season. -- Dennis Dodd
Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State: The Wildcats' defense looks like it will be the Big 12's best -- and yes, Big 12 teams are capable of playing defense. In fact, if you're not a fan of the Big 12's fancy-pants, gimmicky offenses, Pawwwwl, there's nothing more satisfying than watching a team like K-State make life miserable for everyone else. All of this leads to Lee as the player to watch. The junior does everything. He's a tackling machine, both in the open field and in the backfield. However, he has the coverage and ball skills to be a threat in pass defense as well. K-State won't be the prettiest team you'll watch, but the Cats are tough as nails and Lee is a stud. -- Ben Kercheval
Shane Buechele, four-star QB, Texas: Texas' spring game showcased a passer in Buechele that Charlie Strong has been desperate to find. Even as a true freshman, Buechele can give Texas the competence through the air that will allow everything else on that roster -- a young talented defense, a big physical running game, tremendous offensive line talent -- to finally start clicking. -- Barton Simmons, 247Sports director of recruiting
Gary Patterson, TCU: Patterson saw 10 defensive starters lose playing time in 2015 due to injuries (four were season-ending) and had his star quarterback suspended before the Alamo Bowl. No matter. TCU still went 11-2 in one of Patterson's best coaching seasons ever, and that's saying something. -- Jon Solomon (In agreement: Jerry Palm, Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Robby Kalland)
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: The nation's longest-tenured coach at one school begins his 18th season. He has one national championship, two Heisman Trophy winners and nine Big 12 titles to his credit. Who else you going to pick? -- Dennis Dodd
Bill Snyder, Kansas State: At this point, is there anyone else? It's Bill Snyder, baby -- the dean of Big 12 coaches, the wizard, the miracle worker. We've seen the bottom of Kansas State's barrel, both before Snyder's arrival and briefly between his first and second stints. What Snyder does annually is incredible, yet somehow K-State continues to be doubted each preseason. As long as K-State's offense can be serviceable and competitive, the defense should lead this team to another bowl appearance. What remains to be seen is whether it's Snyder's last. -- Ben Kercheval
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma: Riley is one of the youngest OCs in the country, but he's already one of the best. Stoops promised to leave Riley alone. The result was a much-improved offense in 2015 that helped the Sooners win the Big 12. -- Jon Solomon (In agreement: Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson)
Doug Meacham & Sonny Cumbie, co-offensive coordinators, TCU: These guys have been phenomenal since arriving in Fort Worth ahead of the 2014 season. The TCU offense went from averaging 25.1 points per game in 2013 to over 42 points per game in 2014 and 2015. TCU's offense is incredibly creative and balanced, and this year will be a big test for the passing game with the departures of Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson, but it's hard not to expect them to figure it out and have another dynamic offense in 2016. -- Robby Kalland (In agreement: Dennis Dodd)
Sterlin Gilbert, offensive coordinator, Texas: A lot is being asked of Gilbert, but he has shown that he can deliver. He made quick turnarounds in the offenses at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and Tulsa, which is why he has had a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks. Texas needs that quick turnaround badly after ranking 94th in total offense a year ago. -- Jerry Palm (In agreement: Ben Kercheval)
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Mayfield doesn't have the prettiest throwing motion in college football and isn't built like a prototypical quarterback, but the Oklahoma signal caller is one of the most fun players in college football to watch and he can flat out put up numbers. He can sling it, run it and has a knack for extending plays and eluding pressure to create big gains for the Sooners on broken plays. -- Robby Kalland (In agreement: Jon Solomon, Tom Fornelli)
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: I'll admit, I've been more hyped about Mahomes than Mayfield. Both are delightfully entertaining and Mayfield has the added bonus of being, shall we say, unafraid to speak his mind. However, Mahomes is a straight cyborg. At about 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Mahomes is bigger than Mayfield, has a better arm and is every bit as elusive. Plus, he's fast -- like, really fast. If you asked me to start a Big 12 team around a quarterback, Mahomes would be my answer. -- Ben Kercheval (In agreement: Jerry Palm)
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor: During Corey Coleman's All-American season, Cannon caught 50 balls for 868 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. He's the heir apparent playmaker to Coleman, and it's his time now to dominate the Big 12. Want to talk about entertaining? Wait until you see this guy as the No. 1 option. -- Dennis Dodd
Mike Gundy, coach, Oklahoma State: It's been a while since we've gotten to celebrate the mullet arts in college football, but Gundy has made every day a Throwback Thursday with the hair-do he debuted at Big 12 media days. He calls it "The Arkansas Waterfall" but refuses to give it the mullet label since "a real mullet has to be at least shoulder length and have some curls." -- Chip Patterson