The Big 12 has missed the College Football Playoff in two of the four years it has existed, but Oklahoma came excruciatingly close last year to becoming the first Big 12 team to play for a national championship since 2009. Alas, it did not happen, and the Big 12 may once again be looking up on the rest of the Power Five unless it can find a way to turn things around.

The Sooners are favored to win the league again but will have to do so without Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield behind center. Oklahoma State will similarly be without Mason Rudolph and James Washington, which makes its prospects of contending a lot more difficult this year. Perhaps that opens the door a bit for TCU to make a run to the top of the league again. West Virginia could also cash in on its mountains of offsesaon hype as it returns the dynamic duo of Will Grier and David Sills V. Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team's unique takes on the Big 12 entering the 2018 season.

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

Most overrated team

West Virginia: The Grier-Sills combo is sublime. It's shades of Rudolph-Washington circa Oklahoma State last year. To boot, West Virginia's starting 22 will give them a chance to win every game. However, the Mountaineers have depth issues, particularly towards the front of the defense. And, well, it just so happens the toughest part of West Virginia's schedule is in November (at Texas, vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State, vs. Oklahoma) which is usually when depth is at a premium. In short, West Virginia's 2018 season has high hopes, but the ceiling is only as high as the injury bug will allow it to be. -- Ben Kercheval (also Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Barton Simmons)

Texas: Texas will be back at some point, but it won't be this year. Tom Herman is a great coach, and he's got talent at quarterback with Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, but it isn't safe to assume he'll stick with one through the ups and downs of the season. A good recruiting class in February will help provide depth, but any ideas that the Longhorns will threaten in the Big 12 are premature this year. -- Barrett Sallee (also Dennis Dodd)

Texas Tech: When Kliff Klingsbury was named to coach Texas Tech, fans were hopeful that there would be a return to the glory days that Mike Leach brought.  It has not worked out that way, as Klingsbury has only posted a record above .500 once in his last four seasons (7-6 in 2015).  There is no reason for optimism that this season will be any better. -- Jerry Palm

Most underrated team

Texas Tech: In 2016, Texas Tech allowed 44 points per game against Big 12 opponents. Last season, that number dropped significantly to 34 points per game. That was a big step forward, and in 2018 the Raiders will have 10 returning starters on defense. In a Big 12 that's wide open after Oklahoma, this is a team that I believe will catch a few people by surprise. -- Tom Fornelli (also Ben Kercheval)

West Virginia: Grier goes into the season as the best quarterback in the country. His best targets return. He and the Mountaineers are perfectly positioned as an Oklahoma Jr. in the Big 12. Outscore everyone and hope there is enough defense to hold on. West Virginia is going to win a lot of 45-42 games but that's OK. It's the Big 12. Watch for offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's star to continue to rise. The Mountaineers are on a track to win nine or 10 and finish second in the Big 12. That in itself would be huge season for Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers, and frankly, the Big 12. -- Dennis Dodd

Texas: Herman's first season with the Longhorns featured an offense still learning its way and one of the better defenses in the Big 12.  That is not what most expected, but the offense should be much improved this year and it may need to be.  Texas lost a few key contributors on defense, but defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has earned a measure of faith. -- Jerry Palm

Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy has won 96 games across his last 10 seasons, and we're supposed to believe that the loss of a star quarterback will somehow derail the Pokes' offensive firepower? Feature back is a role that Justice Hill is ready to play, and with Jim Knowles in at defensive coordinator, there's some excitement on that side of the ball going into 2018. Rudoplph and Washington were iconic Cowboys, but Gundy's built a machine that's churned out double-digit win seasons with less. Vegas has this win total around eight, and I do think OSU is good enough to end up in the Big 12 championship game at the end of the year. -- Chip Patterson

Iowa State: This season, Iowa State will be more than just a trap game, more than just an occasional trendy upset pick. In a Big 12 that has more parity than any league in college football, every game is going to be competitive, and Matt Campbell seems to be instilling the kind of physical and mental toughness that can gut out close wins in that kind of conference. But it's not just intangibles. The Cyclones have a really talented quarterback room, one of the best backs in all of college football in David Montgomery, an NFL receiver on the outside in Hakeem Butler, an improved offensive line, and plenty of talent on defense. Iowa State will improve on last year's 7-5 regular season. -- Barton Simmons

TCU: Nobody ever pays attention to TCU, and they consistently hit the double-digit win mark -- four out of the last five years, in fact. Playmaker KaVontae Turpin is back and will be a huge part of the offense, the defense is consistently solid from front to back, and Gary Patterson has proven time and time again that he can withstand roster turnover. The Horned Frogs are the primary threat to rip Oklahoma's crown away from them, and yet nobody seems to consider them thanks to all of the West Virginia love. -- Barrett Sallee

Bold prediction

  • Dennis Dodd: West Virginia will win 10 games, and Grier will win the Heisman
  • Jerry Palm: Many expect Oklahoma to take a step back after losing the Heisman Trophy winner, but I don't.  The Sooners won't just win the league, they'll be back in the playoff.
  • Tom Fornelli: Oklahoma will be the only Big 12 team with fewer than three Big 12 losses.
  • Chip Patterson: Ehlinger makes a run at Big 12 Player of the Year. He's a stud with the potential to be the Longhorns' best quarterback since Colt McCoy. If he arrives a little bit early, we could see a full season of stellar play that leads to pushing OU for the Big 12 crown. 
  • Barton Simmons: The first team all-conference QB will be Ehlinger out of Texas, not Grier or Kyler Murray.
  • Barrett Sallee: TCU will win the regular season championship but lose in the Big 12 Championship. As a result, the Big 12 will be left out of the College Football Playoff.
  • Ben Kercheval: West Virginia enters November squarely in the playoff hunt before losing three of four games in November. 

Big 12 predicted order of finish

Big 12 champion

Oklahoma: To say that championship hopes come down to quarterback play is a tired and even sometimes lazy talking point. However, should Murray indeed start for the Sooners this year, it's an interesting one. Murray was drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics this offseason, and his future appears to be with baseball. While he wants to prove he can be a starting quarterback at a major college program, this is a precarious situation to be sure. Oklahoma has the talent and schedule to win the Big 12 without Mayfield. Can it balance the quarterback situation? -- Ben Kercheval (unanimous)