DALLAS (AP) — Oklahoma already has a record nine Big 12 championships, and last season took the league into the College Football Playoff for the first time.
While the smallest Power Five conference could soon be expanding, the Sooners and Bob Stoops — now the longest-tenured FBS coach — seem to have everything in place to push for another playoff run out of the 10-team league.
Since their last national title in 2000, the Sooners made another BCS Championship Game in 2008 and last season played in the Orange Bowl, losing the CFP semifinal to Clemson after the Big 12 was snubbed for the first four-team playoff in 2014.
“I don’t reflect back much on it,” Stoop said of the national title in his second season at Oklahoma. “I look forward and try and continue to improve, and be a more powerful team is what I’m constantly preaching.”
Big 12 leaders have to decide whether to add two, four or no teams. Even without expansion, the league is restoring its championship game in 2017, with a likely split into divisions again. For now, the Big 12 remains the only Power Five conference with a round-robin league schedule.
“We’ve been in five different conferences, and we’ve done it about every way that you can,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose Horned Frogs go into their fifth Big 12 season. “I don’t think there’s any tougher way of playing it as when you have to play everybody.”
Baker Mayfield is back for his second season as Oklahoma’s quarterback, with the option for another year after this in Norman for the former Texas Tech walk-on freshman starter thanks to a Big 12 rule change about in-league transfers. The Sooners also have the running duo of bruising Samaje Perine and explosive Joe Mixon.
Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor all also won at least 10 games last season.
Healthy quarterback Mason Rudolph is among a wealth of returners for the Cowboys. Dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin is gone, but TCU has 13 starters back from last season, plus six other starters who had season-ending injuries a year ago.
Baylor, the nation’s best offense the last three seasons, still has plenty of talent. But the Bears lack depth in transition after the offseason dismissal of coach Art Briles following allegations that the program didn’t properly handle sexual assault allegations against some players.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. A legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate who threw for 3,700 yards and accounted for 43 touchdowns (36 passing, seven rushing) with only seven interceptions.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas. While starting every game as a true freshman and recording 61 tackles, Jefferson also became a key leader.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech. The dual-threat quarterback, the national leader with 393 total yards per game, is now a one-sport athlete. He got his first full offseason focusing solely on football after giving up baseball.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma. Quiet off the field, the junior already has 3,062 yards and 37 TDs in two seasons, just 1,056 yards shy of Billy Sims’ school record.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor. The top-rated FBS passer when he suffered a season-ending neck injury seven games into last season, Russell is healthy but has no proven backup.
Josh Carraway, DE, TCU. Already one of the league’s top pass-rushers (nine sacks), and with help with the return of fellow end James McFarland from injury.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. A deep-ball threat who can outleap defenders, his 10 TD catches averaged 49 yards.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. At 36, Campbell is the youngest head coach of a Power Five school after four full seasons as Toledo’s coach. The Cyclones have one winning record the past 10 seasons.
Baylor coach Jim Grobe. The former Wake Forest coach came out of semi-retirement for a one-year deal as acting head coach.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill. After initially thrilling Texas A&M when succeeding Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Hill gets a fresh start near home.
Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Gilbert brings a philosophy to be fast and physical, have fun and score points after initially balking at the job.
ON THE HOT SEAT
— Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. The Mountaineers came into the Big 12 after sharing consecutive Big East titles, and a 10-3 debut season for Holgorsen. They are 26-25 since, 15-21 in league games.
— Charlie Strong, Texas. The Longhorns haven’t had three consecutive losing seasons since 1954-56. If they match that, Strong (11-14 so far) could be three-and-out in Austin.
Oklahoma repeats as league champion.