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Who should get the early nod in the Big 12 for 2016?

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It should surprise no one that the Big 12 will most likely come down to the two Oklahoma schools along with Baylor and TCU. But who should be the early favorite?

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The reigning Big 12 champs get the way too early nod, as they should. The Sooners return the best 1-2 punch in the nation, as Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine (should he recover fully) are going to give any defensive coordinator fits trying to gameplan for both of them.

Oklahoma will have to replace All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard, but recently received news that former Penn State wideout Geno Lewis will transfer to OU and will be eligible to play immediately. Lewis is coming off a down year, but has over 1,000 career receiving yards and eight touchdowns. The defense will have to replace second team AP All-American Eric Striker along with All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper, but otherwise should be as strong if not stronger next year. Dominique Alexander and Zack Sanchez also announced their plans to leave but the Sooners showed they were stacked with plenty of young talent so the drop off shouldn't be too steep.

The best teams in the conference were all struck with injuries, but no team more so than Baylor. The Bears finished off their season with a massive win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Bears put up 49 points and 756 yards of total offense, 645 yards came on the ground. Despite having to play without their first and second string quarterbacks, 1,000 yard tailback, and Biletnikoff finalist receiver, Baylor didn’t miss a beat and gave the Big 12 a much needed bowl win. If Seth Russell, Shock Linwood, and Corely Coleman were healthy for the majority of the year, Baylor is probably your Big 12 champs, not Oklahoma. Baylor returns Russell and Linwood, while Coleman will be playing on Sundays here soon. Even without Coleman, Russell will have KD Cannon and Davion Hall to sling the ball to. The majority of the defense returns, but Shawn Oakman graduates and Andrew Billings has officially announced that he's going to the draft, making it official that the Bears return no one on the line. The Bears certainly have the offense, but the defense will be the biggest key if the Bears want to win the Big 12 title for the third time in four years.

Without a doubt, the team with the biggest holes to fill will be TCU. Not only do the Frogs lose Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson, they lose a 1,000 yard rusher in Aaron Green, their second leading receiver in Kolby Listenbee, and four out of the five starting offensive lineman. The defense that was banged up for most of the season will have some openings as well.

Four starters from a year ago will be gone, but a lot of the Frogs backups have considerable experience and Gary Patterson is one of the better defensive minds in college football. If sophomore quarterback Foster Sawyer is able to lead TCU to a Big 12 title, Patterson will deserve a serious raise and some much deserved praise from the media.

Perhaps no 10-win team has more to prove than Oklahoma State. But on the flip side, no other team returns as many starters than the Cowboys. Mason Rudolph is back for his junior year, while his favorite longball target, James Washington, is just getting started. Marcell Ateman and Jhajuan Seales also will receive plenty of hype, and speedster Jalen McCleskey is ready to step into a much larger role. All eyes will be on the offensive line that was equally horrendous in pass and run block. All five starters from a year ago are back, and the same can be said about the running backs. There’s no doubt the offense can pass for 300 yards a game, but if the Cowboys are to find consistent success, there needs to be a threat of the running game. The defense has a few more question marks heading into 2016 than the offense. The Pokes will take a considerable hit on defense, losing Emmanuel Ogbah, Jimmy Bean, Ryan Simmons, Kevin Peterson, and Seth Jacobs.  The offense might have to outgun some teams, because the defense is going to be unproven. The Cowboys do have the talent to fill those holes, but those five players all brought something to this team that nobody else has. Jordan Sterns, Jordan Burton, and Ashton Lampkin are going to have to take this team over and force plenty of turnovers. The potential is there, but right now Oklahoma State looks like the third or fourth best team in the conference as of right now.