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Should Kansas Football really be favored to win the Big 12?

The Kansas Jayhawks have come a long way under Lance Leipold. But even the program’s biggest supporters probably didn’t see this coming until Year 4. According to ESPN’s FPI statistic released this week, the Jayhawks are the Big 12’s highest-rated team and the favorites to win the title. conference championship this season.

The response on Twitter was immediate, with many offering the usual “in basketball?” jokes or just outright destroying statistics. But the more you look at what the metric says, the more reasonable the result becomes.

So what makes Kansas so good according to ESPN? There are three important things that play a role in the rating and odds:

Returning talent

According to ESPN’s website, preseason ratings for FPI are focused on returning starters, “with special consideration given to starting quarterbacks or transfer quarterbacks with starting experience.”

There’s no doubt that the Jayhawks have the deepest core of returning talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Replacing a highly productive Jason Bean with a higher-rated Jalon Daniels will certainly do that for you, but the top two running backs and top three wide receivers will make his reintroduction to the offense all the more successful.

But it’s not just the offensive side of the ball that has many starters returning. The majority of the defensive secondary players are back. The front seven suffered some significant losses, but were replaced by productive guys who have the potential to make a big step forward.

Lack of standouts

Say what you will about the Big 12 as a whole and how they compare to the other conferences, but there are no clear favorites now that Oklahoma and Texas have moved to the SEC. Newcomers Arizona and Utah appear to be strong, and Kansas State and Oklahoma State once again appear to have solid teams. But there’s no one you immediately look at and say they should be THE team this year.

And the FPI figures confirm that. Kansas ranks 17th in the metric, but six more teams enter the top 30. Kansas State comes in at 22, with Arizona (24), Oklahoma State (26), Utah (27), Texas Tech (29) , TCU (30), UCF (32) and West Virginia (35) all have a 5.0% or better chance of winning the conference.

A productive offense is the key to success in today’s game, especially in the Big 12. It stands to reason that the Jayhawks would not only lead the pack because of what they give back, but that they would be unable to create a significant gap . thanks to a defense that still has plenty of room for improvement.

The grid

Looking at the conference odds, Kansas has a huge lead over the other contenders. They face only one team in the conference that is projected to have more than 7.0 wins, and that is a rivalry game against the Wildcats. In fact, the remaining seven games, excluding TCU, are against seven of the eight worst teams in the conference according to FPI. While that’s by no means a guarantee, games against BYU and Arizona State should be good chances to win, and the games at Baylor and West Virginia will be tough tests, but one in which Kansas has been extremely competitive, even even though they were the worst team.

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