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Mitch Vingle: WVU, TCU might be Big 12 surprises

When I checked out the Big 12 preseason poll, something tugged at me.

I didn’t know what until Tuesday.

That’s when I really took time to break down the league’s upcoming season.

I saw teams that are overrated. I saw teams that are underrated. And the latter category just might include West Virginia.

Here’s my simple theory: (Follow closely.) Better teams have better players. And the best teams have the most experienced upper-tier players. (Did I lose you?)

I researched which upperclassmen on Big 12 teams were considered among the top 20 nationally at their position in the eyes of NFL scouts. (NFL Draft Scout was most helpful.)

I added the number of 2015 and 2016 prospects together to reach a total.

Of course, no theory is air-tight when predicting success. Coaching certainly comes into play. The schedule comes into play. Also, freshmen and sophomores can have an impact. Baylor, for instance, has sophomore back Shock Linwood, the Big 12’s leading returning rusher, in the fold. Oklahoma State has fine redshirt sophomore receiver Jhajuan Seales and Oklahoma has a heck of a sophomore defensive back in Zack Sanchez. WVU fans know all about Daryl Worley, Rushel Shell and Dravon Henry.

Tell you what, though: I’ll take the teams with the most blue-chip upperclassmen.

This year, according to my research, that team is Texas. In the Big 12 media poll, UT was No. 4. The Longhorns, though, have seven 2015 top 20 players at their positions (back Malcolm Brown, CB Quandre Diggs, DE Cedric Reed, OLB Jordan Hicks, WR Jaxon Shipley, ILB Steve Edmond and center Dominic Espinosa) to go with six such 2016 players (another back in Johnathan Gray, FB Alex de la Torra, currently suspended WR Daje Johnson, ILB Dalton Santos, OG Sedrick Flowers and DT Malcom Brown).

Next in line is Oklahoma, which has 12 such upperclassmen prospects. The Sooners have four along the offensive line in tackle Tyrus Thompson, Daryl Williams, Adam Shead and Ty Darlington. Embattled receiver Dorial Green-Beckham could be a first-round pick.

The media did pick OU to finish No. 1, which is understandable coming off the 45-31 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

Here, though, is where things get interesting. Very. If you check the rosters, the most underrated Big 12 team by far is TCU, which was picked seventh in the media poll.

Perhaps that’s because the Horned Frogs, like WVU, finished 4-8 last season. But check the Frogs’ roster. In the upper two classes TCU has 10 NFL prospects, from both quarterbacks vying for the starting job — Matt Joeckel and Tevone Boykin — to defensive tackle Chucky Hunter. The secondary should be very good with DBs Kevin White and Chris Hackett.

According to my list, Baylor (picked in the media poll to finish second) should finish fourth — tied with WVU.

You read correctly. Both schools have eight upperclassmen top 20 NFL prospects on their roster. Give the Bears, however, the emphatic nod because of the quality of their prospects.

Baylor has potential first-round QB pick Bryce Petty and other high-round prospects like receivers Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood as well as tackle Spencer Drango (suffering with a back injury) and DE Shawn Oakman.

Mountaineer upperclassmen rated among the top 20 at their positions include back Dreamius Smith, OG Mark Glowinski, DE Shaq Riddick, DT Kyle Rose, FS Karl Joseph, FB Cody Clay, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski and punter Nick O’Toole. OG Quinton Spain is just outside the top 20.

The bleakest outlook seems to be for Texas Tech and Iowa State. Tech may have no player taken in the next NFL draft. Iowa State’s only hope for the next couple of years appears to be tight end E.J. Bibbs.

I’ll make my annual WVU prediction this Sunday, when I’ll consider the Mountaineers against their opponents.

Here, though, is my preseason Big 12 ranking (breaking ties) based purely on talent: 1. Texas, 2. Oklahoma, 3. TCU, 4. Baylor, 5. WVU, 6. Kansas State, 7. Oklahoma State, 8. Kansas, 9. Texas Tech and 10. Iowa State.

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I contacted WVU associate athletic director Matt Wells on Tuesday. According to him, the current number of sold Mountaineer season tickets is 29,419.

If you’re wondering about tickets sold through the university for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, the number is 21,197.

“Counting internal usage [band, players and coaches families], we have accounted for nearly 22,300 [Classic] tickets,” texted Wells.

The school has approximately 1,700 left to sell.

nnn

And finally . . .

Rarely do I comment on activities around games, but what’s being put on around the aforementioned WVU contest against Alabama in Atlanta is hard to ignore.

The game is on Saturday. The activities are beginning Thursday — and going through Sunday.

There’s a “Kickoff Event” at a place called Laseter’s Tavern on Thursday. There’s a “Party of the Year” at a place called the Park Tavern on Friday. On game day there’s a “Mountaineer Fan Fest” at the Georgia World Congress Center, which is adjacent to the Georgia Dome. On Sunday it’s “WVU Day” for the Braves-Marlins baseball game at Turner Field. And those are just the activities of which I’m aware.

If interested, check details at http://www.wvuatlantakickoff.com/.

Sounds like a party.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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