The USA Today Coaches poll will be released on Thursday, and Big 12 fans may want to prepare themselves for a major shift in the conference pecking order. Perennial powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas may be ranked lower than TCU and Oklahoma State.
It is unfathomable that a Texas team returning 19 starters—including quarterback David Ash—would be ranked lower than the former Mountain West's TCU, which returns 16 starters. But it could happen.
Big 12 media picked Oklahoma State as conference champion last week at the Big 12 Media Days, according to the Big 12's official website.
The poll looked like this, with the number of first-place votes in parentheses followed by total points received:
1. Oklahoma State (15) 365 2. Oklahoma (8) 355 3. TCU (9) 347 4. Texas (8) 337 5. Baylor (2) 282 6. Kansas State (1) 240 7. Texas Tech 161 8. West Virginia 126 9. Iowa State 96 10. Kansas 56
The media were not the only ones polled. The 24 players attending the event were also asked to vote anonymously..
Thirty-six percent of players polled picked TCU as the team to beat, according to ESPN's Jake Trotter:
Oklahoma State, 25%
Kansas State, 11%
Texas Tech, 4%
In both of these polls, Oklahoma State and TCU were ranked above Texas. Texas and Baylor were also lumped together. Before Longhorn fans start to panic, it might be reassuring to know that the media rarely get any preseason polls right.
Preseason polls are important for a couple of reasons. They give highly ranked teams less of a climb to the top than lower-ranked teams, giving the haves more control over their destiny than the have-nots. They also give fans something to talk and argue about for a month.
Players will publicly state that they put little stock in rankings, but they do know where their team stands. And they hear how others perceive them.
For Texas, a lower-than-expected ranking may just give it a chip on its shoulder. An angry burnt orange defense would solve all of Texas' woes. Players do not like to be disrespected. And the Longhorns should feel disrespected, unless Thursday's poll yields significantly different results than the media day polls.
Oklahoma was consistently near the top in the media and player polls. Its quarterback situation is unresolved, and with only four returning starters, the defense is a question mark. Oklahoma makes sense at No. 2 or 3 in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State is ranked near the top in both polls. The Cowboys have holes to fill, and their schedule is not as advantageous as it appears to be at first glance. They do get Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at home. But their November slate, which includes Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma, is not for the faint of heart. The Cowboys went 0-3 against those teams in 2012.
Oklahoma State and TCU may be in the driver's seat, but they should be wary. Baylor is dangerous. Texas Tech could be very dangerous. And never count out Kansas State. As long as Bill Snyder is its head coach, the Wildcats will do better than most expect.
When will the media learn?
Big 12 media picked Oklahoma to win the conference in 2012, according to the league's website. They were half right. Kansas State shared the Big 12 crown with Oklahoma. The media ranked Kansas State at No. 6.
If your team is ranked very high in the USA Today Coaches poll, celebrate wildly but beware of over-confidence. If your team is ranked low—or even unranked—cry yourself a river.
Then go back and review how often the media has been so wrong so many times.