CONFERENCE PREVIEW: BIG 12
By Simon Carroll
A team-by-team analysis of the Big 12, the season ahead and final standings predictions.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
2018: 12-2 (8-1), Big 12 Champions
Oklahoma are the one team in the confernece that has maintained a high level of football the last ten years. They look set to be the team to beat in the Big 12 once more. Considering they’ve lost two Heisman winning Quarterbacks in the last two years, that is some effort from this program.
Head Coach Lincoln Riley is one of the game’s brightest young minds, with NFL teams every year casting envious glances his direction. But with the Sooners in the mix for the playoffs each season, his head is yet to be turned. Oklahoma have lost some significant talent to the NFL this year, particularly on offense. Kyler Murray, Hollywood Brown, Rodney Anderson and four of their offensive linemen have all gone. With Jalen Hurts coming over from Alabama they hope to have little drop off at Quarterback, even if a third Heisman in a row might be a little ambitious.
As far as weapons go the Soooners are still dangerous. But the O-Line was considered the best in college football last year, and how the new group comes together will define the success of this unit.
Defensively Oklahoma were a little more vulnerable last year. But with ten of eleven starters returning they’ll be looking for growth and improvement in 2019. The conference is really Oklahoma’s to lose, and only their biggest rivals could deprive them of a fifth consecutive title.
2. Texas Longhorns
2018: 10-4 (7-2)
Texas. Is. Back. Or so their star Quarterback Sam Ehlinger proclaimed after The Longhorns defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. But are they truly ready to throw down with Oklahoma year in, year out? Never mind challenge for National Championships as their fanbase demands?
Head Coach Tom Herman has managed to put Texas back on the map with regards to recruiting. This was the first step in re-establishing this football powerhouse – the fact they convinced Bru McCoy to up sticks from California and join the burnt orange revolution (albeit him changing his mind after spring practice) shows that attracting talent is no longer a problem. Offensively, there must be big improvement from this offensive line if they are to take the next step. They also have to overcome the loss of their three biggest weapons (Tre Watson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Andrew Beck). But with Ehlinger returning to lead this unit and Herman orchestrating the show they should be a threat.
Defensively they have a legitimate star in Safety Caden Sterns. But a complete rebuild of the Defensive Line leaves me nervous. High expectations are difficult to match when you’re bringing through a lot of young inexperienced talent. After their renaissance last season, try telling anyone in Texas that.
3. TCU Horned Frogs
2018: 7-6 (4-5)
After a 6-6 regular season that included a humbling defeat to perennial cellar dwellers Kansas in 2018, don’t count out Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs from bouncing back this year. Hamstrung by a littany of injuries to their Defense and starting Quarterback, TCU recovered. They won four out of their last five games including a bowl game against Cal. They also have the core of their starters returning this fall.
Shawn Robinson moves on to Missouri and leaves a three-way QB battle between highly rated prospects in former Kansas State Wildcat Alex Delton and highly touted Justin Rodgers, as well as Michael Collins who had significant game time last year. Patterson is entering his nineteenth season as Head Coach and he will have to rely on all of his defensive acumen to keep a unit that’s losing six starters competitive. If TCU answer these two major question marks, they’ll be in the mix once again.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
2018: 8-5 (6-3)
Iowa State is no longer a team off the radar. Ames is back on the map thanks to the miracles worked by Matt Campbell in the last three years. It started off as a couple of surprise underdog victories. 2017 they were seen as the pesky giant killers. And last year they were full-blown conference contenders, finishing third in the Big 12 despite a 1-3 start to the season.
But 2019 could be the toughest test Campbell is yet to face; the two stars of this team have made their way to the NFL in Running Back David Montgomery and Wide Receiver Hakeem Butler. Both look set to make early impacts at the next level such is their talent. Having said that, the impressive freshmen season of Brock Purdy have given the Cyclones a hope bordering on expectation that their young Quarterback will take the next step and be one of the best signal callers in the nation next season. He has an experienced Offensive Line to operate behind, and with a very strong Defense keeping his task manageable this Iowa State program could well be a thorn in the side of the big boys once again.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2018: 7-6 (3-6)
Having enjoyed, per Oklahoma State’s pedigree, a golden era under Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State had something of a tumultuous 2018 season. The winningest coach in Cowboy history, Gundy has presided over this football team for fifteen years; the 2011 Big 12 championship, 12-1 record and Fiesta Bowl proving to be the halcyon days of his tenure.
But last year proved to be an inconsistent one. A 6-6 regular season record saw plenty of close contests, losing the Bedlam Series in heartbreaking fashion by a point to their in-state rivals. They won big games they should have lost (Texas, West Virginia) and lost games they should have won (Texas Tech, Baylor). To shake off this inconsistency Gundy and his coaches have a lot of work to do – firstly finding their new Quarterback to replace Taylor Cornelius. Dru Brown came in from Hawaii this spring and will try to beat out redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders.
The biggest concern for this team is their defense after shipping an average of 38 points in conference games last season, and on top of that they lost their best pass rusher to the NFL in Jordan Brailford. In a division with high octane offenses and Heisman chasing Quarterbacks, this unit must improve if The Cowboys are going to compete in 2019.
6. Baylor Bears
2018: 7-6 (4-5)
In a stacked Big 12 conference, Baylor could be the dark horses. After a tumultuous end to the Art Briles Era in Waco, Matt Rhule came in from Temple and completely cleaned house of all the coaching staff. Whilst that meant Baylor won one game in 2017, it refocused the program in terms of culture, standards and conduct.
That led to a huge turnaround, Baylor winning 7 games last year including a bowl game against Vanderbilt. More impressively, four of their losses came to nationally ranked teams in their conference, showing the growth that this project has shown in such a small space of time. Like many other teams in this division, their Defense was underwhelming last season and with eight starters coming back they’ll be hopeful of improvement.
Offensively Matt Rhule should keep them humming despite the loss of Jalen Hurd; QB Charlie Brewer looking to build on a solid Sophomore campaign and Denzel Mims looking to revel in his new role as the go-to receiver. Double-digit wins is a big ask in a crowded conference, but don’t rule it out. Baylor are a force to be reckoned with once more.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
2018: 8-4 (6-3)
The first team I expect to see significant regression from in 2019, The Mountaineers lost an overwhelming amount of talent to the NFL this offseason; Will Grier, Yodny Cajuste, Gary Jennings, Travon Wesco, David Sills & David Long all turned pro, leaving gaping holes in a program that pushed Texas and Oklahoma right to the wire in 2018.
Head Coach Dana Holgorsen may have thought that was West Virginia’s window of opportunity gone, and with his stock high departed for Houston and a fresh challenge. Snagging Neal Brown from Troy to replace him was a boon for West Virginia, but expecting a repeat of last year is just unrealistic.
Most of their weapons have gone and despite Austin Kendall transferring from Oklahoma it’s a significant drop-off from Will Grier at Quarterback. Brown will need a couple of years to re-tool this program before they can seriously be expected to compete in the upper echelons of the Big 12 once more.
8. Kansas State Wildcats
2018: 5-7 (3-6)
The legend that is Bill Snyder finally retired, leaving Manhattan after twenty six years as Head Coach over two separate spells. The Wildcats have thought somewhat outside the box in their hire of North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman, who won four FCS Championships with the Bison in five years. He’ll need all his acumen to hit the ground running with Kansas State, who lost their two best players in Dalton Risner and Alex Barnes to the NFL this offseason.
Defensively they won’t see too much of a drop-off, but this program isn’t going to pick up a new scheme overnight and expect a season of consolidation for the Wildcats in 2019. A favourable opening schedule might give them a bit of leeway whilst acclimating to the Klieman regime, but if this team has a .500 record and a bowl game they’ll consider 2019 a success.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2018: 5-7 (3-6)
A leopard never changes it’s spots, and Texas Tech seems to have embraced that mantra without prejudice. From Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville to Kliff Kingsbury and now to Matt Wells, The Red Raiders have always been and always will be an offense first team.
The Air Raid offense in all it’s various guises has been the bread and butter of Lubbock football, and despite Kingsbury being fired after a disappointing 2018 (which ironically was the best defensive season of his tenure) his replacement is very much cut from the same cloth. Wells arrives from Utah State with a history of high-powered offensive football and despite this program losing their biggest weapons in Antoine Wesley and Ja’Deion High you can expect them to cook up a scheme that established QB Alan Bowman can thrive in.
But of course this team has been hamstrung by it’s porous defense and until there’s remarkable improvement on that side of the football Texas Tech will be inconsistent. Expect high scores and exciting contests; just don’t bet on them taking a step up this season.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
2018: 3-9 (1-8)
The Kansas Jayhawks have come last in the Big 12 every season but one since the conference went to one division back in 2011. That one year was 2014 where they finished ninth out of ten, their one win being enough to see them come above Iowa State. In this period they have won five conference games and never won more than three games in any given season.
So it was a huge surprise when Athletic Director Jeff Long lured The Mad Hatter Les Miles to Lawrence this offseason, despite the two having strong connections ever since Long nearly hired Miles whilst at Arkansas. Well the former LSU and Oklahoma State Head Coach will have to use all of his experience to get Kansas competitive in the Big 12 – this is a football team that is so far behind their conference rivals they struggle to give away all their scholarships. Their most talented player – Running Back Pooka Williams – was recently suspended from the team relating to a criminal charge of domestic battery, and would probably have been kicked off every other team in the Big 12 by now, but Kansas is desperate for talent.
It’s hard to find reasons to be optimistic for this Jayhawks team in 2019 outside of the X factor that Miles brings to the table; I imagine it will be a couple of seasons before we truly know if a big coaching hire can reverse this program’s fortunes.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.