The Big 12 for years has been widely regarded as the weakest Power 5 Conference in college football. Last year didn’t necessarily change much though a Texas win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl did help (as well as the PAC-12 falling back in a big way). The conference for the longest time has been dominated by the Sooners, who for the second straight year made the Playoff. But for the third time in the Playoff, the Sooners have gone one-and-done as teams have been able to gash up Oklahoma’s “optional” defense. Will it continue in 2019 or will the Sooners defense find ways to improve their defense and make the Playoff a 4th straight year? Texas under Tom Herman has made strides and the hope is the Longhorns are back as a top ten college program, but will have to answer questions. Baylor seems to have recovered from the Art Briles fiasco while Oklahoma State and TCU still look to be a thorn in the powers that be. Iowa State has plenty of hope in 2019 to surprise again. But there are going to be questions abound at West Virginia and Kansas State with new coaches and Kansas hopes to start a new era under Les Miles. So the Big 12 will have a lot of storylines in 2019.
(1) OKLAHOMA: Two things dominate the landscape in Norman: 1. Jalen Hurts is a Sooner and hopes are he follows in the footsteps of Mayfield and Murray of winning a Heisman and making the Playoff and 2. Can the defense show any life? With or without Hurts, Oklahoma can put up points galore and will (48 points per game last year-most in college). They can beat you in any way possible on that side (run, pass, doesn’t matter). They have a bevvy of running backs who can break one to the house at any given time and they will with Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks (who combined for 2,000 yards in 2018). And they have receivers who can do it all the time. So Hurts will have some fun with his receivers who can also dominate like CeeDee Lamb. However, if there is one concern on the offense, it may be on the line and Hurts at times could get rattled at Alabama at times when he got hit. But if I am a Sooner fan, I wouldn’t be worried too much on that. On defense however, yes, they return nine but is it really a good thing? Oklahoma finished dead last against the pass and 114th overall on defense. Alex Grinch takes over as coordinator from Ohio State. They just got ran ragged by teams and Alabama royally exposed them in the Playoff badly. But while he has a leader and a linebacking stud in Kenneth Murray the rest have to be more aggressive, up front and in the secondary. The secondary has been a major albatross though so if they can’t stop teams in the air, they will remain a team that is an afterthought in the National Championship talk. Oklahoma has a very favorable schedule in 2019 as the road games at UCLA, Kansas, and Kansas State are very winnable and teams that are practically in rebuilds. The games to look at are Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State but the talent level the Sooners have are greatly wider than the latter two while they still probably hold an edge on the Longhorns. BEST CASE PREDICTION: 12-0 WORST CASE PREDICTION: 9-3 Oklahoma will improve under Grinch (by how much is the question) on defense and Hurts will be in the mix for the Heisman and get a plane ticket to New York for that. And yes, Oklahoma will be in the Playoff again.
(2) TEXAS: The excitement is back in Austin. The Longhorns finished 2018 with a Sugar Bowl win against Georgia which gives fans plenty of hope for the future. Some hope it is NOW but it may be another year as at least on defense there will be some adjustments. Only the safeties return on that side though they are tough notably Brandon Jones. Texas likes their defensive line depth but will have questions with linebacker as they are young and inexperienced. They may have issues there as it will be a learning process with youngsters all on the depth chart. So the progress will be eyed very carefully in Austin and if they can make a splash early. But it will be tough given those offenses. However, Texas has a solid quarterback in Sam Ehlinger and have Collin Johnson returning at receiver. If Parker Braun plays like he did on the line at Georgia Tech, the Longhorns have a formidable line to protect Ehlinger. The hopes are high for incoming freshman Jordan Whittington at running back who could be the next in line as one of the great Texas backs. Texas will have a pretty tough front end with seeing LSU and both Oklahoma schools in the first half of the year. LSU and Oklahoma thankfully have to come to Austin and the Sooners game is always in Dallas. The rest of the schedule eases up a little bit after the Red River Shootout though a late road trip to Iowa State and Baylor could prove challenging. But all of it is manageable. Just is it time this year for Texas? BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Texas will have a war with LSU but I think they will come up a bit short on that one and not sold on the Red River Shootout while I feel like Iowa State will be a trap one.
(3) OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Gundy doesn’t get enough credit of being a stellar offensive head coach and getting the most out of his quarterbacks and receivers. But he does need to shoulder some responsibility for the defensive woes that plagued the Cowboys from being a national force in the college football world. Gundy will have a new offensive coordinator in Sean Gleeson which will keep the spread going in Stillwater. Also, Gundy will have to tackle who will be the starter at quarterback, freshman Spencer Sanders or Dru Brown. Sanders is a dual threat QB and many think he will come out as the starter. If the Cowboys start with Sanders, he will have an assortment of receivers to throw at headed by Tylan Wallace, who had nearly 1,500 receiving yards and with him will be Dillon Stoner. Another good piece of help is the Cowboys return three linemen which will be great and get a back who is primed to make a splash in Chuba Hubbard and the Cowboys offense will be surging again. Defense is obviously the question. The secondary will be better as pretty much they bring back all their starters including AJ Green, but the Cowboys have to replace a defensive line that netted three sacks per game in 2018. Linebacker is always a question it seems in Stillwater and this year is no different. Will there be anybody that can stop opposing offenses on third down? The Cowboys have a good start to the season with three wins before they travel to Texas from all likelihoods. But, can they win games away from Stillwater and not have a trip up at home as well? The schedule is favorable with Texas Tech, Iowa State, and West Virginia on the road. But it seems like they always have that horrendous loss at home that isn’t to a team named Oklahoma. So potentially they could have a monster season in 2019 if all goes well. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Road games at Texas, Iowa State, and West Virginia just too much and until proven otherwise, they still have that dragon in Norman they can’t slay.
(4) TCU: Year in and year out the Horned Frogs will put up fight after fight after fight. They don’t look pretty (alongside K-State they are pretty ugly on how they play offense), but they fight. It may be a similar case in 2019 where the Frogs resorted to defense (allowed 14 points or fewer in 6 of their wins). It may be a small adjustment there but the style of play remains the same and bring back star tackle Ross Blacklock. The secondary will have Jeff Gladney who is one of the best in the nation and will continue that this year too while Innis Gaines could also be a key factor. Questions will be up front as Ochaun Mathis could be a monster alongside Blacklock and could be one of the best defenses if not the best defense in the conference. But even as good as TCU’s defense is, the offense has to step up. It has been a work in progress since Trevone Boykin was the quarterback. since then the QB position has been a mess. Kansas State transfer Alex Delton is the favorite to be the next QB for TCU before Justin Rogers takes over. But Delton’s numbers were uninspiring at K-State (granted, different scheme) and there will be questions early if Delton struggles when Justin Rogers comes in. So the one guy who could be huge for the Frogs will be receiver Jalen Reagor (who had over 1,000 yards receiving in 2018) TCU will have a “thunder and lightning” approach at running back with Sweo Olonilua (thunder) and Darius Anderson (lightning). If Delton struggles they will also be counted on to shoulder the offense which has been going backwards. The offensive line may also play a factor in Delton’s success as four linemen return and quality linemen at that. TCU’s schedule is one that’s manageable ad even the road games not at Oklahoma can be attained including a non-conference trip to Purdue. But it will be a massive stretch where it is tough from mid-October onward. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I think Delton struggles to the point where TCU gets stunned at Purdue and again at Iowa State and you see the Frogs go to Rogers. He will take over and far pretty well but will have hiccups along the way.
(5) BAYLOR: Baylor is ridding themselves of the Art Briles stench and Matt Rhule has the compass pointing North on the program that was upper tier just 5 years ago. They have a good quarterback in Charlie Brewer who could have big numbers in 2019 and will bring back two starters at WR that can create havoc in the conference. The run game is a back by committee style but Trestan Ebner may be the guy getting most of the carries in 2019 which will balance the offensive attack. Defense has always been an issue under Briles and now Rhule where the Bears normally find themselves near the bottom of the nation. They bring back six including four of their front seven which helps and James Lynch could have a nice year as he will be alongside Bravvion Roy at tackle and James Lockhart on the other end. They could really be an improved unit. The secondary will be a major question if they can stop passing attacks. Injuries plagued the group last year, but what will help is the linebacking corps who could fly all over the place and one reason why I think the Bears are going to be a sleeper in the Big 12. Baylor’s season will be defined by two games in two weeks in November: Oklahoma and Texas. It is feasible to see the Bears in this conference going 9-0 heading into the game (they *can* win at Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and rival TCU) but it will be a great litmus test to see where they stack with the two powers. My guess: they are probably a year off from them but they will put up a fight either way. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 They could actually be 6-0 going into Oklahoma State, 7-1 going to TCU, and then seeing the Sooners and Longhorns after. Make your deduction on which four teams will beat them. TCU will have a better conference record hence why Baylor sits behind TCU.
(6) WEST VIRGINIA: Not often do you see a head coach from a power 5 program leave for a “Group of 5” program but Dana Holgorsen had enough in Morgantown as he was pretty much a polarizing figure. When they won, he was praised. When they lost, he was vilified. But despite having a “friendly schedule” in 2018 when they saw the Sooners late at home, fans were ready to see a change. And Holgorsen gave it to them. Neal Brown comes in from Troy to take over as head coach. The good news is Brown brings excitement at Morgantown and what feels like hope on the defensive side of the ball. Despite only bringing back 5, the Mountaineers are in a new, better scheme than the Holgorsen era had. But there will be an adjustment. Can they get a pass rush to help their corners? Can they find ways to stop key third downs? The scheme of a 4-3 (or close to it) should help with linebackers making more plays and take less pressure off of them. But the linebackers are all new so it will be interesting to see what the defense brings. On the offense, questions abound as Will Grier is gone. David Sills is gone and the line returns only two starters. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall will have something to prove so that helps, but will he be protected and will he have an assortment of weapons like Grier had? Those are key questions. The one guy he will have help from is Marcus Simms, West Virginia’s everyman (receiver, returner). He could play large in West Virginia’s season in 2019. The Mountaineers schedule as a rough road schedule with trips to Missouri, Oklahoma, and Baylor while finishing at TCU. They also have a game against Power 5 foe NC State at Morgantown while seeing Texas (whom they did beat last year in Austin). It will be interesting as they will just have really a young team in 2019 but a talented one. Playing in Milan Puskar Stadium is an underrated homefield advantage so that helps. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I think they lose road games at Missouri, Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU while get stung by the Longhorns at home.
(7) IOWA STATE: The Cyclones are the Big 12’s most resilient team. After a 1-3 start, Iowa State strung 7 wins in their final 8 games. Some of it has to do with the defense as the Cyclones took over as being the top defense in the conference and bringing 7 starters back including JaQuan Bailey at end. Bailey had 8 sacks in 2018 and figures to be a bigger disruption in 2019. The front really stays the same which is great to stop the run especially against squads who can run the ball. But cornerbacks will be the key issue here is if anyone can step up and defend these receivers the conference has. If the Cyclones can get quality cornerback play from what is a young group of corners (notably Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young. Offense could be the surprise here if Brock Purdy continues his progression. And to think he is only a sophomore. He could be a key reason why if the Cyclones get to be a dark horse in 2019. But the run game has to be far better and I am not sure if it will especially that David Montgomery isn’t there. However, the good news for Purdy and whatever running back is featured will have an incredibly experienced line up front as all five starters return. Purdy will also miss Hakeem Butler and receivers are pretty much new. Deshaunte Jones returns but will have to be more of a playmaker. Tarique Milton will also be counted on in a big way at receiver now that he replaces Butler. The Cyclones will have their early tilt at home with rival Iowa. If they can start 3-0 in conference play, they could start a run where they could go 7-1 or 8-0 heading into Norman at Oklahoma in November. And remember the last time they went to Norman… BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 Cyclones stun Texas as their big upset but road trips to West Virginia, Baylor, and Oklahoma may be too much to overcome.
(8) KANSAS STATE: Kansas State is going to be a very interesting case in 2019. Bill Snyder has finally retired and Chris Klieman from North Dakota State takes over. Klieman won 4 FCS national titles at ND State and a few wins against FBS schools (including 13th ranked Iowa in 2016). So his ability to coach shouldn’t be in question. The question is, how far can he take his offense which was a massive disaster in 2018. Skylar Thompson is more of a scrambling quarterback than anything and shouldn’t fully be relied on his arm. However, the Wildcat staff is really high on him with his arm and legs. He will have an assortment of receivers that can make plays when given the ball. But the biggest question is at running back as they have a whole new crew taking the rock as the four top backs are gone. If they can’t solve the question of “who replaces Alex Barnes” in the system where it is focused on running the football, the Wildcats could have a long year. The good news however is the defense returns 8 and will emphasize on a lot of blitzes and aggressive play that has always been solid. The key guy to keep an eye on is end Reggie Walker, who can get to the quarterback as good as anyone. But it will be the secondary that will need to step up in a conference known for their passing offenses which was rough. Kansas State has a schedule that doesn’t give them much breathing room from mid-September (road trip to Mississippi State and then at Oklahoma State before a run of games against Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma). Somehow, just somehow if the Wildcats can find a way to go 3-2 in that stretch they have a nice shot at a bowl game. But it feels like the talent level at K-State has dropped over the years where they can seriously compete. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I think the hire of Klieman is a good one, but the talent level isn’t there and I do think Thompson isn’t any answer at quarterback.
(9) KANSAS: Let the Les Miles era commence in Lawrence. Is it a good fit? Time will tell on that, but at least Miles will recruit at a higher level for Kansas than what they have seen in the past decade. But in any case, the Jayhawks will not see the benefits of it in Miles first year. Last year Kansas went 3-9, which is normally about one or two wins higher than some expect (disclaimer: not trying to sound pompous in this assessment, but it feels like they are often 1-11 most years as of late). At times they showed they can compete including a W against TCU and being competitive with not just Oklahoma but Texas as well. So Miles will have that “heart” issue for the Jayhawks working. He will have an experienced secondary that actually ranked in the top half of the Big 12 (take it for what that’s worth) and having a +16 turnover margin which ranked tops in the conference and second in the nation. Now what it will be the concern is up front. A lot of seniors up front but Miles likes who he has recruited on defense that really has more talent than they’ve had in a very long time. On offense, Miles will rely on Pooka Williams Jr. like he had on Leonard Fournette at LSU. And he has good reason why. Williams is scary good. He’ll be suspended for the first game of the season due to a domestic battery charge. But Miles will go with a run game that is not too bad. Miles will go with his LSU recruit Thomas MacVittie at quarterback to lead the way. Miles, who is always faithful in his players, will put a lot of that into MacVittie this year, but will have questions abound at receiver so already the concerns of the passing game under Miles will come back. Kansas schedule has two FCS opponents to go along with a trip to Boston College. They travel to TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State this year. I wouldn’t say they don’t have a fighting chance outside of that, but it will be impossible to win away from Lawrence. But there are a few home games that could be very interesting for the Jayhawks and could net them maybe two victories. BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I’m thinking the talent level is still way behind the majority of the conference, but I think they get past Texas Tech and could take down rival Kansas State. I also think they could give Oklahoma a run to the point where it will be a 4th quarter game given the Sooners D’s woes (remember Kansas put 40 in Norman).
(10) TEXAS TECH: Kliff Kingsbury is gone. But the Air Raid will stay in play with Matt Wells as the head coach. And he will bring offensive coordinator David Yost with him. The one thing to expect is more of a balance of an offense as the Red Raiders had been more of a one dimensional squad with Kingsbury (i.e. just passing the ball around). Alan Bowman will return at quarterback and will continue his accuracy prowess. Ta’Zhawn Henry will have more of a role at tailback as Texas Tech installs some more running. But questions will be at receiver of who can step up there. TJ Vasher returns but it is a new crew altogether including Oregon State transfer Seth Collins (who was a starting QB for the Beavers). The offensive line is strong with four starters and plenty of depth with it. Of course it isn’t the offense that will be the issue. It always comes back on the defense. After hopes that the defense turned the corner under Kingsbury in 2018, the passing defense collapsed again being dead last against the pass. Eli Howard is the guy up front to really get after the quarterback, but there will be a need to pressure the quarterback as the secondary will be new with only one starter returning and a secondary in question. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks could have a good year as he will be the leader of that defense that needs a leader. Texas Tech does not figure to be in the mix with any Big 12 title run and the schedule isn’t fun with road trips to Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas notably. But if that defense can find a way to improve and the offense doesn’t have any setbacks, a bowl game is definitely in the realm, but an early tilt Arizona will be an early gauge of where the Red Raiders stand when conference play begins. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I’m in the “I’ll believe it when I see it with the Red Raiders defense” category.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP: OKLAHOMA VS. TEXAS: We might just see this being the standard norm in the Big 12 in the foreseeable future. The talent pool for these two teams are deep and has been for a while and miles ahead of the rest of the conference. Oklahoma has utilized it and Texas is beginning to consistently utilize theirs. So depending on what happens in the Red River Shootout the game could be one of a revenge factor. I think by this time, the Longhorns will gel better and be a tougher out for Oklahoma than the first go around and it could spell trouble for Hurts and the Sooners offense. That said, I don’t know if Sam Ehlinger is the right guy to lead the Longhorns to a big W against the Sooners in a championship match. Hurts may just be too much for Texas to handle as well. OKLAHOMA 41, TEXAS 34
TOP 3 QUESTIONS
(1) IS OKLAHOMA’S DEFENSE ENOUGH TO STAND UP TO THE NATIONAL POWERHOUSES? Right now, no. Right now I think some of it is that the Air Raid system (i.e. quick strike) really wears out Oklahoma’s defense more than anything else. If you look at the three playoff games they’ve had, the Sooners have given up 37 or more points to Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama. The former two they were pretty close with before being unable to do anything in second halves while Alabama obliterated the defense start to finish. Yes, the Sooners can put up points against all those teams, but cannot get that “needed stop.” I mean it’s one thing to get that “needed stop” against the likes of Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State because none of them can stop a turtle climbing a mountain. It’s another when you have to go against teams who can dominate a game through defense. Alex Grinch has to develop a defense that can pretty much be dominant and not give up 40 to Kansas late in a season.
(2) COULD TEXAS BE A MAJOR THREAT TO THE PLAYOFF? I don’t know about this year so I’m leaning towards no. However, even when Texas has been on a “weaker” level, they always give Oklahoma massive fits in the Red River Shootout, but there’s a lot of turnover to the team in 2019. That said, Tom Herman is becoming one of the top coaches in college football. If the Longhorns can upset SEC power LSU like they had Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last year, all bets should be off on Texas. But I think there will be a small adjustment. I do think they are going to be in a New Year’s Six game though.
(3) HOW MUCH TIME WILL LES MILES NEED AT KANSAS TO BE A THREAT? Miles will recruit and recruit well and with those Louisiana ties could help getting a few stars from the Bayou. So that shouldn’t be a problem. However, what pretty much ended Miles tenure at LSU was his in-game strategies which were very dumbfounding at times. That and his inability to have a strong quarterback (and unable to beat Alabama since 2012). If Miles doesn’t do the stupid stuff that got him out of a job in Baton Rouge, the Jayhawks could find a way into a bowl game perhaps in 2021. But while Miles does have a national championship to his credit, many feel like his coaching ability has dwindled over the years. They will be competitive down the road but I don’t see any Big 12 championship under Miles.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat