For the first time in a long time, this Big 12 conference truly seems up for grabs. Last season the conference had so many big name stars, however the majority of those stars have ventured off after eligibility ran its course and the NFL came calling. Baker Mayfield, Allen Lazard, Malik Jefferson, Mason Rudolph, Kenny Hill, and Keke Coutee have all moved on. With that mass amount of talent leaving the conference there’s no denying that most of the programs are looking to reload.
On the bright side, with all this talent gone it paves way for new stars to emerge and truly gives everyone in the conference a chance to climb to the top (except Kansas, let’s be real). This football season feels much like last year’s basketball season, the team that’s always been at the top is still the favorite, yet could be vulnerable while everyone below them is worthy of playing in the postseason and challenging for the crown.
Though it was exciting, last year’s basketball season still ended with the usual champion winning it all once again. Oklahoma football is beginning to look much like Kansas basketball. OU has been crowned Big 12 champions 11 of the past 18 seasons including three years straight. For those of us hoping that Bob Stoops retirement would slow them down, Lincoln Riley and company gave us all an emphatic resolution by suffering just one loss in the regular season and that loss only came by a touchdown.
That being said, last year the Sooners had Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield who had one of the best quarterback seasons in program history. This is the change that makes Oklahoma vulnerable. Kyler Murray is no slouch, the 2014 Gatorade National Player of the Year is a heck of an athlete and decent thrower. We all got a taste of his abilities in his true freshman season at Texas A&M. Murray is nowhere near the passer Mayfield is but he is talented and athletic. As far as the rest of the team, they’re just as stacked as ever. Rodney Anderson makes Oklahoma’s offense just as dynamic as before and Riley will likely lean on him to lead this team. Mike Stoops is still Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator which means the defense will still be underwhelming, yet still talented. Kenneth Murray (no relation to Kyler) will be the star LB for this defense as he is a hard nosed tackler.
This team is susceptible to be upset, but I still don’t expect it to happen much.
2. West Virginia
All aboard the West Virginia hype train. I truly believe West Virginia is capable of ending Oklahoma’s streak. They have it all: Veteran head coach, heisman caliber star quarterback, the all-american sidekick, and an experienced team, all that’s missing is the defense. This defense will be the reason West Virginia either wins the Big 12 or falls to the back of the pack. Their front seven won’t scare anyone and their secondary which was the strong mark of this team last year lost quite a few pieces. Holgerson was able to add to his defense by bringing in USC transfer Kenny Bigalow (no relation to Deuce) and Clemson transfer Jabril Robinson, but needing to rely on transfers usually doesn’t bode well.
Luckily for the Mountaineers, this conference is all about offense and this team has the star power. WIll Grier is currently my favorite for the Heisman, he has the arm and accuracy to sling the ball all over the field and he may just have the best wide receiver in the country in David Sills V.
Most of this team’s games will be shootouts but if the defense can find its groove during the season, this team could become a surprise CFP contender.
I’m not very high on Shawn Robinson. Never have been even during his days at Desoto. I believe his passing is suspect and though he’s a big downhill runner, I see more Joel Lanning in Robinson than I do Tim Tebow. That being said the rest of this team is pretty darn talented. Kavontae Turpin is somehow still eligible and will likely be the offensive leader for the team. Darius Anderson is a talented back who, if healthy, can carve teams up with his running style and receiver Jalen Reagor might be the most talented skill player on the team. These weapons will help Robinson get acclimated to Big 12 football. Luckily for Robinson, he has the best offensive coordinator in the conference in Sonny Cumbie and he has the best defense in the conference.
TCU may be the only team in the conference that still values an SEC style defense and they show it. TCU doesn’t get the respect they deserve on this side of the ball because of the Big 12’s reputation but if TCU was in the SEC or Big Ten they’d be just as dominant and wouldn’t have to go against offensive minds like Lincoln Riley, Mike Gundy and Kliff Kingsbury. Like Turpin, Ty Summers somehow is still there also and will be a menacing force all season long. TCU is virtually at the same place they are in every season, seasoned defense with an offense that’ll rest on their quarterback.
Both Trevone Boykin and Kenny Hill struggled in their first years as starters, if Robinson suffers the same fate, so will the team.
4. Oklahoma State
Everyone is expecting Oklahoma State to take a big step down this season. They no longer have Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Tre Flowers, or Chad Whitener. With all this turnover there’s no way the Cowboys rise to the top right? Not so fast my friend. OSU has had 10 wins in six of the last eight seasons and each of the last three. I no longer doubt Mike Gundy, and believe he can make magic with whoever is on his team.
As far as personnel, this team has two stars, one on each side of the ball, who will drive their units. In my opinion, Justice Hill is the best running back in the conference. He’s so explosive and can take it to the house at any moment. QB Taylor Cornelius may not be the most talented player but he’ll be smart and know what to do. Expect Cornelius to put the ball in Hill and the other play-makers’ hands throughout the season. Justin Phillips is the star linebacker on defense. The do-everything LB will be able to guide this front seven and make it tough on opponents to run. When it comes to passing, it could be easy money for opponents however. Though Phillips is a great coverage backer, he won’t be getting too much help from his secondary.
OSU may be retooling this team, but I still expect the fighting mullets of Stillwater to be pushing for yet another 10-win season.
5. Iowa State
With all of the quarterback controversy and turnover going on in the rest of the conference, Iowa State is sitting back knowing they have their guy from last season back in the fold. Kyle Kempt did a tremendous job of taking care of the ball last season, only throwing three interceptions on the year. He’ll also be joined by star running back David Montgomery and together they will form the toughest QB-RB combo in the conference. The name of the game for this offense is to grind down the field and don’t make mistakes, and last season they did that well and will look to continue.
Defensively this team resembles Oklahoma State in that the front seven is scary but you may be able to beat them through the air. Where they separate themselves from Oklahoma State is that even though they graduated some talented safeties, they replace them with other talented safeties.
Why the pessimism for ISU? The Cyclones just had what seemed to be their best season in a very long time, and all that came from it was eight wins and their head coach possibly getting whooed by Ohio State. No more Joel Lanning and no more surprises coming from Matt Campbell’s group, are they actually talented or are they just one season wonders? They’ll have to show me before I believe it.
Speaking of teams that need to show me something, here are the Longhorns. Coach Tom Herman now enters the dreaded second year. Second years are tough for coaches because the hype surrounding your arrival has worn off, some players have likely transferred, and the recruits you brought in are still too young. Charlie Strong missed a bowl game in his second season and Mack Brown only lost five games once in his first 12 years at Texas, and that was also in his second season. What could give Herman hope is that one fellow Big 12 coach thrived in his second season and that was Matt Campbell. Campbell saw a five game increase last year in his second season and Herman is looking to follow that success.
Sam Ehlinger is back and though he looked shaky at times, he still looks like the best quarterback Texas has had since Colt McCoy. Ehlinger won’t have as many reliable skill players to lean on but his big O-Line will be able to protect him. Cal transfer Tre Watson will likely be the star of this offense that seriously lacks firepower. Defensively, Texas is in a good position. Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando has to be licking his chops at the prospects of what he’ll be able to do. Chris Nelson, Malcolm Roach, Anthony Wheeler, Gary Johnson, Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke III will all be back for this team.
This defense is so deep that three year starter John Bonney didn’t feel like he’d get playing time and transferred. The talent is definitely there for this defense, it’s all about whether they’ll be able to play together and get some wins.
7. Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury and staff are truly in a make-or-break season. This is the most talented defense Texas Tech has had since the Ruffin McNeil days, two of the three leading rushers from the past two seasons are back and this is the most veteran O-line Tech has had in recent memory. One problem: this is the worst quarterback situation most Tech fans can remember. McLane Carter will be the starter to begin the season and that’s not ideal. Carter left a bad taste in fans’ mouth during last season’s Texas game and hasn’t done much in the spring to show he’s improved. Unfortunately, no one else played well enough to take the position from him therefore Tech is stuck with him at the helm. Look for Kingsbury to lean on the three-headed rushing monster that is Da’Leon Ward, Tre King and Demarcus Felton to take the heat off of Carter.
Like I said previously, this defense is for real, and by for real I mean finally above average. nine starters from last season return and with grad transfers Preston Gordon and John Bonney in the fold, there’s depth everywhere. Tech has the best linebacking duo in the conference in Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks who both could be due for 100-tackle seasons, and the defensive line will look to add to their ability to stop the run by actually putting pressure on the QB. Secondary is the biggest question mark for this team and the big leg injury to Octavious Morgan doesn’t help, however Justus Parker and Jah’Shawn Johnson should be able to force turnovers and limit big plays.
Defense will be good, but just how good is still in question. The rest of the team is simply going to have to make up for the lack of talent in the passing game, but it simply may not be enough to win enough to keep Kingsbury’s job.
8. Kansas State
Every year I think the Wildcats aren’t good enough to win games and every year coach Bill Snyder wins games. I’m just keeping up with tradition at this point. This is the only quarterback competition we truly have no idea who the starter will be. Both Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton leave much to be desired. Thompson is the better passer while Delton is the better runner and in Snyder’s offense the quarterback has to be able to do both. Running back Alex Barnes will need to break out this year in order for this team to have much success offensively as their aren’t very many talented skill players offensively. The offensive line will be tough as always, however there’s only so much they can do.
On defense, this team lost quite a bit of talent. Both their two leading tacklers and two leading sack men are gone as is their leading interceptor. Duke Shelley, Denzel Goolsby and Kendall Adams will lead this team from the secondary and still make it difficult for teams to pass on them. Normally that would be great in the Big 12, but surprisingly this year most of the teams in the conference are more confident in their run games. This makes upsets against Texas and West Virginia possible, but losses to everyone else likely.
Once again I have little faith in K-State, but I’m sure Bill Snyder will once again lead his men to an 8-win or more season as he has done in six of the last seven years.
Their are three big differences between this year’s team and last year’s team.
- Everyone is a year older.
- Everyone knows who the quarterback will be.
- There isn’t a dark cloud hovering around the program.
The scandal will always be a black mark for the university but now head coach Matt Rhule can actually coach his team. Charlie Brewer may end up being the conference’s best QB one day, and this will be the year he can throw it around and really test his abilities. Denzel Mims, Jalen Hurd, John Lovett and JaMychal Hasty are all talented skill players that Brewer will have at his arsenal as well. The O-line is very sketchy and that’s where Rhule will have to get creative.
Baylor has never had a defense to rave about, even in the Briles years, and this year is no different. Baylor returns quite a bit from last year’s atrocity so you hope they get it going more this year. Harrison Hand and Grayland Arnold make a very good cornerback duo on the outsides with Texas A&M transfer James Lockhart on the D-Line.
Still expect Baylor to go through some growing pains but they won’t be terrible like last year and will look to upset anyone who thinks they are.
I asked my managing editor if I even needed to write something about Kansas but he insisted so here it goes: The Kansas athletic program has decided to field a football team for the 2018 season. David Beaty comes into this season as a dead man walking. With a new athletic director in place and another awful season looming, he will be let go by season’s end almost assuredly. Peyton Bender will be the full time starter for the first time in his career and will hope his senior season is at least an enjoyable one. Khalil Herbert and Steven Sims Jr are two names that would be heard of more if not for the school they attend and will be able to help Bender when his O-Line assuredly falls apart during the year.
Kansas is always good for a couple of stars tucked away in Lawrence and this year is no different. Linebacker Joe Dineen had over 130 tackles last season and is back for his senior year, the Jayhawks will need quite a bit from him, safety Mike Lee and the group of rag tag Juco transfers to come together to be able to beat Nicholls State, Central Michigan, and Rutgers. As far as all the other games? Not a chance in hell Kansas wins another game.
This will be an exciting season in the Big 12 and I will have the hot takes all season long. Tell me just how wrong I am in the comments.