Oklahoma has won the last four Big-12 championships. The last two seasons they made it to the College Football Playoffs. They have had the last two Heisman Trophy winners, and the top pick in consecutive drafts.
If life wasn’t already sweet enough for Sooners fans, they get to follow up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray with Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.
And this is where we begin our preview of the Big-12, in part 4 of our Power-5 preview.
Lincoln Riley has been the head coach in Norman, Oklahoma for just two years now, but in that time, he has made it to back-to-back playoff semifinals and won consecutive conference titles. He has seen nothing but success, and there is no reason to suggest year three will be anything different.
Coming off a season in which he had the top offense in the country, he now has Hurts to take the reins and there might be no one better suited for this in football. The 6’2”, 225lb graduate transfer went 26-2 as a starter in Tuscaloosa and played in three consecutive Championship games. He leaves the SEC having won player of the year awards and a handful of school records, and now in Oklahoma he will use his experience, control and ability to manage the game to pick up right where he left off. He might not have all the weapons he had at Alabama, but these playmakers are pretty damn close. In the backfield he has Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon, who combined for over 2,000 yards last season, and one of the most exciting receivers in the nation in CeeDee Lamb.
Defensively, Alex Grinch takes control of the coordinator position after stints at Washington State and Ohio State, and will focus on forcing turnovers and wrapping up tackles, two things his new team really struggled with in 2018.
The Sooners went 12-1 last year and avenged their early season loss to Texas in the Big-12 Championship game. I imagine a similar record for them in 2019. They have 5 true road games, and that October 12th Cotton Bowl game against Texas is always tough, but Hurts will step right in and this offense will settle just right. Two streaks stay intact this year: Oklahoma wins their 5th consecutive Big 12 title, and Hurts plays in a record 4th CFP semifinal.
The Longhorns are back baby! While they have yet to win the conference under head coach Tom Herman, they have found their way back into the national spot light. In September they set a Darrel K Royal Stadium attendance record with over 103,507. Three weeks later they defeated Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and later went on to play for the Big-12 crown. If that wasn’t enough to wake up the country that the ‘Horns are for real, their 28-21 Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia sure did. But that was last year, and in 2019 there is reason to believe that this season will be even better.
Herman has now secured back-to-back top-three recruiting classes and has come to own the state of Texas with top recruits. He also has Sam Ehlinger back as his quarterback, coming off a 41-touchdown season. He has a dependable receiver in Collin Johnson, plus an experienced line.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Orlando returns with a defense that must replace 9 starters, including both cornerbacks. They do have All-American Caden Sterns coming back at safety, and linemen Malcom Roach and Ta’Quin Graham will play important roles, but Texas will have to replace the full roll call of linebackers.
Herman and company should win 10 games again this season, and while I think they will give Oklahoma a back and forth slugfest (again), I think their schedule is just a bit more difficult than what the Sooners will face. A week 2 meeting at home with LSU is a massive test early on, then they have road trips to West Virginia, the Cotton Bowl, TCU and Iowa State in the middle of the season. They should weather the majority of the storm, and a 10-2 season will result in more optimism in the program’s future.
2018 was a season on injuries for the Horned Frogs, so head coach Gary Patterson tempered expectations from making the playoffs to just being bowl eligible. He coached the rest of the season as if he were building for the 2019 campaign, and now enters the season with the top defense in the conference. In Patterson’s 20 years at TCU, only four times has he finished with less than 7 wins, and each time he rebounded the following season with 10 or more wins.
While he doesn’t have a sure number one quarterback, he does have a group of 5 student athletes that could play at most Universities in the country to pick from, though Ohio State transfer Matthew Baldwin seems to be the favorite. Jalen Reagor set a school record by catching a touchdown in 7 consecutive games and looks to have an even better season this fall in Fort Worth. With 4 returning starters on the line, the offense should click quickly.
Linebackers Garret Wallow and Montrel Wilson return to a defense that graduated 400 tackles this spring, but even still with a strong secondary, and a lot of size on the line, TCU will be tough to game plan against. They had the Big-12’s top-ranked defense, both in passing and scoring, and should be top of the charts again.
They should reach 10-wins, and if Baldwin and Reagor can find rhythm early on, they could be one of the most entertaining teams in the country.
Coming off a 7-6 season, where they only won 3 conference games, the Cowboys are looking to get back to where they were in 2016 and 2017 when they had consecutive 10-win seasons. That has become the expectation in Stillwater, as head coach Mike Gundy has reached double digit wins six times in his 9 years at the helm.
That’s old news now, as we have a true QB competition brewing between Hawaii-transfer Dru Brown and redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders. Brown threw for over 2,750 yards and 18 touchdowns last year for the Rainbow Warriors. Either passer will have the benefit of Chuba Hubbard in the backfield, a breakout candidate who could end up being the best back in the conference.
Mike Gundy’s offense will always have fire power, but it’s their defense that gives fans worries. They were 9th in the conference last season but return 7 of their top ten tacklers, including cornerbacks AJ Green and Rodarius Williams. They lost their entire front to the NFL, so that is a main area of concern.
The Cowboys open on the road at Oregon State before taking on McNeese State and Tulsa. They have road games at Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and West Virginia, which are all tough trips. The Big-12 is tough this year and playing 9 conference games means there could be 9 shoot-outs. I’ll give them an 8-4 record, which I think the alumni will be disappointed with, but with the uncertainty under center and on the defensive front, I think this would be a good campaign.
Matt Campbell enters his 4th year as the head coach of the Cyclones and is coming off back-to-back 8-win seasons.
He will look to quarterback Brock Purdy to shine in his Sophomore year. After taking the reigns as a true freshman in week 4 of last season, he led Iowa State to a 7-2 record the rest of the way and has those in Ames believing in a conference championship. He will have familiar sites in front of him, as all five offensive linemen return. He will however have to gain some rhythm with a new running back, as David Montgomery is now playing on Sundays.
Defensively, Iowa State was solid as a rock last year, finishing 9th in the country allowing just 3.26 yards per rush and was tops in the conference in allowing just 22 points per game. They return All-Big-12 linemen JaQuan Bailey, who has 18 career sacks. Mike Rose, who had a breakout freshman campaign at linebacker, is back alongside Marcel spears Jr to form an intimidating duo in the second level.
With Purdy handling the offense, Iowa State will put up big numbers on the scoreboard. Their defense should be keeping opponents to low numbers as well, so I expect them to have a successful season. They should easily reach a bowl, be in the top-25 and finish with a 9-3 record.
Matt Rhule hasn’t had much success with the Bears in his two seasons at the helm. His 8-17 record leaves much to be desired, but he does enter the season with an interesting team.
Quarterback Charlie Brewer and a slew of big, fast running backs form a two-dimensional offense, but it all hinges on an offensive line improving from last year. As a unit, they gave up the most sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage in all of the Big-12.
Defensively they return 7 of their top 10 defenders, including the entire starting linebacker group. Clay Johnston had a break out season with 99 tackles and can handle his own in coverage. The secondary allowed big plays last year, but still finished 3rd in the conference in passing yards allowed.
This team has depth on both sides of the ball and for the first time since Robert Griffin III, Baylor has a quarterback they really trust. They get the luxury of starting at Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and Rice, so a 3-0 start seems likely. I think that sets them off in a good position for the 2019 season. They finish 8-4 and Rhule improves the team’s record for the 2nd year in a row.
“Almost heaven, West Virginia…” – We all know Country Roads by John Denver, and a crowd of over 65,000 Mountaineer fans screaming it in unison at Milan Puskar Stadium is one of the best college football atmospheres, but the days of this football program being “Almost Heaven” could be in the rear view.
With Will Grier and David Sills in the NFL, and former head coach Dana Holgerson in Houston, this team lacks an identity. New coach Neal Brown was able to convince former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall to transfer to an offensive unit that will lose Grier’s top four receivers from 2018. Senior running back Kennedy McCoy will be the bell cow of this offense and should reach the 1,000-yard mark in his final season.
Defensive coordinator Casey Vance has quite the challenge in front of him with three of his top players entering the transfer portal. VanDariys Cowan is a converted linebacker playing defensive end and 6’4”, 245lb pass rusher Taijah Alston could be a bright spot for the Mountaineers.
With the questions on defense, an unproven quarterback with a lack of receivers and the Big-12 schedule in general, I think Neal Brown’s first run as the head coach will be considered a success if they just finish bowl eligible. He is a great coaching prospect and should get the best of these guys, even if their best is a 6-6 mark.
It was a tale of two Red Raiders last season. Texas Tech had the third best passing offense and 16th best scoring offense in the nation. Unfortunately, they were only ranked 128th in passing defense and 86th in scoring defense. That is why Matt Wells, in his first year at the helm, brought in coordinator Keith Patterson to implement a new system on defense. One with the “Raider position” – a hybrid style of linebacker that is part pass rush, part blitz, part coverage backer. He will also have a package with up to six players in the secondary for the new look Texas Tech defense.
Things are changing rapidly in Lubbock, and while it may take a while, it could eventually be for the better. Alan Bowman returns to run the Air Raid offense once again. While coach Kliff Kingsbury is gone to the NFL, his offensive philosophy isn’t, and this sophomore quarterback looked really comfortable in that system last year. Wells may even give Bowman more options this year, as he himself is coming off a coaching stint at Utah State where his team finished with 47.5 points per game, second in the country only to Oklahoma. Wells is the right man for the job, and while I don’t think they improve a whole lot from their 5-7 record last season, I think they have a favorable schedule and I can see them evening out at 6-6.
The Kansas State football team will take the field without Bill Snyder, as he has stepped down after two stints and 27 years coaching with the Wildcats. Enter Chris Klieman, former North Dakota State coach with four FCS championships under his belt. Kleiman has brought in offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham to bring the Big-12’s worst offense (both in scoring and yards) back to life.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson looks to take leaps, not steps, forward in the new offense and he will have more freedom to pass around the yard. With receivers like Dalton Schoen and Malik Knowles, it could be fun to watch.
But Kleiman wasn’t brought in to succeed a legend because he will light the scoreboard up. He is, as they say, a “defensive coach.” For better or worse, the Wildcats are putting their faith into that concept, which means more blitzes and more man coverage in hopes that this lead to more turnovers. They surrendered over 300 passing yards per game in 2018, but this new defensive scheme could bring down that number. So where do the Wildcats go in 2019?
Fortunately, Snyder didn’t leave the roster in array. In fact, his recruits for most part have stayed. Throw in a young, energetic coach who has won at the previous level, and you have a team with a bright future. It might not shine this fall, but it should sometime in the near future. I expect them to play some younger guys to build on the team’s growth, so for now, the Wildcats hit growing pains and finish 5-7.
Les. Miles. Is. Back.
No, not a typo, He really is. The “Mad Hatter” is back under the headset, and the 2007 BCS National Champion coach begins the next phase of his career with the Kansas Jayhawks. A floundering football program gets a shot in the arm with this hire and his 142 collegiate wins. He will make immediate changes in the culture of the football program and look to build off a 3-9 season from a year ago. He opens with Indiana State and Coastal Carolina before a road trip to Boston College, so he needs to put his foot on the pedal immediately to get a head start on the season if he is to win more than 3 contests. Kansas has won just 6 Big-12 games in the past 10 seasons, but Miles will focus on 2019 and his transfer quarterback Thomas MacVittie, the number 2 ranked pro-style junior college passer. The 2018 conference leader in all-purpose yards, Pooka Williams, is back and should give the offense a spark.
Defensively, 3 starters return to a secondary that led the conference with 16 picks and turnover margin. He has potential in his depth chart, but previous head coaches Clint Bowen and Charlie Weiss left the roster in shambles with lack of recruiting and junior college transfers. They will win 3 games this season maybe even 4. I like Miles and think he is the right man for this job, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and go with a 4-8 season in Lawrence for the “Mad Hatter.”
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