Big-12 football is almost back! Probably, at least.
After New Hampshire announced they would not be playing football, Kansas’ Athletic Director Jeff Long stated: “KU, along with the Big 12, are continuing our efforts to play a full non-conference and conference football schedule this fall.” Big 12 fans all breathed a sigh of relief and, as long as it is safe, we are all excited!
Just as everyone else in the sports world, I have predictions for the upcoming season. Oklahoma is the obvious choice for Big 12 champion, but after them the race is wide open as we could see several teams vying for a bowl-bid this year.
Oklahoma is always the perennial choice for the Big 12. With new quarterback Spencer Rattler joining a powerful combo of Kennedy Brooks and Charleston Rambo, a great offensive line, and a defense that is expected to continue to make steady improvements, Oklahoma is not only the best team in the conference, but one of the best in the nation as well.
2. Oklahoma State
With Chuba Hubbard possibly putting himself in position to become Oklahoma State’s all-time leading rusher, returning quarterback Spencer Sanders, and Tylan Wallace coming back from an ACL tear, OSU (along with Texas) will be OU’s biggest threat for the conference championship.
Another returning quarterback is Texas’ brightspot, Sam Ehlinger. Running Backs Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson’s numbers will jump, but it will mostly be filling the gap of production that is lost with Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay parting ways with the Longhorns. Linebacker Joseph Ossai will have to help a poor-ish defense from least year rebound in order to contend. The struggling defense, receiving production lost, and with a tough schedule that includes LSU, a finale in Stillwater, as well as a coach on the hot seat, the brunt of the weight will fall on the shoulders of Ehlinger and Ossai.
4. Iowa State
With the returns of QB Brock Purdy, TE Charlie Kolar, RB Breece Hall, as well as a good offensive line, Iowa State’s offense will be experienced and skilled enough to be near the top in the Big-12. Although Marcel Spears Jr. departed from the program, a strong linebacking core and a plethora of defensive backs remain. The Hawkeyes may be fourth here, but they could turn into a sleeper team to watch.
Out of all the teams thus far, TCU might have the toughest hump to overcome offensively. Sophomore QB Max Duggan will have to drastically improve his accuracy if he wants to not only improve as a player, but also make up for the production lost with Jalen Reagor being drafted. The one redeeming quality for TCU is their defense which must, and most likely will, perform to keep them competitive in conference games. Senior linebacker Garret Wallow has a very underrated tackling game that could give him a shot at Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Baylor is the exact opposite of TCU. They return QB Charlie Brewer, who made exceptional jumps statistically last year, most of their offensive line, as well as R.J. Sneed and Tyquan Thornton who are both expected to have productive seasons for the Bears. The defense, on the other hand, will look markedly different. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year James Lynch, who had a remarkable 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2019, forgoed his senior year, along with 10 (!!) other defensive starters who also left Waco. Newcomers will have to pull their weight if Baylor wants to remain the conference’s top defensive team.
7. Kansas State
Entering his second year as the legendary Bill Snyder’s replacement, Chris Klieman will have a predicament on his hands. Following an improved 8-5 season, all five offensive lineman, top receiver Dalton Schoen, and starting back James Gilbert have all graduated and left Manhattan. The pass game, which ranked 127th in total yards, 117th in TD, and 108th in yards/game, might have a new face leading the pack as freshman Dual-Threat QB Will Howard is expected to lead a crowded 6-person quarterback room in challenging Senior Skylar Thompson for the starting job.
8. West Virginia
Following the graduation of Will Grier two seasons ago, the Mountaineers offense was laughable last year. West Virginia won games by an average of 7.2 points, meanwhile losing the others by an average of 19.2 and scoring over 30 points just once (31-42 loss to Texas). Needless to say, they need a quarterback to step up and they have to hope that either Jarret Doege or Austin Kendall will become the leader. Much like the other teams in the bottom half of the conference, it feels like there are just too many holes to fill on both sides of the ball to contend.
9. Texas Tech
With the returns of QB Alan Bowman, multiple top receivers, and leading rusher SaRodorick Thompson, experience appears to be the leading attribute in development for Texas Tech. The down side: Their defense is the opposite. NFL first-rounder LB Jordyn Brooks and All-Big 12 DB Douglas Coleman III highlight a massive loss of leadership on the defensive side of the ball that head coach Matt Wells will desperately try to replace.
Wow. This will mark the sixth straight year that Kansas will remain at the bottom of the Big 12. Will they go 0-12 as they did a few years ago? Probably not, but will they win more than four games? Also, probably not. Les Miles’ 2020 recruiting class, while an improvement, was iffy at best. Miles will need some of that “Miles Magic” if he is going to replace key seniors, most notably QB Carter Stanley, who featured an all-too-late breakout season, and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention DB Hasan Defense.
On the bright side for Kansas fans, the return of explosive back Pooka Williams, Daylon Charlot, and Andrew Parchment, as well as a promising 2021 recruiting class featuring football and basketball star Keon Coleman (Kansas’ top recruit in over 20 years), will look to revitalize this program. In due time Kansas fans, in due time.
Photo: Fansided / Stormin’ In Norman