2020 Big 12 Preview
The Big 12 Conference has been known in recent years for its electric, innovative offense and below par defenses. The champion is always in consideration for the College Football Playoff, and it appears to be a 3 or 4 team race this season. Oklahoma has its usual firepower. Oklahoma State has a great balance of offensive weapons and stout, athletic defenders. Texas appears to be a contender. The 4th team was thought to be Iowa State, but after a loss to Louisiana, they have work to do to get back in the race. Here's what to look out for the rest of the year.
Baylor was down for a couple seasons and built back up by Matt Rhule. Now, after an 11-3 season in which the Bears finished in 2nd place in the conference, many changes are afoot in Waco. A team that relied on it's defense (I know weird for the Big 12) loses many key pieces. Coach Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow are both with the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
All-Conference candidate Charlie Brewer returns at quarterback, coming off 3000+ passing yards year. He is now one of just 4 Baylor QBs to reach the 6000 yard mark for their careers. They also return leading ruhser John Lovett but lose his partner, JaMycal Hasty. Two of their top 3 receivers (Tyquan Thornton and RJ Sneed) are back, but the departure of Denzel Mims will be hard to overcome. Josh Fleeks is one of many who will have to step up in his absence. The offensive line loses 2 starters but brings back 5 players with starting experience and adds UCLA transfer Jake Burton.
The defense will be experiencing a larger changing of the guard. For starters, defensive coordinator Phil Snow is now serving the same role in the NFL. They also lose several players to the pros, including most of the front 7 (4 dl, 2 lb). Corner Raleigh Texada and LB Terrel Bernard are their best returning players and will need guys like DE TJ Franklin and Arkansas State transfer William Bradley-King to take on pivotal roles.
The Bears open with a rescheduled game against Houston on Saturday.
Players opting out: none reported
Iowa State Cyclones
Despite just a 7-6 finish in 2019, the Cyclones are expected to compete for the Big 12 title. Matt Campbell has built them into a respectable program with 3 straight bowl wins. They are actually one of just 2 Big 12 teams (Oklahoma) to be included in the CFP rankings each year since Campbell got there. The #23 ranked team to open 2020 didn't get off to a good start, losing 31-14 to Louisiana. They gave up 2 return touchdowns, so they'll need to fix their special teams.
The 2019 Iowa State offense set several program records, including total offense and points. QB Brock Purdy threw for almost 4000 yards and 27 TDs. Although Purdy wasn't great in the season opener, I expect him to turn it around. He does lose 2 of his top receivers and will be relying on Tarique Milton and Sean Shaw in the passing game. They also bring back 2 great players in Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar at the tight end position. Both players are big and athletic and can be advantages in the passing game. The offensive line returns 3 starters, but will have an entirely new right side. RB Breece Hall picked up where he left off, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The defense may have been what held them back in 2019, but it has been one of the conference's best since Campbell got there. They lose DT Ray Lima and LB Marcel Spears form the 2019 unit, but have 10 players returning with starting experience. The secondary is the strongest part of this unit with 5 key players all returning. DB Greg Eisworth is the leader of the group with JaQuan Bailey leading the d-line. They have the players to be good, now can they do it?
The Cyclones will look to get back on track against TCU on September 26 before entering a showdown with Oklahoma.
Players opting out: none reported
Kansas is, by every notion of the term, a basketball school. Very rarely does anyone in the football community see them as a contender. 2009 is really the only season that comes to mind. Now under the guidance of former LSU coach Les Miles, the Jayhawks are looking to establish the foundations of a program. It won't be easy, but an improved offense showed signs of some life last year.
That offense I just mentioned finished the season with its best performance since 2009. QB Carter Stanley and running backs Khalil Herbert and Pooka Williams led the way. Unfortunately, Williams is the only one of those players returning. He's a tremendous back and should be considered one of the best in the nation. Junior Miles Kendrick started at QB in their opener, but they played 3 different QBs in the game. Whoever takes that position will have plenty to work with as the team returns all 3 of its top receivers from 2019 (Andrew Parchment, Kwamie Lassiter II, and Stephon Robinson). The offensive line will be replacing 3 starters, including OT Hakeem Adeniji.
The Jayhawks defense has a long way to go. They lose their two best players in Bryce Torneden and Azur Kamara. LB Dru Prox, one of just 2 returning starters, led the team in tackles in the season opener. The unit is young and will see many players making their collegiate debuts.
The Jayhawks were defeated by the Sun Belt's Coastal Carolina in their opener. The Jayhawks out gained the Chanticleers, but lost the turnover and time of possession battles.
Players opting out: OL Antione Frazier
Kansas State Wildcats
Former North Dakota State boss Chris Klieman had a good debut season in Manhattan. After winning several national championships in the FCS, he guided a team no one thought would do anything to a respectable 8-5 record. They even upset Oklahoma. Klieman has a foundation to work with as he continues his career in the FBS.
The offense loses top rusher James Gilbert and Top receiver Dalton Schoen. QB Skylar Thompson returns after throwing for 2315 yards and 12 touchdowns, while being the team's second leading rusher. He needs to get better as a passer, but he's a good athlete. The team seems to lean on running the ball with 29 rushing touchdowns spread across several backs. Malik Knowles leads a passing game that will be looking for improvement, and he looked the part on Saturday.
The defense is full of upperclassmen led by LB Elijah Sullivan and DE Wyatt Hubert. Defensive Back AJ Parker is also back after earning honorable mention All- Big12 last season. They also pick up Kiondre Thomas, a grad transfer with starting experience from Minnesota, who should help the secondary. The defense will need to be better as 2020 goes on. Arkansas State seemed to be able to get anything they wanted.
The Wildcats lost their opener to Arkansas State. The offense looked capable, but, as I said, the defense was not good enough. Arkansas State's WRs ripped them apart.
Players opting out: S Jonathan Alexander
The defending conference champs are ready to reload and contend once again. If you thought they would fall off when Bob Stoops stepped down, this is your worst nightmare. The Sooners have become an offensive machine under Lincoln Riley, and that doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon. They have a chance to claim their 6th straight big 12 title.
The offense has been one of the best in the nation, combining dual-threat, gun-slinging quarterbacks, big, fast, running backs, and incredible receivers with an almost perfect offensive line. They just seem to churn out big time players. This year may pose a bit of a test in conference play. They lose RBs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, leaving Rhammondre Stevenson as the main back. they also break in a new Qb. Spencer Rattler had a good opener against Missouri State, but did anyone actually expect that to be a good test? The real test will come against Big 12 opponents. WR Charleston Rambo steps into the number one role and will be complemented by UCLA transfer Theo Howard and former star recruit Trejan Bridges. The offensive line returns 3 starters, including future 1st round draft pick Creed Humphrey.
The defense has long been the downfall of the Sooners in the playoff games. They hired Alex Grinch as defensive coordinator last season, and, while it still wasn't good enough, the team made noticeable strides. Unfortunately, star LB Kenneth Murray and DT Neville Gallimore are both in the NFL, and they lose 2 defensive backs. However, they bring back 12 key defensive players that they can continue to build on like Laron Stokes and Ronnie Perkins on the defensive line and Caleb Kelly at linebacker.
The Sooners blew out Missouri State in the opener. They'll start conference play next week with Kansas State, before taking on Iowa State.
Players opting out: RB Kennedy Brooks, DL Jalen Redmond
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mike Gundy has quietly built one of the best, and most consistent programs in Stillwater. They always have a talented offense and an underrated defense. Last year's 8-5 was a down year by their standards, but they have the pieces to be better this season.
Chuba Hubbard is the best running back in the country and should have gone to the NFL. If he is on the field, it's a major advantage for the Cowboys. Even if they don't have Hubbard, L.D. Brown is a great back up option. Quarterback Spencer Sanders returns after an impressive debut season. 4 top receivers, including Tylan Wallace and Landon Wolf, and tight end Jelani Woods all return, giving them an explosive passing game. They also add even more fire power with LSU transfer Dee Anderson. The offensive line has Marcus Keyes and West Virginia transfer Josh Sills.
This defense is always underrated and will be good again this year, since they don't lose anyone. DEs Brock Martin and Tyler Lacy will lead the defensive line. Safeties Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling form one of the nation's best tandems and will be joined by Rodarius Williams at corner. The real strength is at linebacker. With plenty of experience, I expect big years out of Malcolm Rodriguez, Calvin Bundage, and AMen Ogbongbemiga. They all bring different skills to the table, which is what makes them mesh so well.
The Cowboys opener against Tulsa was postponed from September 12 to September 19. We'll get to seem them in action next weekend.
Players opting out: none reported
TCU Horned Frogs
TCU rose from Group of Five team to Power 5 conference contender quickly under Gary Patterson. The second longest tenured FBS coach has become the schools all-time wins leader while leading the team to eleven 10 win seasons. The past couple of seasons have been down years in Fort Worth, but they need to bounce back eventually.
The offense has some good concepts under Sonny Cumbie, who knows the Big 12 well. They constantly have speedy threats all of over the field. This year they lose RBs Darius Anderson, Sewo Olonilua, and WR Jalen Reagor, who were all huge parts of the offense. Quarterback Max Duggan returns, hoping to show more growth. He has promise, but there is much work to be done. WR Taye Barber is the team's lead returning receiver. He'll be joined by Te'Vailance Hunt and speedy Nebraska transfer JD Spielman, among others. All-Conference TE Pro Wells also returns after leading the team in touchdown catches. The Frogs got a big recruiting win with the addition of 5-star RB Zach Evans, who may help day one. The offensive line play will be a huge key because they will be replacing 4 of 5 starters.
Also a very underrated defense, probably because they don't really preform in primetime and play so many good offenses. LB Garrett Wallow is the leader. He's a versatile guy in the middle of the defense with veyr good coverage skills. Safeties Ar'Darius Washington and Trevon Moehrig form another one of the nations best secondary tandems. They'll have to make up for the loss of Jeff Gladney. DT Corey Bethley will do his best to help replace Ross Blacklock and Shameik Blackshear on the d-line.
TCU's opener against SMU was postponed. They're currently scheduled to open on September 26 against Iowa State.
Players opting out: none reported
Big things were expected after QB Sam Ehlinger declared the Longhorns "baaaack!" while celebrating a New Years' Six bowl win. However, the season finished 8-5 with a 5-4 conference record. They had some close losses, but it wasn't what they wanted. Tom Herman has revived the program with 3 straight winning seasons, en route to winning the most games by a coach in his first 3 seasons. Now, he has to get more out of them.
Ehlinger returns at QB. While slightly undersized, he has a solid arm and provides good dual-threat ability while understanding the game. With pressure mounting, he loses 3 of his top receivers. Brennan Eagles now becomes the go to target with Michigan transfer Tarik Black. Lead rusher Keontay Ingram also returns but will be running behind an offensive line that loses 3 starters. Still there is a lot to like about this unit that had the fewest turnovers in the Big 12.
The defense loses key players at every level. DL Malcolm Roach was a stout presence up front, often making big plays. Brandon Jones was one of the leaders in the secondary and will be hard to replace. Luckily, they have a deep secondary with safeties BJ Foster (who quit, but is back now) and Caden Sterns. Sterns was 2018's Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and should provide a big boost. The team will also be without LB Jeffrey McCulloch, who played in 46 games over 4 years. Joseph Ossai looks like their next star linebacker.
The Longhorns thumped UTEP in the opener and play Texas Tech on September 26.
Players opting out: DL Marquez Bimage, OL Willie Tyler, RB Daniel Young
Texas Tech Red Raiders
It was a tough year for former Utah State head coach Matt Wells in his first year in Lubbock. The Red Raiders finished 4-8 with just 2 Big 12 wins. It was the first year without Kliff Kingsbury, and it showed in the scores. Wells will try to get them better this year, but a close call against Houston Baptist was not a good sign.
The strength of this offense is the wide receiver unit. They return TJ Vasher, McLane Mannix, Seth Collins, and Erik Ezukanma. Vasher is a potential start yet to reach that point, and Ezukama was the first freshman to lead the team in receiving since Michael Crabtree. Sarodorick Thompson, who was another promising freshman, is also back after leading the team in rushing. The return of QB Alan Bowman gives them a strong group of skill players, but they will be replacing 3 starters up front.
I expect the defense to struggle after losing several big time players. Star linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen are both in the pros, as is DT Broderick Washington. They also lose starting DB Douglas Coleman. Riko Jeffers returns to the linebacker corps and will hope to see transfers Colin Schooler and Brandon Bouyer-Randle form a solid unit. Pass rusher Eli Howard is now the go-to defensive lineman. He's a good player but excels more on the edge, whereas Washington played in the interior. The secondary brings back Zech McPherson and adds LSU transfer Eric Monroe, who saw substantial playing time for the national champs. With 5 starters back, they should eventually work things out, but Houston Baptist gave them a good scare.
The Red Raiders held on for a 2 point win over Houston Baptist, an FCS school. They have 2 weeks to prepare for the Texas Longhorns, which may not be enough.
Players opting out: DB Dequanteous Watts
West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers went 5-7 under first year coach Neal Brown. 2020 got off to a rocky start as Brown had to suspend 11 players from the opener. They handled Eastern Kentucky, but it doesn't look like a great recipe for success. We'll see how it all plays out.
The offense loses OL Colton McKivitz and running backs Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McCoy. Leddie Brown looks just fine taking over the RB duties, rushing for 123 yards and 2 TDs in the opener on just 10 carries. Junior Alec Sinkfield added a similar performance. Eastern Kentucky doesn't have a Power 5 caliber defense, but it was good to see Jarrett Diege beat out incumbent starter Austin Kendall for the quarterback spot. His performance in the opener solidified that even more. The wide receivers struggled a bit last year. They spread the ball around in the opener, and Seth James looks like the returning number one.
The defense suffers big losses in the secondary, Kenny Robinson and Keith Washington in particular. The Front seven looks like a strength, led by Darius and Dante Stills at defensive tackle and Dylan Tonkey at linebacker. Arizona transfer LB Tony Fields was the team's leading tackler in game one. It's a suspect unit and ay be vulnerable to Big 12 passing attacks.
The Mountaineers cruised past Eastern Kentucky and will look to challenge Oklahoma State next.
Players opting out: S Kerry Martin
Best Games Remaining
Oklahoma @ Iowa State, 10/3
This is Iowa State's first real chance to establish themselves as Big 12 contenders. I know they lost to Louisiana, but they still have a chance to figure it out in conference play. Oklahoma's offense will be a huge advantage. The Cyclones will only have a chance if their offense can keep pace.
Texas @ Oklahoma, 10/10
The Red River Rivalry is once again an influential game in the Big 12 title chase. Both teams are expected to compete, and the game is always a good one anyway. It''ll likely be Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler's first ranked opponent and could be a matchup of top 10 teams. The winner probably becomes the conference favorite.
Iowa State @ Oklahoma State, 10/24
This will be a big one if Iowa State gets back in the hunt. By then, it'll be a must win and basically an elimination game for both teams. The loser falls behind in the race with not much season remaining. Iowa State will have to find its offensive rhythm by the time this game comes up, or it'll be a big win for the Cowboys.
Texas @ Oklahoma State, 10/31
I expect both these teams to still be at least hanging around in the title chase at this point. It's another game that could be a top 10 matchup and should have plenty of fireworks on display. I'm tempted to lean toward the Cowboys because of their defense, but this will come down to the wire.
Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma, 11/21
Bedlam is another classic Big 12 rivalry that figures to factor into the championship picture. Both teams could be in the top 10 and have outstanding offenses. The defense that plays best will come out on top and could be in the driver's seat.
Iowa State @ Texas, 11/27
This game will either be huge or meaningless. By the time it rolls around, both teams could have either played their way back into the race or fallen completely out of it. It's the second to last game of the season for both teams, so their other performances will decide where this one goes.