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Team Previews

Big 12 Preview

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: September 10, 2020, 3:10 am ET

Welcome to Rotoworld's annual conference-by-conference preview of the upcoming college football season. We've never quite had an offseason like this one, as the coronavirus has not only prevented teams from going through normal spring practices and the like, it could well end up wreaking havoc on the season itself. But that remains to be seen.

In these team previews, we'll touch on the ramifications of the pandemic (relating specifically to depth charts) when needed, but by-and-large, we'll be approaching these capsules as though (fingers crossed) there will actually be a season in the fall. If there are any crucial COVID-19 updates pertaining to individual teams or conferences, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop as we go. 

Note: The projected win-loss records reflect the new schedules put in place.


Projected Big 12 Standings

Team

Record

Oklahoma

9-1 (8-1 in conference)

Oklahoma State

8-2 (7-2 in conference)

Texas

8-2 (7-2 in conference)

Iowa State

7-3 (6-3 in conference)

Baylor

6-4 (5-4 in conference)

TCU

5-5 (4-5 in conference)

Kansas State

4-6 (3-6 in conference)

Texas Tech

3-7 (2-7 in conference)

West Virginia

3-7 (2-7 in conference)

Kansas

2-8 (1-8 in conference)

 


Oklahoma Sooners

2019 record: 12-2

NFL Draft prospect to watch: C Creed Humphrey

The case for: Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 as of late. Despite taking some considerable losses -- and it’s worth noting that this has been a recurring theme as well -- they stand to do so again in 2020. 

We’ll get into the losses Oklahoma took in terms of the skill positions, but one thing that will help manage those losses is the fact that the Sooners return a quality offensive line. Creed Humphrey has a chance to be the first interior offensive lineman off the board and might be an All-American this season. Adrian Ealy should compete for Big 12 honors as well, and starters Tyrese Robinson and Marquis Hayes are also back. Erik Swenson is the “question” mark at left tackle, but he or R.J. Proctor should make this the best offensive line in the conference

They’ll be in charge of protecting Spencer Rattler at quarterback, and while Oklahoma will -- again -- be breaking in a new signal-caller for the 2020 season, there’s a lot to like here. For one thing, this was the top prospect at the position according to many recruiting analysts in the 2019 class, and for another, Ryan Day’s offense seems to make the transition easy -- not to take anything away from the talent of the previous QBs. 

Oklahoma lost a star wideout in CeeDee Lamb, but should be just fine in terms of pass-catchers. Charleston Rambo appears ready to take the reigns as the new top target after going for 743 yards and five scores on 43 catches last season. The Sooners also brought in several quality wideouts over the last couple of seasons, and while the status of Jadon Haselwood, Theo Howard (injuries) and Trejan Bridges (suspension) is up in the air, players like Theo Wease, Marshall transfer Obi Obialo along with talented tight end Austin Stogner should make this more strength than weakness.

The case against: While Rattler should be just fine under center, it’s worth pointing out that this is a quarterback who has attempted a total of 11 passes in his college football career. The pedigree and track record of Day suggests he’ll be fine, but again, you need to see it happen before you call it a lock.  

And then there’s some questions about how well Oklahoma will be able to run the football, as well. Again, the assumption is with this offensive line and the recruiting cycles that they should be fine in this regard, too, but Kennedy Brooks opted out, Trey Sermon transferred to Ohio State, and Rhamondre Stevenson appears to still be suspended. Seth McGowen was a borderline five-star prospect in some recruiting analysts’ eyes and T.J. Pledger along with Marcus Major should be able to step in, but again, not much experience here.

And, as has been the case for the last few years, the biggest question mark remains the defense. Oklahoma allowed 27.3 points per game last year -- 64th in the country -- and not only lost first-rounder Kenneth Murray, but the 6.5 sacks of Jalen Redmond are no longer on the roster, as well. Oh, and Ronnie Perkins -- arguably the most talented defensive player on the roster -- is suspended; likely for the first five games. The secondary has talents like Bookie Radley-Hiles and Pat Fields, but this still seems like a below-average unit; especially for a team with playoff aspirations.

Oklahoma is the best team in the Big 12, but it seems unlikely they have the talent in 2020 to compete against the Clemsons, Alabamas or Ohio States. 

Vegas over/under win total: 8.5

Prediction: OVER


Oklahoma State Cowboys

2019 record: 8-5

NFL Draft prospect to watch: RB Chuba Hubbard 

The case for: Oklahoma State was in the news quite a bit this offseason, and most of it for reasons that we wouldn’t call positive. Having said that, Mike Gundy brings back a talented roster in 2020 -- one that just might challenge for the Big 12 title in 2020. 

In a somewhat surprising move, Hubbard decided to return to Stillwater, and he just might be the best running back in the country. In 2019, the redshirt junior ran for 2,094 yards, scored 21 touchdowns and added 23 catches for 198 yards for good measure. He’ll get to run behind two of the better offensive lineman in the conference in Teven Jenkins and Josh Sills, and it’s not like he needs a lot of room, anyway. 

Hubbard and the run game are the strength of the offense, but this passing game should be ok, too. Spencer Sanders was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, and he’s a dual-threat that should make plays with his arm and legs this fall. There are plenty of quality targets for him to throw to, but the best of these is Tylan Wallace, and it’s a little ridiculous that we haven’t talked about him yet. Even though an ACL injury limited him to just nine games, he was still able to catch 53 passes for 903 yards and eight scores, and in his sophomore season, he went off for 86-1,491-12. The rest of the corps is solid, as well, and keep an eye on late transfer Dontaveon Martin; who already has been approved for a waiver.

The case against:  Sanders is an intriguing signal-caller who should be better in his sophomore campaign, but there are things that will need to be better in 2020. He turned the ball over 11 times with interceptions, and his 62.8 completion percentage -- particularly considering the options he had to get the football to -- is a bit on the low side. Again, we expect quality things, but there are things that need to be cleaned up.

Defensively, Oklahoma State was improved in 2020, but they’ll need to take another step up if they are going to unseat the Sooners. They were a smidgen better than Oklahoma in terms of points allowed in 2019 (61st compared to 64th), but they lost productive corner A.J. Green, and with all do respect to stalwarts like Kolby Harvell-Peel and Amen Ogbongbemiga, the talent on that side of the football pales in comparison to the offensive side. No one outside of Ogbongbemiga was able to procure more than 3.5 sacks (he had five to lead the team), and that will have to be better in 2020. 

Oklahoma State is just as talented as any club in this conference. Whether they can win the conference will depend on how well Sanders plays and if the defense can get to the quarterback this fall. 

Vegas over/under win total: 7

Prediction: OVER


Texas Longhorns

2019 record: 8-5

NFL Draft prospect to watch: T Sam Cosmi

The case for: Put simply, Texas was a disappointment in 2019. A team that many projected would be a Top 10 team last fall struggled to a 7-5 record before winning the Alamo Bowl against Utah to close out the campaign. That was an impressive showing -- a 38-10 drubbing -- but ending the year with a win in the Alamo Bowl was not what the Longhorns would have signed up for. 

While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State lack experience at quarterback, Texas does not. Sam Ehlinger is likely the conference’s best, and he’s a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. The dual-threat QB ran for 663 yards and seven scores, and he threw for 32 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in 454 attempts. He wasn’t flawless in 2019, but it’s hard to put Texas’s relative struggles on his right arm. 

Running the football shouldn’t be a problem for the Longhorns, either, and not just because of the fact that Ehlinger can scoot along with a potential first-round selection at tackle in Cosmi. Keontay Ingram should be the top tailback after scoring 10 touchdowns and rushing for 1,095 yards, but Roschon Johnson is right behind after picking up 807 yards and eight scores himself. The Longhorns did lose Daniel Young after he decided to opt-out, but tailback depth shouldn’t be a problem in Austin.

There are question marks that we’ll get into on the back end of this defense, but the defensive line should be just fine. Joseph Ossai had 13.5 tackles for loss and picked up five sacks and was arguably the best player on the field in that Alamo Bowl win. Keondre Coburn and Ta’quan Graham are stout against the run, and Marqez Bimage has flashes and should start at the other end. This should be the best defensive line in the conference, and maybe one of the best in the entire country. 

The case against: Ehlinger is a quality college football player, but we do have some questions about this Texas passing game. Mainly, who is he going to be throwing the football to? Devin Duvernay and Colin Johnson -- when Johnson was healthy -- were excellent, and both are no longer able to wear burnt orange and white. The names to watch here are Tarik Black, who transferred into Texas from Michigan after an injury-riddled career and Brennan Eagles along with Jake Smith and converted running back Jordan Whittington, but the production here is pretty lackluster. 

And as promised, the backend of this defense could be problematic. The linebackers are inexperienced, unproductive or a combination of both, and there are unanswered questions at the cornerback position, as well. Safety should be fine with Caden Sterns B.J. Foster, but this does not project to be an elite unit, nor close.

This is a solid football team with the experienced quarterback you want, but there are just enough question marks around the defensive side of the football to make it hard to believe Texas can win the Big 12 in 2020. Doesn’t mean they can’t have a solid year, but that should be the ultimate goal in Austin, and they likely come up short. 

Vegas over/under win total: 7.5

Prediction: OVER


Iowa State Cyclones

2019 record: 7-6

NFL Draft prospect to watch: QB Brock Purdy

The case for: Texas saw it’s season end on a positive note with their bowl win. Iowa State, well, didn’t. A 33-0 blowout loss to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl put a damper on the 2019 campaign, but there’s still plenty of reason for optimism in Ames. 

If Ehlinger isn’t the best returning quarterback in the conference, it’s Purdy. In his first full season as the starter, he threw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns against nine interceptions, and he made plays in the red zone with eight rushing scores. Matt Campbell and his staff put a lot on Purdy’s plate, and for the most part, he handled it without issue. Johnnie Lang and Kene Nwangwu give Iowa State some depth, as well, but this is clearly Hall’s backfield. 

Expect the Cyclones to throw the ball a lot in 2019, but the run-game should be a strength for ISU in 2020, as well. Breece Hall was able to average 4.8 yards per carry while scoring nine touchdowns and rushing for 897 yards, and he also added 23 catches for 252 yards for good measure. 

And while there are some question marks about the playmakers on the outside, the tight end group is one of the best in the country. Charlie Kolar caught 55 passes for 676 yards with seven scores, and he should be the go-to target in the passing game. Chase Allen would start for most clubs and added 17 receptions himself, and Dylan Soehner gives Iowa State a quality third member and three on the end who can help as blockers, as well. Kolar is the star, but Allen and Soehner are unheralded parts of this offense. 

The case against: Iowa State has been able to handle the middle and bottom of the conference just fine as of late. Can they finally break through and top the better clubs in the Big 12? Finally is probably too strong of a word, but outside of a win over (at the time) 22nd ranked Texas, the Cyclones were not able to defeat a ranked team. Of course, they lost by a point to Iowa, two points to Baylor and came up short in a 42-41 shootout with Oklahoma, so they’re close. But close only goes so far. 

While Iowa State’s offense appears to be in good hands, there are some issues that could prevent it from reaching its ceiling. Four starters with 146 starts worth of experience graduated, and they weren’t able to build cohesion over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trevor Downing is a name to watch and there are some other young talents, but that’s asking a lot.

The Cyclones' defense has been mediocre over the last few years, and there are a couple of big names to replace. Marcel Spears was the team’s best playmaker at linebacker, and Ray Lima plugged the run at nose tackle over the last three years. They do bring back JaQuan Bailey as a pass-rusher and Greg Eisworth II should be one of the better safeties in the conference, but this is likely a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2020. 

Vegas win total over/under: 6.5

Prediction: Over


Baylor Bears

2019 record: 11-3

NFL Draft prospect to watch: WR Tyquan Thornton 

The case for: Baylor was one of the best surprises of the 2019 season, and they were a couple plays away from winning the Big 12 title and competing in the playoffs. That success saw Matt Rhule leave Waco to become the new coach of the Carolina Panthers, but they were able to replace Rhule with former LSU DC Dave Aranda, and Aranda’s experience and pedigree should make this a (relatively) smooth transition. 

We’ll get into the defensive losses that Baylor absorbed from the best unit in the Big 12, but the linebackers should be among the strengths of this team. Terrel Bernard is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year after picking up 112 tackles and 9.5 stops for a loss in 2019. William Bradley-King was a first-team All-Sun Belt player in 2019 for Arkansas State with 8.5 sacks, and he transferred into Baylor with immediate eligibility as a graduate. 

There’s no star at wide receiver or running back, but Baylor has as much depth as any team in this conference. Tyquan Thornton is the new go-to target with Denzel Mims off to the NFL, and he should improve on his 782 yards. Yusuf Terry impressed in the limited spring after redshirting last year, and R.J. Sneed along with Josh Fleeks should be better in 2020. At tailback, John Lovett and Tristan Ebner are solid players that will be asked to do more with JaMycal Hasty using up his eligibility. And at quarterback, Charlie Brewer is a solid -- if unspectacular -- option, and the Bears have some talented recruits behind him if there are injuries/if he falters. 

The case against: As previously mentioned, Baylor’s defense was impressive last year, giving up just 19.8 points per game (19th in the country) despite facing the loaded Big-12 offense. That unit isn’t likely to be nearly as good, as the return under 18 percent of their sacks and interceptions from that unit that led the Bears to the Sugar Bowl. This was one of the best defensive lines in America last year, but James Lynch, James Lockhart and Bravvion Roy are now on NFL rosters.

The secondary -- while helped by the pressure the defensive line created -- was also solid, but four of the five starters from the 4-2-5 group are gone. In fact, outside of Bernard and Raleigh Texada, Baylor doesn’t bring back any of its usual starters. That’s not great.

And while the offense has talent, the offensive line is going to have to be better. No team gave up more sacks in the conference than the Bears did last year, and there are new starters to break in with 46 percent of the starts off the roster. 

Baylor is on the rise, but because of the strength of the conference up top, they might take a step backward in terms of wins in 2020. 

Vegas over/under win total: 6.5

Prediction: OVER

Christopher Crawford
Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for Rotoworld. Follow him on Twitter @Crawford_MILB.