Big 12 football preview: 5 biggest storylines and questions entering 2019

The biggest Big 12 football questions and storylines entering camp, including Jalen Hurts fitting in at Oklahoma and if Texas can win the conference.

The Big 12 is set up for another intriguing year of college football. Some similar faces return, but the conference acquired big names on the field and on the sidelines, including a former title-winning coach.

The conference was represented by Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year in 2018. Can another team rise to stake their claim across the FBS? Along with that, there are questions to answer as another exciting season of college football nears for this group of teams.

5. Les Miles debuts in the Big 12

Les Miles is back in college football; not as the head coach of an SEC team, but Kansas, one of the worst programs in major college football.

This is a big name, and that is all the Jayhawks can hope for when luring recruits, like Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and other conference schools have superior situations than this cellar-dwelling school.

Miles is also in charge of a long-term project. How long he oversees it remains unclear, given he will turn 66 years old during the upcoming season. It will take longer than just these next four months, and Kansas may never rise out of last place in the Big 12. It is intriguing, nonetheless, to see what kind of impact he makes after several years out of coaching.

4. What can Baylor do in Matt Rhule’s third year?

A six-win jump from head coach Matt Rhule’s first year at Baylor was impressive, on paper, and his team moved into the middle of the Big 12 pack. However, their wins came against UTSA, Abilene Christian, Kansas, a subpar Kansas State team, an Oklahoma State squad that played below expectations, Texas Tech without Alan Bowman and the 6-7 Vanderbilt Commodores.

Sure, there is reason for optimism. Quarterback Charlie Brewer is talented, and if he takes a step forward, so can the Bears. Him, offensive line protection and if that defense can stop anyone would do them wonders, especially after losing to all four of their ranked opponents last season.

Staying in the middle of the pack is realistic, but with conference questions beyond Oklahoma and Texas, maybe Rhule’s team surprises.

3. Life after Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is gone after a handful of disappointing seasons. His offenses were always electric, and it created NFL superstar, Patrick Mahomes. The defenses failed to stop anyone from any conference, though, and consistent late-season collapses deterred Texas Tech for most of his tenure.

Matt Wells is in charge now, and he brings an offense that caused quarterback Jordan Love’s rise at Utah State. This time around, Wells has a healthy Alan Bowman, who played well to open 2018 but dealt with ailments down the stretch.

This is not an overnight fix to take the Red Raiders to the top of the Big 12 — if that is even feasible — but if Bowman can play all 12 regular-season games and make a bowl appearance, maybe Texas Tech makes some noise.

2. Can Texas unseat Oklahoma as Big 12 champions?

Texas found its best season since Mack Brown’s departure, with Tom Herman taking this program to a Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, the Big 12 Championship Game and a bowl win over Georgia. It provided life for an otherwise floundering football team of the previous eight years.

Now, the Longhorns have to follow it up, and they have quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who ran away with the job as a sophomore, to learn on. He played like one of the nation’s best signal-callers, and if he finds improvement as a junior, this Texas offense could be even more entertaining.

The defense is a problem, as with nearly every other Big 12 team. If this unit even plays average, compared to the subpar groups elsewhere, Texas should be a lock for the Big 12 Championship Game. Aspirations will go further, though, with the College Football Playoff a realistic goal.

1. Is Jalen Hurts Oklahoma’s next quarterback juggernaut?

Out goes Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield. Out goes Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray. Almost any school would have a difficult time replacing the holder of college football’s most prestigious award, let alone multiple. Oklahoma did that, however, by taking Jalen Hurts off the transfer market.

Mayfield and Murray were dynamic. Hurts, while a title winner, never broke out as a proficient, 3,000-yard passer at Alabama. Head coach Lincoln Riley worked his magic twice, and he may have his biggest project yet in the senior quarterback.

If Hurts plays within range of what his predecessors did, competing for the Heisman Trophy will be within range. If not, which is probably the case due to Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, he will settle in just fine as the next player to take the Sooners to a conference championship or playoff game.