The Big 12 college football slate is almost ready to start, but can anyone take down Oklahoma this time around?
The college football season kicked off for 2019, and the Big 12 will be in the mix for not only top-tier bowl games but a College Football Playoff berth.
Oklahoma is still the team to beat, even without Kyler Murray’. They have challengers, however, that can make this season a little more difficult, beginning and ending with Texas.
Big 12 power rankings
Les Miles is the new face on campus. Leading the way as one of the nation’s highest-profile hires of the offseason, his presence will lead to increased expectations — down the line. There is still an uphill battle to recruit players away from the Big 12’s elite and even separating from Kansas State.
While Miles attempts this, he will encounter a rigorous first season. The Jayhawks are not expected to do much, and they could fall to the bottom of the conference for yet another year.
Not far ahead of Kansas is their in-state foe, Kansas State. Without Bill Snyder, the program is moving in a fresh direction, with Chris Klieman taking over last winter. He has the project of rebuilding a program stuck in the bottom half of the conference, following a disappointing season in 2018.
A quick start is necessary for the Wildcats’ bowl game hopes, which are hardly guaranteed. Big 12 play could cost them this, with a number of teams standing above that will be too much to overcome.
Texas Tech fired Kliff Kingsbury after multiple, uninspiring seasons, so a new look is in place, but with tempered expectations, especially with a fresh system and questions across the board. Defense is always troublesome, but Alan Bowman projects to start at quarterback.
Before falling to injuries, Bowman impressed in his first go-around as the main signal caller. Pending full health, he can make the Red Raiders interesting, especially with a good start to the season in nonconference play. Still, it will be an accomplishment for this team to win six games and claim a bowl spot.
Perhaps too low, West Virginia underwent a facelift overnight, with quarterback Will Grier to the NFL and head coach Dana Holgersen leaving for Houston. Other skill-position players departed, as well, leaving the Mountaineers with questions across the board entering the season.
What new head coach Neil Brown accomplishes will be interesting, as this program’s play was kept afloat, with seven winning records in the past eight seasons. A slow first year, in transition, is expected, but how far down the Big 12 ladder will WVU fall?
Matt Rhule has the Bears on the rise, after improving from a horrendous first year in 2017. Granted, most of the program’s wins happened against inferior opponents, but there are reasons for upside in Waco, TX, including quarterback Charlie Brewer.
Taking the offense another step forward can make Baylor an intriguing team. Perhaps they shock one of the Big 12’s upper-echelon teams, too, and maneuver into the bowl game conversation with more-than-usual ease.
Oklahoma State is still transitioning from losing its stellar 2017 class on offense, but quarterback Taylor Cornelius returns for his second year starting, which provides some stability. He may not lead this team to its past heights atop the Big 12, although the Cowboys should fall in the top half of the conference.
Facing Texas in their first Big 12 matchup of the season is almost as tough as it gets, so Mike Gundy’s squad will face a test immediately.
TCU is always a wonder defensively under head coach Gary Patterson. Offense is sometimes in question, contributing to seasons like the disappointing 2018 campaign, but they had 11 wins the year prior and have the talent to approach double-digit wins again.
Quarterback play will drive this team, with Patterson waiting until the summer’s final moments to name a starter. This soon before the season opener could be strategical, but also mean the starter has a short leash for dissatisfactory play.
Iowa State is no longer a Big 12 surprise, but a team with expectations to win more than six games and challenge the conference’s best. They rose with quarterback Brock Purdy, who will continue to turn heads in a full year as the starter. His success could drive the Cyclones to a superior bowl game and place them just behind the blue bloods.
Head coach Tom Herman did part of what he was expected to do upon arrival at Austin: defeat Oklahoma, challenge for the Big 12 Championship and win a New Year’s Six bowl game. Of course, that will never be enough for the prestigious Longhorns program, as winning the Big 12 is next, along with finding a way to make the College Football Playoff.
At this point, the conference title game is the simpler expectation, but running through the nine teams, including the Sooners, may place Texas in contending territory.
Oklahoma will always have defensive questions, but they enter the year with yet another new quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who transferred from Alabama. His style differs from the electric Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, without the dynamic performances to lead one of the nation’s top offenses, at least with the Crimson Tide.
If head coach Lincoln Riley works his magic, Hurts will be a Heisman Trophy contender and the Sooners will eye another CFP spot. They are not the sure thing of recent seasons, but this is still a talented team and the one to beat.