2020 Big 12 Football Preview

Football is BACK! After much deliberation, the Big 12, Southeastern Conference (SEC), and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) have decided to play football this fall. This tweet sums it up pretty well.

The Big 12 has decided to play a 10-game season: 1 non-conference game and 9 conference games. Here is a tweet that lists the full slate of non-conference games for every school in the conference. All of these non-con games will be played on September 12th.

With that said, it should be an exciting football season, should the season actually finish. I previously wrote a preview the Big 12 basketball season this past December, so now I am going to do the same thing for the Big 12 football season. Here are my thoughts on every team heading into the 2020 football season.

BAYLOR BEARS

Last season, the Bears improved greatly under third-year head coach Matt Rhule, as they finished 11-3 with their only losses being to Oklahoma twice (once in Waco and once in the Big 12 title game in Arlington, TX), and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, both of which were top 10 teams at the time they played Baylor. This year, Dave Aranda, former defensive coordinator for the reigning national champion LSU Tigers, has taken over the Bears’ program and has brought several key members of his staff at LSU with him to Waco. Baylor returns a slew of key starters on offense, including senior QB Charlie Brewer, senior RBs John Lovett and Trestan Ebner, senior WR Jared Atkinson, and junior WRs R.J. Sneed, Josh Fleeks, and Tyquan Thornton. Baylor has plenty of playmakers at the skill positions, especially if you include RBs Craig “Squirl” Williams and Qualan Jones. Baylor also has several key pieces amongst their offensive line returning, including seniors Xavier Newman and junior Connor Galvin. Aranda has already said that then OL is the biggest area for improvement before the season begins for this Bears team. As for the defense, the Bears lose most of their starters to graduation or the NFL, which means that returning LB Terrell Bernard and CB Raleigh Texada have big shoes to fill in terms of leading a defense that will start many players that didn’t start a year ago. Transfer OLB/DE William Bradley-King from Arkansas State will help solidify the DL, but one of the biggest question marks for me this season is can the Bears replicate some of their success from last year on defense. With a shorter training camp and new coaching staff, the Bears have already had several obstacles to overcome in order to get off to a strong start. The short training camp combined with losing nine starters on defense that finished as the third ranked defense in “total defense” in the conference from a season ago makes me believe Baylor will take a small step back. I believe in Aranda and his staff, but I expect the Bears to take a little bit of a regression from last season’s success.

Three notable games: vs #15 OSU (10/17), @ #14 Texas (10/24), vs TCU (10/31)

IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Iowa State remains an outside threat to make the Big 12 championship game as they still have HC Matt Campbell, who was one of the hottest names in the coaching search several seasons ago, and junior QB Brock Purdy. There is plenty of hype surrounding the Cyclone faithful in Ames as Purdy is widely considered as one of the better QBs in college football. Even though he battled injuries throughout his sophomore campaign, it was still a productive one as he averaged nearly 306 yards passing per game. Furthermore, the emergence of sophomore RB Breece Hall was a pleasant surprise amongst the Cyclone fans, as Hall took the starting RB job and ran with it, literally and physically. Iowa State only returns five starters on offense, but I believe they can still take another step forward. On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa State returns nine starters, so that is a major plus. Two of their three leading tacklers in junior LB Mike Rose and senior DB Lawrence White IV return to help solidify the defense again in 2020. The defense was a strength for the most part last season, except on third down, where they Cyclones ranked 89th while being ranked in the top 50 in almost every single other defensive category. My biggest question is if the Cyclones can vastly improve their third down defense because if they can, and their offense lives up to the potential to what it can be, it should not come as a surprise to see Iowa State in the Big 12 title game or contending for it.

Three notable games: vs #5 OU (10/3), @ #15 OSU (10/24), vs Baylor (11/7)

KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Year two under Les Miles should be an interesting ride. The Jayhawks were hoping to show a little more improvement in win column this year, which can still happen, but the elimination of a full slate of non-conference games hurts them. Regardless, there are several aspects of this football team to be excited about heading into the 2020 season. Most notably, the Jayhawks return a ton of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Senior WRs Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr., Kwamie Lassiter II, and RBs junior Pooka Williams Jr and sophomore Velton Gardner all return to form a excellent cast of weapons. The QB battle should be hotly contested, as junior Myles Kendrick, senior Thomas MacVittie, and freshman Jalon Daniels are the three frontrunners to potentially win the starting job come the first game of the season against Coastal Carolina. The Jayhawks lose some key pieces on defense, including the departure of S Bryce Torneden due to graduation, but one area to watch for this team is the improvement of sophomore LB Gavin Potter and freshman LB Steven Parker. The Jayhawks may have been bad recently, but their LB core was always decent as it was anchored by Joe Dineen. Many believe Gavin Potter has the ability to be just as good if not better than Dineen, who was easily one of the best LBs in the conference during his tenure in Lawrence. Watch for Potter and Parker to get a lot better throughout the season and have significant momentum heading into their 2021 campaigns barring major injuries. I like the direction of where Miles is taking this Kansas program, but unfortunately due to the unforeseen circumstances, I don’t think this year will do the Jayhawks many favors in terms of winning games.

Three notable games: @ KSU (10/24), vs TCU (11/28), @ TTU (12/5)

KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

K-State had an up and down first season under HC Chris Kliemann. They managed to knock off Oklahoma in Manhattan, continued their dominance over in-state rival Kansas, but also struggled in key moments, leading to an 8-5 record with a loss to Navy in their bowl game. QB Skylar Thompson returns for his senior season to help provide stability to that position on the offense, but he loses his leading WR from a year ago, Dalton Schoen, and his leading RB James Gilbert. The Wildcats will need to have sophomore WRs Joshua Youngblood and Malik Knowles, along with whoever wins the starting RB job to step up big time. The Wildcats are young and inexperienced across the board on offense, including the offensive line where they will lose four starters. Unfortunately on the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats lost their DC Scottie Hazelton to Michigan State. Thankfully, K-State has senior LBs Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes coming back to anchor the defensive side of the ball. I expect K-State’s defense to be solid, as it usually is, this next season. I do not expect K-State to contend for the Big 12 title this next season, but Chris Kleimann has built a reputation of proving people wrong, so maybe he can do it one more time. One question I have for this team is can Skylar Thompson be a consistent threat to run the ball. There were games last season, for example against Baylor, where Thompson did not run the ball very much. However when OU came into Manhattan, Thompson utilized his legs and absolutely shredded the OU defense. If Thompson can continue to run the ball effectively, K-State will be much harder to defend, giving them a better chance to win more and more game and potentially surprise some people in the conference.

Three notable games: @ #5 OU (9/26), vs #15 OSU (11/7), vs #14 UT (12/5)

OKLAHOMA SOONERS

The Oklahoma Sooners will be loaded per usual and one of, if not the favorite to win the conference yet again. HC Lincoln Riley is one of the most innovative offensive minds in all of college football, but this season will be the first time he’s had a QB from one of his own recruiting classes. Redshirt freshman QB Spencer Rattler will get the nod as the starter in Norman and is expected to do big things after he was the #1 QB and #11 player in the class of 2019. OU will miss RB Trey Sermon, who transferred to Ohio State, now that junior RB Kennedy Brooks has opted out of the season. Unfortunately for the rest of the Big 12, OU has plenty of talent at RB, and even WR, after losing Cedee Lamb to the NFL draft. Expect senior RB Rhamondre Stevenson (even though he’s dealing with a suspension) and junior RB T.J. Pledger to step up big time in expanded roles within the OU offense. Furthermore, I’m excited to see the continued development of sophomore WR Jadon Haselwood this year after he was the #1 WR and #4 overall recruit in the 2019 recruiting class. Junior WR Charleston Rambo and C Creed Humphrey are back to help provide solidarity to round out the balanced Oklahoma offense. On the defensive side of the ball, OU loses a major playmaker and leader in LB Kenneth Murray who was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers in this past year’s NFL draft, which means senior LB Caleb Kelly should take on a bigger leadership role. Look for redshirt-freshman CB Woodi Washington to help bolster the secondary that already has juniors Brendan Radley-Hiles and Tre Norwood. Given another offseason, albeit a weirder one, I expect OU’s secondary to be a strength on this defense. My biggest question for OU is to see if they can get consistent play from their secondary because they have been susceptible to big play WRs in recent years (see Jerry Jeudy/Henry Ruggs in 2018 Orange Bowl and Justin Jefferson/Ja’Marr Chase in 2019 Peach Bowl). If OU’s secondary plays at a high level consistently, I believe they have a great chance to win the conference again and potentially compete for a national championship.

Three notable games: @ #23 ISU (10/3), vs #14 UT* (10/10), vs #15 OSU (11/21)

*Game is in Dallas

OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Oklahoma State has plenty of talent returning. There is no debating that. They will likely start next season ranked #15 and a popular pick to challenge the Sooners for the conference crown. OSU has a talented WR core highlighted by seniors Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner. Junior RB Chuba Hubbard is one of the premier running backs in America and will almost certainly be in the race for the Heisman trophy this next season. In addition, 4/5 projected starters along OSU’s offensive line will be seniors or graduate transfers. All this means that sophomore QB Spencer Sanders will have plenty of weapons to distribute the ball to and should have trust in the experienced offensive line protecting him. To go along with a potent offense, the Cowboys have eight of their top ten tacklers from a season ago returning. This means that Oklahoma State’s defense is a veteran group that should be one of the more experienced units in all of the Big 12. Senior LBs Malcolm Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga need to expand their leadership roles on the defense in order for them to be successful as a unit. However, the defensive unit allowed 26.8 points per game a season ago as well as around 413 yards per game from opposing offenses and were also middle of the pack in terms of sacks last season among all Big 12 teams, finishing with 28. The Cowboys also finished seventh in the conference in total defense. They were not by any means a great defense last year, but with many of their starters returning, I expect the Cowboys to improve in a big way on defense this upcoming season. My biggest question surrounding this team though is can Spencer Sanders play effectively and take the next step forward in his development as a QB. If so, the Cowboys can be a legitimate threat to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 title race this fall.

Three notable games: @ Baylor (10/17), vs #14 UT (10/31), @ #5 OU (11/21)

TEXAS LONGHORNS

Is Texas finally back? We seem to ask this question every year and every year we seem to see guys like Fox Sport’s Joel Klatt claim that this year is Texas’ year. Senior QB Sam Ehlinger is already established as one of the better QBs in the conference and has proven he can step up to the challenge against big time opponents (see his 2018 games against OU and Georgia). The Longhorns will also have plenty of talent at WR to surround Ehlinger with in sophomores Joshua Moore and Jake Smith as well as junior Brennan Eagles. Even with the loss of Collin Johnson, the Texas WRs should be very talented. Junior Keaontay Ingram returns as the lead RB behind a Texas offensive line that is fairly experienced offensive line, especially with junior Samuel Cosmi, who is arguably one of the best offensive linemen in all of college football. All in all, the Texas offense is talented and should be potent. Opposite the offense, junior DBs Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster, and D’Shawn Jameison along with redshirt sophomore DL Moro Ojomo and Keondre Coburn should anchor what I expect to be an above average Texas defense. All of these guys were in Texas’ 2018 recruiting class, meaning they’ve played together their entire collegiate careers. In their first two seasons as a unit, they have played in a ton of big time games, meaning they have had tons of experience against great teams, so Texas definitely has an experience advantage on defense. The only problem is that they were eighth in total team defense among Big 12 teams from a year ago, so clearly there is room for improvement. Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash, the former head coach at Rutgers, has a tall task in front of him in terms of turning around this defense. My biggest question is can Texas consistently get stops and get off the field on third down. If they can, this team will be a force to be reckoned with and a team that could challenge the Sooners for the Big 12 crown, though I do not expect Texas to win the conference.

Three notable games: vs #5 OU* (10/10), @ #15 OSU (10/31), @ KSU (12/5)

*Game is in Dallas

TEXAS CHRISTIAN HORNED FROGS

TCU might experience some growing pains this upcoming season. The Frogs already have to replace the production left behind from standout WR Jalen Reagor, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, and RB Darius Anderson, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.These losses combined with the recent news that sophomore QB Max Duggan will likely not play this season due to a heart condition is tragic for Horned Frogs fans. Duggan was an excellent runner and set records for freshman at TCU in passing yards and TDs. Luckily, the Frogs still have an amazing head coach in Gary Patterson who has proved doubters wrong his entire career. Patterson has been working extensively with Georgia transfer QB Matthew Downing to take over for Duggan should Duggan not play this season. Junior WRs Taye Barber and Te’Valience Hunt are back, which should help ease Downing into the TCU offense, but the Frog’s projected starting RB, redshirt freshman Darwin Barlow, only had 22 carries all of last season. Barlow has some big shoes to fill and needs to step up if the Frog’s offense is to do anything this year, especially since the threat of Duggan running is not on the table. TCU also hired back offensive coordinator Doug Meacham from Kansas. Meacham will bring back air-raid concepts that Frog fans were accustomed to seeing back in the Trevone Boykin days of the program. As for the defense, TCU was the best total defense in the Big 12 last season. Granted, they played two less games than other teams like Baylor and Oklahoma, but TCU did give up the least amount of yards among all Big 12 teams last year, which is on-brand for a Gary Patterson coached team. Their top two tacklers in senior LB Garrett Wallow and junior S Trevon Moehrig are returning to help solidify the defense. Newcomers Patrick Jenkins and Jaquaze Sorrells should be nice additions to the defensive line rotation alongside veterans Ochaun Mathis, Colt Ellison, and Parker Workman. My biggest question is how will the offense adjust to potentially losing starting QB Max Duggan. If Meacham can help solidify this offense with its current weapons, the Frogs could surprise some people in the conference. TCU may not win a ton of games this year, but the experience gained will be extremely valuable in years to come and I believe their play on the field will eventually show it.

Three notable games: vs #23 ISU (9/26), @ Baylor (10/31), vs #15 OSU (12/5)

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

The Red Raiders did not have the best season a year ago, highlighted a competitive game on the road against Baylor (which had some questionable calls) and a loss to Kansas on the road (yes THE Kansas football Jayhawks). So is there any good news in all this? Well, yes actually. As it pertains to this season, Tech returns a ton of playmakers from an offense that finished as the second best overall offense in the Big 12 last season, putting up more than 474.2 yards/game and 6.08 yards/play. The Red Raiders lose starting QB Jett Duffey, but he was originally the backup to now redshirt sophomore QB Alan Bowman, who is back and better than ever. Bowman anchored the Red Raiders offense from two seasons ago as a true freshman and showed great potential as a signal caller. Senior WR T.J. Vasher and sophomore RB SaRodorick Thompson also return to help give the Red Raiders plenty of weapons on an offense that shouldn’t miss a beat in 2020. As for the defensive side of the ball, TTU will take a hit after having stud LB Jordyn Brooks get drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in this past NFL draft. In addition, starting S Douglas Coleman, who recorded 63 tackles last season, is also gone. These departures combined with the fact that Texas Tech finished 127th in the nation in total defense a season ago and last in the conference in total defense, giving up 480.3 yards/game, is not a recipe for success. So the defense clearly still needs work, but 16 of their 20 top tacklers return. All Big 12 DL Eli Howard is back as well as All Big 12 CB Adrian Frye, which should provide a little bit of an experience boost. If the Red Raiders want to get better, they have to improve on third-down defense, as they allowed their opponents to convert on 41.7% of third downs last season. This is the single biggest area of improvement I will be looking for in regards to Texas Tech this season. I do not expect the Red Raiders to compete for a Big 12 title by any means, but I do believe that if they get their third down defense fixed, they could upset and surprise a few folks in the Big 12 this season. The offense has always been there, but the defense has always been the question mark.

Three notable games: vs #14 UT (9/26), vs WVU (10/24), vs Baylor (11/14)

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

The Mountaineers were inconsistent at times in their 2019 campaign. The offensive line struggled with youth and injuries, which led the running game to be absolutely abysmal, averaging only 73.3 yards/game. Fortunately for Mountaineer fans, there is optimism surrounding the QB position, as junior Jarrett Doege took over for, now senior, QB Austin Kendall in late November and the Mountaineers won two of their final three games with Doege at the helm. I expect the WR core to be one oif the strengths of this offense this year, led by this year sophomore Sam James senior T.J. Simmons, who were both significant contributors a year ago. Its a good thing they’re returning because the WVU offense was last in the Big 12 in yards (3,863 yards) and only averaged 4.90 yards/play. Having the core group of WR’s returning and a promising QB should be grounds for an improvement on the offense. The defense had some rough performances last season, but showed good improvement towards the end of the season. Senior DL Darius Sills returns after flirting with the NFL, so he should provide some stability as a rock on the defensive line. Junior Taijh Alston is back after suffering a season ending injury to his knee after two games last season to provide some much needed depth along the DL as well. Leading tackler in DB Sean Mahone is also back to provide experience and leadership in the secondary for a defense that sixth in the Big 12 last season. West Virginia was average to slightly below average in both rush defense and pass defense among Big 12 teams last season, finishing seventh and sixth respectively. I believe the defense has the potential to be a top three unit in the conference.If the defense can pick it up, it might be able to make up for a little bit of the inability on offense from a year ago, but thats also assuming the offense does not improve, which I think it will. WVU has the potential to be a bowl team, but i think the Mountaineers will only go as far as their offensive line takes them. Look for WVU to finish around middle of the pack to slightly below middle of the pack in the conference.

Three notable games: vs Baylor (10/3), @ TTU (10/24), vs TCU (11/14)

PROJECTED FINAL STANDINGS

  1. Oklahoma Sooners (9-1)
  2. Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-2)
  3. Texas Longhorns (7-3)
  4. Baylor Bears (6-4)
  5. Iowa State Cyclones (6-4)
  6. Kansas State Wildcats (5-5)
  7. West Virginia Mountaineers (5-5)
  8. TCU Horned Frogs (4-6)*
  9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-7)
  10. Kansas Jayhawks (1-9)

*assumes that starting QB Max Duggan does not play in 2020 due to health condition in his heart.

As always, please hit me up on twitter @bradyvaughan30 for more sports related content and to see some of my previous articles for Grad School Sports.

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