We are just under six weeks away from the start of a new college football season. As opening weekend draws nearer people around the country are making predictions on their favorite schools and conferences. Below is how I anticipate this year’s Big 12 race to shake out.
1. West Virginia
The Mountaineers return star quarterback and Hesiman Trophy candidate Will Grier. Grier has All American wideout David Sills and Gary Jennings as his top two targets this season. Make no mistake, despite all this arial talent the Mountaineers possess they can still gash teams on the ground. A stout backfield anchored by Kennedy McKoy will keep opposing defenses honest, making it that much easier for Grier to sling the ball downfield. One glaring issue for West Virginia is defense. The Mountaineers were near the bottom of the Big 12 in total D in 2017. Expect Dana Holgorsen and co. to make that a primary focus this offseason. If West Virginia cleans up the woes on defense I expect them to have no problem winning the Big 12.
The defending conference champs are one of the more interesting teams in the country this year. How will the Sooners fair in the post Baker Mayfield era? Former Texas A&M QB and baseball standout Kyler Murray takes over under center for the Sooners. In what limited action we have seen of Murray, he is a player with a solid arm that can also extend plays with his feet. Lincoln Riley’s system should give Murray the freedom to perform very well. Defensively, Oklahoma’s pass defense will keep them from winning the conference in 2018. The Sooners must replace almost all of the nations number 87 ranked secondary, which surrendered an abysmal 238.4 yards per game through the air last year.
The Frogs are coming off a season which saw them post an 11-3 record and finish ranked ninth in the nation. Gary Patterson’s squad should be right back in the thick of the conference title race this season after hauling in one of their best recruiting classes ever. Shawn Robinson will most likely win the starting QB job. While he posses great potential as a rusher he must improve his accuracy and touch, something previous starter Kenny Hill struggled with, in order for TCU to compete at the highest level. A staple of a Gary Patterson squad is stout defense and that should be no different this season. TCU returns most of one of the most talented defensive lines in the nation. Combined with a solid linebackers corps and secondary, points will come at a premium against this team. College football fans will find out early in the year just how good this TCU team can be as they take on Ohio State in Arlington week 2.
After years of mediocracy Texas is slowly returning to their winning ways. Tom Herman recruited well, and led Texas to their first winning season since 2013. While this team is young, they have so much size and athleticism on both sides of the ball. Texas will feature a talented offense which will be led by either Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele. While the Horns lose a lot of contributors on defense, fans should have no fear as they have one of the top defensive minds in Todd Orlando. The Longhorns won’t reach the top of the Big 12 in 2018 but they will take another step forward on the road to back to relevancy.
5. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State posted their third consecutive 10 win season last year behind the phenomenal play of star quarterback Mason Rudolph. While Rudolph won’t be under center for the Pokes this year, Oklahoma State’s air raid offense should still click in 2018. The QB battle is still quite murky right now but no matter who prevails, he will have plenty of weapons around them. The Cowboys return All Big 12 back Justice Hill and number 2 receiver Jalen McCleskey. Despite the coordinator change on defense expect this unit to lag far beyond the offense and stifle any high hopes they have in 2019.
6. Kansas State
Bill Snyder poses one of the most potent backfields in the country, returning all three contributors. While the backfield looks good, Kansas State is very unproven at receiver, losing targets Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath. On the defenseive side of the ball there is more turnover as the Wildcats lose their top two tacklers in Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby. A young and inexperienced squad will hamstring K-State this year and trips to West Virginia, TCU, and Iowa State do them no favors.
7. Iowa State
Iowa State is one of the hardest teams to nail down as they’ve proven they can shock anyone, but they haven’t proven they can consistently win games. One thing that works in their favor is that their quarterback and leader Kyle Kempt has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. However, a weak offensive line and only one proven receiver threat will make Kempt’s job a lot harder in 2018. Last season the Cyclones moved from 102nd defensively to 43rd. This performance will be hard to duplicate as ISU loses 5 starters from that unit. Iowa State will regress a little bit in 2018 but don’t expect them to be down for long.
8. Texas Tech
Texas Tech is in big trouble offensively. They must replace their starting quarterback, running back, and three of their top four receivers. The Red Raiders will struggle monumentally in 2018, and limp to eighth in the conference. Although their defense is incredibly experienced they will be left on the field too much and handed horrible field position most of the time.
Coming off a season which saw the Bears lose to Liberty University, don’t except much improvement from Baylor. The downfall of Baylor from their horrific sexual assault scandal will keep them in the bottom half of the conference for the next couple of years. There is no denying Matt Rhule is a great coach, but given the current state of their program, this is far from an overnight fix.
Not much to say about the Jayhawks here except to wait until basketball season.