Big 12 Outlook
July 27, 2018
By Joe Nelson
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Many felt like adding a Big XII title game would cost the conference a possible playoff bid but last season Oklahoma managed to survive a rematch with TCU and was selected into the national field. In four seasons Oklahoma has represented the conference twice in the College Football Playoffs but no other team has been selected and the conference is still searching for its first victory on that stage.
This season the conference lacks a clear frontrunner as getting a team to go 10-0 in the always deep league looks unlikely. Last season the Sooners were able to shake off the home upset loss to Iowa State on the strength of their victory over Ohio State in non-conference play but they won’t have that margin of error this season. Ultimately a competitive race looks likely on top of the conference this season and getting a one-loss team in the tournament might be a challenge.
Here is an early look at the 10 Big XII teams ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Texas: Tom Herman led Texas to its best win count since 2013 last season even if the expectations were much higher as a high profile hire that led dramatic success at Houston in just two seasons. Texas lost exclusively close games last season and had erratic defensive performances despite being one of the nation’s top run defenses. The offensive production also dropped by nearly 100 yards per game compared with Charlie Strong’s 2016 squad in Austin. This year’s team will be one of the more experienced Big XII groupings. The schedule is similar to last season facing both Maryland and USC again for a tough non-conference schedule but the Trojans will visit Austin as will TCU and West Virginia. Ultimately the Red River Rivalry game will determine whether or not Texas takes a big leap or has another decent season that isn’t up to the expectations of the Longhorns brass.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma was stunned at home against Iowa State last October but the Sooners rallied to return to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in three years. Oklahoma wound up on the wrong side of an epic battle with Georgia but it was an impressive first season for Lincoln Riley who took over suddenly for Bob Stoops last summer. Replacing the #1 pick in the NFL draft plus several other top contributors will be a challenge but this should remain a top offense team with Kyler Murray likely to quarterback the team for one season before pursuing a baseball career. Oklahoma was not an elite defensive team last season and it will be difficult to match the amazing production the Sooners had under Baker Mayfield. The schedule offers Oklahoma a realistic opportunity to run the table but they won’t have a marquee non-conference win like they did last season after beating Ohio State. That could mean little margin for error for a program that always seems to have at least one stumble in the regular season.
TCU: Gary Patterson has led TCU to 11 or more wins in three of the last four seasons as it would be foolish to count out the Frogs as a serious Big XII threat. TCU loses a lot of key players from a very good defense from last season and they also need to break in a new quarterback. TCU faces Ohio State, Texas, and Oklahoma in the first seven games of the season as there will be opportunities to move up in the national and conference race with notable wins but it also means the Frogs could reach last season’s loss count rather early. TCU has gone undefeated at home three of the past four seasons and if they accomplish that again in 2018 a top three finish in the Big XII looks assured with five of nine games in Fort Worth, although a road heavy September could take a toll on the season goals.
West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen should finally feel some security in Morgantown with winning results in six of seven seasons. Will Grier returns for the Mountaineers after posting some of the nation’s best numbers last season prior to an injury that changed the trajectory of the season. TCU and Oklahoma will visit Morgantown this season as the Mountaineers will have opportunities for big wins with an offense that should be among the most productive in the conference if not the nation. The defense struggled at times last season however and has minimal depth back in action as shootouts should be the norm with Grier capable of being the top quarterback in the conference and a Heisman sleeper.
Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has won 10 or more games in six of the last eight seasons but they have been stopped at 10 the past three seasons with expectations of a possible breakthrough to a Big XII title or a playoff bid. Highly productive quarterback Mason Rudolph departs but most of the backfield is intact as this can still be an above average offensive team. The defense should remain a stable though not dominant group but the schedule ahead in 2018 looks like a challenge. Five Big XII road games are ahead including several difficult tests and a non-conference game with Boise State lurks as a dangerous September matchup. Matching the 10-win level of recent years looks like a reach for the Cowboys this season.
Kansas State: Kansas State lost five times last season but four of those misses were by seven or fewer points as the Wildcats found a way to compete even with one of the lesser offenses in the Big XII and a revolving quarterback situation. The offense could be better this season with much more experience but the defense could regress for a second straight season. While Kansas State had mostly close losses last season they also had several narrow fortunate wins as this team was soundly out-gained on the season despite a solid scoring differential. Coach Snyder always finds a way to keep this team in the mix as another winning season shouldn’t be ruled out.
Iowa State: Matt Campbell eschewed opportunities elsewhere to stay in Ames where last season’s 8-5 campaign was a historic rise for the Cyclones. Wins over Oklahoma and TCU were incredibly impressive and the Cyclones also stopped a great Memphis offense for a bowl win. Matching that success will be a challenge and Iowa State plays the heavyweights early in the Big XII campaign this season. Several key players are back as this is a program with average experience and while there were narrow wins last season all five losses came by 10 or fewer points as well as a more dramatic breakthrough had been possible. Iowa State is no longer the conference doormat and will be a competitive team likely on the bowl border.
Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury has done enough to stay on in Lubbock with five underwhelming seasons and a 30-33 record. There have been some close calls but still a few blowout losses every year to paint the gap between the Red Raiders and the elite teams in the conference. Texas Tech showed a dramatic improvement on defense last season and with 10 starters back the Red Raiders can take another stride to shake off their former reputation as perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the nation. The offense has some question marks however needing a third new starting quarterback in three seasons and losing most of the top receivers from last season. Oklahoma and Texas both play in Lubbock but that might mean fewer realistic opportunities for wins with a pair of challenging non-conference games in September as well.
Baylor: Matt Rhule stepped into a very tough situation at Baylor and a 1-11 season was the result. Baylor did show signs of progress late in the season and should show improvement but getting back to being a Big XII force looks like it will take a long rebuilding process. This will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation thanks to a lot of young players getting time last season and Charlie Brewer gave the offense life after taking over at quarterback. Statistically this didn’t look like a 1-11 squad that lost to a FCS school in September and if the Bears play all season like they did last November a handful of wins will follow.
Kansas: Kansas has been patient with a major transition hitting year four for David Beaty and a combined three wins in three seasons. The non-conference schedule offers three viable opportunities for Kansas but the gap with the rest of the Big XII remains severe with only one Big XII loss even within 15 points last season. 19 starters return for Kansas as the pieces are there to take a step forward but it remains a steep uphill climb in Lawrence and the best opportunities for conference wins this season will unfortunately all be road games.
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