Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM

Big 12 Outlook

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Big 12

We’ve talked a lot about marquee programs on various radio shows in the offseason, and often the topic wanders as to why some of the traditional powers begin to decline. We think it is no more than a matter of the coaches. (To wit: Alabama sure wasn’t winning big with Mike Shula or Dennis Franchione before Nick Saban arrived.) Texas (2018 SU 10-4; ATS 6-8; O/U 6-8) seems to be confirming that school of thought, as the Longhorns have emerged from a near decade-long funk that began in the later stages of the Mack Brown regime and carried through to the Charlie Strong years. But they believe they’ve got the right fit in Austin with Tom Herman, whose second Texas edition beat Oklahoma in the regular season, almost did so again in the Big 12 title game, then dumped near 2-TD favorite Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Herman’s credentials were already burnished at previous stop Houston, where his Cougars were 22-4 in two seasons. As o.c. at Ohio State, his last team won the national title in 2014. Yep, Herman can coach.

Though there are some QBs in the country with gaudier stats than Horns jr. Sam Ehlinger, there might not be a better leader. The rough-hewn Ehlinger is a TD machine, at 235 pounds also a bruising runner who scored 16 rush TDs a year ago, and can keep drives alive with his jarring runs that rarely avoid contact. He also threw 25 TD passes in 2018. That reckless bent, however, is something Herman might want to curb, as Ehlinger missed the Baylor and Iowa State games last fall when hurting his shoulder while pretending he was Earl Campbell on some scrambles. Backup Shane Beuchele, the starter in 2016 who was beaten out by Ehlinger two years ago, has moved on to SMU, though a reliever or possible change-of-pace alternative to note is skittery dual-threat RS frosh Casey Thompson, whose dad Charles used to be Oklahoma’s QB. Though what might reduce some of Ehlinger’s exposure is an upgraded infantry with soph Keontay Ingram (708 YR LY) and perhaps touted true frosh Jordan Whittington. Ehlinger’s top target Lil’Jordan Humphrey and his 86 catches have moved to the NFL (Saints camp this summer), but 6-6 sr. Collin Johnson (68 catches LY) remains in the mix. There is less worry about only two starters returning along the OL than there is about the offense becoming better at stretching the field and not counting upon Ehlinger to lead 16 or 17-play drives to paydirt; minus much big-play ability, the Horns were one of only three FBS teams to not have a TD of at least 50 yards in 2018.

We’ll get an idea about Herman’s upgraded recruiting on the defensive side where nine starters have departed. Plenty of rotational depth from 2018 remains, though the entire starting front seven needs replacing. Big 12 sources are high on RS frosh NT Keondre Coburn, while d.c. Todd Orlando is said to gush about his new corps of LBs that include another RS frosh, MLB Ayodele Adeoye. There is experience at the safety spots in sr. Brandon Jones and soph Caden Sterns, the only returning starters on the platoon, while soph nickel-back B.J. Foster flashed star potential last fall as a frosh. Playmakers have to emerge, however, as the stop unit looks to replicate two years ago, when Orlando’s first Horns defense in 2017 helped UT lead the nation in non-offensive TDs (seven). Schedule-wise, they’ve been talking about the September 7 showdown vs. LSU at Austin since January. For good reason, as that might be the featured intersectional of the entire college season, and will set up the winner in an early pole position to get to the Final Four. A pair of games vs. Oklahoma, the second likely to be in the Big 12 title game, seems a good bet, though it will be up to Herman to avoid some of the banana peels (like Maryland each of the last two years, plus Ok State and West Virginia a year ago) that have recently cost the Horns in the rankings. We suspect a repeat of those sorts of upset losses is unlikely in the fall.

Spread-wise, we wish we had a dollar for every time we’ve mentioned “Tom Herman as a dog” the past few years. And for good reason; Herman's Houston and UT teams the past four seasons are an eye-openong 13-2-1 getting points. Future numbers at the Vegas sports books suggest at least two more chances (LSU, then Oklahoma on Oct. 12) for Herman in his most-preferred role.

Well, we’re 0-for-1 with the three-peats this year after the Golden State Warriors failed to make it three NBA titles in a row in June. Next up, Oklahoma (2018 SU 12-2, ATS 6-7-1, O/U 10-4) or more precisely QB Jalen Hurts, via Bama and maybe the highest-profile grad transfer ever, and who looks to make it three Sooner Heisman winners in a row. Refining further, that would also be three Oklahoma Heisman transfer QBs in a row after Baker Mayfield (via Texas Tech) and Kyler Murray (via Texas A&M) turned the trick the past two years. It would also make HC Lincoln Riley 3-for-3 in Heismans since taking over in Norman for Bob Stoops in the offseason preceding the 2017 campaign. Riley would also like to make it 3-for-3 into the Final Four, but we get the idea that he and Sooner Nation would like to make it into the title game after losing in the semis (first to Georgia, then to Bama) the past two seasons.

Ah, yes, Alabama, from where Hurts hails after losing his job to Tua Tagolaivoa last year. No knock on Hurts; Tua looms as one of the Heisman favorites this season after tossing 43 TD passes a year ago. Hurts, who led Tide to the title game against Clemson as a frosh, and started Bama’s 2017 title game win over Georgia (before Tua relieved him in the second half), proved his worth last season when coming off the bench for an injured Tagolaivoa and leading a 35-28 comeback win over Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs in the SEC championship. Arriving in spring at Norman, he hasn't had long to learn the Riley system, which will have him playing in space more than he did for Nick Saban. Some wonder if Hurts has enough of an arm to work in this offense, but remember that Murray’s arm was a question last year, too, and all he did was throw 42 TD passes. Hurts also looks like a winner after recording a 26-2 mark as a starter for Saban. We are reluctant to put much stock in spring game stats, but for what it’s worth, Hurts looked comfy in OU’s version in April, completing 11 of 14 throws for 174 yards.

Hurts will have some help as plenty of playmakers remain in the OU mix. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks combined for over 2000 YR and 25 TDs as a tag-team RB duo last fall. And while top receiver Hollywood Brown has moved to the NFL, CeeDee Lamb returns after catching 65 passes for nearly 18 yards per a year ago. They're not fretting about only one starter returning along the OL, as this has annually been one of the nastiest forward walls in Big 12, and most regional sources expect little drop-off after last year’s Murray-led attack led the nation in scoring (48.4 ppg) and total O (570 ypg).

The D probably wasn’t as bad as some of its stats suggest last season, simply because the offense set such a bristling pace and scored in such rapid-fire fashion to increase possessions.No scenario for a defense to post good numbers. But d.c. Alex Grinch, used to working under similar conditions while on Mike Leach’s Washington State staff, and last year at high-powered Ohio State, is well respected and gets nine starters from a year ago. He could also solve what has been a sore spot for Riley, who had to move out Mike Stoops midway in 2017 and then used mentor Ruffin McNeill as an interim d.c. (McNeill has returned to his asst. HC and DL coach roles for 2019). Fast pace or not, OU ranked dead last nationally in pass defense a year ago, and even though five starters return in the secondary, Grinch was tinkering constantly with coverages and possible position switches in spring. For the moment, a vet DL looms as the strength of the platoon, while tackling-machine MLB Kenneth Murray could be the star. Whoever plays, the Sooners need to force more than the 11 TOs they caused a year ago, though Ginch’s defenses have often wreaked havoc (such as 2017 at Wazzu, when the Cougs ranked among the nation’s leaders when forcing 28 TOs).

Riley will probably tell anyone that the best thing about this year’s non-league slate is no Army, whose option gave the Sooners fits last September 22 and forced OT in Norman before bowing. There could be some revenge in mind in the opener vs. Houston, recalling the Cougs' upset win in the 2016 lid-lifter, but both staffs have changed since. Riley gets Dana Holgorsen in his UH debut this time, while the trip to UCLA could be a bit more a challenge than last year vs. the Bruins, who were at that time early in the transition to Chip Kelly. The important game vs. Texas is likely to be the second in the Big 12 championship as the Red River Rivalry figures to include two chapters for the second year in a row. Win that last one and Riley likely gets back to the Final Four.

Spread-wise, Riley’s OU has been streaky, and had a bit of a problem giving the big numbers last season, covering just 3 of 9 laying double digits. Note that OU also enters this season on a 13-2-1 “over” run.

Keep him if you can. That seems to be the battle cry these days at Iowa State (2018 SU 8-5; ATS 7-6; O/U 4-9) as the Cyclones figure out a way to keep in-demand HC Matt Campbell in Ames for as long as possible. To this point, a massive buyout clause (reportedly in the $7-8 mill range) has scared off several suitors, including Tennessee (which, admittedly, seemed to be courting everyone) last year. The buyout clause, however, will decrease over time, which likely means ISU will soon want to give Campbell an upgraded deal with a stronger buyout. Interest is understandable in Campbell, who came to the Cyclones from Toledo and looks to be one of those MAC coaches like Urban Meyer whose work will easily translate to Power 5 level. Back-to-back 8-5 seasons might get Ed Orgeron fired at LSU, but in Ames they’re ready to give Campbell a statue...if they can keep him for a few more years.

Campbell lost a couple of major playmakers from last year’s offense as RB David Montgomery (3rd round Bears) and WR Hakeem Butler (4th round Cardinals) have both moved on to the NFL. But Campbell discovered a ringer last season when then-frosh QB Brock Purdy, who had been planning on a redshirt year, took over an injury-wracked position after a month and promptly led ISU to seven wins in the last eight regular-season games. Along the way he tossed 4 TDP in his first start (a 48-42 win at Oklahoma State) and set school records for completion percentage and passing efficiency. Still, the shoes of catalysts such as Montgomery and Butler will not be easy to fill; among other things, Montgomery only fumbled the ball three times in three seasons, and Butler gained a Bob Hayes-like 22 yards per catch on his 60 receptions last season. Watch for well-regarded frosh Jirehl Brock and Breece Hall to compete for carries in the post-Montgomery offense, while Deshaunte Jones and Tarique Milton combined for 77 catches last year and will have a chance to become featured targets and fill the Butler void. Up front, all five starting linemen return.

Where Campbell has also made a difference is on the stop end, where ISU led the Big 12 in scoring defense (22.9 ppg) last season while ranking ninth nationally against the rush. When did the Cyclones get so ornery on the stop end, anyway? The last defense of the Paul Rhodes era in 2015 allowed 45 or more points on four different occasions. The line should be pulverizing this season, with all starters back ion the fold, with srs. DE JaQuon Bailey and DT Ray Lima definite honors candidates. Of more concern for d.c. Jon Heacock is the secondary, where among other things lockdown, 4-year starting CB Brian Peavy must be replaced. Strong safety Greg Eisworth was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year a season ago.

Schedule-wise, the ante has been upped for the annual showdown vs. Iowa, which apparently is not lost upon ISU, which takes the first of its two byes after the August 31 home opener vs. Northern Iowa, hoping to work out some of the kinks before hosting the Hawkeyes two weeks later. After losing four straight in the “Cy-Hawk” series, the Cyclones are treating that in-state showdown as something of a crusade. It’s also effectively a one-game non-league slate (ULM the other to visit Ames besides UNI). Oklahoma and Texas do not show up until mid-November, though they come in back-to-back weeks. It won’t surprise us if Campbell’s troops are in a threatening position in the league race entering that crucial two-game stretch.

Spread-wise, Campbell has only had one losing season in seven at Toledo and ISU (that came in 2014 with the Rockets). Along the way Campbell has established himself as one of the top underdog coaches in the land, with a 19-8-1 mark as the “short” since his last campaign at Toledo (2015).

Not long ago, we were wondering if either a) Matt Rhule was really the big deal as a head coach as he seemed a few years ago at Temple or b) if the Baylor (2018 SU 7-6; ATS 7-6; O/U 7-6) brand was so tarnished by various athletic scandals that the Bears were not going to be a factor on the gridiron for a long time to come. The delayed reaction in 2017 to the Art Briles scandal resulted in a 1-11 record and Baylor fans wondering if they were back in the Bill Beall era (3-28 in three years) before Grant Teaff rescued the program in the early 70s. But last year’s recovery and a thrilling Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt has temporarily rehabilitated the reputations of both the Bears and Rhule, once again considered an up-and-comer in the coaching industry. It is not hard to find many Rhule supporters who suspect he is due for an upgrade to an even bigger job in the not-so-distant future.

The offense made progress in “Rhule 2" at McLane Stadium thanks mainly to now-jr. QB Charlie Brewer, who displayed the sort of moxie that his dad Robert once showed as a Texas QB in the early 80s, when among other things his Longhorns reached the top spot in the polls during the ‘81 season and came from behind to beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl that same year. Brewer, thrown into the fire early in his career, saved his best for last a season ago when passing for 384 yards and 2 TDs plus running for another 109 yards in the bowl win over Vandy. With Chris Platt getting a fifth-year waiver, the receiving corps has depth and experience (fellow sr. Denzel Mims, who dipped a bit from his 1087 receiving yards in 2017, combined with Platt for 91 catches last season). The top four rushers also return including jr. Trestan Ebner, who starred in the bowl. The concern on attack is improving upon the hefty sack total of 39, and to that end spring work featured lots of position shuffling along the forward wall. In that mix is Clemson transfer Jake Fruhmorgen, who likely starts at center.

Vet d.c. Phil Snow returns enough playmakers on his platoon to hopefully improve upon the 31.7 ppg allowed a year ago, but any upgrades are going to have to involve more turnovers. The Bears forced only 10 of those last season, which ranked bottom in the Big 12 and ahead of only Oregon State nationally. A key could be the LB corps that returns all three starters, led by sr. MLB Clay Johnston, who recorded 99 tackles a year ago, while soph DT Rob Saulin, who has already switched between multiple positions, apperently has found his home on the D-line. Elsewhere up front, Snow likes his pair of DEs, sr. James Lynch and Texas A&M transfer James Lockhart, who provide enough push off of the edge, though had some concerns in the secondary in spring with several projected starters competing in track & field while safeties Christian Morgan and J.T. Woods fought injuries (Morgan and Woods should be good to go in fall).

We have to admit we’re a bit disappointed in the Bears’ non-league slate, which has been geared down considerably for 2019, with Stephen F. Austin, UTSA, and, renewing an old rivalry from the long-ago SWC days, Rice (the only game of the trio on the road). Read that as you wish, but such a downgraded slate is not accidental. That won’t prepare the Bears for the Big 12 wars, but at least Rhule doesn’t have to worry about either Oklahoma or Texas until mid-November. By that time the Bears should have secured their bowl eligibility for a tenth time in eleven years.

Spread-wise, Rhule began to rediscover some of his old Temple mojo last season, especially as a dog, a role in which Baylor was 5-2. Remember, Rhule was 20-7 as a dog with the Owls from 2012-15.

With Kliff Kingsbury’s departure last year from Texas Tech (2018 SU 5-7; ATS 6-6; O/U 8-4) telegraphed more than one of George Foreman’s roughhouse rights aimed at Ali in their 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, the rumor mill was swirling most of last fall in Lubbock. (Of course, Kingsbury parlayed getting fired at Tech into an NFL head coaching job with the Cardinals, one of the most-unlikely routes ever to a pro job, but we digress). For a while, most regional bets were on North Texas HC Seth Littrell taking over the Red Raiders (there were even rumors that Littrell’s wife was house-hunting in the area), especially after the Mean Green blew out Arkansas in late September. By the end of the season, however, Littrell wasn’t the coachdu jour he seemed early in the season. By that point, Matt Wells, a consistent winner at Utah State and off of a big 11-2 year with the Utags, was the new flavor. Wells probably would have had his pick of jobs, but Tech AD Kirby Hocutt moved quicker than Colorado, another reported Wells suitor, to bring the Utah State mentor to the Big 12.

Red Raider backers aren’t too worried about the offense sagging post-Kingsbury, as the Wells Utag attack scored a robust 47 ppg last season (10 ppg more than Kingsbury’s Tech). Wells and his o.c. from Logan, David Yost, will not change from the Kingsbury spread, though Big 12 sources expect the Wells version to do a bit more with the run game, and slowly begin to scheme more with the infantry. Wells has a pair of QB with differing skill sets, and might use both, with passer Alan Bowman having completed better than 69% last season, though he missed four games entirely due to a collapsed lung. Better runner Jett Duffey, who led Tech in rushing last season, is still around as a valuable change-of-pace option. Veteran targets Seth Collins and T.J. Vasher combined for 86 pass receptions last season when neither was the first aerial option, and the all-apostrophe RB corp of Da’Leon Ward and Ta’Zhawn Henry should have more opportunities to run downhill this fall. Four starters are back along a deep, experienced OL that is right down the alley of Wells, who likes to rotate along his forward wall.

The D might benefit from the fact Wells is likely to have the offense play a gear or two slower, and run the ball a bit more, moving the clock and somewhat limiting possessions. Which itself should help the stop unit post some better numbers after former d.c. David Gibbs found himself in track meets every week. New d.c. Keith Patterson (over with Wells from Logan) will use an aggressive scheme that will rely upon different coverages with the ability to pressure the opposition. That disruptive bent helped Patterson’s Utags force a BCS-best 32 turnovers a year ago and could come very in handy in Lubbock. Patterson’s USU netted a nation’s-best 22 picks a year ago and the Red Raider DBs will be expected to be ballhawks. The top playmakers on the platoon figure to be LBs Jordyn Brooks and Riko Jeffers, who combined for 144 tackles last season.

Schedule-wise, Wells get s couple of tuneups in Lubbock (Montana State and UTEP) to begin his Red Raider adventure, before the first test of note at Arizona on September 14. Oklahoma is next on deck, but the good news for Wells is that Tech has a week off before facing the Sooners. The Big 12 slate is always a challenge, though we expect the Red Raiders to have their bowl bid in hand well before the regular-season finale at Texas on Thanksgiving Friday.

Wells made an impression vs. the spread with the Utags, especially a season ago when USU finished 9-3-1 vs. the line (we are going to credit Wells with the bowl W vs. Littrell's North Texas as he was on the sideline, though he had officially relinquished HC duties by then). His Utags also took care of business lately as home chalk, with a 10-2-1 mark laying points as host the past three seasons. We’ll see if Wells can continue what was Kingsbury’s best role, as double-digit chalk (6-0 from 2016 thru 2018).

Though he reportedly endured a close call with his job five years ago, which reportedly wasn’t helped by a cool period of relations with mega-booster Boone Pickens (Rule No. 1 for a coach; Get along with the guy whose name is on your stadium), and supposedly needed a rousing upset win over Oklahoma in the season-ending Bedlam (!) game to keep his job, Mike Gundy remains pretty well anchored at Oklahoma State (2018 SU 7-6; ATS 7-6; O/U 8-5). Even in a down year for the program like 2018, the “Mullet Man” still won a bowl game (a thrilling Liberty Bowl shootout over Mizzou) and has now qualified for the postseason a whopping thirteen times in a row. Six times since 2011, Gundy’s team have won 10 games or more. Even ‘ol Boone himself is going to cut some slack with that type performance.

It is fair to ask, however, if Gundy can do it again this fall, as he looks to plug in another QB to keep “Air Cowboy” at high altitude; last year, sr. Taylor Cornelius emerged from almost nowhere to pass for 32 TDs and nearly 4000 yards out of the Gundy spread. But now Gundy will be looking for a third pilot in as many years (decorated Mason Rudolph graduated after 2017) and will also be replacing his o.c., Mike Yurcich, who moved to Ohio State. Yurcich replacement Sean Gleeson comes from the odd proving ground of Princeton, where he coordinated the top-scoring attack in FCS (Princeton 47 ppg!) and will be adding several wrinkles to the OSU spread. Not since 2012 has Gundy started a QB who had never previously thrown a pass for OSU, though Hawaii transfer Dru Brown threw plenty of them (including 18 TDs) for the Rainbow Warriors before transferring prior to last season. More mobile RS frosh Spencer Sanders, however, might be more of what Gleeson is looking for in this new-look offense. Proven targets remain, especially big-play jr. Tylan Wallace (86 catches and 12 TDs LY. Though productive RB Justice Hill has graduated, soph Chuba Hubbard gained 740 yards (and 6 per carry) as Hills’ caddy last season, and three starters are back along the OL.

The problem area a year ago, however, was on defense, where at times the platoon of coordinator Jim Knowles looked positively raucous, such as the first few weeks when leading the nation in sacks. Though by the end of the season the Cowboy D had sunk to a 112th ranking nationally. The stop unit, according to some Big 12 scouts, was “all over the place,” suggesting Knowles was either uncomfy with his schemes or personnel combinations. If he wants to stick into 2020, he’d better figure things out a bit better this fall, but it might not be easy with a near complete rebuild required on the front seven. Colorado transfer DT Israel Antwine has been ruled immediately eligible and should help, and Bowling Green transfer DE Kyle Junior will add depth to the line. Almost everyone returns in the secondary, but here is where things really struggled in 2018, ranking 118th vs. the pass. Three true frosh were force-fed at safety last season, and have been baptized under fire. They’ll hopefully provide a bit more help for jr. S Malcolm Rodriguez, the platoon’s leading returning tackler.

Like a few other Big 12 entries, Gundy’s OSU is not really challenging itself in non-conference play, unless thinking that Oregon State and Tulsa are ready for big recoveries this season. The Cowboys go on the road for those two, sandwiched around hosting Southland rep McNeese, before league play begins. We’re not sure what OSU gets out of this three-game span except some wins on the cheap that will help Mullet Man get bowl-eligible for a 14th straight season. A better idea where the Cowboys fit in the Big 12 puzzle, and how far Brown or Sanders (or both) have progressed at QB, comes in their conference opener at Texas on September 21.

Spread-wise, Gundy usually holds his own, but it’s been a while since OSU posted some big numbers against the line. Once a noteworthy bully in Stillwater, Gundy is just 11-12 vs. the spread at Boone Pickens Stadium since 2014, though he has covered 7 of his last 8 hosting non-Big 12 foes.

It wasn’t an easy watch last season at TCU (2018 SU 7-6; ATS 5-8; O/U 6-7), when not much was accomplished other than bowl qualification for the fifth straight year, and 13th in the last 14 seasons. Even that required a Houdini act as the Frogs had to win their last two regular-season games just to get eligible. But Gary Patterson-coached teams are nothing if not resourceful, gutting out a grim 16-9 win at Baylor, then a heroic win over favored Oklahoma State in the reg.-season finale. At that point TCU was effectively playing without a QB and might as well have been using the old single wing, but the Frogs remarkably ran into a team with even more offensive issues in the Cheez-it Bowl before beating impotent Cal in a brutal-to-watch OT battle, 10-7, a game that looked like it more belonged in 1948 than 2018.

To say offense was a problem for the Frogs last season would be an understatement, considering they scored 17 points or fewer in over half (seven) of their games. Unsurprisingly, TCU ranked 107th nationally in scoring even after piling up 97 points in the first two tilts vs. outmanned Southern U and SMU. No one blocked the door when erratic QB Shawn Robinson decided to transfer to Missouri, but the best Patterson and o.c Sonny Cumbie might be able to do in the fall is Kansas State transfer Alex Delton (when was the last time a transfer QB from K-State played anywhere?), who started a handful of games for Bill Snyder, and has rushed for almost as many yards (868) as he has passed (1202) in his college career. Maybe not the type to ignite the Frog aerial show, though Delton did display a decent arm in spring. In the meantime, rotating RBs Sewo Olonilua (635 YR in 2018, including 194 in the bowl win vs. Cal) and Darius Anderson (598 YR LY) are likely to be featured, though Delton’s wheels figure to get him involved with the infanty as well. Delton will have a capable target in jr. WR Jalen Reagor, who caught 72 passes last year, though won’t have big-play WR KaVontae Turpin, whose contributions as a kick returner might be missed even more. Four starters also return along the OL, with RT Lucas Niang an honors candidate. Given Cumbie’s reputation as a progressive coordinator, most Big 12 observers are doubtful the Frogs struggle for a second straight year on the attack end, though many, still recalling his limited work at K-State, justifiably wonder if Delton is an answer at QB.

Patterson’s defenses have often highlighted his past editions, with several top ten rankings the past two decades, many of those when the retired Dick Bumpas was coordinating the platoon. Chad Glasgow’s stop unit isn’t likely to get run over this fall, either, but did lose more than 400 tackles with the departures of LBs Ty Summers and Arrico Evans, and a four-year starter at safety in Niko Small. But there are still plenty of playmakers in the fold, with sr. CB Jeff Gladney perhaps the Big 12's best, and jr. LB Garret Winslow a true hybrid who led the team in tackles last season. As usual, TCU does not expect to lose games due to a faulty defense.

TCU’s non-conference scheduling formula has stayed the same for years, usually kicking off with a regional FCS school (this year it’s Arkansas-Pine Bluff) visiting Fort Worth, and the annual Metroplex war vs. SMU, which treks from Big D on September 21. So, there’s room for just one real intersectional, which this season takes the Frogs to Purdue on September 14. As it’s an odd-numbered year, so TCU will play five conference games on the road, compared to just four at home. Patterson should still get back to a bowl, though many in the region are quick to remind that the last time a Patterson team undershot in 2013, it bounced back huge in 2014 to finish 13-1 and in the top five nationally. That gives Frog backers some hope. But until the QB situation sorts itself, contending with the likes of Oklahoma and Texas looks a bit far-fetched.

Spread-wise, Patterson has blown both very hot and very cold at TCU, though recent spread failures as chalk at home are more than a bit alarming; the Frogs are 3-12-1 their last three seasons laying points in Fort Worth.

It has been pretty obvious the past few years that HC Neal Brown would be leaving Troy. Where would he land? Recently in the mix for high-profile jobs (including Mississippi State last year), the 39-year-old, up-and-comer finally found a proper landing spot at West Virginia (2018 SU 8-4; ATS 7-4-1; O/U 7-5) after Dana Holgorsen surprised Mountaineer Nation by bolting for Houston. The fit seems good and transition smooth from Holgorsen’s progressive attacks to Brown, whose mentors include spread gurus such as Hal Mumme, Tony Franklin, and Mike Leach, and whose Troy offenses were usually pretty adept at whipping the ball around the yard. Though what appealed about Brown was that his defenses also performed at a high level with the Trojans and helped key three straight seasons of double-digit wins. We’ll see if all of that translates as easily to the Big 12.

On the surface it would appear as if Brown might have a bit of a bumpy ride in his first spin around the track at Morgantown after the graduation of most of last year’s prolific Holgorsen WVU offense. That would include record-setting QB Will Grier (37 TDP in 2018; 3rd-round pick of the Panthers in April’s NFL Draft) and top receivers David Sills V (Bills camp this summer) and Gary Jennings (Seahawks 4th-round pick in April). Brown is hoping that either Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall, who was shuffled behind Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in Norman, or former Miami transfer Jack Allison, who held his own in the Camping World Bowl vs. Syracuse (a game Grier bypassed), can pick up the baton, but neither separated from the other in spring, and the competition likely extends into fall camp. Another possibility could be Bowling Green grad transfer Jarret Doege, though he'll be on campus for the first time in fall camp. There are also some major holes to fill on the OL now minus star T Yodny Cajuste, a 3rd-round pick of the Patriots in April. At the outset, Brown might have to lean on the infantry a bit more with all of last year’s top runners Including Kennedy McKoy, who gained 802 YR in 2018, and Martell Pettaway (who added another 623 YR), still in the fold. Whatever, don’t expect another 40 ppg showing for the O as last season.

Vet d.c. Vic Koenning will be abandoning the 3-3-5 “stack” looks of the Holgorsen defense with more of a 4-2-5 alignment featuring various hybrid players disguising themselves in differing roles. Brown and Koenning have mined the juco ranks for replacements up front after the line and LB spots were hit hard by graduation; one of those additions, DE Tajih Alston, who originally attended ECU, should make an immediate impact. The hybrid “Bandit” role could be filled by Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan, and four starters do return in the secondary. The stop unit, however, can’t help but miss the contributions of LB David Long, who seemed to be everywhere a season ago and was drafted by the Titans in April. The 2018 defensive numbers were among the best of the Holgorsen era, and the thought persists that some of the poorer stats from previous seasons had much to do with the accelerated tempo of the Holgorsen offenses, which translated into more possessions. A bit slower pace could help the stat line for the stop unit, but how much it helps the W-L record remains to be seen. Brown faces a challenging slate as he begins his new job, including what should be a gimme in the opener vs. an FCS entry...except that James Madison is expected to be a top contender in those ranks. As the Dukes figure to be rather formidable, there doesn’t appear to be a soft touch on the entire slate aside perhaps Kansas at Lawrence on September 21, and even the Jayhawks think they’ll be better with Les Miles now in charge. Brown’s credentials suggest that eventually this hire might work splendidly, but in a transition year at Morgantown, things might not go so smoothly.

Spread-wise, Brown posted a winning mark in each of his four years at Troy, with the Trojans an impressive 10-4 as a dog in that span. Which by comparison looks good next to the recent marks of the departed Holgorsen, who managed winning spread marks in just two of the past seven seasons.

Are there any bigger shoes to fill in college football than those at Kansas State (2017 SU 1-11; ATS 3-8-1; O/U 7-5) in the post-Bill Snyder era? The Wildcats haven’t been winning national titles they way they have been at Clemson and Alabama, but neither Dabo Swinney nor Nick Saban have stadiums named after them, either, as does Snyder. So it goes in “Little Apple” Manhattan, where Ron Prince lasted just three seasons (2006-08) the last time anyone tried to succeed Snyder, who returned to a second tour of duty in 2009. “Snyder II” wasn’t quite a successful at Snyder I, but K-State did reach bowls for Snyder in eight straight years, and let’s not forget that nobody else ever won with any consistency with the Cats, who were a laughingstock when Snyder moved from Hayden Fry’s Iowa staff in 1989. The Snyder legend includes the top sixteen winning seasons in program history...that’s some legend! Picking up the baton from Snyder, who finally hung ‘em up after 2018, is Chris Klieman, most recently winning national titles in the FCS ranks at North Dakota State. Klieman knows about following a legend as Craig Bohl had won back-to-back FCS titles with the Bison before Klieman took over in 2014, and darned if he didn’t do the same thing in four of his five seasons in charge at Fargo. He is not, however, inheriting a powerhouse, as the Cats sagged to below .500 (5-7) a year ago. (Nor is he inheriting a QB like Carson Wentz, who led the earlier Klieman/NDSU editions.) And NDSU didn’t have to worry about facing Oklahoma or Texas the past few years, either.

Snyder’s conservative offenses might as well have had Pat Buchanan as the coordinator, and Kleiman’s first order of business in spring was to re-boot an attack that ranked 111th in scoring (mere 22.5 ppg) and 114th overall (345 ypg) last season. The offense lost its top four RBs from 2018, including the jarring Alex Barnes (1356 YR), so it appears a proper time to open up the strike force. But we’ll see, as at NDSU, Klieman was running a variation of the Bohl offense, heavy on between-the-tackle runs, and has brought along his o.c. from the Bison, Courtney Messingham. Spring work suggested a bit more of an aerial bent than usual at KSU and now revolving around jr. QB Skylar Thompson, a dual-threat who started the bulk of last season, and an established group of wideouts led by leading 2018 receivers Isaiah Zuber and Dalton Schoen. Ball State grad transfer RB James Gilbert, who gained 2806 YR in his career with the Cardinals, likely becomes the featured RB, and the bulk of last year’s OL returns. Big 12 sources suggest that while Klieamn (and Messingham) are not going to mirror Texas Tech, they also realize their power-game approach at NDSU might not translate as well to the Big 12 level, so we’ll see.

Klieman is a defensive coach by trade and his platoons have always featured aggressive schemes, with plenty of blitzes from the LBs and CBs playing close to the line of scrimmage. Klieman and new d.c. Scottie Hazelton (Bohl’s d.c. at Wyo the past few years, and previously on Bohl’s staff at NDSU with Klieman) have some pieces to work with, including all of last year’s DL led by a pair of srs., DT Terry Dishon and DE Reggie Walker. There are some questions at the LB spots that were thinned in spring when Justin Hughes, perhaps the bast of the bunch, tore an ACL and is likely to miss the season. The pass defense also leaked a bit last year, though the D overall returns eight starters., Still, last year’s platoon was also a notch down from previous Snyder stop units, so we’ll see if Kleiman and Hazelton can scheme some better production in 2019.

Spread-wise, K-State was 15-5 as a dog the past three seasons, long a profitable role for Snyder in both his first and second regimes. One thing Snyder wasn’t doing as well lately as he did earlier in his career was embrace the bully role, as the Cats enter 2019 just 4-11 as home chalk the past four years.

The last time we saw Les Miles grace the sidelines of a Big 12 team, it was 2004 at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys would earn a third straight bowl berth that autumn before LSU came calling for Les following Nick Saban’s move to the Miami Dolphins (wow, time does fly!). But compared to Oklahoma State and LSU, Miles is now at the bottom of the FBS barrel, inheriting the scraps of what is left over at Kansas (2018 SU 3-9; ATS 6-6; O/U 5-7) following just 23 wins over the past...decade. Reactions have run the gamut in the region about the wisdom of hiring a 65-year-old coach who has been out of the mix the past two seasons after being jettisoned early in 2016 campaign in Baton Rouge. It is not lost upon us the opinion of one of our radio contacts in the SEC region who once described Miles as “John L. Smith with players” when analyzing his tenure at LSU. We remain a bit skeptical about this hire in Lawrence, too.

The Jayhawks were a bit more competitive in 2018 for David Beaty, and to their credit continued to play hard for their coach even when he was officially a lame duck for the last few weeks of the season. But it’s hard to believe KU was a national contender just over a decade ago under the well-fed Mark Mangino, with the Aqib Talib-led team in the title mix in 2007. Yet no bowls for the Jayhawks since 2008, and considering how the end of the Mangino regime, and stints under Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, and most recently Beaty have spectacularly failed, did Miles bite off more than he can chew at this stage of his career? Before he was pushed out at LSU, Miles recruited 6-5 QB Thomas MacVittie, who would ink instead with Pitt before starring in the juco ranks. A pro-style QB, MacVittie will hopefully ignite an offense that ranked a lowly 106th in scoring (23.8 ppg) and 110th overall (351 ypg) in 2018. There is some quality in the backfield with all of last year’s top RBs still in the fold, including Pooka Williams, Jr., the 2018 Big 12 Frosh of the Year when he gained 1125 YR LY. (An off-field incident will result in a one-game suspension for Pooka in the opener vs. Indiana State). It is hoped that ex-Bama transfer WR Daylon Charlot will emerge as MacVittie’s top target after disappointing in 2018, though he did feature in spring work. Miles also hit the jucos to find more targets for MacVittie, hoping rangy types like Ezra Naylor II and Andrew Parchment can hit the ground running. There is some experience up front with eight of the projected ten-man two-deep along the OL being juniors or seniors. Nonetheless, trading points with many of the high-powered Big 12 attacks still figures a chore, and Miles was never accused of being progressive with his LSU offenses.

Last year’s D was also not as bad as some recent KU editions, allowing 30 ppg (it had been much worse in preceding seasons). A near-complete rebuild, however, will be required along a front seven that was mostly-depleted by graduation. New d.c. D.J. Eliot (most recently at Colorado) will be switching the Jayhawks to 3-4 looks, where some newcomers, including touted true frosh DT DaJon Terry, will likely get a look. There is plenty of experience in the secondary where all four starters return, led by big-hitting FS Mike Lee, lending hope that KU might not get overrun by the many pass-happy Big 12 strike forces. But that is always a risk in this high-powered league.

After winning just six games combined over the past four years, there can be no gimmes on the schedule for the Jayhawks. Having, said that, however, they will be favored in their opening pair vs. aforementioned FCS Indiana State, plus Sun Belt Coastal Carolina, as the slate gives Miles a bit of a break at the start of his in his comeback year. Eventually the Big 12 schedule figures to grind down the Jayhawks, and the bar Miles is expected to reach is last year’s 3 wins. For now, anything more is gravy. The fan base has been patient for a decade in Lawrence and seems willing to wait a couple of more years before any possible payoff with Miles.

Spread-wise, Beaty didn’t actually fare too badly in his swan song year when covering 7 of 12, having the benefit of big pointspreads to work with. That ought to apply to Miles as well once Big 12 action begins. Note that Miles closed his LSU career on a 22-32-1 spread skid, and covers in just 3 of 8 as a dog.

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