Big 12 Week: Predictions for each team in the conference
It’s Big 12 preview week. Here is a look at my predictions for each team's regular season record.
ACC WEEK: Top five MVP candidates | Five best position groups | Coach report | Players in need of bounceback seasons | Freshmen to watch | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects
SEC WEEK: Top five MVP candidates | Coach report | Five best position groups | Players needing bounceback seasons | Top true freshmen | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects
BIG TEN WEEK: Five MVP candidates in the Big Ten | Five best position groups | Coach report | Five players needing bounceback seasons | Freshmen to watch | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects
1. Oklahoma (12-0)
The Sooners are the class of the conference – they've got more talent at nearly every position than anyone else in the Big 12. Their biggest hurdle is going to be staying focused every week as they've got a target on their back. Spencer Rattler is the preseason Heisman frontrunner, and for good reason. He's got two great backs joining him in Kennedy Brooks and Tennessee transfer Eric Gray.
The pass catchers are talented and deep, led by Marvin Mims, Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood at wide receiver, and Austin Stogner and Jeremiah Hall at tight end. The line adds Wanya Morris to an already excellent group.
Defensively, they've got the best edge rusher in the conference with Nik Bonitto returning for another season, and Isaiah Thomas is a versatile defensive lineman who can get pressure from any spot along the defensive front.
Defensive back is really the only position with any question marks, but someone always pops for this squad. Expect them to be favored by a touchdown or more in every contest this season.
2. Texas (9-3)
Steve Sarkisian's first season back at the helm of a program brings a lot of expectations, and I won't be surprised if there's a rematch of the Red River Rivalry in the Big 12 title game. No matter who ends up playing quarterback, the Horns have a great backfield with Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson both returning and the addition of Keilan Robinson from Alabama. Joshua Moore and Jordan Whittington will need to take the next step in their development at receiver, but the natural ability is there.
Despite losing Sam Cosmi to the NFL, there's still plenty of talent along the offensive line, anchored by Derek Kerstetter and Junior Angilau. Their defensive line is among the best in the conference with T'Vondre Sweat and Keondre Coburn on the interior and Moro Ojomo coming off the edge, and I expect big things from Alfred Collins.
The back seven has a couple of notable players with DeMarvion Overshown at linebacker and D'Shawn Jamison at corner, but there will definitely be a need for some younger guys to step up in the defensive backfield if they're going to keep up with the Sooners.
3. Iowa State (8-4)
You're probably asking yourself: How on earth does he have Iowa State losing four games? Well, I'll tell you how. First off, there's the opener with the Hawkeyes, which I think Iowa wins, plus a tricky road trip to Manhattan and obviously at Oklahoma. Finally, games with Texas and TCU are no gimmes, so it's not out of the realm of possibility for the Cyclones to lose four - or potentially even five - games this year.
That being said, they've still got the best running back in the conference in Breece Hall, a veteran quarterback in Brock Purdy and a great tight end in Charlie Kolar leading the offense. The offensive and defensive lines, however, are a bit thin, and they're going to need to beef up on the interior. Their linebackers however are very good, led by Mike Rose and Jake Hummel, with O'Rien Vance back as well as Will McDonald playing a hybrid OLB/DE role. In the defensive backfield, they've got some solid pieces in Isheem Young, Greg Eisworth and Tayvonn Kyle. But I'm pretty wary here about all the preseason expectations.
4. TCU (8-4)
As it often goes with Gary Patterson-led teams, it all starts on the defensive side of the ball. This season is no different, with the Horned Frogs having the best set of defensive backs in the conference despite losing both starting safeties to the pros. Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is arguably the best cornerback in the Big 12, and Noah Daniels across from him is also no slouch. Add in Memphis transfer TJ Carter and you've got the underpinnings of a great secondary.
While the linebackers aren't too notable, they don't need to be in Patterson's 4-2-5 system, and they've got some really nice pieces on the defensive line in Ochuan Mathis and Khari Coleman on the edge and Kenny Turnier and Corey Bethley on the inside. Max Duggan is back at quarterback for his junior season, and former five star running back Zach Evans joins him in the backfield.
Evans is a big-time breakout candidate as a sophomore, and receiver Quentin Johnston is a big, long target at 6-foot-4 on the outside alongside transfer JD Spielman, who missed most of last season due to injury after transferring from Nebraska. Non-conference games vs. Cal and SMU will both be interesting, but don't be surprised to see TCU back near the top of the conference.
5. Kansas State (7-5)
The big question looming for this team is the same one that we've had over the past two seasons: Can Skylar Thompson stay healthy? When he's playing, this is one of the most dynamic teams in the conference, but when he's not they take a giant step back. But no matter the injury status of Thompson, Deuce Vaughn will be getting a lot of touches, and that's a great thing for the Wildcats, as he's one of the most exciting players in the country. He can do it all - run the ball, catch the ball and factor in the return game - and he's pure electricity once the ball is in his hands.
With Chris Kleiman coaching, you know this team will be hard nosed, and even though they don't have any real top-end talent on the offensive line, they're going to have a solid unit. Eli Huggins is an interior disruptor, and Bronson Massie can get after the quarterback from the edge. But the defense really hinges on the secondary, most notably Ekow Boye-Doe, who is a great corner, especially in the slot, despite being 165 pounds soaking wet. There's still going to be some growing pains for this Kansas State team, but I really believe that Kleiman could be the next great coach in the Big 12.
6. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Something just doesn't seem quite right in Stillwater, and I'm not feeling great about this Cowboy team entering the season, even though I want to. Spencer Sanders returns as the starter behind center, but he's without his top three playmakers with Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner now in the NFL. At receiver, there are some interesting pieces, especially Tay Martin, and a whole bunch of freshmen in the mix, including John Paul Richardson, the Green twins (Blaine and Bryson), and Jaden Bray. The offensive line has question marks after Teven Jenkins went pro and Ry Schneider retired, but they still have seven guys with various levels of starting experience in the mix, most notably guard Josh Sills.
So while the offense has some potential to be well above average, the problem, as it always is with OSU, is the defense. The Cowboys lack any real difference makers along the defensive line, forcing Malcolm Rodriguez to have to clean up everything from the linebacker position. The defensive backfield, however, has some playmakers, especially with the safety tandem of Trey Sterling and Kolby Harvell-Peel. With all that being said, though, I still just don't have a great feeling about this year's squad.
7. West Virginia (5-7)
A couple of tough non-conference matchups (Maryland and Virginia Tech) and road games at TCU and Kansas State will make things pretty difficult for this Mountaineers team to gain a lot of traction, especially as they were decimated by the transfer portal, losing their top two players in defensive backs Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller. Despite that, they've still got some good depth in the secondary with safeties Alonzo Addae, Sean Mahone and Kerry Martin Jr., as well as corner Nicktroy Fortune. However, in front of them it gets a little dicey, without any real proven commodities outside of linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo in the front seven of that defense.
On the offense, Jarret Doege showed signs of life last year, but he's going to need to step it up in a big way if they're going to score with the top teams in the league. Winston Wright is probably their top option at receiver, but the group beyond him is relatively unproven and the offensive line is thin behind Virginia Tech transfer Doug Nester.
8. Texas Tech (4-8)
Getting Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough in the portal was definitely one of the bigger out-of-nowhere pickups this offseason, and the Red Raiders were in need of a quarterback after losing last year's starter, Alan Bowman, to the portal himself. Running back SaRodorick Thompson is one of the more under-the-radar quality backs in the conference, and receiver Erik Ezukanma has proven that he can get open in a variety of ways.
There are a couple of nice pieces on the offensive line between tackle TJ Storment and center Dawson Deaton, but after them it's a bit more of a tossup. The defense, as it always seems to be in Lubbock, remains a concern. They were unable to get reliable pressure on the quarterback last year, and will more than likely need someone other than linebacker Colin Schooler to show that they can create pressure. While the offense may be passable, the defense, more than likely, won't be, which is why Matt Wells is the coach on the hottest seat in the conference.
9. Baylor (3-9)
Dave Aranda's bunch didn't get off to the best start last season, going 2-7 in his first season at the helm, and things aren't looking much better this year. There's still question marks at quarterback as to who will start between Gerry Bohanon and Jacob Zeno, but whoever is taking snaps will have to rely heavily on RJ Sneed, the best receiving option on the team. Trestan Ebner is back for his senior season, and the Bears have a veteran offensive line that will start five seniors, including tackle Connor Galvin.
The defense you would imagine would improve in Aranda's second year, as he's one of the best defensive minds in the game. He's got some solid pieces to work with, especially in linebackers Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard. Transfer Siaki Ika comes over from LSU and should plug the middle at nose tackle in Aranda's 3-4. Raleigh Texada is a great cover corner who can get left on an island, but the rest of the defensive backfield is relatively unproven. Expect some more growing pains from this team this season.
10. Kansas (1-11)
Lance Leipold enters arguably the worst situation in the entire Power Five, taking over a program that is in shambles after the firing of both head coach Les Miles and athletic director Jeff Long. He has a Herculean task in front of him in rebuilding this program, and that cupboard is pretty bare for him.
North Texas transfer Jason Bean, along with holdovers Jalon Daniels and Miles Kendrick could all see significant snaps, but after a glut of transfers both in and out, the entire roster is in flux. Making any real assumptions about this team right now is a fool's errand. All that's for certain is that it's going to be a long season for Leipold and company, and it's going to be more about establishing a culture and rebuilding from the ground up.