First we covered the Big Ten, then we covered the SEC. This might be our last year to preview the Big 12 with speculation Texas and Oklahoma could look to join the SEC as soon as 2022. Oklahoma has won the last six Big 12 championships and there is reason to believe they will repeat for their seventh this fall. Contenders such as Iowa State will look to pose a challenge while dark horses like TCU and Texas look to make some noise and rise in the ranks.
1 – Oklahoma Sooners: As we stated in the introduction, Oklahoma is the six time reigning champion of the Big 12 and they return a loaded roster. Not only are they the favorite to win the Big 12, they are one of the favorites to win the National Title. When looking at the Sooners, you have to start with quarterback Spencer Rattler. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He looks to be the next great Oklahoma quarterback and a Heisman favorite. Kennedy Brooks returns at running back after opting out of the 2020 season. Brooks has over 2,000 yards in his career thus far. The Sooners have a deep wide receiver room but not a ton of experience. Guys like Marvin Mims, Jadon Hasselwood and Drake Stoops will be expected to step up this year. The Sooners lose a few players on the offensive line but should have enough depth to protect Rattler and have a strong running game. On defense, this could be the best Oklahoma defense in recent memory. Nik Bonitto could be one of the best linebackers in the country after finishing with eight sacks last season. Delarrin Turner-Yell and Pat Fields return at safety to give the Sooners experience in the secondary. Anything short of a Big 12 championship is a failure this season.
2 – Iowa State Cyclones: Matt Campbell has built an incredible program at Iowa State. The Cyclones won nine games in 2020 for the first time since 2000. There is reason for optimism in Ames this year. Quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall could be one of the best duos in college football this season. Both players are legitimate Heisman contenders. Hall was a first team All-American and the runner up for the Doak Walker award. Purdy owns 25 Iowa State school records. One of Purdy’s favorite targets is tight end Charlie Kolar. Over the last two seasons, Kolar has more than 1,200 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. Turning over to the defense, defensive end Will McDonald IV returns after posting 10.5 sacks in 2020. Linebacker Mike Rose led the Big 12 in tackles and also had five interceptions. The Iowa State defense is in a great place heading into 2021. They travel to Norman to play Oklahoma which is likely to determine the Big 12 regular season champion.
3 – Texas Longhorns: Is Steve Sarkisian going to bring Texas back this year? If you look at the Texas offense, there is a lot to like about the roster. Bijan Robinson is one of the most talented running backs in the country and could be in New York for the Heisman ceremony at the end of the season. Robinson ran for over 800 yards and 8.2 yards per carry as a freshman. The question for Sarkisian heading into fall camp is who will start at quarterback. Casey Thompson and Hudson Card are battling for the position with Thompson the current favorite to win the position. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have veteran wide receivers to throw to. Joshua Moore and Jordan Whittingham were both starters for Texas last year and return in 2021. The defense is a concern for Texas. Joseph Ossai departed for the NFL after having 16.5 tackles for loss in 2020. The Longhorns need a consistent pass rush to give them a chance in the Big 12. The defense allowed over 400 yards per game last season which will need to improve or they will need to win every game in a shootout.
4 – TCU Horned Frogs: After the top three programs in the Big 12, the next group of programs could be interchangeable. TCU returns a strong core on both offense and defense. Max Duggan is entering his third season and has been a starter for numerous games over the past two seasons. Zach Evans, Emari Demercado, and Kendre Miller give the Horned Frogs arguably the most depth at running back in the Big 12. Miller and Evans both had games where they rushed for over 100 yards in 2020. TCU returns three starters on the offensive line but also adds Obinna Eze who started 25 games for Memphis. Ochaun Mathis was 2nd Team All-Big 12 after recording nine sacks including three against Texas Tech. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson should be the top defensive back after recording 13 passes deflected last year. The last few years have seen Gary Patterson’s team in a slump. 2021 should be an opportunity to rise up and potentially surprise a few teams in the Big 12 this year.
5 – Oklahoma State Cowboys: Spencer Sanders is entering his third season starting at quarterback for the Cowboys. His offense will look different with running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace off to the NFL. Tay Martin and Brennan Presley are the leading candidates to step up at wide receiver. Oklahoma State will have an overall solid running back room with Dezmon Jackson, LD Brown, Dominic Richardson, and Jaylen Warren all fighting for time. Jackson and Brown both saw significant playing time last year. Both running backs had more than 80 carries and 400 yards each. The dense returns eight starters from last season. One question on the defensive line will be the health of Trace Ford. He tore his ACL last season and it remains to be seen if he will be able to return to his previous form. The secondary should be strong with Harvell-Peel, Tre Sterling and Tanner McCalister all returning after starting last season. The Cowboys make an early season trip to face Boise State in September which should be an evenly matched game. Boise State tends to fare well at home so Oklahoma State should be prepared for a fight. The uncertainty on offense drops Oklahoma State down to 5.
6 – West Virginia Mountaineers: Jarrett Doege returns at quarterback for West Virginia after an overall good season. He was benched in the bowl game against Army but throughout the season he limited his mistakes. Doege only threw four interceptions over the course of the season. The receiver room will provide plenty of depth and experience for Doege as he returns three of his top receivers. Sam James, Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Winston Wright Jr combined to have 105 catches for 1,269 yards in 2020. Running back Leddie Brown will be one of the focal points of the offense after rushing for over 1,000 yards last season. Brown averaged over five yards per carry and finished with nine rushing touchdowns while adding 202 yards receiving and an additional two touchdowns. The Mountaineer defense lost a considerable amount of production but should still be one of the top defenses in the Big 12. Akheem Mesidor was a Freshman All-American on the defensive line and Dante Stills had 10.5 tackles for loss. Sean Mahone and Alonzo Addae will need to help replace the production of Tykee Smith after Smith transferred to Georgia. Neal Brown’s team should be in line for a good season. An early test against Virginia Tech should help give an idea for how West Virginia will look this season.
7 – Kansas State Wildcats: Skyler Thompson is back for what feels like his seventh season at Kansas State. In reality, Thompson has started over 30 games for the Wildcats throwing for over 5,000 yards and rushing for additional 1,000. The main play maker is also back for the Wildcats. Running back Deuce Vaughn had over 1,200 all purpose yards as a freshman and should be one of the most explosive players in the Big 12. At only 5’6″, he reminds fans of former Wildcat great, Darren Sproles. After Vaughn, the play making on offense takes a significant drop. Chabastin Taylor was the leading wide receiver with only 293 yards. Kansas State will need to see more production from the receivers in 2020 in order to compete in the Big 12. The Wildcats defense will be looking to replace production from some of their star players. Wyatt Hubert is one player who will need to be replaced. Hubert led the team in sacks with 8.5. One key player returning on the defense is Jahron McPherson. McPherson finished last season with 54 tackles, two interceptions, 3.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. In order for Kansas State’s defense to have success this year, they will rely heavily on McPherson.
8 – Baylor Bears: Dave Aranda probably envisioned his first season at Baylor going better than it did in reality. He enters 2021 searching for a new quarterback after Charlie Brewer transferred to Utah. Gerry Bohanon and Jacob Zeno are both fighting for the starting spot with neither having a clear lead at this point. Whoever wins the job will have plenty of skill position players to work with. Baylor returns a large portion of their wide receivers. R.J. Sneed, Tyquan Thornton, Josh Fleeks and Gavin Holmes are all back on campus this fall. Sneed was the most productive receiver last fall with 39 catches for 497 yards and three touchdowns. Craig Williams was having a great start to his season at running back before a season ending injury. He was average 7.6 yards per carry through the first four games of the season. Baylor’s defense allowed just under 30 points per game last fall but returns experience at all levels of the defense. Terrel Bernard is a two time All-Big 12 player at linebacker but was limited last year because of an injury. Bernard will need a bounce back season in order for Baylor to move up this list. The defense should see an improvement in the secondary and defensive line with transfers and returning experience. The question mark at quarterback could determine if Baylor makes a bowl game this fall.
9 – Texas Tech Red Raiders: Matt Wells is entering 2021 on the hot seat. He is 8-14 in his first two seasons with the Red Raiders. Texas Tech needs to make a bowl game or they could be looking for a new coach this winter. There are numerous question marks on the team but Texas Tech has potential to move up this list quickly if they can get a few of them solved. The first position is quarterback. Tyler Shough transferred from Oregon and he will compete with Henry Colombi and Behren Morton. Shough had flashes at Oregon where he threw 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last fall. Colombi played in six games last fall throwing eight touchdowns and four interceptions. The Red Raiders also return four offensive linemen which helps provide stability to the offense. The receiver room will be looking for players to step up but the good news is they return Erik Ezukanma. Ezukanma had 748 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. SaRodorick Thompson was inconsistent at running back last fall. He had three games over 100 yards while also having three games under 20 yards. Wells hit the transfer portal to find players to step in on defense. He has brought in 11 power five transfers over the past two seasons including Colin Schooler from Arizona, Eric Monroe from LSU, and Marquis Waters from Duke. Matt Wells and Texas Tech have the chance to surprise some teams this fall, but they will need to be more consistent.
10 – Kansas Jayhawks: Kansas was abysmal last year, there is no way around it. The season was followed by an off season investigation which resulted in the firing of head coach Les Miles and athletic director Jeff Long. Kansas has not had a winning record since 2008 but the hiring of Lance Leipold could be their best in the past decade. Leipold won three national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater and then turned the Buffalo Bulls program around. Leipold went to work in the transfer portal adding players such as Mike Novitsky (Buffalo), Colin Grunhard (Notre Dame), Jason Bean (North Texas), and Michael Ford (Buffalo). Bean is expected to compete to be the starting quarterback after throwing for over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall. Leipold also added numerous players from the transfer portal on defense while also returning a large core of players. Defensive linemen Marcus Harris had 7.5 tackles for loss as a freshman which tied for the team lead. Linebacker Kyron Johnson is another player to watch on the defense. He finished last season with 47 tackles. His strongest performance came against Oklahoma where he recorded seven tackles including two sacks and a forced fumble. Heading into 2021, Kansas will be looking to make small improvements. For the last decade they have been the punching bag of the Big 12. Leipold is here to change that perception but he will need time to allow for improvements to be made.