#1 – Awkward
In case you live under a rock and haven’t been paying attention, it appears both Texas and Oklahoma will be heading to the SEC at some point between 2022 and 2025. These schools have long been the two main power brokers within the conference, and after flirting with a move to the PAC 10/12 a decade ago, they’ve officially made the jump to the SEC. This leaves roughly a hundred question marks for the eight other conference schools as well as the Big 12 itself. Will the Big 12 fold in the coming years with a drastic loss in revenue? Will they look to poach some bigger schools from the Group of 5? Many questions will be raised every week, but one thing is for sure: The Sooners and Longhorns have given everyone else a giant middle finger, which is going to make watching either school go on the road this season into a news story. Fans, coaches, and players for schools like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, etc are sure to be vocal as they sit wondering where their squad fits in the future of college football. One thing is for sure, its gonna be an awkward season in the Big 12 during the 2021 season
#2 – Expectations for Sark in Year 1
Back to square one for the Texas Longhorns. After running Mack Brown out of Austin, and failures to compete for the Big 12 Championship with either Charlie Strong or Tom Herman, UT opted to reset itself at the top again. This time, Texas brought in Steve Sarkisian, who guided one of the most prolific offenses in the sports history this past year with Alabama. Having high expectations in Austin isn’t new, but I think Texas fans need to take this year as a building year before entering the SEC. This isn’t to say Texas shouldn’t win 9 games, but I don’t think you can bank on a Big 12 Championship appearance or bust.
First off, Sam Ehlinger has moved on to the NFL. A born leader at QB over the past several years, it may take a little bit of time to truly replace that presence at such an important position. Second of all, the top crust of the Big 12 this year is both very talented, well coached, and experienced. Oklahoma returns Spencer Rattler as well as many pieces on both sides of the ball, and Iowa State brings back 26 players with 6+ games of starting experience, which is huge for a team coming off a Championship birth.
There is a case to be made Sark’s time under Nick Saban has made him a better head coach, and we’ll see that this fall, but as it stands now based off his prior history, I’d argue Sark is maybe the 4th or 5th best coach within the conference. If the Longhorns make the Big 12 Championship, good for them, they’ll have earned it, but I caution fans not to label this season as a boom or bust year. Cultivate talent and prep for the rigors that are gonna be coming in the next few years.
#3 – Iowa State: Going for Gold
In college football, you have a variety of teams every given year. You can almost guarentee Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and several other national powers are going to be really good. They have elite talent on the coaching staff, on the football field, and everywhere in between. Then you have the Iowa States.
Matt Campbell has long been considered one of the top upcoming head coaching talents in the country, which really took off after his Cyclones upset the Baker Mayfield Sooners several years ago, and every year he becomes a hot name in the coaching carousel, both for college and the NFL. The problem he has at Iowa State is namely resources and talent. Iowa State isn’t likely to become a power on the recruiting trail, and at best can slide into a roll much like interstate rival Iowa, with finding a few underrated studs every cycle that can blossom into high ranked NFL talent with some good coaching and work in the weight room.
Thats what makes this season so huge for the Cyclones. After a failed comeback late in the Big 12 Championship, and a big NY6 win in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon, the Cyclones return nearly the entirety of their starting core from last season. Projected to open as a Top 10 team, Iowa State finds itself in one of those boom or bust years for smaller schools. The perfect combination of talent and experience that these kind of schools only see every few years. Will the returns of key players like Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Mike Rose, and Greg Eisworth help Iowa State break through for their first league title since 1912? or even a Playoff birth? Thats certainly the hope. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a little something nice to add to the old resume should Iowa State being looking for a new home in the next few years. The key for Iowa State will ultimately be getting out to a fast start, something they’ve admittedly struggled with under Matt Campbell.
#4 – Breakout Contenders
West Virginia & Neal Brown – Neal Brown is only 11-11 at West Virginia in two years, but fresh off a 6-4 season and a bowl win against Army, I expect the Mountaineers to take another leap forward in 2021. Not saying I think they’ll contend for the Big 12, but it feels as though Browns squad is prime for a boost. Jarret Doege and Leddie Brown return to power the offense, and while some questions may arise on the offensive line, they’ve been blessed with a fairly winnable schedule. Getting Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Virginia Tech all to travel to Morgantown should provide good chances at winning all four matchups. The only major road games I see as potential losses are Oklahoma (obviously), Baylor, and TCU. They also travel to both Kansas schools and Maryland.
With a winnable schedule, experience at the head of the offense, look for West Virginia to improve to 7 or 8 wins in the regular season.
Will McDonald – The Iowa State defensive end had 13.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2020, and if I had to guess, most of the country has no clue about McDonald. He will lose running mate JaQuan Bailey, but I anticipate another standout season from the Cyclone edge rusher while making a national name for himself.
Brennan Presley – I feel obligated to put Presley in this as a breakout candidate strictly because of what he did to my Hurricanes in the Cheez-It Bowl last December. In his only start, Presley went for 6 catches, 118 yards and three touchdowns. With Tylan Wallace and Dylan Stoner moving on, Oklahoma State will need big seasons from fresh blood, and it feels like a good guess that Presley will step into heavy rotation usage.
#5 – Games to Watch
Oklahoma @ Tulane (September 4th) – Putting this in for two reasons: 1: tremendous uniform matchup and 2: I love and support big programs making trips to G5 schools.
Iowa @ Iowa State (September 11th) – Iowa State needs to start hot and will get an opportunity to grab a huge early season win over a rival and top 25 team coming to Ames
Cal @ TCU (September 11th) – A rematch of the infamous 2018 Cheez-It Bowl
Texas @ Arkansas (September 11th) – An old school rivalry gets renewed. Can Sark get a big SEC road win early in his tenure?
Oklahoma State @ Boise State (September 18th) – Oklahoma State brings their beautiful uniforms to the Blue Turf.
SMU @ TCU (September 25th) – This rivalry game was an exciting barn burner in 2020.
Oklahoma @ Kansas State (October 2nd) – For whatever reason, Lincoln Riley has had trouble with Kansas State in recent years. Can the Sooners put those woes behind them?
Oklahoma vs. Texas (October 9th – Dallas) – Always entertaining, this may be the final iteration of this rivalry under the Big 12 banner.
Oklahoma State @ Texas (October 16th) – Two Big 12 contenders clash in Austin. What can Sark do in back to back Oklahoma games?
Texas @ Iowa State (November 6th) – This early November matchup may have huge implications on the Big 12 Championship
Iowa State @ Oklahoma (November 20th) – A potential preview of the Big 12 Championship takes place in Norman.
Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (November 27th) – Everyones favorite one sided rivalry.
#6 – Final Predictions
- Iowa State
- Oklahoma State
- West Virginia
- Texas Tech
- Kansas State
Offensive Player of the Year
Spencer Rattler, QB Oklahoma
Defensive Player of the Year
Will McDonald, EDGE Iowa State
Coach of the Year
Neal Brown, West Virginia