A season saddled with question marks begins with a certainty within the Big 12: Oklahoma is the lead dog until proven otherwise. The Sooners are in unchartered waters under Lincoln Riley as the hot-shot offensive mind must start a quarterback who wasn’t picked up on the transfer market.
Texas and Oklahoma State head into 2020 with conference title expectations thanks to an experienced offense led by strong leaders at quarterback in Sam Ehlinger for the Longhorns and Spencer Sanders for the Cowboys. Iowa State, Baylor and TCU possess enough talent to push the predicted favorites in 2020 like the Bears did last season.
Despite an added year under newish head coaches, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas should once again bring up the rear of the conference standings. COVID-19 might be the toughest opponent on the schedule this year, and the true favorite to claim a Big 12 and national championship.
Up next: vs. Missouri State, Saturday
Can former five-star prospect Spencer Rattler replace three straight NFL draft picks at quarterback without the Oklahoma offense missing a beat? He’ll be given ample opportunity with the Sooners returning depth and experience at wide receiver and along the offensive line. The defense took steps forward last season, and that unit should only improve in year two under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Running back is the real concern for Oklahoma.
Up next: vs. UTEP, Saturday
The Longhorns are always overrated to start the season, so why ruin that tradition? The Longhorns, on paper, should compete for a conference title, but that’s usually true for a program that recruits better than anyone in the conference despite a decade of struggles. The 2020 squad is officially Tom Herman’s team as his recruits finally outnumber Charlie Strong’s leftovers. The high hopes sit squarely on the shoulders of Ehlinger, who could be a Heisman Trophy finalist with a strong senior season.
3. Oklahoma State
Up next: vs. Tulsa (Sept. 19)
Mike Gundy’s squad has a chance to run the Big 12 table if the defense can overachieve. The offensive side of the football is loaded in Stillwater with running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace back for the 2020 season. Sanders is among the most talented and exciting young quarterbacks in college football. The team returns 19 starters from the 2019 squad. It’s now or never for Gundy, who is as known for loudly letting people know his gender and age at a press conference or wearing t-shirts his players don’t like as much as he is winning big games.
4. Iowa State
Up next: vs. Louisiana, Saturday
A slow start kept Iowa State from challenging for a conference title in 2019, but lower expectations may fit this squad better in the 2020 season. Head coach Matt Campbell’s squad will be dangerous this year even though most people feel the Big 12 is a three-team race between Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. Quarterback Brock Purdy might be the best player in the conference. The running game will be solid and the defense will play sound, fundamental football.
Up next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Saturday
Matt Rhule left Baylor for the Carolina Panthers job after a stellar 2019 campaign. New head coach Dave Aranda left his post as LSU’s defensive coordinator to take over a program resurrected, on and off the field, by Rhule after the Art Briles tenure. Quarterback Charlie Brewer, when healthy, is a proven commodity with 30 starts heading into his senior season. The defense was incredible in 2019.
Up next: vs. Iowa State (Sept. 26)
TCU must figure out the quarterback position before the Horned Frogs can be considered a title contender. Max Duggan was the expected starter before a heart condition was discovered during a health screening for COVID-19. He’s out indefinitely, leaving TCU searching for a player to lead the offense. TCU did add five-star running back Zach Evans to the fold, as well as LSU defensive transfer Marcel Brooks.
7. Kansas State
Up next: vs. Arkansas State, Saturday
Kansas State needs to score more in 2020 to achieve consistent success in head coach Chris Klieman’s second season in charge. The Wildcats did a lot of things right last year, namely time of possession and turnover margin. The team was balanced and was able to move the football between the 20s. To take the next step, Kansas State has to capitalize on opportunities with touchdowns instead of field goal attempts. Easier said than done.
8. Texas Tech
Up next: vs. Houston Baptist, Saturday
It feels weird to type this about a team that led the Big 12 in passing yards last year, but the quarterback position at Texas Tech needs to create more big plays. Jett Duffey is gone. Alan Bowman should be the starter at quarterback when healthy, but he’s struggled to stay on the field for the Red Raiders. Redshirt freshman Maverick McIvor missed last year with a broken leg. Texas Tech scored more than 30 points in four of the final 10 games of the season. The defense still isn’t good enough for Texas Tech to win without heroic efforts from the offense.
9. West Virginia
Up next: vs. Eastern Kentucky, Saturday
West Virginia is still rebuilding in year two under head coach Neal Brown. Quarterbacks Austin Kendall and Jarrett Doege split time in 2019. One of them needs to take control of the offense to give the Mountaineers any chance at success. West Virginia was last in the Big 12 in scoring offense last season. The defense improved as the season progressed. That unit is anchored by defensive linemen Darius and Dante Stills.
Up next: vs. Coastal Carolina, Saturday
Running back Pooka Williams is a stud. He might be the most explosive player in the conference. It is too early in the season to pick on the Jayhawks, so I’ll stop there.