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College Football Preview 2019: Breaking Down the Big 12

Brock Purdy, Iowa State
2018 In Review: Even with a loss to Red River rival Texas and a number of close calls, Oklahoma once again proved they were the class of the Big 12, winning their fourth straight conference title. They also produced their second straight Heisman winner and made their second consecutive Playoff appearance, proving they are one of the top programs in the entire country. Texas followed them up with a second place finish in the league, putting together their best season in a decade. The Longhorns not only beat the Sooners in their regular season battle, they made the Big 12 Championship and dominated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It is unclear at this point whether UT is "back", but they certainly have re-emerged as a Big 12 Title threat under head coach Tom Herman. Finishing up behind the Red River schools were rising Iowa State and West Virginia, who both went 6-3 in the conference. At the bottom, Kansas once again faltered to last place in the Big 12, although they did manage to steal away a conference victory from an injury-plagued TCU team to go 1-8 in conference action.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma Sooners (National Rank: 3)
Strengths: Even without the reigning Heisman winner, Oklahoma should be scary good offensively. They bring in the biggest name of the transfer portal in Jalen Hurts and surround the former Alabama QB with a ton of stars at the skill positions. Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon are a potent 1-2 punch at running back, while CeeDee Lamb leads the receivers... The defense was atrocious last fall, but nine starters return under the guidance of new DC Alex Grinch. There has to be at least some improvement, as Kenneth Murray and a host of defensive backs are a great starting point entering 2019... There are no Ohio States on the non-conference slate for Oklahoma this season, which should be huge going forward. Houston and UCLA could be sneaky good, but the Sooners should still be pretty heavy favorites in both those games, setting them up as undefeated leading into conference play.
Weaknesses: The defense has to get better, or a fifth straight league title is completely out of the question. This was the worst pass defense in the entire nation a year ago, so there is ample room for improvement... The offensive line was among the best in the entire country in 2018, but loses four starters. Jalen Hurts was used to playing behind stacked O-Lines in Tuscaloosca, so there could be some questions here. Center Creed Humphrey will have to be the anchor, as the lone returnee... The Big 12 is a wacky league, and the conference schedule could have some trap games. The Sooners have to go to Dallas to square off against Texas, while also getting road treks against Baylor and Oklahoma State, two upset-minded programs traditionally.
Projected Record: 12-1 (8-1 Big 12, Win Big 12 Championship Game)

2. Texas Longhorns (National Rank: 7)
Strengths: Sam Ehlinger is the best Texas QB since Colt McCoy was in town over a decade ago. Ehlinger recorded 41 total touchdowns in 2018, playing with a passion and ferocity this offense needed numerous times. A strong showing in their big non-conference matchup with LSU could launch his Heisman candidacy... This offense is full of large, physical playmakers that aren't easy to find in this league. Senior receiver Collin Johnson is a matchup nightmare on the outside, while senior Devin Duvernay should exploit gaps in the middle. Add in powerful tailback Keontay Ingram, this offense doesn't look like a typical Big 12 unit, but it should still be effective... DC Todd Orlando loves to run five defensive back sets, and the 'Horns have a ton of talent back there. Sophomore safety Caden Sterns is already on his way to being a superstar, but don't overlook senior Brandon Jones nor sophomore nickelback B.J. Foster.
Weaknesses: The entire front seven was gutted by graduations and other departures. Linebackers Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler are both, leaving 177 tackles that need to be replaced, while Charles Omenihu is also absent after managing 9.5 sacks in 2018... Lil'Jordan Humphrey is a bigger loss at receiver than most would realize. As the Longhorns' leading receiver a year ago, he played a major role in making all sorts of contested catches for this offense... How does UT handle their transition back into being the "hunted" of college football? This program always has a lot of pressure on it, but the stakes will get even higher after a successful 2018. Can they handle all the new expectations?
Projected Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12, Lose in Big 12 Championship Game)

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys (National Rank: 25)
Strengths: Even with a new offensive play-caller in Sean Gleeson, Oklahoma State should be explosive as usual on offense. They have a Biletnikoff Award finalist at wide out and a rising star in Chuba Hubbard at running back, now it is just about finding their quarterback... Despite coming in at 118th in pass defense last fall, the secondary should be a strength this season. Senior corner A.J. Green is going to be shutdown once more, while junior safety Malcolm Rodriguez is their top returning tackler... Having a consistent placekicker is a real luxury in college football, and OSU has that in senior Matt Ammendola. He enters 2019 sixth on the NCAA's active scorer list and went 16 of 22 on field goals in '18.
Weaknesses: Neither quarterback has grabbed the reigns of the offense so far. Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders looked like the presumed starter following the spring, but former Hawaii transfer Dru Brown has pushed him. Either QB could put up huge numbers in this offense, but the fact neither has emerged is relatively concerning... Nearly the entire D-Line will have to be retooled, as all four starters depart. Senior end Mike Scott is a solid starting point, but a number of transfers are going to have to step up, such as Kyle Junior and JUCO newcomer Sione Asi... Can the Cowboys get better at closing games out in 2019? They lost four of their six losses by just a total of 18 points, including a one-point loss to Oklahoma and a four-point loss to Baylor. Unless they can, contending in the Big 12 is going to be tall order.
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big 12)

4. Iowa State Cyclones
Strengths: This looks like the best defense in the Big 12, and it isn't super close right now. Seven starters return to the nation's 33rd defense in terms of total yardage, including most of their front seven. Senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey should build on an eight sack campaign last year, while sophomore linebacker Mike Rose will be a real leader in the middle... Quarterback Brock Purdy came on and went 7-2 as a starter as a true freshman and is now back in Ames. He looked like a seasoned vet, notching 2,250 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also adding five with his legs. He could come in as the third best QB in the conference right now, likely only behind Hurts and Ehlinger... Is this the year Iowa State is finally able to take down their in-state rivals under the leadership of Matt Campbell? Following a 13-3 loss last season, ISU gets the Hawkeyes at home, with the chance to get a huge non-conference victory in mid-September. A win could set them up nicely for a pretty soft start to league action.
Weaknesses: Running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler were two of the top playmakers on this offense last season, but both went pro. Montgomery is an especially huge loss because there is no obvious replacement waiting behind him to replicate his 1,216 yards. Junior Kene Nwangwu or true freshman Jirehl Brock are likely to get most of the carries right away... While Purdy energized this offense a season ago, it still struggles with consistency. A poor showing against Texas and a close win over FCS foe Drake showed ISU still has plenty of room for improvement on that side of the ball. The hope is that Purdy will mature quickly in Year Two... The Cyclones' late October, early November stretch will decide whether they are in the mix for a Big 12 Title. They will get Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas all in a row, with OSU on the road. If they can even get two out of those three as victories, they could get a chance at the conference championship game.
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big 12)

5. TCU Horned Frogs
Strengths: Gary Patterson rarely, if ever, has two straight down seasons in Fort Worth. After an injury-plagued 2018 where his Horned Frogs dropped to 7-6 overall and sub-.500 in the conference, you just get a feeling TCU is going to be back in a big way in 2019... The defense is going to be very strong, even as six starters depart. Junior linebacker Garrett Wallow is the leading returning tackler, while corner Jeff Gladney and senior safety Innis Gaines patrol the back-end. This team allowed just 338.2 YPG in 2018, which was by far the best in the league.... There is plenty of talent at the skill positions, namely receiver Jalen Reagor and back Darius Anderson. Reagor had over 1,000 yards last season and remains a dangerous threat, while Anderson forms a 1-2 combo in the backfield with Sewo Olonilua.
Weaknesses: Quarterback is a major concern going into fall camp. Kansas State transfer Alex Delton seems like the favorite, but true freshman Max Duggan and redshirt freshman Justin Rogers will also figure into the race. Delton has played a lot of Big 12 football, but Duggan and Rogers both offer more upside at the position... TCU was so beat up in the spring they didn't even have a spring game, in order to get their players 100 percent for the fall. The hope is that they will be ready to go, but it isn't unreasonable to be worried about what their depth chart will look like to begin the season. At least they get an easy September slate to get further rest... Even with the return of future NFL Draft selection Lucas Niang at right tackle, TCU still has some questions on the O-Line. Senior Anthony McKinney seems to be locked in at LT, but they need to figure out the interior of this unit.
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big 12)

6. Baylor Bears
Strengths: The aerial attack really looked like the real deal in 2018, with veteran QB Charlie Brewer leading the way. The Bears finished 19th nationally, with 290 yards per game, despite playing in a Matt Rhule offense that was supposed to be about balance. Brewer returns, and could have a huge junior season in Waco... Baylor wants to get even more explosive on the perimeter, as they averaged just 5.2 yards per play on first downs, 111th in the nation. The return of combo Denzel Mims and Chris Platt should ensure the Bears are able to attack and stretch defenses vertically... The front seven could be a notable strength. Junior end James Lynch looks like an All-Big 12 guy, while veteran Clay Johnston is a tackling machine at linebacker.
Weaknesses: Even with notable talent, the Bears struggled to contain big plays last fall. They also struggled to create turnovers, coming in at -9 on the season, 118th nationally. That is a key area of improvement heading into 2019... Who is this team's feature back heading into the new year? They have a stable of guys who have experience, but nobody jumps out at you. That is pretty surprising, considering Matt Rhule's long-time affinity for the run... The secondary has potential, but is still porous with holes. Neither cornerback spot has a clear-cut starter, while senior Chris Miller is going to have to play a major role at safety.
Projected Record: 6-6 (3-6 Big 12)

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Strengths: If not for ill health, sophomore QB Alan Bowman probably would have been one of the breakout stars of the 2018 college football season. He recorded 2,638 yards on the season, despite missing four games due to an injured lung. Now 100 percent, he could have a huge season, particularly with T.J. Vasher back... The Red Raiders have an underrated D-Line, as junior end Eli Howard and senior tackle Broderick Washington play an interesting role. New defensive coordinator Keith Patterson came with head coach Matt Wells from Utah State and will be sure to lean on that veteran edge early... Four starters return to an offensive line that was decent last season, but could still get better. Having both tackles back is a major win if the Red Raiders want to keep Bowman upright.
Weaknesses: Having the uber-athletic T.J. Vasher back at receiver is a big win, but Texas Tech loses over 2,000 yards of receiving in Antoine Wesley and Ja'Deion High. Vasher (687 yards, seven scores) needs to be even more important to this offense... If not for Oklahoma, Tech would have had the worst pass defense in the entire country last fall. They surrendered 288.3 YPG, and now lose three starters. That is the biggest question mark on the entire team entering 2019... Getting Oklahoma and Texas both on the road is tough for this team and Wells in his first year. This is the type of sneaky team that could knock off a giant in this league, but it doing that on the road seems unrealistic.
Projected Record: 6-6 (3-6 Big 12)

8. Kansas State Wildcats
Strengths: There is no question who is running the offense, as Skylar Thompson solidified himself as the quarterback in 2018. He offers significant potential, with the ability to be a dual threat, if need be. He'll have to play an even more crucial role as Kansas State breaks in a new feature back... Chris Klieman wants to play a physical brand of football, and he has three starters back on the offensive line to impose their will on defenses. Senior left tackle Scott Frantz has All-Big 12 talent, and should be the real anchor up front... Kansas State is strong along the other trench as well, as they return nearly all their defensive line. Senior Reggie Walker is vastly underrated, managing 7.5 sacks a year ago, but they'll need somebody else to step up. The secondary could have some problems, so creating chaos on the line will be the difference for this defense.
Weaknesses: Alex Barnes is gone at running back after rushing for 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Wildcats now have to hope Ball State transfer James Gilbert can acclimate well to the Big 12. It is certainly a step-up, although he was very productive during is time with the Cardinals... Going on the road against Mississippi State could add another loss to a schedule that is already short on wins. Even though the Bulldogs are reloading in some places, they did beat K-State by three touchdowns last fall... The Wildcats were 91st in the nation against the pass in 2018, although amazingly, that was fourth in the league. They are going to have to readjust with some losses back there, namely safety Duke Shelley.
Projected Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)

9. West Virginia Mountaineers
Strengths: Neal Brown may end up being an upgrade over Dana Holgorsen at head coach. While Holgorsen got huge money from Houston, he could never really get West Virginia over the top. While Brown will need some time in Morgantown to get things sorted out, this could work out better in the long-term... The offensive line has two staples in tackle Colton McKivitz and guard Josh Sills, both experienced vets. McKivitz has 35 career starts, while Sills has 22 in his Mountaineer career. They are going to lead a unit that will need to gel quickly, as three starters depart... Brown loves to run the ball, and he has a backfield to do just that. Senior Kennedy McKoy is a proven weapon against Big 12 defenses, while sophomore Leddie Brown seems to be ready for a breakout.
Weaknesses: Will Grier finished fourth in Heisman voting, but is now in the NFL. Austin Kendall was a big off-season transfer from Oklahoma, but we really haven't seen much of him in his collegiate career. Another former transfer, Miami's Jack Allison, also figures to compete for the starting QB gig... Only hurting WVU's aerial attack further is the loss of their top two targets, David Sills V and Gary Jennings. Sills was a touchdown machine during his time with West Virginia, while Jennings was a big play threat. Things were further hit when Marcus Simms announced he was entering the NFL's Supplemental Draft... The defense loses a ton of leadership to a group that was mediocre last year. Top sack-getter and tackler David Long is gone, as is a number of key pieces from the secondary.
Projected Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)

10. Kansas Jayhawks
Strengths: Do not overlook the running backs in Lawrence. Pooka Williams Jr. put together a monster freshman campaign, with 1,125 yards and seven scores. Behind him, sturdy senior Khalil Herbert added 499 and five scores. While off-season trouble will cause Williams to be suspended for the opener, this could be a potent 1-2 tandem the rest of the way... The defensive backfield is very strong, led by some legit All-Conference players. Senior corner Hasan Defense will once again be a crucial element, and both safety spots are in good hands... The schedule actually sets up nicely for the Jayhawks. They get two extremely winnable games in the non-conference against Coastal Carolina and Indiana State, and the best chances for league wins come all at home. That includes West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Weaknesses: The Jayhawks will be breaking in a retread in head coach in Les Miles. Miles is ready to pump some energy into the program, but its hard to see an old-school coach taking this type of job and turning it around, particularly in the modern Big 12. He should be able to get some wins on the recruiting trail, which has not been the case in the past... The quarterback position is once again a problem. Junior college transfer Thomas MacVittie seems to make a lot of sense as the fresh newcomer, but vet Carter Stanley is still around, and is their top returning passer... Nearly the entire front seven is gone, which could spell disaster for a team that is eighth in the conference in defending the run. Four-star signee Steven Parker may be asked to see valuable snaps right away as one of the lone remaining playmakers in that front.
Projected Record: 2-10 (0-9 Big 12)

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