In recent years the Big 12 has been average, passed up by the likes of the ACC and Big Ten. Entering the 2018 season, the top half of the conference appears to be strong. Perennial contender Oklahoma should once again be a national player, TCU and West Virginia have the ability to finish as top 15 teams. The Longhorns, years removed from contention, look to re-enter the upper echelon of college football.
Let’s take a look at how the rest of the Big 12 stacks up this season:
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Last year’s record: 1-11
Most important returning player: RB Khalil Herbert
Under the leadership of coach David Beaty, the Jayhawks have gone 3-33 over the past three seasons. There is not much to like about this year’s squad either. Kansas’ best player is Joe Dineen Jr., a linebacker who led the Big 12 in tackles last season. DT Daniel Wise is a preseason All-Big 12 selection, but past those two players the cupboard is bare. Herbert is the Jayhawks’ best offensive player when healthy — Herbert posted a 291-yard rushing game against West Virginia — but injuries have been a problem. Kansas’ only win over a FBS team during Beaty’s tenure came against Texas in 2016. Lawrence natives should prepare for another terrible season.
9. Baylor Bears
Last year’s record: 1-11
Most important returning player: QB Charlie Brewer
Baylor are far removed from the glory days of Robert Griffin III. After the Art Briles fiasco left the program reeling, the Bears are hopeful for a dramatic improvement over their one-win season. Brewer performed well at the end of last season. All-Big 12 receiver Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd — a heralded transfer from Tennessee — should provide Brewer with two dynamic weapons. Defensively is where the Bears might struggle. They have a weak secondary, and injuries to their linebacker corp have left the unit haggard. Any passable contribution from the defense might be enough for Baylor to approach bowl eligibility, but the Bears face a steep climb.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last year’s record: 6-7
Most important returning player: LB Dakota Allen
Texas Tech enters the 2018 season with coach Kliff Kingsbury on the hot seat once again. Known for their high-powered offense, the Red Raiders will rely on their defense this season. Led by ‘Last Chance U’ star Dakota Allen, the Tech defense should be a formidable unit. Joining Allen on the preseason All-Big 12 team are defensive backs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Justus Parker. While the offensive line returns all five starters, WR T.J. Vasher is the only returning starter from the skill positions. The Red Raiders defense should be good enough to win a few games, but Tech must find a back capable of gaining tough yards in order to keep the offense on the field. Another 6-7 win season appears likely.
7. Kansas State Wildcats
Last year’s record: 8-5
Most important returning player: RB Alex Barnes
It seems as if Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are consistently overlooked. Every year, or so it seems, the Wildcats enter the season as underrated. There are a few things you can count on with Snyder-led teams. They will be physical (some would say dirty), tough to beat, and consistent. Running back Alex Barnes will reap the benefits of running behind a veteran offensive line. The quarterback position is unsettled, with Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson both capable of leading the team. Defensively, the Wildcats must replace their two leading tacklers from last year. The secondary is the only group that doesn’t face an overhaul, resulting in an experimental season defensively. K-State should never be counted out, but this doesn’t appear to be one of Snyder’s stronger teams.
6. Iowa State Cyclones
Last year’s record: 8-5
Most important returning player: DL Ray Lima
Iowa State is one of the more intriguing teams in the conference this season. After taking down both TCU and Oklahoma last year, fans in Ames are understandably optimistic for the Cyclones campaign. Quarterback Kyle Kempt returns for one last chance at taking down the Big 12’s best, and he will have plenty of help in the backfield. David Montgomery is a game-breaking back — led the country in broken tackles — who will alleviate pressure for Kempt and help fuel the Cyclone attack. State’s defense ranked second in the conference last season, allowing 20.9 points per game. Most of the unit returns, led by nose tackle Ray Lima. The Cyclones’ defensive line will once again be the strength of the defense. Iowa State has the potential to shock America this year.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: RB Justice Hill
With QB Mason Rudolph now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Gundy must find a quarterback capable enough to support the rest of the Cowboys’ dynamic offense. Led by RB Justice Hill, the Pokes should still feature a potent attack. Jalen McCleskey has the capability of becoming the next big-time receiver in Stillwater. Marcus Keyes is an All-Big 12 guard, steadying an above-average offensive line. Defense has never been a staple under Gundy, but a scheme change this offseason should pay dividends. If the Pokes can find a good replacement for Rudolph, another 10-win season may be in the cards.
4. Texas Longhorns
Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: WR Collin Johnson
Texas boosters are hoping for a huge jump in Tom Herman’s second season. After arriving in Austin with tons of hype, Herman led the Longhorns to a decent season in his debut. UT should once again have a punishing defense, even after losing four standout players. Texas’ front seven is absolutely loaded, and the Longhorns have added three national top-100 players to their defensive backfield through recruiting. Offensively, WR Collin Johnson will star. The No. 1 running back recruit in the state of Texas, Keaontay Ingram, will challenge Cal transfer Tre Watson and Daniel Young for snaps. Texas needs a quarterback to emerge amongst the pack. The Longhorns’ season hinges on a nasty four-game stretch — vs. USC, vs. TCU, @ Kansas State, vs. Oklahoma. There is potential to lose all four games, but the upside of winning the majority of those matchups is huge.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: QB Will Grier
The Will Grier hype-train is reaching maximum speed. Blessed with one of the best receiving corps in the nation, a healthy Grier is being pegged as a legitimate Heisman candidate. Before a finger injury ended his season, Grier was in the top three nationally in both passing touchdowns and passing yards. Gary Jennings, who led the Big 12 in receptions, returns in tandem with David Sills V, a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Yodny Cajuste’s decision to return to Morgantown is a huge boon for the Mountaineers offensive line. While the offense is poised to explode, the defense is a major concern. WVU lost two linebackers to ACL injuries in spring ball, and they must replace both starting corners from last season. If the defense can provide any type of support, West Virginia may find itself in the top-15.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
Last year’s record: 11-3
Most important returning player: WR/Returner KaVontae Turpin
Gary Patterson has another dangerous team in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have the best front seven in the Big 12, and one of the best in the nation. Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Banogu, is a terror coming off the edge. The addition of All-MAC linebacker Jawuan Johnson adds depth to the unit, while Ross Blacklock is a future star at defensive tackle. Offensively, wide receiver KaVontae Turpin is one of the most explosive players in the country. QB Shawn Robinson has tons of potential and will look to take his game to the next level. Three 4-star receivers and three 4-star running backs provide great depth for the offense. The biggest weakness for TCU might be their offensive line, as Cordel Iwuagwu is the lone starter remaining from last year. If the Horned Frogs can solidify their offensive line, this team has the potential to win the Big 12.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Last year’s record: 12-2
Most important returning player: RB Rodney Anderson
The Sooners will have to rebound from losing their Heisman winning quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The man for the job, Kyler Murray, was recently drafted by the Oakland A’s in the first round of the MLB Draft. Murray is a tremendous athlete and should plug into the Sooner offense nicely. Star tailback Rodney Anderson will likely be a workhorse this season, and wide-out Marquise Brown will work well as Murray’s top option. Anderson and Murray will benefit greatly from playing behind a very solid line. The defense was iffy last season, especially against the pass, and this year might be more of the same. Kenneth Murray will look to follow up his Freshman All-American season with another gem. Look out for freshman “Bookie” Brendan Radley-Hiles, the Calabasas/IMG Academy product can be a game-changer at corner. Even without Mayfield, Oklahoma is the Big 12 favorite, and a potential College Football Playoff contender.
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