Big 12 Preview 2021 - Iowa State close in on Oklahoma
It was testament to Oklahoma's resilience, and perhaps the calibre of the rest of the Big 12, that the Sooners started 0-2 in the conference and still won it. In Lincoln Riley and Spencer Rattler they arguably have the best coach/QB combination in college football this year and will be aiming to win it all. Hot on their heels will be the surprising Iowa State, who beat Oklahoma and Texas on their way to a 10-3 season. Oklahoma State and Texas, who usher in new era in Austin, will have their say.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Iowa State Cyclones
Texas Christian University Horned Frogs
Kansas State Wildcats
West Virginia Mountaineers
Texas Tech Red Raiders
No.2 Oklahoma have won six straight Big 12 titles and will be favourites for a seventh. If they can get out of the blocks quickly this year, as opposed to to a 1-2 start last year, they could find real momentum. Spencer Rattler found his feet, and season, in the second half of the wild 53-45 win over Texas and is developing into the favourite for the Heisman Trophy and No.1 overall pick in the Draft. His partnership with fellow sophomore Marvin Mims will take another step forward and they will be supported by Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray in the backfield.
Isaiah on the defensive line and linebacker Nik Bonitto lead a dominant Sooners defense that added DB Key Lawrence. The Red River Rivalry game on October 9th will be entertaining but the November 20th showdown with Iowa State in Norman will determine their season. Can they move on to the final and take the national championship this year?
If No.7 Iowa State can hold their nerve and repeat last season's shock win over Oklahoma, they could find themselves in the Playoff mix. They couldn't quite recapture their early season stunning upset in the Big 12 final and suffered a close loss to Oklahoma State. Star performers QB Brock Purdy and RB Breece Hall are back to lead the offense and a tight defense led by LB Mike Rose will be tough to beat. Head coach Matt Campbell has been courted by the NFL, but remains committed to the Cyclones. He has big dreams and Iowa State could come very close to realising them.
"All Gas No Brakes". No. 21 Texas is on a mission under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. They've even secured the trademark for that slogan. "Coach Sark" brings hope, credibility and a pedigree of offensive flair to Austin, which Longhorns fans have been craving since the days of Vince Young and their 2005 title win. Under Sarkisian, Alabama averaged over 48 points per game last season. While he doesn't quite have the same tools to work with yet, he does have star RB Bijan Robinson who averaged a school record 8.2 yards per carry and will set the platform for the offense. Freshman Hudson Card takes over from four-year starter Sam Ehlinger, whose brother, Longhorns linebacker Jake, tragically passed away in May.
DL Alfred Collins picks up the pass rush from NFL-bound Joseph Ossai in a new-look attacking defense under coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. It might be a bit early for Texas to challenge for the Big 12, but they'll be a big part of the story.
Oklahoma State have eight starters back on a very strong defense that can provide the foundation for the Cowboys to legitimately compete for the Big 12 title. While they said goodbye to starts OT Teven Jenkins, RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has a deep roster led by junior QB Spencer Sanders. A real talent, if he can find more consistency, the Cowboys could threaten. A home encounter vs. Oklahoma and strong records on the road in Ames and Austin give them a chance.
A traditionally strong defense and exciting attack paves the way for a promising season for TCU. The brilliantly nicknamed Horned Frogs have the exciting Max Duggan returning at quarterback. While his 25 touchdowns at TCU show he can throw the ball, he has some wheels, running for an 81-yard touchdown against Texas Tech. Seniors Taye Barber and Derius Davis will be his key targets and four of the TCU backs ran for 100-yard games last year. They will be tough to stop.
The top-ranked pass defense in the country will need to be rebuilt for West Virginia to remain competitive in the Big 12. The Mountaineers' defense has done a nice job of recruiting, from high school and through the transfer portal. Lance Dixon and Charles Woods arrived from Penn State and Illinois State respectively and defensive lineman Akeem Mesidor is an emerging talent. An experienced offense with Jarret Doege at QB will keep them in contention.
Kansas State will be led by sixth-year (!) quarterback Skylar Thompson who has taken advntage of the NCAA "Super Senior" rule. He has sophomore sensation Deuce Vaughn behind him in the backfield. Vaughn averaged over five yards per carry and ran for seven touchdowns. With a number of returning seniors, the Wildcats will hope to improve on last year's four wins.
Baylor starts junior Gerry Bohanon at quarterback, the junior edging out Jacob Zeno in the battle to replace four-year starter Charlie Brewer. The Bears had a big drop off after Matt Rhule departed for Carolina but look for a decent improvement with Jeff Grimes' offense who brings the scheme from BYU where Zach Wilson flourished.
The big news in Lubbock is the arrival of Tyler Shough, formerly of Oregon who replaces Michigan-bound Alan Bowman at Texas Tech. Shough should have some decent protection in front of him, with four of the offensive line returning. Look for the Red Raiders to make a slight improvement. Propping up the conference will be Kansas. If only their football team was half as good as their basketball team. The Jayhawks are coming off the back of a dismal 0-9 season but will hope new coach Lance Leipold, who enjoyed success with previous team Buffalo, can bring some positivity to Lawrence, Kansas.
Oct 2nd - Texas @ TCU - an early season check for the Longhorns in a match they have historically lost in recent years.
Oct 9th - Oklahoma vs. Texas - the Red River Rivalry's latest chapter will be another can't-miss game.
Nov 20th - Iowa State @ Oklahoma - this could be the Big 12 decider, can the Cyclones pull off an upset?
Nov 27th - Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State - the Bedlam Battle will have extra intrigue with the in-state derby possibly deciding the conference winner.
Sorry, Iowa State. I think this year has an air of inevitability about it for the Sooners. I'm picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12 if they can overcome the Cyclones in November. Texas will improve but a conference title is a little out of their reach. They'll be further away in the SEC but will be exciting to watch under Steve Sarkisian this year.