Finally, it’s August so that means football is close to being back. The NCAA season is imminent and should provide another set of unexpected as well as chaotic events.
Most people would rather focus on the player that could win the Heisman or even the team that could hoist up a national championship. However, none of these things can be achieved without owning your conference and taking it one week at a time.
Without further ado, let’s break down the Big 12.
The Oklahoma Sooners have been the bully of the Big 12 the last three seasons. They return a pair of runners in Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon. In addition, they have vertical threats in CeeDee Lamb, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, and Mykel Jones. The defense is experienced, but a difference maker could be safety Brendan Radley-Hiles who is an incoming freshman.
The questions lie with Kyler Murray who will be tasked with the duties of filling Baker Mayfield’s shoes. He is smaller than Mayfield at 5’10”, 195 pounds so it will be interesting to see how he is used.
Another team with questions at quarterback, the Oklahoma State Cowboys return eight impact performers on defense including cornerback A.J. Green who accrued four picks. Justice Hill could be poised for his third straight 1000-yard campaign at tailback. Meanwhile, Jalen McCleskey figures to benefit from James Washington and Marcell Ateman being in the NFL.
Every year we seem to be wondering if the Texas Longhorns are back. In reality, they may be another year from contending on a national scale. However, they have the chance to own the Big 12 with Collin Johnson, 10 upperclassmen returning on defense, and two experienced quarterbacks. Even if the offense is not ready to post big numbers, the Texas defense figures to hold up against some of the better offenses. They held teams to 21.7 points every Saturday and they finished sixth in fewest yards allowed against the run.
Tom Herman has to decide between both Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele for the right to start at quarterback. Ehlinger provides the wheels and is stockier, but Buechele has the arm to give Texas an air raid dynamic. Even if they have the right man at quarterback, they need to develop some sort of emblem of a rushing attack as not a single runner went over 400 yards a year ago.
Speaking of runners, Darius Anderson of the TCU Horned Frogs seems poised for more work. He rushed for 768 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago. Freshman phenom Jalen Reagor was a breath of fresh air out wide as he scored eight touchdowns and was named a 2017 Freshman All-American. The problem is Kenny Hill is gone so quarterback is an area of concern.
Lastly, the West Virginia Mountaineers now have the best quarterback in the conference as Will Grier is back. He will have David Sills V, Marcus Simms, and Gary Jennings as the options on the perimeter as they combined for 2,739 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2017.
Defensively, they need to figure it out as scoring 30 points and giving up 30 will lead to another 7-6 season. Also, they need to win the big games against OU, OSU, and TCU. They are 1-6 against those three in the last two years.
Clearly, each team has their strengths, but they all have an area they need to focus on.
The Players to Watch
As stated above, Grier is the new sheriff in charge of the Big 12. He threw for 3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns, and completed 64.4 percent of his throws a season ago for the Mountaineers.
At tailback, Anderson and Hill are coming off 1,000-yard campaigns playing for the two schools in Oklahoma. Anderson can do some damage as a pass catcher as he plays similarly to Sony Michel while Hill chews up at least five yards per carry. Out wide take your choice between Sills V, WVU, and Brown, Oklahoma. Sills V led the nation in touchdown catches a year ago (18) while Brown figures to increase on his 1,000-yard total.
Although the conference might not be known for defense, the Big 12 has some impact performers.
Longhorns’ corner Kris Boyd will be a problem for receivers as he had 15 pass breakups as well as two picks a year ago. Texas Tech’s Justus Parker surprised everyone racking up four picks, four forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown as a walk-on. Heading into his sophomore season, Parker will look to continue to build a name for himself even after being awarded a scholarship. Also, Dakota Allen, TTU, had over 100 tackles, six tackles for a loss, and two sacks as an every-down backer. Finally, Ben Banogu showed up in a big way with 16.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks for TCU.
A Dark Horse Team
My sleeper team is the Iowa State Cyclones. They return one of the better backs in the country in David Montgomery, who accumulated 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017. However, ISU has always been one of those mediocre teams in the Big 12 that gets nervous in big games like WVU. In addition, I need to see more Kyle Kempt before I am sold on him and this team as a whole.
Kempt made his first start last October and the Cyclones went 5-3 with him after starting the season 2-2. He is a player that has NFL scouts on the fence as he is 6’5” but has limited film. He is extremely accurate too as he hit 66.3 percent of his attempts last season. Kempt’s touchdown-interception ratio (15-3) is a positive as well.
All in all, I expect ISU to be a force with one of the most sought-after coaches last season in Matt Campbell. If he can get the Cyclones to compete for a Big 12 title, he could be faced with endless opportunities at season’s end.