Last season, the Big 12 brought back its championship game after a six-year hiatus. It added a little more drama to the title chase but ultimately didn’t stop the Oklahoma Sooners from winning their third straight conference title.
Despite Oklahoma’s recent dominance, 2018 figures to be an interesting year in the Big 12. Most of the teams that finished right below Oklahoma last year believe have improved over the offseason. That could make things more difficult for the Sooners, but it could also lead to more parody at the top of the league with no true standout team.
I will give an outline for how I believe the Big 12 will end up this season, including each team’s record, their conference record, and an outlook for the season ahead.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley seems to think this year’s team is more talented than last year’s group. He may be a little bias, but that says a lot about how good the Sooners can be in 2018. Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is gone, but that means the more athletic Skyler Murray finally gets his chance to lead the team. The Sooners also have one of the league’s best offensive lines, so you may not see the Oklahoma offense skip a beat. It’s tough to envision anyone going through nine games in this conference without slipping up, but one loss won’t be enough to keep the Sooners from returning to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Get ready, college football, because the Longhorns are on their way back. Tom Herman made some big strides in his first year in Austin, setting the stage for another leap forward in his second season. There’s no clarity at quarterback between Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, although Texas should be able to win with either one. The Longhorns have plenty of talent all over the field and Herman will know how to get the best out of it. Even if they lose to USC early in the year, the Longhorns get their toughest Big 12 games at home, which should help them finish toward the top of the league.
The Mountaineers look poised for a big season behind Heisman hopeful Will Grier, who could put up some mind-blowing numbers against some of the porous defenses in the Big 12. However, West Virginia still has to worry about playing defense, which has been a problem in recent years. The Mountaineers also have the most challenging travel schedule in the Big 12 because of where they’re located. Conference road games, especially in November against Texas and Oklahoma State, won’t be easy and will keep West Virginia from reaching the conference title game.
It’s been a long time since Iowa State looked this good on paper heading into a season. The Cyclones will be led by quarterback Kyle Kempt and running back David Montgomery. Both return after leading Iowa State to a magical run in 2017, including their upset of Oklahoma. But the Cyclones aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this year. No one’s going to overlook them or take them lightly, which will make last year’s record tough to beat.
The Horned Frogs are one of the few Big 12 teams that believe in playing defense. The TCU front-7 looks outstanding heading into 2018. However, there are some issues on the other side of the ball. Despite some impressive skill players, quarterback Shawn Robinson is unproven while TCU has one of the least experienced offensive lines in the country. Even with a quality defense, it’s tough to win too many defensive slugfests in the Big 12, causing the Horned Frogs to drop to the middle of the pack.
Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are one of the most consistent programs in the Big 12. K-State has been to eight straight bowl games and this year will be no exception. The Wildcats are still undecided at quarterback and probably won’t have a dynamic passing with either Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton. But they’ll run the ball effectively with Alex Barnes and a veteran offensive line. Kansas State will also be solid on defense, which will be enough to give them more wins than losses and extend their bowl streak to nine years.
Last year was a rough one for head coach Matt Rhule, but better days should be ahead for the Bears. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer played well down the stretch last season. He also has a nice set of skill players around him, including Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd, who could make a serious impact. The Bears have a real chance to start the season 4-0, assuming they can handle UTSA away and Duke at home. If that happens, they’ll have a lot more confidence the second half of the year and win a couple games some people won’t expect them to, getting Baylor back to a bowl game and back on track.
The Cowboys are accustomed to being at the top of the league, but this year will be different. Head coach Mike Gundy has to sort out a three-way quarterback battle, knowing whoever wins will have a largely unproven offensive line playing in front of them. The Cowboys also have a lot of key players to replace on defense, putting even more pressure on the offense to win games. It’s hard to imagine Oklahoma State not getting to a bowl game, but this will definitely be a down year for the Cowboys.
Kliff Kingsbury appears to be on the hot seat heading into 2018 and he’ll face an uphill battle to keep his job. Star quarterback Nic Shimonek is gone and the way things shake out, the Texas Tech defense may have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Based on recent history, that doesn’t bode well for the Red Raiders. Texas Tech has to play most of its tossup games on the road while getting Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia at home. That’s not a favorable schedule if the Red Raiders expect to win more than a couple Big 12 games and become bowl eligible.
Kansas remains one of the worst teams in college football. Keep in mind that they lost to two MAC teams last season. They should be an easy win for the other nine Big 12 teams. In fact, assuming they’ll beat FCS opponent Nicholls State and steal a win either at Central Michigan or home against Rutgers is being optimistic.