These are the final days, or years at least, of the Big 12 as we know, after Oklahoma and Texas announced plans to join the SEC in 2025. While Texas football is still struggling to regain its luster, Oklahoma leads the way once again, as they try to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. The rest of the conference is a mixed bag, as Iowa State opens the season seventh in the country, while teams like Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas are in the middle of major rebuilds.
Oklahoma failed to make its fourth consecutive playoff last season after losing two early season games, but the Sooners rebounded to win their final eight games and enter 2021 as serious playoff contenders while possessing the preseason Heisman favorite.
Spencer Rattler completed 67.5 percent of his passes last season while throwing 28 TD and just 7 INT. Oklahoma averaged a conference-best 43 points per game and will return six offensive starters, including wideout Marvin Mins who hauled in 9 TD and 610 receiving yards last season. Star running back Kennedy Brooks opted out in 2020 but is averaging 7.5 yards per carry for his career. On defense, LB Nik Bonitto was a menace last season, recording 8 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
Oklahoma’s 2020 season was dampened by losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. Realistically, to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, the Sooners can’t lose a conference game. Their non-conference schedule looks very soft, with a home game against Nebraska, and they only play two preseason top 25 teams all season, neither on the road.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to have ever made the college football playoff, but few teams in recent conference history have opened the season in the preseason top 10, a spot the seventh ranked Iowa St. Cyclones find themselves in. In five seasons in Ames, Matt Campbell has pulled off one of the best turnarounds in the nation and will now have 19 of 22 starters return from last season.
Broce Purdy threw for 2,750 yards and 19 TD last season and will have his top five receivers back from 2020. RB Breece Hall had 1,572 yards and 23 total TD last season. Charlie Kolar is arguably the nation’s top tight end, he had 44 catches for 591 yards and 7 scores last season.
The Cyclones have a massive test early when they play in-state rivals Iowa and might need to beat Oklahoma twice to make the playoff, with their first game against the Sooners coming in Norman.
This will be a new look Longhorns team, led by new head coach Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Tom Herman. Texas will return 8 starters from an offense that scored 42.7 points per game.
Sarkisian’s first QB will be Casey Thompson who threw six TD passes in just 17 attempts last season. Thompson’s best weapons will include Bijan Robinson, who gained an amazing 8.2 yards per carry last year and wideout Joshua Moore who hauled in 9 TD passes.
The Longhorns will open with a surprisingly tough opener against Louisiana, ranked 23 in the preseason top 25, before traveling to Arkansas. The conference schedule includes the Red River Shootout in Dallas and a game in Ames against Iowa State.
Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs are hoping to turn the page from a frustrating season that saw them open 1-3, rally to go 6-4, only to miss their bowl game appearance due to COVID-19.
TCU is led by dual-threat quarterback Max Duggan, who threw for 1,705 yards and 10 TD and ran for 526 yards and 10 TD. On defense, TCU returns seven starters, most notably Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who has a chance to be one of the nation’s top corners.
The Horned Frogs ended the 2020 season on a three game winning streak and have a chance to extend that streak to six before they face a Big 12 team, with Cal, the highlight of their non-conference schedule.
Mike Gundy’s squad went 8-3 last season and ended the year by beating Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl, but they have lost a number of key offensive players to the NFL, like Chuba Hubbard and Teven Jenkins.
Spencer Sanders opensas the team’s starting QB after throwing 14 TD last season, but Shane Illingworth also waits in the wings. RB Dezmon Jackson actually averaged more yards per carry, 5.5, than star Hubbard did last season. On defense, the safeties, led by senior Tre Sterling are the headliners.
The Cowboys have a brutal non-conference trip to Boise State and have back-to-back road games against Texas and Iowa State.
Coach Neal Brown is now in his third season in Morgantown and he will be looking to give the Mountaineers a true identity after going 11-11 in his first two seasons.
Jarret Doege had a solid season at QB, throwing 14 TD and just 4 interceptions, but he did get pulled during the Liberty Bowl against Army. The star of West Virginia’s offense is Leddie Brown, who gained 1010 yards and ran for 9 scores.
This West Virginia team will learn a lot about themselves when they visit Maryland in Week 1. It should be noted that their 4-4 Big 12 record last season did not include a game against Oklahoma, due to the condensed COVID schedule.
It was the tale of two seasons last year for Kansas State. The Wildcats opened the season 4-1, including wins at Oklahoma and TCU. After that, the wheels fell off for Chris Klieman’s squad, as the team lost its final five games, including a 45-0 loss at Iowa State.
Skylar Thompson will be a sixth year senior after suffering an injury in the third game of last season. Thompson has 30 career starts. Joining Thompson will be Deuce Vaughn, who led the Wildcats in both rushing (642 yards, 7 TD) and receiving (25 catches for 434 yards).
Kansas State begins with a neutral site game in Texas against Stanford and has a rough stretch in October with back-to-back games against Oklahoma and Iowa State.
Matt Wells will relish a full season at the helm in Lubbock after the team scuffled to a 4-6 record. But the Red Raiders will need to replace key players on both sides of the ball.
The Red Raiders have a new offensive coordinator in Sonny Cumbie and he will be breaking in a new QB, Tyler Shough, who has transferred in from Oregon, who threw 13 TD passes for the Ducks last season. Shough’s top weapons are RB SaRodorick Thompson (610 yards, 8 TD) and WR Erik Ezukanma (748 yards, 6 TD).
The Red Raiders schedule opens with a neutral site game with Houston and includes trips mto Oklahoma and Texas. Anything short of 6-6, which will be hard to pull off, could have Matt Wells on one of the hottest seats in the country.
The Baylor Bears job is one of the biggest rebuilding projects in the country, as head coach Dave Aranda went 2-7 in his first season and will now need to replace four-year starting QB Charlie Brewer who transferred to Utah, while new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes teaches the Bears a new offense.
Fourth-year junior Gerry Bohanon has been named the starting QB for an offense that returns just five starters. To help the new QB, the Bears will look to use the nation’s most electric return man, Trestan Ebner, more on offense. Ebner caught 26 passes last season but struggled running the ball, carrying 50 times for 107 yards.
The good news for Baylor is that its three toughest games, against Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas are all at home, as is its most compelling non-conference game against BYU.
Les Miles was forced out earlier this year meaning Emmett Jones enters the season as the interim head coach. Miles went 3-18 in Lawrence, including 0-9 last year so expectations will be incredibly low for Jones.
Kansas returns both quarterbacks from 2020 in Jalon Daniels and Miles Kendrick, but both players will be challenged for snaps by North Texas transfer Jason Bean. The team also returns leading rusher Velton Gardner and top receiver Kwamie Lassiter II. The star of the defense is CB Kyron Prunty, who was one of the nation’s top freshmen last season.
There are no wins penciled into a schedule for a team that went 0-9 last season, but while Kansas will struggle to win a conference game, they are favored by 15.5 in their opening game against South Dakota, before facing Coastal Carolina, who beat the Jayhawks 38-23 in Kansas last year.