2019 NCAAF Preview: Big 12 Conference

August 29, 2019
By K. Becks

The conference has leaned heavily on Oklahoma over the past few seasons in terms of its respect level nationally. The Sooners, with back-to-back appearances in the College Football Playoff, are particularly interesting because of their ability to be successful with the “next man up” mentality in the truest sense of the phrase. But the question that looms is, “when will it end?”

Of course, things could be worse. At least the Big 12 is putting a team in the Playoff. And at least there appears to be improvement from the other schools in the conference, which should create parody and strong competition as early as this season.

College Football Playoff Contenders

Oklahoma

What other program in the country has been able to reload at quarterback like Oklahoma? The answer is none of them. For the third consecutive season, the Sooners will have a different signal-caller leading the offense without majorly affecting the team’s chances of making it to the College Football Playoff. Everyone is aware of what Jalen Hurts is capable of doing – he’s a proven winner that is shifty enough in the pocket to make up for what he lacks in arm strength.

Offensively, the Sooners won’t be in trouble. Rather, it’s the defense that will make or break this team in 2019. Something has to change for a secondary unit that was dead last in FBS in yards allowed through the air last season. Without improvement, someone from the Big 12, which is starting to catch up to the Sooners offensively, is bound to knock Lincoln Riley’s team off the throne. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has his work cut out for him.

Texas

Tom Herman’s third season in Austin brings with it the highest expectations yet, which is saying a lot considering that the Texas fan base has thought highly of the head coach since the day he accepted the job. Much of that is due to the development of Sam Ehlinger, who has climbed up the Heisman watch list for 2019 as a proven passer and capable runner. The Longhorns will want to keep Ehlinger in the pocket as much as possible, however, to avoid injury to their star. There is enough talent at running back to make that happen.

Like the Sooners (and the rest of the conference, really), Texas’s Playoff hopes likely hinge on a defense that will need to get better against the pass. While this can be said of many Big 12 teams, the fact is that when you allow over 260 yards through the air every game, someone is going to have your number at some point in the year. The Longhorns are poised to take the next step in the conference, but that may not necessarily equal a spot in the CFP.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys were cut out by the slimmest of margins from the “College Football Playoff Contenders” section. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the question mark at quarterback is just too big to ignore in the preseason. But assuming that Mike Gundy and new OC Sean Gleeson are able to develop whomever will be the guy at the position (the team has chosen not to reveal its starter before the opener), there is more hope that Oklahoma State’s defense will come around before Oklahoma or Texas can fix the same issues.

The secondary could be one of the best in the conference and if it is, this team will be scary. With the best wideout in the league (we’ll talk about him soon) catching passes and a running back by committee that should provide fresh legs for four quarters, the Cowboys will be similarly lethal offensively and potentially better defensively than the other heavy hitters. The Big 12 title is well within reach for Gundy’s squad in 2019.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State junior wide receiver

The aforementioned “best wideout in the league” is Wallace, a 6’0” speedster who also has enough physicality in his game to deal with some of the beefier defenders that teams outside of the Big 12 may stick on him. The 2018 season was a breakout campaign for Wallace, who led the Big 12 in averaging 114.7 receiving yards per game and was second in the country with 1,491 yards on the year.

Wallace’s experience and ability to go up and grab the football will be a huge advantage for Oklahoma State’s quarterback, who will be learning a new offense and likely will be relatively green. Expect the All-American to be a major contributor to a team that could crash the party at the top of the Big 12 this season.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Iowa at Iowa State (September 14)

The battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy is annually one of the more physical, entertaining rivalries in college football, but this season both teams also feel good about the chances of competing for a conference title. This game will be a litmus test as to how close each one is to making that a reality.

Both teams lose key contributors to important units on the offense, but defensively the pieces are there to provide relief until newcomers can fill the big shoes left by offensive departures. Expect this one to be relatively low scoring, but flashes of brilliance will occur on offense.

Texas Tech at Arizona (September 14)

Sure, there are more important games in the grand scheme of things, but who doesn’t like a matchup that has a very good chance of eclipsing the 100-point mark collectively? Texas Tech may slowly start to transition to a different approach under new head coach Matt Wells, but Kevin Sumlin’s team tries to score on every drive because it essentially needs to in order to remain competitive.

There probably won’t be a whole lot of defense to speak of in this one, but since it’s expected going into the game it feels alright.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Oklahoma vs. Texas [game in Dallas] (October 12)

The Red River Rivalry will once again play a huge role in determining the Big 12 champion in 2019. Texas upset Oklahoma by a narrow margin last season, but revenge won’t be the main source of motivation for the Sooners. The loser of this game will not only drop a precious opportunity to gain a leg up in the conference standings, but will also be behind the 8-ball in October in terms of the Playoff picture.

The battle between Sam Ehlinger and Jalen Hurts will obviously draw a lot of attention, but just as important will be the play in the trenches. The defensive front that is able to apply more pressure on the opposing quarterback likely wins this game.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (November 30)

By the time this game is played, there will be total clarity on where things stand in the Big 12 and how the outcome of this one affects that. If Around The Corn is right, then the Battle of Bedlam will decide which two teams end up in the conference title game.

The Sooners and Cowboys routinely engage in offensive shootouts, and barring any major turnaround by the defenses this season that will happen once again. The last time the winner of this game scored fewer than 30 points was in 2009.

Conference Predictions

1. Texas (10-2, [7-2])

2. Oklahoma State (10-2, [7-2])

3. Oklahoma (10-2, [7-2])

4. Iowa State (9-3, [6-3])

5. TCU (8-4, [5-4])

6. Baylor (7-5, [4-5])

7. Texas Tech (5-7, [3-6])

8. Kansas State (5-7, [3-6])

9. West Virginia (3-9, [2-7])

10. Kansas (3-9, [1-8])

Championship Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma State

Winner: Texas

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