Leading up to the kickoff of the 2018 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As we continue today with the Big 12, we’ll offer league predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games from each conference.
Here we go.
Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is gone, but the Sooners raked in another elite recruiting class and running back Rodney Anderson (1,161 yards, 18 total touchdowns) is a high-level NFL prospect. The Sooners’ overall talent is still the best in the Big 12.
2. West Virginia
Quarterback Will Grier (3,490 passing yards and 34 touchdowns) is a preseason Heisman candidate and David Sills V is a touchdown-catching machine. However, a defense that allowed an average of 31.5 points last season must get better.
Tom Herman’s debut season as Longhorns coach had its moments (wins at West Virginia and in the Texas Bowl). Six players return from a defense that allowed 21.2 points per game, but the quarterback situation needs to be solved, or at least provide some consistency.
The Horned Frogs’ defense once again should be the strength of the team. Offensively, the versatile Shawn Robinson will be asked to replace Kenny Hill at quarterback and there are holes to fill on the offensive line. Another 11-3 finish likely won’t be in the cards, but the slip won’t be too drastic.
5. Oklahoma State
Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington are both with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a defense that gave up almost 30 points per contest in 2017 must improve. But Justice Hill is coming off a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and the Cowboys open with four consecutive home games, so things aren’t bleak.
6. Kansas State
The Wildcats won five of their final six last season, including the last three over Oklahoma State, Iowa State and UCLA. Kansas State’s strength is on the offensive line, but it remains to be seen which skill position players will step up. Still, Bill Snyder usually gets the most out of his players regardless of talent.
7. Iowa State
After going 8-5 and winning the Liberty Bowl, the Cyclones want to build on their first winning season since 2009. Quarterback Kyle Kempt and running back David Montgomery (1,146 rushing yards in ’17) will help. More than half the starters return from a defense that held seven of Iowa State’s final eight foes to 20 or fewer points.
8. Texas Tech
The heat is on Kliff Kingsbury, who has produced one winning season and two bowl losses since guiding the Red Raiders to an 8-5 mark in his debut 2013 campaign. The offense will score, but a defense that yielded 32.2 points per game returns nine starters, so there must be improvement from that unit.
After relying mostly on freshmen and sophomores to help rebuild, the Bears’ experience should lead to a better outcome than last year’s 1-11 finish. Charlie Brewer was a pleasant surprise at quarterback, throwing for 1,562 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games to earn Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors.
David Beaty has won three games – one in the Big 12 – in three years coaching the Jayhawks, so improvement is a must. Just how better they’ll be remains to be seen, but unless there’s a huge turnaround a coaching search in Lawrence is imminent.
Players to watch
David Sills V, WR, West Virginia: Grier is worthy of the Heisman hype, but Sills is a big reason why. His 18 receiving touchdowns – on just 60 receptions – tied for the most in the nation as a junior in his return to the Mountaineers program last season. Expect more of the same between Grier and Sills in 2018.
Ben Banogu, DE, TCU: The Louisiana-Monroe transfer enjoyed quite a first season with the Horned Frogs in 2017. After posting 8 1/2 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss last year, Banogu could be the frontrunner for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Oct. 6: Oklahoma vs. Texas. The Red River Showdown has become more competitive in recent years despite the Sooners winning three of the last five, and last two. Those three OU wins were decided by five points each.
Oct. 13: Oklahoma State at Kansas State. Despite the personnel the Cowboys lost offensively, there’s a real chance they will enter this matchup at 6-0. The Wildcats topped Oklahoma State in Stillwater last season.
Nov. 10: TCU at West Virginia. Second place in the Big 12 could be on the line in this contest. Also, one of the nation’s top offenses against one the best defenses should be good fun.