The next college football season will involve a number of big dramas, but the Big 12 Conference has not typically been very dramatic. Oklahoma has won the last six Big 12 titles. Can anyone knock off the Sooners this fall? It seems that only one team has a particularly realistic chance of doing that – and it’s not Texas. Teams are ranked in the order they are listed:
The Sooners lose center Creed Humphrey, running back Rhamondre Stevenson, defensive back Tre Norwood, cornerback Tre Brown, tackle Erik Swenson, tackle Adrian Ealy, defensive end Ronnie Perkins and receiver Charleston Rambo. Stepping into some of those spots on the 2021 roster are tackle Savion Byrd, linebacker Clayton Smith, receiver Billy Bowman Jr. and receiver Mario Williams Jr.
The prevailing sense in and around the Oklahoma program is that the offensive line, which was a work in progress last season and had a number of new faces getting used to the rigors of competition, should be excellent. If there were uncertainties about the ability of the O-line in 2020, they were addressed convincingly in the back end of the season, when Oklahoma rattled off 10 straight wins to defend its Big 12 championship and also win the Cotton Bowl over Florida. Oklahoma brings back Spencer Rattler at quarterback. Rattler has a real chance to join Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as recent Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winners (not counting 2008 winner Sam Bradford as well). Many people think this is Oklahoma’s best chance to finally win a College Football Playoff semifinal, something the Sooners specifically and the Big 12 in general have not been able to do since the playoff was introduced in 2014.
Iowa State Cyclones
Odds To Win National Championship: +2500
The eye-popping aspect of the Iowa State offseason is how little has changed from last year. The Cyclones return 10 of their 11 starters on offense and eight starters on defense from their 2020 roster. The only really significant player loss is defensive end JaQuan Bailey. Nearly everything else is intact. This team, which reached the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time in its history last year, also made a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time – and won it. The Cyclones went to the Fiesta Bowl and thrashed Oregon to finish off the most successful season in program history. Iowa State is in position to build off everything it did last year and come back even stronger. Quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall give Iowa State balance, potency and unpredictability in its offense. This will be a hard team to defend this year. Opposing defensive coordinators will need to get this offense into third-and-long situations, but that will be very difficult.
Odds To Win National Championship: +4000
The Texas Longhorns underwent some huge changes in the offseason. First and foremost, head coach Tom Herman was fired and replaced by Steve Sarkisian. Herman never won a Big 12 championship at Texas, which was his main job. Oklahoma, UT’s archrival, won the Big 12 every year in which Herman coached Texas. The Longhorns weren’t even very successful in making the Big 12 Championship Game. They reached the title game against Oklahoma in 2018, but failed to get there in 2017, 2019, and 2020. TCU, Baylor and Iowa State finished higher than Texas in those three specific seasons. The Longhorns fell far short of where they need to be and where their fans expect them to be. Herman’s time ran out and in comes Sarkisian, who was head coach at Washington and USC before becoming offensive coordinator at Alabama. Sarkisian joined the Atlanta Falcons for a few seasons before returning to Alabama and guiding the Crimson Tide offense to great results and a national championship last season. Alabama averaged, 48.5 points per game last season, second in the country. Texas clearly thought Sarkisian was ready to succeed as a head coach, not just as a coordinator. We will see. Skepticism is warranted since Sarkisian failed at USC, his previous high-end head coaching job.
The other big change at Texas is that quarterback Sam Ehlinger was the signal-caller for the past four seasons. Not many programs have the same starting quarterback for four straight years. Texas now has to start over and see what it’s offense looks like this year. Sarkisian has his work cut out for him.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Odds To Win National Championship: +6000
The Cowboys lose starting running back Chuba Hubbard, cornerback Rodarius Williams, wide receiver Dillon Stoner, offensive lineman Teven Jenkins, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, linebacker Calvin Bundage, receiver Landon Wolf, offensive lineman Ry Schneider, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, defensive lineman Cameron Murray and defensive lineman Amadou Fofana. Hubbard and Wallace are the biggest losses in that group. They made so many big plays for the Pokes in 2020. It will be hard for head coach Mike Gundy to deal with all this attrition heading into 2021. He is good at maintaining the floor for Oklahoma State. This is a winning program that very rarely falls too far in the standings. The problem at Oklahoma State is the reality that the ceiling has been lowered for the program since it finished No. 3 in 2011 season. OSU has not yet appeared in a Big 12 Championship Game.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Odds To Win National Championship: +10000
The Mountaineers lose offensive linemen Chase Behrndt and Michael Brown from the 2020 roster. On defense, they lose defensive lineman Darius Stills, linebacker Tony Fields, safety Tykee Smith and safety Dreshun Miller. Coach Neal Brown has to fill the various gaps on the roster, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary, but the skill players and defensive front look a lot better than they did a year ago. Modest improvement is expected. Will the program take a huge leap, however? It doesn’t seem as though it is quite ready yet. West Virginia’s margin for error is small, and with Iowa State having a strong program, it’s not as though WVU has to deal only with Oklahoma in the attempt to reach its first Big 12 Championship Game. The Mountaineers will also have to deal with the Cyclones. It will be a tough road for this team if it wants to reach the top tier of the Big 12.