Oklahoma has claimed the last five Big 12 titles, so it’s no surprise coach Lincoln Riley’s team begins the 2020 season as the heavy favorite to claim another conference title. The Sooners have finished 12-2 and also booked a trip to the CFB Playoff in each of Riley’s three seasons at the helm. New quarterback Spencer Rattler is primed for a breakout year in Riley’s high-powered offense, while the development on defense will decide how far the Sooners can go should they return to the playoff.
While Oklahoma is the clear favorite, there’s plenty of uncertainty about which team is its biggest challenger. OklahomaState returns 19 starters – including a Heisman contender in running back Chuba Hubbard – and hosts both Texas and IowaState in key swing contests. The Longhorns are looking to rebound after a disappointing 8-5 campaign last fall. Coach Tom Herman hit the reset button on his staff, but the roster is talented and quarterback Sam Ehlinger is one of the best in the nation. The Cyclones were better than their 7-6 record last fall would suggest, and coach Matt Campbell’s squad returns standout quarterback Brock Purdy and one of the league’s top defenses.
The next tier features a team that nearly won the Big 12 title (Baylor) last season and fellow in-state rival TCU. The Bears are under the direction of a new coach (Dave Aranda) and must rebuild one of the league’s top defenses with just two returning starters. The Horned Frogs should once again rank near the top of the Big 12 on defense, and return a rising star at quarterback in Max Duggan. KansasState won’t be an easy out under coach Chris Klieman, especially with quarterback Skylar Thompson back under center.
WestVirginia is trending up under coach Neal Brown, but the Mountaineers enter 2020 still needing to find answers on offense. Getting quarterback Alan Bowman back from injury is huge for TexasTech. However, the Red Raiders have to get better on defense to get to a bowl in coach Matt Wells’ second season. Kansas won’t lack for intrigue under coach Les Miles. However, the Jayhawks are headed for another rebuilding year in 2020.
Big 12 2020 Predictions
For the third year in a row, Oklahoma is breaking in a new starting quarterback. And for the third season in a row, there's very little concern in Norman. New quarterback Spencer Rattler is primed for a breakout year under coach Lincoln Riley, and he has one of the top offensive lines at his disposal. The receiving corps needs to be restocked due to a couple of offseason injuries and the departure of CeeDee Lamb, but there's plenty of talent waiting to emerge. Oklahoma's defense showed improvement under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch last fall. After giving up 6.1 yards a snap in 2018, Grinch helped this group lower that total to 5.6. Every level of the defense has concerns going into 2020, but another step forward should be a reasonable expectation. However, has the defense progressed enough to win a playoff game? Road trips to Iowa State and TCU won't be easy, but Oklahoma should find its way back to the Big 12 title game for the sixth year in a row.
Related: Ranking the Big 12 Coaches for 2020
2. Oklahoma State*
It's a close call between Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State for second place in the Big 12. The Cowboys get a small edge here, as coach Mike Gundy's team hosts both Texas and Iowa State in Stillwater and return 19 starters off a squad that won eight games last season. Of those 19, eight come from an offense that's poised to break out in 2020. Quarterback Spencer Sanders had a promising debut last year, and the receiving corps is among the best in college football thanks to the return of No. 1 target Tylan Wallace after his 2019 season ended early due to a knee injury. Running back Chuba Hubbard (2,094 yards) is among the nation's top skill players, and a solid offensive line was bolstered with the arrival of West Virginia transfer Josh Sills. Oklahoma State's defense is a work in progress, but this group showed some improvement last fall by limiting teams to 26.8 points a game - down from 32.5 the previous year. With 11 starters back, more improvement is expected for 2020.
It's no secret the 2020 season is an important one for coach Tom Herman. After posting 10 victories and playing in the Big 12 title game in 2018, the Longhorns regressed to 8-5 last fall. Last year's disappointment forced Herman to revamp his staff, which included two new coordinators in Chris Ash (defense) and Mike Yurcich (offense). The lack of spring practice is a concern, but Yurcich should have a relatively seamless transition into the play-caller role. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger is one of the best in college football, and big-play threat Brennan Eagles is poised to become the No. 1 receiver with Devin Duvernay off to the NFL. Some question marks remain up front, but the ground game should be more productive in 2020 with the arrival of five-star freshman Bijan Robinson to add to a deep backfield that features Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. The Longhorns regressed on defense last season, but improvement is likely with Ash calling the plays, along with better luck in the injury department. Linebacker Joseph Ossai and safety Caden Sterns should be two of the league's top defenders. The road trip to Oklahoma State on Nov. 27 could determine second place in the Big 12.
Related: Big 12 2020 All-Conference Team
4. Iowa State*
The Cyclones have posted a winning Big 12 record in three consecutive years for the first time in program history. A trip to the Big 12 Championship Game should be within reach in 2020, especially as coach Matt Campbell's team returns one of the league's top quarterbacks (Brock Purdy) and a defense that has ranked near the top of the Big 12 in each of the last three seasons. Purdy has plenty of weapons to utilize, as tight end Charlie Kolar is poised to challenge for All-America honors, running back Breece Hall is a rising star, and receiver Tarique Milton averaged 20.6 yards per catch last season. The offensive line is Campbell's biggest concern and will likely determine whether or not Iowa State gets to the Big 12 title game. The Cyclones host Oklahoma but play Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas away from Ames.
Dave Aranda was a strong hire to replace Matt Rhule, and the former LSU defensive coordinator inherits one of the league's top quarterbacks in Charlie Brewer. The Bears still need improvement up front after allowing 38 sacks last fall, and go-to receiver Denzel Mims must be replaced. The bigger concerns for this team reside on defense. Baylor led the Big 12 in scoring defense (19.8 ppg), but this group brings back just two starters - a rebuilding effort made tougher by the cancellation of spring practice. The Bears could be in for some regression after five games by one score and recording a plus-11 turnover margin last fall.
Related: College Football Top 25 for 2020
TCU missed on a bowl game last fall for just the third time since Gary Patterson's first full season (2001). With just seven returning starters, Patterson has plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but there's some optimism for improvement in 2020. For starters, quarterback Max Duggan impressed as a freshman and should be even better in 2020. The rising star quarterback is also helped by the arrival of former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill in an off-field role and return of Doug Meacham to help play-caller Sonny Cumbie after the offense averaged 30.3 points a game (seventh in the Big 12) in 2019. The arrival of five-star prospect Zachary Evans is a boost to an inexperienced backfield, and transfer T.J. Storment adds an experienced option to a line that returns only one starter. Duggan needs to find a new go-to target after Jalen Reagor departed to the NFL. As usual, TCU should be near the top of the Big 12 on defense. The Horned Frogs have finished first or second in the Big 12 in fewest yards per play allowed for six consecutive years. Patterson's group returns only four starters, but this group figures to find the right answers. TCU lost six of its seven games by one score last fall. With improvement on offense, the Horned Frogs could easily jump into the top half of the conference.
7. Kansas State*
Chris Klieman delivered one of the best debuts by a new coach last fall, guiding K-State to an 8-5 finish and a winning record (5-4) in Big 12 games. Klieman will have his work cut out this offseason, as the Wildcats return just nine starters and face five Big 12 contests - including swing games against West Virginia, TCU and Baylor - on the road. Finishing in the top half of the Big 12 requires a rebuild in the trenches. All five starters along the offensive line are gone, and the defense only brings back one (Wyatt Hubert) off a group that ranked eighth in the conference versus the run. Quarterback Skylar Thompson is primed for a big senior year, and Klieman's defense can build around a solid group of linebackers and secondary this fall.
8. West Virginia
The Mountaineers finished 2019 on a high note by winning two out of their final three games to get to 5-7 in coach Neal Brown's first season in Morgantown. Another step forward to reach a bowl in 2020 isn't going to be easy. The schedule features a non-conference game versus Florida State, along with road trips to Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Quarterback Jarret Doege gave the team a spark in the last three games of last season and should be able to build on that. However, the offense struggled to get the ground game going (2.6 yards per carry in Big 12 games), and the line remains a major concern. Led by standout lineman Darius Stills, defense is once again the strength of this team. Both starting cornerbacks from 2019 must be replaced, but a solid front and safeties Tykee Smith and Sean Mahone provide a good foundation to lean on in 2020.
9. Texas Tech
Matt Wells' debut in Lubbock was hindered by season-ending injuries to standout offensive lineman Jack Anderson and quarterback Alan Bowman. Despite those losses, the Red Raiders were competitive in the Big 12, losing five games by 10 points or less. If Bowman can stay healthy, Wells' team should push for a bowl in 2020. As usual in Lubbock, Texas Tech isn't hurting for skill players, as running back SaRodorick Thompson and receivers T.J. Vasher and Erik Ezukanma are poised to challenge for All-Big 12 honors. Improving the defense remains a priority. The Red Raiders finished ninth in the Big 12 in scoring defense and allowed 6.6 yards a snap last year. Texas Tech has finished seventh or worst in the Big 12 in scoring every season since 2010.
Turning Kansas into a consistent bowl team in the Big 12 wasn't an overnight operation for coach Les Miles. The Jayhawks finished 3-9 in Miles' debut last fall and could struggle to hit that three-win mark in 2020. The offense returns one of the Big 12's top skill talents in running back Pooka Williams Jr. and two standout receivers in Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson. However, the quarterback position is a question mark, and there's plenty of uncertainty up front. Defensively, Kansas is in a similar position. The Jayhawks surrendered 36.1 points a game and ranked last in the Big 12 versus the run. With only three returning starters, Miles and coordinator D.J. Eliot are breaking in a lot of new faces this fall.
* Indicates team projected to reach bowl eligibility in 2020
Big 12 Championship
Oklahoma over Oklahoma State
Big 12 2020 Projected Top Unit Rankings
BIG 12 2020 SUPERLATIVES AND SEASON PREDICTIONS
Pick by Steven Lassan: Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Pick by Braden Gall: Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
Pick by Mark Ross: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Pick by Steven Lassan: Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas
Pick by Braden Gall: Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas
Pick by Mark Ross: Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas
Coach of the Year
Pick by Steven Lassan: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Pick by Braden Gall: Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Pick by Mark Ross: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Coach on the Hot Seat
Pick by Steven Lassan: Tom Herman, Texas
Pick by Braden Gall: Tom Herman, Texas
Pick by Mark Ross: Tom Herman, Texas
Pick by Steven Lassan: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Pick by Braden Gall: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Pick by Mark Ross: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Pick by Steven Lassan: Josh Sills, OL, Oklahoma State
Pick by Braden Gall: Josh Sills, OL, Oklahoma State
Pick by Mark Ross: Theo Howard, WR, Oklahoma
Pick by Steven Lassan: TCU
Pick by Braden Gall: Baylor
Pick by Mark Ross: TCU
Key Position to Watch
Pick by Steven Lassan: Iowa State OL
Pick by Braden Gall: Iowa State OL
Pick by Mark Ross: Texas WR
Best Coordinator Hire
Pick by Steven Lassan: Larry Fedora, OC, Baylor
Pick by Braden Gall: Chris Ash, DC, Texas
Pick by Mark Ross: Larry Fedora, OC, Baylor
Hardest Team to Evaluate
Pick by Steven Lassan: Texas
Pick by Braden Gall: Texas
Pick by Mark Ross: Baylor
Coach on the Rise
Pick by Steven Lassan: Neal Brown, HC, West Virginia
Pick by Braden Gall: Chris Klieman, HC, Kansas State
Pick by Mark Ross: Neal Brown, HC, West Virginia
Pick by Steven Lassan: Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
Pick by Braden Gall: Texas vs. Oklahoma State
Pick by Mark Ross: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma
Pick by Steven Lassan: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Pick by Braden Gall: SaRodorick Thompson, RB, Texas Tech
Pick by Mark Ross: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Pick by Steven Lassan: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Pick by Braden Gall: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Pick by Mark Ross: Caleb Kelly, LB, Oklahoma