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Big 12 Football 2020 Predictions

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners Football

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners Football

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

1. Oklahoma*
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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

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.

College Football Top 25: Oklahoma State

3. Texas*

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas

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.

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5. Baylor*
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.

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Related: College Football Top 25 for 2020

6. TCU*
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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: TCU

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.