Kansas could find itself on both ends of the upset equation this season
Believe it or not, the 2020 college football season is just around the corner. Fans, media, and analysts have been primarily focused on the state of the sport off the field over the last six months, but we can finally turn our attention to the goings-on between the lines. In the Big 12, that means determining whether or not Oklahoma will continue its reign atop the standings, if Texas is truly (you know), or if the stars have finally aligned for Oklahoma State to make a run at the title. Of course, those three won't only contend with one another — they'll try to avoid a damaging upset loss along the way.
Last season, Kansas State toppled the Sooners 48-41 in Manhattan. Oklahoma was a 23-point favorite against the Wildcats, making the K-State victory the biggest upset of the season for the Big 12 and one of the biggest across the country. There were only five other games in which a Big 12 team was involved in a double-digit upset: Kansas was a 20-point underdog when it blasted Boston College 48-24 on the road in September, Oklahoma State lost to Texas Tech as a 10-point favorite Oct. 5 but beat Iowa State 34-27 as a 10-point underdog Oct. 26. West Virginia won twice as an underdog in its final three games, beating 14-point favorite Kansas State 24-20, and then kept TCU from reaching bowl eligibility with a 20-17 win over Horned Frogs in the season finale, who had been deemed 13-point favorites.
Big upsets happen every year, though it's very difficult to predict when, how, or why (that's why they're upsets). And though we don't yet know officially which team will be favored by oddsmakers, we'll refer to the preseason projected point spreads from CFB Winning Edge in search of the biggest potential upsets in Big 12 football in 2020:
5. Coastal Carolina over Kansas, Sept. 12
Kansas shocked the college football world when it ran all over Boston College in part because the Jayhawks (favored by a touchdown) lost to Coastal Carolina 12-7 at home the week before. Originally scheduled to play the return game in Conway on Sept. 26, the two will meet instead meet in Lawrence for the second straight season due to the Big 12 scheduling merry-go-round. We project Kansas to be a 10.5-point favorite this time, though the Jayhawks have a great deal of youth and inexperience on the roster, which is most dangerous early in the season, including questions at quarterback, the offensive line, and virtually the entire defense. The Chanticleers can run the ball with CJ Marable, and defensive end Tarron Jackson is one of the Sun Belt's top NFL Draft prospects.
4. Iowa State over Oklahoma, Oct. 3
If a team is going to get Oklahoma, it probably should be early in the season. The Sooners are expected to be without four major contributors, including top pass rusher Ronnie Perkins for the first five games of the season due to suspensions carried over from last year. Plus, Oklahoma is in transition on offense as Spencer Rattler takes over from Jalen Hurts at quarterback and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Kennedy Brooks is reportedly opting out. Still, we expect OU to be favored on the road against Iowa State on Oct. 3 — one week before the annual clash with Texas in Dallas. The timing and location are typical trap-game material, and the Cyclones have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brock Purdy, as well as a solid, veteran defense. Iowa State also won't be intimidated after falling 42-41 last season and beating the Sooners in 2017.
3. West Virginia over Baylor, Oct. 3
Baylor won 11 games last season and nearly knocked off Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game before losing 30-23 in overtime with a backup quarterback at the helm. The Bears have undergone huge change since, and new head coach Dave Aranda was forced to replace nine starters from the top scoring defense (19.8 ppg) in the league. We expect West Virginia to be about a seven-point underdog at home, coming off a likely loss to Oklahoma State, while Baylor will have played Kansas in the Big 12 opener. Neither contest may show the level of improvement — or lack thereof — following the long offseason. However, the Mountaineers showed promise at the end of 2019 and should be better on offense in Year 2 under Neal Brown.
2. Kansas State over Oklahoma State, Nov. 7
Both Kansas State and Oklahoma State have proven capable of pulling off a major upset in recent years. But both have also shown the ability to let their guard down and lose unexpectedly as well. That makes the late-season matchup in Manhattan, in which we expect the Cowboys to be a double-digit favorite, very intriguing. The Pokes were already going to be good with quarterback Spencer Sanders and 10 returning starters on defense, but when Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace both opted to put off the NFL for another year, Oklahoma State became a legitimate threat to win the Big 12. In a 2020 season in which two Power Five conference won't take the field, that makes them a true playoff contender.
K-State has nothing close to those expectations with depth concerns on both sides of the football, including the least inexperienced offensive line in the country. But quarterback Skylar Thompson is difficult to keep hold of, and by November, head coach Chris Klieman should have developed the Wildcats into a dangerous squad. With a scheduled off week followed by Bedlam on the horizon, it's also a trap-game spot for Oklahoma State.
1. Kansas over Texas Tech, Dec. 5
Big 12 teams are set to play just one non-conference game, which limits our options in terms of major upsets. The conference is also strong and balanced, so it wouldn't be a major shock for a contender like Texas (which has been upset six times in Tom Herman's three seasons) to fall to a rival expected to finish in the middle of the standings. But there is one outlier, Kansas, which was ranked No. 106 in Athlon's preseason magazine, and currently sits 103rd in the CFB Winning Edge Team Strength power rankings. If the Jayhawks do suffer an upset loss in the season opener, 0-10 is a real possibility given that we expect KU to be an underdog of at least 12 points in every conference game — including 15.5 in Lubbock against Texas Tech in the season finale.
But Kansas has playmakers, most notably running back Pooka Williams Jr. and receivers Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson Jr., and offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon is a rising star. Plus, the Red Raiders finished last in the conference and No. 127 overall in total defense (480.3 yards allowed per game), and No. 128 in pass defense (307.8), while surrendering 6.59 yards per play, which ranked 119th — all while fielding a first-round draft pick at linebacker. Either Kansas exceeds expectations earlier in the season and proves capable of staying competitive, which would make them a dangerous opponent for Texas Tech already, or the Jayhawks enter the game with one last chance to salvage a winless conference slate (at least). Either way, the Red Raiders should be on upset alert.