Texas and Oklahoma lead the way in the Big 12 once again next fall
Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 by winning four conference titles in a row, so it’s no surprise the Sooners headline the early 2019 predictions at the top of the league. However, Texas finished with a 10-win season in coach Tom Herman’s second year and heads into the offseason primed for another step forward in 2019. The Longhorns are a heavy favorite to reach the Big 12 title game once again and should begin the offseason ranked among the top 10 nationally. There’s a lot of promise with Iowa State next season, but coach Matt Campbell’s team must replace running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler. TCU and Baylor headline the next tier of teams in the early Big 12 predictions, followed by Oklahoma State at No. 6.
It’s never too early to think about predictions or rankings for the 2019 college football season. With that in mind, Athlon provides its early power rankings for the Big 12 for 2019:
Early Big 12 Football Predictions for 2019
It’s a close call between Oklahoma and Texas for the top spot in the Big 12 next fall. Since it’s only January, let’s give the nod to the program that’s won four consecutive conference titles. The Sooners have to replace quarterback Kyler Murray, but it’s safe to assume Lincoln Riley will find the right answer under center. Incoming freshman Spencer Rattler, Austin Kendall and Tanner Mordecai are the frontrunners to replace Murray. The supporting cast will have a couple of new faces in the mix, as big-play receiver Marquise Brown is headed to the NFL, and the line has to be rebuilt after the departures of Dru Samia, Ben Powers and Cody Ford. However, the cupboard isn’t bare. Creed Humphrey is a rising star in the trenches, the one-two punch of Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks will handle the ground game, and CeeDee Lamb anchors a receiving corps that brings in three of the top 10 wideouts in the 2019 signing class. Defense has been an issue in recent years, but Riley took a step in fixing this unit by hiring Alex Grinch as the team’s new coordinator. Grinch inherits a group that returns largely intact, with only two seniors among the top 10 tacklers from 2018. Linebacker Kenneth Murray returns after collecting 155 tackles this season, while Tre Brown, Parnell Motley and Brendan Radley-Hiles are back to lead the way in the secondary. Edge rusher Ronnie Perkins led the defense with five sacks and should be even better in 2019. Oklahoma plays Houston and UCLA in non-conference play, and the annual trip to Dallas to take on Texas is slated for Oct. 12. The Sooners host Iowa State and TCU, with road dates to Baylor and Oklahoma State on tap.
As we mentioned under Oklahoma, it’s a toss up for the No. 1 ranking in the Big 12 for 2019. The nod (for now) goes to the Sooners, but there’s a lot to like about this Texas team next fall. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger returns after accounting for 41 total scores and throwing for 3,296 yards in 2018. Collin Johnson passed on the NFL after catching 68 passes for 985 yards and seven scores, and the receiving corps could get another boost if Lil’Jordan Humphrey (86 catches) also decides to return to campus. The Longhorns averaged only 3.8 yards per rush, so there’s room to improve on the ground. Sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram (708 yards) should see more touches after a promising ’18 season. The line is losing a couple of starters and will be the biggest offseason concern on this side of the ball for Herman. Even though Texas is losing a handful of key defenders, coordinator Todd Orlando should keep this unit among the best in the Big 12. Breckyn Hager, Chris Nelson, Charles Omenihu are gone from the trenches, while linebacker Gary Johnson and cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Davante Davis have expired their eligibility. However, the cupboard certainly isn’t empty. Safety Caden Sterns is one of the Big 12’s top rising stars on defense, and Joseph Ossai is primed for an increased role at linebacker. Texas hosts LSU in one of college football’s top non-conference matchups next season. The annual showdown versus Oklahoma is likely to decide the No. 1 ranking for the regular season in the Big 12, but road trips to Iowa State, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia won’t be easy to navigate.
3. Iowa State
Matt Campbell has Iowa State on the rise entering 2019. The Cyclones have earned back-to-back winning seasons in Big 12 play and should hit that mark once again next fall. Quarterback Brock Purdy was terrific as a freshman, throwing for 2,250 yards and 16 touchdowns to only seven picks. Purdy should be even better as a sophomore, but his supporting cast will need a few playmakers to emerge after running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler decided to leave early for the NFL. At running back, Kene Nwangwu (157 yards) and Johnnie Lang (79) are back, but incoming freshmen Jirehl Brock and Breece Hall could push for carries. Tarique Milton caught 34 passes for 417 yards as a freshman in 2018 and should be a bigger part of the offense with Butler off to the next level. The Cyclones allowed 34 sacks in 2018, but with all five starters back up front, this unit should take a step forward. Iowa State’s defense led the Big 12 by holding opponents to 22.9 points a game and ranked second in the conference by limiting offenses to 5.1 yards a play. Campbell’s defense doesn’t lose a ton of talent, but linebacker Willie Harvey and cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne will be missed. Coordinator Jon Heacock still has a strong foundation in place, headlined by tackle Ray Lima, end JaQuan Bailey and linebackers Mike Rose and Marcel Spears. Additionally, safety Greg Eisworth is back after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2018.
Gary Patterson’s team had a lot of bad luck with injuries in 2018 but still managed to finish 7-6 with a bowl win over California. For Patterson’s program to jump back into top 25 consideration, the offense has to find an answer at quarterback. Will Justin Rogers be at full strength after taking a redshirt year to recover from a significant leg injury in high school? And if Rogers is still on the mend, will Michael Collins or incoming freshman Max Duggan emerge as the clear starter? Regardless of who starts under center, the offense needs to get the ball in the hands of receiver Jalen Reagor, along with running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. After a year to retool in ’18, the line should be a strength with four starters slated to return next fall. As usual, TCU should rank among the best in the Big 12 on defense. Sure, end Ben Banogu, linebackers Jawuan Johnson, Arico Evans and Ty Summers and defensive backs Niko Small and Ridwan Issahaku won’t be easy to replace. However, this unit will get a boost from the return of lineman Ross Blacklock and linebacker Montrel Wilson from injury. Cornerback Jeff Gladney anchors the secondary after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors this season. TCU plays at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Oklahoma State next fall, but Baylor, Texas and West Virginia come to Fort Worth.
Baylor enters 2019 as a program on the rise. The Bears jumped from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 last season, and coach Matt Rhule should guide this program even higher in ’19. The Bears return rising star Charlie Brewer at quarterback, as the Texas native threw for 3,019 yards and 19 touchdowns over 13 appearances. Brewer’s top three statistical running backs are back next fall, while the receiving corps features Denzel Mims (55 catches for 794 yards) and promising sophomores Tyquan Thornton (17.7 ypc) and Josh Fleeks (14 catches). Those three options will have to step up even more next fall, as Jalen Hurd (69 catches) and Chris Platt (36) depart Waco. More improvement is needed from an offensive line that allowed 39 sacks in 2018. The right side of this unit must be revamped, but center Sam Tecklenburg is back to anchor the trenches. Coordinator Phil Snow also has the defense trending in the right direction. After giving up 35.9 points a game in 2017, the Bears allowed 31.7 in ’18. However, there’s still plenty of room to improve on this side of the ball after allowing 6.5 yards per play and ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 against the run. The good news: Only four seniors finished among the top 15 tacklers on this defense. Linebacker Clay Johnston and James Lynch are back to anchor this unit after earning All-Big 12 honors in 2018, while the secondary will benefit from the return of a healthy Grayland Arnold at cornerback. Baylor has three favorable non-conference matchups to start the season, followed by games against Iowa State (in Waco), Kansas State (Manhattan) and Texas Tech (Waco). The second-half slate is tough, as road trips to Oklahoma State and TCU are on tap, while Texas and Oklahoma come to McLane Stadium.
6. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys’ streak of consecutive 10-win seasons was snapped at three in 2018. Coach Mike Gundy’s team finished 7-6 but four of those losses came by a touchdown or less. In order for Oklahoma State to push into the top half of the conference next fall, Gundy’s offense has to find a new play-caller after Mike Yurcich left for Ohio State and replace Taylor Cornelius at quarterback. Freshman Spencer Sanders and Hawaii transfer Dru Brown are the likely favorites to replace Cornelius, and the winner of this battle has a loaded cast of receivers on the outside. Tylan Wallace had a breakout 2018 campaign, catching 86 passes for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’ll be joined by Tyron Johnson (53 catches), Dillon Stoner (48) and Landon Wolf (33) on the outside. Justice Hill left Stillwater for the NFL, but the ground game is in good hands with Chuba Hubbard (740 yards) and LD Brown. There’s room to improve up front after allowing 34 sacks in 2018. The Cowboys return center Johnny Wilson, guard Marcus Keyes and tackle Teven Jenkins, so there’s a good foundation to build around next fall. Second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will have his hands full in spring ball. Oklahoma State gave up 32.5 points a game in ’18 and loses leading tackler Justin Phillips, along with five key players from the line, including end Jordan Brailford (16 TFL). The cornerback position should be in good hands with A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams returning. Linebacker Calvin Bundage and safeties Jarrick Bernard and Malcolm Rodriguez highlight the other key returnees for Knowles.
7. Texas Tech
New coach Matt Wells isn’t inheriting a program in need of a major overhaul. The Red Raiders started 5-2 but lost five straight to end 2018, largely due to the absence of quarterback Alan Bowman after an injury against Oklahoma on Nov. 3. Bowman should be full strength in ’19, and he should have a breakout year under new coordinator David Yost. Bowman’s supporting cast returns largely intact, but standout receiver Antoine Wesley and center Paul Stawarz must be replaced. T.J. Vasher has 13 touchdown catches over the last two years and should be the go-to target for Bowman next fall. Texas Tech allowed over 40 points a game in three consecutive years (2014-16) but cut that total to 31.1 in ’18. New coordinator Keith Patterson won’t have standout linebacker Dakota Allen to build around next fall, and there’s a few losses in the secondary and the trenches to address. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this unit take another step forward in 2019. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks returns after leading the team with 84 stops, while the secondary is slated to bring back DaMarcus Fields, Adrian Frye, Desmon Smith and Octavious Morgan at cornerback. The Red Raiders generated only 28 sacks in 2018 and must replace Kolin Hill and Tony Jones, who accounted for nine of those. Road trips to Arizona in non-conference play and Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas provide a tough schedule for Wells in his first season. Wells produced plenty of high-powered offenses at Utah State but also blended scoring points with a solid defense and rushing attack. Can he find that formula once again in Lubbock?
8. West Virginia
The Mountaineers hit a home run with the hire of Neal Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen, but the 2019 season is likely to be a rebuilding year. In addition to the overall transition to the new staff, West Virginia must replace quarterback Will Grier, left tackle Yodny Cajuste and receivers Gary Jennings and David Sills. The defense also has holes to fill, as linebacker David Long left early for the NFL, and lineman Kenny Bigelow, safety Dravon Askew-Henry and end Jabril Robinson have expired their eligibility. Safety Kenny Robinson and linemen Dante Stills and Darius Stills will lead the way on defense next fall, while the offense will have to lean on a trio of running backs – Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown – until a quarterback emerges. Miami transfer Jack Allison started the Camping World Bowl and completed 17 of 35 throws for 277 yards and one pick. He will battle freshman Trey Lowe for the starting job in spring ball. The Mountaineers do return a strong foundation up front, headlined by tackle Colton McKivitz.
9. Kansas State
The 2019 season is the start of a new era for Kansas State’s football program. Bill Snyder’s legendary tenure ended with his retirement at the conclusion of the ’18 campaign, but athletic director Gene Taylor made one of the offseason’s top hires by luring Chris Klieman to Manhattan from North Dakota State. Under Klieman’s watch, the Bison won four national championships over five seasons and lost only six games overall in that span. Klieman’s first team in Manhattan will require some quick renovation if K-State is going to make a bowl in 2019. The Wildcats averaged only 22.5 points a game in ’18 and lost running back Alex Barnes early to the NFL. Standout tackle Dalton Risner and guard Abdul Beecham depart from the trenches, while the offense needs more out of a passing game that generated only 11 scores in 12 contests. While Barnes will be missed at running back, Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert should be a capable option. And with Alex Delton transferring, the starting quarterback spot should go to Skylar Thompson. Klieman’s background is on defense, and he’s inheriting a group that limited opponents to 25.4 points a game last fall. This unit doesn’t lose a ton in the way of key players, but the secondary has to retool after losing safeties Kendall Adams and Eli Walker and cornerback Duke Shelley. The strength of the defense should up front, as Reggie Walker (12.5 TFL), Wyatt Hubert (8.5) and Trey Dishon are back for 2019.
The Jayhawks certainly won’t lack for intrigue in 2019. In one of the offseason’s most interesting coaching hires, Kansas replaced David Beaty with former LSU head coach Les Miles. And needless to say, Miles is inheriting a much different situation than the one he took over in Baton Rouge in 2005 from Nick Saban. The Jayhawks have won only three Big 12 contests since 2014 and are likely to begin ’19 at the bottom of the conference. Running back Pooka Williams had a terrific freshman season (1,125 rushing yards and 33 catches) but was suspended due to an off-field incident in December. In addition to the uncertainty about Williams’ status, the offense has to get more production out of its passing game after averaging only 192.3 yards a contest in 2018. With Peyton Bender out of eligibility, the starting job could go to Carter Stanley, Miles Kendrick or junior college recruit Thomas MacVittie. Help from the JUCO ranks is also expected at receiver, as Kansas is set to lose Steven Sims (53 catches) and Jeremiah Booker (31). Left tackle Hakeem Adeniji returns to anchor the line next fall. After giving up 43.4 points a game in 2017, the Jayhawks allowed 30 points a contest in ’18. New coordinator D.J. Eliot is set to replace six of the team’s top 10 tacklers from last season, with linebacker Joe Dineen and tackle Daniel Wise the unit’s biggest losses. Restocking the front seven and shoring up a secondary that finished ninth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense will be the top priorities in spring ball. Considering the personnel losses and coaching transition, winning a couple of games in Big 12 play and exceeding the 2018 win total (three) would be a good first step for Miles next fall.