It’s no secret Oklahoma enters the 2021 Big 12 season favored to win the conference. After all, the Sooners have won six league titles in a row and are projected by most to be a playoff team this fall. Iowa State knocked off Oklahoma in the regular season but fell short of another upset in the Big 12 title game. The Cyclones are likely to be the No. 2 team in the conference for most preseason predictions, but Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia headline a strong group of programs in the next tier.
Which team is the biggest threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12 for 2021? That was the question posed to Athlon editors and college football contributors.
Big 12 Football: Which Team is the Biggest Threat to Oklahoma in 2021?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
TCU is going to improve, and Texas should be a top-25 team once again, but the biggest threat to Oklahoma is Iowa State. The Cyclones knocked off the Sooners in Ames last year and lost by 27-21 in the Big 12 title game. Coach Matt Campbell’s team returns 20 starters, including quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar. Additionally, Purdy and Hall can work behind an experienced line that should rank among the best in the Big 12. Iowa State has ranked third or higher in the conference in scoring defense for each of the last four seasons and should remain near the top with nine returning starters headlining a strong overall group. The schedule also breaks in favor of the Cyclones. TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State all visit Ames in 2021. Oklahoma is the clear No. 1 team in the Big 12 next fall, but Iowa State is likely to have two chances at another upset.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I am intrigued to see what Steve Sarkisian does at Texas, but he probably needs at least one season on the field and another recruiting class to mold the Longhorns to his liking. To me, the clear-cut challenger to Oklahoma's Big 12 throne is Iowa State. The Cyclones have a lot of momentum after last season's 8-3 record that resulted in a top-10 finish in both polls. Matt Campbell has established himself as not only one of the top coaches in his conference, but the country period. ISU returns just about every starter from last season's team and the schedule is manageable. The Cyclones also know what it takes to win in Norman and they'll get another chance on Nov. 20. Whether or not Iowa State can really beat the Sooners when it counts (December in Arlington, Texas) remains to be seen, but if anyone in the Big 12 can knock off OU in 2021, it's the Cyclones.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Having already beaten Oklahoma once last year (and nearly beating them again in the Big 12 championship game), there's no doubt that Iowa State has the best chance of knocking off the Sooners this year. Bringing back quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall, and tight end Charlie Kolar makes this a dangerous offense, and the defense, led by All-American candidate Will McDonald IV could be as good. Playing at Norman will be tough, but the Cyclones get their other hard game (Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa) at home. This is set up to be a special year in Ames.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
The easy pick is Iowa State, and it may very well be the Cyclones when all is said and done. But there is something about Texas and new head coach Steve Sarkisian that has me thinking the Longhorns could cause some trouble. Sarkisian may not have all of the right pieces in place for him to elevate Texas to the level they are hoping, but the Longhorns should have enough talent in Austin to start generating some momentum. And a head-to-head victory against the Sooners is not at all out of the question. But beating Oklahoma in the regular season and beating them again in the Big 12 Championship Game won't be easy.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Let's not overthink this. Iowa State returns a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, the best quarterback-running back combination in the conference, and one of the best head coaches in all of college football. They also beat Oklahoma in 2020. I'm not sure any other team is close.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
I think the answer is pretty clearly Iowa State. I understand the excitement for Steve Sarkisian at Texas, and that the Longhorns have a much better recruiting and talent profile. There are also some folks (and analytical projections) that are pretty high on Oklahoma State. Plus, TCU is always dangerous. However, the Cyclones are more proven, more experienced, and play each of the three at home in 2021.
Iowa State returns 10 players who have been either first-or second-team All-Big 12. That includes seven of 11 returning starters on offense, led by 34-game starter Brock Purdy at quarterback and the nation's leader in rushing yards and the top returning Heisman vote-getter Breece Hall. It's understandable to think a program like Iowa State that consistently ranks in the 40s and 50s in recruiting can't compete for a playoff spot, and returning starters and returning production numbers are much higher across the country than in previous years. However, Matt Campbell's squad could be special and might be the best chance we've got for a group of seasoned overachievers to make a run.
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