Big XII season previews are endangered species. You would have to be living in Siberia to not have heard about Texas and Oklahoma’s shock breakup with the Big XII, and subsequent move to the SEC. The move is set to cause a seismic shift in the landscape of college football, but at the very least both schools are still Big XII members for 2021/22. So we’ll put the juicy drama of conference realignment on the shelf for now whilst we take a brief glance at the outlook of each team in the conference. Here is your 2021 Big XII season preview.
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Oklahoma
2020 record: 9-3
If you’re not picking the Oklahoma Sooners to win the conference you’re just being cute. Alex Grinch has turned the Sooners’ statue-like defence into a unit that no longer lets its offence down. They added defensive back transfer Key Lawrence from Tennessee to shore up the one part of their defence that might take a step back this year. The Sooners lost Brown and Norwood to the NFL and Radley-Hiles to PAC-12 contenders Washington. The weakening of their secondary should only affect them if they make the college football playoffs and come up against a seriously potent offence.
The offence is just as entertaining as ever. QB Spencer Rattler has a full season under his belt and has a stacked WR room to throw to. The additions of OT Wanya Morris and RB Eric Gray – both four-star recruits – will only make them tougher to stop. The schedule sets up nicely for Oklahoma, with the only tough back-to-back games late in the season against Iowa State then Oklahoma State. The game against The Cowboys will probably be one of the most exciting in-state rivalries this season, considering The Sooners’ attempt to move to The SEC.
In short, there’s no team on their schedule that should stop The Sooners. They should easily receive their 5th CFP invitation, providing their roster stays healthy.
Prediction: 12-0 (9-0 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Texas
2020 record: 7-3
There’s not been a more exciting time to be a Texas fan. SEC membership is on the horizon and their new HC Steve Sarkisian just produced the most electric college football offence we’ve ever seen in Alabama.
Tom Herman didn’t leave the cupboards bare, either. Sark has always had at least one thousand yard rusher and we can expect that to be the ultra talented Bijan Robinson. Hudson Card and Casey Thompson are both competing for the starting QB job and both have the attributes to execute Sark’s offence. So far, there has been little to separate the two and it’s a fairly safe bet we will see both in action in the first few weeks of the season. There is no superstar in the WR room, but Sark’s offence is going to give them all opportunities to become the alpha.
Reports out of camp are telling us the defence looks even more disciplined than last year. Sark recently praised the linebacking corps for their play speed, speaking highly about DeMarvion Overshown who should be a leader in the locker room as well as on the field.
The Longhorns schedule isn’t as kind as Sark might like for his first season. They open against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, one of the strongest Grop of 5 teams, before a trip to Fayetteville against Arkansas for an old South West Conference rivalry. After games against Rice and Texas Tech, the Longhorns face a brutal five game stretch against TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State. That’s about as tough of a run any team in college football has in 2021.
There are a lot of things to be excited about for Texas fans. I would urge patience and caution for now. Installing a new offensive system with a new QB whilst facing a tough schedule projects for a bumpy first season for Sark in Austin.
Prediction: 8-4 (6-3 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Oklahoma State
2020 record: 9-3
The Oklahoma State Cowboys have something to prove in 2021. They are understandably angry at Oklahoma and Texas’ public break up with the BIG XII. The Cowboys go into this season wanting to make a huge statement. A strong showing this season would best position them to be an attractive pick in any future conference realignment talks.
As usual, we can expect Mike Gundy’s offence to be electric and fun. QB Spencer Sanders was marred by injury in 2020 but still threw for 2000+ yards and 14 TDs. The losses of Hubbard at RB and Wallace at WR will be tough to replace, but Gundy seems to manage it year after year. We can expect to see more stability in the rushing game this season. The Cowboys’ three losses in 2020 came in their three worst rushing games of the year. They only return five starters, and three of them are on the offensive line. Early season wins could be key to the unit’s success.
The defence took some confident steps forward last season and this season should be more of the same. 9 of 11 starters return for DC Jim Knowles on a defence led by dynamic OLB, Malcom Rodriguez. The Cowboys schedule doesn’t contain any rough stretches, although an early non-conference game against Boise State could be a problem. Their toughest test will come against the Sooners, which isn’t until the final regular season game. A lot of new pieces on the offence mean the defence could shoulder the load for the Cowboys in 2021.
Prediction: 8-4 (6-3 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: TCU
2020 record: 6-4
Much like Oklahoma State, Garry Patterson’s TCU will want a strong season considering the uncertainty that lies ahead. The Horned Frogs scraped their way to six wins in 2020, going 5-4 in conference.
There’s reasons to be optimistic about 2021. Nine starters return for the offence, most notably QB Max Duggan and RB Zach Evans. Both Duggan and Evans are explosive play-makers on the ground. Duggan is the main factor for TCU after leading the conference in rushing in 2020.The Horned Frog faithful will be looking to Duggan and Evans to bring more consistency to the offence after failing to score more than 14 points in three games last season.
The defence carried TCU last season, and will always be a strong unit under Patterson. They lost some key pieces at Safety in the form of Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington. They do however return eight starters on a unit that only allowed 24 points per game in 2020. The Horned Frogs are good at readying the ‘next man up’ and we should see that again this season.
The schedule sets up ok, with no tough stretches. A win in their first BIG XII conference matchup against Texas could be huge for the progression of this roster and the goal of leading the pack hunting Oklahoma at the top.
Prediction: 7-5 (5-4 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Iowa State
2020 record: 9-3
Iowa State have their sights firmly set on returning to the BIG XII championship game. Matt Campbell has the roster to make the run. Can they put it all together?
The offence was highly effective in 2020, averaging 436 yards and 33 points per game. Led by Doak Award runner-up Breece Hall at Running back, we can expect the same sort of efficiency again this season. TE Charlie Kolar is one of the best at his position and the Cyclones also return a veteran WR group. QB Brock Purdy will have plenty of passing options behind an offensive line that ranked first in pass protection in the BIG XII last season.
Jon Heacock’s defence returns 11 starters. Their progression has demonstrated that defence does get played in the BIG XII. There is a slew of veteran and all conference pieces to choose from this season led by junior Will McDonald IV, who tied for the nation’s lead in sacks with 10.5 in 2020. We can expect this unit to improve even further.
The schedule sets up rather nicely for Iowa State. The Cyclones face Texas and Oklahoma late in the season so they have a great chance to go into those games with some strong momentum. Campbell’s team has a legitimate shot at a playoff berth this season, but everything will have to come together for that to happen. Something tells me that with hopes at a record high in Ames, nothing short of a BIG XII title will be acceptable.
Prediction: 10-2 (7-2 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Kansas
2020 record: 0-9
Kansas will play football in 2021.They will not win many games. Next.
All jokes aside, new HC Lance Leipold has a mountain to climb in Lawrence. The Jayhawks have only won 3 conference games since 2015 and went 0-9 last season under the now-disgraced Les Miles. For the first time in a long time, Jayhawk fans have cause for optimism. Leipold’s records at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo suggest he’s one of the few men for this reclamation project.
The offence averaged just 15 points per game in 2020. New OC Andy Kotelnicki has some serious work to do. The most important need to address is the offensive line. The Jayhawks gave up 5.2 sacks per game in 2020, the most of any FBS program since 2009. The development of left tackle Earl Bostick Jr and Notre Dame graduate transfer center Colin Grunhard should provide a boost. Transfer Mike Noviski, who followed Leipold from Buffalo, should be a plug and play piece on the interior. North Texas transfer Jason Bean should push Jaylon Daniels for reps at QB in camp, but right now it’s hard to make an educated prediction on this offence. Time will tell.
Kansas struggled with injuries and Covid absences in 2020. However, the unit returns almost all of its starters this season which could make for an intriguing foundation. Leipold also dipped into the transfer portal for help and brought in guys who should provide instant assistance. Once again, time will tell with the Jayhawks defence. Nobody should be judging the Kansas defence until Leipold has had some time to mould it into what he wants it to be.
Every conference game represents a huge challenge. With Duke and Coastal Carolina making up two of their three non-conference games, two wins on the season would be impressive. Quite simply, this is not the year to keep an eye on the Kansas Jayhawks.
Prediction: 1-11 (0-9 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: WVU
2020 record – 6-4
The West Virginia Mountaineers took some hefty steps forward under second year head coach Neal Brown in 2020. Brown will now be looking for his squad to take the next step, much like Iowa State has under Matt Campbell.
The offence needs to find consistency. Both the run and pass games should be efficient, as key players return on offence. QB Jarret Doege will be challenged by Austin Kendal for the starting role after Doege struggled against Army in the 2020 Liberty Bowl. Leddie Brown is back after his strong 2020 season, which included 1010 yards and 9 TDs. The offence is likely to be built around Brown. Although the WR corp is solid, there aren’t that many combined starts between them.
The defence was the dominant unit in 2020. They ranked first in pass defence nationally. However, after a turbulent offseason there are definitely questions about the Mountaineers defensive unit. All-American safety Tykee Smith transferred to Georgia and cornerback Dreshun Miller left for Auburn. Tony Fields II and Darius Stills also leave gaping holes at middle linebacker and nose tackle, respectively. Despite the losses, there are still pieces in place that should soften the blow. Regardless, we shouldn’t expect the same level of performance from the Mountaineers defence in 2021.
There are no exceedingly tough runs on the schedule, but non-conference games against Maryland and Virginia Tech will both be tough outs to begin the season. The realistic goal for this team is to be in the title game hunt by November, and the losses on defence will likely be the biggest factor in that. Expect the Mountaineers to take a step back this year.
Prediction: 5-7 (4-5 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Baylor
2020 record: 2-7
The Baylor Bears had a woeful 2-7 season in 2020. That was precipitated by not getting one day of Spring practice and subsequent Covid distractions. Trying to implement new offence and defensive systems may go some way to explaining the 2-7 record. Second year head coach Dave Aranda will be expecting significant steps forward from the Bears this season.
New OC Jeff Grimes left BYU in January to join Aranda and now faces the task of replacing Charlie Brewer, who has transferred to Utah. Junior Gerry Bohanon, sophomore Jacob Zeno, Blake Shapen and Kyron Drones will battle it out in a wide-open competition which could lead to some early season instability for the offence. The wide receiver room returns leading WR RJ Sneed and a number of other experienced players. The depth of this room should help.
The Bears defence returns 22 players who got snaps last year. Dillon Doyle, Abram Smith and Matt Jones make up the core of a strong linebacking corps. Aranda should also see improvement upfront with the transfer of Siaki Ika at Defensive End.
The schedule has one tough stretch, with back-to-back games against Texas TCU and Oklahoma late in the season. By then, Grimes will hope to have ironed out any offensive kinks. The soft opening against Texas State and Texas Southern should help to build confidence. Aranda needs time to build this Bears programme and this year he’ll just want to be tough to beat.
Prediction 4-8 (2-7 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Texas Tech
2020 record: 4-6
Texas Tech stagnated in 2020 after a 2019 season where they lost a lot of close games. Matt Wells goes into his third year needing to replace a lot of holes on the roster. There is hope around the programme that the Red Raiders can make the steps fans hoped for in 2020 and earn an improved finish in the BIG XII standings.
The Red Raiders lost starting QB Allan Bowman and Keshaun Carter to the transfer portal. Sonny Cumbie is back at OC. We can expect the high-powered offence of years gone by to return. Cumbie will have to decide which one of Utah State transfer Henry Colombi, Oregon transfer Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith and Behren Morton to build an offence around. Shough had led The Ducks to a PAc-12 Championship. Morton is the highly rated recruit. Shough is likely the safest bet, but all will get a chance in camp. Four of five offensive line starters returning should be a big factor in the progression of this offence.
Tech raided (pun very much intended) the transfer portal this offseason. The Red Raiders have 11 power five transfers, five of whom joined in 2021. Two of their bigger transfers are on the back end in the form of LSU transfer Eric Monroe and Duke transfer Marquis Waters. Colin Schooler, the Arizona transfer at linebacker, should also add talent and experience. It remains to be seen how the defence will gel, but they definitely have talent.
The toughest games on the schedule are nicely spaced out for the Red Raiders this season. Regardless, with so many new faces and a big hole to fill at QB, I don’t expect Matt Wells’ team to make the jump they are expecting. He’s not at all on the hotseat, but a really bad year in 2021 could light the flames for the following season.
Prediction: 5-7 (3-6 in conference)
2021 Big XII Season Preview: Kansas State
2020 record: 4-6
Kansas State Wildcats HC Chris Klieman will be hoping to put the end of the 2020 season into the rearview mirror. Five straight losses caused the Wildcats to slip to seventh in the BIG XII standings, and Klieman can not afford that type of opening for the 2021 BIG XII season.
Skylar Thompson eased concerns at the QB position when he decided to return for a sixth season. A week before his season ending injury, the Wildcats had beaten Oklahoma in Norman. It remains to be seen if he’s the same QB, but his return is a huge positive to build around this season. Deuce Vaughn returns at Running Back after a fantastic Freshman season that saw him amass 1,221 all purpose yards. The Wide Receiver room could be the offense’s weakness in 2021. No returning receiver generated more than 300 yards in 2020.
The defence loses some key starters, most notably Wyatt Hubert up front. He scored 8.5 sacks in 2020 and has twice received All-Conference honours. However, The Wildcats have a lot of talent and experience on this side of the ball so should have no problem filling in the holes. Julius Brents, the transfer cornerback from Iowa, should arrive as the team’s top coverage guy. They will also be looking to Russ Yeast at Safety for an immediate impact. This unit should remain sturdy, despite losing some top pieces.
The schedule begins with a tough match against Stanford, before they face Carson Strong’s Nevada two weeks later. Then comes a three game stretch of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. It is not an easy start for a Wildcat team that needs to rebuild confidence. I think Klieman is a good coach with a good vision for the programme. They have a shot to be a lot more consistent than 2020, should Skylar Thmpson stay healthy.