Complete Big 12 preview for the 2018 season.
Oklahoma has a few key players to replace from last year’s squad, but coach Lincoln Riley’s team is the pick to win the Big 12 this fall. The Sooners have claimed the conference title three years in a row and hold an edge over Texas, West Virginia and TCU in the 2018 Big 12 predictions. The Mountaineers will have no trouble scoring points behind quarterback Will Grier, but the defense will be key in whether or not this team contends for the conference title. After eight teams reached bowl eligibility last season, it would not be a surprise to see the conference reach that level or if nine programs hit at least six victories in 2018.
Playing with a chip on their shoulder after last year’s 1-11 finish, the Bears should be able to get off to a better start and make a run at their eighth bowl bid in nine years. But staying healthy will be the key.
Coach Matt Campbell was a year ahead of schedule in getting Iowa State back to a bowl game. The program seems poised to maintain its momentum. The Cyclones should be better in the trenches on both sides of the football, and across the board, this is a deeper and more athletic team than the one that went 8-5 a year ago. Another trip to the postseason seems likely in Ames, and finishing in the upper half of the Big 12 is possible.
KU finished just 1-11 in 2017, with its only win coming in the season opener against FCS opponent Southeast Missouri State. Coach David Beaty’s record stands at 3-33 in three seasons, with his only FBS win coming against Texas in 2016. The stakes will be high in 2018. If KU struggles to start the season, the moves could come in a hurry.
K-State coach Bill Snyder has enough returning talent and experience to remain a factor in the Big 12, but it won’t be easy with two new coordinators and uncertainty at key positions. The Wildcats started slow in each of the past two seasons before finishing strong and winning bowl games. They will need to play well from the get-go, especially with Mississippi State on the schedule, to reach higher levels this season.
In Norman, they’re used to replacing All-Americans and continuing to win big. So downgrade the Sooners with caution. Sure, the coaches would like to be more settled at quarterback. And the schedule doesn’t offer the opportunity to ease into things, with UCLA visiting in Week 2, followed by the Big 12 opener at Iowa State the following Saturday. Still, if Kyler Murray or Austin Kendall takes hold of the quarterback position, the Sooners will again have the look of a Big 12 favorite and CFB Playoff contender.
Outside the program, all focus centers on replacing QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, understandably. Inside, however, there’s a quiet confidence, with 12 returning starters and plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
A quarterback must emerge, but Oklahoma State coaches are excited about their options. The schedule offers two comfortable games – Missouri State and South Alabama – to get the quarterback some confidence, before Boise State arrives in Stillwater for an intriguing non-conference clash. If all goes well early, it could signal business as usual for the Cowboys.
Like always, TCU will field a good defense. But coach Gary Patterson and his staff have assembled what looks like the best offensive skill talent they’ve ever had. If the offensive line comes together, TCU will be closer to pairing an offense that can keep up with the Big 12’s best with a defense that can win games on its own. The last time that happened, in 2014 and ’15, TCU won 23 of 26 games, shared a league championship and nearly crashed the CFP.
Texas improved from five to seven wins in Tom Herman’s first season. Getting to a bowl game was a nice first step. Herman also established a culture and added some elite talent in his first full recruiting class. To challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12, the Horns will have to show significant improvement on offense and hope that Todd Orlando’s defense doesn’t drop off too much despite key personnel losses.
Texas Tech’s defense got key stops consistently for the first time in years in 2017, but the offense often wasted away those opportunities, particularly in the red zone, where short-yardage situations and field goal tries often ended in disaster.
To take a step forward, the Red Raider offense simply has to get tougher on the ground, the quarterback — whoever wins the job — needs to be steady, the kicking game must take a huge step forward and the defense needs to stay on course. A veteran offensive line and a healthy kicker in Clayton Hatfield should help, but the quarterback’s success or failure will weigh the heaviest on this team’s season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job depends on it.
WVU fans were downright giddy for the 2018 team until departures and injuries hit the Mountaineer defense in the spring. Now, there’s a wait-and-see approach while defensive coordinator Tony Gibson tries to patch the holes.
With Will Grier and perhaps the nation’s best receiving corps, WVU will score. The only question is whether they’ll have to score 50 per game to cover for the defense.