The 2021 college football season will be absolute mayhem in the Big 12 because of new faces on rosters and new coaches on the sidelines.
For the most part of the past six seasons, it has been Oklahoma’s league and no one has really challenged that. This season will certainly be different, with teams like Iowa State, Texas, and TCU looking to dethrone the Sooners.
Now whether or not one of these teams, or even an unexpected team like Oklahoma State or Kansas State can finish the job is to be determined. The Big 12, regardless of how good every team is, will always be one of the tougher schedules because of the fact that every team has to play one another.
ESPN shared the win total projections this week for each team. With that in mind, combined with the acquisitions for each team this offseason, I will do my best to predict whether each Big 12 will be a boom or bust this season.
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The Sooners are projected to finish the regular season with 11 wins and there is no argument as to how good this team is. In all their College Football Playoff appearances, the Sooners were a half decent defense away from contending and Alex Grinch has finally gotten a very good defense. It’s likely their best defensive unit in quite some time, with seven players returning as one of college football's most underrated. There will be new faces across the line, but for all the skill players they lost on offense, Oklahoma has absolutely reloaded via the transfer portal. They landed Tennessee running back Eric Gray and Arkansas wide receiver Mike Woods. Two players that will likely be great additions to Kennedy Brooks and Marvin Mims. This could also be a huge season for quarterback Spencer Rattler, who got off to a slow start last season. Schedule wise they have a tough stretch in weeks 4-6, having to take on West Virginia, TCU, and Texas. They will also have a tough last two weeks with Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Oklahoma is a playoff caliber team and this could be their best chance to finally win a playoff game before Grinch leaves for an imminent head coaching gig and lose this wave of upperclassmen to the next level. That’s if they can limit their off the field antics.
Iowa State: Bust
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Iowa State certainly peaked last season, but it just seems like they are poised to disappoint. They are projected to win 9.5 games and I can realistically see that happening. However, last season they looked like they would be able to contend for the College Football Playoff and avenge their Big 12 Championship loss. Two things that will not happen in 2021. For starters, they are returning practically their whole team and only replacing one player on defense. It’s the offense that does not have me convinced, as they ranked in the 30s for total offense and scoring offense last year. They showed signs of inconsistency throughout the 2020 season. They dropped their season opener to Louisiana, then went on to win three consecutive games including a win over Oklahoma. Iowa State followed that up with a loss to Oklahoma State where Brock Purdy was mediocre. They beat up on the lesser Big 12 teams, and have yet to convincingly beat any of the Big 12 contenders. For this team to succeed, and contend, they need better and more consistent quarterback play from Purdy. They also need to win games that they have no business losing. Dating back to 2017, they have lost at least one of their first two games of the season and have not beaten Iowa since 2014. Their first two games in 2021 are against Northern Iowa, who always plays them tough, and Iowa who went 6-2 last year and is vying to make a run in the Big 10. It wouldn't be surprising if this team disappoints majorly, but at the same time they do have great potential to knock off Oklahoma and contend nationally. History is typically not on the side of teams who decide to take one last run at it, just look at Oklahoma State last season and USC with Matt Barkley. They can no longer be the cinderella story, they either contend or they don't.
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The Longhorns are in a interesting position as they have a new coaching staff and inexperienced quarterback. Replacing Sam Ehlinger, who is the best quarterback to come through the Forty Acres since Colt McCoy won't be easy, but at the same time, it was evident that he was always a bridge quarterback. Not because he wasn't talented enough, but because there were just so many things to overcome, he put his successor whomever it will be in position to thrive. Texas is projected to win eight games this year and considering they underperformed and won seven last season there is just no way they don't win at least nine or 10. Usually with new coaches there is a period of adaptation, but Steve Sarkisian is one of the best offensive minds in football so expect to the Longhorns to hit the ground running. Texas does have one of the hardest schedules in the nation, but with a very experienced defense which should be much better than most expect, the Longhorns could find themselves in the Big 12 championship year one of the Sarkisian era. They just need to get the ball in Bijan Robinson's hands and not commit penalties. Last season, they were one of the most undisciplined teams in the nation and it cost them multiple games. I won't say them making the playoff won't happen, but I foresee a New Years Six game being more realistic.
Oklahoma State: Bust
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The Cowboys put all their chips in last seasons basket and they disappointed. Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard returned to contend for the playoff, and left with no Big 12 Championship appearance and a win in the Cheez-It Bowl. They will return some great talents in running backs Dezmon Jackson and LD Brown, and Washington State transfer Tay Martin. They also are returning eight starters on defense. The reason I lack faith in the Cowboys is the health and decision making of Spencer Sanders. Granted the offensive line outside of Teven Jenkins was putrid, and should be better, the hopes of Oklahoma State depend on how well Sanders can improve. They will also have to play a tough Boise State team and follow that up with a tough stretch of Kansas State, Baylor, @ Texas, and @ Iowa State. Under Mike Gundy, the Cowboys have always been a middle of the pack team that shows flashes, but never takes the next step. They have not won more than eight games since 2017, and I expect the same this season.
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Out of all these middle of the pack teams that have yet to take the next step, TCU very well could be the one that surprises people in the Big 12. They finished 6-4 last season and did not get a chance to play in their bowl game due to COVID-19. They are projected to total around 7.5 wins — which is a mark that I believe they will exceed. Weapons wise, this offense has the chance to be very good this season, as they led the Big 12 in rushing last season. The Horned Frogs hope former five-star Zach Evans can explode this season. They also feature experienced wide receivers in Taye Barber and Derius Davis. It is a Gary Patterson defense, so they will likely be pesky and atop the Big 12 in defense. Their success comes down to how conistent Max Duggan can be as a passer. He was much more of a threat on the ground than through the air last season, so if he can take that next step the Horned Frogs will too. Looking at their schedule, they do not have to play Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, or Oklahoma State back to back. A true blessing in this conference, as one bad week can lead to multiple. They will have other teams sprinkled in between that should make it less challenging. If they want to contend, they have to beat at least two of those teams, otherwise Patterson will have to find a new playlist to motivate the team.
West Virginia: Boom
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When it comes to West Virginia, I don't mean boom as in they are contending, I mean it more along the lines of they will be much improved. They are projected to win around 6.5 games and I think they could reach that mark. Neal Brown is in his third season, with experience on both sides of the ball. This should equate to a better all around season. If Jarret Doege can improve, and he needs to, that can be the difference between them winning around eight games or having a flop of a season. I consider their schedule to be tougher than expected taking on up-and-coming Maryland in the season opener, Virginia Tech in Week 3 and diving into Big 12 play with the defending conference champions Oklahoma Sooners. They split in Big 12 play last season, and beat a good Kansas State team, but were demolished by Iowa State. I expect them to need another year or two to really contend in the conference.
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Baylor couldn't catch a break last season, as they had a new staff during a pandemic and also had COVID-19 issues. Head coach Dave Aranda inherited a rough situation and is going to have to move mountains to get Baylor back in the Big 12 Championship. A game they had played in just two years ago. They will have a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback after Charlie Brewer transferred to Utah. They are projected to win around 5.5 games, which they probably will do. I just do not consider five wins to be boom worthy. They might be able to start off 3-0 and gain some confidence before they play Iowa State. Like West Virginia, I think the Bears are two years away from truly being able to compete and be relevant.
Kansas State: Boom
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The game plan for the Wildcats is simple, feed Deuce Vaughn the ball as much as possible. They are so inconsistent it is truly hard to predict what will happen in 2021. At one point they had reached first in the Big 12 beating Oklahoma and TCU, but after they blew out Kansas they lost every game. Skylar Thompson has 30 starts under his belt and needs to stay healthy for the Wildcats to succeed. They have beaten Oklahoma two years in a row and will very well amass their projected 5.5 wins if Thompson and Vaughn can stay healthy. They start their season off against Stanford, which can be a huge bode of confidence for the season, but the Wildcats have a history of losing what should be gimme games. I don't have enough faith to say they will contend, but maybe if everything falls in their favor they could reach third in the Big 12.
Texas Tech: Boom
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A team that struggled last season to find any sense of stability as Alan Bowman and Henry Colombi were constantly rotating, will likely find a tad bit more success with Oregon transfer Tyler Shough. Assuming he wins the job, Shough has NFL potential if he can play well, and what better way to either thrust your career into success or doom it forever than playing in the air raid. Matt Wells brought in Sonny Cumbie to hopefully help the Red Raiders, but being that this the third season under Wells, he more than anyone needs somewhat of a success. They are projected to win 4.5 games, and I see them winning at least six or seven counting a bowl game. There non-conference schedule should be automatic wins, and their offense has some high level weapons returning. They need to take advantage of the stretch where they play West Virginia, TCU, Kansas, and Kansas State by winning two of those at the least. The only reason they will not be a bust is because I have faith in Shough to will them to victory a couple times, and because if they do not make a bowl, Wells is likely going to be looking for a job.
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I hate to rag on Kansas, but there is no way under a new coach, and losing a load of players to the transfer portal, that they got significantly better. Lance Leipold has a tough road ahead of him in Lawrence to say the least. Considering they lost every single game last season, I doubt that happens again. They did get a quarterback transfer in Jason Bean who started at North Texas, and Leipold has experience at the small school level winning championships at the D-III level where he brought the University of Buffalo some success. They might scrape together two wins in nonconference assuming they lose to Costal Carolina, but three wins is their ceiling. Leipold may turn them around, but it will take about four years.