Leading up to the start of the season, Rotoworld will be pumping out previews for every Group of 5 and Power 5 conference (plus Independents), complete with fantasy projections courtesy of RW analytics guru Hayden Winks, draft prospects to watch and a full examination of each conference's team's best and worst case scenarios. This week: The Independents.
Big 12 Fantasy Projections
Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma, SR)
Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State, rFR)
Sam Ehlinger (Texas, JR)
Brock Purdy (Iowa State, SO)
Charlie Brewer (Baylor, JR)
Alan Bowman (Texas Tech, SO)
Skylar Thompson (Kansas State, JR)
Thomas MacVittie (Kansas, JR)
Austin Kendall (West Virginia, JR)
Alex Delton (TCU, SR)
Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State, SO)
Keaontay Ingram (Texas, SO)
Pooka Williams (Kansas, SO)
Ta'Zhawn Henry (Texas Tech, SO)
Trey Sermon (Oklahoma, JR)
Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma, SO)
Kennedy McKoy (West Virginia, SR)
Jordan Whittington (Texas, FR)
James Gilbert (Kansas State, SR)
Trestan Ebner (Baylor, JR)
Breece Hall (Iowa State, FR)
Darius Anderson (TCU, SR)
Sewo Olonilua (TCU, SR)
JaMycal Hasty (Baylor, SR)
Martell Pettaway (West Virginia, SR)
Kene Nwangwu (Iowa State, JR)
Armand Shyne (Texas Tech, SR)
Jordon Brown (Kansas State, SR)
Khalil Herbert (Kansas, SR)
Harry Trotter (Kansas State, JR)
Dom Williams (Kansas, JR)
Leddie Brown (West Virginia, SO)
Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State, JR)
Jalen Reagor (TCU, JR)
CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma, JR)
Collin Johnson (Texas, SR)
Denzel Mims (Baylor, SR)
T.J. Vasher (Texas Tech, JR)
T.J. Simmons (West Virginia, JR)
McLane Mannix (Texas Tech, JR)
Tarique Milton (Iowa State, SO)
Deshaunte Jones (Iowa State, SR)
Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma, SO)
Dillon Stoner (Oklahoma State, JR)
La'Michael Pettway (Iowa State, SR)
Taye Barber (TCU, SO)
Chris Platt (Baylor, SR)
C.J. Moore (Oklahoma State, rFR)
Devin Duvernay (Texas, SR)
Tyquan Thornton (Baylor, SO)
Dalton Schoen (Kansas State, SR)
Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa, JR)
Daylon Charlot (Kansas, SR)
Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma, JR)
Lee Morris (Oklahoma, SR)
Shaun Beyer (Iowa, JR)
Charlie Kolar (Iowa State, SO)
Donta Thompson (Texas Tech, SR)
BIG 12 Standings
Oklahoma 12-0 (9-0 in conference)
Texas 10-2 (8-1 in conference)
Iowa State 8-4 (6-3 in conference)
Oklahoma State 9-3 (6-3 in conference)
TCU 9-3 (6-3 in conference)
Baylor 6-6 (3-6 in conference)
West Virginia 4-8 (3-6 in conference)
Texas Tech 4-8 (2-7 in conference)
Kansas State 4-8 (2-7 in conference)
Kansas 2-10 (0-9 in conference)
2018 record: 12-2
Best NFL Draft prospect: Junior WR CeeDee Lamb. This one's pretty easy. Not only is Lamb the best prospect on the Sooners, he might just be the best prospect in the conference. The ability to run past defenders and high-point the football with 6-foot-1, 192-pound size make it easy to see him being a first-round selection in 2019; assuming he enters the draft, of course.
The case for: Oklahoma is very good. My word should be enough for you, but it's not, so let's tell you why. It starts with Lincoln Riley, who has quickly established himself as not just a heck of an offensive mind, but a pretty darn good head coach. As long as Riley is in Norman -- and the NFL is likely going to be calling again this winter -- the Sooners are going to be a contender.
But, as you've likely heard someone say on some radio show; it's not about X's and O's, it's about the Jimmys and Joes. Or some variation of it. And Oklahoma has a LOT of Jimmies/Joes. One of those Jimmys goes by Jalen. Jalen Hurts to be exact, and while Riley hasn't named him the starter just yet, it's very likely that the Alabama transfer is going to be under center when the Sooners take on Houston on September 1. We didn't see Hurts play much because of some Tua guy last year, but here's a reminder of what he can do.
Assuming Hurts is the starter -- and again, it hasn't been announced yet, but it sure will be -- he's going to have some fun weapons to get the football too, as well. The best of these is Lamb, who you probably read about in the draft profile. It's not just Lamb, however (note, I wanted to make a mint jelly joke, here), as Oklahoma has some talented -- if unproven -- options to throw the football to in 2019. Grant Calcaterra wasn't Mark Andrews, but he's a reliable target who should see more targets in 2019. Charleston Rambo was a heavily-recruited player that has been mentioned as a potential breakout star by more than one publication, and the Sooners brought in two consensus five-star wideouts in Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease.
Running the football shouldn't be a problem for the Sooners, either; but there's some caveats here that we'll get into later. Be patient. Kennedy Brooks averaged nearly nine yards a carry and scored 12 touchdowns as a freshman. We can only assume that he's going to be able to play after being cleared in his Title IX case, because there's been no other information. Trey Sermon and T.J. Pledger would start at tailbacks for most other teams. and both should get their fair share of carries, regardless of Brooks' status.
There's a lot to talk about on Oklahoma's defense that isn't great, but the Sooners made a big splash by bringing in Alex Grinch to be the new defensive coordinator. Grinch's "Speed D" helped make Washington State go from being one of the worst defensive teams in college football to something far from that label, and he's as well-regarded of a young defensive coach as there is in football. Considering the quality of athletes that Oklahoma can bring in, Grinch and that scheme should be a wonderful fit. We don't usually like to talk about assistant coaches in the "case for" section because you came for players, but, it was a terrific hire, in our eyes.
The case against: We also usually don't talk about players in both the "case for" and "case against" sections, but, we're breaking all the rules today. Let's talk a little bit more about Hurts. He seems like a wonderful fit for this offense to be sure, but Kyler Murray this is not. Also, can you believe that it took this long for me to talk about Kyler Murray? Me either. Hurts is a solid college football quarterback, but there's also a reason -- other than his insane ability -- that Tua Tagovailoa was given that job. Hurts struggled at times to get the football down field, and Riley's offense will demand that. Whether he can or cannot likely will determine if Oklahoma's offense is good or great.
Thank you for being patient. Remember those caveats I talked about with the ability to run the football? The caveat for me is not Brooks' status, but rather whether or not the holes will be there. They should be, but Oklahoma returns just one starter on the offensive line (center Creed Humphrey), and it's a group that's extremely inexperienced. It's worth pointing out that a lot of these guys who are projected to start are guys that would have started elsewhere, but until you actually see lineman play, you just don't know. It's just something to keep in mind.
Quarterback play, questions about the offensive line. Bla bla bla. Let's keep it real, folks. The case against for the Sooners is the defense. Grinch will help, me thinks, but Grinch isn't playing, and the last time we saw this defense, it was gasping for air as Alabama and several -- and we do mean several -- other teams were able to score at will against Oklahoma. Is some of that because the Sooners score quickly? Sure. Is some of that because Oklahoma faced some good offense? You betcha. Are those excuses? You bet your sweet you-know-what. This secondary has huge questions -- particularly at safety -- and the linebackers aren't going to remind anyone of the Crimson Tide or Georgia, either. Can this team make enough stops against good football teams. That's one of the biggest questions of the entire college football season.
Vegas over/under win total: 10.5
2018 record: 10-2
Best NFL Draft prospect: Senior S BranDon Jones. The Longhorns had two players that were at least moderate surprises in their returns in Jones and Collin Johnson, but Jones is the one who is the most likely to be a Day 1 pick as a safety who can help in coverage and lay the lumber as a run-defender.
The case for: Texas had a very good year last year. You can't win the Sugar Bowl -- while beating a pretty good Georgia team to do it -- and not be at least somewhat satisfied, right? That being said, it was almost a special season for the Longhorns. Their three losses in the regular season were by a combined eight points, and their only double-digit defeat came in the Big 12 Title Game. This year, they have a chance to be special again, and we have often seen teams that have bad luck in one-score games turn it around the next year.
Is Sam Ehlinger the most underrated players in college football? That might seem like a stretch, but it doesn't seem like he's getting enough credit for how good he was. Did you know that he accounted for 41 touchdowns last year, with 16 of them on the ground? Maybe you did, but it sure seems like he's not getting the same kind of hype as some other signal-callers. I think that's a mistake.
Ehlinger does lose his leading receiver from 2018 in Lil'Jordan Humphrey -- now is not the time or place to discuss whether he should have entered the draft, but...yeah -- but Johnson is back, and he's an awfully nice top target. With 6-foot-6 size and strong hands, this should be one of the top touchdown combos in 2019. Devin Duvernay should be that second option, but keep an eye on Malcolm Epps; another 6-foot-6 receiver who was the talk of Austin after spring ball. Add in some talented options like Jake Smith in the freshman ranks, and Ehlinger will be able to spread the football around.
Oklahoma's safeties are a major question mark, and question mark is probably being too nice. Texas's safeties are the strength of the defense, and that's probably being too modest. In addition to Jones, Caden Sterns was flashed huge potential as a freshman, and B.J. Foster -- who likely operates as the "nickel" -- is another strong defender in the defensive backfield. The corners aren't nearly as good, but Texas should be able to eliminate big plays up the middle, and it's why this should be one of -- if not the -- best defenses in the conference.
The case against: We like the Texas passing game just fine, and we see potential in the running game, not just because of Ehlinger's ability in the red zone. That being said, potential and production are not the same thing, and there are some questions here, to be sure. For one thing, Texas has to replace three starters on the offensive line, although one of those spots will almost assuredly go to Georgia Tech transfer Parker Braun. The tailbacks aren't bereft of talent -- on the contrary -- but Keontay Ingram didn't show much consistency, and we don't know what we'll see from Jordan Whittington. This could easily be the strength of the offense, it just isn't a sure thing.
Also not a sure thing: This linebacker group. It's one of the youngest in the conference, and outside of Jeffrey McCulloch, there aren't many sure things. Considering how many quality offenses there are in this conference, this is not a position where you want to be inexperienced. Someone like Caleb Johnson, Marcus Tillman or Juwan Mitchell is going to have to step up. Maybe more than one.
And while the safeties are a strength, the corners for the Longhorns aren't at that level. At least not in terms of production, anyway. We've heard lots of good things about Anthony Cook and Jalen Green over the past few months, but again, that's not the same thing as succeeding against Big 12 offenses. And considering how many good receivers there are in this conference, that could be a problem.
Vegas over/under win total: 9.5
Iowa State Cyclones
2018 record: 8-5
Best NFL Draft prospect: Redshirt senior LB Marcel Spears. Spears picked up 176 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss the last two years while intercepting two passes in each campaign. He doesn't have elite size (6'1/217), but his production in a Power 5 conference will assuredly have him on draft boards.
The case for: Assuming you're not a fan of the Hawkeyes of Iowa, how could you not be impressed with what Matt Campbell has done since arriving in Ames? Do you remember how awful Iowa State was before Campbell came over from Toledo in 2016? We sure do. I'm a little surprised he's still with Iowa State to be honest, but maybe I shouldn't be. Anyway, he's done a great job and deserves any/all plaudits.
One of the reasons why Iowa State has a chance to be an eight-win program again despite their losses on offense -- again, be patient, we'll talk about it -- is that this defense is very talented; particularly in the front seven. Iowa State returns several starters from a unit that was in the Top 25 in several defensive categories, and should be even better this year. Ray Lima is an outstanding nose guard, and he allows the linebackers to make plays. Not that he can't make plays himself, too.
Next to Lima -- or at least not far from him -- will be JaQuan Bailey, one of the best pass-rushers in the conference who more than holds his own against the run, and we read all spring about how deep this defensive line was. It's the best in the conference.
And you know what? The linebackers might be better. I can't think of a prospect who was named as often as a potential breakout star than Will McDonald, and he's the third best -- at best -- linebacker on the roster, at least for now. Spears is the star, and he would be my pick to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, if I had a vote. I do not have a vote, for the record. There's also Mike Rose, who more than held his own as the MIKE even as a freshman. This front seven can flat-out play.
No, it's not time to talk about those offensive concerns. It's time to talk about why the offense might be just fine, and it's Brock Purdy. Well, Brock Purdy and an offensive line that returns four starters. Let's be honest, you hadn't heard of Purdy before last year, and that's ok. A lot of people hadn't. You need to know the name now, however, as he was not just impressive for a freshman, he was impressive for any age/class. We like him a lot, and having a legit option at signal-caller in this conference is important. Obvious point is obvious.
The case against: Ok, we can talk about the offensive concerns now. As you can guess, it's not quarterback or the offensive line. Iowa State lost a star tailback in David Montgomery and wide receiver in Hakeem Butler, and you just don't replace those kind of players. You especially don't just replace them when you're an Iowa State and not a Texas or Oklahoma. That may seem like a cheap dig, but it's not mean to be. Those programs have a built-in advantage. They just do.
La'Michael Pettway is an intriguing transfer option from Arkansas and should compete for a starting gig with Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones; and Kene Nwangwu along with Sheldon Croney Jr will get their shot to replace Montgomery. Sorry, Cyclones' fans, they're not Butler or Montgomery. As good as this defense is, you have to score points in the Big 12, and as good as Purdy is, that could be a struggle. The one thing I think could change this is if Breece Hall is a star right away, and he might be; he was an Army All-American who recruiting analysts raved about. It's just a lot to ask of a freshman.
And while the defense should be good because the front seven is so talented, there are some questions in the four -- or five -- players behind him. Iowa State was 59th in stopping the pass in terms of yards last year, and that was with Brian Peavy. Peavy isn't there, and neither is D'Andre Payne. I'm beginning to repeat myself, but this conference is absolutely loaded with pass-catchers. The Cyclones might have to generate an awful lot of pressure if they can't replace Peavy and Payne -- at least somewhat -- in the secondary.
Vegas over/under win total: 8
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2018 record: 7-6
NFL Draft prospect to watch: Junior WR Tylan Wallace. This conference is just stupid with pass-catchers, and we aren't done after Wallace. There aren't many better at making the big play than this guy. It's just a question of how teams feel about his 6-foot, 185-pound size.
The case for:
Yep , Wallace is really, really good; and while he's a bit volatile in terms of his draft ranking, there's no doubt about his ability to be productive in this level. And he's not the only quality wide receiver that will be wearing orange and black in Stillwater. Dillon Stoner is an excellent possession receiver, and Landon Wolf gives whomever wins the quarterback job -- yep, more on that later -- a solid option, as well. But Wallace is the guy here.
Speaking of "the guy here," let's talk about Chuba Hubbard. First of all, terrific name. Second of all, terrific player; or at least he was when given the chance when Justice Hill went down. He showed the ability to make plays as a receiver with five three-plus catch efforts, and should be even more involved in the backfield. This is not a great offensive line, but Hubbard, LD Brown and a few more talented -- but unproven -- tailbacks.
Oklahoma State's secondary has a chance to be pretty good, too. There's a decent chance that A.J. Green ends up the best corner in the conference, and his starting counterpart -- RoDarius Williams -- give the Cowboys a very solid tandem. If you've been reading from the beginning, or watched any Big 12 football last year, you know how important having two guys who can cover is going to be.
And another reason to like Oklahoma State: This schedule. Yes, they will face some decent conference competition, but the non-conference slate of Oregon State, McNeese State and Tulsa is not going to give them a ton of trouble. It shouldn't, anyway. Getting off to a 3-0 start is always nice, and we'd be surprised if OSU didn't have that record heading into conference play.
The case against: Oklahoma State has a chance to be very good, but like every team that has ever played in the history of this sport: in order to reach that level, they'll need solid quarterback play. I'm not entirely sold they're going to get it in 2019, partially because I'm not sure who the answer in the short or long-term is. Dru Brown is currently battling Spencer Sanders for that job, and while we've seen Brown have a modicum of success at Hawaii before not winning the job after transferring, Sanders might offer more upside. Either quarterback has the weapons/system to succeed, but until we see them play, kinda hard to call this a "strength," isn't it?
The quarterback has to be good because a quarterback has to be good, but also, it's likely going to have to make up for the fact that the Cowboys are going to give up a good amount of points. Oklahoma State was 97th in preventing points last year -- one spot below Oklahoma, for the record -- and that was with solid players like Justin Phillips and Jordan Brailford. The corners are fine, but the defensive line is unproven -- as are the linebackers -- and the safeties don't provide many answers, either. This is not an abhorrent defense, but if Oklahoma State is going to reach the nine-to-ten win mark we've come accustomed to, they're either going to have to be an elite offense or show they can make some more stops. Ideally, both.
Vegas over/under win total: 7.5
TCU Horned Frogs
2018 record: 7-6
Best NFL Draft prospect: Junior WR Jalen Reagor. We're not done with the wideouts yet, and Reagor's explosive ability with the ball in his hands will make him one of the top at the position assuming he doesn't come back for his senior season.
The case for: TCU was a huge disappointment in 2018, and no, I'm not just talking about the Cheez-It Bowl. In fact, let's never talk about the Cheez-It Bowl again. That was the most inept offensive football game I've ever watched, and if it wasn't for the fact it became hilarious, I'd be traumatized for ever. Okay, enough about the Cheez-It Bowl.
As bad as the Horned Frogs' offense was for a large portion of the year, much of that was due to injuries, and assuming their attrition is kept to a low roar in 2019, they should be better. One of those players, of course, is Reagor, who underwent an operation in the offseason but is expected to be fully healthy for the fall. Here's a look at what he can do with the football:
And Reagor should have some help, too. We really like the tailback tandem of Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua, and we also like the fact that they're going to be running behind Lucas Niang, who just might challenge Reagor as the top pro prospect on the team. The other wideouts are all inexperienced, but Taye Barber caught 33 passes as a freshman, and should be a very solid -- maybe better -- second option behind Reagor.
The Horned Frogs lost a pair of defensive lineman to the NFL in L.J. Collier and Ben Banogu, but the front four should be fine in 2019, in large part -- literally and figuratively -- due to the defensive tackles. Ross Blacklock is back after missing 2018 and should be among the best interior defenders in the conference, and Corey Bethley was a very strong performer last year with five sacks. Losing Banogu and Collier hurts because of course it does, but TCU has a history of replacing these kind of talents, and South Carolina transfer Shameik Blackshear and a host of other names should make this more strength than weakness.
Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic about TCU is that it's impossible to be as unlucky with injuries as the Horned Frogs were in 2019. The number of talented players at all positions on both sides of the football that missed time for TCU last year was ridiculous. They can't possibly deal with that kind of injury volatility again, can they? Also, don't bet against Gary Patterson. Just don't, ok?
The case against: Well, the obvious case against is the quarterback position. Shawn Robinson was one of the more hyped "new" quarterbacks coming into the 2018 season, and the fact he now plays for Missouri tells you everything you need to know about how that worked out. There are a boatload of options to be the starter for the Horned Frogs, and we're only being slightly hyperbolic. You've heard that phrase that if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks? There were five guys legitimately competing for this job at one point, but now it's down to Alex Delton and Max Duggan. Or so Patterson says. We dunno, and it's hard to get too excited about this team with the signal-caller position so unsettled.
Patterson and company usually have a pretty solid defense, but there are definitely some question marks here, as well. The defensive line should be fine, but the linebacker group lost four players in the rotation, including Ty Summers, one of the better linebackers in the conference. The secondary should be okay -- particularly at corner with potential NFL player Jeff Gladney -- but the loss of those pass-rushers will put a lot of pressure on the back four if players like Blackshear can't stand out. And, of course, if the quarterback play is an issue, it'll put even more pressure on this defensive group. Could be up to it, but, no guarantees.
Vegas over/under win total: 7.5
2018 record: 7-6
Best NFL Draft prospect: Senior WR Denzel Mims. We promise, there are other prospects in this conference that don't play wide receiver. Mims doesn't have the same type of hype as Lamb, Reagor or Wallace -- and for good reason -- but he's a 6-foot-3, 215-pound wideout who could be a red-zone threat at the highest level.
The case for: Baylor was a disaster in Matt Rhule's first year, and while the second campaign wasn't without flaw, it was a vast improvement that saw the Bears win seven contests and their bowl game. Rhule is clearly a rising star in the coaching industry, and this could be his last year in Waco if things go well. Things have a chance to go well.
One of the reasons things improved so much was the emergence of quarterback Charlie Brewer. There were some silly picks, but that's going to happen from underclassmen at the position. There were also good moments, like this one.
A quarterback can only do so much if they don't have weapons to throw to, and Brewer should have some decent options in the passing game, starting with Mims. There's also Chris Platt who flashed brilliance before his knee injury, and he was able to get a sixth season. If you're looking for a potential breakout player here, it's s Josh Fleeks, who got rave reviews this spring. It's not Oklahoma or Texas's wideout group -- and they assuredly are going to miss Jalen Hurd at the position -- but there are good players here with a quarterback who is capable
This running back group is pretty interesting, and that's even with leading rusher John Lovett moving over to the safety position. Tristan Ebner really came on strong towards the end of the year, and JaMycal Hasty has always intrigued with his talent when healthy. There's also been talk of involving dual-threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon involved in the run game, and Sqwirl Williams along with Abram Smith. If we are betting on one of these guys to become the bellcow, we'd probably bet on Ebner, but it wouldn't be a shock if all five contributed in the Baylor spread offense in 2019. It's a good problem to have, that's for sure.
And if you're looking at that over/under figure, because, you know you are, it's worth pointing out that this schedule looks pretty favorable. Baylor opens with three weak Texas schools (Stephen F. Austin, UTSA, Rice), and two of their road games are against Kansas State and Kansas, who, well, we'll get to them.
The case against: There's a lot to like about the skill-position players and the guy who will get them the football. There is a lot, lot less to like about the guys who will be responsible for protecting those players. This has been a bad offensive line for the last couple of years -- particularly in terms of keeping the pocket clean -- and it's tough to get excited about any of the returners. No, the Big 12 doesn't have the elite pass-rushers of some of the other conference or even some of the players we've seen in the past few years, but this is a bad group on paper.
Speaking of bad groups, Baylor has to be better at stopping the run in 2019. There were only nine teams that allowed more yards per carry than the 5.4 mark the Bears allowed, and they were 84th in terms of total rush-yards allowed. Tough to win games when you can't get off the field on defense, and there were an awful lot of second-and-shorts for Baylor opponents last year.
But it wasn't just the run defense. The Bears were awful at preventing big plays last year, and allowed the 76th most pass yards in large part because they couldn't keep teams from taking advantage of poor secondary play. Again, this offense could be legit, but if they are going to compete with the better Big 12 teams, they're going to have to be better on the other side of the football.
Vegas over/under win total: 7.5
West Virginia Mountaineers
2018 record: 8-4
Best NFL Draft prospect: Senior RB Kennedy McKoy. You could make an argument that Kenny Robinson belongs in this spot, but McKoy is a solid running back who offers NFL size (6'0/204) and is in position for a breakout in his final season with the Mountaineers.
The case for: Nothing against Dana Holgorsen, who did a solid job considering he seemed to be coaching without job security since he took the job, but I really liked the hiring of Neal Brown. He's a promising offensive mind who has had success as a coordinator in this conference -- and the SEC -- before, and he obviously did a nice job with the Trojans of Troy, as well. We think this might be a rebuild year, but he might give the Mountaineers a chance for a bowl game.
There's certainly talent in the tailback room. While we like McKoy the best as an NFL prospect, there's also Martell Pettaway, and the two combined for 1,425 yards with 14 rushing scores last season.
There's also Alec Sinkfield, a four-star recruit that had people gushing praise before the season started, but he wasn't able to stay healthy in 2019. Even if he's only the third option, it's a really nice third option.
We also think there's reason to be excited about the quarterback room, even if we have no idea -- as of printing, anyway -- who the quarterback will be. Jack Allison is the incumbent behind the extremely productive Will Grier, but he might intrigue us the least of three options here, if we're being honest.
Austin Kendall never really got a chance to win the job at Oklahoma, as it's pretty hard to win a job when you're backing up Heisman Trophy winners like he was with the Sooners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. There's also Trey Lowe, a redshirt freshman who offers the best chance of success with his legs. This is likely Kendall's job, and even if he hasn't played much, his pedigree and experience in the Oklahoma offense can't help but make us curious.
West Virginia wasn't a very good defensive football team in 2018 and isn't likely to be in 2019, but the defensive line has a chance to be a strength. Reese Donahue and Darius Stills should be solid up the middle, and Van’Darius Cowan comes from Alabama to help rush the passer.
The case against: All the nice things we said about the quarterback room are also weaknesses. We have absolutely no idea what Kendall, Allison or Lowe are capable of. You gotta score points in this league, folks, and the Mountaineers may not have the guy at quarterback to do it in 2019. We think they might have it in 2020 with Jarret Doege, however, and there's a nonzero chance Doege gets a waiver to play in 2019. Just doesn't seem very likely.
We also have some questions about who is going to catch the ball for the Mountaineers in 2019, because we don't know who is going to catch the ball for the Mountaineers in 2019. David Sills? Gone. Gary Jennings? Gone. TJ Simmons is not gone and has been frequently been mentioned as a potential standout after sitting last season out to satisfy transfer requirements, but behind him is just a big ole shoulder shrug.
It's also worth mentioning that this defense isn't expected to be very good again. Kenny Robinson Jr. has reportedly left the program -- although where he's going to play/if he's going to play in 2019 is not yet clear -- and Derek Pitts also departs what wasn't a very good secondary in the first place. Losing a first-team All Big 12 defender is bad. Losing one when you have to cover these guys with mediocre quarterback play is another.
We think Brown will have a successful run with the Mountaineers, but this could be a long season; at least compared to what we normally see from Morgantown.
Vegas over/under win total: 5
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2018 record: 5-7
Best NFL Draft prospect: Junior WR T.J. Vasher. Vasher offers elite size (6'6/200) and flashed brilliance in his sophomore season with 54 catches and 687 yards. It's just a matter of showing it on a more consistent basis in 2019 to make him a potential top 100 selection.
The case for: Texas Tech has a new coach, as you probably know. His name is Matt Wells, and he replaced Kliff Kingsbury after leading Utah State to a ten-win season. His time with the Aggies was a bit up-and-down, but he's a well-respected coach that should bring some balance -- and hopefully -- some success to Lubbock.
One of the reasons that the Red Raiders could have success in 2019 is their "big three" on offense, with quarterback Alan Bowman, running back Ta'Zhawn Henry and the aforementioned Vasher all providing various levels of success as underclassmen.
Bowman was particularly impressive in 2018 when healthy, and after missing a good deal of the season with a collapsed lung, he's been cleared for all activities and he will be the starting quarterback for the Red Raiders to begin 2019.
Bowman should be even better as a sophomore, and that's good news for a player like Vasher/the Red Raiders chances of reaching a bowl game. It also should keep teams from zeroing in on a player like Henry, who ran for 341 yards and picked up 145 more as a receiver. He doesn't have the size to be an elite between-the-tackles runner, but he's tough to bring down, and he's expected to be a huge part of the Texas Tech offense this year.
And, all three should benefit from this offensive line. There are four starters returning from this group that have started 20-plus games, and they have one of the best tackle duos in the Big 12 in Terence Steele and Travis Bruffy. At the very least, they should be able to keep Bowman upright in 2019.
We don't have a heck of a lot of nice things to say about this defense, but the defensive line has two stalwarts in Eli Howard and Broderick Washington. Howard in particular can help the Raiders, as he's been among the best defenders at creating pressures in the conference. If he can turn more of those pressures into sacks, he has a chance to be that top draft prospect, with all due respect to Vasher.
The case against: Yeah, this defense could be really bad. It may not give up the same amount of points that some of the bad Texas Tech defense did because of the difference in pace, but that won't make them better. Just more likely to hit some unders.
One of the reasons this defense was so bad was because they flat-out couldn't stop the pass; ranking 127th among all teams in allowing yards over the air. The secondary doesn't appear to be anymore talented in 2019, so again, outside of the pace, there just isn't much reason to be optimistic in this defense. Not this fall, anyway.
And there are some offensive question marks here, too. Henry is solid, but who is behind him? De'Leon Ward transferred and there doesn't appear to be a clear answer there among returning players. The wideout group took a major hit with Antoine Wesley's departure for the NFL, and outside of Vasher and Seth Collins, there aren't obvious answers there, either.
Similar to West Virginia, there's reason for optimism in the long-term, but because the top of the Big 12 is so good -- and because this defense is so bad in the back -- it may not translate in the short-term with wins.
Vegas over/under win total: 6.5
Kansas State Wildcats
2018 record: 5-7
NFL Draft prospect to watch: Senior OT Scott Frantz. He doesn't have a chance to be a high draft pick like Dalton Risner, but hey, we didn't think Risner had that chance to begin the season, either. The 6-foot-5, 303-pound left tackle at the very least should be battling for an NFL spot next spring.
The case for:
There are two three things the Big 12 has an abundance of this year: Top-notch wideouts, atrocious defenses, and new head coaches. Kansas State has at least 1-of-3, with an (unfortunate) chance for two. Chris Klieman replaces Bill Snyder, who doesn't get enough credit for the job he did in Manhattan, in my humble estimation. The jump from the FCS to FBS can be treacherous, but Klieman's track record is unprecedented (four championships in five years), and if he has a semblance of that level of success, calling this a home-run hire is an understatement.
We know that Klieman wants to run the football, and while Alex Barnes is gone, they were able to find a potential replacement in James Gilbert; a transfer from Ball State who ran for 1,332 yards and 12 scores as a sophomore and has shown spurts of that ability since. He'll likely be in a tandem with Jordon Brown; a UNC transfer that has run for 1,005 yards combined with the Tar Heels.
Both Gilbert and Brown will be running behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference, even after losing Risner to the NFL/graduation. Frantz is the best of this group, but right guard Tyler Mitchell center Adam Holtorf both have a chance to make their living in the NFL, too. The Wildcats ran the football 507 times last year, and it shouldn't shock anyone if they have a similar amount of attempts again in 2019.
There are more questions than answers on defense, but the front should be solid for KSU this fall. Reggie Walker is the best pass-rusher and had 7.5 sacks in 2019. That being said, he has a chance to be usurped as that top player if Wyatt Hubert is as good as advertised. He certainly showed some flashes of it as a freshman, and he was mentioned as the breakout star by several publications this spring. We'll go ahead and add to the list.
The case against: This passing game -- on paper, anyway -- does not look very good. It got worse when Isaiah Zuber decided to transfer to Mississippi State. Losing the best wideout on a team that was 116th in passing is not ideal, in our humble opinion. Dalton Schoen is a solid possession receiver, but beyond that, there are absolutely no guaranteed things.
Also not a guaranteed thing, the quarterback position, and maybe that's burying the lede a bit. We know who that quarterback is going to be; it's Skylar Thompson, but whether or not he's capable of being a quality one in this conference is a whole other thing. The athleticism is obvious, and he should add to the running prowess, but he was under 60 percent in completing his attempts last year, and he has made some awfully silly interceptions, as well. Is a breakout season possible, of course, but we'd sure like more evidence to support it.
Kansas State was a middling defense last year, and they'll need to be better than that to compete in the Big 12. Again, not sure that's going to be possible. The defensive line should be fine as we wrote earlier, but the linebacker group had questions before Justin Hughes tore his ACL in April. Now it's just a cluster behind team-leading tackler Da'Quon Patton.
And the secondary doesn't have as many answers as you'd like, either. Duke Shelley and Kendall Adams were the two best players in a so-so secondary last year, and they're gone. AJ Parker is an answer to replace the former at corner, but the safety position is going to be a problem. Again, not a good thing when you're dealing with these offenses. Not a good thing even if you weren't.
There's a lot to like about Klieman and that hire, but it'd be foolish to expect the Wildcats to be contending in 2019. There are just too many question marks on this roster.
Vegas over/under win total: 5.5
2018 record: 3-9
Best NFL Draft prospect: Senior T Hakeem Adeniji. Even on an awful Jayhawks' team, Adeniji was recognized as a second-team All-Big 12 selection, and the 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive lineman has the best chance of being on an NFL roster of anyone currently playing in Lawrence.
The case for: There was improvement from Kansas despite their awful record -- again -- in 2018, and it's certainly possible that there's another step taken in 2019 from a young-ish roster. One of those young players is Pooka Williams, a sophomore who ran for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns on just 161 attempts.
Williams is going to miss the first game of the season as a suspension for being arrested and charged for domestic violence, but assuming that's it and good health, he has the talent to be among the top tailbacks in the conference.
On the defensive side of the football, the Jayhawks gave up plenty of yards in the passing game, but, they were also opportunistic with 16 picks, and they return several starters from that group including nickel Bryce Torneden; who also has a chance to help in the run game. Corione Harris was an Honorable Mention defender, and Hasan Defense showed flashes with a name that suggests he'll get better. If there's a strength to this defense, it's the secondary.
The case against: Well, pretty much everything else.
Les Miles has had a lot of success as a head coach. That's an understatement, really; he won a title with LSU and took the Tigers to another championship game. All that being said, there's a reason Miles is not still coaching in Baton Rouge. There's a lot of people who are very skeptical about whether this can work. I'm one of them.
That being said, it doesn't really matter who the coach is when you don't have talent at important positions, and that, unfortunately, is an apt description of the Jayhawks. The quarterback position is still a mess, with Thomas MacVittie projected as the starter after transferring to the school this offseason from the JUCO ranks. MacVittie may be an improvement over Carter Stanley -- who is also battling for the job -- but that's you-know-what with faint praise.
A passing game that ranked near the bottom of every statistical category not including option teams also lost Steven Sims, Kerr Johnson and Jeremiah Booker; aka the people who caught the ball last year, so, that's not great.
The defense isn't likely to help make up for the offensive struggles, either. That secondary was opportunistic in terms of creating turnovers, but they also gave up a 64 percent completion percentage. The run defense was well below-average as well, and they lost their two best run defenders in linebacker Joe Dineen and defensive tackle Daniel Wise.
This very well might get better for the Jayhawks. Miles has shown the ability to recruit well, and athletes matter. Expecting Kansas to compete in the Big 12 this year, however, is a fool's errand. This will likely be one of the worst Power 5 teams in 2019.
Vegas over/under win total: 3