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The Big 12 wrapped up media days on Tuesday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the site of the conference championship game. There was certainly plenty to cover, with Jalen Hurts arriving at Oklahoma, expectations continuing to rise at Texas, and four first-year head coaches. While we got to hear from all the coaches and some of the players, there are still a few questions left.
1. Can anybody catch up to Oklahoma and Texas?
The road to a conference title seemingly runs through the Red River Rivalry once again. Quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Jalen Hurts both keep portions of skill position players that made the conference championship game in 2018. However, so does Oklahoma State, although they will likely have a freshman starting at quarterback.
The Longhorns will have to travel to Ames to face Iowa State, which is never an easy task, as TCU and West Virginia can attest. Speaking of the Mountaineers, how will they fare with a new coach in Neal Brown? Clint Trickett and Skyler Howard were solid under Dana Holgorsen, and Will Grier was phenomenal, so will Brown be able to get the best out of whoever is under center?
Texas Tech, Kansas State, and Kansas all hired successful coaches in the offseason; Matt Wells, Chris Klieman, and Les Miles respectively will all have their work cut out for them. On paper, Oklahoma is the favorite to win the conference once again. While Texas is expected to meet them in Arlington once again, Iowa State could be one to watch, and one upset could shake up the entire conference. Spots #3-9 could be up for grabs between anyone else, and Kansas will probably be bringing up the rear one more time.
2. Which quarterback will be the best in the conference?
Ehlinger and Hurts have been getting most of the attention this offseason, even if Hurts hasn’t officially won the starting job yet. The Big 12 has long been known as a conference where offense reigns supreme, and there are some other great signal-callers out there.
Brock Purdy of Iowa State is coming off a season where he set the record for highest QBR by a true freshman. Alan Bowman could easily throw for 5,000 yards in Texas Tech’s offense if he can stay healthy. Charlie Brewer showed progress under coach Matt Rhule and should put up even better numbers for Baylor in 2019. Likely starters Austin Kendall at West Virginia and Spencer Sanders at Oklahoma State are four-star recruits who should be solid for teams that have had success at the position recently.
Kendall looked decent in limited action at Oklahoma, while Sanders passed for over 8,000 yards and rushed for over 2,000 in his high school career. That leaves two teams with question marks for the 2019 season: Kansas, who hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, which leads us to our next question…
3. Will quarterback play hold TCU back?
Shawn Robinson didn’t look bad last season before his injury, but he transferred to Missouri. Four-star recruit Justin Rogers is still recovering from a knee injury sustained during his senior year in high school, but he has the arm strength to succeed.
Michael Collins looked impressive in four games last season, but is also coming off an injury. He only threw two interceptions in 140 attempts, and brings experience playing Big 12 competition.
Kansas State transfer Alex Delton isn’t the best passer, although he can do some damage with his legs and is likely better used as a runner with the Horned Frogs.
Another four-star recruit, true freshman Max Duggan could also see some playing time early in the season. The big wild card here is Ohio State transfer Matthew Baldwin; not only is he awaiting an NCAA waiver to become immediately eligible to play, but he had an undisclosed surgery earlier this week and won’t be available for the start of fall camp.
Gary Patterson teams are always a safe bet to be great on defense, and the offense has some solid playmakers such as receiver Jalen Reagor, so quarterback play could either make or break the Frogs season.
4. How many games will Kansas win?
The Jayhawks non-conference schedule isn’t very daunting; home games against FCS Indiana State and Coastal Carolina precede a trip to Boston College. Although they have lost to some FCS opponents in the past, Kansas could realistically be 2-1 by the time conference play rolls around.
Their ground game, which will be led by sophomore Pooka Williams Jr after his one-game suspension, should be strong behind an experienced offensive line. Les Miles should be an interesting change for the Jayhawks at head coach, and it was only seven years ago he was coaching for a BCS championship. The defense won’t be great, and that will likely cost them. However, this team has the potential to pull an upset or two in Big 12 play. No matter what happens in Lawrence, Miles should keep it interesting. Let’s set the over/under for wins at 3.5.
5. What would be considered successful for Chris Klieman at Kansas State?
All Chris Klieman did at his previous job at North Dakota State was win four national championships and beat a ranked Iowa team while going 69-6 in five seasons at the helm. With that, all he’ll have to do at Kansas State is succeed the most successful coach in program history.
Every single bowl win and conference championship in Wildcat history belongs to Bill Snyder, and even the campus stadium is named after him. Adding on to all of that is the transfer of QB Alex Delton, but it’s not all bad in the ‘Little Apple’.
Klieman gets to keep sophomore Skylar Thompson after an up and down campaign with a decent final two weeks. Two senior running backs in transfers James Gilbert (Ball State) and Jordon Brown (North Carolina), three starters on the offensive line, and up to ten starters on defense make up the roster. Experience may not be an issue, but overall talent could be.
Kansas State went 5-7 last season, and needed late scores to beat both South Dakota and Kansas. This year, they have to travel to play Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Texas; but they get Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, and Iowa State at home. A bowl game would be huge for Klieman in his first season in Manhattan, but another 5-7 wouldn’t be the end of the world. For now.
Offensive Player of the Year: Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Offensive Player of the Year (non-QB): Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Defensive Player of the Year: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Coach of the Year: Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Best Non-Conference Games: LSU at Texas, Houston at Oklahoma, TCU at Purdue, Texas Tech at Arizona
Championship Prediction: Oklahoma over Iowa State