The Oklahoma Sooners have an opportunity to win their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are loaded with their own rendition of star power in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. But maybe this is the Texas Longhorns’ year.
From coaching to quarterback play, the Big 12’s intriguing storylines are worth monitoring. Most of the conference’s teams are expected to improve at the quarterback position, as 70 percent of Big 12 teams’ guy under center is a returning starter this season. Of the three teams that don’t return a starting quarterback, the Texas Tech Red Raiders brings back a healthy Alan Bowman and – *drum roll* – the Spencer Rattler era is set to begin in Norman.
With Matt Rhule out and Dave Aranda for the Baylor Bears, now half of the league’s coaches are in their first or second-year as head coach, making fourth-year Tom Herman a wise man.
Those are just a few of the most exciting narratives at play. Let’s get into it.
We’ll start with … the cream of the crop.
The biggest question at play for the Sooners: Life after transfer quarterbacks — can Lincoln Riley transform yet another quarterback into a Heisman Trophy contender, boosting Oklahoma towards yet another Big 12 championship title?
Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray. Jalen Hurts. You know these names.
And now, redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler.
This time, though, the Oklahoma starting quarterback will be one of Riley’s own recruits.
The last three Sooner starting quarterbacks each surpassed more than 4,000 total passing yards in a season. So it’s easy to understand how Oklahoma has become a top destination for transfer quarterbacks and, perhaps equally so, how advanced Riley is as a play-caller.
He’s in a realm of his own right now as a college head coach. That part’s not debatable.
There’s no shortage of talent around Rattler, either.
The Sooners return their top two running backs in Kennedy Brooks (155 carries, 1,011 yards — 6.5 YPC) and Rhamondre Stevenson (64 carries, 515 yards — 8.0 YPC). In their wide receiver ranks, they’ll be breaking in a group that includes three former highly-recruited prospects – Charleston Rambo, Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood, and Theo Wease Jr.
Hiring defensive coordinator Alex Grinch away from the Ohio State Buckeyes paid off last season. While coaching alongside Urban Meyer at Ohio State – and with the air-raid maestro himself, Mike Leach, at Washington State for three seasons – Grinch learned to establish control on the defensive side of the ball behind high-powered offensive minds.
Behind first-round pick Kenneth Murray, Grinch’s aggressive defensive scheme translated pretty well to the Big 12. His defense led the conference in forcing third-and-outs. While they lost their top defensive player in Murray, who was seemingly all over-the-field against Texas last season, Oklahoma returns 70 percent of their production on defense (SP+).
In the end, the secondary play remains the biggest question for Oklahoma entering 2020. According to common lore, it’s why the “Oklahoma doesn’t play defense” narrative still exists. Time and time again, their back-end has been exposed by superior offenses on the national stage. The margin of error for their offense in these games has been slim to none.
If the Sooners manage to win the Big 12 again (if so, god help us all across our beloved Forty Acres), will a secondary unit which returns four of five starters be improved enough to hang around against the likes of possibly Ohio State or Clemson on the big stage?
The season ahead will answer the latter.