If the COVID-19 pandemic wipes out college football in 2020, it could deprive fans in Big 12 country of one of the most competitive conference races in years.
As the Oklahoma Sooners gun for their sixth title in a row, three teams seem to be hot on their trail. Meanwhile, multiple programs are looking to build on the success of a solid round of coaching hires from this past offseason.
The power rankings below represent an attempt to order the Big 12 teams in 2020 based on pure team strength. Think about it like this — if all the teams squared off at Hamill Field in Tulsa on random Saturdays in the fall, which ones would you favor over the others?
Keep in mind that these are not projected standings. We’ll proceed from strongest to weakest.
2020 Big 12 preseason power rankings
1. Oklahoma Sooners
On paper, the gap between this OU team and the top of the Big 12 seems thin. Readers of this site know the issues all too well: Lincoln Riley is banking on a redshirt freshman quarterback and some lightly-used receivers to fill big shoes. Meanwhile, the Sooners have to replace impact players at all three levels on defense.
With their sights set on a sixth conference crown in a row, is this the year all good things must come to an end for the Sooners?
Possibly, but how confident would you feel in any of the teams below beating them based on what we know at this moment? Additionally, the players expected to fill the previous shoes certainly aren’t lacking for upside. For now, the king stays the king.
I’m putting the Longhorns in the two spot, but the Red River rivals are close. That’s primarily due to Sam Ehlinger.
UT has been so starved for a savior in the last decade that the QB’s legend might exceed the reality. Even so, he’s battle-tested and an efficient thrower. Tom Herman has a good grasp on how to make use of Ehlinger’s skills behind center.
Herman may keep a tight grip on the UT offense this year in light of the truncated timeframe for new coordinator Mike Yurcich to install his scheme. On the other side of the ball, however, new defensive coordinator Chris Ash will have a huge challenge on his hands. If he can get everyone on the same page quickly, the Longhorns could dethrone OU this season. (Don’t shoot the messenger.)
Talk about an eventful offseason for the Cowboys. The only thing that could make the regular season more eventful? A conference title.
Assuming that Mike Gundy’s offseason headlines didn’t poison his locker room, his team should have a shot. Running back Chuba Hubbard gets all the pub, but wide receiver Tylan Wallace keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Importantly, QB Spencer Sanders should be operating behind one of the better OSU offensive lines in recent years.
It flew under the radar, but the Pokes played solid defense down the stretch last season. Almost every key contributor returns in 2020. Keep an eye on chaos agent Trace Ford playing an even bigger role this year.
If Gundy’s act truly is wearing thin in Stillwater, his team could send him out on a high note this fall.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
Bowl games have become the standard in Ames after years of floundering. It’s a testament to coach Matt Campbell and his staff that the Cyclones are garnering that type of respect on an annual basis. Yet again, this looks like a dangerous team heading into 2020.
The balance and experience of this squad really stand out. With plenty of veteran players like linebacker Mike Rose and safety Greg Eisworth returning, defensive coordinator Jon Heacock can focus on adding new bells and whistles to his schemes. Star QB Brock Purdy can only get better this season, and he’s surrounded by weapons such as running back Breece Hall and versatile tight end Charlie Kolar.
But what about the trenches? That poses a legitimate concern for the ‘Clones. They’re looking for three new starters on the offensive line; losing Ray Lima and Matt Leo on D hurt, too. For ISU to move into true contender status, the replacements up front need to be ready to roll immediately.
The Horned Frogs probably had a better overall team last year than a 5-7 record would indicate. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will get better this year, of course, but you can find a few reasons for optimism.
Chief among them, QB Max Duggan had an opportunity to get some rookie mistakes out of his system in ‘19. He should play with more confidence and calm in ‘20. No one will mistake Duggan for Randall Cunningham, but he can threaten defenses with his arm and his legs. He does, however, need to find some new targets with Jalen Reagor out of the picture.
Additionally, Gary Patterson made some solid hires in the offseason. Doug Meacham returns from his sojourn to Kansas, looking to pump up TCU’s production back to the levels seen during his first run as offensive coordinator. Jerry Kill also joined the staff in an advisory role to mend the holes in the O.
Admittedly, this is giving Patterson the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rectifying what was a disappointing defense a year ago. (Take note: TCU lost one hell of a kicker in Jonathan Song.)
What’s the difference between the team at number six and the one at seven? Start at QB, where K-State will have the ever-reliable Skylar Thompson taking snaps. Thompson fits well in the grinding offensive style of second-year coach Chris Klieman.
KSU also has plenty of stalwarts from a meat-and-potatoes defense back in the fold. The group includes stud linebacker Elijah Sullivan and active defensive end Wyatt Hubert. Keep an eye on Owasso’s own Wayne Jones to build on a promising freshman year in the secondary.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, rebuilding the offensive line and dealing with departure of defensive coordinate Scottie Hazelton will prevent KSU from being much more than a spoiler this season.
For a 4-8 team, Tech showed promise last year. Four of the Red Raiders’ losses came by a field goal or less. Take that as a sign that the new coaching staff led by Matt Wells motivated the team to continue competing as the defeats piled up.
Time to move past moral victories, though. A healthy Alan Bowman behind center would help there; he would need to stay that way behind an unproven line, too.
Defense is the more intriguing unit on this team. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson loves for his units to attack opponents. Additionally, Wells added ex-Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove to the defensive brain trust in the offseason. Even without tackling machine Jordyn Brooks at linebacker, the Red Raiders should find ways to make more impact plays than we’ve seen from this squad in years.
Neal Brown is nowhere near the hot seat after just one season at WVU. Nevertheless, you have to wonder if he’ll get the time needed to get this program back on its feet. This looks like another long year in Morgantown.
Brown’s offense returns most of the important names from last year’s team. Is that a good thing? The unit was dreadful in ‘19. Maybe another year in the system will help, along with the potential from improvement at QB.
On D, brothers Darius and Dante Stills provide a solid foundation on the line. Coordinator Vic Koenning has some work to do patching up the defensive backfield, though.
9. Baylor Bears
I’m shorting the Bears something fierce this season. They lost almost every key piece from their salty 2019 defense. On top of that, concerns for the long-term health of veteran QB Charlie Brewer, who sustained a frightening number of concussions last year alone, seem warranted (a pedestrian offensive line probably had something to do with that). Oh, and Brewer’s go-to target from the last two seasons, Denzel Mims, was drafted in April.
All that said, the situation at Baylor under new coach Dave Aranda is fascinating. Even though he has never run his own show before, he has a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant defensive strategist and a deep thinker. Give him a pass in 2020.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
KU could be interesting this year, I guess.
Les Miles made some waves with his decision to elevate youngster Brent Dearmon to offensive coordinator in the middle of the ‘19 season. Dearmon will be playing with many of the same pieces this year, including ultra-productive RB Pooka Williams and receivers Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson. Rolling with the coaching staff’s hand-picked QB, freshman Jalon Daniels, would add even more intrigue to the season.
The Jayhawks better find ways to score because their defense hasn’t offered any reason to believe brighter days are ahead. Perhaps they will luck into a win or two, but don’t expect much beyond that.