For the next several weeks, myself and Russell Clay will be priming you for the college football season. We’re moving from conference to conference, giving you offseason recaps, fall camp observations, season previews, and our own prognostications for 2019.
Let’s revisit a couple offseason highlights around the Big 12 – which will be our focus today.
The Mad Hatter Takes Over at Kansas
Former LSU head coach Les Miles was hired at the University of Kansas back in November, which provided him the entire offseason to get things settled in Lawrence.
Most importantly for the team, Miles found his quarterback – JUCO transfer Thomas MacVittie. Back in 2016, Miles actually recruited the 6-foot-4 pro-style passer while entering his final season at LSU. MacVittie eventually chose Pitt, Miles was fired, and three years later the two have been reunited at KU.
The Jayhawks have an interesting offense that could overachieve in 2019. Daylon Charlot – a former transfer from Alabama – is entering his final collegiate season, and hoping for his long-awaited breakout season after dealing with injuries for most of his career. Additionally, Miles brought in a set of twin towers from JUCO to add to the receiving corps – 6-foot-4 Ezra Naylor II and 6-foot-3 Andrew Parchment. Along with the 6-3 Charlot, MacVittie will have a slew of tall and overly athletic pass-catchers to work with.
The offense will still revolve around RB Pooka Williams. Williams – suspended for the season’s first game – put up 1,414 combined yards and 9 touchdowns on offense in his freshman year.
The defense will transition to a 3-4 front under new coordinator D.J. Eliot. Although it should take the Jayhawks a few games to iron out the wrinkles, they do start 2019 with home games against Indiana State and Coastal Carolina, so the team should be able to gain some steam before barrelling into conference play come late September.
Another Top-5 Recruiting Class for Texas
For the second straight season, the Longhorns have added a top-5 recruiting class to their locker room. Highlighted by 5-star RB Jordan Whittington, and a staggering 14 4-stars, the cupboards are stocked for this Texas team moving forward.
Sam Ehlinger returns and will try to improve on his 41 total touchdowns from a season ago. One issue this team faced in 2018 was a lack of big plays. In fact, there wasn’t a single offensive touchdown of more than 50 yards last year. That likely changes course this fall, as 6-foot-6 Collin Johnson is returning as a legit NFL prospect, and speedy freshman Jake Smith should have a big role, too.
Keaontay Ingram returns to the backfield, and Whittington is having a near-perfect camp, so you can expect him to mix in quite often, too.
This team’s defense is likely to be a problem again though. The Longhorns have lost nine starters on that side of the ball, including their entire front seven and both of their starting corners from a season ago. They still have a few weeks to dig around in those cupboards to find suitable replacements, but as long as they do, I’d be very surprised if this team isn’t playing for the conference championship once again.
We’re about halfway into fall camps, and there are a
Is Jalen Hurts the Next Mayfield/Murray?
Well, he won’t be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft, but otherwise…maybe. In his first two seasons as OU’s head football coach, Lincoln Riley has successfully recruited transfer quarterbacks that have gone on to 1) lead the Sooners to the College Football Playoffs, 2) win the Heisman Trophy, and 3) be selected first overall in the NFL Draft. Jalen Hurts has an opportunity to make it 3-for-3. As a starter at Alabama, Hurts went 26-2, played in three straight National Championship games – “winning” one. Here’s the thing though – it was technically Tagovailoa that won the 2017 game. It was Tagovailoa that started all of 2018. And that 26-2 record? Take a look at his supporting cast at Alabama…specifically the defense.
The Sooners defense finished dead-last in the nation in pass yards allowed, and No. 129 in defensive takeaways. It should be a more aggressive system with new DC Alex Grinch taking over, but this unit got smoked on the regular in 2018 – allowing nearly 40 points against per game against in-conference or ranked opponents.
They do have the offense to overcome it. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks return to form what is possibly the best RB tandem in the country. CeeDee Lamb looks poised for a monster season without Marquise Brown on the field, and Grant Calcaterra is one of the top tight end prospects for next year’s NFL Draft. Is Hurts the next Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray? Probably not. Can he get this team back to another College Football Playoff game? Probably so.
Can Gary Patterson Rebound Like Gary Patterson Does?
Gary Patterson is a legend on the campus of TCU. Heading into his 22nd season on the Horned Frogs sideline, Patterson has led this team to 19 bowl appearances as DC (1998-99) and HC (2000-present). Here’s a stat more relevant to the current state of the program
Jalen Reagor will be the focal point of the offense. One of the top wide receiver prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft, Reagor had a big season in 2018, catching 72 balls for 1,061 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Taye Barber will line up on the other side of the field, and is once again the talk of the offseason in Fort Worth – a breakout season could be in store.
Who will be throwing them the ball is the bigger issue. Transfer Matthew Baldwin’s waiver was denied by the NCAA – making him ineligible for 2019. Redshirt freshman Justin Rogers has a bright future, but a foot injury will probably keep him sidelined to start the year. Michael Collins is the next logical choice, but he’s currently walking around in a boot with what is still an unknown injury. So, the race looks to be down to Alex Delton – who transferred from Kansas State – and 4-star true freshman Max Duggan. With what is probably the Big 12’s top defense, the fate of the next Gary Patterson rebound is hinging on the quarterback position – can Delton or Duggan help deliver another 10-win turnaround season for their head coach?
The Big 12 features a pair of teams on the rise, and another pair clearly on the decline.
Teams On the Rise
Oklahoma State – Taylor Cornelius and Tyron Johnson are gone. But what could be the nation’s top wide receiver could be getting an upgrade at quarterback in 2019. Tylan Wallace finished the 2018 season with 86 catches for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns, was a first-team All-American, and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders is likely to take over at quarterback; his big arm and dual-threat skillset should help improve the Cowboys pass-game – which is to say a lot, considering they finished No. 10 in the nation in passing yards last season. Chuba Hubbard is a former track star that has the table set for himself to enjoy a breakout season. Hubbard averaged over 100 yards per game after Justice Hill went down, and could also wind up as an improvement on what was already a strong suit for this team. The defense will be under pressure to improve, but with an offense primed to explode, I’d envision an improvement on the 7 wins from 2018.
Kansas State – Chris Klieman arrived in Manhattan, Kansas this offseason, with the mission of implementing the same standards he brought to North Dakota State – a team he coached to 4 National Championships in five years. Klieman is bringing along his old OC, so you can expect a very similar run-heavy offense. The Wildcats new coaching staff has to love the fact that starting quarterback Skyler Thompson has a similar build, and shares many of the same attributes that North Dakota State had in three-year starter Easton Stick. Alex Barnes is gone at running back, but James Gilbert transferred in as a graduate from Ball State, where he rushed for 2,800+ yards and 30 touchdowns in four seasons. The bigger losses for this team are on the O-line – where Dalton Risner is off to the NFL – and at linebacker, where senior linebacker and team captain Justin Hughes is out for 2019 after tearing his ACL in spring practice. It won’t be a fast turnaround for Klieman and co., but an improvement on the team’s 5-win season from 2018 is certainly within reach.
Teams On the Decline
West Virginia – Dana Holgorsen seemingly took one look at the depth behind the NFL-bound Will Grier, David Sills, and Gary Jennings, and just like
Iowa State – The Cyclones are coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons and debuted at No. 24 on the preseason Amway Coaches Poll. All five starters return on the offensive line, as does defensive end JaQuan Bailey – who’s registered 15 sacks in the past two seasons. Brock Purdy went 7-2 as a true freshman in 2018, completing 66% of his throws…but the positives pretty much end there. David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler are both special talents that will be nearly impossible for this offense to replace. What’s left at running back is a hodgepodge of options, with none of them looking to possess the skills needed to carry a starter’s load. Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones are both highly-skilled pass-catchers, but can either come close to the 60-1318-9 stat line that Butler put up last season? In-state rival Iowa looks to have another pretty good team, so the Cyclones will potentially have to play three games against top-20 teams in 2019. I’m not sure I see a path to another 8-win season.
Predictions For 2019
- Oklahoma State
- Iowa State
- Kansas State
- Texas Tech
- West Virginia
Players of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Defensive Player of the Year: DE JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB Jordan Whittington, Texas
Defensive Freshman of the Year: DT DaJon Terry, Kansas
Coach of the Year: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Best Quarterback: Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Best Running Back: Pooka Williams, Kansas
Best Wide Receiver: Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Best Offensive Lineman: Zack Shackelford, Texas
Best Defensive Lineman: JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
Best Linebacker: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Best Defensive Back: Jeff Gladney, TCU
Most Important Games
Sat. September 21, Oklahoma State @ Texas
Sat. October 12, Oklahoma vs Texas (Dallas, TX)