Big 12 preview, Part 1: Projections, burning questions, favorite players


Prior to now 5 years, Baylor has gone 1-8, 4-5, 8-1, 2-7 and 7-2, respectively, in Large 12 play.

Texas has gone 7-2, 2-7, 5-3 and 3-6 up to now 4.

Oklahoma State went 3-6 in 2018 and 8-1 in 2021. TCU went 7-2 in 2017 and has gone below .500 in three of the previous 4 years.

No energy convention provides upward (or downward) mobility just like the Large 12. Certain, there are some steady entities — Oklahoma hasn’t misplaced greater than two convention video games since 2014, Texas Tech hasn’t received greater than three since 2015 and Kansas hasn’t received a couple of since 2008 — however for nearly everybody else, their inventory can rise or fall fairly dramatically from one yr to the following.

The frequent denominator? Shut video games. Baylor and Oklahoma State completed close to the game’s pinnacle final season — BU completed fifth within the AP ballot, OSU seventh — by going a mixed 9-3 in one-score video games. The yr earlier than, they went 5-5. Iowa State‘s 2021 marketing campaign felt terribly disappointing, because the Cyclones went from 9-3 in 2020 to 7-6 with an skilled squad; their general high quality did not fall a lot, however they went from 4-2 in one-score video games to 2-5.

Regardless that we’re wanting on the backside half of the Large 12 right now, understand that one in every of these groups is just a few tight wins away from a sudden leap. Let’s preview the groups projected Nos. 6-10 in what is likely to be faculty soccer’s most fascinating convention.

Each week via the offseason, Invoice Connelly will preview one other division from the Group of 5 and Energy 5 completely for ESPN+, finally together with all 131 FBS groups. The previews will embody 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for every workforce.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (No. 1-5) | Independents | Pac-12 South | Pac-12 North | ACC Atlantic | ACC Coastal

2021 recap

Amongst these 5 groups — TCU, Texas Tech, Iowa State, West Virginia and Kansas — are three which have frolicked within the AP high 10 inside the previous three years. Hell, Iowa State began there simply final season. A turnover-plagued loss to Iowa and a gut-wrenching, last-minute loss to Baylor had the Cyclones unranked by the top of September, nevertheless, and some extra shut defeats saved them in the midst of the standings.

Elsewhere, TCU’s protection cratered in Gary Patterson’s last season as head coach, and WVU’s offense by no means actually acquired going throughout a 6-7 marketing campaign. Texas Tech loved its first profitable season in six years, however fired head coach Matt Wells at 5-3 — one of many stranger strikes of the 2021-22 teaching carousel, however one that may find yourself paying off — and after hiring Lance Leipold in Could to interchange Les Miles, Kansas predictably struggled, going 2-10, however confirmed a late spark.

2022 projections

SP+ projections do not take teaching modifications into consideration, so it would not know that TCU is in its first yr after the legendary Patterson’s departure, or that legendary highschool coach (and five-year Baylor assistant) Joey McGuire has taken over at Tech. However each groups return sufficient of final yr’s key personnel to play at a top-50 degree.

Others have one thing to show. West Virginia and Iowa State at the moment are available in 127th and 128th in my FBS returning manufacturing rankings; the Mountaineers have large holes to fill of their ability corps, secondary and linebacking corps, whereas the Cyclones have to interchange quarterback Brock Purdy, working again Breece Hall and 9 of the 14 defenders with greater than 300 snaps. After which there’s Kansas: The Jayhawks have not ranked higher than one hundredth in SP+ since 2013, so it is smart that they begin out low even when they did enhance late in 2021.

Burning questions

Is the Zach Kittley offense genuinely plug-and-play? The timing of Matt Wells’ firing final fall was odd, however with interim coach Sonny Cumbie in cost, Tech beat Iowa State with a walk-off 62-yard area aim and blew out Mississippi State in its first bowl win since 2013. The Purple Raiders completed a stable fortieth in SP+, then introduced in McGuire to see if they might attain one other gear.

McGuire hasn’t wasted time constructing optimism. A charismatic recruiter, he has already secured 20 commitments for his 2023 class, which at the moment ranks fourth in the nation (however will fall as the standard powers rating extra commits). He additionally introduced in one of the vital celebrated younger coordinators within the sport.

Kittley’s Air Raid 2.0 took the world by storm at Western Kentucky in 2021. He came to visit from Houston Baptist, taking quarterback Bailey Zappe and three HBU receivers with him, and instantly flipped the Hilltoppers from 117th to fifth in offensive SP+. Now, he returns to his alma mater, and whereas he brings solely left deal with Cole Spencer with him this time, expectations stay excessive.

We’ll see if he has a Zappe approximation behind heart. Tyler Shough regarded good early in 2021 earlier than breaking his collarbone, and Donovan Smith was wonderful in 4 of 5 late video games. Neither they nor blue-chip redshirt freshman Behren Morton separated themselves from one another this spring. Whoever wins the job will line up subsequent to an skilled group of working backs, however slot Myles Price is the one of final yr’s high 5 targets returning. The import of 5 switch linemen is an indication of what the Purple Raiders is likely to be coping with up entrance, too.

On protection, McGuire introduced in Tim DeRuyter, most not too long ago the coordinator at Cal (2017-20) and Oregon (2021), as DC. DeRuyter ought to have some enjoyable with huge outdoors linebacker Tyree Wilson, however Tech hasn’t ranked above 69th in defensive SP+ since 2013, and regardless of confirmed personnel, DeRuyter’s previous two defenses ranked 78th and sixtieth. Even when the Tech offense ignites, the bar stays fairly low on D.

Can transfers repair a all of a sudden terrible TCU protection? It was stunning that in a convention with quickly bettering general protection, a workforce run by Patterson, top-of-the-line defensive innovators of the twenty first century, all of a sudden could not make stops. In 11 video games towards FBS competitors, TCU by no means allowed fewer than 28 factors and gave up at the least 42 4 instances. Common defensive SP+ rating in its first 9 years within the Large 12: 21.7. Final yr: 109th. And that was with ace pass-rushers Ochaun Mathis (now at Nebraska) and Khari Coleman (Ole Miss).

Patterson is now serving as Steve Sarkisian’s special assistant in Austin, and TCU changed him with a man who already lived within the metroplex. SMU‘s Sonny Dykes, 25-10 with the Mustangs over the previous three years, moved from Dallas to Fort Price. One of many first coaches to brazenly embrace portal life, Dykes imported 15 transfers, from working backs Trelon Smith (Arkansas) and Emani Bailey (Louisiana) to defensive backs Mark Perry (Colorado) and Josh Newton (ULM) and each place in between.

The offense might be excellent. Quarterback Max Duggan and the big-play receiver trio of Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis and Taye Barber (mixed: 99 receptions, 16.5 yards per catch) return, and the RB corps is loaded. However defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie, whose previous three Tulsa defenses all ranked 51st or higher, should profit from some mismatched toys. The transfers will assist — particularly Perry and Newton — however we’ll see how a lot enchancment he can engineer on brief discover. When you informed me that one in every of these bottom-five groups would make a convention title sport run in 2022, I might guess TCU. However there are nonetheless fairly a number of warning indicators, particularly on D.

How lengthy will it take Matt Campbell and Iowa State to restock? 5 years in the past, it could have been obscure that (A) Iowa State would go 7-6 in 2021 and (B) it could be terribly disappointing. At that time, Matt Campbell was 3-9 one yr into his ISU tenure, and the Cyclones had received a complete of 11 video games up to now 4 years. They hadn’t spent even per week ranked since 2005. That they had loved one profitable document in 11 years and had received greater than seven video games simply as soon as since 1978.

Campbell has shifted expectations massively in Ames. He employed Jon Heacock, who has produced 4 straight top-30 defenses, per SP+. Offensive coordinator Tom Manning recruited Purdy and Corridor; the previous threw for 12,170 yards and 81 touchdowns in 4 years, whereas the latter gained 4,675 yards from scrimmage, with 56 TDs, in three. The Cyclones went 8-5, 8-5 and 7-6 from 2017 to 2019, then broke via with a 9-3 season, a Large 12 championship look, a Fiesta Bowl win and this system’s first top-10 end in 2020. They started 2021 within the high 10 for the primary time, too, earlier than all these shut losses struck.

What made final yr’s season so irritating was the upcoming transition. Purdy and Corridor are gone, as are star tight finish Charlie Kolar, two former all-conference offensive linemen and most of final yr’s protection. Some stars nonetheless stay — receiver Xavier Hutchinson, left guard Trevor Downing, cornerback Anthony Johnson Jr. and all-world defensive finish Will McDonald IV — however it’s onerous to think about ISU placing its fourth straight SP+ top-25 product on the sector.

The aim of 2022, then, may merely be to keep away from collapse. Break in sophomore quarterback Hunter Dekkers, set up a brand new ability corps rotation, hope the protection would not fall fairly as a lot as projected (and is able to surge once more in 2023), win an in depth sport or two, and attain a bowl. Campbell & Co. have carried out a exceptional job of shifting expectations — “Simply attain a bowl” would have felt overly bold 5 years in the past, and now it feels just like the naked minimal. He has earned a few mulligans at this level; we’ll see if he has to make use of one this fall.

Can JT Daniels convey factors again to Morgantown? Neal Brown’s head-coaching profession has been quite complicated. He performed as a receiver in Hal Mumme’s nascent Air Raid at Kentucky and he labored for former Mumme assistant Tony Franklin at Troy. He moved up the teaching ladder resulting from offensive prowess.

When he took over as Troy’s head coach, Brown thrived … with protection. His Trojans received 31 mixed video games from 2016 to 2018, and in all three years they fielded top-50 defenses, per SP+, with offenses that ranked between seventieth and ninetieth. He has struggled to generate traction at West Virginia, going 17-18 in three seasons, however his success has as soon as once more come on D, the place his Mountaineers peaked at seventeenth in 2020. In seven mixed seasons as a head coach, he has but to area a top-70 offense.

Now can be a good time for that to alter. Of the 9 defenders who recorded at the least 500 snaps in 2021, seven are gone, together with 4 defensive backs. Brown and coordinator Jordan Lesley nonetheless have confirmed disruptors like deal with Dante Stills, finish Taijh Alston and linebacker Jared Bartlett, however the truth that Brown introduced in seven transfers and three jucos on protection speaks loud.

The offense ought to be skilled, and the offensive line returns 4 gamers who had been at the least honorable point out All-Large 12 final yr. However 1,000-yard rusher Leddie Brown and high-efficiency slot man Winston Wright Jr. are gone, as is quarterback Jarret Doege. Brown received the battle for Daniels, which might be large. Daniels confirmed off a world-class arm at USC in 2018 and at UGA late in 2020, and contemplating WVU’s issues final yr centered round a horrible lack of massive performs, he may probably make an enormous distinction. However he additionally hasn’t had a completely wholesome season since 2018.

If Daniels can keep on the sector, he may assist receivers Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James and Kaden Prather totally notice their big-play potential. A floor sport centered round Tony Mathis Jr. and Clemson switch Lyn-J Dixon might be environment friendly, too. However the Mountaineers face an enormous burden of proof, and Daniels’ damage historical past hovers like a rain cloud. And not using a breakthrough on this aspect of the ball, this might be a shaky season in Morgantown.

Did Kansas’ final three video games inform us one thing? Lance Leipold is fearless. When one of many largest assessments in faculty soccer arose, the 58-year-old jumped at it. Kansas had received a mixed 9 video games in six seasons earlier than Leipold’s 2021 arrival and hasn’t received greater than three video games in a yr since 2008. Leipold wasn’t employed till Could, both — he would not even get a real take a look at his workforce till fall camp.

Leipold is likely one of the most completed coaches in soccer — he received six Division III nationwide titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater and two MAC East titles at Buffalo — however his first KU workforce was predictably terrible. The Jayhawks misplaced to a dismal Duke workforce by 19, and even with an impressed efficiency towards Oklahoma — they led 17-14 heading into the fourth quarter earlier than falling 35-23 — the typical rating of their first six Large 12 video games was Opponent 45, KU 11.

One thing fascinating occurred down the stretch, although. Sophomore quarterback Jalon Daniels established himself behind heart — he ranked twenty first in Complete QBR after Nov. 1, forward of Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, amongst others. The offense as a complete started to point out promise, and the Jayhawks pulled a shocking 57-56 upset of Texas in top-of-the-line video games of 2021. They proceeded to almost beat TCU and West Virginia as effectively, shedding by 31-28 and 34-28 margins.

It was too late to assist KU’s full-season numbers (the Jayhawks completed 123rd in SP+), however that three-game spark appeared to come back from a fairly natural place. Leipold is likely one of the finest tradition builders in faculty soccer, and that tradition was beginning to take root in November.

Daniels and sophomore working again Devin Neal return, the offensive line has a few all-conference contenders (deal with Earl Bostick Jr., heart Mike Novitsky), and an skilled protection acquired a expertise enhance from the switch portal, from which Leipold added all-MAC pass-rusher Lonnie Phelps from Miami (Ohio) and a handful of power-conference gamers. And for added bonus factors, Leipold and his employees had been truly round for spring ball this yr!

Leipold was the primary wise rent KU has made since bringing in Mark Mangino in 2002, and it seems there’s hope in Lawrence for the primary time since Mangino left — possibly not “bowling in 2022” degree hope, however hope all the identical.

My 10 favourite gamers

QB Jalon Daniels, Kansas. Daniels’ final three video games of 2021: 71% completion price, six touchdowns, 13 rushes of 5+ yards. KU has been hopeless at QB for years, however there’s reliable promise right here.

RB Emani Bailey, TCU. In a crowded Louisiana backfield, the freshman stood out, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and creating pass-catching hazard as effectively. He and Trelon Smith might be game-changers within the TCU backfield.

SLOT Myles Value, Texas Tech. His 72% catch price (from three totally different QBs!) proved his effectivity potential, and his eight catches of 25-plus yards hinted at critical explosiveness. Kittley inherits one confirmed pass-catching weapon, at the least.

LG Trevor Downing, Iowa State. In line with Sports activities Information Options, Downing tried 818 blocks in 2021. He blew six of them. No surprise he earned first-team all-conference honors.

LT Earl Bostick Jr., Kansas. Over an 11-game span from 2020 via the primary two weeks of 2021, the senior from Barnwell, South Carolina, allowed 11 sacks. Over the ultimate 10 video games of 2021, he allowed none. KU’s O-line might be a reliable energy this fall.

DE Will McDonald IV, Iowa State. Usually talking, if a defensive finish is producing a stress price over 10%, it is good. Over 15% is elite. Over three seasons, McDonald’s stress price is 17.1%. He has recorded 28 sacks. He is top-of-the-line gamers in FBS.

DT Dante Stills, WVU. Lots of defensive expertise has left Morgantown not too long ago, however Stills stays. The 285-pounder recorded seven sacks and 14 run stuffs and will workforce with Jordan Jefferson to type one of many higher DT tandems in FBS.

OLB Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech. One of many extra distinctive gamers within the convention, the 275-pounder is listed as an outdoor linebacker, and he flew across the area like a 235-pounder in 2021, logging seven sacks and participating in 15 tackles for loss.

LB Jared Bartlett, WVU. Certainly one of solely seven power-conference linebackers to document a havoc play — a TFL, pressured fumble or cross defensed — on at the least 3.5% of snaps (minimal 350 snaps), Bartlett might need to tackle a fair heavier load within the playmaking division this yr.

CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU. TCU’s defensive troubles weren’t Hodges-Tomlinson’s fault — the 5-foot-9 senior intercepted two passes, broke up seven extra and allowed a paltry 23.1 QBR as the first protection man.

Honorable point out: QB Donovan Smith (Texas Tech), RB Devin Neal (Kansas), RB Tahj Brooks (Texas Tech), WR Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State), WR Quentin Johnston (TCU), LG James Gmiter (WVU), DE Lonnie Phelps (Kansas), DE Dylan Horton (TCU), DT Tony Bradford Jr. (Texas Tech), S Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (Texas Tech).


In 1977, 45 years in the past, Earle Bruce’s Iowa State beat Nebraska for a second straight yr. Campbell may find yourself the most effective rent in Iowa State historical past, however Bruce set the bar excessive. Earlier than succeeding Woody Hayes at Ohio State in 1979, Bruce led the Cyclones to 3 straight eight-win seasons — as many as they’d loved within the 75 years earlier than his arrival — and their first-ever ranked end. Within the 36 years that Nebraska employed both Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne as head coach, ISU beat the Huskers solely 3 times, however two had been below Bruce’s steerage.

In 1976, Cyclone followers tore down the goalposts after a late 17-8 run gave them a 37-28 win and moved them into the AP high 15 for simply the second time ever. The subsequent yr, ISU went 13-for-23 on third downs, took the lead within the second quarter and by no means relinquished it, beating the ninth-ranked Huskers 24-21 in Lincoln.

In 2002, 20 years in the past, Kliff Kingsbury threw for five,000 yards. Within the 9 years earlier than Mike Leach’s arrival, Texas Tech had received both six or seven video games seven instances below Spike Dykes (Sonny’s father). Regardless of an offensive overhaul, Leach was in a position to keep that degree in his first two seasons, going 7-6 and 7-5 in 2000-01. However the Purple Raiders ignited in Leach’s third season.

Third-year starter Kliff Kingsbury — the longer term Texas Tech and Arizona Cardinals head coach — threw 51 passes per sport and ended up with 5,017 yards and 45 touchdowns because the Purple Raiders scored 40-plus factors 9 instances, upset No. 4 Texas and destroyed Clemson, 55-15, to complete with 9 wins. They’d win at the least eight video games in every of Leach’s subsequent seven seasons, too.

In 2007, 15 years in the past, Kansas performed for the No. 1 rating. Looking back, it stays probably the most jarring of all of the jarring tidbits from the wonderful 2007 season. Mangino had already moved mountains to make Kansas an annual bowl contender — the Jayhawks had bowled simply twice within the 21 years earlier than his arrival, however received six or extra video games 3 times in 4 years from 2003 to 2006.

In 2007, with a depth chart stocked with veterans like quarterback Todd Reesing, working again Brandon McAnderson, receiver Kerry Meier, linebacker Joe Mortensen and cornerback Aqib Talib, KU took an unprecedented leap. The Jayhawks received their first 11 video games of the season, transferring to second within the polls and going through 10-1 Missouri at Kansas Metropolis’s Arrowhead Stadium for the suitable to maneuver to No. 1 within the BCS rankings. The Tigers acquired the most effective of them, leaping to a 28-7 lead and holding on 36-28, however the Jayhawks rebounded with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech and a No. 7 end within the AP ballot, their finest ever.

They received 12 video games that yr. They’ve received 11 up to now six seasons.

In 2012, 10 years in the past, West Virginia beat Baylor, 70-63. It was in all probability the height of the Large 12’s video-game offense period. Artwork Briles’ Bears gained 700 yards from scrimmage, Nick Florence threw for 581 yards with simply 29 completions, and Baylor scored touchdowns on 9 of 14 drives. That by some means wasn’t sufficient as a result of Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers scored 10 instances.

Geno Smith accomplished 45 of 51 passes (!) for 656 yards (!!) and eight touchdowns (!!!), and Stedman Bailey caught 13 passes for 303 yards and 5 scores. The Mountaineers constructed a 56-35 lead with 20 minutes left, then noticed the sport out with 87- and 39-yard Smith-to-Bailey strikes. I am a fan of factors, and I really like the impression the unfold offense has had on soccer as a complete … and this sport was nearly an excessive amount of for me.

In 2017, 5 years in the past, TCU loved Gary Patterson’s final nice season. Patterson was lengthy considered one in every of faculty soccer’s finest coaches, and there is a statue of him close to TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium. He’s as well-regarded as they arrive, however you could possibly STILL make the case that he’s underrated. Between 1959 and 2001, when Patterson took over, TCU had loved one ranked end (when Patterson was the defensive coordinator) and two bowl wins. However from 2002 to 2018, TCU scored 12 ranked finishes, six top-10s, 11 bowl wins and an invite to the Large 12. It was an unimaginable run.

Runs finish, nevertheless, and TCU’s 2017 marketing campaign represented the final peak of the Patterson period. It was an awfully enjoyable season, although: TCU beat No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, moved to fourth within the polls earlier than a good loss to Iowa State and misplaced solely to a loaded OU (twice) down the stretch. The Horned Frogs scored win No. 11 by erasing a fourth-quarter deficit within the Alamo Bowl and beating Stanford 39-37 to complete ninth within the year-end ballot.

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