The start of the next college football season is 211 days away, but it’s never too soon to begin looking at things will look for Big 12 football in 2020. After breaking in four new coaches in 2019, there should be much more stability in the conference this upcoming fall, as only Baylor has a new head coach. That should give us somewhat of an indication regarding how to view the Big 12 as we get further into the offseason.
Below is an – admittedly – way too early look at power rankings for the conference headed into next season. For each team, the number of returning starters for offense, defense, and special teams* are listed, as well as the major personnel losses from 2019 for each squad.
*The number for special teams reflects returners at kicker, punter, and kickoff as well as punt return specialists.
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 8 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Jalen Hurts, WR CeeDee Lamb, LB Kenneth Murray, DT Neville Gallimore
Even though the key players of the 2019 squad are gone, most of last season’s offensive and defensive starters are back for the Sooners. Quarterback Spencer Rattler appears poised to take over the starting gig; he’ll be the most inexperienced signal caller Lincoln Riley’s had to work with in Norman, so there could be some growing pains. Yet, with running back Kennedy Brooks and five offensive lineman coming back, one would think that he’d have enough support to keep that side of the ball humming. Besides, when have Riley’s offenses not been productive?
On the other side of the ball, progress has been made under Grinch and it should be expected to continue. Standouts like Ronnie Perkins and Nik Bonitto will be available to lead the Oklahoma defense. Assuming the further development of so many experienced players, the Sooners seem like a safe favorite to repeat as conference champs once again.
2. Oklahoma State
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 10 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: OL Marcus Keyes, OL Johnny Wilson, CB A.J. Green
Plenty of pieces are in place for the Pokes to take a step from the middle of the pack to top tier in the conference and, yes, possibly even to the conference championship. Oklahoma State definitely got some good news when Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace announced they were foregoing the NFL Draft to spend another season in Stillwater. Along with quarterback Spencer Sanders, they’ll likely be the most lethal trio in the Big 12 in 2020. As long as Oklahoma State can stay healthy, expect another year of “basketball on grass” for Mike Gundy’s squad.
Defensively, the Cowboys are losing only one starter. Kolby Harvell-Peel, a first team All-Big 12 defensive back, returns, and third year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles should have a veteran group that’s well-versed in his defense when September rolls around. The real question for the Cowboys will be whether they can actually make that next leap.
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 8 Defense, 2 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Devin Duvernay, C Zach Shackelford, DE Malcolm Roach, S Brandon Jones
Will overhauls to Texas’ staff get them back to the Big 12 title game in Herman’s fourth year? The Longhorns will have plenty of experience to help them get there. The strength of the team will definitely be quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a fourth year senior starter who posted a 151.8 passer rating in 2019. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, will have to develop the weapons around Ehlinger, though, if Texas wants to progress from last season’s 5-4 Big 12 record.
Defensively, new coordinator Chris Ash comes on board a unit that returns a lot of the production from 2019. Unfortunately, his side of the ball was by far the weak link on the Texas football team after the Longhorns were in the bottom of the conference in multiple categories last season. Players like linebacker Joseph Ossai and safety Caden Sterns will be back, however, and could help Texas make major improvements next season.
4. Iowa State
STARTERS RETURNING: 5 Offense, 8 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Deshaunte Jones, OT Julian Good-Jones, DT Ray Lima, LB Marcel Spears
The Cyclones have a lot to be excited about in what they have returning in 2020. Quarterback Brock Purdy, a Davy O’Brien Award Semifinalist as a sophomore, will be behind center once again for Matt Campbell. Breece Hall, who rushed for 897 yards as a freshman, will be in the backfield beside Purdy. First Team All-Big 12 tight end Charlie Kolar will be in the lineup as well. If Iowa State can keep the loss of the four starting lineman from hurting them too significantly on offense, they might just have something next season.
Six of the back eight starter in Iowa State’s 3-3-5 return next season, including linebacker Mike Rose. Getting back defensive end JaQuan Bailey, who was lost to injury early last season, should help the Cyclones maintain a high level of play on defense. Iowa State could feasibly build a contender from the core of players in Ames next season.
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 2 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Chris Platt, WR Denzel Mims, DE James Lynch, S Grayland Arnold
New head coach Dave Aranda will have to coach up a good deal of inexperience on his football team headed into the 2020 season. Quarterback Charlie Brewer returns, along with four starting lineman that can hopefully take a step forward under a new regime. Some skill positions will have to be replaced, but Trestan Ebner and R.J. Sneed will be on hand for the new offensive coordinator.
Defense is where the real rebuild is likely to be in store for the Bears. Terrel Bernard and Raleigh Texada, at linebacker and cornerback respectively, are the only returning starters after graduation and early entrants to the NFL Draft depleted the lineup. With so much gone from a team that won five games by a possession, it’s tough to see a championship repeat, but Baylor doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.
6. West Virginia
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 6 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: OT Colton McKivitz, RB Kennedy McCoy, CB Hakeem Bailey, CB Keith Washington
Neal Brown’s first season in Morgantown was certainly full of its ups and downs, but there are ample reasons to see hope in Year Two. The Mountaineers return 15 starters from their offense and defense, including quarterback Jarret Doege, who posted a 137.3 passer rating through four games. Leading rusher Leddie Brown – who averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2019 – will return, as well as breakout receiver Sam James, who amassed 677 yards last season.
Brown’s defensive backfield will need to break in some new faces, but West Virginia returns All-Big 12 defensive lineman Darius Stills. That should make them pretty tough up front, and it’s certainly possible that the defense can make some strides heading into next season. The real question will be how much this team can progress overall past their 5-7 record from a year ago.
7. Kansas State
STARTERS RETURNING: 3 Offense, 6 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: RB James Gilbert, OT Scott Frantz, C Adam Holtorff, DT Trey Dishon
Taking over for a legend is never easy, but Chris Klieman exceeded expectations in his first year at Kansas State. He did so with a senior-laden, experienced two-deep in 2019, going 5-4 in conference play. Now, a lot of that experience is gone, and the question is over how the Wildcats will perform in light of those losses.
One familiar face for Kansas State is quarterback Skylar Thompson, who returns for his senior season after combining for 23 touchdowns rushing and passing. All five starters on the offensive line will have to be replaced as well as the majority of the skill positions. Defensively, the back seven will have some returning experience from a unit that excelled in defending the pass last season. Overall, though, shaping up both lines of scrimmage will likely be the biggest challenge for Kansas State in 2020.
STARTERS RETURNING: 4 Offense, 5 Defense, 1 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Jalen Reagor, RB Darius Anderson, DT Ross Blacklock, CB Jeff Gladney
For the first time this century, TCU is coming off of two sub-.500 seasons in a row. Improvement in 2020 will mean the replacement of 88 starts along the offensive line, however, and finding playmakers at the skill positions. The good news is that quarterback Max Duggan will be back after finishing with 21 rushing and passing touchdowns combined.
The Horned Frogs will have a few new faces on defense as well. Players like Trevon Moehrig and Garrett Wallow will be expected to start once again in the fall, but every level of the defense has questions to answer. It’s difficult to believe that they won’t be solid on that side of the ball again, but the biggest obstacles will likely come for TCU’s offense.
9. Texas Tech
STARTERS RETURNING: 6 Offense, 7 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Jett Duffey, OG Travis Bruffy, DT Broderick Washington, LB Jordyn Brooks
Are there reasons to see progress in Matt Wells’ second season in Lubbock? The staff will have its share of veterans to work with, but there are significant obstacles facing the Red Raiders as we head into 2020. Poor performances on defense allowed Texas Tech to give up 538.3 yards per game in Big 12 play, which was worst in the conference last season. A couple of the bright spots on that squad are gone, so Keith Patterson’s defense will have to improve with standouts like Eli Howard and Adrian Frye coming back.
Quarterback is a bit more of a question mark for the Red Raiders heading into 2020. Alan Bowman has played like a program-changing signal caller at times, but questions about his consistency and his health abound. In addition, Texas Tech is losing a combined 119 career starts among three offensive lineman. Skill players like T.J. Vasher and Ta’Zhawn Henry will return, and they should help make the offensive explosive again next season, but the overall question is whether Wells’ squad can bring it all together for more wins.
STARTERS RETURNING: 6 Offense, 5 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Carter Stanley, OT Hakeem Adeniji, LB Azur Kamara, CB Hasan Defense
Les Miles’ return to college football gave fans reasons for hope with a couple of quality wins for the Jayhawks, but we’ll have to see what the staff can do with a small exodus of seniors in 2020. Three new starters will need to be found along the offensive line in addition to a new signal caller. Running back Pooka Williams is back, as is Andrew Parchment, who had 831 yards receiving in 2019.
Kansas’ defensive will present some question marks next season, with Malcolm Lee the lone starter up front. Safety Davon Ferguson had 42 tackles last year, and he’ll be back as well, but there will be a few holes to fill at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. Depending on what the new personnel looks like next season, the Jayhawks could take one more step. Still, for Kansas, knocking on the door of bowl eligibility will require them to accomplish some things that haven’t been achieved in Lawrence for a while.