We’re 234 days away from when any Big 12 team will be competing in a football contest, but let’s not let that stop us from some extremely early speculation about what things will look like in 2019.
Granted, there are some draft-eligible juniors waiting to make their NFL decision (they have until next Monday), so there could still be more changes here.
Below, we take a look, a day after college football officially ended for the 2018 season, at what next season could possibly hold for the Big 12 conference.
STARTERS RETURNING: 5 Offense, 10 Defense, 2 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Kyler Murray, OG Ben Powers, OG Dru Samia, WR Marquise Brown
It’s looking more and more certain that Lincoln Riley will be in Norman again, and don’t look for the four time defending champs to take any major steps back. Yes, they lose Kyler Murray. Does anyone doubt Riley’s ability to produce results on the offensive side of the ball, though?
The quarterback competition will be stiff this spring, but weapons remain for the Sooners. Wideout CeeDee Lamb is back, along with tight end Grant Calcaterra. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks also return for the offense. Could there be regression? Certainly. What does that mean, though, for an offense under Riley?
As maligned as the Sooners were on defense last year, 2019 might see them make some real steps forward. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will inherit a unit that only loses one starter and – because this is Oklahoma we’re talking about – is still littered with blue chip players.
2. Iowa State
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 8 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: RB David Montgomery, WR Hakeem Butler, CB Brian Peavy, LB Willie Harvey
The Cyclones have a legitimate shot to make the Big 12 championship in Matt Campbell’s fourth year. Brock Purdy was an absolute breakout star as a true freshman, and has the kind of talent that could take Iowa State to the next level. There may not be as many big names at the skill positions, but Campbell’s staff has recruited and developed depth there. The biggest question mark on offense is probably on the line, but with all five starters coming back, the group could be poised to make a big step forward.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa State projects to have the best defense in the Big 12 next year, and it might not end up being close. Eight starters return, including Ray Lima, Mike Rose, Marcel Spears Jr., and Greg Eisworth. The Cylcones, who were a game away from playing in the title game in 2018, should be improved on both sides of the ball next season.
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 3 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: TE Andrew Beck, DE Charles Omenihu, DT Chris Nelson, LB Gary Johnson
There are certainly reasons to be optimistic in Austin, but there are substantial personnel losses that might keep the Longhorns from making the Big 12 championship again.
New starters will have to be found all throughout the defense, including five of the front six spots. Caden Sterns will be a playmaker in the back end, for sure.
Offensively, Texas will likely improve in 2019. Sam Ehlinger will probably be the best returning quarterback in the Big 12, and he’ll have starting wideout Collin Johnson and running back Keontay Ingram beside him.
Tom Herman has recruited well at Texas, and next season will test how quickly he can develop that talent.
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 7 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Chris Platt, OG Blake Blackmar, DT Ira Lewis, DE Greg Roberts
Assuming Matt Rhule returns – and pending some early Big 12 draft declarations – Baylor is positioned to move up in the Big 12 standings. The most important returning piece for the Bears is quarterback Charlie Brewer, who will be entering his junior season and should be poised to be one of the best signal callers in the conference. He’ll get his entire running back corps back, and there are some promising wide receivers on the outside.
Defensive lineman James Lynch will be back as well, ready to wreak havoc this fall. The secondary, led by players like Raleigh Texada, should be one of the better units in the conference next season.
5. West Virginia
STARTERS RETURNING: 5 Offense, 6 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Will Grier, WR David Sills V, WR Gary Jennings Jr., LB Daivd Long
It’s hard to know what the Mountaineers will look like under Neal Brown, but they’ll be breaking in a new offensive scheme without a few key pieces.
Grier, Sills, and Jennings are gone, but there are enough pieces along the line and at running back to believe that West Virginia can still score points. And there seems to always be enough athleticism in Morgantown for the Mountaineers to compete.
All-Big 12 safety Kenny Robinson Jr. will be back in 2019, along with enough experienced defenders to make the Mountaineers solid on that side of the ball again.
6. Texas Tech
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 6 Defense, 0 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Antoine Wesley, C Paul Stawarz, LB Dakota Allen, DB Ja’Shawn Johnson
The Red Raiders might have the best passing quarterback in the entire Big 12 headed into 2019, with Alan Bowman back as a true sophomore. If new offensive coordinator David Yost can get Bowman to improve on this year’s campaign, watch out. He’ll have running back Da’Leon Ward in his backfield, along with wide receiver T.J. Vasher on the outside, who should be poised to have a big year.
Defensively, defensive back DeMarcus Fields and linebacker Jordyn Brooks will be part of a defense that has been improved these past two years, and should be good again. Finding a kicker and punter for 2019 will be a major project for Matt Wells in his first year on the job.
7. Oklahoma State
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 5 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: RB Justice Hill, QB Taylor Cornelius, LB Justin Phillips, DE Jordan Brailford
It’s hard to know what to think about the Pokes going into next season, as they will need to break in some new faces on offense. Whoever replaces Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator will have highly touted redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders to work with at quarterback, along with four of five starters back on the offensive line. Oh, and don’t forget about Biletnikoff finalist Tylan Wallace, who’ll be catching passes out wide.
Defensively, Jim Knowles will have to figure out how to replace Oklahoma State’s entire defensive line, but the back seven has some promising young players like defensive back Rodarius Williams. He’ll be part of a secondary that returns all five starters.
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 4 Defense, 4 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Jaelan Austin, WR Jarrison Stewart, DE Ben Banogu, LB Ty Summers
Last season wasn’t kind to the Horned Frogs, who ended with the worst scoring offense in Big 12 play. TCU enters 2019 with plenty of questions on offense, especially at quarterback, where they will likely look at some graduate transfers. Until there’s more news on that front, though, it’s tough to be too optimistic about a Horned Frogs offense that does, notably, return four of five offensive lineman.
Defense is where even a Gary Patterson-led team like TCU could regress. The Horned Frogs lose seven starters from a defense that was one of the best in the Big 12 last season. They’ll rely heavily on seniors like defensive backs Julius Lewis and Jeff Gladney in a year where TCU will break in a lot of new faces.
9. Kansas State
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 8 Defense, 2 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: RB Alex Barnes, OT Dalton Risner, CB Duke Shelley, FS Kendall Adams
Chris Klieman seems like a good hire for the Wildcats, but what will Year One look like? Any time Kansas State has been coached by someone not named Bill Snyder, the results have been less than optimal. There’s a lot of experience for Klieman to make a strong rebuild, but it’s something we probably need to see on the field before fully buying in.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson is back for his junior year, along with an experienced offensive line. Defensively, all four lineman return, and the back seven will be a veteran group as well. The pieces are probably there for improvement, but how much transition will there be to start the Klieman Era?
STARTERS RETURNING: 6 Offense, 5 Defense, 3 Special Teams
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Peyton Bender, WR Steven Sims Jr., DT Daniel Wise, LB Joe Dineen Jr.
Kansas hired a championship-winning coach in Les Miles, but it’ll be tough for the Jayhawks to compete at that level right out of the gate. Not to mention there will be several questions about personnel, with a lot of veterans walking out the door.
Offensively, running back Khalil Herbert is back, but freshman phenom Pooka Williams’ suspension from the team leaves his future in doubt. Miles will also have to sort out the quarterback situation with Peyton Bender gone. Defensively, the back end should be okay with Corionne Harris and Hasan Defense returning. Some key losses in the front seven will present some challenges right out of the gate, though.