Now that the 2020 College Football Season is officially over, it’s time to begin turning our attention towards next season. We’re a little under eight months until Big 12 teams resume play once again, but it’s never too early to look at who’s coming back for each squad in this conference this season. With the NCAA granting all seniors an extra year of eligibility, teams across the country – and in the Big 12, for sure – will no doubt have more veteran players on hand than what we would see in a normal year.
Many seniors and draft-eligible juniors have already made their declarations, but we’re still waiting to hear from a few. Based on what is currently known, though, below is a power ranking of all ten teams in the Big 12, along with some information on what each team is losing and what they’ve got coming back.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 9 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: OT Adrian Ealy, C Creed Humphrey, DE Ronnie Perkins, RB Rhamondre Stevenson
After once again winning the Big 12, the Sooners will enter next season as a likely Top 5 squad and national title contender, a familiar position for Riley and Oklahoma. With Spencer Rattler having another year in Lincoln Riley’s offense, points won’t be hard to come by. The Sooners do probably need to find a big play running threat to be able to complement their passing attack, but there’s definitely talent in Norman.
Defensively, Oklahoma has been getting better, and the Sooners had one of the best defenses in the Big 12 last season. Nine starters are set to return from that unit, so this could feasibly be one of the better defenses in the nation in 2021. That’s a scary prospect to think about for the rest of the conference. The Sooners remain the leaders in the clubhouse, and you can’t really put anyone else there unless they’re actually dethroned.
2. Iowa State Cyclones
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 Offense, 9 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: DE JaQuan Bailey, FS Lawrence White, TE Dylan Soehner
With all but three starters returning next season from a Cyclones squad that went 9-3 in 2020, expectations will be justifiably high for Iowa State next season. They will easily be a Top 10 team going into next season, and there will be realistic expectations that Iowa State might actually take the title from Oklahoma. Most of the questions for the Cyclones will be whether they can take more steps forward – can they avoid some of those early season missteps? Is this a team that could run the table and potentially beat the Sooners twice? Next season will be the first time Campbell has had those type of expectations in Ames, and it will be interesting to see how the team handles that pressure through the offseason and heading into the fall.
3. Texas Longhorns
STARTERS RETURNING: 7 Offense, 7 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Sam Ehlinger, DE Joseph Ossai, OT Samuel Cosmi, FS Caden Sterns
Steve Sarkisian will have some pieces to work with when he gets to Austin now that he’s officially done with coaching duties for the Crimson Tide. He’ll try to replicate some of Alabama’s success, but the past two head coaches at Texas were also coordinators on national championship-winning squads, and the magic didn’t translate. The big question for Year One will be how quickly can Sark develop the talent at Texas, a place where they haven’t had a player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2015.
Replacing Ehlinger will be big for the Longhorns, and as good as Cameron Thompson looked in the Alamo Bowl, it’s tough to know what to take away from that. A defense that was in the bottom of the Big 12 last season will also need a boost, although Texas gets some key pieces back from a front six that showed improvement over the course of 2020. There’s reason to think Texas can once again be a Top 25-caliber team next season, but with a new head coach, exactly what the Longhorns will look like is anyone’s guess.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 8 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Pro Wells, LB Garrett Wallow, WS Ar’Darius Washington, FS Trevon Moehrig
TCU’s fortunes in 2021 will largely depend on how well the reworked offensive staff can oversee progress on that side of the ball. Most of the key the pieces that made this the Big 12’s top rushing team in 2020 will be back next season. That includes quarterback Max Duggan, who lead the team in rushing, and a host of good backs. The question will be whether that production will be enough to help the Horned Frogs outscore opponents in a conference known for putting up points.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs will have a top defense in the Big 12, as most of the defensive pieces come back. After embracing the Air Raid a few years ago, the Horned Frogs are now forming an identity more around their rushing attack. After moving quietly to the middle of the Big 12 at the end of last season, TCU has all the returning pieces to move up once again.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
STARTERS RETURNING: 5 Offense, 8 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: RB Chuba Hubbard, WR Tylan Wallace, S Kolby Harvell-Pell, CB Rodarius Williams
Last season looked like it could have been “the year” for the Pokes to make the title game, but injuries and inconsistent play kept Oklahoma State out of Arlington. The defense was the star of the show for Oklahoma State, and multiple starters have already announced they’re coming back on that side of the ball. Jim Knowles’s unit should be stout once again, and will likely be looked to as the strength of this squad next season.
There are a few questions on offense after transfers and NFL exits. Spencer Sanders will be back as a redshirt junior in 2021, but there’s no certainty that he’ll actually be the starter when Oklahoma State takes the field next fall. Sanders is a dynamic player, but issues with turnovers plagued his sophomore campaign. The running back room, in addition, is stacked for the Cowboys, but we’ll have to wait and see where the offense can take decisive steps forward next season.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 Offense, 6 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: TE Briley Moore, DE Wyatt Hubert, LB Justin Hughes, CB A.J. Parker
With the announcement that senior Skylar Thompson returns once again, there are good reason for the Wildcats to be optimistic heading into next season. Kansas State looked the part of title contender before Thompson was injured and announced to be out for the rest of the season, and only two starters will be gone from the 2020 offense. Not to mention, breakout running back Deuce Vaughn returns as part of that group.
Of course, the defense will need to take steps forward despite a few losses. The Wildcats yielded 32.2 points per game last season. Injuries and COVID issues played into that, of course, but Kansas State will need to recreate the magic of their 4-0 start and then some in 2021 in order to move into the top tier of the conference.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 6 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: DL Darius Stills, LB Tony Fields, OC Chase Behrndt, WR T.J. Simmons
The Mountaineers took a noticeable step forward in Neal Brown’s second season, finishing off a 6-4 campaign with one of the best defenses in the country. They’ll suffer a few losses on that side of the ball, but expect West Virginia to be strong on defense once again. The question will be on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Jarret Doege takes the helm once again. Doege will definitely have talent in the backfield with Leddie Brown, but how much more productive can the Mountaineers be in 2021? West Virginia’s floor under Neal Brown seems like it is not ever that low, but it remains to be seen as to how high the ceiling can be.
8. Baylor Bears
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 Offense, 10 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Charlie Brewer, OG Jake Burton, DE William-Bradley King
Dave Aranda’s first season as head coach for the Baylor Bears could have gone better, but there are definitely some positives to away from his inaugural year. Despite inexperience, the defense was the strength of this team last year, and with ten starters back, expect that unit to be improved once again next season.
The question for Aranda will be on the offensive side of the ball, where the Bears averaged 23.3 points per game in 2020 with a senior quarterback. BYU’s Jeff Grimes takes over at offensive coordinator for the Bears, so they will hope his success translates to the Big 12. He’ll have running back Trestan Ebner back for a “super senior” season, but he’ll need to break in a new signal caller. The Bears could rise up the conference in 2021, but they’ll need to answer a few questions to do so.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 Offense, 8 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: WR T.J. Vasher, S Thomas Leggett, OG Jack Anderson, DE Eli Howard
Can the Red Raiders have an offensive turnaround after bringing over Sonny Cumbie from TCU? Cumbie will return to Lubbock to coordinate an offense that only put up 29.1 points per game last year. He’ll have a quarterback with experience in Henry Colombi, and solid playmakers across the board. That includes running back SaRodorick Thompson, a bright spot on the offense in 2020.
Defense, as always, will remain a work in progress for defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Linebacker Riko Jeffers returns, which should help. Still, the Red Raiders have struggled under Matt Wells to really separate themselves from the bottom of the Big 12, and it’s tough to definitively say they’ll do so next season.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
STARTERS RETURNING: 4 Offense, 8 Defense
MAJOR LOSSES: WR Andrew Parchment, WR Stephon Robinson, DB Kyle Mayberry, RB Pooka Williams
The Jayhawks had a rough season on the gridiron last year, going winless for the second time in a decade. When running back Pooka Williams opted out of the season in mid-October, the Jayhawks fate looked especially grim, and with multiple seniors now transferring out, 2021 doesn’t look like it will be much better. Les Miles will have to hope he can really build this squad for the future, as he continues to develop the roster.