We go to the Heartland next, as there are one maybe two favorites, a coach on the hot seat, and one team that could have a breakthrough season, here’s my breakdown of the Big 12.
First stop is Norman, where the Oklahoma Sooners are the favorite to win the conference and perhaps make another run at the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Baker Mayfield went from walking-on after transferring from Texas Tech to a preseason All-American and Heisman candidate. He threw for 36 touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns. He only had seven interceptions last season but two were in a loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Mayfield has to minimize those mistakes.
Mayfield will have one of (if not, the) best backfield duo behind him in preseason All-American Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The Sooners have an unproven but capable receiving corps led by preseason all-Big 12 tight end Mark Andrews. The offensive line must help out as well.
The defense lost four all-conference players but there’s no shortage of talent. Defensive end Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, safety Ahmad Thomas and cornerback Jordan Thomas made the preseason All-Big 12. They need to make big plays if the Sooners want a chance to go all the way.
They play upstart Houston in Houston to start the season. They host Ohio State, Kansas State, Baylor and in-state rival Oklahoma State. Their usual Red-River shootout against Texas. They must go to TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia.
TCU Horned Frogs
To Fort Worth next, where injuries plagued the Horned Frogs from making a run at the conference title as well as the playoff. The Horned Frogs had one of the best offenses in the nation last year but quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson are gone. Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill will compete to replace Boykin. Receivers Ty Slanina and Deante’ Grey are returning from injury and lead a young but capable corps.
The defense changed scheme mid-season, and it’s paying dividends. Preseason all-Big 12 defensive ends Josh Carraway and James McFarland, who’s coming off a toe injury, lead a potentially dangerous defense. Tackles Travin Howard and Ty Summers were in the top three on the team in tackles last season.
The Horned Frogs host Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. They face West Virginia, Baylor and Texas on the road.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
To Stillwater next, as the Cowboys will try to match their win total of ten from last season. Nine starters return on offense, including preseason All-American and last year’s leading returning receiver James Washington. Washington leads a talented corps and is a legit deep threat, so he’ll give secondaries nightmares. Quarterback Mason Randolph will have his pick of targets.
Junior college All-American offensive lineman Larry Williams will beef up the line. Running back Chris Carson and Stanford graduate transfer Barry J. Sanders (son of legendary Cowboys and Hall of Famer Barry) hope to be a solid rushing attack.
Injuries and fatigue troubled the Cowboys late last season. All-American defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is gone. Need not worry, Cowboys fans, first team All-Big 12s safety Jordan Sterns and linebacker Jordan Burton as well as preseason All-Big 12 lineman Vincent Taylor lead a potentially explosive group.
They host Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia. The face Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma on the road.
In Waco, the result of an independent investigation into the school’s response (or lack of) to sexual assault allegations led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles in May. Veteran head coach Jim Grobe takes over in the interim as he tries to shift the focus to football amid all of the uncertainty.
There have been some departures though as quarterback Jared Stidham was granted a release to transfer. Seth Russell, who’s returning from a season-ending neck injury will now start. The Bears have the most dynamic backfield in all of college football, with Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson both coming off of 1,000 yard seasons last year. All-American wide receiver Corey Coleman’s now in the NFL, preseason All-American KD Cannon must pick up the load.
Linebacker Taylor Young, versatile K.J. Smith and tackle Byron Bonds lead a defense that has improve little by little each season.
They host Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech. They face Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia on the road.
To Austin next, where let’s be honest, the Longhorns’ surprising win over Oklahoma last season essentially saved head coach Charlie Strong’s job. His seat will be warm once again. There’s reason to hope, true freshman Shane Buechele and his arm could beat out Tyrone Swoopes and Jerron Heard as starting quarterback. Heard has also been practicing at wide receiver.
Receivers John Burt and Collin Johnson lead a talented corps. The “Thunderstorm” backfield combo of Chris Warren III and D’Onta Forman could wear out defenses.
Linebacker Malik Jefferson, who was a Freshman All-American last season, preseason All-Big 12 cornerback Davante Davis and four-star tackle Jordan Elliot lead a defense where there’s a lot of youth and inexperienced but not short on talent.
They host Notre Dame to kick off the season. They also host Baylor, West Virginia and TCU. They face Oklahoma in their annual Red-River shootout. They must face California, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech on the road.
The Rest of the Big 12
In Lubbock, Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes II will try to continue to expand his highlight reel with his arm and his feet. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury will have to replace many seniors including top receiver Jakeem Grant and running back DeAndre Washington. The Red Raiders defense is a year older, and hopefully wiser as they’ll try to improve from setting a school record for giving up the most points last season.
In Morgantown, some folks are wondering if West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is on the hot seat. The Mountaineers have eight starters returning from last season on offense. Quarterback Skyler Howard finished strong. Though they’ll have to replace running back Wendell Smallwood. They must replace eight starters on defense.
In Manhattan, Kansas that is, you never count a Bill Snyder coach Kansas State team. Both of their quarterbacks as Jesse Ertz and Alex Dalton are returning from season-ending knee injuries. They’ll have a promising group of playmakers from running back Charles Jones and wide receiver Byron Pringle. Linebacker Elijah Lee leads a solid defensive group.
Over at Ames, new Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell wants to run the football. Running back Mike Warren had more yards rushing than any other freshman last year. Wide receiver Allen Lazard leads an experienced corps. The defense returns eight starters led by last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, tackle Demond Tucker.
Finally in Lawrence, where the Kansas Jayhawks were 0-12 last season. They return 12 starters including running back Ke’aun Kinner and safety Fish Smithson. Yes, the Jayhawks are a long way away from being a bowl team, but as long as they win one game, they would be making progress.
That’s all for the Big 12, next we’ll preview the Big Ten East.
Heisman Trophy Finalists Include Joe Burrow, Justin fields, Jalen Hurts, Chase Young
The finalists for the Heisman Trophy have been unveiled and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young are headed to New York this weekend for the 85th edition of the award for the most outstanding college football player.
The winner will be announced on Saturday night during a ceremony that kicks off at 8pm est on ESPN.
“In my opinion, he should win it,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said, according to ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura. “In my opinion, he’s going to win it. The best thing about Joe is he’s a team player. All he wants to do is win this game. Individual awards are not high on his list. That’s what makes him such a great team player.”
While Burrow may have the most momentum heading into the ceremony, and is the likely number 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Young is the first Ohio State defensive player to finish in the top four in Heisman voting, and Young is the first defensive player from the Big Ten to do so since Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the award all the back in 1997.
Young led the nation with 16.5 sacks and in tackles for loss per game with 1.9.
Additionally, Ohio State is the seventh school to have multiple players invited to the Heisman ceremony in the same year, but the first to have both an offensive player and a defensive player.
Rutgers Brings Back Greg Schiano with Eight-Year, $32 Million Deal
Rutgers is bringing back Greg Schiano as their head coach following a lengthy negotiation process that has led to an eight-year, $32 million deal, according to ESPN.
“Today we open the next great chapter for Rutgers Football,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said. “Coach Schiano is absolutely the best person to lead our program. He brings a quality of leadership and integrity that will make all of us proud in the years ahead. I couldn’t be more excited for our student-athletes and our fans.
“A lot of hard work lies ahead, but we will all keep chopping together with Coach to achieve success in the Big Ten. We all know what the goal is and we all must do our part. I can’t express enough appreciation to Greg and Christy Schiano, the first family of Rutgers Football. Welcome back!”
Schiano went 68-67 from 2001-2011 as Rutgers head coach.
“Rutgers University and this football program have meant the world to me and my family,” Schiano said in a statement put out by the school. “I arrived here in 2000 with the goal to build a program that would be a source of pride for the state of New Jersey and develop great young men. I look forward to embracing that challenge once again. This is a great opportunity for all of Rutgers to pull together to get us back to where we all know we belong. It will take everyone on this campus and in the State of Rutgers to get this done.”
Schiano left Rutgers in 2012 to become the head coach of the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, in a tenure that lasted just two years.
“I commend Rutgers Athletics Director Pat Hobbs and Coach Schiano for reaching an agreement following very complex negotiations to bring on this new, exciting chapter for Rutgers Athletics,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said. “We are all thrilled to welcome Coach Schiano. He is the right coach at the right time to build our Big Ten football program into a long-running source of pride for Rutgers.”
Ole Miss Fires Matt Luke
Ole Miss is moving on from head coach Matt Luke, who was fired on Sunday following three seasons at the helm of the Rebels.
“After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level” Athletics director Keith Carter said in an official statement.
“While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.
“A search is underway to find a new head coach who can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality. We will be looking for the leadership, energy and commitment to excellence necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference and galvanize our passionate fan base.”
Luke compiled a 15-21 record during his tenure at Ole Miss.
According to the Clarion Ledger’s Nick Suss, the firing of Luke was not well-received by some of the players, with some storming out of the team meeting angry over the decision.
Many are speculating that the Egg Bowl was what set the firing in motion. However, it is worth noting that attendance was becoming an issue in the midst of a losing season, and with a new athletic director in the fold, change was likely coming sooner or later.
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