Power 5 preview: 7 questions for the Big 12
While the ACC kicked off its schedule last weekend, the Big 12 and SEC won't begin conference play until the end of September.
In the second installment of a three-part preview series looking at the Power 5 conferences kicking off their seasons this month, theScore examines seven questions heading into Big 12 action.
Is Spencer Rattler the next great Oklahoma QB?
Spencer Rattler is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman who's been handed the starting quarterback job for one of the biggest programs in college football. That's an incredible amount of pressure for one young man to handle, especially one who's the lastest in a line of Oklahoma quarterbacks that most recently featured Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts. Mayfield and Murray both won the Heisman Trophy and went No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Hurts was a Heisman finalist and was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Heisman chatter and NFL draft talk might be a bit much, it's reasonable to expect Rattler can put up some video-game numbers in Lincoln Riley's system. The former top-ranked QB recruit wasted no time making his presence felt in Saturday's game against Missouri State, tossing four touchdown passes in the first half. The opposition is about to get much tougher, but there's no reason to think Rattler won't be a star.
Will Texas finally be 'back' in 2020?
If not now, when? Year 4 of the Tom Herman era is Texas' best chance to truly be "back," whatever that means in 2020. Sam Ehlinger returns for his final season in Austin, and his dual-threat capabilities will likely place him among the favorites for the Heisman by season's end. A number of other starters return alongside him in 2020, giving Texas a great chance to knock off Oklahoma and claim its first Big 12 title since 2009.
Ehlinger showed he's ready for a monstrous final season by breaking the school record for most passing yards in a half during Saturday's win over UTEP. With Texas Tech next on the schedule, the standout passer could make an early statement for the NFL draft.
Can Baylor keep rolling without Matt Rhule?
The 2019 season was a wild one for Baylor, as the Bears rebounded from a 4-5 conference mark in 2018 to go 8-1 and reach the Big 12 championship game. That success brought NFL suitors calling for head coach Matt Rhule, with national champion defensive coordinator Dave Aranda coming over from LSU to take control.
Aranda's first head coaching job will see him blessed with a number of returning starters, including quarterback Charlie Brewer and most of the offensive line. The defense is a different story, with turnover at almost every position within the starting 11. If Aranda can get the defense playing at a high level, a repeat trip to the title game isn't out of the question for Baylor.
Can anyone stop Oklahoma State's offense?
There aren't many schools in the country with a quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio like Mike Gundy has at Oklahoma State. Star wideout Tylan Wallace is back after tearing his ACL in October, and prized running back Chuba Hubbard opted to stay in Stillwater instead of heading to the NFL. Add electric quarterback Spencer Sanders to the mix, and it's tough to see anybody containing the Cowboys' offense this season.
There are questions on the defensive line, but the Cowboys can score with anybody in the country. That firepower makes Oklahoma State a trendy pick to vault past the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor and contend for the Big 12 crown.
Which 2nd-year head coach will make the biggest impact?
Coaching turnover has been a regular occurrence in the Big 12 lately, with almost half of the conference's head coaches entering their second year with their respective programs. Texas Tech's Matt Wells, Kansas State's Chris Klieman, Kansas' Les Miles, and West Virginia's Neal Brown are all looking for a jump after debut seasons with new outfits. So which team is most likely to enjoy vast improvement?
If the non-conference openers are any indicator, it's West Virginia in a landslide. The Mountaineers piled up over 300 yards rushing in a 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky. That number is particularly encouraging after the program finished dead last in the Big 12 with a paltry 73 rushing yards per game last year.
Given Kansas' struggles over the past decade, anything close to a .500 record would be a miracle from Miles. That doesn't look likely after a non-conference loss at home to Coastal Carolina last weekend. Kansas State also suffered a home loss to Arkansas State on Saturday, clearly affected by significant turnover on the offensive line. The Wildcats failed to gain 100 yards rushing versus the Red Wolves, an alarming development that could make sustained success difficult if it continues.
Even though Texas Tech won this past weekend, its close triumph over Houston Baptist featured some major red flags. The Red Raiders allowed 572 yards passing in the contest, barely escaping with a two-point victory. The offense led by Alan Bowman will score, but Wells has to figure out the defense to keep Texas Tech competitive.
Can TCU get enough from its QBs?
TCU starter Max Duggan remains out after it was discovered during offseason COVID-19 testing he has a heart condition. Matthew Downing is expected to take over in his absence, but the former Georgia signal-caller has been sidelined over the past week. Regardless of who ends up taking snaps, the Horned Frogs will likely go only as far as their quarterback can take them. Gary Patterson's outfit ranked second-last in the conference with just over 200 yards passing per contest last season. The defense is sure to be among the Big 12's top units yet again, so even a slight improvement on offense should see TCU post a winning record.
Is Brock Purdy a Heisman candidate?
The Big 12's leading passer last season entered play this past weekend as a sleeper pick for the Heisman. After struggling to a quarterback rating of just 26.6 in a home loss to Louisiana, that sleeper pick is now an extreme long shot. Purdy has been a very strong passer during his time with Iowa State, but he's now completed just 50% of his passes dating back to the second-last contest of 2019, throwing one touchdown versus one interception over that three-game span. The Heisman might be a stretch, but the Cyclones need Purdy to shine if they're to be competitive in the Big 12.