Big 12 College Football Season Preview & Predictions

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It’s Oklahoma’s world and the rest of the Big 12 schools are just living in it. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, or, apparently, Jalen Hurts, and it just doesn’t matter. The Sooners are the heavy favorites to take care of business in the Big 12 Conference and would obviously be a playoff contender at that point.

The order of the other nine schools is a matter of some conjecture. There are some ardent Texas supporters out there, as the Longhorns were tied with Oklahoma going into the final quarter of the Big 12 Championship Game before losing 39-27 and followed it up by holding Georgia to 284 yards in a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win.

Others are big believers in what Matt Campbell is doing in Ames. Some even believe that Year 3 of Matt Rhule’s rule in Waco will propel Baylor back into the national conversation. Then there’s the (almost) always-steady TCU Horned Frogs under the watchful eyes of Gary Patterson. Mike “The Mullet” Gundy has taken Oklahoma State to new heights with low expectations before.

There are a lot of new head coaches in the Big 12 as well, as Matt Wells takes over Texas Tech, Neal Brown takes over West Virginia, Chris Klieman takes over Kansas State, and Les Miles is back to eat field grass on Saturdays with the Kansas Longhorns. Forty percent of the conference has a new head coach and 50% of the conference is expected to start a new quarterback.

Even though there may only be national championship contender in the Big 12, this conference has more than its fair share of storylines going into 2019.

 

Big 12 Win Total Best Bet

Texas Under 9.5 (-150, 5Dimes) – It is no secret that Tom Herman is at his best with lowered expectations. He is 29-9 SU as a favorite, but just 14-22-2 ATS. He is 10-5 SU and 13-2 ATS as an underdog. Obviously season win totals aren’t about ATS records, but the point being illustrated here is that there are some lofty goals for the Longhorns and this is a program that has underachieved with a ton of talent for most of the decade.

My personal power ratings and projected spreads on each game have the Longhorns with 8.62 wins. That is the biggest gap in the conference for me based on the 9.5 number, which is heavily juiced and more like 9 when you factor in what the cost of every 10 cents means.

To me, Texas is a home underdog against LSU, a dog on a neutral to Oklahoma, and a pick ‘em at Iowa State, while being favored in every other game. That being said, Texas is only -3 at Baylor and a relatively low -8 at West Virginia the week before the Red River Rivalry. Sam Ehlinger is back and the Longhorns have a lot of returning production and talent, but this is asking a lot of a team that got outgained on a yards per play basis last season.

 

The Rest

Oklahoma Over 10.5 (-105, Bookmaker) – It’s tough to tell how Jalen Hurts will fit within Lincoln Riley’s system. Riley has talked about Hurts’s experience and athleticism, but can he throw? Can he run this RPO-heavy offense? Can he keep defenses honest with some accurately-thrown deep balls? He has lots of help with a 1,000-yard rusher in Trey Sermon and a 1,000-yard receiver in CeeDee Lamb, so he’s set up for success.

The Sooners also have four new starters on the offensive line. They have eight returning starters on defense, but that’s a group that allowed 6.1 yards per play. All in all, though, the Sooners are a favorite in every game and no smaller of a favorite than 6.5 points for me, as thy get Iowa State at home and have a very manageable non-conference slate. With that in mind, they come out to 10.64 wins for me based on my projected game spreads, so the over it is.

 

Iowa State Over 8 (+100, 5D/BOL/BM) – I’m a Matt Campbell believer. Fellow BTB writer, contributor, and professional handicapper Kyle Hunter asked who the third-best coach in the country is after Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. Maybe the answer is Kirby Smart, but Matt Campbell might get that spot for me.

My power ratings and game spreads have Iowa State at 7.95 wins, just shy of this 8 line. The Cyclones are probably an 8-4 regular season team, but I don’t want to bet against Campbell, whose 16 wins in Ames over the last two seasons are the most in a two-year span since 2000-01 under Dan McCarney. The starting quarterback was Sage Rosenfels.

The Cyclones lost Hakeem Butler and David Montgomery, but Brock Purdy is back behind center and the Cyclones return all five starters on the offensive line and eight starters from the best defense in the Big 12 last season. Iowa State has a few pick ‘em games for me, but is a clear underdog only once, the November 9 game at Oklahoma.

 

Baylor Over 7.5 (-115, 5Dimes) – Baylor checks in at 7.97 wins based on my power ratings and projected spreads in Matt Rhule’s third season. Iowa State is probably the only team in the conference that can match Baylor’s physicality at the point of attack and Rhule’s background and coaching style has given the Bears a unique dynamic in this offense-first conference.

The thing about this season is that Baylor’s offense is catching up to the other parts of the team. Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer completed nearly 62% of his throws and Baylor improved by a full yard per carry on the ground last season. Per usual, the Bears play a pathetic non-conference schedule, so they’ll only need to go 5-4 in conference play. They get both Oklahoma and Texas at home and have very winnable road games at Kansas and Kansas State. Fifteen returning starters in a coach’s third year is usually a pretty good indicator of improvement.

 

TCU Under 7.5 (-110, 5Dimes) – The schedule is pretty kind to the Horned Frogs this season, but the talent level is in question. Kansas State transfer Alex Delton and Ohio State transfer Matthew Baldwin are battling for the QB job. There are only five returning starters on defense and not a whole lot of highly-touted recruits. This is usually a solid unit, but it has to be the best in the Big 12 to get to eight wins with the offensive question marks.

TCU doesn’t have a Trevone Boykin or an Andy Dalton in that quarterback room. The Horned Frogs just had their lowest YPC since 2013. TCU could be a dog in as many as five conference games and has a coin flip game against Purdue in non-conference play. If a quarterback emerges, they could very well go over 7.5, but that is hardly a guarantee.

 

Oklahoma State Under 7.5 (-150, 5Dimes) – There isn’t a whole lot of value in Oklahoma State in the marketplace. The 6.5s are heavily juiced to the over and the 7.5s are juiced to the under. Bookmaker split the difference with the under at +112. My projection of 7.13 wins falls right in line with all of those numbers. We’ll see if Dru Brown, the transfer from Hawaii, beats out talented redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders at quarterback. Going with Sanders would give Gundy a head start on a new four-year starter and that would be good going forward.

This is a defense that allowed six yards per play last season, so that side of the ball needs a lot of work with second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Maybe that happens, but what about the offense? Gundy lost longtime OC Mike Yurcich, an Ohio native, who is now the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State. It’s a bad time to be breaking in a new quarterback with that departure. Justice Hill is also gone. Chuba Hubbard and Dezmon Jackson may be upgrades, but Sanders or whichever quarterback wins the job will have to soften up the front seven for that to happen. And the defense probably won’t make big strides.

 

Texas Tech Under 6.5 (-130, Bookmaker) – If we assume 10 cents on a win total to be worth .10 wins, there may be more value in going under 6 with the push possibility than under 6.5 (-150), which is the line at 5Dimes. Fortunately, Bookmaker is out with 6.5 and lower juice. BetOnline has the Under 6 at plus money. My numbers actually have Texas Tech at 6.11, but we’re all waiting with bated breath to see how the transition to Matt Wells goes in Lubbock.

It may be an all-around upgrade, as Kliff Kingsbury was an offensive genius, but was maybe lacking as a head coach. We’ll see how it goes for him in the NFL this season. With Wells, though, the Red Raiders will look a little bit different. They do have QB Alan Bowman and Bowman will have a very accomplished WR to throw to in Nevada transfer McLane Mannix.

The defense is a worry under first-year DC Keith Patterson and both sides of the ball are learning new schemes. Texas Tech does have a couple very weak non-conference games to get started, but then goes to Arizona and plays Oklahoma to start Big 12 play. A toss-up game in Morgantown could be the deciding factor as to whether or not Texas Tech goes 5-7 or 6-6, but they’ll also have to take care of business as a small favorite or small dog in several home games.

 

Kansas State Under 5.5 (-130, Bookmaker) – This isn’t a strong opinion at all and most of these aren’t, as it seems like my power ratings have the Big 12 rated pretty well. First-year head coach Chris Klieman has big shoes to fill on paper, but maybe not in the locker room. Bill Snyder is a Hall of Fame coach, but there were some questionable reports late in his tenure about his treatment of players. This is a fresh start and a breath of fresh air.

We’ll have to see how Klieman takes to FBS life. North Dakota State was a recruiting hotbed at the FCS level. At Kansas State, you have to make a four-star dish out of a lot of two- and three-star ingredients. Or you have to turn a JUCO player into an FBS guy. It isn’t an easy job. He does have a phenomenal defensive coordinator in Scottie Hazelton, who will help the Wildcats do something most Big 12 teams don’t do – play defense.

It’s just a matter of how potent this offense can be. Skylar Thompson didn’t exactly develop much last season and the Wildcats have to replace a 1,300-yard back in Alex Barnes that accounted for over 37% of their offensive yards.

 

West Virginia Under 5.5 (-140, BetOnline) – Neal Brown was a tremendous hire, but he walks into a really tough situation in Morgantown. Dana Holgorsen left because he saw how bare the cupboard was getting. The top four pass catchers and quarterback Will Grier are just some of the offensive starters gone from last year’s team. The Mountaineers also have to replace four starting linemen.

A handful of defensive players transferred out as well, including starting safety Kenny Robinson. This will be a rebuilding year in every sense of the word. The reason why it’s hard to go with a concrete pick here is that Morgantown is a hard place to play and Brown seems like the type of first-year coach that could pick off a team or two. My numbers actually have West Virginia at 5.15 and I thought I was a little optimistic about them, hence the lean to the under, but Austin Kendall will finally get a chance to play and Kennedy McKoy is a solid running back.

 

Kansas Under 3 (-125, BetOnline) – Playing win totals this low can be a scary proposition, but it is likely my second favorite pick in this conference. The Jayhawks have not won more than one conference game since 2008. That is a bad start with a nine-game conference schedule. TCU is the team with revenge on its mind this season.

The Jayhawks were +12 in turnover margin in wins over Central Michigan and Rutgers last season. Indiana State is not a Week 1 pushover after going 7-4 in the FCS last season. Coastal Carolina has some FBS talent. The Chanticleers are unlikely to win, but my line is under double-digits (-8.5) there. Other than that, Kansas is a double-digit dog in every game.

There just isn’t much talent in Lawrence. Miles has been out of the game for a little while and this is a vastly different situation than what he had at LSU with four- and five-stars all over the field. My projection for Kansas is 2.5, so this one is about as close to a pick as it gets after Texas under for this conference.