The Big 12 may be decided between Oklahoma and Texas this season. Perhaps Iowa State will join in the fun as well. But there is a chance for plenty of chaos that could disrupt these teams in 2019.
That’s why it’s difficult on the surface to judge over/under picks in a league where offensive showcases can lead to some wacky finishes.
Today, I’ll be looking at the over/under win totals of the four teams I believe will have the biggest factor in deciding the conference. Obviously, Oklahoma has the highest expectations, and that’s where I will start today.
But their 10 1/2-win projection is certainly a steep one as always. With another Heisman candidate at quarterback and one of the greatest college football minds at head coach, it’s easy to see why.
For these odds, I turned to MyBookie, which has the over/under props for most of the power-five teams. With this out of the way, here are my predictions for the four best teams in the conference and how they’ll get to their win-loss totals.
It’s another year and another college football playoff contender for the Oklahoma Sooners. Thanks to the transfer of QB Jalen Hurts from Alabama, they will once again be in the hunt for a CFP berth.
And their competition in the Big 12 may have shrunk in comparisons to last year.
While Iowa State is coming onto the scene as a legitimate contender, Texas might be the second and final team that can slow down the Sooners. And there’s always a chance Oklahoma could get redemption on the Longhorns as they did in the conference championship game last year.
But since this is only in regards to what happens in the regular season, let me first take a look at how this stacked Oklahoma roster looks.
Besides the addition of Hurts, Lincoln Riley’s group will boast one of the deepest receiving units in the country. Perhaps only the likes of Alabama are as good as this group in terms of the talent they’re splitting out wide.
Is the fact they have Kennedy Brooks bursting out of the backfield. He’s another guy who could receive All-Big 12 honors. And if Hurts didn’t possess enough weapons already, he’ll have a Grant Calcaterra coming off the line at tight end. He’s a nightmare matchup for any defense at 6’4” and 221 pounds.
The offensive line is replacing some star power and may not be as sturdy as the last two years. But they always reload at these positions and will have a stud running the line with center Creed Humphrey.
If the defense were half as put together as the other side of the ball, this team would be national title favorites. Sadly, there is still a long way to go to catch up with the beastly defenses in the southeast and Big Ten.
Their defensive line isn’t all that ill-equipped when comparing them to the rest of the conference. But Ronnie Perkins, a sophomore at end, is the only one that stands out on the line. Kenneth Murray does the same at linebacker, but he’s going to have a lot of question marks around him at these positions.
Tre Brown will have to lock things down on the back end, because that may be where this team struggles the most. They were 89th nationally against the pass (S&P) last year, according to Football Outsiders.
That has to change. Hopefully, the hiring of talented young coordinator Alex Grinch (previously at Ohio State) will change things.
As for Oklahoma’s schedule, it stacks up pretty well.
Going against Dana Holgorsen and Houston in the first game is no pushover. In the coaches’ time at West Virginia, he had some hard-fought games against this Sooner squad. But I wouldn’t expect the Cougars to compete like Holgorsen’s WVU team did last year. There aren’t any Will Grier’s or Gary Jennings’ or David Sills’ on this team.
Texas Tech and Kansas is a nice way to open Big 12 play. Getting West Virginia at home without the same sort of receiving weapons they had last year will be welcome. And they also get Iowa State at home, who I believe to be the league’s second or third-best team.
Games at Baylor and Oklahoma State will be tricky, especially since the former comes right after a physical game against Iowa State. But everyone knows the massive showdown of the season in the Big 12 is again the Red River Showdown.
Texas has become a far more balanced team and has its own Heisman hopeful in Sam Ehlinger. But I think Oklahoma is way better at the skill positions offensively and has the O-line to hold off pressure.
The Longhorns do have a better defense than most Big 12 units. But it’s no match for the 40-plus points the Sooners are bound to pour on.
I like Oklahoma to win that game and possibly lose a surprise one along the way to Baylor or Iowa State. But if they stub their toe once down the path, I think they’ll refocus and only finish with the one loss.
The Longhorns are a massive hype machine during the preseason. After beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, you really can’t blame fans and pundits. But it’s getting blown out of proportion.
Ehlinger definitely has the moxie and talent to be praised as much as he has been. He can scramble well and has thrown some serious dimes in heavy coverage. But does he have the receiving group around him to open up this offense more in 2019?
Collin Johnson is a reliable pass-catcher and route runner. But besides him, this group is heralded but unproven.
Keontay Ingram has shown flashes of being the next great Texas running back. He didn’t have spectacular stats last season, but he was only a freshman.
They need him to take that next leap in production. Otherwise, the Longhorns might not be able to keep up with Oklahoma and a couple other Big 12 offenses.
The best unit on this offense has to be the offensive line. They are stacked and probably match Oklahoma’s for the first time in a while. Zach Shackelford is anchoring the unit at center and is a preseason All-Big 12 selection for many. Same goes for 6’6” behemoth Samuel Cosmi at left tackle.
Protection shouldn’t be a worry and that will do wonders against a tough defensive line like the one at Iowa State.
Their own D-line should create a fair amount of pressure this year. Malcolm Roach will be relied upon to carry a lot of the pass-rushing load this season. He needs to finally live up to the hype had two years ago.
The biggest playmakers for the Longhorns though are in the secondary. The safety duo of Caden Sterns and Brando Jones is the rangiest and most instinctive in the conference.
Throw in a corner like B.J. Foster (nine TKFL, five passes defended), and Texas is one of the few Big 12 units that can withstand a great passing team inside their conference.
But does their balance matter as much here? Or are offenses just the name of the game? After all, a team like Kansas State had a valuable defense last season and they didn’t even make a bowl game.
I do believe playing a team like Oklahoma inevitably brings points against you. So you better be ready to fire back. And despite giving Ehlinger a lot of time to throw, I don’t think Texas will go punch-for-punch on offense with the Sooners.
Jalen Hurts has played plenty of great secondaries, from the ones at LSU to a dominant one at Georgia. I think he and Lincoln Riley can make more than enough offensive explosion with one of the best receiving groups in the country. Even if the Horns have some studs in that secondary.
The Tigers are legit playoff contenders this year and can shut down the passing game with NFL-ready corners and the nation’s best safety, Grant Delpit. So I see two losses already.
The question is whether they run into any problems with Iowa State, WVU, Oklahoma State, TCU, or Baylor. Four of those are road games, and that makes the path to 10 wins even harder.
I’m giving them three losses and have them finishing “under”. If I had to pick their third loss out of the four road games, it’d be at Ames versus Iowa State. They’ve made incredible strides in their two years and are equally as balanced as Texas. And they’ll have home-field advantage.
Iowa State Cyclones
With that win over Texas, it’s no surprise to see where I’m going with this one. But here is a better look at why I like this team so much.
First off, Brock Purdy is one of the more efficient quarterbacks (21st in QBR) in the country. And that was as a freshman no less. He doesn’t have a ton of premier receivers, but he makes do with what he has. I don’t see a team like Texas having that much better of a pass-catching corp.
Not having a ton of experience across the O-line makes me take a step back. But tackle Julian Good-Jones in pass protection is hard to beat. And besides, how many pass-rushes except for their own have that much potential in this conference?
And speaking of that defensive line, they should be the best in the conference. It might not even be close. JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima are the studs of the group, but ISU solid and deep from side-to-side.
Marcel Spears Jr. at linebacker might be their best player. He may also prove to be the best linebacker in the entire conference.
The DB unit, like pretty much any other unit in the Big 12, will have to handle some very tough QBs. Ehlinger, Hurts, Charlie Brewer, and a few other QBs will have a fair deal of yards whether you like it or not.
But that shouldn’t deter a group that is not far behind Oklahoma State as the second best in the league.
Greg Eisworth, in particular, will be dangerous for opposing QBs. He compiled 87 tackles as a freshman. It hurts not having Brian Peavy (four-time All-Big 12 pick) on the other side. But overall, this should be the best defense in the conference.
And with the way Matt Campbell is transforming things in terms of play-calling on offense, people need not sleep on the Cyclones.
Their schedule will have its fair share of toss-ups. These include road matchups against Baylor and West Virginia. But these are two teams they handled last season. The Bears will give them a great game. But WVU might be looking at a bridge year.
Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas all have to travel to Ames. It’s safe to say at least two wins should come out of these games. TCU is still repairing their usually stout defense. The Cowboys may or may not have someone at the typical standards of OSU QBs.
And for Texas, they didn’t fare so well against the ISU defense last year. Unfortunately, the Cyclones only produced 10 points in a loss. But in Ames, things have a way of pulling together much more tightly. And ISU averaged 31.4 points there last year.
As long as they improve the way they finish drives, the Cyclones should get to at least eight wins, with their ceiling being as many as 10. Iowa early in the season could be the make or break between “OVER” bettors getting their money back or winning the wager.
Campbell has yet to beat the Hawkeyes yet. But if they do win this game, there’s no reason why the Cyclones can’t start the year with seven wins in their first eight games. And they’ll also get the cushion of playing Kansas and Kansas State last and not Big 12 contenders.
It may seem a little weird including the Bears in a list of Big 12 contenders. After all, teams like TCU and Oklahoma State have long been contenders in this conference, and Baylor is only a couple years removed from a one-win season.
But the meteoric rise that has come under Matt Rhule has me thinking this will be the team to ruffle some serious feathers in the Big 12. They certainly have the leader under the headset to do it.
They also have one of strongest arms in all of college football, Charlie Brewer, leading the way at quarterback. Jalen Hurd finally moved on to the next level, but Brewer still has a star target at wide receiver in Denzel Mims, who had over 700 yards last season.
There is a surprising amount of top-end talent all over the field. Once again, I run across an offensive line that I don’t have a great fondness for. But thinking this is only a six-win team when this is their only “weakness” on offense is being delusional.
The amount of receptions they return (seven of top eight receivers), even without Hurd, is impressive. The running game boasts the teams top four rushers for last year as well.
And seeing as Rhule is a defensive minded guy who had some great squads on that side of the ball at Temple, I’m looking for the Baylor defense to only be behind ISU and Texas in their conference.
The secondary will still be moving some pieces around, but they at least have a pair of returners. They were still 83rd against the pass last season though, so that will need an uptick.
But Baylor fans should be very excited about players like LB Clay Johnston (99 tackles in 2018) and junior college transfer and newcomer Niadre Zouzoua. It’ll be nice hearing that latter name several times during each game.
That added pressure from Zouzoua will help this team out tremendously. Bravvion Roy has already begun to make a name for himself on the D-line, so this will be a pretty powerful duo.
The schedule looks good early on with cupcake games against Stephen F. Austin, UTSA, and Rice. You won’t get any props from a committee for winning these games, but they certainly work for the sake of an over/under.
Getting Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all at home definitely bodes well for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they split those games, but even a 1-3 mark would get them “over” in the end.
A team like Kansas State or Kansas just isn’t going to challenge better quarterbacks and skill players this season.
In the end, I see a comfortable eight wins for this team, with a few shootouts (including against Texas Tech and Alan Bowman) going their way. But they have the defensive pieces to step up when it matters most.
Prediction: OVER 6 ½ Wins (-265)