Previewing the NCAAF Big 12 in 2021 – Oklahoma Sooners Lead the Way

By Michael Wynn in College Football
| May 6, 2021 8:01 am PDT

After all 10 teams were able to play at least nine games, we can chalk 2020 up as a success for Big 12 football. Well, for most of the programs anyway.

Things were shaky in Waco and the Jayhawks were a laughingstock, but other than that, we’re talking about one of the two or three most competitive conferences in all of college football.

For a look at what is in store when the 2021 season breaks out, dive into this Big 12 football preview. I’ve assessed each individual team below and provided my betting prediction.

Oklahoma Sooners

  • Big 12 Odds: -125
  • 2020 Record: 9-2

After an unsettling 1-2 start, the Sooners reeled off eight in a row, putting a stamp on their season with a 35-point thrashing over Florida in the Cotton Bowl.

With not much of a non-conference schedule to speak of (@ Tulane, vs. Western Carolina, vs. Nebraska), coupled with facing Texas and Iowa State in Norman, running the table in the regular season won’t be out of the question.

Spencer Rattler returns as the betting favorite to win the Heisman, he’s got Marvin Mimms coming back, and Billy Bowman and Mario Williams are a couple of high-octane freshman speedsters ready to wreak havoc.

Coming off their best statistical season defensively since 2009, anything short of a berth in the CFP will be considered a disappointment for Lincoln Riley.

Iowa State Cyclones

  • Big 12 Odds: +250
  • 2020 Record: 9-3

A sincere challenger to the Sooners throne, the Cyclones mean business in 2021. Brock Purdy will have to play better for this team to get where they want to go, but he is afforded some insurance thanks to two of the most dangerous weapons in the country by his side.

Charlie Kolar is a matchup nightmare at the tight end position having caught at least seven touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

The 6’6” 260-pound pass-catcher will once again be in the running to win the Mackey Award and could be the first TE off the board in the 2022 Draft. And yet he still takes a back seat to the top running back in America.

Breece Hall was sensational as a freshman but turned into an absolute monster as a sophomore.

After posting these video-game-like numbers during his first two seasons in Ames, he is as legit of a Heisman contender as they come.

Breece Hall Rushing Stats as a Freshman and Sophomore
Year Carries Yards Yards/Carry Touchdowns
2019 186 897 4.8 9
2020 279 1,572 5.6 21

Throw in 46 receptions for 432 yards and three more scores. I suggest taking a hard look at Hall’s +2500 Heisman odds.

Texas Longhorns

  • Big 12 Odds: +350
  • 2020 Record: 7-3

I stand by my claim that Breece Hall is the best running back in America. However, Texas’ Bijan Robinson could start closing in presuming Steve Sarkisian is willing to force-feed him the ball.

The highly touted freshman only received 86 carries in 2020, but he turned those 86 totes into 703 yards (8.2 yards per carry).

After closing out the year on an outright terror, Robinson should also be considered for anyone betting on the 2021 Heisman.

While most assumed that Casey Thompson would be handed the keys to the Longhorns offense upon Sam Ehlinger departing, Sarkisian is yet to announce any plans at QB.

RS Freshman Hudson Card is the “wildcard” and could very well be part of the plans.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

  • Big 12 Odds: +700
  • 2020 Record: 8-3

The roster turnover in Stillwater is real. Aside from losing four starters on defense, Mike Gundy waved goodbye to his top two receivers and top two offensive linemen. Chuba Hubbard is also gone.

LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson can carry the backfield load, and WR Brennan Presley flashed in the Cheez-It Bowl against Miami (6-118-3).

Nevertheless, this offense is in transition mode and needs more consistent play from Spencer Sanders.

On top of sending a handful of offensive players to the NFL, the Cowboys failed to sign a single four- or five-star recruit on offense.

I do not want to sell Oklahoma State short and say they can’t win 10 games but getting to double-digit victories will be an uphill battle.

This year’s Red River Showdown will be played at Boone Pickens Stadium, but the Pokes travel to Boise State, Texas, and Iowa State – before Halloween even arrives.

TCU Horned Frogs

  • Big 12 Odds: +2200
  • 2020 Record: 6-4
Max Duggan

There is no way to put this lightly – Trevon Moehrig and Garrett Wallow are massive losses on defense. The good news is Gary Patterson’s forte is putting together hard-nosed Ds that always play disciplined.

The better news is the 2021 Horned Frogs are set to roll out one of the best offenses we’ve seen in Fort Worth in quite some time.

Max Duggan took a huge leap from his first to second year as a starter; the expectations are that dual-threat QB will be even better in year three.

Duggan’s job is made a lot easier thanks to a collection of rising sophomores who are bubbling with flair.

Zach Evans, the #2 RB in the 2020 class, shined as a true frosh (7.7 ypc), and so did Keandre Miller (7.2 ypc). Darwin Barlow (another rising sophomore) led the team in carries (5.9 ypc) and will help form a dangerous three-headed monster in the backfield.

And there’s more.

Quentin Johnston is a 6’4” wideout who reeled in 22 catches for 487 yards and two scores during his first year on campus. After surpassing 100 receiving yards in each of TCU’s final two games, Johnston is poised to blow up in 2021.

West Virginia Mountaineers

  • Big 12 Odds: +2200
  • 2020 Record: 6-4

West Virginia improved in their second season under Neal Brown but their upside is capped until the offensive game plan can expand.

Incoming transfer Doug Nester should provide a boost – the versatile offensive lineman didn’t allow a sack in 2020 as a sophomore at Virginia Tech.

Jaret Doege is in line to return as the Mountaineers starting QB, although scripting some packages for RS Freshman Garrett Greene could be part of the plans.

Doege is strictly a pocket passer with limited mobility. On the other hand, Greene is a shifty dual-threat option who ran for at least 860 yards in each of his three seasons starting at quarterback for Lawton Chiles High (Tallahassee, FL).

While there are some question marks on offense, one thing we can count on is the Mountaineers defense being among the best in the land.

Forget about having the best D among the teams in this Big 12 preview – West Virginia ranked first in the country in passing yards allowed in 2020. 9 of 11 defensive starters will return.

Kansas State Wildcats

  • Big 12 Odds: +2800
  • 2020 Record: 4-6

After a promising 4-0 start in Big 12 play, the wheels quickly fell off in Manhattan. Kansas State dropped their final five games, including getting bludgeoned by Texas (69-31) in their finale.

The question is, which version of Chris Klieman’s bunch will show up in 2021?

Skylar Thompson returns from injury and looks to spark a Wildcats offense that turned stagnant late in the season. Kansas State will miss tight end Briley Moore but returning their top-three receivers and their speedster RB represent a nice consolation.

Speaking of their speedy RB, Deuce Vaughn was the second-highest graded trued freshman (according to PFF) in all of college football, behind only Marvin Mims of Oklahoma.

Vaughn’s about 5’6” if I’m being generous, but who cares how tall he is when he can break tackles and blow by a defense.

Baylor Bears

  • Big 12 Odds: +4000
  • 2020 Record: 2-7

Dave Aranda wants to forget about what happened during his first season in Waco. Going from an offensive-minded leader like Matt Rhule to the former LSU DC, an adjustment period was anticipated. Just not to the extent that was portrayed.

The Bears beat Kansas and they edged out Kansas State by a point – they lost every other game on their schedule.

Plucking Jeff Grimes from BYU to call the plays is a step in the right direction, but who orchestrates the offense on the field remains to be seen.

Charlie Brewer bolted for Utah leaving Baylor’s starting quarterback job up for grabs. To make the transition harder, the supporting cast pales in comparison to most Baylor’s Big 12 competition.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

  • Big 12 Odds: +4000
  • 2020 Record: 4-6
Erik Ezukanma

Averaging under 30 points per game for the first time in 20 seasons did not sit well with the athletic department in Lubbock. Hence, Sonny Cumbie was brought in to spread out the offense.

The former Texas Tech QB is expected to run a version of the air raid offense that he ran when he led the nation in passing yards under Mike Leach in 2004.

With Alan Bowman now at Michigan, Cumbie will turn to Oregon transfer Tyler Shough to execute his game plan. Erik Ezukanma (46-748-6) will be leaned on heavily after wideouts KeSean Carter and Ja’Lynn Polk took off for new beginnings.

Strides will be taken. The Red Raiders should score more points. It’s the deficiencies on the other side of the football that must be addressed.

Texas Tech surrendered 36.7 points per game and welcomes a very underwhelming group of incoming freshmen. In fact, the Red Raiders clocked in dead last among Big 12 football recruitment classes in 2021.

Kansas Jayhawks

  • Big 12 Odds: +15000
  • 2020 Record: 0-9

I don’t want to beat up on the Jayhawks too much but this is a team that allowed an FBS-high 46.0 points per game a season ago.

Their 0-9 record was nearly mirrored in their FBS-worst 1-8 record against the spread, not to mention, they were one of five teams in all of college football to average fewer than 16 points per game.

Things can’t get any worse in Lawrence.

Moving on from Les Miles and hiring Buffalo’s Lance Leipold should breathe fresh air into the program. North Texas transfer Jason Beam will challenge for the starting quarterback job.

But does any of this guarantee that Kansas will hang one in the win column?

Road games at Coastal Carolina and Duke in September won’t make the task of winning a game any easier. However, a home opener against South Dakota of the FCS is a matchup the Jayhawks should emerge in.

Betting on the Big 12 in 2021

You will not find a single Big 12 preview for college football in 2021 that does not have the Sooners on top.

Iowa State could be right there coming down the stretch but having to battle Oklahoma in Norman on November 20th won’t make getting over the hump any easier.

In terms of a team on the rise, TCU can prove themselves early with games against Cal and SMU. The issue is the Horned Frogs then have to play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State all on the road.

Rather than get fancy with my Big 12 football predictions, I’m playing this one safe and siding with Oklahoma winning the conference. Laying -125 isn’t even all that bad given the circumstances of the schedule.

For a deep dive into the two other most respected conferences in college football, check out the following posts.



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