Between landing quarterback transfer Jalen Hurts and hiring new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the Oklahoma Sooners had an eventful January. But what about all the other major news percolating around the Big 12?
Here’s a smattering of thoughts on some of the big-picture themes emerging for each of OU’s conference mates.
What a coup for Baylor to retain coach Matt Rhule after another offseason of NFL overtures. I’m buying the Bears this year, so BU might want to enjoy it while it lasts.
If there has been one surprise so far about Rhule’s tenure, however, it’s the lack of headway on defense. The Bears still look painfully out-athleted on that side of the ball, especially in the secondary. Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow can only work with what they have, of course. I just figured they would have a little bit more by now.
BU is returning a ton on D, so I do see the program making strides in terms of installing and teaching the schemes. Combine that with salty quarterback Charlie Brewer and his explosive weapons on offense, and this could be the third-best team in the Big 12 when all is said and done this season.
Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones have one of the best coaching staffs in the Big 12, if not the entire country. I’m still leaning towards the idea that a minor correction is in store for them in ‘19, though.
I can’t see how the offense remains nearly as effective with the losses at the skill positions. David Montgomery’s departure hurts, but wideout Hakeem Butler’s absence will make life even harder. You can’t overstate how much it helps the entire offense to have a 6-6 freak with those kinds of skills lined up on the perimeter.
True to form as the new-era version of Kansas State, I’d expect to Matt Campbell’s team go heavy on double-tight sets next year featuring Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen in an effort to offset Butler’s loss with more physicality.
Naturally, Les Miles will suck up all the oxygen around KU football for the time being. Personally, I’m more interested in the recent turnover at offensive coordinator than I am in the Mad Hatter.
Assuming he doesn’t get canned for performance, how long does Miles have left before retirement beckons? Maybe three years?
When KU hired Chip Lindsey away from Auburn as offensive coordinator, it looked like the Jayhawks had a natural successor ready to step in when Miles decided to hang it up. After Lindsey opted to accept the head coaching job at Troy, Miles turned to veteran Les Koenning.
Koenning may get KU’s offense rolling, but his age means the bridge on the staff to the next head coach has been burned.
My feelings about Bill Snyder and his tenure in Manhattan are complicated. He did some serious reputation rehabilitation in the latter years of his career, cultivating a grandfatherly image with his handwritten notes and pinchpenny wardrobe. The sainthood thing doesn’t square with the tactics he used to build up the KSU program from the scrap heap in the 1980s.
In terms of coaching acumen, on the other hand, Snyder is still probably No. 1 in my lifetime – a veritable college football MacGyver.
KSU didn’t hire the next Purple Wizard in Chris Klieman. Those only come along about once a millennium.
Hiring a changeup candidate like Klieman does make sense, though. KSU can beat the bushes throughout the Great Plains in search of players uniquely suited to their style. Maybe that puts a low ceiling on the Wildcats in the annual conference standings, but they’re likely sitting on a high floor if Klieman’s track record is any indication.
On the one hand, Mike Gundy doesn’t look like a coach who has checked out. His team played hard all season, including in a win over the Missouri Tigers in the Liberty Bowl.
Yet, Gundy is running his program as though he buys too heavily into his own hype. More concerning is the possibility that he’s on cruise control.
Recruiting at a school like OSU is a bear, but the Cowboys are falling below even modest expectations in the talent acquisition game. At some point, that puts a hard cap on what a team can accomplish.
The Pokes saw what that looks like in 2018.
TCU’s ascendance in the recruiting pecking order since joining the Big 12 probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves on the national level.
In 2015, the Horned Frogs ranked sixth in the Big 12 in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite. By 2018, they had climbed to third. Gary Patterson’s staff went from routinely landing classes that would have ranked in the bottom half of the conference to trailing only OU and Texas.
When you consider all of TCU’s losses on defense this year, building up that depth to smooth out transitions like this becomes paramount. Patterson’s savvy as a defensive strategist only takes you so far.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Big 12, Texas’ decade of ineptitude has come to a close. A handful of historically middle- and lower-tier programs made the most of Bevo’s malaise. Last season showed the Longhorns are rounding into the form that made them perennial contenders for a conference title in the 2000s.
That doesn’t make the current price on UT to win the national title any less overheated at 15/1. For the sake of comparison, the Horns are tied with Ohio State for the fourth-best odds. They trail only Clemson, Alabama and Georgia.
In 2018, Texas ranked 30th overall in S&P+, 16th in FEI and 19th in the ESPN Football Power Index. Although it’s not completely out of the question, teams with that kind of profile don’t often find themselves vaulting into a national title the next year. It certainly won’t take the Longhorns out of the conference title race, though.
Kliff Kingsbury received more than a fair shake at Tech. I can’t blame the administration if they felt the time had come to start over.
I also don’t know what’s a fair baseline any more for this program. Tommy Tuberville’s dine-and-dash departure from Lubbock speaks to the situation Kingsbury inherited from his predecessor in 2013. Tech also has to play nine conference games now, which wasn’t the case when Mike Leach was in command in the 2000s. Tech has ramped up its scheduling philosophy since then, too.
Matt Wells and his staff could do some interesting stuff in the short run with what remains of the Red Raiders on offense. Going beyond treading water every year could take years, though.
Like TCU, the Mountaineers enjoyed a recruiting bump after arriving in the Big 12. In contrast to the Horned Frogs, though, that momentum started to wane in recent years - just another sign that Dana Holgorsen made the prudent play when he accepted Tilman Fertitta’s bags of cash to take over the Houston Cougars program.
Unfortunately for new WVU coach Neal Brown, he’s going to find a cupboard that is pretty bare and a thin recruiting class to boot. On the plus side, he’ll have a quarterback in OU transfer Austin Kendall who’s mature and motivated by a fresh start. That always helps during a regime change.