Another signing day for college football recruits is supposedly taking place on February 3. The transfer portal is still buzzing with comings and goings from programs. Nevertheless, we should have a strong handle at this point on what teams will look like next fall.
So who’s up for an excessively early stab at power rankings for 2021 in the Big 12? The conference may have a deeper-than-usual collection of teams this fall. A familiar name looks poised, though, to stay on top.
Extremely early Big 12 power rankings for 2021
2020 Record (Overall; Conference): 9-2; 7-2
2020 S&P+ Ranking (Overall): 4
OU lost a handful of key contributors from the 2020 team to the NFL, including running back Rhamondre Stevenson, defensive end Ronnie Perkins, defensive backs Tre Brown and Tre Norwood, and offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Adrian Ealy. The Sooners still appear to have the best team in the Big 12 in ‘21 – and one of the best in the entire nation. Importantly, the implosion of Tennessee enabled coach Lincoln Riley to fortify his roster with three displaced Volunteers – RB Eric Gray, OL Wanya Morris and DB Key Lawrence.
2. Iowa State Cyclones
2020 Record: 9-3; 8-2
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 11
The same two teams have yet to face off in the Big 12 championship game since it was reanimated in 2017. At first glance, however, the Sooners and Cyclones seem to be on track to run it back.
Much like OU, ISU could be even stronger in the coming year. RB Breece Hall, QB Brock Purdy and everyone else of consequence on offense are coming back. Things aren’t so steady on the other side of the ball, where coach Matt Campbell needs to find some answers on the defensive line.
3. TCU Horned Frogs
2020 Record: 6-4; 5-4
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 37
The consensus on TCU coach Gary Patterson runs from “washed” to “not washed,” depending on the time of day. This team may restore some of the faith lost in Patterson’s surly ass. The Horned have some young talent at the skill positions around spritely QB Max Duggan, including talented second-year receiver Quentin Johnston. The D will feature a solid secondary unit and the typically imposing defensive line.
4. Texas Longhorns
2020 Record: 7-3; 5-3
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 15
You could also make a case the Horns would be better off this season with some continuity on the sideline, rather than making the switch to a whole new coaching staff. UT will likely incur some transition costs in new coach Steve Sarkisian’s first year. Couple that with major losses at key positions, like QB Sam Ehlinger, and this team will probably be wobbly for much of the season.
5. Kansas State Wildcats
2020 Record: 4-6; 4-5
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 69
Five may seem a touch high for KSU at first glance, but Sooner fans could be forgiven for potentially overrating the Wildcats, right?
Chris Klieman’s team has established a rugged identity that gets passed down from year to year, but the Wildcats had tough time regrouping in ‘20 after QB Skylar Thompson went down for the season. Thompson’s return combined with another year of RB Deuce Vaughn give KSU’s offense lots of promise.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2020 Record: 8-3; 6-3
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 22
Mike Gundy’s teams always seem to defy expectations in one direction or the other, as was the case with last year’s ballyhooed squad. The ‘21 team should challenge for the top of the league in that case.
Unfortunately for the Pokes, the QB position looks like an issue. Aside from an inability to stay healthy, Spencer Sanders can’t stop giving the ball away. Shane Illingworth overtaking Sanders this spring might be the best news possible for OSU’s hopes in the fall.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
2020 Record: 6-4; 4-4
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 38
Putting WVU seventh speaks to the depth of the conference this year more than major problems for the Mountaineers. The roster could still use some work, but Neal Brown and his assistants continue to show they make up one of the Big 12’s best coaching staffs. WVU gets a buy rating for that reason alone.
8. Baylor Bears
2020 Record: 2-7; 2-7
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 62
Baylor played last season like a team led by a defensive savant who was learning how to be a head coach. Dave Aranda didn’t seem to understand how to get his squad to play complementary football, which suggested he lacked a cohesive vision for the program.
Or maybe the Bears just have to take it on the chin for a few years before Aranda can get them back on track.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2020 Record: 4-6; 3-6
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 74
Coach Matt Wells has survived for two years in Lubbock, but more than three is starting to look like a long shot. Will new offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie get the next crack at the top job if Tech decides to move on?
10. Kansas Jayhawks
2020 Record: 0-9; 0-8
2020 S&P+ Ranking: 121
Where is the bottom for KU? We probably haven’t seen it yet. Offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon just set sail for the same job at Middle Tennessee State if that tells you anything.