The Big 12’s 2020 college football season commences on the weekend of Sept. 12 with conference play beginning on Sept. 26. Though the Big 12 is the Power Five’s smallest league and often on the receiving end of ribbing, the ACC and SEC can probably thank the Big 12 for football being played in the fall at all.
Despite the obviously different feel of football in 2020, some things never change — like Oklahoma being the overwhelming favorite to win the conference yet again. Coach Lincoln Riley has earned the benefit of the doubt after taking his Sooners to three straight College Football Playoff appearances with back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners with another runner-up. Can he mold young quarterback Spencer Rattler into another one of college football’s premier signal callers?
And what of Texas? Are the Longhorns finally in a position to compete with the Sooners for a Big 12 title? What if they don’t? Is this a make-or-break year for coach Tom Herman? Meanwhile, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and perhaps even TCU might have something to say about whether an underdog can crash the party. The fun thing about the Big 12 is that the round-robin schedule combined with clustered teams usually means some kind of unexpected chaos.
Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the Big 12 ahead of the 2020 season. Check them all out below.
Most overrated team
Oklahoma State: I’ve heard from many people this offseason — mostly my Cover 3 Podcast co-host Barton Simmons — about how Oklahoma State is a dark horse to win the Big 12. I understand the reasons why, as they’re repeated over and over. The Cowboys have a great running back in Chuba Hubbard and an exciting QB-WR combo of Spencer Sanders and Tylan Wallace. But is that really enough? I ask because that trio was healthy for Oklahoma State’s first eight games of the season last year, and it went 5-3 in that stretch. I think there’s a clear gap between the Cowboys and the conference’s two best teams in Oklahoma and Texas, and I’m not buying into the belief that this team can compete for the Big 12 in 2020. — Tom Fornelli (also Chip Patterson, Ben Kercheval, David Cobb)
Texas: Tom Herman is on the hot seat. That actually may lead to a mulligan in this coronavirus-impacted season. But until we can answer definitively “Is Texas back?” … well, it isn’t. Herman has replaced both coordinators and recruited at a high level. It’s time all those moves pay off in a Big 12 title. We’ve seen Sam Ehlinger’s ceiling. It’s high, but is it high enough to overcome the Sooners in his senior season? No matter how well Ehlinger plays, the defense must get considerably better. The Sooners are separating themselves from the Big 12 the same way Clemson has separated itself from the ACC. After an eight-win season, the expectations are clear: Beat Oklahoma and win the Big 12. — Dennis Dodd (also Barrett Sallee)
TCU: The 2017 season finished off a stretch of three top 10 seasons out of four for the Horned Frogs, but they have muddled around .500 since and were below .500 in 2016 as well. That is more of the trend for TCU these days. Their reputation for strong defenses has gone south as well, giving up over 24 points per game four of the last five seasons. More of the same is expected this season, and those glory years of the mid-2010s are starting to fade. — Jerry Palm
Most underrated team
Iowa State: Psst. Just between you and me, Iowa State might have the best quarterback in the Big 12 (Brock Purdy). As a sophomore, Purdy threw for almost 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. He has a budding All-America tight end (Charlie Kolar) as his favorite target. That’s for starters. This is a program ready to take off. Matt Campbell has the program on solid footing. The defense will be surprisingly good in the wide-open Big 12. The Cyclones won seven games last season and lost four by a touchdown or less. I’ve got the Clones going to a New Year’s Six bowl. — Dodd (also Palm)
Baylor: Did I miss the part of the offseason where Baylor fell off the map? I would love to know why. Is it that first-year coach Dave Aranda has never done this before? Is it because Denzel Mims is gone? Neither of those should prevent the Bears from staying in the conference title picture. In a year in which experience at quarterback is paramount, the marriage of senior Charlie Brewer and first-year offensive coordinator Larry Fedora should be a match made in heaven. No, there isn’t much experience on defense, but Aranda is a defensive wizard who should be able to keep the Bears in the middle of the pack in that department. If that’s the case, Brewer and Co. should simply be able to outscore most opponents. — Sallee (also Fornelli)
TCU: The Frogs have incredible betting value at 25-1 to win the Big 12, per William Hill Sportsbook, but they’re also a team that has a ton of potential. This defense should be filthy and probably the Big 12’s best particularly in the defensive backfield with guys like Ar’Darius Washington. This team is also plugging in some big-time names on both sides of the ball, including Nebraska transfer JD Spielman at wide receiver to replace Jalen Reagor. Gary Patterson doesn’t stay down for long, and this team could do a major turnaround after going 5-7 last year. — Kercheval
Kansas State: With all the uncertainty and last-minute personnel impacts, I think quarterbacks are going to be more important than ever in 2020. The Wildcats have one of the best in the conference in Skylar Thompson. He’s got far more big-game experience than Sanders or Spencer Rattler, and his dual-threat production stands second only to Ehlinger. Chris Klieman may have exceeded expectations already with an eight-win debut — highlighted by wins against Mississippi State, Iowa State and an upset of Oklahoma — but I think that speaks to what we should look for from a coach with that kind of championship pedigree and experience. — Patterson
Texas Tech: It won’t compete for the league title, but one would be misguided to assume — as many seem to be doing — that the Red Raiders are doomed to repeat last season’s 2-7 league record. For one thing, they finished 1-5 in games decided by 10 points or less. If a couple of those games go their way, this would have been a bowl team. With proven, veteran playmakers back at all three levels of the defense, they’re bound to better this season on that side of the ball. Where this team could be spectacular, however, is on offense. Quarterback Alan Bowman is finally healthy again, and with nearly all of his top weapons back, he could have a special season and guide this team back to respectability in the Big 12. — Cobb
- Dennis Dodd: Iowa State gets a New Year’s Six bowl. Too much talent in a fractured year to ignore. This is Campbell’s jumping off point to a Big Ten job.
- Chip Patterson: Ehlinger is a Heisman Trophy finalist after leading the Longhorns in an upset of the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game.
- Tom Fornelli: This year’s Oklahoma offense will be the most prolific one (in terms of points per game) it’s had under Riley.
- Barrett Sallee: Texas will lose three straight games in the middle of the season — Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Herman will have to go unblemished for the rest of the season to keep his job, making Texas one of the most intriguing teams during the month of November for all of the wrong reasons.
- Ben Kercheval: I don’t know if Texas is back to winning at the level it needs to, but I do know quarterback Sam Ehlinger is the kind of stat monster that can get to New York. He wins the Heisman in 2020.
- Jerry Palm: Texas is back! No, really. I mean it this time. Not “back” as in Big 12 champion back, but “back” as in a legitimate threat to Oklahoma.
- David Cobb: Only four teams will finish with a winning record in league play after six teams finished above .500 in conference last year.
Big 12 predicted order of finish
Big 12 champion
Oklahoma: Let’s not think too hard about this one. Yes, the Sooners have questions. What will Rattler be like in his debut? How does the running back room take over by committee with Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon out? Will the defense take another step forward under coordinator Alex Grinch? All of these are valid, but as we’ve seen time and again, Oklahoma answers those questions as well as any program. The Sooners are in rare company with Ohio State and Clemson as favorites who dominate their conference annually. Coach Lincoln Riley has proven he can reload, so it’s hard to bet against him. — Kercheval (also Dodd, Fornelli, Sallee, Palm, Cobb)
Texas: I’m going to do it. It’s reckless, and I know it. It’s burned me and others before, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m picking Texas to beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. It goes against everything from the book on Riley, where “it’s tough enough to scheme against him once, by the time he gets a second look at you, it’s over.” But the crux of this prediction is that the Longhorns were a better team on paper than their performance in 2019, and while transitioning talent to results has long been a valid criticism of the program, a good bit of last year’s results were due to widespread injury issues. Jump on the other side of that injury luck, and you see a team that absolutely can contend for a Big 12 title. I’m just the only one here who thinks the gap between “can contend” and “will win” isn’t as wide as it seems. — Patterson