Oklahoma Football: Way-too-early Big 12 power rankings

A familiar face sits atop the league in preliminary power rankings for the Big 12.

Now that spring has officially sprung, it seems like high time to take stock of the Big 12.

Much like handicappers and oddsmakers, I maintain a set of power rankings for college football teams every year that I use to project the point spreads in games. I tend focus on teams in the power conferences and some of the more high-profile Group of Five squads. Generally, I hit about 54 percent against the spread with my weekly picks, so I think the numbers are pretty solid.

The rankings below reflect my very preliminary numbers for the Big 12 teams this season. Keep in mind that they’re not projections of records or final season standings – just my attempt to get an objective measure of the strength of each team. That’s why some teams are tied.

2019 Big 12 Power Rankings – Spring Edition

1. Oklahoma Sooners

Strengths

  • The Sooners might have the best collection of offensive skill players in the country, not just the Big 12.
  • OU hired up-and-coming coordinator Alex Grinch to fix its woebegone defense, and he has a boatload of seasoned returnees at his disposal.
  • Lincoln Riley and his staff of assistants have hit the recruiting trail hard to give the roster a noticeable talent infusion.

Concerns

  • Grinch isn’t a miracle worker.
  • Chemistry doesn’t develop overnight for an offensive line featuring four new starters.
  • OU is starting from scratch at punter and kicker.

Outlook

Plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners are due for a down year, but what team do you trust more at this point? The king stays the king for now.

2. Texas Longhorns

Strengths

  • Head coach Tom Herman has figured out how to maximize the talents of junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
  • Dangerous wideout Collin Johnson opted for another year in school, which gives the Longhorns a surefire go-to receiver.
  • Like OU, UT’s recruiting has taken off under Herman.

Concerns

  • Hard to overstate how much Lil’Jordan Humphrey meant to UT’s offense last year.
  • When you lose a lot of contributors off a secondary that was already up-and-down, that doesn’t usually portend well for the next year.
  • Expecting UT’s offensive line to live up to last season’s unit is asking a lot of Herb Hand.

Outlook

This season feels like a referendum on this coaching staff’s ability to develop talent. Many of the players who will find themselves in the starting lineup and positional rotations will have three years under their belts with the current regime.

Frankly, I was a little surprised at the gap I have between Texas and OU – about six points. I rated the Longhorns much closer to the next cluster of teams. Interestingly, analytics systems suggest I’m actually being generous to the Horns. ESPN’s FPI, for example, puts UT approximately 10 points behind the Sooners.

3. Iowa State Cyclones (Tie)

Strengths

  • The guts of a good defense are there, including seven of the top 10 tacklers from last year.
  • Tough not to love that defensive line, led by senior defensive tackle Ray Lima and edge JaQuan Bailey, who had 14.5 tackles for loss last season.
  • The team responded well to the installation of Brock Purdy at QB in 2018.

Concerns

  • Maybe Hakeem Butler giving OU that work skewed my opinion, but are we really counting on anyone on that roster now to replicate what ISU had the last two years with Butler and Allen Lazard?
  • Replacing a set of cornerbacks like Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne is a tall order.

Outlook

In a way, I’m kinda disappointed ISU landed this high. This would suggest I’m a bigger buyer in the Clones than I really am. I feel as though the consensus opinion of the Cyclones is out of whack.

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Tie)

Strengths

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at OklahomaKevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
  • Chuba Hubbard is one of the most underrated running backs in the country.
  • That receiving corps is salty, even with Tyron Johnson leaving school a year early.
  • OSU should have one of the best secondaries in the conference with proven players at all five spots.

Concerns

  • Maybe Mike Gundy just needed someone without much of a future in the program to take a beating, but how did Taylor Cornelius hold on to the QB job all last season?
  • For a unit that excelled at pressuring opposing passers last year, OSU’s defense sure did stink.
  • Speaking of which, edge rusher Jordan Brailford’s decision to declare for the NFL draft creates a big void in the defense.

Outlook

Likely starting QB Spencer Sanders will have a host of weapons at his disposal to help him get his feet wet. I’m betting the defense improves in the second season under coordinator Jim Knowles.

OU’s trip to Stillwater this year looks daunting.

5. Baylor Bears (Tie)

Strengths

  • Matt Rhule seems to whine a lot, but he’s a very good coach with a strong staff of assistants.
NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Baylor vs VandebiltThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Charlie Brewer took a big step forward at QB last season.
  • That’s a dangerous group of receivers.

Concerns

  • Despite Rhule’s hard-nosed reputation, this squad still looks soft on defense.
  • The Bears have to protect Brewer better.
  • What happened to receiver Denzel Mims in the second half of the year?

Outlook

Baylor got better last season, and it showed in the team’s record. A sieve-like D still remains a huge problem.

6. TCU Horned Frogs (Tie)

Strengths

  • Gary Patterson seems extra dangerous when little is expected of his team.
  • Receiver Jalen Reagor is a grown-ass man.

Concerns

  • Another QB derby. The position was hideous last year for the Horned Frogs. Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has to figure something out there quickly or he might be looking for work this time next year.
  • Seven of the top eight tacklers from last season graduated. Ouch.

Outlook

If TCU wants to break out of the middle of the Big 12 pack, it will take a lot of production out of players whom no one outside of Fort Worth knows. Patterson has pulled it off before. For now, buyer beware.

7. West Virginia Mountaineers

Strengths

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at West VirginiaBen Queen-USA TODAY Sports
  • Neal Brown did impressive work at Troy; Dana Holgorsen had likely hit his expiration date in Morgantown.
  • Austin Kendall didn’t work out at OU, but we’re still talking about a consensus blue-chip QB recruit.
  • Some solid pieces remain from last season on offense, including three returning linemen.

Concerns

Outlook

WVU arguably has the best roster of the four Big 12 teams going through a coaching transition, so I put them slightly ahead of the other three.

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Strengths

  • Utah State fostered a strong defensive culture during Matt Wells’ tenure with the Aggies. That has been lacking in Lubbock.
  • If Alan Bowman’s collapsed lung isn’t an issue, the QB position looks solid.

Concerns

  • How does TTU’s personnel fit with what the new staff wants to do on defense? (Does it matter?)
  • The aforementioned injury concern with Bowman extends to the whole QB room.

Outlook

The difference between Tech and WVU is razor thin. I have a smidge more confidence in Brown and his staff.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Strengths

Concerns

  • Tough to say how well K-State’s personnel fits with new coach Chris Klieman’s schemes (although we’re not talking about a complete overhaul).
  • RB Alex Barnes carried a huge load for this team last season.

Outlook

Seems sacreligious to say this, but the time had come for Bill Snyder to move on. Honestly, the transition this season couldn’t be more painful than watching the product on the field in 2018. That roster appeared to deteriorate badly in the last five years.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Strengths

  • A renewed sense of enthusiasm (?) around the Les Miles era.

Concerns

  • Where to start?

Outlook

KU should get better under Miles, but that coaching staff will be digging through rubble for at least a couple years.

Source: Crimson and Cream Machine