Games of throne
Will Oklahoma be knocked off its throne atop the Big 12 this season? There are a handful of teams vying for that opportunity in what could be one of the most-competitive title races among Power 5 conferences this fall.
Schedule favorability means everything in getting to a conference championship game and some slates in the Big 12 are better-suitable for wins more than others. That also ties into every team’s conference win total projection.
“Generally, it is better to draw the games in which your team is a huge underdog or favorite on the road, so that a more closely-contested game can be played at home, with the hope that the home crowd can influence the outcome,” 247Sports national analyst Bud Elliott said. “With that in mind, pay attention to which team gets to check off Kansas as one of its conference road games. And as with any league playing nine conference games, pay attention to who gets five home games as opposed to four.”
One observation in glancing at the Big 12 schedule is that several teams open conference play with what amounts to a must-win game, considering the rest of slate and home vs. road challenges.
Here are Bud’s picks for the number of Big 12 wins this season for every team heading into spring practice:
Projected Big 12 wins: 0
Bud’s take: “Kansas might actually be an improved team in 2020. But the schedule has done the Jayhawks no favors. Texas Tech and Kansas State are probably the two most winnable matchups, and unfortunately for KU both come on the road this season. Additionally, Kansas plays five conference road games this year.”
The word: The Jayhawks are going to get to a bowl game during Les Miles’ tenure, but it won’t be this season. The schedule is tricky for a talent-strapped team this fall with potentially four matchups vs. nationally-ranked competition in conference play.
Projected Big 12 wins: 3
Bud’s take: “Kansas State draws a very tough schedule this year with only four conference home games and one of those coming against Kansas, meaning that all five road games are quite losable.”
The word: Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia are all winnable matchups for the Wildcats, whose season will be determined by how they handle the final five weeks of the season after their open week. They travel to Iowa State for a Thursday night showdown and also take on Oklahoma and Baylor away from Manhattan in late November. If Chris Kleiman gets this team to a 5-4 conference finish, he’ll warrant top coach buzz.
Projected Big 12 wins: 5
Bud’s take: “TCU hit the scheduling lottery in drawing just four road games and one of them coming at Kansas.”
The word: The best way the Horned Frogs can turn back last season’s demise is to open conference play with a momentum-changing win in Fort Worth against Oklahoma State on Oct. 3. TCU would essentially supplant the Cowboys as the new sexy darkhorse behind Oklahoma and Texas and most importantly, establish early confidence. Over a four-week stretch beginning in late October, TCU battles Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas in consecutive weeks. That’s where the rubber could meet the road for Gary Patterson.
Projected Big 12 wins: 3
The word: The Red Raiders got the unwanted title last season of being the only team to lose to Kansas in Big 12 play, something coach Matt Wells will try and make sure never happens again under his watch. To get to this three-win projection, Texas Tech beats the Jayhawks, West Virginia, then gets a W in this three-game set — vs. Baylor, at Kansas State, at TCU. We might be getting ahead of ourselves here, but if Texas Tech takes care of business at Iowa State on Sept. 28, the Red Raiders could be 5-0 entering their open week pre-Baylor.
Projected Big 12 wins: 2
The word: No team in the Big 12 has a tougher final month slate than the Mountaineers, who will have to get to six wins prior to November to ensure a bowl trip this fall. West Virginia hosts Oklahoma, travels to Stillwater, hosts Baylor and then goes to Iowa State over the last four weeks. Brutal. Neal Brown’s team only travels away from Morgantown once in September however and that comes in the opener vs. Florida State inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Big 12 schedule for the Mountaineers begins on Sept. 26 vs. Kansas State.
Projected Big 12 wins: 5
Bud’s take: “Baylor draws a very tough schedule this year with only four conference home games and one of those coming against Kansas, meaning that all five road games are quite losable. Can new coach Dave Aranda navigate this slate with a ton of personnel losses?”
The word: Let’s say Aranda beats Ole Miss and handles Kansas in September en route to a 4-0 start to the season. How big will that road tilt at Oklahoma then become on Oct. 3? Baylor won’t be able to fly under the radar this season given last year’s success, nor will the Bears hit double-digit wins. The schedule has too many road nightmares for that to happen.
Projected Big 12 wins: 6
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Bud’s take: “Iowa State hit the scheduling lottery this year with only four conference road games and one of those coming against Kansas. The road games at Oklahoma State and Texas could go a long way in determining the top half of the conference.”
The word: If there is a season to reach the Big 12 title game for a team that’s been on the verge for years under Matt Campbell, this is it. He welcomes back a heavy veteran lineup headlined by potential All-Big 12 quarterback Brock Purdy. TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State are the three road games to keep an eye. Go 2-1 there and the showdown vs. Oklahoma at home on Oct. 17 should bring forth a title shot with a win.
Projected Big 12 wins: 6
Bud’s take: “The Cowboys return a ton of stars and could pick off Texas when the Longhorns come to Stillwater on short rest to end the year.”
The word: Can Oklahoma State handle outside expectations as a team ready to breakout in 2020 with a plethora of stars offensively? Mike Gundy says his team welcomes the love and expects to be good. Their Big 12 opener at TCU coming off an open week on Oct. 3 is a must-win. Oklahoma State cannot afford an 0-1 start in league play with games against Iowa State and Oklahoma over the next three weeks.
Projected Big 12 wins: 7
Bud’s take: “Can Texas win the Big 12 for the first time since 2009? QB Sam Ehlinger returns, and it’s possible that the new assistant coaches brought in by Tom Herman will result in big returns. I almost picked Texas to win the league since three of its four road games are against some of the teams I project to be the worst in the league (Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Kansas).”
The word: The Longhorns have a Big 12 slate conducive to success this season if Texas gets past Oklahoma early. Then, the Longhorns will know exactly what they have to do the rest of the way to get to the Big 12 Championship Game. This team was too inconsistent in crunch time last fall and will need to fix some of those issues against Big 12 competition.
Projected Big 12 wins: 8
Bud’s take: “Oklahoma must replace Jalen Hurts and a host of other talent, but until proven otherwise, it’s the smart pick for the league. But a five-week stretch of Texas, at Iowa State, Oklahoma State, at TCU and at West Virginia will likely result in at least one loss.”
The word: It’s hard to go against the Sooners when they’ve made three straight College Football Playoff appearances with three different quarterbacks. Lincoln Riley will try and do so for a fourth time in 2020 with Spencer Rattler under center against what looks like a manageable slate.
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