The pre-spring version of the College Football News 2021 rankings with a first look at all the Big 12 teams.
Big 12 Rankings: 2021 Pre-Spring
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Why To Be Happy: The Sooners missed out on the College Football Playoff in 2020, but they’ve got the talent in place to not only make a run to the show but to do some damage, too. QB Spencer Rattler got his year of experience out of the way, the receiving corps is LOADED, and the program transformed itself into a defensive power that should be a killer again.
What To Work On: The improvements of 2020 were more than just about the emergence of two players, but it’s no coincidence that OU went from great to phenomenal once RB Rhamondre Stevenson and DE Ronnie Perkins returned after missing the first few games. They’re off to the NFL along with just enough key players – not to mention a few good backups transferring – to be annoying.
Bottom Line: Winning is never boring, but this year’s Sooner team has the upside to take another Big 12 Championship with one of Lincoln Riley’s strongest teams yet. Start with setting the expectations there, and hope the momentum from the end of 2020 can carry though into a huge 2021 on the way to the tournament.
2. Texas Longhorns
Why To Be Happy: Steve Sarkisian has a whole lot of stuff in the cupboard left over from the Tom Herman era. Sam Ehlinger is gone after what seems like 19 years as the starting QB, but Casey Thompson got the base all fired up with his second half in the bowl win over Colorado. Add in RB Bijan Robinson, an O line that should be fantastic even without Samuel Cosmi, and Sark should do wonders with the attack. The D is LOADED, too.
What To Work On: Is Thompson really ready to be a superstar? Can the Texas secondary start slowing down the better passing teams? The overall talent level is good enough to at least get to the Big 12 Championship, but the expectations are going to be sky high right away because …
Bottom Line: It’s not like Texas was that far off last year. The honeymoon for Sarkisian ends in about 30 seconds considering the young offensive talent he has to work with. WR Brandon Schooler is coming in from Arizona, and don’t be surprised if a whole slew of guys in the transfer portal are starting to take a bigger look at Austin to play in this offense.
3. Iowa State Cyclones
Why To Be Happy: QB Brock Purdy is returning. RB Breece Hall is back. TE Charlie Kolar isn’t bolting early. OT Sean Foster is still around. EVERYONE – or, almost everyone – is expected to be back on the offense that was so sharp and so strong when it had all the parts together. The defensive side should be a killer again, too, helped by the return of S Greg Eisworth and LB Mike Rose, but …
What To Work On: DE JaQuan Bailey is off to the NFL. Not everyone is staying, and losing one of the team’s leaders and best pass rushers isn’t a plus. That’s nitpicking, though, considering how much talent is coming back, and that’s going to be the big problem, because …
Bottom Line: It’s going to be a seven-month media gush-fest over this team, but Oklahoma is better than it was in 2020, Texas is better, and the rest of the Big 12 should be a bit improved, too. The expectations are going to be through the roof, and rightly so. Just getting to the Big 12 Championship this time around will feel like a disappointment if the Cyclones don’t win.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
Why To Be Happy: Max Duggan. The Horned Frogs have one of the Big 12’s best and most exciting quarterbacks who’s going into his junior year. The O might lost TE Pro Wells, and OT TJ Storment is in the transfer portal, but everyone else on offense is expected to be back, and most of the defense returns, but …
What To Work On: The Horned Frogs lose three star playmakers from the defensive side. LB Garret Wallow is gone from the middle of the D, Thorpe winner Trevon Moehrig and fellow safety Ar’Darius Washington have both taken off for the NFL.
Bottom Line: Don’t sleep on the Horned Frogs. They got hot as 2020 went on with five wins in the final six, and now they return loaded on both sides of the ball. Throw in the addition of DE Kenny Turnier from UCF and OT Obinna Eze from Memphis, and some good pieces are coming in.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Why To Be Happy: There’s still a whole lot of talent returning. Just enough is back to keep the production going, starting with QB Spencer Sanders and with more future stars at receiver to replace the departures. The defensive side might be taking a hit, but most of the starting front six should be back, and four of the top five defensive backs are expected to return.
What To Work On: That receiving corps has young talent, but it doesn’t help to lose Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner. Chuba Hubbard might not have exploded last year, but he’s an NFL running back who’s gone, too. The defensive side loses leader and tackling machine Amen Ogbongbemiga from the linebacking corps, CB Rodarius Williams, and DT Cameron Murray.
Bottom Line: The Cowboys will be shoved aside in most of the preseason predictions, but they’re going to be good enough and strong enough on the lines to hold up until all the skill parts come together. There’s no reason not to shoot for a Big 12 Championship appearance.