Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2019 conference power rankings. With the official start of the college football season just days away, we’re power ranking the teams in each FBS conference. Next up is the Big 12.
10. Kansas (2018 record: 3-9, 1-8 Big 12)
Kansas hasn’t won more than three games since 2008, so the school turned to Les Miles after moving on from David Beaty. Beaty went 6-39 in four seasons with the Jayhawks. Beaty raised the level of competitiveness in the program, but Miles has a lot of work to do to get KU back to any sort of respectability.
Miles hasn’t coached since he was let go by LSU early in the 2016 season. He has a few talented players to work with in Lawrence, namely running back Pooka Williams, who rushed for 1,125 yards and is back from an offseason suspension. Williams and senior Khalil Herbert make up a reliable RB duo that the Jayhawks should ride heavily, especially if the QB play is subpar.
9. West Virginia (8-4, 6-3)
It’s almost like Dana Holgorsen knew a year like this was coming. Holgorsen bolted WVU for Houston and left new coach Neal Brown with what looks like a fairly significant rebuilding year. A large chunk of the Mountaineers’ significant contributors are gone, including QB Will Grier, WR David Sills and LB David Long.
With Grier, who finished fourth in Heisman voting, off to the NFL, Brown brought in Austin Kendall from Oklahoma. Kendall, who backed up Kyler Murray, won the job and will have one of the Big 12’s top backs, Kennedy McKoy, at his side. There’s uncertainty elsewhere — on both sides of the ball. Brown went 4-8 in his first season at Troy and then followed that up with three straight double-digit win seasons. Brown will need a year or two to get things rolling.
8. Kansas State (5-7, 3-6)
The Bill Snyder era is over in Manhattan. Snyder coached the Wildcats from 1989-2005 and again from 2009-2018 before stepping aside. His replacement is Chris Klieman, who won four FCS national titles in five seasons at North Dakota State. Will he be able to replicate Snyder’s uncanny ability to win with unheralded talent?
Klieman inherits a team that returns 14 starters, including eight on what should be a pretty solid defense. Depth charts can always change with a new coaching staff, but the Wildcats will have a defense primarily composed of upperclassmen while the offense has veterans like QB Skylar Thompson and transfer running backs Jordon Brown (North Carolina) and James Gilbert (Ball State). It will probably take an upset or two, but a bowl game is not farfetched.
7. Texas Tech (5-7, 3-6)
The fourth Big 12 team with a new head coach is Texas Tech, who fired now-Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and brought in Matt Wells from Utah State. Wells won 10 games and led an offense that averaged nearly 500 yards per game last fall. But, of course, offense has never really been an issue for Texas Tech. With Alan Bowman back at QB with a slew of talented receivers playing behind an experienced line, the Red Raiders should light up the scoreboards yet again.
But what about that defense? Wells added a few graduate transfers (Penn State CB Zech McPhearson and Cal LB Evan Rambo) to shore up some spots on a unit that returns five starters. The Red Raiders will be inexperienced at safety. In a passing league like the Big 12, that’s not the best recipe for success. Still, this team is talented enough to contend for a bowl berth in Wells’ first season.
6. Baylor (7-6, 4-5)
It took just two seasons for Matt Rhule to stabilize Baylor. He inherited a complete mess in the aftermath of Art Briles’ tenure and went 1-11 in his first year. But in 2018, he got the Bears back to a bowl game, and a 45-38 Texas Bowl victory over Vanderbilt allowed BU to finish with a winning record. Baylor returns 15 starters in 2019 and is going to be a team nobody wants to face.
Charlie Brewer returns for his junior year at QB and has a lot of experience around him on offense. That includes his top three running backs and five of his top six receivers, a group led by Denzel Mims, a senior with 120 catches for 1,905 yards in his career. The offense should be really good, but the defense has been the issue during Rhule’s time in Waco. With the way the schedule shakes out, don’t be surprised if Baylor is near the top of the Big 12 standings entering November.
5. Oklahoma State (7-6, 3-6)
Oklahoma State really disappointed in 2018, just ask Mike Gundy. Gundy has taken the blame all offseason for his team’s 7-6 season, which included losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined score of 72-29. Entering 2019, the biggest question to answer is quarterback. The competition is down to Dru Brown, a graduate transfer from Hawaii, and Spencer Sanders, a hyped redshirt freshman.
Whoever plays QB will benefit from Tylan Wallace at receiver, Chuba Hubbard at running back and an experienced offensive line. On defense, most of the returning experience is in the secondary. Up front, it looks like a few transfers will be plugged in to prevent a big drop-off from a team that led the Big 12 in sacks. If the QB play is steady, the Cowboys will be a dangerous team.
4. TCU (7-6, 4-5)
Under Gary Patterson, TCU has a history of bouncing back from down seasons. TCU had to rally late in the 2018 season just to reach a bowl and ended up finishing 7-6 thanks to a victory in the now-infamous Cheez-It Bowl. The team also dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries and should be improved simply from having better health on the roster. But TCU also has the chance to really, really good on defense — especially in the secondary.
The biggest issue is quarterback. Shawn Robinson was the starter to open 2018 but has since transferred to Missouri. That left a wide-open competition that, per Patterson, has been whittled down to Alex Delton, a graduate transfer from Kansas State, and true freshman Max Duggan. Whether it’s Delton or Duggan, the Horned Frogs have a star at receiver in Jalen Reagor, a stellar offensive line and a solid group of running backs. If the QB situation is solid, look out.
For a more in-depth look at TCU, No. 24 in our preseason top 25, click here.
3. Iowa State (8-5, 6-3)
Matt Campbell has done a great job in a short time at Iowa State. The Cyclones have reached eight wins in the last two seasons — a mark they hadn’t reached since 2000. Entering 2019, they are now a legitimate contender to reach the Big 12 title game. The Cyclones return promising sophomore QB Brock Purdy, who went from third-string to starter last year, though replacing RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler will not be easy.
The defense is loaded in the front seven, led by edge rusher JaQuan Bailey and defensive tackle Ray Lima. Along with Bailey and Lima, linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. and safety Greg Eisworth made up the team’s four preseason All-Big 12 selections. The way the schedule shakes out gives ISU a chance for a hot start before facing Oklahoma and Texas in November.
For a more in-depth look at Iowa State, No. 22 in our preseason top 25, click here.
2. Texas (10-4, 7-2)
Tom Herman got Texas back into the national conversation last fall, but can the Longhorns take the leap into the College Football Playoff picture in 2019? Returning Sam Ehlinger at QB is a good start. Ehlinger threw for 3,292 yards and 25 touchdowns last fall while also serving as the team’s most reliable short-yardage runner. With Keaontay Ingram at running back and a good offensive line, Ehlinger probably won’t have to take as many hits this year.
If the Longhorns are going to dethrone rival Oklahoma atop the Big 12, they’ll need big-time production from a young defense. UT returns just three starters on Todd Orlando’s defense, two of them being safeties Caden Sterns and Brandon Jones. Sterns was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2018. We’ll learn a lot about the talent level before the conference schedule even begins. Texas hosts No. 6 LSU in Week 2.
For a more in-depth look at Texas, No. 8 in our preseason top 25, click here.
1. Oklahoma (12-2, 8-1)
All eyes will be on Jalen Hurts, the graduate transfer quarterback from Alabama, when Oklahoma’s season begins. But we’re more focused on how the Sooners’ offense will adapt with four new starters on the offensive line — a unit that was the best in the country a year ago. If the line comes together, the offense should be tremendous again, with Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks at RB, CeeDee Lamb at wideout and Grant Calcaterra at tight end.
For Oklahoma to realistically have a chance to compete with the Clemsons and Alabamas of the world, there needs to be dramatic improvement on defense. The Sooners were horrendous on that side of the ball in 2018 and are counting on new coordinator Alex Grinch to get some improvement out of the group. The return of Kenneth Murray at middle linebacker should make Grinch’s job a little easier, but finding solutions for the nation’s worst pass defense will be a big challenge.
For a more in-depth look at Oklahoma, No. 4 in our preseason top 25, click here.
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