Big 12 Preview: Are The Mountaineers The Team To Beat?

Big 12 Preview: Are The Mountaineers The Team To Beat?

WVU Football

Big 12 Preview: Are The Mountaineers The Team To Beat?

BIG 12 2018-2019 Football Preview

By Vaughan Sheffey

 With the 2018-2019 season fast approaching, every college football fan across the country begins to feel the wave of anticipation for the upcoming season that always seems to creep in every August.  New season, new schedules, new players, and with all of that: newly found optimism for every fan of every team in college football. The offense centric BIG 12 is obviously no different, and the conference holds true contenders for spots in the College Football Playoff along with a couple teams that could really surprise pundits in 2018-2019.

Let’s take a look at the contenders for the 2018-2019 Big 12 title, teams that could shock a few people, and key games on the 2018-2019 slate.

The Top 3:

 

  1. West Virginia

While Oklahoma may be the one holding that last 3 consecutive Big 12 titles, the Mountaineers of West Virginia looked positioned to change that in 2018-2019.  Putting them ahead of Oklahoma in this particular ranking is based on 2 factors: Experienced, productive starters on offense and Senior QB Will Grier. Through week 12 last season when he went out with a broken finger, Grier was nothing short of a monster at the quarterback position.  He put up very prolific numbers throwing for 3490 yards while completing 64% of his passes with 34 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.  Grier also averaged 9.0 yards per completion which is absolutely stellar.  It cannot be denied nor overlooked that the Mountaineers have not beaten Oklahoma since joining the Big 12 (losing Grier for the season the week before their matchup last year didn’t help things).  But they get to face the OU juggernaut at home in Morgantown this year on November 23rdin what should be a must-watch and a game that the WVU players will have their eye on all season.  Barring injury, they have an excellent shot to shake the Oklahoma monkey off their back. It all starts with their senior QB along with a seasoned offensive line, and WR David Sills V and his NFL prototype size (6ft 4”, 204 lbs.) and production (67 career receptions, 20 total touchdowns) leading an absolutely lethal offense.  If they can come out of the OU game with a victory and only one loss on the season overall, then the sky’s the limit for this year’s WVU squad.

 

  1. Oklahoma

No matter what your thoughts are on Baker Mayfield, it’s tough to deny what he and the OU offense accomplished last year as they finished with the #1 overall offense in all of Division I.  Now that he’s moved on to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, the former 5-star QB Kyler Murray is expected to take over.  Murray is a superb athlete and he was quickly snatched up in the MLB draft this year by the Oakland Athletics (#9 overall selection).  His rushing ability could add another wrinkle to the OU offense this year but Murray is also fairly unproven as a starter going into the season (Career stats: 1045 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs).  Murray’s 2018 campaign will be aided immensely by being able to hand the ball off to Junior RB Rodney Anderson, who stormed onto the scene when he took over as the starter in the second half of last season.  As the primary rusher, Anderson racked up 1079 yards and 11 touchdowns in the final 8 games of the season alone, including a legendary Rose Bowl game performance (26 ATT, 201 YDS, 2 TD’s). It would not be surprising to see the normally pass-heavy Sooners lean on their stud RB and it could look like the Adrian Peterson days of yore in Norman.  The standout WR on this year’s squad is Junior Marquise Brown.  Brown is a legitimate deep threat for QB Kyler Murray to look for and in his first season as a full-time starter, the speedster put up 1095 yards and 7 touchdowns with 57 receptions.  When analyzing this offense, the fact remains that they are less experienced than the WVU starters overall.  The stellar Rodney Anderson should pick up where he left off last season, the O-line is proven, but QB Murray and his receivers need to deliver as well which bears watching this season.  The Sooners also retain a solid depth advantage over their fellow Big 12 teams, although the defense as a whole was quite up and down last season.  They will come into the season with more experienced young players however, so an improvement across the board is possible for the OU defense.  They certainly will need it, especially when they face the aforementioned WVU offensive unit. Regardless, Oklahoma should be right there in the end, competing for not only the Big 12 with WVU but also for another shot at the national title game.

 

  1. TCU

Here sits the team on our Top 3 that actually leans more on its defense, much like the great TCU teams of the past decade or so.  The Horned Frogs too had big time issues handling Oklahoma last year, losing both games by double digits including the Big 12 title game.  This season’s defense will be lead by Senior DE Ben Banogu (8.5 sacks last year) and Senior LB Jawuan Johnson, a run-stuffing graduate transfer who was All-MAC last year.  The TCU defense finished last year ranked 19thwith 331 yards per game allowed.  They are projected to be better this season, especially against the run.  The secondary lost some productive players but the overall pass defense is not expected to suffer too much.  Head Coach Gary Patterson has shown he and his staff know how to put together a consistent defensive unit.  As for the TCU offense, all eyes will be on the projected starter at QB, Sophomore Shawn Robinson.  Robinson showed his mobility last year in limited action and he was a highly touted recruit.  However, his career stats (184 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) do nothing to belie total lack of experience as the starter.  Sophomore WR Jalen Reagor should help out, as he showed plenty of potential last season to be an explosive playmaker, scoring 8 touchdowns and averaging over 17 yards per reception.  TCU also has 2 solid Juniors at RB in Darius Anderson and Sewo Olinilua who’ve shown they can share the load and be productive.  In the end, it will be the Horned Frogs defense who give them the ability to potentially hang in a tight game against West Virginia or Oklahoma, but the offense will have to take a step to make them true Big 12 contenders.

Big 12 teams that could surprise this season

 Texas

The Texas Longhorns go into another season doing everything they can to return to the glory days.  Their defense finished last season as the best unit in the Big 12 behind TCU (tied for 41stnationally in YPG allowed with 365.6) and they are returning multiple seasoned starters this season.  Sophomore QB Sam Ehlinger is expected to be the starter and he’ll be operating behind an offensive line that’s not really expected to light the world on fire.  The fact that Ehlinger was the team’s leading rusher last year does not inspire much hope for the backfield either but someone may emerge at RB in early 2018.  If not, then the offense may sputter for another season.  If they gel and can at least get to the middle of the pack in PPG, then the Longhorns well-coached defense may be able to take them places that not many expect going into the season

 

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys of Oklahoma State had the best offense in the Big 12 last year behind the Oklahoma machine.  QB Mason Rudolph threw for nearly 5000 yards last season and parlayed his excellent year into being drafted and getting a shot with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The focus going into the new season will be on who emerges from the competition for the starting QB job.  Senior Taylor Cornelius is consensus favorite going in.  However, he’s up against graduate transfer Dru Brown from Hawaii, who put up 5273 yards, 37 TD, 15 INT in just 2 seasons as starter there and showed solid mobility.  The true wild card in this race could be true Freshman Spencer Sanders who comes in as the top dual-threat QB in the whole state of Texas.  If the Cowboys can get even close to the offensive production put up last season by Rudolph and Co., then longtime coach Mike Gundy might just be able to make something happen and get his team in the thick of the Big 12 battle.

 

Key interconference games for the 2018-2019 BIG 12 season

TCU at Texas – Sept. 22nd

  • If the Longhorns can find a way to win this early litmus test, do we get another “Texas is back folks!” gem? One can only hope.

West Virginia at Texas Tech – Sept 29th

  • West Virginia must be sure to not overlook the Red Raiders in this matchup. Texas Tech is expected to have a good to very good defense this season.

Oklahoma at Texas – Oct. 6th

  • The Red River Shootout of 2018 could end up having a lot riding on it if Texas manages to start the season strong.

Oklahoma at TCU – Oct. 20th

  • OU offense vs. TCU defense…LET’S GO

TCU at West Virginia – Nov. 10th

  • At this point in the season, would obviously be a HUGE game to determine how the conference shakes out if both teams play up to expectations and potential.

West Virginia at Oklahoma State – Nov. 17th

  • This one will be tough for the Mountaineers no matter what the standings look like in November

Oklahoma at West Virginia – Nov. 23rd

  • Here it is…this should be the biggest game of the entire Big 12 schedule. Let’s hope the stars align and college football fans get the high-stakes matchup they want at the end of the regular season.

Featured Image Courtesy Shanna Rose, BGS

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