I’ve spent a lot of time breaking down the state of the Oklahoma defense on this blog which should be pretty important to the story of the 2018 Big 12 season. I’m highly skeptical of the post-Mayfield Sooners in general but I’m not an insane Texas homer that think they’ll be terrible on offense with all of their skill talent, linemen, and Rodney Anderson back and under the direction of Lincoln Riley. Even if everything goes wrong with Kyler Murray and the offense struggles to get going, they’re still probably going to score quite a few points when all is said and done.
The real story at Oklahoma next year is going to be whether the defense can get on track and carry some of the water for that program so that they don’t have to match a historic offensive season in order to stay on top of the league.
I’ve also identified the Iowa State OL and run game as an important area for the 2018 season. It seems a safe bet that Iowa State will continue to be effective on defense and also that Matt Campbell will continue to create good matchups that 6th-year senior QB Kyle Kempt can reliably take advantage of while attacking opposing defenses. The big question is whether they can finally approach their real goal of having a physical and diverse run game that reliably moves the chains and forces defenses to adjust.
Texas is a big story as well. If Tom Herman gets Texas’ talent going and the Longhorns finally have the combination of depth, veteran presence, and QB play they’ve been missing for the entire decade then they’re your frontrunner for the B12 title. Texas vs Oklahoma in 2018 is basically a battle between Herman and Mike Stoops over which can turn a group of young athletes on their side of the ball into a cohesive and effective unit. Todd Orlando vs Lincoln Riley is virtually a wash.
One of the more popular storylines has been “what does it mean that West Virginia has the most talented offense returning?” We don’t really know the answer to this question. West Virginia was arguably better on offense back in 2012 when they first joined the league and Dana Holgorsen was bringing a trio with working experience together of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, and Tavon Austin against B12 defenses. Of course the Mountaineer defense was horrible so it didn’t matter and that was more or less the story a year ago when they infused David Sills and Will Grier into their normal offensive package and lost some shootouts.
It’s clear enough that this offense is going to be very good, the defense is a question mark. The Mountaineers have been infusing the squad with transfers in an effort to raise the caliber of the positions that you can’t build up by recruiting low ceiling 3-stars and teaching them a system, CB and DL.
So from here it’s basically a question of how much athleticism and juice exists in the legs of these transfers. If West Virginia is adding legit talent to their DL and CB room to bolster a solid corps of LBs and Ss and support their offense then we could finally see Holgs field a lethal O and better Tony Gibson D all in the same season. We haven’t seen that before. The best Gibson Ds were paired with Skyler Howard offenses, which weren’t awful but they didn’t scare anyone like Grier and this group will.
Texas Tech’s season is going to come down to how well they play defense, they have some solid players on that team but their recruiting and QB situation make me think that Kingsbury is already thinking about his next job as an OC. It’s hard for me to be willing to dive into their play and prospects for next season knowing that they were a bad Sam Ehlinger decision away from missing a bowl and firing Kingsbury a year ago and are now having to claw their way to seven or eight wins to keep him around.
My lack of serious thought towards Tech could burn me in my attempts to figure out what this season will look like but Oklahoma State is the better bet to provide me with a big miss. The Cowboys are never just terrible but there’s a lot that isn’t known about this team. My best guess says that their returning talent at OL, “cowboy-backer,” and RB allow them to run the ball fairly well and that either Taylor Cornelius or Dru Brown gives them solid play distributing the ball to a legitimately talented group of wideouts. I’m a fan of new DC Jim Knowles but I doubt he gets the secondary in good working order in year one. If they surpass my expectations this coming year (finishing in the middle of the pack) it’ll probably be because one of those QBs is an immediate hit.
I’m planning to dive into Kansas State a little more in an upcoming post, particularly their D which most insiders seem to think will put Elijah Sullivan and Da’Quan Patton on the field at LB with perhaps AJ Parker at the nickel. That would be the smallest and fastest inside trio that the Wildcats will have played in the second Snyder era. That’s probably a good thing, especially if they can’t find a pass-rusher from their ranks of DEs.
For all the stories about changes to the scheme and pace or the QB battle between Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton, the story of the 2018 Wildcat offense should be really straightforward. Get into “dread-wing” personnel on the reg and run the ball with Alex Delton. Give him 200 carries and Alex Barnes another 200 and that should be good for at least eight wins.
What am I missing and what would y’all like to hear me extrapolate on over the next few months?