Since I’m heading to Big 12 Media Days in a couple of weeks I got to vote in the largely meaningless, preseason All-B12 ballot. They like to hold a vote on the order of finish, there’s a semi-bizarre distribution of positions to vote on, and then OPOY, DPOY, and Newcomer of the year. I almost botched the last one but when comparing notes with Max Olson of the Athletic I was reminded that Jalen Hurts is a newcomer. Prior to that I was voting for Texas’ freshman RB Jordan Whittington, which would have looked like the most idiotic and homerific possible selection.
Here’s how I voted on order of finish:
1. Texas: Sam Ehlinger and 3.5 really good, returning starters on OL combined with a pair of senior wideouts and a young but intensively coached and exceptionally athletic defenders. The Texas formula is really simple.
That Texas might be excellent on offense next year should be relatively obvious, but on defense where they replace eight senior starters there’s more hesitation nationally. But consider the key pieces up the middle:
DL: Senior Malcolm Roach, who was playing LB up until the end of last year when he became a spot player at DE and a third down nose tackle. He’s a high motor, bouncy athlete who’s about 6-2/290 now and really hard to keep blocked. On paper it looks like Texas is starting over at DL but Roach is probably an upgrade over any departing player but Charles Omenihu.
LB: Senior Jeffrey McCulloch, who split time the last few years between playing 3-4 OLB and ILB when injuries forced him there. He’s a smart, former 4-star athlete who’s just never found a positional home. This offseason he’s zeroed in at ILB and cut some weight to about 6-3, 235 or so.
S: Senior Brandon Jones and sophomore Caden Sterns, the former of whom is a third-year starter and was a couple of ankle injuries in 2018 away from leaving early for a day two or even day one draft selection. Jones is best in support but he’s absolute lightning who can turn initially looking gains from the run or quick game into 3-5 yard concessions. I think most are familiar with Sterns and I got the sense that he may win the vote for DPOY.
So as you can see, Texas actually has a fair amount of veteran leadership and quality up the middle of the defense for all the youthful athletes stepping into other roles to orbit around.
2. Oklahoma: I’m really suspicious of OU for 2019 for the same reasons I thought an overall big slip might occur in 2018. There’s a dozen places for marginal decline to occur on offense and little reason to believe the D will be much better while trying to master a totally new style of defense that requires great chemistry, knowhow, and physicality. How quickly are the skinny, fast DBs that Mike Stoops was stockpiling going to take to becoming zone dogs and intimidators in the middle of the field?
Last year I missed wildly on OU because replacing two starting OL around three super-experienced veterans proved to be child’s play for Bill Bedenbaugh and Kyler Murray ended up being one of the most physically gifted QBs to play the college game. This year Bedenbaugh has to replace four starting OL around a single pretty-experienced veteran and they plug in super-gifted Jalen Hurts at QB. I see a lot of marginal declines on offense and a bad defense but still a dangerous team that will out-athlete and out-offense a lot of opponents.
3. Iowa State: Pump fake Purdy, great infrastructure at TE and OL that can give them matchup advantages, and then their excellent defense that returns nearly the whole cast. There are a lot more answers than questions in Ames, IA.
4. Oklahoma State: If I were ranking the Big 12 offenses for 2019 in terms of both quality and an ability to be consistently great regardless of opponent, I think I’d go Texas, OSU, and then OU. The Cowboys look solid at OL and you figure they’ll at least get competent distribution from QB, and then they have some of the best weapons in the league in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace with all kinds of interesting role players around them like Jelani Woods and Dillon Stoner. It’s all about whether Jim Knowles can build a good defense from a solid secondary. That’s a big question but there are bigger ones below.
5. TCU: Who’s the QB? You have to rebuild at DE with young or incoming guys that are promising but relative unknowns? Okay, I’ll assume that will probably go okay. Integrating a new approach to the passing game with a rebuilt OL and some young WRs? That’s interesting and promising enough? Legal problems at RB? Meh. Alex Delton at QB? No. That’s a bridge too far. This team needs Michael Collins or Matthew Baldwin to be healthy, eligible, and practiced. Otherwise I see Delton squandering the season while they desperately try to get Max Duggan up to speed.
6. Texas Tech: When you consider that Matt Wells inherits a starting QB, five starting OL, a sticky-fingered freshman DB, legitimately solid LBs and DL, and then skill players chosen by Kliff Kingsbury…maybe this team should be higher.
7. Baylor: Lots of interesting rumors from Waco regarding changes coming to the defense. I’ve heard “three-down” and “four-safeties” suggesting an embrace of the Iowa State approach. I’ll be ready to adjust my expectations for Baylor when I see what exactly they’re up to and I’ll pray Matt Rhule for hints at Media Days, in the meantime their horrendous play at D over the last few years has me ready to dismiss their solid looking offense.
8. Kansas State: The defense may actually be pretty solid, more on that in the coming days, the offense is trying to do something difficult without all the pieces fully put together. I like their chances better than the teams below obviously, but I don’t know if their offense has an identity or things they can hang their hats on to generate wins in tough games.
9. West Virginia: It looks bad in Morgantown. Defense is starting over with a totally new scheme much like Oklahoma is doing and perhaps with even less talent or experience. Offense looks solid but they’re starting over as well and without Dana Holgorsen’s keen eye for choosing talents and isolating them in space. I think the offense could be solid, but a solid offense in the Big 12 is only enough to keep you in some games. Kansas has Pooka Williams and may struggle to win a single game.
10. Kansas: Yeah.
QB: Sam Ehlinger, Texas
RB: Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
RB: Pooka Williams, Kansas
FB: Jeremiah Hall, Oklahoma
WR: CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
WR: Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
WR: Jalen Reagor, TCU
TE: Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma
OL: Sam Cosmi, Texas
OL: Jack Anderson, Texas Tech
OL: Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
OL: Josh Knipfel, Iowa State
OL: Lucas Niang, TCU
PK: Cameron Dicker, Texas
KR/PR: Kene Nwangwu, Iowa State
QB was easy, although it would have been funny to put Ehlinger at FB so I could sneak another good QB in here, probably pump fake Purdy. I’m not hearing about Jalen Hurts as “a faster Ehlinger” or whatever OU fans are selling when the dude has averaged 3.7 ypa in playoff games.
I was frustrated to have to choose a TE and a FB but considering that the obvious choice at TE is Grant Calcaterra, it really works out alright anyways. FB should maybe have gone to an Iowa State guy but I’m not sure which of them is going to get the most action, we can rectify that after the season unless Jeremiah Hall has an amazing season (possible).
Both Oklahoma and Texas have a bunch of really good RBs that could end up being better and/or more productive than Hubbard or Pooka but there’s an even better chance that they (and their QBs) will cannibalize some of the carries and stats. Hubbard and Pooka are going to get a lot of work and be the features of their respective offenses if health permits it.
I went ahead and chose guards for first team, although Knipfel might play tackle, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me.
DL: Jaquan Bailey, Iowa State
DL: Malcolm Roach, Texas
DL: Ray Lima, Iowa State
DL: Corey Bethley, TCU
DL: Wyatt Hubert, Kansas State
LB: Jeffrey McCulloch, Texas
LB: Garrett Wallow, TCU
LB: Marcel Spears, Iowa State
DB: Jeff Gladney, TCU
DB: Greg Eisworth, Iowa State
DB: Brandon Jones, Texas
DB: Innis Gaines, TCU
DB: A.J. Green, Oklahoma State
P: Corey Dunn, Iowa State
At the last minute I switched from Ochaun Mathis, a DE that Gary Patterson has been hyping, to Wyatt Hubert. I know TCU’s scheme makes for great numbers and stats for their DEs but so do the systems favored by Chris Klieman and Scottie Hazelton and we’ve seen more from Hubert.
Ross Blacklock will be a common pick on here and maybe for DPOY, but he’s a nose tackle coming off an achilles injury that kept him out for spring. Just a lot of potential for him to lack the ideal weight/conditioning or be missing some burst. Anyways I hedged here with a later selection we’ll come back to. Ray Lima and Malcolm Roach are likely to be two of the best and most important defenders in the league, even if neither put up big stats. Corey Bethley will be impactful AND put up some stats.
At LB things ended up being pretty straightforward once I considered that McCulloch was likely to get a lot of work in Todd Orlando’s blitz packages. It would be totally predictable for him to translate being a featured ILB in that defense into big numbers. Last year’s Texas Mac, Anthony Wheeler, had 87 tackles, 8.5 TFL, and four sacks despite being a liability in a few games due to his lack of range. McCulloch is a better player, or will be after an offseason focusing on one position and having a big senior year. Garrett Wallow is probably the best B12 LB in the league, that felt like an easy bet, Marcel Spears has been good for two years now, both are good at the things that are hard at that position in this league.
A.J. Green is a pretty good corner with some skins on the wall, it’s possible that one of Texas’ former bluechip sophomores (Jalen Green, Anthony Cook) will surpass him but he gets the nod for now. Jeff Gladney is legitimately very good. Eisworth was a DPOY I considered, as the middle safety in their scheme he gets to insert himself into action all over the field and he was good at that a year ago. Brandon Jones is still a better player than Caden Sterns in my estimation, Innis Gaines could have a huge year now that he’s healthy and a year more savvy.
Offensive player of the year: Sam Ehlinger
I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t win this on the ballot. Dude scored 41 touchdowns last year and had nearly 4k total yards playing with a hurt shoulder that kept him out of major parts of two games as a true sophomore.
Defensive player of the year: Garrett Wallow
This is partly a recognition of a player I think is one of the most talented and versatile defenders in the league, partly a bet that TCU will be good on defense again, and partly a hedge on Ross Blacklock coming back in a major way. If the NT is causing people problems than the ultra-quick LB behind him stands to benefit.
Newcomer of the year: Jalen Hurts
No brainer. He could go for 2.5k passing yards and 800 rushing yards and no one would blink. Many of the league’s defenses will be overpowered by him in the Sooner offense.
Alright, now everyone can tell me how wrong I am.