The 2019 bowl season was a big L for the Big 12 conference. The nuanced understanding of the Big 12 is that it’s a league that has two programs with “blue blood” and nationally competitive resources, but then eight other programs that in a given year can play at a top 25 or even top 10 level. Commentators assume it’s a lower level league, and it isn’t as top loaded as the SEC West or Big 10 East, but it’s stocked deep with strong programs.
This year’s league was definitely down. That was almost always going to be the case with Will Grier and Kyler Murray moving on, three new head coaches coming in, and Oklahoma aiming to make the best of a transition year by inserting Alabama’s back-up QB at the helm. This year was a huge opportunity for Texas to be “back” and win the league but Tom Herman spectacularly whiffed. Instead Lincoln Riley adjusted to his personnel in a truly impressive fashion and defended the league crown while Matt Rhule adapted his D and put together a fantastic unit that was able to dominate the league’s down offenses.
However, Oklahoma predictably didn’t have the horses to handle what’s probably the greatest LSU team of all time and Baylor’s beat up, young, and limited offense was a poor foil for even a depleted Georgia defense. The Bulldogs had one of the three best defenses in the country and even with some starters out they still had their starting cornerbacks, nickel, and strong safety to erase the Baylor passing game that produced most of their wins this season.
Now that the bowl season is out of the way, the hunt for 2020 is underway and there’s already been a number of developments here that will have varying levels of impact.
Oklahoma’s defense of the crown
The 2019 season for Oklahoma was primarily a transition year from the transfer QB era to the home grown Lincoln Riley program. Some people believe that if Spencer Rattler had enrolled for spring ball that OU wouldn’t even have taken Jalen Hurts as a transfer and in 2020 he’ll have had a fair bit of time digesting the Sooner offense.
That offense will include Kennedy Brooks, a TE/FB crew of Jeremiah Hall and Brayden Willis, flex TE Austin Stogner, and then probably Charleston Rambo plus the trio of superstar freshmen they landed in the 2019 class (Haselwood, Wease, Bridges). Perhaps more importantly, all six OL that saw significant time as starters in 2019 will be back in 2020.
It’s going to be way too easy for Riley to package together some more power run game concepts that creates easy play-action and RPO opportunities for Rattler which he will hit with far greater precision and consistency than did Jalen Hurts.
Defense will be interesting. Alex Grinch mostly overcame a secondary that wasn’t as rangy and physical at safety as he would have liked with some effective press coverage outside and then the superior athletes that he deployed very effectively up front. He’s losing 2.5 NFL caliber athletes up front in Neville Gallimore, Kenneth Murray, and allegedly something like half a season of Ronnie Perkins.
Gallimore is a huge loss, it’s hard to find NTs that can cause disruption inside like he did this season. Oklahoma foresaw the issue and landed the no. 1 rated JUCO DT in the country, then later in the season they snagged the no. 2 rated JUCO DT as well just to be safe. I think replacing Perkins will be easier, even though he was terrific this season. LaRon Stokes and Marcus Stripling were both solid and Jalen Redmond could break out after a healthier offseason. I mean, more than he already has.
Replacing Kenneth Murray I think may be toughest for the opportunity cost of deploying him in 2020 rather than replacing his production in 2019. He’s going to be drafted because he’s an elite athlete that projects to be able to do a ton of different things, he hasn’t yet put it all together yet. To replace him the Sooners have Brian Asamoah and maybe David Ugwoegbu or Caleb Kelly, all of which have the potential to be similarly effective if playing behind another disruptive front.
The key is the secondary. I imagine Patrick Fields and Dellarin Turner-Yell may hold onto their starting spots given all the experience they accumulated this last year. The Sooners replace Parnell Motley and they have Brendan Radley-Hiles to either continue to hold down nickel or replace Motley or they could just promote Jaden Davis. Overall it’s easy to see the Sooners at least treading water on this side of the ball and potentially taking a big step forward with all of the returning experience and some of the potential impact pieces up front.
This is easily your frontrunner.
Baylor’s big offseason
I like Baylor as the no. 2 in the league for 2020 if they neither James Lynch nor Matt Rhule depart for the NFL and Charlie Brewer isn’t forced to medically retire due to concussions. However, I suspect that both Lynch and Rhule will be in the pros next season and it’s hard to get a good feel for what the heck is going on with Brewer. It sounds like the concussion against OU was a particularly bad one and he left the Sugar Bowl after getting his head bounced off the turf once more.
If Brewer is healthy and ready for next season an obvious priority will be trying to rewire him to protect himself better. If not, Jacob Zeno has some potential to upgrade their offense with his superior deep ball range pending his ability to read defenses and distribute as well as Brewer has done. If Lynch is gone that opens some major holes up front that will be hard to fill. If Rhule is gone then we’ll get to see what sort of contingencies AD Mack Rhoades has been developing behind the scenes. I wonder if he’s done any investigations or back channeling with the recently available Joe Moorhead?
So there’s a lot up in the air here and it may be a while before we can sort things out.
Tom Herman hits restart
Herman has been saying all the right things about how he was overextended trying to be HC and play-caller, the truth behind that is that his staff he had assembled was deficient and incapable of allowing him to effectively delegate with offering a ton of oversight. That’s pretty concerning given that staff management seemed to be a big plus for Herman coming out of Houston.
Meanwhile, he’s overhauling the staff by adding the “let’s be sound and play base” Chris Ash, fresh off failure of his own as HC at Rutgers, and then former Mike Gundy assistant Mike Yurcich. If his OSU offenses are any guide to his style, and they surely are to some extent, Yurcich is in the Dana Holgorsen mode of running an Air Raid that has journeyed pretty far down the path from Mike Leach’s system towards the smashmouth spread. Texas is returning Sam Ehlinger and then a ton of young talent that played this season with varying levels of effectiveness.
If the offseason doesn’t come together for Baylor, Texas jumps to the no. 2 spot.
Mike Gundy and Gary Patterson
These are the two programs I watched this season and thought, “I dunno if these seasons are just part of the normal cycle or indicative of them falling off.”
Oklahoma State has an uncanny knack for returning NFL skill talent in senior/fourth seasons. They got Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back for 2011 and then Mason Rudolph and James Washington back for 2017, now Tylan Wallace is returning for 2020 and we don’t know yet on Chuba Hubbard.
Honestly, with Spencer Sanders in year two I think returning either of those two guys was going to guarantee that OSU made a big leap on offense in 2020 and now they’re assured of having at least one of them. On defense, OSU played some pretty solid ball in the defensive backfield with their new dime approach. Next year they return disruptors Amen Ogbongbemiga and Trace Ford and a variety of big DL (Israel Antwine) that might be much closer to solid after another offseason. I think Gundy still has things working at their normal level in Stillwater and that with a more savvy Sanders behind center we’ll see an 8-10 win kind of team.
I dunno about the Frogs though. The smashmouth spread has been giving Patterson fits all decade and he’s yet to really adjust his 4-2-5 to handle it. The three-down looks he mixed in late against OU this year could provide the solutions if he can make that adjustment…we’ll see. The Frogs are waiting to hear on whether Ross Blacklock or Jalen Reagor are coming back and Jeff Gladney is gone either way. The defense might put something good together but I think it’ll require the three-down shift, I don’t think the style of 4-2-5 they played last year is going to work. Particularly the way they used their DEs, which the Oklahoma teams abused with option schemes.
Then there’s the questions on offense. Rumors suggest Doug Meacham is going to be reunited with Sonny Cumbie, then Patterson denies it. Their OL coach left and Patterson slid the old one, who’d moved to another position, back over to replace him. TCU reminds me a lot of Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State right now, a program in need of some major updates and fresh ideas with an older, entrenched coach that may not be up for it.
We’ll circle back to some of the other schools as more puzzle pieces fit together.
In addition to breaking down how the spread offense has evolved in the Big 12, my book serves as a history for the conference from its inception to the current era.
Reagor and Blacklock already declared for the draft.
It’s already being reported that C Kelly and Ugwoegbu are going to move to the mike spot to replace Murray. Did you have any thoughts on the fact that sooners get Norwood and the #1 juco safety for their secondary next year?
#1 JUCO safety you say? Didn’t realize that. I actually just heard that Dashaun White will slide over to mike and then Kelly and Asamoah will be the wills. I like Kelly for will in the OU D, that’s the only true, full-time ILB in this defense if they run it back like they did last year.
Ian, appreciate your B12 analysis and all the articles you post here.
I have read/heard the same as far as linebackers are concerned – White at Mike and Kelly at Will. Kelly actually played Will in the peach bowl and B12 championship game.
You are actually more bullish on the 2020 OU defense than I am (OU loses the 3 best players in the front 7), but I guess its relative to how the rest of the league is going to look like.
Word out of Norman is that Barnes red-shirted this year to put on weight so that he can move to..drum roll…..LB. I believe you predicted this in your recruiting class analysis a few years back. Kudos! My suspicion is that Jamal Morris (the other 6’2″ DB) is also headed in this direction.
What do you think of Norwood as the Nickel? Probably needs to protected in the run game is my guess. He played that position in the B12 championship game against Texas and did okay in the pass game. Or who on the OU roster/recruits besides Bookie would you put there?
Norwood would surely be an upgrade over Bookie, he can do most of the same things plus he isn’t a punk.
I forgot about Barnes, him moving to LB obviously makes a ton of sense. I like what they’re building at LB, a little worried about safety although I’ve always liked DTY.
They’re losing some special athletes up front, that’s tough, but they have some other ones that could make a leap and I think the overall unit and mastery of the system will be better.
My main concern now after watching the LSU game more carefully is replacing Parnell Motley. That’s probably the bigger area to watch than anything else with OU is whether they have a guy that can lock down his side of the field and let them roll coverage?
Good point regarding Motley. It will be interesting to see if Tre Brown can make take that development step.
Can Texas not have an LSU-lite surge? The talent is clearly there and needs to be unlocked with the right staff
I’m not sure if the new coordinators are the right ones but it seems like the team could make a leap
They definitely could but I have fewer questions about OU.
Thought Proctor was done for OU, since he was a grad transfer who already played 3 years in the ACC. Still should have a lot of returning experience at OL, plus solid depth.
Is he? Oh well, he wasn’t even that good anyways. Just a versatile stopgap. I mean you love having guys like that but he wasn’t going to be all-conference.
I think the concern is that he seems to have taken over for Swenson, who actually is returning. There’s some talent behind him though, and Bedenbaugh isn’t afraid to shuffle the line around either.
I believe Swenson played hurt most of the season; what I have heard is that its his shoulder. That’s one of the reasons Proctor played as much as he did. The other reason being neither Simpson nor Walker stepped up. Something to keep in mind is that Swenson suffered a shoulder injury coming out of HS.
That’s not good, it’ll be interesting to track if he can get that healthy or not.
I think Wilkins is the hope there, Walker has not impressed.
It’s beginning to sound like Hubbard may be returning next season.
Also starting to sound like Todd Monken is going to return to the Cowboys. I think Gleeson has a deal with Rutgers. Monken would be a huge get. Dunn has decided to stay with OSU.
Lotta positives in Stillwater.
What would you make of Monken coming back?
He’s held as a legend in the eyes of OSU fans. The guy is pretty damn talented and took that 2010 offense to the next level the following year. Our offense in 2012 with a revolving door of QBs was also really good.
Things have changed a lot since 2012. Super curious what a Monken college offense looks like in 2020.
Also forgot to add we picked up Josh Sills from WVU and grabbed a talented young lineman/linebacker from Arkansas.
If Monken is truly returning, it seems like Gundy is going all in on 2020.
My memory of Monken is that he did a good job of maintaining the Holgorsen offense and then bailed for a new job. 2012 would be more the year to watch, in 2011 he got go run things back with Weeden and Blackmon.
Josh sills flipped?
It’s true that BU has a lot of questions, including:
1) What will the OL look like or be able to do next year?
2) What will the QB situation will be next year? (If CB is out & Zeno gets QB1, then will Bohannon transfer out to Arkansas?)
3) How will the staff close out recruiting with HS, transfer portal & JUCO guys?
Other than Rhule being back, the OL is important since it’s the lynchpin of their playbook. Everything they are trying to call is based on having a stout line. The OL actually has to block, open holes & protect the QB long enough to not have any concussions. They were very inconsistent this year, even if they improved a bit.
Totally agree. I think that the OL is an area for a lot of optimism though. With Galvin, Phillips, Bedier, Newman, Pines, and the Poly guy who’s name I don’t recall all back they’re virtually a lock to improve by at least some margin.
I bet that Rhule leaves and the new guy uses the transfer portal to fill in some holes and make sure they can give a good go of things in year one. The argument for promoting McGuire would basically be that he knows where the program’s at right now and could get that process going more quickly and precisely than a new guy that needs to learn the roster first.
Then if McGuire is bad they could have him as interim and replace him, or else lock him up if he’s doing a good job.
I guess we’ll see about the OL. I’m hoping they are consistently above average for a top 25 not just a B12 team. To me, other than CMR staying, that is key. You can’t establish the run game, pass to WRs in longer developing routes, or to TEs.
I really think having McGuire as the annointed one will be supremely helpful in maintaining some sort of sustainability or even a modicum of consistency depending on how many in the staff CMR takes with him. McGuire has a defensive background & knows the TX HS offense in & out. He’ll carry forward a lot of the culture & process. He’ll also make whatever changes he seems necessary (not sure what though). I think the only way CMR leaves is if he can have an agreement for a minimum of 3-4 years to establish what he wants, personnel/staff decision & control, & the backing of ownership. I’m sure a nice $ payday helps, but he’s making more than at least half of NFL coaches.
Sounds like Rhule has the leverage to get what he wants from the Giants, so I imagine that he will and then he’ll take it. Stuff has floated out here and there about him staying in Waco but it’s always non-committal and when that and his contract numbers leaked out they seemed design to push his leverage with the Giants more than anything. “Hey, I’ll stay here. Waco is great, I’ve moved my NY fam down and we have a boat I can take on the Brazos made out of cash.”
I don’t know much about McGuire. I know he moved to DEs this year and those guys certainly played well. They played pretty decent previous years too though, they just didn’t have any talent. If they like him tho it makes sense to give him an interim tag for 2020 kinda like Grobe and then lock him down if he’s good.
If they already think he’s great they should lock him down before the season because if they slip in 2020, which I think is likely, then there will be pressure to use the purse to chase a bigger name and they could waste him.
Yeah, that’s the other part of Rhule leaving. Rhoades isn’t dumb & I’m sure has a short list of very capable candidates, but it’s late in the dance unless they do the interim bit to snatch someone up prior to the end of the 2020 season. I really doubt Gettleman will give up control of his area to Rhule, but if they want him that bad & he can bring some good staff, ownership may decide to tell Gettleman to play nice or leave. I guess we’ll see what happens the next week or 2. I’m just tired of the yearly should I stay or should I go noncommittal BS. Pick one & go from there, I really don’t care what he wants since he’s getting paid CFP $ & we ain’t there yet.
Sills is a grad transfer. He announced his transfer to Stillwater. Wasn’t he pretty good?
Dang. And he missed most of this season so he may have 2 years left. That’s quite a steal.
Hubbard and Wallace return!!!! Epic offseason so far. Watch out big 12.
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