“Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West, a State that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness.”
No I’m not talking about California. When I think of the Wild West, I think of Cowboys and Lasso’s, train heists and bank robberies, and of course tumbleweeds.
One of the West’s greatest battles happens every year and it’s gone by a couple different names, from the Red River Shootout, Red River Rilvary, to the now less interesting Red River Showdown. The teams in this game account for more than half the Big 12’s conference champions and no matter the circumstances surrounding the game it can be a blowout or upset, and in some cases both.
When looking at the Big 12 and it’s preview for the season we must look no further than with Oklahoma vs Texas.
Oklahoma comes into the year as the favorite to the win the conference (+130). Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s version of Ohio State and Alabama having seen 19 players drafted since 2015. No other Big 12 team comes close to that number within that period. It’s why year in and year out they are the favorites in the conference with 11 total Big 12 championships. Most notably they’ve seen departures of Baker Mayfield, Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Dede Westbrook, Sterling Shepard, and Mark Andrews. That’s a lot of explosiveness in the NFL these days and optimism to take out the Sooners is as high as when Baylor and TCU ran the conference (the brief moment in history it was). If they are going to have another successful season we must get to know the names, Marquise Brown (1,095 rec yds, 7 TD), Ceedee Lamb (807 rec yds, 7 TD), and Rodney Anderson (1,161 rush yds, 13 TD). Notable Games: vs UCLA, vs Texas, @TCU, vs OK St., @West Virginia
Texas has won the 2nd highest amount of Big 12 championships with 3. There’s a little hint of sarcasm there. The Longhorns have had an uphill battle since Mack Brown retired and have been looking for a savior at QB since Colt McCoy graduated. It’s been some time but I like to look at trajectories and 2nd year head coach Tom Herman looks to be able to keep the momentum going. The Longhorns finished the year 7-6 after losing 4 one-score games with 2 of those coming in OT. The offensive system Herman uses needs a running QB and at 6’2” 230, Sam Ehlinger looks to fit the prototype role for the offense. He split time with Shane Buechele last season and whoever quarterbacks the offense in 2018 will need to be able to handle the load as a dual threat if Texas wants to make a serious run at dethroning the untouchables. Notable Games: vs USC, vs TCU, vs Oklahoma, @OK St., vs West Virginia
TCU seems to be an after thought in the discussion and at +700 to win the conference there isn’t much optimism outside of Fort Worth. Before coming into the Big 12, TCU was known as a defensive powerhouse. 2018 looks to be the year they get that title back. TCU has to replace their leading tackler in Travin Howard (108 total tackles) and leader in sacks Matt Boesen (11.5 sacks) but with 7 seniors on defense and others returning into the mix I’ll be interested to see if the Horned Frogs are able to return glory to a defense that finished 19th in Total Defense a year ago. Look for Ty Summers and Ben Benogu to lead the way on the defensive side of the ball while QB Sean Robinson tries to replicate the success of Kenny Hill and Trevon Boykin. Notable Games: vs Ohio State, @Texas, vs Oklahoma, @WVU, vs OK St.
West Virginia come into the season tied with TCU and Oklahoma St at +700 odds to win the conference. Unlike TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma St aren’t known for having a good defense. Outside of Baylor and Kansas, West Virginia has the next worst total defense in the Big 12 (106th in the NCAA in 2017), partially because they play a weird/stupid 3-3-5 scheme which is built better for producing takeaways than it is at stopping people. There once was a time when West Virginia was at the top of the country back when Pat White and company were around. The NCAA and media gave them practically no respect and the Mountaineers felt forced to join a major conference, and they haven’t been the same. Unlike the stats portion of breaking down success, I firmly believe the Mountaineers have been hindered greatly by having to travel halfway across the country for half their games. It’s just hard to maintain momentum and energy with layovers and time zone changes almost every week. This year they have their most favorable schedule to date with only 4 trips to the Central Timezone and home games against Oklahoma and TCU. With QB Will Grier returning along with 2 of his top 3 targets from 2017 in Gary Jennings and David Sills V, the offense looks to be able to keep up with anyone in the conference. The question will and always will be can their defense step up. Notable Games: vs Tennessee, @NC State, @Iowa St, @Texas, vs TCU, vs Oklahoma
Other Keys to the 2018 BIG 12 Season:
I’m done with ever believing in Oklahoma State. Until they quit running the same nickel defense that Georgia Tech ran last year, I’ll never believe they can beat anyone. Their best chances were in 2011 when they were robbed of playing LSU for the BCS National Championship due to many reasons I simply cannot get into at this moment (It’ll get too heated). I thought 2017 was Oklahoma State’s year to finally get over the hump again until Glenn Spencer proved why he is the worst Division 1 Defensive Coordinator by surrendering 62 points to Oklahoma. You can say it’s 2 good offenses going at it but 62-52 is a disgrace for 2 teams trying to win a national championship. UGA would go on to exploit the Oklahoma defense that gave up 52, so neither team gets a pass for that treacherous display of defense. They should both be ashamed of themselves. Maybe Spencer can improve his game-planning…
What in the world ever happened to Kansas? Can anyone still remember a time they were #2 in the country and went on to win the Orange Bowl? That seems like a hallucination at this point as in the past 3 seasons the Jayhawks have produced, 0, 2, and 1 win. 2018 should give them their best chances at 3+ wins bringing back 19 starters from a year ago. Maybe they can upset somebody so people can talk about Kansas Football again. They’ll always have Basketball though…
…And then there’s Iowa State. I, unlike most of the country, watched Iowa State’s upset victory over Oklahoma live and in its entirety. I would say I was highly impressed with how the Iowa State coaches managed the game. The entire game was controlled by Oklahoma but the Cyclones held their own and took 3 points at times instead of chasing touchdowns (kicking 3 field goals during a period where the Sooners scored 3 touchdowns). When Trey Sermon fumbled the football looking to put the Sooners up 2 scores, Iowa State took advantage of the situation and were able to win the game. The upset victory was more about Out-Coaching Oklahoma and less about being better than them, however I am now a believer in QB Kyle Kempt after that game. While I don’t think they’ll win the conference, they should definitely improve and surprise people who haven’t been paying attention to what Matt Campbell is doing out in Ames.
If you’re tired of seeing Alabama and Ohio State every year, then you’re probably tired of seeing Oklahoma as well. The Sooners have run the Big 12 in football and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. Texas have out-recruited the Sooners 4 out of the last 5 years including the nations 4th recruiting class of 2018. Only time will tell if those rankings will lead to a changing of the guard and this year will most likely be determined in the 2nd return of Big 12 Championship Game. West Virginia, Oklahoma St, and TCU all look to prove they are worthy of the top spot and with uncertainty around Kyler Murray and how he’ll manage to fill the QB shoes for the Sooners, we should be for a wild ride in the Wild West.
***Wikipedia was used for team history and coaches history
******Sports-reference.com was used for all player statistics
*******Odds were provided through Bovada.com