The Oklahoma Sooners have an opportunity to win their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are loaded with their own rendition of star power in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. But maybe this is the Texas Longhorns’ year after all.
From coaching to quarterback play, the Big 12’s intriguing storylines are worth monitoring. Most of the conference’s teams are expected to improve at the quarterback position, as 70 percent of the league’s starting quarterbacks return this season. Of the three teams that don’t return a starting quarterback, the Texas Tech Red Raiders brings back a healthy Alan Bowman and – *drum roll* – the Spencer Rattler era is set to begin in Norman.
With Matt Rhule out and Dave Aranda for the Baylor Bears, now half of the league’s coaches are in their first or second-year as head coach, making fourth-year Tom Herman a wise man of sorts.
Those are just a few of the most exciting narratives at play. Let’s get into it.
We’ll continue with ... the middle of the pack – the underdogs.
Does Iowa State have enough offensive firepower to compete atop the conference?
Doing more with less has been Iowa State football’s mantra under head coach Matt Campbell.
Iowa State has yet to finish among the top half of the conference in recruiting since Campbell arrived in Ames. Despite not having the luxury to recruit the same talent as other programs, the Cyclones have emerged as a consistent threat to top-tier Big 12 teams.
Iowa State’s 23-16 (.590) record over the past three seasons marked the program’s best three-year stretch since 2000-2002 (.605), finishing above .500 in conference play in each of those three seasons. Eight wins this season would set a school-record (31) for most wins across a four-year span.
Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has drawn a lot of praise for his 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Schematically, the Cyclones previously ran a 4-3 or 4-2-5 defense when Heacock arrived with Campbell in 2016. He learned to combat against the prowess of air-raid offenses by adding a SAM linebacker and an extra safety to his scheme.
It all starts with containing the run.
“I think Coach Heacock is one of the great defensive coordinators in college football,” Former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule told 247Sports. “That defense is designed in a way where they’re taking away the big run play as well. The robber safety is always showing as an extra defender. People are having a hard time trying to find a way to run. I think if people could run the ball against them they’d have a lot of success. Nobody’s found a way to do it.”
Last season, Heacock’s defense ranked third in the conference in points allowed (25.9 PPG).
With starting quarterback Brock Purdy and their best offensive weapon in tight end Charlie Kolar returning, the Cyclones could make some noise atop the conference behind the play of their stout defense this season.
But what is the ceiling for this group offensively?
In 2018, when Purdy initially took over under center as a freshman, he had All-Big 12 running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Hakeem Butler at his convenience. Those kind of NFL playmakers come around every five years or so at a program like Iowa State. Sophomore running back Breece Hall flashed potential last season, but the Cyclones will have to replace two starting wide receivers and four starters on their offensive line.
The development of incoming junior college transfer wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson and returning big-play threat Tarique Milton, who averaged 20.6 yards per catch, will likely determine what the ceiling is for Purdy and the Cyclones’ offense.
If Iowa State starts competing for conference championships, who knows what the future may hold for Campbell beyond this season. There’s no doubt that he’s one of college football’s rising stars in the coaching industry. Although he recently signed a contract extension, it’s only a matter of time before he makes a jump up the coaching ranks, it seems. For now, he’ll continue to play the underdog role as the head coach in Ames.