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.
With former co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham back on staff as a tight end and wide receiver coach, along with former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, can TCU establish an offensive identity behind promising sophomore quarterback Max Duggan?
Of the four Big 12 teams that failed to make a bowl game last season, TCU was the most surprising.
While the team was, after all, starting a true freshman quarterback, the Horned Frogs had NFL talent on both sides of the ball. In fact, four players were drafted within the first three rounds in this year’s NFL Draft, including their best offensive and defensive lineman.
Although they lost interior defensive lineman Ross Blacklock and top cornerback Jeff Gladney, TCU returns top tackler Garrett Wallow and cover safety Trevon Moehrig. Moehrig is regarded as the nation’s most valuable returning safety, according to Pro Football Focus.
Where did things go wrong for the Horned Frogs last season?
It stems from their offensive scheme.
As college football writer Ian Boyd pointed out in a recent article, the Frogs must improve their offensive designs if they’re to generate better spacing. That’s why they brought back former co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and added Jerry Kill to the offensive staff.
First-round NFL wide receiver Jalen Reagor was often double teamed and bracketed by opposing defenses in coverage last season. Thus, given the way their offense was set up, TCU failed to maximize the opportunities for those around Reagor.
While TCU loses their top two running backs from last season, the late addition of five-star running back Zach Evans was much-needed.
Gary Patterson’s first ever five-star commit came in the most unexpected way. Now that his recruitment is over, Evans can focus solely on being the best running back he can possibly be away from national spotlight. This may turn out to be a monumental add for the Frogs.
They also return capable receivers with Taye Barber in the slot and six-foot-three inch Te’Vailance Hunt on the outside, and add highly-ranked six-foot-four wide receiver Quentin Johnson — who flipped from Texas to TCU right before the early signing period.
In the end, the majority of TCU’s hopes in 2020 rest upon Duggan taking a leap.
Considering his athleticism and quick arm release, he has the intangibles to become TCU’s next great quarterback. If Duggan makes a sophomore leap similar to Ehlinger under a revitalized offensive staff, the Frogs will be a threat atop the conference once again.
The rest of the Big 12 will know a lot about the Horned Frogs before conference play begins.
TCU has to travel to California and SMU within the first four weeks of the season. Shane Buechele and his Mustangs defeated them on the road last year. Meanwhile, Cal is fresh off an 8-5 season under rising head coach Justin Wilcox.