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 transitioning programs.
Life after Matt Rhule, the start of the Dave Aranda era — can senior quarterback Charlie Brewer stay healthy? If not, is redshirt freshman Jacob Zeno ready to fill his role at quarterback?
From Art Biles to Matt Rhule, the program’s last coaching transition couldn’t have gone any better. Rhule turned around the Baylor program in a hurry. A polar opposite of how most Big 12 teams operate offensively, Baylor managed to win games through grit and physical line play. The partnership between defensive coordinator Phil Snow and Rhule was a perfect match to combat Big 12 offenses. From 2017-19, the Bears rose 87 spots and ranked among the top 30 in total defense. They led the conference in turnovers forced last season (17).
Now, the program is in the hands of last year’s national championship-winning defensive coordinator — Dave Aranda.
Considered by many as one of college football’s best defensive minds, it was only a matter of time before the nation’s highest-paid coordinator received a promotion to be a head coach somewhere. With Rhule out the door, the opening at Baylor came just at the right time for Aranda to take a step up.
Aranda’s complex defensive scheme consists of a three-man front, extra defensive backs, and hybrid position players.
On defense, he’ll have his work cut out for him in year one, as Baylor ranks No. 127 in returning defensive production. They’ll have to replace their entire defensive line, which included Big 12 defensive player of the year James Lynch.
While it’s unclear what the immediate impact will be on-the-field under Aranda and company, one thing is for certain already – he can recruit the state of Texas.
Baylor has 14 committed prospects in their upcoming recruiting class — 12 are from Texas. They currently rank second in the Big 12 in the 2021 team recruiting rankings.
Entering his senior season, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is in a similar situation (health-wise) as former Texas quarterback David Ash. Due to the cumulative effect of multiple concussions, Ash made the difficult choice to retire for the sake of his health. Last season, Brewer got dinged up in the Big 12 championship game and in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. He’s suffered several head injuries throughout his career already.
Here’s to hoping Brewer finishes his college career without any more concussions.
But if another reoccurring injury does in fact force Brewer to miss more time, redshirt freshman Jacob Zeno is the next man up at quarterback.
The college football world saw a glimpse of Zeno in last year’s conference championship game after Brewer went out. He completed two deep passes for 159 yards and a touchdown to give the Bears some life late in that game. Thanks to his effort, Baylor came back from a double-digit deficit and forced overtime.
It sure is shaping up to be an interesting first season for Aranda as a head coach.