What a weird, strange season it’s been.
Oklahoma looked dominant most of the season, but their foil from Texas was supposed to be the Longhorns, not the Bears. Four new coaches each experienced big wins and embarrassing losses, though one had far more wins than the others. TCU and Texas struggled, Oklahoma State was weird, and ISU was the model of consistency — consistently just above average in the win-loss column.
So all the games have been played, lets put all the teams in their final spots before the bowl games begin.
Aside from their one blip in October, a road loss to the then-healthy Wildcats, the Sooners have been exactly who we thought they would be in 2019. They are clearly the class of the conference, with yet another Heisman Trophy contender at QB and a berth in the College Football Playoff within reach. They still need to beat the Bears again in the Big 12 Conference Championship Game next weekend to feel good about their spot, but the ball is in the Sooners hands right now.
2. Baylor Bears
Of the teams with returning head coaches, the Bears may be the biggest surprise. Picked 6th in the preseason, and with a struggling win over Rice in the non-conference, Baylor did not look like a team that was going to finish the season 11-1, with it’s sole loss to the Sooners in Waco. But they won games. They won ugly games, they won blowout games, and they beat plenty of good teams along they way. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible, the Bears will get a playoff berth if they were to beat the Sooners next weekend. But realistically, win or lose, the Bears are headed for the Sugar Bowl, and that’s got to feel pretty good.
What a year it’s been in Manhattan. A 3-0 start got fans feeling pretty high. Then a 0-2 start to conference play brought fans back down to Earth. Followed by another 3-0 run that including the big win over Oklahoma that gave fans dreams of conference championship game appearance and secured bowl eligibility in Chris Klieman’s first season. Then another 0-2 spot that including the demoralizing loss at home to West Virginia and the season appeared on the brink yet again. And now, 2-0 to finish the season at 8-4 overall, 5-4 in conference play, including beating every ranked team on the schedule and a walloping of KU in Lawrence to re-assert dominance in that series. Due to losses to OSU and UT, the Wildcats will actually finish fifth in the official conference standings, but the Wildcats are the only team in the country to beat Oklahoma this season (so far), so that’s worth bonus points. And after being picked 9th in the preseason, Klieman would certainly get the nod for newcomer-coach-of-the-year if such an award existed, and should be easily second to Matt Rhule for 2019 Big 12 Coach of the Year.
The Cowboys clearly had the best running back in the conference this season. And some other fine pieces around the depth chart made this team look very dangerous on paper. But the Pokes, much like the Cyclones, just couldn’t beat the teams ranked above them, and, like the Wildcats, suffered an inexplicable defeat to one team below them. Young teams will do that, and nearly all the important parts of the offense will return to Stillwater in 2020. The Pokes could have a very, very good team next season.
The Cyclones were on the verge of something special. Then FARMAGEDDON happened. In his third season in Ames, Matt Campbell will still lead Iowa State to it’s third-straight bowl appearance, which puts him among the greats in Ames, but there were higher expectations for this season among Cyclone faithful. This was supposed to be the next step — nine wins or better — and at the end of the regular season the Cyclones managed to not even hit a different milestone: consecutive seasons of eight or more wins in the regular season.
If the Iowa State season was a bust, then the Longhorn season was far, far worse. After a win in the Sugar Bowl over Georgia to end the last season, QB Sam Ehlinger loudly proclaimed “Texas is Back!”, and the Longhorns were expected to compete with the Sooners yet again for the conference crown. But barely seven wins later (and it easily could have been just six), and Texas fans are already unhappy with Tom Herman at the end of his third season. He’ll be back in 2020, but it’s expected that much of his current staff won’t be, at least it their current configuration. Texas still managed to finish the season third in the conference standings, and may yet end up at the Alamo Bowl or the Big 12’s lone Florida bowl game, but it’s definitely not what the Longhorn faithful were looking for in 2019.
Neal Brown’s squad managed to play spoiler in their final game of 2019. While a bowl berth was not on the line for them after falling to 4-7 last weekend, they still played hard and managed to leave Ft. Worth yesterday at 5-7 and picked up their third Big 12 win of the season, second-best among the new Big 12 coaches. Brown was dealt a tough hand with this Mountaineer squad, with so much NFL-level talent leaving at the end of last season for paychecks, but he managed to scrape enough together to make some noise, and a late-season QB change sparked the team to wins in two of their final three games. If Brown can keep it up, the Mountaineers could be dangerous again in 2020.
TCU was picked 4th in the preseason, ahead of both Oklahoma State and Baylor. For as much as the preseason polls got the Wildcats too low, they got the Horned Frogs too high. Such is life in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs struggled with QB play all season, and their once-vaunted defense was not as tough as it has been. They put a scare into plenty of teams, and played a lot of close games — seven games were decided by a touchdown or less — but the Frogs just couldn’t get over the hump quite often enough. But Max Duggan was a true freshman in 2019, and if the coaches can get a few more pieces around him on offense, Gary Patterson could get this group back to the top-half of the Big 12 next year.
Matt Wells did some interesting things with his Red Raiders in 2019. Down the expected starting QB very, very early in the season, he still managed to direct his team to an upset win over Oklahoma State, an overtime loss to Baylor, and a blow-out win over West Virginia. But he also did the thing you should never do — he lost to Kansas, giving the Jayhawks their sole Big 12 win of 2019. Wells gets a pass on this season, because of the football-discipline issues and roster challenges he inherited from Kliff Kingsbury, but he and the Red Raider faithful will be looking for improvement next season.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Well it’s very clear after his first season in Lawrence: there’s still miles to go for Les Miles and the Jayhawks. To their credit, the Jayhawks did talk a LOT of smack for a team that got pummeled game after game — proving that you can beat them down on the field, but not in their own heads. But three wins seems to be the current ceiling in Lawrence, and one unexpected conference win the norm. In this age of college football parity — when every game is on TV, recruits are easier to reach than ever, millions are poured into facilities for losing programs, and even G6 conferences like the MAC can field a bunch of nationally-competitive teams — for the Jayhawks to continue to be this bad for this long certainly is a level of futility that surpasses anything the Wildcats mustered in the dark days before the arrival of Bill Snyder. It’s about time for the Big 12 to talk about removing the Jayhawk football team from the conference, and replacing it with a team that might actually be competitive. Like
Arkansas Nebraska Northern Iowa.