The 2021 college football season is finally here! While the Big 12 isn’t participating in Week 0, today’s action is enough to feed the frenzy that will lead into the first game week of the season for the Sooners and Cowboys. So let’s talk about it!
Below is our preseason conversation where we discuss six topics of interest heading into the season. We would certainly welcome your contributions to the conversation. Please feel free to add to the discussion in the comments section below.
1. Oklahoma and Texas are bolting to the S.E.C. possibly as early as the 2022 season. Do you see the Big 12 surviving without these two flagship programs? Why or why not?
Matt: I definitely see the conference surviving! There’s some serious momentum building towards expansion. If the conference were to target teams like BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Boise State, and is able to keep the remaining eight schools together, then there’s the strong probability that it not only survives but also keeps its “Power 5” status.
Rich: No, as these two are the biggest reason eyeballs turn towards the Big 12 to begin with. When the dollars start to disappear and contracts enter renegotiation, it will leave the remainder of schools wanting more. Without the biggest draw and as the money pool dries up, people will move from complacency to discontent as the remainder of the conference will devolve into chaos. It’s better to break it up now and explore any and all options.
2. One of the preseason topics that we always like to discuss is coaches on the hot seat. Give us the three coaches you feel are in must win situations this season in order to save their jobs?
Matt: I think you have to start with Matt Wells at Texas Tech. There’s no doubt that this is a make or break season for him.
This is a bit of a cheat but Emmitt Jones at Kansas is also an obvious choice. He still has the interim tag but is definitely getting a long application process with the Jayhawks. If things go well in 2021 he could be the next guy to guide KU Football. If things continue to go south then his experiment at the helm is over.
Finally I think we’ll head to Stillwater, Oklahoma for #3. I like Mike Gundy and could make a strong argument that no one could have done a better job than what he’s doing at Oklahoma State. That said, the contingent of disgruntled fans seems to grow every year. It’s reached the point where you get the feeling that a disappointing season is all that the OSU administration needs to entice them to pull the trigger.
Rich: Matt Wells is the obvious pick and must produce a winning season to salvage his job. Steve Sarkisian checks in at number two for me as the expectations are soaring. Realistically, I recognize there’s too much money on the line to fire him after one season. Lastly but certainly not least, Mike Gundy found himself in hot water recently. The leash is slowly tightening and a season much like the last one could result in an unforeseen change.
3. Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 once again. Who do you see as the top challenger to knock the Sooners off the throne?
Matt: How can you not go with Iowa State here? The Cyclones were the top challenger last season and they have two Heisman Trophy contenders on the offensive side of the ball this year. No one, including Oklahoma, should take ISU lightly this season.
Rich: Clearly, the role of challenger belongs to Iowa State. Possessing offensive tools that have given the Sooners problems over the years is of major concern. Combined with a constant and relentless defensive pressure, there are few holes on the field.
4. Let’s talk about dark horses. Give us a team that isn’t Oklahoma or Iowa State that you feel has a chance to make a surprise appearance in the Big 12 championship game.
Matt: West Virginia is going to be a good conversation piece on this topic but I’m sticking with my preseason ritual of picking TCU as the dark horse. Gary Patterson defenses are always ready for a brawl of a game and Max Duggan may have the Big 12’s deepest stable of running backs at his disposal going into year #3.
Rich: An improved running game away from making a serious charge up the rankings, the West Virginia Mountaineers are primed for a breakout year in the Big 12. It’s one aspect of the game that has improved under Neal Brown but has much further to go in all honesty.
5. What are you most curious to find out about Oklahoma as the season approaches?
Matt: Before this last week my answer would have been the cornerbacks. Now you really can’t say anything other than running back depth. The Kennedy Brooks/Eric Gray combo is going to be lethal but they are also the only two scholarship running backs Oklahoma has going into the season. Buckle up!
Rich: Well, depth at running back is at the forefront of the conversation. Oklahoma is one positive COVID test away from a depleted and unproven backfield heading into 2021. We’ll have to wait to see exactly how Lincoln Riley handles the situation while providing vital reps for those who are not on scholarship. Will one emerge as a contender to carry the ball in the absence of two heavy hitters?
6. What are you most curious to find out about Oklahoma State as the season approaches?
Matt: It’s the offense for me. I think the Cowboys are going to be pretty stacked on defense but there are a lot of questions I don’t have answers for on the offensive side of the ball. The line was brutal last season, Chuba Hubbard is gone, as is Tylan Wallace. That’s a lot of adjustments for Spencer Sanders as he looks to year three.
Rich: The question I’m asking after watching the Cowboys march toward the end of 2020 is this: is Mike Gundy the type of coach that can motivate his players to finish the season? How will this team handle defeat?
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