Oklahoma is favored to win the Big 12 for the fifth straight season, according to the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com. But the computer also offers up a big surprise with its No. 2 pick in the conference, Iowa State. The Cyclones check in just ahead of Texas.
Those three schools stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field in the conference, while five teams will stage a free-for-all for the 4-through-9 spots. Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia begin the year relatively even. Baylor begins the year with the highest power rating among that group at 76.42 while Kansas State has the lowest at 71.16.
Kansas State and WVU are among four conference schools with new head coaches. The others are Kansas and Texas Tech (complete information all all four coaching changes can be found at the end of this article).
The Bears get edge to finish 4th by losing only to TCU among that group. But Baylor trails the Sooners by over over 11 points,the Cyclones by 9 and the Longhorns by 5. The fact that the Bears host all three doesn't help on paper, but certainly gives them ample opportunity to pull off a surprise or two.
The battle for first between Oklahoma and Iowa State should get settled on November 9th when the Sooners are a 5.70-point favorite over the visiting Cyclones.
Texas is a 6.43-point underdog to Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game at Dallas on October 12, and a 6.73-point underdog at Iowa State on October 16.
Oklahoma is a preseason 2.69-point pick over Iowa State in the championship game at Arlington.
Iowa State has never won a Big 6, Big 7, Big 8 or Big 12 championship, dating back to the school's first season as a Big 6 member in 1928. The Cyclones tied Colorado for the North division title in 2004, but lost the tie-breaker to the Buffaloes.
As a whole, the conference may be seen as being mediocre in 2018, making it difficult for the champion to get a spot in the Final Four. The only hope may be an undefeated Oklahoma team, and that's a stretch given that the Sooners last finished the regular season unblemished in 2004.
Last year, Oklahoma got in as the #4 seed and fell 45-34 to #1 seed Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
Kansas: Les Miles is back and will be grazing on the grass in the Big 12 as he strives to give the Jayhawk football program a pulse. Kansas has won a total of just 18 games so far in this decade (2011-2018) and hasn't had a winning season or bowl appearance since 2008. David Beatty was told in early November that he would not be retained for 2019, but was asked to coach out the season. A 3-9 finish left Beatty with a 4-year record of 6-42 and a Big 12 mark of just 2-34. Les Miles was 114-34 in a little more than 11 seasons at LSU from 2005-2016, and his 2007 team won the BCS national championship. He was fired from his post in Baton Rouge four games in to the 2016 season.
Kansas State: North Dakota State, the most successful program in the FCS in recent history, lost head coach Chris Klieman to the Wildcats. Klieman's hiring was announced December 10th but he didn't take full control until his Bisons finished their run in the FCS playoffs where he led them to their fourth national title in his five seasons with the Fargo school (defeated Eastern Washington 38-24 in Frisco, Texas). Kleiman is tied with Jim Tressel (Youngstown State) for the most national titles at the FCS level. Overall, NDSU has won 7 of the last 8 FCS championships. Klieman replaced Craig Bohl at NDSU when Bohl left to become head coach at Wyoming. Klieman succeeds a legend at Kansas State after Bill Snyder announced his retirement December 2. Snyder has over 40% of all wins in the program's history. The school is 471-600-35 in its football history, but Snyder ended his 30-year reign with a record of 215-117-1. Furthermore, 19 of the school's 21 bowl appearances came under Snyder, including all 9 bowl victories. Snyder briefly retired from 2006-2008 but was called back into service after the 'Cats went 17-20 in those three seasons under Ron Prince. 2018 produced KSU's first losing regular season (5-7) since Snyder's return to the sideline. At 79, Snyder has had recent health issues. Fittingly, Kansas State plays at Bill Snyder Family Stadium after the field venue was named in his honor at the end of his 2005 season when it was thought he was heading into permanent retirement.
Texas Tech: Utah State's loss is Texas Tech's gain. Matt Wells led the Aggies to five bowl games in 6 season while compiling a 44-34 record, including 10-2 last year. Wells replaces Kliff Kingsbury who was handed his walking papers on November 25. In six seasons, Kingsbury guided the team to just 3 bowl games with the only win coming in his inaugural season in 2013 which was also his best overall season at 8-5. He amassed a 35-40 record, including 16-5 in non-conference games, but just 19-35 in the Big 12. Texas Tech finished 5-7 in 2018 after beginning the year at 5-2. Kingsbury landed on his feet when he was hired as the offensive coordinator at USC on December 4, but came out smelling even more rosy when the NFL's Arizona Cardinals tapped him as their head coach on January 8.
West Virginia: Successful Troy head coach Neal Brown takes over over for Dana Holgorsen in Morgantown. Brown's teams won 10 or more games in each of the last 3 seasons, including 3 bowl victories. He was 35-16 in four seasons and 23-9 in Sun Belt games. His pass-first offense has been dubbed the "NASCAR Spread", though the passing game only ranked 81st in the nation this past season and accounted for only 536 more yards than the running game (2,799 to 2,263).
Holgorsen resigned on January 2 to fill the opening at Houston. The move came after his 8th season in Morgantown produced a 3-4 finish after a 5-0 start. The Houston job became available when Major Applewhite was unceremoniously let go on December 30 after his team went 1-4 down the stretch to finish 8-5. Both teams were soundly defeated in their respective bowl game with WVU bowing to Syracuse 34-18 and the Cougars getting blown out 70-14 by Army. Holgorsen was the OC and QB coach under Kevin Sumlin in 2008-2009 when Case Keenum threw for over 10,600 yards in two seasons with 88 TD passes. Holgorsen was first hired as the head coach in waiting in December 2010 and he replaced Bill Stewart the following year. In his 8 seasons as head coach, Holgorsen posted a not-so-spectacular record of 61-41 overall and 38-32 in conference play. This past year's 8-4 mark was actually his second-best season with the Mountaineers. Stewart was 9-4 in each of his 3 seasons at WVU.
*-Tie-breakers: Oklahoma State beats Kansas State and TCU; Kansas State beats TCU
*-Championship: Oklahoma over Iowa State
First-place votes in parenthesis
1. Oklahoma (68) - 761 points
2. Texas (9) - 696 points
3. Iowa State - 589 points
4. TCU - 474 points
5. Oklahoma State - 460 points
6. Baylor - 453 points
7. Texas Tech - 281 points
8. West Virginia - 241 points
9. Kansas State - 191 points
10. Kansas - 89 points
Predicted Champion: Oklahoma