For years, Big 12 football has earned its keep because of a long line of veteran, polished quarterbacks who put up ridiculous numbers.
This season is a whole new ballgame at the most important position on the field.
West Virginia’s Will Grier is the one shining star, a plausible Heisman Trophy candidate and the main reason the media voted the Mountaineers No. 2 to Oklahoma in the preseason poll. And Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt helped direct the Cyclones to an improbable breakout season in 2017.
Outside of those two, the rest of the league either has new quarterbacks or ones who haven’t fully earned their keep. First, a look at the rookie starters:
- Oklahoma: Kyler Murray, the former five-star recruit from Texas A&M, has about a $5 million baseball contract awaiting him in Oakland. But how well can he play football? He didn’t stand out as a freshman in College Station and only threw 21 passes in garbage time in Norman last fall. A slow start Saturday against Florida Atlantic, and Austin Kendall will be warming up in the bullpen.
- TCU: Sophomore Shawn Robinson was just 13 of 27 last year. He got the nod partly because he’s a dual threat who’s dangerous on the run, and the Horned Frogs are rebuilding their line. Yet Gary Patterson said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference that Michael Collins, a transfer from Penn, also will play “possibly early rather than later.”
- Oklahoma State: Fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius finally will get his chance after sitting a lifetime behind Mason Rudolph. Cornelius has only thrown 24 passes in three years and has zero touchdowns.
- Texas Tech. McLane Carter won a three-way battle for the job but has much to prove. The junior from Gilmer hit 23 of 46 for 359 yards last year, which isn’t even a good game’s worth of numbers for Patrick Mahomes or other Tech QBs of the past.
Other Big 12 teams are still rather unsettled at the position:
- Texas: Westlake’s Sam Ehlinger has first dibs on the job, but he was erratic as a freshman and susceptible to the big mistake. Shane Buechele and freshman Cameron Rising will be there if he stumbles again.
- Kansas State: The Wildcats have had trouble deciding between Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton, so they’ll each get ample opportunity. When you have two quarterbacks you have none? Stay tuned.
- Baylor: Lake Travis’ Charlie Brewer expected to have the job nailed down by now after an encouraging freshman campaign. Instead, North Carolina State transfer Jalen McClendon has jumped in and clouded the decision.
- Kansas: Peyton Bender has the gig. For now. The senior completed just 54.2 percent of his throws last year with 10 TDs, 10 picks and 17 sacks. He could hear footsteps from Miles Kendrick and Carter Stanley.
Lincoln Riley and Mike Gundy point out that nobody is asking Murray or Cornelius to be Baker Mayfield or Rudolph.
“Kyler, as a transfer, has had time to step back, settle in mentally and become more a student of the game,” Riley said. “He’s grown in a lot of areas and more ready for this moment.”
Gundy said Cornelius, from tiny Bushland (population: 1,092) west of Amarillo, is a rare breed.
“He’s a dinosaur,” Gundy said. “I don’t think you’ll see a lot of QBs in the future of college football sticking around like he did.
“We’re comfortable with him. We also need to be patient. He’s not going to step in and do all that Mason did.”
Kingsbury expects Carter to keep the conga line going in Lubbock even though he was shaky in a win over Texas that got the Raiders to a bowl game last year. Yet Kingsbury also hinted that Carter might have a short leash.
“I’m excited about all three guys,” the coach said. “They have talent, athleticism and just need experience and game reps. With our offensive line back, a stronger running game and better receivers, that will make their job easier.
“With the long-standing tradition we have on offense, we don’t expect that to change, no matter who’s throwing it.”
PRESEASON BIG 12 FOOTBALL POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;2017 record;2018 opener;Comment
1. (1) Oklahoma;12-2 (8-1);vs. Florida Atlantic (11-3), Sat.;Replacing Baker Mayfield is impossible, but Sooners have enough proven ability across two-deep to grab 4th straight title.
2. (7) West Virginia;7-6 (5-4);* vs. Tennessee (4-8), Sat.;In league without a power house outside Norman, Mountaineers, inspired by QB Will Grier, can fill this void.
3. (2) TCU;11-3 (7-2);vs. Southern (7-4), Sat.;Season-ending Achilles tear to dominant DT Ross Blacklock a killer, but we believe in Gary Patterson.
4. (6) Kansas State;8-5 (5-4);vs. South Dakota (8-5), Sat.;Speaking of coaches we believe in, Bill Snyder refuses to go quietly into the night, re-upping for 5 more years.
5. (5) Texas;7-6 (5-4);+ vs. Maryland (4-8), Sat.;Terps program on verge of major upheaval, while deeper, stronger Longhorns have arrow pointing up.
6. (3) Oklahoma State;10-3 (6-3);vs. Missouri State (3-8), Thu.;2017 Big 12 rushing champ Justice Hill likely to find fewer running lanes with inexperience around him.
7. (4) Iowa State;8-5 (5-4);vs. South Dakota State (11-3), Sat.;This is kind of tough FCS foe that could have beaten old Cyclones. Those days are gone, we think.
8. (8) Texas Tech;6-7 (3-6);^ vs. Ole Miss (6-6), Sat.;Probably the one SEC West team Red Raiders can beat, and they better, for Kliff Kingsbury’s sake.
9. (9) Baylor;1-11 (1-8);vs. Abilene Christian (2-9), Sat.;Young Bears could make quantum leap this year, especially after dining on early slate of creampuffs.
10. (10) Kansas;1-11 (0-9);vs. Nicholls (8-4), Sat.;Soft scheduling should allow Jayhawks and Bears to get off to fast start. Now to avoid disastrous finish.
* - at Charlotte, N.C……..+ - at Landover, Md……..^ - at Houston