Big 12 predictions 2021: Conference standings, Heisman hopefuls and best games

Is this the end of the Big 12 as we know it?

With Oklahoma and Texas seeking membership in the Southeastern Conference, the conference appears headed for another drastic change in the College Football Playoff era. 

On the field, the Sooners remain the team to beat. Oklahoma has won six consecutive Big 12 championships, and coach Lincoln Riley has another loaded offense to work with in 2021. Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler returns at quarterback, and there is enough talent to make a national championship run. 

Texas begins a new era with Steve Sarkisian, who won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach at Alabama in 2020. Kansas also fired Les Miles and hired Buffalo coach Lance Leipold this offseason. 

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Looking for a challenger to Oklahoma? Iowa State, which split with the Sooners last season, are the best bet under coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones had three players on SN’s Preseason All-American team in Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar and Mike Rose. Three-year starter Brock Purdy is back, too. 

Sporting News looks at the Big 12 and makes its predictions for 2021:  

2021 Big 12 predicted order of finish

  1. Oklahoma 
  2. Iowa State
  3. TCU 
  4. Texas 
  5. Oklahoma State 
  6. West Virginia 
  7. Kansas State 
  8. Texas Tech 
  9. Baylor 
  10. Kansas

Big 12 top storyline: Is this OU, Texas farewell tour?  

The Sooners and Longhorns do appear on their way to the SEC, but it’s a question of when at this point. Will it be 2022? 

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If so, then those respective road schedules become that much more interesting. Texas plays at TCU, Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia this year. Oklahoma travels to Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State. The animosity for the Sooners and Longhorns will amplify if those schools are on their way out. 

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That could create some must-see-TV matchups. 

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Impact freshman 

JD Coffey III, S, Texas 

Coffey is one of three talented freshmen who should see immediate playing time for the Longhorns along with receivers Ja’Tavion Sanders and Xavier Worthy. Coffey fits with new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who worked with Budda Baker during his time at Washington. Expect Coffey to emerge as a playmaker, especially in the second half of the season.  

Impact transfers

Tyler Shough, QB, Texas Tech 

Shough has the attention of NFL scouts, and that is because of a 6-foot-5, 221-pound frame. The Oregon transfer had 13 TDs and six interceptions last season. He will put up statistics in Texas Tech’s offense, which is always quarterback-friendly. The Red Raiders are 8-14 and have not finished higher than eighth in the Big 12 under Matt Wells. Shough will be counted on to change that. 

Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma 

Gray averaged 5.1 yards per carry the last two seasons at Tennessee before transferring to what should be a deep backfield with the Sooners. Kennedy Brooks returns after opting out last season, and Marcus Major also averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry. Gray will make the most of his new opportunity. 

Heisman hopefuls

Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma 

Rattler turned a corner in the second half of 2020, one in which he passed for 18 TDs and two interceptions in his last eight games. He produced at least four TDs in five games, and the numbers should improve after another year with Riley. He’s a good bet to join Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as Oklahoma’s next Heisman winner. 

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Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State 

It’s tough for running backs to win the Heisman, but Hall returns as the FBS leader with 1,606 yards from scrimmage. He’s a consistent producer, and if the Cyclones win the Big 12 championship then the junior running back has a chance to make it to New York. 

Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma 

Did Alabama’s Devonta Smith start a trend last season with wide receivers? Mims has a similar build, and he scored nine TDs on 37 receptions as a freshman while averaging 16.5 yards per reception. This might be a year early, but the talent is there to be Oklahoma’s next great receiver. 

Biggest games

Iowa State at Oklahoma (Nov. 20) 

The Cyclones are 2-4 against the Sooners with Campbelll, and all of those games have been decided by 10 points or less. There is a good chance these teams run it back in the Big 12 championship game, but the winner here should at least clinch a spot. 

Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 9) 

This will be Sarkisian’s first shot at one of college football’s storied rivalries, and the Longhorns will have an offense that revolves around SN Preseason All-American running back Bijan Robinson. The Sooners have won the last three matchups, including the 2018 Big 12 championship game. 

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 27) 

The nature of Bedlam will change when the Sooners go to the SEC, but chances are this game will stay on the schedule. Still, it won’t have the same conference implications. This is a chance for the Cowboys, led by returning quarterback Spencer Sanders, to break a six-game losing streak to their rivals. The atmosphere should be hyped up in Stillwater. 

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Big 12 stat that matters 

Oklahoma has won the Big 12 a total of 14 times since the conference was formed in 1996, and only one of those conference championships was shared. The rest of the conference has combined for 13 conference championships, and two of those were shared. 

The Sooners’ dominance in the CFP era has been even more impressive. Oklahoma is 56-10 in Big 12 play since 2014, and Oklahoma State (38-25) and TCU (38-26) are the next-best bets. 

The Cowboys and Horned Frogs have been worthy contenders at times, but those schools are now stuck either with carrying the new Big 12 or auditioning for a new superconference. 

Big 12 champion: Oklahoma 

The Sooners have ranked no lower than sixth nationally in scoring offense since Riley took over as head coach, a four-year stretch where Oklahoma averages 44.8 points per game. 

The pieces are in place for the Sooners to surpass that and answer the big-picture question: Can Oklahoma beat an SEC powerhouse in the College Football Playoff? 

Iowa State poses an interesting challenge, and the rest of the Big 12 will be out to get the Sooners. It won’t matter. Oklahoma is 10-1 in the Big 12 championship game. 

The Sooners add another one and make it to the CFP again.