Gameplan: My 2020 preseason All-Big 12

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It’s that time of year when the All-Big 12 preseason polls and teams are coming together across the league’s media. There are generally two major influencers on which players get selected: which players had obvious stats in 2019 and which players are getting talked up coming out of spring practices? Without a spring practice, there’s going to be a lot more of the former than the latter reflected in the list this year.

The preseason poll is typically just “whoever won last year” followed by whoever showed well the previous season, regardless of whether the engines of those teams are returning or not. In the modern era of the round robin schedule/Big 12 championship game the two teams in the final have consistently been Oklahoma versus a team picked fourth or lower in the preseason poll.

On these lists I’ve tried to anticipate how teams will fit together, which players will end up serving in featured roles, and ultimately which rosters are going to be able to build championship teams. When you consider the total shape of the league’s rosters and teams, it’s clear that 2020 represents Texas’ best opportunity since 2009 to win the Big 12.

All-Big 12 offense

QB: Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
Pooka Williams, Kansas
Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Charleston Rambo, Oklahoma
Brennan Eagles, Texas
Sam Cosmi, Texas
Josh Sills, Oklahoma State
Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Tyrese Robinson, Oklahoma
Adrian Ealy, Oklahoma
Joshua Youngblood, Kansas State

This was pretty easy to fill out. Normally the media team ends up being a center and four offensive tackles but the Big 12 is conspicuously short on proven tackles this season (more on this later) and does feature a number of really good guards. I’m guessing even the media’s picks will include guards like Jack Anderson from Texas Tech or one of the Oklahoma fellows. The Sooners are loaded again and return four starters on their line. Their interior in particular is exceptional. That said, Texas is starting to narrow the gap in terms of talent and will have the superior tackles for the second consecutive season.

Out at receiver, Tylan Wallace is easily the No. 1 guy in the league. Watch out for Oklahoma State taking advantage of the return of versatile Dillon Stoner and up and coming Braydon Johnson to move Tylan Wallace around to multiple spots to hunt matchups like Texas did with Jordan Shipley back in 2009. Rambo is a touch underrated as a result of playing second fiddle to CeeDee Lamb and being ignored by Jalen “find Lamb or scramble” Hurts. He’ll be the primary beneficiary of Oklahoma’s play-action game this season barring an absolute explosion by Theo Wease this offseason. Brennan Eagles figures to be the guy for Texas. Charlie Kolar is an NFL talent at tight end for the Cyclones.

Those four teams also have pretty solid depth at receiver behind the four names (including Kolar) mentioned here. It’s not just that these guys are promising, but all four of those teams have the quarterback and supporting cast to protect them from being cancelled by bracket coverages.

It’s absurd that this league asks you to give them three running backs given the degree to which this is a running league. Why not two quarterbacks? There’s maybe only two backs that are true difference makers around the league and even they have a more limited impact than commonly believed. Those two are Chuba Hubbard and Pooka Williams, both of whom can carry an otherwise only decent offense. Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks is an explosive runner that will feast in all the wide open running lanes that Lincoln Riley regularly creates for his backs. Texas has good talent and depth at running back but doesn’t currently feature a player that will dominate games. The sleeper is Breece Hall for Iowa State, who took over for the Cyclones in week five and ran for 897 yards at 4.9 ypc with nine rushing touchdowns. He added 23 catches for 252 yards and another score. If their rebuilt line comes together he could surpass the other three.

I have Sam Ehlinger edging out Brock Purdy at quarterback but watch out for Spencer Rattler to put up big numbers and build a case by the end of the year. Spencer Sanders should get some numbers as well. Max Duggan, Alan Bowman, and Skylar Thompson all have some impressive traits. The league is stronger at this position than normal. Charlie Brewer has the potential to be No. 1 if he’s healthy, Joe Wickline whips their O-line into shape, and they are able to credibly replace Denzel Mims. It’s not impossible but it’s a pretty extensive list of things that need to go right.

All-Big 12 defense

DL: Joseph Ossai, Texas
Dante Stills, West Virginia
Keondre Coburn, Texas
Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
Wyatt Hubert, Kansas State
Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State
Garrett Wallow, TCU
Mike Rose, Iowa State
D’Shawn Jamison, Texas
Kolby Harvell-Peel, Oklahoma State
Ar’Darius Washington, TCU
Tykee Smith, West Virginia
A.J. Parker, Kansas State

Texas has the most talented team in the Big 12 and it’s most obvious on defense. They have up and coming, or even proven, big time talents at all of the most essential positions where you need high level athletes such as offensive tackle, defensive line, wide receiver, and cornerback. When you stack them up against the rest of the league it’s truly jarring how many advantages they’ll have this season.

Consider what I said about the lack of really good, proven tackles around the league and then factor that into the equation of what will happen when Joseph Ossai is playing on the edge full-time. I could have listed him here as a linebacker but if he isn’t spending the majority of his time going forward at the snap I think we’ll all be shocked. Wyatt Hubert gives K-State a nice edge as well. He’s a very effective pass-rusher that came onto the scene last year as a redshirt sophomore with 7.5 sacks.

I couldn’t make room for both Stills brothers but obviously they’re both quite good. I went with the younger and more explosive Dante who’s role figures to expand in 2020. Then I went with fellow end/tackle hybrid Jalen Redmond fresh off a brilliant first season with Oklahoma and stuck big Keondre Coburn in the middle. It’s hard to name many top Big 12 defenses over the last few years that didn’t have really good nose tackle play that made it easier to drop seven or eight on standard downs. The list is pretty extensive, Darrien Howard, Poona Ford, Ross Blacklock, Neville Gallimore, Ray Lima, Bravvion Roy, you get the idea. Again, it’s strange that we are asked to give five defensive linemen, particularly when half the writers will cheat and vote for someone like Ossai at linebacker.

Linebacker is pretty loaded. Amen Ogbongbemiga’s teammate Malcolm Rodriguez is a big piece of their puzzle, a converted safety that can erase matchup advantages underneath and helps set up Harvell-Peel to attack teams. However I chose Amen because he’s also good in space but adds some havoc with his blitzing. Garrett Wallow had a predictably huge 2019 (125 tackles, 18 TFLs) and could do even better in 2020 if Gary Patterson will set him up a little better up front. Mike Rose can play any linebacker position and is typically used as an enforcer in space. Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma all have some pretty good linebackers returning as well. Texas has talent here but it’s the position most likely to derail their efforts on defense this season.

I have D’Shawn Jamison pegged to emerge as Texas’ best cornerback simply because of his ball skills and the fact that he’s the best all-around athlete in a room full of blue chips. Ar’Darius Washington edged out Caden Sterns as the best deep safety after a really strong 2019. They’re both quite close but Washington is coming off a stronger season. Tykee Smith was a freshman All-American at nickel for West Virginia that was shockingly good in man coverage underneath while showing the physicality to hold up on the hash. Brendan Radley-Hiles was another option there but for all his skill, he regularly finds ways to take things off the table as well. Chris Adimora is a good sleeper here as well.

A.J. Parker is the most proven cornerback in the Big 12 and an easy choice opposite Jamison. It’s hard to get a great gauge on the shape of the league’s cornerbacks in 2020. It doesn’t look particularly imposing with Jeff Gladney, A.J. Green, Parnell Motley, and Jameson Houston all gone. There will be some new athletes on the perimeter across the league, particularly at TCU, and some of them may prove quite capable but you never know until they’re having to line back up at tempo after getting beat on a fade.

OPOY: Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Joseph Ossai, Texas
Newcomer of the year:
Tha Rattla, Oklahoma

Sam Ehlinger should be set up to dominate Big 12 defenses this season with a roster full of weapons and a big, talented offensive line in front of him. Similarly, Joseph Ossai should be able to leverage Texas’ new preference for tight coverage and the league’s lack of worthy pass-setting tackles into a big statistical season. Texas won’t sweep those categories unless they win the league, but those two players should dominate and that should result in Texas winning the league and receiving the reward of postseason recognition.

Spencer Rattler will put up enormous numbers throwing from remarkably clean pockets to Charleston Rambo, who will be running wide open after throwing a double move on some hapless safety horrified to find himself having to pick him up from the opposite hash. If something horrible happens to Rattler then I’d bet on Xavier Hutchinson to win this award. The big, fast JUCO wide receiver will be Brock Purdy’s No. 1 target outside working perpetually against 1-on-1 matchups against defenses that will need to concern themselves with Charlie Kolar and the shallow cross concepts or the Cyclone run game.

Preseason poll

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

Oklahoma remains the best bet in the conference with Lincoln Riley guaranteeing an elite offense every season. It’s easy to think of this year as a rebuilding year for them but I’d suggest that the rebuild was actually in 2019 and potential growing pains were papered over by CeeDee Lamb’s dominance and Jalen Hurts dragging them across the finish line with over 200 carries. The 2020 offense is much more imposing with a retooled offensive line and a quarterback in Spencer Rattler that is going to be much more proficient in Riley’s play-action game than Hurts. The defense has big question marks…which hasn’t mattered in some time.

Texas has the strongest roster in the league but not the proven knowhow for translating roster talent into a championship team. Will they be able to press their advantages on offense? How well developed will all their skill talent prove to be after this bizarre offseason? Will the volatile linebacker room be able to tie together an ultra athletic D-line and secondary?

Iowa State and Oklahoma State are the only other two teams I can foresee making a serious run at a title game appearance. Both of them are absolutely loaded on offense and quietly talented and in sturdy shape on defense as well. Both of them have question marks at offensive tackle that could prove to be governors on their potential.

This league should be Texas’ to lose this year. If they can’t put it together, the Sooners are maybe a touch less imposing than some think but they have plenty of pieces in place to put together another great run. If Texas wallows in incompetence again then Iowa State and Oklahoma State are waiting to take advantage as TCU and Baylor did in 2017 and 2019.

History major, football theorist.