Who’s The National Threat in the Big 12?
The Alabama Crimson Tide resides at the top of the college football mountain. Of this, there is no doubt or argument. However, the Big 12 has been on a steady climb as a football conference and appears to have a few programs ready to make a push to national relevancy.
If a team is set to take a step onto Alabama's territory, it's important to keep an eye on the action in the Big 12 out of this week's media days.
What better place to begin than with former Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and his new Texas Longhorns program? It may take some time to know if Texas will ever be back, but there's no denying the immediate pressure placed upon Sarkisian and his squad in Austin.
Still, the Longhorns come to play with some serious firepower, especially in running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson comes off a 706-yard season through nine games in 2020 with six total touchdowns. The Heisman contender figures to take the pressure from whichever quarterback takes the starting job.
Sarkisian will have to choose between Casey Thompson or Hudson Card and soon. Sarkisian said at media days he believes he has two fantastic players to choose from and will have to trust his gut in naming a starter in the coming weeks.
It'd be quite the surprise for Sarkisian to dig the Longhorns out of the gutter in year one. The Longhorns are worth watching in potentially wrecking the top contenders in the league: Oklahoma and Iowa State.
Then again, the Sooners or Cyclones could just flash a "horns down" and watch the entire Longhorn fanbase melt into a puddle of tears, avoiding the football team altogether.
Matt Campbell's Cyclones aren't sneaking up on anyone in 2021. Iowa State returns 19 of 22 starters, including arguably the top preseason running back in the country, Breece Hall.
Hall has been a workhorse for the Cyclones, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago in 12 games. As Hall goes, so to the Cyclones of Ames, Iowa.
Hall can't do it all in the pursuit of a Big 12 championship and a debut in the College Football Championship. Senior quarterback Brock Purdy must find an even greater consistency than he had in 2018. His 2019 performance didn't hinder the Cyclones, but it didn't do his team any favors either.
Campbell didn't turn down prestigious college and NFL for no reason. Ames wants a title. With all the experience returning for Iowa State, there's little excuse not to be a season-long fixture in the national discussion.
The way some national pundits would have college football fans believe, it's Spencer Rattler's world and we're all just living in it. That remains to truly be seen as Rattler has yet to put together a full season that sparks confidence in the national to make the Sooners national contenders.
Still, there's no ignoring the manner with which Oklahoma finished the 2020 season. Head coach Lincoln Riley has steadily improved his defense over the years and the 2021 version is slated to be the best of them all.
Over the past three seasons, the Sooners have gradually ascended the defensive statistical rankings - from 59th in 2018 to 9th in 2020, 112th interceptions to 3rd, 74th in sacks to 7th. There's reason to believe that with leaders such a Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas taking the reigns of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's defense.
If the Sooner's defense has truly arrived then the odds of their wagon going off the trail remain low. If Riley's squad is forced to continue to rely on big-play offense, a Big 12 Championship is still in reach but remains this team's ceiling.