It’s a quarterback league in the Big 12. If you have one, or at least have a good idea, you’re a step ahead of everybody else.
The Oklahoma Sooners, with three Heisman-winning quarterbacks — including the most recent one — plug and play at that position. That’s why they are at the top of the Star-Telegram’s internet-search friendly “#WayTooEarly” Big 12 Power Rankings for 2018.
West Virginia knows who its quarterback will be.
Just about everyone else has decisions to make, but the incoming talent at the most important position in the game looks outstanding again in the Big 12.
The Star-Telegram’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Big 12 Power Rankings
1. The OKLAHOMA SOONERS will have a new quarterback. Normally that pushes any team down in the way-too-earlys. And in this case, the new quarterback has to replace Baker Mayfield. Hard to imagine an improvement in production. But, Kyler Murray looks like no ordinary replacement. He was a winner at the most elite level of Texas high school football. No small thing. And at a place like Oklahoma, plenty of weapons are lying around. They will all be put to use, no matter the quarterback.
2.The WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS got a nice Christmas gift when Will Grier opted to play his senior season. That’s a big deal. He gives the Mountaineers the most veteran quarterback in the Big 12, who happens to be an accurate thrower with a big arm. Plus, he gets his top target back, David Sills III. This quarterback-receiver pair have a head start on every other quarterback-receiver duo in the league.
3. The TCU HORNED FROGS are going to have a new quarterback, too, a choice that comes from the two highest-rated quarterbacks the Horned Frogs have ever signed. Both are four-star players, signed in back-to-back recruiting classes. Shawn Robinson has a head start on Justin Rogers. Robinson played in six games last year, starting and winning a road game in the Big 12 as a freshman. Rogers won’t be at full health until fall. Whoever takes the reins, they will operate with two four-star running backs behind them, a four-star receiver who led the team in touchdown catches as a freshman and the benefit of a defense that includes the top returning pass rusher in the league in Ben Banogu.
4. We’re not going to act like the IOWA STATE CYCLONES were a fluke. Because their formula for winning eight games and upsetting two top-five teams last year — terrific running back, athletic receivers, bend-don’t-break defense — isn’t going to change as they break in a new quarterback under rising head coach Matt Campbell. Who will the new quarterback be? Probably Zeb Noland, who nearly upset Oklahoma State in relief of Kyle Kempt. But it could be Kempt; Iowa State has asked the NCAA for a sixth-year of eligibility for the redshirt senior, who engineered the Oklahoma and TCU upsets.
5. Every player for the TEXAS LONGHORNS declared for the NFL. OK, exaggeration. Not everybody, but some VIPs — linebacker Malik Jefferson, offensive tackle Connor Williams, cornerback Holton Hill, safety DeShon Elliott, shoot, even the punter Michael Dickson — said good-bye for the sake of pro football. But the Longhorns signed the nation’s third-rated recruiting class, and linebacker Anthony Wheeler looked like a breakout star in Jefferson’s place. Don’t expect a talent drop-off. Head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns do have to decide on a quarterback, however, and he has a spotty track record there. Sam Ehlinger is a tough dude, but he was prone to picks and likely suffered two concussions last year. Shane Buechele may yet be an option.
6. The OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS need a quarterback, too, but boy do they have choices. Start with who coach Mike Gundy calls the most complete quarterback he’s ever signed in Spencer Sanders of Denton Ryan. Throw in Keondre Wudtee (the quarterback ahead of Justin Rogers in high school) and last year’s backup, Taylor Cornelius. The Cowboys will find their gunslinger. They already have one of the Big 12’s best backs, Justice Hill. For the first time in 10 years, the Cowboys will have a new look on defense with the dismissal of defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.
7. The Jet Duffey era finally appears at hand for the TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS after a freshman year marred by a suspension and a redshirt last season. The former Mansfield Lake Ridge star is a fast game-breaker out of the pocket. The Raiders lose their top running back, Justin Stockton. Defensively, the Red Raiders made modest strides last year and will likely continue an upward arc with the return of their leading tackler, linebacker Dakota Allen.
8. That was some hard quarterback luck for the KANSAS STATE WILDCATS in 2017, was it not? First, starter Jesse Ertz was hurt and tried to keep playing hurt. Alex Delton stepped in and nearly won at Texas. Then he got hurt against Texas Tech, and the Wildcats turned to Skylar Thompson, who produced comebacks against Tech and Iowa State. Then Delton returned and was brilliant in the bowl game against UCLA. The Wildcats have to choose, but either way, they have a dynamic player at the position for everlasting Bill Snyder.
9. The BAYLOR BEARS would be higher on this list if it was based off quarterback alone. Charlie Brewer looks like the real deal. He’s got pedigree as an elite Texas high school quarterback from Lake Travis. He makes good decisions, as evidenced by a 70 percent completion rate. And he’s got his top receiver returning, Denzel Mims. The Bears were awfully young in 2017. They started 11 true freshmen. They will at least be older and stronger in 2018.
10. Until the KANSAS JAYHAWKS can bring in better talent, they will be stuck at the bottom of the Big 12. The recruiting classes under David Beaty have been ranked 70th, 71st, 70th and 73rd. His best acquisition is probably offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. Right now, there is less to work with at Kansas than anywhere in the Big 12.