Big 12 Betting Preview: Is Iowa State (or anyone else) *really* a threat to Oklahoma?
It’s GAME WEEK, people! That’s right after nine months - and one Week 0 mixed in - we have a full slate of college football on the docket.
And with the games about to kick off in full these next few days, we’ve knocked out a whole bunch of conference by conference gambling previews.
We hit the SEC on Thursday. And then the Pac-12 Friday.
Now it’s time to discuss the Big 12, where Oklahoma is again the favorite - and we’re all again wondering, can anyone topple the Sooners?
Let’s get to the odds, presented by DraftKings Sportsbook:
Iowa State (+290)
Oklahoma State (+1100)
West Virginia (+2500)
Kansas State (+4000)
Texas Tech (+6000)
The Favorite - Oklahoma (-180): If you follow college football even tangentially in the off-season, you know that Oklahoma has been picking up big-time “this team is good enough to win the national title” buzz, since basically the second the Sooners’ Cotton Bowl against Florida went final last January.
And with good reason. There’s also good reason why they’re the heavy favorites in the Big 12 as well.
After a very un-Oklahoma 1-2 start to the season last year (with losses to Kansas State at home and at Iowa State), the Sooners ripped off eight straight wins to end the season. That included a revenge victory over Iowa State in the Big 12 title game, and that Cotton Bowl win over Florida.
And it happened in large part because, well, Spencer Rattler turned into the quarterback we all thought he could be. After some early struggles (five interceptions in his first four games), Rattler had just two interceptions in his final seven games, tallying 28 total passing touchdowns. Oh, and as usual, he is surrounded by the most skill position talent in the Big 12 by a wide margin. Kennedy Brooks, rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2018 and 2019 before opting out last year, but is back this year and will share the backfield with Tennessee transfer Eric Gray, who was the Vols leading rusher last year with 772 yards. Marvin Mims is back at wide receiver (37 catches a season ago) and the Sooners added Arkansas’ wideout Mike Woods via the portal as well.
Finally, what has people legitimately hyped about Oklahoma coming into the season is that their defense was actually legitimately good last year, ranking in the Top 30 nationally in both total defense and scoring defense. They allowed just 21.7 points per game on defense, a staggering drop from just two seasons before, when they gave up nearly 34 per contest.
Add in the fact that the biggest game of the season - against Iowa State - is at home, and again, there’s a reason the Sooners are the heavy favorite in this conference.
Is the second favorite legit - Iowa State (+290): Short answer, “absolutely.” That’s because not only is Iowa State coming off a dream season where the school made its first Big 12 title game and beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, but, well, returns just about everyone this season.
In total, 19 starters are back off one of the most balanced teams in college football, one which ranked in the Top 35 nationally in both scoring offense (32.9 ppg) and total offense (436 yards per game), as well as the Top 25 nationally in scoring defense (21.4 ppg) and total defense (340 ypg allowed/game). Included, is multi-year starter Brock Purdy at quarterback (2,700 yards passing, 19 touchdown passes), 1,500 yard rusher Breece Hall and Will McDonald, who tied for the national lead with 10.5 sacks last season.
Really, there are only two pseudo-flaws you can come up with when evaluating these Cyclones. One, their style of play leads to them playing a lot of close games (six were decided by a touchdown or less), which makes them more susceptible to a random upset at some point. Two, they have to travel to Oklahoma late in the season, in which will almost certainly be the game of the year in the Big 12.
Still, make no mistake: The Cyclones are absolutely good enough to win this league.
Best Value - West Virginia (+2500): Truth be told, the answer to the “best value” is probably Iowa State, but since we just covered them, let’s go in another direction. And how about West Virginia?
It sounds crazy, until you realize this: Did you have any idea that West Virginia finished fourth nationally in total defense last year, and first nationally (!!!) in pass defense? Admittedly, they lost some key players off that team (including transfer defensive backs Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller, who ended up at Georgia and Auburn respectively) but they should still be good on that side of the ball, and improved a bit on offense where quarterback Jarrett Doege and 1,000 yard back Leddie Brown are back. They also get Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State all at home.
Ultimately, do I think West Virginia will win the Big 12? I don’t. But at the odds you’re getting, is it worth a small bet? Absolutely.
Most Overvalued - Texas (+750): Is Texas back? Hell no, but what’s wild is that they are probably better than you remember them being last year, finishing 7-3 overall. Still, the combination of two home losses (Iowa State, TCU), another defeat at the hands of Oklahoma and the general plateau of the program seemingly did in Tom Herman.
So yeah, the point I’m trying to make is that Texas isn’t that bad. And I do think Steve Sarkisian is a better fit for the job than Herman proved to be.
That doesn’t mean that this is UT’s year yet, either.
The Longhorns lost most of their top end talent (Sam Ehlinger, Joseph Ossai, Sam Cosmi) and will be breaking in an inexperienced quarterback (likely Casey Thompson) with a brand new coaching staff.
They also have a brutal schedule that includes plucky Louisiana (which beat Iowa State last year) and a trip to Arkansas in the out of conference, on top of a trip to Iowa State in the Big 12. Not to mention that they’ve lost to Oklahoma each of the last three seasons.
Oh, and with the news they’re leaving the Big 12 sometime in the near future, every road game is going to be the other team’s Super Bowl. Sorry, UT fans. I just don’t see it.
Long Shot - Baylor (+4000): I’m not suggesting that Baylor really is going to win the league, after coming off a 2-7 season. But it is worth noting that the Bears were basically dealt the worst hand imaginable last season.
Dave Aranda was hired as a new coach after Matt Rhule left in January 2020, then they had spring ball cancelled because of Covid prior to his first season. Like, they didn’t have a single practice. Then, just when the season got going, they got shut down for close to a month because of Covid.
Point being, Dave Aranda is too good and respected of a coach to stay at the bottom of the league standings. They should make a big leap, and if picking them at 40-1 to win the title doesn’t do much for you, the OVER on their win total of 5.5 looks awfully juicy.
Other gambling and roster notes:
TCU is super intriguing for two reasons: They have the talent to compete at the top of the league, but also seem to be a program trending in the wrong direction. Their last three seasons, TCU has gone 7-6 (2018), 5-7 (2019), 6-4 (2020). Have they just hit a rough stretch, or are the Horned Frogs trending down in general? We should get an answer this season
Kansas has a chance to be historically awful this year. Remember, Les Miles was fired in the spring for misconduct allegations stemming from his days at LSU. And while the school did a good job replacing him (grabbing Buffalo’s Lance Leipold), this was already the least talented roster in the Big 12, and it was then crippled by transfers this off-season. Notable departures included Freshman All-American safety Karon Prunty (undecided), defensive end Marcus Harris who led the team in TFL’s with 7.5 (Auburn), fellow starter De’Jon Terry (Tennessee) and wide receivers Andrew Parchment (Florida State) and Stephon Robinson (Northwestern). Even if Leipold brought some of his better players from Buffalo, it’s going to be a longgg year.
Don’t laugh, but the defenses in this league are getting better. Four teams (West Virginia, Iowa State, TCU and Oklahoma) all finished in the Top 30 nationally in total defense, and Baylor and Oklahoma State should also be improved in that category as well.
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