We inevitably overreact to what we see in bowl season. It is the last real thing we see from teams for about eight months, and it's really easy to get sucked into believing that whatever we saw then is what we'll see for months on end when the next season begins. They are traps, and they can sometimes lead us to some poor preseason assessments.
They can also sometimes verify what we were already beginning to think. The Big 12 went 5-0 in last year's odd, cancellation-heavy bowl season. Oklahoma pummeled an admittedly limited Florida. Iowa State and Texas beat two of the Pac-12's more successful teams, Oregon and Colorado, by a combined score of 89-40. Oklahoma State's offensive skeleton crew outlasted Miami 37-34. WVU's defense-dominant squad solved Army.
This was affirmation of what numbers like SP+ had been telling us all season: The conference was pretty deep, and it had learned to defend. Five Big 12 teams boasted defenses that ranked 18th or better in SP+, and six were 23rd or better in February's initial 2021 projections.
Oklahoma, winner of six straight conference titles, is a solid favorite to stretch that streak in 2021, but Iowa State has the pieces to put together another top-10 campaign, Texas just hired 2020's best playcaller (former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) as its new head coach, and the conference is loaded with landmines and tricky defenses. Can the Sooners survive a long Big 12 grind with national title hopes intact? Does ISU have one more gear? Will people realize how strong and balanced the Big 12 has become? Let's preview the Big 12's top half!
Every week through the summer, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 130 FBS teams. The previews will include 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews and a brief history of each team in one handy chart. The series has thus far covered the Conference USA East and West, the MAC East and West, the MWC Mountain and West, the Sun Belt West and East, the top and bottom half of the AAC, the seven Independents, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal and the Pac-12 North and South, and the bottom half of the Big 12.
After a hard restart in Neal Brown's first year, WVU began to look the part in 2020. Well, one side of the ball did, at least. It's the offense's turn to improve now.