So, your college football team/conference decided against playing football this year, huh? That sucks. Like, really sucks. I’m sorry. And if you came here hoping for commentary on COVID-19, the safety of players, conference commissioners’ decisions to play or not play football, or the likelihood of a complete fall season being played, you can stop reading now because this will have none of that. But if you’re stuck without a team and you need something to cheer for in 2020, I’ve compiled a guide of the Big 12 programs so you can accurately choose your adoptive 2020 college football team.
Of course, it’s impossible to catch all the intricacies of each team and personal bias reigns supreme when choosing a new team to cheer for, but this should give you a good start to help you make an educated decision. We’ll lay out some of the basics you might not know about each program, as well as their performance on the field. I used Pick Six Previews’ 5-year Game Grader rank to see how each of the programs stack up (out of 66 Power 5 teams) to give you a better idea of how they compare to the rest of the nation. So without further ado, let’s get to it:
Location: Waco, Texas (pop. 138,183)
Enrollment: 18,033 (9th in Big 12)
Mascot: Bruiser the Bear
5-year Rank: 28th (out of 66)
Background: The Bears have been both one of the best and one of the worst teams in the conference since 1996, recording five seasons of two wins or less and five seasons of 10 wins or more. Most college football fans remember Baylor at its peak, with Art Briles coaching one of the elite offenses in college football history, led by Robert Griffin III. But all good things must come to an end, and it came crashing down hard for Baylor. With 50+ sexual assault allegations and claims that Briles encouraged the culture and helped hide the behavior, a coaching change left the 2017 team to rebuild. Matt Rhule’s first year as coach resulted in a dreadful 1-11 campaign, but he quickly turned the ship around, finishing last season 11-3 with a Big 12 title game appearance. The NFL came calling and Rhule took the Carolina Panthers job at the conclusion of last season, so former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda hopes to build off what Rhule built while having to fill some big holes on defense.
Case for Baylor: If Baylor was a guy at the bar, he’d be the douche with giant cross and generic scripture tattoos to prove his love for God while trying to seduce every girl that caught his eye. He’s conventionally attractive, but his personality kind of sucks—he’s an angry drunk and gets kicked out of at least one bar a weekend, and none of his “friends” want to claim him by the end of the night. So yeah, Baylor isn’t exactly a conference favorite, whether it’s because of problematic off-field allegations or their habit of getting into fights with opponents for no good reason. So you should hate them, right?
Well… maybe not. With the program now two coaches removed from their scandal and the team evolving into a more defensive mindset with Aranda at the helm, these are not the Bears Big 12 fans grew to hate. But perhaps that’s exactly what you want. If you liked the outlaw vibe of Miami in the ‘80s, maybe Baylor is for you. If your favorite program has faced an unpleasant controversy or scandal and it felt like nobody understood your fandom, maybe Baylor is for you. Or if you hate the Big 12 in general and want to cheer for the team that all other programs hate the most, then Baylor is definitely for you.
Location: Ames, Iowa (pop. 67,154)
Enrollment: 35,000 (3rd in Big 12)
Mascot: Cy the Cardinal
5-year Rank: 34th (out of 66)
Background: Iowa State is an original member of the Big Eight conference, giving the Cyclones one of the richest histories in the conference. Unfortunately for Iowa State, it’s rich in losing. The Cyclones are the only school in the Big 12 to have never won 10 games in a season and their all-time win percentage of 45.3% is one of the worst in the FBS. So how are they 34th nationally over the past five years? That’s thanks to Matt Campbell, leading the Cyclones to three consecutive bowl games, winning Big 12 records, and winning seasons for the first time in school history. In fact, the 5-year rank includes two 3-9 seasons that drag their ranking down, further proving Iowa State has been on the rise. The Cyclones return one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brock Purdy and nearly their entire defense that has been the Big 12’s best over the past three seasons.
Case for Iowa State: Full disclosure: I’m completely biased. But the Cyclones are about as good a team to adopt this year as any in the Big 12. Do you like a good underdog story? Tired of the elites winning all the time? Do you like mascots that are natural disaster/bird hybrids? Do you think the refs are constantly out to get your team? Where Iowa State lacks in historical football success, it makes up for in fan loyalty, tailgating, and booing the refs.
Bias aside, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better dark horse candidate in the conference this year. Picked to finish third in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and just one vote ahead of Texas, the Cyclones are the unconventional pick to make a Big 12 title game, which would be its first in school history. While the Cyclones aren’t the most flashy team in the Big 12, they’ve become a magnet for dramatics, claiming three top-10 wins in the past three seasons and having 16 of their last 32 games (50%) decided by one score or less. If you like your fandom teetering on the edge of elation and heartbreak, the Cyclones are your team.
Location: Lawrence, Kansas (pop. 97,286)
Enrollment: 28,423 (6th in Big 12)
Mascot: Big Jay the Jayhawk (and Baby Jay)
5-year Rank: 66th (out of 66)
Background: I’ll make this one quick for you: Kansas is bad at football. They pretty much always have been, outside of that weird stretch in the mid-2000s where Mark Mangino led them to a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl win. The past decade hasn’t seen a Kansas team win more than three games in a season, and five seasons featured double-digit losses. The Jayhawks are on their ninth coach since the inception of the Big 12, but this one is perhaps their most exciting (or interesting) hire yet—Les Miles. In his first year, he got the Jayhawks back to a familiar 3-9 record, but shortened schedules in 2020 do the team no favors. It will be difficult to find wins as Kansas returns just 42% of its production from last year’s team, which ranks 126th out of 130 FBS programs (via SP+).Embed from Getty Images
Case for Kansas: This is the lovable loser option. I almost feel bad saying it because it seems so harsh, but there’s just no polishing a turd. Kansas ranks 66th out of 66 Power 5 teams over the past five years and any hope for improvement this year is still in the 3-win range with the shortened schedules. You’re not choosing the Jayhawks because you want to see a winning team; you’re choosing them because you like to cheer for the underdog—pretty much any win is cause for table-flipping celebration, and if they lose, it’s just more reason to drink at your driveway tailgate.
Location: Manhattan, Kansas (pop. 54,604)
Enrollment: 22,221 (8th in Big 12)
Mascot: Willie Wildcat
5-year Rank: 46th (out of 66)
Background: There are two eras in Kansas State football history: Pre-Snyder and everything since then. The pre-Snyder era was literally the worst era in Division I history—the Wildcats were the first FBS program to lose 500 games, had seven (7) zero-win seasons as a program, and had won just 37% of its total games heading into 1989. When Bill Snyder took over, the program was on a 27-game winless streak.
Kids these days would never know that, because Kansas State has consistently been good at football since Snyder took over. Snyder retired at the end of the 2018 season as the 20th winningest football coach in FBS history and propelled Kansas State to the third most Big 12 wins of any team since the conference was formed in 1996. His replacement is Chris Klieman, a coaching legend in the FCS ranks, who led his North Dakota State team to four national championships in five years. After surprising many with an 8-5 debut season, Klieman has some work to do to get the program back to peak Snyder glory as the Wildcats are picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 this season.
Case for Kansas State: Kansas State was the quiet kid who was bullied growing up and had no friends, but when he went off to college, he started working out a little bit and started gaining some confidence. Soon enough he was the popular kid who would come back home every once in while with a beautiful girl under his arm, just to flex on the people who bullied him in high school while they gained 40 pounds and never left their hometown (coincidentally, I gained 40 pounds and live in my hometown now, if that says anything about me).
If you’re used to cheering for a developmental program with an established culture based on hard work, the Wildcats are right up your alley. They are far from the most exciting team in the conference, but they certainly don’t struggle to have fun. Known for their dedicated fans and great tailgating, fans of teams like Iowa might have found their perfect match. But warning: Willie Wildcat is easily the creepiest mascot in the conference.
Location: Norman, Oklahoma (pop. 123,471)
Enrollment: 28,564 (5th in Big 12)
Mascot: Sooner Schooner
5-year Rank: 4th (out of 66)
Background: Only four teams have made multiple appearances in the College Football Playoff: Alabama (5), Clemson (5), Oklahoma (4), and Ohio State (3). Whether you hate them or love them, it’s hard not to respect programs with that type of consistency. While Oklahoma has yet to make a national title game in the CFP era, they’ve pulled off nine double-digit win seasons in the past decade and two Heisman winners (and a runner-up) in the past three seasons. Hard to argue with that type of dominance.
The Sooners enter 2020 as the conference favorites (again), this time without a highly-touted transfer QB leading the high-powered offense. Former blue chip recruit and now-redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler was just named the starter and will have plenty of weapons to position himself for a Heisman campaign, as well.Embed from Getty Images
Case for Oklahoma: Whenever you see a football team with a really bland color scheme and uniform that looks like it hasn’t been updated in half a century, you know that school is probably good at football. It only takes about five minutes of listening to the Oklahoma marching band playing “Boomer Sooner” on a loop for you to realize Oklahoma is obsessed with tradition, to a degree that might drive you mad.
If you’re used to a being the favorite in every game, the Sooners might be your team. Anything less than a playoff berth is a disappointing season in Norman, and a quarterback that isn’t on Heisman watch lists is at risk of losing his spot. Winning isn’t fun—it’s an expectation. Losing isn’t sad—it’s infuriating. But even as an “elite” team, the Sooners are a bit of a lovable underdog among the giants—head coach Lincoln Riley is one of the most respected young coaches in the country and despite their successes, the Sooners haven’t been to a national championship game since the 2008 season. But you’re still an elitist if you choose them.
Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma (pop. 50,391)
Enrollment: 25,295 (7th in Big 12)
Mascot: Pistol Pete
5-year Rank: 14th (out of 66)
Background: No team radiates Big 12 energy quite like the Oklahoma State Cowboys do. The school is a mid-sized land-grant university located in a rural community masquerading as a small city, and the football team is known for its fast-paced, pass-happy offenses that put up a bunch of points and defenses that do the same. They are a walking Big 12 stereotype.
But being a stereotype also implies consistency—they’ve made 14 consecutive bowl games, are almost always a factor in the conference title race (with a Big 12 title in 2011), and enter this season ranked #15 and picked to finish second in the conference. They return one of the best offensive trios in the nation with QB Spencer Sanders, RB Chuba Hubbard, and WR Tylan Wallace, while basically their entire defense stays intact from last year’s squad. Any improvement on that side of the ball and the Cowboys could be flirting with a playoff spot.
Case for Oklahoma State: Let’s face it, the case for picking Oklahoma State starts and ends with one factor: Mike Gundy.
The mullet-having, visor-wearing, “I’M A MAN, I’M 40”-screaming head coach oozes problematic drunk uncle energy. For much of his career, it made him lovable—we all kind of aspired to be as carefree as a middle-aged man with a mullet screaming at the media to defend his players. But his outspoken carelessness also included wearing a shirt with the logo of a far-right news organization known for spreading conspiracy theories, which resulted in Chuba Hubbard and others threatening not playing this season until the issues were addressed. While the waters seem to have calmed, it’s hard to predict where this team’s head is at going into this season. But let’s face it—drunk uncle energy might be exactly what you’re looking for in a year without your favorite football team playing.
Location: Fort Worth, Texas (pop. 895,008)
Enrollment: 10,918 (10th in Big 12)
Mascot: Super Frog
5-year Rank: 19th (out of 66)
Background: The Horned Frogs were once the best story in college football. In 2010, they went 13-0, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and finished the season ranked #2 as the Cinderella team from the Mountain West. That was cool. But when they got their Big 12 invite just a year later, people immediately became skeptical. Were they really worthy of being a Power 5 program? Is the Big 12 just desperate? They’ll probably flop and be an embarrassment to themselves and the conference.
Well, they weren’t.
In just its third year in the conference in 2014, TCU shared the Big 12 championship with Baylor and finished the season #3 in the nation (despite missing the CFP because the Big 12 did not have a Big 12 championship game). They’ve had two top-10 finishes since then and despite having back-to-back disappointing seasons, the Horned Frogs are picked to finish in the top half of the Big 12 again this season.
Case for TCU: Is there a better mascot in the Big 12 than the Horned Frogs? And it’s even better coming from a private Christian school. If you’re one who picks schools based on colors, uniforms, and mascots, TCU blows the rest of the conference out of the water.
But that’s not the only reason you might like them. After all, they are the newest member of the Big 12 and quickly established themselves as worthy competition with the “big boys.” They are the outlier of the Big 12 in a lot of ways—they are the smallest school in the conference by quite a bit, yet reside in the largest metropolitan area of any school. Their defense-first mindset contrasts with most of the conference, but the Gary Patterson-led program has developed an offensive balance that somehow perfectly compliments the conference style. The Horned Frogs are hoping to break out of the slump that’s afflicted them the past couple seasons, and most of that is on sophomore QB Max Duggan’s shoulders—if he’s healthy enough to play. TCU is a true wildcard in the Big 12 this season, but conference foes know to never count them out. I’ve always had an unexplained hate for football teams from Texas, but TCU is the perfect team to cheer for if you hate Texas schools.
Location: Austin, Texas (pop. 964,254)
Enrollment: 51,832 (1st in Big 12)
Mascot: Bevo the Longhorn
5-year Rank: 25th (out of 66)
Background: Texas is back! That’s been the battle cry of Longhorn fans and the college football media for the past decade, because only a decade before, Texas was at the top of the college football world. After a national championship game loss to Alabama in 2009 to complete their ninth consecutive double-digit win season, the Mack Brown-led Longhorns nosedived to a shocking 5-7 record. The Longhorns have averaged just 6.6 wins per regular season since that 2009 season, never quite reaching that “TEXAS IS BACK!” goal.
Tom Herman has tried changing that. In his second year, the 2018 team made a Big 12 Championship game appearance and won a Sugar Bowl to finish the season ranked 9th, while last year’s team was plagued by injuries that kept them from taking the next step. This year’s team is led by Heisman-hopeful Sam Ehlinger, who hopes to make a return to the Big 12 Championship game for the second time in three years.Embed from Getty Images
Case for Texas: Have you ever seen a Gen Z-er wearing a Nirvana shirt? A brand that has withstood the test of time and is still fashionable, but hasn’t actually been relevant in the lifetime of the person wearing it. That’s Texas football. And unlike Nirvana, they can actually change that. The Longhorns consistently bring in top-tier talent and rarely meet expectations with it, making them the bankrupt elites of the conference, but at some point you have to believe they’ll cash in. Being preseason ranked #14 and the field of teams being cut down after week one, you can almost guarantee they’ll be a top-10 team at some point this season. If there were ever a year to hop on the TEXAS IS BACK bandwagon, this might be the one.
Location: Lubbock, Texas (pop. 255,885)
Enrollment: 38,205 (2nd in Big 12)
Mascot: The Masked Rider, Raider Red
5-year Rank: 44th (out of 66)
Background: Ever since Mike Leach took over the Texas Tech program in 2000, the Red Raiders have been the poster child for Air Raid offenses that seemingly put up 40+ points every game. The program has produced two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks since then (Kliff Kingsbury, Patrick Mahomes) and a handful of NFL wide receivers, but the team’s success has been varied—the Red Raiders haven’t had a winning season in five years and haven’t finished the season ranked in a decade.
Matt Wells took the reins from Kingsbury (who came back to coach!) last year with some rough results—a 4-8 record with little optimism heading into this season. The team returns some key players, but no one is predicting the Red Raiders to produce anything more than a middle-of-the-pack finish in the Big 12.
Case for Texas Tech: I can’t quite explain it, but Texas Tech is basically Walmart Oklahoma State. I mean, the whole Raider Rash thing doesn’t help their case, but Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are often used as the stereotypes of Big 12 style football when non-Big 12 fans want to criticize the conference for high-scoring games, when in reality the Red Raiders are just bad at defense. Plus, they are out in the boonies compared to the rest of their Texas conference foes—it’s nearly a 6-hour drive from Lubbock to Austin!
There’s really nothing wrong with Texas Tech—they play fun football, their fans are passionate, and no team has more rivalries listed on the Big 12 Wikipedia page than the Red Raiders (4). They are the only Under Armour school in the conference. Plus they do that little finger guns thing that is kind of adorable and fun. They probably won’t be good at football, but like… if you’re cool with that, then why not?
Location: Morgantown, West Virginia (pop. 30,955)
Enrollment: 29,959 (4th in Big 12)
Mascot: West Virginia Mountaineer
5-year Rank: 27th (out of 66)
Background: West Virginia left the now-defunct Big East in 2012 to become the Eastern-most Big 12 team. Coming off a 10-win season and Orange Bowl win, the Mountaineers were an exciting addition to a conference that was near death at the time. For the most part, they’ve contributed positively to the competitive balance in the Big 12, making bowl games in six of its first seven seasons and appearing in the top-10 at some point during three of those seasons. But when the Mountaineers aren’t playing like a top-tier team, they are wholly underwhelming, which is rumored to be part of the reason Dana Holgorsen left as soon as another team came calling.
Former Troy head coach Neal Brown took over the program last year, leading the team to a 5-7 record, including losing six of their last eight games. The Mountaineers are predicted to finish eighth in the conference this season as Brown tries to rebuild the team in the middle of a pandemic.Embed from Getty Images
The Case for West Virginia: None of the other teams in the Big 12 fit your fancy? The Mountaineers might just be your team anyway. Despite joining the Big 12 with TCU, West Virginia just doesn’t fit as seamlessly into the Big 12 picture as a Texas school does. The Appalachian landscape is a far cry from the plains of the Midwest and Southwest, and the closest roadtrip is a quick 800+ mile trek to Ames, Iowa. In all honesty, if another round of realignment replaced the Mountaineers with another team, it would be met with little resistance from most Big 12 fans.
But it’s also impossible not to love the backwoods, couch-burning, riot-loving fan base that embraces its image. Heck, their mascot is a real-life, bearded, musket-having Mountaineer and their victory song is “Country Roads” by John Denver—who wouldn’t want to partake in that kind of celebration?