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  • Texas and Oklahoma have dominated the Big 12 offseason buzz, but the rivals aren't the only thing to watch in the conference this August.
By Joan Niesen
July 30, 2019

As the calendar flips to August, it can only mean one thing: college football is here. Fall camps are opening or getting ready to open all across the country, and the first game of the season—the big Florida vs. Miami showdown in Orlando—is less than four weeks away. But there's plenty of work to be done before the first snaps that count are taken. This week, we'll be previewing August practice for each major conference, plus the Group of Five. Up next, it's the Big 12 (previously: SEC, ACC).

Top August Storyline

Texas is back. Texas might be back. Texas should be back. In Tom Herman’s third year as the Longhorns’ head coach, his team looks ready to make the jump from being a good team to one that can compete for the Big 12 and a College Football Playoff berth. That’s thanks in large part to the development of quarterback Sam Ehlinger and ace recruiting on the part of Herman. The best gauge of how far the Longhorns have come is their record against Oklahoma last year—1–1, in a regular-season matchup and then the Big 12 championship game. The distance they still have to travel is also implicit in that mark; Texas needs to be able to win championship games, not just the Red River Rivalry. That said, its performance against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, a 28–21 win, was a nice consolation, even if the Bulldogs might have been dispirited by their exclusion from the playoff.

Positional Battle to Watch

Iowa State is a sleeper contender in the Big 12 after finishing third in the league, with an 8–5 record, last year. If it wants to make the leap and compete with Texas and Oklahoma, it’ll have to find its next No. 1 running back; leading rusher David Montgomery left early for the NFL last spring. There’s plenty of talent vying for the job, including senior Sheldon Croney, junior Kene Nwangwu, sophomores Rory Walling and Johnnie Lang and freshmen Breece Hall, Jirehl Brock and Drew Olson. Crone, Nwangwu and Lang saw appreciable playing time last year, and whoever wins the job will have a seasoned offensive line blocking for him.

Positional Group Under Pressure

Oklahoma has a new defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, who spent last season at Ohio State and the three previous years at Washington State. Grinch inherits a unit that allowed its opponents 453.8 yards per game last year; only 15 teams gave up more yardage. (Even worse: The Sooners ranked dead last in the FBS in passing defense.) That number was up from 2017, when Lincoln Riley’s team ceded a more respectable 394.9 yards, good for No. 67 in the FBS. Now, with Texas nipping at its heels, Oklahoma has to do better, especially if it wants to be seen as anything other than a program that can’t make it past a playoff semifinal. There are, of course, worse fates in terms of perception, but Oklahoma’s success shouldn’t obscure the fact that Grinch has a total reconstruction on his hands.

New Coach Spotlight

The Les Miles show began last fall as a sort of pilot—let the man talk for a bit, get reviews, give him a few months to work behind the scenes—and now, the full series Kansas ordered is here. Miles commented at Big 12 media days about Novak Djokovic’s post-Wimbledon grass eating, which was a fun distraction from the fact that he’d just decided Pooka Williams, a running back charged with misdemeanor domestic battery last December, would be suspended for only one game. It was a black mark ahead of Miles’s first season, which might be more difficult than any project the coach has yet taken on. Kansas certainly looks to be on the upswing—it won three games last year, its most since 2014—but it remains to be seen whether Miles will continue that forward motion or interrupt it.

Week 1 Game to Circle

In the second part of the home-and-home series that began in 2016, Oklahoma will host Houston on Sunday night in Week 1. The Cougars won the first matchup, but since then they’ve lost their coach and seen massive roster turnover. In fact, Houston is on its second head man since Tom Herman, and the new guy, Dana Holgorsen, will find the Sooners a familiar opponent from his days in the Big 12 at West Virginia. And though Oklahoma will be favored in the matchup, it can’t look past this one; Houston has a very good quarterback in D’Eriq King who may be able to exploit Grinch’s work-in-progress of a defense. 

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