As we get ready for Week 1 in the Big 12 football season, there are a ton of questions that need to be answered, not just this week, but for the rest of the season. Of course, many of those questions won’t be answered this week, but a few might start to clear up. So with just a few days left until the 2018 season officially kicks off, here are a few things I’m most intrigued by heading into Week 1.
1. Who is Oklahoma State QB Taylor Cornelius?
We know he’s the starter for this week, but is this a long-term plan from Mike Gundy? Let’s be honest, no one saw this coming. It was all about Hawaii transfer Dru Brown or true freshman Spencer Sanders, not the guy who has been sitting on the bench for literally years. Gundy praised Cornelius on his conference call on Monday morning, calling him a “dinosaur” and saying most quarterbacks would not have sat multiple years before getting a chance to play. That’s true. So will Cornelius’ loyalty to the program, and Gundy’s loyalty to his QB, ultimately pay off? We won’t find out much Week 1 against Missouri State, but it at least gives us a look at the guy who’s been on the roster since 2014, but who no one outside the program really knows anything about.
2. The Oklahoma defense
Mike Stoops has been on the receiving end of the anger of Oklahoma fans since he returned to campus a few years back. It’s often times been fair criticism, as Stoops has not shown an ability to slow down Big 12 defenses, or any defense for that matter, with real consistency. Maybe that’s partially a recruiting problem, but either way, it’s his problem. The Sooners are 21-point favorites this week against FAU, but Lane Kiffin’s Owls had one of the best offenses in America last season. So if nothing else, we will get some insight into what Stoops’ defense will look like this season against a unique, efficient and potent Group of 5 offense.
3, Hot starts for hot seat coaches
It’s well known that David Beaty and Kliff Kingsbury must show improvement this season to keep their jobs at Kansas and Texas Tech, respectively. So with the season here, nothing will help facilitate this process like a Week 1 win. Kansas plays Nicholls, who yes, is an FCS team, but actually has a solid program. Then, it’s Texas Tech against a rebuilding Ole Miss team. Tech obviously has the tougher opponent, but it’s a winnable game for Kliff Kingsbury’s team. If either of these teams losses this week, it could begin the writing on the wall for what’s to come either mid-season or after the season.
4. WVU vs. the Power 5
Dana Holgorsen pointed it out again during the Monday morning teleconference that the Mountaineers are playing 11 Power 5 opponents this season, while some teams play eight or nine. It’s not fair, but it’s the schedule the Mountaineers put together. That begins this weekend with Tennessee in Charlotte. Speaking of rebuilding, that’s what former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has on his hands in Knoxville. But these are also the kind of games West Virginia has shown some trouble with at times in recent seasons. A loss to VA Tech last year, an unnecessarily-tight win over BYU two seasons ago, to name a couple. For a team that has a chance to make serious noise in the Big 12 this season, the Mountaineers could do the entire conference a favor by rolling through it’s non-conference with a 3-0 record, and that starts this weekend.
5. Is Texas back?
Some thought that might be the case last year. Then the Longhorns went out and crapped themselves against Maryland at home. It’s a different season and Tom Herman has, what he believes to be, a more complete program on his hands. Plus, Maryland is dealing with a slew of issues around head coach D.J. Durkin. Regardless, I’m not taking anything for granted. Sam Ehlinger is the starting QB and if the sophomore is going to avoid another QB carousel in Austin, getting off to a nice start in Week 1 with a win would be a great way to calm the constant jitters that have surrounded Texas football for the better part of a decade. Especially since the schedule only gets tougher as the month of September moves along.
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