The 2019 Big 12 Media Days have officially wrapped up, which means the dawn of a new season is rapidly approaching. As it does, nearly half the league will be starting out with a new face at the forefront as four new head coaches will be taking the helm this season. Les Miles of the Kansas Jayhawks, Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Chris Klieman of the Kansas State Wildcats, and Neal Brown of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Each coach was an out-of-the-program hire and all have prior head coaching experience, with Les Miles having won a National Championship from his time at LSU, and Chris Klieman having won four in the FCS at North Dakota State. They enter a conference that looks to be very top-heavy with Oklahoma and Texas as the large favorites to meet once again in the Big 12 Championship game in December, but mostly wide-open from third place down. It won’t be an easy task to get these four programs back to the top, however, as the four teams were projected to finish 7th-10th in the Big 12 preseason poll.
With each team having its own set of challenges and upsides, let’s take a look at this team-by-team:
Kansas: 2018: (3-9, 1-8)
Kansas has been the bottom-dweller in the Big 12 for several years now, having finished in last place each of the last four years. Despite picking up their high-mark in wins under David Beatty last season, albeit with just three victories, Beatty was let go and then the Mad-Hatter himself was brought in to take over. If nothing else, the hire of Les Miles will certainly bring some attention to a football program that receives virtually none, even from their own fans.
Miles is not a stranger to the Big 12, having coached Oklahoma State from 2001-2004. This challenge may be even more daunting than that one was, but, even with all the recent failures, Miles is optimistic that he can sell Kansas’ academics to high school recruits to build the program back up.
“It’s a great school, great curriculum, business, engineering, a school where a football team can graduate at 81% and a GPA at 2.81,” Miles said.
Miles hasn’t coached since 2016, but with a national title under his belt, Kansas fans are going to be understandably excited and optimistic. At 65 years old, it seemed like an odd move for Miles to go a program seemingly so far from contending for a Big 12 title, leaving some to wonder if he wants to just use Kansas as a stepping stone to a better gig in a year or two.
As for 2019, one would expect Kansas to most likely be a more fundamentally sound team than that in previous seasons, but with no real play-makers outside of running back Pooka Williams (who is missing the season opener after being suspended for a domestic violence charge), it is still almost certainly going to be a challenging year for the Jayhawks as they look to avoid a fifth consecutive last-place finish.
Texas Tech: 2018: (5-7, 3-6)
After a disappointing 2018 season that saw the Red Raiders miss a bowl game for the third time in the six seasons under Kliff Kingsbury, the former Tech quarterback was somewhat surprisingly let go (which worked out well for Kingsbury who is now coaching the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL.) Texas Tech then made the move to bring in Utah State head man Matt Wells to begin a new era of Red Raider football.
“You can recruit to Lubbock, Texas, and I’m looking forward to that we have good momentum in recruiting and also in the summer the improvements our players have made since the end of spring ball,” said Wells. “and I’m excited about that and looking forward to the season.”
Wells coached Utah State for six seasons picking up three bowl wins along the way and two 10+ win seasons including eleven wins last year. He is a proven head coach and it will be very interesting to see what he can do in a power five conference for the years to come.
Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll, with the main source of optimism regarding the team being centered around quarterback Alan Bowman. Bowman suffered a brutal lung injury last season that caused him to miss significant time and really derailed the season for the Red Raiders. Assuming Bowman can stay healthy, it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Texas Tech could surprise some people in 2019.
The schedule doesn’t do them much favors, though, as they will have to play both at Oklahoma and at Texas, but do get Iowa State at home as well as Oklahoma State and TCU.
Kansas State: 2018: (5-7, 3-6)
2018 was tough year for Kansas State as they missed a bowl game for the first time since 2009. Shortly after the season wrapped, a day that felt like it may never come finally cam to pass as one of the most storied coaches in college football and THE most storied coach in Kansas State’s history, Bill Snyder, decided to hang it up. The Wildcats then made one of the more sneaky good hires of the offseason, bringing in North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman.
“I’m tremendously excited to be here and start this next chapter of my career at Kansas State,” Klieman said. “I’m excited about the challenge. I know it’s a big challenge this year.”
Klieman is coming off winning four FCS National Championships in his five years as the head coach at North Dakota State, so clearly he knows how to build a winning program.
The Wildcats will return starting quarterback Skylar Thompson, giving them at least some level of stability as they go through a big transition in the post-Snyder era. Most aren’t especially high on K-State, as they are projected to finish ninth in the Big 12, only ahead of their in-state rival Kansas.
West Virginia: 2018: (8-4, 6-3)
Perhaps no team in the Big 12 will be more different in 2019 than they were in 2018 than the West Virginia Mountaineers. Despite a mostly successful season last year, head coach Dana Holgerson split to head to Houston leaving West Virginia suddenly in the market for a new coach. Pair that with the departure of stellar quarterback Will Grier to the NFL, and a lot has changed in Morgantown very quickly.
West Virginia decided to hire Troy head coach Neal Brown as the new head man, who is coming fresh off three straight double-digit win seasons in far and away the most successful run of Troy Trojan football in their young history. Brown is now given a new challenge taking over a West Virginia program in an interesting spot.
“We’re young. Very inexperienced,” Brown said. “What we’re going to look like in the fall I’m not sure yet. I’m really not.”
The Mountaineers will likely be led by former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall, who showed flashes at times in the limited amount of snaps he got backing up Baker Mayfield and then Kyler Murray. Projected to finish eighth in the conference, it will likely be a down year for West Virginia before Brown can start to really put his footprint on the program and hope to have the success that he had while at Troy.
Time will tell on how these four coaches fair in the Big 12 for the years to come, as they all look to knock Oklahoma off their throne as the back-to-back-to-back-to-back Big 12 Champions.
All four teams will get their seasons started at home against non-FBS opponents on Saturday, August 31st.