VSiN’s 2021 College Football Betting Guide is now available for order. Get access to over 300 pages of information, including over/under picks for all 130 FBS teams and our experts’ favorite season win total bets right here.
Here is the 2021 CFB betting guide preview for the Big 12.
FAVORITES: OKLAHOMA and IOWA STATE
If we get a rematch of last year’s conference title game between the Sooners and the Cyclones, it would come as no surprise. Oklahoma certainly belongs. By the end of last season, the Sooners arguably were performing at a playoff-caliber level, finishing with an eight-game winning streak after destroying Florida in the Cotton Bowl. Along the way, Spencer Rattler established himself as the next in Lincoln Riley’s recent assembly line of quarterbacks, after NFL starters Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. The return of slashing RB Kennedy Brooks after last fall’s opt-out should provide the necessary balance.
Matt Campbell’s team in Ames earns the vote to make the strongest run at the Sooners, especially with QB Brock Purdy resisting the temptation to jump into the NFL draft and most of the Big 12's best defense returning. Now, how soon might the NFL come calling for Riley and Campbell?
LIVE DOG: TEXAS TECH
Feeling a bit of heat at Texas Tech, third-year coach Matt Wells needs a fast upgrade after a pair of sub-.500 seasons. Mindful of his plight, Wells shook the jar in the offseason, bringing back respected offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie for another tour of duty in Lubbock and tasking him to reignite an offense that has lost some of its zip since the Kliff Kingsbury era. Transfer Tyler Shough, who won a Pac-12 title with Oregon a year ago, offers the promise of an upgrade at QB. But the transfer theme is really playing out on the defensive side, where several potential starters have arrived via the portal. With the entire front seven back, Tech should continue its progress under defensive coordinator Keith Patterson from the road-kill status of the Kingsbury years. Having hit the portal hard and expecting a QB upgrade from Shough, Wells will give it a go this fall and not worry about building for 2022, knowing that a bowl bid might be needed to save his job.
DEAD MONEY: BAYLOR
While Kansas might seem the obvious choice, we suspect the Jayhawks might be so discounted that they could provide some value. Rather, we suspect Baylor has yet to hit bottom after dropping hard and fast following Matt Rhule’s departure to the NFL. Rhule knew when to get out of Waco. Replacement Dave Aranda, over from Ed Orgeron’s LSU staff, struggled mightily in a debut season disrupted by COVID-19. The drop from 2019 was precipitous, and now multiyear starting QB Charlie Brewer, the soul of the offense, has transferred to Utah. As with many career assistants, the jury remains very much out on Aranda, who wouldn’t be the first high-profile coordinator to fail in the jump to the No. 1 role.
BIG GAMES ON THE BOARD
Iowa at Iowa State, Sept: 11: It’s not a conference game, but we’ll get a pretty good idea whether this is to be a truly special autumn in Ames if Iowa State can reclaim the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Matt Campbell has never beaten a Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa team, as the Cyclones’ losing streak against their in-state enemy had grown to five before last year’s rivalry game was nixed due to the pandemic. The caution here is Iowa State’s opponent the previous week is Northern Iowa, which will surely be up for the game while the Cyclones might have their eyes on the following Saturday’s matchup against the Hawkeyes.
Texas at Arkansas, Sept. 11: Though the Longhorns and the Razorbacks have met as recently as the 2014 Texas Bowl, this will be only their fourth regular-season meeting since Arkansas bolted the old Southwest Conference for the SEC after the 1991 season. This recalls some college football history with Texas in Fayetteville in one of the “Games of the Century” on Dec. 6, 1969, an epic 15-14 win for No. 1 Texas over No. 2 Arkansas with President Richard M. Nixon in the stands. This figures to be an early marker for any progress coach Steve Sarkisian might be making in his debut season with the Horns.
Nebraska at Oklahoma, Sept. 18: This is another nonconference tilt but one that nostalgia buffs will love as much as Arkansas-Texas, as it rekindles what was arguably the nation’s most intense rivalry for much of the 1970s and ’80s in the days of the old Big Eight. This will mark the 50-year anniversary of the great 1971 Thanksgiving shootout between the two highest-ranked teams in the country. They’re already complaining about the TV-influenced early kickoff time of 11 a.m. CDT, as the history of this once-torrid rivalry demands a larger national stage than late Saturday morning.
Oklahoma at Kansas State, Oct. 2: Sure, Oklahoma has the annual Texas game on deck, but we suspect there will be no way that Lincoln Riley and the Sooners will overlook K-State after getting dumped by the big underdog Wildcats in each of the last two seasons. If Chris Klieman can make it a hat trick in Manhattan, they might consider adding his name to Bill Snyder’s at the KSU stadium.
Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Oct. 9: This has always been a highlight matchup, even better in recent years with a succession of heart-stoppers, including the Sooners’ four-overtime win last October. This will also be a big stage for Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler to impress Heisman Trophy voters while providing new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian a chance to win over those who never quite warmed to predecessor Tom Herman (or, for that matter, predecessor Charlie Strong, or practically any coach in Austin since Darrell Royal). This one will be even more interesting if Sarkisian has the Longhorns 5-0 entering Dallas, not too far-fetched considering the early schedule.
Iowa State at Oklahoma, Nov. 20: There’s a good chance this will be Round 1, with a rematch coming a couple of weeks later in the conference title game in Arlington, Texas. The Cyclones and Sooners split their games last season, and Matt Campbell has scored a couple of the biggest wins of his Iowa State tenure at OU’s expense, including a shocking upset at Norman in 2017. It would not be an upset of that magnitude in 2021, as this could very well be a Top 10 matchup in late November.
Though tempted to give then-new coach Dave Aranda a mulligan after last season’s oddities -- which hit Baylor harder than most after an early-season COVID-19 pause that never allowed the Waco bunch to get on track -- our instincts say no. Not out of any malice; rather, last year’s Bears never remotely resembled the Matt Rhule powerhouse of 2019, which really shouldn’t have surprised since much of the roster plus the coaching staff departed afterward. Now Baylor moves forward minus multiyear starting QB Charlie Brewer, who took his guile and savvy to Utah, leaving a mostly untested collection of successors that includes Jacob Zeno, who did briefly shine in relief during the 2019 Big 12 title game against Oklahoma but otherwise has little experience. Even with Brewer, the offense struggled last year, and it was not the same hard-hitting defense as at the end of the Rhule era.
The truth is that the Bears are into a rebuilding stage with Aranda, who still needs to establish his head-coaching chops. Our only cause for pause on the Under is the chance the Bears will break 3-0 from the gate with a forgiving early slate, but they might not be favored in any game thereafter.
Pick: Under 5.5
The cross-state grudge match against Iowa on Sept. 11 will provide an indicator of the height of the trajectory for this season’s Cyclones. The shot of adrenaline from beating the Hawkeyes could fuel Iowa State into November, when showdowns against Texas and Oklahoma appear on the schedule. At the moment, Matt Campbell’s team projects to be an underdog only against the Sooners. Short of a rash of injuries, this is shaping up as a big season in Ames, with 19 starters back from last season’s Fiesta Bowl winners. That includes senior quarterback Brock Purdy and junior running back Breece Hall, who led the nation in rushing a year ago with 1,572 yards.
The throwback-style offense, featuring unbalanced sets, is a change of pace from the many spread-type attacks that populate the conference, and the defense has many established playmakers such as Mike Rose, who made more tackles than any college linebacker a year ago, while safety Greg Eisworth II is a three-time All-Big 12 performer. It should be an Over in Ames, but we’ll feel a lot better about the recommendation if ISU can reclaim the Cy-Hawk Trophy against Iowa.
Pick: Over 9.5
The bar can’t sink any lower in Lawrence after Les Miles plumbed new depths in his two seasons before getting run out of town. New coach Lance Leipold arrives from Buffalo as an established winner with the Bulls after notching a Geno Auriemma-like winning percentage of .948 at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he also won six Division III titles. Leipold, hired April 30, is getting a late start, but Miles actually left behind a couple of well-regarded recruiting classes, and North Texas transfer QB Jason Bean could spark the offense.
Let’s not get too excited, as KU was outscored by an average of 46-16 last season and featured one of the nation’s worst offenses and defenses. But we suspect Leipold will be a major upgrade on the sidelines, and he has a chance to at least push the win total if he can get past FCS South Dakota in the opener. Then it’s a matter of finding just one more win, which a better-organized Kansas is in position to locate with the coaching upgrade.
Pick: Over 1
Chris Klieman won big at FCS North Dakota State and got Kansas State to a bowl in his first spin with the Wildcats in 2019, but the wheels fell off late last season in some of the worst efforts seen in Manhattan since before Bill Snyder. Keep in mind that Klieman would not be the first coach to benefit from a shrewd predecessor (Snyder) whose leftover troops were so fundamentally sound that the new regime enjoyed a positive carryover. It’s Klieman’s program now, however, and losing by scores of 37-10, 45-0 and 69-31 down the stretch looked more like K-State circa 1985.
COVID-19 and injuries can shoulder part of the blame, especially as the season began to really unravel after starting QB Skylar Thompson went down. He’s back for a sixth season, which should be welcome news, but this remains a run-first offense that will lean heavily on sophomore Deuce Vaughn. And if Thompson goes down again, would Klieman go back to Will Howard, who eventually looked shell-shocked in relief last year? The defense also lost some key playmakers, including defensive end Wyatt Hubert to the NFL. We’ll have an idea of the direction things are headed by time conference play rolls around, as an inability to beat Stanford or Nevada in nonconference play would suggest a quick recovery might not be in order.
Pick: Under 5.5
Running the table in the Big 12 is pretty tough, and even the three Lincoln Riley playoff teams since 2017 suffered losses in league play -- Iowa State in 2017, Texas in ’18 and Kansas State in ’19 -- and the Sooners slipped twice in the conference a year ago, falling to K-State and Iowa State. So we’re not going too far out on a limb by failing to project an Over. We know OU will be very good and that, if healthy, QB Spencer Rattler (28 TD passes a year ago) should be in the Heisman Trophy mix. Getting back RB Kennedy Brooks, who already has rushed for 2,067 career yards, after he opted out a year ago might be the final piece to a spectacular offense.
The Alex Grinch-coached defense also made significant strides last season and welcomes back seven starters plus other contributors. The front six has considerable depth and experience, with senior nose guard Perrion Winfrey especially disruptive. Make no mistake, this is a definite playoff contender. But the Sooners cannot slip if they are to exceed 11 wins, and even some spectacular Riley teams have been unable to do that.
Pick: Push 11
Mike Gundy has won more than two-thirds of his games as coach in Stillwater, so it’s hardly a stretch for the Cowboys to get to eight wins. It might not be easy, however, mostly because of a league schedule that takes Oklahoma State to Texas, Iowa State and West Virginia ... not to mention Bedlam vs. the Sooners, this fall in Stillwater. Getting to eight wins also might require keeping QB Spencer Sanders in one piece, which a banged-up offensive line couldn’t do a year ago (at least the line now has considerable experience). The departure of RB Chuba Hubbard might not be as disruptive to the offense as replacing big-play wideout Tylan Wallace, a Ravens draftee, because others such as Dezmon Jackson (5.5 YPC) ran with some flair last autumn.
Meanwhile, crafty defensive coordinator Jim Knowles continues to get his unit punching above its weight thanks to his creative schemes. A key to an Over will likely be a spotless 3-0 nonconference mark, which means the Sept. 18 game at Boise State looms as a must-win, considering the tough road assignments that await in conference.
Pick: Over 7.5
Shame on the Frogs, not for opening against FCS opposition -- standard operating procedure at lots of places these days -- but for doing so against Duquesne. That might have made sense in the 1930s or ’40s, but not in 2021. That’s one of three home nonconference games, and if the Frogs can also beat Cal and SMU in Fort Worth, they might exceed seven wins. But Gary Patterson’s teams have been bumping their heads on lower ceilings as recent TCU defenses have not been as dominant as they were since respected defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas retired in 2015. In fact, last season the Frogs failed to lead the Big 12 in defense for the first time since 2016.
But a surge might require rough-hewn junior QB Max Duggan, a bruising runner, to take the next step as a passer after flashing occasional upside with his arm the last two seasons. Duggan proved he can run by leading the Frogs with 526 rushing yards a year ago. Patterson should get above .500 and back to a bowl after being denied the postseason last year due to COVID-19, as its Texas Bowl date against Arkansas was canceled. Seven wins, however, looks about right.
Pick: Push 7
For some reason, it became almost obligatory for sports analysts to degrade the Longhorns in the Tom Herman era, and many are doing it again even as Steve Sarkisian takes control after a successful stint as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator with title-winning Alabama. Sarkisian inherits a program that was a handful of plays from playoff consideration a year ago after narrow losses by two and three points and another in OT against Oklahoma. We also saw enough of sophomore QB Casey Thompson in the blowout of Colorado in the Alamo Bowl to suggest he could be a worthy successor to four-year starter Sam Ehlinger, though sophomore Hudson Card has some support.
Whichever QB takes snaps will spend time handing off to sophomore RB Bijan Robinson, perhaps the highest-touted back from the 2020 recruiting class and posed for a breakout after gaining 8.2 ypc last fall. An experienced secondary and plenty of potential within the front seven suggests the defense should be at least functional. Meanwhile, Sarkisian will embrace this second chance as a head coach after the USC adventure went off the rails and he was fired in 2015. The combination of his Pac-12 experience plus the rehabilitation of his reputation under Saban suggests Sarkisian should hardly be over his head in the Big 12. The Over really comes into focus if Sarkisian comes into league play 3-0, which means getting past Arkansas in mid-September.
Pick: Over 8
We’ll cut right to the quick with this Over projection, as we suspect the Red Raiders will go 3-0 out of conference with recently disappointing Houston the only apparent serious challenge, plus two Big 12 teams in Kansas and Baylor that we expect Tech to beat. That leaves coach Matt Wells to find one win among the seven other games on the schedule, which becomes much more likely if Oregon transfer QB Tyler Shough is as comfortable with offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie’s progressive schemes as he looked in the spring. Cumbie has been tasked with enlivening an offense that has slowed a bit since Kliff Kingsbury left, so the progress of Shough and the availability of top returning receiver Erik Ezukanma (broken arm in spring) is critical.
Better news is that the defense has progressed at least a bit from the Kingsbury era and is loaded with experienced grad transfers ready to play immediately. We also like the Over because Wells is definitely feeling some heat after bowl misses in his first two years on the job, and having worked the portal hard in the offseason suggests he is concerned with immediate results and not worrying about laying a foundation for 2022 or later. Wells needs to win now, and there look to be six wins on this slate.
Pick: Over 5.5
After living on offense during the Dana Holgorsen years, the Mountaineers did it with defense last season. They made it to the Liberty Bowl, surviving an awkward assignment against Army. But the best defense since the Don Nehlen era in Morgantown has a lot of holes to fill, especially in a secondary that ranked tops nationally in pass defense. And we’re not sure coach Neal Brown is completely comfortable with senior QB Jarret Doege, the former Bowling Green transfer who tossed for nearly 2,600 yards last fall but was also pulled in the Liberty Bowl due to ineffectiveness. In short, we’re not sure the Mountaineers can rely as much on their defense in 2021 and will need the offense to shift into higher gear, but is Doege capable?
The schedule is also tricky, with Virginia Tech’s visit in nonconference play looming as a key swing game to get past 6.5 wins and only Kansas in the finale a comfortably projected conference win. The Mountaineers get Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State at home but probably will need to beat at least one of those to have a chance to get above .500. We suspect WVU will land at 6-6 -- probably good enough for another minor bowl bid, but just below this total.
Pick: Under 6.5