After the Big Ten shuttered its fall sports repertoire on Aug. 11 amid coronavirus concerns, fans of each of the conference’s 14 programs were left with no collegiate teams to root for this fall. Fans looking to get their football fix in 2020 still have options, as the ACC, SEC and Big 12, American Athletic Conference and Sun Belt are all still scheduled to play.
For Nebraska fans searching for a team to root for in a season with no Husker football, there are still a few relatively local options. Former Big 12 foes Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas are all set to play this fall, and each of them has something different to offer the wandering Husker.
The Cyclones finished 7-6 last fall, ending the year with a 33-9 loss against then-No. 14 Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl. They fielded a top-40 scoring offense, averaging 32.2 points per game, while the defense allowed 25.9 points per game.
Iowa State, which seeks to end a 107-year conference title drought — the longest streak in the FBS — will need to be led by an offense that in 2019 produced the best offense ever fielded in Ames. Fortunately for the Cyclones, familiar faces give the offense a chance to lose just that.
Last season’s leading receiver Deshaunte Jones is gone, but just about every other key contributor returns. Junior tight end Charlie Kolar is back after finishing third on the team in both receptions and receiving yards a year ago, as is leading rusher sophomore running back Breece Hall.
Most importantly, junior quarterback Brock Purdy is back for his junior season in Ames after a stellar sophomore campaign last fall. Purdy completed 65.7% of his passes in 2019 for nearly 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Defensively, the Cyclones must replace linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. and his 92 tackles, but three of their top five tacklers return. Junior linebacker O’Rien Vance and sophomore defensive end Will McDonald IV are also back in Ames after finishing first and second on the team in sacks last season.
Any analysis of Kansas football must begin with its current head man, Les Miles. The former Oklahoma State and LSU head coach went 3-9 during his first season in Lawrence. However, the man known in football circles as “The Mad Hatter” has brought some relevance to a program that has sorely lacked any of it for the past decade.
Though the mere presence of Miles provides Kansas with some much-needed relevance, the team must perform better against Big 12 rivals to have any shot of being competitive during a season featuring just one non-conference opponent — the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers come to Lawrence on Sept. 12.
Just one of the Jayhawks’ three wins last season came in conference play, a 37-34 win against Texas Tech in late October. Kansas has not won more than one conference game in a single season in the past decade, and it has six total Big 12 wins since 2010, including the Texas Tech win last season. The program has not won a road conference game since it beat Iowa State 35-33 in Ames on Oct. 8, 2008 — also the last time the Jayhawks won multiple Big 12 games in one season.
Kansas’ track record of poor form certainly doesn’t bode well considering the Big 12 is playing a 10-game slate with nine conference games. Even more of a cause for concern, the Jayhawks lost to their scheduled non-conference opponent, Coastal Carolina, 12-7 last year.
Last year, the Jayhawks ranked No. 101 in the country in scoring offense, averaging 23.5 points per game. The defense was even worse, allowing 36.1 points per game. This was the 10th-worst mark in the nation.
At quarterback, last year’s starter Carter Stanley graduated, but both of the team’s top two receivers return. Also returning is junior running back Pooka Williams Jr., who broke the 1,000-yard plateau each of his first two seasons in Lawrence.
Defensively, the Jayhawks lost their top two tacklers from a season ago in Mike Lee and Bryce Torneden, but three of their top five tacklers return — junior safety Davon Ferguson, sophomore linebacker Gavin Potter and senior linebacker Kyron Johnson.
The Wildcats finished 8-5 in 2019 under head coach Chris Klieman. The former North Dakota State head man led Kansas State to a Liberty Bowl appearance during his first season at the helm, where it lost 20-17 to No. 21 Navy.
Klieman’s first season in Manhattan wrapped up a successful decade for the Wildcats in which they won fewer than six games just once.
K-State averaged a modest 29.6 points per game a year ago on offense, but it fielded a top-30 defense as opponents averaged just 21.4 points per game.
Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who threw for over 2,300 yards with 12 touchdowns last fall returns for his senior campaign in 2020. He also chipped in another 405 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The Wildcats must replace leading receiver Dalton Schoen, but their second, third and fourth-leading receivers — wideouts Malik Knowles, Phillip Brooks and Wykeen Gill — all return.
Defensively, K-State returns three of its top five tacklers in senior linebacker Elijah Sullivan, sophomore defensive back Wayne Jones and senior defensive back Jahron McPherson. Junior defensive end Wyatt Hubert is also back in Manhattan after leading the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season.
The Tigers raced out to a 5-1 start last year before dropping five of their final six games. Despite reaching bowl eligibility, Missouri did not play in a bowl game as part of a postseason ban. The Missouri offense averaged 25.3 points per game, while the defense ranked No. 19 in the country, allowing 19.4 points per game. Only one team scored more than 30 points on the Missouri defense all season — Wyoming hung 37 on the Tiger defense in a 37-31 Wyoming win in week one.
Missouri faces uncertainty at the most important position on the field, as quarterback Kelly Bryant is gone. The returnees who saw the field last season — junior Taylor Powell and redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak — combined for 83 pass attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions. However, junior Shawn Robinson enters the mix after sitting out the 2019 season following a transfer from TCU.
The Tigers also lose two of their three leaders in receptions in wideouts Jonathan Nance and Johnathon Johnson. However, Larry Rountree III, last season’s leading rusher, returns for his senior campaign.
Junior linebacker Nick Bolton remains in Columbia after leading the Tigers with 103 tackles in 2019. Senior safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe, the team’s second and third-leading tacklers also return, as does last year’s sack leader senior defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside.
Overall, Husker fans searching for their football fix in a year with no Big Ten football can still find some solid options among some former Big 12 Conference foes. Iowa State seeks its first conference championship in over a decade behind a prolific offense, while Kansas awaits its first road win against Big 12 competition in 12 years. The battle to replace Bryant creates some intrigue at Missouri, while Kansas State looks to continue the success of the past decade in year two under Klieman.