Image credit: Josh Jung (Photo by John Williamson)
The Big 12 produced one of the most exciting regular season races in the country, as Texas Tech chased down Baylor to win the conference title on the final day of the regular season. It was the Red Raiders’ third conference championship in four seasons, a streak interrupted only by Texas last season.
The league had a solid postseason, as Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia were all regional hosts, and Baylor and Texas Christian also received NCAA Tournament bids. The Cowboys and Red Raiders advanced to super regionals, where they squared off against each other in Lubbock in one of the most entertaining super regionals of the year. Texas Tech won the series to advance to the College World Series for the fourth time in six years and then reached the bracket final in Omaha, its best College World Series showing ever.
Presented here are team-by-team analysis for every team in the Big 12, as well as the trajectory of the program moving forward.
Baylor (35-19, 14-8), reached regionals ????
Fair or not, going by the book, Baylor slightly underperformed preseason expectations in 2019.
The Bears came into the season as the No. 16 team in the country. When it was all said and done, they were the No. 2 seed in the Los Angeles Regional and were eliminated after going 1-2, pushing them outside of the Final Top 25.
But what’s not fair about that characterization is that Baylor dealt with cruel and uncommon injury luck last season, including injuries to catcher and top-10 pick Shea Langeliers and ace Cody Bradford.
And yet, Baylor nearly won the Big 12 regular season title, finishing just one game behind Texas Tech. Had the Bears won the league, they likely would have been hosting a regional at Baylor Ballpark, putting them in great position to advance to a super regional, and voila, they would have lived up to that preseason billing.
So while things didn’t go as planned in 2019, the program is still moving in the right direction under the direction of head coach Steve Rodriguez.
Kansas (32-26, 12-12), no postseason ????
The Jayhawks were probably closer to being a regional team then you think thanks to a late-season surge that turned what could have easily been a lost year into a season that very nearly ended in Kansas’ first postseason appearance since 2014.
The Jayhawks entered April just 5-10 in conference play, but seven wins in their last nine Big 12 games, including sweeps of Texas and rival Kansas State, pushed them to 12-12 in conference play and up to the high 50s in RPI.
It’s reasonable to assume that just one or two wins against the likes of bracket foes West Virginia or Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament would have put them firmly back in the postseason discussion, and Texas Christian gaining entry into the Field of 64 with similar metrics to Kansas in many ways confirms that hunch. Ultimately, the Jayhawks weren’t able to pull it off.
In a bottom-line business, the 2019 season will simply go down as one without a trip to a regional. But if you look at it in a more nuanced way, Kansas is a tough place to win, and coach Ritch Price and his players deserve a lot of credit for fighting back and changing the trajectory of their season three-quarters of the way through.
Kansas State (25-33, 8-16), no postseason ??
For Kansas State under first-year head coach Pete Hughes, the 2019 season was never going to be about the win-loss record. It was more about setting a foundation, getting things pointed in the right direction and providing reasons for optimism that results will be better in 2020 and beyond.
In that way, 2019 was a resounding success with positives along the way. Both the overall record and conference record were an improvement over 2018 (23-31), and the eight Big 12 wins were tied for the most in any season since 2015.
The Wildcats were also able to take advantage of a late-season collapse by Texas and sneak into the Big 12 Tournament. For a program looking to rebuild, that’s no small feat.
The 2020 season should be another step in the right direction. Seven of the nine players who were in the starting lineup for K-State in the Big 12 Tournament are scheduled to return, as are all three of the starting pitchers who were in the rotation down the stretch. Make no mistake about it; the record might not have been pretty, but 2019 was a quality building-block season for the Wildcats.
Oklahoma (33-23, 11-13), no postseason ??
There were modest expectations attached to the Sooners coming into the season. With a sub-.500 conference record and a place on the periphery of the at-large bubble at the end of the 2019 campaign, they just about hit expectations. But the way in which Oklahoma ended up there made the season feel a bit underwhelming.
The Sooners got out of the gate hot. After a sweep of Kansas in late March that got them off to a 3-0 start in the Big 12, they were 21-4 overall. The rest of the way, they went 12-19 overall and 8-13 in conference play, which pushed them from in the Field of 64 to the bubble, and ultimately, off the bubble with an 0-2 showing at the Big 12 Tournament.
A rotation that featured righthander Cade Cavalli and lefthander Levi Prater was one of the biggest reasons Oklahoma was ever in the conversation for a postseason appearance in 2019, and with that duo back in the fold, the Sooners will be dangerous in 2020.
Oklahoma State (40-21, 14-9), reached super regional ??
The Cowboys continue to overachieve under Josh Holliday. After beginning the season unranked, Oklahoma State was up and down throughout the first three months of the season.
When the calendar flipped to May, however, the Cowboys hit the accelerator, as they so often have under Holliday. They began the month by sweeping Oregon State on the road and ended it by winning the Big 12 Tournament, which put them in position to host a regional.
Oklahoma State’s season came to an end when it fell just a couple of runs short against Texas Tech in Game 3 of the Lubbock Super Regional, but it seems like only a matter of time before the Cowboys are back in Omaha. They’ve been to the postseason in seven consecutive seasons, and with new O’Brate Stadium set to open in 2020, they will finally have a facility that matches their quality of play.
Texas (27-27, 7-16), no postseason ??
What a weird season it was for Texas. Things went well enough to begin the season, as the Longhorns swept Louisiana State and won their first Big 12 series against Texas Tech. From there, things went south quickly.
Texas didn’t win another Big 12 series the rest of the way, not only pushing it out of the postseason picture, but also putting the team on the outside looking in for the Big 12 Tournament.
Texas made the College World Series a year ago, which should help assuage concerns following the 2019 season, but it certainly was an unexpected speed bump.
Texas Christian (34-28, 11-13), reached regionals ??
Right up until the Big 12 Tournament, TCU’s fate seemed sealed. With a conference record under .500 and an RPI outside of what is normally expected of an at-large team, it looked like the Horned Frogs would miss regionals for the second consecutive season, which would have been the first time that has happened during Jim Schlossnagle’s tenure in Fort Worth.
But TCU made a deep run in Oklahoma City, got a little healthier at the right time, and then found itself among the last four teams into the Field of 64. It wasn’t a bad way for the Horned Frogs to finish up a season that saw the team lose 15 players to injury for 15 or more games throughout the season.
More importantly, it gave some positive momentum to a program that looked like it had lost it after those four consecutive Omaha trips from 2014-17.
Texas Tech (46-20, 16-8), reached Omaha ??
The Texas Tech program continued to roll in 2019. With a regular season conference title, the Red Raiders captured their third such crown in four seasons. And their College World Series appearance was their fourth in six seasons.
It says a lot about where this program is that they can go into the season with a serious question mark, as they did with their pitching staff coming into last season, and they just find a way. By the end of the season, righthanders Micah Dallas and Caleb Kilian were a steady 1-2 punch in the rotation, and the likes of John McMillon, Taylor Floyd and Dane Haveman made for a quality bullpen.
At this point, Texas Tech is clearly the class of the league.
West Virginia (38-22, 13-11), reached regionals ??
In many ways, 2019 was an unqualified success for West Virginia. The Mountaineers hosted a regional for the first time since 1955 and All-American righthander Alek Manoah became the program’s second first-round pick and first since 1997. West Virginia also made a strong run in the Big 12 Tournament, reaching the championship game before losing to Oklahoma State.
The Morgantown Regional didn’t go as well as the rest of the season for West Virginia, which went 1-2 and was eliminated on a wild comeback from Texas A&M. Still, 2019 was proof of what is possible at West Virginia and how far the program has come under coach Randy Mazey.