Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma over Texas
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Projected Record: 11-2
Wins: UTEP, Kent State, Nebraska, Kansas State, TCU, Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas (Big 12 Championship)
Losses: Texas, Iowa State
The Brent Venables era starts in Norman with a ton of turnover. The Sooners have the most talent in the Big 12, but return only eight starters from last year’s team. On offense UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel takes over at quarterback and instantly becomes one of the best in the conference. He has two talented receivers to throw to in Marvin Mims and Theo Wease. The offense will be explosive with new OC Jeff Lebby, but will need to get better offensive line play. On defense the Sooners are coming off a year where they finished 79th overall. The secondary was a huge issue last year and Brent Venables will have his hands full fixing it. Oklahoma will rely on a few transfers on the defensive line Jeffery Johnson from Tulane and Jonah La’ulu from Hawaii. Overall, this Oklahoma team is a mystery heading into the year where their success will depend heavily on the defense. The expectation should be Big 12 champions, but there are many contenders in the conference that can compete with this team.
2. Texas Longhorns
Projected Record: 9-4
Wins: Louisiana-Monroe, UTSA, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, Kansas
Losses: Alabama, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma (Big 12 Championship)
Texas is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season. But there is huge optimism in Steve Sarkisian’s second season. The offense is loaded and has a top five receiving group in the country with Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington, and Isaiah Neyor. Add in top running back Bijan Robinson and highly ranked QB Quinn Ewers, this offense has a chance to be special. However, offensive line is a huge issue where the Longhorns might have to start two true freshman offensive tackles. Defensively, they were awful last year finishing 100th in total yards per game. The interior defensive line isn’t bad with Keondre Coburn and Alfred Collins, but I do not see any premier pass rushers on the roster. The Longhorns also are weak at linebacker as they’ve been searching the transfer portal all offseason. The secondary remains shaky as well, but Ohio State transfer Ryan Watts will help the improvement. Overall, with an inexperienced offensive line and average defense I don’t see Texas as a college football playoff contender. However, they have enough offense to be in the mix for a Big 12 title.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: South Dakota, Missouri, Tulane, Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor
Losses: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas
Kansas State was a solid team last year finishing 8-5 in Coach Chris Klieman’s third season. The Wildcats are led by one of the best players in the nation in RB Deuce Vaughn. Whether the offense takes a step up will depend on inconsistent Nebraska transfer QB Adrian Martinez. The strength of the team last year was defense. It will be the same this year with Felix Anudike-Uzomah coming off an 11 sack season, Daniel Green being a stud linebacker, and a solid cornerback tandem of Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe. Overall, this is another Big 12 darkhorse that I would not be surprised if they make the Big 12 Championship.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Colorado, Tarleton, SMU, Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Iowa State
Losses: Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, Baylor
TCU replaced longtime head coach Gary Patterson with former SMU coach Sonny Dykes. The change came after TCU had the worst defense in the Patterson era. The biggest question going into the season will be whether Chandler Morris or Max Duggan starts. Whoever starts will have plenty of options to throw to with Quentin Johnson and the other four leading receivers all back. A few other options could emerge as huge target Geor’quarius Spivey at Tight End and Gunnar Henderson at slot WR were great in spring practice. The only issue I see with this offense is whether the offensive line will take a step up from last year. The defense returns seven starters after finishing second worst in the Big 12 last year. After looking at the depth chart, there is no way this defense doesn’t improve. In the secondary TCU has two solid cornerbacks in Noah Daniels and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. The Horned Frogs also have a few linebackers that are ready to breakout including Dee Winters and Marcel Brooks. The weakness of the defense is on the defensive line as they do not have a premier pass rusher. Overall, TCU is a dark horse Big 12 contender that will surprise some people.
5. Baylor Bears
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Albany, Texas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas, TCU, Texas
Losses: BYU, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas State
Baylor came out of nowhere last year and won the Big 12. Now Coach Dave Aranda will try to keep the momentum going. The Bears won double digit games last year despite having a mediocre offense. Blake Sharpen is taking over at quarterback and is looking to build off of his Big 12 championship game performance. But other than a very good offensive line, this team lost a ton of production at wide receiver and running back. Tight end Ben Sims and WR Monaray Baldwin will look up to pick up the slack. Baylor was great defensively last year and will be a good unit this year with a strong defensive line and stud linebacker Dillon Doyle. However, they will have to replace most of their secondary starters who were big time leaders. Overall, Baylor will be solid. But I disagree with the Big 12 media naming them the favorites to win the Big 12 this year due to the massive exodus of talented players from last year to the NFL.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Central Michigan, Arizona State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Texas, Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia
Losses: Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State finished one yard short of winning the Big 12 last year. The Cowboys were the top defense in the Big 12 and it almost carried them to the playoffs. They return quite a few players to the offense, but have questions at receiver and the offensive line. The biggest question on the offensive side of the ball is can Spencer Sanders fix his turnover issues and inconsistent play. Defensively, they lose a ton including their defensive coordinator and four of their five defensive back starters. This defense will take a step back, but Oklahoma State still has decent defensive line and edge rusher play to give teams trouble. Overall, I think the mediocre offense will keep this team out of being in Big 12 championship contention. But expect a solid team that goes to a bowl game.
7. Iowa State Cyclones
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Southeast Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech
Losses: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU
The Cyclones failed to live up to weirdly high expectations (some were projecting top ten in the preseason) and finished 7-6. Now after losing Breece Hall and Brock Purdy, the expectations have settled down. But lucky for Iowa State, that is when they are at their best. I’m actually expecting the Cyclones to exceed expectations this year as the wide receiver room is the best it has ever looked (Xavier Hutchinson and Jaylin Noel), and the run game will remain strong. Insiders in Ames actually think QB Hunter Dekker might be a more talented quarterback than Brock Purdy. On the defensive side, the defense was a top ten unit last year. However they only return three starters from last year’s team. Even with all of the lost starters, Iowa State still has solid players to make this a good defense including Will McDonald who had 11.5 sacks last year. Overall, expect a classic solid Iowa State team to finish in the middle to upper tier of the Big 12 conference.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Murray State, Houston, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas
Losses: NC State, Texas, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma
Texas Tech went through a few coaching changes this offseason hiring Joey McGuire at head coach and Zach Kittley at offensive coordinator. With the changes expect the offense to be highly focused on the passing game and up tempo. There is also a legitimate quarterback battle going on between three solid quarterbacks in Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith, and Behren Morton. What might surprise some people is the defensive line is actually pretty good and has decent depth. This is also an improved secondary from past Texas Tech teams. The weakness of this team are at edge and offensive line. Overall, expect a decent Texas Tech team to fight in the middle part of the Big 12. With a brutal schedule, going bowling will be a successful year.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
Projected Record: 5-7
Wins: Kansas, Towson, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Kansas State
Losses: Pitt, Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
West Virginia has had a rough offseason due to players leaving the program and entering the transfer portal, especially on the defensive side. The Mountaineers lose all five starting defensive backs from last year’s team. Offensively will be interesting with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and transfer quarterback JT Daniels. Overall, Daniels gives this team a high ceiling, but with not many returning starters back I see this team near the bottom of the Big 12.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Projected Record: 3-9
Wins: Tennessee Tech, Duke Kansas State
Losses: West Virginia, Houston, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas
Lance Leipold is continuing his transformation of Kansas football. Entering his second year, the Jayhawks will be improved but still have a long way to go. QB Jalon Daniels had a decent end of the year and is exactly what the Jayhawks needed as they were finally starting to compete. Overall, Kansas has a ton of returning players with 16 starters coming back… but do not expect a bowl game as there is still not much talent on the roster.