The Big 12 was as exciting as ever in the 2021-22 campaign. For the first time since 2014, a school not named the University of Oklahoma marched into Arlington and hoisted the Big 12 Championship trophy. After Baylor narrowly escaped Oklahoma State’s last-second go-ahead touchdown attempt, the Bears are seemingly in the driver’s seat to repeat in 2022. But can they field a team that will rival last season’s success? There’s no shortage of new faces in the Big 12 either. How will Brent Venables fair in his first season with the Sooners? Can Zach Kittley’s offense carry the same firepower in Lubbock that it did at Western Kentucky? How does Oklahoma State’s defense fair after losing Jim Knowles to Ohio State?
And how does all of that affect the way the Big 12 pecking order will shape out come December?
Big 12 Standings Prediction
1. Baylor Bears: 10-2 (8-1)
Returning production: 47% (8th in Big 12, 99th Nationally)
Wins: Albany, Texas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas
Losses: BYU, TCU
While Baylor’s returning production may be alarming, the Bear’s experience in the trenches cannot be ignored. The only major contributor Aranda loses up front is Xavier Newman-Johnson. The Bears also bolster the defensive line by adding Tulsa transfer, Jaxon Player, who tallied up 25 solo tackles, five sacks, and a forced fumble in his 2021 campaign. Baylor’s potential playoff contention and Big 12 title hopes rest on the ability of Sophomore Quarterback, Blake Shapen. The young field general looked sharp in his 2 games under center for the Bears last season. Stepping in for an injured Bohannon, Shapen notched nearly 600 yards with five touchdowns accompanying them. His ability as a passer shined through the previous season because of the rushing attack they were able to establish beforehand. After losing Senior Running Back, Abram Smith, to the NFL, the Bears’ biggest problems may come in replacing the 1,600-yard rusher. Even still, the staff Aranda has pieced together will look to take advantage of a transition year in Norman to make a Big 12 Championship appearance for their third time in four seasons.
2. Oklahoma Sooners: 10-2 (7-2)
Returning production: 66% (T3rd in Big 12, 57th Nationally)
Wins: UTEP, Kent State, Nebraska, Kansas State, TCU, Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Losses: Texas, Baylor
It’s no secret that Oklahoma has had a bizarre offseason, however, they made it out almost completely unscathed. Despite losing one of the best young head coaches in the country, the Sooners managed to assemble an elite coaching staff highlighted by Brent Venables and Jeff Lebby. After losing Caleb Williams to USC, the Sooners landed one of the top gunslingers in the portal by signing Dillon Gabriel. Venables managed to secure a top 5 transfer portal class, which looks to steer the Sooners’ program in the right direction in year one under this new regime. The Sooners’ defense looks to finally break the generational curse of mediocrity OU fans have suffered through this past decade. Specifically, Oklahoma’s secondary looks to make a major leap forward. Woodi Washington, who missed most of last season due to injury, could make a legitimate case for being the nation’s top corner this season. Couple that with an elite Linebacker room, and an explosive, young defensive line and the Sooners could shock a lot of people in 2022. Regardless, this is a brand new coaching staff, and regardless of how elite that staff is, there are going to be growing pains. Baylor looks to reload, and Texas is simply due for a win in the Red River Rivalry after four years of the river running red. Even with the growing pains, Oklahoma is still in a position to make a run at the Big 12 Championship and a New Year’s Six appearance.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys: 9-3 (6-3)
Returning production: 53% (7th in Big 12, 106th Nationally)
Wins: Central Michigan, Arizona State, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, TCU, Texas, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia
Losses: Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
The Cowboys’ pistols are still firing in 2022, but Pistol Pete doesn’t make another appearance in Arlington after coming up a yard short of the conference title in 2021. The Cowboys shocked college football fans last season after upsetting the Sooners during Bedlam and stealing the Fiesta Bowl from the Fighting Irish. That being said, there’s little reason to be optimistic about that success being replicated. Dominant defense in Stillwater is simply a thing of the past. Gundy only returns 37% of his defensive production, which is almost dead last at 128th in the nation. The acquisition of Derek Mason will keep Oklahoma State’s defense afloat, but the change from Jim Knowles will not come without bumps in the road. Returning Spencer Sanders and a number of the big boys up front will help the Cowboys push for a 10-win season, however, they’ll have to replace last year’s leading rusher and receiver to be in serious Big 12 title contention. After losing two in a row to Baylor and Texas Tech, the Pokes hit their stride and win five of their last six. Spencer Sanders’ lowest lows will keep the Cowboys from repeating as the winners of Bedlam, but his highest highs will lead the Pokes to crucial wins over Arizona State, Kansas State, and Texas.
4. Texas Longhorns: 8-4 (6-3)
Returning production: 66% (T3rd in Big 12, 57th Nationally)
Wins: Louisiana Monroe, UTSA, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Kansas
Losses: Alabama, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor
Texas football is back (to eight wins) folks! Jokes aside, the Longhorns could take a sizeable step forward in Sarkisian’s second season. Returning Bijan Robinson is massive for the Longhorns, however, Bijan can’t play defense. Their biggest question mark is their depth on defense. Last season Texas gave up the third most yards per game in the Big 12. The only teams in the conference that gave up more were TCU and Kansas. The Longhorns were in the bottom half of the Big 12 in almost every defensive category. Quinn Ewers is also an interesting name to watch as he walks into his first season as a starter. Ewers will get a warmup game vs ULM, followed by an immediate test against one of the best Alabama teams in recent memory. After the beatdown Bryce Young and company hand the Longhorns, Texas will find their rhythm and win five straight, including an upset over Oklahoma. There’s nothing special about this Texas team that gives them an advantage over the Sooners, however, the conditions are favorable for the streak to be snapped. Oklahoma has beaten Texas four times in a row, which isn’t a common occurrence in such a heated rivalry. Throw that in with the coaching change and the Longhorns have a shot to finally topple the Sooners. However, this is by no means an easily predictable game and could truly go either way, as you can never count out a roster as talented as the one Brent Venables has assembled. After the battle at the Texas State Fair, it’s downhill from there for Sarkisian and company. Following their five-game winning streak, the Longhorns finish the season 2-3 and miss a Big 12 Title appearance.
5. Kansas State Wildcats: 8-4 (5-4)
Returning production: 57% (6th in Big 12, 92nd Nationally)
Wins: South Dakota, Missouri, Tulane, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas
Losses: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Baylor
A world where Skylar Thompson doesn’t lead the Kansas State Wildcats out of the tunnel seems almost foreign. However, that’s the reality in Manhattan after Thompson was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. On the bright side for the Wildcats, they return one of the most explosive players the nation has to offer in Deuce Vaughn. Deuce carried an extremely large share of the workload on offense last season, running for 1,404 yards and 18 touchdowns with an efficient six yards per carry. Adrian Martinez looks forward to playing his first season in purple and gray, which softens the blow of losing Thompson for the Wildcats. Luckily for Martinez, all three of the Wildcats’ receiving leaders will return, bringing back Phillip Brooks, Deuce Vaughn, and Malik Knowles. Kansas State also opens up with three manageable home games, facing South Dakota, Missouri, and Tulane. A 3-0 Wildcats team could find themselves ranked by the time conference play starts. If the inconsistent play we saw out of Adrian Martinez during his time at Nebraska continues, his team will pull off upsets over teams like Texas, and potentially challenge some of the other top dogs of the Big 12, but ultimately it will also lead to losses in winnable games. Even with that, the Wildcats are in a position to take a sizable step forward in 2022 and will look to put multiple notable teams on upset watch en route to a possible Cheez-It Bowl appearance.
6. Iowa State Cyclones: 5-7 (3-6)
Returning production: 37% (Last in Big 12, 128th Nationally)
Wins: SE Missouri State, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU
Losses: Iowa, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Iowa State’s lack of returning firepower is beyond concerning. Losing three of your most consistent pieces on offense is almost impossible to recover from. Matt Campbell has pulled off high-quality seasons with subpar rosters in the past, but how will he replace the holes left by the departures of Breece Hall, Brock Purdy, and Charlie Kolar? The Cyclones do, however, return their leading receiver from last season, Xavier Hutchinson, who was 13 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season in 2021. The fate of Iowa State’s success may rest on the shoulders of redshirt Sophomore Quarterback, Hunter Dekkers, who’s the only active Quarterback on the roster that’s played in a power five game. Dekkers saw his most action against the Hawkeyes, throwing for 114 yards and a touchdown to go with it. Having to replace the previously mentioned star power on offense will come with its share of difficulty, as I have the Cyclones starting 2-6. This slump will crescendo in a loss on the road to a rebuilding Kansas team. Campbell and company finish the season strong, going 3-1 but missing a bowl appearance by one game. There’s just simply not a lot of excitement to be had about this Iowa State team and more question marks than answers. The talented staff Matt Campbell has built will keep the team afloat, but look forward to a rebuilding year in Ames.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers: 5-7 (3-6)
Returning production: 44% (9th in Big 12, 127th Nationally)
Wins: Kansas, Towson, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, TCU
Losses: Pittsburgh, Texas, Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
The Mountaineers made a transfer portal splash by acquiring former Georgia Quarterback, JT Daniels, however, the positives seemingly end there. The Mountaineers lose six of their top seven tacklers, including the entirety of their top five. On top of that, West Virginia loses a 1,000+ yard rusher, Leddie Brown. The losses don’t end there either. Leading Wide Receiver, Winston Wright announced he would transfer to Florida State at the beginning of the offseason. West Virginia’s overall returning production is problematic, ranking only one spot above Iowa state. The Mountaineers have an arduous non-conference schedule, going on the road to both Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. West Virginia will meet a brick wall against Pitt but will finish their early season campaign with three straight wins. The success will be short-lived, however, as the cracks on defense begin to leak. The Mountaineers finish the season 2-6, ending with a brutal stretch against Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. JT Daniels will have a decent season, but the overall lack of weapons will keep his team out of serious conference contention. In years past, the stout Neal Brown defense has kept his team relevant, but with the volume of talent that’s departing from the program, it won’t be the reliable force they’ve usually been able to lean on.
8. TCU Horned Frogs: 6-6 (3-6)
Returning production: 80% (2nd in Big 12, 9th Nationally)
Wins: Colorado, Tarleton State, SMU, Kansas, Texas Tech, Baylor
Losses: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State
The future is bright in Fort Worth. TCU will be an interesting team to follow in the coming years due to the addition of former SMU head coach, Sonny Dykes. Despite losing former five-star Running Back, Zach Evans, to the transfer portal, the Horned Frogs return a large majority of their roster from 2021. The Frogs bring back two capable Quarterbacks, as both Chandler Morris and Max Duggan return to Fort Worth. The Frogs still have some kinks on offense, which Dykes will have to work out, but a top 15 transfer portal class will help to ease the transition. Most of TCU’s losses will be within one score, but the transition to a new coaching staff will show as the Frogs struggle to finish close games. They’ll sweep through their early non-conference schedule, including Sonny Dyke’s return to Dallas to face his former team for the first time. After beating the Ponies on the road, the Horned Frogs will give the Sooners an early season scare in Fort Worth, but will ultimately come up short. They’ll follow this by entering a 1-5 slump, ended by yet their third straight win over a one-loss Baylor team. Dykes’ first season will be filled with memorable moments, but overall the Horned Frogs will be an average team.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders: 4-8 (3-6)
Returning production: 61% (5th in Big 12, 77th Nationally)
Wins: Murray State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Kansas
Losses: Houston, North Carolina State, Texas, West Virginia, Baylor, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma
The Red Raiders adding former Western Kentucky offensive coordinator, Zach Kittley, was possibly the most underrated signing of the off-season. Kittley helped turn a former unranked, zero-star recruit out of high school, Bailey Zappe, into an NCAA record breaker. The staff that’s being built in Lubbock has an extremely high potential, but the transition may be bumpy. The Red Raiders have to replace three starters on the offensive line, as well as leading receiver Erik Ezukanma. Former Oregon Quarterback, Tyler Shough, is set to make his return after a collarbone injury in his previous season. Shough played in five games last season, throwing for 872 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. The big area of concern in Lubbock is the secondary, as they gave up the most passing yards in the Big 12 last year, allowing 422.3 yards per game through the air. After cruising to a win at home against Murray State, the Red Raiders will face the gauntlet of Houston, North Carolina State, and Texas in succession. After starting 1-4, Zach Kittley’s offense helps pull off back-to-back shootout victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The success doesn’t last long, however, as the only game in the win column from here on will be a home win against Kansas. Despite the difficult season, Texas Tech is headed in the right direction, and they’ve added elite members to their staff. Look for the Red Raiders to contend in later seasons, however, 2022 is not their year.
10. Kansas Jayhawks: 3-9 (1-8)
Returning Production: 82% (1st in Big 12, 8th Nationally)
Wins: Tennessee Tech, Duke, Iowa State
Losses: West Virginia, Houston, TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas State
Wrapping up our list at ten is the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas is difficult to predict, as they bring back more than anyone else in the Big 12. The Jayhawks return their leading rushing, receiver, and top three tacklers. One of the few bright spots from last season, Quarterback Jalon Daniels, will also return for the Jayhawks. Daniels saw significant action in his team’s final four games of the season, accounting for 860 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. Three of these touchdowns came in the Jayhawks’ stunning win over the Longhorns in Austin. Kansas Football is headed in the right direction and will improve in 2022, however, they aren’t ready for any serious contention in the Big 12. The Jayhawks will start 2-2 after wins over Tennessee Tech and Duke, but will only taste victory one more time in an upset win over a rebuilding Iowa State team. Kansas could play spoiler a few different times this year, however, their record won’t tell the full story behind the talent on this young roster. That being said, it still won’t be a season to write home about in Lawrence.