Wide open is the best way to describe the Big 12’s battle to win the conference in the 2022 college football season. Baylor defeated Oklahoma State in exciting fashion in last year’s conference title game, and it’s certain that both teams will be in the mix to win it again this year. The Bears are bringing back a handful of starters from a stellar defense and bringing back one of the best offensive lines in the nation for new quarterback Blake Shapen. With the Oklahoma State defense losing several key figures at linebacker and high school, Coach Mike Gundy’s side will need to lean more on quarterback Spencer Sanders to return to the conference title game. Oklahoma is bringing back just nine starters for new coach Brent Venables, but don’t expect the Sooners to fall far from the top spot. Texas and Kansas State are arguably the biggest wildcard teams to feature at next fall’s conference.
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Will the Big 12 have a replay of last year’s title game in Baylor vs. Oklahoma State? Or will Oklahoma ’22 return to the forefront of the conference? Could Texas surprise and win the league? Athlon editors and college football staff discuss which team should be the favorite to win the Big 12 this fall:
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I could make the case for a few teams here, but I’d leave by the end of spring training Baylor over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for the top spot. Texas and Kansas State are intriguing wildcard teams that could be pushing for a trip to the conference title game if things go right. The bears are not without concerns, however. Coach Dave Aranda’s team lost defensive standouts Terrel Bernard (LB) and Jalen Pitre (DB), while the offense lost their top three stat receivers and running back Abram Smith. Additionally, Baylor had a plus-12 revenue margin and won four games by a point last season. These numbers tend to point to a regression in the next year. However, Oklahoma is in transition under its new staff, and Oklahoma State is losing some talent on defense and has some gaps to fill on offense. Texas isn’t lacking in talent, but can coach Steve Sarkisian find the right answers on offense and defense? This is a wide open conference and given the great uncertainty, I have faith that Aranda will continue to push the right buttons this year.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Yes, Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, Spencer Rattler and several others left Norman. But new head coach Brent Venables knows Oklahoma, the history and the culture very well, and he learned under a national champion coach (Dabo Swinney) during his highly successful tenure as Clemson’s defensive coordinator. Venables have assembled their own top-notch staff and scoured the transfer portal for a few key pickups, namely UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. This may be his first time as head coach and he won’t be getting an extended honeymoon because of the high expectations that come with leading the Sooners, but again, he’s getting them and he doesn’t have to worry about motivating his players either because for the first time since 2015, Oklahoma isn’t the defending Big 12 champion going into the season. Current defending champion Baylor will put up a spirited defense but Venables have been waiting for that shot for a long time and I expect the Sooners will capitalize on their coach’s energy and fiery spirit and use this as an opportunity to show everyone they can just changing the names and faces, OU is still the gold standard in the Big 12.
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Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Despite massive upheavals in both the coaching staff and the squad, I’m sticking with it Oklahoma as my pick to win the Big 12. Brent Venables has been about as strong as the Sooners could hope given his intimate knowledge of the program. And for everything the team lost through the transfer portal, they brought in potentially the best quarterback of the conference in Dillon Gabriel. Oklahoma will be able to ease its schedule with games against UTEP, Kent State and Nebraska, and its conference roster includes tough matchups against Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home. While they probably won’t be seriously competing for a berth in the college football playoffs, the Sooners will pose the biggest challenge in the Big 12 if Venables can improve on a mediocre defense with the potential to turn the program into Clemson West.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerismus)
The perennial favorite of the Big 12 enjoyed a streak of six straight Big 12 championships in 2021. His head coach transferred for another job. His star quarterback followed him.
None of this should stop anyone from thinking Oklahoma is the favorite to win the 2022 Conference under new head coach Brent Venables. The Sooners still have a stacked roster in relation to every team in the Big 12 that isn’t named Texas. Even after Lincoln Riley’s departure to USC, OU still ended up in one of the best recruiting classes in years. The new coaching staff also brought capable transfers to fill any gaps in the roster, including former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel, who knows the scheme from offense coordinator Jeff Lebby.
OU also has a favorable ’22 schedule that will bring Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State to Norman. Everything points to at least a place in the conference championship game for the Sooners.
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