With the addition of Cincinnati, Houston and UCF joining the Big 12 next year, the final year of the Big 12 as we know it now is going to be an interesting one. With upheaval at Oklahoma, turnover at Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State and Texas being in a perpetual state of…being Texas, the race for the Big 12 title is arguably the most interesting of all the Power 5 Conferences.
Big 12 Championship Odds
Oklahoma State +600
Kansas State +1400
Iowa State +2000
West Virginia +2000
Texas Tech +5000
(Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook as of August 2nd)
Your view on Oklahoma this year might legitimately hinge on if you’re a glass half full person, or a glass half empty person. If you’re a half empty person, this a program that underwent a significant level of upheaval in the messy divorce with Lincoln Riley who left for USC and took quarterback Caleb Williams with him. The Sooners also lost their two leading receivers. The offensive line was very un-Oklahoma like last year, giving up a ton of sacks. It’s entirely possible it could take a year or two to get Oklahoma back to competing for the College Football Playoff.
If you’re an optimist, Brent Venables is the right coach to reboot the Sooners after the Riley fiasco. He waited his time to become a head coach and knows the program well after serving as Defensive Coordinator under Bob Stoops. Dillon Gabriel put up big numbers his first two years at UCF and knows new Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby well from their time together in Orlando. Marvin Mims has big play potential and Oklahoma gets former 5-star recruit Theo Wease back from a foot injury. If Venables can put his imprint on the Oklahoma defense quickly, there’s reason to believe the Sooners could be very good in 2022.
2021 ended up a nightmare for the Longhorns after blowing double-digit leads in the three straight games to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, Losing in overtime to Kansas and finishing 5-7. And yet, Texas actually has momentum heading into 2022. Pooling its considerable resources together in NIL deals helped Texas land a top five recruiting class and the Longhorns offense should be bolstered by transfer Quinn Ewers who was the number one recruit in the 2021 class. Alongside running back Bijan Robinson, star receiver Xavier Worthy and impact transfer Isaiah Neyor, Texas has the skill group to be very dangerous running Steve Sarkisian’s offense, but the offensive line was a mess a year ago and it’s unreasonable to expect true Freshmen to come in and make that unit immediately better. Texas also struggled mightily on defense in 2021 so despite having talent, it’s a group that just needs to play better. Texas should always be in contention because they recruit at a level on Oklahoma can match in the Big 12, but the Longhorns perpetually stand in their own way.
Oklahoma State +650
Oklahoma State came within inches of winning the Big 12 a year ago as they were stopped short on the goalline against Baylor. The Cowboys “settled” for a 12-2 season and a win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma State is losing a lot, returning just 53 percent of their production from a year ago which ranks 107th in the country. . They lost star running back Jaylen Warren, leading receiver Tay Martin and return just one starter in their back seven on defense. They also lost defensive coordinator Jim Knowles who worked wonders with that unit before leaving for Ohio State. Fortunately for Oklahoma State, Spencer Sanders returns at quarterback and Sanders took a considerable leap forward a year ago and with highly touted defensive coordinator Derek Mason replacing Knowles, there should be some continuity on defense, at least schematically out of the game.
Baylor pulled off a stunning 10-win turnaround from a 2-7 season in Dave Aranada’s first season to a 12-2 season and a Big 12 Championship in year two. Aranda has shown he is able to build things quickly and he’ll need to do that again this year as Baylor is 122nd out of 131 FBS teams in returning production. Baylor pretty much got cleaned out on offense losing its top two running backs, top two receivers and quarterback Gerry Bohanon who transferred to South Florida. Blake Shapen won the quarterback job in the Spring and he showed flashes in the Big 12 Championship Game, but he only had 86 passing attempts last season so it’s hard to project how good he can be. Baylor lost its two best players and leaders on defense in Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard, but Aranda cut his teeth coaching defense so it’s fair to expect the Baylor defense to get up to speed before the offense does.
The Pick – Oklahoma
It’s no fun going chalk, but in this case the safest play is still somehow Oklahoma despite the turmoil. Venables seems to have gotten everyone on the same page and with an offense that could be explosive thanks to the Gabriel-Lebby QB-OC combo and a talent level that is only matched by Texas, the Sooners are accurately priced ahead of the topsy-turvy Longhorns and re-tooling Oklahoma State and Baylor.
(Photo Credit: Brian Bahr/ Getty Images)