Big 12 football preview, predictions: What will a one-of-a-kind season bring?

It’s been (another) offseason of realignment for college football, with the Big 12 once again in the thick of it. Texas and Oklahoma are entering their final season as conference members before departing for the SEC. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are officially on board. And if all that change wasn’t enough, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah are coming next season to form a 16-team conglomerate stretching from west Arizona to central Florida.

But don’t let the off-field shuffling distract from what should be the deepest league from top-to-bottom in 2023 and the most wide-open race among the power conferences. Six different programs have competed in the Big 12 Championship Game over the past three years, and none of them were nicknamed the Longhorns, who happen to be this year’s preseason favorite. Whether that streak extends to a fourth straight season is one of the many storylines on tap for the Power 5’s bastion of parity.

What’s new in the Big 12?

1. The last ride for Texas and Oklahoma. Will the Longhorns or Sooners — or both — play for the league title? Texas is picked No. 1 for the first time since the Big 12 eliminated divisions (2011). Year three of the Steve Sarkisian era is a big one. Oklahoma, picked third, needs a big second year under Brent Venables after posting its worst record since 1998.

2. Fresh meat. How will the four newcomers — not to be confused with the four new newcomers — fare in their debut seasons? UCF seems primed for the smoothest transition as the one with a returning starter at quarterback. Cincinnati, just two seasons removed from a College Football Playoff run, is resetting under new coach Scott Satterfield. Houston and BYU are coming off underwhelming 8-5 campaigns in 2022. All four have long-term potential, but the week-to-week jump in competition could make for uphill work out of the gate.

3. A one-of-a-kind year is on tap for the Big 12. This will be the league’s only season in a 14-team format and the first time since 2011 that there’s not a round-robin schedule. How will scheduling combined with the influx of newcomers impact the league race?

4. New QBs abound. Chandler Morris (TCU), Alan Bowman (Oklahoma State), Kedon Slovis (BYU), Donovan Smith (Houston) and Emory Jones (Cincinnati) provide new blood at the most important position. West Virginia and Iowa State will also welcome new starters.

5. What of Kansas State’s and TCU’s encores? The Horned Frogs made a thrilling run to the national championship game but lost a ton of production, including eight NFL Draft picks. K-State won the Big 12 championship and lost its two best players but brings back QB Will Howard and the offensive line. Can either get back to AT&T Stadium?

New Big 12 head coaches

Team New coach Former job Former coach

Scott Satterfield

Louisville HC

Luke Fickell

Tier 1


If not now, when? Things are lining up, with the Horns bringing back Quinn Ewers, Xavier Worthy, Ja’Tavion Sanders and the entire starting offensive line. Linebacker Jaylan Ford, the league’s preseason defensive player of the year, leads a defense that made strides last year and should do so again.

Sarkisian has recruited well, made shrewd portal additions (like WR Adonai Mitchell and DBs Gavin Holmes and Jalen Catalon) and put together a strong staff. Some key positions, like running back, will see new faces emerge, but with the roster talent and depth on hand, anything short of 10 wins and an appearance in the Big 12 title game would be considered a disappointment.

Kansas State

Last season’s championship may have come in the shadow of TCU’s run to the national title game, but the Wildcats should be in the mix to repeat. Coach Chris Klieman returns starting quarterback Will Howard and a stout offensive line led by preseason All-American guard Cooper Beebe. Deuce Vaughn is gone at running back, but DJ Giddens and transfer Treshaun Ward look primed to take over. Iowa transfer Keagan Johnson is in the fold at receiver.

The defense ranked fourth in yards per play in the Big 12 last season but lost a number of starters, including a first-round draft pick in defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah. Klieman dipped into the portal to plug the gaps, adding Jevon Banks (Mississippi State) on the defensive line and Tyler Nelome (Southeast Missouri State) and Marques Sigle (North Dakota State) in the secondary.

If Kansas State can defend its crown, the program will stake a claim as the alpha dog of the new Big 12.


Venables’ first year was full of hard knocks. The Sooners aren’t used to being down, so 6-7 came as a shock. But he’s confident a rebound is on the way, asserting that an improved defense will result in 10 or more wins.

Getting the defense right is the tallest task. A host of portal additions led by defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd (Wake Forest), linebacker Dasan McCullough (Indiana) and safety Reggie Pearson (Texas Tech) is expected to upgrade a unit that allowed more first downs than any team in the country last year.

Dillon Gabriel returns at QB and five-star Jackson Arnold, who headlined a stellar recruiting class, is waiting in the wings. With offensive improvement and a forgiving schedule, title contention is within reach.


Brent Venables vows to return OU to national prominence: Will his roster flip work?

Tier 2

Texas Tech

The Red Raider hype train is in full force. With 18 starters returning from Tech’s 2022 Texas Bowl victory over Ole Miss and virtually the entire coaching staff, there’s plenty of optimism in Lubbock. But will the offensive line play improve? Can quarterback Tyler Shough stay healthy? Will the defense — which allowed 29.2 points per game and 5.8 yards per play last year — take a step?

Texas Tech has never played for a Big 12 championship. The Red Raiders haven’t been better than 8-5 in the post-Mike Leach era. But after an encouraging debut season for Joey McGuire, the floor seems high. If all those things work out, this team could smash both of those precedents.


Because the Horned Frogs lose so much production — their starting quarterback, top two running backs, top three receivers, a Thorpe Award winner, the list goes on — most expect TCU to take a step back. It’s logical; so many things broke the Horned Frogs’ way en route to a 12-0 start and the CFP. Sonny Dykes likes that people are sleeping on them.

But they’ve restocked the roster well enough to still be a factor in the conference title race. Chandler Morris’ time at QB finally arrives. Trey Sanders and Emani Bailey will be the one-two running back punch. They reloaded at receiver, mostly via the portal. There’s seven defensive starters back going into the second year under Joe Gillespie. This is still a good team. But is it Big 12 title good?


A pivotal fourth year awaits Dave Aranda. He won the Big 12 and pushed all the right buttons in 2021. Last year was a disappointment as Baylor lost four straight to stumble out of conference title game contention. After 2020, he replaced the offensive coordinator. After last season, he replaced the defensive coordinator. This year should reveal where this program is truly headed.

QB Blake Shapen needs to take a big step up but the staff outfitted him with upgraded talent at the skill positions, which lacked last season. New DC Matt Powledge is charged with bringing a defense that struggled last year back to respectability. There’s eight home games on Baylor’s favorable schedule. A bounce-back year is in order, but to what degree?

Tier 3

Oklahoma State

Consistency is the key for the Cowboys. Last year, they looked like Big 12 title contenders at times and lost at others. Starting 5-0 and finishing 7-6 embodied the roller-coaster season. Mike Gundy’s not changing, and he has made that clear. It’s worked for a lot of his career, but four of the past five seasons have yielded eight or fewer wins, with a 12-2 showing in 2021 the lone exception. Can he turn the Pokes back toward title contention?

That fate rests heavily on Alan Bowman. Once thought to be Kliff Kingsbury’s next star QB at Texas Tech, Bowman spent the past two years at Michigan, with little playing time. If he can get back to something more akin to his healthy days in Lubbock, coupled with solid skill talent and an experienced offensive line, the Cowboys have potential.

The defense sports a fresh look, with new coordinator Bryan Nardo, who arrives from Division II Gannon University. The Cowboys will shift to a 3-3-5 alignment that is growing in prevalence in the Big 12.


It’s easy for the excitement of the Jayhawks starting last season 5-0 to be tempered by their 1-7 finish. But quarterback Jalon Daniels, who missed a few weeks due to injury during that skid, is back and healthy. He leads what should be a high-octane offense, along with running back Devin Neal and a bunch of returning contributors at receiver and on the offensive line.

Besides, it was the defense that really hampered Kansas in 2022, allowing a league-worst 6.15 yards per play and 35.5 points per game. Coach Lance Leipold worked to address those struggles this offseason. Kansas’s top three high school recruits in the 2023 class are in the secondary, and edge rusher Patrick Joyner Jr. (Utah State), cornerback Damarius McGhee (LSU) and defensive linemen Devin Phillips (Colorado State) and Gage Keys (Minnesota) all joined via the portal. They’ll aim to shore things up alongside returning cornerback and All-Big 12 honoree Cobee Bryant.


It feels as if the Knights are shouldering the lion’s share of the pressure and expectations among the four newcomers. Yes the team finished 9-3 in 2022 and is the only of those four teams to return its starting quarterback in John Rhys Plumlee. But can Plumlee stay healthy, which has been an issue with his dual-threat style of play? How will UCF deal with two new coordinators in a new conference? The program has recruited well for the 2024 class, but are the expectations too high entering the first season in the Big 12, and can the roster and recruiting haul withstand that pressure? UCF is in a good place as it enters a new conference, but the learning curve isn’t eliminated because of that.

Starting QBs, 2023 vs. 2022

Team Projected starting QB Last year

Blake Shapen

Blake Shapen

Kedon Slovis

Jaren Hall

Emory Jones

Ben Bryant

Donovan Smith

Clayton Tune

JJ Kohl, Rocco Becht or Tanner Hughes

Hunter Dekkers

Jalon Daniels

Jalon Daniels

Will Howard

Will Howard/Adrian Martinez

Dillon Gabriel

Dillon Gabriel

Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel or Gunnar Gundy

Spencer Sanders

Chandler Morris

Max Duggan

Quinn Ewers

Quinn Ewers

Tyler Shough

Donovan Smith/Tyler Shough/Behren Morton

John Rhys Plumlee

John Rhys Plumlee

Garrett Greene or Nicco Marchiol

JT Daniels

Tier 4

West Virginia

Just as the offense got going in Neal Brown’s fourth year at the helm, the defense fell apart. The end result was a third losing season in four tries for Brown, who entered the offseason on the hot seat and has lived to tell the tale. The Mountaineers bring back preseason All-American center Zach Frazier and all-purpose weapon CJ Donaldson Jr., but the program is also breaking in a new offensive coordinator (the promoted Chad Scott) and a new starting quarterback (probably Garrett Greene, maybe Nicco Marchiol). West Virginia also has a tough schedule on top of that, including nonconference bouts with Penn State and Pitt, as well as TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Unfortunately for WVU, the prevailing questions are whether it can avoid last place, where it was picked in preseason, and if Brown can skirt the guillotine once again.


The Cougars, coming off eight wins, might be the most prepared of the newcomers in a way, as they have played an independent schedule in recent years. But that doesn’t change the realities they are staring down. BYU brings in a new quarterback in journeyman Kedon Slovis, a revamped defense under new coordinator Jay Hill and a slate that avoids Kansas State but still features Arkansas, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma.

Iowa State

The Cyclones lost six one-score games in 2022 and had the best defense in the Big 12 in terms of yards per play allowed (4.73). One would think the team’s fortunes would swing the other way this season — except starting quarterback Hunter Dekker, starting running back Jirehl Brock and starting tight end DeShawn Hanika have all been caught up in the gambling probe that has ensnared Iowa State and Iowa football players. Not only is the offense breaking in new coordinator Nate Scheelhaase, but it will likely be helmed by either junior college  transfer Tanner Hughes or freshman JJ Kohl. Will Matt Campbell have his team ready to move past all of that?


Navigating the transition from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12 will be a challenge, but perhaps more significant is how the Bearcats will handle the transition from Luke Fickell to Satterfield, and all the roster and cultural change that come with it. The defense should be solid, led by starters Jowon Briggs and preseason All-American Dontay Corleone on the defensive line. Offensively, the team returns only one starter from 2022, with a totally revamped receiving corps and transfer Emory Jones taking over at quarterback. This program has shown the heights it is capable of even without power-conference resources. But how long it will take Satterfield to build back up to that level? Early indications are encouraging, but it will probably take a couple of seasons.


Are the Cougars closer to their 2021 form when they went 12-2, played for a conference title and beat Auburn in a bowl? Or do they resemble the 2022 version, which lagged defensively, made too many mistakes and fell below expectations?

The frontline talent is good. High school recruiting has improved and the staff effectively plugged holes via the portal, adding players with Big 12 experience like former Texas Tech quarterback Donovan Smith and former Oklahoma edge rusher David Ugwoegbu. Losing running back Alton McCaskill to the portal hurt, but there’s a lot of skill talent on offense. Will the offensive line be up to par? If it is, the Cougars can be competitive.

A defensive rebound is a must after a steep fall in 2022. There’s a lot of talent and athleticism, but can it all come together?

Like the other newcomers, depth will be tested against a tougher schedule. It’s a big year for the program. Can Dana Holgorsen get this team to a bowl in its Big 12 debut?

Five-year performance and recruiting



Sagarin rank


247 recruiting


Overall W%


B12 W%


























































Key: “Sagarin rank” is average national ranking in Jeff Sagarin’s season ratings from 2018-22 and “247 recruiting” is average national ranking in 247Sports Composite recruiting class rankings from 2019-23. Winning percentages, overall and in Big 12 play, reflect 2018-22 seasons.

Scouting report

We asked a Big 12 head coach to break down intriguing teams and storylines in the conference under the condition of anonymity to permit him to speak freely:

“The league is wide open. … You could put Georgia and Alabama in any conference and everyone will say that’s the best conference in the country, because those are the two best teams over the last few years. But top to bottom, competitive games, the Big 12 is as good as any conference in the country.”

“I like Kansas State. They have their whole offensive line back. They do have people to replace, but Klieman has a phenomenal culture. And he’s won at a high level, winning national championships (at North Dakota State) and then winning the Big 12. If you take the logos off the helmet and look at the roster, the teams and the culture, I’m taking K-State.”

“Can TCU do what they did last year? They have so much coming back on defense. I think they will be in the mix.”

“Texas, offensively, is as talented as anybody. But the key position is going to have to play well, and that hasn’t happened yet consistently. If (Ewers) comes out and plays up to his potential, their talent should put them at the top of the list.”

“If you look at strength of schedule, Oklahoma might have the easiest schedule in Power 5 football this season. So we’ll see what happens there.”

“The new teams coming in, it’s going to be interesting to see how good UCF is.”

“Texas Tech has a good football team. If they can stay healthy, and I know that goes for everybody, but they could be right there in the mix.”

“Baylor is interesting. They are good at the top of the depth chart, but if they can’t stay healthy, I’m not sure if they have a ton of depth beyond that. But those are the Big 12 champs two years ago with a lot of players still around who were on that team.”

Safe prediction for conference in 2023

Khan: For the first time since 2009, Texas finishes the job. The Longhorns win the Big 12, building substantial momentum before sailing off to the SEC.

Williams: No Big 12 teams will reach the CFP this season. The league is too deep. Everyone will beat up on each other.

Bold prediction for conference in 2023

Williams: Oklahoma five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold wins offensive freshman of the year.

Khan: With a healthy Jalon Daniels and an improved defense, Kansas wins eight games for the first time since 2008.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of State of the Conference previews of the 10 FBS conferences entering the 2023 season. Read the others here: Big Ten, Pac-12, AAC, ACC.

 (Photo of Kansas State scoring a touchdown during the Big 12 Championship Game in Dec. 2022: Matthew Visinsky / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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