The Brent Venables era has begun in Norman, Oklahoma. After years of being one of the highest-paid, most successful coordinators in college football, Venables returns to the school where he was on Bob Stoops’ staff for over a decade. The Sooners are in an interesting place after a coaching change combined with the exodus of transfers that followed, and yet still are favored to win the conference at +175. Venables, with the help of new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, was able to entice UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel to transfer in and lead this offense after the departures of both Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler via the transfer portal. Libby and Gabriel reunite after working together in 2019 at UCF, which brings some continuity to a turbulent situation. Marvin Mims will be the top receiving target for Gabriel after a 705-yard season in 2021, and the running back room will look for someone to emerge after Kennedy Brooks left for the NFL. The defense will be interesting to watch with Venables being considered one of the top minds in the game. This unit allowed just over 25 points per game in 2021, more than Venables’ Clemson Tigers did in any of his 10 seasons there.
The Texas Longhorns looked primed for a massive 2021 season after a 4-1 start and an 18-point lead late in the third quarter against Red River rival Oklahoma. Their subsequent collapse in that game was the start of a six-game losing streak that saw them fall to the likes of Iowa State, West Virginia, and a Kansas Jayhawk team whose only other victory came against South Dakota. Second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian has his work cut out for him to catch up to the conference’s defensive rise in recent years. His Longhorns allowed over 31 points per game in 2021, and nearly 40 points per game in their seven losses. Last season’s leading passer for Texas, Casey Thompson, will not be returning after entering the transfer portal and ending up at Nebraska. Ohio State-transfer Quinn Ewers will compete for the starting job against Hudson Card in a stacked offense that returns one of nation’s best runners in Bijan Robinson and a strong receiving corps led by 2021 Freshman All-American, Xavier Worthy. As usual, the Longhorns have Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State on their conference schedule this season. The standout non-conference game is their Week 2 clash against Alabama, the first of a home-and-home beginning this year in Austin. If Texas hopes to compete on the national scale this season, this game will provide as strong a test as there is in determining that. They are currently listed as +230 to win the conference.
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Oklahoma State had their best season in a decade in 2021, winning 12 games and defeating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on their way to a #7 ranking in the postseason AP Poll. Spencer Sanders will return at quarterback for an offense that averaged over 30 points per game as the team looks to have completed their transition to a defensive powerhouse in the conference as well. The Cowboys finished 9th in the country in points allowed per game in 2021, but will replace defensive coordinator Jim Knowles who left to take the same position at Ohio State. Derek Mason, who was defensive coordinator at Auburn last year and head coach at Vanderbilt from 2014-20, will assume that role this season. The Pokes, available at +700 odds to win the conference, are young on offense outside of Sanders, and will need to find reinforcements after losing six of their top eight tacklers from last season.
Baylor will begin the 2022 season as the defending Big 12 champions after a 12-2 season which they capped off with a Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss to finish fifth in the final AP Poll of the season. That was quite the turnaround for Dave Aranda’s team that won two games in a shortened 2020 season, and happened in large part due to a defense that joined Oklahoma State in the top 10 of college football in terms of points allowed per game. Blake Shapen will start the season at quarterback for the Bears after Gerry Bohanon’s graduate transfer to South Florida. Shapen was the MVP of their Big 12 championship game victory over the Cowboys, and is their best hope at a repeat after some key losses this offseason. Baylor will replace their leading passer, rusher, receiver, and tackler this season, and the conference title odds show how bookmakers feel that will end for the Bears this season, currently tied with Oklahoma State at +700.
Texas has a 41% chance to win the conference according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), followed by Oklahoma at 27% and Oklahoma State a distant third at 14%. Compared with their current betting odds, Texas would be a wise play. Their +230 odds imply around a 30.3% chance to win the Big 12, and their strength of schedule is being inflated by their non-conference game against the Crimson Tide. We’ll take Texas to win the conference for the first time since 2009.
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