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Big 12 Football: Analyzing Returning Starter Data for 2022

Oklahoma State Football: Mike Gundy

College football's 2022 season is still months away, but with spring practice in progress and the roster picture becoming clearer for all 131 teams, it's never too early to think about next fall and what teams return the most talent.

The Big 12 enters '22 in a state of flux. Baylor and Oklahoma State played for the conference title last season and both should be in the mix once again. However, both teams suffered enough losses to not hold a commanding edge over the rest of the conference going into the spring. Oklahoma is in a state of transition under new coach Brent Venables, but there's no shortage of talent in Norman. Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State are intriguing teams that could contend if the pieces fall into place, and Texas is expected to take a step forward in coach Steve Sarkisian's second year. Texas Tech could surprise under new coach Joey McGuire, Kansas should improve in its second season under coach Lance Leipold, and West Virginia can push for a winning record if it finds the right answer at quarterback.

Related: Spring 2022 Big 12 Power Rankings

Roster management in the era of the transfer portal has changed how teams can reload, improve or build going into a new coaching tenure. Returning starter data isn't necessarily the best way to judge teams going into a year, but it does provide interesting insight into strengths and weaknesses. Each year, Athlon Sports compiles returning starter data for its college football preview magazine. Players starting the last six or seven overall games are considered a returning starter. Also, some discretion is used, including returning from injury, split starters at a specific position, or other applicable reasoning for considering a player a starter.

Which teams return the most talent in the Big 12 for 2022? And what does the returning starter data tell us for next fall? Here's a look at what's ahead for this conference:

Big 12 Football: Analyzing Returning Starter Data for 2022

OffenseDefense

Baylor

7

7

Iowa State

5

3

Kansas

9

8

Kansas State

6

6

Oklahoma

5

4

Oklahoma State

7

5

TCU

6

7

Texas 

6

6

Texas Tech

4

7

West Virginia

6

3

* Quarterback battles and getting new transfers acclimated under center are set to dominate spring practice in the Big 12. Just four teams return a starter at this position for 2022.

* Baylor returns one of the nation's top offensive lines with four starters back, with guard Xavier Newman-Johnson the only major departure.

* The Bears return a strong foundation on defense with seven starters back in '22. However, linebacker Terrel Bernard, safety Jalen Pitre, cornerback Kalon Barnes and safety JT Woods, plus part-time starter in cornerback Raleigh Texada, depart the defense. Pitre and Bernard were first-team All-Big 12 selections last year.

* Iowa State returns the fewest (eight) starters of any team in the Big 12 next year.

* The Cyclones' standout defense brings back just three starters, with every level of the unit losing key cogs. However, end Will McDonald IV is a good building block for '22.

* Kansas returns the most starters (17) of any team in the Big 12 for '22. Will that translate into improvement for second-year coach Lance Leipold?

* Jason Bean (nine starters) is technically the returning starter at quarterback for the Jayhawks. However, he entered spring practice behind Jalon Daniels for the starting nod.

* Kansas State is in great shape offensively with the return of six starters, plus the addition of quarterback Adrian Martinez as a transfer from Nebraska. One area to watch this offseason is the development of the offensive line after all three interior starters departed.

* The biggest concern for coach Chris Klieman's Wildcats' defense is likely at safety after the departure of Russ Yeast, Jahron McPherson and Ross Elder.

* It's no secret Oklahoma's quarterback room was hit hard by transfers after Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler departed, but the new staff rebounded by adding former UCF starter Dillon Gabriel. A bigger concern could be an inconsistent offensive line, which lost starters Marquis Hayes and Tyrese Robinson.

* New coach Brent Venables' ability to build a defense will be put to the test right away in Norman. The Sooners lost four key cogs up front - including edge rusher Nik Bonitto and nose guard Perrion Winfrey - and must replace two starters in the secondary.

* Spencer Sanders' return should keep Oklahoma State in the mix to win the Big 12. However, the four departing starters on offense - running back Jaylen Warren, receiver Tay Martin and linemen Josh Sills and Danny Godlevske - leave big shoes to fill.

* The Cowboys will be strong on the defensive front once again, but new coordinator Derek Mason has to rebuild the linebacker unit after the departure of Malcolm Rodriguez, as well as four key defensive backs that combined for 55 starts in '21.

* TCU's defense allowed 34.9 points a game last season and improving on that number in '22 could hinge on just how fast this unit can replace linemen Ochaun Mathis, Khari Coleman, Corey Bethley and Earl Barquet.

* The Horned Frogs quietly finished second in the Big 12 in yards per play (6.7) last season. With six returning starters, new coach Sonny Dykes has the pieces in place to start fast on offense, including two quarterbacks (Chandler Morris and Max Duggan), receiver Quentin Johnson and three starters up front. 

* Of Texas' six returning starters on offense, two of those are the best at their position in the Big 12 in running back Bijan Robinson and receiver Xavier Worthy. However, the offense will have a new starter at quarterback (likely Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers) and plenty of pressure to improve a line with three returning starters.

* Although the Longhorns bring back six starters on defense, last year's subpar performance is likely to bring plenty of changes to the lineup for '22. Better linebacker play is a must this fall.

* New Texas Tech coordinator Zach Kittley is a rising star after coordinating high-powered offenses at FCS Houston Baptist and WKU the last two seasons. With just four starters back, how long will it take Kittley to find the right answers? Also, one of those question marks is a preseason quarterback battle, which includes Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith and Behren Morton.

* Defensive end Tyree Wilson (13 TFL and seven sacks last year for the Red Raiders) might be the most underrated player returning in the Big 12 for '22.

* Uncertainty surrounds West Virginia's quarterback situation this spring, but an offensive line returning all five starters is a reason for optimism. 

* The Mountaineers have lost four key defenders - lineman Akheem Mesidor, linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo and cornerbacks Nicktroy Fortune and Daryl Porter Jr. - to transfer since late February.

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