The Big 12 should feature a wide-open race to win the conference in 2022. A strong argument could be made for Baylor, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State as the early No. 1 pick in the league, but regardless of which team is the favorite, the gap among those programs is small. Texas is the league's biggest wild card for '22, with Kansas State and TCU rounding out the next tier. Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech take the next three spots, but all three programs should be in the mix for a winning record. Kansas ranks No. 10, but coach Lance Leipold clearly has this program on the right track.
It’s never too early to think about predictions or rankings for the 2022 college football season. With that in mind, Athlon provides its very early power rankings for the Big 12 for 2022:
Early Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022
On paper, the Big 12 could be a wide-open conference next season, but it’s hard to pick against the defending champs in the way-too-early rankings. The Bears return two capable quarterbacks in Blake Shapen and Gerry Bohanon, and the offensive line will be among the best in college football. Restocking the running back room after the departures of Trestan Ebner and Abram Smith and reloading at receiver are the top priorities for play-caller Jeff Grimes. Baylor’s defense limited opponents to 18.3 points a game in ’21, but will have some retooling to do, including at linebacker with the departure of Terrel Bernard.
It’s been a busy offseason in Norman, but new coach Brent Venables has the pieces in place to push for a Big 12 title. Assuming Caleb Williams doesn’t return, UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel should take over the quarterback spot and reunite with his former coach (and coordinator) in Jeff Lebby. The Sooners lost running back Kennedy Brooks and a couple of linemen to the NFL, but Gabriel’s arrival should keep this offense near the top of the conference. Venables was one of the nation’s top defensive signal-callers at Clemson and should make an impact right away on this side of the ball for the Sooners.
3. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys came within inches of a Big 12 championship last year, but coach Mike Gundy’s team should rank among the favorites in the conference in ’22. Quarterback Spencer Sanders (371 passing yards and four touchdowns) is coming off a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl and is tasked with taking greater control of the offense after running back Jaylen Warren and receiver Tay Martin departed Stillwater. Defense led the way for Oklahoma State in ’21, as this unit held teams to just 18.1 points a game. The Cowboys won’t drop off dramatically on this side of the ball, but there’s a new coordinator calling the plays after Jim Knowles left for Ohio State, and a handful of key contributors are gone.
The Longhorns finished a disappointing 5-7 in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first year, but there’s optimism going into 2022 behind the arrival of transfer quarterback Quinn Ewers, along with the return of running back Bijan Robinson and receiver Xavier Worthy. For Texas to contend for a spot in the Big 12 title game, the offensive line (27 sacks allowed) has to improve, and big-time work is needed on defense. The Longhorns gave up 6.1 yards per play in league games and finished eighth in the conference versus the run.
5. Kansas State
Defensive coordinators in the Big 12 will have their hands full with Kansas State’s offense next year. Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez should take over at quarterback, teaming with running back Deuce Vaughn to create a dynamic backfield and ground game for the Wildcats. End Felix Anudike-Uzomah (11 sacks) is back to headline a defense that held teams to just 22.9 points a game in Big 12 play last year.
It’s a new era at TCU with Sonny Dykes replacing Gary Patterson. Although the Horned Frogs finished a disappointing 5-7 in Patterson’s final year, rebounding back to a winning mark should be within reach for ’22. Quarterbacks Max Duggan and Chandler Morris are back, with Louisiana transfer Emani Bailey expected to help replace Zach Evans at running back. Receiver Quentin Johnston should be among the Big 12’s top playmakers. Assuming Dykes gets the offense on track, the defense has to improve for TCU to make a bowl in ’22. The Horned Frogs allowed 7.2 yards per play and 34.9 points a game last season and must replace standout edge rusher Ochaun Mathis (transferred).
7. Iowa State
The Cyclones didn’t meet preseason expectations as a team projected to compete for the Big 12 title, but coach Matt Campbell guided the program to its fifth consecutive winning mark in conference action. Getting to a bowl should be within reach in ’22, but this staff has big holes to fill on offense, namely quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar. Although the defense is also replacing a couple of key cogs – including linebacker Mike Rose, safety Greg Eisworth and lineman Eyioma Uwazurike – this unit received good news when coordinator Jon Heacock passed on overtures from Notre Dame. Also, end Will McDonald (14 TFL) is returning next fall.
8. Texas Tech
New coach Joey McGuire hired a standout staff and inherits a team coming off a 7-6 record, so a major overhaul isn’t needed. And even though the Red Raiders rank No. 8 here, this team should be in contention for a winning record and another bowl trip. New play-caller Zach Kittley can build around quarterback Donovan Smith and running back Tahj Brooks on offense, but top receiver Erik Ezukanma is off to the NFL. Center Dawson Deaton is a big loss in the trenches. Texas Tech’s defense allowed 30.2 points a game in ’21, which was the team’s best mark since giving up 22.5 in ’09. While there are positive steps in the right direction, this unit still has many areas to improve upon. The good news for McGuire: A couple of seniors opted to return for an extra year of eligibility in ’22.
9. West Virginia
The Mountaineers needed a late rally (wins in two out of their last three games) to ensure a bowl trip in coach Neal Brown’s third year at the helm. Making a third consecutive postseason game starts at the quarterback spot. With Jarret Doege transferring, Garrett Greene, incoming freshman Nicco Marchiol and perhaps a transfer will battle to start under center. How fast this position develops will determine just how high West Virginia climbs in the Big 12. The skill talent also has some turnover after running back Leddie Brown (1,065 yards) departed for the NFL, and No. 1 receiver Winston Wright transferred to Florida State. The defense received good news this offseason when lineman Dante Stills and linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo elected to return for ’22. Even though the Mountaineers rank No. 9 (for now) in the way-too-early power rankings, this team should push for a winning record next fall.
The Jayhawks have the right coach in Lance Leipold, and after showing signs of progress late in the ’21 season, this should be a better team in ’22. Quarterback Jalon Daniels is promising, and running back Devin Neal returns after rushing for 707 yards as a freshman last fall. The defense gave up 7.5 yards per play in Big 12 games last season, so there’s plenty of room to improve on this side of the ball. Bolstering the pass rush is a priority after managing only 15 sacks, and this area is an even bigger priority with the offseason departure of Kyron Johnson (6.5).
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