Wide-open is the best way to describe the Big 12's battle to win the conference in the 2022 college football season. Baylor knocked off Oklahoma State in thrilling fashion in last year's conference title game, and it's safe to assume both teams will be in the mix to win it again this year. The Bears return a handful of starters from a standout defense and bring back one of the top offensive lines in the nation for new quarterback Blake Shapen. With Oklahoma State's defense losing several key pieces at linebacker and in the secondary, coach Mike Gundy's squad will have to lean more on quarterback Spencer Sanders to return to the conference title game. Oklahoma returns only nine starters for new coach Brent Venables, but don't expect the Sooners to drop far from the top spot. Texas and Kansas State are arguably the biggest wild-card teams to watch in this conference next fall.
Will the Big 12 have a repeat of last year's title game in Baylor versus Oklahoma State? Or will Oklahoma return to the top of the conference in '22? Could Texas surprise and win the league? Athlon editors and college football contributors debate which team should be the favorite to win the Big 12 this fall:
Big 12 Football: Which Team is the Favorite to Win the Conference in 2022?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I could make a case for a couple of teams here, but at the end of spring practice, I'd go Baylor over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for the top spot. Texas and Kansas State are intriguing wild-card teams that could push for a trip to the conference title game if things break right. The Bears aren't without concerns, however. Coach Dave Aranda's team lost defensive standouts Terrel Bernard (LB) and Jalen Pitre (DB), while the offense lost its top three statistical receivers and running back Abram Smith. Also, Baylor had a plus-12 turnover margin and won four games by one score last season. Those numbers tend to hint at regression the next year. However, Oklahoma is in transition under its new staff, and Oklahoma State loses quite a bit of talent on defense and has a few gaps to fill up front and at the skill spots on offense. Texas doesn't lack for talent, but can coach Steve Sarkisian find the right answers along the offensive line and on defense? This is a wide-open conference, and with uncertainty running high, I'll trust Aranda to push the right buttons once again this year.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Yes, Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, Spencer Rattler, and several others have left Norman. But new head coach Brent Venables knows Oklahoma, the history, and the culture extremely well, and he's been learning under a national championship-winning coach (Dabo Swinney) during his highly successful tenure as Clemson's defensive coordinator. Venables has put together his own top-notch staff and mined the transfer portal for some key pickups, namely UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. This may be his first time as a head coach and he won't get an extended honeymoon because of the lofty expectations that come with leading the Sooners, but again, he gets it and he doesn't have to worry about motivating his players either since for the first time since 2015, Oklahoma is not the defending Big 12 champion entering the season. Current titleholder Baylor will mount a spirited defense but Venables has waited a long time for this shot and I expect the Sooners to feed off of their coach's energy and fiery spirit and use this as an opportunity to show everyone that just because the names and faces change, OU is still the gold standard in the Big 12.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Despite massive upheaval on both the coaching staff and roster, I’m sticking with Oklahoma as my pick to win the Big 12. Brent Venables was about as strong of a hire as the Sooners could have hoped for, as he’s intimately familiar with the program. And for all that the team lost through the transfer portal, they did bring in potentially the best quarterback in the conference in Dillon Gabriel. Oklahoma will be able to ease into its schedule with games against UTEP, Kent State, and Nebraska, and its conference slate includes tough matchups against Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State at home. While they likely won’t seriously contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Sooners will present the most formidable challenge in the Big 12 if Venables can improve a middling defense, with the potential to turn the program into Clemson West.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
The Big 12's perennial favorite saw its run of six consecutive Big 12 championships snapped in 2021. Its head coach left for another job. Its star quarterback followed him.
None of that should dissuade anyone from thinking Oklahoma is the favorite to win the conference in 2022 under new head coach Brent Venables. The Sooners still have a stacked roster relative to every team in the Big 12 not named Texas. Even after Lincoln Riley's departure for USC, OU still landed one of its best recruiting classes in years. The new coaching staff also brought in capable transfers to fill any holes in the squad, including former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel, who knows offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby's scheme.
OU also has a favorable schedule in '22 that will bring Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State to Norman. It all points to a spot in the conference championship game for the Sooners, at minimum.
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