What’s at Stake in for Big 12 Football in the 2022 Season
With national signing day in the books, now is a good time to take a look ahead to see what the Big 12 and its teams have at stake in the 2022 football season.
First the bad news: no team in the Big 12 is entering the 2022 season as a perceived playoff contender, and no team has a player who is a heavy favorite for the Heisman.
Leading up to the 2021 season, the buzz around Oklahoma, Spencer Rattler, and Iowa State was big news that kept the Big 12 in the national spotlight all offseason long. The same cannot be said this offseason, primarily due to the departure of Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams to USC.
The good news is that the Big 12 has plenty at stake. In fact, the league has more at stake right now than it did in February of last year.
This is good news because high stakes breed vitality. If you want athletes, coaches, and conference leaders to excel, raise the stakes: Survival, self-esteem, and reputation are great motivators.
A Wild 2021
We saw what an excellent motivator survival can be as the Big 12 responded to the news of Oklahoma and Texas’ departure from the league broke last summer. Sure, there was a time of complete chaos, but once the league decided it needed to focus on survival, the pieces came together quickly.
What followed was nearly a best-case scenario for the New Big 12. Not only did the league play great football all season, but Oklahoma was unable to repeat as league champion and future member Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team to ever earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. Other future members showed plenty of fire too as Houston won 12 games with its only losses coming to Texas Tech and Cincinnati, and BYU beat-up on the Pac-12, including defeating the eventual Pac-12 Champ, Utah.
But the pressure is not off the league.
Even though the Big 12’s membership won’t change in 2022, it still feels like the league has a lot to prove to the national media and potential telecast partners. The league needs its best teams to find a way into playoff contention, and the league needs those best teams to be anyone but Oklahoma or Texas.
Of course, a strong season by Oklahoma and/or Texas won’t hurt the league, but no one except Oklahoma and Texas wants to see either of those teams in the league championship game.
Despite last season’s title game being played by Baylor and Oklahoma State, a return by Oklahoma or Texas to the title game would rev-up the narrative that the Big 12 is losing its most competitive teams. The Big 12 needs playoff contenders who aren’t Red River participants.
Irate 8 wins in non-conference games will be important too. Frankly, the league lost some of those games that they should have won, such as West Virginia vs. Maryland, Iowa State against Iowa, and there were too many close calls against inferior opponents for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, just to name a couple.
Next fall, games vs. Iowa (Iowa State), Duke (Kansas), Missouri (K-State), Arizona State (Oklahoma State), Colorado (TCU), NC-State (Texas Tech), Pitt (WVU), and VA Tech (WVU) will go along way toward evolving the reputation of the new league.
The Big 12 also needs strong seasons from its incoming members. Cincinnati almost certainly will not be able to return to the playoffs, but the Big 12 is hoping the Bearcats don’t fall off the map.
Houston and BYU could both be in for big seasons, and that would help the New Big 12’s cred a great deal. Meanwhile, UCF will be looking to bounce back after a season that was good but not up to its standards.
The stories that will make-up the Big 12’s 2022 football season are just beginning to be written. The conference race appears to be wide-open, and we may well see another team surprise us all as Baylor did in 2021.
The stakes for the conference and teams that comprise the Big 12 are as high as ever. We are on the doorstep of a new era in Big 12 football, and the moves made this season will have consequences that impact the future of the league for seasons to come.
Every season is important, of course, but seasons played in the winds of change are more important than others.