It’s never to early to start salivating over what’s to come in the college football season. And after a great year for the Big 12, that saw the most-thrilling conference championship game in the country, with two New Year’s Six Bowl wins and much more, we’re already excited to look ahead to 2022.
And for each team, there is plenty on the line next fall. Here’s a look into what every Big 12 football team has at stake for the 2022 season.
The Bears were the surprise team of college football season. After winning the league title and beating Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, Baylor has a world of momentum on the field and in recruiting at stake. Anything less than a return to the Big 12 Championship will be a disappointment.
The pressure to repeat is on. After a true rollercoaster since the firing of Art Briles, the Bears will seek equilibrium at the top of the standings.
The Cyclones were kind of the reverse-Baylor last season. Most expected them to compete for the Big 12 title and a possible spot in the playoffs; instead, ISU went 7-5 and had only one Top 25 win.
Now, with RB Breece Hall and QB Brock Purdy heading to the NFL, expectations for ISU will be low. However, the Cyclones have plenty at stake. For Iowa State, this upcoming season is all about proving you belong in the top half of the league and aren’t going anywhere.
A successful 2022 will help the Cyclones continue to win recruiting battles and possibly set them up for another run at the title game in 2023.
For all the positive momentum the Jayhawks had at the end of 2022, we’ve seen this before. After all, KU still only won two games last season, and neither win was by more than a touchdown.
The Jayhawks need to prove that the improvement we saw at the end of last season was not just another short-lived stock spike in a long and deep depression. Moreover, the Jayhawks desperately need to make some kind of leap in 2022. Winning two games won’t cut it.
Last season, K-State needed to prove that the 4-8 finish to the 2020 Covid season was a fluke, and the Cats did just that. However, in year four of the Chris Klieman era, it’s time for K-State to take a step forward from eight wins and show that it can compete for a Big 12 Championship appearance.
While K-State doesn’t have to make the title game to retain its forward momentum, with Deuce Vaughn possibly entering his final season as a Wildcat and a veteran transfer QB in Adrian Martinez to complement a strong defense, it’s time for K-State to deep in the hunt for the title game come November.
K-State has had success under Klieman, but the recruiting classes haven’t grabbed any headlines. The Cats need to use 2021 as a springboard to bigger and better things or risk being an also-ran for perpetuity.
The Sooners took a big gut punch at the end of the 2021 after delivering one to the league right before the season began. Now, the Sooners seem to have everything riding on a strong start to the Brent Venables era.
The Sooners’ reputation as one of the truly elite teams of college football is at stake.
Many believe that the Cowboys are destined to become the new standard bearer for the Big 12 after Oklahoma and Texas depart. And despite losing the Big 12 title game to Baylor, last season’s team did nothing to dispel that notion.
However, with the loss of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and several key pieces from the best defense the Big 12 has fielded in years, Oklahoma State needs to prove it can retool on defense and keep right on defying the stale media stereotype of Big 12 being defensively challenged.
A down season won’t necessarily jeopardize the Cowboys’ status as one of the league’s best programs sans Oklahoma and Texas, but the Cowboys newfound rep as a blistering defensive team is at risk.
Speaking of defense. . .
The Horned Frogs defense fell off the map last season and the result was TCU’s parting of ways with one of the greatest defensive minds in the game, Gary Patterson. Now, the Sonny Dykes era is underway in Fort Worth, which signals a distinct change of direction from the bruising defensive teams that drove TCU’s rise to national prominence.
Dykes brought SMU football back from the dead with offensive firepower, and he already has the players on hand at TCU to rinse and repeat in Fort Worth. But what will the defense look like? The Frogs lost DE Ochaun Mathis to the transfer portal this offseason, but there’s still a lot of talent on the defensive side of the roster.
TCU needs to avoid a long term slide by getting back to a bowl this season and showing that TCU football will still be a force to be reckoned with. At stake is the Horned Frogs reputation as a team capable of contending for a conference title on a semi-regular basis. The old mantra, never bet against Gary Patterson, no longer applies, and TCU needs to make some waves this season to keep the team a top destination for recruits in the DFW Metroplex.
The Longhorns have become something of a national punchline. This is because the talent Texas attracts makes it an annual pick by prognosticators to be a Top 25 team competing for a national title only to have the team turn out to be some flavor of mediocre. It’s also because last season became a circus, complete with a monkey.
The stakes almost couldn’t be higher for Texas in 2022. The Longhorns need to prove that they can do something with all the talent they attract and be a team that opponents fear. Just getting to a bowl game won’t be enough. Texas needs to have a big season and at least contend for a Big 12 title.
New Red Raiders head coach Joey McGuire has gotten off to a great start in Lubbock. The fans love him, and he’s done a superlative job on the recruiting trail. Still, the question of whether or not he can be the kind of coach and CEO it takes to lead a Big 12 team lingers.
At stake in Lubbock is a bloom of positivity about the direction of the football program and possibly athletic director Kirby Holcutt’s job. While 2022 won’t make or break the McGuire and Holcutt era in Lubbock, a poor showing would leave a bitter taste in the mouths of alums and fans. Tech needs to repeat as a bowl team to keep its current momentum.
This feels like a make-or-break season for West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. The Mountaineers have pulled in some strong recruiting classes, and there have been flashes of greatness on the field in Morgantown, but the days of WVU contending for a conference title feel like a long, long time ago.
Another mediocre season may well signal the end of the Neal Brown era. While some fans may well welcome a change in the leadership of the football program, firing a head coach is risky business, and it could lead to a mess that may take several seasons to clean up.
At stake for WVU is the very direction the program is headed: up, down, or holding steady at 6-6, 7-5?
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.