The football offseason presents us with both opportunity and hardship: on one hand, you have seven months until a meaningful football game will be played, but you also have seven months to build excitement for the 2022 football season.
It’s an opportunity to take stock of teams, coaches, and programs that will look totally different from year to year. This season, we have two new head coaches in the Big 12 Conference and both have formed impressive staffs that will certainly make them competitive from the start, but where will they rank among their peers?
Here’s a look at how we rank the Big 12 head coaches going into the 2022 season.
1. Mike Gundy – Oklahoma State
I don’t feel like this one should be as much of a debate as it is, and as Derek pointed out on Monday, it’s really absurd that Gundy doesn’t get more credit than he does. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming off one of the best seasons in school history with a 12-2 record, capped off by a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Gundy has been at Oklahoma State since 2005 and has amassed a record of 149-69, including an impressive 11-5 record in bowl games. The Cowboys have reached a bowl in every season under Gundy besides his first, which I feel is something that gets forgotten. For perspective, OSU went to four bowl games in the 17 years prior to Gundy taking over.
The only knock against Gundy has been his inability to beat his in-state rival. The Sooners have bested him 14 out of 17 times and if it weren’t for that stat, I believe he would be revered as one of the top coaches in the country by nearly everyone who makes a list. He’s at the top of ours based on experience and what he has been able to do with the Oklahoma State program.
2. Brent Venables – Oklahoma
What?! He hasn’t even been a head coach before, how in the hell can be second on the list? Well, if you can name another coach in this conference that has been in eight national championships and more than 30 bowl games, I’d be happy to move him down a wrung or two. I’ll save you some time; there’s not one. Oklahoma is in good hands with Brent Venables, and his hire is already starting to pay dividends heading into spring practice.
Brent Venables brings in more experience than most first-time head coaches, and that’s not a coincidence. While he may not have any games under his belt as a head coach, it’s not for a lack of opportunities. Kansas State wanted him before landing with Chris Klieman. UCF wanted him after Scott Frost and Josh Heupel left. He turned down Auburn before they hired Brian Harsin.
Venables has been clear that he was waiting for the right opportunity, and Oklahoma was just that. Bob Stoops never had experience as a head coach before OU, and neither did Barry Switzer or Bud Wilkinson. First-time head coaches tend to become legends at Oklahoma and it’s early with Venables, but don’t be surprised if things go very well for the first-timer in Norman.
3. Matt Campbell – Iowa State
The Iowa State Cyclones are in the best stretch of football in school history, much like Oklahoma State is. Campbell, who is headed into year seven, has taken the Cyclones to five straight bowl games; something that hasn’t been done in Ames since… ever. ISU finished the 2020 season ranked ninth in the AP Poll, its highest finish ever, and it also beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl to grabs its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl victory.
Campbell has a 42-34 record in Ames, which may look less than impressive to some, but if you’ve been around this conference for long you know what Iowa State used to be. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Cyclones were managing just two or three wins a season and finishing dead last in the Big 12. What Campbell has done for the ‘Clones is downright impressive and is why we have him so high on this list.
4. Dave Aranda – Baylor
Aranda just led the Baylor Bears to their third Big 12 Championship in school history and the best season that Baylor has ever witnessed; capped off by a Sugar Bowl victory over the Ole Miss Rebels. That is an incredible turnaround from 2020 when the Bears managed just two wins in a nine-game season. The Bears finished sixth in the AP Poll after 2021, their highest finish ever, and amassed an impressive 12-2 record.
The question is, how will Aranda’s team look in year three. If they can replicate their success from the 2021 season, or just get to double-digit wins, it could see Aranda shoot up this list very quickly. Baylor has the resources to be one of the top schools in the Future- Big 12, which is amazing if you consider what the program was back in the early 2000s with Guy Morriss and Kevin Steele. We will have to see how things go for the third-year man, but if 2021 is any indication the Bears are headed toward the upper echelon of the Big 12.
5. Chris Klieman – Kansas State
In 2018, Kansas State was tasked with doing something that very few programs must endure: replacing a true legend in Bill Snyder. The funny thing is they had to do it twice: once in 2005, and again in 2018. They brought in Chris Klieman from North Dakota State, who had just won four of the last five FCS national championships. Kleiman’s time at Kansas State has been a rollercoaster; a 4-6 2020 season sandwiched between two 8-5 years. Klieman looks to have a talented roster heading into 2022 but can they put it all together?
I think the Wildcats are about to have their best season under Klieman yet, and if I’m right they could be headed upward for the long haul. As it stands now, he is 20-16 at K-State, but a 10-win season could go a long way in the Little Apple. His track record at NDSU is incredibly impressive, we just need to see him translate some of that consistency to the FBS level. I believe that Klieman is the right man for the job at K-State, but he has some proving to do in 2022.
6. Sonny Dykes – TCU
This is the part of the list where we begin to split hairs and I think that this is right where Dykes belongs in year one: above the coaches, we aren’t sure about but right below the proven guys with room to move up. Dykes comes to Fort Worth with head coaching experience at four other programs, and most recently SMU. He was 30-18 while with the Mustangs and used an impressive offense to overpower most of the teams he faced in the AAC. In the Big 12, where defense reigned supreme in 2021, it won’t be that easy.
However, Dykes has assembled an impressive staff and roster that can compete right away. The defense was a major issue for the Horned Frogs in 2021, but if he can find a way to use the defensive talent he found in the transfer portal it could help the Frogs get back to their winning ways. If he can get TCU back to a bowl game in year one it would be a great start to the Dykes era in Fort Worth.
7. Joey McGuire – Texas Tech
If McGuire’s ability to recruit the state of Texas correlates with his success on the field, Texas Tech is going to surprise a lot of people in 2022. The Red Raiders brought in McGuire from Baylor, where he was an assistant coach since 2017. Before that he was a head coach at Cedar Hills High School for 14 seasons, amassing an impressive 141-42 record along with three state championships.
Now, using the relationships he built as a high school coach, McGuire has taken the state of Texas by storm, giving TTU the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the 2023 cycle according to Rivals. A lot will change between now and the final rankings next February, but McGuire certainly has been impressive thus far. TTU needs to build off of a great bowl showing against Mississippi State and compete for a Big 12 title in 2022. Will McGuire get them there in year one? He has a good shot at it, but only time will tell.
8. Lance Leipold – Kansas
When you’re the head coach at Kansas you aren’t held to the same standard as some of the other coaches in the conference, that’s just the nature of the beast. That’s also why the Jayhawks’ 2021 season can be seen as a success, even if they only won two games. A 2-10 season is a disaster for nearly anyone in the country, but when one of those wins is against Texas, in Austin, it will create quite the amount of excitement in Lawrence.
Leipold’s record as a head coach is great at 148-49, but most of that success was at Wisconsin-Whitewater, a D-III school. Leipold has done a good building off of his first campaign, landing several big names in the transfer portal. If he can double his win total in 2022, and get the Jayhawks believing that they can go bowling in 2023, it would be a major accomplishment.
9. Steve Sarkisian – Texas
I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion, but Steve Sarkisian’s first year in Austin was a disaster. After a 5-7 season, he was able to rally the troops and pull together a top five class in 2022, including transfer quarterback Quinn Ewers. While that recruiting class is a fantastic feather in Sark’s cap, it also eliminates any excuses for the second-year head coach. It has been reported several times that he has the backing of Texas administration, but if the Longhorns rip off another 5-7 or 6-6 campaign in 2022, Sark will be an assistant somewhere else in 2023.
With the talent that he has assembled in Austin, Texas should be competing for a Big 12 championship in 2023, and probably a whole lot more than that. His track record screams mediocrity, with a 51-42 overall record, but if his team can find themselves in Jerry’s World next December none of that will matter. For now, though, I list Sarkisian as another disappointing head coach at Texas and someone who is playing with fire in 2022.
10. Neal Brown – West Virginia
Speaking of fire, no one in the Big 12 has a hotter seat in 2022 than Neal Brown. The Mountaineers looked lost in their bowl game against Minnesota and the 17-18 overall record in Morgantown just isn’t cutting it. If Brown wants to keep his job, West Virginia will have to win eight or more games next season, and I just don’t see it right now.
He will likely be counting on a true freshman quarterback under first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell to keep his job, and, oh by the way, he lost several key wideouts and one of the top rushed in WVU history in Leddie Brown.
Neal Brown’s leash can’t get much shorter, and I’m a little shocked he’s still the guy heading into 2022. I never want a guy to lose his job, but if things don’t turn around in a major way next season I think Brown will be gone.