Big 12 Football: X-Factor for Each Team Heading into 2022 Season
The 2022 College Football season is only one month away and next week teams across the country will officially start fall camp.
There will be plenty of intrigue around the country this year given the amount of turnover at major programs and the Big 12 is a particularly interesting conference to be watching.
Sometimes games are won and lost because of one pivotal point, which most refer to as an “X-Factor.”
Here is the X-Factor for every Big 12 team heading into the 2022 season.
X-Factor: Playmakers Must Emerge
Baylor returns one of the top offensive and defensive lines in the country from one year ago, but they will now rely on a true sophomore quarterback in Blake Shapen and a host of new faces at the skill positions. Baylor loses leading rushers Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner as well as its top three pass catchers, including star wideout Tyquan Thornton. Defensively, the Bears must find a way to replace Jalen Pitre, Terrel Bernard, and JT Woods. If Dave Aranda can find serviceable replacements at those positions, Baylor will be very good yet again in 2022.
Iowa State Cyclones
X-Factor: Offensive Backfield
Replacing Brock Purdy and Breece Hall will be a massive task for the Cyclones in 2022, but many around the program feel good about what QB Hunter Dekkers and RB Jirehl Brock bring to the table. Dekkers has been drawing rave reviews this offseason and is the highest-rated quarterback recruit that Iowa State has ever signed. It also helps to have an All-Conference target like Xavier Hutchinson to throw to when breaking in a new quarterback. Head coach Matt Campbell had some promising things to say about Jirehl Brock this spring, and if he remains consistent in fall camp he could be the back that ISU needs in 2022.
X-Factor: Culture Takes Another Step
Jayhawks’ head coach Lance Leipold made waves at Big 12 Media Days when he said KU was “not in the business of moral victories,” but that it certainly true when looking at college football as a whole. Kansas proved last year that they are capable of being competitive and the emergence of Jalon Daniels and Devin Neal gives KU offensive weapons to lean on. There is hep on the way defensively thanks to the transfer portal, but Kansas has been the doormat of the Big 12 for a decade now. Can Leipold’s mentality break through in Year 2 and get the Jayhawks out of perpetual failure?
Kansas State Wildcats
X-Factor: Adrian Martinez’s Turnover Margin
We’ve seen enough from Adrian Martinez‘s time at Nebraska to know that he is a special athlete. The graduate-transfer can do things that plenty of college quarterbacks only wish they could do, but the turnover bug has been his downfall to this point. In 39 career games, Martinez has thrown 30 interceptions and fumbled 34 times, losing 18 of them. On the contrary, he has thrown 45 touchdowns and rushed for 35 scores. Moral of the story: If Martinez can hang on to the ball, K-State’s offense could be dangerous.
X-Factor: Dillon Gabriel’s Health
If Dillon Gabriel stays healthy, Oklahoma should be the best team in the Big 12 in 2022. They return a plethora of names at the skill positions, the most talented offensive line in the conference, and added several contributors on both sides of the ball through the transfer portal. The key is for transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel to stay healthy. In 25 career games, Gabriel has thrown for 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions, adding 8 scores on the ground. OU has unproven talent behind Gabriel, with players lacking any college experience in the QB2 and QB3 spots.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
X-Factor: Spencer Sanders
It has been said publicly that defensive coordinator Derek Mason will run Jim Knowles scheme from last season that produced the best unit in Oklahoma State school history. The question is, can he run it as effectively as Knowles did, while adding in wrinkles of his own? The OSU defense will likely regress to a point in 2022, it’s just a matter of how much. That means the Cowboys will need to lean on senior quarterback Spencer Sanders to win more football games. In three years, Sanders has completed 62.6% of his passes for 6,911 yards and 50 touchdowns to 31 interceptions. He will need to much improved in 2022 if he hopes to carry the Pokes back to the Big 12 Championship.
TCU Horned Frogs
X-Factor: Duggan or Morris
The outcome of the quarterback battle in Fort Worth will play a huge roll in how TCU looks in 2022. While both Max Duggan and Chandler Morris are seen as dual-threat quarterbacks, their play styles vary greatly. Duggan has proven leadership qualities and is both a strong runner and passer, while Morris is more nimble and probably brings a higher ceiling to the offensive overall. Choosing between two able-bodied quarterbacks is a good problem to have, but you know what they say about having two quarterbacks. Finding a clear-cut QB1 will be vital for Sonny Dykes and the Frogs in Year 1.
X-Factor: Defensive Improvement
Yes, Quinn Ewers could easily be considered Texas’ X-Factor, but he could have a fantastic year and still go 8-4 if the Longhorns play the way they did last year defensively. Stopping the run will be paramount for Steve Sarkisian and company, as they didn’t do it at all last season. Adding Gary Patterson to the coaching staff certainly gives UT a pair of experienced eyes to help with the rebuild, but Sark needs results right away. The talent is there, as it always has been, but can the Longhorns get back to playing respectful defense in 2022?
Texas Tech Red Raiders
X-Factor: Zach Kittley’s Scheme
If Texas Tech can successfully implement offensive coordinator Zach Kittley’s scheme in Year 1, the Red Raiders will surprise a lot of people in 2022. Kittley brings a high-flying offense from Western Kentucky that paced Ohio State in offensive numbers last season. Joey McGuire has the program feeling good about its future, but a tough schedule awaits Raider Nation this year. Can the offense pick up the slack and carry Texas Tech back to bowl eligibility?
West Virginia Mountaineers
X-Factor: Capturing Momentum Early
2022 is a make-or-break year for head coach Neal Brown, and his team will need to step things up in a big way if he hopes to stick around in Morgantown. Despite the attrition that WVU has seen this offseason in the transfer portal, there are still pieces for success. The entire offensive line returns, as does game-changer DL Dante Stills. JT Daniels appears to be the starter for 2022 and he will need to be sharp early on. The first five games of the season will be tricky: @ Pitt, vs. Kansas, vs. Townson, @ Virginia Tech, and @ Texas. The Mountaineers can win all five of those games, and if they do it would give them a springboard to jump from going into the second half of the season. If they drop a few games, which is also possible, the wheels could come off in a hurry.