Fall camp is set to start next week around the country as college football teams prepare for the upcoming 2022 season.
The month of August is upon us and that is an exciting time for every fanbase because we all have one thing: hope. This time of year we can hope for the best from our favorite team without much pushback, because games haven’t been played yet.
In 2022, the Big 12 appears to be wide open, something that hasn’t been the case in years as Oklahoma had won every Big 12 title from 2015-2020 until Baylor dethroned them last season.
Now, with the Bears now being the hunted, how will things play out? Here is a look at Heartland College Sports’ favorite, contender, and dark horse for the 2022 Big 12 Championship.
Favorite: Baylor Bears
2021 Record: 12-2 (7-2 Big 12); Big 12 Champions
Returning Starters: 12
The Baylor Bears just kept winning in 2021 and, before they knew it, they were Big 12 Champions. The turnaround in Year 2 under Dave Aranda was incredible and at the end of the year, Baylor was playing as good as almost anyone in the conference. Now, the Bears will look to sophomore Blake Shapen as their full-time starter, and folks in Waco feel pretty good about that.
The entire offensive and defensive lines return for the Bears and will be a major strength for them in 2022, but the concern is the skill talent. Offensively, Baylor loses RBs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner, WR Tyquan Thornton and RJ Sneed, and 2021 starting QB Gerry Bohanon. Defensively, Baylor will have replace All-American S Jalen Pitre, LB Terrel Bernard, CB Raleigh Texada, FS JT Woods, and S Jairon McVea.
Baylor has the pieces to repeat as Big 12 Champions, but it will take new faces emerging. RB Taye McWilliams looks like the answer at RB, while TE Blake Sims leads the Bears’ returning pass catchers. Dillon Doyle returns at LB, while LB Matt Jones and CB Al Walcott Jr. will have big roles to play in the back end of Aranda’s defense.
Get production out of those names, and Aranda’s squad will be top-notch yet again. However, if they struggle, it may open the door for our contender to get back to the top.
Contender: Oklahoma Sooners
2021 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big 12)
Returning Starters: 11
Oklahoma is in a precarious position as the contender, as they are typically sitting where Baylor is currently perched. The national media would like you to believe that Oklahoma is going to win seven or eight games in Brent Venables first year, but I am here to tell you that I wouldn’t bet on it. While OU did lose some star power from last year’s squad, the roster is still the most talented in the conference and most feel that the overall coaching staff was vastly upgraded over the offseason.
Dillon Gabriel will be the key for Oklahoma in 2022, as the Sooners hope he can replicate the success he had under Jeff Lebby at UCF. The skill positions are loaded once again with Marvin Mims, Theo Wease, and Jalil Farooq returning at wide receiver, plus Eric Gray, Marcus Major, and freshman Jovantae Barnes competing for the RB1 spot. The Sooners offensive line has 125 combined career starts with a bunch of NFL talent starting to push their way into the rotation.
Defensively, Oklahoma should vastly improve under Brent Venables in Year 1, and there is certainly talent on that side of the ball. Deshaun White, Danny Stutsman, T.D. Roof and David Ugwoegbu make up the best and deepest linebacker corps in the Big 12, as well as having the most talented defensive backfield with Woodi Washington, Key Lawrence, and Justin Broiles returning, plus the additions of Kani Walker and Trey Morrison.
The Sooners have a lot to replace, but they also have the luxury of having a talent-laden roster. Look for OU to improve on last year’s 7-2 conference record and push their way back into the Big 12 Championship Game.
Dark Horse: Kansas State Wildcats
2021 Record: 8-5 (4-5 Big 12)
Returning Starters: 14
I’ll say this without any hesitation: the Kansas State Wildcats have a very real chance to find themselves in the Big 12 Championship Game this December. The Wildcats are the only team in the Big 12 to return two All-Americans from last year’s squad with RB Deuce Vaughn and DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah ready to build off of massive years in 2021.
Transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez is said to have clicked right away with new offensive coordinator Collin Klein, and if he can play clean, turnover free football, the sky is the limit for K-State in 2022. Returning wideouts Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks give the Wildcats weapons to distribute the ball to outside of Vaughn. There are some holes to fill on the offensive line, but returning both starting tackles is a big plus for Chris Klieman’s group.
Defensively, we have already mentioned Anudike-Uzomah, but LB Khalid Duke is another All-Conference talent that is expected to have a big year for K-State. Ekow Boye-Doe and Julius Brents return as one of the top cornerback tandems in the conference and while the safety position is a bit of a concern, there are enough pieces in the back end for KSU to have a tough unit once again.
K-State does have the downfall of traveling to Norman, Ames, and Waco in 2022, but does get Oklahoma State and Texas at home. If the Wildcats can take down Oklahoma or Baylor on the road, it could go a long way in Kansas State appearing in their first Big 12 Championship game since 2003.