Which football teams have a legitimate chance to win the Big 12?
Who can win the Big 12 in 2023? That’s what we want to determine as we approach the final months of the college football offseason.
The upcoming season has plenty of unknowns, especially in regard to the Big 12 Conference. For starters, we’re unsure how the four newcomers will adjust to their new league.
UCF and BYU stand out to me as teams who could be ready to win now, while Houston and Cincinnati have plenty of uncertainty. Much of the confidence in the first two teams revolves around having seen their starting quarterbacks have success at the college level.
Last season, John Rhys Plumlee led a prolific Central Florida offense. And while it’s been awhile since we’ve seen good quarterback play from Kedon Slovis, he had a strong freshman campaign not long ago at USC.
TCU and Kansas State made surprise appearances to the Big 12 championship game last year. We’ll try to account for how they got there and pinpoint the teams who could legitimately win the conference. Here’s a look at the most likely title winners.
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We’ve seen K-State win a conference title with our own eyes. If a team knows how to win the Big 12, the Wildcats are that team. Will Howard has a case as the top returning quarterback in the league while receiver Phillip Brooks, Florida State running back transfer Treshaun Ward and backup running back DJ Giddens return. And while some don’t see much value in a veteran-laden offensive line, experience is about as valuable at that position as any other. Losing running back Deuce Vaughn might cut into the team’s explosiveness, believe it or not. Even so, Kansas State is perhaps the safest pick to reach the championship game. For that reason, the Wildcats have a great chance of winning the league title.
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The Texas Longhorns have the best roster in the Big 12. If there’s a Big 12 tackle anywhere near as good as Kelvin Banks or receiver corps remotely as dangerous as the one in Austin, the burden of proof is on you. No comparable alternative comes to mind. Texas also returns arguably the best linebacker in the conference in Jaylan Ford. Elite tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders comes back for a second season as a starter. The defensive line and secondary are strong, and receiver additions of AD Mitchell, Isaiah Neyor and Johntay Cook could take the pressure off the defense as a whole. There’s been a lot of variance in performance in recent seasons for the program, but this team is stacked.
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When looking at the 2023 Oklahoma schedule it’s hard to find losses. We’re chalking up Texas as a loss because of the matchup advantage the Longhorns offense has across the field. Other than that, the Sooners should be favored in every game. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel isn’t elite, but he’s certainly effective and dangerous as illustrated by strong performances against Nebraska, Kansas and Texas Tech. The linebacker trio on hand is perhaps the best in the nation at the position. Oklahoma’s defense is strong up the middle at the second and third level with linebacker and safety and looks improved at edge. If the offensive line gels and the defensive line and cornerbacks play effectively, the team could easily compete for the title.
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Tyler Shough quietly performed well last season. He is set to lead a trending dark horse pick to win the Big 12 conference. The Raiders had three huge wins last season defeating Texas, Oklahoma and Ole Miss to finish the season 8-5. Jerand Bradley needs to continue as a playmaking threat at receiver or the offense won’t be as imposing as other Big 12 offenses. Nevertheless, the speed with which head coach Joey McGuire has turned around the program is reason not to doubt the Red Raiders in 2023.
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It’s easy to overlook Baylor heading into 2023 and that might be what makes the team so dangerous. The Bears return an experienced and effective starting quarterback in Blake Shapen who has plenty to like about his surrounding offensive weapons. Monaray Baldwin and Hal Presley lead the receiving corps alongside Arkansas transfer Ketron Jackson Jr. At running back Richard Reese is one of the best returning ball carriers in the league. The season will hinge on the defense.
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Rest assured, you won’t find unabashed TCU doubt around here this season. Chandler Morris has plenty of unrealized potential at quarterback while a solid receiving corps and running back room make the Frogs an interesting team in 2023. The difficulty we’ll continue to mention for the team is continuity. Quarterback Max Duggan, running back Kendre Miller, wide receiver Quentin Johnston, offensive lineman Steve Avila, linebacker Dee Winters, and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley are all gone. Then again, the team replaced an entire coaching staff before reaching the national championship in head coach Sonny Dykes’ first season on campus.
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Yes, UCF could compete for a conference title. The Golden Knights should have a strong receiving corps to work with and a quarterback to make plays when that group is covered. Head coach Gus Malzahn mastered the art of winning as an underdog against Alabama as head coach at Auburn. The challenge this season will be competing as an underdog week after week. What last season illustrated is great coaching wins consistently in this league. TCU head coach Sonny Dykes supports that claim. There’s a real possibility the Knights have a very bad season as well.
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I don’t mind being alone in believing that BYU is a tough matchup in 2023. Culture matters, and Kalani Sitake has had time to set his culture as the Cougars head coach since 2015. Cincinnati head coach Scott Satterfield hasn’t been afforded that advantage with his new squad. It’s unlikely we see a repeat of Sonny Dykes’ first year turnaround there as Satterfield doesn’t appear to have the dudes on offense. I’m buying Kedon Slovis’ potential, BYU’s system and culture and the program’s track record of success against Power Five programs.
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The Kansas Jayhawks have an outside shot to win the Big 12. The offense will likely be among the best in the Big 12 with 10 returning offensive starters and Jalon Daniels at quarterback. Earlier this offseason I predicted Kansas would defeat Oklahoma in Lawrence, and I’m standing by that prediction. And prior to Daniels’ injury against TCU, who the Jayhawks only narrowly lost against, Kansas was 5-0 and on track to compete for the title. If the team doesn’t lose Daniels and gets to 6-0, we could be talking about a different finish last season. Doubt the Jayhawks at your own risk.