Big 12 football: 2023 season preview and predictions
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Tim Heitman/Getty Images
Are you ready for the biggest breakout year in Big 12 history?
The undeniable truth - no matter how much one might "get over" it at this point - the loss of Oklahoma and Texas hurts the league. SEC-affiliated programs are the conference's biggest revenue drivers.
On the other hand, the Big 12 has many, many reasons to celebrate in 2023. Not only are four new programs joining the league this year, but four more are on the way. The conference has a stable outlook thanks to an innovative commissioner and an improved television deal.
Besides, the strength of the league changed last season anyway.
Kansas State hoisted the Big 12 championship trophy, then TCU advanced to the national title game. Sure, it didn't go well, but no previous Big 12 school had made it this far in the College Football Playoff era.
However, before the new-look conference takes on a new look in 2024, those big names are hoping for one final Big 12 crown.
The best players
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Milestone DanielsKevin Langley/Icon Sportswire putem Getty Imagesa
What the Big 12 lacks in true superstars, the conference makes up for with a large group of top players.
At fullback, the list includesMilestone Daniels(Kansas),Dillon Gabriel(Oklahoma) iQuinn Ewers(Texas). Kansas StateWill Howarddeserves a mention alongside Texas Tech'sTyler Shoughon the radar.
Xavier Worthyis an explosive wide receiver for Texas, which also has rising stars at tight endI'm Tavion Sandersand left accessoriesKelvin Banks Jr.Kansas State left guardCooper Beebeand the center of West VirginiaZach Frazierare the two best national strikers.
On defense, the Big 12 has Oklahoma State's edge-rusherCollin Oliver, Oklahoma linebackerDanny Stutsmani TCU linebackerJohnny Hodgesand cornerbackJosh Newton.
Among the newcomers to the league, the best players are BYU left tacklesKingsley Suamatia, Cincinnati defensive tackleDontay Corleone, Houston edge-rushernelson switchi bek UCF-aJohn Rhys Plumlee.
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Chandler MorrisDustin Bradford/Getty Images
Out with the old man
Thanks to a$100 million exit fee, Oklahoma and Texas leave the conference a year early. Both programs would undoubtedly love a dramatic exit as Big 12 champions in their bye year. But that would require Texas to meet its preseason billing at least once, and Oklahoma to put a vastly improved defense on the field.
In with New
Along with former independent BYU, the Big 12 welcomes Cincinnati, Houston and UCF from the AAC. Neither is expected to compete for a conference crown this year, but Cincinnati's defense—more on that later—and UCF's offense are potentially excellent.
TCU, Kansas State aiming to stay on top
Oh, by the way, TCU made it to the national championship last season while Kansas State won the Big 12. Clearly, it's easy to talk about realignments before even mentioning them. Kansas State must replace several All-Americans, and TCU's offense has been largely rebuilt. However, last season's best teams in the conference should be contenders again.
The best challengers
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Dillon GabrielBrian Bahr/Getty Images
Tier 1: Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State
As usual, the perception of Texas on paper is quite strong. More on the offense later, but the Longhorns made significant gains last year with coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. While OU is hoping for a similar uptick on defense in the second season of Brent Venables' tenure, the Dillon Gabriel-led offense should be excellent. Kansas State returns Will Howard, a veteran offensive line and an encouraging defense.
Razina 2: TCU i Texas Tech
TCU used the transfer portal to rebuild its offense, so the Horned Frogs can't be ruled out as a Big 12 title contender. Texas Tech could beplaceoverrated, but the Red Raiders have intriguing upside with Tyler Shough and an offense that returns five top receivers.
Level 3: Magical Ascent?
Last season, TCU came out of nowhere. After a mediocre finish to Gary Patterson's impressive tenure, the Horned Frogs had a perfect regular season and won the national championship. Expectingandis unfair, but can any of Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State or UCF defy expectations and rise above a simple bowl contender?
Coaches on the hot seat
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Neal BrownGregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire putem Getty Imagesa
The only legitimate hot spot is in West Virginia, which is approaching a potentially embarrassing sNeal Brown.
In four years at WVU, he posted a 22-25 record with seven losses in all three full seasons. Additionally, the Mountaineers are 14-21 in conference action, a Big 12 game high of four in a given year.
There will still be a Brown buyoutabout 12.7 million dollarsafter the 2023 campaign, so this is not a cheap decision. Still, five average seasons may be evidence that WVU is making a change.
The two coaches to watch are Houston'sHolgorsenov fundto OklahomaBrent Venables. Neither is likely to (nor should) happen - Holgorsen's buyout isjust under $15 million, dok Venables ima afully guaranteed jobby 2027 — but they are at least on the edge of the radar.
The best touch games
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Tyler ShoughJohn E. Moore III/Getty Images
September 2: West Virginia at Penn State
September 8 and 9: Illinois at Kansas; Texas at Alabama; Oregon at Texas Tech; Utah at Baylor; UCF at Boise State
September 16: BYU in Arkansas; Kansas State at Missouri
September 23: SMU i TCU
West Virginia could set a different tone for 2023 with its first win at Penn State. Then comes the 2nd week feast. After Friday night's clash at Kansas, Saturday's schedule includes Texas' trip to Alabama and three more trips with potentially ranked opponents. Week 3 SEC matchups for BYU and K-State precede TCU's Week 4 rivalry game.
Top conference games
September 23: UCF at Kansas State
September 30: Kansas and Texas
November 7: Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas)
November 21: TCU at Kansas State; UCF in Oklahoma
November 4: Kansas State in Texas
November 11: Texas u TCU
November 24: TCU at Oklahoma; Texas Tech in Texas
Of course, there's the Red River affair between OU and Texas for the final edition as Big 12 rivals (for now?). But the September tryouts for Kansas State and Texas will be worth watching. TCU has several opportunities to upset the order later in the season as Texas tries to get through a tough stretch in November.
The best of the rest
September 23: Oklahoma at Cincinnati; Texas at Baylor
November 6: Kansas State i Oklahoma State
November 14: Kansas State at Texas Tech
November 28: Oklahoma and Kansas
nov. 2 and 4: TCU at Texas Tech; Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Honestly, what other game is on the schedule? One fascinating part of this Big 12 season is that while the league seems relatively weak in terms of national threats, there probably isn't a true bottom either. BYU, Houston, Iowa State and West Virginia have uphill climbs to bowl bids, but it wouldn't be a shock if any of them reached six wins.
Best offense: Texas Longhorns
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Xavier WorthyTim Warner/Getty Images
With apologiesWHO, I'm ready to be fooled again.
Ewers is not a proven defender and did not play particularly well from mid-October to mid-November last season. Still, his flashes of upside were evident. Aside from a great pre-injury quarter against Alabama, he beat Oklahoma and helped the Longhorns beat Kansas State.
Along with his improved health and the ever-valuable year of experience, Ewers has an extremely talented supporting cast.
Along with Worthy and Sanders, the Horns' pass-catching team includes Isaiah Neyor—back from a knee injury—Jordan Whittington, Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell and several recent blue-chip prospects.
Texas also returns the entire offensive line. While the blocking unit didn't improve overall last year, optimism is pretty high. Banks is a cornerstone of the left tackle, while center Jake Majors has been a mainstay of the Texas front for several years.
The most important change is at running back, where the Horns lost superstar Bijan Robinson and quality second baseman Roschon Johnson. Jonathon Brooks, however, is a promising rusher with 340 yards (6.7 per carry) and six touchdowns in limited snaps over the past two years.
Best defense: Cincinnati Bearcats
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Jowon BriggsAP photography/Jeff Dean
After head coach Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin, Cincinnati hired Scott Satterfield and dove into the transfer portal. Whether those additions shine on offense will go a long way in how the Bearcats play in 2023.
But this defense is well-built going into the Big 12.
Last year, linemen Dontay Corleone and Jowon Briggs earned first-team All-AAC honors. They return to the forefront along with Malik Vann—who had 8.5 tackles for loss in 2021 but missed the 2022 campaign with a pectoral injury—and Daniel Grzesiak. The speedy transfer from Utah State recorded 13 stops for a loss in 2022.
Jack Dingle is a breakout candidate at linebacker and should start right after Louisville transfer Dorian Jones. Deshawn Pace (62 tackles last year) would likely fit as a hybrid type outside linebacker, though Taj Ward is another good player.
In the secondary, safety Bryon Threats and corner Sammy Anderson Jr. return with transfer additions Jordan Young (Florida), D.J. Taylor (Arizona State) and George Udo (BYU).
While the Bearcats' depth will be tested, they are ready to compete defensively at the power conference level.
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Will HowardPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images
Bowl Eligible Teams
Texas: 9-3 (7-2 u Big 12)
Kansas State: 9-3 (7-2)
Oklahoma: 9-3 (6-3)
TCU: 8-4 (5-4)
Kansas: 7-5 (5-4)
Oklahoma State: 7-5 (5-4)
Texas Tech: 7-5 (5-4)
UCF: 7-5 (5-4)
Baylor: 6-6 (4-5)
Cincinnati: 5-7 (4-5)
BYU: 4-8 (3-6)
West Virginia: 4-8 (3-6)
Houston: 5-7 (2-7)
Iowa State: 4-8 (2-7)
Scheduled Big 12 Championship: Texas vs. Kansas State
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Quinn EwersTim Warner/Getty Images
While the College Football Playoff likely isn't in the Big 12's future for 2023, a fierce league race seems inevitable.
Texas has a pretty tough slate, but the league schedule of Baylor, Houston, TCU and Iowa State is favorable. Avoid the slumps outside of Austin, and the Longhorns should have a shot at the Big 12 crown.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has an attractive consistency. An experienced blocking unit in front of a stout backfield led by Howard with Phillip Brooks returning at receiver is an intriguing combination. Additionally, excluding the 2020 season, K-State has consistently fielded the Big 12's top defense under Chris Klieman.
Oklahoma and TCU are the main threats, but K-State has the faintest of intentions to match Texas.
And in that game, the Longhorns leave AT&T Stadium celebrating one final—until the realignment returns in 2047—Big 12 championship.