Big 12 spring preview: A year of change and unpredictability
This is an important year for the Big 12. After being reduced to 10 football teams in 2011, the conference will expand to 14 this year with the arrival of BYU, Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati, before coinciding with its name again next season with Texas and Oklahoma heading to the SEC. to turn it back into a great league with 12 teams.
Of course, given that rebuilding never stops, this can only be temporary. But that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here to try and make sense of a league that the 2021 title game contestants (Baylor and Oklahoma State) went 13-13 last season. It featured a 5–7 TCU team starting 12–0 under a new coach before being stopped by Kansas State to win the league championship (one year after the Wildcats won 4–5 in the conference).
We are talking about the fact that this conference is completely unpredictable, so it is interesting to predict. What we do know is that Texas and Oklahoma are going on a farewell tour, and the teams are sure to hear about it from the fans, and the rookies are looking for new opponents. The Longhorns and Sooners have signed star classes as usual and are ready to try and fight for the top of the league. But like last year’s K-State team, there are experienced sleepers – like Texas Tech, for example?
As spring training gets underway, Bill Connelly and Dave Wilson talk about the main storyline and newbies every Big 12 team should keep an eye on.
Top plot: The Bears stumbled to a 6-7 finish after an incredible 2021 league championship season, including a November stretch that saw them go 1-3 and concede 437 offensive yards per game — an uncharacteristic struggle for a defensively focused head coach like Dave Aranda. In response, he replaced Ron Roberts as defensive coordinator with Matt Powledge, who was one of the head coaches at Oregon during the season after serving as safety and special teams coach at Baylor the previous two seasons. On offense, running back Richard Reese was a great fit for offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ running offense, but Aranda chose Blake Shapen over Jerry Bohanon at quarterback after spring training, which led to Bohanon’s move. Shapen threw for 2,709 yards and 18 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, but he finished under 60% in four games, missed the 200-yard mark in six, and threw five touchdowns to four INTs in four straight games. losses before the end of the season. Mississippi State transfer guard Sawyer Robertson could push Shapen this spring, but Shapen will have every opportunity to improve.
Newbie to watch: The Bears added weight to the Barrington Brothers, offensive linemen from Spokane, Washington who played in BYU. Campbell, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound junior, played in nine games last season and made multiple All-America freshman teams in 2021 after starting in six games. But his brother Clark was a big prize for the Bears as they try to protect Shapen and revive the attack. The 6-6, 305-pound senior has played in 46 BYU games since 40, including all 13 as a left back last season. He was an All-American in 2021 and was on the watchlist for the Outland Trophy in the preseason. — Wilson
Top plot: What changes will Jay Hill make? Former Weber State Head Coach Takes Over as Defensive Coordinator Following Ilaisa Tuyaka’s Resignation After a great defense in 2020, the Cougars’ defense went off course in 2021 before collapsing completely in 2022, posting 38 points per game and 7.2 yards per game on five losses. Hill has built a powerful defensive force in “Big Sky” and assumes control of a unit overwhelmed by injury and inconsistency. Twenty-six different players have started at least one game, and while most of them are returning, real playmakers should emerge. Perhaps Nickel went back to Max Tooley? Midfielder Ben Bywater? This collapse came at a terrible time, with the Cougars moving into the Big 12, and Hill needs to find support quickly.
Newbie to watch: BYU’s success in the Big 12 will be determined not only by Hill, but also by quarterback Kedon Slovis. The senior threw for 9,973 career yards and 68 touchdowns in starting stretches at both USC and Pitt, and he will now end his Provo career throwing intriguing weapons like Keanu Hill and Cody Epps’ slot machine. — Connelly
Top plot: Luke Fickell has taken Cincinnati to great heights, in part creating a remarkably stable and resilient environment, but now that Fickell has moved to Wisconsin, change is happening everywhere you look. Former Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield takes over and brings defensive coordinator Bryan Brown with him, and Brad Glenn, most recently at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, becomes offensive coordinator. Satterfield has hit the transfer portal pretty hard with 15 new players and the number keeps growing and basically everything you thought you knew about the UC program is about to change, for better or worse.
Newbie to watch: Emory Jones turns a two-quarterback battle into a three-man race. The former Florida and Arizona starter will take on incumbent Ben Bryant and former Bluesliver Evan Prather; Glenn made the most of mobile QBs in Georgia State, which could have made Jones or Prather an intriguing option, but Bryant threw for 2,732 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. This is a tough handicap battle. — Connelly
Top plot: Leaving the wreckage of the Southwest Conference behind, Houston finally completed its run to Power 5 by landing in the Big 12 and going head-to-head with five old SWC foes (including the annual out-of-conference game against Rice). But coach Dana Holgorsen, who has known the league since his days in West Virginia, has struggled to replace quarterback Clayton Thune and All-American forward Nathaniel Dell, and deal with offensive and playing duties with the departure of trusted assistant Shannon Dawson (who left for Miami). Eman Nagavi joins the Tulane-based Houston staff as game-handling/offensive line coach, and Holgorsen said “we’re going to experiment with everything” when it comes to who calls the game.
Newbie to watch: Donovan Smith, a 6-5, 230-pound junior quarterback, beat Houston as a Texas Tech quarterback early last season for 350 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-30 double overtime win in September. He moved to the Cougars after playing in 23 games with eight starts in his last two seasons with the Red Raiders. During that time, he threw for 2,686 yards and 19 TDs to 10 INTs, completing 64.2% of his passes. When Clayton Tune graduates, Smith will push sophomore Lucas Coley into a kickoff job alongside real freshman Caleb McMickle. — Wilson
Top plot: After earning a reputation as a high achiever and rising coach, Matt Campbell and the Cyclones endured a disappointing 2022, going 4–8 and 1–8 in the conferences, followed by a significant reshuffling of Campbell’s roster. Iowa State finished 114th in offensive scoring last season (20.2 ppg), 83rd in total offense and 116th in rushing offense, averaging just 3.3 yards per throw. Campbell has made changes almost across the board in offense, moving Nate Scheelhaaz, who has been with Campbell since 2018, from RB/WR coach to offensive coordinator. He will replace Tom Manning in that position, while the Cyclones also brought in a new power lineup and new offensive line coaches, running backs, wide receivers and special teams. But Campbell still expects the ISU to play professional offense. I wonder how it looks with a bunch of new faces, given that last year the Cyclones entered the top 20 of the national defense.
Newbie to watch: JJ Kohl, 6-7, 230-pound quarterback from Ankeny, Iowa, joined the Cyclones in April and has held his own despite their struggles and coach changes (it helps that his father, Jamie, was an ISU kicker) . But Kohl had many suitors, including one from Michigan, who made the leap late. Kohl’s commitment has been a big boost to one of Campbell’s top recruiting classes, and the home state star (Kohl was #118 in the Sportzshala 300 and the #8 pocket passer in the class) arrives as Hunter Dekkers’ backup. With offensive changes, Kohl could have won. — Wilson
Top plot: After averaging 1.9 wins per year from 2010–21, Kansas went 5–0 in their first bowl appearance in 14 seasons. Coach Lance Leipold honed his culture-building integrity even further, but he did so primarily on offense, with quarterbacks Jaylon Daniels and Jason Bean throwing together for 3,294 yards and rushing for another 641 yards. The return of Daniels and running back Devin Neal should ensure that the KU offense remains exciting and dangerous, but further growth will require much more from a defense that averaged 35.5 points per game and 6.2 yards per game last season. Linebackers and secondary players boast a wealth of experience, but the biggest storyline of the spring will be whether this unit can actually support such a strong offense.
Newbie to watch: Leipold made six defensive transfers, and after three top linemen left last year, a strong jump from either 325-pound senior Devin Phillips (of Colorado) or 280-pound sophomore Gage Keys (Minnesota) was would be a welcome spectacle. — Connelly
Top plot: It’s all about finding playmakers for K-State this spring. The Wildcats will bring back a healthy core from last year’s Big 12 championship team – quarterback Will Howard, a seasoned and potentially impressive offensive line, hardy defensemen like linebackers Austin Moore and Daniel Green – but they won 10 games and the ring in part. due to explosive players such as running back Deuce Vaughn, receiver Malik Knowles, defender Felix Anudike-Uzoma and corner Julius Brents all gone. It was a unique and special thing to have so many athletes plus without hiring blue chips and now head coach Chris…