With the possible exception of the Pac-12, which may cease to exist after the 2023 NCAA Football season is concluded, no other Power 5 conference will change more than the Big 12. The face of the Big 12 for practically its entire existence has been Oklahoma and Texas. After this season, they are jumping ship to the richer waters of the SEC. However, when the Pac-12 started to dissolve, the Big 12 welcomed with open arms the four more important remaining programs, from a football perspective, of Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah. So, despite losing the two powerhouse programs that ruled the Big 12 for decades, the conference actually grew and now has 16 members and cemented its stake in the football landscape.
This year, however, the Sooners and Longhorns will try to end their history in the Big 12 with one last conference championship. Besides USC’s Caleb Williams, one of the most talked about QBs in the country hasn’t even taken a collegiate snap yet for the Longhorns. One of the burning questions is how long of a leash will Texas QB Quinn Ewers have before the much-ballyhooed recruit Arch Manning gets his shot. Will there be another TCU that comes out of nowhere to run the table and make the playoffs, or will the soon-to-be-gone blue bloods of the Big 12 gather for one more championship appearance?
The Chalk: Texas (+125/ +1800)
Texas is loaded for bear this season on the offensive side of the ball, and even though they lost last year’s premiere running back in Bijan Robinson, that cupboard is never bare or barren. They do return, however, Big 12 honorable mention at QB Quinn Ewers and the freshman phenom Arch Manning. It’s rare to see the #1 recruit at a position in consecutive years, but that’s exactly what you have with Ewers and Manning. They return their top 6 receivers as well as add a WR transfer from Georgia. Big things are expected from head coach Steve Sarkisian and he has shown fantastic progress in his first 2 seasons, going 5-7 in 2021, 8-5 last year. The Longhorns travel to Tuscaloosa in the 2nd game of the year in a game that will have major playoff implications. If they win that, they could very well run the table. Even if they don’t, going over a 9.5-win total is almost a lock for this talented squad.
The Contender: Oklahoma (+325/ +4000)
I hate using injuries as an excuse for a team’s poor performance, but the Sooners were very clearly not the same team after starting QB Dillion Gabriel went down. In the 11 games Gabriel started, OU’s offense averaged 510 ypg and 37 ppg, and in the 2 games he didn’t they mustered 275 ypg and 12 ppg. Gabriel is one of seven returning offensive starters and as long as he can stay healthy, Oklahoma can slug it out with any team in the nation. The knock on Big 12 teams is they don’t play defense, but the Sooners 30.0 ppg allowed was bad, even by Big 12 standards. OU’s win total is set at 9.5 and I think they go above that and play Texas for the Big 12 championship before those 2 schools jump from the conference.
The Challenger: Kansas State (+500/ +8000)
With the down years that the two perennial top guns had last season, TCU and Kansas State made the most of their opportunities. The Wildcats made the Big 12 Championship game and beat previously undefeated TCU, to win their first Big 12 since 2012. They return 13 starters, along with the very efficient Will Howard at QB. Their schedule outside the Big 12 is a sad joke, but make no mistake, this team is good. Inside the conference, they only have to play at Texas and get TCU at home (no Sooners). The 8.5-win total going over may be the strongest season total bet in college football.
The Pretender: TCU (+1400/ +4000)
It’s not TCU’s fault they were exposed last year in the National Championship game. The playoff committee screwed that up by putting them in the playoffs even after they couldn’t win the Big 12. They only see three starters on an offense that put up 38.8 PPG. Even with a joke of an out-of-conference schedule, getting more than their 7.5-win total may be asking too much from this squad. Take the under.
The Wildcard: Texas Tech ( +900/ +15000)
11 starters return on offense to a squad that produced 461 ypg and 34.2 ppg for an 8-5 record last year. Red Raider QB Tyler Shough, an ex-Oregon transfer from ’19-’20, gets to face his former team in a huge week 2 matchup. If Texas Tech can win that game (it’s in Lubbock), they could potentially make noise on the national scene. Either way, they look like a solid bet to go over their 7.5-win total.
The rest of the pack:
Baylor Bears (+1600/ +20000)
12 starters return, including the starting QB, from a team that went 6-7 last season. The offense wasn’t the problem, scoring just a touch above 32 ppg, but the defense was over a touchdown worse per game than their stellar 2021 group. Week 2 must be the test for the Big 12, as the Bears host Utah Utes in a key non-conference matchup. Regardless of that outcome, Baylor looks poised to go above their 6.5-win mark.
Iowa State (+2500/ +30000)
The Cyclones started last year 3-0, including beating their arch in-state rival Iowa, and finished off the rest of the season 1-8, which resulted in their first losing campaign since 2016. 15 starters, including QB Hunter Dekkers, return, and head coach Matt Campbell hopes to reverse this stat from 2022: Iowa State lost six of its eight games by one score. They could be a great value pick as dogs and I look for them to win more than their 6-win total.
Oklahoma State (+4000/+10000)
The Cowboys return 13 starters but must replace the 2nd-leading passer in school history. They play two FCS schools and have seven home games but will still struggle to get above the 6-win mark. I see them landing on six wins but lean towards the under.
Kansas (+3500/ +30000)
Kansas went 6-7 last year because their defense couldn’t stop anything, giving up 35.5 ppg. The offense tried to keep pace, but only scoring 35.6 ppg makes it tough to win. They bring back 17 starters, including both QBs. A 6-win total is reachable if the defense just makes a slight improvement. It can’t be worse, can it??
UCF (+3500/ +50000)
The Knights will finally be able to prove their doubters wrong by playing in a legit conference. With 15 starters, including a seasoned veteran at QB, they’ll be able to give a good accounting of themselves. I think the physicality of the Big 12 though will wear them down and don’t see them going over their 7-game win total.
BYU (+8000/ +20000)
BYU rejoins a conference after over a decade of being an independent. They will have 14 starters returning from their 8-5 squad but must replace their incredibly efficient QB with a transfer from Pitt. Conference play isn’t the same as an independent schedule and they won’t go above the 5.5-win total.
Cincinnati (+10000/ +40000)
New head coach Scott Satterfield is walking into a very tough situation, leading the Bearcats from the AAC into the Big 12 with only 9 returning starters. Looks like former head coach Luke Fickell made a very fortuitous move to Wisconsin. The 5.5 win total is about 2 wins too high and if Satterfield can muster up more than that, he should win Coach of the Year. We’ll have to save that award for another season.
West Virginia (+15000/ +30000)
The Mountaineers schedule early in the season looks like a throwback to the 1980s, with games against Penn State, Duquense, and Pitt (all PA schools, by the way). Unfortunately for head coach Neal Brown, he’s breaking in a new QB and last year’s defense gave up 2.3 ppg more than the offense scored. Their win total of 5.5 is also about 2 games too many.
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Houston (+20000/ +50000)
The Cougars are the second AAC “Cat” team (Cincinnati Bearcats) to start to prowl the Big 12. Like their former AAC brothers, they’ll be pretty tame this season, with only five offensive starters and a new QB to break in in their inaugural Big 12 season. I think they’ll push on the 5.0-win total but would lean towards the under.
Projected Order of Finish
- Kansas State
- Texas Tech
- Iowa State
- Oklahoma State
- West Virginia