Big 12 college football preview: Breaking down the conference's best storylines, games and more

For the first time in years, there's nothing predictable about the Big 12. After Oklahoma's six-year stranglehold on the top spot ended last year, Baylor and Oklahoma State look like contenders again. The Sooners always get the benefit of the doubt, but first-year coaching transitions aren't always easy. Just ask Texas and Steve Sarkisian. Even Kansas State has the potential to threaten the league's top tier. There's a new era dawning, with Texas and OU nearing the end of their time and four new teams arriving next year. There's a defensive swagger around the league now, and this season could be as wild as last.

Welcome to the new Big 12.

Storylines to watch

1. The Brent Venables era begins in Norman

Lincoln Riley did a lot in his five seasons as Oklahoma head coach, with three College Football Playoff appearances and a couple of Heisman Trophy winners, leaving plenty of curiosity as to how Venables' tenure begins. While the Sooners had just one preseason All-Big 12 player (a punter!) and just 10 returning starters, there is reason for optimism with transfer quarterback Dillion Gabriel in from UCF, who is reunited with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby behind a talented offensive line. Despite just five returning defensive starters, Venables' impact is expected to be seen on that side of the ball as well, given the success he had at Clemson for years.

2. The heightened expectations in Steve Sarkisian's second season

There are always big expectations at Texas, and those have increased going into Sarkisian's second season. ESPN's College Football Power Index was updated in July for the 2022 preseason, and the Longhorns ranked No. 7, with a 39.8% chance to win the Big 12, with Oklahoma just behind them at No. 8 and a 28.1% chance to win the conference. While the quarterback room is more potential than promise, running back Bijan Robinson is one of the best players in college football, and the Longhorns should improve defensively after ranking 97th a year ago. The question is how good is the team actually going to be, and will it be enough for Longhorns fans? Going up against Alabama in Week 2 at home will be an early and honest test.

3. How do Baylor and Oklahoma State follow up successful 2021 seasons?

The Bears and Cowboys both put up 12-2 seasons with New Year's Six bowl victories to finish strong. While both teams are talented, there's retooling to be done. Baylor loses its top two rushers and receivers, with Blake Shapen taking over at quarterback. For Oklahoma State, it returns just four players on defense (including losing six of its top eight tacklers), and replaces defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who moved on to Ohio State, with former Vanderbilt head coach (and Auburn DC in 2021) Derek Mason. The opportunity to remain atop the Big 12 is still there with Oklahoma in a transition period and Texas still rebuilding, but it won't be easy.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma
2. Baylor
3. Oklahoma State
4. Kansas State
5. Texas
6. TCU
7. Iowa State
8. Texas Tech
9. West Virginia
10. Kansas Jayhawks

Five must-see games

Texas-Oklahoma has been the standard-bearer for the Big 12 for many years. But with the rise of Baylor and Oklahoma State, there are several big games that will have implications on the title race. There are plenty of nonconference games like the Pitt-West Virginia Backyard Brawl (Sept. 1), Texas-Alabama (Sept. 10) and even an old Iron Skillet rivalry with new juice thanks to Sonny Dykes' move across the Metroplex (Sept. 24), but we're going to focus on five conference matchups we can't wait to see.

Oklahoma State at Baylor, Oct.1

An early-season bonus and a rematch of a thrilling Big 12 title game from last year. In a wide-open season, this is an early referendum on how two of the league's most promising teams will look heading down the stretch.

Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct.8 (Cotton Bowl, Dallas)

Last year was only one of the greatest games in one of the best rivalries in college football. The Sooners' second-half comeback started a spiral for the Longhorns in Steve Sarkisian's first season. But Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley are gone to USC, and a new-look Oklahoma team will be waiting to see what this year's version has in store.

Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 22

Can Texas start to build momentum behind a young offensive line and a bunch of newcomers? A trip to a rowdy environment in Stillwater will pose a serious test. The past five matchups of these two teams have been one-score games, with two going into overtime and OSU holding a 3-2 lead in that time.

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 5

Baylor fans stormed the field twice last season in the Bears' upset of OU. One came when fans thought Baylor was content to let the clock run out, but Dave Aranda opted to kick a late field goal for any tiebreaker scenarios. Then, they did it again as the Bears broke a seven-game skid to the Sooners. Two of the highest-scoring teams in the Big 12 of years past are both led by defensive head coaches now. What will this year's edition bring?

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 19

Bedlam's days are numbered as a result of conference realignment, and Mike Gundy isn't happy about it. But Gundy is coming off a 37-33 win, his third victory over the Sooners in his 17 seasons, and one that marked the end of the Riley era. With the rivalry nearing its end, every game in this series means more than ever.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

Oklahoma's Spencer Sanders is a wily veteran now and is coming off an incredible Fiesta Bowl performance against Notre Dame, but Dillon Gabriel should be able to put up big numbers with the Sooners' skill talent and a familiar coordinator in Jeff Lebby, who coached him at UCF. Otherwise, Bijan Robinson could be a Heisman contender and Deuce Vaughn is one of the country's most underrated players.

QB Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma
RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
RB Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
WR Marvin Mims, Oklahoma
WR Xavier Worthy, Texas
TE Ben Sims, Baylor
OL Cooper Beebe, Kansas State
OL Trevor Downing, Iowa State
OL Jacob Gall, Baylor
OL Doug Nester, West Virginia
OL Connor Galvin, Baylor

DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
DE Will McDonald, Iowa State
DT Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
DT Dante Stills, West Virginia
LB Dillon Doyle, Baylor
LB DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
LB Daniel Green, Kansas State
CB Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
CB Charles Woods, West Virginia
S Kenny Logan Jr., Kansas
S Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State

Special teams
PK Casey Legg, West Virginia
P Michael Turk, Oklahoma
KR/PR Malik Knowles, Kansas State

Championship game prediction

Oklahoma over Baylor.