1 – Texas Longhorns (2022 Record: 8-5) (2023 Projection: 11-1)
- Biggest Question: Will Texas finally live up to the hype? Ah, the age old question of “Is Texas back?”. This squad enters 2023 with Big 12 Champion expectations and I’m pushing for them to live up to it for once. The Longhorns return Quinn Ewers at quarterback and return a plethora of talent across every unit of the team besides running back, which sees the departure of Bijan Robinson but the debut of a fresh five-star recruit (more on that later). Texas is by far the most talented team in the conference, and a Big 12 schedule that sees very few speed bump road trip opportunities, this team could (and should) breeze into the Big 12 title game.
- Biggest Game: @ Alabama (September 9th) – The Longhorns probably should have won this game last year, but an unfortunate injury to Quinn Ewers mid-game and Bryce Young going God mode late cost the Longhorns a major program moment. This year, the talent gap is smaller. Alabama has question marks at quarterback and Texas is a better team, but the game is in Tuscaloosa and will surely be a raucous environment. A win would be a huge boost for Texas both for this season and beyond as they begin SEC play in 2024.
- Preseason MVP: LB Jaylon Ford – Plenty of good options here but Ford is not only already a standout linebacker, but will be depended on even more in 2023 after the departure of DeMarvion Overshown. Ford had 119 tackles (8 tackles of loss), 2 sacks, and also 4 interceptions in 2022 and should be in for another stellar year for the Longhorns.
- Breakout Watch: RB C.J. Baxter – Whether Baxter sees the bulk of carries or not this year, he will surely make a name for himself as the next big thing for a school with historic ties to the position. One of the best prospects at the position this past cycle, he brings the same elite size and athleticism that Robinson had and should be en explosive piece in Sarks offense moving forward.
2 – Kansas State Wildcats (2022 Record: 10-4) (2023 Projection: 10-2)
- Biggest Question: Can the Wildcats repeat as Big 12 Champions? TCU was obviously the highlight of the conference in 2022, but it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Kansas State beat them in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Wildcats enter 2023 with another loaded roster, especially in the trenches, and quarterback Will Howard looked impressive after taking over for an injured Adrian Martinez. I don’t think this team is as talented as Texas, but they play with a high respect for fundamentals and that could ultimately be the deciding factor if they make the Championship Game again.
- Biggest Game: @ Kansas (November 18th) – The Kansas State/Kansas game could have pretty big implications in 2023, as I expect both teams to be towards the top of the conference, and this game could ultimately mean a ton when it comes to deciding who goes to the Big 12 Championship.
- Preseason MVP: OG Cooper Beebe – Beebe is the leader up front for a talented Wildcats offensive line, and the All-American is expected to be a high draft pick next year.
- Breakout Watch: WR Keagan Johnson – Johnson transferred in this offseason from Iowa after suffering in an anemic Hawkeyes offense, but he’s averaged 18.2 yards per catch during his two years there and will step into a premium role here with a quarterback in Howard that is entirely pass focused.
3 – Kansas Jayhawks (2022 Record: 6-7) (2023 Projection: 9-3)
- Biggest Question: Is a Jalon Daniels national breakout imminent? Kansas finished 6-7 last year but ask any Jayhawk fan and they’ll tell you it was a successful season. Coming into 2023 though, the expectations are going to be aimed even higher as the team returns a lot of talent from last years squad, none more notable that quarterback Jalon Daniels. The dual threat quarterback dealt with a few injuries and missed a few games, but came back and put on a incredible display in a Liberty Bowl loss to Arkansas that saw him throw for 544 yards and score 6 combined touchdowns, including 2 in the final two minutes to force overtime. I expect him to elevate this team to the top of the conference in 2023 and make a name nationally for himself in the process.
- Biggest Game: Kansas State (November 18th) – Like I mentioned earlier, this rivalry game could have a big impact on how the conference shakes out.
- Preseason MVP: QB Jalon Daniels – Daniels accounted for 2,439 total yards last year as well as 25 total touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, passing to an efficient 66.1% mark. I’m banking on him staying healthy in 2023 and he’s my long shot Heisman pick because of his ability both as a passer and his elite playmaking ability with his legs. Everyone should be excited to watch Daniels play football this fall.
- Breakout Watch: WR Quentin Skinner – The 6’5″ receiver had 26 catches for 440 yards (16.9 YPC) and 5 touchdowns in 2022, and I think his size makes him an interesting talent in this offense. Expect more touches for the massive pass catcher this fall.
4 – Oklahoma Sooners (2022 Record: 6-7) (2023 Projection: 9-3)
- Biggest Question: Are the Sooners poised for a big bounce back after an uncharacteristic down year? Oklahoma is hot off one of the worst seasons for the program in my lifetime. They finished the season 6-7 and got stomped out by arch rival Texas, 49-0. I don’t expect a similar result to their 2023 season. The Sooners added plenty of talent in the offseason and Brent Venables got the year one learning curve out of the way. I don’t think they’ll win the conference, but they should be improved across the board. Much of their outlook though comes down to whether Dillon Gabriel can stay healthy. If he does, double digit wins are certainly on the table for the Sooners.
- Biggest Game: Texas (October 7th – Dallas) – The obvious pick here, the Sooners need to provide payback after the embarrassment that was handed to them by Texas during last years meeting.
- Preseason MVP: QB Dillon Gabriel – Gabriel dealt with injury issues in 2022 but still put up 3,163 yards and 25 touchdowns. He’s arguably the best quarterback in the conference and if he stays healthy, should have the Oklahoma offense firing amongst the top of the sport.
- Breakout Watch: WR Andrel Anthony – The Michigan transfer is a speedy pass catcher that was highly coveted in this off-seasons portal cycle, and should step into an immediate role for a Sooners offense in need of playmakers at the skill positions.
5 – UCF Knights (2022 Record: 9-5) (2023 Projection: 7-5)
- Biggest Question: Should UCF be considered the favorite amongst the newbies? This season will see four newcomers to the Big 12: UCF, Houston, BYU, and Cincinnati. The expectations amongst this group are probably all fairly similar (make a bowl game, win the games you should, etc.) but which school will fair the best? I think it’s UCF, who comes in with the best coach of the bunch (Gus Malzahn) and a well rounded roster led by veteran quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. They have plenty of tough road games, though, which could hinder the end result if things trend bad early.
- Biggest Game: @ Boise State (September 9th) – Surprisingly not a Big 12 game, but an early season trip to the blue turf against a Boise team that seems poised to rebound to the top of the group of five will be a tall task for this Knights team. A win would be a huge boost as they head into a difficult conference schedule.
- Preseason MVP: LB Jason Johnson – The star defensive player for the Knights, Johnson had 126 tackles last season to lead the team and earned first team all-AAC honors.
- Breakout Watch: RB R.J. Harvey – Harvey was the backup behind Isaiah Bowser last season but still averaged 6.7 yards per carry and 796 yards rushing. He’ll get lead back duties this year and in Gus Malzahns offense he should at least see close to 1,000 yards.
6 – Oklahoma State Cowboys (2022 Record: 7-6) (2023 Projection: 7-5)
- Biggest Question: How will the 2023 season shape out with so much uncertainty at quarterback? Long time starting quarterback Spencer Sanders left to Ole Miss this offseason leaving an opening at quarterback and plenty of uncertainty. Both Garret Rangel and Gunner Gunny were unimpressive in limited time last season, and projected starter Alan Bowman was showed flashes a few years back at Texas Tech but has been a backup at Michigan ever since. Gundy has created success at the flagship position ever since he took over, and there is limited doubt that he can do it again, but the uncertainty that looms understandably causes worry. The good news is that the Cowboys schedule in September isn’t particularly heavy, and whomever ends up starting should get plenty of runway to build confidence before tougher opponents arrive in October.
- Biggest Game: Oklahoma (November 4th) – With Bedlam set to end, at least as an every year matchup, Cowboy fans will want this win more than anything else this year so they can hold it over their in-state counterparts for years to come.
- Preseason MVP: EDGE Collin Oliver – The young pass rusher has totaled 16.5 sacks through his first two seasons for the Cowboys and will step into an even more expanded role in 2023. Keep a close eye on Oliver because he’s gonna eventually make himself a truck load of money come Draft time.
- Breakout Watch: RB Ollie Gordon – As much as everyone thinks about Oklahoma State and the passing attack, the Cowboys have always had pretty good running backs during the Gundy era. Ollie Gordon is next up after posting 308 rushing yards and a 5.0 yards per carry average during his true freshman season.
7 – TCU Horned Frogs (2022 Record: 13-2) (2023 Projection: 7-5)
- Biggest Question: Can Chandler Morris be the guy moving forward? TCU had a dream season in 2022, making it all the way to the National Championship game before, well, on-field murder. After all that, though, TCU enters 2023 with an overhauled roster after mass departures to the NFL from its core of main contributors. Chandler Morris will step into the starting role, and many fans may forget but he was originally the starting quarterback last season before a game one injury led to Max Duggan breaking out. We haven’t seen a ton of Morris to date, but Sonny Dykes decision to start him last season feels like a good omen for things to come, but he unfortunately will not have the same arsenal on weapons that Duggan was blessed with last season.
- Biggest Game: Texas (November 11th) – Before in-state rival Texas departs for the SEC, the Horned Frogs will get another crack at them in Fort Worth. A chance to ruin a potential Longhorns playoff birth would be beautiful feeling for the fanbase.
- Preseason MVP: CB Josh Newton – One of the best returning players for TCU is cornerback Josh Newton, who grabbed 3 interceptions in 2022 and also broke up 12 passes for this defense. TCU has a history, especially recently, of putting defensive backs into the league and Newton should certainly be next up.
- Breakout Watch: RB Trey Sanders – The former number one running back recruit transferred to TCU this offseason from Alabama, and while he never got things going over there do to injuries and falling down the depth chart, he should get a good shot at significant playing time in an offense that saw plenty of rushing success last year.
8 – Baylor Bears (2022 Record: 6-7) (2023 Projection: 6-6)
- Biggest Question: Can the Bears improve off an average 2022 season? Baylor had an extremely underwhelming 2022 season in which they went 6-7 and capped the year with a bowl loss to Air Force. Expectations should be higher on Dave Aranda and the Bears in 2023, but I’m not sure how realistic that is given the circumstances. Quarterback Blake Shapen is solid, but not the standout performer that many anticipated. Combine that with an overall tough conference with more talented rosters and a difficult matchup with Utah on the non-conference slate, I’m projecting 6-6. If Shapen can improve his game and elevate his skill position weapons, though, the Bears could certainly see a rise to 7 or 8 wins with what should be a solid defense.
- Biggest Game: @ TCU (November 18th) – A late season matchup with rival TCU won’t be easy, but this matchup is often pretty entertaining, including the Horned Frogs buzzer beater field goal last season. The Bears will certainly want some payback.
- Preseason MVP: DE Gabe Hall – The pass rusher had 4.5 sacks last season for the Bears as well as 36 tackles, and will be a featured player on a solid Bears defense that continues to produce NFL players.
- Breakout Watch: WR Ketron Jackson – The Arkansas transfer has made splashes in limited time with the Hogs, and will likely be a featured player with the Bears this season. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception in his time with Arkansas.
9 – Texas Tech Red Raiders (2022 Record: 8-5) (2023 Projection: 6-6)
- Biggest Question: Is Joey McGuire the longterm answer at head coach? Joey McGuire was hired as head coach last offseason and quickly turned Texas Tech into an 8 win program. The Texas High School coaching legend has also, unsurprisingly, been making strides for the Red Raiders in the recruiting game. I think Texas Tech will take a small step back this season, but McGuire seems like the perfect fit for a program that is traditionally disadvantaged by being based out of west Texas. Will the Red Raiders ever be a National contender? Likely not, but the same success from the Mike Leach years are certainly possible in the new look Big 12 coming next year.
- Biggest Game: Oregon (September 9th) – Texas Tech will have a big opportunity to make a statement early in the season when a tough Oregon Ducks squad wonders into Lubbock.
- Preseason MVP: DL Tony Bradford – The Red Raiders lose a massive star in Tyree Wilson but they retain several talented defensive lineman, including interior threat Bradford. He had 5.5 sacks last season and will continue to be a force for an underrated Texas Tech defensive front.
- Breakout Watch: RB Tahj Brooks – Brooks had a mini-breakout campaign in 2022 with 691 yards and 7 touchdowns, but he’ll see an expanded role as the main running back for this offense.
10 – West Virginia Mountaineers (2022 Record: 5-7) (2023 Projection: 5-7)
- Biggest Question: Can Neal Brown save his job? Arguably no head coach in the country has a hotter seat than Neal Brown. He’s 22-25 in his time at Morgantown and fans are frustrated. On paper, I think this team is moderately talented and should go bowling, but when you dig into the schedule it just doesn’t seem favorable. Two of the three non-conference opponents are Penn State and Pittsburgh, both of which are projected to be better teams. They avoid both Texas and the Kansas teams, my projected top 3 in the conference, but the margin of error against competition thats pretty equal or slightly better will be slim for Brown and his team, and it feels like he could even be out after the Pitt game if they start 1-2.
- Biggest Game: Pittsburgh (September 16th) – The Backyard Brawl will be critical in determining if Brown is retained or fired. A loss here likely puts them at 1-2 with an uphill climb to bowl eligibility, a win could signify a shift for the better in the program and prove sticking it out to be the correct move.
- Preseason MVP: OC Zach Frazier – The All-American is one of the best centers in college football and is a vital leader for this young offense.
- Breakout Watch: RB C.J. Donaldson – Donaldson saw plenty of action last season in a running back room that shared the load, but his performance stood out amongst the group and should lead to the dominate role this season. He scored 8 touchdowns with 526 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry and looked every bit like one of the next big rushers in the sport.
11 – BYU Cougars (2022 Record: 8-5) (2023 Projection: 5-7)
- Biggest Question: How will the Cougs fair playing a conference schedule again? BYU has been independent since 2011and it’s benefitted them in some ways by allowing them to craft their own schedules. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if BYU was scheduling an FCS slate. They went 5-0 against PAC-12 competition a few years back, but now the stakes are higher and control is out of their hands. The program is in good hands with Kalani Sitake at head coach, but I’m expecting a tough first season of Big 12 play. Just within the road slate for the Cougars will be Arkansas (OOC), Kansas, TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma State and new quarterback Kedon Slovis is coming off a rough season with Pittsburgh. In the long run, BYU could certainly compete for Big 12 Titles down the line but in year one, I see some rough stretches that will roadblock them from immediate success.
- Biggest Game: Cincinnati (September 29) – Immediately off road trips to Arkansas and Kansas the previous two weeks, the Cougars will host the Bearcats on Friday night in what may be a pivotal game in determining BYU bowl eligibility down the line.
- Preseason MVP: RB Aidan Robbins – The big runner transfered in from UNLV this offseason hot off a 1,011 yard and 9 touchdown season for the Rebels. He fits what BYU likes in running backs and will get plenty of carries in this offense.
- Breakout Watch: WR Chase Roberts – The Cougars will be looking for someone to step up in the receiving game after Puka Nacua left for the NFL, and Roberts brings plenty of size with a 6’4″ frame. In limited action last season, he averaged 16.2 yards per catch.
12 – Cincinnati Bearcats (2022 Record: 9-4) (2023 Projection: 5-7)
- Biggest Question: Was hiring Scott Satterfield the right move? Time will tell if this move ends up being good, but considering Louisville fans were celebrating his departure, I’m not getting great vibes. Replacing Luke Fickell was always going to be an impossible task, but it always felt like the Bearcats could have swung a little bit higher. It may ultimately work out in the long run, but year one will likely be a down year because the roster just isn’t close to the level it was during the playoff run in 2021.
- Biggest Game: Oklahoma (September 23rd) – The Sooners come to Ohio early in the season for the Bearcats first taste of Big 12 action, and it’ll be a good marker for where this program is at during its transition.
- Preseason MVP: DL Jowon Briggs – The one area of this team that isn’t lacking is up front on defense, where Briggs and running mate Don Corleone will be a nasty combo for the defense. Briggs logged 3 sacks for the Bearcats defense last year and added 60 tackles. Expect another big year for the stud pass rusher.
- Breakout Watch: DL Eric Phillips – Oh yeah, another pass rusher. Phillips had 3 sacks for Cincinnati last season and 38 tackles. He’s overshadowed a bit by his fellow line mates but he should see increased production in his sophomore season with focus heavily on Briggs and Corleone.
13 – Houston Cougars (2022 Record: 8-5) (2023 Projection: 5-7)
- Biggest Question: What’s the long term outlook of the program? One of the biggest reasons that Houston brought in Dana Holgorsen was to get the program into the Power 5, and that mission has ben accomplished. It unfortunately comes at the same time that the Cougars are dealing with an overhauled roster with the departures of several key contributors like Clayton Tune and Tank Dell as well as 8 of the 10 leading tacklers. Houston also entered last season as a favorite to get a New Years Six bid but fell quite short of those expectations. I think it’ll be a tough year for Houston fans, and if they miss a bowl game then the seat is going to be hot for Holgorsen and a change may e viewed as the best outcome for the future of the program.
- Biggest Game: UTSA (September 2nd – Season Opener) – Houston opens the season with a tough test in new AAC member UTSA. A win could prove fruitful for the Cougars odds at bowling as they’d likely be 3-0 post non-conference (Rice & Sam Houston).
- Preseason MVP: OT Patrick Paul – With so few returning standouts, Paul is the easy choice here after a stellar 2022 campaign that saw him become a first team All-AAC player.
- Breakout Watch: WR Matthew Golden – With Tank Dell off to the NFL, the Cougars will need a new wide receiver to become a reliable target and Golden should provide that. He posted 38 catches for 584 yards (15.4) and 7 touchdowns last season, and should see a significant increase in production as the number one target in this pass happy offense.
14 – Iowa State Cyclones (2022 Record: 4-8) (2023 Projection: 4-8)
- Biggest Question: Is Matt Campbell about to be on the hot seat? This is certainly not a question that was expected as recently as last year at this time, but a terrible 2022 season and an offseason filled with gambling turmoil within the roster might have the seat heat turning up a bit. Couple that with the fact that, on the surface, 2023 doesn’t look to be much better after both the starting quarterback (Hunter Dekkers) and running back (Jirehl Brock) got caught up in wagering charges and their status is up in the air. I’m not sure Campbell will be dismissed with another down year, he’s certainly earned a ton of runway, but the seat will be hot next offseason.
- Biggest Game: Iowa (September 9th) – El Assico as it’s affectionately called on CFB Twitter will be interesting yet again after both programs got caught up in gambling issues amongst players. Campbell could do himself a ton of service by winning back to back games against the in-state rival.
- Preseason MVP: DB T.J. Tampa – Tampa started all 12 games for the Cyclones last season and registered 10 passes defended on his way to second team All_Big 12 honors.
- Breakout Watch: QB J.J. Kohl – With Dekkers status up in the air as I write this, I’m picking Kohl who was a four star recruit last offseason for the Cyclones. He’s a massive player for the position (6’7″) and has a cannon arm, and the upside for this offense may be higher with him than Dekkers anyway.