Big 12 Preview: Can Oklahoma regain top spot in balanced league?

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Has Oklahoma been Clemson‘d? 

Clemson is who Oklahoma should have been for the past decade. While the Sooners have merely shown CFP promise, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have actually beaten the best teams the SEC has to offer and won national championships.

Adding insult to injury, Clemson managed to win two national titles with a defensive coordinator who’d spent the previous 13 years coaching at Oklahoma. Now that defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, is back in Norman as head coach, and he has brought all that he has learned from Swinney’s program with him. 

After the very public and, at times, messy break up between Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma, Venables is using advantages and resources to fill out his program in his image, recruiting at a high level and pushing toward returning OU to the top of the conference and potentially winning its first national title since 2000 — or so I think. 

We’ll know for sure in three months’ time. 

Top Big 12 Storylines

RJ Young breaks down how the Oklahoma Sooners will look like the Clemson Tigers under Brent Venables and ranks his other top Big 12 storylines.

You can watch the “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young” on YouTube or subscribe on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.

Here are the other top storylines in the Big 12.

Can Baylor and Oklahoma State do it again? 

They shocked us all last season, not by making the Big 12 Conference Championship, but by boxing Oklahoma out. The Bears and Cowboys managed to knock off the Sooners for the first time since 2014 — a year in which the Sooners finished 8-5 — and did so with outstanding defenses. 

What remains to be seen is whether this is a momentary blip for the Sooners, like the 2014 season, or an honest-to-goodness changing of the guard inside a changing Big 12. The Bears and Pokes, respectively, return quarterbacks who won the Big 12 title (Blake Shapen) and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl (Spencer Sanders). 

The defending Big 12 champion Bears also have the luxury of returning both coordinators while OSU coach Mike Gundy hired Derek Mason to lead his defense after Jim Knowles accepted the defensive coordinator job at Ohio State

Gundy has proven he can build winners at OSU, and Dave Aranda has shown he can turn around a program in a short amount of time — going from two wins to 12 in one year. I don’t think both will end up in the Big 12 title game this year, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if they do. 

Who brings up the rear? 

I don’t think it’s gonna be Kansas. In fact, I think the Jayhawks are gonna be a problem for the Big 12 in 2022.

We saw what Lance Leipold’s program was capable of when KU traveled to Austin and got its first win against the Longhorns on the Forty Acres — ever. It was the Jayhawks’ first Big 12 road win since 2008. And that was only Year 1. 

Predicting Big 12 win totals

RJ Young predicts which Big 12 teams will exceed their preseason win totals, according to FOX Bet, and which teams will fall short.

Since that win, the Jayhawks have added 14 players out of the transfer portal, including former Ohio State linebacker Craig Young, Minnesota running back Ky Thomas and one of the best prep running backs out of Oklahoma in recent memory in Nebraska transfer Sevion Morrison

The measuring stick for the Jayhawks is to win three conference games. But they look and sound like a team that will go bowling in four months’ time. 

I cannot recall the last time I felt the Big 12 was this tight from top to bottom. 

Who is the best QB in the league? 

Perhaps it’s enough to simply acknowledge that OU — with two Heisman winners at QB over the past five years — will have competition on that front, and that hasn’t been true for some time. 

Normally, I’d take whoever OU fields as the starting quarterback against the field to answer this question. But this is the first time since 2015 that Riley hasn’t been the person picking and developing the QB at Oklahoma. 

None of this is say that OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and quarterback Dillon Gabriel can’t form up like Voltron to be a dynamic duo. It is to say — in my most Monique voice — I would like to see it. 

To name three more tandems I think could prove to be the class of the Big 12, there are also the pairings of Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and Quinn Ewers, Shapen and Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and Sanders and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn. 

Is Texas finally back, or is Texas just Ferrari? 

In Formula 1, no race team has more fans across this nervous little planet of ours than Ferrari. For nearly a century, the Scuderia has been synonymous with the sport, but it’s been more than a decade since Ferrari won a world championship. 

Which Big 12 team can compete for for the title?

RJ Young explains why only one team out of Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor will realistically compete for the College Football Playoff. RJ also predicts which team will win the Big 12 title game.

Similarly, it’s been more than a decade since Texas last played in a national title game. And, like Ferrari, that decade has been filled with average and abysmal seasons. 

The Longhorns are one of the richest programs in the sport and do not lack any number of quality players who want to wear the burnt orange. It’s simply a matter of putting those pieces together in a manner that leads to winning championships. 

With Sarkisian headed into Year 2 after a humbling Year 1, the Longhorns have a chance to reach their potential yet again, beginning with their Sept. 10 showdown against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.

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