Oklahoma football: What does Big 12 football hierarchy look like for 2023?

Sep 10, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; General view of the field during the game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Kent State Golden Flashes at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; General view of the field during the game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Kent State Golden Flashes at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The best remedy for despondent Oklahoma football fans after suffering through the roller-coaster debut season of new head coach Brent Venables is to look ahead to brighter days ahead.

The first thing that non-fans of Oklahoma football need to understand is that anything short of playing for and winning a Big 12 championship is considered a failed season. In their first year under Venables, the Sooners not only failed to play for a 15th Big 12 title but finished with a record of six up and six down, the most losses by an OU football team since 1998.

In reality there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the 2021 Sooner team in Lincoln Riley’s final season and Venables’ 2022 team, save for the four-game difference in the final regular-season record. Oklahoma ended the regular season a year ago with a 10-2 record after going 9-0 through the first nine games. This season, OU slipped to a very disappointing 6-6, leaving many Sooner fans frustrated and wondering if Venables is the right man for the job.

Berry Tramel, sports columnist for The Oklahoman had a perfect description of the situation Venables and the Oklahoma football program finds itself in this way:

"“They’re (Oklahoma football) not as bad as they seem to be this season. They were not as good as they seemed to be last season.”"

The Sooners are not playing in the Big 12 Championship game for just the second time in the last eight seasons. OU still has another game to play this season in a still-to-determined postseason bowl, but given the roller-coaster ride taken by the Oklahoma football team this fall, it’s not too early to take a gaze into the old crystal ball on what could happen next season when the Big 12 expands from 10 teams to 14.

Four new teams — BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — are scheduled to join the Big 12 next season. That will certainly change the dynamic as well as the championship race around the conference next year.

We’re not really sure at this stage how the scheduling or structure is going to work out, especially given the short time frame Oklahoma and Texas will be part of the conference alignment.

Here’s a fun way-way-too-early look at how I think the newly expanded Big 12 could look at this time a year from now and a brief reason why:

1. Texas Longhorns

Head coach Steve Sarkisian is building something real at Texas. He’ll have some key positions to replace but plenty of talent to choose from. No 1 quarterback recruit Arch Manning will join the Longhorns as backup to an outstanding starter in Quinn Evers.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners had a rough 2022 season. Some people may laugh at this projection, but Dillon Gabriel should be back, and next season he will have a couple of solid backups in the QB room to help groom. The reality is, OU was two or three plays away from what could have been an eight- or nine-win season. The coaching staff and returning players will have had one full year in the system. The Sooners will have a top-rated recruiting class coming in, and if several key skill-position players elect to come back, Oklahoma will be in a strong position to win those close games next season.

3. TCU Horned Frogs

Whether or not quarterback Max Duggan returns at quarterback, TCU is set at the position with Chandler Morris, who started the season in 2022 ready to step in. The Horned Frogs should have a lot of their offensive firepower back in 2023. As reigning conference champs they will, of course, get everybody’s best shot.

4. Baylor Bears

Like OU, Baylor had an up-and-down 2022 season, but quarterback Blake Shapen is back and the Bears have a highly talented running back in Richard Reese returning. And you know head coach Dave Aranda will have one of the conference’s top defensive teams.

5. Cincinnati Bearcats

The Bearcats are losing their head coach. That adjustment, plus the move to the Big 12, will be a challenge, but I believe there is enough returning talent on the Cincinnati roster and enough of a winning tradition the past five years to enable the Bearcats to hold their own in the Big 12.

6. Kansas Jayhawks

Head coach Lance Leipold has the Jayhawk program headed in the right direction. The Jayhawks have a relatively young team and a lot of talent at the skill positions. The Jayhawks’ six-win regular season was their best in over a decade. Look for them to make further advances next season

7. Kansas State Wildcats

K-State is set at quarterback next season with Will Howard. The Wildcats have some key personnel returning in 2023, and it could get even better if some of their senior starters like WR Malik Knowles and RB Deuce Vaughn were to decide to play a fifth season.

8. BYU Cougars

BYU finished the 2022 regular season with a 7-5 record as an independent. The Cougars always seem to be competitive wherever and whomever they play. They will be a solid addition to the Big 12 next season, but probably are no better than a middle of the pack team in the 2023 Big 12 season. The Cougars did beat Baylor last season in Provo, Utah, but Baylor was just 4-5 in the Big 12 this season.

9. UCF Knights

UCF strength continues to be its offense, but the past two seasons the Knights have complemented the offense with a sound defensive presence, which is a big reason UCF won four of its last five 2022 regular-season games by a touchdown or less. The Knights will find the going a little toucher in a nine-game Big 12 schedule.

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys

This is not so much a bash on Oklahoma State as a reflection of the fact that OSU is probably going to be breaking in a new starting quarterback next season. Spencer Sanders, who has been the starting quarterback for the past three seasons, may elect to leave, but even if he doesn’t, I believe Mike Gundy is going to have some rebuidlng to do, especially after the way the Cowboys ended this season.

11. Texas Tech Red Raiders

The Red Raiders improved from a tie for seventh place last season to fourth place in the Big 12 standings in 2022. With a complementary running game, their offense is as explosive as any team in the conference, and the last couple of years the defense has been playing better. The problem is, there are too many teams in the Big 12 that are better and more talented than the Red Raiders.

12: West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia has some good players returning at the skill positions, and dual-threat QB Garrett Greene looked in the last few games of the season like he is ready to be the starter next season. The Mountaineers were in several games in the fourth quarter that they ended up losing this season, but like Oklahoma, couldn’t get the big play when they needed it change the outcome. West Virginia won’t make a huge leap next season, but it won’t finish last or next to last.

13. Houston Cougars

Houston is losing Clayton Tune, its multi-year starter at quarterback. That will be a big transition for the Cougars, as will the jump to the Power Five Big 12. The Cougars could turn out to be a big surprise, but I don’t see them getting better than their 7-5 record this regular season.

14. Iowa State Cyclones

Head coach Matt Campbell had the best defensive unit in the Big 12 this season, but the offense was too inconsistent and ineffective. I don’t see a lot changing on offense next season, and the defense is likely to take a step or two back. That doesn’t add up in a good way for the Cyclones to do much better than the 4-8 finish they had this season.


A lot is likely to transpire over the next 30-45 days that could change all of this (the transfer portal opens on Dec. 5 and Dec. 21 is the first day recruits can sign letters of intent), but this represents an early projection of what things could look like 12 months from now in the Big 12 next football race.