Coming out of last spring, Oklahoma was expected to march to its seventh consecutive Big 12 title and potentially challenge for the national championship with the best team in Lincoln Riley’s tenure.
A lot has changed in a year. The Sooners were dethroned by Baylor, Riley is now at Southern California and the race for this year’s conference title is completely up in the air.
Oklahoma is hoping to rebound with former assistant Brent Venables now in charge of the program. Texas is looking to improve after Steve Sarkisian’s first season ended with a losing record. Oklahoma State wants to go one step further after narrowly losing in the league’s championship game but lost several important pieces.
Beyond the big three, Iowa State has concerns after a disappointing season. Baylor will fight to keep its spot at the top of the league. West Virginia and Kansas State aim to build on last year’s bowl appearances. TCU and Texas Tech welcome new coaches and Kansas seeks to get out of the conference basement.
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1. Oklahoma (2021 record: 11-2)
Applying conventional wisdom, there would be an expectation that the Sooners would take a step back after losing their coach and several players to the transfer portal, including quarterback Caleb Williams. Venables, however, is bringing a fresh approach, especially on defense, that has been embraced by the holdovers. Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel steps in behind center with former Ole Miss coordinator Jeff Lebby leading the offense. Venables, who was the architect of Clemson’s title-winning defenses, knows how to get that until performing. This is still the team to beat, though the race won’t be easy.
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2. Oklahoma State (12-2)
The Cowboys are in great shape if experience at quarterback can guarantee a successful season. Spencer Sanders is back for his fourth year as the team’s starter. Brennan Presley should emerge as his top target. The offense does need someone to step forward at running back. The biggest concerns, however, are on defense with coordinator Jim Knowles off to Ohio State and Derek Mason replacing him. The core of last year’s outstanding unit is gone and there will be growing pains.
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3. Baylor (12-2)
The recipe that was so successful last season should again be employed by Dave Aranda. The Bears will run the ball, get opportunistic passing when needed and use their defense to stifle opponents. Senior quarterback Gerry Bohanon likely will determine this team’s ceiling. If he can be more efficient that will take some pressure off the defense that lost several outstanding players but should again be solid.
4. Kansas State (8-5)
The arrival of Nebraska transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez paired with standout running back Deuce Vaughn gives the Wildcats some needed punch that was lacking at times last season. Martinez, however, isn’t the only new arrival. Kansas State went to the transfer portal to fill several holes on defense that will try to maintain the unit’s high standard. Another top half of the league finish seems likely.
5. Texas (5-7)
To call Sarkisian’s debut a disaster might be disrespectful to disasters. The Longhorns lost six games in a row in the middle of the season, including an epic meltdown against Oklahoma and missed out on a bowl game for the third time in seven seasons. Quinn Ewers is being heralded as the savior, but the freshman quarterback still is a work in progress and asking him to carry the load is unrealistic. The bigger fixes are needed on the offensive line and defense. Until those are resolved, it’s hard to consider Texas among the contenders.
6. West Virginia (6-7)
Neal Brown will be expected to produce in his fourth season. The arrival of Georgia transfer JT Daniels should bring stability to the quarterback position that was lacking in the past couple of seasons. Lyn-J Dixon from Clemson may solve a vacancy at running back. Dante Stills anchors a defensive line that should be one of the best in the conference. If the secondary gets sorted out, this could be a sneaky dark horse contender.
7. Iowa State (7-6)
The Cyclones were in the preseason top 10 last year but a magical season never materialized and now most of the key elements of that group have moved on. Matt Campbell’s name was tossed around for some high-profile jobs, but he ultimately stayed and now is tasked with a significant rebuild. Wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson and defensive lineman Will McDonald are two of the best players at their position in the conference. Success likely will hinge on how well Hunter Dekkers adjusts at quarterback as the successor to Brock Purdy.
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8. TCU (5-7)
There’s a new look in Fort Worth with Gary Patterson’s departure after more than 20 years on the sideline. Sonny Dykes moves across the Metroplex from SMU with his high-powered offense that should provide a needed refresh on that side of the ball. A battle between Max Duggan and Chandler Morris is ongoing at quarterback. The defense – Patterson’s specialty – slumped badly and needs improvements. This might be the most exciting team in the conference with some prolific shootouts expected.
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9. Texas Tech (7-6)
This might be a bit harsh for the Red Raiders given they were just one of five teams to finish with a winning record last season. There’s an opportunity to rise up this list quickly as new coach Joey McGuire has brought excitement to the program. Tyler Shough and Donovan Smith will be competing for the quarterback job, giving the team two solid options. As has been the case in recent years, how well Tech performs will be dictated by its defense. New coordinator Tim DeRuyter is tasked with bringing that group up to speed.
10. Kansas (2-10)
Given that Lance Leipold arrived without the benefit of running spring practices, the Jayhawks performed admirably in his first season and there is hope that finally a foundation is being built to move the program forward. A dramatic win at Texas and near loss to Oklahoma showed that improvement is coming sooner than expected. Jalon Daniels led an offensive resurgence after taking over at quarterback last season. He needs to build on that momentum this fall. Leipold aggressively courted transfers and brought in several newcomers on defense that can have an instant impact.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Big 12 spring football power rankings: Oklahoma, OSU, Baylor are top 3