This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.
2023 Spring Practice Preview: Big 12 Preview and Storylines
The Big 12 has a new look in 2023 with the additions of BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. It's also the last season for Oklahoma and Texas before they make their controversial jump over to the SEC. With 14 competitive teams and more potential shake-ups coming in future years, there will be no divisions and the best conference win percentage will decide who plays in the conference championship game in early December at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Considering the new teams in the conference and the transfer portal which allows each and every team to re-tool after losing key players to graduation or the NFL Draft, it's going to be an exciting year for the Big 12 which now spans across the entire nation.
To catch up on the spring practice action elsewhere, check out our other spring practice previews from the Sun Belt, SEC, ACC, AAC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Conference USA.
Baylor Spring Storyline
Another Year with Questions at Quarterback
With Dave Aranda being a defensive-minded coach, it seems like we have a quarterback battle each and every spring on the Baylor campus. Last year, Blake Shapen edged out Gerry Bohanon who then transferred to South Florida. Shapen was okay during the 2022 season with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but certainly nothing special. That's why Sawyer Robertson has transferred from Mississippi State to try to take the job after appearing in just five games in Starkville in a reserve role. Following a set of 15 spring practices, the two quarterbacks will have the opportunity to showcase what they can do at the annual Green & Gold game on Saturday, April 22nd.
BYU Spring Storyline
Intriguing Offense Against Stiffer Competition
The Cougars landed a huge quarterback transfer for their inaugural season in the Big 12 as Kedon Slovis comes over from Pittsburgh. It's very possible he could return to the huge offensive numbers he put up at USC with the kind of talent he has around him. BYU also added UNLV running back Aidan Robbins, who was quietly one of the best in the Mountain West last season with 1,011 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 209 carries (4.8 yards per carry) to go along with 23 catches for 125 yards and another score. Best of all, Slovis will have three legitimate threats at receiver with Chase Roberts, Kody Epps and Keanu Hill. That's not even mentioning Isaac Rex who is an intriguing NFL prospect at tight end. Expect big things for the BYU offense in 2023 which will be needed as the defense wasn't any good last year.
Cincinnati Spring Storyline
Three-man QB Race
All eyes are on the three-man quarterback race for the Bearcats with new coach Scott Satterfield who has always managed a better-than-average offensive scheme. He's going to have a tough time picking with Ben Bryant, Evan Prater and Arizona State transfer Emory Jones. Each candidate brings a little something different to the table. Quite frankly, Bryant has not done anything to lose the current starting job while racking up 35 touchdowns versus just 14 interceptions over the last two years; however, he is more of a pure pocket passer. Meanwhile, Prater is a highly-touted dual-threat quarterback with limited experience and Jones has shown plenty of successful tape at both Florida and Arizona State with 33 passing touchdowns and 14 rushing scores across 45 career games. Jones is likely the favorite to start due to his experience, but it could get really interesting leading up to the fall.
Houston Cougars Spring Storyline
Revenge Tour in Many Ways
There are so many revengeful storylines with Houston in the Big 12 as they will play against a handful of their former Southwest Conference (SWC) mates (Baylor, Texas, TCU & Texas Tech) and HC Dana Holgorsen was at West Virginia for many years. Moreover, they welcome in Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith at quarterback to replace Clayton Tune. They also lost their top receiver in Nathaniel Dell; however, they have Matthew Golden who is primed for a big season after converting 38 of 59 targets for 584 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman campaign. He was particularly lethal down the stretch with at least one touchdown in four of his last five games. It's definitely a rebuild year for the Cougars, but it will be interesting to see them play in a major college football conference.
Iowa State Spring Storyline
Reset of the Offense in Ames, IA
Over the last two years, Iowa State has watched running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson depart for the NFL, two of the most productive players to ever suit it up for the Cylcones. It can be extremely difficult to move on from those types of talent at a school which prides itself in developing less-heralded prospects. Nonetheless, HC Matt Campbell is going to attempt to do his best coaching job with returning quarterback Hunter Dekkers. He'll have an experienced backfield with Jirehl Brock and Cartevious Norton, but will have to replace Hutchinson's 107 catches for 1,1171 yards and six touchdowns on an astounding 163 targets. Jaylin Noel showed that he's capable of stepping up as he had 17 catches on 24 targets in Iowa State's final three games of the 2022 season.
Kansas Spring Storyline
Roll it Back with the Offensive Stars
Time to see what Kansas can do with expectations as they shocked the world with a 6-7 record last year and were one of college football's darlings despite having no expectations at all after a 2-10 record in 2021. If superstar quarterback Jalon Daniels did not get hurt early in conference play against TCU, it could have been an even better year in Lawrence. He missed four games with a shoulder injury and the Jayhawks were still as pesky as ever. Daniels returns as arguably the best signal caller in the conference and Devin Neal is also one of the best running backs in the Big 12, so it will be interesting to see what they do with a little pressure from their fan base.
Kansas State Spring Storyline
Big RB Transfer to Fill a Key Need
It's hard to believe that Kansas State is the team looking to defend their Big 12 Championship since it was TCU who went to play in the College Football Playoff and National Championship Game. A lot of the Wildcats' success can be attributed to quarterback Will Howard who played inspired football down the stretch and running back Deuce Vaughn who was one of the best in the nation when toting the rock. Vaughn is headed to the NFL, but Kansas State gets a huge boost from the transfer portal via Treshaun Ward who comes over from Florida State. Ward and DJ Giddens should be able to combine to do a lot of the things Vaughn did last year. The Wildcats will need to lean on their running game after losing Malik Knowles and Kade Warner at the receiver position.
Oklahoma Spring Storyline
How Will the Big 12 Farewell Tour Go?
Second-Year Head Coach, Brent Venables, will look to improve upon a disappointing 6-7 record for the Sooners last year where they had all of the talent, but could not string together any significant wins. The defense has to get better under Venables' leadership and they should also benefit from the return of quarterback Dillon Gabriel who had 31 total touchdowns and just six interceptions. With Marvin Mims declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the number-one threat in a good passing offense. Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops will be the most familiar with the offense while Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony could also catch on as a popular target for Gabriel. If health or poor play becomes an issue for Gabriel at any point during the season, watch out for Jackson Arnold, a five-star true freshman who will undoubtedly get some chatter during the spring.
Oklahoma State Spring Storyline
A Shocking Change at Quarterback
After last year's underwhelming performance with a stacked roster, quarterback Spencer Sanders decided to make a shocking transfer to Ole Miss leaving the Cowboys with just Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy on the depth chart. That led to Oklahoma State bringing in graduate transfer Alan Bowman and freshman Zane Flores. Bowman is a familiar name as he had a successful season at Texas Tech before transferring to Michigan where he sat on the bench for two years. Bowman is likely the favorite for the job, but it's going to be really interesting to see who he's distributing the ball to as the team lost other playmakers in the transfer portal as well.
TCU Spring Storyline
New Offensive Coordinator
It's extremely hard to envision TCU making their way back to the College Football Playoff after losing quarterback Max Duggan, running back Kendre Miller and receiver Quentin Johnston. Those three players were the majority of the offense and the pivotal pieces that made their offense so explosive. To make matters worse, they also lost their offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, who took the same job at Clemson. Enter Kendal Briles, who takes over the OC job after extremely successful stints at Arkansas and Baylor. With great leadership from Sonny Dykes, Briles will be successful, but there's likely to be some transition time as they break in Chandler Morris at QB and find some new explosive playmakers at running back and receiver.
Texas Spring Storyline
Can the Longhorns Finally Put All the Pieces Together?
Despite losing all-world running back Bijan Robinson to the NFL Draft, the Longhorns are absolutely loaded and are likely to be the popular pick to win the conference this summer. The passing game should be one of the best in the nation with quarterback Quinn Ewers having four legitimate receivers in Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington, Isaiah Neyor and newly added Adonai Mitchell from Georgia via the transfer portal. If Ewers struggles at all, you have Arch Manning waiting from the bench to pounce on his collegiate opportunity to shine. Typically when it looks this good on paper, it never works out, but Texas has to figure it out at some point and why not in their final season as a member of the Big 12 Conference?
Texas Tech Spring Storyline
Lots of Experience Coming Back
The Red Raiders finished strong in 2022 under new HC Joey McGuire by winning their last four games including the Texas Bowl against Ole Miss. They return 10 starters, none more important than Tyler Shough who has a lot to prove if he can stay healthy enough to play an entire season. It looks like the Red Raiders are a mainstay as well as McGuire inked a top-25 recruiting class and will likely benefit from Texas and Oklahoma departing for the SEC. There's a lot to like with what Shough has surrounding him in 2023 with serious playmakers in RB Tahj Brooks, WR Xavier White, WR Myles Price and WR Jerand Bradley. The sky is the limit for this explosive offense.
Central Florida Spring Storyline
Wildcard in a New Conference
Of the conference's newcomers, UCF is one of the tougher ones to peg as they are coming off a pair of successful nine-win seasons in the American Conference. They have some continuity with quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, running back Isaiah Bowser and wide receiver Javon Baker. A concern is a completely new offensive coordinator in Darin Hinshaw from UAB, not exactly a school known for offensive fireworks. The team also had some noticeable turnover along the offensive line which could be worrisome when you consider some of the Big 12 defensive lines they will have to play each week. Nonetheless, Gus Malzahn is an experienced HC who has coached in a major college football conference before, so UCF should still be competitive in the new conference.
West Virginia Spring Storyline
New-Look Offense Will Likely Revolve Around the Run-Game
The performance of the West Virginia offense could go either way and spring practices will be key to watch as there are many new pieces involved. Not only has offensive coordinator Graham Harrell departed to Purdue, the team returns just 10 starters from a season ago. The initial strength on the offensive end appears to be with the running game as they return four offensive lineman who started to go along with the dynamic backfield of CJ Donaldson and Tony Mathis. The passing game is the opposite as they lost pretty much all of their production from the 2022 season. The Mountaineers welcome in Devin Carter (from NC State) and Ja'Shaun Poke (Kent State) to play alongside Cortez Braham and Jeremiah Aaron. Their quarterback is likely to be Garrett Greene who struggled through the air in nine game appearances while completing just 55.1 percent of his passes.