2023 NCAAF: Big 12 Conference Preview

August 30, 2023

This season may end up being bittersweet for the Big 12.

On one hand, it appears to have saved itself from extinction with the addition of four new teams in 2023, followed by three more programs in 2024. However, the loss of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC looms large both financially and from an on-the-field standpoint.

Programs such as Central Florida and Houston are nice, but don’t replace the historical significance that Oklahoma and Texas bring to the table when it comes to football. How this affects the standing of the Big 12 in the age of the expanded Playoff remains to be seen, but it’s not a coincidence that the conference feels a lot more like the AAC once the Longhorns and Sooners are gone.

Teams I Like

Kanas State

Four years ago, Kansas State’s hiring of Chris Klieman seemed like a big leap of faith for the program. Yes, Klieman was incredibly successful at FCS North Dakota State, winning the national title in four out of five years as head coach. But was that success, and Klieman’s offensive philosophy, going to translate to the Big 12?

Fast forward to the present, and the question has been answered with a resounding “yes”. Kleiman captured his first Big 12 title in 2022 and leads a team returning enough pieces to run in back in 2023. Not surprisingly, things will start up front with an offensive line that retains all five starters from last season, but there is also a stable of running backs capable of replacing Deuce Vaughn and a strong presence at quarterback in Will Howard. The schedule is favorable, with a trip to Austin seemingly the most difficult battle away from home.


Replacing nearly everyone from an offensive unit that ranked ninth in the country in total scoring, as well as the offensive coordinator that orchestrated it, doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. But the cupboard is far from bare in Fort Worth. Sonny Dykes replaced departed-OC Garrett Riley with a name familiar in Big 12 circles – Kendal Briles – who should maintain a lot of the production seen last year from the Horned Frogs.

On the field, quarterback Chandler Morris won’t exactly be wide-eyed replacing Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan. In fact, had Morris not gone down with an injury in the first game of last season, the name Max Duggan may not mean anything to the casual college football fan. The offense should be similarly potent in 2023 and TCU competing for the Big 12 title this season wouldn’t be a surprise at all.


The Jayhawks are probably a step or so below Big 12 title contender, but Lance Leipold’s team was just too much fun last season when it was healthy not to like coming into the 2023 campaign. Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki made the most of a dynamic quarterback (when available) and talented cast of skill position players, leading a unit that averaged 35.6 points per game and eclipsed the 40-point mark five times.

To truly be a championship contender, the defense will need to improve and a little luck will need to come in the way of injury avoidance. The second point is most important to a neutral observer, because Kansas will be an exciting product even if the defense doesn’t take a step forward as long as its offensive stars stay healthy.

Not High On


The Cougars have finally opted to join the ranks of a Power 5 conference for the first time in their illustrious history, but it may be tough sledding in year one as a Big 12 program. While it won’t be for lack of trying (BYU was active in the transfer portal over the offseason), question marks remain about the defense, which was uncharacteristically poor during the program’s last season as an Independent.

For Kalani Sitake’s team to compete against the Big 12’s best, the offense may have to bear an unproportional load. Time will tell if new quarterback arrival Kedon Slovis, something of a collegiate journeyman after reasonably successful stops at Southern Cal and Pittsburgh, provides a seamless transition. Things aren’t made any easier by the schedule, which sees BYU traveling to Kansas, Texas and TCU.

Players to Watch

AD Mitchell, Texas wide receiver

Texas is not short on talented offensive skill position player, particularly at wideout, but Georgia transfer AD Mitchell may quickly prove to be the most valuable. Already making waves during spring practice, described as ‘unguardable’, the 6’4” junior will serve as a second deep-threat option for Quinn Ewers along with Longhorns returnee Xavier Worthy.

Something else that Mitchell brings to the table – a championship attitude. There’s something to be said for bringing in a difference maker that also has a couple of national title rings to his name.

Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma quarterback

Gabriel’s first year in Norman was not what anyone thought it would be, but much of the blame could be placed on the defensive end and out of the control of the quarterback. As a highly anticipated transfer from Central Florida, the expectation was that Gabriel would be able to lead a potent Oklahoma attack like the many recent Sooners signal-callers before him that have ended up in the NFL.

Some pressure is on Gabriel to perform to avoid being replaced by highly touted freshman Jackson Arnold, but the senior has shown an ability to battle and should retain the starter’s role this season. The Sooners are poised for a turnaround in 2023 and Gabriel should be on the leading end of that.

Jalon Daniels, Kansas quarterback

When healthy, Daniels is without question the most exciting player in the Big 12. His athleticism is his strongest asset and was on display regularly during the first half of the 2022 season, when Kansas began 5-0. Unfortunately, that asset is also a liability, as his willingness to take hits resulted in a shoulder injury which effectively derailed the Jayhawks’ surprising start.

With so many other standout players on the offense, it would behoove Kansas’s coaching staff to protect Daniels from himself to a degree. His value to the team was blatantly obvious during his absence last year, and the way he plays the game is a joy to watch.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

Utah at Baylor (September 9, 12 PM ET)

Baylor will try to keep the ball out of the hands of Cameron Rising with a run-heavy attack to keep this one close. The Bears may surprise some people in this one.

Oregon at Texas Tech (September 9, 7 PM ET)

Both teams are expected to have a potent offensive attack this year, so it should be a fun one in Lubbock with a lot of work for the scoreboard crew.

Games to Watch (Conference)

Oklahoma vs. Texas [game in Dallas, TX] (October 7, TBA time)

The last of the Red River Shootout games as part of the Big 12 may be an elimination game of sorts for the Longhorns as far as the CFP is concerned, depending on the result of the Alabama game one month earlier.

TCU at Kansas State (October 21, TBA time)

A lot of purple in this one. By this point in the year it will be clear how well TCU has replaced its main contributors on offense from the previous season and whether it is still a conference title contender.

Kansas State at Texas (November 4, TBA time)

Possible conference title tilt preview? The two games would be roughly one month apart, which could be very interesting for the loser in terms of useful game film if both do end up in Arlington.

TCU at Oklahoma (November 24, 12 PM ET)

This could be Oklahoma’s final Big 12 game before heading off to the SEC. The Horned Frogs would love to spoil the sending off party in Norman.


  1. Texas (10-2, [8-1])
  2. Kansas State (10-2, [7-2])
  3. TCU (9-3, [6-3])
  4. Oklahoma (9-3, [6-3])
  5. Oklahoma State (8-4, [5-4])
  6. Kansas (8-4, [5-4])
  7. Baylor (7-5, [5-4])
  8. Texas Tech (6-6, [4-5])
  9. Central Florida (6-6, [4-5])
  10. BYU (5-7, [3-6])
  11. Houston (5-7, [2-7])
  12. Iowa State (4-8, [2-7])
  13. Cincinnati (4-8, [2-7])
  14. West Virginia (3-9, [2-7])

Conference Title Game

Kansas State vs. Texas

Conference Champion: Texas

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