The Big 12 Conference finds itself in a fight for survival and positioning at the Power Five level.
It’s an uneasy time with the SEC poaching Oklahoma and Texas from the league starting next season, but the Big 12 is responding with the additions of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Commissioner Brett Yormark allowed for the possibility of further expansion at this week’s Big 12 Media Days.
“We do have a plan [for expansion], and hopefully we can execute that plan sooner than later,” Yormark said.
In the meantime, the 2023 college football season begins in just over a month, and the Big 12’s on-field product should be one of the most entertaining in college football.
Oklahoma and Texas have one final season in the league, while the four newcomers all join the conference with hopes of making an immediate splash. Returning members TCU and Kansas State — the Wildcats won the Big 12 and TCU made the College Football Playoff last season — hope to build off strong 2022 seasons.
Texas and Oklahoma betting favorites
Texas, which returns quarterback Quinn Ewers to lead an explosive offense, is the betting favorite at +105 on FanDuel to win the conference. Caesars Sportsbook (+100), DraftKings (+105), bet365 (+110), and BetMGM (+120) also list the Longhorns as the betting favorite.
Oklahoma checks in with the second-shortest odds, hovering in the +350 range across most mobile sportsbooks. The Sooners went just 6-6 last season, the first with Brent Venables as head coach.
“If you surveyed 100 people right now, Family Feud style, how many do you think would remember that Kansas State won the Big 12 last year?” BetMGM analyst Chase Kiddy commented in an email to Sports Handle. “It’s so, so easy to overlook what happens in Central Time Manhattan, but Chris Klieman is an elite coach, and KSU’s overall contrarian approach plays well in the Big 12.”
While Kiddy likes Kansas State’s program, he’s eyeing a wager on a different potential conference champion this fall.
“The Big 12 is famously chaotic, so I’m generally looking for a little more of a value proposition here,” said Kiddy, who hosts The Lion’s Edge podcast. “At +2000, I think Baylor is the right blend of roster talent, coaching competence, and potential return.”
Baylor returns quarterback Blake Shapen, who had an up-and-down 2022 campaign but possesses good starting experience. Head coach Dave Aranda used the transfer portal more aggressively this offseason in hopes of bolstering his program’s roster. Aranda is no stranger to Big 12 success, having led the Bears to the conference title in 2021.
Baylor's Dave Aranda said his view of the transfer portal has changed because he used to say if he dipped into that, he was "giving up on a player." Now he's putting his team first.
— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) July 12, 2023
Texas Tech (+900) and TCU (+2000) are also viewed as possible conference title contenders at BetMGM.
Newcomers in championship contention?
As for the league’s four newcomers, they all enter the Big 12 with strong recent history. Cincinnati made the College Football Playoff just two seasons ago, while UCF went undefeated in 2017 and 12-1 in 2018. BYU has seven double-digit win seasons since 2005, and Houston has five during that span.
Still, none of the four teams were picked to finish in the top half of the league in a preseason media poll. UCF was picked to finish eighth, while BYU, Houston, and Cincinnati were picked ahead of only West Virginia. Entering the Big 12 presents a major test for the new teams, as the league’s depth and strength means every Saturday in conference play brings with it the realistic possibility of a loss.
“It’s just a deep conference,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said Wednesday. “There’s never been more parity than there is right now in college football. This conference is crazy.”
On FanDuel, UCF has the best odds (+3500) of any newcomer to win the Big 12.
“At BetMGM, the win totals for the newcomer squads include a 4.5 (Houston), two 5.5’s (Cincinnati and BYU), and a 6.5 (UCF),” Kiddy said. “Of the four, BYU is the only team that has a positive net TARP (Transfer portal assets and returning production) rating coming into this season. Without some kind of big surprise, there just isn’t much to see here in Year 1.”