Biggest Question For All Big 12 Football Teams Entering 2023 Season

Apr 27, 2023, 12:02 PM

Big 12 Football, Biggest Questions...

Big 12 football in 2023 will be a historic year for the league with 14 teams competing for a conference title. (Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITYย – Big 12 football will look different in 2023. For starters, the league has 14 members, with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF joining the league. Plus, Texas and Oklahoma remain in the conference for one more year before leaving for the SEC.

The Big 12 can potentially be one of the most exciting leagues in the country this season.

Amid all of the intrigue and excitement, there are some big questions that each team is looking to answer heading into the 2023 season. So here’s the biggest question for each team before a historic Big 12 season.


Is Blake Shapen the guy at QB?

When Baylor signed Mississippi State transfer Sawyer Robertson out of the transfer portal last January, it had all the makings of a QB competition for returning starter Blake Shapen. Last year, Baylor finished 6-7, one year after a Big 12 title and 12-win season.

Baylor coach Dave Aranda didn’t commit to either quarterback as the starter after the spring game.

An Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection by coaches last season, Shapen finished with 2,790 yards and 18 touchdowns but also tossed ten interceptions.


What can we expect from Jay Hill’s defense?

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake replaced his longtime colleague and friend Ilaisa Tuiaki with former Weber State head coach Jay Hill. Hill wants to bring an aggressive style to BYU’s defense, which BYU has lacked for years.

The key players to lead the defense will be defensive end Tyler Batty, linebackers Ben Bywater and Max Tooley, and defensive backs Jakob Robinson and Micah Harper. In addition, Weber State cornerback transfer Eddie Heckard and Utah State linebacker AJ Vongphachanh give BYU proven commodities to fill needs.

Hill has always fielded good defenses, dating back to his days at Utah. The Big 12 is known for high-powered offenses. If his BYU defense can slow down some of these teams, there’s no reason to think BYU can’t go to a bowl game in year one in the league.


Can the Bearcats win as a defensive team in the Big 12?

Cincinnati is the only team in the Big 12 Conference in 2023 that is breaking in a new head coach. Scott Satterfield comes in from Louisville after Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin. The two have entirely different styles, but like Fickell’s Cincinnati teams, expect year one under Satterfield to have a tough team on the defensive side.

The Bearcats defensive front with Utah State transfer Daniel Grzesiak should be a strength. But the offense needs to perform in a league where 12 of the 14 teams scored 30 points or more last season. Last season, Cincinnati only averaged 29 points per game. That was in the AAC.

Former Florida and Arizona State QB Emory Jones projects to be the starter, especially now that the guy he battled in the spring, Ben Bryant, has entered the portal. The offensive line and receiver spots are areas where they could benefit from Transfer Portal additions.


Who replaces Alton McCaskill at RB?

After spring practice concluded, Houston took a hit in the backfield when starter Alton McCaskill announced he was going into the Transfer Portal. Houston coach Dana Holgorsen called it a “a sad day” losing McCaskill, who rushed for 961 yards in 2021 and was the AAC Rookie of the Year.

With McCaskill gone, the Coogs will turn to returning sophomores Stacy Sneed or former USC transfer Brandon Campbell.

Iowa State

How will the Cyclones fare with a young roster?

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell noted in the spring that this year’s Cyclones team is similar to the groups he had from 2017 to 2019. The good news is that three-year stretch produced 23 wins for Iowa State. The bad news is that Campbell compares this 2023 group to that stretch because of the youth.

Coming off a year where Iowa State finished 1-8 in league play, expectations are low for Iowa State. But the young roster could be a surprise this fall. Especially if running back Jirehl Brock, who battled injuries last year, stays healthy. But Iowa State also brought in Stanford transfer Arlen Harris, who could provide an excellent 1-2 punch in the backfield.


Can the Jayhawks go bowling again?

The combination between coach Lance Leipold and a healthy Jalon Daniels at QB put Kansas in the national spotlight last season. Kansas jumped out to a 5-0 start and found a way to get one more win to reach a bowl game. Can they do it again?

Daniels is still recovering from his shoulder injury but seems poised to take a step forward this year. The Jayhawks look to be deeper along the offensive line spot but have questions along the defensive front.

The cornerback position is a strength and the safety position is when Kenny Logan and Marvin Grant return after missing all of spring.

Kansas will get three of the four Big 12 newcomers on the schedule, plus Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma all come to Lawrence. The margins could be razor thin again, but six wins is doable again for KU.

Kansas State

How many running backs will it take to replace Deuce Vaughn?

The defending Big 12 champions have a void at running back. Do-it-all back Deuce Vaughn is gone and off to the NFL. Despite his small stature, he leaves a big hole in K-State’s backfield. A spot that might need to be replaced by two players.

Coming out of spring, the favorites to replace Vaughn at running back include DJ Giddens and Treshaun Ward.

The good thing for the new faces at running back is that the Wildcats have arguably the best quarterback in the conference, Will Howard returning.


Who replaces top performers at the skill positions?

After a 6-7 season a year ago, Oklahoma looks ready for a bounce back in year two under Brent Venables.

The Sooners will have to replace their top running back (Eric Gray), wide receiver (Marvin Mims), and tight end (Brayden Willis) from last season.

The players to watch at these spots stood out in Oklahoma’s spring game. At running back, Gavin Sawchuk impressed as a potential do-it-all running back. Jalil Farooq and Gavin Freeman look to be key contributors at wide receiver. Then at tight end, OU will turn to either South Carolina transfer Austin Stogner or Texas A&M transfer Blake Smith.

On the defensive side, one new face to watch is Indiana transfer Dasan McCullough. He will be lining up in the “Cheetah” spot for OU this fall.

Oklahoma State

How will Michigan transfer Alan Bowman perform as QB1?

Oklahoma State lost Spencer Sanders in the transfer portal but gained former Michigan/Texas Tech QB Alan Bowman. When Bowman was at Texas Tech, he had a 605-yard game against Houston in 2018. Plus, he had eight games over 300 yards.

Despite Oklahoma State’s struggles last season, finishing 7-6, they had a top-20 passing offense. So Bowman should plug in nicely and put up numbers. Especially with running backs Ollie Gordon and Michigan State transfer Elijah Collins to go along with him in the backfield.

From the outside, many questions about Oklahoma State’s long-term success after losing 19 players to the transfer portal have been raised. But Mike Gundy always seems to have a bounceback in him when people don’t expect it. He’s had seven 10-plus win seasons dating back to 2010.


Can Sonny Dykes avoid a sophomore slump?

Sonny Dykes and TCU put together a magical year one playing in the National Championship Game a season ago. Now the challenge is continuing to build off that national spotlight the Horned Frogs received a year ago.

The offense is going to have new personnel and a new play-caller. Kendal Briles comes in as offensive coordinator to replace Garrett Riley, who left for the same job at Clemson. Briles is expected to bring more tempo to TCU’s offensive attack, which will be without Max Duggan at QB. Replacing Duggan is expected to be Chandler Morris, the week one starter a season ago before Duggan took over and never looked back.

The Horned Frogs did add former Oregon State QB Chance Nolan out of the Transfer Portal earlier this week.

TCU’s defense returns seven starters from last year’s national runner-up squad that won the Fiesta Bowl. One of those returning starters to watch is sophomore lineman Damonic Williams. Williams started all 15 games last year, and he’s still only 18.


Will depth lead Texas to a Big 12 title in its final season?

Coming out of spring practices, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian loves his team’s depth. When you have depth and the type of recruiting star power Texas has, it should lead to, at a minimum, a Big 12 Championship Game appearance.

The quarterback position embodies the depth. Quinn Ewers is the starter moving forward into summer conditioning. Then behind him is Maalik Murphy, who shined in Texas’ spring game along with the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class Arch Manning.

Texas feels good about the offensive line potentially going three deep. They will need to replace key players along the defensive line. But keep an eye on senior Alfred Collins, who dealt with injuries last season, as a potential breakout player.

Texas Tech

Can the Red Raiders live up to the hype?

After closing out last year on a four-game win streak and pulling in a top-40 recruiting class, there’s a lot of buzz about Texas Tech entering the 2023 season. Many outlets will likely view Tech as a potential preseason Top 25 team this fall.

It’s big expectations for Joey McGuire in his second year as head coach. They have a schedule that sets up nicely with TCU and Kansas State both traveling to Lubbock. Then three of the four newcomers are also on the league slate. There’s a chance a Big 12 title game appearance could be on the line when Tech goes to Austin to close out the regular season on Black Friday.

They do need to resolve their quarterback situation. Tyler Shough is the assumed starter because of the way he finished last year. A former Oregon transfer, Shough passed for 436 yards in an overtime win over Oklahoma. But Behren Morton showed well in his starts throwing 300-plus yard games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

Along with QB, offensive tackle is a positive that needs to be resolved in fall camp. On the defensive side, they lose DE standout Tyree Wilson and STAR Marquis Waters.


How will the offense perform with Gus Malzahn no longer calling the plays?

UCF is an intriguing team preparing for year one in the Big 12. The Knights are the favorite to have the best finish among the first year of newcomers in the league. But seeing how new offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw fares as the play caller will be interesting. He takes the reigns from head coach Gus Malzahn.

Hinshaw is a former UCF QB, and the expectation is that the Knights will push the ball down the field. Of course, it helps that they have former Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee atop the depth chart.

West Virginia

Can Neal Brown get off the assumed hot seat that he is on?

In three of Brown’s first four seasons as head coach at West Virginia, the Mountaineers have finished with seven losses. Those results have led many to believe Brown enters his fifth season on the hot seat in Morgantown.

The good news for Brown is that CJ Donaldson is back for his sophomore season. Donaldson was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention during his true freshman season, as he rushed for 526 yards. Now West Virginia needs to figure out the quarterback situation.

The battle is between Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol. Both quarterbacks had drives with the first and second units during the spring scrimmage. It’s probably a quarterback debate that will rage on to fall camp. West Virginia’s schedule isn’t easy as they have Penn State in non-conference play, then they open league play with Texas Tech and a road game at TCU. Plus, road games at Oklahoma and Baylor.

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Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12โ€“3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Biggest Question For All Big 12 Football Teams Entering 2023 Season