The most wonderful time of the year is set to kick off as the Big 12 begins our run of annual media day events on Wednesday and Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Baylor will return to the site of its first ever Big 12 championship game win in 2021 with expectations of defending the crown thanks to returning rising star coach Dave Aranda. However, many eyes will be on Texas and Oklahoma as both try to bounce back from disappointing years in 2021.
There's still more than a month until the college football regular season starts, but below are some of the top storylines to watch for during Big 12 Media Days.
One year ago, then-Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby quipped that he won five dollars because no one asked a realignment question at media days. Unfortunately, his joke goes down as an all-time gaffe as Texas and Oklahoma were members of the SEC by the end of the month, setting off one of the most chaotic realignment sagas in college football history.
Now, the Big 12 is relatively stable and has a chance to be a buyer in the next round of realignment set off by USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten. Administrators around the Big 12 will be on hand, so don't be surprised to see rumors fly or news drop, even if decisions by Pac-12 schools could still be months away.
Baylor atop the polls
The Baylor Bears are picked to win the Big 12 for the first time in program history. Even though the Bears have won the league three times -- including consecutive seasons in 2013 and 2014 -- the Bears have traditionally fought from the bottom half of the bracket to reach the top.
While the Bears are the favorite, their advantage is by no means overwhelming. Baylor received 17 of the 41 votes submitted in the annual media poll. Oklahoma was close behind with 12 first-place votes with Oklahoma State at nine votes. Texas and Iowa State also both received first-place votes in the poll despite a combined 12-13 record in 2021.
This is on pace to be one of the most parity-driven seasons in Big 12 history. It will be interesting to see whether the attendees recognize the opportunity to wrest away the Big 12 crown.
Welcome to the party, Brett Yormark
The new Big 12 commissioner will make his first public appearance as a college sports executive on Wednesday morning. Yormark officially begins his duties on Aug. 1, but he has already been active and aggressively inserting himself into conversations about the future of the Big 12 before his tenure actually begins.
Yormark arrives to the conference from the pro sports and entertainment world. He spent the last few years at Jay-Z's Roc Nation conglomerate, and previously ran business operations for the Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets. Yormark is a true outsider to college athletics. It will be fascinating to hear what drew him to the job.
Oklahoma, the underdog?
Last season, Oklahoma overwhelmingly led the way with nine players named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team. This year? Only sixth-year punter Michael Turk was honored. Teams with the talent of Oklahoma are never truly rebuilding, but there's a clear rebrand in place after numerous key players left for the NFL or transfer portal in the wake of Brent Venables taking over the program following the departure of Lincoln Riley to USC.
Luckily, we'll get an early preview of the new era. UCF quarterback transfer Dillon Gabriel is joining the Sooners at media day, along with young defensive end Ethan Downs. Venables is a defensive-minded coach, and it will be fascinating to hear whether he feels that his Sooners are up to competing for the Big 12 championship right away.
For the first time in close to a decade, the Sooners are not the hunted. That makes them even more dangerous than usual.
The Big 12 was previously known as a home for high-powered offenses led by dynamic quarterbacks. The league has transformed dramatically, however. Suddenly, only one program has a true returning starter who did not face a quarterback competition in the spring -- Spencer Sanders at Oklahoma State.
Four programs brought in potentially game-changing transfer quarterbacks. Two of the most notable offseason moves were former Nebraska star Adrian Martinez landing at Kansas State and ex-five-star prospect JT Daniels set to take over at West Virginia. Only four programs are bringing quarterbacks to media days, so trying to get pieces of information from the other attendees will be a fun game.
Spoilers try to rise
Two programs were left for dead in the preseason Big 12 poll: No. 9 Texas Tech and No. 10 Kansas. However, both programs hired great coaching staffs in the last 18 months. We should learn some valuable information about progress at media days.
Kansas showed that it was trending in the right direction by beating Texas in overtime and following it up with highly competitive games against TCU and West Virginia. Texas Tech earned a winning record for the first time since 2015 before bringing in Texas high school football legend Joey McGuire to add a shot of energy.
With difficult schedules ahead, both have treacherous paths to reach bowl games. Ultimately, though, that won't matter. Both Kansas and Texas Tech are capable of nabbing a contender and ruining a season. Hearing the mindsets of the players at both rebuilding programs will give us an early indication of whether the programs are optimistic.
Last season, Texas experienced its worst losing streak since 1957 and worst first-year season by a head coach since Dana X. Bible in 1937. Regardless, the hype is back after Steve Sarkisian landed transfer quarterback Quinn Ewers, constructed a top-five recruiting class and earned a commitment from the gem of the 2023 recruiting class, Arch Manning, over the offseason.
Now, the actual results on the field will take center stage as Sarkisian tries to rebound from the miserable first season. While Ewers won't be in the building, all eyes will be on the Texas offensive talent -- led by Bijan Robinson -- who will give an early preview of whether the Longhorns can have the Big 12's best offense.
Texas is the betting favorite to win the Big 12 at some sportsbooks. Needless to say, 5-7 to Big 12 champions would be unprecedented.