With the 2023 college football season just around the corner, talking season officially begins this week as the Big 12 kicks off the conference media days slate with a two-day event on Wednesday and Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Preseason favorite Texas highlights the first day of attendees on Wednesday, while reigning Big 12 champion Kansas State takes the stage on Thursday.
A unique year is ahead for the Big 12 as the league oversees a membership transition. Four new schools joined the conference on July 1 from the Group of Five, while Texas and Oklahoma will be completing a one-year layover before moving on to the SEC in 2024. The grouping should make for a unique scene this week at the site of the Big 12 title game.
Here are some of the top storylines to keep an eye on during the Big 12 Media Days event this week.
Lofty expectations for Texas
The Longhorns grab a lot of attention and headlines on a yearly basis, but the fact is Texas has not been pegged No. 1 in the preseason Big 12 media poll since 2011. That changes this year after the Longhorns received 41 of 67 votes in the preseason poll to edge out reigning champion Kansas State for the top spot.
Texas is 13-12 in two seasons under Steve Sarkisian, including a shocking 5-7 debut in his first season. However, the Longhorns are saddled with lofty expectations as the school enter its final season in the Big 12. They rank as betting favorite at even money, according to Caesars Sportsbook, trailing only Georgia as holding the best conference title odds in the nation.
In 27 seasons as a Big 12 program, Texas has won just three conference titles. For comparison, that matches the same amount as Baylor and Kansas State, and ranks only one spot ahead of Nebraska, which has not been a Big 12 program for more than a decade. The pressure will be off the charts as Sarkisian leads the 'Horns into their 28th and final opportunity.
The Big 12 will be a 14-team conference for one season. Houston, UCF, BYU and Cincinnati make their triumphant entrance to the power conference level after nearly two years of anticipation and get one shot at Texas and Oklahoma before the power pair leaves for the SEC. Along with the arrival of these new schools, the four new coaches -- Dana Holgorsen, Scott Satterfield, Gus Malzahn and Kalani Sitake -- will take center stage at media days.
Competing at the highest level could take some time for the "Freshman Four." The Bearcats and Cougars were selected among the bottom four teams in the conference in the preseason poll. UCF led the way among the newcomers, but still was picked among the bottom half at No. 8. Managing expectations will be a priority as all four historically successful programs prepare for new challenges.
Replacing a Heisman finalist
TCU became the first Big 12 program to win a College Football Playoff game in Sonny Dykes' first season and won 13 games for the first time since an undefeated 2010 campaign. However, star quarterback Max Duggan leads a collection of NFL-caliber talent that's off to the NFL as the Frogs completely rebuild in Dykes' second season.
Former Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris won the quarterback job out of camp in 2022, and now will get his turn in the spotlight after Duggan's graduation. His top interior linemen are gone, along with elite wide receiver Quentin Johnston and running back Kendre Miller.
Yormark's first year in review
Last year served as an introduction, of sorts, for Brett Yormark as Big 12 commissioner after the former NBA and entertainment executive took over full time on August 1, 2022. In his first year, Yormark has been aggressive in reshaping the league -- and college football -- in his image, including signing a major television contract and expanding the Big 12's branding efforts.
Now, Yormark will be in front of the microphone once again to give a status report on the state of the league with all his changes. The Big 12 is scheduling games in Mexico and will undergo a rebrand in the coming weeks. Yormark has historically used the Big 12's "tentpole" events -- the Big 12 title game, the Big 12 basketball tournament, media days -- as a stage. Will he have something up his sleeve as he kicks off the festivities on Wednesday?
Oklahoma ... the underdog?
Contrary to Texas, the Sooners have owned the Big 12, winning 14 crowns in 27 seasons. However, Oklahoma is in the midst of a drought, missing out on back-to-back Big 12 title games after winning six straight. The 2022 season under Brent Venables culminated with the first losing season and losing Big 12 record since 1998, the year before Bob Stoops was hired.
Expectations are decidedly mixed for the Sooners. The program was picked third in the preseason conference poll with four first-place votes. However, Oklahoma sits closer to fifth place TCU in the rankings than No. 2 Kansas State. The only preseason All-Big 12 selection is defensive lineman Ethan Downs.
Oklahoma does benefit from arguably the easiest schedule in the Big 12, and is projected to be favored in 11 of 12 games. However, Venables' squad will be walking a tightrope with numerous trap games in the Sooners' final Big 12 season.
Eight Big 12 teams return quarterbacks in 2023, but don't expect too much of a transition period for the rest of the field. In fact, some of the most experienced passers in college football enter the conference as newcomers.
BYU's Kedon Slovis threw for nearly 10,000 yards across stints at USC and Pitt before transferring to Provo, Utah. Cincinnati's Emory Jones adds nearly 5,000 yards from his time at Florida and Arizona State. Oklahoma State's Alan Bowman was sidelined at Michigan but set a Big 12 freshman record with 605 yards passing in a single game in 2018 with Texas Tech.
Only two quarterbacks in the Big 12 have two starts to their names: TCU's Morris and West Virginia's Garrett Greene. The Frogs are projected to slide down the Big 12 standings, while WVU is picked last. Ultimately, though, the boom-or-bust potential across the conference makes it wildly unpredictable.
Kansas in the spotlight
Kansas has virtually never had expectations on the football field. Even during their magical 2007 Orange Bowl season, the Jayhawks were selected fourth in their own division and still didn't receive a single first-place vote the year after their 12-win season.
Now, Kansas walks into AT&T Stadium with a legitimate spotlight. Quarterback Jalon Daniels was named the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while four Jayhawks earned a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team. That number trailed only Texas. Kansas was selected No. 9 in the preseason media poll, but that ranking is closer to Baylor at No. 6 than Iowa State at No. 10.
Kansas won multiple Big 12 games last year and earned a bowl trip for the first time since 2008. The Jayhawks earned an AP Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2009. Simply surprising opponents won't be good enough anymore. The Jayhawks expect to compete for more as coach Lance Leipold continues to mold the program in his image.