Between spring practices ending and the transfer portal closing, Big 12 squads are finally settling down heading into a long offseason. In a season of change across the conference, spring ball can be instructive. While there will be plenty of cogent analysis to be had across June and July, that's not what May is for. Instead, we're taking the tiniest nuggets of information from spring football and running for our lives with some of the biggest overreactions in the conference as May opens.
Remember, these are overreactions, so not every pick is firmly rooted in logic. Still, make sure to come back at the end of the season and learn with me whether the offseason hype had these Big 12 squads on the right track.
Blake Shapen will be All-Big 12: Making a quarterback change at any point is a gutsy move. Benching a senior who led the program to a Big 12 title game and allowing him to transfer is another level. However, the staff was impressed by Shapen's development in his first full spring focusing on football after splitting time with baseball. The Shreveport, Louisiana, product threw for 434 yards and five touchdowns in his two starts, so the expectations come from somewhere. If Shapen can be a meaningful improvement on Gerry Bohanon, the Bears can once again compete for a College Football Playoff berth.
Hunter Dekkers is an upgrade: Brock Purdy left Iowa State as the greatest quarterback in program history with more than 12,000 yards passing and 81 touchdowns to his name. If sophomore Hunter Dekkers can live up to the flashes he has shown in limited opportunities, the Cyclones could be even better. Dekker has a big arm that he showed off in limited snaps against a strong Iowa defense last season. With Xavier Hutchinson back in the lineup, Dekkers has a perfect deep threat to open up the game and potentially bring ISU's offense back towards the top of the league.
The Jayhawks will win four games: To find the last time a Kansas squad won more than four games, one must turn back the clock to 2009 when Mark Mangino was still coach. Over the past 13 years, Kansas has only won even three games just four times. Finding a year with multiple conference wins goes back to 2008. The Big 12 will be tough, but the Jayhawks should grow and develop at a high level under second-year coach Lance Leipold. KU was within reach of beating Duke, Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia. The Jayhawks won't miss on all those opportunities again.
Deuce Vaughn will be a Heisman finalist: Frankly, Vaughn ranks among the most under-appreciated players in the country after posting 1,872 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns in a ridiculous sophomore season. He cleared 100 yards from scrimmage in all but one game in 2021, and reached 95 in the outlier against Oklahoma State. With Adrian Martinez entering the lineup, Vaughn will finally have some help to create explosive plays. His wild numbers combined with a K-State squad that competes for 10 wins will finally earn Vaughn his deserved recognition.
The defense is fixed: It's only been five months, but the Oklahoma squad that took the field in its spring game looks remarkably different than the one that collapsed against Oklahoma State. Defensive players have already begun to show improvements in fundamentals and positional awareness. Brent Venables is one of the great defensive minds in the country, and has become an expert at teaching defense. Between scheme and positioning, Oklahoma's defense will be one of the most improved units in the nation.
Collin Oliver will be an All-American: The Oklahoma City native had one of the great freshman seasons in Cowboys history to earn Freshman All-America honors and become a finalist for two freshman of the year awards. As a sophomore, there's no telling what the defensive end can accomplish. Oliver posted 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as an ancillary player, and now takes on the responsibility of leading a Derek Mason defense. Don't be surprised to see Oliver pushing for the national sack title for another elite unit.
The 'Horns have the Big 12's best pass-catching group: Outside of Freshman All-American Xavier Worthy, the Longhorns were decidedly inconsistent outside in 2021. After what we saw in the spring game, though, that's about to change quickly. Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor got behind the Texas defense with ease and connected with Quinn Ewers for the play of the day. Jordan Whittington's health is in a better place after catching 26 passes in 2021. Former Alabama players Agiye Hall and Jahleel Billingsley were seen as potential stars for the Tide in 2022; now, both are on Steve Sarkisian's roster. Add Bijan Robinson into the picture as a backfield receiver and the Longhorns will emerge as a truly special offense.
Quentin Johnston transforms into a first-round pick: This is one of the few selections on this list that isn't an overreaction. Johnston appeared on Ryan Wilson's initial 2023 Mock Draft for CBS Sports as the No. 21 pick to the Baltimore Ravens. Johnston has been shockingly underutilized in two seasons with the Horned Frogs, posting 33 catches for 612 yards receiving and six touchdowns as a sophomore. In Sonny Dykes and Garrett Riley, Johnston finally has a dynamic coaching staff that will find creative ways to get him the ball in space. It would be somewhat of a surprise if Johnston did not double his output in 2022.
Tech will lead the Big 12 in passing offense: The Red Raiders brought in Zach Kittley, architect of Bailey Zappe's record-breaking offense at Western Kentucky, to bring the fire back to Texas Tech's passing offense. Even in a disastrous season, Texas Tech combined to throw for more than 3,300 yards in a 7-6 year. Three different quarterbacks threw major passes. At this point, the competition remains open between quarterbacks Donovan Smith, Tyler Shough and Behren Morton. However, there's enough talent in the room that the Red Raiders will find a dynamic option. Between an exciting system and dynamic receiver talent, Texas Tech will throw the ball with ease.
JT Daniels is a perfect fit: The Mountaineers haven't had even passable quarterback play since Will Grier went to the NFL Draft after the 2018 season, but that changes in Neal Brown's fourth season. Daniels threw for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman before transferring to Georgia. While he dealt with injuries, Daniels still has among the most impressive quarterback profiles of any signal-caller in the Big 12. Mixed with a quarterback-friendly system from new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, Daniels can finally fill many of the holes plaguing WVU's roster.