For the frequent cries of a lack of parity in college football, it’s not hyperbole to say that the Big 12 has pulled a 180 and the conference is head over heels a third of the way through the 2022 season. Where you could once count on a perennial frontrunner to take the conference and run away with it—minus a few surprise upsets along the way, this season has destroyed that overused narrative and created perhaps the wildest and most entertaining conference in all of FBS (which is saying a lot considering we’re in the throes of extreme conference re-alignment conversations from coast to coast).
Where Oklahoma and the other Big 12 blue bloods once reigned supreme is now replaced with parity of the highest degree and the most unexpected of faces at the top of the conference football standings. Right in the thick of it stand the TCU Horned Frogs at 4-0, capped off with last week’s drumming of a ranked Oklahoma team and now standing to face what no one would have expected to be their toughest stretch of games when the schedule was published.
Let’s take a look at how the conference was originally predicted (using the Big 12’s own conference preseason poll as our guide), with some color on how things have shaken out thus far in the Big 12.
The Big 12 ranked Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas as the top four teams to start the season, with expectations for Baylor to repeat as conference champions following the 2021 crown they earned (even after suffering a debilitating loss to your Horned Frogs in the best game of the year last season). K-State, Iowa State, and TCU made up the middle of the pack in the five through seven slots, with West Virginia, Texas Tech, and consistent basement-dweller Kansas taking the final spots in the poll. My how things have changed.
As it stands today, there are three undefeated Big 12 programs: one with high expectations (OSU), a surprise up-and-comer in the middle of the program’s biggest transition of power in decades—what could have been the biggest surprise story of the conference…and then there’s Kansas. The Jayhawks have shocked the conference and the country under a new coaching staff, coming out hot, winning decisive games, and earning perhaps their biggest national eye ever, including their chance to host College GameDay for their matchup against the Frogs this weekend—more on that shortly.
Elsewhere in the conference, Kansas State has overperformed, beating TCU to the punch of taking Oklahoma to the woodshed on their way to the SEC after recovering from a loss to Tulane, and Texas Tech has overperformed; beating a ranked future Big 12 Team in Houston and knocking off a ranked (at the time) Texas team.
Iowa State and West Virginia have struggled, starting their conference slates 0-2, but the biggest revelations of the middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12 are with Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas. Baylor and Texas have split their conference slate; standing at 1-1 apiece. Baylor dropped a tough game to BYU at a night game in Provo (Frog fans can reluctantly empathize with that being a tough place to snag a W from their prior Mountain West days), but then lost another one at home to a skilled Oklahoma State squad. While Baylor may have been distracted by the hideous yellow-out jerseys and fans, there’s no confusion that they’re finding themselves scrambling for position in a rapidly dissipating season. Meanwhile, Texas is still not back, losing their starting QB in Ewers and the game in a raucous Lubbock atmosphere. The Horns rallied to beat a bad West Virginia team and head into the Red River Rivalry against the one of the worst teams in the conference right now: Oklahoma.
The Sooners are reeling. They started the season ranked in the top 10, beat three lesser opponents, allowing only 30 points in three games until reality hit. Kansas State shocked the Sooners in Norman; winning a back and forth game. Then, as we witnessed last week, hardly even showed up to Fort Worth, taking an absolute beating from start to finish by the Frogs, losing 55-14 in a game that didn’t even seem that close.
So, here we are, with the Sooners at the top and Kansas at the bott-no, wait. Kansas sits atop the Big 12 for the time being, the Sooners are more reliant on winning the RRR than they have been in years, and the Frogs find themselves in full control of their destiny. The next three games will likely define the Frogs 2022 season, facing the only currently ranked opponents in the Big 12 for three straight weeks (@#17 Kansas, #7 OSU, and #20 Kansas State). If the Frogs take care of business and finish the stretch 3-0, the conference title is in the palm of their hands and for all intents and purposes, ours to lose. Even with a 2-1 stretch, facing a swath of struggling remaining teams (and a tough Baylor squad) bodes well for the Frogs.
For now, we’ll keep our sights focused on Lawrence and taking care of business against an exciting Jayhawk team that’s surprised everyone so far. TCU fans know that weird things happen on the field in Lawrence, so the Frogs should come into Saturday focused, used to the glamour of a GameDay environment, and ready to ride the momentum from last week’s statement-making game.
From there, who knows what the conference slate will look like come November, but it seems that TCU is poised to outperform the expectations of many; including conference voters and perhaps even Frog fans who weren’t sure what to expect this season.