As the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners prepare to leave the Big 12 behind them as they scurry away to the SEC, the two teams have left the rest of the conference behind them early in the 2023 college football season.
The two premier programs are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in our latest Big 12 Power Rankings. How do the rest shuffle in behind?
Big 12 Power Rankings 2023
Our Big 12 Power Rankings for the 2023 college football season take into account several factors. Overall record is a consideration, but roster talent and depth, coaching staff, strength of schedule, plus offensive and defensive efficiency are taken into consideration in our latest update.
14) Houston Cougars
Preseason Ranking: 11th
Replacing their top talent on both sides of the ball, including long-time leader and quarterback Clayton Tune, was always going to make Houston’s transition from the AAC up to the Power Five level a difficult task. Heading into the sixth week of the 2023 college football season, the Cougars are rooted to the bottom of the Big 12 Power Rankings, without a conference win to their name.
Of course, they’re not the only program winless in the conference and as stated above, record isn’t the sole defining factor here. They’ve been defensively disastrous for the most part, an opening weekend win over UTSA lacks value as the Roadrunners have struggled, and a dismal defeat to Rice has led to Dana Holgorsen being the subject of hot seat speculation.
13) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Preseason Ranking: 10th
Mike Gundy hasn’t had a losing campaign since his first season in Stillwater, which brings a certain level of expectation each season. Heck, Oklahoma State even received a first-place vote in the Big 12 Football Media Preseason Poll. However, we never bought into the hype, and despite protestations from Cowboys fans over our preseason premonition, it has been difficult early.
After opening the season 2-0, Oklahoma State was shellshocked and shellacked by a South Alabama Jaguars team who’ve seen their share of struggles so far. A first conference defeat of the year came against a subpar Iowa State team. Averaging just 22 points a game, the offense is a bottom-30 unit in the country right now, with no real reason for optimism on the horizon.
12) Iowa State Cyclones
Preseason Ranking: 12th
There’s no movement for the Iowa State Cyclones from our preseason Big 12 Power Rankings. With off-the-field circumstances conspiring against the on-field product, the 2023 college football season was always going to be a difficult one. It’s looking more and more likely that Matt Campbell’s team may have consecutive losing seasons for the first time in his tenure.
Although they have a conference win thanks to a victory over fellow conference strugglers Oklahoma State, they were put to the sword by a ruthless Oklahoma in a 50-20 beatdown. The most significant stain on their copybook so far, however, is a Group of Five defeat to Ohio where they mustered just one score. At least Rocco Becht is getting experience from a lost season.
11) Baylor Bears
Preseason Ranking: 8th
The return from injury of quarterback Blake Shapen has the potential to propel the Baylor Bears back up to their preseason standing — and maybe even beyond — in our Big 12 Power Rankings, but for now, Dave Aranda’s team is where their record says they’re at. They dropped to 0-2 with defeats to Texas State and Utah and suffered their first conference loss to Texas.
The Bears beat Long Island in between those events but were perilously close to a second conference defeat of the year before rallying back historically against UCF. That might be the catalyst for their season to push on. Yet, there are too many question marks over a defense that is often their strong suit but has given up 6.47 yards per play and 28.4 points a game so far.
10) Cincinnati Bearcats
Preseason Ranking: 13th
The Cincinnati Bearcats climb up several places in our updated Big 12 Power Rankings, as much due to the performances of others around them as their successes. However, there has been some early-season success for the Bearcats in their transitional campaign after jumping up from the Group of Five level.
A win over Pitt in Week 2 is one such accomplishment, although the Panthers’ struggles this year devalue that win somewhat. Scott Satterfield’s team has done a good job of moving the chains and putting up offensive yardage so far this season. However, they’ve been miserable at converting those yards into touchdowns, and enter Week 6 on a three-game losing streak.
9) Texas Tech Red Raiders
Preseason Ranking: 4th
After entering the season as the fourth-ranked team in our Big 12 Power Rankings, the Texas Tech Red Raiders have simply not lived up to expectations so far in 2023. The injury to starting quarterback Tyler Shough doesn’t help matters, but the problems were apparent even before then. Joey McGuire’s team has failed to build on the momentum of last season.
A loss to Wyoming was one of the major upsets of opening weekend. Despite the Cowboys being one of the stronger Group of Five teams, the Red Raiders should have ridden out of Laramie with a win. Their defeat to Oregon was riddled by turnovers, and they’re 1-1 in the conference after a defeat to West Virginia that would have felt unthinkable before the start of the season.
8) UCF Knights
Preseason Ranking: 7th
Although the Knights are 0-2 in Big 12 play, everything that you need to know about how they’ve performed so far in 2023 can be gleaned from head coach Gus Malzahn earning a contract extension midway through UCF’s first season playing at the Power Five level. They’re in the top half of college football for scoring defense, and top 20 for scoring offense right now.
With a backup quarterback, they were within 12 points of reigning conference champion Kansas State. Meanwhile, it took a behemoth effort from Baylor to knock off the conference newcomer in a thriller last time out. While Timmy Mcclain has been serviceable, their offense is a different beast with John Rhys Plumlee’s ludicrous athletic dual-threat capability on display.
7) TCU Horned Frogs
Preseason Ranking: 5th
When the Colorado Buffaloes took down the TCU Horned Frogs to open the 2023 college football season, everyone basked in the reflective glow of just how good this team under Deion Sanders was. Yet, that game spoke more about who TCU is this season than anything it said about the Buffs.
We’d already lowered our expectations for Sonny Dykes team in our preseason Big 12 Power Rankings, and there’s a continuation of that in our latest update. There are playmakers on both sides of the ball for the Horned Frogs, that’s not in about, and they can pick apart an average defense. A Big 12 loss to West Virginia is a level-set for what could be a 7-5 type of season for TCU.
6) BYU Cougars
Preseason Ranking: 9th
After opening the season 4-1 with a 1-1 conference record, the BYU Cougars get a small bump up from their position in our preseason Big 12 Power Rankings. Kilani Sitake’s team has been a perennial thorn in the side of Power Five programs as an FBS Independent, and that hasn’t changed with their transition to the upper echelons of college football.
Although Arkansas has had some issues early in the season, going toe-to-toe with the SEC team and emerging victorious was a major feather in the cap for their résumé. They also gave conference opponent Kansas a good go of it before falling away late in the game. The offense and defense have the talent to compete with most teams on their schedule.
5) West Virginia Mountaineers
Preseason Ranking: 14th
And so we come to the “hold our hands up and admit that we were wrong” segment of our Big 12 Power Rankings. We had the West Virginia Mountaineers ranked rock bottom of the conference coming into the season, and boy were we wrong. At least we weren’t the only ones, with national consensus looking down on WVU before a down was even played.
After losing to Penn State to open the season, Neal Brown’s team has gone on a four-game tear which has certainly extinguished some of the fire under his hot seat. The Mountaineers have the best defensive success rate in the conference, with a unit that ranks fourth in both scoring and total defense. Despite quarterback issues, the offense has been good enough to win.
4) Kansas Jayhawks
Preseason Ranking: 6th
Proving that last season’s heroics weren’t just a flash in the pan and that the Kansas Jayhawks are a legitimate football school, Lance Leipold has guided his team to a 4-1 start to the 2023 college football campaign. The Jayhawks are strong on both sides of the ball, showing some defensive improvements early in the year for a unit that allowed 35.5 points per game a year ago.
The biggest question mark facing this team right now, with the potential to dictate the direction they move in our Big 12 Power Rankings, is over the health of quarterback Jalon Daniels. Comfortably one of the most electric playmakers in the conference, his loss was sorely felt in the defeat to Texas. Jason Bean is capable, he’s just not as capable as Daniels.
3) Kansas State Wildcats
Preseason Ranking: 3rd
Repeating as a conference champion is tough. There’s a reason why so few teams take home the trophy season after season. The Kansas State Wildcats took advantage of a down year for Oklahoma and Texas in 2022 and fended off all other pretenders to become conference champions. A repeat seems unlikely, but that’s not to diminish the efforts of Chris Klieman’s team so far.
Quarterback Will Howard might be one of the most underrated passers in the game, and combined with a gashing ground game behind a sterling offensive line, he’s helped the Wildcats to a top-15 scoring offense in 2023. At the time of their Week 3 defeat to Missouri, that looked like being a black mark on their record, but as the Tigers continue to surprise, it’s more like a minor blemish.
2) Oklahoma Sooners
Preseason Ranking: 2nd
Oklahoma started the season ranked second in our Big 12 Power Rankings, which some put down to reputation more than a realistic assessment of what this team could do in year two under Brent Venables. It’s very quickly become apparent that not only was the preseason ranking warranted, but that this team is a lot closer to Texas than many imagined before the start of the year.
While their toughest tests are to come, starting with the Red River Rivalry, the Sooners are the only team in the country to rank in the top five for scoring offense and scoring defense. Dillon Gabriel is playing at a Heisman Trophy-caliber level, extracting every inch out of WR talent like second-year Nic Anderson. Danny Stutsman leads a dominant defense.
1) Texas Longhorns
Preseason Ranking: 1st
“Circle Week 2 on the 2023 college football calendar as the litmus test for what this Texas Longhorns team is capable of. Steve Sarkisian’s team was a Quinn Ewers injury away from beating Alabama last season, and a win over the Crimson Tide in Bryant Denny Stadium on Sep. 9 would solidify the preseason opinion that this team is the one that finally lives and ensures that “Texas is back.”
MORE: Texas Longhorns Are Back
Texas is back. The Longhorns passed that Week 2 litmus test in emphatic style, and while this might not be your mom and dad’s Crimson Tide team, it still stands as an impressive notch on their 2023 résumé. From Ewers at QB, through a ludicrous amount of offensive skill position talent, a strong o-line, and a defense loaded from front to back, this is the best Texas team we’ve seen for years.