The Big 12 conference enters the 2022 season without a clear-cut favorite to win the conference. For a conference that has only sent one team to the college football playoff, it could mean this is finally the year a new team represents the conference. On the flip side, because there isn’t a team that is head-and-shoulders above the rest, the Big 12 could have the most exciting games in the regular season and miss the playoff at the same time. While the conference has a few national superstar players returning this season, there are lots of fresh faces that will ultimately write the 2022 Big 12 story. But which Big 12 newcomer is going to have the largest impact on this conference in 2022?
Fifth Most Impactful: Zach Kittley
Texas Tech will not be competing for the Big 12 title in 2022. New head coach Joey McGuire is generating major buzz out of Lubbock. But this team just doesn’t have the talent to compete for the top spot this year. However, what Texas Tech can do is be a thorn in the side of those top teams in the Big 12. That is because new offensive coordinator Zach Kittley should bring fireworks to the Red Raider attack.
Last year, in his first and only season, as Western Kentucky’s offensive coordinator the Hilltoppers had an offense that averaged 43.1 points per game and 528.0 yards of total offense per game (4th best nationally). Regardless of who the Red Raiders trot out at quarterback, the immense potential from this offense can spoil a contender’s chance at winning the conference.
Forth Most Impactful: Adrian Martinez
Who exactly is Adrian Martinez as a quarterback? In a lot of ways, Martinez mirrors the best returning quarterback in the conference Spencer Sanders. Both quarterbacks have a ceiling in which they can single-handly win a game on any given Saturday. At the same time, they have the ability to self-detonate and are the focal point of a loss. The major difference is Martinez often has both positive and negative flashes within the same game. Even with those major swings in quality of play, he has been one of the most productive quarterbacks over the last four seasons.
As a Big 12 newcomer, Martinez will undoubtedly have the most talented offensive weapon of his career. And Martinez simply will need to turn and hand him the ball. Deuce Vaughn will naturally take the pressure off Martinez from having to feel like he has to make a play all the time. If Martinez simply develops more consistency, primarily protecting the football, the Wildcats will make some noise. Not only will they try to mold the 2022 Big 12 race, but could find themselves playing in AT&T Stadium on December 3rd.
Third Most Impactful: Derek Mason
Whether it was third-down conversion percentage, sacks, or total defense, the Oklahoma State defense was ranked in the top five nationally. The architect of the defense, coordinator Jim Knowles, was hired for the same position at Ohio State. With Knowles’ departure, the Pokes’ Big 12 newcomer at defensive coordinator hopes to continue his undeniable success as a defensive coordinator. Derek Mason’s time as head coach at Vanderbilt never truly got the ‘Dores out of the SEC basement. But his previous stops as a defensive coordinator at Stanford and Auburn highlight his brilliance as a defensive coach.
Oklahoma State came *this close* to a Big 12 championship and a possible playoff appearance last year. The strength of the team was unquestionably the defense. Mason’s most pressing job is to reconstruct the linebacking and defensive back units. Overall, he has only five starters returning. Mason has shown the ability to turn a defense in his first season. If his track record continues, Oklahoma State will be competitive again in the Big 12. Opposing offenses are certainly hoping Mason can’t work his magic quickly. If the defense isn’t quick to adjust, it will add more chaos to the Big 12 race.
Second Most Impactful Big 12 Newcomer: Quinn Ewers
Being a “perfect” ranked recruit was always going to carry Texas-sized expectations. And even though head coach Steve Sarkisian hasn’t officially named a starter, Quinn Ewers is going to be the most influential Big 12 newcomer on the field this year. Texas is looking to bounce back after a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2021. The offense is loaded with playmakers between Bijan Robinson, Xavier Worthy, and Isaiah Neyor. And it isn’t a matter of if Ewers will start, it is just a matter of when.
If Ewers is simply “average” relative to his recruiting ranking, Texas can push to the nine-win range. Can Ewers meet the expectations that come with being only one of seven players to be a 1.00 ranked recruit from 247? If so, Texas can compete for a spot in the Big 12 championship game. He has the ability to mask most issues on the offensive line. But no one really knows what to expect. He has yet to take a single snap in his college career. And no matter how pretty a long touchdown pass looked in the spring game, the verdict on Ewers is unknown. The possibilities of how Ewers’ season can play out are wide-ranging. As a result, the impact he will have will be felt all over the Big 12.
The Most Impactful Big 12 Newcomer: Brent Venables
Oklahoma fans are going through an unfamiliar experience this offseason. As a matter of fact, it has been 48 years since they have had this experience. 1973 was the last time the head coach at Oklahoma (Chuck Fairbanks) voluntarily took another coaching job. But with the departure of Lincoln Riley to USC, the most impactful Big 12 newcomer arrived from Clemson, South Carolina. Brent Venables will make his head coaching debut in the 2022 season. Venables served as either the head or co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 1999 to 2011.
Because of the head coaching change, the Sooners only have nine combined starters returning. The roster was not completely gutted, regardless of what anger Sooner twitter might say. Even with the coaching turnover, Oklahoma finished 10th nationally in their 2022 recruiting class. The previous four classes (2018-2021) finished sixth, 13th, fourth, and ninth. This is still the most talented roster, on paper, in the conference. However, the fact remains that this team is starting over with a new coaching staff and a head coach who has never done the job before. The non-conference schedule is very manageable, with a road trip to play Nebraska being the Sooners’ toughest challenge. With so much change in Norman, the impact Venables and company will have is going to be the strongest factor in 2022. Could this be the first time since 2014 that Oklahoma finishes with less than nine wins? Or could they be back in the Big 12 title game for the seventh time in the last eight seasons? Both results are very much in play for the Sooners.