Top 12 Preview: Can Oklahoma regain top spot in a balanced league?

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Have Oklahoma once Clemson‘d?

Clemson is what Oklahoma should have been for the last decade. While the Sooners only showed CFP promise, the Dabo Swinney Tigers have actually beaten the best team the SEC has to offer and won the national championship.

Adding insult to injury, Clemson managed to win two national titles with the defensive coordinator who had spent the previous 13 years coaching in Oklahoma. Now the defense coordinator, Brent Venables, is back at Norman as head coach, and he has brought everything he has learned from the Swinney program with him.

After a very public and, at times, messy split between Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma, Venables used profits and resources to fill his program in his image, recruiting at high levels and pushing to return OU to conference summits and potentially win his first national title since 2015. 2000 — or so I think.

We’ll know for sure in three months’ time.

Top 12 Great Storylines

Top 12 Great Storylines

RJ Young detailed how the Oklahoma Sooners would look like the Clemson Tigers under Brent Venables and ranked over other Top 12 storylines.

you can watch”Performances Ranked #1 1 with RJ Young” on Youtube or subscribe to podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.

Here are the other top storylines in the Top 12.

Can Baylor and Oklahoma State do it again?

They surprised us all last season, not by making the Big 12 Conference Championship, but by beating Oklahoma. The Bears and Cowboys managed to beat the Sooners for the first time since 2014 — the year the Sooners finished 8-5 — and did so with great defence.

What remains to be seen is whether this is a momentary mistake for the Sooners, like the 2014 season, or an honest-to-good change of guard within the changing Top 12. The Bears and Pokes, respectively, returned the quarterback who won the Top 12 Title (Blake Shapen) and beat Notre Dame at the Fiesta Bowl (Spencer Sanders).

The defending Big 12 champion bears also had the luxury of bringing back both coordinators while OSU coach Mike Gundy hired Derek Mason to lead his defense after Jim Knowles accepted the defense coordinator job at Ohio State.

Gundy has proven he can build on winners at OSU, and Dave Aranda has shown he can turn the program around in record time — from two wins to 12 in one year. I don’t think these two will end up in the Top 12 games this year, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they do.

Who brought it back?

I didn’t think it would be Kansas. In fact, I think the Jayhawks will be a problem for the Top 12 in 2022.

We saw Lance Leipold’s programming abilities when KU traveled to Austin and got his first win against the Longhorns at Forty Acres—forever. It was the Jayhawks’ first top 12 win since 2008. And it was only Year 1.

Predicting the Big 12 win total

Predicting the Big 12 win total

RJ Young predicts which Top 12 teams will exceed their pre-season winning totals, according to FOX Bet, and which teams will fall short.

Since that win, the Jayhawks have added 14 players off the transfer portal, including former Ohio State midfielder Craig Young, Minnesota defender Ky Thomas and one of the best-prepared defenders from Oklahoma in recent memory in Nebraska transfer Sevion Morrison.

The measuring stick for the Jayhawks is winning three conference games. But they look and sound like a team that will be bowling in four months’ time.

I can’t remember the last time I felt the Big 12 this tight from top to bottom.

Who is the best QB in the league?

It’s probably enough to admit that OU—with two Heisman winners at QB over the last five years—will have a rivalry on that front, and that hasn’t been true for some time.

Normally, I would take anyone’s OU field as the starting quarterback against the field to answer this question. But this is the first time since 2015 Riley has not been the one to select and develop QB in Oklahoma.

None of this is to say that OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and quarterback Dillon Gabriel couldn’t form like Voltron to become a dynamic duo. It means — in my most Monique voice — I want to see it.

To name three more tandems that I think could make the Top 12 class, there’s also the pair of Texas coaches Steve Sarkisian and Quinn Ewers, offensive coordinators Shapen and Baylor Jeff Grimes and Sanders and offensive coordinators Kasey Dunn.

Is Texas finally back, or is Texas just Ferrari?

In Formula 1, no racing team has more fans on our nervous little planet than Ferrari. For almost a century, the Scuderia has been synonymous with the sport, but it has been more than a decade since Ferrari won the world championship.

Which Top 12 teams can compete for the title?

Which Top 12 teams can compete for the title?

RJ Young explains why only one team from Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor will realistically compete for the College Football Playoffs. RJ also predicts which team will win the Big 12 title match.

Similarly, it has been more than a decade since Texas last played in a national title game. And, like Ferrari, the decade was filled with both average and bad seasons.

The Longhorns is one of the richest programs in the sport and there are a number of quality players who want to wear burning orange. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together in a way that leads to winning the championship.

With Sarkisian heading into Year 2 after a humble Year 1, the Longhorn have a chance to reach their potential again, starting with a September 10 fight against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and a podcast host “Performances Ranked #1 1 with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand subscribe”Young RJ Show” on YouTube. He’s not on StepMill.

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Top 12 Preview: Can Oklahoma regain top spot in a balanced league?

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