The Baylor Bears have a big target on their backs in the Big 12, as they are the reigning and defending champions of the conference. With that said, here are three Big 12 football teams that will be the biggest thorns in the side of Bears football in the 2022 college football season.

3 Big 12 teams ready to challenge Baylor football in 2022

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys have an ax to grind with the Bears in 2022. It could be remembered that it was Baylor that spoiled the dreams of the Cowboys in the 2021 season of becoming Big 12 champions; Oklahoma State finished the regular season with the best record in the conference only to lose to the Bears in the Big 12 Championship Game to the tune of a 21-16 score. Prior to that loss, the Cowboys were on a five-game win streak, a stretch that included a sensational 37-33 victory over the 10th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

The Cowboys would immediately recover from that loss by taking down the no. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Playstation Fiesta Bowl, but the bad taste of the defeat at the hands of the Bears and the wasted opportunity to return to the top of the conference must still be lingering in the mouth of Oklahoma State. The last time the Cowboys planted their flag as Big 12 champions was over a decade ago, which was in 2011, but the wait in Stillwater could finally be ending this year. On the heels of a 12-win season, the Cowboys will once again be looking for their stop unit to deliver the goods. In 2021, the Cowboys were 10th in the nation overall with just 18.2 points allowed per game and fourth in total defense with only 290.2 total yards surrendered per contest.

2. Texas Longhorns

Speaking of Big 12 title droughts, the Longhorns are also on an excruciating one of their own. You would have to walk all the way back to 2009 to check out when was the last time Texas football ruled the Big 12 conference.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian is under elevated pressure to steer the program to a solid finish following his debut season in which the Longhorns were only able to win five games — a regression for Texas considering it won seven games a year prior. The Longhorns saved some face when it ended the 2021 season with a win over the Kansas State Wildcats. Otherwise, they would have punctuated their 2021 schedule on an embarrassing six-game losing skid. Things could be a whole lot different this time around for Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns. For one, they have a shiny new weapon to lead the offense on the field. Texas football will have five-star quarterback prospect Quinn Ewers under center.

The expectation is that Ewers, who transferred from the Ohio State Buckeyes football program, will take the starting quarterback reins in 2022, though the Longhorns still have Hudson Card. Ewers should be a solid starter for the Longhorns, as he acts as a bridge of sorts that inevitably connects Texas to the eventual arrival of Archie Manning in 2023.

In any case, Texas should be a dominant offensive force again in the Big 12. The Longhorns had one of the best offenses not just in the Big 12 but in the nation. They averaged 35.3 points per game in 2021 — good for 17th in the FBS. Meanwhile, their 39.1 points per game in conference play is easily the highest in the Big 12. And then, of course, the Longhorns have arguably the best running back in the nation, with Bijan Robinson ready to give it another go. The junior tailback is coming off a sophomore season where he burned rubber for 1,127 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores, while also racking up 295 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions.

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1. Oklahoma Sooners

As you may have likely heard by now, Lincoln Riley is no longer in Norman, as he has taken his coaching talents to the Pac-12 with the USC Trojans. For all the controversies the Sooners had to deal with Riley’s surprising departure, Oklahoma fans stopped worrying about the coaching situation of the Sooners right after it was announced that Riley’s successor would be Brent Venables, who is someone very familiar with the program. After all, he was part of Oklahoma football’s coaching staff from 1999 to 2011.

Venables is known as the author of those dominant Clemson Tigers defenses in recent years as the team’s defensive coordinator, and he should be able to do wonders as well for the Sooners’ stop unit that was a letdown in 2021. Last season, the Sooners allowed 27.9 points and 408.6 total yards per game. Oklahoma’s pass defense, in particular, was regularly gashed that season, giving up 261.8 passing yards per game in conference play — second-worst in the Big 12. As for the offense, the Sooners have some considerable challenges ahead as they lost their top two quarterbacks in 2021, with Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams moving to the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Trojans, respectively.

However, the Sooners now have quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who transferred to Norman from the UCF Knights and will be working under a familiar name, as the Sooners’ new offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, was also in UCF in all three seasons that Gabriel spent in that program.