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Biggest Question for Each Big 12 Title Contender in 2024

Big 12 title contenders

The 2024 football season is just over two months away, and with that, the Big 12 Conference is shaping up to be one of the most competitive conferences from top to bottom. Basically, every team can make a case to be conference champion.

However, there can only be one champion at the end of the day and even the strongest contenders have at least one question that must be answered before they can have a clear path to the title game. Arizona to Utah, Buffaloes to Wildcats, every contender has at least one big question. Let's see what the biggest question is for each of the eight teams with the highest odds of winning the Big 12.

Editor's note: Odds based on numbers as of June 2nd, 2024

UCF Knights (+1200): Will QB KJ Jefferson Finally Excel?

The UCF Knights have a ton of offensive weapons, many of which were brought in via the transfer portal. The Knights have the No. 22-ranked transfer portal class in the nation, trailing just the Colorado Buffaloes in the Big 12. One of those transfers is Jefferson who transferred from the Arkansas Razorback. Jefferson has had an up-and-down college career to this point, with his ups being high and his downs being very low.

After a disappointing 4-8 record where Arkansas saw one of its worst offensive seasons in years, producing an average of just 326.5 yards per game, Jefferson decided to enter his name into the transfer portal for his final year of eligibility. Jefferson was partly to blame for this lack of offensive performance for the Razorbacks last year, however with a stacked running back room and a solid group of transfers in the wide receiver room, the Knights have provided Jefferson with all the tools to make his last year in college football his best.

If he cannot perform, UCF does have a safety blanket in transfer quarterback Jacurri Brown, but Jefferson is by all counts the guy for the Knights in 2024, leading what should be a high-octane offense that will give the Knights a great chance at getting to the title game.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (+1100): Can the Cowboys Match/Exceed Opposing Talent?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys had one of the more interesting seasons out of all the teams in the FBS. Early losses to South Alabama and Iowa State as well as close calls versus Central Arkansas and Arizona State raised significant questions about this team at the beginning of the 2023 season. However, the Cowboys would turn it around and make it all the way to the Big 12 Championship. Now, they're right back in the running for the title.

Big 12 title contenders
© Nathan J. Fish/THE Oklahoman/USA TODAY SPORTS

That being said, the Cowboys have been called "lucky" for many of their performances against the top teams in the conference this past year, just barely scraping by and catching some lucky breaks along the way. Hardly anyone expected running back Ollie Gordon II to perform the way he did on his way to winning the Doak Walker Award, the defense came away with some very fortunate and well-timed turnovers and overall some of the top teams in the conference just had poor performances against the Cowboys. This time around, they may not be so lucky, as teams will now gameplan around Gordon and their schedule proves to be one of the toughest in the conference.

They do return essentially their entire offense, as well as have another chance at having another solid defensive year, but do they have the talent to compensate for a potential drop-off in production for Gordon and their defense potentially facing more of a challenge? It's not as likely as Cowboy fans would like to think, but it's still certainly possible.

Arizona Wildcats (+1000): Can Brent Brennan Maintain, Develop?

The biggest question for the Wildcats is about their new coach, Brent Brennan. Brennan, formerly of San Jose State, replaces Jedd Fisch, who left for the Washington Huskies earlier this year. Brennan's coaching history is nothing too impressive, which has Wildcat fans skeptical, especially after Fisch led the Wildcats to their best record since 2014.

However, Brennan has Arizona roots and has proven himself to be a developer, making every program that he has been a part of better. With a large amount of returning players, Brennan will not have his work cut out for him, which will also be a plus. There is still that looming question though, given Brennan's losing record as a coach as well as a winless record in bowl games. You can read more on the Brennan hire here at College Football Dawgs.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (+1000): Can the Rebolstered Offensive Line, Receiving Corps Jell?

The Red Raiders lost a lot of production on their offense, specifically along the offensive line and in the receiving corps. The offensive line will need to figure out who will start, as they lost a combined 51 starts from last season. The projected starting line as of now consists of former Middle Tennessee State tackle Sterling Porcher, former Toledo guard Vinny Sciury, sophomore center Sheridan Wilson, senior guard Caleb Rogers and junior tackle Ty Buchanan. Rogers and Buchanan are the only returning starters. While Tahj Brooks was the best running back in forced missed tackles, he cannot do it all and teams will game-plan around the senior, so it will be imperative that the offensive line melds into a cohesive, strong unit so that Brooks can continue his success and up and coming quarterback Behren Morton will have a clean pocket.

Another way the Red Raiders can help out Morton is by allowing this receiving corps, also made up of quite a few newcomers, to jell as well. Leader Xavier White as well as Jerand Bradley, Myles Price, Loic Founonji and JJ Sparkman are all gone. Incoming are Washington State transfer Josh Kelly, Florida transfer Caleb Douglas and incoming freshman Micah Hudson. On top of that, the receiving corps also welcomes tight end Jalin Conyers from Arizona State.

With all these new pieces as well as players thrust into starting roles like Coy Eakin, the receiving corps will also need to develop and meld into a unit with chemistry with Morton and themselves. These two positions as well as the defensive line for the Red Raiders pose the biggest questions, but should they develop well and mesh, this Texas Tech team will be a force to be reckoned with. You can learn more about their progress during the spring here.

Iowa State Cyclones (+900): Can Rocco Becht Continue His Success?

The Cyclones were another surprise team for the Big 12 last year, making a bowl game after being picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. The Cyclones would go 6-3 in conference play, getting some strong wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The promising youth for the Cyclones was on full display, with freshman quarterback Becht and freshman running back Abu Sama both showing a lot of potential.

Big 12 title contenders
© Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal/USA TODAY SPORTS

However, potential only counts for so much. These two young players will need to show that last year was no fluke, specifically Becht. Becht had a great year last year, throwing for 3,120 yards and 23 touchdowns as well as rushing for 63 yards and 3 touchdowns. Becht would also be the one bright spot for the Cyclones in the bowl loss to the Memphis Tigers, throwing for 3 touchdowns and 446 yards. He will need to continue this success into the upcoming year as he enters his sophomore campaign.

He will hopefully have no problem doing so, as the Cyclones have done a great job in surrounding him with great weapons like Jaylin Noel, Jayden Higgins and Benjamin Brahmer. Continued offensive success is what the Cyclones must strive for this upcoming season, as their defense is once again set to have another great year even with losses to the NFL Draft and transfer portal.

Kansas Jayhawks (+750): Can Jalon Daniels Stay Healthy?

Coach Lance Leipold has propelled the Kansas Jayhawks into conference title contention just three years removed from being at the bottom of the Big 12. The Jayhawks have one of the most talented offenses in the country as well as a lot of returning production on both sides of the ball. One of those returning pieces is senior quarterback Daniels, who is being vaunted as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation.

The main concern though regarding Daniels is his health. When he is healthy, the talk of him being one of the better quarterbacks is more than valid. He is a dominant dual-threat quarterback in an offense that is borderline perfect for his play style. He has 4,297 yards total passing, 602 yards rushing and 44 total touchdowns throughout his career, but has missed 24 games over his four-year career, managing just 25 games started. Daniels must stay healthy for the Jayhawks to have a good year this year, Jason Bean cannot save them.

Backup quarterback Cole Ballard is solid, but not quite to the point where he's a plug-and-play guy that will allow this offense to have continuity. Third-string quarterback Isaiah Marshall is too young. The Jayhawks do have depth, but they do not have as talented and experienced a quarterback as they did last year backing up Daniels. If Daniels is injured and misses any significant time, the Jayhawks will be in trouble and their chances at a title run will slim majorly.

Kansas State Wildcats (+350): How Crucial is Colin Klein's Departure?

Former Kansas State quarterback and now former offensive coordinator Klein has left for the Texas A&M Aggies, a shock and a major blow to the Kansas State football program. Klein was integral in developing quarterback Will Howard, who found a lot of success with the Wildcats, winning the Big 12 Championship in 2022. Now, with Howard gone, three starters along the offensive gone and the skill positions also thinning out a bit, Kansas State is at an interesting spot going into 2024.

Lucky for them, sophomore quarterback Avery Johnson as well as stalwart running back DJ Giddens are expected to be breakout players in the conference. Top that with a great pickup in transfer wide receiver Dante Cephas, and the Kansas State offense has a really good player core. If they can fill the gaps in the offensive line as well as get good cohesion from new offensive co-coordinators Matt Wells and Conor Riley, then the Wildcats should be well in the mix for the Big 12 title.

Utah Utes (+310): Can This Offense Adjust to Big 12 Play?

The Utes come into their first year in the Big 12 as favorites to win the conference. The Utes were consistent contenders in the Pac-12 Conference, winning the conference title in 2021 and 2022. Veteran quarterback Cam Rising makes his return after being injured last year and coach Kyle Whittingham has his squad chomping at the bit to start Big 12 play.

Cam Rising

Can this offense though keep up with the "Joneses" of the Big 12? With the conference being known for its offensive firepower, Utah doesn't bring a whole lot to the table, unfortunately, at least not on paper. The offense ranked No. 92 in the FBS last year, managing 348.4 yards per game. While Rising was out for the year, this number is concerning still. Can a formerly hobbled Rising bring this offense back from the brink and can this offense keep up with the offenses in the conference?

Their defense is one of the best in the Big 12, ranking No. 13 in the FBS last year with 307.2 yards per game allowed, so this will certainly help, but getting the offense back to what it was in the Pac-12 Championship years will be the biggest thing to give the Utes the best chance at a Big 12 title.

Most Competitive Conference

All eight of these teams should make a good run at the title in 2024. Should they answer the question posed in this article, that gives them the best shot at the title and they'll be in the best spot also for a potential College Football Playoff berth. Not just these eight teams will be fighting for a spot in the title game though, as teams such as the West Virginia Mountaineers, TCU Horned Frogs and Colorado Buffaloes will also potentially vie for a place.

The Big 12 will be perhaps the most competitive conference in the FBS in 2024 for this reason. It's anyone's game and will be an absolute dogfight week in and week out. We could be in for a photo finish. However, whoever figures their problems out first will be the one most likely standing at the mountaintop come December.

Catch more Big 12 news here at College Football Dawgs.


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