Image credit: Oklahoma's Jimmy Crooks (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma)
As it so often does, the Big 12 provided a compelling regular-season title race. Texas Christian won the title by one game, and six teams finished within two games of first place.
The postseason picture in the league was even more fascinating, as both TCU and Texas Tech had RPI problems that precluded them from hosting, despite otherwise having resumes that typically result in hosting.
In the end, Oklahoma State and Texas hosted and five Big 12 teams made regionals, with West Virginia on the wrong side of the bubble after going 0-2 in the Big 12 Tournament. Despite both having to go on the road for super regionals, the conference got two teams to the College World Series in Oklahoma and Texas, with the Sooners making it all the way to the finals.
It’s hard to know exactly how the Big 12 should feel about how things went in 2022. On one hand, it once again put a majority of its teams into the postseason and its members were very much able to compete with the best of the best in the postseason.
But on the other hand, the two teams that made the deepest postseason runs are the ones that are on their way to the SEC in the next couple of years, and that had to be somewhat bittersweet for the league.
- Ivan Melendez, 1B, Texas – Coming off of a strong 2021 season, Melendez developed into the best hitter in college baseball in 2022. He finished with a .387/.508/.863 slash line with 32 home runs, the most in a single season in college baseball’s BBCOR bat era.
- Peyton Graham, SS, Oklahoma – Like Melendez, Graham was an accomplished player going into 2022, but he took it to another level last season, hitting .335/.417/.640 with 20 home runs and 34 stolen bases, all while taking over the shortstop position for the Sooners.
- Maui Ahuna, SS, Kansas – Ahuna took a big step forward in 2022, particularly when it came to hitting the ball with authority. After hitting .314/.413/.422 with 15 extra-base hits in 2021, he hit .396/.479/.634 with 28 extra-base hits last season. Now, after coach Ritch Price’s retirement, Ahuna is set to transfer to Tennessee.
Most surprising team: Oklahoma
Outside expectations for Oklahoma going into the season were that it would be fighting just for a spot in the postseason. It was a team light on proven options on the mound, light on lineup depth behind Graham, Tanner Tredaway and Jimmy Crooks, and without a postseason appearance since 2018. But as it turned out, Jake Bennett was an ace as good as any in the Big 12, Cade Horton came on strong late to give the Sooners an outstanding one-two punch in the rotation, Trevin Michael emerged as one of the best closers in the country and a whole host of young players stepped up in the lineup to give Oklahoma a solid group from one through nine. It added up to a long-awaited return to national prominence for the Sooners.
Most disappointing team: Baylor
Baylor had the opposite experience of Oklahoma. It went into the 2022 season with experience all over the place and a chip on its shoulder after being the last team left out of the field of 64 in 2021. On paper, it looked like a high-floor team that could reach great heights if a few things came together. Instead, things unraveled in slow motion as the season went along. A veteran lineup collectively didn’t take a step forward and individually didn’t feature any breakout stars, and injuries conspired to greatly shorten a Baylor pitching staff that already wasn’t as deep as the lineup. It ended with the Bears finishing eighth in the Big 12, moving on from coach Steve Rodriguez and hiring former Baylor assistant and McLennan (Texas) College coach Mitch Thompson.
Team-by-team stock watch
Baylor (26-28, 7-17), no postseason ?? – An uneven start to the season gave way to a freefall during the second half of the campaign, as Baylor won just one Big 12 series on the way to an eighth-place finish and a coaching change.
Kansas (20-35, 4-20), no postseason ?? – Kansas simply never got going last season, bottomed out by going 20-35 overall and 4-20 in Big 12 play and ended the campaign with the retirement of longtime coach Ritch Price and the hiring of former Louisiana State and Dallas Baptist assistant Dan Fitzgerald.
Kansas State (29-29, 8-16), no postseason ???? – A Kansas State team that was doing some rebuilding, especially on the mound, took some lumps during the regular season but played well at the Big 12 Tournament, perhaps setting the stage for a step forward in 2023.
Oklahoma (45-24, 15-9), CWS runner-up ?? – After looking like a bubble team at the halfway point of the regular season, Oklahoma caught fire down the stretch to win its last five Big 12 series, the Big 12 Tournament, Gainesville Regional, Blacksburg Super Regional and its side of the bracket in the CWS before falling to Mississippi in the finals, returning the Sooners to national prominence along the way.
Oklahoma State (42-22, 15-9), reached regionals ???? – Oklahoma State continued its run as the most consistent team in the Big 12 by not only getting to its ninth straight regional but hosting a regional for the second time in three postseasons.
Texas (47-22, 14-10), reached Omaha ?? – Although it took an extremely circuitous route to get there, Texas mostly made good on the potential it showed as the preseason No. 1 team in the country by getting to Omaha in back-to-back seasons for the first time since going four times in a row from 2002-05.
TCU (38-22, 16-8), reached regionals ???? – Despite it being a strange season where winning the Big 12 wasn’t enough to earn a host spot because of RPI issues, it was a step forward for TCU to win the league for the second year in a row as it jockeys for position in what will be a new-look Big 12 in the near future.
Texas Tech (39-22, 15-9), reached regionals ???? – Though it ended with Texas Tech being eliminated short of a super regional for the first time since 2017, it’s hard to classify a 2022 season that saw the Red Raiders develop new stars on the fly while finishing second in the conference as anything other than a success.
West Virginia (33-22, 14-10), no postseason ???? – A season that began with modest outside expectations quickly turned into one with postseason expectations as the Mountaineers held their own during the Big 12 regular season slate, only to fall short of regionals when they went 0-2 in the Big 12 Tournament and the at-large bubble shrank considerably.
Offseason questions to answer
- Who will do the heavy lifting next season in a Texas lineup that projects to return just outfielder Dylan Campbell and second baseman Mitchell Daly among those who got regular playing time last season?
- Can Oklahoma keep things going next season and build momentum toward its move to the SEC or will 2022 look like a one-off in hindsight?
- With a lot of aces set to depart this summer, who will be the workhorse starting pitchers in the conference in 2023?