The new-look Big 12 is going to be an absolute blast, and the league made sure to get its biggest and most consequential games in September so that the end of the season can have teams either roll into the conference title game or provide for some remarkable upset fodder.

From Sept. 13 through Sept. 28, Arizona, Kansas State, Utah, and Oklahoma State all play each other. Those are the 4 teams who feel like the most likely to make it to Dallas for the conference title game, and they’ll get the chance to settle things on the field.

On Sept. 13, Arizona travels to Manhattan to face Kansas State. It’ll be the Wildcats’ first-ever Big 12 game, and it’ll come 3 weeks into the season. A week later, Utah plays its first-ever Big 12 game in Stillwater against Oklahoma State — a team that is 27-5 at home over the last 5 years. And a week later, Utah hosts Arizona while Kansas State hosts Oklahoma State.

If we took preseason SP+ rankings from ESPN’s Bill Connelly and constructed early point spreads, all 4 of the aforementioned contenders would be at least 12-point favorites in 3 of their final 4 games to close out the regular season.

Mid to late September, that’ll be the decisive time in the Big 12.

At FanDuel, Kansas State and Utah are co-favorites to win the conference (+350). Arizona has the fourth-best odds at +750. Surprisingly, Oklahoma State (+1200) is viewed as a wild card.

Here are my favorite preseason bets in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State over 7.5 wins (-110 via FanDuel)

It goes without saying that a wager on Oklahoma State +1200 to win the Big 12 is also the move for me here. Moreover, I feel like I’m missing something with this team.

Over the last 3 years, only 5 other Power conference schools (Notre Dame included) have performed better against their preseason win totals than Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

The Pokes won 10 games a season ago, capped off by a 31-23 win over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. They’re among the country’s leaders in returning production, have a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, a seventh-year senior at quarterback, and all 7 offensive linemen who played at least 200 snaps last season.

When star tailback Ollie Gordon II received at least 15 carries in a game last season, OSU went 8-1. When he had fewer than 15, the Cowboys went 2-3. After scrutiny for not involving the tailback enough throughout Oklahoma State’s 2-2 start to the year, Gundy reoriented the offense around Gordon and the Cowboys ripped off 7 wins in 8 games to reach the Big 12 title game.

In addition to virtually the entire offense returning, Oklahoma State also brings virtually its entire defense. Twenty-one players saw at least 100 snaps on defense last fall, according to Pro Football Focus. Eighteen of them return.

Utah and West Virginia have to come to Stillwater, and there’s added value in Oklahoma State getting the Utes early when quarterback Cameron Rising is still shaking off the rust. The road games are against BYU, Baylor, TCU, and Colorado, none of whom should be particularly worrisome for OSU.

So long as Gordon stays healthy and Gundy doesn’t self-sabotage, Oklahoma State should be in the conversation for a Big 12 title berth and a College Football Playoff spot.

Utah to make the College Football Playoff (+310 via FanDuel)

Using Bill Connelly’s preseason SP+ numbers (which will be tweaked in the coming months, FYI), Utah would be the favorite in every single game it plays in 2024. The constructed win total would be 10.4. If Utah’s number was 10.5, I’d probably look elsewhere. But at the 9.5 sports bettors can currently get on FanDuel, it’s worth consideration.

The Utes welcome back Cameron Rising for a seventh year of college ball, and the wait for his official on-field return has been excruciating. Utah was top-25 in offensive efficiency during both of its Pac-12 title seasons. With Rising’s ability to punish a defense on the ground, Utah was a top-10 rushing team both years.

Without the offense’s leader in 2023, the run game plummeted to 75th in efficiency and the overall offense tumbled all the way down to 103rd. Neither Bryson Barnes nor Nate Johnson proved capable of sustainable success on offense, and guys dropped like flies around them.

Coach Kyle Whittingham said it was perhaps the most challenging season he’s ever endured from a coaching standpoint. Rising never played as he continued to rehab a total knee reconstruction. Tight end Brant Kuithe (51 career appearances, 148 receptions, 16 touchdowns) never played as he rehabbed an ACL tear from 2022. Three of the top 4 running backs missed significant time with injuries. Kuithe’s backup suffered a season-ending injury. A thin wideout room lost one of its top options. Utah was running its top safety as a running back and receiver option out of the backfield because he was the best playmaker they had available.

There are key defensive players to replace in 2024 — safeties Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki among them — but playmakers return everywhere. And the torturous 2023 season might also become a positive for Utah; because so many players were injured, guys who wouldn’t otherwise be relied on got developmental snaps and now should theoretically provide strong depth behind the returning stars.

If the pendulum swings the other way and Utah can enjoy a season with some injury luck, this will be one of the deepest teams in the country.

How Rising looks upon his return will determine the ceiling. Because Utah seems to have solved the only gap in its Rising-led offense with the addition of USC transfer wideout Dorian Singer.

The deep ball was nowhere to be found last season with Barnes and Johnson at quarterback. But Rising wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in 2022 when he looked deep. He completed only 32% of his attempts that traveled at least 20 yards, and had 5 turnover-worthy plays on 54 attempts, per PFF. He completed only 38% of his deep shots in 2021. This just hasn’t been something Utah’s offense has been able to call on.

With Singer and Kuithe on the field together, that could change. Kuithe can line up anywhere, and defenses will have to account for him every time Utah drops back to pass. Singer made 12 contested catches on a Pac-12-leading 24 contested targets during the 2022 season with Arizona. His 16.7 yards per catch that year ranked fifth among all Pac-12 players. He was a player Arizona could simply throw it up to and ask him to make a play. Mixtape-level highlights were the result.

After facing Oklahoma State and Arizona in back-to-back weeks to close out September, Utah has a 7-games-in-9-weeks schedule that should at worst produce 6 wins.

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Colorado under 5.5 wins (-105 via FanDuel)

A disclaimer before Deion Sanders busts through the wall and scolds me for not believing: Shedeur Sanders is 1 of the 3 best quarterbacks in the Big 12. If Colorado could get by on the talent of Sanders and wideout/defensive back Travis Hunter, sure, 6 wins would be possible.

But those of us who watched Colorado last season saw an offensive line that was miles and miles and miles away from respectability. Colorado gave up 56 sacks in 12 games. Hawaii’s Brayden Schager was the only FBS player pressured on more dropbacks. And 1 in every 10 offensive plays resulted in a Colorado player being tackled for a loss.

Coach Prime hit the portal hard for reinforcements and promised the line would look different. When right tackle Savion Washington hit the transfer portal on Monday, he became the last of CU’s 5 regular starters on the 2023 line to leave the program.

Colorado had no run game to speak of last season, which was no surprise given its inability to hold up on the line of scrimmage. The Buffs averaged an FBS-worst 2.3 yards per carry, marking a third consecutive season in which CU was held under 4 yards per rushing attempt.

At this level, Sanders’ individual brilliance is just not enough to will an otherwise bad team to a bowl game. And we have no clue if the overhauled offensive line will hold up better.

Meanwhile, Colorado opens against a North Dakota State team that has won 6 straight against FBS opponents. Then it faces Nebraska and Colorado State on the road. The Buffs play Kansas State, Arizona, Utah, Kansas, and Oklahoma State in conference play — all preseason top-35 teams in SP+.

Four or 5 wins could be seen as an improvement if CU makes strides on the offensive line. A bowl game just looks out of reach given how far away this team looked the last time we saw them on the field.