TCU outplays Ohio State for a 4-1 victory, Sept. 12, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. Courtesy of gofrogs.com.
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After an unusual 2020 season that was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TCU lifted its first conference title in program history. With conference play right around the corner, the other nine teams will soon have the opportunity to challenge the Frogs for the Big 12 title.

The favorites

This year, after its best start in school history, No. 8 TCU reaffirmed itself as the team to beat. The Horned Frogs return with most of their starters and add depth to an already strong roster. 

Junior forward Grace Collins and senior defender Brandi Peterson will be the players to watch this year for TCU.

With their only loss coming against No. 6 Pepperdine, the Horned Frogs will try to improve their 7-1 record once conference play begins.

West Virginia’s pedigree is the biggest threat to TCU revalidating its title. The Mountaineers have finished in the top two every season except one since joining the Big 12 in 2012.

West Virginia slightly edged the Frogs in the Big 12 preseason poll 74-73 points to start the season as favorites. However, a 6-2-1 start with losses against No. 7 Virginia and No. 12 Penn State, and a draw versus No. 25 Georgetown, have them below TCU in the U.S. Coaches Poll at No. 13.

The Mountaineers will be missing a key piece in their midfield after their team leader in points, Stefany Ferrer-VanGinkel, graduated last spring. Maya McCutcheon, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, junior Julie Lynch and sophomore Lilly McCarthy have been tasked to collectively step up to replace her.

The challengers

On the next tier, there are two teams with very different starts to their seasons.

Coming off an impressive season where they were the best offense in the conference, Oklahoma State has not been able to get going. Two losses against unranked opponents coupled with a decrease in scoring have the Cowgirls standing at 5-3-1. 

Returning all their starters from last year, including Kim Rodriguez, the best player in the Big 12 according to Top Drawer Soccer, Oklahoma State still has a chance to turn it around. However, there is another team in the conference that looks stronger than the Cowgirls.

After adding twelve new faces to the roster, Texas Tech looks much improved since finishing eighth in the Big 12 last season.

Their only loss came in a 2-3 match against No. 15 Arizona State, the only ranked opponent they have faced so far.

The Red Raiders have the best non-conference record so far, starting the season 7-1-1, but playing a weaker schedule than other top teams leaves them with a lot to prove.

Postseason hopefuls

Kansas, Baylor and Texas finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively last season in the Big 12. If their non-conference results are any indicator, a middle-of-the-pack outcome could be in the cards for this season.

The Jayhawks have a record of 5-4-1 and a mediocre strength of schedule. In 10 games, they have scored 11 goals and conceded 9, failing to stand out in either offense or defense.

Baylor has had a slightly better start, going 4-2-3, with important victories against No. 17 SMU and UNT. Despite finishing fifth, the Bears were the only Big 12 team TCU was unable to beat last year after the season opener ended in a 0-0 draw.

Unlike Kansas and Baylor, Texas earned one first-place vote in the Big 12 preseason poll. However, the Longhorns have failed to impress, with a record of 4-3-2.

As they look to turn their season around, Texas will likely lean heavily on senior midfielder Julia Grosso. The four-year veteran is considered the second-best player in the conference by Top Drawer Soccer.

Anything other than a Big 12 tournament appearance could be considered a disappointment for these three teams.

Playing for next year

The last teams remaining have little hope of competing for anything other than the last seed for the Big 12 Tournament. 

Kansas State is coming off a bottom-four finish last season and was projected to finish last in the preseason poll. 

Although the Wildcats have defied expectations by attaining a 5-4 record through their non-conference schedule, all their losses have come against unranked opponents.

For Oklahoma, this will be their second year under the direction of former Team USA U-20 coach Mark Carr. With Carr, the Sooners have improved offensively, but their nearly two goals allowed per game make their wins hard to come by.

The Sooners hope to turn their program around, but their losing record to start the season 4-5-1 shows that they still have a long way to go.

Finally, Iowa State enters conference play with a 3-5 record, the worst among Big 12 teams. The Cyclones have struggled offensively, scoring less than one goal per game. 

Upcoming games

Very little seems to have changed in the conference hierarchy since last year. Aside from a revamped Texas Tech program, the same teams seem poised to be the protagonists in this upcoming season.

Big 12 play is set to begin Thursday.

Texas will visit Kansas State, TCU will host Kansas, Baylor will visit Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech will host Oklahoma at 7 p.m. to open up the conference schedule. West Virginia will host Iowa State on Friday at 6 p.m. to close out the first matchday. All games will be available to stream on ESPN+.

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