Big 12 Preview

2011 FINAL BIG 12 STANDINGS

Oklahoma State 12-1 (8-1)

Kansas State 10-3 (7-2)

Baylor 10-3 (6-3)

Oklahoma 10-3 (6-3)

Missouri 8-5 (5-4)

Texas 8-5 (4-5)

Texas A&M 7-6 (4-5)

Iowa State 5-7 (3-6)

Texas Tech 5-7 (2-7)

Kansas 2-10 (0-9)

 

RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS

Returning Leaders: Passing

Casey Pachall, TCU, Jr (228 of 343 for 2921, 25 TD, 7 INT)

Geno Smith, WVU, Sr (346 of 526 for 4385 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT)

Landry Jones, OU, Sr (355 of 562 for 4463 yds, 29 TD, 15 INT)

Seth Doege, Texas Tech, Sr (398 of 581 for 4003, 28 TD, 10 INT)

Collin Klein, Kansas St, Sr (161 of 281 for 1918, 13 TD, 6 INT)

 

Returning Leaders: Rushing

Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St, Jr (208 carries for 1216 yds, 5.8 ypc, 24 TD)

Collin Klein, Kansas St, Sr (317 carries for 1141 yds, 3.6 ypc, 27 TD)

John Hubert, Kansas St, Jr (200 carries for 970 yds, 4.8 ypc, 3 TD)

Wayman James, TCU, Jr (121 carries for 875 yds, 7.2 ypc, 6 TD)

Returning Leaders: Receiving

Tavon Austin, WVU, Sr (101 rec for 1186 yds, 8 TD)

Eric Ward, Texas Tech, Jr (84 rec for 800 yds, 11 TD)

Stedman Bailey, WVU, Jr (72 rec for 1279 yds, 12 TD)

Kenny Stills, OU, Jr (61 rec for 849 yds, 8 TD)

Josh Boyce, TCU, JR (61 rec for 998 yds, 9 TD)


Returning Leaders: Tackles

A.J. Klein, Iowa St, Sr (117 total, 9.00 tackles/game)

Jake Knott, Iowa St, Sr (114 total, 8.77 tackles/game)

Sam Holl, Baylor, Jr (113 total, 8.69 tackles/game)

Cody Davis, Sr (93 total, 8.45 tackles/game)


Returning Leaders: Sacks

Stanley Maponga, TCU, Jr (9.0 sacks)

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas, Jr (8.0)

Meshak Williams, Kansas St, Sr (7.0)

Alex Okafor, Texas, Sr (6.0)

 

Returning Leader: Interceptions

Nigel Malone, Kansas St, Sr (7 Interceptions)

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St, Jr (5)

Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma St, Sr (5)

K.J. Morton, Baylor, Jr (4)

Tony Jefferson, OU, Jr (4)

Quandre Diggs, Texas, Soph (4)

BREAKING DOWN THE BIG 12 WITH THE ZEALOTS AND THE SATURDAY EDGE:

Baylor Bears

Jay (Prediction: #7 ): You don’t lose a record-setting quarterback, a record-setting running back, and a record-setting receiver without seeing teeny, tiny drop-off in offensive productivity. Losing two NFL draft picks off the OL will also make an appreciable difference. If not for those facts, this looks like a really strong team on paper. The Bears have a senior quarterback, a five star talent at running back (presuming he doesn’t pull a Bryce Brown), 77 returning starts on the OL, and a bunch of receivers who’ve been very productive. But those three guys were the difference in a lot of close games last year. And even though Baylor has really strong numbers back on defense, as well (17 of the top 20 tacklers return), it’s still the Baylor defense. They just don’t have the athletes to hold opponents to much lower than 30 points per game. This will still be a good team, but more like 2010 Baylor than 2011 Baylor.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #7): Baylor lost the best QB in college football last year, but they still have plenty of talent coming back. They just won’t have a game breaker like a Robert Griffin who gave them another huge dimension on offense. But they will still have a deep backfield, plenty of talent at WR and QB Florence saw his share of starts back in 2009. Defense is still a HUGE concern with this team. They MUST improve off of their 116th national ranking last season. The Bears had just 19 sacks last year. So unless they can improve their pass rush, they will have the same problems as KSU. This team will also have a ton of confidence coming into this season. They could very well finish higher than 7th if their defense can improve.

Kevin (Prediction: #7): Last year, Baylor gave up 33.4 points per game in their ten wins. In three of those wins they gave up over 40 points. From 2010 to 2011, Baylor increased their offensive scoring by 14 points per game. This year, I would expect Baylor to come back down to somewhere around 30 points per game which means that their season will be decided based on how much improvement is seen on the defensive side of the football. Look for Baylor to be a very competitive football team this year but they will struggle to win those close games that they won last year (they won four games by one score or less).

 

Iowa State Cyclones

Jay (Prediction: #9): I feel like I’m probably undervaluing the Cyclones a little bit here. They’ve never won fewer than three conference games under coach Paul Rhoads. But though they look very strong up the middle on defense with returning senior starters at nose guard, Mike linebacker, and free safety, they also seem really inexperienced on the edges, which is where a lot of football gets played in the Big 12. If Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett can consistently recapture their mojo from their respective 3-game winning streaks last season, they have the potential to be a tough out for any team that’s not at their best. But their schedule is vicious and doesn’t allow them any sure home wins in the conference. It took the Cyclones two overtime upset victories to get to a bowl game last season. I don’t see them catching that many breaks in 2012.

The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #9): The Clones never fail to throw in a surprise win or two every year. And beating the conference winner last year was their biggest. I can see just about the same type of team we saw last year. Maybe a little better if they can find a QB. I do expect ISU to be a little more potent on offense. They also have a couple of the best LB’s in the conference on defense, but like a lot of teams in the conference, they are lacking playmakers in the secondary. The biggest thing is the QB issue with this team. Rhoads has done a good job of recruiting backs and receivers. And we’ll see their talents this year if they can just find a QB that can deliver them the ball. This will probably be another 6-6 or 5-7 team. But Rhoads is building the Clones one piece at a time.

Kevin (Prediction: #9): Iowa State is no longer an easy out. Just ask Mike Gundy and Tommy Tuberville. I would expect Iowa State to challenge for a bowl game and keep some of the Big 12 challengers on their toes. The difference between this team being mediocre and good will be the offense. Completing 50% of your passes simply isn’t going to help you win the majority of your football games. Offensive improvement is needed for the Cyclones to take the next step.

 

 

Kansas Jayhawks

Jay (Prediction: #10): This program is a dumpster fire. Which is strange, because it was just in 2007, a mere five seasons ago, when they had their greatest season ever and played in a BCS bowl. This should be the season that they’re reaping the greatest rewards from that year, instead of starting over for the second time in three seasons. And Charlie Weis isn’t exactly known as a quick fix artist (in fact, he’s more of a gradual destruction artist), so I don’t see much hope for a dramatic turnaround in 2012, though doubling their win total from last year (2) wouldn’t be entirely out of the question, if Dayne Crist’s knees don’t explode. When he’s upright, he’s a much better passer than anyone the Jayhawks have trotted out to the huddle since Todd Reesing.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #10): The Jayhawks should be better on offense this year. They’ll be bringing Notre Dame QB transfer Dayne Crist. Kansas will also have an experienced offensive line and a couple of good, experienced running backs. But this is still a team who has won only three Big 12 games in the last 3 years. So it’s going to take some time to rebuild this team. Kansas was dead last in defense in college football last year (516 ypg). So it will take a monumental task to rebuild this unit.

Kevin (Prediction: #10): It will be interesting to see how improved the offense is under Weis. How successful will Dayne Crist be? His familiarity with Weis’s system is big and if he can replicate what he did at Notre Dame in 2010 (15 TD, 7 INT) that will be better than anything Kansas has had since Todd Reesing left. Under Weis, Kansas will be more in line with the rest of the Big 12 in terms of offensive production then they have been in the last two years under Gill. Weis will be free to run the type of offense that he wants and we should see a solid improvement over what Kansas put on the field last year. The key to the season is the defense, which was last in the Big 12 in just about every category you can imagine. If the defense takes a big step forward then maybe Kansas can take a step out of the cellar but I don’t think that happens for at least another year.

 

Kansas State Wildcats

Jay (Predicton: #5): If Colin Klein could throw at all, I’d give this team an outside shot to make a run at the conference title. But he can’t. And the Wildcats draw 5 conference away games, anyway, including trips to Oklahoma and West Virginia (the latter being the last of back-to-back travel games). That said, K-State’s power running game with Klein and John Hubert will continue to give the smaller finesse defenses in the Big 12 nightmares. But, just like last year, when they run up against teams with big, athletic front sevens that can match up in the trenches, they won’t have an answer. Because Colin Klein can’t throw.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #5): If KSU had a little easier schedule I might rank them one or two places higher. With their ball possession style, mistake free, penalty free, turnover free football. they’ll continue to play close games. But I think with those tough road games, they won’t come out on top as many times as they did last year. The fact still remains that they were just ranked 110th in total offense last season, and won six games by a TD or less. Another problem I see is a DL that appears like it won’t be able to get enough pressure on the QB. They had real problems with this last year when they went up against talented QB’s like Landry Jones, RGIII and Brandon Weedon, who combined to score 145 points on them. It makes those trips to Norman, Morgantown and Fort Worth precarious at best.

Kevin (Prediction: #2): I’ve mentioned this before but I really think the Big 12 is going to be a league where teams are going to pick each other off and there will be several teams that are clumped together when the dust settles. Kansas State can be as good as any team in this league but they also have the possibility of falling as far as sixth or seventh place in the conference. I was impressed by what Bill Snyder accomplished and my expectation would be for K-State to compete in every game this year and win the majority of them. I’m not expecting a big fall off for Kansas State.

 

Oklahoma Sooners

Jay (Prediction :#1): I guess I’m picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12 because, you know, that’s just what you do when you don’t think Texas is quite championship material. I definitely think Landry Jones’ development (or lack thereof) is a concern. He seemed to reach a plateau last year, then Ryan Broyles went out, and he actually seemed to regress. If he plays as badly in 2012 as he did down the stretch in 2011, this Big 12 is wide open for the taking.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #1): I’ve got to go with OU because of their combined offensive and defensive strengths. They may not have the offense of WV or the defense of Texas, but they aren’t lacking in either. But it’s by the smallest of margins, especially if they incur any more key injuries on the offensive line. And if Landry Jones goes down, all bets are off. It’s anybody’s game. But even if LJ stays healthy, OU has a number of potential roadblocks. First off is Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Does anybody really think the Sooners win this game by 38 this year? Another roadblock is having to play in both of the conference newcomers backyards. There will be many unknowns to deal with in going to new stadiums. With Landry Jones dealing with a semi-reshuffled OL, new WR’s and handing off to a RB that is coming off a season ending injury, OU is far from a sure thing this year. Things will have to fall just right for them to win the outright Big 12 title.

Kevin (Prediction: #1): Oklahoma has had their share of off the field issues this year but I still see them as the most talented team in the league. Texas might have as much talent, but they don’t have a quarterback. Mike Stoops returns to Norman and that will help that side of the football be re-energized. Look for OU to take the Big 12 Title.

 

 

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Jay (Prediction: #6): Mike Gundy has done a good job building this program, but you don’t lose Brandon Weedon and Justin Blackmon without missing a step. Especially when you replace them with a true freshman (That’s the plan right now, anyway. We’ll see if it sticks.) and no on in particular, respectively. I really feel like Joseph Randle is more of a complementary player at running back, not a workhorse who can carry the team until West Lunt gets on track.  I think the Cowboy defense will continue to be what it is. They’ll give up a lot of yards and a lot of points, but also generate a lot of turnovers and create bonus scoring opportunities for the offense. Weeden and Blackmon were able to cash in on those more often than not, to the tune of nearly 50 points per game in 2011. If Lunt and the new guys are unable to take advantage of those opportunities, Okie State will see several close games go the other way this year. My guess is that A) the defense doesn’t quite produce turnovers at last year’s astounding rate, and B) the young offense doesn’t get the most out of the ones they do, resulting in the Cowboys dropping back to the middle of the pack.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #4): I’m having trouble buying that the Pokes are going to fall THAT much. They have a very underrated coaching staff and system in place that promotes continued success with this program. I just don’t see the Pokes regressing that much. Aside from a game versus Texas, OSU doesn’t have a difficult first half schedule, so freshman QB Lunt should have ample time to get up to Big 12 speed. With the exception of their game at OU, they get all of their tough games at home.  Stillwater in recent years has not been an easy place to play. They should also have a ton of confidence after their Big 12 title breakthrough last year. RB Joseph Randal could be the best and most versatile RB in the Big 12. He should help ease some of the pressure placed on the rookie QB.

Kevin (Prediction: #6): The schedule sets up nicely for the Cowboys to get off to a good start.  Oklahoma State should be looking at 5-1 (give or take a win) going into the second half of their season. That is where they will get tested. They take on TCU, Kansas State and West Virginia in back to back weeks, then host Texas Tech and then go to Oklahoma. If the offense can gel and Lunt can get his feet under him in the first half of the schedule, Oklahoma State could be in for another surprising year but the Big 12 just looks so competitive this year I think there is going to be a lot of teams beating up on each other.

 

Texas Longhorns

Jay (Prediction: tie for #2): Texas is looking like my kind of team this year. They’re going to play great defense in year 2 of Manny Diaz’s scheme, and they’re going to run the football with powerful backs behind a veteran offensive line that will be ready to mash defenses in year 2 of a real pro running scheme (as opposed to whatever Greg Davis was doing in 2010). As long as whichever young quarterback that ends up with the hot potato can protect the football, I think this will be Texas’ true bounce-back season. The Longhorns may have won a fair number of games last year, but they rarely looked impressive in doing so and were embarrassed on a few occasions. In 2012, the numbers 4 through 8 will not be present in Texas’ final regular season record.

The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2): Just by their defensive personnel alone you have to put  Texas at least #2. It comes down to the simple fact that nobody comes even remotely close to recruiting in the Big 12 like Texas and OU. And it usually takes outside circumstances to keep either of these teams from winning the conference. In OSU’s case last year, they benefited from a series of key injuries to OU, and Texas going through a complete overhaul of their coaching staff,  schemes and QB’s. This year Texas should have things a little bit better together on offense. But the fact still remains that they have two QB’s who had trouble reading defenses and completing passes over 5 yards. And in order to run the ball like they want to, to take the pressure off of the QB(s), the offensive line needs to improve. So far I’m not hearing that many positive things about the OL. My general feeling about this team is they are probably still a year away from winning the conference.

Kevin (Prediction: #4): Texas’s schedule really comes in waves. Wave one has three games that Texas should not lose, but then the next three might be the three toughest games of the season (Okie St, WVU and OU in back-to-back-to-back weeks). After that Texas gets four in-conference games they should win and then they finish with two tough back-to-back games against TCU and Kansas State. More than likely the toughest five conference games will come down to QB play and in four of five of those games their opponent will have the better QB (Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Casey Pachall and Collin Klein). If everything aligns, Texas definitely has the talent to win the conference but I don’t see their offense being consistent enough to make it happen. Look for Texas to improve but how much will depend on QB play.

 

 

TCU Horned Frogs

Jay (Prediction:#8): The Horned Frogs are in for a rude awakening in 2012. The Big 12 schedule makers showed no mercy to the BCS conference neophytes, giving them 5 conference away games right off the bat, sending them on the road to face Oklahoma State and West Virginia on back-to-back weekends, and wrapping up their season with a double shot of Texas and Oklahoma. You won’t find competition like that in the Mountain West, where 10 wins were a gimme. That schedule would be difficult to negotiate, even if TCU wasn’t fielding what looks like it’s weakest, least experienced defense in years, and, oh yeah, dealing with a major off-field distraction. Which they are. The Horned Frogs have won at least 11 games in 7 out of the last 9 seasons. This season, they’re more likely to win 7 to 9 games.

The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #6): If it wasn’t for Gary Patterson, I probably wouldn’t even put TCU this high because of all of the offseason troubles they’ve had that has cut into their overall depth. TCU starts off with a favorable enough schedule to where I think they can rack up a decent conference record before they get into their bottom loaded schedule where things could fall apart in a hurry. QB Pachall is a clutch QB and a game changer. So TCU will have a punchers chance in every game they play. But depth is going to be a real issue with this team. TCU simply isn’t used to playing this many good BCS teams in a row without a break. TCU also lost their kicker and punter, and their offensive line also must be retooled. This is a lot to overcome when entering into the BCS ranks for the first time. So unlike WV, this isn’t the best time for TCU to be entering the league.

Kevin (Prediction: #5): The good news is that the schedule sets up nicely for TCU. It would not be shocking to see TCU at 7-0 as they play some decent teams but they are games they should win. October 27th is when the going gets tough. That’s when TCU takes a trip to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State and then it’s a whirlwind of the best of the best of the Big 12 (at WVU, vs K-State, at Texas, vs OU). Will TCU be in for a rude awakening in their debut season in the Big 12 or will they prove they belong?

 

 

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Jay (Prediction: tied for #2): The more I research the Red Raiders, the more I get this crazy idea that they could be a major dark horse player in the conference. With a senior quarterback, solid experience back on the OL, everyone of significance in the receiving corps back, and potentially the return of a running back who showed flashes of being the best back Tech has had as far back as I can remember, this year’s offense has the potential to be the most dynamic since 2008. You remember that one. But even more importantly, with 9 starters back on defense (and 16 of the top 20 tacklers returning), I think this is one of the more underrated defenses in the conference. The back seven, in particular, is loaded with experience. If the Red Raiders can get some new blood on the defensive line to generate pressure on the quarterback, I think there’s great potential for some Oklahoma State-caliber ballhawking in Lubbock. Plus, they draw a great conference schedule with only 4 away games, none of which are against the better teams in the conference. Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia all have to travel to Lubbock. Watch out for these guys.

The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #8): With the amount of starters they have coming back, plus an experienced senior QB I very much want to rank this team higher. But TT is one of those teams I’m going to have to see before I make a proper evaluation on them. The reason for doubt lies at the top with Tommy Tubberville. I’m still not sure if he is the right man for the job. One thing that hasn’t changed that much is the strength of the Red Raiders will be offense. Besides QB Doege, they’ll have a talented group of WR’s and a couple of good RB’s. Their problem is a defense that will be on their fourth DC in four years, and yet another new scheme (4-3). They’ll also have 5 new JUCO’s that will try to make an immediate impact, which is always a gamble. But I don’t see a quick fix with this unit since they gave up nearly 500 yards per game last year (114th nationally). They’ll also have a lack of depth in the secondary, which is never good in the pass happy Big 12. After the OU game last year, they suffered a ton of injuries. We’re not talking about the minor type either. Most of the injuries were season ending injuries that required surgery. So Tech could be a little underestimated if people go strictly by what they did in the last 5 games of last season.

Kevin (Prediction: #8): Texas Tech is one of the more interesting teams in the league. Tommy Tuberville is going to be in trouble if he doesn’t win this year and the Big 12 looks like a monster. Teams differ a lot from year to year but it’s really hard to forget about a 34 point loss to Iowa State. The Red Raiders and Tommy Tuberville don’t have a lot of goodwill built up right now and they are a team that needs to show me what they can do before I believe they are on the track back to the top of the Big 12.

 

 

West Virginia Mountaineers

Jay (Prediction: tied for #2): I’ve somewhat tempered my expectations for this West Virginia team. I still think they’re schedule is highly conducive to winning the Big 12 title. If they can survive those back-to-back road trips to Texas and Texas Tech in early October, they’ll get Oklahoma at home in November and have a great shot to close out strong. But, boy, I think it’s going to be a real culture shock when they head down to Austin and see what that Longhorn front seven can do. And then to have to travel back home and then back to Lubbock in a week? That’s rough. I can easily see this team opening up at 1-2 in the conference.  But once they get settled in, I think they’ll be fine.  Dana Holgorsen knows how to win in this conference.

The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #3): With many of the Big 12 defenses seeming to be in a rebuilding mode or just downright awful, I tend to gravitate towards the teams with the best offenses and experienced QB’s. West Virginia fits that bill. I think they are entering the Big 12 at a perfect time. They have the majority of their team back, they have an experienced QB, and they have one of the more favorable schedules in the conference. They also have a coaching staff who is familiar with the Big 12 (Holgersen coached at both OSU and Texas Tech). Of course this team’s main question mark is their defense. But aside from the top 2 teams, who doesn’t have major questions at defense? I think this team is well equipped for Big 12 play and they could simply outscore many of their opponents like Baylor had to do last year.

Kevin (Prediction: #3): Heading into the Big 12, the Mountaineers are going to get some serious competition this year. WVU should be 4-0 heading into a huge test at Texas. The Mountaineers should play five Top 25 teams in the regular season. Last year they played just two. When I look at their schedule I just think it’s going to be difficult for them to escape their tough Big 12 schedule with any less than three losses but that should be good enough for third in the conference.

 

CFBZ PREDICTED 2012 BIG 12 FINISH

1. Oklahoma Sooners

2 (tie). Texas Longhorns

2 (tie). West Virginia Mountaineers

4. Kansas State Wildcats

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

7. TCU Horned Frogs

8. Baylor Bears

9. Iowa State Cyclones

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section and founder of College Football Zealots

>Big 12 Preview

>2009 Standings
North
Nebraska Cornhuskers 10-4 (6-2)
Missouri Tigers 8-5 (4-4)
Kansas State Wildcats 6-6 (4-4)
Iowa State Cyclones 7-6 (3-5)
Colorado Buffaloes 3-9 (2-6)
Kansas Jayhawks 5-7 (1-7)

South
Texas Longhorns 13-1 (8-0)
Oklahoma State Cowboys 9-4 (6-2)
Texas Tech Red Raiders 9-4 (5-3)
Oklahoma Sooners 8-5 (5-3)
Texas A&M Aggies 6-7 (3-5)
Baylor Bears 4-8 (1-7)

Big 12 Championship Game: Texas 13 Nebraska 12

Returning Leaders: Passing
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri, Jr (262 of 445 for 3593, 24 TD, 9 INT)
Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M, Sr (296 of 497 for 3579, 30 TD, 8 INT)
Taylor Potts, Texas Tech, Sr (309 of 470 for 3440, 22 TD, 13 INT)
Landry Jones, Oklahoma, Soph (261 of 449 for 3198, 26 TD, 14 INT)
Zac Lee, Nebraska, Sr (177 of 302 for 2143, 14 TD, 10 INT)

Returning Leaders: Rushing
Daniel Thomas, Kansas St, Sr (247 carries for 1265 yds, 11 TD)
Alexander Robinson, Iowa St, Sr (231 carries for 1193 yds, 5 TD)
Roy Helu, Nebraska, Sr (220 carries for 1147 yds, 10 TD)
Baron Batch, Texas Tech, Sr (168 carries for 884 yds, 14 TD)
Derrick Washington, Missouri, Sr (190 carries for 865 yds, 10 TD)

Returning Leaders: Receiving
Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, Jr (89 rec for 1120 yds, 15 TD)
Scotty McKnight, Colorado, Sr (76 rec for 893 yds, 6 TD)
Alexander Torres, Texas Tech, Sr (67 rec for 806 yds, 6 TD)
Kendall Wright, Baylor, Jr (66 rec for 740 yds, 4 TD)
Detron Lewis, Texas Tech, Sr (65 rec for 844 yds, 6 TD)

Returning Leaders: Tackles
Travis Lewis, Oklahoma, Jr, LB (108 total, 8.3 tackles/game)
Trent Hunter, Texas A&M, Jr, S (95 total, 7.3 tackles/game)
Quinton Carter, Oklahoma, Sr, S (88 total, 6.7 tackles/game)
Drew Dudley, Kansas, Sr, LB (88 total, 7.3 tackles/game)
David Sims, Iowa State, Sr, S (88 total, 6.7 tackles/game)

Returning Leaders: Sacks
Von Miller, Texas A&M, Sr, LB (16.5 sacks)
Aldon Smith, Missouri, Soph, DE (11.5)
Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma, Sr (11.0)
Jared Crick, Nebraska, Jr (9.5)
Sam Acho, Texas, Sr (7.0)

Returning Leaders: Interceptions
Blake Gideon, Texas, Jr, S (6 interceptions)
Tysyn Hartman, Kansas St, Jr, S (5)
David Sims, Iowa State, Sr, S (5)
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska, CB (5)
 

BREAKING DOWN THE BIG 12 WITH THE ZEALOTS

Baylor Bears

Chris (Projection: #5 in South): So much is the effect of having Robert Griffin III back in a Bears uniform after his injury, that his presence alone helps them to jump Oklahoma St. and lead the team towards a quasi-relevant state. Now just remember he’s only a sophomore.

Ross (Projection: #5 in South): They’re the feel good story of the Big 12, between their long bowl drought and the fact that QB Robert Griffin is one of the most exciting players in college football — or was, anyway, before he blew out his knee last year.  Time will tell if he’s able to regain his breathtaking pre-injury form.  To get to a bowl this year, they’re going to need to put up a ton of points, given all the holes they have on defense; good thing they return a slew of players on offense and get Griffin back to run the show.  Really, their season is going to rise or fall on the condition of Griffin’s knee; if he’s all the way back, their offense should be very good and he may be able to lead them to six wins and the promised land of a bowl game.  If he’s not all the way back, it’s probably another disappointing season in Waco.

Colorado Buffaloes

Ross (Projection: #4 in North): Dan Hawkins somehow survived to face another year as Colorado’s head coach, but at least he has a lot of returning starters with him to try and get things turned around (or just send him out on a high note).  They have ten back on offense (everyone but the TE) and seven back on defense (3/4 of the defensive line and secondary), so if Hawkins is ever going to get anything going at Colorado, it’s probably going to be now.  Too bad the schedule is such a bear: Georgia and Cal should be difficult challenges in the non-conference slate and the Big 12 road games are so challenging (Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska), it’s hard to see them winning even one of those.  4-4 in the Big 12 might be a solid accomplishment for this team.

Chris (Projection: #3 in North): Dan Hawkins was supposed to revitalize Colorado Buffalo football. That was what he was brought in for. But 4 years and a 16-33 record later, it’s apparent that the only reason he is still there is that he is too expensive to buy out for the Colorado Athletic Department. The real interesting this is that he finally decided to bench his son and make the dinner table at the Hawkins house a little more awkward. Although, he could be just trying to improve his son’s life expectancy by getting him out of the way of charging defensive linemen that were allowed to pray on Buffalo QB’s to the tune of 44 sacks last year. In all fairness, I do think this is the year Hawkins turns it around…a little. Why wouldn’t it be with a team returning 15 starters and 7 in an above average D a year ago. Their schedule doesn’t do them any favors in the record department, so I don’t think they’ll be going bowling, but it’s so strong that it can prepare them for conference play.

Iowa State Cyclones

Chris (Projection: #5 in North): To be honest, this is again a case of little separation between the Cyclones and the Wildcats. Quarterback Austin Arnaud may be the difference between last and next to last for the Cyclones, as they return 7 other offensive starters around him. The real issue is that their suspect defense has a lot of new faces on it, so the offense will have to be on it’s game week in and week out to keep from falling into the Big 12 North dungeon. 

Ross (Projection: #6 in North): They return plenty on offense (starters at QB, RB, WR, and 3/5 of the OL), but returning just four starters on defense is going to put a lot of pressure on new faces to step up and stop the Big 12′s many potent offenses.  But the biggest problem is a schedule that puts Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech on the slate (not to mention challenging non-conference games against Iowa, Utah, and Northern Illinois), brings Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri to Ames and sends them to Colorado (trickier than it seems) for a road game.  That schedule is just too daunting to see them amassing too many wins in 2010.

Kansas Jayhawks 

Ross (Projection: #3 in North): There’s a fair amount back on offense (7 players, including the entire offensive line), but there are a few glaring holes: namely, QB Todd Reesing, a multi-year starter, and his favorite targets, WR Dez Briscoe and WR Kerry Meier; that’s a lot of production for the offense to replace.  The defense returns six starters, so there are even more holes to fill on that side of the ball, but the schedule should help new coach Turner Gill get off to a hot start.  They draw Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State from the Big 12 South and their only really tough road game looks like a trip to Lincoln to take on Nebraska.

Chris (Projection: #4 in North): Never in my life have I seen a college football team go from so hot to so cold like Kansas did a year ago. After winning their first 5, the Jayhawks dropped their last 7, including a puzzling couple of decisions from the Mangino-man (who should now be able to successfully launch his career as the next Jared for Subway) that showed he knew he was on the way out and truly didn’t care about his job anymore. Mangino sure picked the right time to leave though (well actually, by picked I mean he was fired), as Todd Reesing and the team built around him is now Kale Pick’s team. Who? Yeah, that’s the successor to Reesing. No offense to Turner Gill, but I think this team, with all the bad that Mangino left behind, will be too much of a project to turn around in one year…especially when only returning 11 starters.

Kansas State Wildcats 

Ross (Projection: #5 in North): A team that was already lacking in talent now has to deal with returning just five starters on offense and six on defense; that’s going to be tricky.  With 4/5 of the offensive line back and a talented workhorse running back in Daniel Thomas, it’s pretty clear what K-State is going to do on offense: run run and then run some more.  The last thing a rebuilding and inexperienced team needs is a schedule short on easy home games, but that’s exactly what K-State has: just three true home games (a fourth home game is in Kansas City against Iowa State) and they’re against Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State.  Winning either the Texas or Nebraska games is going to be very challenging, which is going to put a lot of pressure on a young team to pick up some wins on the road.

Chris (Projection: #6 in North): The Wildcats were 108th in the nation in passing a year ago, a stat that is likely to even fall further without a returning starter at receiver, tight end or quarterback. They will rely on Daniel Thomas and hope that a revamped defense which was very strong from a year ago will keep them in the Big 12 chase. But that’s an awful lot of if’s, and it is my belief that Kansas St. will become too one dimensional on offense and opponents will be quick to catch on.

Missouri Tigers

Chris (Projection: #2 in North): Anyone who thought that Mizzou was going to take a step back after Chase Daniel left was rudely awakened when they dismantled (but that word doesn’t even do it justice) the fresh off a BCS bowl bid Illinois 37-9 in week 1. From that point on, Blaine Gabbert and Derrick Washington put on an offensive clinic. Guess what? They’re back! Both of them. Big 12 D-coordinators will not sleep before their matchup with Missouri…or after them either. I believe in Missouri so much that if any other team not named Nebraska (okay, so not ANY other team, but the list of teams that would make me change that statement is short) was in their division, I would take them to win it.

Ross (Projection: #2 in North): Nebraska is the odds-on favorite in the B12 North, but if anyone can give them a run, it’s Missouri, who returns eight starters on offense and defense, including returning stars at QB (Blaine Gabbert) and RB (Derrick Washington) and most of their offensive line and their entire defensive secondary.  So the talent appears to be there.  The schedule is challenging, though: they have a five-game stretch in the middle of the season (Colorado, @ Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @ Nebraska, @ Texas Tech) that could derail things. 

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Chris (Projection: #1 in North): The Huskers were seconds away from a BCS bowl and an upset of the national runner-up, and seconds from an upset of a Virginia Tech team that won 10 games as well. That accounted for half of their losses a year ago. Back are 9 players on offense from a struggling unit a year ago, including their leading passer, rusher, and receiver. Also back is a strong core of 6 starters on a top-10 defense only led by one of the game’s top defensive minds. The Huskers are primed for success this season and to follow up on their 2009 campaign to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Newsflash: It wasn’t. If the Huskers can hold off the Tigers, they’ll be heading to the Big 12 ship.

Ross (Projection: #1 in North): Losing Ndamukong Suh is unquestionably a massive blow to the defense and the entire team, but they have some other NFL-ready defensive stars (Jared Crick, Pierre Allen, Prince Amukamara) ready to step up and keep the defense as one of the top defenses in the league (and nation). Nine guys are back on an offense that was utterly wretched a year ago; hopefully another year of experience will allow them to blossom into, at least, competence.  The Texas game is a lynchpin to their season and a win could springboard them to big things.  Regardless, it’s nigh-impossible to see anyone in the Big 12 North challenging them.

Oklahoma Sooners

Chris (Projection: #1 in South): The good news is that if Oklahoma somehow gives this race away, quarterback Landry Jones will be a shoe in for the 30th annual America’s worst facial hair award. The bad news for the Big 12 South is that is unlikely to happen. Expect DeMarco Murray to absolutely DOMINATE the Big 12 this year en route to the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Just like Texas they don’t bring a lot back, but just like Texas (or at least much like Texas) Oklahoma recruits seem to deliver in the clutch (unlike their coach Bob Stoops). The Sooners are ready to put behind them a year where their universe was turned upside down…and I think they will do it.

Ross (Projection: #2 in South): The loss of Bradford and Gresham so early last year meant that Oklahoma had to get a headstart on the post-Bradford/Gresham era, which should give them an advantage heading into this year.  Landry Jones took his lumps as Bradford’s replacement a year ago, but he came on strong at the end of the year and a full off-season of practice should have him ready to become the next incredibly prolific Oklahoma QB.  They return a ton of other starters on offense, and while the defense needs a lot of patching up, defense tends to be Stoops’ specialty.  The bigger concern is the schedule, which includes some challenging non-conference games (Florida State, Air Force, and Cincinnati) and only three conference home games (since the Texas game is at the Cotton Bowl).  Then again, if Oklahoma can get by Texas, there’s no reason not to think that they could run the table in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Chris (Projection: #6 in South): Long season ahead for the Pokes…you know, full of things like Mike Gundy rants, and losing to Oklahoma, and being back at the bottom of the Big 12 totem pole. I’m sorry if nobody else sees it, but returning only 5 starters in this league lands you here. If you don’t agree with me GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT! IT MAKES ME WANT TO PUKE!

Ross (Projection: #6 in South): This year we’ll find out how well Mike Gundy has recruited since turning 40. They lost a ton of proven talent on offense and defense; until they show us how well they can replace guys like Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, and Russell Okung, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of their prospects in 2010.

Texas Longhorns

Chris (Projection: #2 in South): I was SO close to giving this spot to Texas A&M, but just couldn’t bring myself to it. That defense is horrid, no matter how many starters they return. Still if Texas’ young squad should leave the door open for Jerrod Johnson to work his magic, you could see the Aggies overtaking the Horns in the standings. But, instead I’ll go with conventional wisdom and say that the A&M defense will still be bad (you can’t make THAT drastic of an improvement in one year), and I’ll trust Mack Brown’s recruits on getting the job done. What reason do we not have to trust this guy? He delivers!

Ross (Projection: #1 in South): The offense needs to be totally rebuilt and they lost some key performers on defense, too — so why pick them to win the South?  Like all the other elite teams, they reload and with Muschamp running the defense, it’s pretty likely that he’ll have another very good unit on the field.  The offense is more of a question mark, but Garrett Gilbert is plenty talented (as he showed in the second half of the BCS title game last year).  The best thing Texas has going for them is their schedule, which is paper-thin: they play only three true road games all year (@ Texas Tech, @ Nebraska, @ Kansas State) and it’s really a two-game schedule (vs. Nebraska and Oklahoma).  A split in those games and 11-1, 7-1 in the Big 12 looks very possible.

Texas A&M Aggies

Chris (Projection: #3 in South): Jerodd Johnson is one of the nation’s best players, and he’ll get to show his skills with a lot of skill position talent around him. However, there are two concerns at A&M. One, the new offensive tackles are both freshmen! Yikes! Johnson will have to use his athletic ability to evade pressure early on. Also, a defense that was just absolutely pathetic a year ago returns 10 starters but just like Callahan Brake Pads, won’t offer you any guarantee. To me that spells Texas A&M in third…but one of the best 3rd teams in their division in the nation, rest assured.

Ross (Projection: #4 in South): It’s a do or die year for Mike Sherman; the good news is that he finally has a talented and experienced team in place.  The core of the offense is back, including QB Jerrod Johnson, who should be the best QB in the league.  If they can fill a few holes along the offensive line, they should have an incredibly explosive offense.  The defense also brings back nine starters, which would be really good news if they hadn’t spent the better part of the last few years getting utterly torched and disgracing the unit’s former “Wrecking Crew” moniker.  The schedule is troubling, too, as they get all three of what could be the best teams in the Big 12 North (Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas).

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Chris (Projection: #4 in South): I like Texas Tech (or well what they did under Leach. It was a brilliant gameplan to beat teams). I like Tommy Tubberville. But as American Idol’s Simon Cowell once said of a performer “You and Latin music go together about as well as Garlic and Ice Cream.” That is the case here. Tubberville likes to run (evidenced by the Cadillac Williams/Ronnie Brown tandem). Texas Tech’s pedigree is passing, and they were groomed over the last decade to do nothing else. So once again, I like both parties, but who doesn’t see a fall with the system change and Tubberville at the helm? I just don’t know if Tommy is the guy for the Red Raiders…but have faith in a more conventional job (a la not Mike Leach tries to throw a pass between every breath). 

Ross (Projection: #3 in South): There’s a lot of talent back on offense and a decent amount back on defense; if Mike Leach was still around, this might be a dark horse team to win the South, given the holes that Texas and Oklahoma have to fill.  But with Leach gone and Tommy Tuberville in charge, this team is a total wildcard.  While Tuberville claims he wants to keep the air raid passing game, given his past, it’s hard not to see him dramatically increasing the importance of the running game — and it’s anyone’s guess as to how that will go.  On the plus side, they draw Iowa State and Colorado from the Big 12 North, which may be just enough to let them slide ahead of Texas A&M.

CFBZ Predicted Big 12 Finish

North
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers
2. Missouri Tigers
3. Colorado Buffaloes
4. Kansas Jayhawks
5. Kansas State Wildcats
6. Iowa State Cyclones

South
1. Oklahoma Sooners
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Texas A&M Aggies
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders
5. (tie) Baylor Bears
5. (tie) Oklahoma State Cowboys

Big 12 Championship Game: Nebraska Cornhuskers over Oklahoma Sooners

Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section and founder of College Football Zealots

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