Is any conference in the country more interesting than the Big 12 this year? I don’t think so. With Nebraska and Colorado making a curtain call and nine other members complaining about the power of Texas this might be the most entertaining season of Big 12 football yet. Too bad it will be the last one with the current lineup.
Big 12 South
As far as I am concerned the Big XII South is the toughest division in all of college football heading into the 2010 season. Check it out.
Texas- The Longhorn program is like Skynet at this point. It has become self aware and everyone should just do what they can not to piss it off or it might instigate a nuclear catastrophe. It simply is what it is. Mack Brown, Will Muschamp and a roster stockpiled with elite talent should be enough to keep the Horns in the BCS race.
Unfortunately for Texas they will have to navigate a four game mine field that begins in week three. That four game run goes @ Texas Tech, UCLA, OU (Dallas), @ Nebraska. Treacherous. Jones SBC Stadium has become a bit of a crime scene for both OU and Texas as of late. I expect UCLA will be much improved and the Red River Shootout against OU is always tough. The Horns do have a week off to regroup before making a trip to Lincoln for what I expect to be one of the best, and most heated, games of the season.
A tough stretch like that in the first half of the season gives Garrett Gilbert and several other new starters little time go get into a groove which greatly decreases the chances that Texas survives that run unscathed. I suspect the Horns will drop one during that stretch before ripping off six straight W’s to finish the year. They will be in the mix come Big XII tie breaker time to set up a rematch with Nebraska in the Big XII Title Game.
Oklahoma- It seems like every year the Sooners are in every preseason top five that I see. The way I see it Big Game Bob has been anything but that for a few years now. Is this the year he will reverse his fortunes? I really don’t know what to expect from the Sooners at this point. They have elite talent and a great coaching staff but seem to be struggling to rediscover the formula for the secret sauce. I know last year was a freak occurrence riddled with injuries to star players and a green offensive line but the Sooners still looked as if they were just going through the motions at times.
The only real difference I see between OU and Texas at this point is the jolt of adrenaline that the Horns get out of Muschamp. Playing with a little shot of fire in your belly can make all the difference in a 3 point game. Keeping that fire burning is the biggest challenge that all powerhouse programs face and I see the Sooners ability to find it again as the X factor that will determine whether they end up in the BCS mix or the Holiday Bowl in 2010.
Texas Tech- I continue to be intrigued by the Red Raiders. After running off the most successful coach in their history they managed to bumble their way into a very good situation with Tuberville. On the down side Mike Leach is sitting in Key West eating pie, shooting rum and paying a team of crackpots and nudists to put assorted hexes on the Masked Rider. Oh yeah, and he’s still suing them over shedgate. All of that could actually be turned into a positive by a coach as savvy as Tubs. He picked up Bama LB Coach James Willis to run a defense that got surprisingly decent the last few years under Ruffin McNeil. The Raiders are moving to a 3-4 alignment but I suspect they will come through the transition just fine due to coaching.
Tubs brought in upstart OC Neal Brown from Troy in an attempt to somewhat mimic the Leach Air Raid. Teen Wolf lookalike Taylor Potts and Sticks Sheffield will drag a QB controversy into the season but regardless of who is under center I expect the Raiders will continue to put up PlayStation numbers against lesser foes. With their usual lineup of high school opponents in their non-conference games and a draw of Iowa State, Colorado and Mizzu from the North their schedule is relatively favorable. Tubs should win 8 in his first season and I won’t be at all surprised if he picks up an upset or two on top of that.
Texas A&M- Big Sherm enters season three with a talented and experienced roster that boasts 7 returning starters on offense and 9 on defense. The Ags are getting a fair amount of preseason love due to a solid offense and QB Jerrod Johnson. Sherman picked up Steve Kragthorpe to help him run the offense and I suspect they will continue to score plenty of points.
The defense on the other hand is a wildcard. TAMU was brutal on defense last year and Sherman picked up Tim DeRuyter from Air Force to fix it. While not exactly a household name DeRuyter had the Falcons playing respectable D and could prove to be a very good off the radar type hire. The Aggie schedule is favorable early but ends with a five game stretch that includes Texas Tech, OU, @ Baylor, Nebraska and @ Texas. The Texas Tech tilt at Kyle Field on October 30th will likely be the battle for 3rd place in the South.
Oklahoma State- Following a disappointing 2009 campaign that started with a lot of hype and ended with a Cotton Bowl loss the Cowboys limp into 2010 with a grand total of 8 returning starters and a lot of work to do. In short this looks like it is going to be a full blown "rebuilding year" in Stillwater. That said the Cowboys do have a solid talent base and Gundy has made two solid coordinator hires in the last two years. He picked up DC Bill Young from Miami after 2008 and OC Dana Holgorsen via Texas Tech and Houston following last season. The Cowboys will be a competitive football team but in a division this tough it will be very difficult for them to exceed 7 or 8 wins.
Baylor- Art Briles is a very good coach and QB Robert Griffin is a serious factor when healthy but the Bears lack the overall talent and depth to be a real factor in the South. That said they are probably the best team I will pick to finish last in any division in the country which truly shows the strength of the division. The Bears also play 12 straight games without a bye week and finish up against OU on November 20th. That kind of bonehead scheduling makes me want to get into the AD racket. Despite the lack of a break along the way, non-conference tilts against Sam Houston State, Buffalo and Rice could help propel the Bears to bowl eligibility. That would be a huge step in the right direction as the Bears haven’t gone bowling since 1994!
Big 12 North
Are Nebraska and Colorado really leaving? It really does bum me out, but it is what it is. The North looks like it is going to be a two horse race between Nebraska and Mizzu for an appearance in the Big 12 title game. The other four teams are all in various states of playing for bowl eligibility.
Nebraska- The Pelini brothers have the Blackshirts back to playing on a very high level and return 6 starters to a unit that only allowed 10.4 pts/ game last season. While Ndamukong Suh is gone Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler are more than capable of controlling the middle and the Husker D will remain formidable. The Husker offense struggled last season in comparison to 2008 but returns 9 starters.
Senior Zac Lee will continue to try and hold off Sophomore Kody Green at QB but I expect to see Green involved. Their contrasting styles force opposing DCs to spend time during the week preparing for a wide range of possibilities. That and continued production out of the Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead combo in the ground game should help the offense make positive strides. The Huskers have a favorable schedule that includes their two toughest games against Texas and Mizzu in Lincoln. Nebraska is the team to beat in the North and I expect to see them in the Big XII title game giving the Red River survivor/ south tie breaker victor all they can handle.
Missouri- Gary Pinkel returns 8 starters on both sides of the ball and is getting a little bit of preseason love. The Tigers had a major drop off in offensive production last season averaging only 29 pts/ game and finished the season getting stymied by Navy in the Texas Bowl. I expect Blaine Gabbert and company to make a positive move back in the right direction this season but the defense will continue to leave Mizzu looking up at Nebraska. They have an interesting opener against Illinois then roll into tilts against three patsies and bye week week before jumping into conference play. The Tigers draw a tough start to conference play with a five game stretch that includes Colorado, @TAMU, Oklahoma, @Nebraska and @Texas Tech. I see the Tigers as having a 3 win ceiling during that run which will leave them battling for second in the North.
Kansas- The Jayhawks lack household names but do have decent talent and experience on the roster with 7 returning starters on offense and 6 on defense. They also have a new head coach in Turner Gill who has a track record for doing more with less. Kansas has Georgia Tech, Southern Miss and two patsies in September and draws Baylor, TAMU and Okie State from the South. I expect the Jayhawks to be competitive and get back into a bowl game.
Colorado- I am hesitant to be at all optimistic about the Buffs as Dan Hawkins enters year 5 with a 16-33 record in Boulder. That said Hawkins is dug in and looks prepared to fire the final protective fire before he gets overrun. The Buffs have 10 returning starters on offense and 7 on defense. Can their Big 12 curtain call result in a winning record? With non-conference matchups against Colorado State, Cal, and Georgia I think the odds are 50/50 that they end up bowl eligible.
Iowa State- The similarities between the Cyclones and Baylor are eerie. Like Art Briles Paul Rhoads is actually a good coach stuck in a tough place to win. You could almost copy and paste what I wrote on Baylor right here. QB Austin Arnaud headlines 8 returning starters on offense, while the defense has 4. The talent levels are similar and like Baylor they play 12 straight games. With non-conference tilts against Iowa and Utah and a draw of Texas Tech, OU and Texas from the South a return to bowl eligibility will be very difficult.
Kansas State- Bill Snyder remains at the helm and the roster is still chock full of JUCO pickups and a bunch of other guys non K-State fans probably haven’t heard of. They have UCLA and UCF non-conference and draw Baylor, Okie State and Texas from the South. Bowl eligible? Maybe.
What do you expect to see in the Big 12 this year?