Big 12 South Preview
MULTIPLE QUESTION MARKS
FOR OKLAHOMA, TEXAS
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
It's really hard to know what to expect at the top of the Big 12 South this year. Traditional powers Oklahoma and Texas are once again picked to battle for the divisional crown, and conceivably a national championship if things go right. But, it's not like either team is positioned to dominate like in past years.
*Has the whole world forgotten that Oklahoma had a USC-type collapse last year? The Sooners were just 7-5 in the regular season, and had a nailbiter bowl win over Stanford. That's not national championship material...that's mid-level in the Pac 10! The offense struggled in its toughest games, posting respectable overall stats because they still know hot to obliterate bad teams.
*Texas lost Colt McCoy, a passing juggernaut (in a dink and dunk way) who helped them steamroll opponents for many seasons. In fact, only four starters return overall on that side of the ball. How can anyone assume Texas will dominate again this year with so many new faces on the field?
Obviously, you have to give some credence to institutional weight. These guys know how to recruit. The coaches have a proven track record. New faces doesn't necessarily mean a big step backward. But...Landry Jones was a new face who didn't sparkle when he needed to. Pay close attention to these two teams in early action rather than just assuming everything will be fine. Far too many bettors took a bath with Oklahoma in big games last year because they just couldn't believe things had dropped off as far as they had.
Let's run our key numbers for the six-team Big 12 South. Maybe this is the year somebody else steps up and makes some headlines. We'll review the Big 12 North and Nebraska on Wednesday. Then, we'll wrap up the BCS conferences with the Pac 10 on Thursday. The mid majors will start up right after that.
Athlon Ranking: 5
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 23 on offense, 8 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Again, those stat rankings are misleading because Oklahoma obliterated vulnerable teams. You can't go 7-5 if you're REALLY top 25 on both sides of the ball. The offense only scored 13-3-13 against Texas, Nebraska, and Texas Tech respectively. Note that only six starters return, meaning that scoring could again be a challenge against top competition.
The defense was the real deal for the most part. Most opponents had trouble getting past the teens last year. This is definitely a program that has historically reloaded on that side of the ball. We'll assume quality defense for now unless we see otherwise early.
Oklahoma will have a couple of decent September tests. They host Florida State (and new head coach Jimbo Fisher) on September 11th. Two weeks later they visit Cincinnati. That's not going to be as scary as it was last year. But, we'll give the Sooners credit for scheduling a road game that represents potential danger. Air Force is in the midst too...which has a chance to be interesting.
For now, we can't take Oklahoma seriously as a national championship threat. Coach Bob Stoops has a recent history of fizzling in big games. Landry Jones hasn't learned how to win them yet. By November, we this is a bandwagon we could be on.
Athlon Ranking: 8
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 29 on offense, 3 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It's all on the shoulders of Garrett Gilbert. No matter how much everyone talks about the great defense (that didn't seem so great late in the year against Texas A&M and Alabama). And, no matter how much everyone says this Horns team will run the ball a lot more than in the recent past. It's still going to come down to Gilbert. If he struggles, a sense of panic will set in because the program (and the fans) are used to playing like champions. If he comes out sharp, then this version of Texas could certainly measure up favorably to what we saw in the McCoy era.
After a couple of scrimmages with Rice and Wyoming, Texas will visit Texas Tech (and new coach Tommy Tuberville), then play host to UCLA. Those minor threats are followed by MAJOR threats in Oklahoma (in Dallas), and Nebraska (in Lincoln). That's basically the whole season right there. Go 2-0 in the big ones...and you can basically coast to a Big 12 South title as prohibitive favorites the rest of the way. Lose one (or both), and you're not likely to percolate back to the top unless all the other contenders stub their toes.
Who do we prefer between Oklahoma and Texas? Smart handicappers let the teams tell the story on the field. Given the schedule, we may not have a good read on Texas until halftime of the Oklahoma game!
Athlon Ranking: 35
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 5 on offense, 105 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 10 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: If you like high scoring football, then you LOVED Texas A&M last year. The defense couldn't stop anybody who knew what they were doing, allowing five opponents to reach 40 points or more. The offense, led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson (back again this year), did what it could to hang around. It usually wasn't enough against quality opposition.
We're skeptical that the Aggies are a top 35 team. Versus quality last year they lost to Arkansas 47-19, Oklahoma 65-10, Texas 49-39, and Georgia 44-20. Routing patsies created some illusions last year, and could again this September with Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, and Florida International on the schedule. The October 9th rematch with Arkansas will be a key game for us. If the Aggies can't shine in a revenge spot, then we're likely to see a replay of last year in league play.
You know, having 10 returning starters on defense isn't a great thing when it was a horrible defense!
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Athlon Ranking: 37
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 4 on offense, 49 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: The Mike Leach era is over, and now the Tommy Tuberville era begins. There's generally not a lot of excitement in the phrase 'the Tommy Tuberville era begins.' So, Red Raiders fans are very antsy about the coming season. They know Leach was a bit of a flake. And, they understand why the program decided to step in at the beginning of the meltdown rather than when it was too late. Still, talk about a contrast in styles!
Tuberville will bring maturity, discipline, and yawns to Texas Tech football. He has some talent to work with. Fundamentals will improve. That should be enough to succeed, but may not be enough to make people forget the Leach years.
Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts will battle for playing time at quarterback. Sheffield had a swagger about him that may keep his teammates playing at peak intensity. Potts had a swagger about him that led to dumb passes and interceptions. We're definitely willing to give the Tuberville-Sheffield combination a chance.
Athlon Ranking: 46
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 70 on offense, 31 on defense
Returning Starters: 2 on offense, 3 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: This is about as bad as it gets in terms of major conference teams getting ravaged by graduation. Oklahoma State will have almost an entirely new look on both sides of the ball. And, it has to be said that last year's team was a startling disappointment. The stage was set for a statement year from veterans. An early loss to Houston derailed that train. Combined losses to Texas and OU of 68-14 made it clear that the Cowboys hadn't yet spent their way into the upper echelons of the conference. A Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss was one of the worst exhibitions of football ever put on display in a postseason.
So...it's a rebuilding effort off an unimpressive year! We spend a lot of these previews suggesting teams have been overranked by Athlon. Somebody's going to have to fill the slots in the 35-55 range. We don't think Oklahoma State will strike you as a big time unit when they step up in class. A friendly schedule has them avoiding that challenge until the second half of the season.
Athlon Ranking: 63
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 85 on offense, 94 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Hey, here's a team we're optimistic about! Baylor was coming along very well until star quarterback Robert Griffin got hurt. Art Briles knows how to win. Griffin is a handful to deal with when he's got the ball. Griffin will be back, and we expect the Bears to have a chip on their shoulder after fate spanked them in 2009.
Note that the late season Bears...who easily could have thrown in the towel...hung tough in a 20-10 loss to Nebraska, beat Missouri outright as a two-touchdown underdog, and only lost to Texas Tech by seven as 21-point underdogs. THAT group gets Griffin back. We wouldn't be shocked at all if the Bears climbed out of the cellar. We're particularly looking forward to a September 18th gut check at TCU.
It's an odd mix in the Big 12 South this year.
*Only one new head coach, and he's a proven veteran
*Some experience at QB for everyone but Texas, and even Gilbert played in the national championship game last year.
*Mostly manageable September schedules
*Only one offense returns 7 starters or more
*Only one defense returns more than 6, and that was one of the worst in the country.
Combine that with the fact that the league largely wasn't as good as expected last year, and 2010 could prove to be VERY interesting!
We'll talk about the North tomorrow, where Nebraska is expected to run roughshod over the field in their final season before joining the Big 10. We'll wrap up our East to West trek through the BCS leagues with the Pac 10 on Thursday.
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