Big 12 Preview

OKLAHOMA, WHERE THE WINS COME SWEEPING DOWN THE PLAIN!

We resume our college football conference previews today with a look at the Big Ten, led by annual national championship contender Oklahoma. We'll finish off our trek through the majors Sunday with the Big East. If you missed earlier rundowns of the Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, and ACC, please check the archives for those earlier weekend write-ups. We'll go through the mid majors on Saturdays and Sundays in August. NFL Divisional write-ups will begin once the exhibition slate is underway, running on weeknights keyed to national TV matchups.

This will be our single BIGGEST report of July because there are now only 10 teams in the Big 12. No reason to stretch that out into two days because the divisional format is a thing of the past. So, let's jump right in!

BIG 12 (only 10 teams this year)

OKLAHOMA
Athlon Ranking: 2nd
2010 Total Offense: 10th
2010 Total Defense: 53rd
Strength: Pass Offense (3rd)
Weakness: Rush Offense (83rd)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Notebook: The Sooners are clear favorites in the Big 12 with the stunning demise of Texas and the departure of Nebraska. Are they really national championship material? They'll have to impress us away from Norman before we go that foar. This is a team last year that lost away from home to Missouri and Texas A&M, had to sweat Cincinnati and Texas, then barely beat Nebraska 23-20 in the Big 12 championship game in Arlington. They ranked 53rd for the year in total defense, which is very low for a national contender. We do see the experience coming back, and the continued improvement of Landry Jones at quarterback. The September 17th road game at Florida State will match a pair of very highly ranked teams at the time. The regular season finale at Oklahoma State looms as a potential stumbling block. We have them at the top of the Big 12 in our Power Ratings, but not as high nationally as Athlon does at the moment.

TEXAS A&M
Athlon Ranking: 11th
2010 Total Offense: 23rd
2010 Total Defense: 55th
Strength: Pass Offense (20th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (89th)
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Sherman
Notebook: So weird to jump right to Texas A&M without Texas coming between then. The Aggies certainly had their moments last year. November wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska earned a lot of respect. But, the team seemed to be exposed as a pretender in their 41-24 bowl loss to LSU. Or, better said, what was then the Big 12 South was exposed as a pretender in terms of measuring up to the SEC. A ton of experience comes back, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a born leader. We'll be watching the Oklahoma State-Arkansas-Texas Tech sequence very closely that starts September 24th. Will the November 5th trip to Oklahoma be for the conference crown? There's no Big 12 championship game this season, you'll recall. We need to see more consistent defense before we fall in love with this group. 

OKLAHOMA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 12th
2010 Total Offense: 3rd
2010 Total Defense: 88th
Strength: Pass Offense (2nd)
Weakness: Pass Defense (115th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Notebook: Helps to have a 27-year old quarterback in charge of your offense. Don't listen to the NFL hype about Brandon Weeden. A lot of 27-year olds could look good in a spread offense vs. defenders who are several years younger than they are! He's legitimate in terms of being a star impact player at this level though. Oklahoma State had a great pass offense last year, but will have to deal with the loss of their offensive coordinator to West Virginia. This current roster is well poised to handle that. The story may be different once Weeden is gone. State closed the 2010 season well, and crushed Arizona 36-10 in the Alamo Bowl. They face Arizona again in Week Two this year, before having to deal with the Aggies in Week Four. There are so few big games in this conference this year that it's easy to pick them off the calendar!

TEXAS
Athlon Ranking: 24th
2010 Total Offense: 58th
2010 Total Defense: 6th
Strength: Pass Defense (6th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (66th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Notebook: Texas was worse than its stat rankings last year. They were only 6th in yards allowed, but were a much worse 49th in points allowed. The team didn't tackle well in the red zone. And, they wore down from field position issues because Texas ranked dead last in the conference in turnover differential at -12. If you average their stat rankings you get low 30's. Given the lack of progress shown by disappointing quarterback Garrett Gilbert, turnovers could once again be an issue. We can't make Texas a top 25 team until they impress us on the field vs. a top opponent. They'll get that shot September 10th at home against BYU. The annual Red River Shootout versus Oklahoma will be the true test. We're open-minded about Texas in 2011. They were on TV enough last year to know that 2010 wasn't a fluke. They really were as bad as they looked during a stunning 2-7 finish (with one of the wins coming over Florida Atlantic!).

MISSOURI
Athlon Ranking: 25th
2010 Total Offense: 35th
2010 Total Defense: 47th
Strength: Pass Offense (33rd)
Weakness: Rush Defense (62nd)
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
Notebook: Blaine Gabbert is gone, which makes it very hard to properly evaluate this team. It's a good sign that so many other starters are back. Can the offense rank as high with a new quarterback? If the offense sinks, doesn't that knock them down to around 40th or 50th in the country rather than top 25? September challenges include road games at Arizona State and Oklahoma. How we bet the rest of the year with Missouri will be determined by how they fair in those testers. This could definitely be a team we fade in September but ride in November depending on how the new quarterback develops. They might be better than Texas. They might be worse than the next two teams below them.

TEXAS TECH
Athlon Ranking: 39th
2010 Total Offense: 15th
2010 Total Defense: 114th
Strength: Pass Offense (7th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (118th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Notebook: When things are clicking, these guys may be a top 30 caliber team. They did beat Missouri last year, and won their New Year's Day bowl game over Northwestern. But, an 8-5 finish included wins over doormats like New Mexico and Weber State. Tech lost to Oklahoma and A&M by a combined 90-34 score. They lost back-to-back games to Texas and Iowa State early in the season. The stats say they were closer to 60th last year than 40th. And, now they're breakinig in a new quarterback and several other new starters. An easy September will help the transition. We'll be looking to fade the Red Raiders versus the better teams in this conference.

BAYLOR
Athlon Ranking: 47th
2010 Total Offense: 15th
2010 Total Defense: 114th
Strength: Pass Offense (19th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (114th)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Art Briles
Notebook: Baylor was a fun team to root for last year because of their offense and stud quarterback Robert Griffin. It was great to see an annual struggler win enough games to play in a bowl. Unfortuantely, the defense ran out of gas in the final month of the season…just as the toughest opposition was on the schedule. Then, a 38-14 bowl loss to Illinois provided a clunker finale. We like Griffin, and we'll be looking for value spots on the Bears this year before attrition hits the defense. A season opener September 2nd vs. TCU could be very interesting. Rice, Kansas State, and Iowa State better look out too in the first half of the season.

IOWA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 63rd
2010 Total Offense: 99th
2010 Total Defense: 87th
Strength: Pass Defense (64th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (95th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Rhoads
Notebook: A Jeckyll and Hyde team in 2010, with nice wins over a good Northern Illinois team (remember their bowl), Texas Tech, and Texas…with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Nebraska. The down spots were ugly though, with Oklahoma and Iowa beating them by a combined 87-7. This is a team that plays with enthusiasm. That can get you the money when they're not overmatched physically. We can't invest this year though until we see how the new quarterback performs. Undersized teams desperately need impact quarterbacks to cover spreads. The first half of the season is brutal, with Iowa, Connecticut, Texas, and Baylor coming in succession. This will probably be a 'go-against' team for us early unless the new signal caller impresses.

KANSAS STATE
Athlon Ranking: 73rd
2010 Total Offense: 62nd
2010 Total Defense: 106th
Strength: Rush Offense (22nd)
Weakness: Rush Defense (119th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Bill Snyder
Notebook: There are a lot of new quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year. The Oklahoma schools retain high impact players. Texas A&M and Texas return starters. Most everyone else is dealing with question marks at the position. If you ranked 106th last year in defense, and have a question mark at quarterback this year…it's hard for anyone to be optimistic. Bill Snyder will get the most out of his talent. Will he have enough talent? His return has now lasted long enough to get more of his type of athletes into the mix. Though, the days of stockpiling with Juco transfers are long gone. Hopefully last year's Pinstripe Bowl thriller vs. Syracuse (a 36-34 loss) doesn't serve as the high water mark for this second Snyder era.

KANSAS
Athlon Ranking: 81st
2010 Total Offense: 113th
2010 Total Defense: 98th
Strength: Pass Defense (65th)
Weakness: Rush Defense (107th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Turner Gill
Notebook: Returning quarterback Jordan Webb may not be able to hold onto his job given enthusiasm about freshman Brock Berglund. You have to assume the problems on offense are going to continue until we see true improvement on the field. A road trip to revenge-minded Georgia Tech will provide a good mid-September test for Turner Gill in his second year. This is a big year for Gill. Everyone gets a bad first year in a transition phase. A bad second year tends to lead to very disgruntled fans and alumni. Football is in the shadow of basketball at Kansas anyway. Gill had success at Buffalo in his prior stint. Maybe he can get the Jayhawks out of that shadow starting this year.

Now that we've run the decathlon….a clear split emerges. The former Big 12 South returns all of their starting quarterbacks accept for Texas Tech. The remaining Big 12 North schools all have question marks at the position. The South has been better than the North for many years. The North was on the verge of joining the Mountain West when the South powers were being courted by the former Pac 10. That divergence toward a new landscape could continue based on logical projections for this coming season.

Back again tomorrow to look at the Big East. Don't forget that early bird rates are available for JIM HURLEY'S TOUCHDOWN CLUB. The earlier you sign up, the more you save! Take care of business SOON because the NFL Preseason will be here before you know it!

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