Big 12 Preview

BIG 12 PREVIEW: NEW TEAMS, NEW QB'S SAME OLD FAVORITES AT THE TOP

Another weekend, and another set of college football conference previews! We must start our look at the Big 12 with our annual reminder that there are now only 10 teams in the league. And, it's a slightly different 10 teams than last year. Missouri and Texas A&M both fled the league for the greener financial pastures of the SEC. TCU and West Virginia happily took their places.

We normally talk about 6-8 teams in our previews. The rule is...any 12- team league with two divisions gets two days (one for each division). Everybody else gets one day...so we'd better jump right in!

BIG 12

OKLAHOMA
Athlon Ranking: 5th
2011 Total Offense: 5th
2011 Total Defense: 55th
Strength: Pass Offense (5th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (79th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Notebook: Oklahoma was a big disappointment last year, as they started the year as a BCS Championship threat, but finished with a 10-3 mark. The home loss to Texas Tech was inexplicable and humiliating. The road loss at Baylor exposed a few more weaknesses. Then, the 44-10 loss to rival Oklahoma State was one of the low points of the Stoops era. Talk about humbling! The defense needs to man up this year. Landry Jones needs to find more consistency in big games. And, the team as a whole needs a few lessons in humility. It's okay to talk the talk when you're winning the conference. It's not okay when you can't figure out how to stop Texas Tech as huge home favorites. We respect the talent on this year's team. But, we're not as optimistic about an 11-1 or 12-0 type season as many in the media are. We need to see more maturity and discipline before we're back on this bandwagon.

TEXAS
Athlon Ranking: 11
2011 Total Offense: 54th
2011 Total Defense: 11th
Strength: Rush Defense (6th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (86th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Notebook: To a degree, Texas bounced back from a stunning 2010 with a decent year. But, 8-5 is still way below expectations for this program. The annual recruiting summaries keep saying this should be one of the best five teams in the nation every year. They still don't have a quarterback they can trust! The offense struggled last year in a conference that isn't full of great defenses. An easy non-conference schedule may help create some early illusions. A three week stretch against Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma will tell us what we need to know in late September and early October. The bloom is still off this rose for us. And, we can't buy at all the premise that Texas is one of the best dozen teams in the country heading into the season.

WEST VIRGINIA
Athlon Ranking: 12
2011 Total Offense: 15th
2011 Total Defense: 33rd
Strength: Pass Offense (6th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (92nd)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen
Notebook: This will be one of the more fascinating stories of the year in college football. How will former Big 12 assistant coach Holgorsen fair as a head coach in this league. West Virginia returns starting quarterback Geno Smith, and a good amount of talent from the team that crushed Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Just remember that the Mountaineers were only four points better than the composite of Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and South Florida in the final month of the regular season. When things click with this style of offense, they really click! Things don't always click. We wouldn't be shocked if West Virginia is more like 6th best in the conference...but we also wouldn't be shocked if they make a run at the top. OU and Texas may not be true superpowers any more, while Oklahoma State and Baylor both lost superstar quarterbacks.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 19th
2011 Total Offense: 3rd
2011 Total Defense: 107th
Strength: Pass Offense (2nd)
Weakness: Pass Defense (107th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Notebook: It's very tough to guess how Okie State is going to fare with their new quarterback. This system puts yards in the boxscore and points on the scoreboard. But, it's also turnover prone with the wrong quarterback. We have a lot of respect for the recruiting upgrades the program has made thanks to a billionaire backer. Only the future knows if anything fishy is going on or not. Just note that Oklahoma State started getting better athletes just as Texas stopped! Another mystery team...in a league where the mysteries may not start getting solved until the fourth of fifth games of the season. Let the early conference "tester" games matching the projected top half teams determine your approach for the second half of the season. Any other strategy is just guessing. JIM HURLEY'S sources will be working hard through August practices to see what they can learn about potential new impact players.

TCU
Athlon Ranking: 22nd
2011 Total Offense: 28th
2011 Total Defense: 32nd
Strength: Rush Offense (19th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (63rd)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Notebook: TCU returns Casey Pachall at quarterback. It's important to have experience. Just remember that the offensive stats were inflated last year by playing a very weak schedule. TCU could mow down most Mountain West teams with ease. They didn't face any good non-conference defenses. And, their bowl win came over Louisiana Tech. We like this coach a lot. We love the defensive intensity that we see year-in and year-out. Patterson has finally risen to a major conference which will let us see what he's really made of. He'll be dealing with more than just two or three big challenge games this year.

KANSAS STATE
Athlon Ranking: 27th
2011 Total Offense: 101st
2011 Total Defense: 72nd
Strength: Rush Offense (29th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (108th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Bill Snyder
Notebook: We've heard all sorts of things about Kansas State this summer. Many see them as a potential darkhorse in this conference. Others are concerned about a brutal schedule (Miami as a non-conference game leading into Big 12 battles). This is a team that went 10-3 last year while posting the stats of a loser. It was amazing to see. The defense would bend without breaking. The offense would do little before a couple of quick plays put them on top. It's tough to win all the nailbiters two years in a row. We will look to pick our spots with these guys as a dangerous dog because Snyder has once again been making the most of junior college feeding grounds. Who's to say the Wildcats won't be a darkhorse?

BAYLOR
Athlon Ranking: 40th
2011 Total Offense: 2nd
2011 Total Defense: 116th
Strength: Pass Offense (4th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (118th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Art Briles
Notebook: If you saw Baylor last year as a one-man team (RGIII), then it's very easy to pencil in a collapse this season. But, if you see this as a "system" team under Briles that will post good offensive numbers in normal conditions, then explode with a superstar quarterback...then there's still a chance the Bears can be relevant in 2012. They do return a lot of experience. The team as a whole learned how to play with confidence last year. The season opener with SMU will be a good test because the Mustangs have some players this year. A September 29th road game at West Virginia will be very scary with this defense against that offense! Question marks, question marks.

TEXAS TECH
Athlon Ranking: 58th
2011 Total Offense: 13th
2011 Total Defense: 114th
Strength: Pass Offense (7th)
Weakness: Rush Defense (120th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Notebook: The upset at Oklahoma was notable because it kept Texas Tech from finishing last season 0-8! They lost seven of their last eight games but beat the Sooners in Norman. Inexplicable. There's not much to like about this team other than the fact that Tuberville has been getting creative with juco transfers. Maybe that will help lift them up from doormat status within the Big 12 standings. They should have no trouble against an extremely easy non-conference slate. We're not optimistic about 2012 for the program, but we'll stay open-minded.

IOWA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 60th
2011 Total Offense: 60th
2011 Total Defense: 95th
Strength: Rush Offense (39th)
Weakness: Rush Defense (98th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Rhoads
Notebook: This is going to be a very feisty team once again...capable of springing upsets but lacking the depth to bring peak performance week after week. Their upset of Oklahoma State was one for the books. That was their last win of the season though, which ended with a whimper against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Experienced quarterbacks will provide leadership, and will probably inspire at least one more big time upset. A great team to pick your spots with against any opponent in a tough schedule spot.

KANSAS
Athlon Ranking: 81st
2011 Total Offense: 106th
2011 Total Defense: 120th
Strength: Rush Offense (57th)
Weakness: Rush Defense (117th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Notebook: Coach Weis was exposed as being in way over his head at Notre Dame. And, it doesn't sound like he's learned much since then. He's still the type to think of himself as a great coach who could only be held back by players who can execute his brilliant gameplans. Good luck making that work at a place like Kansas! We'll see. It's possible to be in over your head at Notre Dame but still be better than what Kansas has been dealing with in recent years. We could see meaningful improvement, particularly with the upgrade at quarterback. Doormat or dangerous dog? It's a year of questions in the Big 12, for each and every team.

Normally we like to answer as many questions as we can about a conference in our summer preview. You just can't do that this season because last year's powers lost their quarterbacks, and last year's disappointments aren't a sure thing to bounce back. This will definitely be a "read and react" conference, with the bulk of that heavy lifting not even coming until we're one month into the season.

Just remember that nobody reads and reacts better than JIM HURLEY! His SCOUTS and SOURCES will report early and often as each team builds for the coming challenges. NETWORK will be at least one step ahead of the oddsmakers out of the gate (we're already about four steps ahead of those Athlon rankings we posted!). And, NETWORK will stay ahead through October, November, and the bowls.

You can sign up for 2012 football right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, please call the office at 1-800-323-4453. The buzz in the air is growing now that the NFL Preseason is underway. Don't miss a single winner!

Back with you Sunday to preview the Big East. Then, we'll pick up with more of our NFL Divisional previews Monday through Thursday. FOOTBALL FEVER IS BURNING STRONG THANKS TO JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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