For the 3rd season in a row, the Big 12 debuts a new lineup for the college football season. Big East champions West Virginia Mountaineers and the Mountain West champions Texas Christian University Horned Frogs do more than offset the two departing programs Texas A&M and Missouri. Neither A&M nor Missouri are not preseason ranked in either the AP or USA Today polls and were not among the 4 Big 12 programs last season who won double digit games. With 6 of the 10 programs ranked in the preseason top 25, expectations are high for the reformed Big 12.
After their first bowl win in almost 2 decades, a 10 win season, and a Heisman Trophy, the Baylor Bears will be relying on senior Nick Florence to deliver the ball to the high flying veteran receiving corps. Highly touted senior WR Terrance Williams has the size (6’3”) and speed to be an NFL #1. Speedster junior receiver Tevin Reese and senior possession receiver Lanear Sampson balance the receiving corps.
The trouble with replacing Robert Griffin III is more than just his ability to throw, but his ability to pile on yardage with his feet. Lache Seastrunk, a high profile transfer from Oregon, looked impressive in the spring game finishing with 138 yards and a TD and combines with senior speed back Jarred Salubi to form a solid backfield.
All five starters from last year’s secondary return. They were torched for the majority of the season, but one would have to believe that they will be improved from last season. A small improvement in the high scoring Big 12 can make a difference of the course of the season.
With a non-conference slate of SMU, Sam Houston, State, and ULM to start the season, the Baylor Bears have somewhat of a cushion before they push for their 3rd consecutive bowl berth.
After some memorable wins last season and 2 bowl appearances in the last 3 years, Iowa State has found its footing under coach Paul Rhoads. Their footing might be a little bit slippery as the Cyclones enter this season after losing 10 starters and their place kicker. There is some room for hope as they return two gunslingers in Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett. While the QB situation remains in flux, there’s no doubt who the best player is on the offensive side of the ball. Returning leading rusher James White comes back after a season where he averaged a solid 4.7 ypc and is backed up well by the junior battering ram Jeff Woody.
The receiving corps lost Darius Reynolds but returns basically everyone else. The defense returns the dynamic linebacking duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein who combined for 231 tackles last season. If one of the worst defensive lines in the nation of last season can put some pressure on the QB’s of the pass happy Big 12, it would do a lot to help Coach Rhoads’ Cyclones reach their 3rd bowl appearance. They’ll be hard pressed to reach 6 wins with two tough non-conference matchups against Iowa and Tulsa, but if they can navigate those games the Cyclones might be able to dream about bowling yet again.
The Charlie Weis era begins after the Jayhawks have gone 1-23 in their last 24 Big 12 games. With their only two wins last season coming against FCS McNeese State and Northern Illinois, it may be better for KU fans to forget what happened during Turner Gill’s years and concentrate what is different about these Jayhawks.
Dayne Crist, the former highly touted recruit, rejoins Coach Weis a long way from South Bend to be the man under center for KU’s redesigned offense. NFL prospect tackle Tanner Hawkinson moves back to protect the blind side after being moved to the right under Coach Gill. Leading rusher James Sims and leading receiver D.J. Beshears return, but Sims starts the season with a 3 game suspension. Talented medical redshirt Daymond Patterson returns to add some depth to the receiving corps.
The worst defensive line in the Big 12 has to improve to relieve the stress on the talented linebackers and secondary. With the dismissals of 10 players, improved GPAs, a culture change, and more hope around the program, Coach Weis might have already won this season even if he can’t lead the Jayhawks to a winning record.
The Cardiac Cats of Kansas State return with 17 starters after a season in which they won 8 games by a TD or less. Doubted by the Big 12 preseason poll by coming in 6th, Kansas State is out to repeat last season’s surprise showing under coach Bill Synder. With 3 winnable non-conference games at home (Missouri State, North Texas, and Miami), the Wildcats have a chance to prove skeptics wrong with their hard-nosed running offense and sound ball protection.
Heisman hopeful Collin Klein once again leads the line by running left, running right, and running up the middle, but if Kansas State wants to improve one last season’s showing, they’re going to have get the ball into the hands senior receiver Chris Harper and speeder Tramaine Thompson. All Big-12 TE Travis Tannahill returns but his game is centered on his ability to clear a path for Collin Klein to run through. Another Gronkowski is coming through the football ranks as, 6’3” freshman TE/FB Glenn Gronkowski makes his way to Manhattan. If genetics plays any role, Wildcat fans would do well to keep an eye on young Gronk.
Preseason 1st defensive team stars LB Arthur Brown and DB Nigel Malone lead the way for the Kansas State squad fought tooth and nail in turnover margin to win squeakers all last season. This is not a two man show as highly regarded DE Meshak Williams and DB Ty Zimmerman round out a solid defense. Two year starter Tre Walker enters his junior season with hopes of being an All-American and new linebackers Coach Mike Cox plans on unleashing him. Anything less than a winning record and a bowl game would be a shock to the talented Wildcats who will be striving to repeat the success of last season in an improved Big 12.
Big 12’s most talented team on paper and national title contender returns 4 year starter Landry Jones at QB to lead the Sooners back to the BCS. Preseason #4 in both the AP and USA Today polls and picked to win the Big 12, expectations are again high for the Sooners.
With Ryan Broyles gone, the big question is whether receiver Kenny Stills has support from the foursome of freshmen targets Courtney Gardner, Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal, and Sterling Shepard? The offensive line looked to be dominant but has been derailed by injuries. One of the best set of guards in the country Gabe Ikard and Tyler Evans won’t be playing guard this season with Ikard moving to center to replace injured center Ben Habern and Evans tore his ACL. Daryl Williams and Lane Johnson look ultra-talented but depth will be an issue for the offensive line this season.
Cornerback Demontre Hurst, safeties Aaaron Colvin, Tony Jefferson, and Javon Harris lead a talented secondary into this season with new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Junior linebacker Tom Wort and defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland have the duties underneath the secondary.
Anything less than a Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl will be a failure for this talented Sooners squad. Even with the question marks on the offensive line and receiving corps, Landry Jones and returning RB Dominique Whaley should produce plenty enough offense for Oklahoma to win every regular season game they play this season.
After barely missing out on a BCS title game, Oklahoma State faces another season of dramatic changes on the offensive side of the ball. One year after losing offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, the Cowboys enter a season without Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and four starting offensive lineman. Expectations are dramatically altered for this upcoming season, but if Coach Gundy knows anything, he knows how to make men out of boys.
With Brandon Weeden gone, the Cowboys are turning to true freshman Wes Lunt who won the QB job out of spring practice. Highly recruited out of high school, Lunt has the size and arm to become OSU’s next star signal caller. That said, he won’t be without competition. Redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh is slated by Coach Gundy to be part of the offensive game plan moving forward. While they haven’t started a lot games in their careers, a strong group of linemen with 4 seniors and one junior returning to protect the young QB’s.
The receiving corps will make a group effort to fill in the sizable shoes of Justin Blackmon. Seniors Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson return after a combined 987 yards and 8 touchdowns effort last season. JUCO transfer and NJCAA All-American Blake Jackson comes in at a solid 6’3” 238 lbs to operate as the big TE target.
Last year’s defense was lit up by opposing offenses taking risks to keep up with OSU’s vaunted scoring machine but did well in forcing takeaways. A similar approach will happen this year as the defense tries to replicate the 44 turnovers they forced last year. The back seven should be ready for the challenge of the Big 12 offenses but the question is whether they have the pass rush or run defense to keep up with the upper echelon.
With Savannah State, Arizona, and Louisiana Lafayette on the out of conference slate, anything short of 9 wins this season will be seen as a failure. They get Texas, WVU, and TCU at home and two of their 4 away games are Kansas and Baylor. Going to Oklahoma and KSU isn’t an enviable task, but the rest of the schedule is navigable.
TCU finally gets to dine at the adults’ table and might not like what’s on their plate. After several seasons dominating the WAC, Conference USA, and Mountain West, TCU joins a Big 12 to prove their two BCS appearances weren’t a fluke. While TCU joining the Texas-centric Big 12 is a great regional fit, the stylistic fit leaves a lot to be desired.
Known over the last several seasons as a tough defensive program that was #1 overall for 3 straight years in 2008-2010, the Horned Frogs enter the fast paced offensive world of the Big 12 where you don’t win football games if you don’t score points.
TCU picked as good of a time as any to join the Big 12 as they were 9th in the nation in scoring and averaged 40.85 points per game last season. They return most of the key players from that unit. Junior QB Casey Pachall will be slinging it to senior receiver Skye Dawson and junior receiver Josh Boyce. Sophomore Brandon Carter is a star in waiting. TCU returns over 2,500 yards of rushing in their backfield that was 19th in the nation. With the three headed monster of Waymon James, Ed Wesley, and Matthew Tucker, the backfield rotation looks to improve on their 24 touchdown production from 2011.
The once vaunted defense of TCU took a tumble last year when they were eaten alive by Boise State and Baylor. With several new starters, they’re entering the one league that punishes weak secondaries like nowhere else. The experienced defensive line will have to rely on DEs junior Stansley Maponga and senior Ross Forrest to put pressure on opposing offenses’ pass protection to give the young secondary a chance.
With Grambling, Virginia, and SMU on the non-conference slate, the goal for TCU is to make use of their favorable schedule to get to 8 or more wins. They should enter the back to back road dates at Oklahoma State and WVU with a 7-0 record but then face Kansas State at home. They then make the venture into Austin to face Texas followed by a December 1st game with Oklahoma to close the season. The back end of the schedule will go a long way in showing if Coach Gary Patterson’s team has what it takes to pile up a double digit winning season in a BCS conference.
Coach Tuberville has resurrected the offensive monster at Texas Tech but the question remains whether they get over the hump. Last season, the 9th ranking passing offense in the country piled up nearly 34 ppg with 345 yards in the air. Seniors quarterback Seth Doege and his receivers be essential in keeping the pace with the rest of the Big 12.
There are no concerns at QB with Seth Doege looking to improve on his 4,004 yard season. He’ll be well guarded on the edges by a pair of senior offensive tackles in LaAdrian Waddle and Terry McDaniel. Senior Deveric Gallington will be under center while the guard positions have to be sorted or else too much pressure will be coming up the middle.
At receiver 6’4” senior Darrin Moore has to step up his production from last season to open up the field for the rest of team. Leading receiver Eric Ward returns but is not a big play threat as the #1 receiver. JUCO All-American Javon Bell joins Alex Torres, and Jakeem Grant in the group that is expecting to provide the big plays for the Red Raiders’ offense.
The running game has to improve production to provide some clock control to protect the Tech defense. The big question is if senior Eric Stephens and sophomore DeAndre Washington can stay healthy enough to provide the run support needed to keep the Raiders competitive. All small backs in this bunch but they’ll have to play big in Coach Tuberville’s first high expectation season at Texas Tech.
On defense, new coordinator Art Kaufman attempts to reform Tech’s defense into a unit that plays something that resembles defense. In the seven losses last season, the Red Raiders gave up 66, 66, 52, 45, 41, 41, and 31 points. While the Big 12 offenses are prolific, Tech’s defense made them look otherworldly. With almost every starter back, there’s hope that that experience is more valuable than it is a detriment. To supplement the returning unit, Coach Tuberville’s staff brought in several JUCO transfers hoping to make an immediate difference on defense. Tech’s defense can’t leave it up to free safety senior star Cody Davis to lead the team in tackles again.
The non-conference schedule of Northwestern State, Texas State, and New Mexico should be three wins. Texas Tech gets Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas at home but has to go to Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU. The schedule is balanced, so there’s room for Tech to improve on last year’s record. If they can flip last year’s 5-7 record to a 7-5 record and a bowl appearance, it will be a good season. Anything more adds to Coach Tuberville’s storied career and anything less could mean a kick to the curb.
Talent is never a problem for the Texas Longhorns but utilizing that talent has been a challenge in the last couple years for Coach Mack Brown. The 55th ranked scoring offense couldn’t compete with Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, and Robert Griffin III. No shame in those losses, but the offense came up short when they only managed 5 points against an average Missouri team and couldn’t get more than 13 points against Kansas State.
With sophomore QB David Ash as the presume starter and junior QB Case McCoy nipping at his heels, Texas enters this season needing production from the Big 12’s key position. With Garrett Gilbert and Connor Wood transferring out, the QB field has been thinned out, but it is hard to predict what production will be come from it.
Thankfully for Longhorn fans, super star recruit Malcolm Brown returns and will be one of the nation’s top running backs as long as he can stay healthy. Joining him in the backfield is bruiser of a runner Joe Bergeron and another stud recruit Johnathan Gray who was one of the best running back prospects in the nation. With three offensive line starters returning in front of them, the production on the ground should do more than enough to keep UT competitive.
The Big 12’s best defense returns 6 starters and stud defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. Between the NFL ready ends, JUCO transfer Brandon Moore, juniors Ashton Dorsey and Chris Whaley will be the rotation of the defensive line. Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro returns to the lead the secondary. Junior Adrian Philips fills in Vaccaro’s old strong safety position while starting cornerback Carrington Byndom returns. The team leader in interceptions sophomore Quandre Diggs finishes out the strong group that is expected to cover all the ground not covered by water.
With easy dates versus Wyoming and New Mexico, Texas ventures into SEC territory to take on Ole Miss in the 3rd game of the season. The rest of the schedule is manageable for the talented Longhorns with open dates before Oklahoma State and TCU and WVU at home. With marginable improvement at QB, anything less than a Big 12 championship would be a letdown for Coach Brown and the Longhorn faithful. With a great running game and powerhouse defense, this team might be a better fit for the SEC than the Big 12. They should pose everyone a tough challenge unless the QBs give the game away.
Following a 10-3 season and an Orange Bowl demolition of Clemson, Coach Holgorsen and the Mountaineers enter the Big 12 on an upward trajectory. With 9 starters returning on offense, the Mountaineers are ready again to average 470 yards a game. WVU brings two new defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson with defensive back heavy recruiting class with five 3 star defensive backs to the Big 12.
Senior quarterback Geno Smith is back after flirting with the NFL draft. With an amazing 4,385 yards and 31 TDs last season, anything is possible with him with the big play receivers available to him. Leading receivers junior Stedman Bailey and senior Tavon Austin are big playmakers every time they touch the ball. Bailey led the team with 1,279 receiving yards and 12 TD’s. Tavon Austin was one of the nation’s leaders in all-purpose yards with 198 yards per game. Junior receiver Ivan McCartney returns as the #3 target who had a solid 2011 with 49 catches for 595 yards. Last year’s two leading rushers Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston return to run behind 4 returning starters on the offensive line. As long as the team stays healthy, fireworks can be expected out of this unit.
A tough year lies ahead for the Mountaineer defense. A less complicated 3-4 scheme has been implemented to ease the transition. Jorge Wright returns to anchor the defensive line with junior ends Will Clarke and Tyler Anderson on either side of him. Depth won’t be as problem as JUCO transfer Shaq Rowell will back up at tackle, versatile senior J.B. Lageman at both end and tackle, and sophomore Trevor Demko at end. The switch to 3-4 should emphasis the strength of WVU’s defense: the linebackers. Jewon Snow is ready to be a star while Terence Garvin, Jared Barber, and Doug Rigg are prepared to fly all over the field. It’s an athletic group that should relish the challenge of the Big 12. In the secondary, senior Pat Miller, juniors Brodrick Jenkins and Darwin cook lead a veteran secondary with an absurd amount of young talent coming in behind them.
With an easy non-conference slate and TCU and Oklahoma at home, anything less than a Big 12 championship will be a major disappointment. Even with Oklahoma in the way, this is a WVU squad with national title aspirations. Supporters might be overly optimistic about WVU’s transition to far better competition, but with how Geno Smith and Co. moved the ball against LSU’s fantastic defense last year, the sky is the limit for the Mountaineers.