For much of the 21st century the Big 12 has used one phrase to pay homage to the most dominant team in the Big 12: Boomer Sooner! Many teams in the Big 12 (especially Texas) would love to change that tune. Of course that feat is easier said than done as the sooners have been ranked in the top 10 of the pre-season polls for the last 10 years and enter 2012 as the Big 12 favorite.
With last year's Big 12 champions Oklahoma State looking at the possibility of a down season, the Sooners look as if they are the undisputed favorites to win the league. Although a pair of new schools other plans. Could we see a Big 12 championship for the Mountaineers or Horned Frogs?
Bob stoops has rejuvenated the Sooner's football program to the same stature it had back when Barry Switzer was head coach of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is coming off a disappointing 2011 season where they recorded 3 conference losses despite being picked as a preseason BCS favorite. Oklahoma reloads and enters 2012 as a preseason top five team led by quarterback Landry Jones. Jones is coming off of a less than stellar year in 2011 where he recorded 15 interceptions.
QB: Say what you may about Landry Jones and his decline in productivity, many consider him to be a Heisman Level QB. Landry Jones threw for an impressive 4463 yards and 29 TDs last year, and although those were good numbers it still doesn't compete with what he did in 2010 (4718 yards 38 TDs and a Fiesta Bowl win). We have seen what Landry is capable of; the only question is if he can return to his old self next season and losing Ryan Broyles doesn't help.
Defense: The only defense in the Big 12 that may be able to withstand the OU offense is TCU. And until they can prove it Oklahoma may have the best defense in the big 12. The Sooners return seven players on the 31st ranked defense from a year ago including Big 12 all conference CB Demonte Hurst and his 55 TOT.
Depth at Running Back: Much like the USC Trojans it is hard to find flaws in this Sooner team. One noticeable concern is that the Sooners top rusher Dominique Whaley may be out with injury for an unknown amount of time. Whaley is expected to return at some point but if for some reason he doesn't or that return is further delayed, the Sooners have Roy Finch to back him up.
Depth at Wide Receiver: Losing Ryan Broyles (1157 yards. 10 TDs) may make the Sooner's passing game seem depleted, but Kenny Stills (849 yards 8 TDs) and Jaz Reynolds (715 yds. 5 TDs) can step into that role. After that Oklahoma will look to a group of new faces who will have a chance to step up .
The West Virginia Mountaineers head into new territory as they make the transition from the Big East to the Big 12. They come into the Big 12 with optimism that they can win the new league and beat the pre-season Big 12 favorite Oklahoma. With 2nd year head coach Dana Holgorsen in command of a blitzkrieg-like offense, the Mountaineers will prove to be quite a threat in the Big 12.
Quarterback: The Mountaineers may have the quarterback that will be hoisting the Heisman Trophy over their heads come December. West Virginia's Geno Smith has as good a chance as any other player to win the Heisman Trophy as he looks to follow up a great 2011 season where Geno threw for an impressive 4385 yards and 31 TDs. With his top 3 receivers returning to Morgantown, he may have the best arsenal of any BCS team.
Wide Receiver: the receiver department of West Virginia seems similar to that of USC. 3 great WRs and a supporting cast of other, minor WRs. But when you're in a quarterback driven league like the Big 12, who needs more than 3 targets? Stedman Bailey (1279 yards 12 TDs), Tavon Austin (1186 yards 8 TDs), and Ivan McCartney (585 yards 3 TDs) combined for more than twice the yardage of the rest of team combined. With this trio of young receivers in the arsenal and an offense commanded by Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia will prove to be a threat in the air the Big 12.
Defense: It wouldn't kill Defensive Coordinator Joe DeForest to help the Mountaineers defense this season, because if they don't it may kill West Virginia's Big 12 title hopes. To put into perspective what this defense need to do, in 2011 the Mountaineers were ranked 7th (61st overall, 26.8 points against) in the big east: a league averaging 26.2 PPG V.S the Mountaineers. At first glance some Big 12 offenses can't wait to take a shot at this West Virginia defense. They do however return 7 starters and that should help along with the fact that their offense has done a very nice job of overcoming the defensive deficiencies.
Transition to Big 12: last season the Mountaineers stepped out of easy pre-conference cupcake land and faced the eventual BCS National Championship runner up LSU and got shell shocked 47-21. By the end of their season the Mountaineers did some training against an easy league in the Big East. The Mountaineers wrapped up the Big East championship and made BCS history by scoring the most points (70) in any BCS bowl game. With a questionable defense and high-octane offense entering the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia will have to really amp up their game on a weekly basis if they want to win the league and head to a BCS bowl game again.
Move over Longhorns there's a new team in Texas, and with most of their starters returning, they may be the best team in the Lone Star State, and perhaps even the Big 12. They are the TCU Horned Frogs, fresh out of the MWC, and coming off an 11-2 season. Gary Patterson is in his 12th year as he leads the Horned Frogs into familiar territory. A former SWC member, TCU used to be in a conference with Texas Tech, Texas, and Baylor. With TCU's offense juiced with returning offensive units (WR, RB), the Horned Frogs will look to make some noise in their inaugural season in the Big 12.
Quarterback: 2nd year starting QB Casey Pachall had a stellar first year managing the TCU offense. Casey threw for 2921 yards and 25 TDs in his first season and averaged 8.52 yards per completion. Going into his 2nd year he will face more difficult competition than the MWC, but he might also benefit from the fact that the Big 12 is a quarterback driven league. After such a successful first year campaign, you can expect to see the ball thrown around even more this year in Fort Worth, unless Casey and TCU find more success with a strong stable of running backs. .
Offensive Units: The Horned Frogs receiver and running back departments seem to be the most sound and unscathed by graduation or the NFL. At running back TCU returns four of their top five rushers including Waymon James (875 yards 6 TDs) and Matthew Tucker (702 yards 12 TDs). On the WR side TCU returns five of their top eight including their top three. That trio includes Josh Boyce (998 yards 9 TDs), Skye Dawson (500 yards 5 TDs), and Brandon Carter (352 yards 3 TDs). With an entire off season to train and get better, the offensive unit comes back stronger and ready to play in 2012.
Defense: TCU's defense took a huge dip compared to what it did during the 2010 season. Having the 28th best defense in the FBS isn't bad; it's just not that impressive when you play in the MWC. Thanks to an embarrassing drug bust only 6 starters will be returning. Defensive Coordinator Dick Bumpas has done an excellent job making the TCU ‘s defense consistently fierce and ranked in the top tier of the FBS. While there is no doubt that Bumpas will work to rise to the occasion and prepare TCU's defense for its toughest opponents since the Southwest Conference, it's the new talent that will have to rise if they want to compete with the likes of Oklahoma and Texas.
Transition to Big 12: Much like the West Virginia Mountaineers the Horned Frog will have a hard time transitioning to the Big 12. It might actually be even more difficult for TCU. At least the Mountaineers are leaving a BCS conference. TCU is making a huge leap from the considerably weak, MWC to the Big 12. While TCU dominated the MWC during their tenure, losing to SMU and future conference opponent Baylor doesn't give much confidence to the fans that TCU can make huge adjustments in time for Big 12 play. This will be a major concern if they somehow stumble in their first Big 12 conference game against Kansas.
Since I know folks around here love to accolade the Kansas State Wildcats and their athletics, I'll try and highlight all the aspects of the KSU Wildcats football team. Seriously though we may not like them in Lawrence, but they are a good team nonetheless. They may not be BCS bowl level team this season but they weren't projected to be a good team last year, and after last year's thrashing, we saw them prove the critics wrong. The primary reason for that is long tenured coach Bill Snyder, and standout QB Colin Klein.
Quarterback: I don't think that you could name any other team in all of college football that so heavily depended on their QB last season. Colin Klein accounted for 69% of KSU's offense last season and was everything but the kitchen sink. Colin was the Wildcat's top passer with 1918 yards and 13 TDs. He was also the teams leading rusher with an outstanding 1141 yards and 27 TDs. Entering his final season Colin plans to go out with a bang, and hopefully throw more. The biggest concern would be a potential injury in which case the KSU Wildcats might as well just throw the white flag. Here in Lawrence we are big fans of the Wildcats and would be saddened if Colin was out Oct. 6th.
Head Coach: Before Coach Snyder arrived in Manhattan, KSU football was about as pathetic as you could get. Even Snyder's efforts after 20 years and a 159-83-1 record
KSU still wallows in the College Football history books with a dismal 475-613-41 overall record. That is the past and it doesn't matter apparently (says every KSU fan) but it is true. To their credit the football culture in Manhattan has taken a dramatic turn in the modern NCAA Football world, and while many don't like to say it, Snyder is a great coach and may prove to be the most important key in KSU's Big 12 conquest.
Lack of receiving yards: In the Big 12 passing is key if you want to win. Last season KSU decided to take the "Big 10" approach and run the ball every possession. The bright side is that they Wildcats return their top four receivers which could help the passing game. Of course some might say so what? If you only have 1970 yards to show for and your quarterback is more of a running back, who cares? Hopefully Tavarius Bender is ready in 2013, to take over the reins at KSU, because this formula might not work forever.
Defense: Bill Snyder certainly isn't a defensive coach, and last season that showed with his team to surrendering close to 28 points per game. To make matters worse KSU only returns 6 starters on defense. On the flip side KSU does return two very high-level defensive players in all conference linebacker Arthur Brown (101 TOT 2 Sacks) and all American corner Nigel Malone (58 TOT and 7 INT). Will this defense be worse than last season? Will it be bad enough for the likes of KU to overcome? Probably not.
Other Teams to Watch Out For:
Longhorn fans will have to wait another year until Texas reclaims BCS glory. Over the last 2 seasons Head Coach Mack Brown has frustrated fans with two "un Texas like" seasons and some are wondering if his seat isn't getting warm. The longhorns will have a good season in 2012, just not a great season. Last year's QB fiasco was confusing and went unresolved through the year as David Ash and Case McCoy both threw for a little over 1,000 yards. while combining for 12 interceptions. The Longhorns will be stellar on defense as they welcome back 7 starters on their 33rd ranked defense. The offense should improve as they return RB Malcolm Brown (742 yards 5 TDs) and receiving duo Mike Davis (609 yards 1 TD) and Jaxon Shipley (607 yards 3 TDs). Until they can show consistent improvement at quarterback, Texas will stay in the middle of the pack.
Oklahoma State Cowboys:
The Cowboys lose the best QB-WR duo in the NCAA and will need to replace those holes on offense quickly if they want to compete. Replacing Justin Blackmon (1522 yards 18 TDs) will be hard , but the Cowboys could soften the blow with the running game. Much like KSU last season, the Cowboys will need to exploit their strength in the backfield with all conference back Joseph Randle (1216 yards 24 TDs) and Jeremy Smith (646 yards 9 TDs) returning to te team. Their defense should improve as they return 8 starters on a defense that surrendered close to 27 PPG. Replacing Brandon Weeden may prove to be the biggest challenge and Mike Gundy is going to attempt that with a freshman QB named Wes Lunt. That inexperience may ultimately doom the Cowboys and keep them out of the Big 12 Race.
Last year the Red Raiders experienced a great deal of misfortune. Their losses to KSU, Missouri and Texas A&M were all within a touchdown and proved to be fatal as the Red Raiders started 4-0 but stumbled to 5-7 even with the upset over Oklahoma in Norman. If the Red Raiders can make major adjustments on defense, then they can definitely win more games. That unit returns 10 starters which is a good start. To make their case seem even better, the Red Raiders return hotshot QB Seth Doege who threw for 4004 yards and 28 TDs. Seth has many tools to work with including top running back Eric Stephens (565 yards 8 TDs) and DeAndre Washington (366 yards 3 TDs). They also the top three receivers, Eric Ward (800 yards 11 TDs) Alex Torres (616 yards 4 TDs) and Darrin Moore (571 yards 8 TDs). To put it simply the Red Raiders are going to be lot better than last season, just not better than the other six teams we've already reviewed.
The Bears aren't rich in football history as they boast a wimpy 541-539-44 record. To make matters worse the Bears are losing their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin (4293 yards 37 TDs), top back Terrance Ganaway (1547 yards 21 TDs) and top wideout Kendall Wright (1663 yards 14 TDs). Unlike the Cowboys who also lost high level talent, the rebuilding process may prove too much for the Bears in 2012. Veteran quarterback Nick Florence returns to his starting position where he filled in following Griffin's knee injury a few seasons ago. With a defense ranked 113th last season the pressure will be on for him to produce.
Players to Watch Out For:
WR: Eric Ward, Texas Tech
QB: Seth Doege, Texas Tech
RB: Joesph Randle, Oklahoma State
DE: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
DT: Nigel Nicholas, Oklahoma State
DB: Jacques Washington, Iowa State
CB: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
TE: D.J. Grant, Texas
S: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State
Most Important Games of The Season:
1. Oklahoma @ West Virginia
2. Oklahoma @ TCU
3. TCU @ West Virginia
4. KSU @ West Virginia
5. KSU @ TCU
Final Standings and Bowl Destinations:
1. Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl)
2. West Virginia (Sugar Bowl)
3. TCU (Cotton Bowl)
4. KSU (Alamo Bowl)
5. Texas (Insight Bowl)
6. Oklahoma State (Education Bowl)
7. Texas Tech (Pinstripe Bowl)
10. Iowa State