The Big 12 is coming off of what was a banner year for the conference in 2008. Looking forward to 2009 here, are some issues facing the Big 12 in its quest to be one of the top conferences year in and year out.
12. Can the North Division ever catch the South?
The North has been largely overshadowed by the South Division in the Big 12 since the turn of the century. Well, not really overshadowed—more like dominated. However, the North did go 3-0 in their bowl games this past season, while the South was a dismal 1-3 in their contests.
Does this mean the tide is turning?
Well, that's very unlikely. Many thought the North would be closer to the South after the 2007 season and the great year that both Mizzou and Kansas had, but the top North teams continue to be pounded by the top of the South division, and that trend should continue into 2009.
11. Is Bo Pelini restoring the Cornhusker program?
After a nine-win season and a Gator Bowl victory in 2008, Big Red nation is buzzing about Bo and the Huskers for 2009. Nebraska has a very real shot at a Big 12 North title with what should be a stellar running attack and (gasp) what should be a pretty stout defense. Sound familiar?
Bo has only been there one year, but it looks like he has Nebraska back on the road to glory. A national championship likely isn't in the picture for a few years to come, but the Huskers should be a top 25 team as long as Pelini is at the helm.
10. Will Oklahoma State have the best offense in the Country?
It is being speculated that this Cowboys team could boast the best offense in the country. 2008 saw a very balanced Cowboy attack with the running of Kendall Hunter, Keith Toston, and Zac Robinson, and a passing attack featuring TE Brandon Pettigrew and WR Dez Bryant.
All of these players return for the Cowboys except Pettigrew. Hunter will be one of the top running backs in the nation, and Bryant is arguably the best receiver in the country.
However, I remember two years ago Mike Gundy was billing the Cowboys offense as the "Greatest show on turf," but that didn't really work out too well for them that season.
Also, the Cowpokes need to find someone other than Dez Bryant as a receiving threat because their bowl exposed what will happen to their offense without the dynamic playmaker.
9. Can Baylor build on their 2008 success?
Baylor has perhaps one of the best unknown players in college football. Robert Griffin, as a freshman, finally lifted Baylor out of the Big 12 South cellar and took them to within one game of bowl eligibility.
2009 has the Baylor faithful not just hoping for a bowl berth, but fully expecting one, and Robert Griffin is the kind of player with the ability to take them there.
The Bears sadly came up just one win shy in 2008 of that bowl berth, and what was heartbreaking about it is that they had three games they could have won, but ended up losing in the second half. Just one of those would have given them their bowl eligibility, and all of those games could have given the Bears an eight-win season with a chance at a nine-win season.
That is how close Baylor is to breaking through and being a force in the Big 12.
8. Why did Texas A&M ever fire R.C. Slocum?
The answer to this question seems obvious, but it's amazing to think that Slocum was one of the winningest coaches in the 1990s. That's a decade in which Oklahoma and Texas both experienced a severe decline in their prowess as power programs.
Since the departure of Slocum, A&M has now had two different head coaches, and if things don't turn around quickly in College Station, they will be on their third in less than a decade.
Last year the Aggies found themselves as the cellar dweller in the South division and were completely manhandled and embarrassed by perennial cellar dweller Baylor.
I know Aggie fans everywhere are dreaming of the day that Slocum makes his triumphant return to College Station, just as Bill Snyder is doing this season in Manhattan.
7. Should the return of Bill Snyder usher in optimism for Kansas State?
You could hear the triumphant roar from Manhattan to Manhattan when Snyder was announced to be coming back to lead the Wildcats in 2009.
The job isn't an easy one for Snyder though. He inherits a very young and inexperienced team. He inherits a losing team. He comes into a North division that has a very different landscape than when he left.
All of this sounds like a tough rebuilding process for Bill Snyder, but he's done it before. I don't think anyone even knew there was a Kansas State before he showed up to lead the Wildcats, but he's not as youthful as he once was, which begs the question: Is he really up to the task of rebuilding a program that is bottoming out?
6. Can Kansas finally win the Big 12 North?
2007 gave the Kansas faithful something they hadn't seen in their lifetimes: a 12-win season. That gave the program perhaps unreal expectations in 2008. However, as 2009 approaches, the Jayhawks have to be considered the favorite to win the North title.
Nebraska and Kansas are, as of now, clearly the two best teams in the Big 12 North. Kansas will have to exact revenge on the Huskers in 2009 if they hope to walk away with a title, but with all of their pieces on offense—QB Todd Reesing, WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, and RB Jake Sharp—coming back, this should be a potent Jayhawks team to deal with.
5. Can Mike Leach really replace Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree?
The thought on this question seems to be that offensive production will not be down by much for the Red Raiders. Leach has shown the ability to just plug players in and keep on scoring.
However, it really isn't the offense and loss of Harrell and Crabtree that people should be concerned with in Lubbock, but rather the defense. The defense played better in 2008 than any defense Mike Leach has ever had, but it still has to improve drastically in 2009 to expect to be able to compete for a South title.
The Raiders are going to score points, and Taylor Potts will put up big numbers, but if they are unable to stop anyone, it won't matter.
4. Will anyone show up to play defense in 2009?
2008 was a banner year for the Big 12 on offense, but never before has there ever been a league with such terrible defenses top to bottom.
2009 should see a bit of a return to defense. The numbers we saw the offense put up last year were no doubt just an aberration. It took excellent quarterbacks coupled with young defenses.
Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska should lead the way in 2009 with some very good defensive play. Oklahoma has a wealth of experience coming back from a defense that looked very good by the end of the season. Texas had a very young secondary (two freshmen starting at safety and a sophomore at corner), but they should be one of the strengths of this year's team.
Similarly, Nebraska was a very young defense, and with the return of Ndamukong Suh, the Huskers look to be a force on the defensive side of the ball.
3. Will Colorado finally play up to their talent level?
Dan Hawkins came to Colorado with a reputation as a good recruiter and a good talent developer. Well, he has recruited very well in Boulder, but his player development thus far has left a little something to be desired.
He has standout recruits at almost every skill position, including Darrell Scott at running back and Josh Smith at receiver, but for whatever reason these two continue to play below their expectation level.
I know people like to excuse Scott because he was a true freshman, but he wasn't even the best freshman at his own position.
Hawkins has predicted a 10-win season for the Buffaloes this year, and that is probably what he needs to save his job, but he better start getting the most out of his players if he's going to do it.
2. Will the Big 12 tiebreaker be changed, and if not, will it bite them once again?
I don't think the Big 12 will change their tiebreaker system. No matter how you do a three-way tiebreaker, someone will always be left bitter. So the Big 12 will look at it and then decide to leave it as it is.
Will it come back to bite them in the ass once again? I think there is a good possibility. I can for see another three-way tie this year between Texas, OU, and Oklahoma State.
Here's how it happens: Texas beats OU in Dallas, and then a couple of weeks later travels to Stillwater and loses to OSU, who then travels to Norman and loses to OU. Thus we once again have our three-way South division tie.
1. Is this going to be the biggest Red River Shootout ever?
It certainly could be. There are so many stories going into this game that you could do a new show on it every day until the game is played.
Let's see, where to begin? Well, how about all the tension that resulted from UT being snubbed in favor of OU for the Big 12 title game?
Then there is Sam Bradford, the Heisman winner, versus Colt McCoy, the Heisman runner-up.
The two teams in all likelihood will be ranked No. 2 and No. 3, and if Florida should lose early in the season, it will be a 1 versus 2 matchup (this is assuming both don't drop a game early).
Then there is Big Game Bob, who will be dealing with all the questions that Mack Brown used to deal with going into this game, but having won three of the last four and going 3-0 in BCS games, Mack no longer has to answer those questions.
The list could seemingly go on and on. I don't know if it will be one of the best games played, but it will certainly be the most hyped game of the year in college football, and probably the most anticipated game in Red River Shootout history.