1. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2)
Losses: USC (9/15), Texas A&M (10/20), at Texas (10/27)
Key Players: QB Sam Keller, IB Marlon Lucky, WR Maurice Purify, WR/KR Terrence Nunn, G Andy Christensen, G Matt Slauson, LB Bo Ruud, LB Corey McKeon, DT Ndamulong Suh, CB Cortney Grixby, CB Zackary Bowman
Newcomer: CB Armando Rumillo (JUCO Transfer)
While Nebraska's transition from a traditional option offense to a West Coast system hasn't been easy, Bill Callahan has the tools to lead his team to the Big 12 Championship Game in 2007.
The departure of QB Zac Taylor is mitigated by the arrival of senior Arizona State transfer Sam Keller, who might be better than his predecessor. Keller has size, a strong arm, and experience to boot.
I-backs Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn support Keller, as does an experienced, sure-handed receiving corps. The O-line will also be solid, led by guards Andy Christensen and Matt Slauson.
The "Blackshirt" defense's strength, meanwhile, lies in its linebackers—the Cornhuskers have arguably the best in the Big 12 in Bo Ruud. The only concern may be the front four, which is relatively inexperienced and will struggle to replace first-round draft pick Adam Carriker.
Final verdict: Nebraska will be tested early and often. In September, the team travels east to play defending ACC champ Wake Forest before returning home to host USC. In October, the Cornhuskers face Texas A&M at home before traveling to Texas—and one of the most hostile environments in college football.
2. Missouri Tigers
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: Nebraska (10/6), at Oklahoma (10/13), Texas A&M (11/10)
Key Players: QB Chase Daniel, RB Tony Temple, TE Martin Rucker, TE Chase Coffman, C Adam Spieker, T Tyler Luellen, DT Lorenzo Williams, DT Ziggy Hood, LB Brock Christopher, CB Darnell Terrell, K Jeff Wolfert
Newcomer: WR Jeremy Maclin
QB Chase Daniel gained national recognition with a breakout season in 2006.
Leading Missouri to an 8-5 record, Daniel threw for 3,527 yards and 28 touchdowns (against only 10 interceptions) with a 63.5 completion percentage. Most of the Mizzou offense is back this year, which means trouble for Big 12 defenses.
Daniel has two of the best tight ends in the country in Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. RB Tony Temple, meanwhile, gets to run behind an experienced offensive line anchored by C Adam Spieker.
The defense, unfortunately, could doom Missouri's title hopes: Only four starters remain from a team that struggled mightily against the run. Defensive tackles Lorenzo Williams and Ziggy Hood provide an experienced foundation which could help improve that weakness.
Final verdict: Despite its shortcomings, Missouri will certainly compete for the Big 12 North title—and may even be able to steal a win against Texas A&M at home. The biggest test for the Tigers is their October 6th game at home against Nebraska. A win puts them in the driver's seat to play in San Antonio for a right to claim a BCS bid.
3. Colorado Buffaloes
Projected Record: 6-6 (4-4)
Wins: Colorado State (9/1), Miami University (9/22), at Baylor (10/6), Kansas (10/20), at Texas Tech (10/27), at Iowa State (11/10)
Key Players: RB Hugh Charles, WR Patrick Williams, T Edwin Harrison, C Daniel Sanders, TE Riar Greer, DT George Hypolite, LB Jordon Dizon, CB Terrence Wheatley
Newcomer: QB Cody Hawkins
Could someone remind us what division the Buffaloes play in? D-I football, you say?
Well it ain't intramurals, brother.
Dan Hawkins' now infamous rant on ESPN radio highlighted the despair of CU in 2006, when the first-year coach led his team to a 2-10 record. With a season under his belt and a few more experienced players at his disposal, Hawkins should do better in 2007—especially in this weak division.
Hawkins will lean on his son, redshirt freshman Cody Hawkins, at the quarterback position. Young, inexperienced quarterbacks generally spell trouble, but Hawkins has support from an excellent run game.
On defense, Jordon Dizon leads a solid front seven. However, the Buffaloes must improve upon a secondary that allowed an astounding 67 percent completion rate a year ago.
Final verdict: While Colorado should beat the lower-caliber teams in the Big 12—and possibly archrival Colorado State—the Buffaloes just don't have the talent yet. Still, 6-6 would better than 2-10.
4. Kansas State Wildcats
Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5)
Losses: at Auburn (9/1), at Texas (9/29), Kansas (10/6), at Oklahoma State (10/20), at Nebraska (11/10), Missouri (11/17)
Key Players: QB Josh Freeman, RB James Johnson, RB Leon Patton, WR Jordy Nelson, DE Rob Jackson, DE Ian Campbell, CB Justin McKinney, S Marcus Watts, P Tim Reyer
Newcomer: LB Chris Patterson (JUCO transfer)
The play of sophomore QB Josh Freeman could determine the Wildcats' fate in 2007.
Freeman has drawn comparisons to JaMarcus Russell due to his size (6'6", 255 lbs.) and arm strength. If his play bears any resemblance to Russell's this season, K-State could surprise some people.
The defense, which is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, will be led by All-Big 12 selection Ian Campbell.
Final verdict: One would guess that Freeman will fall somewhere between Russell's standard and his freshman year form. If he continues to progress, and if the running game delivers, the Kansas State offense should at least be much more efficient. As long as State beats the Jayhawks and posts a winning record, it's a salvaged season. At this point, neither is certain.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Projected Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Wins: Central Michigan (9/1), SE Louisiana (9/8), FIU (9/22), at Kansas State (10/6), Baylor (10/13)
Key Players: QB Kerry Meier, TE Derek Fine, T Anthony Collins, DE Russell Brorsen, DT James McClinton, CB Aqib Talib
Newcomer: RB Brian Murphy
In 2006, Kansas quietly mounted one of the best rushing attacks in the Big 12 behind running back Jon Cornish.
With Cornish gone in 2007, the Hawks will look to sophomore Jake Sharp and freshman Brian Murphy for continued success on the ground.
QB Kerry Meier performed adequately as a freshman, but will need to cut back on his mistakes (56.5 completion pct., 13/10 TD/INT) ratio) for Kansas to succeed this year.
CB Aqib Talib, the nation's leader in pass breakups a year ago, is one of the best players you've never heard of. The defensive line is to blame for Kansas— 119th-ranked pass defense (last in D-IA), as its rush was nonexistent.
Expect a slight improvement up front, but the D-Line is still bad.
Final verdict: Kansas is young and not very talented, but could win some games in the weak Big 12 North. Although their record may not reflect it, the team should get better as they gain confidence through the year.
6. Iowa State Cyclones
Projected Record: 4-8 (1-7)
Wins: Kent State (8/30), Northern Iowa (9/8), at Toledo (9/22), Kansas
Key Players: QB Bret Meyer, RB Jason Scales, WR Todd Blythe, TE Ben Barkema, LB Alvin Bowen, LB Jon Banks, S Caleb Berg, K Bret Culbertson
Newcomer: DT Michael Tate (JUCO transfer)
Last year was supposed to be the year for Iowa State. The Cyclones had experience at several positions...but failed to click and finished with a disappointing 4-8 record.
In 2007, QB Bret Meyer and WR Todd Blythe return for their senior seasons with not much in the way of support. The offensive line returns just one starter, and several junior college transfers will immediately start on O and D.
Iowa State won't be able to compete with the Big 12 powers this year.
Final verdict: Coach Gene Chizik is trying to win sooner rather than later, as evidenced by his recruiting class of sophomore and junior transfers. However, the Cyclones still don't have enough talent.
Big 12 North Offensive MVP: QB Chase Daniel, Missouri
Big 12 North Defensive MVP: LB Bo Ruud, Nebraska
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year: QB Cody Hawkins, Colorado
1. Texas Longhorns
Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Losses: at Texas A&M (11/23)
Key Players: QB Colt McCoy, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Limas Sweed, WR Billy Pittman, T Tony Hills, G Cedric Dockery, DT Frank Okam, DT Derek Lokey, LB Robert Killebrew, LB Rashad Bobino, S Marcus Griffin
Newcomer: CB Chykie Brown
Last year, Colt McCoy had the rather large task of replacing Vince Young at quarterback—and he did so masterfully.
Completing 68.2 percent of his passes, McCoy threw for 2,570 yards with 29 TDs against just 7 INTs. In fact, McCoy was having one of the best seasons of any QB in the country...until he injured his shoulder against Kansas State and wasn't the same again.
This year, McCoy is healthy and is surrounded by elite athletes. Junior RB Jamaal Charles could make a run for the Heisman. WRs Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman and linemen Tony Hills and Cedric Dockery all have first-round NFL potential.
On defense, Frank Okam is the enforcer on the defensive line; he, Derek Lokey, and Roy Miller will make things tough for opponents on the ground. Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino make up a solid linebacker group—but Texas may struggle in the secondary, where they have to replace stalwarts Tarell Brown and Michael Griffin.
Final verdict: Texas may have a little trouble against TCU early in the season, but the Longhorns— first big test is Oklahoma. An away game at Texas A&M's Kyle Field could also cause problems. Remember, Texas is looking to go 12-0 (and then some) this season. One slip and they may not make the Big 12 title game.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Projected Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: at Miami (9/20), at Oklahoma (11/3)
Key Players: QB Stephen McGee, RB Mike Goodson, RB Jorvorskie Lane, FB Chris Alexander, WR Earvin Taylor, TE Martellus Bennett, G Kirk Elder, C Cody Wallace, DE Chris Harrington, DT Red Bryant, S Devin Gregg
Newcomer: DE Amos Gbunblee
Aside from James Davis/C.J. Spiller and Darren McFadden/Felix Jones, Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson form the most dangerous running back combo in college football.
Thunder (Lane) and Lightning (Goodson) will have plenty of room to maneuver thanks to the Aggies skilled offensive line. The passing game, meanwhile, will feature the tough, poised Stephen McGee throwing to athletic tight end Martellus Bennett.
The pride of A&M's defense is its line, led by Chris Harrington and Red Bryant. While the linebackers and D-backs are relative unknowns, several players, including former JUCO transfer LB Misi Tupe, are returning.
Final verdict: Aside from the obvious talent on offense, Texas A&M gets a huge boost from its "12th Man" fans at Kyle Field. Teams rarely come out of College Station with a win—and those who do have to claw for it.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Projected Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Losses: Texas (10/6), Oklahoma State (11/24)
Key Players: RB Allen Patrick, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Malcolm Kelly, G George Robinson, C Jon Cooper, DT DeMarcus Granger, CB/KR/PR Reggie Smith, CB Marcus Walker, S Nic Harris, S D.J. Wolfe, K Garrett Hartley
Newcomer: RB DeMarco Murray
The departures of QB Paul Thompson and RB Adrian Peterson may not matter as much as you'd think.
Thompson was mobile as well as efficient, but can be replaced. With a wide receiver as good as Malcolm Kelly, former JUCO transfer QB Joey Halzle should be able to make a smooth transition into the starting role.
Peterson, on the other hand, was hurt for half of the year, and Allen Patrick ran for 127.6 yards per game as a starter in his place. Patrick will have highly-touted redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray pushing him for playing time.
The OU defense returns the best secondary in the Big 12, highlighted by shutdown corners Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker and safety D.J. Wolfe. Defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger and Cory Bennett add some size up front.
Oklahoma also has some of the best special teams units in the country. Kicker Garrett Hartley was a Lou Groza Award finalist after missing just one field goal in 20 attempts, and Reggie Smith is dangerous in the return game.
Final verdict: Bob Stoops always has Oklahoma in contention for the Big 12 title. This year will be no different, but new players in key roles have to perform well for the Sooners to land a BCS bid.
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Texas A&M (10/6), at Nebraska (10/13), Texas (11/3)
Key Players: QB Bobby Reid, RB Dantrell Savage, RB Keith Toston, WR Adarius Bowman, TE Brandon Pettigrew, C David Washington, DE Marque Fountain, LB Patrick Levine, LB Chris Collins, S Andre Sexton
Newcomer: WR Dez Bryant
Oklahoma State will surprise some people this year.
The Cowboys return the nation's seventh-best rushing attack (208.0 yards per game), led by running backs Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston and dual-threat quarterback Bobby Reid.
Reid can also produce with his arm, having passed for 2,266 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a year ago. He'll be throwing primarily to Biletnikoff Award candidate WR Adarius Bowman in 2007.
OSU's secondary will need to be strong as the Cowboys break in an entirely new group of defensive linemen. Sophomore linebackers Chris Collins and Patrick Levine should be the glue that holds the defense together.
Final verdict: The biggest issue for Oklahoma State is its tough schedule: The Cowboys open the season at Georgia, then have to play Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma on the road. This team is talented enough to hold their own against those opponents, though—and could even win a few.
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)
Wins: at SMU (9/3), UTEP (9/8), at Rice (9/15), Northwestern State (9/29), Iowa State (10/6), at Baylor (11/3)
Key Players: QB Graham Harrell, RB Shannon Woods, WR/PR Danny Amendola, DE Jake Ratliff, CB Chris Parker, S Darcel McBath, S Joe Garcia
Newcomer: WR Michael Crabtree
Some observers have written off Graham Harrell as just another system quarterback in Mike Leach's pass-happy offense, but there's no denying his ability.
The issues for the Red Raiders this year concern the departures of three of their top receivers and a running game that looks to again be one of the worst in Division I football.
One can only rely so much on a talented quarterback.
The solid secondary is led by strong safety Joe Garcia. Other than that, the unit is inexperienced.
Final verdict: If it weren't for Tech's soft out-of-conference schedule—which consists of three small schools in Texas and one D-IAA school in Louisiana—they'd be in worse shape. Then again, Texas Tech would be in the middle of the pack or better in the Big 12 North.
6. Baylor Bears
Projected Record: 2-10 (0-8)
Wins: Texas State (9/22), at Buffalo (9/29)
Key Players: QB Michael Machen, OL Jason Smith, OL Dan Gay, DT Vincent Rhodes, LB Joe Pawelek, S Dwain Crawford
Newcomer: RB Jay Finley
Led by senior QB Shawn Bell, Baylor was 11th in the nation in passing in 2006.
With Bell gone, the Bears will lean on an unproven journeyman quarterback and a run game that was last in the country with 40.2 yards per game a year ago.
The defense, for its part, has a few good individual players who will allow the Bears to stay fairly competitive in some games.
Final verdict: Baylor has been among the dregs of the Big 12 for some time now. That trend will continue. Forget being the worst team in its conference—Baylor may be the 8th-best team in Texas, behind UT, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Rice, Houston, and SMU.
Big 12 South Offensive MVP: QB Colt McCoy, Texas
Big 12 South Defensive MVP: DT Frank Okam, Texas
Big 12 South Newcomer of the Year: RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
All-Big 12 Conference
QB — Colt McCoy, So., Texas
RB — Jamaal Charles, Jr., Texas
RB — Mike Goodson, Jr., Texas A&M
WR — Malcolm Kelly, Jr., Oklahoma
WR — Adarius Bowman, Sr., Oklahoma State
TE — Martin Rucker, Sr., Missouri
OL — Matt Slauson, Jr., Nebraska
OL — Adam Spieker, Sr., Missouri
OL — Kirk Elder, Sr., Texas A&M
OL — Tony Hills, Sr., Texas
OL — George Robinson, Jr., Oklahoma
DT — Frank Okam, Sr., Texas
DT — Red Bryant, Sr., Texas A&M
DT — James McClinton, Sr., Kansas
DE/LB — Ian Campbell, Jr., Kansas State
LB — Bo Ruud, Sr., Nebraska
LB — Chris Collins, So., Oklahoma State
LB — Jordon Dizon, Sr., Colorado
CB — Reggie Smith, Jr., Oklahoma
CB — Aqib Talib, Jr., Kansas
S — Nic Harris, Jr., Oklahoma
Big 12 Championship Game
Texas over Nebraska