Conference Breakdown: Ranking the Big 12

RunTellMattContributor IJuly 30, 2009

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 13:  Sam Bradford of the Oklahoma Sooners holds the Heisman Trophy on December 13, 2008 at the Sports Museum of America in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Every summer I make do with the monotony and the boring college football-less Saturdays by doing my best to scout all 120 FBS teams. Plus, as a gambling man and a rabid college football fan, I like to know what I’m talking about.

In this 12-part feature, I’ll break down each conference, including the independents, ranking the teams in order of how good I perceive them to be heading into the season, complete with last year’s W-L record and my predictions for each team’s 2009 W-L record.

Feel free to comment on what a splendid job you think I’ve done or how my analysis and forecast is dead-on!

Or you can disagree, whatever.

In Part Five, I'm liking the Big 12.

12. Iowa State Cyclones | Last Year: 2-10 | My 2009 Prediction: 3-9

Iowa State has been heading in the wrong direction since going 7-5 in both 2004 and 2005, posting records of 4-8 in 2006, 3-9 in 2007 and just 2-10 last year—which may be one reason why they’re now on their third coach in four years.

So, will the Cyclones continue down this path to 1 or even maybe no wins or can they get it turned around to become more than just a nagging try-hard team that gives the big boys an occasional scare?

Well, they do have 15 returning starters this year, the most since 1999, so they’ll at least be more experienced. The OFF will be led by a very good up-and-coming QB, Austen Arnaud, who’s numbers would be pretty decent (2792 yards, 15 TD’s, 10 INT’s, 400 rush yards, 5 rush TD’s) by normal standards, if not overshadowed by the Big 12’s potent offenses.

The DEF will attempt to utilize their good LB’s to get into the backfield and produce more than the 19 sacks they accumulated last year, however, doing so will put a lot of pressure on the secondary to step up, which could present a problem considering they were dead last in INT’s to TD’s allowed last year.

While they certainly should improve on last year’s mark, the Cyclones still might not have it all together to be able to compete with the big boys of the Big 12 and will most likely not make it above .500. However, getting close will at least signal a turn around and something to build on heading into next season.

11. Texas A&M Aggies | Last Year: 4-8 | My 2009 Prediction: 4-8

While most head coaches stepping into uncertainty at a new program will opt to put as much experience on the filed as possible, new Texas A&M HC Mike Sherman really has embraced the rebuilding phase by opting to play talented, but young players instead, which could explain the 4-8 record of last year.

Sherman will continue his plan this year by giving game time to more than half of his first-year players. Of course, the whole team won’t be inexperienced as 16 starters from last year return.

At QB is a good athlete with real potential in JR Jerrod Johnson, who completed nearly 60 percent of his passes with 2435 yards with 21 TD’s to 10 INT’s. All three top WR’s, who combined for 19 TD’s and nearly 2000 yards, return as well.

Gone are RB’s Mike Goodson and Javorskie Lane, and now Cyrus Gray looks to be the starter, but it won’t matter who’s starting if the O-line doesn’t get much better at providing pass protection and opening run lanes as they allowed 39 sacks last season.

The DEF looks to be a weak spot of the team although they can only get better having allowed a league-worst 37.4 points/game.

The Aggies get all four conference opponents from last season that were at one time in the top 10, however there are several winnable games including NM, Utah ST, UAB, IA ST and CO.

With all the youth and inexperience on the filed this year, I don’t believe the Aggies will make much of an improvement in the W-L record, however Mike Sherman’s gamble should pay huge dividends next season.



10. Missouri Tigers | Last Year: 10-4  |My 2009 Prediction: 5-7

After two straight wildly successful seasons, including playing in two Big 12 Championship games and two bowl wins, several members of the Missouri coaching staff leave the program to move on to bigger and better (paying) gigs.

Maybe they believe it’s time to capitalize now while the program is hot, or maybe they know it might just go cold after losing all of the starpower from those teams-particularly QB Chase Daniel, TE Chase Coffman and WR Jeremy Maclin.

The Tigers may find it hard to simply reload after returning a mere nine starters on OFF and DEF from last year’s team. Sophomore Blaine Gabbert will take over for the departed Daniel, and while he won’t put up Daniel-like numbers, he’s certainly has a big arm to go along with his NFL-size stature (6’5” 235).

Gabbert will work behind a good O-line with a pair of RB’s in Derrick Washington and De’Vion Moore, who will see an increased workload this year. Although inexperienced, the D-line may be just as talented despite the several key players lost from last years unit that produced 33 sacks.

The secondary can only get better after allowing 287 yards/game last year, good for 117th in the nation.

The schedule is as difficult as it has been, but this time around Missouri simply won’t be able to rely on all that OFF firepower. It’s a definite rebuilding year for the Tigers and expect a significant drop in the W-L column as well, which means they’ll be lucky to reach a bowl this year.


9. Kansas State Wildcats | Last Year: 5-7 | My 2009 Prediction: 6-6

Bill Snyder, Kansas State Head Coach?! Is this déjà vu or is it history repeating itself?

 No, this time Snyder doesn’t inherit a miserably poor team, but rather one that is stuck on mediocre having gone no better than 7-6 in the last five seasons with only one bowl appearance.

Fourteen starters return with six on OFF and eight on DEF, but gone is QB Josh Freeman, who provided so much of the OFF last year with 404 net rush yards, 14 rush TD’s to go along with nearly 3000 pass yards, 20 TD’s and 8 INT’s.

Snyder seems to prefer smaller, quick guys he can get the ball to and let fly, which is exactly what he has in 5’6” SR WR Brandon Banks, who had 67 catches for 1,049 yards and 9 TD’s last year.

The DEF can only get better having ranked near the bottom nationally last year giving up 35.8 points and 479 yards per game.

The schedule is as easy as you could hope for this year in the Big 12 as they miss both TX and OK ST with only two expected certain losses at OK and at UCLA. Otherwise, the Big 12 North is wide open this year and it’s anybody’s for the taking, including K-State’s.

Will the Wildcats get back to Snyder’s glory days when the program was posting double-digit wins? Maybe not this year, but those are the expectations for the future.

8. Colorado Buffaloes | Last Year: 5-7 | My 2009 Prediction: 6-6

With no clear-cut front runner, Colorado is yet another Big 12 North team with the opportunity to win the division this year. The OFF returns nine starters including last year’s starting QB (and coaches' son) Cody Hawkins, as well as their top two WR’s and SR TE.

The Buffaloes also have RB Darrerll Scott, who may turn out to be the best in the Big 12 and couple Scott with another fantastic RB, SO Rodney Stewart, and Colorado will have a sensational RB tandem.

The story last year in the Big 12 was high-octane OFF, suspect DEF. Colorado won’t be too far off this year as they return a mere four starters on DEF. The LB’s should do their part, but the D-line may be an area of concern.

If the DEF can’t get the opposing OFF off the field, I don’t believe Colorado’s OFF will be potent enough to be able to just simply outscore everybody.

The schedule is not bad, though, with the majority of the games being very winnable. The Buffs do catch OK ST and TX on the road, which they might as well be since they’d probably lose either way.

Colorado really has the opportunity to control their own destiny this year as the games against WV, KS, KS ST, MO, TX A&M and NE will determine what type of season it will be.

They're are all toss-up games against teams with their own question marks. Win them all and Hawkins has a fantastic 10-2 team. Lose them all and heads may roll. End up somewhere in the middle and Colorado is a mediocre, just bowl-eligible team.



7. Baylor Bears | Last Year: 4-8 | My 2009 Prediction: 8-4

Baylor’s W-L record is not a true indication of how good they really were last year as they had to face (and lost to) six teams all ranked in the top 25, four of which were among the top eight at one time last season.

It was HC Art Briles, now in his second season, who made the decision to work towards the future by starting true Frosh Robert Griffin over JR Blake Szymanski at QB last year. The gained experience by Griffin is really going to pay off this year. He leads an OFF that returns eight starters including leading WR Kendall Wright and RB Jay Finley.

The DEF also returns eight starters, in addition to the Penn State transfer of 355 lb Tackle Phil Taylor, as well as six of their top seven tacklers.

A good test for the Bears will come right off the bat when they start the season on the road at Wake Forest. While WF returns much of its OFF in tact, the DEF is a glaring weak spot, which may mean a game of who can outscore the other.

If Baylor can pick of WF on the road, there’s a real chance to start the season 4-0 heading into their very difficult Big 12 schedule where they have to face OK on the road with OK ST, TX and TX Tech all being home games. With Robert Griffin only being a Sophomore this year, this season could be the start of Baylor’s rise in the Big 12.



6. Kansas Jayhawks | Year: 8-5 | My 2009 Prediction: 8-4

There’s a lot of buzz around Lawrence, KS that this could be the year they win the Big 12 North. But HC Mark Mangino isn’t so ready to agree, at least publicly, and neither am I.

There are, however, seven starters returning on OFF with all the major skill position players, including SR QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp and WR Dezmon Bricoe.

Although also returning seven starters, the DEF is the weak spot of the team after losing three of their top four tacklers, including their leading tackler, LB James Holt, who totaled 105 tackles along with 10 of the team’s 28 sacks.

The LB’s aren’t great, which may be why Mangino opts for the Nickel package most of the time putting five DB’s on the field.

So the OFF firepower is definitely there to compete with a wide-open Big 12 North, but much like last year in the Big 12, with several good OFF’s, the games will be decided by the better DEF.

Despite having to face OK and TX, the schedule is not bad with the remainder of the games being very winnable. It’s realistic to expect at least a matching of last year’s W-L, however a matching of 2007’s 12-1 team is highly unlikely.

Expect a solid year with a W-L somewhere in between and another bowl game to look forward to.


5. Texas Tech Red Raiders | Last Year: 11-2 | My 2009 Prediction: 8-4

The Red Raiders lose their star QB Graham Harrell, who amassed more than 15,000 yards passing through three seasons, set a NCAA record for 134 career TD’s passing and finished fourth in the Heisman voting last year, as well as their two-time Beiletnikoff Award winning WR and first round draft pick, Michael Crabtree, who also set several records of his own.

So, Texas Tech must be in rebuilding mode, right?—Not exactly.

For most programs in the country, losing that caliber of star power is devastating, but at TT, their success is based on a system, not necessarily the players-and they do a great job of recruiting the right type of players to fit their system.

So, despite only returning four starters on OFF, there’s more than enough stars-in-the-making to keep on rolling. The stats may not be as gaudy this year as they were last year, but the Red Raiders will have no problem putting up points.

Although returning seven starters, the DEF, on the other hand, has some serious questions to be answered after losing sack master Brandon Williams, who had a Big 12 best 13 last year, as well as their two starting safeties.

McKinner Dixon, who had nine sacks last year, is suspended indefinitely from the team for academic reasons, so it remains to be seen if he’ll rejoin the team for the start of the season.

The schedule is as difficult as it was last year as they again catch TX, OK and OK ST, as well as some other high-powered OFF’s in Houston, KS and Baylor. Texas Tech may again be in for some shootouts. I don’t believe they have the DEF to contain the other strong OFF’s and it remains to be seen if their OFF can produce enough to keep games close.

It will most likely be another solid season, but don’t expect another 11-2 season.



4. Nebraska Cornhuskers | Last Year: 9-4 | My 2009 Prediction: 9-3

Bo Pelini’s first year as HC at Nebraska certainly seems like a success having taken a disappointing 5-7 team, who started the 2007 season ranked 20th in the nation, to 9-4 and a bowl win over Clemson, one of the top ACC teams.

This year we’ll know if that success can be attributed to Pelini or to a residual effect of former HC Bill Callahan’s efforts.

This year’s Cornhusker team returns six starters on OFF and seven on DEF, but those voids will be filled by some very highly recruited and talented athletes. The OFF loses record-setting QB Joe Ganz, who completed a whopping 67.9 percent of his passes last year to go along with 25 TD’s to 11 INT’s.

The DEF was a definite strength last year having amassed 35 sacks on opposing QB’s and looks to be the strength again this year.

Despite not having the name-brand talent (yet), Nebraska is maybe the most well-rounded team in the Big 12 North and has an excellent chance to improve on last year’s W-L and win the division.

The schedule isn’t too bad either despite having to face two preseason top 10 teams at VT and at home against OK. The toss-up games will be at home against TX Tech, at KS and at CO.

Nebraska should handle the rest of their schedule and has the possibility to improve to 10-2 this season, although I feel they’re still another year away from fulfilling those sort of expectations.


3. Oklahoma State Cowboys | Last Year: 9-4 | My 2009 Prediction: 10-2

All of the OFF weapons from last year’s exciting team are back, including SR QB Zac Robinson, who posted very impressive numbers throwing for over 3000 yards and 25 TD’s and rushing for more than 500 yards with 8 rushing TD’s.

The OFF also welcomes back their top RB, Kendall Hunter, who added 1555 yards with 16 TD’s on the ground, and one of the best WR’s in the country, Dez Bryant, a certain 1st round draft pick who totaled 87 REC, 1480 YDS and 25 TD’s. Both Hunter and Bryant led the Big 12 in yards/game last year.

The DEF returns seven starters and will have to do a better job of getting to the QB, as they had a mere 15 sacks, the lowest total in the Big 12. The Cowboys will attempt to get more aggressive at getting into the backfield by utilizing their 3 SR LB’s, but the problem with this could be their deficiencies in the secondary where they lose two safeties and a CB.

This also poses a problem considering the conference in which they play is loaded with potent OFF’s that throw—a lot.

The schedule is very ambitious with games against three preseason top 10 teams including GA, TX, and OK as well as some serious challenges against TX Tech, Houston, and, believe it or not, Baylor.

Despite questions in the secondary, I think this might be OK State’s year. Oklahoma and Texas are not unbeatable and if anybody has a chance to knock one of them off or even both (whaaaa?), it’s the Oklahoma State Cowboys.



2. Oklahoma Sooners | Last Year: 12-2 | My 2009 Prediction: 11-1

Oklahoma is just one of those elite of elite teams that has the ability to reload year after year, which is evidenced by their 11+ wins in each of the last nine seasons, less 2005 (8-4).

This year is no exception.

The Oklahoma OFF is without a doubt loaded. RB’s Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, who each had over 1000 yards rushing last year, are back along with Heisman Trophy winner, QB Sam Bradford, who posted ridiculous numbers last year, including 4720 yards passing and 50 TD’s!

Bradford loses a little experience this year in his WR’s, but there’s certainly talent to take over in addition to SR TE Jermaine Gresham, who was second in REC’s (66) and led the team with 14 TD’s. The DEF, which returns nine, also turned in decent numbers last year posting 42 sacks, good for 2nd in the Big 12, and should once again be very strong.

One major concern with this year’s Sooner squad, however, has to be at the O-line where they lose everybody except LT Trent Williams. On the other hand, they also only had one starter return at the O-line back in 2006 and finished 11-3.

But, this Sooner team is far too talented to settle for 11-3, and after losing another bowl last year in the national championship game, they no doubt have redemption on their mind.

I say this without taking into consideration a very difficult schedule, which includes BYU, Miami (FL), OK ST and TX, all of whom will undoubtedly be ranked in the top 25 at the start of the season. The Sooners also have four other difficult match-ups with Baylor, KS, Nebraska and TX Tech.

If Oklahoma goes undefeated or even possibly suffers only loss with a Big 12 title, they very well may end up in the NC game for the second consecutive year.



1. Texas Longhorns | Last Year: 12-1 | My 2009 Prediction: 12-0

Texas had a very legitimate gripe about getting snubbed from the NC game last year.

They ended the regular season in a three-way tie with OK and TX Tech for the Big 12 South title, despite beating OK earlier in the year. The tie breaker was the team with the highest BCS ranking: Oklahoma.

Oklahoma went on to play and smash an inferior Mizzou team in the Big 12 title game and, subsequently, went on to play in the NC game.

Texas, meanwhile, had to settle for a BCS bowl against Ohio State where they played every bit like a championship team, lead by Heisman Trophy runner-up, Colt McCoy, winning in dramatic fashion with a last minute drive to regain the lead and seal the win.

The OFF returns nearly everyone with nine coming back, the biggest loss perhaps being WR Quan Cosby, who led the team with 92 REC’s, and 1123 yards.

Seven starters return on DEF; however, the D-line seems to have taken the biggest hit losing their Big 12 Player of the Year, DE Brian Orakpo, who also won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks awards, as well as their other DE and 2 DT’s.

However, much like OK, TX also brings in a strong recruiting class year after year, so they’ll definitely be able to fill those voids with some talent, inexperienced as it may be.

The schedule isn’t nearly as difficult as Oklahoma’s, which is why I think they’ll finish with a better record, and their non-conference schedule is weak as well with games against ULM, Wyoming, UCF and UTEP being the strongest of the four, but certainly not a BYU.

I think it will get very interesting come season’s end if you have TX, FL and Ohio State all undefeated.

That’s right, I said it.


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