2009: The Season for "Things Are Looking Up" in the Big 12
More than any other time in history, 2009 seems to have far more "ups" than "downs" for the Big 12. The conference, entering its fourteenth season since that fateful day The Powers That Be chose to ruin what greatness we had by including four Texas teams, seems to have all the stars alined.
The big players, Oklahoma and Texas, return their offensive tandems, defensive powers and hard feelings. So much can be expected. But what's so surprising is the teams that hope to spoil the Red River hate-fest's parade.
The Cowboys have long been the forgotten Oklahoma child, always playing second fiddle to the squad out of Norman. But not this year.
Oklahoma State is receiving high praise and holds high expectations for the coming season, ranked in the top-10 in nearly every preseason mag and picked to win the South Division in a few places.
Quarterback Zac Robinson and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant have both been listed in Heisman watch-lists, and Kendall Hunter is expected to be one of the top backs in the country.
The Cowboy defense hasn't been talked up much and aren't expected to be spectacular, but coach Mike Gundy assured fans it will be improved from last year.
If the Cowboys come out strong in their opener against Georgia, finally finish a game against Texas and give Oklahoma a hard time, they could very well win the South--and maybe a conference title and BCS bowl.
No conference championships or BCS bowls for the Bears, but a lot of excitement has been circling sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin. After making a big splash in the conference last year and nearly leading Baylor to a few key upsets of major players, Griffin is expected to bring even more to the table for the Bears this season.
It's strange for most to consider Baylor more than just a basement team or academic boost in the conference, but Griffin has made believers out of many. The Bears won't be a big Cinderella team, but they have a good chance to knock off two or three contenders in the South and maybe make light of how weak the North will be.
It warms my heart to consider the Huskers a program on the rise. Second-year coach Bo Pelini was heralded as the savior of the program and has a lot of ground left to cover before the Nebraska faithful will fully accept him in the fold.
The Cornhuskers lost a lot of offensive weapons (including the two best wideouts in Nebraska history, Todd Peterson and Nate Swift) and has some uncertainty at quarterback, but Nebraska has a lot of upside.
Tailback Roy Helu Jr. is the future of Nebraska football and will bring the future to the present this season. Coach Pelini has said time and again that successful teams are successful at running the ball, a BIG move from the Callahan-era failures. Helu gives Pelini the explosiveness from the backfield the coach needs to reignite a little classic Husker football in the program.
Let's not forget the return of everyone's favorite impossible-for-TV-announcers-to-ever-pronounce-right Ndamukong Suh. The defender will probably be in a close race with Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy for the key defensive player of the conference, and maybe of the country.
Quarterback Zac Lee is untested and largely unknown. There are a lot of questions surrounding him that leave Husker fans unsure what this season will hold. Even still, the co-North champs from last season are the favorites to win the division this year and will reserve the right to lose to Oklahoma/Texas/Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship.
Two words: Bill Snyder. Hey, it worked for Nebraska to bring coaching legend Tom Osborne back to the program. Why couldn't it work for K-State to attempt another go at the Manhattan Miracle?
As much as I despise the man for what his teams were able to accomplish against Nebraska, I still respect his ability to command a football team. Recently departed quarterback Josh Freeman has left a gaping hole in the Wildcats' offense, but Snyder will find a way around it.
The Wildcats may not be good enough to even contend for the North crown this season, but they'll be back soon enough under Snyder's wise direction.
Six down, six left. The two for-sures and the four upsides certainly provide the conference a lot of positives. However, three of the remaining six have the potential to add to the Big 12's strength, but could just as easily be huge busts.
Who knows how the Tigers will be this season? I'm willing to bet coach Gary Pinkel doesn't.
Missouri lost most of what it had going for itself from last season: quarterback Chase Daniel (good riddance), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman, as well as a few defensive stars. The big question surrounding the Tigers is do they have the players to reload or will this be a rebuilding year?
One thing is certain, though: It will take a lot less to be successful in the North Division than the South Division this coming season. The Tigers will likely be in the hunt for the North crown whether they're reloading or rebuilding, but they may not have what it takes to best an impressive Nebraska team.
The Jayhawks had so much going for them just a season or two ago, but where are they now? The team that surprised the country by breaking out of the Big 12 cellar and competing nationally has slipped back into mediocrity and obscurity. It will be difficult to tell what coach Mark Mangino will be able to bring out for the program this year. Kansas could either return to glory and take the North or continue to coast along and submit to the higher powers of Nebraska and Missouri.
A lot could be said about what Mike Leech has built in Lubbock. Sure, they lost Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, but how many phenomenal quarterbacks and wide receivers have you seen flourish out of Leech's ridiculous offense at Texas Tech? There's little question in my mind Tech will be just as good as it has been in the past, but there's still a little question in my mind: Can Tech best Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State?
Finally, the basement. These teams have little hope of finding success against the rest of the conference and have been basement-dwellers for awhile now. Not much will change for them this season.
At one point not long ago, the Aggies were the second-best team from south of the Red River in the Big 12, sometimes the lone best in the whole South Division. But not anymore.
If you can tell me what A&M's head coach's name is, you've impressed me. (Hint: It's not Dennis Franchione--see insider newsletter.)
The Aggies have a hopeless task of trying to be better than Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and now Baylor. The lowest of the South won't have what it takes to compete for at least three or four more years, if they ever get it back at all.
What was once a powerhouse that annihilated my Huskers, knocked off the Longhorns, frustrated the Sooners and surprised the country is now led by coach Dan Hawkins. I could probably just end it there.
Sure, the Buffaloes are making slight improvements from season to season, but big changes have to be on the horizon before Colorado will have a chance to do more than compete for 11th in the conference.
Have you seen them the last couple of years? I'm not even going to write about it. Just go back and watch ANY team not named Texas A&M or Colorado play the Cyclones last season and you'll see what I mean.
Despite uncertainties and negatives, there's a lot going for the Big 12 this year. And that's something worth watching.
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