Due to time constraints today, I'm only going to publish the first half of my Big XII South preview. I know, the fans of Tech, Baylor, and Texas A&M are devastated, but we'll get to the bottom half of the division later this week, most likely after a Hot Routes and then some commentary on the Castille dismissal/Burkhead ascendancy for the Big Red. This should have been posted sooner, but alas, I was out of town.
The teams below are listed in in the order I believe they'll finish in the division race.
Is it just me, or is Colt McCoy the Big XII's Van Wilder? He's one of those guys who has been in the spotlight his whole college career, and, as a result, it seems like he's been in school for the better part of a decade.
It's unfortunate for the rest of the Big 12, because during that tenure he's been pretty damn good. Holding 42 school records and a 32-7 career mark in the win/loss column will make you a near-deity at a school like UT, but to get on Vince Young's level, McCoy will have to take the Longhorns to where the pollsters didn't allow them to go last year, and that's to a national title.
Fortunately for McCoy, he'll have plenty of help on the offensive side of the ball, where eight starters return from an offense that put up 42 points and 475 yards per game last year. What sets UT apart from Oklahoma this year is that, whereas the Sooners have to rebuild their offensive line, Texas brings back four of their five starters from last year, among them All-Big 12 tackle Adam Ulatoski and center Chris Hall. The 'Horns hope that this experience in the trenches will lead to a running game with a feature back who's last name isn't McCoy, which was the case last year.
Look for the ball-toting duties to be shared among three backs, as was the case last year. This year's edition will feature Vondrell McGee (likely starter), Fozzy Whittaker (change-of-pace-guy), and Cody Johnson (short yardage). Whether or not that will lead to a better rushing game is anyone's guess. The real question here is, with it's fertile recruiting ground, how on God's green earth does UT not have a beast in the backfield?
The receiving corps, while losing Quan Crosby, still has Jordan Shipley, though it doesn't help that the Longhorns have lost four (that's right, four) tight ends to season-ending injuries thus far this year. Shipley is a legitimate Belitnekoff award candidate, and it's well deserved, as he's a beast.
UT's defense returns six starters, the most prominent being LB/DE Sergio Kindle, who is expected to get a lot of snaps at defensive end to shore up a unit still dealing with the loss of three starters, including Nagurski/Lombardi award winner Brian Orakpo. If the defensive line loses anybody to injury, there will be a significant depth issue there, and finding able bodies to prevent that is high on defensive coordinator (and head-coach-in-waiting) Will Muschamp. The good news is that the unit was bolstered by another boffo recruiting class, including Alex Okafor, the No. 1 ranked strongside defensive end, according to Rivals.com.
The rest of the defense wasn't hit as hard in terms of graduations and NFL decisions, and will return some able-bodied playmakers in Roddrick Muckelroy and a pair of stud safeties in Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas, who both excelled as freshmen last year.
For a team that has won three consecutive Big XII championships and played in five national title games in the past 11 seasons, the Sooners still have a problem with closing out with a victory. If you look back, the last time that OU won their final game of the year was back in 2005, when they beat Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, and as a result, there has been a little bit of OU backlash in recent years, especially last year after Texas was denied a chance to compete for the national title despite having beaten the Sooners in the Red River Shootout.
Say what you want about Oklahoma, but their consistency this decade is nothing short of amazing in this era of parity in college football. Only once in the 2000s have the Sooners finished with fewer than 11 wins. The question is, when will they get over the hump again and raise the crystal ball?
Last year's Sooner offense was the most prolific (at least in terms of scoring) in college football history, scoring 50 or more points in seven of their games and failing to break 40 only three times. That said, the Sooners face a challenge in restocking an offensive line that lost four starters, in addition to Sam Bradford's go-to receiver, Juaguin Iglesias. Luckily for Bradford, he still has plenty of playmakers to choose from, including a pair of 1,000 yard backs in DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who may be the nation's best at that position.
Bradford faces stiff competition from McCoy and Jesus, er, Tim Tebow for the Heisman Trophy, but as we've seen, OU usually finds a way to simply reload with former five star recruits when they lose any weapons. As long as the line keeps Bradford upright, the offense will keep on rolling.
The defense, as is usually the case in the Bob Stoops era, will be a highly-regarded unit. Anchored by all-everything tackle Gerald McCoy, as well as defensive end Auston English and linebacker Travis Lewis, the Sooners are expecting great things from a squad that expects to return it's front seven from last season intact. According to Stoops's media day interviews, he thinks that this unit has a chance to be one of the better ones that the Sooners have had during his time at OU.
While everyone else may be predicting that OSU is this year's Texas Tech, I'm still not sold on them making that kind of a jump. The offense, though overshadowed by its peers in the South last year, is as good as any in the country. Not only is the attack extremely potent, it's also extremely balanced, as it rushed for 3,191 yards and passed for 3,149 yards last season.
The triggerman for the juggernaut is multi-threat QB Zac Robinson, who has no shortage of weapons at his disposal on the offensive side of the ball. The Cowboys return the Big XII's leading receiver and rusher, with All-American Dez Bryant doing the catching (1,480 yards, 17 YPC) and Kendall Hunter doing the running (1,555 yards, 16 TD's).
The only real losses for the offense were All-Conference center David Washington and first-round NFL draft choice Brandon Pettigrew, a tight end who last year had 42 catches for 472 yards
With all that firepower returning, you may wonder why I'm not sold on the Cowboys living up to their lofty pre-season rankings (No. 9, AP). For any knowledgeable college football fan, you already know the answer: their defense is, well...bad. Last year, the Cowboys lost four games, and in those games the opposing team averaged 47 points.
The reason for so much optimism by the Okie State faithful is that the Cowboys brought in Bill Young as defensive coordinator. Young, an OSU alum, is highly regarded in coaching circles, coming off his experience with Miami last year and Kansas the previous year, as a man known for turning around inept devensive units.
The question is, can one guy really flip the switch for a team that allowed over 400 yards of offense a game last year, lost three starters from a secondary that struggled mightily, and ranked last in the league in sacks? The Cowboys' aspirations of a Big 12 breakthrough hinge on it.
In addition to not being sold on their defense, I still don't think that the Cowboys can get through a brutal schedule that includes Georgia in the non-conference slate and then sends them on the road to face OU, Baylor, and Texas A&M. I think that OSU might be one of those teams that sprints out of the gate and then falls back to earth with another four or five-loss season.