After a controversial preview of the Big 12 South (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/435783-big-12-south-preview) we move on to the North. This is the last chance that Nebraska and Colorado have to make a true mark on the Big 12 North because after this year they will be departing for greener pastures. Here are my predictions on who will finish where in the division.
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6. Colorado Buffaloes
Coming off a 3-win season the Buffs have nowhere to go but up. The Colorado quarterbacks threw as many interceptions as touchdowns last year (18) and that is the first issue to address when trying to fix their terrible turnover ratio. The quarterback job appears to be Tyler Hansen's, but if he struggles early in the season don't expect Dan Hawkins to hesitate about putting in his son Cody. If the Buffs don't go bowling this year, Hawkins will probably be out of a job as Colorado departs to the Pac-10.
Record: 3-9 (1-7)
Biggest Game: September 4 against Colorado St. If the Buffaloes can beat their in-state rival when they meet in Denver then it will give them momentum going into much tougher matchups with California and Georgia.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
After the Jayhawks lost their last 7 games, I don't think there was a single Kansas fan disappointed to see Mark Mangino forced out. Under new coach Turner Gill it looks as if Kansas will get off on the wrong foot. Kansas is completely unproven offensively with either Kale Pick or Jordan Webb trying to replace legendary QB Todd Reesing. If that wasn't enough of a loss the Jayhawks also lost their two top receivers, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, who accounted for 17 of Kansas's 22 TD receptions. For Kansas to have success their run game and defense will have to carry an unproven passing game.
Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Biggest Game: November 27 when they meet Missouri in Kansas City. Not only is this a rivalry game for Kansas, but there is the added possibility that the bowl hopes could be on the line.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
Coming off their best season since 2005, the Cyclones are looking to go bowling for back to back seasons. These Cyclones will have a tough go at getting there with games against Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri. The Cyclones have seniors starting at both quarterback and running back, with a solid yet not deep O-line. With a lack of experience at linebacker and a D-line that struggles to get to the quarterback the Cyclones will rely heavily on there secondary to make some big plays.
Record: 5-7 (3-5)
Biggest Game: September 11 at Iowa. This will be a game that sets the tone for the rest of the Cyclones' season, letting us know if they are pretenders or contenders. If the Cyclones compete in this game they will put up a good fight against all of their Big 12 North foes.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats are in safe hands as long as Bill Snyder is the man running this team. The Wildcats had a 6-6 record this past season and going into this season they will be trying to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2006. The offense will lean heavily on running back Daniel Thomas who was the Big 12's leading rusher last year. K-State has a depleted defense which to start with was ranked 10th in the Big 12 in sacks last year (20). The combination of an easier schedule than Iowa State and Bill Snyder is enough to push them into third in the North.
Record: 7-5 ( 4-4)
Biggest Game: October 7 at home against Nebraska. This is the game in which we will find out if Kansas State can truly challenge the elite in the Big 12 North, or if the division is really only two teams deep.
2. Missouri Tigers
The Tigers have a year more experience basically everywhere on the field, and this might be most important at quarterback. Mizzou will be starting 6'5" Blaine Gabbert at QB and expect him to be very good this year. Only one starting receiver will return for the Tigers but one thing we know about them is that they can recruit receivers, (Alexander and Maclin), so its only a matter of time before a star emerges. If Missouri wants to contend for a Big 12 title they will have to shore up their secondary, as it was dead last in the Big 12 when it comes to opponents' completion percentage.
Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Biggest Game: October 30 at Nebraska. If the Tigers want to win the Big 12 North, that road goes squarely through Lincoln, Nebraska. This game will likely decide who will represent the Big 12 North in the Big 12 Championship Game.
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska is looking to grab one last Big 12 North title before jetting off to begin play in the Big 10. The Cornhuskers lost one of the best players in the country (Ndamukong Suh) to the NFL draft but I still expect their defense to be one of the best in the country. A major question that has to be asked is how will their quarterback perform. Nebraska's offense struggled mightily last season under Quarterback Zac Lee, and head coach Bo Pelini has said that he could use quarterback by committee. If Nebraska's offense improves just a little on last season, look for them to be one of the elite teams in the country.
Record: 11-1 (7-1) (Not including the Big 12 Championship Game)
Biggest Game: October 16 when the Texas Longhorns come to Lincoln. Nebraska has its eyes set on revenge when it comes to this Big 12 Championship Game rematch and they haven't been afraid to say it. Look for Nebraska to be more fired up for this game than any other.