The Big 12 has really lost a lot this of-fseason. Texas loses the BCS Championship game to Alabama, five of the first six players taken in the NFL Draft were from the Big 12, and they lost two schools in Nebraska and Colorado to other conferences (they will leave in 2011 and 2012). However, all schools are in tact for this season and are ready to go.
They were one second away from shaking up the BCS against Texas in the Big 12 title game, and are ready for some payback this season.
Ndamukong Suh did leave a big hole on the defensive line, but there are some great players ready to fill it. Bo Pelini has returned the black shirts to Lincoln. Jared Crick is an All-America candidate on the line as is cornerback Prince Amukamara.
This defense could be better overall compared to last season. Meanwhile the offense will have to improve, the Huskers were 99th in total offense last season. Eight starters return to the offense so hopefully they are more seasoned and improved.
The only school who can really challenge Nebraska in the North. The Tigers return 17 starters from an 8-5 team, including quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who can pitch the ball all over the field. The offense will have to score points because the defense will need time to gel. DE Aldon Smith has a chance to be a superstar but the pass defense has been torched the past two years. If Gabbert can find some solid receivers the Tigers can keep the scoreboard running.
The offense returns nine starters from a 7-6 debut season under coach Paul Rhoads. Three year starters, QB Austen Arnaud and RB Alexander Robinson will lead the attack. The defense however must replace seven starters, which is never good, especially when you can't reload like the bigger schools. Another bowl game would be a nice result.
Running back Daniel Thomas could be the best back in the conference. Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing, and averaged more than five yards a carry. The rest of the offense leaves much to be desired. The defense is very thin so they have to stay healthy or else the season could be a disaster. If things fall right, a bowl game is a possibility.
Legendary Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill is back in the Midwest. He was hired to help rebuild a Kansas team that started 5-0, and then lost its last seven, which got coach Mark Mangino the boot amidst allegations of player abuse.
Gill brings a good calming influence, and anyone who can win at Buffalo is a smart choice. It is going to be an uphill battle to start. Kansas is shy on talent and there isn't a proven playmaker on either side of the ball.
Head coach Dan Hawkins was brought in from Boise State, and there were high hopes in Boulder. Four years later, Hawkins is 16-33 and not making friends. The Buffaloes were 104th in total offense last season, but with nine returning starters hopefully things will improve. There are no excuses left for Hawkins. If the Buffs don't at least make a bowl, count on a change.
Boomer Sooner is back. After lofty expectations last season, the Sooners were bit by the injury bug and finished the season 8-5. Sam Bradford missed much of the year and plenty of young guys had to step in and play. That experience will pay off this season. QB Landry Jones surged late last season throwing for 418 yards in the Sun Bowl. RB DeMarco Murray is set to have a great year as in WR Ryan Broyles. DE Jeremy Beal and LB Travis Lewis are All-America candidates on defense. If the offensive line can gel, look for the Sooners' offense to soar. They just need to beat Texas.
The Longhorns are not going to drop off anytime soon. Mack Brown can just pick the top talent out of Texas every year, and they are reloaded. So people may not know the faces on the field yet, but you will. QB Garrett Gilbert had to come in early in the BCS Championship game for the injured Colt McCoy, and showed signs of brilliance (around all the turnovers). Texas is going to have to find a running game to take some of the pressure off Gilbert. The defense will be up to its usual dominance, led this season by DE Sam Acho who led the team with 10 sacks last season. Texas will be in the conversation all season long.
Aggie QB Jerrod Johnson is fun to watch. He can throw a beautiful deep ball and he has the playmakers around him to keep the A&M offense as one of the best in the country. The defense on the other hand was 105th in the country last year, but looks to have improved coming out of the spring. LB Von Miller led the nation last season with 17 sacks, but he can't do it all by himself. If the Aggies stay healthy, it could be a fun season in College Station.
The pirate is gone from Lubbock but former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is now at the helm of the Red Raiders. Tuberville will not abandon the air raid offense, but there will be some more runs in the playbook, which is just fine with RB Baron Batch. New defense coordinator James Willis coached linebackers at Alabama, and is a disciple of Nick Saban and Will Mushamp so the defensive pressure will be turned up.
When you lose Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, and Russell Okung from the offense you may have a little bit of drop off. However, since Bryant missed much of last year due to suspension the other receivers were able to grow. RB Kendall Hunter is still around and can bust the big play. The Cowboys only have three starters back on defense so coordinator Bill Young will have to work some magic.
It all really rides on the success of Baylor QB Robert Griffin. For the Bears to get to their first bowl game in 15 years Griffin is going to have to prove his torn ACL is healed and can take the punishment this season. Griffin was hurt in the third game last season after a brilliant freshman year in which he passed for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushed for 843 yards and 13 scores. The time is going to have to be now for the Bears to go bowling.
Big 12 Champion—Oklahoma
Despite the fact that the Sooners could not contend for championship by mid-season last year, they showed heart and did not quit. After the 8-5 season last year, the Sooners are motivated and ready to prove that last season was just a bump in the road.