Big-12 Conference Preview: New Players in OK Corral [Big-12 Football]
The Big-12 is back in action in 2012. Can you imagine what people have said if you told them in 2009 if you told them that the Big-12 was one of the best conferences in the country? This was a conference that was losing Missouri and Texas A&M, Colorado, and Nebraska, and possibly Texas and Oklahoma. Now they are awesome, and an incredibly top heavy conference. It is a testament to how good the conference is that Oklahoma and Texas haven’t been phenomenal and they are still considered a power.
It is pretty astonishing how bad (relatively) Texas was these past two years. When Colt McCoy graduated this team had nowhere to go. McCoy was Peyton Manning level important to the Longhorns as he made up for years of bad recruiting and coaching. The offense was totally designed around him to pass over 65% of the time.
The past few years Mack Brown cleaned house in the coaching staff and brought in the Boise State offensive coordinator who was behind some of the Broncos biggest wins with Kellen Moore. He’s been working with David Ash and in his second year starting provides stability to the position (hopefully). But more importantly the quarterback has been de-emphasized at Texas in favor of a more SEC-type focus on defense and power running attack. Malcom Brown is back after a good true freshman year where rushed for 742 yards and 5 touchdowns.
On defense 6 starters return to a squad that has size but also speed. The defensive backs are superb, which is needed in a conference that passes so much. The schedule is very favorable with two cupcakes before traveling to Ole Miss. Texas does have to travel to Oklahoma State but get West Virginia and TCU all at home.
The Cowboys are the Oregon of the heartland. They have a rich booster (T. Boone Pickens) similar to Oregon’s (Phil Knight). They have crazy uniforms, a young coach, and a winning tradition that isn’t prestigious.
Mike Gundy comes back without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, who accounted for 134% of the team’s offense last year. Running back Justin Randle Jr. ran for 1216 yards last year and 24 touchdowns. Only 4 starters return on offense but luckily the schedule pans out well. They play Savannah State, play at Arizona, and host Louisiana and get a bye week before and after they play Texas. They have plenty of time to adjust.
8 starters come back on defense including all the linebackers and 3 defensive backs. Again, the back 7 is important in the Big-12 because of how much the conference throws. An extra factoid, Oklahoma State has beat the spread 9 times the last two years.
The Sooners are a team that hasn’t been able to put it together all the way since they were crushed by USC in the 2003 national championship game. 15 total starters return this season including 8 on offense.
Landry Jones is a senior and has been a projected breakthrough star for three years now. Almost surely a first round pick, Jones still struggles throwing interceptions and only completed 63.2% of his passes last season. Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch are the two-head running backfield coming back for another season as they combined for over 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The defense has seven starters coming back including three on the defensive line and three in the secondary. The Sooners get Notre Dame at home but have to travel to West Virginia and TCU. If anything, the defense has been the biggest disappointment after they’ve struggled to stop anybody at times. Last year they gave up 45 to Baylor, 41 to Texas Tech, and 44 to Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers bring back 14 returning starters to a team that averaged 37.6 points a game and only surrendered 26.8. West Virginia is a team that operates on another level on offense. Dana Holgersen, who looks a little like Skrillex, when not getting kicked out of every bar and casino in the state runs a crazy offense. He learned under Mike Leach and is now running the air raid at an rarely thought of level of efficiency.
Geno Smith is probably the most underrated quarterback in the country, even after throwing for 4385 yards and 31 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. Two offensive linemen return but two defensive linemen come back along with two linebackers and defensive backs. The defense is projected to be 53rd overall by Football Outsiders in terms of F/+, which adjusts for increased competition in the Big-12.
The adjustment to a better conference will be interesting to see. While not as drastic as TCU’s adjustment, there are some tough stretches for West Virginia. They play Maryland, Baylor, then at Texas, Texas Tech, and Kansas State. After a bye they play TCU, at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and at Iowa State. The room for error is small as mistakes tend to compound for teams when they are in the thick of schedules.
The Horned Frogs have been one of my favorite teams to watch and analyze over the last few years. They are one of the few great teams to run a 4-2-5 defense and have outperformed even with small players on the defensive line. Gary Patterson and his team moves from the Mountain West to the Big-12 after beating Boise State last year in a game that was made only as close as it was by the referees.
This year they only return 11 total player, 6 on offense and 5 on defense, but the defense doesn’t worry me that much. Ed Wesley, the running back who took 120 carries last year, entered the supplemental draft for personal reasons. This leaves Waymon James and Matthew Tucker among others to pick up the slack. I expect TCU to go to a running back by committee. Quarterback Casey Pachall return after throwing for almost 3000 yards and a 66.5% completion rate along with 25 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions.
Again, the schedule poses problems for a team that had the nation’s 16th best offense and 30th best defense. They play at Baylor, then host Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, and then host Kansas State before a bye week and then Texas. That’s not an easy stretch by any means and will test the depth of the roster like it has never been tested before.
Bill Snyder at Kansas State loves winning games ugly. I feel like I’m watching Big-10 football from the 80’s when I watch their games. His model for getting to ten wins consists of playing cupcakes in their out of conference games. (although to their credit this year they play Miami)
Collin Klein is a throwback quarterback who combined for 40 touchdowns last year, 27 of them being on the ground and was a 1,000 yard rusher. What troubles me going forward with Kansas State is they had 7 close wins last year, something that is not easily repeatable. They also were outgained by 100 yards each game.
The Wildcats are one of those teams that fall under the category of “I don’t know how they’re winning necessarily, but they are.” Typically, teams where you don’t know how they are winning they do not repeat these wins over a long period of time. I think Kansas State will regress.
Baylor moves on to a world of college football without Robert Griffin III. The team can now show whether RGIII was the team, or was also a launching pad for bigger and better things.
Their preseason games should make them bowl eligible easily and return 8 starters on a defense that gave up 37.2 points a game. This defense needs a lot of work and hopefully the defense won’t need the offense to simply outscore every other team on the schedule.
Tommy Tuberville is still at the helm in Lubbock, Texas in his third year. What stands out most when looking at the Red Raiders is the number of returning starters they have coming back. With 17 starters lining up on the field this should be one of the nation’s most improved teams. Hopefully with the phase from the air raid to a more balanced attack taking effect the Red Raiders won’t collapse again and make it to a bowl game this year.
The Cyclones are a team that continually upsets teams. They did it to Nebraska a couple years ago and they did it again last year on a Thursday night when they toppled Oklahoma State.
They only have 12 returning starters back, which includes 3 starting linemen, the quarterback, and all returning running backs. The defense returns their top 3 tacklers on a team that will be bowl eligible again but won’t get much past that.
Kansas is just really bad. Dayne Crist is a new addition at quarterback but they have a rough schedule and I have no faith in Charie Weis in coaching at the college level.