College Football 2011 Preview: Big 12

01 Sep

Ahhh, yes. It’s August September, meaning that college football is right around the corner HERE!!!!! Need to know who to watch this season? Well, we got you covered! Myself, The Big Socrates, and friend of the Thread Mark Rodriguez will break down the entire field by conference and tell you the players, teams, and dark horses to watch for this year. We’ll also let you know who is entirely overrated and won’t be making much noise come December. We’ll break down all of the conferences, so check back with us! You can check out our other posts on the ACCPac-12Big East/Independents and the SEC. And as always, leave us comments to voice your opinion.

With that said, today, we’ll break down the Big 12. Now, i’ll admit my biases up front; I bleed burnt orange, meaning that I hate OU and everything they stand for. I’m also not the biggest fan of A ampersand M, which is intensified by their constant bitching and moaning. Just go ahead and leave already! We won’t miss you! But more on that to come. Anyway, as a die hard Texas fan, I tried my best to be objective. So enjoy!

Big 12 Conference (MichaelYoungHistory)

Big Game Bob: Stoops and the Sooners try to live up to the lofty expectations

Yes, there is still a Big 12 conference (for now). With the departure of Nebraska to the Big Ten (which now has 12 teams) and Colorado to the Pac-12, the Big 12 is now down to 10, meaning no championship game and a round-robin schedule sans divisions. However, the winner of the conference still automatically qualifies for a BCS game; but nobody cares. This is because there are a few teams in the conference who have national title hopes. With 3 teams ranked in the preseason top 10 (OU #1, A&M #8, OSU #9), there will be plenty of Big 12 games that have national title implications. In the background of all of this is A&M’s pending departure to the greener pastures of the SEC “another conference,” where they desire to get out from under the great shadow cast by the Texas Longhorns. There is talk of the Aggies being replaced with schools ranging from SMU to TCU, and even Pitt, BYU or Notre Dame.

(Note: I could care less if the Aggies leave the Big 12 b/c I know Texas will be fine REGARDLESS, but I really REALLY hope the two teams come together and continue the yearly tradition! We’ve been playing each other since 1894! Get it together guys! Great article on why the series must live on here.)

The main goal of Dan Bebee, the B12 commish, has to be to keep OU in the conference. If OU leaves, that spells the death of the Big 12, period, so whomever we bring it, they better make OU happy. Also, as of last Friday, UT’s much talked about Longhorn Network has officially launched, though no major cable providers have been tapped to pick up the network as of yet. This may cause some serious issues for Longhorn fans both abroad and in Austin, because estimates say only about 20,000 TV sets have a cable provider that has signed on for Longhorn Network. Ouch…Anyway, clearly, there is alot going on in the Big 12 off the field, but thats not what we’re here to talk about…Lets talk football.

The Juggernaut(s)

The Big 12, in a “down year” where they lost a top 10 team (Nebraska), still boasts 3 preseaon top-ten teams. While some may debate whether we should refer to the Aggies or Cowboys as “Juggernauts,” with the preseason hype they could both end up in the BCS title conversation with an undefeated or 1 loss season. All three of these teams will play one another, so we’ll know who is who and what is what by the end of it all. I’ll start with the one most likely to win the conference: The dreaded Oklahoma Sooners.

OWHOU finished 12-2 last year as Big 12 champs and won a BCS trophy. (Bob Stoops breaks the BCS losing streak at 5, but it was against Uconn…so it doesnt really count…does it?) “Big Game Bob” (an ironic nickname given to him after losing all of those BCS games, including 3 National Championship games in that span) brings back his Jr. QB Laundry Jones, who will be an early Heisman contender, as wel as 4 OL starters and vaunted WRs Broyles and Stills. On defense, the Sooners are a bit light, as their best defensive player, LB Travis Lewis, will miss at least 2 months of the season with a broken foot. Also, the death of Austin Box, also a LB, has their LB core looking a bit thin. They also lost 3 of their 4 top tacklers from last season. It may take OU awhile to get going on the defensive side of the ball, but their offensive should be lights out from jump, giving their defense time to mature.

OU is the preseason #1 team in the country, but play a tough schedule consisting of games at FSU (#6 in AP), vs. Texas (in Dallas, #25 in AP), at OK ST (#9) and home against the Aggies (#8). However, they’ll be favored in each one of their games. Is this finally the year Big Game Bob pushes OU to live up to the lofty preseason expectations, or will they play well all season only to lose when the lights get brightest? Time shall tell…

The Weeden-to-Blackmon combo should be money in the bank for Mike Gundy's high-powered offense

As for Oklahoma State, they’ve gone 9-4 the past two seasons, but the Cowboys and their fans are hoping that this is their breakout year. Armed with a #9 preseason ranking and the return of QB Brandon Weeden and the nation’s best WR Justin Blackmon, this could be the year OK St FINALLY steps out of the shadow of their big brother in Norman and take on their own identity in the BCS race. The offensive line returns all 5 starters from last year, but the run game may take a hit, as longtime starter Kendall Hunter has gone pro. Two sophomores will likely split the carries for OSU. Also, with highly touted offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson off to be the head coach at West Virginia, it may take OSU some time to adjust. But the offense will not be what holds OSU back this year; it’ll be the defensive side of the ball. OSU’s pass defense was a miserable 115th in the nation last year, and it does not help matters that OSU is only returning 1 starter on the defensive line. In a pass-happy conference, this has to scare Cowboys fans. Their week 2 matchup with Arizona may tell us alot about this team, but also look to see how they perform against the likes of Texas, Tamu, and of course, OU. We could potentially see OU and OSU, who resume their rivalry known as “Bedlam” in the last week of the season, both heading into that game with a chance at a BCS game or even a NC shot.

Jeff Fuller is a man amongst boys, and is looking to have a huge year for the Aggies

And then there are the Aggies. I’m sure you want to hear more about them, since they haven’t been in the news everyday for the last month or so. Speaking of SEC, the Ags are slightly familiar with that conference, as just last year, they were destroyed in the Cotton Bowl by LSU and finished with a record of 9-4. However, they did finish 6-2 in the conference, and beat UT, which means it was a good year for the Aggies. Lost in all of the SEC talk however is the fact that A&M is currently ranked #8 to start the year, and have a strong core of senior leaders who wont play in the SEC and are only focused on making a BCS run in their last year of eligibility; and Tamu just might have the team to make such a run. The Aggies return an overwhelming 10 starters on offense, including WR-turned-QB Ryan Tannehill, who started 6 games last year after he was converted to QB. Also, senior RB Cyrus Gray rushed for 1000+ yards last year and is looking to make some noise on the national scene, although he’ll split carries with the conference’s freshman of the year from last year. First-Team all Big 12 WR Jeff Fuller, who had a ridiculous 1000+ yard 12 TD season even with some turmoil at QB, will be a huge weapon for Tannehill. On offense, the Aggies should not only be high-powered, but may also be the nation’s most balanced offense.

On defense, the Aggies return 8 starters, but must replace top 5 NFL pick Von Miller and Michael Hodges, who led the team in tackles last year. With 8 starters coming back to a unit that was fairly good last year, the Aggies should be able to lock down opponents. The schedule gets tough early, as they host Oklahoma State in week 3 of the season. They also play at Oklahoma, and end the season at Kyle Field against the Longhorns. Since this may be the last Thanksgiving Day game for some time because or the Aggies’ pending move, emotions will run high. The fact that the Aggies may still be in the BCS conversation means that the stakes may be even higher. We’ll see if Coach Sherman can finally get the Aggies back on the map nationally. Don’t sleep on the Aggies guys: i mean, they WERE the 1939 National Champions…<chuckles>

The Dark Horse

Can a team that went 5-7 last year really be a dark horse? Maybe...It might be all up to this guy <gulp>

Yes, the Horns were an abysmal 5-7 last year. Yes, QB Garrett Gilbert, who threw an awful 10 TDs and 17 INTS last year, including a 5 INT performance in a loss to Kansas State, was just named the starter for the Horns for 2011. Yes, the Horns are playing a fair number of underclassmen at key positions, including CB, WR, LB, and DL. Yes, Mack Brown did pretty much clean house and hire an all new coaching staff. So how can Texas have any shot at winning the Big 12 with all of the previously mentioned teams vying for the top spot? That can all be answered in one word; talent.

Mack has put together top recruiting classes for the last couple of years, and on paper, the Horns are as talented as anyone in the country. All of the hires that Mack made (namely, Harsin as OC from Boise State and Manny Diaz as DC from Mississippi State) come highly praised and have proved to be some of the great young minds in the game at their respective positions. Alot of the problem last year was entitlement, but after such an awful season last year, these Horns should have a bad taste in their mouths and come out fired up. There are still questions about the offensive line, and of course, nobody knows what to expect from Gilbert. Also, on defense, the secondary is young. However, if Texas can find a way to put it all together and play up to their potential, they are a threat to win this conference. We can’t know for sure how likely this is, but a team with as much talent as UT has coming into the year always has an outside shot. Keep an eye on the Horns this year…

Players to Watch

A few of these players i’ve already talked about, but there are lots of players to look out for this year in the Big 12. Sooner QB Landry Jones is a preseason Heisman candidate, and his favorite target (Broyles) will put up huge numbers. OK State’s QB/WR duo (Weedon/Blackmon) may be the nation’s best, and either of those guys could end up in New York if OK State wins some big games this year. Texas A&M’s duo of Gray and Fuller both put up monster numbers last year, and look to do the same this year on a TAMU team that may turn some heads. However, these marquee guys don’t stand alone in the conference.

Texas LB Keenan Robinson is a 3rd team preseason all-american, and will be the leader of a Texas defense that will be trying to find its identity early in the year. Texas may have one of the best LB cores in the country, and Keenan will shine as the unit itself does. Emmanuel Acho, another Texas LB, will also have a huge year.

TAMU DB Coryell Judie, a Sr, will probably be one of the better DBs in the conference, and many think he’ll have a breakout year. Judie may be an NFL prospect, so the cameras will keep a close eye on how he plays this year.

Baylor’s QB/WR duo of Griffin and Wright may not get the hype nationally if Baylor does not get off to a hot start, but they will put up huge numbers for sure. Also, some predict Iowa State LB Jake Knott Jr. to be an NFL guy, potentially at the end of this, his Jr season.

And as a personal aside, look out for newly-named starter and true freshman WR Jaxon Shipley of Texas, who happens to be the younger brother of Longhorn great Jordan Shipley. In a recent press conference, Mack joked that he’s worried about getting into trouble with the NCAA, who will think that Lil Shipley is actually Jordan Shipley returning to school. The young but uber-talented WR core of Mike Davis and Jordan Shipley will be extremely fun to watch.

Key Games

Kyle Field will be rocking when the Cowboys come to town in week 3...

There are a number of key games that will determine the fate of the Big 12 BCS contenders. The biggest one will be OU’s trip down to Tallahassee in the second week of the season. This will most likely be the Sooners’ biggest obstacle to a BCS title game. While a loss to Jimbo Fisher’s boys would not eliminate OU entirely, it would be a severe blow. Look out for the matchup between OU’s high-powered offensive attack and FSU’s secondary, which most think is the nation’s best secondary. Also, look for new FSU QB EJ Manual to try to out-duel Landry Jones and garner some early Heisman votes. This game is a must watch…

Also in the second week of the season, Oklahoma State faces a potential test when they face off against the other Stoops (Mike) and his Arizona team. Arizona is picked by most to have a down year this year, so they’ll be looking for a big win in Stillwater to jumpstart their season. Former Texas TE/WR Dan Buckner, WR Juron Criner (who we talked about in our Pac-12 blog) and QB Nick Foles will test this OK State defense early.

Another big out-of-conference matchup takes place on October 1st, when the Aggies face off against an Arkansas team who will test their secondary. While the Razerbacks did lose star QB Ryan Mallett to the NFL last year, they still have whats considered one of the best WR cores in the nation. We’ll see what the Aggie defense is made of in this game, which takes place in Arlington at Jerry’s house…

Within the conference, since all of the Big 12 schools play each other this year, there is no shortage of big games. OU/TX is ALWAYS a big game, and will be no less so this year. The horns may have a chance to knock off OU while they are the countries’ #1 team, which adds yet another aspect to the rivalry. Also, OU’s games against OK State and A&M will have huge conference and national implications.

One team I havent talked about is Missouri. Missouri lost their star QB Blaine Gabbert to the NFL, but some of the experts think Missouri may be prime to upset a few Big 12 foes. Look for Missou to try to knock off both OK State and Texas, two teams they play at home in Columbia.

The A&M/OK State game will also be huge, along with the rivalry games between OU/OK State and Texas/TAMU. Again, because this may be the last Thanksgiving Day game between the Horns and Aggies, look for this one to be a brawl. (Editors Note: Although the Aggies won last year, the Horns currently lead the series 75-37-5)

The Black Sheep

With Griffin at QB, Baylor could upset some of the Big 12's best this year...

While I’ve chosen to make Baylor the black sheep of the conference, they could have easily swapped places with the Horns and been the Dark Horse of the Big 12. Baylor beat Texas last year, and is returning their star-studded QB Robert Griffin, who threw for more than 3,500 yards and 22 TDs last year. Baylor is coming off a big year for the program, as they were ranked in the top 25 at one point last year and broke a 15+ year bowl drought. The Bears are looking to build on that momentum this year. However, the loss of a 1000 yard rusher and with only 5 players returning on defense, Baylor may struggle all year against the high-powered Big 12 offenses. To their advantage though, they play both OU and Texas at home in Waco. That mixed with Griffin’s playmaking abilities means that Baylor may be a team to watch in the Big 12.

Other Notes

Mizzou-The loss of Gabbert means some people are down on the Tigers, but coach Gary Pinkel has consistently fielded good teams. Mizzou did beat then #1 OU last year, so they know what an upset looks like in Columbia…

Texas Tech- Tommy Tuberville has signed some big name defensive players, which was sort of unheard of in the Mike Leach era. With Tommy’s defensive prowess and a similar offensive scheme to the Texas Tech of old, on paper at least, this team sounds amazing. However, this is pretty much the same defense that gave up 52 points to Iowa State last year. Sheesh…

Kansas-They were GOD AWFUL last year, and this is coming from a Horns fan. Look for Coach Gill’s seat to get a big hot if they cant get a few upsets this year…<paging Mangino>

Kansas State -Look for former highly touted recruit-turned-transfer Bryce Brown to carry the load for the Wildcats this year. We’ll see if he can live up to the hype…

Iowa State-They beat Texas last year…that’ll be enough to keep them happy for decades! Right?

The Victor

We know we arent the first ones to do a Big 12 preview, and we venture to say that all of them that you have read have picked OU to win the conference. Well, i think OU will win the Big 12 as well, but I don’t see them getting through the conference unscathed. Although I like OK State’s team this year, I just don’t see them getting over the hump and finally defeating their older brother, even though the game is in Stillwater. However, Texas is ALWAYS a threat to beat OU (played them closely last year, could have easily won that game) and I’m VERY high on the Aggies this year (seriously debated picking them to win the conference). I believe one of these two teams will beat OU. Despite Texas’ success, OU has easily been the dominant force in the Big 12 for the last decade or so, and I think the trend continues. However, just like their loss to Mizzou last year, OU will inevitably drop a conference game before realizing that they are the best team and winning out.

Thoughts? Let us know what you think! And be on the lookout for our last preview on the new-look Big Ten coming soon! And don’t forget, THE SEASON STARTS TONIGHT! Welcome back, College Football!

-MichaelYoungHistory, The Big Socrates, & Markrod

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1 Comment

Posted by on September 1, 2011 in NCAA, Sports


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