The landscape has changed in the Big 12 once again. A whole new look to the conference who still lacks 12 teams in order to have a conference championship game, but TCU and West Virginia of all people join the Big 12 as Missouri and Texas A&M leave for the SEC. Just the year before Nebraska bolted for the Big 10 and Colorado found a home in what is now the PAC 12. So in essence the Big 12 conference has seen 3 powerhouse teams leave this conference and the whipping boy Colorado over the past 5 years is now fodder for Pac 12 opponents.
Last year the Big 12 was one of the stronger conferences in the nation, and also produced the Heisman Trophy Winner out of Baylor in RG III, as well as Baylor’s best year in football ever and found Okie State at the top of the heap! This season there is a great deal of parity in this conference from top to bottom and West Virginia comes into the fold with a possible top 10 football team, and may contend for a Top 2 spot at year’s end but their schedule is brutal. It is going to be interesting this year but Oklahoma has all the tools to make a run for a national title, ranked as high as 4th in many preseason polls, and the Big 12 will be a major BCS Bowl contender with possibly 2 teams this year.
As many as 6 teams appear consistently in the preseason polls, and OU and West Virginia appear in the Top 10 most consistent, with Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Kansas State popping up in more than a few spots. Of course Okie State won it all in 2011 behind the golden arm of, now current Cleveland Brown week 1 starter, Brandon Weeden. The lone preseason Heisman candidate out of the Big 12 this year is QB Landry Jones from Oklahoma but Gino Smith of West Virginia may make some noise as well. The final USA Poll has 6 teams in the Top 25, and PARITY is the keyword in this conference, wins will not come easy this year, especially by large margins.
Mark down November 17th as a day to watch football, as one of the highlighted conference games of the year to watch will be Oklahoma at West Virginia in what could determine much of the BCS landscape as well as a conference championship on the line. This game will be bigger than the annual Red River War between Texas and OU this year.
I enter my 21st year in handicapping and while I handicap games across the board I concentrate on the Big 12 and am known as a Big 12 expert in this arena, and I am going for my 9th year in a row where my winning percentage against the Las Vegas Line in the Big 12 will exceed 60%.
Let’s break down how I see this finishing up in 2012:
1. Oklahoma Sooners
I cannot ignore last year’s debacle OU had as well as injury issues that plagued them for the better part of the season and not think they are not poised for a title run. That being said Bob Stoops has the weapons this season and a stud at QB in Landry Jones that should lead them into the November 17th game at West Virginia undefeated. OU is loaded this season and despite the SEC’s dominance over the BCS, OU if undefeated will get a shot at a national title.
Returners: 17 – Both special teamers included
Landry Jones comes back with 7 starters and while replacing WR Broyles is an issue, with WR’s Stills and Reynolds back in the fold, you can expect a wide open attack through the air. QB Jones spent the entire summer working at an exclusive QB camp and word is his speed and footwork are excellent. The running game is the weakness so the return of RB Whaley is going to be a wait and see game, he was absent from the spring game, but Roy Finch stepped in and was better than average. Word is out of Norman that JUCO transfer RB Damien Williams is going to be an impact player this year. The left side of the OL is very strong and overall this offense which ranked 10th overall in the nation will again be right up to par.
Mike Stoops, ex Arizona head coach and brother of Bob takes the reins. He has been here before and gets a defense which was subpar by OU standards last year, and I look for improvement from the 79th ranked pass defense from last year where the secondary this season is deep, fast and now experienced. The loss of all world LB Lewis will be felt, but OU deep in talent at the position. This defense will be a top 20 defense behind Mike Stoops this season and they are loaded across the board minus a stud rush end which may emerge, that is the only weakness and problem spot for the Sooners.
Overall Summary – OU has both special teamers back and both are studs, a Heisman candidate at QB and skill players all over the place on both sides of the ball, not to mention big play type guys everywhere as usual. It boils down to QB Jones remaining calm and playing the role of field general and getting the ball to his skill players and moving the chains. If this occurs and OU gets a Top 20 defense overall out of Brother Mike, OU should be able to beat everyone on their schedule. They get Notre Dame at home and have tough games at West Virginia and in Dallas as always with Texas this year, and have Okie State, K State, TCU and Baylor at home. Two years removed from their last Big 12 title, the Sooners will be hungry and barring major injuries should make a run at a BCS Championship bowl, the date at West Virginia looms very large.
2 West Virginia
A newcomer to the Big 12, and we will find out if the Big East is worth all what they claim, because this is the best team from the Big East, making a change and going head to head with Big 12 foes, and also being ranked 10th in the nation in many polls. The good news for the Mountaineers, their head coach is VERY familular with the Big 12, having been the OC at Okie State; Dana Holgorsen is well attuned to what is going down in the Big 12 and where the pitfalls are in his old stomping ground so to speak. That will bode well for a very talented West Virginia Team led by stud QB Geno Smith surrounded by weapons. The schedule is insane so a fast start is needed against 3 weak sisters to start the season. The downfall is the Big 12 schedule versus their standard Big East Schedule, and a 6 game run that no team in the nation could go 6-0 in with the exception of possibly of LSU, Alabama or Oklahoma and even that is a stretch.
Returners – 15 – 2 Special teams- plus returner
It begins and ends with QB Geno Smith, but many say the amount of playmakers he has are the best in the nation on any team. From what I saw in a bowl game against Clemson where they scored over 70 I agree. There are 7 returners on this unit that was brilliant at times last year, and awful as well. Look for more consistency this year and lots of big plays. Tavon Austin is one of the more exciting players in the nation and is also a huge threat on special teams, and he gives them great field position consistently. The air attack here can overwhelm anyone as the speed of execution thwarts good pass rushes. They have short threats on dump passes and stretch the field well with stud WR Bailey. One issue is the OL, it is very thin and if the injury bug bites, that could prove fatal. The rotate 3 RB’s, all are decent but nothing world beating. Overall the 6th best passing team in America last year, I expect that number to get better. QB Smith may rival the Sooners OU Jones in the Big 12 QB arena and could prove to be a Heisman front runner at season’s end.
This is my concern. Not the talent as much as 3 of the head coaches on the defensive side of the ball went to Arizona to join Rich Rod, their old boss. Confusion with a new system and a new DC is always a concern. Depth is also a concern on a team with a high octane offense that scores quickly, you need good rotation and they are very thin at rush end losing allot to graduation. Joe DeForest from Oklahoma State rejoins his buddy as DC now, and Okie State’s defense was not and never has been all that good, so this scares me. The pass rush is weak but the secondary is decent and overall this unit was ranked 33rd last year with 6 returning, but this is Big 12 play, not the ho hum Big East so time will tell. They can outscore many opponents but a well rounded team must play defense, the jury is out.
Overall Summary- The offense without question will be Top 10 in the nation, and will score points and fit in well and keep pace with the Big 12 style of spread attacks, but the defense is a HUGE concern for me against the speed of the Big 12 in general. With solid special teamers and a dangerous return game, West Virginia will find its way into some late fourth quarter thrillers but the SCHEDULE is brutal. They have Baylor at home to open Big 12 play and they are still a solid team even without RG III, then at Texas, at Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU at home, and then Okie State on the road and OU at home, back to back weeks in that order. This ain’t any Big East Schedule boys. They will make a strong debut in the Big 12, but no team could walk out of those 7 weeks without a loss, I mean no one.
Is this Mack Browns year on the hot seat? According to many it is, but if he can find 9 wins it is smooth sailing for his future, and I think he finds it with this schedule this season, not to mention the cupboards are full of talent and promise. Texas has fallen from grace and many count the Longhorns out in 2012, but THIS IS MY SURPRISE TEAM in the Big 12 this season. An 8-5 result in 2011 is not up to par in Austin, but many bright spots this year have me high on Texas, and they did have the #1 defense in the Big 12 last year and they return 7 out of the top 10 tacklers from that defense. They also get TCU and West Virginia at home which is a huge plus.
Returners - 15 – Punter and kicker both new
The ability to run the ball is KEY in big games and KEY in this conference if you can also use it as a defensive weapon. Whether Mack Brown is smart enough to figure this out is yet to be seen. With clock eating drives you can hold the score down and take high octane teams like OU and West Virginia out of their game plan. Texas has a solid OL and 3 RB’s including all world frosh Jonathan Gray in the backfield. The QB 2-headed monster is in effect with Case McCoy and David Ash, neither are spectacular but David Ash is the better of the two and should be able to run a balanced attack. Jaxson Shipley and Mike Davis who had a great spring camp anchor the WR unit, which in inexperienced but talented. Malcolm Brown will be the RB workhorse and look for Texas to run and pass in a 50/50 mix and move the chains well and eat clock. I like their running game a ton in 2012, which lacked last year with injuries.
Overall ranked 11th last year, quietly the Texas defense who led the Big 12 last year returns 7 starters from last year’s stellar unit. DE’s Okafor and Jeffcoat at end is a solid tandem of talented pass rushers The secondary is top 5 in the nation with two great cover corners and Vaccaro at safety might be a first round NFL pick at season’s end. They can rush the passer, and cover tight downfield, a good combo against spread offenses. Expect a ton of blitz’s this year and some takeaways from this unit, the strength of this team is DEFENSE. Last I checked Defense wins big games!
Overall Summary- f Texas can establish the run and play good defense like last year, both of which are highly likely, they can win games ugly and slow down high octane attacks by keeping them on the sideline and back that up with a great defense. They have issues at punter and kicker, with the kicker being a true frosh, but their return game is solid. Beating OU in the Red River War would be a huge win that could really put this team out front with lots of confidence, but that is a tall order. Games with TCU and West Virginia loom large but they are at home which is huge. If they can split those games, and win out their easy schedule at seasons end which includes Iowa State, K State, Kansas and Texas Tech, with TCU being their last home game of the season, Texas will get to 9 wins and may surprise many nationally this season.
Tough choice here, but TCU has a possible chance of being a major player in the Big 12 in their opening season. Only 5 defensive starters back, although many non starters played a ton last year, has me slightly worried about the Frogs now that they are peeing in the tall wheat with the Big Dogs. Last year was suppose to be a rebuilding year and all they did was win a conference title, a bowl game, and had 11 wins! I credit Gary Patterson for that, a great head coach. This is not the Mountain West so we will see his prowess on display this season. Again the level of teams they play are 3 times what they are used to facing and that is going to be an adjustment. All that said, TCU will play physical and rough some teams up if they drop their guard against TCU
Returners 12- new punter and kicker
Last year QB Casey Pachall turned heads and is a stud at QB for them. They are also deep at WR and RB,, and have a unit of RB’s that rival anyone outside of Texas in the Big 12. They rotate a ton of players on offense at RB and always are fresh and they return 3 of their top 4 WR’s. My issue with success begins and ends on the OL. The Horned Frogs lost 3 of 4 starters OL and that has to be addressed quickly. I think they can score points with anyone IF their OL can come together; as they have major talent at QB and skill positions. It may take a few games.
Returning 5 starters is an issue. Having no experience really in the secondary is an issue. Lacking depth and good speed at LB is also a concern. Gary Patterson and the Frogs pride themselves on defense and no doubt will play very physical which is their trademark. They have a few studs in the mix here and top tackler LB Kenny Cain returns and they have 2 rush ends that get after the QB as good as anyone, but facing the high octane spread attacks of Big 12 teams like OU, West Virginia, Okie State and Baylor will be a change of pace and it will be a big question mark if TCU can hold up to the grueling challenge week in and week out without a ton of experience, especially in the secondary.
Overall Summary - TCU is stepping way up in class and will bring an air of confidence with them. They are extremely well coached and should put up plenty of points. There kicking game lost a 4 year starter that doubled as both punter and placekicker and they are looking at 2 freshmen to fill the void, which is a concern. TCU will have to trade punches on offense to win games, and they have Okie State, West Virginia and Texas on the road this season they and end the season at home against Oklahoma. Hardly a Mountain West Schedule this season. Overall TCU will make some noise and cover big numbers if given them this season. I also expect them to pull an upset somewhere along the line this year. I expect a strong showing from a small conference non BCS newcomer that is out to prove something. No doubt they would be proud of a Top 3 or 4 showing this season in the Big 12 and just might do it.
5. Oklahoma State
The returning 2011 champions face an uphill climb even with 16 starters back. When you lose 75% of your offense between Weeden and Blackmon both graduating and starring in the NFL, and have to start a true frosh at QB, you have worrisome issues. Their defensive coordinator also went to West Virginia. In other words Okie State while talented and experienced in many areas will lack the big play capability they had the past 2 years and Mike Gundy has his hands full, I do not expect a repeat of 2011.
RETURNERS – 16, Quinn Sharp the best kicker, punter combo in USA returns
The good news is Okie State has the best RB in the conference in Joe Randall. This guy can do it all and may have to this season as Okie State looks to a true frosh in West Lunt at QB to take over for stud Weeden. He won the job in spring ball as he came to school early but being a true frosh without a big play WR is going to be an issue so look for Coach Gundy to open up the running game to take the heat off of the young man, and RB Randall will hit the rock 25+ times a game in this offense. They lost half of the OL too, so I do not see one of the best offenses in the nation last year being close to what they were this season. This is a huge concern but they will find a way to put up 35 a game by seasons end with young talent and some experience gained on the learning curve. A rare work in progress for Coach Gundy which is unusual.
This unit is sneaky good. Hard to fathom that statement since they ranked 107th last year overall, but the funny thing they led the nation in takeaways and turnovers. They have a top 2 secondary in the Big 12 and will rank in the top 15 nationally. They also bring back all 3 LB’s from last year. The DL and pass rush is lacking but they should be able to contain the run and make some big plays in the secondary. They will be improved and be ball hawks in the secondary.
Overall Summary - With question marks all over the place on offense except at RB, and replacing two record setters who won a conference title for the Cowpokes last year with overall inexperience across the board at QB and starting a frosh QB, I just do not see it for the Cowboys in 2012. Okie State is simply in a rebuilding phase on offense this season and the learning curve will be severe in terms of execution and turnovers being an issue. In the Big 12 with competing teams having the ability to post up points quick, this will be the downfall of OSU this year. I see them as a 4 loss type team. They do get TCU and West Virginia at home but will need a perfect game to beat either one of them. At least they got the ring last season and something to build on, and Gundy is a good coach and will have them on back top soon.
BOTTOM 5 Teams
6. Kansas State – Last year K State shocked everyone and had a stellar season with a bunch of no name players on their way to an 11-2 season and a hard fought bowl loss to a great Arkansas team. They return 8 on offense and 8 on defense but will not sneak up on anyone this season. They have a stud QB in Collin Klein, who also is their leading rusher, backed by 3 capable RBs and a trio of WRs that are solid. They lack a big OL this season and lost 3 starters there. Tight end Travis Tannahill is a big time NFL prospect and should be the 31 option for Klein. They need to throw the ball better to win this year, unsure if they can. The defense is a middle of the road unit at best and with games at Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia along with an week 2 game against Miami who they upset last year, we are looking at a 4-5 loss year for the purple cats. Bill Snyder has proved me wrong my entire career and may again, but last years coaching job was his best ever in my opinion, he will need a repeat.
7. Texas Tech - Having gone just 2-7 in the Big 12 last year and only 5 wins, Red Raider nation is restless with Tommy Tubberville. The good news is they return 17 starters and a ton of experience; the bad news is another defensive coordinator, as the last one resigned. They were almost dead last in the NCAA in defense last year. They also added 5 JUCO players to the roster in the spring and look for an improved effort overall on defense, which will not trake much in all honesty. The offense is lead by 5th year senior QB Seth Dodge and he is solid and has targets. They ranked 7th in the nation in passing last year and were in the top 25 in scoring. They are loaded on offense but the defense will give games away more times than not. 5 losses are in the cards here but I think they improve simply because of QB Dodge and the offense. QB Dodge is a stud with weapons around him, look for some shootouts but at day’s end they cannot stop anyone and that does not bode well in this conference.
8. Baylor - You cannot lose RG III who won the Heisman and expect greatness again with an unproven commodity at QB in senior Nick Florence. They do have a stud WR in Terrance Williams who will play in the NFL, and they do return 16 starters overall last year from a team who shocked everyone except me with a huge season and a bowl win over Washington where they scored 67 points, but also gace up 56 in that game. That is in essence is the issue with Baylor. Defense is a huge concern as they were ranked 102nd or worse in every category in the NCAA last year. The Schedule is insane, at TCU (who is playing with revenge from last year), at OU who is also playing with revenge as well as Texas, all on the road and all ticked off about losing to them last year. Not good news for the Bears this year as they take a step backwards. They have returning experience but expectations will not be met in Waco this year and a back to reality check is on deck in 2012.
9. Iowa State - Let me say this, Paul Rhodes is one of the best coaches in the Big 12 and gets his team reved up to play hard every game. Iowa State has not won a conference title since 1912, and that was the Missouri Valley! That being said they have not named a starter at QB yet, both have experience starting from last year, and both may in fact see playing time, which is never a good thing. They also open up the season with a decent Tulsa team at home and then travel to big brother Iowa the next week, which is a tough 2 games to open a season. Last year the Cyclones averaged just 22 ppg on offense, and while they pulled the upset of the year in 2011 against then ranked #1 Okie State, I do not see it this year for the boys from Ames. Questions all over the place on defense, no secondary to speak of and while all 3 LBs return, their top tackler was their safety last year which says it all. ISU a well coached team but also is learning under a new offensive coordinator since theirs last year left for Ohio State and greener pasture. They will compete, they just won’t win.
10. Kansas – It took KU 2 years to fire ex Husker great Turner Gill and bring in Charlie Weis from Florida. We saw Charlie’s last head gig in college at Notre Dame and it was a train wreck, and he brought his prized recruit from his days as a golden domer QB Dyane Crist with him to KU. If you stink one place, y6ou stink elsewhere too. KU ranked 110th or worse on defense in every major stat category by the NCAA on defense last year and nothing was done in the offseason to really overcome that. It starts and ends right there. The offense will be more productive with RB Pierson who I saw in the spring game and he looked awesome, and the OL is all back, but they lack big play capability and also stretching the field vertically is a huge issue. KU a bottom feeder in football this year again, maybe 3 wins, possibly 4. Sorry Charlie, you are at a basketball school.