Once again high-powered spread offenses and quarterback play
are the calling cards of the Big 12, the league best suited to challenge the
SEC for the “best conference in America”
tag. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), as is friend and rival Colt McCoy
down on the Forty Acres and their showdown in the Cotton Bowl on October 17th
will once again be the game of the season in the conference. But to jump to the
conclusion that the winner has a cakewalk to the league crown would be a big
The winner of the Red River Rivalry may not even be assured
of a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game, as we learned last season. The
Sooners, despite the 45-35 loss to Texas,
represented the South Division in the title game thanks to a higher BCS ranking
than Texas or
Texas Tech. Also, OklahomaState takes over for the
Red Raiders in the role of title chase interloper thanks to a prolific offense
led by QB Zac Robinson and WR Dez Bryant.
But the biggest addition to the program may be new defensive
coordinator Bill Young, who returns to the Big 12 after a season in the same
role at Miami.
Coach Young’s last Big 12 act: leading a defensive revival at Kansas that resulted in a trip to the FedEx
Orange Bowl in 2007. How much of an impact that has in fall camp will be
noticeable early with the Cowboys hosting Georgia in their season opener.
Texas Tech adds Taylor Potts to the pipeline of prolific
quarterbacks, a position in which head coach Mike Leach seems to simply plug in
the next guy and produce another high-powered attack. But with running back
Barron Batch going down early in camp (expected to miss 3-6 weeks) with an arm
injury, even more pressure could fall upon Potts’ shoulders. The Red Raiders
should be 2-0 heading into their trip to Austin
on September 19th, but they weren’t done many favors with the draw
of both Kansas and Nebraska in their crossover games. Tech may
not be in the top three of the division, but do not be surprised if they pick
one of those three off.
Baylor mad significant strides in the first season under Art
Briles, who has a rising star in QB Robert Griffin III. Griffin is a game-changer who rarely (if
ever) showed up at a school like Baylor in the past, and he’s the kind of
player that can get you an extra two or three wins in a given season. The Bears
open with a tough pair of games, visiting WakeForest and then hosting Connecticut. They’ll
also have to replace standout left tackle Jason Smith (Danny Watkins will take
over), but the defense has an all-conference candidate in LB Joe Pawelek.
Baylor should be able to finish ahead of rebuilding Texas
A&M, which will lean upon sophomore quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Johnson has
plenty of experience, filling in for the injured Stephen McGee last season. The
question for Mike Sherman’s offense is whether or not they have the requisite
playmakers on the outside needed to take some pressure off of Johnson.
Defensively, the Aggies must improve a pass defense that was one of the
nation’s worst in 2008. If you can’t defend the pass in the Big 12, you’re in
serious trouble. With A&M going to a three-man defensive line, look for
more of an impact from the linebackers. Can fans expect the return of the
“Wrecking Crew” days? Hardly, but there will be some improvement on defense for
In the North, the favorite essentially comes down to
experience at quarterback. Kansas
has been the pick of many, with senior QB Todd Reesing leading an offense that
is more than capable of putting points on the board. And a scare was averted in
the off-season with WR Dezmon Briscoe getting the necessary grades in summer
session to ensure his eligibility this season. Look for that combination to
rank among the nation’s best in 2009.
As for the most likely challenger to the Jayhawks, that
would be Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers hope that Zac Lee will perform well in replacing Joe Ganz at
quarterback, and they also have one of the better defensive units in the
conference with defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh leading the way. Suh, who
finished 2008 with a team-high 76 tackles and 16 TFLs, is thought by many to be
a high-first round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
But back to the offense, which is a rather young unit
overall. Young wide receivers will need to step up as well, and three new
starters will be asked to protect Lee and open holes for Roy Helu Jr. and
Quentin Castille up front. With enough development on offense the Huskers could
make their way to the Big 12 Championship Game, but they do have to visit both Missouri and Kansas
within the division.
undergoes the tough task of replacing three of the greatest players in the
history of the program. QB Chase Daniel, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman
have all moved on, and head coach Gary Pinkel hands the keys to the offense to
Blaine Gabbert. The Tigers also have a new offensive coordinator in David Yost,
who takes over for the departed Dave Christiansen (new head coach at Wyoming). The Tigers
will have a lot of players getting significant playing time for the first time
in their careers this season, but while it may be tough to put them atop the
division there’s still enough talent to make things interesting within the
The wildcard in the North has to be Colorado, and it’s anyone’s guess what could
happen there. The Buffaloes lost their best playmaker in Josh Smith, who
decided to transfer to USC. The running back position is in good shape with
Demetrius Sumler, Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott and tight end Riar Geer is
one of the best in the Big 12, but what about the quarterback position? Cody
Hawkins had a tough go of it last season, so much so that the job was in doubt
for a short period. But Cody goes into the season as the starter and the
Buffaloes will need to find more playmakers if they’re to improve offensively
(dead last in the Big 12 in total offense in 2008).
The bottom two shouldn’t change, even with the return of
Bill Snyder to the KansasState sidelines. Paul
Rhoads takes over for the departed Gene Chizik at IowaState,
and although he has a solid young quarterback in Austen Arnaud the Cyclones
find themselves well behind the pack when it comes to Big 12-caliber talent.
The Wildcats have an easy schedule to start the season, time that will be used
to boost the players’ confidence while getting them better acquainted with
Coach Snyder’s desires and expectations in a gameday environment, but expect a
rude awakening once they hit conference play.
Once again the Big 12 is poised to be the nation’s most
exciting conference, with the nation once again being treated to weekly
primetime matchups that will have an impact on both the conference and national
title races. As for the title of best overall conference, that likely won’t be
decided until the bowl season, with the conference hoping to get the better of
the SEC is the few head-to-head matchups they leagues have.
Defense. As good as the quarterbacks and spread offenses are in the Big 12,
whichever team plays the best defense will likely win the conference. Personal
picks for the top three defenses (in alphabetical order): Nebraska,
Players of the Year:
QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and DL Ndamukong
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.