Conference Preview: The Big 12  

Posted by Walter

Is it just me or does it seem like the quality of a college football season is directly related to the quality of play in the Big 12? Maybe, maybe not, but I know one thing for certain, I feel a lot better when the good old southern boys put competitive teams on the field. This should be the most competitive year in the Big 12 in quite some time. Oklahoma and Texas are still the leaders of the pack, but it looks like traditional powers like Nebraska, Texas A & M, and Missouri are finally ready to step back into the big time and assert themselves on a national level. Better yet, for the first time in a long time there is a full slate of marquee non conference games featuring Big 12 elite (Kansas State @ Auburn, USC @ Nebraska, Miami @ Oklahoma, TCU @ Texas, Oklahoma State @ Georgia, Texas A & M @ Miami). Let the games begin.

Best Team

Walter: Oklahoma

Tough call. It's seems like all the smart money is either on Texas (as per usual) or Nebraska (hoping for a huge win over USC early in the year), but I'm going with Oklahoma. Outside of the gaping hole they have at quarterback, the Sooners are absolutely stacked. Offensively, there will be no excuses for whoever is under center. Oklahoma returns the best offensive line in the country, and sport a pair of running backs that should be able to approximate Adrien Peterson's production. Senior Allen Patrick proved last year that he was a capable replacement, and freshman DeMarco Murray should become the next great Sooner back. On the outside, Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias have the potential to become something special. Particularly the 6'4'' 220 lbs. Kelly, who, as a Junior, could be the first wideout taken in next year's NFL draft. As for the other side of the ball......well no surprise that they lost a ton of talent to the NFL. And perhaps even less surprising is the fact that Bob Stoops and Co. have even more NFL ready talent to take over. The Sooner secondary should be by far the best in the nation, which plays to their advantage in the suddenly pass happy Big 12. You'd be hard pressed to find a better paid or corners than Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker, and Nic Harris is a rising superstar at safety. The talent and experience in the secondary should allow the rest of the defense plenty of time to gel while integrating new talent. Once again things should come down to the Red River Shootout with Texas in Dallas, but if Oklahoma can get by the Longhorns they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated and play for the national title since their toughest road game is at Texas Tech. With such a favorable schedule, the Sooners have to be considered a real dark horse candidate to play in the national title game.

Frazier: Texas

This isn't exactly a tough call. Texas was 9-1 (with their only loss coming early in the year to the Buckeyes) until Colt McCoy went down. They lost their next two games by a combined eight points. Frankly, this team was very close to a 11-1 season heading into a major BCS game (would they have lead-frogged Florida? We'll never know). This year they return their quarterback, top running back, and top two receivers. Their offense is STACKED! On the defensive side of the ball it's not a bunch of slouches either. They are going to have an excellent defensive line, and running against this bunch will be near impossible. Mack Brown is going to have athletes all over the field, and you just have to expect this team to have playmakers. Everyone believed last year that this squad would be too young to achieve greatness, but they were almost a year early. Expect this year to be a special one in Austin.

Worst Team

Walter: Baylor

You know what the worst thing to ever happen to Baylor was? Greg Schiano. For years Baylor and Rutgers were the two teams nobody could figure out. In the heart of Texas and New Jersey respectively, both schools had ample recruiting bases but couldn't even begin to turn that into wins. It was maddening for the fans, no doubt, but on a national level at least there were two schools who were wasting talent. Well, thanks to Schiano and Rutgers' magical 2006 season we may be down to one wasteful school. Baylor returns only 11 starters from a woeful 2006 season that saw them win only 4 games. While 7 returning starters on defense, including rising star linebacker Joe Pawelek, should be enough to keep some games close, it looks to be another LONG year in WACO for the offense who have to deal with installing a new quarterback, a new running back, and several starters on the offensive line. The bottom line, Baylor is going to struggle on both sides of the ball simply because the offense is going to be so bad and the defense is bound to get tired. Another thing, the schedule makers didn't do them any favors. Aside from an incredibly tough season opener at TCU, Baylor's final 8 games are all against top Big 12 competition and even there softest game (Kansas) comes on the road. All I know is that the Bears better beat Texas State and Buffalo early in the year because Rice will be no cake walk, and that final leg of the schedule is nothing short of murderous.

Frazier: Baylor

Do I even need to get into it here? The big man laid out the basics of any argument, and frankly, it's hardly a surprise. Baylor has traditionally been the weak sister of this conference, and nothing has changed. Every once in awhile Iowa St. or Colorado, or Texas Tech will suffer a down year, but Baylor is the team that delivers (or fails to deliver) year in and year out. They're just awful. Hell, I'm calling it now, Baylor will be the worst team in the Big 12 in 2014. You heard it here first.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Sam Keller, QB Nebraska

What about Colt McCoy? Colt this! McCoy has the numbers thank to 6 TD performances against the likes of Sam Houston State and those other cupcakes the Longhorns schedule each year (this year it's Arkansas State and UCF), but frankly I think I could put up 200 yards and two scores on those clowns. After losing his job, shockingly, to Rudy Carpenter at Arizona State, Keller has a real chance for redemption in Bill Callahan's West Coast attach in Lincoln. Keller's been sitting on the bench for a full year now, learning the playbook and itching to get back onto the field. He has a huge chip on his shoulder thanks to Dirk Koetter, and at Nebraska has all the weapons he needs to succeed. Everything is in place for Keller to put up awesome numbers this season and prove all his doubters wrong. With solid running backs, and a potentially devastating offensive line (really when is a Nebraska OL not potentially devastating) the field should open up for Keller in a way it never did at Arizona State. Senior receivers Maurice Purify and Terrance Nunn are both quality pass catchers who can stretch the field and take advantage of Keller's soft touch down the seams. And best of all, with no Oklahoma on the schedule, Keller avoids the one Big 12 secondary that could actually shut down an opposing team's passing attack.

Frazier: Sam Keller, QB Nebraska

I'm actually a little mad at the big man for stealing my thunder on this one. When I was thinking about this preview I got incredibly proud of coming up with Keller, and then it turns out that I'm not the only person who is able to see the potential for a MONSTER season. Look, there hasn't been a Pac-10 caliber passer in the Big 12 in, well, a long time. I mean a REALLY long time. Sure, McCoy may put up some numbers, but he isn't a gun slinger the way Keller is. If Zac Taylor can put up big numbers under Callahan, just imagine what a competent quarterback will do! The Huskers are prohibitive favorites in the Big 12 North, and so Keller is going to have plenty of opportunity to flash his skills in big games. Frankly, the conference hasn't seen a player like him in a long time. While I miss the four yards and a cloud of dust approach (or when it was really firing, twelve yards and a pile of would-be tacklers) I've got to say that Keller certainly has a chance to be a unique quarterback in Nebraska history.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Ian Campbell, OLB Kansas State

Campbell really came out of nowhere in 2006, but he did it in a big way (17.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks). At 6'5'' but only 230 lbs. the Wildcats love Campbell on the outside rushing the passer, but move him to a hybrid DE/OLB position this year to put him in a better position to make plays in the running game. Campbell is a classic tweener who should make his home at OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Wherever he plays, Campbell has way too much speed and way too many pass rush moves to not make his presence known. Unlike most other 230 lbs. ends, Campbell is not afraid to stick his nose in there against the run and relishes being a disruptive force against running backs as much as he does against passers. The big challenge for Kansas State this year will be to move Campbell around enough so that he is the best position to make plays all the time. With opposing offenses keying on him and accounting for him on every play, coach Ron Prince will have to come up with some new schemes to get his best player around the football. With Campbell's ability, he'll find the ball no matter what.

Frazier: Frank Okam, DT Texas

Frank Okam may not win many awards, but it doesn't mean he isn't the best defensive player. He's not flashy. He's not going to get 11.5 sacks. It just won't happen. What will happen is that he will destroy any attempts to gain ground up the middle. He led the nations fourth best rushing defense last year, and they will be better this time around. Okam will take up two blockers at all times, allowing his teammates to make the highlight reel. Okam will push the pile backwards every chance he gets. Okam will put his big paws on a couple of pass attempts. Okam will haunt the nightmares of opposing quarterbacks, and will make even the bravest running back seriously consider trying to break one outside to avoid big Frank. Okam will be the best defensive player in the conference.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Oklahoma State

Not a whole lot to dislike about this Cowboys team....except the schedule. With 8 starters returning on offense and seven on defense, Oklahoma State is one of the most experienced teams in the entire conference. Last year super-recruit Bobby Reid finally lived up to his billing, and the offense exploded. This year he has another year under his belt as a starter, throw in returning star RB Dantrelll Savage, leading WR Adarious Bowman and a strong offensive line, and the Cowboys have the makings of a special offense. Oklahoma State put up points last year, but struggled with consistency. Particularly the passing game had long stretches where they didn't play up to snuff. Consistency comes with experience and will all the key parts returning, the Cowboys passing game has a chance to be special. The defense is nothing special, but they are experienced and should be able to at least slow the opposition down enough to get Reid and Co. the ball back. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, though, the schedule makers decided to make things difficult on them this year. Opening the year with a killer non conference game (@ Georgia) won't help things, especially when they have two killer conference road games later in the year (@ Nebraska and @ Oklahoma). The Cowboys get Texas at home, making them one of the few teams with the misfortune of having all three Big 12 favorites on the schedule. But that's why they are a sleeper team. They simply aren't going to win all four of those games, but if they can steal one or two of them, and hold serve at home, we could be talking about a team that is 10-2 with a real shot to play in the Big 12 championship game.

Frazier: Missouri

Well, I was all ready to anoint Nebraska again this year, and then I took a moment to do some schedule shopping. I have to say, I like what I see. Mizzou has only 4 road games (along with 2 neutral site games, imminently winnable contests against Illinois and Kansas). The real roadies are at Ole Miss (should be a W) K-State (must win) Colorado (even more a should win) and Oklahoma (only really brutal road game). Their biggest game of the year is a home tilt against Nebraska, but they've won the last two meetings in Columbia. They also have Chase Daniels, and eight returning starters on a potent offense. They also have the best tight end combo in the country. Although they have a slew of new defenders, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the defense was a disaster last year. Several are juco talents expected to contribute right away. While you can't say for certain that Mizzou is going to put it all together, you can certainly say they have a chance to win the Big 12 North, with a legit shot at the BCS. They have the talent, and the favorable schedule, to do some serious damage.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Texas A & M

It hurts me to do this because I really love the Aggies' personnel. We all know how much I adore Stephen McGee, the second coming of Kenny Stabler, and who among us doesn't enjoy watching 280 lbs. Jorvorski Lane crash through defenders. Overall this should be a fun and talented team, capable of winning every week. However, the Aggies' problem is twofold. First, they have never, and I mean NEVER, been able to play consistently under Dennis Franchione. I mean one minute they are going toe to toe with Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, and the next minute they're getting blown out 45-10 by California. The talent is at College Station, clearly, but the consistency still eludes this program. The second problem for the 2007 Aggies the bear that is their schedule. @ Miami, @ Texas Tech, @ Nebraska, @ Oklahoma, @ Missouri , Texas at there a harder schedule in the nation? Each of those games could be described as devastating, and there are six of them! Hell, they only play 12 games total!!! Even if A & M wins at Miami and enters the second half of their schedule 6-0, you can just about take it to the bank that they're going to lose at least three games on exhaustion alone. Aside from Miami, all of the aforementioned games occur within a 6 week span! Consistency issues notwithstanding, there isn't a team in the nation that could stand up to that kind of late season schedule. This is the best team Franchione has ever had in College Station, and I will be rooting for them, but this schedule is just going to be too much to overcome.

Frazier: Oklahoma

I guess the real question is whether this team is really better than the one that took a diluted Big 12 last year (thanks to the McCoy injury) and then lost to Boise St. in their bowl game. I tend to think that they aren't. Any defensive gains they've seen will be offset by the loss of their quarterback and running back (who was by far their best player). The receivers are nice, but someone has to get them the ball. Paul Thompson was one of the most underrated players in the entire country last year, and people don't realize how badly he will be missed. The quarterback position is in serious flux, and I'm not sure Patrick Allen is going to be able to be THE man this year. Also, the defensive line is going to need to prove something. It's not the most experienced unit, and will need to develop. I just think this is a team that isn't as good as the last year's edition, and that team was fatally flawed. The Big 12 is better overall as a conference, it's just that Oklahoma isn't.


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