- David Ubben, College Football
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It's that time again, boys and girls. The spring is over, and the Big 12 stock must be checked. Here's how I slot the conference heading into the summer.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners' lead on the rest of the league looks like it's slimming after the suspensions of Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson. The pressure's on for an impressive haul of freshman receivers, highlighted by spring star Trey Metoyer and juco transfer Courtney Gardner, to offer Landry Jones solid targets.
2. West Virginia: You could certainly make a case for WVU as the favorite, but consider me a bit spooked by the inconsistency the Mountaineers showed in 2011. That inconsistency was masked by (a) their playing in a league that almost nobody in Big 12 country watches and (b) their most impressive showing of the season coming on their biggest and final stage, the Orange Bowl. I can't wait to see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey navigate a Big 12 schedule, though. They'll fit right in. Getting Dustin Garrison back will be huge, too.
3. Kansas State: K-State has the widest variance of possibilities of any team in the Big 12 (undefeated and a Big 12 title or a six-win disappointment are both in play), and they have the highest volume of doubters of probably any 10-win team in America. Bill Snyder put together one of his finest coaching jobs ever in 2011, and he'll need another doozy to win a Big 12 title in the midst of a deep top half in 2012.
4. TCU: TCU also has the talent to win a Big 12 title -- in the starting lineup, anyway. Coach Gary Patterson said this spring that the first unit is good, but the second and third units are the reasons teams win Big 12 titles. The defense took a hit with offseason arrests, but the offense should be on par with any in the league.
5. Texas: The Longhorns are loaded with upside, but until they show something, that's all it is. Last year's truckload of freshmen will be sophomores in the fall, and the offense revolves almost entirely around them. The defense will be stingy at all three levels, but can the offense prove it's balanced (or powerful) enough to keep Big 12 defenses honest?
6. Oklahoma State: OSU pulled the trigger on a true freshman at quarterback after just 15 practices, and even OC Todd Monken said before the spring he'd be "shocked" if that was the case. Here we are. The good news for new QB Wes Lunt? Last year's opportunistic defense which ranked 107th in total defense but first in forcing turnovers could be one of the Big 12's best, and could become both opportunistic and solid in places other than the red zone.
7. Baylor: Nick Florence validated his status as the likely heir to Heisman winner Robert Griffin III; doubt the offense's potency at your own risk. The defense is still a massive question mark, but Baylor may finish the season with the Big 12's best receiving corps, despite losing Big 12 receiving champ Kendall Wright. The trio of running backs (Glasco Martin, Jarred Salubi and Oregon transfer/Texas native Lache Seastrunk) will be productive, regardless of how carries are divvied up, which is still in flux.
8. Texas Tech: Tech stayed healthy this spring, which was a welcome development. The Red Raiders are coming off a 5-7 season, but the offense was still productive in 2011, despite missing the top two receivers and two running backs for part of conference play as well as a host of injuries on the offensive line and defense. New coordinator Art Kaufman is a longtime associate of Tommy Tuberville and installed his 4-3 this spring to try to fix a defense that gave up more rushing yards than any team in college football in 2011.
9. Iowa State: ISU's spring was about finding a quarterback and replacing departed OC Tom Herman. Courtney Messingham was promoted from within, but the Cyclones left the spring as the lone Big 12 team that doesn't have a starting QB identified. That doesn't bode well for the fall.
10. Kansas: I'm a firm believer that the gap between Kansas and the rest of the Big 12 is narrowing. And trust me, it was enormous. Charlie Weis infused some much-needed talent through transfers, headlined by Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist. Former Oklahoma receiver Justin McCay will have to wait until 2013 to play, as will ex-BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, but Weis set a tone when he dismissed about 10 players from the team before spring even began and suspended starting running back James Sims three games for an OWI arrest.
2dDavid M. Hale