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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Five things to watch in the Big 12

By David Ubben

The season technically begins eight days from today. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.

Roy Helu
Roy Helu Jr. and the exit of Nebraska will be among the top stories to watch this season in the Big 12.
1. Nebraska on the road. Nebraska’s exit tops the list of Big 12 offseason headlines. The fallout from the school’s decision to join the Big Ten should be the top thing to watch in the Huskers' final season in the Big 12. Two of Nebraska’s biggest current rivals, Missouri and Texas, have to make the trek to Lincoln in 2010, but the vaunted Husker hospitality may be tested in the heated matchup with the Longhorns. Nebraska will have to travel to College Station and Manhattan for matchups with Texas A&M and Kansas State.

2. Young drivers at the wheel of big vehicles. Texas and Oklahoma used first-class quarterbacks to rule the Big 12 for the past three seasons. But Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are gone, and in their place are Garrett Gilbert and Landry Jones. Jones played extensively as a redshirt freshman in relief of the injured Bradford, and Gilbert made his debut on the game’s biggest stage against Alabama. Their development as sophomores will decide if the Red River stranglehold on the Big 12 continues.

3. Who’s No. 3? And it can’t be Nebraska, complicating the question. The Big 12 will look a little slimmer in 2011, and someone must assume the role of contender to a division-less conference without a championship game. Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Missouri look like the three most likely contenders, but each will need to take a step in the right direction while the conference is in its current form. Four teams received votes in the preseason media poll: the three mentioned above and Oklahoma State. A strong 2010 season could be a springboard into assuming the permanent role of the Big 12's third-best program.

4. New blood. The Big 12’s two new coaches are Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech and Turner Gill at Kansas. Tuberville inherits a more talented, more experienced team that should easily be a bowl team and possibly more. Gill lost his three best players on offense from a team that finished last in the Big 12 North in 2009, and has undertaken another rebuilding effort along the lines of his success at Buffalo.

5. A shift to the ground? For the second consecutive season, the Big 12 will begin after a quarterback exodus, losing three of the top five quarterbacks in the league. The Big 12 still holds a reputation as a passer's league, but that could change. Heisman mainstays McCoy and Bradford have moved on, and the league’s leading passer, Kansas’ Todd Reesing, is also gone. Meanwhile, 13 of the top 15 rushers in the league are back, including four of the top five rushers -- all in the Big 12 North.  Quarterbacks should continue to rule the South, and the league's top two teams both have quarterbacks with high hopes, but the best backs in the league are in the North. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas, Iowa State's Alexander Robinson, Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. and Colorado's Rodney Stewart all have great chances to top 1,000 yards. Thomas, Robinson and Helu all did it in 2009.