Big 12: 030510 big 12 breakdown

Pre-spring Big 12 Power Rankings

March, 5, 2010
1. Texas

Texas has plenty of question marks, namely at receiver. Repeating as Big 12 champs would be a lot easier if one of its talented running backs emerges to flirt with 1,000 yards and takes some of the pressure off first-year starter Garrett Gilbert. Tre’ Newton is the most likely candidate, but Foswhitt Whittaker, or Fozzy Bear as I prefer to refer to the running back, wins if the tiebreaker is best name.

2. Oklahoma

The defense will be fearsome again, even after losing both starting cornerbacks and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. DeMarco Murray looks to take on an expanded role in the run game, but the offensive line will have to improve quickly for his increased touches to translate into increased yardage.

3. Nebraska

Nebraska finally made it back to the Big 12 title game after a two-year run by Missouri representing the North. Even after Ndamukong Suh’s exit, the teeth of the Husker D should be strong, with junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler mucking up the front lines. Both will be on display during the spring. The offense had one of its best performances of the season against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, but enters the spring with plenty to prove.

4. Missouri

Blaine Gabbert will continue to mature along with his young receivers, who lose the lanky Danario Alexander. Gabbert could put up gawdy numbers as a junior, but he’ll need the secondary to improve if the Tigers can challenge for the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies looked like a trainwreck at moments in 2009, (48-point loss to Kansas State? What? 55-point loss to Oklahoma? Ouch.) but their entertaining offense will take a backseat to Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense as the main attraction for spring.

6. Kansas State

The dark horse to win the North in 2010 came within a game of matching up with Texas in Dallas in 2009. Year 2 of the Bill Snyder Reboot could be fun to watch. The Wildcats had the fewest turnovers (18) of any team in the Big 12 last season, but losing Brandon Banks removes some of K-State’s explosiveness on offense.

7. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State hoped they could make a run at the Big 12 South last season, but got embarrassed in losses to Texas and Oklahoma. A South title in 2010 might be a stretch, but the spring could set up another solid season for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

8. Baylor

Finding replacements for All-Big 12 defenders Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake should be the prime concern for the spring, but it will definitely be good to see Robert Griffin III get back on the field.

9. Texas Tech

What injustice! The Red Raiders below the Bears? Tommy Tuberville is a good coach, but the transition to Tech could be a difficult one. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders prove me wrong, but somebody’s got to finish last in a great South division. There won’t be an easy win for anyone against South teams this season. I mentioned this in Thursday's chat, but I’m interested to see how Tuberville’s second go-around with the spread offense (see: Tony Franklin) goes. Easing up on his trigger finger might be a good idea.

10. Kansas

Turner Gill loses a lot of offense without Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Sophomore running back Toben Opurum could emerge as one of the conference’s young stars this spring.

11. Colorado

Tyler Hansen and Toney Clemons bring some excitement to the Buffaloes spring, but the offensive line is also a concern. Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner returns from injury to help talented lineman Nate Solder protect Hansen and pave the way for running back Rodney Stewart, one of just three scholarship backs who will practice this spring.

12. Iowa State

The Cyclones depleted defense (only four starters return) could make it tough for Austen Arnaud to produce wins no matter how well he plays. Plenty of spots up for grabs there, and linebacker Jake Knott is one to watch as a new starter. Paul Rhoads impressed with a bowl win last season, but what does it say about a team when its best win (Nebraska) came by only two points when it forced eight turnovers and committed none?

Thanks for the support the first week, fans. Enjoy the weekend.

Big 12 South breakdown: Will Texas repeat?

March, 5, 2010
I hope you didn't think we were done after I posted my predictions for the North earlier today. Here's how I think the South will look after next season.

1. Texas

Texas and Oklahoma are in similar situations entering 2010. Both lose franchise quarterbacks, even if Oklahoma's watched most of the 2009 season from the sideline. Both lose a handful of defensive stars with promising young players ready to step into the spotlight. But Texas has the advantage over Oklahoma. Even though the winner of the Red River Rivalry hasn’t advanced to the title game in two of the past four years, the winner always gets the inside track. Texas has dominated Oklahoma at the State Fair, winning four of the past five. Can’t pick Oklahoma to win the South until Bob Stoops’ teams get back some of the swagger they had in five straight defeats of Texas from 2000 to 2004.

2. Oklahoma

The Sooners will be ready to erase the memory of a frustrating 2009 when about everything went wrong, even though they still managed an eight-win season. Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles were a reliable connection in 2009, and there’s not much reason to think that won’t be the case again this season. Broyles caught 89 passes for 1,120 yards and a Big 12-most 15 touchdowns. And that’s even after Broyles fractured his shoulder blade on the opening drive against Miami and missed the rest of that loss as well as a win over Baylor, the only game Sam Bradford finished all season. The Sooners' success is tied closely with what Broyles can do in his junior season.

Still a concern is a shuffling offensive line that could be filled with young players once again in the fall.

3. Texas A&M

Everyone’s dark horse to win the South could benefit from a season in which Oklahoma and Texas aren’t virtual guarantees to compete for the national championship. Jerrod Johnson will sling it like he did 497 times last season, and heralded running back recruit Christine Michael returns for his second season.

For the Aggies to climb into the Big 12 South’s top two spots, new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s defense will need to improve from 2009, when the Aggies were last in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

4. Oklahoma State

Dana Holgorsen brings his spread offense to Stillwater with 26-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden expected to run it. Running back Kendall Hunter darted around defenders for 1,555 yards rushing in 2008, but was hampered by an ankle injury in 2009 and failed to reach 400 yards as a junior. Hunter missed five games last season, and failed to rush for 100 yards even once. He’ll want to finish his career with a flourish, but the Cowboys could be swallowed up in the always-deep Big 12 South.

5. Baylor

Robert Griffin returns, but as an athlete, the concern is his torn ACL could reduce him to a player unequal to the freshman Robert Griffin that made headlines in 2008. Will his quickness and shiftiness still be there? Additionally, will he still be as apt to scramble after the injury? He says he will, but no one will know for sure until he makes his return to the field next fall. If the Bears want to leave their usual post in the Big 12 South cellar, Griffin will have to carry them on his back with a reconstructed knee.

6. Texas Tech

The Tuberville experiment in Lubbock will begin this spring, but for all the changes in personnel within the program, the Red Raiders will be without a few other stars. Hard-hitting defensive back Jamar Wall is gone and so are three starting offensive linemen, including (ex) Twitterer/face-painter/offensive lineman Brandon Carter.

Tuberville and the Red Raiders making a bowl game wouldn't surprise me , but they also have the highest potential for disaster of any team in the Big 12.

Big 12 North breakdown: Nebraska tough to unseat

March, 5, 2010
Some of you have asked for it, and since it makes sense to do it early on, I’ll be breaking down the Big 12 over the next couple of days. Today, I’ll give my take on the North and South races. Tomorrow, I’ll put them together for my own pre-spring power rankings.

Update: My pre-spring power rankings will go up later this afternoon.

Here's how I see the North shaking out next fall:

1. Nebraska
The Huskers will do without the services of the House of Spears, but the Pelini brothers’ defense was hardly built around one player. Replacing linebacker Phillip Dillard and safeties Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante won’t be easy, but the Nebraska defense should still be stout.

As for the offense, last season’s home loss to Iowa State in which the Huskers had more turnovers (8) than points (7) would suggest the only way to go is up.

To repeat in the North, the Huskers must defend Memorial Stadium, where they’ll get to face Missouri and Texas.

2. Missouri
Missouri returns 18 starters, including junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.

He’ll need support from still-maturing senior corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who gave up 427 yards passing to Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence (almost 200 more yards than he had in any other game last season) in an ugly home loss to the Bears, negating Gabbert’s career high of 468 yards.

For Missouri, taking back the North will mean surviving a difficult early conference schedule, which opens with Colorado but then forces the Tigers to play at Texas A&M before hosting Oklahoma. The next week, they travel to Lincoln for another showdown with Nebraska that would give the winner the inside track at a North title.

3. Kansas State
The Wildcats busted in their bowl-or-bust game against Nebraska to close out last season, but will try and rebound with a run at the North title. They’ll miss Brandon Banks’ kick returns, but Daniel Thomas (1,265 yards in 2009) wouldn’t mind getting his number called almost 250 times again like he did last season. For Kansas State, the earlier the uncertainty ends at quarterback, the better. Three candidates enter spring with a chance to start.

4. Kansas
The personnel behind Kansas’ missing offensive firepower last season is gone. Kansas standouts QB Todd Reesing, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp won’t return, and new coach Turner Gill will try to patch back together a team that finished last season on a seven-game losing streak after winning its conference opener against Iowa State.

Sophomore running back Toben Opurum provides a nice foundation for Gill’s new offense after playing well when Sharp sat out or was slowed with injuries.

5. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads’ team showed progress in 2009, finishing the season with a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl for the program’s first winning season since 2005. He’ll try to improve on that with only four defensive starters returning this season.

Quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson return, but on the Cyclones’ schedule, so do Oklahoma and Texas. They’ll also face Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois in nonconference games. Returning to a bowl for a second consecutive season won’t be easy.

6. Colorado
The Buffaloes didn’t earn much respect around the conference after giving up 54 points to Toledo in an early-season loss in 2009. They finished with three close losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma State before finishing the season with a home loss to North champ Nebraska.

If Colorado wants to dig itself out of the North basement, it’ll need Tyler Hansen to play like he did in the first half of a win over Kansas in Hansen’s first start, when the Buffaloes charged to a 24-3 second-quarter lead behind two Hansen touchdowns.