Big 12: Hawaii Warriors
1. Texas (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Garrett Gilbert got a head start on replacing Colt McCoy with his considerable playing time in the national title game, an invaluable learning experience for a young player. The Longhorns return most of the defense that improved in its second season under Will Muschamp. The biggest chores will be for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has to boost running game production and find a replacement for record-breaking wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
2. Nebraska (18 starters back: 8 offensive, 8 defensive, 2 special teams). Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers positioned for a potential top-10 preseason ranking. Most of the offensive weapons will be back from a unit that sputtered down the stretch before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl victory. Quarterback Zac Lee will miss some of spring practice as he recovers from postseason surgery. Cody Green and Kody Spano will get most of the work until Lee returns. Nebraska coaches think the defense can be better this season, even without the up-the-middle strength of Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon.
3. Oklahoma (15 starters back: 9 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Sooners overcame a debilitating run of injuries last season to finish with a flourish, knocking Oklahoma State out of a BCS game and winning the Sun Bowl in their final two games. Landry Jones will be infinitely better in his second season as a starter and Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray may be the best one-two receiving/running back combination in the conference. Bob Stoops will be facing a big renovation on defense where key players like Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks left early for the NFL draft. Look for Travis Lewis to be the key to a defense that will need to improve by the time Big 12 play begins if the Sooners are to have any hope of claiming a seventh Big 12 title this season.
4. Missouri (19 starters back: 9 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 special teams). The Tigers will miss Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who were arguably the best players at their positions in the conference last season. But Blaine Gabbert is back for a second season as starting quarterback and some talented recruits are expected to emerge on defense. A key for the Tigers’ success will be a more productive running game and consistency from the offensive line. Improvement on both will be critical for coordinator David Yost during the spring.
5. Texas Tech (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Tommy Tuberville immediately will have to sort through a potentially difficult decision at quarterback between Taylor Potts and fan favorite Steven Sheffield. New coordinator James Willis hopes to install a 3-4 defense that should be a haven for athletic linebackers. But the group’s success will hinge on replacing Jamar Wall at cornerback and finding some pass-rushing threats to replace Brandon Sharpe, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard along the front.
6. Texas A&M (19 starters back: 8 offensive, 9 defensive, 2 special teams). With Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Christine Michael back, the Aggies shouldn’t have trouble scoring points, although the line needs to do a better job of protecting Johnson. But the Aggies’ success will depend on the returning starters quickly taking to new coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s teachings. The group was blistered for at least 35 points in seven games last season and allowed at least 30 points in two other games. So needless to say that even with nine starters back, DeRuyter has his work cut out.
7. Kansas (16 starters back: 7 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Turner Gill inherits an uncertain quarterback situation, but has the framework for a strong running attack with all of his starting linemen back, along with Toben Opurum and heralded back Brandon Bourbon as running threats. The Jayhawks will need to fill in for the loss of Darrell Stuckey in the secondary, but new coordinator Carl Torbush should find the elements for a blitzing, attacking defense among the returnees. But the biggest reason the Jayhawks might be bound for a bowl game in Gill’s first season is swapping Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor in their cross-divisional schedule.
8. Iowa State (13 starters back: 8 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams). Paul Rhoads returns most of the offensive weapons that led the Cyclones to the Insight Bowl, most notably quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. But the team loses all of its starting linebackers; veteran coordinator Wally Burnham will be challenged to cobble together a serviceable unit. The Cyclones could actually be a better team in 2010 but post a worse record. A tougher schedule featuring nonconference games against Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois and the addition of South Division powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will make last season’s bowl trip much tougher to duplicate.
9. Oklahoma State (10 starters back: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Cowboys must find replacements for key players like Zac Robinson, Keith Tosten, four offensive linemen (including Outland finalist Russell Okung) and six of their back seven on defense. New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen finds an uncertain quarterback situation but will lean heavily on a healthy Kendall Hunter. A manageable nonconference schedule should have them in bowl contention, but this should be a step back from Mike Gundy’s last two teams.
10. Kansas State (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip last season only because they scheduled two FCS teams, but they surprisingly challenged for the Big 12 North title up to their last game of the season. It might be tougher to do that this season, although Daniel Thomas will provide the foundation on offense. Carson Coffman has the inside track at quarterback, but keep an eye out for Oregon transfer Chris Harper at either that position or wide receiver. Players like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and John Houlik will be missed on defense, but all four starters are back in the secondary.
11. Colorado (16 starters back: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Dan Hawkins’ seat is the hottest in the Big 12 and arguably in college football after missing a bowl for a second straight season last year. Tyler Hansen returns as the starting quarterback, but the Buffaloes need to find some help in the backfield with only three scholarship backs in spring practice. The defense was young last season and should be improved, but will miss the leadership provided by Jeff Smart and Cha’pelle Brown. A bowl trip likely will be necessary to save Hawkins’ job and a tough nonconference schedule featuring games at California and against Hawaii and Georgia will prove troublesome even before Big 12 play begins.
12. Baylor (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Bears’ hopes of stopping the conference’s longest bowl drought will hinge largely on the health of Robert Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2009 season. New offensive lineman “Big” Robert Griffin will have to protect his quarterback if coach Art Briles has any hope of making a bowl trip. Jay Finley and Kendall Wright are underrated offensive threats, but the Bears will miss key defensive leaders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake who were stalwarts for several years.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- It's supposed to be the thought that keeps Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin awake at night: Who will be protecting his blind side from the headhunters playing defensive end in the Big 12?
Griffin developed a level of comfort and confidence in his freshman season when he was protected by Jason Smith and Dan Gay, two experienced players who combined for 73 starts in their careers with the Bears. They were the bookends who helped Griffin produce 2,934 total yards and 28 touchdowns last season, including 843 rushing yards that led all Big 12 quarterbacks.
His concern might be intensified considering that Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in the most recent NFL draft, will be replaced by a player with more experience putting out fires and playing hockey than withstanding bull rushes from defensive ends.
If Griffin is worried that Danny Watkins, a 23-year-old native of Kelowna, B.C., with barely two years of experience playing American football is taking over, he isn't letting on. In fact, Griffin is confident that Watkins and another new starter at right tackle are ready to withstand the challenges of playing in the Big 12.
"I trust those guys," Griffin said. "I know if they make a mistake in one game or one play, they'll recover and make up for it on the next. It's not a problem like I'll be looking over my shoulder on every play to check and see somebody is coming."
The two new tackles will be the Bears' biggest offensive question marks and perhaps the biggest determining factor in whether Baylor can break a 15-season bowl drought that ranks as the longest in the conference.
Baylor coach Art Briles realizes the magnitude of the personnel losses at the tackle positions. But he is confident in his incoming tackles after watching them develop over the spring.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman was in the uncomfortable position of trying to argue against one of the most difficult and cunning forces in all of public speaking Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Namely, how do you reason with a grandstanding politician who is shamelessly pandering to his electorate back home?
Such was the challenge for Perlman as he tried to answer the pointed questions of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who should have been wearing a Utah sweatshirt as he spoke with BCS proponents at the Senate Judiciary subcommittee's hearing.
Obviously, the current system has been good to Perlman and other Big 12 schools. The conference has a guaranteed berth to the BCS and often has landed a spot in the national championship game. Sometimes, Big 12 teams have qualified for that game when it could be argued there are more worthy teams outside the BCS' convoluted and arcane mathematical formula.
But like their other brethren from BCS-affiliated conferences, if any teams would deserve those breaks it would be the teams from the biggest conferences. The reason is because of the week-in, week-out scheduling gauntlet these teams consistently face in their conferences.
Central to Perlman's argument is that teams like Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio State routinely face a tougher schedule than schools like Utah, Boise State or Hawaii.
And he's right.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty turned in a scintillating performance to spark Team USA's 41-3 victory over Canada in the championship game of the Junior World Football Championships Sunday in Canton, Ohio.
Petty completed 14 of 14 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Americans to the victory over the No. 1-seeded Canadians in Sunday's championship game.
The Americans won their three games in the tournament by a combined margin of 174-3.
Petty, a native of Midlothian, Texas, started the offensive fireworks for the American team on Sunday with a 17-yard TD strike to Florida Atlantic recruit Jamal Davis on the third play of the game.
He later hooked up on a 47-yard TD strike to Oregon State recruit Kevin Cummings and a 34-yard scoring pass to Eastern Illinois recruit Erik Lora.
''The thing about a 14-14 that goes unnoticed is about 12 of those were a 5-yard hitch [routes] that [the receivers] just turned and went up the field," Petty told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "Basically what I am saying is, we have athletes.
"I have nothing to do with it. I could get my 12-year-old sister to go out there and throw 5-yard passes and they would do the same thing with it."
Baylor wide receiver recruit Tevin Reese of Temple, Texas, produced two catches for 17 yards in the championship game. And Texas A&M defensive end recruit Chris Henderson of Dallas Carter High School produced a tack.
Petty finished the three games of the tournament by completing 25 of 30 passes for 382 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
His NCAA pass efficiency ranking for those three games was 256.3. The NCAA's single-season record was set by Colt Brennan of Hawaii, who amassed a passer rating of 186.0 over the 2006 season. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford led the nation in pass efficiency last season with a rating of 176.5.
"I can't even put into words what this has been like. I am extremely blessed," Petty said.
Virginia Tech recruit David Wilson was named tournament MVP, leading Team USA's rushing attack with 10 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn't hesitate to call out his offensive line even before spring practice started. And he's not stopping now, either.
Stoops told the Tulsa World that he isn't budging from the hard line he's taken with the revamped offensive line that will feature four new starters.
"If they will come on and be what they need to be, we have a chance to have a really good team," Stoops told the World. "If they don't, we'll just have an OK team. That's the bottom line."
If Stoops' stinging words during his vacation are any indication of what he's thinking, we can only wait to see what he has to say once preseason workouts begin.
Until then, here are a few other links from around the conference.
- Dave Matter's must-read "Case of the Mondays" analyzed Missouri's offense compared with the 1991 Tigers team. The reason? That was the last time before this season that the Tigers lost their top passer and top three receivers in the same season.
- The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls has the story about Texas assistant strength coach Donnie Maib, who was recently ordained as a minister.
- Brian Christopherson's outstanding "Deep Red" series about Nebraska's football history spotlights one of the biggest humiliations in school history -- the Cornhuskers' stunning 6-0 upset home loss to Hawaii in 1955.
- Tom Keegan, Kevin Romary and Jesse Newell break down various topics during a wide-ranging recent Lawrence Journal-World podcast, including Kansas' hopes to win the North, Kerry Meier's opportunity to play wide receiver full-time and Bill Snyder's chances for immediate success at Kansas State.
- Mike Leach must have had a good time when he went to Reno last season? The Texas Tech will be the guest speaker at the Governor's Dinner, the biggest special event for Nevada's athletic department, on July 17. Tickets are $300 apiece.
- Seth Jungman of Double T Nation provides a detailed look at Texas Tech's defensive ends -- one of the Red Raiders' biggest questions heading into the season.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel answers a Dallas-based Nebraska fan's question of why more Cornhusker merchandise isn't more readily available across the South Division.
- How about some family pictures from Colt McCoy's trip to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' game earlier this week? Texassports.com has a montage of McCoy's trip.
- The Oklahoman's Scott Wright looks ahead to Oklahoma State's season-opening game against Georgia on Sept. 5 with an in-depth examination of the Bulldogs.
- Landry Locker of the Texas Tech Daily Toreador student newspaper writes that the Red Raiders' game against Texas A&M might be their most important game of the season for a variety of reasons.
- Pete Fiutak of College Football News predicts that no Big 12 school would willingly consider leaving the conference for the Pac-10.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Statistics compiled by the NCAA indicated the Big 12 is coming off a record season in attendance as well as the largest growth of any BCS-affiliated conference.
The Big 12 attracted an average of 62,956 fans per game last season -- one of only five FBS conferences to show growth last season. A struggling economy helped explain why only the SEC and Big 12 showed attendance growth during 2008 for home games.
Here's a look at how the Big 12 ranked with the other FBS conferences
A more telling examination can be found how individual schools rank in attendance. The Big 12 had one school ranked among the top 10 schools in home attendace, four in the top 14 and five among the top 26 schools.
Here's a list of each Big 12's average attendance and where it ranks among FBS schools, and also among the 65 schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.
It's interesting to note that all Big 12 schools played to 90 percent home capacity with the exception of Baylor, which played to less than 70 percent capacity at Floyd Casey Stadium.
And for you trivia connoisseurs out there, the four teams that ranked in front of Texas were Big Ten powers Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State and Tennessee from the SEC.
The 10 non-BCS affiliated schools that ranked higher than Baylor in average attendance were Notre Dame (16th), BYU (27th), Utah (51st), East Carolina (56th), Hawaii (58th), Navy (59th), UCF (61st), Air Force (64th), Fresno State (65th) and UTEP (66st).
And the seven BCS-affiliated schools that ranked lower in Baylor than average attendance last season were Syracuse (69th), Cincinnati (71st), Indiana (72nd), Wake Forest (73rd), Washington State (74th), Duke (78th) and Northwestern (79th).
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State