For the past two seasons, the Big 12's best have finished the season second to the SEC. Now, it's the entire conference's turn. The SEC should be king again, but the Big 12 is good enough to edge out the Big Ten as college football's second-best conference.
Ohio State will enter the season likely ranked in the top three, but the chances of the Buckeyes playing like they did against Oregon for an entire season are about as good as Nebraska's offense scoring 33 points a game.
Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma don't return Heisman frontrunners for the first time in three seasons, but give their young offenses plenty of room for error with two of the nation's best defenses, along with Nebraska, who lose Ndamukong Suh and a handful of other starters, but could still contend for the title of football's best defense, one they held in 2009.
Most have faith in Oklahoma and Texas to replace their departed stars each year, just as they've done over the past decade. Texas boasts nine consecutive 10-win seasons. Oklahoma has won 11 games or more in eight of the past 10 seasons. Nebraska is inching back into that territory, and new starters like Baker Steinkuhler, who could draw the task of replacing the House of Spears, will try to prod that perception of the Huskers nationally.
Though the Longhorns and Sooners lost Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, neither faces a question at quarterback. Garrett Gilbert will try to build on the hype surrounding his performance in the national championship game and spring game. And Landry Jones, who performed well (3,198 yards, 26 TD) when his number was unexpectedly called as a redshirt freshman, now enters 2009 with almost an entire season as starter to build on.
The conference's second tier of teams, Missouri and Texas A&M, should enter the season flirting with top 25 status, and racking up a few early wins will only solidify it. It's up to them to make sure the conference strays far from top-heavy.
Beyond the Aggies and Tigers, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor could all overachieve and finish much higher than anyone will predict this preseason.
The Big Ten has a case for No. 2, but as a tiebreaker, let's just take the recent head-to-head record.
3-0 in last season's bowls, 2-0 in the season before that, plus a 1-1 record in head-to-heads last season? Guess that settles it.
Here's how the six BCS conferences measure up:
2. Big 12
3. Big Ten
6. Big East