Big 12: Turner Gill

Offseason to-do list: Kansas Jayhawks

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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Each season, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

1. Sort out who's who among the new faces. Kansas is bringing in almost 20 junior college transfers, and many of them will be enrolling early. KU needs those guys to contribute early, but who's it going to be? Some will meet expectations. Some will fall short. Some will exceed them. That last group is the most important, and KU needs to exercise a keen eye in evaluation this spring and get a feel for how its depth chart will look in the fall and who needs a high percentage of reps late in spring and heading into fall camp. This team is going to look a lot different, but assessing this talent once it joins the team will be huge for the Jayhawks this offseason.

2. Find some playmakers for Jake Heaps. I wouldn't completely rule out Michael Cummings, but KU has already invested in the former superstar recruit and BYU transfer. Heaps is KU's guy heading into this season, but KU loses its leading receiver, Kale Pick, and its next-most productive receiver is a running back, Tony Pierson, who didn't top 200 yards rushing. Kansas' receivers caught a grand total of zero touchdown passes a year ago. Running backs caught four and tight ends caught three. That cannot fly in 2013. You can't win in the Big 12 like that. Dayne Crist didn't have the best year, but for Heaps to succeed, KU has got to find some serviceable receivers.

3. Fix up the offensive line and keep the running game rolling. Kansas has quietly had a really strong offensive line, even throughout these lean years under Turner Gill and Charlie Weis thus far. Three starters from last year's line, though, are gone. Left tackle and four-year starter Tanner Hawkinson is gone, along with guard Duane Zlatnik and center Trevor Marrongelli. If KU can keep this running game productive, the passing game will have a chance to blossom and the road to Big 12 relevance will be a whole lot easier. If the running game slows and James Sims and Pierson can't help balance the offense, don't expect Heaps to do much better next year than Crist.

More offseason to-do lists:
Hey, I see you Big 12 fans with your recency bias.

"Kansas! Turner Gill's team last season was the worst in the history of the Big 12!"

Yes, those Jayhawks were one of only six teams in Big 12 history to go winless in conference play, and this year's Jayhawks have a chance to make it seven if they don't beat West Virginia on Saturday.

The 2011 team lost six games by at least 30 points and the historically bad defense gave up at least 59 points on four separate occasions. However, those same Jayhawks led a 10-win Baylor team led by Heisman winner Robert Griffin III by 21 points early in the fourth quarter and ran up a 20-point lead on Texas Tech early in the season. They also lost to Iowa State by only three points and beat the MAC champion, Northern Illinois.

Still, I hate to break it to you. Do the research, and you'll find that KU team was probably the best winless team in Big 12 history. Not exactly an accomplishment that will do much except get the coach fired, but on ESPN.com today, we're taking a look at some of the worst teams in the history of the game. Here's how I'd rank the worst teams in the history of the Big 12:

1. 1999 Baylor (1-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Kevin Steele
Win: 23-10 vs. North Texas
Lowlights: The Bears were in Year 1 of Steele's four-year tenure that peaked with a three-win campaign in 2002. I give these Bears my seal of approval as the worst team in Big 12 history. They lost to Boston College and UNLV in nonconference, and the closest they got to any Big 12 team all season was 20 points, and even that game was in the season finale against Oklahoma State. Along the way, they suffered losses of 62-0 (Texas), 37-0 (Colorado) and 48-7 (Nebraska).

2. 2003 Iowa State (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Wins: Northern Iowa, Ohio
Lowlights: This was an oddly awful season sandwiched between four seven-win seasons for McCarney, the best coach in Iowa State history before Paul Rhoads arrived in 2009. ISU lost to Northern Illinois out of conference and had by far the worst finish of any team on this list. In its final five games, it scored seven points twice in blowout losses to KU and Mizzou, and was shut out by Nebraska and K-State. It did score 10 points in a 34-point loss to Colorado, though! ISU came within 21 points of only one Big 12 team that season, losing 40-19 to Texas.

3. 1997 Iowa State (1-10, 1-7 Big 12)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Win: 24-17 vs. Baylor
Lowlights: These Cyclones are the only team on this list with a conference win, but they're a team that deserved special consideration. They went winless in nonconference play with losses to Wyoming (46 points!!), Minnesota (34 points) and Iowa (43 points). They came within seven points in the season opener against Oklahoma State, but suffered a handful of humiliating losses, including a 77-14 beatdown against Nebraska. Missouri (24 points), Texas A&M (39 points) and Kansas State (25 points) all continued the parade.

4. 2002 Kansas (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Mark Mangino
Wins: Southwest Missouri State, Tulsa
Lowlights: This was the first season on the road to an eventual BCS bowl for Mangino. The former OU offensive coordinator had a tough start, getting blasted by Iowa State by 42 points to kick off the season. They also suffered losses to UNLV and Bowling Green. The Jayhawks came within three points of Baylor, but no other Big 12 game was decided by fewer than 24 points. They also suffered a 64-0 loss to K-State and a 45-7 loss to Nebraska.

5. 2007 Baylor (3-9, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Guy Morriss
Wins: Rice, Texas State, Buffalo
Lowlights: This was the final season for Morriss at Baylor, and the Bears didn't come within 20 points of winning a Big 12 game. BU kicked off the season with a 27-0 loss to TCU but suffered 31-point losses to Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma to close the year and the Morriss era, ushering in the Art Briles era in Waco. The Bears lost to BCS-bound KU by 48 points that year and suffered a 38-point loss to a Ron Prince-coached Kansas State team.

6. 2008 Iowa State (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Gene Chizik
Wins: South Dakota State, Kent State
Lowlights: Chizik parlayed his 5-19 career record into a head job at Auburn and a national title before being fired earlier this week after a winless season in SEC play. The Cyclones were bad, but far from hopeless. ISU lost its final 10 games, including a loss to UNLV, but also had three Big 12 losses decided by a single possession. It did lose games by 42 (Oklahoma State), 32 (Mizzou) and 28 (Nebraska and Baylor).

Friday Q&A: Kansas DE/LB Toben Opurum

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Toben Opurum is one of the bright spots for a Kansas team that's struggled to a 1-5 start under new head coach Charlie Weis this season. The former running back led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009 before becoming a force at the line of scrimmage for KU under Turner Gill and again this season.

He's got four tackles for loss this season and 29 total tackles. He's also forced two fumbles, broken up three passes and has a sack.

This week, he took some time out to talk to ESPN.com.

How would you describe your play so far this season?

Toben Opurum: I feel like I've improved drastically from last year. I'd like to continue to improve and make a couple more plays on the quarterback, but I think I've been distruptive a lot in the run game and passing game in different ways without the sack number being up there.

What are you most proud of from this season?

TO: I think from me and the defense overall, we've done a really good job of tightening up as teams get closer to our end zone and kind of protecting our home as we call it, and not letting people get in. That's one thing we've improved on. For myself, I think I've done a much better job just understanding the whole defense that we're running and understanding my role, from bouncing around multiple positions to kind of finally understanding what's expected.

This season obviously hasn't started like you guys had hoped, but how would you describe the attitude of this team right now?

[+] EnlargeToben Opurum
AP Photo/ David DurochikToben Opurum said he's finally getting comfortable on defense after starting his Kansas career at running back.
TO: You would think that with our record we'd be down in the tank and dreading coming to practice, but guys are still coming in every day and enjoying practice and just doing everything we can to make sure we can turn this program around. Obviously, we're not in the position we want to be in right now, but I've got to play for these last couple games and also for the players who are coming after me.

You talked a little bit about it earlier, but where do you think this defense has improved the most from last year?

TO: I would definitely say in the red zone again. I feel like we've done a good job of tightening up there. Teams have been able to move the ball a little better than we'd want them to between the 20-yard lines, but as soon as they get in there, the whole mentality changes and guys step up to the challenge of keeping people out of the end zone.

What's the biggest difference between the staff that was coaching you last year versus the staff you've got this year?

TO: There's multiple differences. I really feel like the biggest change is the players more so than the coaches, though. Obviously, they've got coach Weis and coach (defensive coordinator Dave) Campo, who have got a lot of history in the NFL and coaching in the NFL and in college, so they bring a lot of experience and a big variety in their playbooks and they're able to adapt to multiple things, and that's not something we've always had available to us.

So, I think they've done a good job of being able to adjust to different offenses and defenses that we see in the Big 12.

That NFL experience you mentioned, for you as players, where does it come into play the most? Where do you see it?

TO: They recognize talent when they see it. A lot of coaches get stuck on kind of putting players in based just off your reputation of what you can and can't do, and I think they did a good job of evaluating talent for themselves and putting players where they believe can have an impact and help us in the best way.

What has to happen for you guys to end this Big 12 losing streak?

TO: For us to end this streak, it's going to have to start with us winning a game that no one believes we have a chance in. We've been in position to end it multiple times, against teams like TCU and even just last week against Oklahoma State. We've had opportunities to do so, but it's just something that we're not over that hump yet because we weren't able to finish.

I feel like if we were able to capitalize and do so, people would be talking about us in a different light than they are now, but it just shows that we've got a little further to go. I don't think the gap is as big as our record would indicate.

So how close is it, and what has to happen to get this team over that hump?

TO: Hopefully, it's just a matter of days. Like I said, it's going to take us winning a game that no one believes we can win and obviously people have us losing to Oklahoma by 1,000 points, so this will be a good opportunity for us to get over that hump and it's going to take everything in our power to do so.

What has coach Weis done to change the attitude of this team and the mindset going into the season?

TO: Well, you know he doesn't have a magic wand. He's still searching for the right way to change the attitude of every player. It's worked on a majority, but it takes everybody and you've got to have everyone with a winning attitude and guys trying to learn how to win, and not waiting for bad things to happen because that's what they're used to. You've got to get past it and be ready to step up and make the plays, rather than the guys sitting back and waiting for somebody else to do it.

Midseason report: Kansas

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
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KANSAS

Record: 1-5, 0-3 Big 12

Second verse, same as the first. In a lot of ways, Kansas is better than it was under Turner Gill. The defense looks more sound. The offense has something of an identity.

The record, though? There's no getting around that. Kansas is sitting at 1-5 and the hope of grabbing a second win to equal last year's win total seems like one in which the odds do not favor. Kansas' 1-5 record came courtesy of a pair of blown fourth-quarter leads to Rice and Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a good team with just one loss (by one point) to Iowa, but even Memphis (winners of six games in the past three seasons) beat Rice, a feat the Jayhawks couldn't duplicate, even at home. No Big 12 team had ever lost to the Owls, too.

Dayne Crist doesn't look any better than he did at Notre Dame, and after completing just 49 percent of his passes, might lose his job to Michael Cummings. That's natural, considering every other Big 12 starting quarterback is completing at least 60 percent of his passes.

Dave Campo has the defense looking much more sound, but even that growth looked a bit like a mirage in a 40-point loss to Kansas State. Last week's 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State offered a little hope, but the weather and a hurt quarterback had a lot to do with the Cowboys' struggles, and late mistakes undid the Jayhawks late.

The Charlie Weis Reclamation Project in Lawrence is off to a rough start, and the second half of the season will require a whole lot of improvement if anything's going to change.

Offensive MVP: Anthony Pierson, RB. Nobody on Kansas' team has really stood out this season, but Pierson is the biggest home-run hitter on the team and offers a threat in the passing and running game. He's down with an elbow injury for a bit, but it doesn't sound like a major injury. He's turned his 59 carries into 319 yards and two touchdowns, the highest yards per carry on the team. He's also second on the team with 15 catches and third on the team with 198 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: Bradley McDougald, S. This one's pretty easy. McDougald is the team's best player and could start for a number of other Big 12 teams. The former receiver is making plays all over the field and is tied with Ben Heeney for the team lead with 50 tackles. He's picked off two passes and has three tackles for loss with a sack. He's also forced a pair of fumbles and broken up a pass.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
9:00
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Time to pick this week's games across the Big 12. It's a small slate -- only four games -- but it should be interesting. Outside of Kansas State-Kansas, I'd say anything could happen in the other three games. Could be a very upset-filled Saturday.

I'll be in Austin, Texas, on Saturday to see the Longhorns host West Virginia in the Mountaineers' first Big 12 road game. I'm pretty excited about it.

Oklahoma State and Baylor are off this week.

On to the predictions!

Last week: 4-0 (1.000)

Overall: 29-5 (.853)

No. 7 Kansas State 44, Kansas 17: Nobody is taking this game more seriously than Bill Snyder. The man gets his teams ready for Kansas. Ron Prince never beat the Jayhawks. Snyder, meanwhile, is 16-4 against his in-state rival, including two of the most complete beatdowns the Turner Gill-coached Jayhawks ever received. Snyder gets his guys up for this game, and Collin Klein takes care of business against an improving KU defense.

Texas Tech 28, No. 17 Oklahoma 27: Give me the upset. Texas Tech's revamped defense harasses Landry Jones and proves it's here to stay. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's struggles in Lubbock continue. Seth Doege has a big game against the Sooners secondary and Texas Tech propels itself into the top 25. Art Kaufman might be something of a miracle worker with this defense.

No. 15 TCU 17, Iowa State 16: This will be a rare defensive struggle in the Big 12. Iowa State has an underrated defense and its linebackers are well-equipped to shut down TCU's running game. TCU's defense will force Steele Jantz into more mistakes, too. The Horned Frogs have major problems, but make the necessary plays in the fourth quarter to get a clutch win.

No. 8 West Virginia 41, No. 11 Texas 38: I'm taking the upset here, too. West Virginia's offense is too much in Austin and though Geno Smith throws his first interception of the season, his four touchdown passes are just enough to get one of the biggest wins in WVU history. The Mountaineers negate a Texas pass rush with a healthy diet of screens, and Texas' tackling issues are a major problem against a slippery Tavon Austin, who all too often looks like he's covered in some sort of grease. More on this game later today in my Game of the Week video.

Lunch links: A two-loss Big 12 champion?

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
12:00
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You think this is a great party? This cake has vegetables in it.

The Big 12 Primer: Week 1

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
4:00
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Here's your weekly look at where you can find this weekend's games. My predictions will be up bright and early tomorrow morning, but let's hear yours in the comments. I'll also be revealing which one of these nine games I'll be attending this week.

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to open its season on the road or even away from home, and it wins the award for weirdest opening game, too.

TCU is idle in Week 1. If you're wondering where Texas A&M and Missouri went, go check the SEC blog.

SATURDAY (all times ET)

No. 11 West Virginia vs. Marshall (noon, FX): West Virginia takes on its in-state rival to kick off its first season in the Big 12. There's been plenty of hype about what Dana Holgorsen's offense will look like in Year 2. Time to stop talking and start producing. Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin just might put on a show in this one.

Iowa State vs. Tulsa (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads isn't hiding from the fact that his team is the underdog in this one. Despite hosting the Conference USA member Golden Hurricane, oddsmakers have Rhoads' squad as a 1.5-point underdog. Here's guessing Rhoads is a little insulted at that, but using it to motivate his team. Will it work?

No. 21 Kansas State vs. Missouri State (7 p.m., K-StateHD.TV): Kansas State's campaign to validate last season's narrow successes kicks off with what should be simple: an FCS opponent. Don't take it for granted, though. Even last year's 10-win team needed a touchdown in the final minutes to beat FCS member Eastern Kentucky 10-7. This one shouldn't be close, but you never know.

Texas Tech vs. Northwestern State (7 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest Plus): It's been nine years since Texas Tech played a nonconference game against a BCS conference opponent, and that won't change in 2012. This time around, though, it's needed. Tech is trying to win its way back after going 5-7 last year, but the main attraction on Saturday will be Eric Stephens, who will be making his return from a terrible knee injury suffered against Texas A&M last year.

No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Savannah State (7 p.m., Fox College Sports): Savannah State's won just one game in the FCS in each of the past two seasons. Oklahoma State won 12 and the Big 12 last season. The post-Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon era might have its bumpy nights, but this shouldn't be one of them. The only thing that could go wrong here is if the Cowboys unleash their hideous gray jerseys again like they did in last year's opener. True freshman QB Wes Lunt's debut has been long-awaited since he won the starting job this spring.

Kansas vs. South Dakota State (7 p.m., Jayhawk All-Access/Jayhawk Television Network): The Jayhawks have undergone a transformation unlike any other team in the Big 12 this offseason. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is in charge and he brought with him an avalanche of transfers, headlined by QB Dayne Crist. Keep an eye on defensive end Josh Williams, who transferred from Nebraska. Wins have been scarce the past two years at KU, so don't expect the Jayhawks to take anyone lightly, even an FCS opponent. Coach Turner Gill's tenure got off to a rough start back in 2010 when he lost to FCS North Dakota State.

No. 15 Texas vs. Wyoming (8 p.m., Longhorn Network): This offseason, Texas has been hard at work crafting a powerful running game and a quarterback in David Ash who's better at making decisions. We'll get a preview of what's to come Saturday night. The Longhorns have looked sluggish in the past two openers against Rice, but a suffocating defense could feast on the Cowboys' spread attack.

No. 4 Oklahoma at Texas-El Paso (10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Oklahoma is the Big 12's only team on the road in Week 1, but the Miners have been talking a big game all summer. Quarterback Nick Lamaison told reporters he hoped to be the best QB in the game, and the university president said she told UT-Austin the team would "do our best to ensure that Oklahoma would be not as competitive after they left El Paso, because we will have shown them a surprise." Here's guessing that talk is cheap when the ball is finally kicked off. The Sooners are 31-point favorites.

SUNDAY

Baylor vs. SMU (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): The old Southwest Conference rivalry is renewed when SMU heads fewer than 100 miles south to face the Bears in the first game since Robert Griffin III left for the NFL and won the starting job with the Washington Redskins. New QB Nick Florence is capable of putting up big numbers, too, but keep an eye on Oregon transfer RB Lache Seastrunk, and don't be surprised if he breaks a big run or two.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
11:00
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

The Big 12 power rankings are heavily influenced by what each team did in the previous week, and aren't necessarily a reflection of the Big 12 standings.

Think of it this way: As of right now, this is how well each Big 12 team is playing. Here's how I slot it to begin the season:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners have an awkward opener, kicking things off on the road out in the desert against UTEP at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Still, we'll get a first look at a revamped offensive line and the new, young receivers Landry Jones will be throwing to all season. Look out for a coming out party from Trey Metoyer, the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.

2. West Virginia: West Virginia plays Saturday's first game, kicking off against in-state rival Marshall at noon. The Big 12 newcomers have all the offense they need, but what will the pass rush look like with new defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson?

3. Kansas State: K-State opens with Missouri State on Saturday night, with Collin Klein's revamped arm on display after an offseason of development. Everyone's watching that. What they should be watching? How does the offensive line look after replacing three starters?

4. Texas: The Longhorns settled on David Ash at quarterback, but the season opener Saturday night against Wyoming on the Longhorn Network. The defense will be fiendishly fun to watch this year, but how much better is Ash? We'll get somewhat of a feel in this one.

5. TCU: Oh, you poor Frogs. TCU is officially a Big 12 member, but has to sit and watch all Saturday as the rest of the Big 12 opens their respective seasons. It gives Amon G. Carter Stadium one more week to prepare for the debut of its facelift, but by the time it does next week against Grambling, 13 Big 12 games will have been completed.

6. Oklahoma State: The defending Big 12 champs are the sixth team in the mix for a Big 12 title in 2012, but their hopes rest on the 18-year-old shoulders of Wes Lunt, a true freshman we haven't heard much out of all summer or fall camp. The Pokes don't know who his top target will be just yet, but the defense that supports the offense should be improved from 2011. We'll see them open up against the poor saps at Savannah State (yuck) on Saturday night.

7. Baylor: The post-RG3 era doesn't officially kick off until Sunday, when Nick Florence takes a snap against Baylor's old Southwest Conference rival, SMU. Last year's opener against TCU proved to be one of the most memorable games of the season. Florence and receivers Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese have the firepower to outgun the Mustangs in a shootout. Hyped transfer Lache Seastrunk will make his long-awaited debut after coming back home from Oregon.

8. Texas Tech: Tech opens against Northwestern State on Saturday night. That's no big challenge. Staying healthy could be after two injury-riddled years to start the Tommy Tuberville Era. Keep an eye on how running back Eric Stephens looks after returning from a catastrophic knee injury last season.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones should be challenged in their 3:30 p.m. visit fron Tulsa. Steele Jantz quarterbacked ISU to three fourth-quarter comebacks to open last season, and he may need another one. Paul Rhoads' Cyclones are a slight underdog in this windy weather showdown.

10. Kansas: Kansas' last coach, Turner Gill, opened with a disastrous 6-3 loss against FCS outfit North Dakota State two years ago. This time, Charlie Weis takes on South Dakota State. He's got a better team. Expect a better result Saturday for the former Notre Dame coach and a former Irish quarterback, Dayne Crist.
Last season, Kansas State shocked everyone by winning 10 games and reaching the Cotton Bowl after the group of unknowns was picked eighth in the preseason.

SportsNation

Who will be the Big 12's biggest surprise team?

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    25%
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    24%
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    9%
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    21%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,621)

Collin Klein emerged as a star and carried his team to a memorable season.

In 2010, Oklahoma State played the part of shocker. Despite losing Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys won a school-record 11 games and Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon made names for themselves along the way to becoming first-round NFL draft picks.

So who's going to be the surprise team this season?

Cast your vote in our poll.

KANSAS

The Jayhawks have won just one of their past 24 Big 12 games, but there are a ton of new faces these days, and ultimately, it'll be hard to predict what to expect from the Jayhawks. Coach Charlie Weis couldn't be more different than former coach Turner Gill, and the Jayhawks already got a big upgrade at quarterback with Dayne Crist. Add an avalanche of transfers and newcomers who are cracking the two-deep, and the Jayhawks could shock plenty of people this season by flirting with bowl contention.

TEXAS TECH

Texas Tech dropped its final five games last season after beating No. 1 Oklahoma in Norman, the first team to beat Bob Stoops' Sooners at Owen Field since 2005. That meant the first losing season since 1992, and the end of the Big 12's longest bowl streak. The catch? The Red Raiders were already thin, and fell apart once they were racked by injuries. Tech has one of the league's most underrated players in Seth Doege at quarterback, and a great set of receivers. With some defensive improvements under coordinator Art Kaufman and the end of its bad luck with injuries, could Texas Tech surprise and come close to a nine- or 10-win season?

OKLAHOMA STATE

The Cowboys are the defending champs, but the echoes of doubt won't be silenced. How will they replace Weeden and Blackmon? Sounds pretty familiar, no? (Read the top of this post for a refresher.) The defense is going to be pretty stout and still make big plays. True freshman Wes Lunt is progressing well and should have plenty of big targets. Will the Cowboys surprise and be a serious threat in the Big 12 title race?

KANSAS STATE

K-State won 10 games, finished the season ranked 15th and second in the Big 12, and return 17 starters. Yet, because of all the close and comeback wins last season, plenty of folks are chalking it up to luck. K-State begins the season ranked outside the top 20 and picked sixth in the Big 12. Will Bill Snyder prove everyone wrong once again and contend for a Big 12 title?

IOWA STATE

Paul Rhoads has a quarterback controversy on his hands to deal with first. Once that's settled, could Iowa State show it's making steps toward being a bigger player in the Big 12? The Cyclones have just barely made bowl games in two of the past three seasons, courtesy of huge upsets. ISU wants those wins to be much less shocking. Rhoads once again is saying that this is the best team he's ever had in Ames. Can he prove it and win eight games for the first time as the Cyclones' coach? (Note: Keeping the beard can only help.)

Cast your votes now.
The Big 12 released its media preseason poll last week, as voted on by a panel of 41 media members.

You can see that here.

I had my disagreements, and here's how I voted.

1. Oklahoma: Looking at the depth chart on offense and defense, Oklahoma is the best and deepest team in the league from top to bottom. The Sooners aren't without weaknesses (defensive line, and receivers for now), but they're the best team on paper.

2. West Virginia: I've got big questions about WVU's defense, but the offense is going to pass to set up the run and it's going to work very, very well. Nobody in the Big 12 has a QB-WR trio as good as the Mountaineers have in Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer might prove to be close by season's end, but they've got a lot to prove.

3. Kansas State: The Wildcats were picked sixth by the media, but I had them at No. 3. The defense is solid, and the offense is sneaky frustrating. Kansas State may not win the Big 12, but I'd be pretty surprised if it wasn't very involved in the conversation. Sixth place? Come on.

4. TCU: Texas and TCU are pretty interchangeable here, but I've got more faith in Gary Patterson to string together a decent defense with what he's got than I do for Texas to have a productive offense with uninspiring QB play. In this league, you win with points, too.

5. Texas: Might come to regret this one, but I'm not fully on board with the Longhorns just yet, though Texas was picked third in the league by the media. Mack Brown's boys have huge upside, but if David Ash isn't a lot better, Texas won't be a lot better. Wait and see with this group.

6. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys should be productive, but may have to defend well and outweigh mistakes that Wes Lunt makes in his first season. That's just how it is with true freshmen, unless Lunt is a prodigy. Is he?

7. Baylor: The Bears are still going to be pretty good, but the top six teams in the Big 12 will just be better. It's a deep league, but Baylor would surprise a lot of people by finishing in the top half, yours truly included.

8. Texas Tech: I feel bad sliding the Red Raiders ahead of Iowa State, which swept the last two meetings against Tech, but the injuries just can't happen every single year. Texas Tech has a lot of upside and a good chance to surprise and finish in the 4-6 range of the Big 12.

9. Iowa State: The battle for the last bowl spot or two is going to be absolutely brutal. Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech can beat anyone in the league, but I'm not sure about either team's depth to win more than seven games. Thus, it's a race to six games, but simple math means at least one of those three teams won't be making the postseason. We'll see who it is. Iowa State's got the least dangerous offense and the worst situation at quarterback. Points will get you a long way in this conference. Iowa State doesn't score enough of them.

10. Kansas: The gap between Kansas and the rest of the league has been vast the past two seasons. Can Charlie Weis change that? If nothing else, he's a whole lot more interesting than his predecessor. We'll see how much more he wins than Turner Gill.

Lunch links: Money talks

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
12:00
PM ET
Am I the only one here watching Food Network Star? Consider me firmly #TeamJustin.

Predicting the 2012 season: Week 1

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
4:00
PM ET
Today begins a new series on the Big 12 Blog that we've never done before. I love predicting the standings from top to bottom, but we're going to do it week by week leading up to the season here on the Big 12 Blog. The end goal is to offer my official prediction for each Big 12 team's record heading into the bowl season.

Remember, these are preseason predictions. We'll obviously still do week-to-week picks, and they may change between now and then. There are a lot of preseason practices and a whole lot of games between now and the end of the season.

There are always teams who disappoint and teams who surprise. But heading into the season, here's how I see the Big 12 shaking out.

WEEK 1

Baylor 41, SMU 31: Nick Florence breaks out with a big debut in this Southwest Conference showdown. Lache Seastrunk has a quiet day, but shows flashes of brilliance that warn the rest of the league.

Iowa State 28, Tulsa 24: The Cyclones defense comes up big as the offense sputters early with quarterbacks Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz rotating throughout. Jantz makes enough plays in the fourth for yet another fourth-quarter comeback.

Kansas 38, South Dakota State 14: Turner Gill's debut vs. North Dakota State ended in a 6-3 loss. I've never seen South Dakota State, but I can tell you that they are not North Dakota State. So ... that's something.

Kansas State 34, Missouri State 10: Last year's opener was a nailbiting, come-from-behind 10-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky that made K-State look like the worst team in the Big 12. No such work here. K-State takes care of business, and by custom, Bill Snyder reveals just two plays in his playbook (Klein Left, and Klein Right).

Oklahoma 41, UTEP 17: This one kicks off in the desert at 9:30 p.m. Oklahoma time. The last time OU played in this stadium, it rolled over Stanford in the Sun Bowl. You can go to bed early in this one, Sooners fans. Get some sleep and get to church in the morning.

Oklahoma State 172, Savannah State 4: Does this game really need to be played? The competition from high school to Savannah State is not all that different for Wes Lunt.

Texas 27, Wyoming 17: Don't get caught sleeping on Wyoming. Dave Christensen's team is pretty good. Overlook them at your own peril. Texas won't. The Longhorns have a lot to prove this year. The difference: They have the personnel to do it.

Texas Tech 55, Northwestern State 20: Tech is finally healthy, and the Demons quite simply can't hang. Time to flex for the Red Raiders.

West Virginia 47, Marshall 14: The battle for bragging rights in West Virginia was close in Bill Stewart's final year. It wasn't last year. It won't be this year. WVU rolls against one of a few familiar opponents it will face in 2012.

BIG 12 STANDINGS
  • Oklahoma: 1-0
  • Kansas State: 1-0
  • West Virginia: 1-0
  • Texas: 1-0
  • Oklahoma State: 1-0
  • Baylor: 1-0
  • Texas Tech: 1-0
  • Iowa State: 1-0
  • Kansas: 1-0
  • TCU: 0-0 (Gotta hate those opening weekend byes. I feel for you, Frogs. It's no fun to wait a week longer than everyone else for the season to arrive.)

Lunch links: Could Wes Lunt lose his spot?

May, 10, 2012
5/10/12
12:00
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What are you looking at, Jar Jar Binks?

Weis names three new Jayhawks captains

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
9:30
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Kansas conclude its spring session on Saturday, but coach Charlie Weis has seen enough.

He opened up a vote to his new team, which elected three captains: Quarterback Dayne Crist, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and defensive lineman Toben Opurum.

A fourth, special-teams captain will be named before each game in the fall.

"I don’t think it’s fair for a guy coming in, in June to be able to be picked a captain. They have not paid the price that these guys have paid since (Scott) Holsopple started the weight program in January," Weis told reporters Tuesday. "Now is the time that I need the leadership. I don’t need it in June, I need it now, when the coaches are on the road recruiting and when I am flying from place to place to speak at luncheons and dinners. I need veteran guidance for these players to make sure there is somebody there saying, ‘Hey, don’t do that’, or ‘Why would you do this?’"

There's no surprise in any of the three being named, but Crist's and Opurum's stories are unique. Hawkinson has been one of the team's best and most consistent linemen for each of his three seasons on campus.

Opurum led the team in rushing in 2009 before coach Turner Gill moved him to the defensive line. He picked up his new position late in the season and was named a captain for 2011.

Crist spent four seasons at Notre Dame but was benched early in 2011. He transferred at the end of the season and rejoined his former coach, Weis. Teammates have already labeled Crist as a go-to guy for questions about Weis' system and coaching style.

Breaking down spring camp: Kansas

March, 27, 2012
3/27/12
9:00
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Kansas opens spring camp today. Here's a closer look.

Schedule: The first of 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA begins Tuesday afternoon and they'll conclude with the spring game on April 28.

What's new: Well, pretty much everything. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis shocked a whole lot of people when he left his post as Florida offensive coordinator to become the head man in charge. He'll call the plays and bring in his offense, and old Cowboys coach Dave Campo will coordinate the defense for the Jayhawks. It should be fascinating to see this spring and next fall for a program that needed a big jolt of excitement after an awful 2-23 record in Big 12 play the past three seasons.

New faces: The two biggest are two you'll recognize. Dayne Crist will make his debut at quarterback after transferring from Notre Dame, where Weis recruited him. His physical skills will be there, but will it mean production? Former Oklahoma receiver Justin McCay is coming, too. He struggled to catch on at OU, and his NCAA waiver that would make him eligible for 2012 is in question, but he was a blue-chip recruit when he came to Norman. Will a fresh start help either?

Question mark: The defense. Kansas had the worst scoring defense in the country last season and lacks a lot of big playmakers on that side of the ball. Campo will walk in and it's clear that tearing up the depth chart from last season is the best approach. Let players prove themselves and go out and recruit players who are better to motivate the ones on campus. That's how you build a program. Kansas is starting anew from a tough spot. The big question is whether Campo can make an impact with a better scheme for a unit with nowhere to go but up.

All eyes on: Crist. A good quarterback can make a lot of things look a lot better in this game, and Crist qualifies. He'll have a good set of backs, but will he find enough weapons to make an impact? Look at the rest of the league's top passers? Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Casey Pachall and other passers from last season all had a lot of guys to get the ball to and make plays. KU needs to find some in a hurry.

Breaking out: DE Toben Opurum. Opurum led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009, but when Turner Gill arrived, he moved Opurum to the defensive line. It was rough at first, but he's gotten better and better as time has progressed. He led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss last season, but he could be due for an even bigger year in a new system. Truth be told, you never know how any guys will fit in a new system, but Opurum's had maybe the most interesting career of any player in the Big 12 right now.

Big shoes to fill: Whoever wins the linebacker job replacing Steven Johnson. The former walk-on led the Big 12 in tackles last season with 119, and did it all with measurables that wouldn't wow very many. He was an instinctive, tough player who was good for the program, and the Jayhawks will need to replace his leadership as well as his production.

On the mend: Weis' coaching reputation. This is what everyone around the nation will be watching this year. Kansas' Weis hire was panned by most, but he learned a lot in his shortcomings at Notre Dame, and Kansas is a very, very different place and a very different job. Weis wanted to come here and build a program. He won't have to deal with a fan crush or crazy expectations, but he'll have recruiting limitations that weren't present in South Bend. Is this the beginning of a new start for Weis?

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