The State of the Big 12 Conference: 2012
The favorite: Oklahoma. The Sooners lost a shot at the Big 12 title in the season finale against Oklahoma State last year, but they bring back QB Landry Jones and a handful of the team's best defenders. Jones needs to find more receivers opposite Kenny Stills, and injuries on the offensive line pose a few questions, but the Sooners are in the familiar spot of the team to beat entering 2012.
The new guys: West Virginia and TCU. Texas A&M and Missouri checked out for the SEC in 2012, but the Big 12 replaced them with a pair of teams who would have been in the Big East this season. The Horned Frogs, in nearby Fort Worth, and the Mountaineers, in far-away Morgantown, bring with them two high-powered offenses that should fit right in with their new Big 12 brethren.
The stirring giant: Texas. The Longhorns have won just 13 games the past two seasons. By comparison, they won the same number in 2005, the last time they won a national title. Mack Brown has revamped his staff with new coordinators and position coaches, and young talent is taking over in Austin. Texas isn't back yet from a five-win season in 2010, but this could be the year it starts making everyone take the Longhorns seriously again as a perennial title contender.
The up-and-comer: Baylor. The Bears broke through for their best season ever and the school's first Heisman winner. Robert Griffin III is gone and the 10 wins are in the past. Still, the Bears have a new stadium under construction and enough talent to get back to a bowl in 2012. That's pretty amazing. Art Briles is building something out of nothing at Baylor. The Bears look like they're in position to go to a bowl nearly every year moving forward after reaching their first bowl in Big 12 history back in 2010.
The guys with something to prove: Oklahoma State and Kansas State. K-State's got to prove last year's 10-win season was legitimate, despite the number of games won in the final minutes. Despite returning 17 starters and all the key pieces from a 10-win team, the Wildcats aren't even in everyone's top 20. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has to prove last year's Big 12 title was more than an accident or a one-time thing. They'll roll true freshman Wes Lunt out at quarterback to start the road back to a second league title.
Fighting to stay relevant: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders used to be the only team who could seem to beat Oklahoma and/or Texas with any consistency. Everyone feared making a trip out to the Plains of West Texas to face Mike Leach's band of pirates. Now? When teams walk into your home stadium and beat you by 60, it's hard to still be taken seriously. Coach Tommy Tuberville's been handcuffed by injuries, but he's got to get it turned around in Lubbock -- and fast. Fans are unhappy after last year's 5-7 campaign, the first losing season in almost two decades.
Trying to take the next step: Iowa State. Iowa State's cracked a bowl game in two of three seasons under Paul Rhoads, but did so just barely in both seasons, and needed huge upsets against Nebraska and Oklahoma State to make it happen. Iowa State's still trying to build, but enters 2012 with a quarterback controversy on its hands. The Cyclones were once again picked eighth in the league, but can Rhoads keep gaining momentum in Ames?
Trying to catch up: Kansas. The Jayhawks are just 1-23 in their last 24 Big 12 games, and the one team they beat (Colorado) left the Big 12. That stretch has included a whole lot of embarrassing losses for one reason or another, but former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is in charge now, with four Super Bowl rings and a renewed sense of purpose in tow. Can he turn it around in Lawrence after KU bottomed out following its Orange Bowl win to close the 2007 season?
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