- David Ubben, College Football
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A little more than three months before we kick off the 2011 season, one thing is clear: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are the Big 12 favorites.
Of course, last season, Texas and Oklahoma were the favorites and Oklahoma State came out of nowhere to contend.
So, who could be this season's Cowboys? Here are three teams with the most upside that could contend for a Big 12 title.
Last season: 10-3
Why the Tigers aren't a contender: Simply put, Blaine Gabbert is gone. If the Tigers still had their first-round pick, they'd likely be a borderline top-10 team entering the season.
Why they can contend: Missouri's defense should be great once again after taking big strides in 2010 under coordinator Dave Steckel. The Tigers have lots of confidence in corners Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines, and even list Edwards as a returning starter since he was in the rotation alongside Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland last season. They'll get a lot of help up front from an offensive line that should be the Big 12's best, and perhaps one of the best in college football.
Offensively, James Franklin replaces Gabbert, but has lots of talent around him, including four returning running backs with experience and every single receiver on the team returns, including four with at least 39 catches a season ago. That's rare, and the experience gained will pay off next fall.
Last season: 5-7
Why the Longhorns aren't a contender: The offense crashed and burned in 2010 and the reigning Big 12 champs and national runner-up endured its worst season since 1997.
Why they can contend: Mock recruiting rankings all you'd like, but it's still hard to shake the feeling that Texas is a sleeping giant in 2011. The offensive talent didn't look like it was there last season, but can new coordinator Bryan Harsin change that? The Big 12 won't have a truly elite defense this season, so it's possible.
Texas also should have one of the Big 12's best defenses, as long as it can overcome some inexperience in the secondary. The front seven has loads of experience and potential, and if the turnovers, which coach Mack Brown has harped on all offseason, swing in the Longhorns favor, Texas could become a factor once again. That 5-7 record last season wasn't far from 9-3. Texas lost four games by eight points or fewer.
Last season: 7-6
Why the Wildcats aren't a contender: The Wildcats rode Daniel Thomas for two seasons, and lose him, as well as starting quarterback Carson Coffman. Combine that with a defense that struggled for most of last season, and it's not an attractive résumé.
Why they can contend: It all comes down to how good the new faces will be. Bryce Brown and Arthur Brown have gotten plenty of press this spring, but Arthur and quarterback Collin Klein will likely have the most to do with the Wildcats exceeding expectations. Klein will have receiver Brodrick Smith back, a transfer who started the season hot before breaking his leg against Nebraska.
The Wildcats are by far the darkest of these horses, but it could be one of Bill Snyder's best coaching jobs if this team contends or finishes in the top 25.