Friday, January 21, 2011
The Big 12's offseason to-do list
By David Ubben
1. Find some quarterbacks. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill were surprise stars at the position in 2010, but the two of them, plus Robert Griffin III at Baylor and Landry Jones at Oklahoma are the only proven, big-time passers in the Big 12 coming back in 2011. That's not good for a league that has made a living throwing the ball in recent seasons. Texas Tech and Missouri will be tossing out first-year starters into their normally pass-happy offenses, and they'll need their new guys to be stars if either team is going to be successful. Meanwhile, Garrett Gilbert has to rebound from a nightmare year in 2010, and Collin Klein at Kansas State and Jerome Tiller at Iowa State will try to impress with their feet as likely first-year starters.
2. Keep the balance at the top (a.k.a. forget about Nebraska). The Huskers are done playing football in the Big 12. Everyone else can't just get rolled by Texas and Oklahoma. Texas was obviously way down in 2010, but it was the only Big 12 team in the top 20 in late 2009, when it went undefeated and made it to the national championship game. Oklahoma will be a national title contender in 2011, but the reigning Big 12 champion lost to Texas A&M and Missouri in 2010. The Aggies and Oklahoma State look like solid Big 12 contenders in 2011, and they'll need to hang around the top 10 to help keep the Huskers' absence out of mind.
3. Get back in the national title hunt. Texas or Oklahoma played for the national championship in five of seven years from the 2003-2009 seasons. Last year, the Big 12 was essentially out of the picture after its last undefeated team, Missouri, got run over by Nebraska on the last weekend in October. Maybe Texas A&M or Oklahoma State crash the party, but it would help the Big 12's national perception in a big way during a crucial year for that perception if it could make another appearance in the championship game.
4. Stay off the hot seat/coaching carousel. Dan Hawkins was all but fired for most of the season last year, but entering 2011, every coach in the Big 12 has a serviceable approval rating from the fans and his bosses. Tommy Tuberville just got a contract extension, and the only seat slightly past chilly is Turner Gill at Kansas, who looks like he's checking off the first five things on his checklist (Recruit, recruit, recruit, recruit, recruit). Mike Sherman avoided any talk of his exit with a fantastic finish in 2010 and is bringing back a Big 12 title contender in 2011. Technically, with Colorado leaving, there was no coaching turnover after the 2010 season, and that could be the case again heading into 2012.
5. Utilize the players who took their talents back to campus. The Big 12 had the fewest NFL Draft early entrants (3) of any of the major conferences, and has a ton of star power coming back. Oklahoma got receiver Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis to return for their senior seasons. Oklahoma State will keep their all-conference quarterback, Brandon Weeden, and Biletnikoff-winning receiver, Justin Blackmon. Jeff Fuller just finished the first 1,000-yard season in Texas A&M history, and he's back. All three teams are at the top of the list as the main competition to take home a Big 12 title. The league should be pretty deep in 2011, and it'll be tough, but barring a surprise season from somewhere, none of those three teams can flop next year and finish with seven or so wins and have the Big 12 consider it a successful season.