Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Big 12: Keys for the 2009 season
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the key factor for each Big 12 team this season:
Baylor: The Bears need production from a retooled offensive line and particularly new starting tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake. Their work will be critical to keep Robert Griffin protected and continue the strong running game that enabled Baylor to produce 200 or more rushing yards in four of the last five games in 2008.
Colorado: Somebody needs to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. Continually shuffling between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will rob the offense of its continuity and make both quarterbacks worry too much about their individual mistakes. Dan Hawkins should settle on one, and the quicker the better.
Iowa State: The Cyclones’ tackling techniques have been frustrating for an old-school defensive coach like Paul Rhoads. He’s broken them down to the basics to hope that they will learn his way. If they can use these fundamentals to start playing better defense, it’s the start of a massive rebuilding job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks lost three productive linebackers and will retool their defense by using more nickel coverages, seemingly conducive to shackling Big 12 aerial attacks. Will this new unit still be able be able to support a developing secondary and underrated defensive front?
Kansas State: The Wildcats’ offense won’t look anything like the explosive units that Bill Snyder was familiar with earlier in his coaching tenure. This group doesn’t have a lot of productivity or depth. A rash of injuries would be a crippler for this team and likely make Snyder wonder why ever re-entered coaching.
Missouri: Can new quarterback Blaine Gabbert help a rebuilding offense still be productive, despite the loss of several key producers who were the backbone of the Tigers' back-to-back division title teams?
Nebraska: How well will Zac Lee direct the offense? The Cornhuskers talk about his arm giving them the opportunity for more vertical strikes than when Joe Ganz was playing. Bo Pelini would just be satisfied with the same kind of consistent production that marked Ganz’s season-plus as starter.
Oklahoma: The offensive line has received some praise from Bob Stoops in the last few days because of its conditioning and versatility. The question remains if the four new starters are accomplished enough to keep the Sooners’ record-breaking offense humming, and more importantly, Sam Bradford safe from harm.
Oklahoma State: Bill Young has made a career out of cobbling together overachieving defenses. If he can get increased production from this unit that wore out late last season, he’ll cement his own legacy at his alma mater, as well as providing the Cowboys a chance for their first South title.
Texas: Vondrell McGee will get the first shot, but will somebody emerge as a featured ball carrier to help take some of the pressure from Colt McCoy? It’s asking a lot of McCoy to be his team’s leading rusher in two straight seasons.
Texas A&M: Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew? The Aggies can’t afford the struggles that marked their defense last season. Joe Kines' unit must show immediate improvement, particularly in the trenches and in the secondary.
Texas Tech: How will the pass defense recover from the loss of key pass-rushers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and starting safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet? In the Big 12 South, that rebuilding job in those areas could come with some lethal consequences.