NCF Nation: Nate Jackson

Big 12 future power rankings

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
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We're all about projecting the future at ESPN.com this week, looking inside the crystal ball at what the next few years will look like for the Big 12.

So who will accomplish the most in the next three years? Here's how I rank the Big 12.

1. Texas: Mack Brown has a lot to prove this year and in the ones that follow, but the Longhorns are deep all over the field and have recruited well. The Big 12 is more competitive than ever, but the Longhorns look like they've moved on from the past three years of struggle. Even if the Longhorns make a change at coach, the new guy would inherit a stacked roster.

2. Oklahoma: There's lots of talk about sliding recruiting rankings and staleness in the Sooner program, but they've still got tradition, talent and a man with a strong case as the Big 12's best coach. Even though the Sooners have won "just" 10 games the past two seasons, there's no reason to believe the Sooners will fall out of the conference's top two over the next three years. OU's 32 wins in those three years lead the Big 12.

3. Oklahoma State: OSU has won 31 games over the past three years and is finally seeing some recruiting payoff for that stretch. But what's keeping them at No. 3? When Oklahoma and Texas reload with strong rosters like OSU did last season, they win more than eight games. OSU proved it can get over the hump, but its valleys have been lower than Oklahoma's and Texas' over the past decade.

4. TCU: The Frogs may have to wait more than three years to see the Big 12 membership dividends really pay off on the recruiting trail. How the 2013 season goes could have a big impact there, but the Frogs already have a lot of talent on the depth chart. Recruiting depth is their main challenge now.

5. Baylor: The Bears are building -- on and off the field. They've seen recruiting take off after Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy campaign, and a new riverside stadium should provide another boost. This is the most talented team at Baylor in Big 12 history, and as long as it holds on to coach Art Briles, it'll be in good shape. He's recruited the quarterback position well, and you're going to be just fine in the Big 12 as long as you do that.

6. Kansas State: The middle of the Big 12 is crowded, so no need to take offense here. Bill Snyder worked his magic with Collin Klein over the past two seasons, but doing it over and over again isn't easy. K-State doesn't have quite as much talent in the wings as it did over the past two seasons, especially on defense, but juco newcomers Nate Jackson and Jake Waters could make the next few seasons interesting.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a wild card who could skyrocket into the top 3-4 under Kliff Kingsbury. For now, it's hard to make an argument for them over more accomplished programs. Recruiting to Lubbock is never easy, but Tommy Tuberville established a little momentum with some of the best classes in school history.

8. West Virginia: It feels a little odd to have WVU this low. But the Mountaineers flopped in 2012, despite having one of the best offenses in school history, and they haven't caught on to recruiting in Texas. Continuing to recruit in Florida might get a little tougher in the Big 12 instead of the Big East, but WVU has to keep its defensive depth. I need more convincing that the Big 12 transition will turn around.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones begin their rebuilding project this year with a young defense and an offense lacking any reliable players in the passing game. Strong running back depth and talent is ISU's biggest strength, but you have to be able to score lots of points (and preferably fast, with apologies to Kansas State) to win consistently in the Big 12.

10. Kansas: KU is employing a risky reboot strategy with a mix-and-match group of junior college transfers. Chris Martin's exit from the program has the project off to a rough start. He might have been KU's best defender next season. The Jayhawks have a long way to go to catch even Iowa State, which has played in three bowl games in the past four years.
Signing day has come and gone, but we'll have plenty of coverage looking at each Big 12 team's class. This morning, we'll look at how each team filled its needs.

BAYLOR

Needs filled: Prerogative No. 1 for Baylor is fixing its defense, and the Bears are getting some help at linebacker in prep transfer Brian Nance, Raaquan Davis (No. 28 outside linebacker) and Travon Blanchard (No. 37 OLB). Future defensive tackle Andrew Billings was a home-grown talent who should compliment Javonte Magee well up front in the years to come. The Bears also need to keep the offensive machine humming. They seem to have done that with their two top signees, Robbie Rhodes, the nation's No. 3 receiver, and Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer who coach Art Briles raved about in his signing day presser.

Holes remaining: Debate their quality all you'd like, but the Bears lost players in the secondary like Chance Casey and Mike Hicks, and cornerback Joe Williams will be a senior. There's not a lot of strength at defensive back in this class, unless Taion Sells (No. 46 safety) and Alfred Pullom (No. 67 safety) can blossom in Waco.

IOWA STATE

Needs filled: Rodney Coe comes to Ames via junior college and will try and replace some losses along the defensive line, but the biggest need for the Cyclones has been offensive playmakers. Aaron Wimberly checks in via the juco ranks at running back, but can ISU develop Texas receivers Brandon Harris and Bryan Ajumobi into major weapons at the Big 12 level?

Holes remaining: The Cyclones lost a pair of starters at linebacker and signed just one linebacker in this class, Florida native Brian Mills. Besides that, Iowa State did a nice job of bringing in big bodies along the defensive line and filling some offensive line holes, too, headlined by in-state prospect Jake Campos, who Iowa State swiped from Mizzou.

KANSAS

Needs filled: I'll be honest here, KU could use a big talent upgrade at pretty much every position on the field, other than running back. It's all about the jucos for the Jayhawks. Marquel Combs could be a major player up front to help KU stop the run and collapse pockets, but KU got a pair of big-time playmakers at receiver, too, in Ishmael Hyman and Rodriguez Coleman. Chris Martin offers another solid option as a pass-rusher. The Jayhawks also added a pair of quarterbacks in Montell Cozart and Jordan Darling.

Holes remaining: Did KU get enough high-quality linemen to replace its three lost starters? Ahongalu Fusimalohi is a juco transfer and Joey Bloomfield is the nation's No. 118 offensive tackle, but replacing solid starters like Tanner Hawkinson and Trevor Marrongelli is no easy task.

KANSAS STATE

Needs filled: K-State basically lost its entire defense from last year, so any defenders will be greatly appreciated. Four of the classes' top five signees are defenders, highlighted by inside linebacker Nick Ramirez and juco corner Nate Jackson. Inside linebacker Tanner Wood and juco defensive end Devon Nash will also help fill the Wildcats' big losses defensively.

Holes remaining: The Wildcats are solid at running back this year, but it could be looking a bit thin in the future. John Hubert will be a senior this year and Bryce Brown didn't pan out, so K-State might have used a running back in this class. It didn't happen. K-State was shut out at the position.

OKLAHOMA

Needs filled: Defensive line was the biggest one, and the Sooners grabbed two pass-rushers in the ESPN 300, D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. Those two should pay off big, and Ward has enrolled early. Hatari Byrd also gives the Sooners an answer in the secondary while the nation's No. 3 running back, Keith Ford, helps provide solid depth at running back.

Holes remaining: Oklahoma lost Tom Wort to the NFL draft and Corey Nelson will be a senior next year, but Oklahoma didn't stock this class with a single linebacker. The Sooners don't put many traditional linebackers on the field and has converted a lot of safeties into outside linebackers, but still.

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