After three straight Big XII South titles, the Sooners took a step back last fall, allowing Texas to win the division, and eventually the national championship. However, with fourteen starters back this year, including nine on the defensive side of the ball, it looks as if Bob Stoops' team is ready for a march back to the top in 2006. QB Rhett Bomar returns after throwing for over 2000 yards and 10 scores as a freshman last season, though he must improve his turnover margin. Also back is RB Adrian Peterson as well as four of Bomar's top six targets. The star tailback ran for more than 1100 yards and 14 scores in '05 and is a legitimate Heisman contender this fall.
The only tough game in September should be a mid-month trip to Oregon. The conference slate heats up in October with the annual showdown against Texas leading things off before a tough home matchup with Iowa State the following week. An early-November trip to Texas A&M will be a challenge as well. How the Sooners perform away from Norman this fall will determine how long this squad stays in contention for a national title.
Projected Wins: UAB, WA, MTSU, COLO, at MO, TT, at BAY, at OSU
The Aggies won just five times last fall, and in fact, they've averaged just over five wins per season since Dennis Franchione took over in 2003. However, the coach's back is against the wall, and with fourteen starters - seven on each side of the ball - returning this fall, it looks as if this could be a breakout year for Texas A&M. The tailback duo of Courtney Lewis and Jorvorskie Lane is among those back for the upcoming season. That pair combined to dash for over 1300 yards and 16 scores in 2005. Also returning is QB Stephen McGee and two of his top four targets. The sophomore signal-caller saw limited action last year, but if he can improve his passing, he can become one of the Big XII's best under center.
The season should begin with four straight victories before a tough home game against high-powered Texas Tech in late September. The schedule stays relatively easy until the month of November, so the Aggies could very well be 9-0 when a pair of home games against Oklahoma and Nebraska roll around late in the year. The season concludes with the annual showdown against in-state rival Texas, and as usual, that matchup is likely to have BCS implications.
Projected Wins: CIT, ULL, Army, LT, at KU, MO, at OSU, at BAY
The Huskers have won just seven conference games since coach Bill Callahan took over a couple seasons ago, but fifteen starters return this fall, resulting in increased expectations for this season's squad. Among those back are QB Zac Taylor and his top two targets from a year ago. The senior signal-caller threw for nearly 2700 yards and 19 scores last year, and fourteen of those TDs were hauled in by either Nate Swift or Terrence Nunn, both of whom return in 2006. Replacing star RB Cory Ross (900 yards, 5 TD) will be the Huskers' biggest challenge heading into the fall.
A couple of wins should get things started before a big road trip to USC in mid-September. NU then returns home for a pair of contests before consecutive road trips to Iowa State and Kansas State. By the time they return home to face Texas later in October, the tone in the Big XII North will have been set. A trip to Texas A&M in November will be tough to conquer as well, so look for the season-ending matchup against Colorado to have North title implications.
Projected Wins: LT, Nicholls, Troy, KU, at KSU, at OSU, MO
Once again in 2005, the Cyclones had a tailor-made shot to make their way into the Big XII title game but failed to punch their ticket. That reputation continues to haunt ISU and those who might consider picking them to make a championship appearance in 2006. Fourteen starters return this fall, ten of those on the offensive side. QB Bret Meyer threw for nearly 2900 yards and 19 TDs as a sophomore last season, many of those passes heading in the direction of WR Todd Blythe (1000 yards, 9 TD). Star RB Stevie Hicks also returns but must stay healthy this season for the Cyclone offense to be at its best.
A season-opening home date with Toledo will not be esay, nor will trips to in-state rival Iowa and defending champ Texas in September. The team then gets a bit of a break before a difficult four-game stretch vs Nebraska, at Oklahoma, vs Texas Tech, and at Kansas State that will decide if they are still in the division race by the time the month of November arrives. Two of the last three on the schedule should be wins, with the exception being a tough road test at Colorado.
Projected Wins: TOL, UNLV, NIA, at KSU, KU, MO
It was a dream season for the Longhorns in 2006, but nearing the accomplishments of a season ago will be extremely difficult considering the personnel losses since last fall. Though thirteen starters do return this season, gone is QB Vince Young (who also happened to be the team's leading rusher), WR David Thomas, RB Ramonce Taylor, and three of the squad's top four tacklers. However, RB Jamaal Charles is back after a stellar freshman campaign that saw him run for nearly 900 yards and 11 scores. Also back to tote the rock are Selvin Young (500 yards, 8 TD) and Henry Melton (400 yards, 10 TD). WRs Billy Pittman and Limas Sweed look to be the favorite targets for new QB Colt McCoy, or anyone else who takes snaps this fall.
Everyone is looking towards a week two game at home against Ohio State, one of the top favorites for the BCS title this year. Another home game, this one against Iowa State, follows two weeks after, and then the annual showdown with Oklahoma comes around two weeks after that. Winning five of the first six games would be a huge accomplishment for this team as they try to break in a new signal-caller. Back-to-back road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech in late October won't be easy, nor will a road trip to Kansas State and the home finale against Texas A&M late in the season. There is plenty of talent returning, but considering the new QB and the difficulty of this year's schedule, seeing Texas win more than 9 or 10 games would be hard to imagine.
Projected Wins: UNT, at Rice, SHSU, BAY, OSU, at KSU
A new era in Buffalo football begins this fall when Dan Hawkins takes over the program. Though the team had averaged nearly 8 wins per season over the last 5 years, it was under a cloud of various controversies. Thirteen starters, including 8 on defense, return from last year's squad that made its second consecutive bowl appearance. Record-setting QB Joel Klatt is one of those that will have to be replaced, though, as will three of his top four targets from 2005. RB Hugh Charles, who dashed for nearly 900 yards and 6 scores last fall, will have to carry much of the load early on.
A showdown with in-state rival Colorado State comes in week two before a huge non-conference battle at home against Arizona State. A road trip to Georgia follows, so winning three of the first four would be an outstanding start. The schedule then eases up a bit until mid-October when Texas Tech comes to town before a scheduled trip to Oklahoma. Every other game on the schedule is winnable, though home tests against Kansas State and Iowa State will be tough, as will a season-ending road trip to Nebraska. Another bowl trip should be in the works, and with the relative weakness of the North, a championship game berth is not out of the question.
Projected Wins: MONTST, at MO, BAY, at KU, KSU
Legendary head coach Bill Snyder stepped down after the Cats' second straight losing season, making way for new head man Ron Prince who inherits a good deal of talent heading into 2006. Seventeen starters return this fall, including nine on the offensive side of the ball. The QB situation is iffy, but Prince has plenty of talent to choose from there. The team's top two backs, Thomas Clayton and Parrish Fisher, both return after combining for over 900 yards and 4 scores in '05. Also back are four of the team's top five wideouts, including leading WR Jordy Nelson who hauled in 8 TDs a season ago.
Three wins should start the campaign before a huge home showdown with Big East power Louisville. The conference slate starts off friendly, but those league-opening games at Baylor and at home against Oklahoma State are the kind that will decide whether this team goes bowling in 2006. K-State gets Nebraska, Iowa State, and Texas at home, and if they can win even one of those games (and take care of the ones they are supposed to win), the Wildcats should go bowling for the first time since 2003. Whether or not that happens will likely depend on if the team can win games against the bottom half of the Big XII away from home.
Projected Wins: ILLST, FAU, MAR
It seems as if the Red Raiders replace their QB each season, and yet their offense continues to dominate. The team has averaged at least 34 points per game over each of the past five seasons, and over that same period, Tech has also averaged about 8 wins per season. Stepping under center this year will be sophomore Graham Harrell. He saw limited action last fall but completed 67% of his passes for over 400 yards and 3 TDs (without an INT). Star all-everything guy Taurean Henderson will be tough to replace, but three of the squad's top four wideouts do return.
The non-conference schedule will set the tone early for the boys from Lubbock. Though home games against SMU and SELA should be wins, road trips to UTEP and TCU will be extremely difficult. A 2-2 start to the season is certainly possible, though wins in all four games is possible as well, just not as likely. A conference-opening road trip to Texas A&M won't be easy, nor will consecutive outings to Colorado and Iowa State in mid-October. Texas comes to town late in October before a road trip to Oklahoma comes up on the schedule in November. With such a difficult slate, getting off to a good start and coming out on top in all of the team's winnable games will be the key to Tech's run at a seventh straight bowl bid.
Projected Wins: SMU, SELA, MO, BAY, OSU
Record setting QB Brad Smith, who also happened to be the Tigers' leading rusher, has finally left Columbia and will certainly be tough, if not impossible, to replace this fall. However, fifteen other starters do return for Mizzou, including the RB duo of Tony Temple and Marcus Woods. That pair combined for nearly 900 yards and 6 TDs last season. Also back is star TE Martin Rucker. The junior had nearly 600 receiving yards and a TD in 2005.
After the opener against Murray State, SEC foe Mississippi comes to town in a tough but winnable game for the Tigers. A trip to New Mexico follows before the Tigers return home to face Ohio and Colorado to close out the first month of the season. By that point, the team could be anywhere from 1-4 to 4-1, or even 5-0. That opening stretch will decide if this year's Tigers are in the hunt for postsesaon play once a much more difficult part of the schedule comes around beginning in October.
Projected Wins: Murray, at NM, Ohio, KSU, KU
Coach Mark Mangino has taken the Jayhawks to bowl games in two of his first four seasons on campus, but a third postseason trip in 2006 looks to be a tough chore. Just ten total starters return this fall, including only three on the defensive side of the ball. Both QBs who took snaps last year are gone, as is leading WR Mark Simmons. RB Jon Cornish, who ran for almost 800 yards and 9 scores in 2005, is back, however, and he will have to carry the load early on for the 'Hawks.
A pair of wins should open the season before a tough road trip to Toledo in week three. Big East foe South Florida comes to town the following week before the schedule gets a bit more difficult. If KU is to be in bowl contention this fall, they will have to win at least four (and maybe five) of their six home games, as it appears the road contests will be tough to conquer.
Projected Wins: NWST, ULM, USF
The Cowboys snapped a string of three straight winning seasons last fall as they claimed just four victories all year, including just one after the third week of the campaign. Fourteen starters do return this fall, though, including nine on the offensive side of the ball. Among those back are all three QBs who took snaps last fall, though whoever steps under center in 2006 will have to improve his performance. Also back is leading WR D'Juan Woods (900 yards, 8 TD) as well as star RB Mike Hamilton (950 yards, 1 TD).
OSU should come out on top in each of their first three games before a road trip to Houston comes up on the schedule in late September. Two more road trips to Kansas State and Kansas follow, but if the Pokes could be 4-2 by the time that stretch is over, they do have four of their final six at home in Stillwater. Getting off to a good start will be crucial if State is to make a postseason run in 2006.
Projected Wins: MOSt, at ArkSt, FAU
The Bears showed drastic improvement in 2005 under head coach Guy Moriss, who enters his fourth year on campus this fall. Baylor came up just one game short of bowl eligibility and lost two games by a combined ten points. A dozen starters are back for this upcoming season, including eight on offense. Among those returning is senior QB Shawn Bell, who threw for nearly 2000 yards and a dozen scores in '05 even though he didn't take the snaps full-time. Also back is RB duo Paul Mosley and Brandon Whitaker, as well as Bell's top two targets downfield.
The opener against MWC favorite TCU will be interesting to watch as it will show where this team stands early in the season. Two of the next three should be BU victories, meaning the Bears are likely to enter conference play needing four wins to go bowling. That isn't likely to happen in a tough Big XII South, so look for Baylor to slip a bit off the pace they established a season ago and extend their bowl-less streak to a dozen years.
Projected Wins: NWST, Army
TALK ABOUT IT IN THE BRAND NEW SCS.COM FORUM!