The Big XII has been nothing if not consistent in recent years. The South division has been dominant, and Texas and Oklahoma have dominated the scene. After UT brought home the national championship on the legs of Vince Young in 2005, the 2006 season was a disappointment on the national stage. While the SEC, Big Ten, and Big East were celebrating legitimate national title contenders and huge November battles, the Big XII was barely keeping up with the ACC in the cellar of BCS conferences. A surprising upset of Texas late in the year allowed Oklahoma to regain their conference championship standing at the end of 2006.
The post-season was not kind to the conference however. The Big XII only managed a 3-5 record, but two of the eight bowl games went to overtime and six were in doubt on the final possession, ending with a margin of 5 points or fewer. Kansas State and Texas A&M were blasted by Rutgers and California, respectively. Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma lost heartbreakers, while Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State barely won their games against weaker foes. While most of the teams were competitive, the conference - and especially the North division - needs to work on playing tough out-of-conference in 2007.
The 2007 season brings another year like many others in the Big XII: loads of opportunities to succeed and go to bowl games, and the same pecking order of recent years. Oklahoma and Texas will again battle in the tough South division for a likely conference crown, but this year the North should be better. In the North, Missouri seems primed for success for the first time in years, but the usual suspects in Nebraska and Kansas State could give the Tigers trouble. The Big XII can gain a lot of prominence stolen away by the Big East last season, but it all starts in September.
1. Key #1 is the Red River Shootout in Dallas. No matter how many good teams the other 10 conference schools can bring to the table, it seems as though every year this game decides the fate of the South division, and usually the conference. Colt McCoy should be much more seasoned this year and can lead a hungry Texas unit who has won the last two Shootouts after being shut out for many years by Bob Stoops’ boys. The game may get easier to pick after seeing both these teams on the field in September, but right now on paper it is a dead heat. Oklahoma recovered to get a BCS berth thanks to Texas losing twice late in Big XII play last fall, but don’t expect any gifts like that this season for the loser of the Shootout.
2. Key #2 is how the North division recovers from a disastrous 2006 season. The South division went 13-5 against the North last season, and even lowly Baylor went 3-0 against the North (and 0-5 against the South, coincidently). Nobody expects the North division to rise up and reverse this record in 2007, but the teams at the top certainly have enough quality in 2007 to even the record or come close. Texas and Oklahoma are tough matchups, but the North should still feast on the likes of Baylor and the mediocre South teams. If the North division can become more competitive in 2007, the conference as a whole will engender much more respect.
3. Key #3 is special teams play. Whether the strategy is wide-open passing (Texas Tech) or smash-mouth power (Oklahoma), one key to success is maintaining and winning field position. One of the big aspects of dominant teams in the Big XII in the past decade has been quality special teams play. There will undoubtedly be multiple games and bowl assignments determined by a few crucial mishaps in the kicking and punting games in 2007. Watch for these plays to define the 2007 Big XII season.
OFFENSE: The offense for the Buffaloes was very inept last season, only managing 16 points per game. Spring practice showed that Colorado will be better this season as they return 9 starters, but they're perhaps not quite up to speed with the rest of their division still. The receivers are a veteran unit and RB Hugh Charles will carry the load well this season, but breaking in a new quarterback will be tough behind an oft-injured offensive line. Look for a few more points per game in 2007, and a big senior season for Charles.
DEFENSE: The defense is the only thing that kept Colorado from having its worst season in decades in 2006, and seven returning starters come back to lead this strong group again. LB Jordon Dizon leads the entire defense, including a top defensive line anchored by DT Brandon Nicolas. CB Terrence Wheatley will shut down basically any receiver in his path, but the rest of the secondary may be a weakness behind him. Colorado will be much improved overall this season, and the defense is where the amount of success will be determined.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Colorado’s special teams is very middle-of-the-road in the Big XII after the loss of All-American caliber kicker Mason Crosby. K Kevin Eberhart and P Matt DiLallo will have a lot of pressure as both are new to their respective jobs. The return game will likely be strong with Hugh Charles, assuming he does not get banged up carrying the offense down the field.
COACHING: Dan Hawkins might have had a rough 2-10 outing in 2006, but Coach Hawkins has turned around a program before and will get the Buffaloes back on the right side of things soon. Colorado looks like a real conference title contender in 2008, but sometimes teams come up and surprise a year early under quality coaches. Now that Coach Hawkins is used to big conference play, expect him to thrive in 2007.
SCHEDULE: The schedule is very easy on the Buffaloes this season, as there is only one two-game road trip, that in the middle of the season. The Buffaloes will be better than last season’s 0-6 start, but they will be tested against teams like Colorado State, Florida State, and Oklahoma in Boulder during September. Colorado draws three of the easiest road games in Baylor, Kansas State, and Iowa State, and will probably steal one of the two games against Missouri and Nebraska. The schedule will certainly help Colorado.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The Buffaloes are playing for a conference title in December. This is a serious possibility that will come true if Colorado manages to beat Missouri and Nebraska at home while only losing to Oklahoma and one other team. A 9-3 mark is not out of the question.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Colorado could shock the world with another 2-10 finish, but realistically with all the returning talent, they will be hard pressed to only win two games in the North division. Missing a bowl game is possible though at 5-7 or 4-8.
MAKE OR BREAK: Definitely the quarterback position. Whether Bernard Jackson holds his job or loses it to Cody Hawkins or Nick Nelson, the new QB will need to be consistent and limit turnovers on the offensive end. The defense will break if put on the field for too many long drives, so the new quarterback is the make or break point.
OFFENSE: The Cyclone offense struggled even worse than the Colorado offense in 2006, and this ineptitude finally led to the end of an admirable 12-year run for coach Dan McCarney. New coach Gene Chizik has brought in tons of junior college talent in his first recruiting class, so do not expect the Cyclone offense to be the same in 2007. QB Brett Meyer will again go as the offensive line goes, and while that group is experienced, it needs to improve quickly. This unit will likely be decent enough to keep the Cyclones competitive in 2007.
DEFENSE: The defense also contributed a fair share to Iowa State’s demise in 2006, as they could not stop the run or the pass. Eight starters return with a couple of good defensive line recruits, so the group can go nowhere but up this season. The one Achilles heel of the Cyclones is stopping a robust passing game, so expect this unit to be tested with many 4- or 5-wide receiver sets. A few lucky breaks on defense could be just what this unit needs to lead the Cyclones to a much more successful 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: This is definitely a strength to look forward to watching, as K Bret Culbertson and P Mike Brandtner are both experienced and good at kicking the ball far. The question will be the return game, which did not help the stumbling offense and defense in 2006. Perhaps Jason Scales will turn this return unit into another strength for the Cyclones.
COACHING: Gene Chizik is another quality coach in Ames, which is stunning given the tough recruiting grounds. Coach Chizik will have a strong fan base behind him though and his recruiting was stronger in one year than McCarney's ever was, so Chizik will be a strength in 2007. Sometimes what a team needs is a new master who does not hesitate to pull players out for poor play, and Chizik will do that this season.
SCHEDULE: The schedule was as rough as they can come last season, but this year lets up a little. The Cyclones should be able to start well with three home games and a road game at Toledo, but then the middle of the slate is brutal with Nebraska, Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri in consecutive weeks. As long as the Cyclones do not lose spirit in this stretch, the final three are all winnable as well.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Iowa State could grab an upset or two and find themselves at 6-6, which would be a big step in the direction of relevance in the Big XII North. Bowl eligibility should be the goal for Iowa State this season.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The offense and defense could both fall apart again, and Iowa State could be killed by the first five games of the conference slate. Going winless in conference could happen if everything goes poorly.
MAKE OR BREAK: Surviving the middle of the schedule and recovering to win a few of their last four games is key. None of those middle four games is very winnable, but the Cyclones would make their season with an upset there. Still, bowl eligibility rides on the November schedule.
OFFENSE: Kansas was a lost offensive unit last year due to quarterback inconsistencies, but that will not the problem in 2007. Even though QB Kerry Meier will have to share time with QB Todd Reesing, both have matured and both have their strong roles, much like Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at national champion Florida last season. The offensive line has been rebuilt, and coach Mark Mangino has proven he can rebuild lines successfully. Expect a conservative approach on offense, with RB Brian Murphy leading the way.
DEFENSE: This unit was completely revamped in 2006, and became a great unit in many ways. With 8 starters returning, the defense will carry the team this season. CB Aqib Talib will not only be the vocal leader of the bunch, but also the most important member of a secondary that will certainly be tested with the strong line and LB cores holding up rushing games. The defense does need to learn to come up big in close games, as Kansas could have easily been 10-2 instead of 6-6 in 2006 with a one extra defensive stop per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The special teams unit is a strong one, led by the punting capability of Kyle Tucker. Tucker will probably play a big role with the defensive prowess and conservative offense plan in 2007. The return game also has plenty to draw from the offensive skill players.
COACHING: Coach Mark Mangino proved he is the man of the future in Lawrence despite a 6-6 season because he rebuilt a defense in one off-season and had Kansas very close to a banner year. The fans rightfully are expecting more in 2007, and Mangino should be able to bring it to them.
SCHEDULE: The schedule is decent for the Jayhawks in 2007. Kansas begins with a very easy four-game homestand before traveling to rival Kansas State. With Baylor the following week, Kansas could conceivably be 6-0 heading into road games at Colorado and Texas A&M. Missing Texas and Oklahoma helps this schedule become the easiest in the Big XII.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Kansas could make some serious noise in the North division, maybe getting a 6-2 or 5-3 record. With all the out-of-conference cupcakes, Kansas could be 9-3.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Kansas could manage to miss a bowl game again, but it’s hard to imagine a record worse than 5-7, and that would be with a colossal upset loss at home.
MAKE OR BREAK: Gaining momentum early in the season and learning how to win the close games is the key. Kansas lost 5 games that more experienced and composed teams would have won in 2006, so time will tell if the experience of 2006 will come in big in 2007. Close games cost Kansas a bowl bid in 2006, so that will again be the key this season.
OFFENSE: Kansas State actually did a decent job on offense in 2006, but the offensive line was a disaster that stopped QB Josh Freeman from developing well. Coach Prince brought in a slew of JUCO transfers for the offensive line, and that should allow Freeman much more time in 2007. The offense struggled to score against competent defenses last season, but RB Leon Patton and RB James Johnson should help solve the scoring problem. The Wildcats need to play off positive energy, whether it comes from a few solid completions from Freeman or a rowdy crowd.
DEFENSE: The Wildcat defense was not that great in 2006, but many starters have returned to improve the unit. The defensive line is very strong with pass rushers DE Ian Campbell and DE Rob Jackson leading the way. As long as the linebackers do not get fooled and can make a lot of good reads, the Wildcat defense could be a strong point this season. All this unit needs to do is keep the game close for the powerful offense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Tim Reyer returns for his senior season and will lead the special teams attack. Still the unit overall is not that great and may be tested in tough situations like the Texas game last season.
COACHING: Coach Ron Prince exceeded expectations in his first season, and don’t expect there to be any hangover from the Kansas or Rutgers bowl game blowouts. The schedule is a little tougher than last season, but Coach Prince seems to be putting the right pieces in place to maintain the success of 2006.
SCHEDULE: The September schedule is quite a bit tougher this season, with road games at Auburn and Texas in the first four weeks (and the Longhorns will be out for some serious revenge). All the home games can be won though, and Kansas State might be bowl eligible in 8 games if everything goes well.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Kansas State will be bowl eligible for sure, and could go up to 9-3 if the offense puts up enough points and long drives to rest the budding defensive unit. Games at Auburn, Texas, and Nebraska are the sticking points between the Wildcats and double-digit wins.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The Wildcats could take a step back and fall short of bowl play in 2007. A 5-7 mark would be a vast disappointment.
MAKE OR BREAK: The development of QB Freeman. In limited play last season, Freeman struggled to 6 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Freeman is the quarterback of the future, but will there be growing pains this season. The offensive line needs to give Freeman enough time to make the smart decisions and lead the Wildcats to a winning record.
OFFENSE: The offense was prolific last season, which was shocking considering the loss of Heisman Trophy candidate Brad Smith after 2005. Gary Pinkel knows how to coach a strong offensive attack, and all the primary weapons are back in 2007 from that great unit. RB Tony Temple will carry a lot of the load, but QB Chase Daniel is primed for greatness this season. Expect a lot of running and short gains over the middle with the talented TE duo of Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. That could open up lots of passing lanes downfield, which could allow Daniel a big season.
DEFENSE: The defense was about as good as expected last season, which was disappointing after a 6-0 blazing start. Don’t expect the same defensive collapse as 2006, with transfers filling the roles lost by graduation. The key to the defense will be if the younger linebacker corps and backfield can adequately stop the passing game of opponents. The defense should be helped a lot by the offense, but this unit still needs to step up to avoid another disappointing season in the Big XII.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams was mentioned as the third key to the entire conference, and this unit of the Tigers is the best example of that key. Missouri was terrible in the return game and punting last year, and that put their offense and defense in a lot of tough situations. P Jake Harry has transferred in to hopefully help the cause, and there is plenty of talent to improve the return game this season. This team could seriously swing 2-3 games based on how well this unit performs in 2007.
COACHING: Gary Pinkel has a winning record in his tenure at Missouri, but the Tigers have underachieved and never met expectations. This season the expectations are very high, but this might just be the season Pinkel gets the right formula of talent and experience to win the division. Pinkel may not be able to sustain too many more years of missed expectations, so look for him to come up with some good new offensive schemes this season.
SCHEDULE: If the key to an easy schedule in this conference is missing Texas and Oklahoma, then Missouri is halfway to a good schedule. September makes for an easy 4 games and a bye week before a tough Nebraska game, followed by a road trip to Norman,OK. After Oklahoma, the schedule is fairly easy with road games only coming at Colorado and Kansas State. Missouri could really get on a roll and should win the division if they make it past Nebraska.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Missouri finally lives up to expectations and maybe even exceeds them, going 11-1 with a respectable loss at Oklahoma. Missouri would be a serious BCS contender at that point.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Missouri fails to live up to expectations and falls apart in October, leading to a 6-6 or 7-5 season and maybe even missing a bowl game.
MAKE OR BREAK: Special teams. You cannot lose field position every time you punt or get kicked to, and that’s exactly what kept Missouri from a good bowl game last season. If the special teams improve, then there is a chance for anything, including a BCS bowl.
OFFENSE: With coach Bill Callahan roaming the sidelines and star quarterback Sam Keller transferring into the Husker offense this season, this may be the first non-Texas-Tech team to successfully run a team with a passing offense in the conference. The Huskers have a strong offensive line and a pair of great wide receivers in Maurice Purify and Terrance Nunn. Sam Keller has everything he needs to lead this unit to a lot of points, assuming whoever takes over at running back can threaten defenses enough to keep them honest.
DEFENSE: Now we come to the 2007 version of the vaunted “Black Shirt” defense, which should actually live up to the hype, unlike 2006. The defensive line will be key, as the backfield is solid and the Husker linebacking corps is one of the best in the nation, featuring Bo Rudd, Corey McKeon, and Steve Octavien. Watch for lots of run blitzes to try and support what may be a weak line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nebraska’s one big weakness happens to coincide with their primary rival’s (Missouri) big weakness, that being special teams play. There are no standouts in the kicking game or the return game, but Callahan will know he must focus on developing these units to have a real chance at the Big XII title.
COACHING: Bill Callahan brought a lot of excitement after the Huskers fired Frank Solich, who was doing perfectly well. Callahan brings a whole new offensive philosophy to Lincoln, and he now has the personnel to see if he will succeed. With another mediocre finish this year, expect Callahan to be on the hottest of seats going into 2008.
SCHEDULE: The schedule is pretty tough for the Huskers. Week two sends the Huskers to BCS bowl winner Wake Forest and then home to face USC the next week. Two weeks of easy games at home follow before a big road trip to Missouri. That part of the schedule works nicely for the Huskers, but after Missouri comes three tough games against the South division, including a road game at Texas. Nebraska should end the season on a roll after Texas, but that might not be enough to catch Missouri if the Huskers lose there.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The Huskers find their way back to a long-lost BCS bowl. An upset against USC or Texas is not entirely out of the question, so 11-1 is possible.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Nebraska fails to win the division and Husker nation will not be happy. Nebraska really shouldn’t do much worse than 4 or 5 losses at their worst though.
MAKE OR BREAK: Beating Missouri on the road. No game is as important in the North division as that one, and it comes early. Losing to Missouri before playing three South division teams could take all the spirit out of Nebraska, leading to unexpected losses. The showdown at Missouri (and the special teams battle in that game) will be the key.
OFFENSE: There’s room for improvement in every unit on the Baylor team, and seven new starters on offense may not help that. One of the two transferring quarterbacks - Michael Machen and John Weed - will take over a passing game with a lot of potential. The offensive line is a big question mark again, and the Bears need someone or anyone to learn how to run the ball well. The Bears could be shut out of any Big XII wins if the running game is nonexistent again in 2007, as any competent Big XII team can drop 8 guys in coverage and ruin any passing game.
DEFENSE: There’s nowhere to go but up, as the defense gave up an astounding number of 30 point and 50 point games last season in conference play. Baylor had a lot of trouble stopping the run last year. Transfers S Ray Sims and DE Leon Freeman may help this unit gain experience and talent, but the rest of the team needs to get better somehow. The Bears will come and go based on holding teams within striking distance of their offense, and that could be bad news.
SPECIAL TEAMS: As if the problems couldn’t be bad enough for the Bears, their special teams is also need of a major overhaul. The Bears will likely be trying out a handful of new people on kick and punt returns this season until they find an explosive returner.
COACHING: Guy Morriss does have Baylor headed in the right direction overall, but when playing in the South division, it is hard to gain much of a foothold consistently. With all the new starters and youth, Morriss may take a step back and become conservative overall. Morriss has been a rock for his players to look up to, and that will not change in 2007.
SCHEDULE: It just never looks good when you have to play all the South division teams. Baylor might be able to steal some more games against the North this season, but don’t expect a sweep again. Baylor will need to get rolling in September with an easy out-of-conference slate if there is any hope of bowl eligibility.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Baylor pulls a handful of upsets, takes care of business, and still only goes 5-7. That’s the breaks in a rebuilding year for a poor program.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Baylor could also easily go 0-8 in conference, which means a possible record of 2-10.
MAKE OR BREAK: Will youth step up and make enough effort plays to put the Bears in position for upsets? There’s no telling until the young men take the field and step up to a tough conference slate.
OFFENSE: With all due respect to everyone else in the league, now we’re talking about a national title contender. Adrian Peterson may be gone, but that did not exactly stop Oklahoma from going to a BCS bowl last season. Expect a lot of heavy running sets, perhaps out of the wishbone or power-I formations, considering Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray are a great rushing duo. The line is very strong, which will drive the running game and allow whichever of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting position to develop slowly. The field general needs to be ready come October 6 though, as the Red River Shootout is the most important game of the year.
DEFENSE: The defensive line is also another strength leading a whole unit, but the real superstars of the defense are in the backfield. CB Reggie Smith and FS Nic Harris will stuff a lot of passing games, especially when there is so much experience in the rest of the defense. Bob Stoops does not always have the best defensive gameplans, but the talent is more than enough to make up for it.
SPECIAL TEAMS: As usual, Coach Stoops is a firm believer of field position and good special teams. This unit will not disappoint, led by senior K Garrett Hartley. The return game is also strong with the speedsters on offense.
COACHING: Bob Stoops is entering his 9th season, and he has a 86-19 record. That record speaks for itself really, and this is one of the few championship caliber coaches in the nation. Stoops is the best coach in the league, hands-down.
SCHEDULE: Oklahoma kind of determines how hard other Big XII schedules are, so as usual, the schedule seems favorable for the Sooners. Miami is a tough week 2 game, but the Sooners really should not be truly tested until the Red River Shootout. Missouri, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State all come to Norman this season, so the only real slipping point could be at high-octane Texas Tech.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Oklahoma is in the BCS Championship. The only really hard game on the slate is the Red River Shootout. With a team of so much talent, 12-0 is not far-fetched at all.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Oklahoma has an average Bob Stoops year and drops to 9-3. There are about 100 D-I teams that wish 9-3 was a down year, but that’s Oklahoma football.
MAKE OR BREAK: Getting the new quarterback in shape for the Red River Shootout. Colt McCoy led Texas over Oklahoma last season, but this year OU will likely have their starting running backs healthy. If Oklahoma avoids mistakes in that game, the only thing stopping the Sooners from the BCS Championship is a possible upset.
OFFENSE: Oklahoma State has been on the rise ever since Les Miles coached in Stillwater two years ago. All of the major skill players on offense are returning from a unit that put up a lot of points last season. QB Bobby Reid was a little inconsistent last season, but the talent around him helps that problem. WR Adarius Bowman leads the receiving troops, while RB Keith Toston and RB Dantrell Savage bring a lot of power as well. The offensive line needs to be rebuilt and may trip up the Cowboys early, but hopefully the line will be solidified by conference play.
DEFENSE: Mike Gundy knows the difference between a Big XII title contender in the South and a middling team is a strong defense, so he went out and hired Tim Beckham from one of the best defenses in the country (Ohio State). Just like on offense, the line needs to be rebuilt and needs to come together early to prevent teams from walking over the Cowboys again. The linebackers and backfield are both solid with plenty of veterans.
SPECIAL TEAMS: These special teams are the best in the conference, which is hard to say given the prowess of Oklahoma and Texas. Punter Matt Fodge leads the kicking game, and of course the return game will be explosive again like 2006. There should be no mishaps from this unit in 2007.
COACHING: Mike Gundy is perhaps not the coach Les Miles was, but he certainly has kept recruiting levels high. Coach Gundy has kept the ship heading on course, and may be a dark horse candidate for coach of the year if Oklahoma State stuns the South division.
SCHEDULE: Most teams would absolutely dread an opening weekend “between the hedges” in Georgia, but OSU actually should be favored in that one. Even with a loss, the next four weeks are very easy assuming the Cowboys can contain Texas Tech enough at home. The Big XII schedule is definitely challenging on the road, with Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma this season. If Oklahoma State steals one or two of these and beats Texas at home, then the Cowboys could contend for the South title.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Oklahoma State wins their first division and conference championship in years. The game in Oklahoma might just be for the division title with some strong play throughout the season. OSU could be 10-2.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Oklahoma State makes no progress despite having a much more talented team, and the lines fall apart at midseason. The Cowboys could drop to 6-6.
MAKE OR BREAK: The Cowboys need both lines to develop quickly, but there are enough easy games in September after the opener to ramp up to Big XII play. The difference between a Texas Tech-like shootout year and a solid conference contender will come in the trenches.
OFFENSE: The offense has a lot of talent and may be the best unit in the conference. QB Colt McCoy was a more than sufficient replacement for Vince Young, and he will only get better with experience. RB Jamaal Charles will also see a lot of carries and needs to play better than last season. WR Limas Sweed is still around, and that too is great news for the Longhorns.
DEFENSE: The front seven of the defense is a scary unit, led by stalwart tackles Frank Okam, Roy Miller, and Derek Lokey. The second level of the defense is not lacking either with LB Rashad Bobino and LB Rod Muckelroy. The only possible weakness is the secondary, but the front seven is so good that that might not matter. The defense will be tough to stop in 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Texas perhaps lags a bit behind the two Oklahoma schools in this department, but the Longhorns are still in the top class of the conference. It will be shocking if the kicking and return games cost Texas much of anything this season.
COACHING: Mack Brown has a great record in a decade at Austin, but the expectations in Longhorn country are tough to deal with. Texas was an injury to McCoy away from a rubber match with Ohio State in the national championship game, but all of a sudden they dropped to the Alamo Bowl. This will not happen again, which is good considering how unmotivated Texas was against a scrappy Iowa team. Mack Brown is one of the best.
SCHEDULE: Other than the Red River shootout, there is nothing to worry about until the last week of October. Assuming Texas is in the national title hunt, the four-game stretch of Nebraska, at OSU, Texas Tech, and at A&M could be a minefield of upset alerts. The schedule sets up well for a team like Texas.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Texas, much like Oklahoma, could be in the BCS Championship at 12-0 if all goes well.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Texas has another devastating loss to rival Aggies as well as losses to the two Oklahoma teams, dropping them to 9-3 and possibly another Alamo Bowl. Bad news for Mack Brown in this scenario.
MAKE OR BREAK: The Red River Shootout. Enough said. If Texas wins this, then the only huge speed bump is a road game at OSU, but the momentum of another national title hunt would probably be enough after a win at the Shootout.
OFFENSE: The Aggies have a lot of quality, experienced players coming back this season, including QB Stephen McGee. The rushing duo of RB Mike Goodson and RB Jorvorskie Lane will also help carry the load for the offense. Even in a 45-10 bowl loss to California, the Aggies dominated the time of possession and held the game to their offensive tempo. Expect a similar offensive gameplan with perhaps a few more points in 2007.
DEFENSE: The defensive line is the strength of the unit, led by DE Chris Harrington and DT Red Bryant. That should help tremendously against the running game, which was a weakness last season. The Aggies have huge losing streaks to Oklahoma and Nebraska still, but the most important losing streak is over with after the win at Texas in 2006. The defense needs to improve to stay with the improved OU and UT offensive units, but the Aggies should be a factor.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The special teams of the Aggies is nothing too great, but the kicking game looks serviceable enough to get them through the season. A couple more speedsters in the return game would be a plus, but there does not appear to be anything in the stable this season.
COACHING: Dennis Frnachione starts his 5th season with much more optimism after a 9-4 mark. The Aggies might not be able to improve on that with OSU, OU, and UT being so talented this season, but staying the course would probably be a success.
SCHEDULE: The schedule is probably the roughest in the South by far, which will hinder any chance of competing for the division crown. The Aggies have an easy first three games, but a road trip to Miami is no picnic. A&M does get Texas and Oklahoma State at home, but the road schedule is brutal: Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, all in a five week stretch. The schedule is the bad news.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Texas A&M actually contends for the South title with wins over OU and UT, but may still fall short at 10-2.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Texas A&M drops down to Texas Tech’s level again and the progress of last year disappears with the roughest schedule in the Big XII. A collapse in Big XII play could drop the Aggies all the way to 5-7.
MAKE OR BREAK: Getting on a roll in September and learning at Miami how to play tough on the road in close games will be key. Texas A&M needs to establish clock management and slow down the pace of games to keep from getting blown out by the top three teams in the division (and even Texas Tech and Nebraska). Surviving the schedule is the key.
OFFENSE: Let’s see, the most prolific scoring offense and wide-open attack in the league for the past decade will try the power game this year with all the star receivers gone to graduation. Probably not, but expect RB Shannon Woods to rack up a lot of early season yards as Tech tries to break in new receivers and threaten Big XII teams with balance. QB Graham Harrell is the best player on the team, which fits the open and passing style of Texas Tech well. The fireworks will go up on the scoreboard as always, but the offense is not the key of the team.
DEFENSE: Now for something a bit more enlightening, let’s look at the unit that has consistently stopped Tech from competing for league titles. It’s probably hard to sell recruits on the play 40 minutes of defense to 20 minutes of offense every game theory, even if the offense regularly puts up 5 touchdowns or more to work with. The strength of the defense is the backfield, with stars in SS Joe Garcia, CB Chris Parker, and FS Darcel McBeth. The defense must find a way to slow the power running games in conference though, and that’s tough when you replace 5 of the front 7.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Just like the Aggies, one real difference between the three real contenders in the South and the two middle teams is special teams. The Red Raiders do have an excellent return game, including WR Danny Amendola to lead the speedsters. The kicking and punting is dicey at best though.
COACHING: Mike Leach is a good coach, but he’s a Pac-10 coach in a running conference. Leach does get the most out of the players he recruits for his system, and he’ll go to his pink slip likely saying “a great offense is the best defense I can come up with.” That type of thinking may win North division titles, but not South division titles.
SCHEDULE: The Red Raiders should have no real complaints about the schedule. They play nobody of relevance out-of-conference, so bowl eligibility is, as usual, a lock. Oklahoma State is a tricky early road game, but the Red Raiders only have 4 away from home this season (Missouri, Baylor, Texas). Oklahoma does come into town right before the OU-OSU game, so Texas Tech might be able to steal an unexpected win at home there.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Texas Tech actually makes some noise and goes 10-2. Not enough to win the division, but enough to leave a lasting impression that the Red Raiders are a threat.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... All the Big XII teams run over the Red Raider defense and Leach prays for raining TD passes from Harrell and the gang. 7-5 is possible.
MAKE OR BREAK: The defense against the strong rushing attacks in the South (and the conference in general). No doubt Tech will put up more points than anyone else in the conference, but they need to stop giving up the most points to be truly competitive.
The Big XII is trying to turn the page from 2006 and improve as a conference overall this season. Many compelling storylines are in both halves of the conference, but again the league title may come down to the Red River Shootout. With Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and Missouri in the mix, nothing is guaranteed for the two favorites though. Even if one of the favorites win the conference, the Big XII might not care if OU or Texas goes to the BCS Championship Game. Outside of Baylor and Iowa State, this should be one of the most exciting years in conference history.