Many people are calling the Big 12 the quarterback conference for its obvious plethora of top signal callers. Although I do not disagree, I am calling the Big 12 something different: the second best conference in football. No one is willing to dispute the Southeastern Conferenceís greatness (letís all bow down to the mighty SEC), however the Big 12 is a close second. They are very strong at the top of the conference, as Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech are the contenders in the South, while Missouri and Kansas will likely dominate the North for a 2nd consecutive year.
The rest of the conference is steadily improving. Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M will all have solid teams that will toy with bowl eligibility. Baylor and Iowa State are rebuilding. However, both programs have new coaches and are getting better. The Big 12 will be very competitive nationally. Four or five teams have realistic BCS bowl potential. Several Heisman candidates and future NFL stars fill the rosters of the teams in the conference. The Big 12 is loaded and ready to move up the conference ranks.
Three Keys | Team-by-Team Analysis
1. Quarterback play will define the Big 12. The five best teams in the conference have the five best quarterbacks. Missouriís Chase Daniel and Texas Techís Graham Harrell are on everyoneís Heisman list. They both run a spread offense that calls for 40-50 passing attempts a game. Danielís ability to run makes him the most dangerous quarterback in the conference. Sam Bradford of Oklahoma had a superstar freshman season. When all is said and done, Bradford will probably be the best of the bunch. Colt McCoy had a great freshman year, like Bradford. However, his sophomore year was very disappointing. He threw seven less touchdowns and 11 more interceptions. Kansasís 5-11 Todd Reesing is arguably the most important to his team. He is undersized, but a great leader and plays mistake-free. Keep an eye on Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State to have a breakout season after finishing the second half of last season on fire.
2. Which middle team will be able to challenge for a division title? Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have good teams, but it is fairly unrealistic to think that they could get past Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. A betting man would choose a team out of the North. Kansas State has been underachieving under Ron Prince. Their schedule is tough and losing star wide receiver Jordy Nelson is not going to help quarterback Josh Freeman. Colorado recruited star running back Darrell Scott, the best true freshman in the Big 12. The Buffaloes are young and probably a year away from doing damage in the North. My pick is Nebraska, led by new head coach Bo Pelini. They return key pieces on offense and special teams. The only question is the defense, which will likely improve under defensive mastermind Bo and Carl Pelini. They get Kansas and Missouri at home. The Cornhuskers are ready to make some noise in the North.
3. Rivalry games will decide who wins the Big 12 in 2008. Missouri and Kansas will play in Kansas City again in the annual Border War. If the winner of this game does not win the Big 12 North, then Nebraska or Colorado snuck in and stole the Division title. The Red River Shootout will play an important role in deciding who wins the Big 12, but that is not the only rivalry game that will alter the Big 12 South race. If Texas A&M wants to make a run at the title, they will have to win rivalry games against Texas Tech and Texas. The same could be said about Oklahoma State (Oklahoma).
OFFENSE: Last season, Baylorís offense ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring offense and second to last in total offense. The Bears return eight starters to an offense that will likely improve in 2008. However, they need to settle on a quarterback. Robert Griffin is a dynamic true freshman. He was an all-state sprinter in high school and is the sexy choice for starting quarterback. However, Blake Szymanski was solid last season, throwing 22 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Miami transfer Kirby Freeman has one year of eligibility. Baylor needs to choose a quarterback to avoid a season-long controversy. I think they will go young and give Griffin a good amount of playing time this season. Baylor returns its top three receivers from 2007. Thomas White caught a team-high eight touchdowns. Tight end Justin Akers is the best pass catcher on the roster. The running game was horrible last season, ranking 113th in the nation. Jay Finley will be the main running back. He will be running behind a great offensive line. Seniors Jason Smith and Dan Gay are two players with NFL draft potential. Courtney Green and Chris Griesenbeck will battle for the left guard position, the only hole on the offensive line.
DEFENSE: Baylorís defense gave up an average of 37 points per game last year. They return six starters, including their top two leading tacklers. Jordan Lake is a hard-hitting linebacker playing free safety. He made two interceptions and 120 tackles last season. The real linebacker, Joe Pawelek, made 99 tackles and eight tackles for loss last year. Anotnio Jones and Antonio Johnson will start next to Pawelek, but they are undersized. That will put most of the pressure on the defensive line to stop the run. Jason Lamb made 53 tackles and five sacks at defensive end last season. This might be the year he puts up big stats. Leon Freeman needs to give help from the other end position and put pressure on the quarterback. Vincent Rhodes is a big defensive tackle that is ready for a break out season. Dwain Crawford and former receiver Krys Buerck will start at cornerback. The secondary must force more turnovers for the defense to be successful.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Derek Epperson had a tough freshman season as punter, usually a solid position at Baylor. He is only going to get better as he matures and learns to get more hang time on the ball. The placekicking job will be given to Shea Brewster, who made 3 out of 8 field goals last season. Speedy David Gettis was very good returning kickoffs last year averaging over 22 yards a try.
COACHING: Head coach Art Briles worked wonders at Houston, and I have the feeling he can do the same at Baylor. He brings most of his coaching staff from Houston with him. The new staff has a new look and attitude that has Baylor fans excited. The improvements might take a few years to be seen, but Briles is a good coach who is ready to prove he can win on the BCS level.
SCHEDULE: Baylor won three games last season, all of which were out of conference games. The Bears will not be so fortunate in 2008. They play Wake Forest, Washington State, and Connecticut in week 1, 3, and 4. They do get Iowa State at home on October 11th, their only ďwinnableĒ Big 12 game.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Wide receiver David Gettis showed some signs of greatness last season, making 31 catches for 407 yards. He made eight catches for 100 yards against Colorado. The 6-4 junior has blazing speed and a ton of potential. Baylor needs a big play receiver, and they hope that Gettis is their man.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Baylor has a lot of potential. Their defense has some strong starters and some unknowns. They have a great offensive line, but their skill players are unknown. Their starting quarterback on opening day is unknown. Well, there is a lot of unknown about the 2008 Baylor team. At best, I see them winning four games. The real goal of this team is to win one or two Big 12 games.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Baylor could be looking at a one-win season. Besides Northwestern State, they are not clearly better than any of their remaining opponents. Games against Washington State and Iowa State are winnable. Is Baylor ready to start winning the few close games they get very year?
MAKE OR BREAK: Less turnovers, more takeaways. Baylor was worst in the country in turnover differential. They turned the ball over 37 times. They only managed 19 takeaways. If Baylor wants to win the close games, they need to make less mistakes. Efficiency is the key.
OFFENSE: In a conference full of great quarterbacks, Dan Hawkins is just missing the cut. His freshman season was good, but not great like Bradfordís at Oklahoma. He threw 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In Coloradoís final five games, he threw nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. Things will be easier for Hawkins in 2008 because he will have the best freshman in the conference with him in the backfield. Darrell Scott has speed, size, and toughness. I predict he will lead the conference in rushing yards this season. Behind him is Demetrius Sumler, a very good backup that will get a fair share of carries They will be running behind an offensive line that returns two starters, Ryan Miller and Daniel Sanders. Battles are still raging for the two guard positions. Scotty McKnight had a great freshman year, snagging 47 balls for 555 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Riar Greer may or may not be eligible come fall (I bet he will). He is a reliable target and his teammates are counting on him to come back. Receivers Patrick Devenny and Patrick Williams need to step up and have strong seasons.
DEFENSE: The Buffs have a strong run defense due to the play of defensive tackle George Hypolite. Last season, he made 51 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. His partner at defensive tackle, Brandon Nicolas, is solid. The ends need to come up with more sacks, something the Buffs struggled with last season. Defensive ends Maurice Lucas, Marquez Herrod, Jason Brace, and Drew Hudgins will all rotate to keep things fresh. The defense is really going to miss linebacker Jordon Dizon, who led the Big 12 with 162 tackles. Two starting linebackers return. Jeff Smart finished with a surprising 77 tackles in 2007. Brad Jones made 81 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss as well. These two will combine to make Buffalo fans forget about Dizon. Colorado is deep at linebacker with young players and several up-and-comers who missed playing last season due to off-field issues. The defensive backfield loses Terrance Wheatley, who made a team-leading five interceptions last year. Ryan Walters and Daniel Dykes are a great duo at safety. The corners are not as strong and will need to step up if they plan on stopping anyone in a conference full of great quarterbacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jameson Davis and Aric Goodman will likely share the kicking duties in 2008. Davis has the leg, while Goodman is all about accuracy. Matt DiLallo averaged 40 yards per punt last season. He also placed 22 punts inside the 20. Josh Smith and Jason Espinoza will handle most of the returns.
COACHING: Dan Hawkins has not had the right-away success many hoped for after he left Boise State for Colorado in 2005. He is 8-17 in his two seasons at Colorado. However, it is easy to see that he is recruiting well (Darrell Scott for example). He has a young team that will be ready to seriously challenge for the Big 12 North title in 2009. Remember, ďthis is not intramurals brotha!!!Ē https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF9jh4xALxE
SCHEDULE: The Buffs, of course, open against Colorado State. The Buffs have won four out of the last five Rocky Mountain showdowns. They host West Virginia in weeks 3 and travel to Jacksonville to play Florida State in week 4. They get Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska on the road.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Darrell Scott had over forty scholarship offers to play collegiate football. He could of played for nearly any program in the country. I do not know whether he chose Colorado for playing time, or because he had a good relationship with the coaching staff, but either way he is going to be special. If Scott has a 1000 yards season, the Buffaloes can make a serious run at the Big 12 North title.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Colorado can have a winning season this year. Dan Hawkins is only going to get better now that he a year under his belt. Scott is going to be dangerous from day one. The front seven is going to be very strong against the run. A bowl game is the Buffs likely destination.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Colorado is still a year away from contending in the North. Hawkins has to cut down on the mistakes. The receivers have yet to prove that they are capable of coming up with big catches and stats. The back four is going to struggle against the heavy passing teams within the conference. The schedule is very tough and might keep Colorado under .500.
MAKE OR BREAK: Last yearís pass defense ranked 103rd in the nation. Although the safeties will be good, the corners are going to struggle early. If Coloradoís secondary does not gel by conference play, they might have trouble beating the better teams in the North.
OFFENSE: Iowa State, like Baylor, needs a steady quarterback to have success in conference play. Losing Bret Meyer is not a good or bad thing. However, there does not seem to be a sure-starter on the roster. Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates (who played receiver last season) will likely split time. Arnaud is the better passer with fairly good legs. Bates is a playmaker who is dangerous when he decides to tuck the ball and run. Running back Alexander Robinson rushed for 391 yards in the Cycloneís final four games. He is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Backing him up is powerful Jason Scales, who started five games in 2007. The offensive line returns four starters, but there will be position battles. 6-4 320 lbs. sophomore Ben Lamaak is a definite starter. He could start at guard or tackle, depending on who wins/loses jobs elsewhere on the line. Keep an eye on Kelechi Osemele at right guard. The redshirt freshman is a forceful 6-5 333 lbs. He will likely find a starting role as right guard. The receivers will not be as good as last season. The departure of Todd Blythe will cripple the passing attack. He led the team in yards and touchdowns. R.J. Sumrall and Marques Hamilton will be 1-2, but they need to find the end zone more often. The Cyclones will be looking for a third and fourth target to show itself early in the season.
DEFENSE: The defensive line will be the strength of the Iowa State defense. Senior defensive end Kurtis Taylor made 6.5 sacks last season, ranking 2nd in the Big 12. Rashawn Parker is coming off a injury-ridden season where he had wrist issues. He needs to match Taylorís production in 2008. The line is quite deep, so a constant rotation will help an undersized group of linemen stay fresh. The Cyclones lose leading tacklers Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks, which crushes the linebacker core. Jesse Smith returns as the lone starter after making 79 tackles in 2007. Speedy Michael Bibbs and inexperienced Fred Garrin will try to fill out the other two spots, although Josh Raven will likely split time with Garrin. The secondary returns all four starters. Corner Chris Singleton led the team with four interceptions and a score last year. The experience will help a Cyclone back four that gave up over 250 yards per game on average through the air in 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Mike Brandter struggled at times with range last season, ending up with an average under 40 yards per punt. However, he pinned 19 punts inside the 20. Zach Guyer will step in as a freshman and take over the kicking duties. R.J. Sumrall will handle the kick off returns again after averaging 21.9 yards a return in 2007. Allen Bell will also see time on special teams.
COACHING: Gene Chizik had a solid first season at Iowa State. The former Texas defensive coordinator got wins over Kansas State and Colorado. Losses to Kent State, Northern Iowa, and Toledo still sting, but that was early in the season. Chizik is on his way to building a solid program, but he is still several years away.
SCHEDULE: Iowa State has winnable out of conference games against South Dakota State, Kent State, at Iowa (who is much improved over last seasonís team), and at UNLV. An October 11th showdown at Baylor could put Iowa State at 1-1 in conference play.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... The two new starting linebackers have to step up and fill the holes quickly if Iowa State plans on stopping anyone in 2008. Bibbs has good speed and is strong in coverage. Garrin and Raven will be sure-tacklers, but they are undersized and are at risk of being pushed around by the big boys.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... There is no reason Iowa State cannot improve on its 3-win season that is had in last year. They have four winnable games out of conference. The running game will be strong due to Robinson and Scales sharing carries Plus, the offensive line will be good enough to hold back some of the best front fours.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The quarterback situation might cause trouble for Iowa State all season. The secondary was weak last year, and will likely continue to be weak in 2008. Cyclones should do no worse than the three wins they managed last year.
MAKE OR BREAK: Good Big 12 teams have good quarterbacks. Chizik would love to find a quarterback who he can rely on for the next three years (both QBs are sophomores). Iowa State needs to find a solid starter that can be a leader on and off the field.
OFFENSE: Kansas shocked the college football world by going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl. They were led by 5-11 quarterback Todd Reesing. He threw for 3486 yards and 33 touchdowns. He only threw seven interceptions, rarely making a mistake that cost his team field position. Now a junior, Reesing is one of the nations best quarterbacks. Kansas loses 1000-yard rusher Brandon McAnderson. However, 821-yard rusher Jake Sharp returns. He averaged over 5.6 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns last season. Angus Quigley will be the main back up for Sharp. Marcus Henry graduates after making 10 touchdown grabs last season. Dexton Fields returns as the teams main target. He led the team with 64 catches in 2007. The team is deep at receiver and a Henry-like touchdown machine will likely show himself during the first part of the season. The line returns three starters, including senior center Ryan Cantrell. Redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes is going to struggle at first at left tackle, but in time he will be one of the best linemen on the team.
DEFENSE: The offense was great in 2007, but the defense was better. They ranked 4th in the nation in scoring defense. They lose star corner Aqib Talib, but the secondary will still be very strong. Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton are very good safeties that combined for seven interceptions last season. Corner Chris Harris returns after making 65 tackles and two interceptions. All three linebackers return. Mike Rivera, James Holt, and Joe Mortensen combined for 301 tackles last season. They are the best group of linebackers in the Big 12. The defensive line returns three starters. Todd Haselhorst will try to replace star defensive end James McClinton. The line is deep, especially on the ends. However, they need to get more pressure on the quarterback. The line will excel in stopping the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kansas will have to find a new punter and kicker for this season. The punting duties will likely be handed to Alonso Rojas. Rojasís strong leg will help pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory. Redshirt freshman Stephen Hoge will take over the place kicking job. Marcus Herford is one of the nationís best kick returners. He took two to the house last season.
COACHING: Mark Mangino was 25-35 in his first five seasons at Kansas. Then, like getting an A on a test you did not study for, Mangino turned Kansas into a national championship contender. It will be interesting to see if Mangino can continue to have national success at Kansas. With this team, it will be hard not to.
SCHEDULE: Kansas travels to South Florida on September 12th in a big non-conference battle between two top 25 teams. In conference play, Kansas gets Texas and Texas Tech at home and Oklahoma on the road. Kansas is the unlucky Big 12 North team that faces the three best teams out of the South.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Kendrick Harper, who will be Talibís replacement at corner, will need to be solid in his senior season. He does not lack experience, but he will be picked on by the Big 12ís best teams. Will he be able to handle it? Kansas fans sure hope so.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Last year Kansas had a magical season, but they failed to win the Big 12 North. If they want to really make a mark on the Big 12, they have to beat the big four on their schdeule (Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Missouri). The offense and defense return a lot of key players. As long as Reesing continues to play mistake free football, Kansas will have the best shot at taking down Missouri.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The schedule is tough, and Kansas does lose a few stars from last seasonís 12-1 team. However, the team is so solid that I would be shocked if Kansas does not finish second in the North and make a January 1st bowl game (or the Holiday Bowl). (It is funny that I would be shocked if Kansas has a bad season, because they shocked us all in 2007 by having a good season last year.)
MAKE OR BREAK: Todd Reesing was amazing last season. He is what makes Kansasís offense tick. If he has another 30 touchdown and single digit interception season, Kansas will be in good shape to win the Big 12 North. It is that simple.
OFFENSE: Kansas State underachieved in 2007. In 2008, they are going to have to overachieve to make a bowl game. The offense is led by junior quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman got better as the season went on, but the team got worse. Freeman struggled early in the season with interceptions, be he managed to right the ship. During Kansas Stateís final six games (They went 1-5 during that stretch), Freeman threw 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He loses his main target, Jordy Nelson, to the NFL. Deon Murphy will likely evolve into the number one receiver after making 57 catches for 605 yards last season. Keep an eye on JUCO transfers Aubrey Quarles and Attrail Snipes. Snipes is the fastest Wildcat and will be tough to keep off the field. The offensive line will be strong. Four starters return, including tackles Penisini Lui and Alesana Alesana . 6-5 300 lbs. JUCO transfer Wade Wiebert is going to fill the hole at left guard. They will be paving the way for running back Leon Patton, who ran for 390 yards and four touchdowns in 2007. The star of the spring was JUCO transfer Keithen Valentine, a speed back who is likely to steal carries from Patton.
DEFENSE: Kansas Stateís defense was their biggest downfall last season. Only five starters return to a defense that gave up 73 points to Nebraska, 49 to Missouri, and 45 to Fresno State to end the season. Like the offense, the defense has been given a JUCO-makeover. JUCO transfers will likely fill some starting roles in the front seven. Ian Campbell will not lose his job, that is for sure. The defensive end made 4.5 sacks in 2007, and 11.5 sacks in 2006. Why did he struggle in 2007? Probably the switch to a 3-4 defense forced him into a DE/LB hybrid. Luckily, the Wildcats are switching back to a 4-3 defense. Although Brandon Balkcom and Xzavier Stewartare are the likely starters at defensive tackle, they will be pushed throughout the fall. Daniel Calvin is a 310 lbs. JUCO transfer that is going to be a great clogger in the middle. He will see the field early in the season. The linebackers are solid, but there is no sure line-up. Antwon Moore, Reggie Walker, and John Houlik might be the starters on opening day. However, Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona will find the field. My guess is that they will be starting by conference play. The secondary returns two starters, safeties Chris Carney and Gary Chandler. Carney led the team with four interceptions. Joshua Moore and JUCO transfer Blair Irving will start at cornerback. The corners need to step up to help improve a pass defense that gave up an average 259 yards per game through the air.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kansas State will have a great kicking/punting duo. Brooks Rossman nailed 22 out of 29 field goals as a junior. The senior will need to work on his accuracy on anything past 40-yards. JUCO transfer George Pierson averaged 43.2 yards per punt before transferring to Kansas State. Deon Murphy is one of the nationís best punt returners. He averaged 17.5 yards a pop last season.
COACHING: Under Bill Snyder, Kansas State grew into a dangerous Big 12 contender. Before Snyder, Kansas State had one 10-win season. Under Snyder, Kansas State had seven double-digit win seasons. Ron Prince, who had a solid first season going 7-6, struggled in 2007. The team imploded when a bowl game was only one late season win away. A losing season will have Wildcat fans losing faith.
SCHEDULE: It may not be Princeís fault if KSU has a losing season. They have to travel to Louisville in out of conference play. In Big 12 play, KSU faces Texas Tech, at Texas A&M, at Colorado, Oklahoma, at Kansas, at Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa State. That is the toughest conference schedule in the Big 12.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... How is KSU going to replace Jordy Nelson? No one player can replace him. However, several players can. Aubrey Quarles, Brandon Banks, and Attrail Snipes are all dynamic JUCO transfers that are ready to make an impact in 2008. Will they be able to make the jump to the next level?
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Kansas State is capable of making a bowl game. Josh Freeman can be a great quarterback if he plays like he did in KSUís final six games. The defense is full of new players that give hope to Wildcat fans.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The schedule is brutal. The receivers, try as the might, will not be able to replace Jordy Nelson. Will the new players be able to gel as a team quick enough to go .500 in Big 12 play? I doubt it.
MAKE OR BREAK: The JUCO transfers. This team is full of them. Half of them will be starting by seasonís end. Ron Prince had to do something drastic to help this team. He did, by signing a class full of JUCO stars. Will it pay off? It might save him from losing his job in two years.
OFFENSE: Before last season, we knew Chase Daniel, Brad Smithís replacement, was good. However, nobody knew he was Heisman-worthy good. Daniel threw for 33 touchdowns and ran for four more. He only threw 11 interceptions, while gaining over 4500 total yards of offense. His main target was freshman Jeremy Maclin, who has speed like Ted. Ginn Jr. Maclin, overshadowed by Texas Techís Michael Crabtree, had a stellar freshman year. He caught 80 passes for 1055 yards and 10 touchdowns. Danielís other favorite target, tight end Martin Rucker, was drafted. However, Chase Coffman will be just as good if not better. The 6-6 245 lbs. senior made 52 catches last season, finding the end zone seven teams. Missouri is so loaded at wide receiver and tight end it is not funny. They have the best pass catchers in the nation lining up on offense. The offensive line returns three starters. Dain Wise (left tackle) and Tim Barnes (center) will fill the holes made by graduation. The line does not have the stars that an Oklahoma offensive line might have, but it is solid. Tony Temple is gone after running for 12 touchdowns last year. Jimmy Jackson, who scored seven touchdowns, will carry the majority of the load.
DEFENSE: The defense was good, but not shutdown in 2007. 10 starters return in an attempt to change that fact. The defense is led by free safety William Moore. Moore made 115 tackles and eight interceptions last season. Strong safety Justin Garrett will be almost as good as Moore. Garrett made 50 tackles in 2007. The corners Carl Gettis and Castine Bridges need to step up and match the play of the safeties. The linebackers bring back all of their starters, including Sean Weatherspoon. He made 127 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss last year. Luke Lambert will likely hold down strong side linebacker until Van Alexander recovers from a torn ACL. The starting defensive ends are good. Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak combined for 10.5 sacks last season. Defensive tackle Ziggy Hood adds five more sacks to that equation. The question mark is at the other defensive tackle position. Jaron Baston will try to step in and have success right away.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jeff Wolfert nailed 21 out of 25 field goals in 2007. He is a reliable kicker who makes almost everything inside of 50-yards. Junior Jake Harry will likely win the job to become the punter. Jeremy Maclin is a dangerous punt and kick returner. He returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown last year.
COACHING: Gary Pinkel, entering his eighth season, won double-digit games for the first since arriving at Missouri. This is easily his best team ever at Missouri. After being only a win away from going to the national championship, fans have to be pleased with the job Pinkel has done.
SCHEDULE: Missouri opens the season with the best game of week one, against Illinois in St. Louis. They also host WAC contender Nevada. In conference play, Missouri gets Nebraska and Texas on the road. The Border War will likely decide the North, again.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... The two new offensive linemen, Wise and Barnes, need to be able to step in right away and not skip a beat. Protecting Daniel is of utmost importance. Also, Jackson, not a proven workhorse, will need some help from the offensive line. To win a national championship, Missouriís offensive line will have to be even stronger than it was in 2007.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Last season, Missouri just missed out on making the national championship game. They plan on having a better season in 2008. Daniel is a Heisman favorite, and Maclin is ready to become an elite receiver. The defense is going to be better than last season, and Coffman might be a better target than Rucker ever was.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Missouri will do no worse than 2nd in the North. The offensive line does have some question marks, and the defensive line is definitely not unstoppable. The corners might give up to many big plays against the big boys of the Big 12. Still, this team is ready for a national title run.
MAKE OR BREAK: Jimmy Jackson was solid when backing up Tony Temple last season. Jackson has yet to prove that he can star as a number one and take over a game if Daniel gets hurt or struggles. Temple was vastly underrated last season. Missouriís offense needs a solid rushing attack. The Tigers are going to rely on Jackson to be a solid number one.
OFFENSE: Nebraska, usually known for their blackshirt defense, was led by their offense in 2007. Why was the offense so good? Quarterback Joe Ganz replaced Sam Keller and never looked back. He ended the season throwing for 405 yards (Kansas), 510 yards (Kansas State), and 484 yards (Colorado). He did throw four interceptions against Kansas and three against Colorado, but that was because the defense was so bad, Ganz was forced into constant desperation passes. Ganz will be handing the ball to the Big 12ís best running back. Marlon Lucky ran for 1019 yards and nice touchdowns last season. He also led the team in receptions with 75. He is going to have another great year before he makes the jump to the NFL. Maurice Purify departs, the Cornhuskers best receiver. Nate Swift will look to take over the number one spot. The rest of the receivers are widely unproven. It might be a freshman that ends up as Nebraskaís number two receiver by seasonís end. The offensive line returns four starters. Matt Slauson (right guard) and Lydon Murtha (left tackle) will be up for All-Big 12 honors this off-season.
DEFENSE: The Blackshirt defense was disgustingly bad in 2007. They gave up an average of 37.9 points per game. They only forced 11 turnovers. They gave up 76 points to Kansas. Luckily, Nebraska hired Bo Pelini has head coach. One of the nationís best defensive minds, Pelini will not allow the Blackshirt defense to be skinned by opposing offenses. His brother, Carl, is the new defensive coordinator. There will be some changes in 2008. The line was horrible last year, although the defensive ends do have potential. Ndamukong Suh, Kevin Dixon, Ty Steinkuhler, and Shurkee Barfield will rotate at defensive tackle. These four will provide needed depth at a position that did nothing to help Nebraska in 2007. Cody Glenn, who rushed for 78 yards in 2007, is moving to weak side linebacker. Any change is good change, and this is a very interesting move. Phillip Dillard and Tyler Wortman will try to have strong seasons after playing as reserves last season. Armando Murillo returns at corner to lead the secondary. He made 71 tackles and broke up seven passes last year. Anthony Blue and Prince Amukamara will battle for the 2nd corner spot. The main goal for the defense is to get better at stopping the run. Trust me, Nebraska fans are not happy about the once-heralded Nebraska defense ranking 116th in the nation against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Alex Henry made 8 out 8 field goal attempts last season. However, if range is an issue, Nebraska will trot out Adi Kunalic, who made a 46-yarder in his only attempt in 2007. Dan Titchener averaged a solid 41.3 yards per punt as a junior. The return game is unknown with the loss of Cortney Grixby and Andre Jones.
COACHING: Bo Pelini is in uncharted territory. Not only does he have very little head coaching experience, but he has to please one of the most rabid fan bases in any sport. However, Pelini is way more in touch with what makes Nebraska special compared to Bill Callahan. It will be interesting to see what changes he and his brother make to the blackshirt defense that was so horrible last year.
SCHEDULE: Nebraska has three winnable games out of conference until week 4. In week 4, Nebraska will host Virginia Tech in a battle that will show whether Nebraska is a contender or pretender in 2008. They open Big 12 play with Missouri at home. They get Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Kansas State on the road.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Joe Ganz is going to surprise some people. Now that he is comfortable as the starter, there will be no stopping Ganz from putting up eye-popping stats. He will need some help from his receivers (someone has to step up and fill the number 2 and 3 spots), but I still think Ganz is going to have a huge year.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Nebraska could win seven or eight games this year. The defense is going to get better, there is no doubt in my mind. Joe Ganz and Marlon Lucky make up a great backfield. If Nebraska wins all of its out of conference games, the sky is the limit.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The receivers are an unknown. Will the defense improve enough to slow down the big boys of the Big 12? Nebraska is going to have to pull off some upsets if it wants to go bowling. A 5-7 season would not be that disappointing for Peliniís first year, if you consider the defense he inherited.
MAKE OR BREAK: The defense has to get better. If the defense can go from bad to good, so can Nebraska. The offense is going to be strong, just like it was in 2007. Nebraska fans will not sit back and accept another defense that gives up 76 points to a conference rival.
OFFENSE: The Oklahoma offense is led by a group of sensational sophomores, Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. Bradford threw 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions in a remarkable rookie season. He is going to be a special player for the next three seasons. Murray rushed for 764 yards and 13 touchdowns as a 2nd option to now-graduated Allen Patrick. Murray will share carries with Chris Brown, who is not quite 100%. The receivers are very good. Although Malcolm Kelly graduated, many solid targets return. Juaquin Iglesias is going to be even better than he was in 2007. Last season, he made 68 catches for 907 yards and five scores. Tight end Jermaine Gresham scored 11 touchdowns in a breakout season, but he needs to become more consistent. Oklahoma is blessed with the best offensive line in the country. Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper, and Brandon Walker are all going to get looks from NFL scouts.
DEFENSE: Oklahomaís defense was very good last season, giving up an average of 23 points per game. The defensive line is going to be great again this season. Defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger made 35 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. As long as he stays eligible (legal issues), he will be a monster up front. Defensive end Auston Enlgish led the Big 12 with 9.5 sacks. He has solid size and manages to get into the backfield seemingly every play. The linebackers will not be as strong with the loss of Curtis Lofton (Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2007) and Lewis Baker. Ryan Reynolds will try to replace Curtis Lofton. Reynolds made 60 tackles and eight tackles for loss in limited time. Austin Box and Keenan Clayton will fill out the other two linebacker sports. The secondary is led by strong safety Nic Harris. Harris made 74 tackles in 2007. He also made two interceptions, taking one back for a score. Dominique Franks is going to try to be the number one corner. He started in the Fiesta Bowl, but was largely inexperienced before that. The corners are the weakness of the defense. They need to solidify to help Oklahoma make a run to the national championship.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens will try to replace Garrett Hartley as placekicker. Mike Knall averaged 43.7 yards per punt last year. He is accurate and is usually successful at helping OU win the field position battle. Iglesias and Murray are great kick returners. Dominique Franks will take over the punt return duties.
COACHING: Bob Stoops is 97-22 at Oklahoma. Entering his 10th year, Stoop is on a bit of a BCS losing streak. Oklahoma is always the team to beat in the Big 12, but they are always getting beat in their bowl games. Stoops, once known as one of the best big game coaches, will try to change this trend in 2008.
SCHEDULE: Oklahoma plays some tough out of conference opponents. They host Cincinnati and TCU. They travel to Washington in week 3. In conference play, they get Kansas and Texas Tech at home. They have to travel to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... 6-4 254 lbs. Jeremy Beal ended the season on a hot streak. He played well at defensive end in the Big 12 championship, and Sooner fans are hoping it will carry over to the 2008 season. He will only make a strong defensive line stronger.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Oklahoma is the Big 12ís second team with realistic national championship aspirations. They have a great backfield with Bradford and Murray. The offensive line is the best in the country. The defense will be good enough to stop most Big 12 opponents. They are the clear favorites in the Big 12 South.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The corners and linebackers will not be as good as they were last year. The loss Malcolm Kelly leaves Juaquin Iglesias alone as the only proven playmaker at receiver. Someone has to step up to free him up. Texas and Texas Tech are going to challenge Oklahoma, and one might get the best of them. Anything less than 10 wins would be a disappointment.
MAKE OR BREAK: Can Murray and Brown stay healthy at running back? Both have had their issues with injuries. If Murray gets hurt, it effects the running game, the return game, and takes a target away from Bradfordís repertoire. Oklahoma has always had a good stable of backs, and an injury to Brown would leave a bunch of young and inexperienced backs to back up Murray.
OFFENSE: Not only did Oklahoma State have one of the best offenses in the country in 2007, it was the most balanced. The passing game and rushing attack averaged 243.15 yards per game. The passing game was led by Zac Robinson, who returns after throwing 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last season. He has a strong and accurate arm. However, he is also a great runner. He ran for nine touchdowns in 2007. The rest of the rushing attack was led by Dantrell Savage, who is not returning. Kendall Hunter and Keith Totson will likely split carries in an attempt to replace Savage. The Cowboys will miss Adarius Bowman (now in the Canadian Football League), but they still have a solid group of receivers to work with. Dez Bryant had a great freshman season, collecting 43 catches for 622 yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a solid target, finishing 3rd on the team in receptions last year. The offensive line is very good. The line is big, deep, and reliable. The line is going to help OSUís new skill players get comfortable early in the season.
DEFENSE: If OSUís offense is so good, why are they not a realistic contender to take down Oklahoma in the South? Their defense. They gave up an average of 443 yards per game last season. Six starters return, including linebacker Patrick Lavine. Lavine led the team with 81 tackles in 2007. He is joined by Andre Sexton, who will double as a safety and a linebacker. The defensive line is led by Derek Burton, who made 3.5 sacks last year. The line needs to get better at pressuring the quarterback, and Burton is the man who will lead that charge. Jeray Chatham, Quencey Patrick, Tonga Tea Jr., and Swanson Miller will rotate in and out at defensive tackle and nose tackle. OSU ranked 112th in pass defense last season. I expect an improvement. One reason is the growth of corner Jacob Lacey. Lacey broke up nine passes and made five interceptions in 2007. He is turning into one of the best corners in the Big 12. Strong Safety Ricky Price is a sure-tackler who needs to improve on pass coverage if OSU wants to slow down opponentsí passing attacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A good offense needs a good kicker to make sure points are put on the board. Dan Bailey will handle the placekicking duties this season. Bailey, a sophomore, has a lot to prove. Matt Fodge averaged 42.4 yards per punt last year. Perrish Cox is a great return man who will handle punts and kickoffs.
COACHING: Mike Gundy is a man, he is 40, and he is entering his 4th year at OSU. He struggled in year one, but has taken Oklahoma State to two consecutive bowl victories in year two and three. Can Gundy get over the seven-win hump and lead the Cowboys to a double-digit win season? If the defense improves, yes he can.
SCHEDULE: The out of conference schedule is fairly easy. The Cowboys might get challenged by Washington State and Houston, but they should win both games. In conference play, OSU has to travel to Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech, and Colorado.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Lucien Antoine impressed OSU coaches throughout the spring. He did not start playing football until his senior year of high school. A native of Haiti, Antoine is nicknamed ďThe Punisher.Ē He has the ability to lay the wood, but he has also been praised for his ability to read defenses. He will be on the field early and often this season.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Oklahoma Stateís offense is going to be just as good, if not better, than it was in 2007. Zac Robinson is the most underrated quarterback in the conference. The running backs and receivers are good enough, and the offensive line is great. OSU could win nine games this season, which would be a best for Mike Gundy.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense struggled last year, giving up 30 or more points seven times. The defense lost some important players, so it is tough to tell if they will get better before they get worse. Oklahoma State has a team that deserves to play in a bowl game, but the Big 12 South might get the better of them.
MAKE OR BREAK: Dez Bryant, easily OSUís best receiver, has to step up and become a big play threat. The Cowboys have had some game-changing receivers recently (Adarius Bowman, Rashaun Woods for example). If OSU wants to compete with the big boys in the Big 12, someone like Bryant has to step up.
OFFENSE: The burning question on the minds of Texas fans is, ďWhich Colt McCoy will we see in 2008.Ē The freshman Colt McCoy is the one Texas fans want to see. That McCoy threw 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The sophomore Colt McCoy has to stay away if Texas wants to beat out Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the Big 12 South title. Last season, McCoy threw 22 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. I look for McCoy to have a breakout season in 2008, putting up better passing stats than anyone in the conference. Jamaal Charles is gone, so Texas will have to turn to Vondrell McGee and Foswitt Whittaker to carry the load at running back. They should make a great tandem. One of them will emerge as the star, while the other will be the second option. The receivers are missing a number one, but McCoy will have some solid targets to throw to. Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are reliable. Sophomore Brandon Collins has impressed coaches and will find the field in shotgun sets. The passing game will succeed if the freshman receivers can mature rapidly and step in as downfield threats. The offensive line will be rock solid. Four starters return, none better than Cedric Dockery. The 6-4 320 lbs. senior is going to anchor a line that will not start anyone under 300 lbs.
DEFENSE: The Longhorn defense was great last yearÖ against the run. It was horrible against the pass, ranking 109th nationally in pass defense. Letís tackle the front seven first, which is going to be great again in 2008. The defensive tackles, Roy Miller and Lamarr Houston, return. They combined for 106 tackles and 20 tackles for loss in 2007. Defensive end Brian Orakpo missed time with an injury last season, but he managed to make 5.5 sacks in nine games. Now that Orakpo is healthy, he will be tough to stop off the edge. The linebackers return one starter, but do not let that fool you. Rashad Babino returns after making 69 tackles last season. He will be joined by new starters Roddrick Muckelroy and Sergio Kindle. Muckelroy and Kindle are fast, athletic, smart, and hard-hitters. Now that we have addressed the front seven, letís discuss the back four. Texas has to replace three starters, just like they had to last season. Ryan Palmer returns after making 80 tackles and 14 pass breakups in 2007. Deon Beasley will fill in at the number two spot. The junior corner made three interceptions in limited time last year. Ben Wells, Earl Thomas, and Ishie Oduegwu will share time at safety until the two starters are chosen, if that ever happens.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Bailey is one of the nationís best kickers. He made 18 out of 22 field goal attempts. His big leg has the NFL waiting to see if Bailey can keep up the success. Freshman Justin Tucker will likely beat out Trevor Garland for the punting duties. Quan Cosby is a great return man, averaging 24 yards a try on kickoffs last year.
COACHING: Can Mack Brown win the big one without Vince Young? Brown, who has been at Texas since 1998, has never had anything less than a nine-win season. However, he could not win a national championship until Young magically led the team to a win over Southern California in 2005. He has never won a Big 12 championship game without Young. Brown is a great coach. I just question if he can get it done with McCoy, not Young, at quarterback.
SCHEDULE: Texas will go untested in out of conference play. They host Arkansas, who is without Felix Jones and Darren McFadden now that both bolted for the NFL. Texas will host Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M. However, they get Texas Tech and Kansas on the road.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Vondrell McGee did not play as big a role as most Texas fans wanted in 2007. Yes, he rushed for eight touchdowns. However, he averaged just under four yards a carry. On the other hand, Jamaal Charles averaged 6.3 yards per carry. If McGee can up his average and find the end zone 10+ times, Texas will be in great shape to take down Oklahoma.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Texas has a great offense and a loaded front seven. Not only should they have hopes of winning the Big 12, they should have hopes of a national championship run. Why not? Texas rebuilds better than anyone in the country. If they can win big games against Oklahoma and Missouri in the middle of October, Texas will be a national championship frontrunner.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... McCoy has to cut down the interceptions. The secondary will improve, but only slightly. Although this is not the best team in Longhorn history, they should win nine games at the worst.
MAKE OR BREAK: The secondary has to get better if Texas wants to win the Big 12. Defense wins championships, and past winners of the Big 12 have proven that statement to be true. The Longhorn offense is going to be great, again. But they cannot beat Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas without an improved secondary.
OFFENSE: The offense was hit-and-miss last season. At times it was solid (Wins over Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and Texas). At other times, it was horrible (losses to Texas Tech, Kansas, and Oklahoma). Quarterback Stephen McGee returns for his third year as starter. The senior is more of a running threat than a passing threat. He ran for 900 yards and five touchdowns last season. He threw 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The offense will call for more passes in 2008, so McGeeís arm will be tested. If he fails to pass the ball consistently, Jerrod Johnson will take over. Mike Goodman returns as the teamís best running back. He rushed for 711 yards and four touchdowns while sharing time with Javorskie Lane. Lane, who is a monstrous 6-0 285 lbs., scored 16 touchdowns last season. He is unbelievably valuable in goal line situations. The top three receivers are gone from last yearís team. Pierre Brown, Terrance McCoy, Roger Holland, and Howard Morrow will try to provide reliable targets for McGee. The offensive line returns two players with starting experience. Junior Michael Shumard is getting better and better at left guard. Now that he is a full time starter, look for him to be the Aggiesí best lineman. The line will be shaky at first, but hopefully it can come together by the time conference play begins.
DEFENSE: The defense was average at best last year, and with only five starters returning, there is not much pointing to huge improvements. The linebackers will be asked to blitz, and blitz often in 2008. Linebackers Von Miller and Garrick Williams are quick and elusive. Aggressiveness will be the key to the linebacker core. The secondary returns the most starters on the defense. The return of Danny Gorrer from a season-ending injury in 2007 will help the corners immensely. Safety Devin Gregg made 74 tackles and one interception last season. The secondary is extremely experienced and ready to have an improved 2008 season. Texas A&M ranked 104th in sacks last season. The defensive line rarely got pressure on the quarterback. Cyril Obiozor is the best player on the line. The 6-4 264 lbs. defensive end made 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last year. Amos Gbunblee and Michael Bennett will rotate at the other end position. The Aggies want to get more pressure on the quarterback, and these two are definitely going to help.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Matt Szymanski and Richie Bean will battle it out for the placekicking job. Szymanski made 15 out of 25 field goals last season. He has a weak leg and will need to improve his range if he wants to win the job. Punter Justin Brantly averaged 44.2 yards per punt in 2007. He also put 16 punts inside the 20. Randle Jackson, Pierre Brown, and E.J. Shankle will handle the returns.
COACHING: The glory days of Texas A&M were not reignited by Dennis Francione. The Aggies have turned to Mike Sherman, former Green Bay Packer coach (I bet he is glad he is not there anymore). Sherman was an assistant at UCLA and Texas A&M before moving on to the NFL. He had success at Green Bay (until his final season), but that tells us nothing about how he will do as a head coach on the college level.
SCHEDULE: A&M hosts Miami in week 3, their only real test out of conference. In conference play, the Aggies get Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma at home. They have tough road games at Oklahoma State and Texas.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Mike Goodson is a great running back. Lane might get the glory with all of the goal line touchdowns, but Goodson has the ability to play on Sundays. I look for him to have an expanded role as a runner and a receiver. He will not have as many touchdowns as Lane, but he will get more carries and yards. This will be his breakout season.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The running game is going to be strong. The new offensive scheme is going to work wonders for McGee. The defensive philosophy (thanks to new defensive coordinator Joe Kines) of blitz, blitz, blitz is going to help Texas A&M pressure a quarterback who would pick them apart otherwise. Seven or eight wins is a strong possibility.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Texas A&M is a pretty good team with some great competition. The defense is not great by any means. Texas A&M lacks the balance that a team like Oklahoma State has. The Aggies could miss out on a bowl game in Shermanís first year as a college head coach.
MAKE OR BREAK: Stephen McGee is a special quarterback. He led the team in rushing and passing in 2007. He does not make a lot of mistakes and is a solid leader who will not shy away from a hit. If he can start passing the ball more effectively in the new Aggie offense, he will put up surprisingly better stats. Better stats for him means more wins for the Aggies.
OFFENSE: This is all you need to know about Texas Techís offense. Graham Harrell likes to pass to Michael Crabtree. Harrell, a 6-3 senior quarterback, threw 48 touchdowns last season. His 5705 passing yards is unbelievably impressive, although he did throw the ball 713 times. Michael Crabtree, a 6-3 sophomore, scored 22 receiving touchdowns last year! He almost had 2000 receiving yards. What will he do for an encore? 2500 and 25? It is hard to imagine, but anything is possible with Texas Techís offense. Edward Britton and Eric Morris are also solid targets for the gun slinging Harrell. The offensive line ranked 22nd in sacks allowed in 2007. With the amount of times Texas Tech passes the ball, that is quite astounding. Everyone returns from the line, including All-Big 12 candidates Louis Vasquez and Rylan Reed. Both of these stars play on the left side, are taller than 6-6, and weigh a collective 649 lbs. The running game is fairly nonexistent. Shannon Woods ran for eight touchdowns last year but only carried the ball 84 times. Aaron Crawford will also see a lot of screens and handoffs come his way.
DEFENSE: Why is Texas Tech, who always has a great offense, a contender in 2008? Their defense, which returns eight starters, is for real. They ranked 49th in scoring defense and 45th in total defense last year. Everyone on the defensive line returns. Defensive end Brandon Williams made six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore season. The rest of the line is not spectacular, but it is deep. With a constant rotation of adequate tackles and ends, the line will be much improved. Marlon Williams returns after an 81-tackle season. His speed works well on the outside. Brian Duncan is making the move to middle linebacker this season. After a great freshman year on the outside, the coaches feel Duncan will be best utilized in the middle. In the back four, two starters return. Free safety Darcel McBath is a sure-tackler with strong leadership skills. He is the quarterback of the secondary. He made 73 tackles and two interceptions in 2007. Jamar Wall returns after making 5 interceptions in a stellar freshman season. The other corner sport will be by committee. LaRon Moore, Marcus Bunton, and Pete Richardson will all see time at the 2nd and 3rd corner spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: When the Red Raiders decide to use a punter, they have a very good one. Jonathan LaCour averaged 42.6 yards per punt last season. However, he only had 29 attempts. The field goal duties are up for grabs. Freshman Donnie Carona and senior Cory Fowler are still fighting for the job. Edward Britton, Eric Morris, and Detron Lewis come back to handle the returns after being one of the conferences best groups in 2007.
COACHING: Mike Leach is 65-27 since arriving at Texas Tech in 2000. He has never had a losing season, but Leach has never won more than nine games. Leach has his best team in 2008, but he has yet to show that he can coach a championship contender. If Leach ever wanted to win a Big 12 title, this would be the year to do it.
SCHEDULE: Tech should roll through out of conference play, although they do travel to Nevada in week 2. In Big 12 play, the Red Raiders host Texas and Oklahoma State. Tech plays Oklahoma, who will want revenge after losing to them last season, on November 22nd.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Eric Morris and Edward Britton are going to have to prove themselves as dangerous weapons so the pressure will be taken off of Crabtree. Crabtree is going to be double, even triple teamed at times. Morris and Britton have to excel to make the opposing secondary back off and spread out.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Tech is a legitimate Big 12 contender. They have the ability to beat the best teams in the South (Texas and Oklahoma). The offense is going to set even more records this year than they did in 2007. The defense will not shutdown opponents, but it will allow Techís offense to outscore nearly anyone they play. Anything less than nine wins would be shocking.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Can Leach get over the hump? A winning tradition is not instilled in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech always has a great offense, but somehow they manage to lose close games to conference foes. Now that they start ranked in the top 25, the pressure is on. A bowl game is almost a guarantee in 2008.
MAKE OR BREAK: If Texas Techís defense became as good as Oklahomaís or Kansasís, there would be no stopping them from winning the Big 12 South. I am not saying that the defense is bad. However, at times, they fail to get stops when they need them and give up a lot of points just because the offense is so good. If the defense steps up, Texas Tech might win the Big 12 South.
Oklahoma and Missouri are the two best teams in the conference. They are good on both sides of the ball, and are led by stellar quarterbacks. Texas and Texas Tech will give Oklahoma all it can handle. Texas will go as far as McCoyís decision making takes them. If he cuts down on his interceptions, anything can happen. If Texas Tech can consistently stop opposing offenses, Oklahoma better watch out. However, both those things remain to be seen. Missouri will receive their stiffest competition from Kansas. Games against Kansas State, Colorado, and Nebraska will not be easy, but they should win all three. The Border War will decide who wins the Big 12 North (just like in 2007). I would not be surprised to see another team sneak into the Big 12 title game, but Oklahoma and Missouri have to be the favorites with the teams they are returning. At least eight Big 12 teams should go bowling in 2008. The big five should stay in the top 25 all season long. The possibility of another joining them is not to far-fetched. If the they can have six teams in the top 25 at seasonís end, nobody but the SEC will be able to say that their conference had a better season than the Big 12.