Big Twelve Conference
Bottom Line: The nation’s most prolific offensive conference is not quite up to par with the SEC, but with bottom-feeders slowly progressing and mid-levelers preparing to assert themselves, the Big 12 is positioning itself to become a force to reckon with on a grand stage for years to come.
Missouri Tigers (12-0): After decades of disappointment and heartbreak disguised as promise, my alma mater is finally ready to solidify its reputation as one of the big boys, and it all starts with the most hyped season in nearly half a century.
Kansas Jayhawks (8-4): With head coach Mark Mangino still gorging himself on vitamin-C after last January’s Orange Bowl victory, it will be hard for the Jayhawks to let go of last season’s unprecedented success and accept the reality of 2008’s considerably harder schedule and, thus, less sexy results.
Colorado Buffaloes (7-5): It is no secret that those who inhabit the campus in Boulder perfectly fit the Cheech-and-Chong profile, walking the beautiful terrain of south central Colorado in their Birkenstocks and tie-dyes, proclaiming G Love and Special Sauce to be the saviors of the universe and expanding their minds with the best grass the hills has to offer. Given this, will a mellow lifestyle still rule the day when Buffs fans catch a glimpse of coveted running back recruit Darrell Scott, who will lead Colorado to its most wins since 2004?
Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-5): After The Bill Callahan Experiment went terribly wrong in Lincoln, interim AD and Husker legend Tom Osborne sought relief in former Nebraska family member Bo Pelini, whisking him away from a comfy defensive coordinator position at LSU and entrusting Pelini to turn around a defense that allowed more points than most midget-league youth teams. Now Pelini is expected to dust off the old Blackshirts and comb through midday geology lectures for walk-ons who can actually wrap up and make a tackle.
Kansas State (5-7): Boy, they sure do like their quick fixes over in Manhattan. Much like his predecessor, Bill Snyder, who made a habit of boosting famously low program morale by annually scheduling lower-level competition during his tenure, head coach Ron Prince is attempting to hide the sad nature of the Kansas State program by bringing in junior college transfers by the bus load. What Prince regards as an instant injection of experienced talent, the rest of us see as a phantom remedy to years of shoddy recruiting and an overall decrease in skill players.
Iowa State Cyclones (5-7): It’s still a mystery to me as to why Gene Chizik would ever leave his post at Texas to take one of the more undesirable jobs in the conference, especially when it was widely speculated that he would succeed Mack Brown in Austin. And after last season’s 3-9 debacle in his inaugural season at Ames, Chizik may be wondering the same thing.
Oklahoma Sooners (12-0): All the pieces are in place in Norman for another title run, including a dominant veteran offensive line that’s capable of moving houses and the nation’s leader in passing efficiency a season ago, Sam Bradford. But with several key pieces in the linebacking core and secondary now gone, Bob Stoops will have to rely on unproven younger players to fill the void and stand up against a conference loaded with offensive wealth.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-3): I realize that many of America’s college football pundits are pleasuring themselves over the thought of Tech making some magical run to the Big 12 championship game and a BCS berth. But until I see some consistent defense, I’m not buying. Plus, anytime you have Mike Leach as your head coach, who is college football’s equivalent of Mike Martz, and you throw the ball 80 times a game, it’s gonna be hard to win an overwhelming amount of games when you’re that predictable.
Texas Longhorns (9-3): The Longhorns losing three games in consecutive seasons is like Lance Armstrong losing the Tour de France with one testicle—it just doesn’t happen. Unless the aforementioned Brown doesn’t sure up his pathetic pass defense from last year, the Austin student body will be calling for the long-time coach’s head (and maybe a testicle or two) and requesting that the beloved Chizik make a glamorous return to town.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-4): Backed by altruistic oil tycoon Boone Pickens, an OSU alum, the Cowboys football program has received a dramatic upgrade in facilities, including a multimillion-dollar facelift to the stadium that bears his name. The trouble has come with the team’s failure to reward their generous donor with anything close to a breakout season.
Texas A & M Aggies (6-6): Former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman begins his second stint in College Station with little talent to give divisional front-runners much of a scare. If RB Mike Goodson receives some support, he’ll drum up some postseason award consideration. If not, it will be a long season for the Aggie offense and an even more frustrating start to Sherman’s first collegiate job since 1997, when the former A&M offensive line coach left for the NFL.
Baylor Bears (3-9): There can’t be much hype surrounding a team that went winless in conference play a season ago. If anything, Bears fans can hold out hope for new coach Art Briles, who comes from the University of Houston with his high-octane offensive gameplans. And unless Briles can somehow walk on water or cure leprosy, Baylor will take its familiar seat on the cellar floor for yet another season.
Champion: Missouri over Oklahoma
Team on the rise: Oklahoma State
Team on the fall: Texas A&M
Player to Watch: Colorado RB Darrell Scott
Bowlers: Mizzou, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Nebraska