The Big XII had a very exciting year in 2007, featuring the resurgence of the North Division. Generally considered the lesser of the two divisions the last few years, the North finished 2007 with two 12 win teams that finished in the top ten! Meanwhile, the South also featured three very solid teams in Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Texas. The latter two both finished in the top ten.
2008 should also be a huge year for the Big XII. When the Coaches’ Poll came out, it featured FIVE Big XII teams in the top 15, best of any conference! Meanwhile, the conference is oozing with depth and three new coaches will provide a fresh breath of air into some of the biggest schools. Especially hyped is Bo Pelini’s ascension to the top spot at Nebraska. The Big XII also looks to be the best conference in college football this fall in terms of quarterback play, meaning that 2008 should be a banner year.
Missouri’s 2008 season was nothing short of the best season in the history of Missouri football. The Tigers won the Big XII North, 12 games, and rose all the way to #1 in the polls late in the year. In fact, the only team to beat Missouri last year was Oklahoma, who beat them twice. After perpetually sitting on the hot seat, Coach Gary Pinkel is now firmly entrenched entering his 8 th season and should field perhaps his best team yet in 2008. Mizzou returns 15 starters from last year’s great team and will look to win the school’s first Big XII title.
Missouri’s great 2008 can be largely attributed to the play of the offense, which racked up over 39 points per game! Senior quarterback Chase Daniel enters his 4 th year as the Tigers’ starting quarterback and is one of the best in the country at his position. Surrounding Daniel will be a strong supporting cast, led by one of the nation’s most exciting players in sophomore Jeremy Maclin, who had 80 catches and scored 13 TDs last year. Expect Maclin to see a lot of carries and passes thrown his way this fall. The O-Line will strong as well, returning three starters from a group which cleared the way for nearly 500 yards of offense per game last year. Mizzou has one of the best offenses in the country.
Missouri’s defense actually took a step back last year, allowing over 4 points more per game than in 2006. However, the Tigers only had five returning starters, whereas this year they return nine! The front seven will be especially impressive, returning all but one starter. Senior defensive ends Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis combined for 11 sacks last year and should return even stronger this fall. At linebacker, junior Sean Weatherspoon was a 1 st team Big XII choice and made 130 tackles last fall! Weatherspoon leads a linebacker corps which returns every player in the two deep and they should be a very strong unit. The Mizzou secondary is also very impressive, returning three starters. Senior safety William Moore returns a year after making 117 tackles and snagging 8 interceptions and will quarterback the defense. Mizzou has a lot of talent on this veteran-laden group (6 returning senior starters) and they should have an even stronger defense in 2008. This is one of the Big XII’s best defenses.
Mizzou also has a favorable conference schedule. Nemesis Oklahoma rotates off (after dealing the Tigers their only two losses last year) along with a potential top ten team in Texas Tech and dangerous Texas A&M. Instead, the Tigers draw a road trip to Austin to face the Longhorns and they also face Oklahoma State and Baylor, a much easier slate. In their own division, Mizzou faces a road trip to Nebraska, but they have three home games and their season-ending neutral site game with Kansas. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a season opening clash with Illinois in St. Louis. The only downside to Mizzou’s schedule is that none of their expected big games will take place on their home turf. Overall, the Missouri Tigers are a very strong and impressive team. Chase Daniel is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and Jeremy Maclin one of college football’s most dangerous players, meaning Missouri should have a very explosive offense. Missouri also has a very good defense which should put a lot of pressure on opponents. The Tigers return a large core of experienced players who are hungry to win a Big XII Title and if Mizzou can potentially break their Oklahoma bugaboo in the Big XII Title game, the Tigers could be playing for an even bigger title in Miami. Missouri is the prohibitive favorite to win the Big XII North.
Biggest Games: Aug. 30th vs. Illinois, Oct. 4th @ Nebraska, Oct. 18th @ Texas, Nov. 29th vs. Kansas
Nebraska (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
2007 marked the final year of the Bill Callahan era and many Nebraska fans couldn’t have been happier. After hiring legendary coach Tom Osborne as A.D., Nebraska rectified its hiring mistake by going back to 2004 and hiring the OTHER finalist in that coaching search, former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Pelini, who actually sports a 1-0 record as Nebraska’s head coach from a bowl victory in 2003, inherits a team that struggled to a 5-7 finish last fall. However, the Cornhuskers aren’t completely bereft of talent and they should be a much improved team from last year. Eleven starters return in Pelini’s first season as the Cornhuskers begin an attempt to return to national prominence.
On offense, Nebraska had one of their best years in recent memory last fall, averaging over 33 points per game. Callahan has done a good job recruiting on the offensive side of the ball and there is a lot of talent on hand in Lincoln. At quarterback, senior Joe Ganz is expected to start after playing well down the stretch last fall. Ganz threw for over 1,400 yards and 16 TDs and should be a solid performer this year as well. Expect the running game to also improve this fall, as Pelini is likely to place a greater emphasis on the run and Nebraska has two very talented tailbacks in senior Marlon Lucky and sophomore Quentin Castille, both of whom should see lots of playing time this fall. The offensive line is traditionally very good at Nebraska and this year’s group should be no different. Three starters return along with a large group of players who have solid experience. The only position that Nebraska appears to be thin at would be the wide receiver position, where senior Nate Swift is the only major returning player with any notable experience. In fact, Lucky actually led the Huskers in catches last fall! Overall, Nebraska should again be a solid offensive unit and the combination of Castille and Lucky could turn out to be a two-headed monster in Pelini’s first year. Expect lots of points from the Huskers.
However, the Nebraska defense is a huge question. Bill Callahan’s final defense allowed 38 points per game last year, unheard of for a Nebraska defense and over twice as many points as in 2006! The Huskers had one of the nation’s worst rush defenses (232 yards per game against) and they weren’t very good against the pass either. The low point of the year was easily a 76 point whipping by Kansas late in the year. Luckily for the Huskers, Pelini is a very good defensive coach and Nebraska will not suffer schematically. Luckily for Pelini, he returns the defensive line completely intact. While last year’s line was pretty bad, the entire two deep returns and all the expected starters are upperclassmen. Expect huge improvements on the defensive line, especially from DT Ndamukong Suh, a vastly talented junior who was one of the most disappointing players on the team last fall. Nebraska’s linebackers are all new starters but junior Phillip Dillard did play extensively last fall and he is expected to be the unit’s leader. There is a lot of talent at linebacker if you look back at Callahan’s recruiting, but it might take Pelini a year to cultivate it. The secondary is in decent shape, returning two starters. However, the Huskers could start a couple of underclassmen and this position is in flux and is a big question. Overall, Nebraska should benefit from a much improved defensive line but the back seven have a lot of questions. The Huskers will be significantly improved on defense but it is a far cry from the Blackshirt days under Osborne.
Nebraska has a fairly stout conference lot, drawing road trips to both Oklahoma and Texas Tech! However, the Huskers do have the good fortune of facing Missouri, Kansas and Colorado at home so there is definitely the possibility of a strong divisional record. The Huskers kick off their season’s most difficult stretch by facing the Virginia Tech Hokies before back to back games against Missouri and at Texas Tech in early October. Overall, Pelini has inherited a talented but underachieving team which is in need of some tweaking. The offense is solid and has all the pieces in place to have a strong attack, but the defense is in serious need of help. It is very likely that the defense will improve (after all, almost anything is an improvement from last season’s debacle) and the Nebraska defensive line should be quite solid. If the Huskers can find some consistent play in the secondary, they should surprise a lot of people. While competing for the North division title is probably out of the question, a bowl game is a very strong likelihood in Pelini’s first season.
Biggest Games: Sept. 27th vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 4th vs. Mizzou, Oct. 11th @ Texas Tech, Nov. 1st @ Oklahoma, Nov. 28th vs. Colorado
Kansas (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
2007 was a season of monumental achievement for Kansas. The Jayhawks took advantage of a light schedule and ran with it all the way to an 11-0 start before losing to archrival Missouri. The Jayhawks redeemed themselves and legitimized their season by taking down Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl en route to a #7 final ranking. Kansas returns 15 starters from that massively successful team and will look to prove that their 2007 season was not a fluke.
Kansas’ offense is led by diminutive junior Todd Reesing, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 33 TDs last fall. Reesing led the offense to an impressive 43 points per game! His top target this fall will be senior receiver Dexton Fields, who caught over 60 passes and 6 TDs last year. The running back spot is expected to be filled by junior Jake Sharp, who ran for over 800 yards and 7 TDs in back up duty. The offensive line should also be a stellar group, as three starters return. Expect the Kansas offense to again be a very potent group even against a much tougher schedule this fall.
Kansas had a stellar defense in 2007, allowing just over 16 points per game. The Jayhawks did lose star cornerback Aqib Talib to the NFL but the defense returns nine starters, including six seniors! On the defensive line, senior John Larsen will be the anchor of a group which should be solid, if unspectacular. The linebackers are a major strength for Kansas, as all three starting linebackers return for their third straight season together! Seniors James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera combined for over 300 tackles last year and should again be a strong unit. The secondary is also solid, led by junior Justin Thornton, who had 5 picks last year. However, replacing a 1 st round draft pick is a difficult proposition, so KU might struggle a little in the early going. Overall, Kansas has a solid defense which should prove once again to be one of the Big XII’s best units.
What is the biggest difference between Kansas last year and 2008? The answer is the conference schedule. Kansas has Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma all rotate onto the schedule, none of which faced the Jayhawks last year! That is three more top ten caliber teams! Kansas also faces a difficult road test at Nebraska and their yearly rivalry game with Missouri will be a battle to close out the regular season. Also on the schedule is a big intersectional matchup with South Florida in September. Overall, Kansas is a good team and should be nearly as talented as last season. However, the Jayhawks had the 100 th most difficult schedule in D1-A football last year! This year will be a far greater challenge, one that I’m not so sure that they’re up to. Expect Kansas to return to a bowl game this fall, but it most certainly won’t be of the BCS variety.
Biggest Games: Sept. 12th @ USF, Oct. 18th @ Oklahoma, Oct. 25th vs. Texas Tech, Nov. 15th vs. Texas, Nov. 29th vs. Missouri
Colorado (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
Dan Hawkins’ second season produced a four game improvement and a bowl berth. The Buffaloes made major strides en route to earning an Independence Bowl berth. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the season was Colorado’s epic early upset of Oklahoma but the Buffs had a couple of other big wins and carried their momentum into recruiting, bringing in a very solid class. Dan Hawkins was the architect of the Boise State behemoth in the WAC and he is making great strides in Boulder. This fall, Hawk’s team returns 14 starters and will look to improve even further.
The offense will be led by Hawkins’ son Cody, who threw for 3,000 yards and 22 TDs as a true freshman last year. Hawkins returns plenty of talent at the skill positions around him, but his best supporting player is probably true freshman tailback Darrell Scott, who was the nation’s top tailback recruit last fall and is expected to play a huge role this fall. The major deficiency for the Buffs is on the offensive line, where they could start as many as four underclassmen this fall. Colorado has some talented skill position players, but they are all pretty young, so a truly explosive offense is probably a year away. However, Colorado should be fairly strong on offense this fall.
Colorado’s defense was not nearly as impressive last year as they were in Hawkins’ first season, allowing over a touchdown more per game. However, the Buffs could be primed for a big improvement as they have SEVEN returning senior starters! That’s a veteran defense. The defensive line could start all seniors, but defensive tackle George Hypolite is the star of the unit and should be a force this year. Colorado should have one of the Big XII’s better defensive lines. At linebacker, junior Jeff Smart will have to double his tackle output from last year to make up for the loss of Jordan Dizon and his 173 tackles! The secondary is a very veteran unit, returning three seniors, led by safety DJ Dykes. Overall, Colorado’s defense should be a notch better than last season and should keep the Buffs in a lot of games.
Colorado has a pretty tough schedule in conference but they do luck out and avoid Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the South. However, the conference opener against Texas will be a daunting task, as will trips to Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. The Buffs also play an impressive out of conference schedule for the 2 nd straight year, featuring West Virginia, Florida State and rival Colorado State. Overall, the Buffs should be much better than last year, but the results probably won’t show it on the field. On offense, the Buffs are really a year away from being one of the Big XII’s best, but they could still be inconsistent this year. If Colorado makes it back to a bowl game, it will be a successful season in Boulder.
Biggest Games: Aug. 31st vs. Colorado State, Sept. 18th vs. WVU, Oct. 4th vs. Texas, Oct. 11th @ Kansas, Oct. 25th @ Mizzou, Nov. 28th @ Nebraska
Kansas State (Predicted Conference Record: 2-6)
Kansas State had a frustrating finish to the 2007 season, losing their final four games to finish out of the bowl season. The Wildcats lost in blowout fashion in each game and rumors began to float that head coach Ron Prince would enter his 3 rd season on the hot seat, despite a bowl berth the previous season and a big win at Texas last fall. This perception was reinforced after Prince brought in an incredible 19 junior college transfers this offseason. However, all the firing talk should be squelched after Prince recently signed a five year extension and K-State can move into 2008 comfortable with the program’s direction. The 2008 Wildcat squad returns only 12 starters from last year’s team and Prince may be thankful the for the security that his extension affords him by the end of the season.
Kansas State’s offense will be led by junior Josh Freeman, who enters his 3 rd year as the starter. Freeman threw for over 3,300 yards and 18 TDs last fall after reporting to camp out of shape and had a slow start before hitting his stride at midseason. Facilitating an improvement for the lumbering Freeman this fall will be return of four starters on the offensive line. The Wildcats have four seniors and this should be one of the Big XII’s top units. The Wildcat running game will therefore be a little bit better than expected for a team that has a top returning rusher with less than 400 yards last year. Junior Leon Patten should have plenty of holes to run through this fall and he should be capable of gaining a thousand yards on the ground. Kansas State will sorely miss departed senior Jordy Nelson at wideout after he snagged 122 catches, 1,600 yards and 11 TDs last fall. K-State will need a lot of inexperienced players to step up at wide receiver. Overall, Kansas State boasts a solid offensive line but the skill players are either inexperienced, or like Freeman, can be very inconsistent. Expecting K-State to match last year’s 35 points per game is probably asking for too much this fall.
Kansas State struggled on defense last year, especially down the stretch and they enter this fall with the possibility of starting a couple of junior college transfers to augment their five returning starters. Watch for JUCO linebackers Grant Valentine and Ulla Pomele, DL Daniel Calvin and Josh Berard and cornerback Billy McClellan to make an impact this fall. K-State’s big returning advantage will be at the safety position where senior Gary Chandler and junior Chris Carney will be solid at the back of the defense and the K-State linebackers should also be solid. However, there are a lot of unknowns, especially involving all the JUCO transfers. Kansas State must improve on defense this fall for the Wildcats to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility but they have a long way to go. Expect K-State to be very inconsistent this year, especially in the early going.
Kansas State has a tough conference drawing, facing Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M on the interdivisional slate. The Wildcats also will have to travel to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado inside their own division. To cap things off, the Wildcats also have a stretch in the middle of the conference season where they play four out of five games on the road, closing with two 12 game winners from a season ago in Kansas and Mizzou. They also face a tough non-conference game at Louisville early in the year to play an odd Wednesday night game. Overall, Kansas State faces a more difficult schedule than last year and the sheer volume of JUCOs brought in makes it difficult to predict how well the Wildcats will do. However, there are a lot of holes to be filled, especially on defense, and the Wildcats will have to hope that Josh Freeman has kicked his consistently inconsistent play. If Kansas State returns to a bowl game it will be successful fall for the Wildcats.
2007 was a catastrophe for new Iowa State coach Gene Chizik, beginning the season with home losses to Kent State and D-1AA (FCS) Northern Iowa en route to a miserable 3-9 season. Iowa State had an absolutely inept offense, mustering up only 18 points per game while the defense allowed over 31 points per game! In short, ISU is in the middle of a significant rebuilding program and despite 14 returning starters, it appears that the rehabilitation program will continue in 2008.
The Cyclones have some questions on offense, beginning with the quarterback position. Last year’s backup, Austen Arnaud, is expected to take over in the fall and was impressive in limited experience last year. Most of last year’s top receivers are back and should be improved, though there wasn’t a lot of passing production last fall. At tailback, the top three running backs from last year are back and all three should see their share of carries so ISU probably won’t have a dominant tailback this year. All three tailbacks will be aided by the return of 4 starters on the offensive line, a group which allowed only 17 sacks last year. Overall, the Cyclones should improve from last year’s dismal 18 points per game but this is still one of the weaker offenses in the conference.
On defense, ISU wasn’t awful against the run last fall, allowing 136 yards per game. However, the pass defense’s 254 yards per game allowed was poor and the Cyclones will have to improve upon those numbers this fall if they hope to improve. The star of the defense is expected to be senior defensive end Kurtis Taylor, who had 6.5 sacks last fall and is expected to improve further this fall. Taylor should anchor an improved defensive line for the Cyclones. At linebacker, the Cyclones have to replace last year’s top two tacklers and the ‘backers are a very big question. The ISU secondary will need to be improved this fall and the return of all four starters is a great step in the right direction. Senior corner Chris Singleton had a solid year last fall, snagging 4 picks and making a lot of tackles. Expect the secondary to improve this fall. Much like the offense, the Cyclones should be much stronger on defense, but they still probably won’t improve enough to be considered one of the top teams in the Big XII.
Iowa State has a very fortunate conference draw, avoiding Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma from the South! On top of that, Nebraska, Mizzou, and Kansas have to come to Ames to face the Cyclones, so they will have home field advantage in trying to pull some big upsets. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by the yearly rivalry game with Iowa. Overall, the Cyclones are a better team than last year and it is unlikely that they’ll suffer as many bad losses as last year. However, Chizik’s team still has a lot of room to improve and their ceiling this fall is probably five wins.
The Sooners had a very strong 2007 season, finishing 11-3 and winning the Big XII Championship for the 3 rd time in four years. Oklahoma’s season was highlighted by two wins over Missouri, a dominating victory over the Miami Hurricanes early in the year and their first win in 3 years over rival Texas. However, Oklahoma fans will probably remember the disappointments even more, as upsets at the hands of Texas Tech and Colorado cost the Sooners a chance at the national title game and then Oklahoma failed in their 4 th straight BCS appearance. However, Oklahoma returns a very strong team (13 starters) this fall and expectations are very high for the Sooners.
On offense, sophomore Sam Bradford returns at quarterback after lighting up opposing defenses last fall to the tune of 3,100 yards and 36 TDs. Bradford returns a good group of receivers, led by senior Juaquin Iglesias (900 yards, 5 TDs) and junior TE Jermaine Gresham (11 TDs). Expect Oklahoma to have a very strong passing attack again this fall. On the ground, sophomore DeMarco Murray is expected to take over the role as the feature back this fall. Murray is a highlight reel tailback but he did finish last year on the injured list and he will have to answer questions about his durability this fall. However, if Murray can stay healthy, he is one of the best tailbacks in the nation. He will be running behind one of the elite offensive lines in the country, which returns all five starters, all of which are seniors! Oklahoma’s offensive line may well be the best in the country and the running attack and passing attack will benefit from playing behind such a talented group. Oklahoma’s offense averaged over 42 points per game last fall and should be equally strong in 2008.
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On defense, Oklahoma had a solid year last fall, allowing only 20 points per game. However, the Sooners only bring back five starters from last year’s defense so experience will be a question. On the defensive line, Oklahoma has one of the best D-Lines in the country. At defensive tackle, junior DeMarcus Granger and sophomore Gerald McCoy combine to form perhaps the country’s top pair of DTs! Junior Auston English contributed 9.5 sacks last year as well, so this line will be a major force in the Big XII. At linebacker, Oklahoma has some questions, especially with the early departure of Curtis Lofton and his 150+ tackles. However, junior Ryan Reynolds is expected to lead a group which isn’t vastly less experienced than last year’s group was and I fully expect Oklahoma to have a solid group of linebackers this fall. Playing behind such a strong defensive line will only help the Sooner ‘backers run to the ball. The biggest question for OU going into this fall is in the secondary, where only senior safety Nic Harris returns from last season. While Oklahoma has some significant losses from last year’s group, the combination of a favorable early schedule and the age of the expected replacement should help OU adapt well to the new group. Senior Lendy Holmes has impressed during camp at corner and could be a star. Overall, Oklahoma’s defense should be very strong against the run, but their secondary is a question. If the group of new starters lives up to expectations, the Sooners will have one of the country’s best defenses in 2008.
Oklahoma has a favorable schedule this fall, drawing Kansas and Nebraska at home from the north while only facing a road trip to KSU. The Sooners have the fortune of hosting Texas Tech this year as well, considering that the Sooners have only lost 1 game at home in the last five years. Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule is also manageable, facing a road trip to an improved Washington team and welcoming Cincinnati from the Big East. Overall, Oklahoma should actually be a stronger team than last year and the Sooners are near the top of the list of National Title contenders in 2008. If Oklahoma manages to stay healthy, it would not be a surprise to see them playing for the National Title in January.
Biggest Games: Sept. 13th @ Washington, Oct. 11th vs. Texas, Oct. 18th vs. Kansas, Nov. 22nd vs. Texas Tech, Nov. 29th @ Oklahoma State
Texas Tech (Predicted Conference Record: 7-1)
Last year was a season of ups and downs for the Red Raiders. Losses to Colorado and Oklahoma State were major setbacks for a program that styles itself as a top program in the Big XII. However, those losses were offset by a big win over Oklahoma late in the year that rocketed Texas Tech into the national consciousness. Now, Tech is one of the hot picks to have a great year. While I’m generally not a fan of picking the team of the week, Texas Tech has a ton of factors going for them this fall. The first major factor going for the Red Raiders is the return of 18 starters from last year’s team, the most veteran team coach Mike Leach has ever had.
The next big factor for Texas Tech is the return of Graham Harrell at the quarterback position for the 3 rd year as a starter. That is also unprecedented under Leach in Lubbock, where seemingly every year a 5 th year senior got one year to play the position. Harrell could be the best QB in the Big XII. Another major factor helping the Red Raiders is the return of last year’s Biletnikoff winner, sophomore Michael Crabtree, who caught over 1,900 yards and 22 TDs last fall! Yet another prevailing factor for Texas Tech this fall is the return of the entire offensive line from last fall! Not only is the Red Raiders’ O-Line experienced and huge (the biggest line in the country), they’re one of the nation’s best. That should bode well for Texas Tech when they need the short yards. Expect sophomore Baron Batch to see the majority of the carries for Tech this fall. Overall, Texas Tech put up nearly 41 points per game last fall and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them improve those statistics this year as they are one of the best offenses in the country.
The biggest factor in favor of Texas Tech this fall is undoubtedly the presence of Mike Leach’s best defense. Throughout the last few years when Texas Tech repeatedly won 8-9 games with an explosive offense, the Red Raiders’ defense couldn’t slow down the major opposition enough to win games. Not this year, as the Red Raiders bring back eight starters from last year’s defense and should see significant improvement. The defensive line returns all four starters from last year and will be led by junior DE Brandon Williams, who notched 6 sacks in 2007. Expect a significant improvement against the run this fall (177 yards per game last year) from the Red Raiders. The linebackers are also very strong, led by junior Marlon Williams, who had over 80 tackles last fall. In the secondary, the Red Raiders could start three seniors, led by safety Darcel McBath, who was a force last year. Overall, Texas Tech’s defense should be very strong and despite the presence of at most three senior starters, expect the Red Raiders to be a legitimately tough defense.
The schedule for Texas Tech is fairly tough, featuring match ups with Nebraska and Kansas from the North. The Red Raiders face road trips to Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Kansas, and Kansas State this fall, so they will have to play their best away from home. The non-conference schedule isn’t very difficult and it would be a surprise if Texas Tech was even tested during September. Overall, there are numerous factors playing into Texas Tech’s hands to have a fantastic season. The explosive and experienced offense led by a 3 year starter at QB along with a significantly stronger defense could lead the Red Raiders to the Big XII title game if they can defeat Oklahoma for the 3 rd time in 4 years late in the season.
Texas extended its run of 10+ win seasons last fall to an impressive seven consecutive seasons. Despite the Longhorns’ early string of unimpressive victories, they capped off a successful season with a dominating bowl victory over Arizona State. Still, the perception remains that the Longhorns are incapable of winning a conference title without Vince Young and this fall may further that perception. Texas returns only 11 starters from last year’s team, the ‘Horns have lost two consecutive years to rival Texas A&M, and the Big XII South appears stronger than ever.
The offense will be in the capable hands of junior Colt McCoy, who enters his third season starting for the Longhorns. McCoy threw for 22 TDs last fall, but he regressed in throwing 18 interceptions. McCoy should see his numbers improve this fall, thanks in part to the return of 4 starters along the offensive line, meaning that he will have plenty of time to throw the ball. Also benefitting from the presence of one of America’s best offensive lines will be the Texas running game, which will be looking for a new tailback. Sophomore Vondrell McGee appears to be the top candidate to take over for Jamaal Charles, but the UT running game could take a while to find itself this year. Texas also has a good set of wide receivers returning, led by senior Quan Cosby, who caught 60 passes and 5 TDs last fall. Overall, Texas has all the pieces in place to be a very solid offense.
The Longhorns had one of their worst defenses under Mack Brown last season, allowing over 25 points per game, a touchdown more than in 2006! The Longhorns return only four starters from last year’s group and new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp should infuse a lot of energy into the new group. Texas’ defensive line will be anchored by senior DE Brian Orakpo, who had 5.5 sacks last fall. The ‘Horns should see very little drop off along the line, which anchored a run defense that allowed only 93 yards per game last year. At linebacker, Texas’ only returning starter is senior Rashad Bobino, who will anchor a group that has a lot of experience, though they are short on career starts. Expect Texas’ run defense to be very solid and the linebackers should make a lot of tackles. The big question for Texas will be a secondary which was nothing short of awful last fall, allowing nearly 280 yards per game. The only returning starter from that unit will be senior Ryan Palmer and that is probably a good thing. Texas’ stats are slightly skewed against the pass since teams generally throw more due to the strength of their run defense. Still, the Longhorns should improve from last year’s disappointing showing and if they do, their defense will be a very strong group. The Longhorns have a lot of questions, but they should be one of the Big XII’s better defenses.
The schedule is fairly tough for the Longhorns, drawing road trips to Kansas and Colorado and welcoming Missouri from the North division. On top of that, Texas has to travel to face a very strong Texas Tech team in division, so the ‘Horns will have a tough conference schedule. The out of conference slate is moderately tough, renewing a rivalry with former SWC foe Arkansas and welcoming a Florida Atlantic, a dangerous non-BCS opponent from the Sun Belt. Overall, the Longhorns are always one of the most talented teams in the country, but Texas is short on experience and has lost 3 out of 4 games against rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M the last two years. Texas should improve on defense this fall with the arrival of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp but Texas will be an underdog against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Missouri and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Horns drop all three. However, another ten win season is a definite possibility for the Horns, but a conference championship seems unlikely, though no impossible.
Biggest Games: Oct. 11th vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 18th vs. Missouri, Nov. 1st @ Texas Tech, Nov. 27th vs. Texas A&M
Oklahoma State (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
Last year was an eventful year in Stillwater for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, beginning with the drama surrounding former quarterback Bobby Reid’s demotion, culminating in head coach Mike Gundy’s “I’M A MAN! I’M FOURTY!” rant. On the field, the Cowboys blew their yearly three TD lead over Texas but finished the year with a dominating bowl win over Indiana in the Insight Bowl. This fall, expectations are up in Stillwater and the Cowboys bring back 13 starters as they look to improve beyond last year’s 7 wins.
On offense, the leader will be junior quarterback Zac Johnson, who threw for 23 TDs against only 9 picks last fall after taking over early in the year. Robinson’s top returning receiver will be sophomore Dez Bryant, who accounted for 600 yards and 6 TDs and should only be better this year. Robinson is also a very good runner and he is the top returning rusher on the Cowboys’ 2008 squad. At tailback, junior college transfer Beau Johnson seems to have the inside track at starting. Regardless of whoever wins the spot, OSU returns four starters along the O-Line and the Cowboys have one of the best O-Lines in the Big XII. Expect OSU to be just as dangerous as last year’s group which averaged 35 points per game.
On defense, the Cowboys will need to improve after allowing nearly 30 points per game in 2007. The defensive line was racked by graduations, with senior Jeray Chatham being the only returnee. Junior DE Derek Burton should help contribute this fall after notching 3.5 sacks as a backup last year and the D-Line should not see too much of a drop off. The linebackers will rely on junior Patrick Lavine, who had 81 tackles last year and will be solid this fall. The secondary could be a strength for the Cowboys as three starters return but last year’s team gave up over 285 yards per game through the air! Expect a big improvement against the pass due in large part to the plethora of experience returning. Overall, Oklahoma State could be a pretty solid defense this fall but they aren’t among the Big XII’s best.
The schedule is fairly tough for the Cowboys, drawing trips to Mizzou and Colorado out of the North. The Cowboys also must face Texas and Texas Tech on the road while welcoming rival Oklahoma to town to close out the season. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a matchup with Washington State in Seattle to open the year. Overall, Oklahoma State doesn’t seem significantly stronger than last fall, but they also shouldn’t suffer horrible losses in the non-conference slate like last year either. An eight win season is probably a good expectation, but don’t expect the Cowboys to compete for the Big XII South crown.
Biggest Games: Aug. 30th vs. Washington State, Oct. 11th @ Mizzou, Oct. 25th @ Texas, Nov. 8th @ Colorado, Nov. 29th vs. Oklahoma
Texas A&M (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
2007 turned out to be the final year of the Dennis Franchione era at Texas A&M after the Aggies struggled to a 7-6 record in his 5 th and final season. It was a disappointing end to a tenure which began with such high hopes. However, Franchione went out with a big win over rival Texas and the Aggies will now look to move forward under the stewardship of former Green Bay Packers boss Mike Sherman. Sherman, a former OL coach under Aggie legend R.C. Slocum, will have the benefit of 10 returning starters during his first fall at the helm.
On offense, Texas A&M will turn the reigns over to senior Steven McGee for the 4 th and final time in his career. McGee is a threat to run the ball, running for 900 yards and 5 TDs while throwing for over 2,300 yards and 12 TDs. A&M should continue to be a run heavy team this fall with the return of two big time tailbacks as well. Senior Jorvorskie Lane is a tank, running for over 700 yards and 16 TDs last fall and is the definition of a goal line back. Supplementing his ability to move the ball will be junior Mike Goodson, who also ran for over 700 yards and should be a force this fall for the Aggies as the feature back. However, despite the presence of such talented ball carriers, the Aggies only return one starter along their offensive line. I expect this lack of experience to be mostly offset by Sherman’s prowess as an O-Line coach, along with the fact that any returning starters would have to learn the new blocking schemes anyway. Expect A&M to be very solid running the ball this fall and if the Aggies can develop a passing game despite returning very little in the pass catching department, Texas A&M could surprise a lot of teams with their explosiveness.
Texas A&M’s new defensive staff has a pretty big rebuilding job on their hands, as only one starter returns from last year’s front seven. However, the Aggies return all four members of last year’s secondary! The Aggies will have to hope that an extra year of seasoning will help improve their pass defense after allowing 255 yards per game through the air. Expect senior safety Devin Gregg to be a solid leader in the defensive backfield. Up front, senior DE Cyril Obiozor is the lone returning starter after notching 3.5 sacks a year ago. A&M could struggle with such a large group of new starters learning a new defense this fall but there are many players who have seen playing time last year, so the Aggies have just enough experience to surprise. At linebacker, A&M is very inexperienced and whoever wins a starting job will be a big question mark for the Aggies. Still, expect Texas A&M to produce at least decent linebacker play, but it will likely be another year before A&M has a great defense. This year’s edition is middle of the Big XII pack, at best.
Texas A&M has the best draw of all the Big XII South teams in conference play, welcoming Colorado and Kansas State from the North and visiting Iowa State. The Aggies also will have home field advantage when playing favorites Oklahoma and Texas Tech, so the potential for an upset is definitely there. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a visit from Miami, who blew the Aggies out last fall. Expect A&M to try and avenge their embarrassment on national television. Mike Sherman’s first A&M squad has a lot of talent but is very inexperienced. The strength of the team should be the running attack, which should score lots of points and help keep the youthful defense off the field. Texas A&M plays in a tough conference but should do well against its North division draw. While the Aggies have a lot of questions, missing a bowl game would be a big disappointment in College Station. Expect the Aggies to play tough this fall, but don’t expect any more than 7 wins.
Biggest Games: Sept. 20th vs. Miami, Oct. 4th @ Oklahoma State, Oct. 18th vs. Texas Tech, Nov. 8th vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 27th @ Texas
Baylor (Predicted Conference Record: 1-7)
2007 was more of the awful same for the Baylor Bears, who struggled to a 3-9 record, including a 0-8 mark in conference play. Former Head Coach Guy Morriss had 5 years to produce a winner, but his best effort came in 2005 when the Bears mustered a 5-6 mark. Enter former Houston boss Art Briles, who led the Cougars to 4 bowl games in 5 years. Briles will have a large group of players returning from last year, 15 starters in all, but Baylor remains far behind the rest of the Big XII South in terms of talent.
On offense, there are plenty of options available to Briles at the quarterback position, foremost being junior Blake Szymanski, who threw for over 2,800 yards last fall. Szymanski will have his top three receivers back and senior Thomas White’s eight touchdown grabs led the team last fall. The Bears also return a veteran offensive line which should open up some holes for whoever wins the tailback job. Baylor’s offense only scored a weak 18 points per game last fall, a number that the Bears should improve upon this fall.
On defense, the Bears allowed over 37 points per game last year, more than double what their offense scored! That unit should be slightly improved this fall, led by three returning starters on the defensive line. That group will be highlighted by senior DT Vinny Rhodes, who had 3.5 sacks last year while anchoring the line. Expect this group to help Baylor improve against the run after allowing over 180 yards per game last fall. The linebackers are relatively new, but junior Joe Pawelek was a 2 nd team All-Big XII choice and he will be counted on to improve upon his 120 tackles of a year ago. Baylor’s pass defense was very poor last year, allowing nearly 280 yards per game! Expect the Bears’ new starters in the secondary to improve from last year, but the Bears are probably still the worst pass defense in the conference. Overall, the Bears should be improved but they are still one of the conference’s weakest units.
The schedule is also trying. Nebraska and Mizzou dot the schedule from the North and the Bears face road trips to their in state rivals. Pretty much, when you’re Baylor all Big XII games are difficult. The non-conference schedule is also pretty tough, featuring Wake Forest, Washington State, and UConn. Overall, Baylor should be a better team this fall, but matching last year’s three win total would be somewhat of a surprise. Art Briles has quite a rebuilding job in front of him.
Biggest Games: Aug. 30th vs. Wake Forest, Sept. 19th @ UConn, Nov. 8th @ Texas, Nov. 15th vs. Texas A&M, Nov. 29th @ Texas Tech
The Bottom Line for the Big 12 in 2008
The Big XII has a very strong claim to being the nation’s deepest conference this fall. With a minimum of five top 25 teams going into the season in Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma, the Big XII has some of the strongest top end talent in the nation. The conference’s depth is also exceptional and the Big XII could see as many as nine bowl eligible teams this fall. In the North division, Missouri is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as division champions and they are legitimate National Title Contenders. In the South, Oklahoma and Texas Tech seem to be the odds on favorites to win the division and both could be unbeaten going into their matchup in late November, a game which should decide the 2008 Big XII South Champion. I fully expect the winner of each division to have no more than one loss and the Big XII title game could feature two top five teams! The winner of the Big XII could very easily be undefeated or have only one loss and it would not be a surprise at all if the Big XII Champion had a chance to play for the National Title. In my opinion, watch for the Oklahoma Sooners to defeat the Missouri Tigers in the Big XII Title Game and finish the regular season 13-0 en route to a National Title shot in Miami.
Matt Baxendell is collegesports-fans.com’s newest staff writer. If you’d like to join his college football therapy group, email him at matt.baxendell @ gmail.com with all your questions, comments, and anything else you would like to share.