Big 12 Projected Standings
Oklahoma State, 8-1, 11-1
Oklahoma, 8-1, 10-2
Texas A&M, 7-2, 10-2
Missouri, 7-2, 10-2
Texas, 5-4, 8-4
Baylor, 4-5, 6-6
Texas Tech, 3-6, 6-6
Kansas State, 2-7, 4-8
Iowa State, 1-8, 2-10
Kansas, 0-9, 1-11
Big 12 Synopsis
The Big 12 is now 10. Out with the Big 12 Championship game and in with a full round-robin conference schedule. A new era starts in the conference and 4, potentially 5 teams appear loaded with the opportunity to grab the first conference crown in the post-Nebraska era.
Oklahoma State comes off a tremendous season, but defensive breakdowns in the Nebraska and Oklahoma games prevented it from being truly special. The Cowboys are loaded on offense again, with all-everything WR Justin Blackmon returning to pair with QB Brandon Whedon. All five offensive lineman return, which should help OK State with two tough September road games. The key in Stillwater will be the defense, most notably how the defense responds against the powers in the Big 12. With an offense loaded again, I think the defense will be good enough to win the Conference Title and BCS bid.
Oklahoma's duo of Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles matches that of their in-state rivals. The Sooners have a lot of talent on defense, but must improve on their #53 NCAA overall ranking from a year ago to reach the heights some experts are predicting for 2011. Jones has also struggled in big road games, with a trip to Tallahassee looming in the second game and a trip to Stillwater in the season finale. I would not be shocked if the Sooners ran the table, but Jones and the defense must prove it to me.
I am not sure if their will be any residual effect of Texas A&M being public enemy #1 in the Big 12. Their current flirtation with the SEC has to put a target on the Aggies back. All of that not withstanding, this Texas A&M team could be special. 18 starters return from a team who won 6 of their last 7 games last year, including wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska who played in the Big 12 Title Game. Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller lead the offense and the defense made significant strides last year. If the defense continues its improvement and the breaks fall right, it could be A&M atop the Big 12 when the dust clears in 2011.
Missouri returns 16 starters from a year ago, but one that they need to replace is at the quarterback position where Blaine Gabbert has moved on. Gabbert's younger brother Tyler will compete with James Franklin for the job. Honestly, even with older brother Blaine, the Tigers offense was fairly pedestrian in 2010, ranking only 8th in scoring offense in the Big 12 a year ago. With 4 returning seniors on the offensive line and experience at WR and RB, the offense could be better in 2011. Combine that with an always solid defense and a 4th 10-win season in 5 years is entirely possible in Columbia.
Then there is Texas. What happened to the Longhorns a year ago? Was 2010 just a huge fluke? Or is there some rebuilding work to do? Unfortunately, the four teams I have already mentioned appear to be way more explosive offensively than Texas, so if the Longhorns are going to make a mark it will be with their defense. If Garrett Gilbert or another QB emerges, Texas will join the group above them. More likely, they will make strides but be stuck in the middle of the conference standings in 2011.
Baylor and Texas Tech should both be good enough to secure bowl bids in 2011. Robert Griffin might be the best QB in the conference, but the Baylor defense is porous. The Red Raiders are almost as bad defensively and must replace all of their skill position players.
Bill Snyder got Kansas State back to a bowl in 2010, but with a new quarterback and the full round-robin schedule in conference, a 2011 bowl bid seems like a long shot. Iowa State will continue to improve defensively, but their are too many new offensive starters to see much progress this year. Kansas will struggle to win a conference game as underclassmen will play significant roles in 2011.
Team most likely to exceed my expectations: Texas. The Longhorns defense may be the Big 12's best, so any offensive improvement could get Texas back in the Title mix.
Team most likely to play below my expectation: Missouri. If the Tigers new QB's struggle, the Tigers could fall back to the middle of the pack.
Big 12 Player of the Year
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Games to Watch
September 9 - Missouri at Arizona State
September 17 - Oklahoma at Florida State
September 24 - Missouri at Oklahoma
September 24 - Oklahoma State at Texas A&M
October 1 - Arkansas at Texas A&M
October 15 - Oklahoma State at Texas
October 22 - Oklahoma State at Missouri
November 5 - Texas A&M at Oklahoma
December 3 - Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
September 3 - SMU at Texas A&M
September 17 - Oklahoma State at Tulsa
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M
Alamo Bowl: Missouri
Insight Bowl: Texas
Holiday Bowl: Baylor
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Texas Tech