Wednesday, August 15, 2012

College Football 2012 Preview - Big 12

Jabesblog Projected Big 12 Standings
1.  Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1)
2.  Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, 7-2)
3.  Texas Longhorns (9-3, 6-3)
3.  West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 6-3)
5.  Kansas State Wildcats (8-4, 5-4)
5.  TCU Horned Frogs (8-4, 5-4)
7.  Baylor Bears (6-6, 4-5)
8.  Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-7, 2-7)
9.  Iowa State Cyclones (4-8, 1-8)
9.  Kansas Jayhawks (3-9, 1-8)

Non-Conference = Non-Challenge
With the 9 game conference schedule, it appears that most Big 12 teams are avoiding any marquee non-conference affairs.  Beyond Oklahoma welcoming in Notre Dame, the top challenges appear to be Virginia playing at TCU, Texas at Ole Miss, a rebuilding Miami, FL at Kansas State and the annual game with Iowa State traveling to Iowa.  Therefore you see why the gaudy non-conference record is expected for the Big 12, but wait...

Baylor will miss RGIII more than they think
Griffin often made up for a porous defense that gave up over 488 yards per game in 2011.  The offense will still be good, but it might take a little time to truly get the motor running on all cylinders.  Baylor has a tricky game against 2011 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State on September 15th, one of the FCS games I have circled as a potential upset.  They also host SMU and play at a tough Louisiana-Monroe team in the first 3 games, so the Bears appear to be one Big 12 team that will not emerge unscathed from the non-conference season.

"I'm a man" and I am building a program
There seems to be an expectation that the Oklahoma State Cowboys are going to take a big fall after losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon to Sundays.  I was a big proponent of the Cowboys a year ago and I am going to stick with them.  What Mike Gundy is doing is building a consistent winner and a system that works.  The defense should be better and the running game will turn it up a notch with underrated Joseph Randle.  I look for the Cowboys to be the runner-up in a very competitive top 6 of the Big 12 this season, with a chance to repeat if they can top Oklahoma in the annual Bedlam game.

Welcome to the Big 12
West Virginia and TCU join the league this year and both come in with high expectations.  Both teams bring high-powered offenses to the Big 12 (what's new) but both will be facing offenses far superior to the ones they faced a year ago on a weekly basis.  The Mountaineers are picked by many as a top 10 team, but I think too much stock is being put into the bowl blitz they performed on Clemson.  The defense will have to be much better and this team lost 2 Big East games a year ago where offenses would only be described as mediocre-powered.  TCU has had a lot of success against the Top 25 in recent years, but the weekly jump in competition is even more pronounced for them.  While both teams are top 25 caliber, I think it will take a year or two to build the depth to compete for the Big 12 title.

A Return to Prominence?
Texas dominated the Big 12 in a not-so-distant time ago and many expect this to be a year where they return to the top.  After all, they jumped from a disastrous 5 win season in 2010 to an 8 win season in 2011.  In a league full of high-octane offense, the Longhorns will undoubtedly boast the league's most high-octane defense.  Texas should also boast a strong running game that came on as 2011 progressed.  Sounds like a team ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the Big 12.  Wait, did I mention the sporadic play from their quarterbacks and lack of proven playmaker to stretch defenses?  Or that last year they lost to the Big 12 elite (Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State) by an average of 18 points?  Their best win in 2011 was the swan song at now former rival A&M?  I think Texas will be better, but with some of the offensive question marks, it seems unreasonable to expect that they would make the jump from beating none of the leagues elite to beating all of them.

Why am I hating on Texas Tech and Iowa State?
I am not hating on either of these teams, but the top 6 in the Big 12 look very, very strong this year.  Texas Tech is relying on JUCO transfers to improve a defense that imploded after the Oklahoma upset last year.  Iowa State was able to parlay big wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State into a bowl a year ago, but lacks the overall talent of the top of this league.  While Tech should be better and Iowa State is headed in the right direction, 2012 seems to be a year where the record will not be indicative of the strides these teams are making.

Will the Oklahoma Sooners meet expectations?
Last season, Oklahoma started the year in the #1 spot and failed to come close to those expectations.  With the return of Landry Jones, the Sooners are once again in everyone's pre-season top 5.  I am going to drink the Sooner kool-aid this year but I am cautiously sipping it.  This is a team that must replace some key defensive parts from an underachieving defense (especially in big games) last year, must replace an all-world wide receiver (who Jones was lost without after Broyles was injured last year) and has injury issues at running back.  That said, there is still talent everywhere and this team has a very high floor.  I am going with Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but the strength of this league combined with their question marks makes this one of my more tenuous picks.

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