2011 NCAA Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

August 25, 2011
By K. Becks

Overview

Slowly but surely, the Big 12 Conference is crumbling. With only ten teams left, and one of those ten likely to bolt for the SEC at season’s end, the conference is losing ground to the other “Big Six” conferences, who are picking fruit off of the Big 12 tree. It’s hard to blame those teams who have left the conference; with Texas creating its own network partnered with ESPN, it’s hard to argue that the other teams in the conference aren’t at a disadvantage.

Even with all of this hanging over the conference, the top half of the Big 12 should be very strong and has a chance to make national headlines. Three teams are ranked in the Top 10 of the preseason AP poll, and a fourth is ranked in the Top 25. It is entirely possible that a team not ranked in the preseason poll can storm through the regular season and surprise everyone to win the Big 12 title.

At the very least, the Big 12 can be entertaining purely because of the big time offenses in the conference. From Texas Tech’s Air Raid offensive attack to Robert Griffin III making the impossible look easy at Baylor, there is something for everyone in the Big 12 Conference.

Well, unless you’re talking revenue. In that case, most of it goes to Texas.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid

Oklahoma

Ranked first in both the AP poll and USA Today poll, it is no secret that the media’s opinion of Oklahoma is just as high as the team’s opinion of themselves. With eight returning starters on an offense that ranked third in the nation in passing and fourteenth overall, there is good reason to have high expectations.

With former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert now in the NFL, Landry Jones is far and away the best quarterback in the Big 12, with all due respect to Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. Jones is a confident leader who has the ability to keep his team focused and finish the job at hand, which is something that the Sooners struggled with at times last season. Jones’ leadership skills will be tested early when Oklahoma travels to play Florida State in a hostile Tallahassee environment.

If anything stops the Sooners from making it to New Orleans, it won’t be the offense. The defense needs to be better than last year, particularly at stopping the run. The defensive front should be improved, but the rest of the defense will be relatively inexperienced. This could be a problem later in the season, when they face terrific offenses in Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

If the Sooners can beat Florida State in September, their schedule is pretty favorable until they play Oklahoma State in Stillwater in the season finale. Bob Stoops’ teams have had a history of being unable to live up to high expectations in the past, but it’s still hard to pick against this team.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Texas A&M

This is a team ranked in the Top 10, but it still seems as if the majority of people aren’t giving the Aggies a whole lot of respect. Bad idea.

During Texas A&M’s six game winning streak last year, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made a name for himself and secured the starting job for the remainder of the 2010 season. Now a senior, Tannehill is expected to do similar things, and for the entire season. Luckily for Tannehill, he should have lots of help thanks to a receiving corps led by Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope. However, the biggest asset on offense is at running back. Senior Cyrus Gray is a game-changer who is a threat to take it for six on every carry. The Aggies should have a nice balance on offense and be able to score a lot of points.

As good as their offense is, fans in College Station should be more excited about the defense. The Aggies have been hampered by defensive struggles in the past, but this year eight starters return, including everyone in the secondary. Assuming that will mean an improvement in pass defense, Texas A&M has a chance to be just as imposing on defense as they are on offense.

The Aggies have to play Oklahoma State in September, and will travel to play Oklahoma at the beginning of November. They will need to bring their A game on both occasions, especially on defense, if they want to win those games. This year may be their best shot in awhile to do it, though. If they play to their potential, then Texas A&M will prove to everyone that their high preseason ranking was well deserved.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Justin Blackmon (Jr.), Oklahoma State wide receiver

Justin Blackmon is this year’s version of A.J. Green. Teams know who Blackmon is, but he’s just too athletic to stop. In 2010, Blackmon did not fail to amass at least 100 yards and a touchdown in every game, a performance good enough to earn him the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

Dana Holgerson is gone as the Cowboys offensive coordinator, but that should not affect Blackmon’s productivity. Blackmon is a rare talent who does not just rely on his size to make plays. His route running should be improved, and he has a great quarterback throwing to him in Brandon Weeden.

Blackmon is the potential to be a highlight reel machine this year, especially if the Cowboys get off to a good start. As arguably the biggest playmaker on the Oklahoma State squad, a good start for the Cowboy offense can be ensured by finding him early and often.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (October 1st)

If Texas A&M is for real, we will have found out a week before this game takes place, but this matchup is still one to watch. A rivalry game that used to take place annually when both teams were in the Southwest Conference, this game may become a conference rivalry yet again if Texas A&M ends up joining the SEC.

Arkansas will miss quarterback Ryan Mallett, but shouldn’t suffer greatly with junior quarterback Tyler Wilson. If the Razorbacks want to win this game, they will need to be sound defensively and contain Aggies running back Cyrus Gray. Considering that Arkansas was ranked tenth in the SEC in run defense in 2010, that may be easier said than done.

Texas A&M will come into this game knowing that Arkansas had the ability to score in the high 40s last season, but that was partly due to Mallett. Even so, the Aggies should be prepared to trade blows with the Razorbacks and hope that their defense, which is superior on paper, can make a few key stops.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (December 3rd)

Oklahoma State hasn’t beaten Oklahoma in the Bedlam Series since 2002. In that year, an unranked Cowboys team knocked off the third ranked Sooners 38-28 in Stillwater. Last year the Cowboys put up their first valiant attempt against Oklahoma since 2005, and the hope for fans of the orange and black is that last year’s progress is a sign of good things to come in 2011.

Like last year, this game should be an offensive shootout. Both teams have very solid offenses and defenses with question marks. This game has the potential to come down to the play of the quarterbacks, who may have to deal with cold weather. Landry Jones is probably the better overall quarterback, but Brandon Weeden is definitely the second best quarterback in the Big 12 and can hold his own.

There is an outside chance that both teams will come into this game undefeated, which would make for an epic season finale. Even if that doesn’t happen, there is still the chance that the teams will be competing for the Big 12 conference title, which will no longer be decided by way of a conference championship game. At any rate, the potential for lots of scoring makes this a game to keep an eye on during the first weekend in December.

Conference Predictions

1. Oklahoma (11-1, [8-1])

2. Texas A&M (11-1, [8-1])

3. Oklahoma State (10-2, [7-2])

4. Missouri (8-4, [5-4])

5. Texas (8-4, [5-4])

6. Texas Tech (7-5, [5-4])

7. Baylor (6-6, [4-5])

8. Kansas State (4-8, [2-7])

9. Iowa State (3-9, [2-7])

10. Kansas (2-10, [1-8])

- K. Becks

2 Responses to 2011 NCAA Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

  1. Guest on August 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    ESPN NCAAF – LSU QB Jordan Jefferson, LB Josh Johns suspended indefinitely, both arrested for 2nd degree battery

  2. miketag on August 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I think Weeden was the best QB in the league last year. Landry Jones struggled mightily on the road. I expect Weeden to drop off some this year since Holgo the barbarian is at WVU now.

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