2012 NCAA Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

August 21, 2012
By K. Becks

I’m going to attempt to post a new conference preview every day from here on out, because the season is quickly approaching. I can’t guarantee anything, however. Today’s preview takes a look at the Big 12 Conference.

Overview

After being on the brink of extinction just a year ago, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby began poaching from other conferences as quickly as they were poaching from him. Luckily for supporters of the conference, it worked. The Big 12 landscape has changed dramatically from two years ago, as Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri all left. But Bowlsby raked in West Virginia and TCU, two schools that were perennial powers in their former conferences and have the money and recruiting pipelines to be competitive in their new one as well.

All of this realignment may actually make a difference at the top of the Big 12 standings this season. West Virginia appears to have put together a very strong squad, and it would be foolish to count out Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs on the basis that the Mountain West is not as competitive as the Big 12. Oklahoma will be strong once again, and Texas will try to work its way back into the national spotlight. Like the high flying offenses that this conference is known for having, Big 12 football should be very entertaining this season.

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

Oklahoma

No ranked out-of-conference matchup looms on the schedule this season, so it will come down to how the Sooners respond in conference play as to whether they are vying for a national title spot. Last season, a defense that was porous at times was the undoing of an otherwise strong team. This year, head coach Bob Stoops has brought back his brother Mike (formerly the head coach at Arizona) to run the defense, who should immediately tighten things up on the defensive end. The last time the Sooners won the national championship, in 2000, Mike was the defensive coordinator, so the new hire bodes well for this team.

Oklahoma does travel to play both West Virginia and TCU, which happen to be its hardest games of the year. However, the Sooners have the offense to keep pace with Geno Smith and the Mountaineers, and could have the defense to contend in a low scoring affair with TCU. With senior quarterback Landry Jones back running the offense, senior tailback Dominique Whaley healthy and junior middle linebacker Tom Wort anchoring the defense, the Sooners are talented and experienced enough to run the table in 2012.

West Virginia

It is wise to be skeptical that West Virginia’s success in the Big East will automatically translate over into the Big 12. However, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen developed his air raid offense while he was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and has the athletes at West Virginia to be able to run it effectively against his former conference foes.

Quarterback Geno Smith will be in the spotlight this season as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Similarly to RGIII with Kendall Wright last season, Smith will look great in part thanks to slot receiver Tavon Austin, whose speed and versatility make him one of the most valuable players on West Virginia’s roster. Assuming the offense is humming, the only thing separating West Virginia from a memorable inaugural season in the Big 12 is the defense, which is transitioning to a 3-4 scheme. But hey, it’s the Big 12; even if the Mountaineers don’t get it totally right on defense, they should still be in the hunt because of their explosiveness on offense.  

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

TCU

Anyone who wants to claim that TCU will struggle in the Big 12 because the conference schedule will be so much more demanding than it was in the Mountain West is playing right into Gary Patterson’s hands. The Horned Frogs love a challenge, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get this season. True, the players on both sides of the ball will be bigger, faster and more talented than the majority of opponents TCU played in the Mountain West. But the Horned Frogs are not outmatched, and should be able to hang with pretty much every team in the conference. The question is, will they be able to do it week after week all season long?

I think that the answer is yes. Expect an improved Casey Pachall at quarterback, who has shown glimpses of a player almost as good as his predecessor, current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Also expect a punishing rushing attack, which is fairly unique to the Big 12 but should be just as effective as some of the conference’s passing attacks (TCU ranked 9th in the nation in scoring last season). As long as the Horned Frogs don’t suffer too many injuries, their starters should be up to the challenge of competing with the big boys for an entire season.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Geno Smith (Sr.), West Virginia quarterback

The Heisman hopeful and key to Dana Holgorsen’s air raid offense will be under a considerable amount of pressure to deliver in the school’s first season as a Big 12 member. Fortunately for Mountaineers fans, Smith is extremely poised and comfortable in the pocket and does not make many bad decisions. He is methodical in the way he can pick apart any defense he goes up against, and is always a threat to pass for over 300 yards.

If West Virginia is to make it back to a BCS bowl, Smith will need to have a season similar to last year, in which he threw for 31 touchdowns and over 4300 yards. He is more than capable of doing that and more. If he does, a trip to New York in early December may very well be in his future.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma (October 27th)

The majority of the Big 12 schools are playing pretty watered down out-of-conference schedules this year, which quite frankly leaves some lingering questions about the true strength of the conference once December rolls around. However, Oklahoma’s matchup against Notre Dame in late October is fairly intriguing. The Fighting Irish have a number of holes on both sides of the ball, but bring enough players back that make them a threat to surprise a team like Oklahoma.

If this is a high scoring game (and it probably will be), Notre Dame will have a chance to pull off a monumental upset. However, if Mike Stoops’ defense is firing on all cylinders, this has the potential to get ugly. From the standpoint of a neutral fan, the hope will be that this game turns out like Notre Dame’s barnburner with Michigan last year.

In-Conference Game To Watch

TCU vs. West Virginia (November 3rd)

Chances are that if someone is going to challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title, it’s going to be one of these two teams. What makes this game even more interesting is that both teams play Oklahoma after this game, which means that things aren’t necessarily over for the loser.

If Gary Patterson has his way, then this game will be a battle between West Virginia’s explosive offense and TCU’s defense. TCU will need to be improved defensively if it wants to contain Geno Smith & Co., but TCU’s offense should be good enough to take some of the pressure off the defense. The winner will gain bragging rights as the first to win as conference foes, but more importantly, it will put them in good position to contend for the Big 12 championship and automatic BCS slot.

Conference Predictions

1. Oklahoma (11-1, [8-1])

2. West Virginia (10-2, [7-2])

3. TCU (9-3, [6-3])

4. Kansas State (8-4, [5-4])

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

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

7. Oklahoma State (7-5, [4-5])

8. Iowa State (5-7, [3-6])

9. Texas Tech (6-6, [3-6])

10. Kansas State (2-10, [0-9])

Questions from the Readers

There are no questions from the readers for the Big 12 Conference. Remember, if you have a question that you want to see answered, send me it on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, by tweeting me at @KBecks_ATC or emailing me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. Thanks everyone.

- K. Becks

One Response to 2012 NCAA Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

  1. mancolepig on August 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Come on Kyle, nobody plays defense in the Big 12, WVU definitely won’t need one haha. I have some more questions for you:

    How long will it take Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez to have exciting offenses that can create shootout thrillers like their old teams?

    With Andrew Luck gone, who will take the load for Stanford’s offensive attack, and how will the Cardinal fare as a result?

    With 13 returning starters, including QB Tyler Wilson and RB Knile Davis, how come Arkansas isn’t getting respect as a national title threat?

    On the flipside, how come South Carolina is ranked so high? I understand that Marcus Lattimore is coming back but there is no way of knowing how healthy he’ll be and they lost key pieces on offense and defense (ie Alshon Jeffrey and Melvin Ingram). Is it because LSU and Alabama aren’t on the Gamecock schedule or because they actually are that good?

    Are there any non-AQ teams that could make a BCS bowl this year? (And don’t say Notre Dame because we all know they only have to win 8 games to make a BCS bowl)

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