Big 12 title runs through Red River
The Big 12 was able to avoid extinction thanks to Texas' deciding to stay put, but the same problems still exist. If anything, the issues and concerns are even greater.
Can a contender from the Big 12 North finally knock out Texas or Oklahoma?Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The conference isn’t going to be better next year by losing Nebraska and Colorado, two of the signature stars when the Big 12 was first formed, while the competitive balance will tilt even further toward Austin and Norman. With two divisions, there was at least a puncher’s chance for someone like a 2003 Kansas State or a Nebraska of last year to make things interesting, but that will probably be a thing of the past. Assuming there won’t be a championship game starting in 2011 (the league would have to get the NCAA to allow a conference title game to be held despite having only 10 teams), the Red River Rivalry will likely equal the Big 12 Championship year after year.
In a two-division system, a team just had to be the best in a six-team group. Next year, an Iowa State or a Kansas or a Kansas State will have to find a way to be better than Texas and Oklahoma and Missouri, and everyone else, to have a shot at the Big 12 title, and that’s not going to happen without a Reggie Bush situation destroying one of the superpowers.
As is, no one has been able to break the Sooners-Longhorns stranglehold on the South since Texas A&M shocked Kansas State for the 1998 title, and Texas and Oklahoma have represented the division 12 of the 14 years the Big 12 has been in existence and in each of the past 11 years. That’s not likely to change this year, and it’ll take something special for anyone else to win the conference title after Nebraska bolts.
The problem for the Big 12 will continue to be stability. Texas might be staying put, but Missouri would jump ship to the Big Ten in a hiccup if asked. Kansas, which went into full-blown panic mode when it looked as if it would be without a chair when the realignment music stopped, would love to find some true stability bolting to the Pac-10 now if it got the invite. There will still be grumbling across the board that the league is seen as Texas and a bunch of other teams (and that includes Oklahoma to some extent), the conference will be a clear No. 5 in national pecking order in terms of interest and excitement (at least until the Texas-OU game) and the TV exposure will take a hit.
This year, the conference should come down to the Nebraska-Missouri winner in the North and the Texas-Oklahoma battle in the South, with Texas A&M’s offense making things interesting. Someone will step up from out of nowhere and will be shockingly above-average, possibly Colorado in the North and/or Baylor in the South, but for the most part, the haves will almost certainly get all the limelight again, and it’s only going to get more unbalanced next year.
Team that'll surprise
Colorado: There will be some rough moments with road trips to California, Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska, and a home game against Georgia won’t be a peach, but the Buffaloes are just experienced enough and just motivated and angry enough to finally start to make positive steps under Dan Hawkins. Taking care of the winnable home games against Hawaii, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State is a must, and coming up with a win in the opener over Colorado State could make or break the season before it really gets started, but the pieces are there to come up with a winning season.
Team that'll disappoint
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will have a fun and wide open offense (even more of one than the past few years), there are plenty of good athletes across the board and the first half of the schedule is easy enough to cause everyone to get excited. But there’s too much rebuilding to be done and just enough rough spots of the schedule to be a bit of a down year after two straight nine-win seasons. OSU will still go bowling, but it could end up finishing fifth in the South.
Game of the Year
Texas at Nebraska, Oct. 16: Of course, the Oklahoma-Texas showdown in Dallas on Oct. 2 is the biggest game on the Big 12 slate, but after the Red River Rivalry is played, the battle in Lincoln could have more implications on the national title chase. The Huskers have two minor speed bumps in the first half of the schedule, at Washington and at Kansas State, but any team good enough to think about the national title has to roll through those. Most likely 5-0 before facing Texas, Nebraska will have this game, the Missouri game the week after and the road trip to Texas A&M, and that’ll be about it. If Texas leaves Nebraska unbeaten, book the tickets to Glendale with only one road game the rest of the way (at Kansas State).
5 big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight
1. DE Aldon Smith, Soph., Missouri
2. DE/LB Brian Duncan, Sr., Texas Tech
3. LB Keenan Robinson, Jr., Texas
4. WR Jeff Fuller, Jr. ,Texas A&M
5. RB Alexander Robinson, Sr., Iowa State
Coach on the hot seat
Dan Hawkins, Colorado: Mike Sherman had better come up with a nice season at Texas A&M, and Tommy Tuberville will get about 14 seconds of grace period before Texas Tech fans start comparing him to Mike Leach, but Hawkins might be on the hottest seat in America. With Colorado turning a page going to the Pac-10 next year, the powers-that-be will likely want a clean slate if Hawkins can’t produce a winning 2010.
5 nonconference games the Big 12 had better take very, very seriously
1. Kansas at Southern Miss, Sept. 17
2. Northern Illinois at Iowa State, Sept. 2
3. SMU at Texas Tech, Sept. 5
4. UCF at Kansas State, Sept. 25
5. San Diego State at Missouri, Sept. 18
Bold predictions: It’ll be 2008 all over again with a three-way tie on top of the Big 12 South. Oklahoma will beat Texas, Texas A&M will beat Oklahoma and Texas will beat Texas A&M, and the Longhorns will end up going to the Big 12 title game. … The running back will make a comeback in the Big 12 with Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas, Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray, Nebraska’s Roy Helu, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter, Iowa State’s Alexander Robinson, Texas A&M’s Christine Michael and Colorado’s Rodney Stewart all running for more than 1,000 yards. … The South will go 22-2 in nonconference play with TCU beating Baylor and Arkansas beating Texas A&M in a shootout. … Colorado will go bowling. … Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson will average more than 300 passing yards per game and will go over 400 yards at least three times. … Missouri will come up with a big year on both sides of the ball and will be the hot team going into 2011. … Missouri’s Aldon Smith will come up with more sacks than Texas A&M’s Von Miller. … Robert Griffin will lead Baylor to one mega-upset simply by being Robert Griffin.
5 best pro prospects
1. CB Prince Anukamara, Sr., Nebraska
2. DE Von Miller, Sr., Texas A&M
3. WR Jeff Fuller, Jr., Texas A&M
4. LB Travis Lewis, Jr., Oklahoma
5. LB/DE Jeremy Beal, Sr., Oklahoma
5 biggest shoes to fill
1. DT Baker Steinkuhler for Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
2. DE Jamarkus McFarland for Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
3. LB Andrew Gachkar for Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
4. OT Nick Martinez for Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
5. QB Garrett Gilbert for Colt McCoy, Texas