2008 Big 12 Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 08/22/2008
Whether it's binge drinking, doing hard drugs, or quarterbacking, there is no substitute for experience. And with that maxim in mind I can, without a shadow of a doubt, make this prediction: it's going to be a hell of a party in the Big 12 this year.
The Big 12 has supplanted the Pac-10 as the second-best conference in the country. At least for this season. And the main reason is that no league in the country, even the mighty SEC, can match the experience, particularly at the all-important quarterback position, which the Big 12 boasts. In fact, 11 of 12 teams in the conference return their starting quarterback from last year and no less than four of those signal callers are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.
The prosperity and prestige that the Big 12 earns this year will only be building on their breakout performance in 2007. They finished last year with five teams ranked in the Top 25 and an incredible four in the Top 12. They went 5-3 in their bowl games with an impressive two-touchdown average margin of victory.
And I think things can get even better for them this time around. Party on.
Here's a preview and some 2008 Big 12 predictions:
The Favorite: Oklahoma
People talk about Sam Bradford, the nation's efficiency leader in 2007 as a freshman. They will talk about Auston English and the Sooners bone-cracking defense. They will talk about the genius of Bob Stoops. But the backbone of this team rests in its sturdy and stubborn offensive line. They have five seniors along the o-line, with four of them as three-year starters. They average weight of the line is 315 and the total weight is over 1,500 pounds! They allow the Sooners to control the ball, to control the game's tempo, and to basically do whatever they want when they have the ball. If Sam Bradford avoids the sophomore jinx that got Colt McCoy, he'll have the line to thank. I think the schedule is going to keep OU out of the national title game, though. Either a three-game stretch versus Texas, Kansas, and at Kansas State or their last two weeks against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will provide at least one loss.
The Challenger: Missouri
The Tigers are the best team in the Big 12. There's no doubt in my mind. But they are not the favorites because they cannot slay the dragon that is Oklahoma. The Tigers have dropped six straight to OU, losing to them four times in the last five years by an average of 17 points. Fortunately, OU isn't on the schedule. But if Mizzou has BCS hopes they will have to go through the Sooners in the B12 Title Game. Nine starters return on an ever-improving defense that holds the key to their season. But with Chase Daniels, three returning starters on the o-line, electric sophomore Jeremy Maclin, and future pro Chase Coffman, the offense is in good hands.
The Dark Horse: Texas Tech
Consider the Red Raiders as the anti-Tigers because they have actually won two of their last three meetings against Oklahoma. The offense is absolutely loaded - even more so than the normal Tech arsenal. They welcome back 10 starters, including Heisman candidates Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree and all five offensive line starters. But what separates this Raiders squad from past incantations - good for some video game scores and an upset or two - is the fact that with eight returning defensive starters. Their secondary boasts three experienced seniors on the first team and the depth on this D is greater than at any time in Mike Leach's tenure. The Raiders ain't no joke, and if Mizzou or OU underachieve they will be there to pick up the slack.
The X-Factor: Texas
A lot of people are touting Texas as a dark horse national championship team. Me, I don't see it. Colt McCoy may be the best NFL prospect in a league loaded with quarterback talent. And Auburn transplant Will Muschamp can only help improve a defense that was schizophrenic (No. 6 vs. run, No. 109 vs. pass). But Texas is at Colorado, at Texas Tech, and at Kansas. They also have a game against Oklahoma and they host Oklahoma State and Missouri. In a word: brutal. They could go 8-4 and have it be a hell of a year with that slate. But with that schedule, while they won't win the title they sure will have a say in who does.
The Surprise Team: Oklahoma State
"I'M A MAN, I'M 40!" Classic stuff from OSU head man. But the Cowboys are no joke this year. Through quarterback controversy, off-field issues, and coaching uncertainty, the Cowboys managed a lackluster 7-6 record in 2007. However, two of their losses (at Texas A&M and against Texas) were games in which they blew leads of 17 and 21 points. OSU will have to find a way to close those games. They did lose nearly half of their roster from last year, so depth is an issue. But they have 13 starters back, including QB Zac Robinson, four starting o-lineman, and five of their six leading tacklers.
The Disappointment: Kansas
I don't think that Kansas will drop off the map. Not at all. This is still a quality team that will show up in a major (but non-BCS) bowl game. However, the stars aligned for the Jayhawks in 2007 and they will be hard-pressed to duplicate that success. Now, it's tough to keep doubting a team that went 11-1 against the spread last year. But that's my point. A natural regression has to occur. Their schedule isn't loaded with cupcakes this season, as they draw Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma out of the South on top of a tough nonconference game at South Florida and a tilt against Mizzou to close the year. There is no plausible way they match last year's 12 wins with that slate.
Colorado - The Buffs are tough, and after two straight losing seasons Dan Hawkins' system should be taking root. The good news: they have eight starters and nine seniors back from a salty defense that should keep improving, and Darrell Scott was the No. 1 running back recruit in the country. The bad news: three new offensive line starters, a tough nonconference schedule (vs. West Virginia, at Florida St.), and eight freshmen and sophomores starting on offense.
Kansas State - The Wildcats are somewhat of a wild card. They welcomed a heavy JUCO influx to join their core of 12 returning starters. Chemistry is an issue, but with only two underclassmen on the first string this team is full of tough, experienced hitters. If the Wildcats are going to make strides, quarterback Josh Freeman has to cut down on mistakes and really take hold of this team.
Texas A&M - New coach Mike Sherman is ditching the option-based Aggies attack and replacing it with a pro-style offense. They have one of the best backfields in the league…but that's it. Only 10 starters return and their defense is in shambles. This is clearly a rebuilding year and should be tough sledding for the Aggies.
Nebraska - I'm actually looking for a decent improvement from the Huskers this year. Bill Callahan was an absolute joke and a total incompetent. Bo Pelini is a true Husker and will bring some toughness back to the program. Just 11 starters return, but they have plenty of experience on both the offensive and defensive lines. Also, Marlon Lucky is a stud RB. But a brutal schedule - Va. Tech, T-Tech, Mizzou, OU, Kansas, and at Kansas State - could still lead to a second straight losing season.
Baylor - The Bears have yet to name a starting quarterback (not good) but do have nine returning offensive starters and a bevy of experienced receivers (good) waiting for whenever they do. Better teams consistently bombed Baylor last year and, honestly, I don't see any reason why that would change.
Iowa State - You're looking at the only team in the league that didn't bring back a quarterback that started at least one game last year. Hence, they are going to routinely get their (edited) kicked on an every-week basis.