The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 26, 2011

2011 Big 12 Conference Preview

2011 Big 12 Conference Preview

 

13 months ago, it appeared as if the Big 12 Conference was about to become the Deep-Sixed Conference.  Nebraska left for the Big Ten, and Colorado followed Horace Greeley’s advice and went west.

 

Before the flies could descend on the lifeless body, Commissioner Dan Beebe was able to rescue the league at the 11th hour.  It looked like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech were going to join Colorado in the Pac-16.

 

Then, Texas thought about exploring its options as an Independent, with the hopes of joining Notre Dame in a long-term agreement to play in a lot of sports.  Texas A&M let it be known that they wanted to become a member of the Southeastern Conference.  Missouri begged its way into the Big Ten.

 

None of this happened.  Texas got their wish granted with the Longhorn Network becoming the dominant financial bonanza.  ESPN threw enough revenue to keep the now 10-team league alive—for at least another year.

 

13 months later, the SEC is now looking like a 13-team league for 2012.  Texas A&M decided that the Longhorn Network made the Lone Star State not big enough for both.  On Thursday, August 25, they officially informed the Big 12 that they were exploring their options for leaving the conference and would “help” the league find a replacement.

 

This is legalese for: “Screw it, Texas.  We are going to the SEC.”  A&M will become the SEC’s 13th member.  SMU is lobbying hard to replace them, but the Mustangs still have that huge black cloud hanging over them from becoming the one team (for now) ever to suffer the football death penalty.  Some in the Southwest thing SMU should never be allowed to become a major player again, just like many in Europe are not ready to see Germany become a military power again.

 

Of course, the SEC cannot stay at 13 teams for long.  At the most, look for it to be a one-year experiment.  Team number 14 is assured, while teams 15 and 16 are probable.  Missouri is ripe to become one of those three teams, as it offers everything the SEC wants.  It brings in to play the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, two of the top 30.  It brings in a huge chunk of the Illinois market, including Chicago, as their flame-throwers broadcast downstate to all the cities in Central and parts of Southern Illinois.  Missouri’s football program is strong enough to compete, yet just weak enough for Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas to not object.  Their basketball program has been consistently good for a long time, so the Tigers become a logical choice to bolt as well.

 

For this season, it will be interesting to see if Texas A&M becomes the recipient of a lot of questionable calls on the field.  Nebraska Athletics’ Director Tom Osborne believed the Cornhuskers were “jobbed” several times last year.

 

OKLAHOMA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

He is not quite as talented as Andrew Luck, but Landry Jones could win the Heisman Trophy over him this year, especially if the Sooners finish with a better record.

 

Jones threw 617 passes last year, completing 405 for 65.6%.  He accumulated 4,718 yards (average of 337 yards per game) and threw 38 touchdown passes.  Barring injury, he will shatter the all-time passing yardage record at OU; he needs only 487 yards to pass Sam Bradford, the man he replaced in Norman.  If he stays healthy for all 13 games, even if he gets pulled in the second half of multiple blowouts, Jones should top the 4,500 yard plateau once again (OU will play one less game without a conference championship game).

 

Behind Jones, Drew Allen and Blake Bell are battling it out for the second option.

 

Receivers

Coach Bob Stoops welcomes back his top two receivers, and they are both superstars.  Ryan Broyles only caught 131 passes last year to lead the nation in receptions.  He amassed more than 1,600 yards and scored 14 times.  Kenny Stills was a 1st Team Freshman All-American last year after catching 61 passes for 786 yards. 

 

Tight end James Hanna is used more as a decoy, but when Jones throws to him, good things happen.  He averaged 16+ yards per catch last year and scored touchdowns on 39% of his receptions!  Imagine trying to stop Broyles and Stills, only to have Hanna burn you for a quick six.

 

DeJuan Miller is the third receiver in the three wide receiver formation.  He’s coming off an injury year in which he caught 15 passes in limited action.  If he returns to form, this becomes the best receiving corps in all of college football.  If he cannot play at his pre-injury talent level, then the Sooners will be the co-number one receiving unit—with their in-state rival.

 

Running Backs

DeMarco Murray is now in the NFL after finishing his OU career with a 1,200+ yard season.  Stoops and offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell will probably go with a platoon here.  Brennan Clay will be the starter for the opener, but true freshman Brandon Williams and Roy Finch will see plenty of action.  Clay is nursing a pinched nerve in his neck, so he could be in danger of missing some playing time.  When he is hit in the right place, he loses feeling in half his body, including the part that holds onto the ball. 

 

Offensive Line

This is the only minor concern on this side of the ball, and we are using the word “concern” only in the context of being concerned that it might prevent the Sooners from averaging 45 points per game this season.

 

Center Ben Habern and guard Gabe Ikard are legitimate all-conference players.  Guard Tyler Evans and tackle Donald Stephenson are returning starters.  Daryl Williams at 6-6 and 313 pounds has the potential to be a star, but as a redshirt freshman, he has a lot of learning to do.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This was going to be a major strength this year, but one of its top stars may not be eligible to play.  End Ronnell Lewis is waiting to learn if he has met the academic requirements from his summer classes to regain his eligibility.  The junior, a former linebacker, is one of the top defensive ends in the conference, and his loss would cost Oklahoma a point or more in the PiRate Ratings.  David King is bigger than but not as mobile as Lewis, and he will replace Lewis if he cannot go.

 

Frank Alexander is set at the other end position.  He finished 2010 with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss.  Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker will open the season at the tackle positions, with former starter Stacy McGee rotating in.

 

This is not a championship-quality defensive front four without Lewis.  It is also not as deep as it could have been, as backup Daniel Noble had to give up football.  The Sooners may be strong enough to make it through the regular season with a sub-spectacular defensive line, but they will not beat the likes of Stanford or Alabama without some improvement here.

 

Linebackers

Coming out of Spring Practice, OU had one of the top three linebacker units in the nation.  Since then, they have lost their middle linebacker through tragedy and their Will linebacker through injury.

 

Austin Box died from an overdose of pain medication.  He would have contended for all-conference honors.  In his place, Tom Wort will perform admirably and could lead the team in tackles.  He started nine times last year and made 66 tackles with 7 ½ for losses.

 

Travis Lewis was the leading tackler last year with 109, and he was the best pass defender among Big 12 linebackers.  He intercepted three passes and batted away five others.  Unfortunately, he is lost for at least three weeks with a broken toe.  He probably will be held out until the Texas game.  In his place, Corey Nelson will see a lot of action.  Nelson made 21 tackles in 2010.

 

Tony Jefferson returns to the Sam linebacker spot.  He registered 65 tackles with seven going for losses.  He got his paws on seven passes and picked off two more.

 

Secondary

There is one small question with the OU secondary this year.  His name is Jamell Fleming, and he led the league in passes defended last year with 19, while interception five passes.  He earned 1st Team All-Big 12 honors and was set to compete for All-American merit this year.  That is until Stoops booted him from the team in the spring for what appeared to be academic issues.  He is back on the team and listed as a reserve, while Gabe Lynn is listed as the replacement at cornerback.  Lynn is a good defender, but Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi would not bench Curtis Granderson for Andruw Jones and expect to be the same team.

 

Demonte Hurst starts at the other cornerback position.  He intercepted just one pass last year, but he broke up 11 others.  The Sooners will start two new safeties this year.  Aaron Colvin and Janvon Harris saw extensive playing time as reserves, but they will not be as effective as last year’s safeties.

 

OTHER

The last six years have not been as successful as the previous five for Stoops.  After going 60-7 between 2000 and 2004, they have fallen all the way to 62-19 since.

 

The Sooners gave up 362 yards per game last year, which represents the second time in three years that OU has surrendered more than 360 yards per game.  Two years ago, they gave up just 273 yards and 14.5 points per game.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is not a perfect one for a team hoping to go undefeated and advance to the National Championship Game.  Tulsa will not be an easy win in the opening game.  The Sooners get a week off to prepare for Florida State but must play the Seminoles in Tallahassee.  A home game with Missouri the following week is setting up as a trap game.  After a breather with Ball State, OU has the annual Red River Shootout with Texas in Dallas.  In the second half of the season, a home game with Texas A&M and the finale on the road at Oklahoma State presents two other tough games.  Oklahoma is capable of running the table this year, but with the defensive losses, we do not believe they can pull it off.  They could even find themselves having to split the conference title if one of the top contenders can knock them off.

 

Texas A&M

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback midway through the season and guided the Aggies to a 6-0 finish after a 3-3 start.  He completed 65% of his passes for 1,638 yards and 13 touchdowns.  He should top the 3,200 yard mark this year and could approach 3,500.  If he goes down with an injury, there are only true freshmen and redshirt freshmen to back him up. 

 

Receivers

All four starters return from 2010, so A&M should be even better through the air this season.  Coach Mike Sherman knows how to put together great passing plans.  Jeff Fuller led the Aggies with 1,066 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.  His 72 receptions tied him for the team lead with Ryan Swope, who gained 825 yards through the air.  Swope also proved to be valuable on reverse plays.  Uzoma Nwachukwu caught 44 passes, and tight end Nehemiah Hicks added 11 receptions. 

 

Running Backs

Cyrus Gray led the Aggies with 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he returns for his senior season.  He also contributed 34 receptions.  Backup Christine Michael gained 631 yards and caught 13 passes.  The Aggies are in very good shape here.

 

Offensive Line

Four starters return to what could be one of the top lines in the country.  Center Patrick Lewis was an honorable mention all-conference player last year.  Tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel were two of the best freshmen linemen in the nation.  Guard Brian Thomas also made the honorable mention all-conference team.  The vacant guard spot will go to either Shep Klinke or Evan Elke.  Elke has past starting experience.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Aggies switched to a 3-4 defense last year, and the defensive line was more of a blocking and containing trio.  It allowed the linebackers to flow without much interference, and A&M gave up just 130 rushing yards per game while dumping quarterbacks 30 times.

 

The Aggies will start Jonathan Mathis and Tony Jerod-Eddie at the ends.  The two combined for 90 tackles with six going for losses.  A two-way race at the nose tackle has yet to be decided.  Kirby Ennis and Eddie Brown will probably platoon at the position.

 

Linebackers

It will be tough to replace the two linebackers that left the Aggies.  Michael Hodges led the team with 115 tackles, earning 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors.  Von Miller departed as a 1st Team All-American, the Butkus Award, and a first round pick of the Broncos.

 

Caleb Russell will get first crack at Miller’s Joker (rush) linebacker position.  Damontre Moore, Brandon Alexander, and Tyrell Taylor are also in the mix there.  The other outside linebacker position belongs to Sean Porter, who performed well both against the run and pass last year.  He recorded seven tackles for loss and six passes defended.

 

Garrick Williams is firmly entrenched at one inside spot after finishing with 112 tackles last year.  Jonathan Stewart will split time with true freshman Donnie Baggs at the vacant inside spot.

 

The Aggies are deep here, but they are not as talented as they were last year.

 

Secondary

All four starters return here, and the Aggies will have a top-notch pass defense this season.  Cornerbacks Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick teamed for 18 passes defended.  Safeties Steven Campbell and Trent Hunter teamed for 95 tackles.

 

OTHER

Barring some unforeseen event, Texas A&M will become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference in the summer of 2012.  You should take note of their games this year to see if they are getting hosed by Big 12 officials during conference games. 

 

Judie is an excellent kick returner.  He returned two kicks for touchdowns last year and averaged more than 30 yards per return.

 

SUMMARY

Texas A&M plays one SEC team this year, and it should be a must watch game.  The Aggies will face Arkansas at Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington on October 1.  Their other non-conference games are SMU and Idaho, both hosted at Kyle Field.

 

In conference play, they have five home and four road games, but the big one is on enemy turf.  A&M plays Oklahoma in Norman on November 5.  Of course, there is the matter of ending their tenure in the Big 12 with that team with the big TV network. The Aggies face the Longhorns on Thanksgiving Day, and it should be one for the history books.

 

Sherman guided the Packers to four NFL playoff berths, and he has guided A&M to consecutive bowl games after a 4-8 first season in 2008.  Look for the Aggies to contend for the conference title, but only if they face honest officiating.  They should win at least 10 games.

 

Oklahoma State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Mike Gundy has been there before.  As quarterback of OSU in the late 1980’s, he began the 1988 season without the school’s all-time leading runner, Thurman Thomas.  It was thought he would be forced to pass much more with the loss of such a superstar.  All he had behind him was some the team’s return specialist from the previous two years.  His name was Barry Sanders.

 

You know the rest.  Gundy did pass the ball a lot, mostly to Hart Lee Dykes.  Defenses had to play honest and could not creep up to the line.  Sanders simply rushed for an all-time record with 2,628 yards rushing.  The Cowboys’ offense was unstoppable, averaging 48.7 points per game.  They finished 10-2, losing to Nebraska 63-42 and to Oklahoma 31-28.

 

There are a lot of similarities to the 1988 offense and this year’s offense.  The Cowboys must replace a top running back but have one waiting in the wings that could shine—okay, not like Sanders, but he could easily go over 1,000 yards rushing.

 

That brings us to the quarterback position.  Brandon Weeden will challenge Landry Jones for the passing yard leadership in the Big 12 and maybe in the nation if Case Keenum cannot return to form at Houston.

 

Weedon completed 67% of his passes for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns last year.  His yards per attempt was 8.4; anything above eight is considered excellent, and to post a number this high while averaging about 40 passes a game is almost unheard.

 

The only fly in the ointment is the loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia.  Todd Monken takes over after serving as an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  He may not be as pass happy as Holgorsen was.

 

Receivers

It is debatable whether the Cowboys have a better receiving corps than their rivals up the road in Norman.  We can tell you one thing for sure:  the two schools’ top receiver is the co-best receiver in the nation.

 

OSU’s co-best is Justin Blackmon.  Blackmon caught 111 passes and averaged more than 16 yards per reception last year.  He scored 20 touchdowns and earned a spot on the 1st Team All-American squad.

 

Josh Cooper caught 68 passes and returns to his slot receiver position.  Hubert Anyiam missed a good portion of the season, and in limited action, he grabbed 11 passes, scoring three touchdowns.  Tracy Moore started six times and caught 17 passes.  This supporting cast will make it very tough for opponents to concentrate on Blackmon.

 

Running Backs

The aforementioned back that could take over for departed 1,500+-yard rusher Kendall Hunter is Joseph Randle.  Randle rushed for 452 yards in five starts last year.  He should top the 1,000-yard mark and could approach the 1,500 yards gained by Hunter.  If he cannot rush 25 times per game, look for Jeremy Smith to split time with him.  Smith is more of a power back and should get a lot of carries in short yardage situations.

 

Offensive Line

Last year, the Cowboys had the top offensive line in the league.  They opened holes in the running game, allowing backs to rush for 174 yards per game at an average of five yards (5.3 when factoring out the meager 10 sacks allowed). 

 

How can they possibly match those stats this year?  Easy: they return all five starters to what could be the best offensive line in college football (fans in Tuscaloosa may have an argument).

 

This quintessential quintet features two reigning 1st Team All-Big 12 selections—guard Lane Taylor and tackle Levy Adcock.  Grant Garner returns at center, and Jonathan Rush returns at guard.  Nick Martinez is the other returning starter but he will lose his spot to Juco transfer Michael Bowie.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

It is not gloom and doom on this side of the ball, but OSU will give up a lot of points and yards to teams with good offenses.  The defensive line returns just one full-time starter from 2010, and this quartet will give up more rushing yards than last year’s team (134/game).

 

End Richetti Jones is the lone returnee here.  He made 34 tackles with seven for losses last year.  Senior Jamie Blatnick was a part-time starter at the other end spot, and he recorded 27 tackles with 5 ½ sacks.

 

Christian Littlehead and Nigel Nicholas are set to start at the tackle positions.  Nicholas made four stops for loss in limited action.

 

Linebackers

Only one starter returns here as well.  Shaun Lewis made the Freshman All-American team last year after making 58 tackles with eight going for losses.  Caleb Lavey made 10 tackles in limited action and will start in the middle, while Juco transfer Alex Elkins will man the other spot.

 

Secondary

OSU gave up 276 passing yards per game and allowed 62.5% of enemy passes to be completed last year, so there is a lot of room for improvement here.  Three starters return, but unless the Cowboys get a better pass rush, not much improvement will be made.

 

Safeties Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas teamed up for 118 tackles.  They both intercepted three passes and teamed for 15 other passes broken up.  Martin is the star of this unit.  Cornerback Broderick Brown finished with 77 tackles and 10 passes defended.  Justin Gilbert will start at the vacant cornerback spot after making 18 tackles in limited action.

 

OTHER

Yes, this does remind us a lot of the 1988 Oklahoma State team.  The Cowboys’ offense could average more than 45 points per game and even approach the 1988 numbers of 48.6.  And like that team, they are liable to give up 28 points per game.

 

Quinn Sharp finished in the top 5 with a 40.7 net punting average and 46.2 punting average.  He also proved to be very valuable on kickoffs, as most of them went for touchbacks. 

 

Josh Cooper and Justin Gilbert are two more special teams’ weapons.  Cooper returned a punt for a score, while Gilbert returned two kickoffs for scores.

 

SUMMARY

Oklahoma State should start 3-0 with wins over Louisiana, Arizona, and Tulsa.  Game four finds them playing at Texas A&M in what will make or break their season.  Upset the Aggies, and OSU could possibly run the table until the finale.  They host the Sooners on December 3, on what would have been the date for the Big 12 Championship Game.  Wouldn’t it be something if it still were and both teams were 11-0 entering the game?  We don’t see it as a legitimate possibility, but it is not impossible either.

 

Missouri

OFFENSE

Quarterback

The Tigers must start from scratch here.  Blaine Gabbert did not prove to be another Chase Daniel or Brad Smith, but he may prove to be a better NFL quarterback one day.  Gabbert departed Mizzou after throwing for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. 

 

James Franklin takes over after serving as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation as a true freshman last year.  Franklin rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while passing for 106 yards and another touchdown.

 

Coach Gary Pinkel will rely as much on Franklin’s legs as his arm, as the Tigers probably revert back to the philosophy used during the Smith era.

 

Receivers

Franklin will have an experienced and talented corps of receivers on hand, as MU returns its starting tight end as well as the three starting receivers.  T. J. Moe led the team in receptions last year with 92, followed closely by tight end Michael Egnew with 90.  The tandem combined for more than 1,800 receiving yards and 11 scores.  Moe also proved valuable as a reverse runner.

 

Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp combined for 89 receptions, 1,076 yards, and six touchdowns.  Backups Brandon Gerau and Rolandis Woodland should see more action this season.  Woodland has breakaway potential.

 

Running Backs

Missouri utilized a three running back approach last year, and all three return this season.  Kendial Lawrence will serve as the starter, with De’Vion Moore and Henry Josey seeing about the same amount of snaps.  The trio combined for 1,376 yards and 17 touchdowns.  All three averaged more than five yards per attempt.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to an offensive line that can be classified as about average for this conference.  Tackle Dan Hoch is the big man at 6-07 and 315 pounds.  He earned a spot on the All-Big 12 2nd Team.  Unfortunately, Elvis has left the building.  Elvis Fisher suffered a season-ending knee injury and will be replaced by Justin Britt.

 

Center Travis Ruth has a strained Achilles’ tendon and could miss the opener against Miami of Ohio, while guard Austin Wuebbels could join him on the sidelines due to a strained neck.  Guard Jayson Palmgren is healthy and will start.

 

If Ruth is not ready to go in game one, then Palmgren will slide over to center, and Jack Meiners will start at guard.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is the strongest unit on this side of the ball, and three starters return from a line that performed adequately last year.  MU gave up 153 rushing yards and forced 38 sacks.

 

The Tigers should have an upgrade at tackle with the arrival of top Juco transfer Sheldon Richardson.  He will split time with last year’s starter Dominique Hamilton, though Hamilton will start the opener.  Terrell Resonno will join him in the middle.

 

Jacquies Smith returns to his end position after recording 5 ½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Brad Madison will be the new starter on the opposite flank.  As a third end last year, he actually earned 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors with a team-high 7 ½ sacks and 11 stops for loss.

 

Linebackers

This unit will improve within a month, but it will suffer until middle linebacker Will Ebner is back to 100% following a concussion.  Zaviar Gooden will have to take up the slack from his weak side position.  Gooden led Mizzou with 85 tackles in 2010.  Sophomore Andrew Wilson inherits the vacant strong side spot after coming up with 42 tackles as a reserve last year.  

 

Secondary

A suspect secondary will get you beat in this pass-happy league.  Missouri’s defensive backfield is teetering on the brink of becoming suspect.  Only one starter returns from last year.  Safety Kenji Jackson finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles and had five passed defended.

 

Matt White will get first crack at the vacant safety spot, while the new starting cornerbacks are Kip Edwards and E. J. Gaines.  This trio saw decent playing time last year, teaming up for 80 tackles and 10 passes defended.

 

OTHER

Pinkel has fielded six consecutive winning seasons, the first time that has happened in Columbia since 1978-1983.

 

The Tigers are an excellent option to become the SEC’s 14th, 15th, or 16th team.  See the introduction of this feature for the reasons.

 

SUMMARY

Missouri is not as strong this year as it was last year.  Don’t expect another 10-2 regular season and victory over Oklahoma.  However, don’t expect the Tigers to be home for the holidays either.  There is still enough talent left to produce a seventh consecutive bowl team.

 

The non-conference schedule has one tough road game at Arizona State and two easy wins at home with Miami of Ohio and Western Illinois.  MU must face both Texas A&M and Oklahoma on the road, but they can compete in the remaining seven conference games.  Look for eight wins this season.

 

Texas

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Mack Brown does not give out much information to the media, and thus it is always tough to know for sure how their depth chart looks.  One place where we can make a very educated guess is at quarterback,  Garrett Gilbert will hold off Case McCoy and David Ash to return as a starter.  Gilbert completed 59% of his passes for 2,744 yards, but his TD/int ratio was a poor 10/17.  He rushed for more than 500 yards (factoring out his sacks).  His tendency to throw to the wrong colored jersey led to the Longhorns posting a -12 turnover margin.

 

Receivers

Mike Davis is the only sure starter here.  He finished 2010 with 47 receptions and two touchdowns.  Four receivers, including two that figured to start have left the program, leaving this position in limbo.

 

Among the others that should see playing time are Darius White, Miles Onyegbule, John Harris, and true freshman Jaxon Shipley.  There is talent here, but it will take time for new co-offensive coordinators develop Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite to mold it into a cohesive unit.

 

Tight ends Blaine Irby and D. J. Grant have virtually no game experience between them.  Barrett Matthews has been move to H-back where he will see his receptions jump from 10.

 

Running Backs

There will probably be co-number ones here this year with two others seeing action.  Joe Bergeron should be the starter with top freshman recruit Malcolm Brown seeing the field almost as much as Bergeron.  Cody Johnson will be the short yardage conversion back, while Fozzy Whitaker will get some carries.  Johnson rushed for a team-leading 592 yards and six touchdowns, while Whitaker added 351 yards.

 

Offensive Line

This is a so-so unit for Texas.  Brown has not been pleased with its progress in practice and has done a lot of switching around.  Here is how we believe they will line up for the season-opener on September 3:

LT: Tray Allen

LG: Trey Hopkins

C: Dominic Espinosa

RG: David Snow, who started some at center last year

RT: Mason Walters, who started at guard last year

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Longhorns were actually rather good on this side of the ball last year, but they found themselves defending short fields due to the offense’s inability to hold onto the ball.  The biggest loss on this side of the field this year is the loss of coordinator Will Muschamp to Florida.  Muschamp was the coach in waiting, but he decided he could wait no more.

 

New coordinator Manny Diaz comes from Mississippi State, where he molded a decent Bulldog defense in his one year in Starkville.  Diaz welcomes the return of two starters up front.  End Alex Okafor only recorded 2 ½ sacks, but he did force 13 QB hurries.  New starting end Jackson Jeffcoat had 2 ½ sacks and seven hurries.

 

At the tackle spot, Kheeston Randall returns to the nose alignment after earning 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors last year.  Randall led the team with 13 tackles for loss.  At the other tackle, Calvin Howell is the new starter, after making just two tackles last year.

 

Sam Acho and his nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss will be missed.

 

Linebackers

This unit is still talented and deep.  In fact the two-deep could be the best in the conference.  Keenan Robinson led UT with 113 tackles last year.  He posted eight tackles for loss and had four passes defended.  Middle man Emmanuel Acho finished second with 87 tackles.  He recorded 12 stops behind the line, and he added seven passes defended.  Jordan Hicks made 23 tackles as a key reserve.

 

Secondary

The Longhorns were tough to pass on last year, but they will be a little easier to exploit this season, especially in September.  That’s because safety Christian Scott will miss an indefinite amount of time with a suspension.

 

Once again, Brown and company remain tight-lipped about their depth chart, but we believe from following events that the ‘Horns will open with Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom at cornerback. Adrian Phillips could be moving from corner to safety to replace Scott, while Nolan Brewster starts at the other safety position and Kenny Vaccaro handles the nickel back spot.

 

Texas gave up 162 passing yards in 2010, but they will give up more this year.

 

OTHER

Brown has been a head coach for 26 seasons.  At Tulane, he took a program on the decline and guided it to a bowl game in his third season, before leaving for North Carolina.  After two 1-10 seasons in Chapel Hill, he guided the Tar Heels to eight consecutive winning seasons.  He took over a Texas program that was coming off a 4-7 season and went 9-3 in his first year in Austin.  Until last season, he had won at least nine games every year here. 

 

SUMMARY

The unexpected loss to UCLA due to a rash of turnovers ambushed the season for the Longhorns last year.  Look for Texas to get their revenge at the Rose Bowl on September 17.  They might lose the week before to BYU, but they could easily start 4-0 with an opening win over Rice and a conference opening win at Iowa State.

 

At 4-0, or 3-1, they would then face Oklahoma, and be sky-high in hopes of revenge in that game.  UT outgained the Sooners last year, and they will be confident that they can pull off the upset.  The next week, Texas hosts Oklahoma State and may be ripe for a letdown against a team that can make them pay.

 

The second half of the schedule presents some tough games with Texas Tech and Kansas State at home and Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor on the road.  The Baylor game comes after the A&M game.

 

Texas will have a hard time getting back to the top of the conference standings, but it would not surprise us to see them finish near the top this year.  They should win at least eight games and could win 10.

 

Texas Tech

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When Tommy Tuberville took over the head coaching reins here, you just knew the passing yardage would decline in favor of power running.  Still, the Red Raiders gained more than 300 yards through the air last year. 

 

Now, Tuberville must break in a new quarterback, as Taylor Potts has graduated.  Seth Doege will begin the year as the starter, and he will not be called on to throw the ball 47 times a game like TT did last year.  Expect a dramatic decrease in passing yards down to a very un-Leach-like 30-35 passes per game, as the Raiders move to the Pistol Offense.  Tech will run the zone read option play and try to find a happy medium between running and passing.

 

Sophomore Jacob Karam will contend with redshirt freshman Scotty Young for the backup spot. 

 

Receivers

Tech will miss the services of their top two receivers.  Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis had 161 receptions between them and 1,778 yards. 

 

Alex Torres is the leading returning receiver.  He caught 39 passes for 481 yards and three touchdowns last year.  Tramain Swindall caught 33 passes and Austin Zouzalik added 31.  Jacoby Franks caught 25.  Added to this mix are Darrin Moore and Bradley Marquez.  It is a talented and deep group, but it is not on par with the Oklahoma teams or Missouri.

 

Running Backs

Eric Stephens may not be the next Byron Hanspard, but he may be the first Texas Tech back to crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark since Ricky Williams in 1998.  Stephens gained 668 yards on the ground supplementing starter Baron Batch last year.  He averaged better than five yards per carry and figures to exceed 200 attempts this year.

 

Offensive Line

Tech has four starters returning, but center Justin Keown will miss all of September and possibly some of October after sustaining a knee injury.  Guard Deveric Gallington will move over to center, while tackle Terry McDaniel fills in at guard.

 

Mickey Okafor and LaAdrian Waddle return to their tackle positions, while Lonnie Edwards does the same at guard.  Edwards and Okafor are all-conference quality blockers, and this line should open holes for the new offense.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Former TCU assistant Chad Glasgow is the new defensive coordinator here, and he brings the 4-2-5 defense with him.  The Raiders return two of front line players that started multiple games last year, and both are tackles.  Donald Langley and Kerry Hyder combined for just 27 tackles.

 

Scott Smith will start at one end position but not until the fifth game, as he is serving a four-game suspension.  In his place, Juco transfer Leon Mackey will start at least those four games and maybe more.  Aundrey Barr will man the other end spot.  It will be an average front four this year.

 

Linebackers

There has been some shuffling around with this unit, as the second line of defense drops in numbers by one.  Tech returns one starter here in Sam Fehoko, but he may not even make the two-deep this year.

 

As of this writing,  Blake Dees and Cqulin Hubert are getting the first team reps, while Tyrone Sonier and Sam Eguavoen are running with the second team.  Dees and Eguavoen are true freshmen.

 

Secondary

This unit returns four players with extensive starting experience.  At the cornerback spots, Jarvis Phillips intercepted four passes in his first three games as a freshman last year, and then he could not live up to his hype.  Glasgow has moved him to the second team and moved Tre’ Porter here from safety.  Derrick Mays will start opposite Porter.

 

D. J. Johnson, Cody Davis, and Terrance Bullitt will start at safety.  Davis made 87 tackles last year, while Johnson and Bullitt combined for 66.  The trio successfully defended 13 passes

 

OTHER

Tuberville has now taken three different schools to bowl games, just like his counterpart over in Austin. 

 

SUMMARY

Tech has an excellent shot to start 3-0 with a non-conference schedule that includes Texas State at home, New Mexico in Albuquerque, and Nevada at home (the only tough game of the three).  They play four home games, four road games, and one neutral game in the conference.  The Red Raiders have a decent chance at getting to seven wins and making it to another bowl game.

 

Baylor

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Outside the state of Oklahoma, Baylor has the next best quarterback in the league.  Robert Griffin guided the Bears to their first bowl game since the breakup of the old Southwest Conference.  Griffin completed 67% of his passes for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns, while running for almost 800 yards (sacks removed) and eight touchdowns.

 

Backup Nick Florence returns as well.  He has a lot of prior starting experience, taking over for Griffin two years ago when he was lost for the season.

 

Receivers

Baylor appeared to have one of the top receiving corps in the conference, but the Bears lost one of their better options.  Josh Gordon was suspended and then quit the team, leaving Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, and Tevin Reese to pick up the slack.

 

Wright led BU with 78 receptions and 952 yards.  Williams and Reese split 88 receptions, but none of the three have the explosiveness of Gordon, who averaged 17 yards per catch.

 

Jordan Najnar takes over at tight end after transferring from Stanford and sitting out a year.

 

Running Backs

Baylor loses a 1,000-yard rusher in Jay Finley.  Jared Salubi will replace him, but he is not going to top 1,000 yards on the ground.  Salubi has the ability to break off some long gains, but he is not the type of back to rush 20 times per game.  Look for Terrance Ganaway to split the load with him.

 

Offensive Line

Coach Art Briles can smile here as four experienced starters return to the fold.  Center Philip Blake, guards Robert T. Griffin and Cameron Kaufhold, and tackle Ivory Wade plus four from the second team make this an experienced unit with enough depth to play in 100-degree weather.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Baylor has no real strengths on this side of the ball, and the front line is mediocre at best.  However, it is the best unit on the defense.  BU gave up 435 total yards per game and 30.5 points per game last year, and the Bears will probably regress some this season.

 

Tevin Elliott starts at one end position.  He led the Bears with five sacks and nine stops for loss last year.  Gary Mason returns to the other end position after starting 11 times.  Nicolas Jean-Baptiste starts at the nose, and at 315 pounds, he can cover both gaps.  Tracy Robertson will be the new starter at the other tackle position.

 

Linebackers

Baylor gets a little weaker the farther back you go.  Their tandem linebacker unit returns Elliot Coffey to the middle.  Coffey finished with 61 tackles and 4 ½ for losses.  Brody Trahan will start at the outside backer spot.   

 

Secondary

The five-man secondary is the weakest part of the defense, as it returns just one starter.  Cornerback Chance Casey made 48 tackles and had just four passes defended.  Tyler Stephenson will start at the opposite cornerback slot.  The three safeties will be Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, and Mike Hicks, who combined for 46 tackles.

 

The Bears do have one defensive back that has played on a conference championship team.  He is Demetri Goodson.  He was a guard on another team—The GONZAGA BASKETBALL team.

 

OTHER

Baylor lost its top five tacklers from its defense, and that portends some bad results.  With seven or maybe eight opponents capable of lighting up the scoreboard, BU will give up as many as 35 points per game this season.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game with TCU will determine just how far BU will slide this season.  If they lose by 14 or less, they could be good enough to win six games again.  If TCU beats them by more than two touchdowns, it could be a return to three or four wins.

 

The Bears face S F Austin and Rice prior to beginning conference play.  Unfortunately, two of the three games against teams figured to be ranked below the Bears must be played on the road, so it will be tough to get those six wins.  Four or five wins seems about right for this team.

 

Kansas State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Collin Klein appears to have beaten out Justin Tuggle for the starting job here.  Klein completed 11 of 18 passes last year for 138 yards and a score.  Those stats would be just fine for one half of a game, but obviously the former wide receiver lacks the experience to equal the production of graduating signal caller Carson Coffman.

 

Tuggle started his career at Boston College, and he comes to the Little Apple from a Juco.

 

Receivers

The top man from a year ago has departed, and that leaves KSU in a little bit of a rebuilding mode here.  Coach Bill Snyder will rebuild around Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson, and Brodrick Smith.  This trio combined for 58 receptions and 779 yards; all three can get open in possession situations and pick up a few extra yards after the catch.

 

Tight end Travis Tannahill caught only seven passes last year, and he should get into double digits this year.

 

Running Backs

Snyder’s teams have been able to run the ball through the years, and he always seems to find a couple of good backs.  He has one here, and KS may forget they lost Daniel Thomas and his 1,585 rushing yards.

 

Bryce Brown was the top running back in the nation as a high school senior.  He enrolled at Tennessee and rushed for 460 yards as a true freshman.  He chose not to stay at Tennessee when Lane Kiffin went to USC, and he ended up here.  He sat out last year, and he figures to immediately be a force in the Big 12.  Look for Brown to top 1,000 yards in his first year in Manhattan.

 

Braden Wilson will become a very important blocker.  The 244-pound rock will clear the way for Brown.

 

Offensive Line

The Wildcats are in good shape at the tackle positions, but they are suspect at the inside slots.  Clyde Aufner and Manase Foketi are capable tackles, but KS will be exploited inside with center B. J. Finney and guards Keenan Taylor and Colten Freeze.  Freeze has three career starts under his belt, while the others have none.  Finney was a walk-on.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The K-State D-line took a hit when end Brandon Harold did not show up to fall camp.  His loss will be felt here.  Ray Kibble is now the only experienced starter returning to the trenches.  He had all of a half sack last year.

 

End Meshak Williams is a promising Juco transfer, and Ralph Guidry has some starting experience, but neither player is going to wind up on an all-conference list.

 

Harold’s replacement figures to be Jordan Voelker, who saw limited action last year.

 

Kansas State gave up 231 yards per game on the ground last year (5.9/rush) and only tallied 20 sacks.  Those stats could look good compared to this year’s numbers.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this unit, making it better than average.  Blake Slaughter started at middle linebacker, but Miami transfer Arthur Brown has surpassed him on the depth chart.  Tre Walker starts at one outside spot, while former regular Emmanuel Lamur takes back his old spot. 

 

Jarrell Childs, Alex Hrebec, and Slaughter will form a talented second unit, and Snyder will rotate freely here this season.

 

Secondary

This unit is talented enough to compete against the good passing teams, but a weak front four will cause the quartet to defend a second or two more than they should. 

 

The fact that the top two tacklers last year played in the secondary was not a good sign.  Cornerback David Garrett and safety Tysyn Hartman finished one-two with 92 and 86 tackles respectively.  Garrett proved to be a real stud against the run, coming up with 15 tackles for loss (5th in the league).  He also pulled off 10 passes defended.

 

Ty Zimmerman finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles from his strong safety location, and he led the Wildcats with three interceptions.  The new cornerback figures to be Nigel Malone, another Juco transfer.

 

OTHER

Kansas State plays their home games in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.  It is the only college or professional stadium named for an entire family.

 

SUMMARY

The Wildcats used to play four weak sisters out of conference to guarantee four easy wins.  Now, with the new format, they can only play three non-conference games, and one of those three comes against the Miami Hurricanes.  Of course, by the time they go to Miami, “The U” could be a weak sister.  K-State faces Eastern Kentucky and Kent State in their other non-conference tilts, so they will be no worse than 2-1 and possibly 3-0 by the time conference play begins.

 

The schedule is perhaps the most favorable in the league.  If the Wildcats can get any pass defense going, they could be the surprise team in the league.  Look at how the schedule helps the Wildcats.

 

They play five home games in the league, and two of their road games are winnable.  Having Baylor and Iowa State at home will give them an excellent chance for two conference wins, and Kansas should be beatable for the third year in a row.

 

Although our initial rating for this team places them down in the bottom three, the schedule and the experience of Snyder tell us this team could be headed back to another bowl game.

 

Iowa State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz fought a tough battle in fall camp, but Tiller has emerged as the leader at this position.  He completed just 47.6% of his passes last year and averaged a miniscule 4.4 yards per attempt.

 

Jantz put up some nice numbers in junior college, but Coach Paul Rhoads did not think he was ready.  The Cyclones are tied for last place in the league at this position.

 

Receivers

Making matters worse for the passing game is the loss of last year’s two best receivers, as well as a third part-time starter.  Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds combined for 54 receptions and 638 yards, while Josh Lenz added 14 catches.  This is a weak unit, and when combined with the quarterback, it makes for an almost nonexistent passing attack.  ISU averaged only 174 passing yards per game last year, and we expect them to be hard-pressed to match that paltry number.  True freshman Aaron Horne could become the leading receiver.

 

Running Backs

When it rains, it pours.  ISU lost their top running back from last year, and their quarterback was their next best runner.  What’s left is a two-man tandem that combined for 409 rushing yards in reserve.  Shontrelle Johnson averaged 6.2 yards per rush in limited action as a true freshman, but defenses will move eight into the box to stop the running game.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a spectacular line, but it is the only bright spot on the offense.  That bright spot is like the light at the end of a tunnel that is still a quarter mile away. 

 

Three starters return to the blocking corps this year.  Tackles Brayden Burris and Kelechi Osemele will give Tiller some protection, but ISU gave up 33 sacks last year with a mobile quarterback under center.  Tiller is almost as mobile as Austen Arnaud, so maybe he can benefit from having two experienced tackles.

 

Hayworth Hicks returns to one guard spot, while Ethan Tuftee will take over at the other guard position.  Tom Farniok takes over at center.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Let’s not throw salt on an open wound, but the defensive side of the ball is not much better if at all than the offense.  The Cyclones gave up more than 400 yards per game and almost 29 points per game, and they may not improve any this year.  Their talent level should be a little better, but the offense may not give them any breaks.  Look for this unit to be on the field for as many as 75 plays per game.

 

The defensive line returns nose tackle Stephen Ruempolhamer and end Jacob Lattimer.  These two teamed for 72 tackles and 12 ½ stops for loss.  Jake McDonough  and Roosevelt Maggitt will become the two new starters.  These two combined for 47 tackles and five tackles for loss in reserve roles.

 

Linebackers

If there can be a strength to any unit on this team, here is where it is.  Jake Knott and A. J. Klein finished one-two in tackles, combining for 241 with 14 of them for lost yardage.  They also combined for 13 passes defended and seven interceptions.  Knott could contend for 1st Team All-Big 12 honors if he gets any help from a front line.  Matt Tau’fo’ou will be the new starter in the second tier.  He made 20 tackles in a reserve role last year.

 

Secondary

Iowa State gave up 222 passing yards per game and a 64% completion percentage last year, which was not awful for this league.  Three starters return this year, and if the front seven can improve on a lousy 11 sacks, then maybe Iowa State could surprise an opponent or two.

 

Cornerbacks Leonard Johnson and Jeremy Reeves both defended eight passes, while teaming for 126 stops.  Safety Ter’ran Benton needs to improve on just one pass defended.  Jacques Washington will start at the vacant safety position.  As a freshman, he made 12 tackles.

 

OTHER

Iowa State has seen their passing yardage decline from 248 to 185 to 174 yards per game the last three years.  Look for that slide to continue in 2011.

 

SUMMARY

Iowa State has a difficult non-conference schedule.  They open the season with Northern Iowa, and the Panthers have beaten them before.  Northern Iowa almost knocked off Iowa two years ago.  After the UNI game, the CyHawk Trophy game brings Iowa to Ames.  ISU then must face Connecticut on the road with one fewer preparation day.  The Cyclones could be 0-3 and realistically 1-2 when they begin conference play with Texas.  That is followed by road games against Baylor and Missouri and a home game with Texas A&M.  By then, the Cyclones could be 1-6 or even 0-7.  It is going to be a long year in Ames, and the next exciting game will be the 2012 Iowa Caucus.

 

Kansas

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Turner Gill thought he had the answer here in freshman Brock Berglund, who figured to start from day one in Lawrence.  However, Berglund is going to miss the season following an assault arrest in Colorado.  As a result, Jordan Webb will regain his starting spot.

 

Webb threw for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns, but he also threw eight interceptions.  The other passers also had more interceptions than touchdowns.

 

Webb has a strong arm, and he can stretch a defense.  The only trouble is he needs receivers with quicker legs and better pass blocking.  KU averaged just 9.6 yards per reception and 5.5 yards per attempt.

 

Receivers

Two starters return to this unit, but there is nothing to be excited about with this group.  Daymond Patterson almost averaged as much running reverses as he did catching passes.  He led the Jayhawks with 60 receptions but averaged just 8.1 yards per catch.

 

Tight end Tim Biere caught 19 passes, but no other receiver on this year’s offense had more than 10.  Christian Matthews and Chris Omigie will be the new starters here.  They combined for eight receptions last year.

 

Running Backs

James Sims returns after leading KU with 742 yards last year.  He will get help from three freshmen who all have potential to become the go-to guy.  Look for Brandon Bourbon, Darrian Miller, and Anthony Pierson to all get their chance, and it would not surprise us to see all three play this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps, but this group is about as weak as the five at Iowa State.  Center Jeremiah Hatch, guard Duane Zlatnick, and tackle Tanner Hawkinson bring experience to the mix, and Hatch is the leader of this unit.

 

The new starters will be Trevor Marrongelli at guard and Jeff Spikes at tackle.  Both players are upperclassmen, so this unit will have experience if not a lot of talent.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Jayhawks had an unexpected change in coordinators.  Carl Torbush had to retire after contracting cancer.  He appears to be okay, but he will not coach.  Vic Shealy is the new defensive coordinator, and he is a student of the 3-4 defense.

 

Shealy quickly moved to switch KU to a 3-4.  He immediately identified John Williams as the anchor at nose tackle.  Williams was a reserve last year and moves ahead of some former starters at this position.  Former starter Richard Johnson will back him up.

 

Keba Agostinho will start at one end, and Kevin Young and Pat Lewandowski will platoon at the other end in the revamped defense.  Look for some growing pains, as the players will need time to learn the new defense.

 

Linebackers

What figured to be a rather weak three-man unit now must add another linebacker to the fold.  We are on the fence here; will the dilution make the problem worse, or will an extra backer make this unit stronger?  We tend to believe the latter is true, but until the players learn the new techniques, there are going to be some rough times.

 

Former end Toben Opurum moves to one outside linebacker position, while Juco transfer Tunde Bakare inherits the opposite outside position.  Look for Opurum’s tackles to more than double from his 2010 output of 21.

 

Darius Willis and Steven Johnson will man the inside positions.  Johnson led the Jayhawks with 95 tackles.  Willis followed Gill from Buffalo, where he played sparingly as a freshman.

 

Secondary

Four full-time or part-time starters return to a unit that did not succeed last year.  KU allowed enemy passes to be completed almost 66% of the time and gave up 223 yards.  Isiah Barfield and Greg Brown are the cornerbacks; they teamed for 14 passes defended.  Bradley McDougald played both safety and wide receiver last year, something we do not expect him to repeat.  He made 16 tackles.  Lubbock Smith started half the games at safety, but Keeston Terry will replace him there this year.  Tyler Patmon will see his share of playing time, mostly as a nickel back.

 

OTHER

The downward trend in wins has gone from 12 to 8 to 5 to 3.  Unless a lot of the young players play above their heads, that string could continue.  At best, it may only stop due to an equaling of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Kansas could be looking at a 1-2 start prior to conference play.  The Jayhawks open with McNeese State, which is the only sure win on the schedule.  A week two game with Northern Illinois is a trap game for sure, and Georgia Tech will be waiting to put a major sting on KU in Atlanta in week three, following last year’s big upset.

 

The Iowa State game is on the road, while the Kansas State and Baylor games are at Memorial Stadium.  Those are the three chances for conference wins, and we would be more surprised at a 3-6 conference record than an 0-9 record.

 

2011 Big 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Oklahoma

41

428

Texas A&M

1

362

Oklahoma St.

1

360

Missouri

 

281

Texas

 

265

Baylor

 

194

Texas Tech

 

191

Kansas St.

 

140

Iowa St.

 

93

Kansas

 

51

 

 

2011 Big 12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Oklahoma

132.8

8-1/11-1

Texas A&M

130.6

8-1/10-2

Oklahoma St.

119.8

7-2/10-2

Missouri

116.7

5-4/7-5

Texas

108.3

4-5/6-6

Texas Tech

105.5

4-5/7-5

Baylor

104.0

3-6/5-7

Kansas St.

101.5

4-5/7-5

Iowa State

100.9

1-8/2-10

Kansas

95.4

1-8/2-10

 

 

Coming Monday, August 29, a preview of the Southeastern Conference.

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