The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 19, 2010

2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

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2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

The Big 12 Conference almost ceased to exist this summer.  It looked like eight of the 12 teams would leave and end up in the Big Ten, Pac-10, and even SEC.  After the dust cleared, the conference was left with 10 teams.  Colorado was the only member of six possible teams to accept the Pac-10 bid.  Nebraska, tired of seeing Texas control the league, gladly accepted a bid to the Big Ten.  The rest of the league will hold a grudge in this final season before divorce becomes official.  Speaking of officials, this league will need close scrutiny this year.  After Nebraska felt they had been robbed in the Big 12 Championship Game, can they expect any better treatment this year? 

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos North B12 W-L
1 Nebraska 8-0 12-1
2 Missouri 4-4 8-4
3 Colorado 4-4 6-6
4 Kansas 3-5 5-7
5 Kansas State 2-6 6-6
6 Iowa State 1-7 3-9
       
Pos South B12 W-L
1 Oklahoma 7-1 12-1
2 Texas 6-2 10-2
3 Texas Tech 5-3 8-4
4 Texas A&M 4-4 7-5
5 Baylor 3-5 6-6
6 Oklahoma State 1-7 5-7

 

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma over Nebraska

 

BCS Bowl (Fiesta): Oklahoma

BCS Bowl: Nebraska

Cotton Bowl: Texas

Alamo Bowl: Missouri

Insight Bowl: Texas Tech

Holiday Bowl: Texas A&M

Texas Bowl: Baylor

Pinstripe Bowl: Colorado

Dallas Football Classic: Kansas State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

North Division

Team Colorado Buffaloes
               
Head Coach Dan Hawkins
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Boulder, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 105.5
               
National Rating 45
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Offensive Line, Receivers, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 24-27 points / 320-340 yards

Expected Defense: 24-27 points / 340-360 yards

Schedule: Out of Conference: Colorado State (n), @ California, Hawaii, and Georgia

Interdivision: Baylor, Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma

Outlook: The Buffaloes need to settle on one quarterback, and Tyler Hansen is that man.  Hansen should get more time to pass and pass for 2,500 or more yards, and we don’t expect CU QBs to be sacked 44 times again.  Rodney Stewart could top 1,000 yards rushing.  Transfers from Michigan, USC and UCLA should bolster the receiving corps.  The offensive line returns the entire two-deep from last year, including nine players with starting experience.

A better pass rush should help the defense improve a little, but we don’t expect the Buffs to challenge for a top four position in the league.  Coach Dan Hawkins must win this year, or he will be out of a job.  We don’t know if 6-6 and a minor bowl will be enough, but that is what we think will happen.

Team Iowa State Cyclones
               
Head Coach Paul Rhoads
               
Colors Cardinal and Gold
               
City Ames, IA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 94.4
               
National Rating 77
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 22-26 point / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 425-450 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Northern Illinois, @ Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Utah

Interdivision: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma, @ Texas

Outlook: Coach Paul Rhoads placed the Cyclones in a bowl in his first year in Ames, but ISU will revert back to their losing ways this year.  The offense will be somewhat improved, but it was ranked last in the Big 12 last year.  Quarterback Austin Arnaud will hand the ball to Alexander Robinson a lot this year, and if Robinson stays healthy, he could top 1,250 yards on the ground.  Arnaud can run and pass with equal competency, so he should take some of the pressure off Robinson.  Other than Jake Williams, ISU will have to rely on several average receivers.  None of his teammates will allow Williams to avoid double coverage.  The offensive line features tackle Kelechi Osemele, a 2nd Team All-Big 12 selection last year.

Seven key defensive performers graduated, so the Cyclones will take a large step backwards.  The front seven will be much weaker, and opponents will run the ball for more yards and pass against less pass rushing pressure.  Even with a decent secondary, the weaker pass rush will force them to cover a half-second to a second longer.  Expect the pass yardage allowed to go up as well.

ISU should win two of their four non-conference games, but we can only see them winning one Big 12 contest.  Call it a 3-9 rebuilding season.

Team Kansas Jayhawks
               
Head Coach Turner Gill
               
Colors Dark Blue and Red
               
City Lawrence, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 53
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Not many, but the Offensive Line and Defensive Line are small positives

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 22-26 points / 330-350 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 360-380 yards

Schedule: Out of conference: North Dakota State, Georgia Tech, @ Southern Mississippi, New Mexico State

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State

Outlook: Turner Gill takes over after bringing Buffalo from also-ran to MAC Champion in short time.  It will take time here for his system to bear fruit, but we are confident that he can recruit the Midwest and Southwest and return the Jayhawks to prominence.

KU will debut a new quarterback this year, as Kale Pick and Jordan Webb are locked in a competitive battle.  Pick threw five passes, while Webb has yet to take a college snap.  An interesting battle brews at running back, where last year’s leading rusher Toben Opurum and 6th year player and former linebacker Angus Quigley could form a decent tandem.  KU lost two star receivers who combined for 186 receptions and more than 2,300 yards, so this will be a liability.  Four starters return to the line, and they will undergo some restructuring to fit Gill’s change of offense.

In a pass happy league, a weak secondary is bad news.  KU has some bad news.  The returning defensive backs combined for just two interceptions.  This side of the ball will have to learn a new system as well, and the defensive line is the only average unit using Big 12 standards.  A real plus for the Jayhawks is not having to play Oklahoma or Texas from the South.

Gill has enough talent to repeat last year’s 5-7 record.  The offense will not be as potent, but it will eat more clock.  That will help the defense hold opponents under 30 points per game.

Team Kansas State Wildcats
               
Head Coach Bill Snyder
               
Colors Royal Purple and White
               
City Manhattan, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 67
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

Expected Offense: 22-25 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: UCLA, Missouri State, Central Florida, @ North Texas

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas

Outlook: Kansas State’s offense will move on the legs of running back Daniel Thomas.  He raced for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and he could top 1,400 this season.  An experienced offensive line returns, and they are better run blockers than pass blockers.

Quarterback Carson Coffman started four games last year, but he was unspectacular.  With a below average receiving corps, expect KSU to struggle when they get behind in games.

On defense, the line is talented, and there is depth.  They should clear out enough space for the new linebackers to have decent first years as starters.  However, there is not a great pass rusher on the roster.

Look for Kansas State to sweep their four non-conference opponents, which means they only will need two league wins to earn a bowl bid.  That’s what they will get.

Team Missouri Tigers
               
Head Coach Gary Pinkel
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Columbia, MO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 111.6
               
National Rating 32
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back

Weaknesses: Receiver (not that much of a weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-35 points / 425-450 yards

Expected Defense: 20-24 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Illinois (n), McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami (O)

Interdivision: @ Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @ Texas Tech

Outlook: Blaine Gabbert returns at QB where he passed for almost 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine picks.  Not the runner Chase Daniel was, he can still pull the ball down and cross the sticks for a first down.  Running back Derrick Washington saw his production drop from over 1,000 yards in 2008 to 865 last year; with an improved offensive line, look for that number to climb back over 1,000.  The only question on offense is at receiver.  Mizzou lost two great pass catchers that combined for 159 receptions and 20 touchdowns.  To make matters worse, Jerrell Jackson, who was expected to be the leading receiver this year, will miss the first three games with a fractured wrist.  Don’t expect him to return and catch half a dozen passes in September.

The Tigers gave up a couple of big plays at the wrong time last year, and it cost them two conference wins and the North Division title.  Expect improved play on this side of the ball as all three units will be improved thanks to the return of eight of the top nine tacklers.  Missouri only picked off eight passes last year.  The entire secondary returns, and the Tigers will intercept double digit passes this season.  The pass rush can only get better with the return of end Aldon Smith.  He recorded 11 ½ sacks last year.  Led by Andrew Gachkar and Will Ebner, the linebacking unit will be tough against the run.

The pre-conference schedule should allow Missouri to start 4-0.  They could be 6-0 by the time they face Oklahoma on homecoming.  We are being as pessimistic as we can when we call for the Tigers to go 4-4 in league play.  They could be 6-2 if they stay healthy and prevent the big plays on defense.

Team Nebraska Cornhuskers
               
Head Coach Bo Pelini
               
Colors Scarlet and Cream
               
City Lincoln, NE
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 120.7
               
National Rating 13
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback

Expected Offense: 28-32 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 14-18 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Western Kentucky, Idaho, @ Washington, South Dakota State

Interdivision: Texas, @ Oklahoma State, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: If Nebraska had just an average quarterback, they would be our pick for one of the two BCS Championship Game teams.  Zac Lee, Cody Green, and Taylor Martinez are still locked in a battle to determine the starter, but we would be surprised if anybody other than Lee line up under center for the first game.  Roy Helu will have a tough time carrying the offense if no passing game develops.  Helu rushed for 1,147 yards and 10 scores last year.  The ‘Huskers return some talented receivers, and they should help the quarterbacks improve their passing numbers.  Niles Paul might be a 1,000 yard receiver at eight other Big 12 schools, but he’ll have to settle for 40-50 receptions and 800-900 yards here.  The offensive line took a major hit when center Mike Smith broke his leg, but Coach Bo Pelini will field another excellent interior.

Nebraska’s defense will take a step back, because it is impossible to replace Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante, Matt O’Hanlon, and Barry Turner all in one season.  A weaker defense means that NU will give up more than 14 points per game.  The defensive line still has star talent with end Pierre Allen and tackle Jared Crick.  Crick made 15 total tackles for loss including 9 ½ sacks.  Allen added five sacks and 12 total tackles for loss.  They also combined for nine batted away passes.  There’s royalty in the secondary with the return of Prince Amukamara.  He led the ‘Huskers with 16 passes defended (5 Int/11 PBU). 

Alex Henery is one of the best dual punter/kickers in college football, and Niles Paul is a gem as a kick and punt returner.

We believe that Nebraska has a decent shot at running the table in the regular season.  The October 16 game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with Texas is going to be unbelievable, and the Longhorns are going to be treated like Sarah Palin with a chainsaw outside Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.  We think the Cornhuskers will enter the Big 12 Championship game ranked number one and suffer defeat at the hand of their oldest rival.  Still, they should get a bid to a BCS bowl.

South Division

Team Baylor Bears
               
Head Coach Art Briles
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Waco, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 103.7
               
National Rating 48
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back (small strength)

Weaknesses: Running Back (other than QB), Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Sam Houston, Buffalo, @ TCU, @ Rice

Interdivision: Kansas, @ Colorado, Kansas State

Outlook: It starts and ends with quarterback Robert Griffin.  In just over two games, Griffin had passed for 481 yards with four TDs and no interceptions before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury.  If he stays healthy for 12 games, he should pass for close to 3,500 yards and lead Baylor to its first bowl game in 16 years.  The running backs suffered with the loss of Griffin, because defenses had to respect Griffin’s ability to take off and run.  Expect improvement in the rushing attack, but don’t expect the Bears to top 150 yards per game on the ground Jay Finley did rush for 1,072 yards in 2008, but he will not get enough touches to repeat that.  Griffin has a couple of good target to pass to in Kendall Wright and Lanear Sampson, but another receiver needs to emerge.  Three starters return to the offensive line, and Griffin will make their job much easier.

The defense lost six starters, including four of their top five tacklers.  A weaker than Big 12 average defensive line will cause BU some trouble as opponents run the ball to eat the clock and keep Griffin off the field.  The Bear pass rush won’t scare many enemy quarterbacks either.  BU has one talented linebacker in Antonio Johnson.  Johnson’s 77 tackles and two sacks are the most of any returnee.  The defensive backfield would have been a bigger strength had Ahmad Dixon actually showed up.  He was the highest recruit the Bears have had in years and would have started immediately at free safety.  Baylor still has some talent here with cornerbacks Clifton Odom and Chance Casey returning.

Baylor has three winnable non-conference games and three or four more in the Big 12.  We believe they will go 3-5 in the Big 12 and 6-6 overall, which will earn a bid to one of the lower Lone Star state bowl games.

Team Oklahoma Sooners
               
Head Coach Bob Stoops
               
Colors Cream and Crimson
               
City Norman, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 125.6
               
National Rating 3
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: None really.  If you had to get picky, maybe in the seams of the middle zones on pass defense.

Expected Offense: 35-40 points / 450-475 yards

Expected Defense: 18-22 points / 300-325 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Utah State, Florida State, Air Force, @ Cincinnati

Interdivision: Iowa State, @ Missouri, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: Can a team that lost the first pick in the draft, three other 1st Round picks, three other draft picks, and three more players that are still in NFL training camps be better than they were a year ago?  It sounds crazy, but OU could not only be better, they could be the best!  Losing Sam Bradford will hardly be noticed, as he only threw 69 passes last year.  Landry Jones returns at quarterback after passing for just under 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns.  He needs to cut down on his 14 interceptions.  At running back, DeMarco Murray and Jermie Calhoun will team for 1,500 yards, and the Sooners will be a much more balanced team this year.  Murray will not be asked to carry the ball 20 times any more, and he should stay healthy.  The most lethal unit on this team is pass catchers.  Ryan Broyles and Dejuan Miller could both earn all-conference recognition; throw in super freshman Kenny Stills with tight ends Trent Ratteree and James Hanna, and you have one of the nation’s top receiving corps.  The offensive line is the weakest unit of the attack side, and yet it is still one of the four best in the Big 12.

On Defense, the Sooners lost five star players.  Don’t pity them; the players they have coming back are just as good or will soon be.  In the trenches, end Jeremy Beal is the best at his position in the Big 12.  He dumped quarterbacks 11 times last year and stopped runners for losses eight times.  He can drop back in pass coverage on zone blitzes and play pass defense like a linebacker.  Speaking of linebacker, Travis Lewis returns to the second line of defense after earning 1st Team All-Big 12 accolades.  He will have two new partners, and both are stars of the future.  The Sooners have two starters returning to the secondary, led by safety Quinton Carter, who grabbed four enemy quarterback passes while batting away five others.

Oklahoma has the talent to run the table and be 13-0 following a win in the Big 12 Championship Game.  If so, we know where they will be playing in January.  We are going to go out on a small limb and pick one Big 12 team to knock them off in an upset, just like Colorado did to them in 2007.  Call it a 12-1 regular season plus Fiesta Bowl bid.

Team Oklahoma State Cowboys
               
Head Coach Mike Gundy
               
Colors Orange and Black
               
City Stillwater, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 99.8
               
National Rating 59
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 20-24 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 23-27 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Washington State, Troy, Tulsa, @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Interdivision: Nebraska, @ Kansas State, @ Texas

Outlook: It will be a long season in Stillwater, as the Cowboys must rebuild on both sides of the ball.  OSU returns just four offensive and three defensive starters to a team that many felt underachieved last year.  The rabid fans, in their desire not to play second fiddle in the Sooner State, may chase Coach Mike Gundy out of town if the ‘Pokes fail to make it back to a bowl.

Gundy brought Dana Holgorsen in from Houston to take over as offensive coordinator.  Holgorsen will institute the spread passing game used by the Cougars (which gained 512 yards and 45 points against OSU last year).  His first order of business was to pick a quarterback, and Brandon Weeden will not be confused for Casey Keenum.  Weeden spent five years pitching in the Minor Leagues and has seen a lot more action on the mound than under center.  Having running back Kendall Hunter 100% healthy once again could be the saving grace for this side of the ball.  When healthy in 2008, he rushed for 1,555 yards and earned All-American honors.  He played in just three games last year.  The loss of Dez Bryant to the NFL Cowboys won’t hurt too much, since Bryant hardly played last year.  Holgorsen will use as many as 10 receivers in his pass-happy offense.  Hubert Anyiam should be the star of the group.  The offensive line will be a major liability, as just two starters return.

Oklahoma State allowed just 96 yards rushing last year, but with five (and maybe six pending the outcome of an arrest) of the front seven gone, that number could increase by over 50% this season.  Ugo Chinasa spearheads a respectable pass rush.  In the secondary, amazingly Andrew McGee returns to play after suffering a broken neck last season.  He will team with safety Markelle Martin to provide experience in the back line of defense.

Okie State has a good shot at winning all non-conference games, so they will only need two Big 12 wins to become bowl eligible.  We actually believe they will have a difficult time winning any league game and will call for the Cowboys to go 1-7 in the conference. 

Team Texas Longhorns
               
Head Coach Mack Brown
               
Colors Burnt Orange and White
               
City Austin, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 119.3
               
National Rating 16
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2

 

Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback (small weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-34 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 15-19 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: @ Rice (Reliant Stad.), Wyoming, UCLA, Florida Atlantic

Interdivision: @ Nebraska, Iowa State, @ Kansas State

Outlook: When any other team loses as much talent as the Longhorns, you can expect a long season.  In Texas, they just insert the next star at each position.  The ‘Horns lost their all-time leading passer, a receiver that caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards, and four starting offensive linemen, and yet UT will still have a lethal offense.  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert got his Baptism under fire last year in the National Championship Game when Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game in the first half.  Gilbert brought the Longhorns back in the second half and gave them a chance.  If he could do that against Alabama, what do you think he will do against Iowa State?  Expect more contribution from the running game with Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker carrying the load this year.  Texas has a stable of fine receivers as well, led by James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams, and John Chiles.  Chiles is an ex-quarterback, and he could be used in some trick plays.

Coach Mack Brown can sleep easier at night with Will Muschamp at his side.  The head coach-in-waiting has made the Longhorn defense the envy of the nation.  His 2010 team will do just fine once he finds a way to plug some holes in the defensive line.  Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall form the conference’s best pair of tackles.  Acho made 10 sacks last year.  Emmanuel Acho heads the second line of defense.  He is a tough run-stopper.  In the secondary, cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams form the best tandem of cover men in the league, but the loss of All-American Earl Thomas will make this a little weaker pass defense.

Texas must play at Nebraska, and if the officiating is honest, we do not believe the Longhorns can win this grudge match-to-be.  The Longhorns have a 50-50 shot with Oklahoma, and they have about a 20% chance of losing to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, or Kansas State.  We’ll call it a 6-2 league mark and 10-2 overall.

Team Texas A&M Aggies
               
Head Coach Mike Sherman
               
Colors Maroon and White
               
City College Station, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 113.5
               
National Rating 26
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 34-38 points / 475-500 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Stephen F Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Arkansas (n)

Interdivision: Missouri, @ Kansas, Nebraska

Outlook: The Aggies have one of the best offenses in a BCS conference.  With Quarterback Jerrod Johnson running the team, if the offensive line can give him adequate protection, A&M could top 40 points per game.  Johnson passes for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns last year, while running for 506 and eight more scores.  Johnson’s ability to take off with the ball really helped the running game to click.  The Aggies return two running backs capable of topping 1,000 yards.  Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray combined for 1,601 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.  At receiver, Johnson has his big three pass catchers returning this year.  Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Tannehill, and Jeff Fuller teamed for 127 receptions (each had at least 40) and 17 touchdowns.  Tannehill is a converted QB, so he could be used on a trick play as a passer.

The defense switches to a 3-4 alignment this year, and there isn’t a star in the trenches.  Last year’s star defensive lineman has been moved to rush linebacker.  Von Miller led the league with 17 sacks, and Coach Mike Sherman hopes he can continue to get into the backfield as a linebacker.  In the secondary, last year’s leading tackler, Trent Hunter, returns after making 95 tackles.

With a powerful offense and an improving defense, there is only one way to go for the Aggies.  Expect Texas A&M to be in almost every game this year and win at least half of their Big 12 contests.  Toss in at least three non-conference wins, and the Aggies will have a winning season.

Team Texas Tech Red Raiders
               
Head Coach Tommy Tuberville
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Lubbock, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.6
               
National Rating 30
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: S M U, @ New Mexico, Weber State, Houston

Outlook: What a change of philosophies!  The only thing we can compare it to is the change that the University of Cincinnati’s basketball team made when Oscar Robertson graduated in 1960 after taking the Bearcats to three consecutive top five finishes and back-to-back Final Fours.  Coach George Smith left, and UC replaced him with Ed Jucker, who instituted a power offense and pressure defense that produced scores like 70-55 rather than 105-90.

Enter Coach Tommy Tuberville to replace Mike Leach.  Say goodbye to 50 passes a game and hello to 20 runs between the tackles.  Say goodbye to 150 scrimmage plays per game.  Tuberville will not change Tech into a 75% running team, but he will run the ball hard when it is 3rd and two, or 2nd and five.

The Red Raiders return enough quality pieces to continue their winning ways.  Quarterback Taylor Potts has apparently beaten out Steven Sheffield for the starting position.  The two combined for 4,659 passing yards and 36 touchdowns last year.  Whoever starts at quarterback will have nearly every receiver from last season back for more.  Detron Lewis and Alexander Torres lead the way.  Running backs should get more carries in the new system, and Baron Batch has the ability to top 1,000 yards.  He scored 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last year, and he caught 57 passes out of the backfield.  The offensive line is the only worry.  Tuberville likes quicker, less bulky blockers, but he inherits a couple of 350-pound stationary blockers.

Like many other teams, Tech is switching to the 3-4 defense.  With just one returning defensive line starter, that is a good thing.  Nose tackle Coby Whitlock has the skills to cause havoc in the trenches.  Linebackers Brian Duncan and Bront Bird are strong run-stoppers and very good pass defenders.  The one weakness with the front seven is in pass rushing.  There doesn’t look like there is a competent sack machine in the lot.  That could hurt the secondary, which is the strength of this side.  Free Safety Cody Davis was a 1st Team Freshman All-American last year.

Tuberville is used to winning, and he should guide the Red Raiders back to a bowl.  They could pick up an upset along the way and play spoiler.  By the way, that Cincinnati basketball team fared okay with the change to Ed Jucker.  The Bearcats won the next two National Championships and came within a minute of winning a third in a row.

Coming Tomorrow: The Big Ten started all the conference shuffling and only added one team—to this point.  Find out if there will be any shuffling at the top of the conference standings and whether Rich Rodriguez can keep his job.

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September 1, 2009

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

If Rip Van Winkle had awakened in a wheat field in Kansas from his 20-year slumber last year, he might have been able to understand all the big changes throughout the world in his score-long slumber.  He might have been able to predict the coming of the Internet, the election of an African-American as President, even another Major League baseball team in Washington, D.C. occupying the cellar once again.  However, he would have never recognized the Big 12 Conference state of affairs on the gridiron.

He might have been confused and believed that when he saw Oklahoma’s football passing stats and read 349 yards passing and 25 completions that he was looking at their yardage from the entire season.  He’d see that Texas passed for 308 yards on 26 completions and say to himself that the Longhorns must really be running that wishbone to such perfection that they only needed to throw the ball 34 times all year.  Then, when he discovered these yardages were the average per game for these two teams, he would have sworn he was no longer in Kansas.  Then, just to fool around with him, you could tell him that Kansas State had been one of the most successful programs in college football while he slept, but they had fallen back on hard times and hired their 70-year old former head coach.  It’s hard for us who have been awake the entire time to believe the complete 180 degree turnaround in this conference.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Nebraska hosts Oklahoma a week before taking on Kansas for what could be the North Division title, the Cornhuskers’ home field advantage might be as little as two points.  However, if that same Nebraska team takes on Louisiana-Lafayette a week after scoring a huge upset over a top 10 team, they could enjoy a seven to 10 point home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Big 12 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

   
   

 

Prediction *

   
  Team

PiRate

Big 12

Overall

 
  North

 

 

 

 
  Kansas

110

5-3

9-4

#
  Nebraska

109

5-3

8-4

 
  Missouri

105

2-6

4-8

 
  Colorado

102

4-4

7-5

 
  Kansas State

97

4-4

7-5

 
  Iowa State

92

0-8

3-9

 
   

 

 

 

 
  South

 

 

 

 
  Oklahoma

136

8-0

13-0

#
  Texas

135

7-1

11-1

 
  Oklahoma State

118

6-2

10-2

 
  Texas Tech

112

3-5

7-5

 
  Baylor

109

4-4

6-6

 
  Texas A&M

94

1-7

4-8

 
               

 

Big 12 North

Kansas: This actually came as a surprise to us at first.  Three of us actually originally believed KU was headed to a lower division finish.  The other two figured third or possibly second at best for the Jayhawks.  When the PiRate formula kicked out the data showing Kansas a point better than Nebraska, we began to look more closely at their roster.

The Jayhawks have excellent offensive skill position players.  Quarterback Todd Reesing returns for his final season after completing 66.5% of his passes for 3,888 yards and 32 touchdowns.  In a league with four or maybe five sure future NFL draft picks, it’s debatable whether Reesing will hear his name called on the second day in 2010.  At 5-11, the NFL evaluators discount all his other abilities.  At the collegiate level, he’s as dangerous as any conference peer.

KU returns two receivers who topped 1,000 yards in receptions in 2008.  Former quarterback Kerry Meier (97 receptions in ’08) may be the only player ever to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season and catch more than 1,000 yards in passes.  Dezmon Briscoe (92-1,407/15 TD) is the stud and future starter on an NFL roster. 

The ‘Hawks use a running back by committee approach, and all the key components from last year return.  Jake Sharp led the way with 860 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He’s a threat coming out of the bullpen on passing plays as well.

KU’s offense average 33.4 points and 432 total yards per game last year, and those numbers could be surpassed, but only if the offensive line comes through.  For Kansas to realize their division winning potential, they have to open more running lanes.  They won’t win the division with a rushing average under four yards per carry.

The Jayhawk defense must also improve for the record to improve by the two extra games needed to be moved from the loss column to the win column.  It’s a mystery how the linebackers will perform.  All three starters have graduated.  Arist Wright has a little starting experience in three years in Lawrence, and he will anchor the unit from the middle.

The defensive line is in better shape with three starters returning from a year ago.  Jake Laptad had seven sacks, and Caleb Blakesely and Jamal Greene took up a lot of space in the middle allowing the linebackers to be heroes.

The secondary is the strength of this side of the ball.  Kansas used 5 defensive backs a lot last year, and all five return!  Darrell Stuckey intercepted five passes and knocked down seven more.  Justin Thornton knocked down 11 balls.  There’s some fine depth behind this group. 

Kansas gave up 28.8 points and 397 yards per game, with 274 of those yards coming through the air.  If they can lower the pass defense to 250 yards and get 30 sacks, it just might be enough to get to the Big 12 Championship Game.  If not, the Jayhawks are still going bowling for the fifth time in seven seasons.  As an impartial quintet of observers, we must admit we tend to pull for Coach Mark Mangino and the terrific bunch of KU fans.  Two of us have tailgated with them in the past and loved hearing stories about Pepper Rodgers, Bobby Douglass, and John Riggins.

Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini turned the Cornhuskers around in one year, and now he’s ready to begin the transformation back to dominance in Lincoln.  After a season in which the average score of their games was 35-29, expect to see a drop on both sides of the scoreboard.  Yes, the black shirts are on their way back.

The defensive line will be a strength, second in the league to the Sooners.  We expect the ‘Huskers to dump enemy quarterbacks more than 35 times and hold opposing running backs to about 3.2 yards per rush.  Maybe the most exciting defensive tackle in years plays in this line.  Ndamukong Suh became the first defensive lineman to lead the Cornhuskers in tackles since 1973.  He made 76 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, 11 ½ additional tackles for loss, batted down three passes, and picked off two more.  You want more?  He hauled both of those interceptions back for touchdowns, and then he auditioned for “Dancing With The Network Stars” by doing his “Ducky Dance.”  Who needs Emmitt Smith?  Hey Ndamukong: Do you have Kelly Pickler for a Twitter follower?

The defensive backfield will be much improved this season.  They gave up 233 yards per game and 57.7% completions, which in this league is well above average.  Safeties Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon teamed for 119 tackles and nine deflected passes.  Third safety Rickey Thenarse gives this unit great depth.  The same can be said for nickel back Mathew May.  He backs up two great cornerbacks in Prince Amukamara and Anthony West.

The one weak spot on the defense is the second line.  The linebackers are not as talented as the other two units.  This unit will have to grow up quickly, because NU must win by holding down the great offenses in the league.

The Cornhusker offense is going to be more like the dinosaur offenses of the old Big Eight.  Nebraska will rely on a power running game to eat up the clock and wear down opposing defenses.  Running back Roy Helu rushed for 803 yards last year, and he will need to add about 400 yards to that total this year.  The depth behind him is questionable, and true freshman Rex Burkhead will be the principle backup.  Helu rushed for more than 150 yards against Oklahoma, so he’s capable of challenging for the league rushing title.

Joe Ganz used up his eligibility last year, and NU will be breaking in a new set of quarterbacks.  Projected starter Zac Lee has one completed pass for five yards for experience.

The wide receivers are not up to the standards of the big hitters in this league after losing the top two receivers from 2008.  Tight end Mike McNeill is the best player on this unit; he comes off a season where he caught 32 passes for 442 yards and six scores.

The offensive line has had some shuffling since practice began in August, and there has been a question of health with one projected starter, but we think this unit will be just fine.  Center Jacob Hickman will contend for all-conference honors. 

An added offensive weapon is kicker Alex Henery.  He connected on 18 of 21 field goal attempts including a 57 yarder.  Two of those three misses were from beyond 50 yards.

It may be the schedule that prevents NU from winning the North Division.  They play Kansas in Lawrence and Colorado in Boulder in their division and must host Oklahoma from the South.  We expect NU and KU to finish tied in the standings, but the Jayhawks will win the key game against the Cornhuskers.

Missouri: That whistling sound you hear is the Missouri Tiger football team coming down like a bomb released over London during WWII.  The team was wiped out by graduation.  Included in the decimation were quarterback Chase Daniel, tight end Chase Coffman, wide out Jeremy Maclin, tackle Colin Brown, linebacker Michael Keck, safety William Moore, and defensive tackles Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak, all of whom were taken in the NFL Draft.  A Tiger squad that averaged 42.2 points and 484 yards per game will see a major drop in those numbers.

Sophomore Blaine Gabbert is the new quarterback. He completed five of 13 passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns, and he is being asked to replace the overwhelming all-time passing leader in Columbia, who threw for 4,335 yards and 39 scores last year.  Gabbert will be at a further disadvantage because Mizzou’s top three receivers, who accounted for 264 catches for 3,080 yards and 30 scores are no longer around.  Jared Perry will be the top man after finishing fourth last year with 41 receptions.

The one big holdover weapon is running back Derrick Washington.  He rushed for 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns in ’08.  Depth here is a concern, and true freshman Kendial Lawrence could see significant action.

The offensive line welcomes back three starters, led by all-league candidate Kurtis Gregory at guard.  The OL should provide enough blocking for the Tiger backs to top four yards per carry and enough protection to give Gabbert a fair shot to find the open receiver.

On the defensive side, MU was mediocre last year, giving up 27.2 points and 412 yards per game.  We’ll give them some credit because they faced Juice Williams, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Ganz, Zac Robinson, Colt McCoy, Josh Freeman, Todd Reesing, Sam Bradford, and C. J. Bacher—Whew! The numbers could improve simply because the offense runs more clock when they have the ball.

Actual talent improvement is evident at linebacker.  Sean Weatherspoon is the best player on the team and the best linebacker in college football; he should take home the Butkus Award this year.  Last year, he registered an unbelievable 155 tackles with five QB sacks, 13 ½ additional tackles for loss, seven passes knocked away, and three interceptions.  He’ll make his two partners better players, because opponents will go to great lengths to try to eliminate him from the play.

The defensive line and the secondary have issues.  Three starters are gone from both units.  It’s for this reason that we cannot see Missouri competing in the North Division.  In fact, we don’t see how they can forge a winning record.  Not enough pass rush and too many big plays allowed by a green secondary cannot be hidden in this league.

Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins begins his fourth season in the People’s Republic of Boulder, and he could be exiled if the Buffs fail to make it to a bowl this year.  It’s going to be a touch and go situation.  CU has some real talent in places and big holes in other places.  Only four starters return on defense, and it was defense that allowed the Buffs to win five games last year.

When CU won big under former coach Gary Barnett, they did so with a bruising running game.  This Buffalo team will try to revert back to those days, because every running back who contributed in 2008 is back this year.  Rodney Stewart has sneaky speed and quickness and can hit a small hole quickly.  His small frame makes him vulnerable to injury, and he missed time last year.  Darrell Scott is more of a north-south runner, but he too missed time due to injury. 

After the first couple of weeks of August practice, Hawkins had yet to name a starting quarterback.  His son Cody was the starter for most of the last two seasons, but he may be on the verge of losing his spot to Tyler Hansen, a better runner.  If Hansen wins the job, that is a sign that CU will rely more on the run than the pass.

The rebuilding defense is strongest at linebacker.  Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart return after finishing one-two in tackles (215 combined).  The secondary has one star-in-the-making in cornerback Cha’Pelle Brown, who knocked away 10 passes.

Up front, the defensive line will be the reason CU doesn’t compete in the North Division title race.  No full-time starters return, and three untested sophomores will be pressed into action.

Colorado had troubles with their kicking game last year, and that’s an anomaly kicking in the 5,400 feet elevation of Folsom Field.

An improved offense that can control the ball against average defenses combined with a schedule that includes eight or nine winnable games gives CU a decent shot of getting to seven wins and a bowl game.

Kansas State: Old with the new, and in with the old.  Soon to be 70-year old Bill Snyder returns to the Little Apple after a three-year retirement.  Combining his final two years, where the Wildcats bounced under .500, with the three forgettable seasons of Ron Prince, K-State has gone 26-33 the last five years.  Snyder picked a great time to return, because the ‘Cats have the chance to win a couple extra games this year and return to a bowl.

The defense should be one of the most improved units in the nation.  Yes, you can say it cannot get worse.  Last year, KSU gave up 35.8 points and 479 total yards per game.  Nebraska and Texas Tech topped 600 total yards against them.  Kansas State returns its top six tacklers.  Three starting defensive linemen return, but Brandon Harold is going to miss some games with a leg injury.

State will go almost exclusively with a 4-2-5 defense, and it’s a smart move.  They have much more depth in the secondary than they do at linebacker.  Linebackers Alex Hrebec and John Houlik may not make even Honorable Mention All-Big 12, but their 2009 performance will be much better than 2008.

The secondary will benefit from having all the depth, but without a better pass rush up front, enemy QBs will pick them apart.

The offense will struggle early, as it has to break in a new quarterback.  Carson Coffman and Grant Gregory were still competing for the starting job at the time of this writing.  Whoever wins the job will benefit from having star receiver Brandon Banks return after grabbing 67 passes for 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns.  Tight end Jeron Mastrud ranks only behind Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham for best in the league.

2008 Leading running back Lamark Brown has been moved back to receiver, but he didn’t have much success carrying the ball and can easily be replaced.  Keithen Valentine should surpass Brown’s season total by the sixth or seventh game.

The offensive line suffered a blow when senior guard Brock Unruh was lost for the season due to injury.  That leaves two starting holdovers in the trenches.  Tackle Nick Stringer will land a spot somewhere on the All-Big 12 team.

With non-conference contests with Massachusetts, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Tennessee Tech, the worst KSU can do in the pre-conference is 3-1.  If they upset UCLA and enter conference play at 4-0, they have it made in the shade in the bowl picture.  Even at 3-1, the Wildcats have an excellent shot at getting to 6-6.  They get Texas A&M and Missouri at home and play Iowa State in Kansas City.  

Iowa State: In what looked like a trade, Auburn sent defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads to Ames for Coach Gene Chizik.  Rhoads got the short end of the stick in that one, but at least he inherits a nice bunch of holdovers from last year.  Iowa State will more than likely remain in the basement of the North Division, but the gap to the other teams will shorten this year.

He won’t be confused for a Bradford, McCoy, Robinson, Griffin, or Reesing, but quarterback Austen Arnaud is a poor man’s Seneca Wallace.  He passed for 2,792 yards and 15 touchdowns (61.6% completions) last year.  His top receiver from last year, R. J. Sumrall has picked up his sheepskin, but all the other key contributors from last year are back.  Junior college transfer Darius Reynolds has earned a spot in the starting lineup.

Alexander Robinson rushed for 703 yards (4.6 avg) and scored six times, and he has help this year.  Former Florida Gator Bo Williams was supposed to come in and assume the starter’s job, but he won’t even be second team when the season begins.  Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz’s stock is on the rise, and he is a great fit in the new spread offense.

The offensive line may have a few tough times in the early part of the schedule, but they should be okay once the players get uses to multiple shifts in positions.  ISU averaged 25.3 points and 387 yards per game last year, and we can see those numbers climbing to 28 points and 400 yards in 2009.

A porous 2008 defense gave up almost 36 points and 453 yards per game, and the numbers could be just as weak or even weaker this year.  The defensive line and secondary may take a step back, while the linebackers move forward a tad.  Safety James Smith has the best shot of earning post-season accolades.  He led ISU with 85 tackles last year.

Middle linebacker Jesse Smith leads the one not-so-weak area.  He registered five tackles for loss and six deflected passes last year.

The Cyclones have a decent chance to open 3-1 with a non-conference schedule that includes North Dakota State, Iowa, Kent State, and Army.  For the second year in a row, ISU may not win a conference game, but they will lose them by fewer points per game.

Big 12 South

Oklahoma:  The Big 12 will be a two-team race this year.  Oklahoma and Texas should combine for either 22 or 23 regular season wins.  The two could play each other 12 times and split them six to six.  The PiRate formula says OU begins the season one point better than Texas.  By the seventh week of the season, who know?

Let’s start with the supposed weakness this year.  Everybody is saying the offensive line is going to cause the offense to fall backward just enough to finish second.  We say, hogwash!  We’ve studied the OL in depth, and we’re here to tell you this line is more underrated than former NBA coach Bill Sharman.  Trent Williams is a top-rate tackle.  He could have been a first day draft pick in the NFL this spring.  When center Ben Habern recovers from his lower back injury, he will be one of the top snappers in the league.  Brian Simmons will team with Williams on the left side to provide exceptional leadership.  This unit will dedicate themselves to top performance much in the way Florida did so after the loss to Ole Miss.  Expect total effort and attention to details.

The receivers may not be as talented this year, but if that’s OU’s only real weakness, Coach Bob Stoops will be smiling as his team takes the field in Pasadena in the second week in January.  Tight end Jermaine Gresham is the favorite for the Mackey Award this year after catching 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns.  He should top 1,000 yards and 15 scores this year.

We’ve saved the best parts of the offense for last.  The Sooners return two 1,000 yard rushers who combined for 34 touchdowns.  Chris Brown (217-1,220) and DeMarco Murray (179-1,002) have an excellent chance to repeat the feat and even increase those numbers.

So, what can Mr. Heisman Trophy do for an encore?  He can copy Tim Tebow and follow it up with the National Championship.  It doesn’t seem possible that Bradford could improve on 4,720 passing yards, 50 touchdowns, 67.9% completions, and just eight interceptions.  He doesn’t need to have a season equal to last.  In fact, it might be to OU’s advantage to hold onto the ball a little longer this year and allow the defense to star.  Sooner games lasted an average of 151 plays per game, while Florida games lasted an average of only 127 plays per game.

The defense was not up to championship standards last year, but it should be this year.  After giving up 24.5 points and 368 yards per game, an improvement to 20 points and 340 yards should be enough to put Oklahoma in Pasadena.

The one slightly vulnerable area on this side of the ball is the secondary, where two new safeties will start.  Cornerback Dominique Franks picked off four passes and batted away 10 passes.  He could be a 1st Team All-Big 12 this year.

The top linebacker this year is Travis Lewis, who led the team in tackles in 2008 with 144, 12 total tackles for loss.  He intercepted four passes.  Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds make it the best linebacker unit in the conference.

Up front, OU will be downright stingy against the run and a nightmare to opposing quarterbacks.  End Jeremy Beal had 8 ½ sacks and another seven tackles for loss.  Gerald McCoy, Auston English, and Adrian Taylor were nearly as tough.

It all comes down to the Red River Shootout on October 17.  Yes, Oklahoma State could give the Sooners a good game, and Texas Tech will be out for revenge, but we just don’t see any team other than Texas competing with them.  They will either go 13-0 and qualify for the National Championship Game, or go 11-1 and end up in a BCS Bowl.

Texas:  This isn’t the number two team in the division, so don’t take that impression from them being here.  No, we aren’t saying Texas will disappoint.  We are saying that OU is 1A and UT is 1B.

Texas is a decent running back from being unstoppable.  If Fozzy Whittaker or Vondrell McGee can supply a little more relief for McCoy, defenses will not be able to slow this offense down.

Colt McCoy is due to win the Heisman Trophy.  He completed an insane 76.7% of his passes last year.  These were not glorified handoffs.  He averaged 11.6 yards per completion and almost nine yards per attempt.  McCoy’s TD/INT ratio was 34/8.

Quan Cosby and his 92 receptions, 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns has moved on, but the Longhorns still have Jordan Shipley, who hauled in 89 passes for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Keep an eye on flex tight end Dan Buckner.  He has big play potential and will not command the tough coverage given to Shipley.

The offensive line has three all-stars.  Center Chris Hall, guard Charlie Tanner, and tackle Adam Ulatoski will play for pay next year.

The defense was better than Oklahoma’s last year, and it was the difference in their game.  The Longhorns have a little bit of housekeeping to do up front, where only tackle Lamarr Houston returns from last season.  Kheeston Randall is big and agile, and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a star.

Texas is set at linebacker, where Sergio Kindle dumped enemy quarterbacks 10 times last year.  In the secondary, safeties Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon broke up 24 passes last year. 

The kicking game is so strong, there are two potential star placekickers and two punters who contribute.  John Gold is the regular punter, and Justin Tucker is the rugby-style punter.

Texas Tech will bear the brunt of Texas’s wrath when the Red Raiders visit September 19.  The Longhorns must face Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but this year looks like a two-team race.

Oklahoma State:  We’re not saying it will happen, but can you remember back to 1971?  Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado, all of the Big Eight Conference, finished one-two-three in the final poll.  Oklahoma State could easily finish 10-2 this year with a scoring margin of 20 points per game.

The Cowboys’ offense is every bit as good as the two titans ahead of them in the league.  Quarterback Zac Robinson passed for 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for 562 yards and eight more scores.  Running back Kendall Hunter rushed for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns, and backup Keith Toston added another 686 yards (6.7 avg).  Receiver Dez Bryant caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.  All these skill players return this year.  To make matters worse, for opponents that is, the Cowboy offensive line returns three very competent starters and adds two very highly-rated newcomers in reserve.  OSU gained 5.5 yards per rush in 2008, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue with that success.

Defensively, the ‘Pokes are just an average team looking to improve to respectability.  Their front four and back four have a lot of gaping holes.  OSU surrendered 28.1 points and 406 yards per game last year, and those numbers will only marginally improve in 2009.  The Cowboys use a variation of the 4-3, and Star linebacker Andre Sexton returns after leading the team with 100 tackles.  Middle linebacker Orie Lemon added 90 and batted away eight passes.  Third linebacker Patrick Lavine recorded 70 tackles. 

Oklahoma State has excellent kick and punt returners.  Bryant scored twice on punt returns last year, and Perrish Cox took two kickoffs back for touchdowns.

If the Cowboys can win the opener at home with Georgia, they will possibly move into the Top Five.  We can see them competing and even winning the Georgia game, but we don’t see them beating Texas or Oklahoma.

Texas Tech: Red Raider coach Mike Leach keeps plugging in new pieces to his intricate offense in Lubbock.  Graham Harrell has left the building after ending his senior season with 5,111 passing yards and 45 touchdowns.  Top receiver Michael Crabtree is busy not accepting contract offers with the San Francisco 49ers these days.  Back Shannon Woods is no longer around, as are three offensive line starters.  Yet, Texas Tech should score 35-40 points per game and gain 450-500 yards.

New quarterback Taylor Potts has already received accolades from Leach who called him the best quarterback he’s ever coached.  Potts saw limited action last year and passed for 260 yards on 63.9% completions.

Baron Batch split time with Woods and returns to the backfield after rushing for a team leading 758 yards and seven scores last year.

The offensive line has its strengths and its weaknesses.  Guard Brandon Carter and tackle Marlon Winn are seasoned vets, while center Shawn Byrnes and guard Mickey Ofafor have limited experience. 

The defense returns enough starters to keep improving.  It will be strongest up front with nose tackle Colby Whitlock returning.  Linebacker isn’t a strong area, but it’s no great liability.  Brian Duncan led the team from his middle ‘backer spot with 94 stops.

The secondary features cornerback Jamar Wall, who batted away 11 passes and took away two more.

Tech should win all four out-of-conference games (North Dakota, Rice, Houston, and New Mexico), but games at Texas, at Nebraska, at Oklahoma State and at home with Oklahoma should be losses.  The season ender against Baylor at the Mistake on the Turnpike, AKA Cowboys Stadium, could be a tossup, and the Bears could be playing for bowl eligibility.  Call it an eight or nine win season in Lubbock.  

Baylor: This is the year if the Bears are ever going to get over the hump and pick up that elusive sixth win.  Coach Art Briles has 16 starters returning.

Quarterback Robert Griffin is in the next wave of signal callers after the big three.  He comes off a season in which he passed for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns versus just three interceptions and ran the ball for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Griffin has a wealth of returning talent at the receiver positions.  Kendall Wright and David Gettis combined for 79 catches and 1,040 yards.  Tight end Justin Akers isn’t an every down player because Baylor frequently spreads the field and goes four wide, but when he’s in the game, he is hard to bring down after the catch.

Jay Finley led the Bears with 865 rushing yards and could possibly top 1,000 if the offense moves to the next level.  He may be used more as a receiver this year, because he’s tough to stop in the open field.

The one fly in the ointment is the offensive line.  There will be three new starters up front.  If they don’t continue the success that last year’s line enjoyed when they opened holes that led to 4.9 yards per rush, then BU won’t be playing in December or January.

 

On the defensive side, the top four tacklers and six of the top seven return.  The question mark is on the defensive line where two new starters will need to step up and keep blockers away from the linebackers.

Those linebackers are the best trio in years.  Antonio Jones, Joe Pawelek, and Antonio Johnson teamed up to make 271 stops intercept six passes (all Pawelek), and break up 10 more.

The back line features three returning starters who did not perform up to Big 12 standards last year.  BU allowed 67.4% of enemy passes to be caught for 255 yards per game. 

Baylor opens at Wake Forest, and it should be a great game.  We’ll call that a Demon Deacon win.  Connecticut comes to Waco, and that won’t be an easy win.  Northwestern State and Kent State should be cinch wins.  If they win three of these first four games, they will still need three conference wins to gain bowl eligibility.  They will have to pull of one upset.  It’s a 50-50 chance.

Texas A&M: Since R. C. Slocum was shown the door after winning consistently for two decades, this program has fallen off the map, going 36-37 since then.  Second year coach Mike Sherman may not be given much time to turn things around in College Station, and the alumni could demand action this year if A&M finishes 5th or 6th in the division.  We say the Aggies will do just that.

10 starters return to the offense, led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson.  Johnson has talent, but in this division, he’s a distant 6th among the QBs.  The once proud running game here disappeared as the Aggies rushed for just 89 yards per game.  Cyrus Gray averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year, but he only carried the ball 94 times. 

A&M returns their top three and five of their top six receivers.  Ryan Tannehill may not start after leading the team in receptions with 55.  Jeff Fuller and tight end Jamie McCoy should see more touches after bringing in 50 and 43 passes respectively.

The offensive line is the best part of this side of the ball.  The addition of LSU transfer Matt Allen, and the emergence of tackle Danny Baker means there will be much more depth here this year.  Look for the Aggies to improve their rushing numbers back into the low triple digits and pass for 260-285 yards.

The defense will be weaker overall this year with very little pass rush and very little ability to stop the passing attacks of the other five South Division rivals.  The Aggies lost too much on this side of the ball to contend for any wins inside the division.  They better defeat Iowa State at Kyle Field, or else they could go 0-8 in Big 12 play.

Next up: The Southeastern Conference where football definitely is a religion, and The Gators, led by the great leader Tebowses, are the chosen people.

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