Offensive firepower is the name of the game in the Big XII. The two big returning stars are Heisman Winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Heisman Finalist Colt McCoy of Texas, but the conference returns several other experienced quarterbacks, led by Todd Reesing of Kansas and Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State.
If the offenses are tearing up the fields, that usually means the defenses aren’t doing much to stop them. None of the Big XII teams boasted a tremendous defense last year, and that doesn’t look to change in ’09.
The top ten in the AP poll has three Big XII teams, with Texas at #2, OU at #3 and OSU at #9. Two teams from the North Division make the Top 25, with Nebraska ranked #24, and Kansas right behind them at #25.
Let’s look at how each team shapes up for the 2009 season.
The North has spent the last few years getting smacked around by the South. That is unlikely to change this year, at least for those schools that have Texas and OU on the rotating inter-divisional schedule. On the bright side, with no one in the top ten, the race for the North title is wide open.
Was it that long ago that Nebraska ruled the football world with its unstoppable option attack? In a word, yes. The new Nebraska struggled for years under Bill Callahan, and they are looking to return to their past glory in Bo Pelini’s 2nd year.
The non-conference schedule features three cupcakes and one big road game at #7 Virginia Tech. In conference, they face Texas Tech, OU and Baylor from the South. It is entirely possible that the winner of the North could be decided when Nebraska travels to play Kansas on November 14.
Whereas most teams in the league rely on scoring mountains of points from the spread to win, Nebraska is going to try the novel approach of stopping teams on defense. Their quarterback, Zac Lee (Jr) is starting for the first time, and coaches will rely on junior RB Roy Helu (803 yds, 7 TD) to power the offense, especially after the dismissal of RB Quentin Castille. They have some receivers, but it doesn’t matter, since they might not have anyone to throw them the ball. Pelini is a defensive guy, so that side of the ball should improve, but stopping teams in the Big XII has proven elusive even for juggernauts like UT and OU.
KU shocked the country in 2007 by going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl. 2008 was a step back, in large part because OU, Texas and Texas Tech all rotated back onto the schedule after being absent in ’07.
Those same three teams are on the schedule again this year. KU starts with four winnable games, but it will be hard to do better than 5-3 in the conference while facing teams in the South that went 33-3 in the regular season last year. The showdown with Nebraska on November 14 could determine whether the Jayhawks make their first ever trip to the Big XII Championship game. As usual, the season ends with the Border War in Kansas City against hated rival Missouri. KU will look to continue their success after winning 40-37 in 2008.
Todd Reesing (3888 yds, 32 TD) returns for his senior year at QB, and he leads an explosive offense full of returning stars. KU has one of the best receiving duos in the country with Dezmon Briscoe (92 rec, 1407 yds, 15 TD) and Kerry Meier (97 rec, 1045 yds, 8 TD). Senior RB Jake Sharp (860 yds, 12 TD) is dangerously quick. On the defensive side of the ball . . . well, never mind. But the offense is really good.
2008: 10-4, won Big XII North
Much of Missouri’s firepower from last year is gone. QB Chase Daniels, TE Chase Coffman, and all-everything WR Jeremy Maclin all left, meaning there are huge holes to fill. The offense will still score points, but expect them to take a few steps back from their production in ‘07 and ’08.
Mizzou opens the season with dangerous rival Illinois. There are three more winnable games in non-conference. They face Oklahoma St, Texas and Baylor from the South, and end the year against rival Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium in KC.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is unproven, but the offense is built for the QB to put up big numbers. He will have to rely on returning RB Derrick Washington (1036 yds, 17 TD). They like to spread the ball around on offense, and will rely on WR’s Danario Alexander and Jared Perry to replace the production lost when Jeremy Maclin went pro.
Colorado has been rebuilding for a while now, and this year doesn’t look like it’s going to change much. Kordell Stewart has been away a long time.
The Buffaloes have some pitfalls in non-conference, particularly a road game against West Virginia. They face Texas, OSU and Texas A&M in the South, and only A&M should be considered winnable. They are staring up at KU, Nebraska, and maybe Missouri in the North.
QB Cody Hawkins (1892 yds, 17 TD) returns, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Explosive sophomore Rodney Stewart (622 yds, 2 TD) and Darrell Scott (343 yds, 1 TD) should split time at RB. Colorado has struggled under coach Dan Hawkins, and he might be on the way out if he can’t find a way to win this year.
Kansas State Wildcats
KSU fans showed their yearning for a bygone era when they resurrected former coach Bill Snyder to replace fired Ron Prince. KState had some good years in the 90’s, but they struggled under Prince, losing 3-straight to rival Kansas. Nothing gets you fired faster than losing to your rival.
The Wildcats pioneered the practice of scheduling miserable teams in non-conference, but they actually stepped away from that practice this year to schedule UCLA. They face Texas Tech, Texas A&M and OU in the South.
QB Josh Freeman is gone, and new QB Carson Coffman is untested. Keithen Valentine only carried 34 times in ’08, but he’ll handle the load this year. WR Brandon Banks (67 rec, 1049 yds, 9 TD) is a returning bright spot on offense. Whether Coffman will be able to get him the ball remains to be seen.
KSU fans are expecting a miracle from Coach Snyder, and it will take one for KSU to compete in the North.
Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa St actually went to some bowl games a few years ago. No, really. Coach Gene Chizik won 2 games in ’08, and he was rewarded with the head coaching job at Auburn. If new coach Paul Rhodes can go winless, maybe he can get the head coaching job at Notre Dame.
Iowa St plays rival Iowa early in the year. The other three games are winnable, but when you’re 2-10, not much can be taken for granted. They draw Baylor, Texas A&M and OSU in the South, but even without OU and Texas they’ll still probably lose them all.
QB Austin Arnaud (2792 yds, 15 TD) returns, and might actually put up some numbers in the spread offense. Alexander Robinson (703 yds, 6 TD) is a solid returning RB, and WR Darius Darks (49 rec, 477 yds, 1 TD) returns. The offense will be better, but the Cyclones are still sitting all alone at the bottom of the league.
Gee, I wonder if these guys will be any good? They crushed Missouri 62-21 in the Big XII Title game, and then lost to Florida in the National Title game. Don’t expect much difference this year.
Sure, OU plays BYU and Miami in non-conference, but there’s really only one game on the schedule: October 17 vs. Texas in the Red River Shootout. This game has been the biggest in the country the last few years, and I get chills just writing about it. The winner (or in last year’s case, the loser) is on the inside track to play for the National Championship. Oklahoma does need to be careful, because there are let-down games looming at Kansas the week after, and against Oklahoma State to end the year.
Heisman winner Sam Bradford (4720 yds, 50 TD) is back. The backfield is loaded with RB’s Demarco Murray (1002 yds, 14 TD) and Chris Brown (1220 yds 20 TD). Jermaine Gresham (66 rec, 950 yds, 14 TD) is a weapon at TE. The offensive line may struggle, but there is talent across the board. Unlike other Big XII teams, the Sooners actually stop people on defense sometimes (but not often).
Another juggernaut. They were left out of the Big XII and National Title games after beating OU and losing to Texas Tech last year, and they are primed for revenge.
I could almost cut and paste the schedule section from above. It all comes down to Texas vs. Oklahoma, October 17. Texas has fewer trap games, since they have fared better against OSU, and they get Kansas at home.
Heisman finalist Colt McCoy (3859 yds, 34 TD) returns. There are some questions at tailback, where Vontrell McGee should start, and WR, where Quan Cosby’s loss will be felt. Returning WR Jordan Shipley (89 rec, 1060 yds, 11 TD) will play a big role. On the other hand, they return a defense that was best in the league last year (which is not saying much).
Still, this is Texas. They reload talent year after year. If they get past OU, they could go all the way.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
This is a team to watch out for. They would be favored to win many conferences in the country (Big East, ACC, maybe Big Ten), but they are stuck behind two of the most dominant teams in the country in Texas and OU. It’s unlikely they will beat both of them, but they could pull off an upset and force a 3-way tie, as Texas Tech did last year.
The Cowboys start the year at home against Georgia in a huge early-season game. A win will set the tone for the whole year, and a loss will disappoint Boone Pickens. From the North, OSU draws Missouri, Iowa St and Colorado, none of whom should be a threat. They face Texas October 31, two weeks after OU-UT, and they play OU at the end of the year.
The team returns incredible scoring capability. QB Zac Robinson (3064 yds, 25 TD), RB Kendall Hunter (1555 yds 16 TD) and WR Dez Bryant (87 rec, 1480 yds, 19 TD) rack up yardage and points almost at will. The defense has been the week point in recent years, so they brought in Bill Young, the defensive coordinator during Kansas’s Orange Bowl run in 2007.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders were oh-so-close last year, but they ended up losing the tie-breaker to OU, and then the bowl game to Ole Miss. They probably won’t be as dangerous this year, but you know Mike Leach’s offense is going to put up points through the air.
The non-conference schedule features ridiculous shoot-outs with Rice and Houston, both of whom love to throw. The draw from the North could be tough, with visits from KState and Kansas, and a trip to Nebraska. OU and Texas both loom.
QB Graham Harrell is gone, and he took his 5000 yards and 45 touchdown with him. QB Taylor Potts will try to replace him, and recent history suggests he won’t have any problems filling the stat sheet. WR Michael Crabtree is also gone, and it falls to Detron Lewis (76 rec, 913 yds, 3 TD) to replace him.
Texas Tech will continue their high-scoring ways. They probably won’t match the 11-1 regular season record of 2008, but they will still win their share.
First, the Baylor Bears are actually not that bad. After years of hopelessness, there are positive signs. Whether those improvements are enough to warrant a trip to a bowl game remains to be seen.
Baylor elected not to pad its win total with patsies in the non-conference schedule. They open at Wake Forest, a solid ACC team, and then host UConn the next week. From the North, they visit Iowa St and Missouri, and host Nebraska. Even with an improved team, it will be hard to find 6 wins on a schedule that includes the teams of the Big XII South.
Dynamic QB Robert Griffin (2091 yds, 15 TD) is back. He threw only 3 interceptions in ’08, and led the team with 13 rushing TD’s. He won’t be all by himself either, as RB Jay Finley (865 yds, 7 TD) and WR Kendall Wright (50 rec, 649 yds, 5 TD) return to help the offense.
Baylor is better. They’re probably not quite good enough to make a bowl.
Texas A&M Aggies
This is a proud program with a long tradition of winning. Unfortunately, they have not added to those wins in a while. The departure of Dennis Franchione in 2007 was acrimonious, and current coach Mike Sherman has his work cut out for him.
The schedule features three winnable games, and a neutral site game against Arkansas that would have been a lot of fun a few years ago. They draw Kansas St, Iowa St and Colorado from the North, which is good, because those are the only teams they have a chance of beating.
QB Jerrod Johnson (2435 yds, 21 TD) returns, but it is a measure of their lack of confidence in him that leading WR Ryan Tannehill (55 rec, 844 yds, 5 TD) was moved to the #2 QB slot on the depth chart. RB’s Mike Goodson and Javorskie Lane are gone, and Cyrus Gray (363 yds, 1 TD) and freshman Christine Michael will fight to replace them. The leading receiver was Tannehill, but with him moving, the load falls to Jeff Fuller (50 rec, 630 yds, 9 TD).
Texas A&M is at the bottom of the South, and that’s pretty bad when traditional doormat Baylor is in your league.
Fortunes in college football usually change slowly. A team might go from 5-7 to 7-5, but it’s rare to see a team go from mediocrity to greatness, or from greatness to mediocrity, in just one year. But it does happen, and that what makes predicting the results of a season both fun and futile. Kansas went from 6-6 in 2006 to 12-1 in 2007. Michigan found a way to go 3-9 last year.
At least one team we expect to be good (Nebraska?) will probably stink, either as a result of injuries, trouble in the locker room, or just plain bad football. Another team that we’ve consigned to the junk heap (Baylor?) will rise up and surprise people. There will be upsets across the country, fields stormed, and goalposts torn down.
Let the season begin!
Image Credit: flickr
This article also appears on Heritical Ideas.