The Big 12 lost two of its founding members when Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado left for the Pac 12. Despite losing those teams, the now 10 team Big 12 still has a lot of talent and the conference champion has a good shot of playing for the BCS National Championship depending on what happens in the other power conferences.
Here is a look at the top five teams in the conference and their odds to win the conference and the BCS National Championship courtesy of bodog. I will look at the other five teams in another article.
Oklahoma Sooners (4/9 conference, 9/2 BCS)
Oklahoma returns 18 starters from a team that won 12 games last season, including a 48-20 romp over UConn in the Fiesta Bowl. It is no wonder this team is the pre-season #1 and the favorite to win both the conference and national title for Coach Bob Stoops. The explosive offense is led by returning junior quarterback Landry Jones who is one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Jones threw for 4,718 yards, with 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year in 14 games. Jones has a talented group of receivers led by Oklahoma’s all time leading receiver and all-conference Ryan Broyles and tight end James Hanna. If Jones does have a weakness it is looking only to his top two targets and he tends to throw some careless interceptions because of it.
The Sooners do have to replace the program’s all-time leading touchdown scorer halfback Demarco Murray who was drafted by the Cowboys in this years NFL draft. Sophomores Roy Finch and Brennan Clay will try to replace Murray. Also look for all-conference fullback Trey Milland to pick up the slack as well. The Sooners return 4 starters on the offensive line so the offense has a chance to be even more explosive this year after averaging 37 points a game last year. That is if they can stay healthy and Jones learns to protect the ball better.
On defense, the Sooners suffered a tragic loss as 23 year old linebacker Austin Box died of an accidental drug overdose in May. The defense is very good at pass rushing but if the Sooners do have one chink in the armor, it is they can’t stop the run. The defense gave up over 150 yards a game on the ground last year. It didn’t really matter because for the most part Oklahoma jumped out to big leads and opponents had to throw to catch up. Key defensive players include Defensive Tackle Frank Alexander, linebacker Travis Lewis, and cornerback Jamell Fleming.
Kicker Jimmy Stevens is accurate only missing 4 kicks last year. The problem is he doesn’t have a strong leg and struggles mightily with kicks over 40 yards. Patrick O’Hara will kick longer field goal attempts. Punter Tress way is one of the best punters in the nation. Broyles, Clay and Finch will return kicks and punts.
The schedule is difficult but manageable. The Sooners will be tested with a trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida St in their second game of the season. In Conference, the Sooners get Missouri and Texas A&M at home, the two teams that beat them last season. Oklahoma has won 36 straight home games dating back to 2005. Of course the two biggest games on the schedule are the game against Texas in Dallas and the Bedlam game against Oklahoma St in Stillwater. The Sooners have a good shot of running the table with that schedule.
Texas A&M Aggies (5/1 conf, 40/1 BCS)
Like Oklahoma, Texas A&M returns 18 starters including quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Grey along with his top six receivers. The team was red hot at the end of last season winning and covering their last 6 games in the regular season before losing 41-24 to LSU in the Cotton Bowl after Tannehill took over for the ineffective Jarrod Johnson. Coach Mike Sherman has the Aggies locked and loaded and they should compete for the conference title and perhaps a BCS bowl bid.
The schedule includes a tough non-conference game against Arkansas in Dallas. The conference slate includes home games against Oklahoma St, Missouri, and Texas, and road games at Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The November 5 showdown at Oklahoma could decide the conference title.
Texas Longhorns (13/2 conf, 25/1 BCS)
After a disappointing 2010 campaign that saw the Longhorns finish 5-7 and miss a bowl for the first time since 1997, the year before coach Mack Brown took over the program. Needless to say there were some angry Longhorn fans and boosters that were calling for Brown’s head, despite the fact that the Longhorns played for the National Championship the year before.
The problem with the Longhorns was turnovers. In their 5 wins last year, they were +3 in turnovers, but in 7 losses they were -12. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was inconsistent last year with 17 picks and only 10 turnovers. He now finds himself locked in a three way battle for the starting nod with Connor Wood and Case McCoy, brother of Longhorn legend Colt.
Texas battled injuries last year especially on the offensive line. If Gilbert can protect the ball better, look for the ‘Horns to have a bounce back season and go to a high profile bowl, maybe not a BCS game but something like the Cotton or Holiday Bowl. If not he will be on a short leash, and Brown would not hesitate to play Wood or McCoy.
The schedule includes home games against BYU, Oklahoma St, Texas Tech, plus the neutral site game in Dallas against arch-rival Oklahoma. The Longhorns have road games against UCLA, Missouri, and Texas A&M scheduled.
Oklahoma St Cowboys (9/1 conf, 30/1 BCS)
Long in the shadow of in-state rival Oklahoma, the Cowboys won 11 games last season for the first time in school history. The offense returns most of the starters from last season including quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon who was the nation’s top receiver last season. The offensive line is intact, and last year OSU averaged 520 yards a game on offense.
The problem is on defense where the Pokes struggle to stop anyone. Expect a lot of shootouts with such an explosive offense and a soft defense.
The schedule includes home games against Arizona and Oklahoma. That game against Oklahoma is scheduled for December 3, and could decide the conference title. However, OSU has tough road games at Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. Expect 10 or 11 wins and a high profile bowl berth.
Missouri Tigers (14/1 conference, 80/1 BCS)
Missouri must replace quarterback Blaine Gabbert who was drafted by the Jaguars in the NFL draft along with DE Aldon Smith, also a first round pick. Sophomore QB James Franklin is expected to replace Gabbert. The Tigers still have a lot of seniors and juniors and if the Big 12 still had 12 teams Missouri would be the favorite to win the North division. However, the Tigers aren’t as talented as their Texas and Oklahoma conference rivals.
The schedule is pretty tough with road games at Arizona St, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Baylor. They have home games against Oklahoma St, Texas Tech, and Texas. Anything more than 8 wins would be a surprise as Gary Pinkel and the Tigers try to rebuild and still stay competitive.
Those are the top 5 teams in the Big 12, and I will discuss the other 5 in another article.
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