Most spring practices have been completed, the silliness that is the Spring Game is over, and we're all looking forward to the opening kickoff of the 2011 College Football Season. So how do the teams in the abbreviated Big 12 stack up?
- Oklahoma - This is pretty much a no-brainer. Both Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles return this year. Iowa State fans will remember this duo from a frightening game last season in Norman where they made the Cyclone Secondary look like a broken levy. At this point, I believe Landry Jones is the Big 12's best shot for a Heisman in 2011. He's not a lock, but if he's not the best quarterback in the Big 12, he's 2nd.
Oklahoma State - Another frightening QB/WR duo returns at OSU this year in the form of Brandon Weedon and Justin Blackmon. Weedon would be my other possible pick as the best Big 12 QB, but at OSU his chances of winning a Heisman are significantly smaller than Jones'. Blackmon is, if anything, a better receiver than Broyles, which should make the Bedlam game interesting again this year. I have a nagging sensation that OSU might not live up to the hype this year though, as it's unclear how much of their success in 2010 should be attributed to Dana Holgorsen, now the heir apparent at West Virgina.
- Texas A&M - The incessant A&M hype this year seems reminiscent of last year. On the other hand, Ryan Tannehill is in a position to put TAMU on the map this year, nationally. The last 6 games last year, Tannehill was solid gold for the Aggies, but 2011 is a whole new year. The good news is that the rest of the team stayed largely intact, and the Aggies have a solid running backs in Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael.
- Missouri - As the best of the Big 12 North teams, Missouri is in an interesting position this year. Since the arrival of Gary Pinkel, Missouri has been a solid team, led by the likes of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. How will the Tigers' reputation hold up in the new round robin format? Can they find the next Tigers franchise quarterback? The good news for Mizzou is that the rest of the team is solid. On the other hand, Texas had a solid team last year with a weak Quarterback and look how that turned out...
- Baylor - Art Briles keeps pulling miracles at the all-Baptist school, led again in 2011 by the freakishly athletic Robert Griffin III. For Baylor, the switch to a round robin must almost come as a relief, as they get to play Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State every year. But the loss of an OOC game may come back to bite them come bowl season.
6-10 after the jump6. Texas Tech - Tommy Tuberville got off to a rocky start in 2010, but followed through and managed to salvage the season in the end. However, he didn't silence his critics (aka The Mike Leach Fanboy Club) and you can almost feel the pressure on him in 2011 to bring improvement. Just like several other teams, Tech is in the process of finding a new quarterback, but I wouldn't worry too much about that if I were a Red Raider fan, Tech seems to assemble great QB's out of spare lego's or something.
7. Texas - That Texas was ranked in the ESPN Preseason Top 25 boggles the mind. Yet, at the same time, a preseason Top 25 would look almost out of place without the Longhorns. Mack Brown and his new co-ordinators have a lot to prove this fall, and maybe that isn't such a bad thing. There's no longer a sense of entitlement in Austin, which should lead to a sense of competition. Still, the Longhorns have a lot of open questions, led by the massively underwhelming performance of Garret Gilbert in 2010 and followed closely by the lack of any reliable running back. At the same time, UT upgraded it's OOC scheduling this fall, and have BYU and UCLA on the docket, along with Rice. One thing's for sure, the people who bleed Burnt Orange are gnawing their fingernails every time they thing about 2011.
8. Iowa State - At this point it's hard to differentiate teams 8, 9 and 10. About the only clear thing is that the Jayhawks have the most to prove, following the abysmal first season under Turner Gill. The Cyclones are in the midst of a 4 way race for the starting QB position, but glimmers of hope are to be found at the wide receiver position. The receiving corps in general under-performed last year, most notably by allowing Colin Franklin, the TE to be the team's leading and "go-to" receiver on 3rd and long. Aaron Horne, Jarvis West and Darius Reynolds in particular hope to assist their new quarterback (whoever he ends up being). There are few worries about reloading at Running Back, with Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson reading to charge the field, but neither has proven themselves to be a leading back over the course of a whole season.
9. Kansas State - Wildcat fans will no doubt be upset that I placed KSU here, but let's be honest. In 2010, Daniel Thomas literally carried the team on his back, out of the back field and into the endzone. I won't even make any references to purple pants and the Hulk (whoops, too late). Bill Snyder continues his long established trend of mining Junior Colleges for talent, but KSU has almost as many question marks this year as their in-state Rivals.
10. Kansas - It's hard not to feel bad for the Jayhawks. Their basketball team falls short of the Final Four for the 2nd year in a row. The first year under Turner Gill was a disaster, save for the GA Tech and Colorado games. Not to mention former employees are getting lengthy prison terms for their involvement in the ticket scandal. Jayhawk fans are holding their breaths in anticipation, but it could be a long fall in Lawerence.