By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
I want to preface this column by stating that I realize it is way too early for me to be ranking the Big 12’s football teams for the 2010 season. Steve Deace and I had this discussion last week on 1460 KXNO and I thought it would make for an interesting conversation topic so I’m about to fire away.
I also reserve the right to change my mind on these picks between now and August.
Sound good? Let’s rock.
1 – Texas – How much faith will Longhorn fans have in Garrett Gilbert? After his shaky BCS Championship Game performance last January, I’m sure that many Texas fans had a few questions for Mack Brown. I think he’ll be a solid quarterback for the Horns next season, who return 14 starters, including seven on the defensive side of the football. Still, replacing Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley will not be easy.
Non-conference schedule: @ Rice, Wyoming, UCLA and Florida Atlantic
2 – Oklahoma – Bob Stoops will return 15 starters from last year’s team that recorded a disappointing 8-5 record. I am of the opinion that they will smell blood in 2010. Offensively, they’ll be vastly improved. Landry Jones has a year under his belt at quarterback. Ryan Broyles and De Marco Murray could be one of the best receiving/running back combos in the entire country on an offense that returns nine starters. Oklahoma’s defense will have some work to do with only four returning starters.
Non-conference schedule: Utah State, Florida State, Air Force and @ Cincinnati
3 – Nebraska – The Cornhuskers return 18 starters from last year’s football team that won the Holiday Bowl. They are the odds on favorite to win the Big 12 North next fall. But still, Nebraska doesn’t have a proven quarterback. I see a few publications out there that have Nebraska ranked as a top five team. Really? With Zac Lee or Cody Green running the show and no real game breaker on the offensive side of the ball, you can really say that this will be a top five team? I don’t buy it. Many folks out in Husker land claim that the Nebraska defense will actually be better without Mr. Suh next season. I question that but they have their specific reasons, citing better defensive end play. That seems like a major stretch to me. Don’t get me wrong; Nebraska will be very good next season. But I do not see them as a top five team due to the fact that they don’t really have a scary playmaker on offense. Roy Helu isn’t that guy. Niles Paul is solid but he won’t keep defensive coordinators up at night. Rex Burkhead is going to have to be the guy to step up if the Huskers want to win the Big 12. Burkhead missed five games last season with a foot injury and has a ton of talent.
You should read: This story by Mike Sherman of the Omaha World Herald. According to this piece, Burkhead has bulked up in the offseason.
Non-conference schedule: Western Kentucky, Idaho, @ Washington and South Dakota State
4 – Missouri – The Tigers and Texas A&M have more starters coming back than anybody else in the conference with 19. I’ve placed these two teams at four and five in these way too early rankings. Missouri does have a tough task ahead of them in having to replace Danario Alexander’s 1,780 yards and 14 touchdowns on offense. He was the one guy that Missouri opponents had to game plan around last season. Add to that, Sean Weatherspoon is gone on the defensive side of the ball. But four out of their five offensive linemen return along with Blaine Gabbert, whom I feel is going to be a great Big 12 quarterback when it is all said and done.
Non-conference schedule: Illinois, McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami (OH)
5 – Texas A&M – Like Missouri, 19 starters return for the Aggies next season, including quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who threw for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2009. This team will score a ton of points next year. How will they be on defense though? That’s still a toss up.
Non-conference schedule: Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and Arkansas
6 – Texas Tech – This is the team that I can’t get a grip on this spring. Mike Leach is gone. Tommy Tuberville is in. There was supposed to be a quarterback controversy down in Lubbock this spring but Steven Sheffield is now out with a foot injury. Does that automatically make Taylor Potts the guy? The biggest question I have is more of a Tuberville thing. How is he going to coach this football team? Will he use the talent around him or will he be stubborn like Bill Callahan was during his initial years in Nebraska? I believe he’ll be just fine with Neal Brown at offensive coordinator. Brown is only 29 years old and is very accomplished. He was at Try last year, where the Trojans no huddle offense set 10 school records and was ranked third nationally in total offense. I don’t think that Tech’s offense will ever be like it was during the Leach years again, but there shouldn’t be a huge drop off in 2010. If there is, expect a restless Tech fan base to let him hear about it. A large contingency of Raider fans is still upset about the school’s decision to dismiss Leach last year.
You should read:This Q&A with Tommy Tuberville.
Non-conference schedule: SMU, @ New Mexico, Weber State and Houston
7 – Iowa State – The Cyclones return 13 starters from last year’s Insight Bowl championship team, including eight on offense. I love Iowa State’s offensive line heading into next season. That anchor will help make running back Alexander Robinson one of the best in the Big 12. Austen Arnaud should be much more efficient at the quarterback position after throwing 13 interceptions a season ago. Iowa State’s big offensive question mark revolves around wide receiver play. This offense desperately lacked a big playmaker last year and somebody needs to step up in the fall. The Cyclones only return four starters on defense but that might not be a terrible thing. Jesse Smith’s graduation will leave a big void but a group of young, athletic linebackers will learn on the fly. I love Iowa State’s depth at defensive back, led by Leonard Johnson and 2009 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year David Sims. You all know where I am about to go with this though. The Cyclone defense has to find a way to pressure the quarterback. If they can solve that problem, Iowa State could go bowling for the second season in a row under Paul Rhoads.
Non-conference schedule: Northern Illinois, @ Iowa, Northern Iowa and Utah
8 – Kansas – Turner Gill is another new face that the Big 12 Conference will get to know in 2010. Something tells me that this team will have a tough time replacing Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and Darrell Stuckey. The best news for Kansas’ team is their schedule. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma are now off and Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are in.
You should read: This report on Turner Gill’s teaching methods as a football coach.
Non-conference schedule: North Dakota State, Georgia Tech, @ Southern Miss, New Mexico State
9 – Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy only returns 10 starters from last year’s team that went 9-4. The biggest problem for Gundy will be replacing quarterback Zac Robinson. Running back Keith Tosten and four offensive linemen are also gone. The good news is that Kendall Hunter is back and he should be healthy.
Non-conference schedule: Washington State, Troy, Tulsa and @ Louisiana-Lafayette
10 – Kansas State – Bill Snyder will return 15 starters from a team that had an odd 2009 campaign. Kansas State was one game away from winning the Big 12 North, yet they didn’t go to a bowl game. Snyder will have the chore of finding a quarterback this spring. I anticipate that Carson Coffman will be that guy. I really like KSU’s running back Daniel Thomas, who rushed for 1,265 yards last season.
Non-conference schedule: UCLA, Missouri State, Central Florida and @ North Texas
11 – Baylor – What’s the deal with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin? Early reports indicate that he’ll be 100 percent for next season. Fourteen starters return for coach Art Briles. Before judging this team too much, I want to know how effective Griffin will be. You saw the difference that Griffin made with this team last season. He is truly a game changer and Baylor could easily make the jump up to as high as eighth in these rankings if he is the same guy.
Non-conference schedule: Sam Houston State, Buffalo, @ TCU and @ Rice
12 – Colorado –How long until Dan Hawkins gets canned next season? Is there more of a lame duck coach anywhere in America? I don’t think so. The culture is completely different in Boulder right now and I don’t see things turning around under this coaching staff.
Non-conference schedule: @ Colorado State, @ Cal, Hawaii, Georgia