After a fourth straight BCS loss, the knock on Oklahoma—and the Big 12 overall—goes like this: good but not great. That's nonsense. OU, Missouri and Kansas are legit Top 10 teams. The Sooners are again loaded—QB Sam Bradford is incredibly impressive. Mizzou is a threat because of QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin, who might be the Big 12's most explosive player. A team to watch: Baylor. Stop snickering, because there's no better coach than Art Briles. Sure, 10—2 is impossible. But 7—5, with an upset or three, is realistic. As is Oklahoma winning the BCS title.
- CRAIG JAMES
All Big 12 champions of the past five years have had certain things in common. Looking at returning players and last year's stats, we predict which teams will surpass each statistical hurdle this year.
THE LEAGUE OF RETURNING PASSERS
Among the 65 BCS teams, 43 return a starting QB, and each conference brings back at least half of its signal-callers. Of the total passing yards produced by all 43 returnees, Big 12 QBs account for a whopping 30%. Which means the league not only returns the most passers (10) but also the most prolific. As for Texas Tech's Graham Harrell padding the Big 12 lead? Even without the record-setting Red Raider, the league still beats the second-best Big Ten by 354.2 yards per passer.
In 2007, Big 12 teams held five of the top six spots for total offense among BCS conferences. But which Big 12 D has the best shot at stopping its high-powered rivals? We devised a "defensive quotient"—points allowed per game last season divided by returning starters—to find out.
TEAM BY TEAM
Back this year: the nation's most efficient passer (QB Sam Bradford), most experienced offensive line (130 career starts) and most ghosts of BCS flameouts past.
WR Jeremy Maclin (16 TDs) is like no other. As in, no other player in the country scored on runs, catches, and punt and kick returns last year.
Good Colt went from 170 rushing yards in 2006 to 492 last year. Bad Colt went from throwing 29 TDs and 7 picks to 22 and 18.
4. TEXAS TECH
Most returning starters (18) in the Big 12. Too bad eight are on D, which gave up 177 rushing ypg.
Why only fifth place for last year's Orange Bowl champs? Even with 15 starters back, the Big 12 is that good. Not as good as the SEC. But good.
Plus: QB Cody Hawkins and five other offensive starters return. Minus: That offense scored only 27.3 ppg.
The Big 12 has only one returning 1,000-yard rusher (Huskers RB Marlon Lucky). The Big 12 also has only one D that gave up 2,500 yards rushing in 2007 (Huskers).
8. KANSAS STATE
A model of consistency the past eight years: 33—33 in Big 12 play. Third-year coach Ron Prince hopes 19 jucos will push him past .500.
9. OKLAHOMA STATE
Mike "I'm a Man!" Gundy becomes the man; he's expected to call offensive plays for the first time.
10. TEXAS A&M
Mix fewest returning starters in the Big 12 (10) with three 700-yard rushers coming back, and you get…another 7—6 year.
11. IOWA STATE
Anemic offense (18.2 ppg) + enigmatic D (allowed 17 to OU, 36 to Toledo) x rough road (six away games) = a long year in Ames.
Under new coach Art Briles, the Bears expect to improve. For a team with eight Big 12 wins in the past eight years, that ain't saying much.