Round three of the conference round-ups take us to Big 12 country. Just like the SEC, we'll take it a division at a time, starting where the strongest team is. Unlike the SEC, which has a healthy trade-off between East and West dominance, the Big 12 has been ruled by it's southern division, two teams in particular: Oklahoma and Texas. Without further ado:
The Big 12 South. Outside of the top two spots, this has been a very hard division to pick. There's some serious competition through the ranks and all 5 teams might actually go bowling this season - yes, even lowly Baylor.
1. Texas - McCoy comes back behind an O-line returning a whopping 91 starts and most of the other skill players are set, too. The D-Line could be a potential weakness, losing 3 starters including Orakpo, but their biggest competition will be OU who lost A LOT up front offensively. So, that match-up should still fall in favor of the 'Horns. Behind the line, Texas is bringing back a loaded LB corp and only replaces one DB, making for a pretty stout D overall.
Outside of personnel, Texas will be playing with fire after being shafted last year in favor of the Sooners. Not only should they beat Oklahoma, but they'll be sharp-eyed against the upset in trap games. All this should add up to one heck of a season for the Longhorns.
2. Oklahoma - The Sooners put up some ridicutardulous offensive numbers last year with Heisman winner Sam Bradford and a VERY stout O-line. Well, Bradford's back, but the line is in disrepair. Without it, the Sooners won't be nearly as dominant as they were in '08. All that said, they're still only 1 of 2 teams with a Heisman on the roster, and that says a lot. Bradford's leadership will be the key to the O's success, but it might not be enough to beat Texas.
Aside from the RRR, the Sooners should roll and finish in the top-5 nationally. While I have them losing to Texas, it's not a given by any means. All that is a given is that the winner of that game will be division champ.
3. Oklahoma St. - Every year we hear about Stillwater's version of the 'greatest show on turf' and how their QB/RB/WR combos will be putting up monumental numbers en route to finally breaking through the Big 12 South stranglehold of OU and UT. And then?...it never happens. OSU's reputation reminds me a lot of any Houston Nutt coached team: any good season is a surprise, but leads to expectations that are never met. Some pundits say this could actually be the year as the D is the best it's been in years (especially the LB's), but the secondary looks soft and 6 returning starters doesn't sell me on being able to knock off the big boys. No, if the Cowboys are to win, it'll be behind their O-line which could be the best in the league behind Texas. If they can manage games well enough and not give up too many big plays on D, the Cowboys could win 10 games, but I think 8 or 9 is more realistic (I'm thinking 5-3 in B12).
4. Texas Tech - Let's all calm down on Tech now, OK? What do they do? They pass a lot, play a AA team or 2, score a billion points until they meet a decent defense, and lose 3-4 games a year. In '08 you had Crabtree playing on a team returning 18 and what did you get? 11 wins. It will not happen again. Leach's system can't establish a program that's going to constantly compete in this league. Taylor Potts will throw for 4,500 yards as Tech loses to OU and Texas big and blows it against OSU and a B12 North team or two. So, sit back and relax, and wave the Raiders off to the Holiday Bowl with an 8-4 record.
5. Texas A&M - The Aggies went 20 years without a losing season until 2003, but have had 3 since. The program has fallen off and the surrounding competition has gotten much better, with the two top tier B12 South teams leaving A&M in the dust. 2009 sees 10 starters returning on offense and the QB's should be more comfortable with the new systems. Defensively, the Aggies have their work cut out for them, returning 6 from last season's league worst unit. If they can manage to keep big plays down and stay competitive when they get behind, I see A&M upsetting a big boy somewhere en route to 6 wins and the post season.
6. Baylor - Baylor is Texas' version of Vanderbilt, just with a better QB. While it looks like the Bears should be improved enough to finish ahead of the Aggies, they're just as likely to fold under pressure as the 'Dores do and fall short of that crucial 6th win. The difference will be the composure of Sophomore Robert Griffin in winnable games. Handling their business properly in the first four non-conf games would leave only 2 conf wins needed to reach 6. Outside of Iowa St., there's no gimme, so if we're going to see all 5 South teams play post season ball Baylor will need to come through somewhere unexpected.
Big Games - It was pretty easy to pull them all from in-division, as the competition is so tiered.
1. Red River Rivalry - Obvious.
2. Texas at Texas A&M - A trap game and season-ending, in-state rivalry could have huge repercussions.
3. Oklahoma St. at Oklahoma - ditto.
4. Texas Tech at Oklahoma St. - Jockeying for position in the middle of the pack, these teams could be playing for a new year's day bowl.
5. Baylor at Texas A&M - Played this late, the winner will be bowling in late December while the loser watches on TV.