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-- State of Program (SOP): LWORG3. Or, "Life Without Robert Griffin III" begins in 2012 - and how will that life be for a Baylor program that has grown leaps and bounds over the last few season under reigning Heisman Trophy winning QB RG3? There are still a ton of weapons offensively that will put up big numbers and be successful in Art Briles system - as long as the new QB, Nick Florence, can perform and not make too many mistakes. But there are massive question marks on defense - a unit that was not very good last year and will struggle to even be that strong in 2012.
-- Strongest unit: Offensive weapons. To help breaking in the new QB, Briles has a stable of weapons chomping at the bit to get their shot led by WRs Terrence Williams & Tevin Reese, along with RBs Lache Seastrunk & Jarred Salubi. Williams is a first round talent, Reese is a big play waiting to happen, Seastrunk is an Oregon transfer who could turn into the most exciting player in the Big 12, while Salubi is the workhorse back. If Florence can play well, the offense will remain near the top of the conference.
-- Biggest area of concern: Defense. On the flip side of the great offense is a poor defense. There really is no other way to put it - they do not have an anchor at any level, and the front 7 is of particular concern. Good thing for them is they reside in the Big 12 where there are more passing offenses than rushing ones, but expect similar results from last year when the Bears allowed 37+ ppg.
-- Upside: 8-4. The OOC portion of the schedule is manageable and in most cases they will go 3-1 there. Since this is the "upside" projection there is no reason they couldn't go 4-0 at home in Big 12 play, and win @ Iowa State for their 8th overall win.
-- Downside: Missing a bowl game invite. Three of their four road games in Big 12 play are tough, while home dates with Kansas State and Oklahoma State will not be easy. If they do not get any breaks a 2-6 Big 12 season could be in the cards with wins over Kansas and Texas Tech at home.
-- Bottom Line: This is a year of transition for Baylor in some ways, but to be honest I am not sure 2013 looks any better than 2012. Florence is a Sr. and this is his moment to shine, while the offense could certainly lose a few skill position pieces after the '12 campaign. I feel strongly this is a critical year for Baylor to build off the success of the past few years because if they do not, things could start trending downhill very fast.
-- SOP: Charlie Weis is back on the scene, this time in Lawrence, Kansas to try and revive a program that hasn't had any success since firing Mangino a few years ago. At this point, to be fair, one really has to question the coaching acumen of Weis - he failed to turn ND into anything whatsoever after having one strong season with the prior coach's players; he then went to Florida with a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and the Gators promptly turned in their worst offensive production in quite some time. Now he shows up in Kansas where it isn't easy to win - and considering Bill Snyder is back at Kansas State and that program is on the rise for now, where will Kansas wind up in 2-3 seasons? I frankly am not sure it will be any better than where it stands today.
-- Strongest unit: QB. Dayne Crist comes over from ND to team up with Weis for one more season, but how healthy will he be and remain during the season - especially considering Kansas has one of the worst offensive lines in the conference? Jake Heaps, the stud recruit who was a complete flop at BYU also joined the Jayhawks, but he will not be eligible to play until 2013. Then there is Turner Baty, a JUCO transfer who led his team to an undefeated season last year and has both the arm, and the legs to make plays. Crist clearly has the inside step on the starting gig, for now…but I highly doubt he holds up for an entire season.
-- Biggest area of concern: Defense overall, but in particular the secondary. Outside FS Bradley McDougal, there aren't any solid players in the entire secondary for first year DC Dave Campo to rely on. And that is a big issue in the pass happy Big 12, and a big reason Kansas has struggled mightily over the last few seasons. There isn't much size, as no player that figures to get time outside JUCO transfer CB Nasir Moore is taller than 5'10. There isn't any speed whatsoever. And although there is some experience, this same group allowed nearly 70% completion rate last year, with 28 TD passes.
-- Upside: 5-7. I just cannot see Kansas reaching bowl invite status even on an upside evaluation. I could see 3-0 in OOC play, but have a hard time seeing better than 2-7 in Big 12 play with wins over Iowa State at home and possibly one of @ Baylor / @ Texas Tech.
-- Downside: Let's be honest here, even with Crist and some of the other talent that has transferred in, this will be a tough season. And on their worst day they could go 1-11 because even games hosting South Dakota State who is the defending FCS champs won't be a cake walk, Rice at home will not be a snoozer as the Owls have some talent on offense, and @ Northern Illinois will not be easy as they lost to them last year! In a worst case scenario they win one of those games and go 0-9 in Big 12 play.
-- Bottom Line: Although Weis is now in charge, and a lot of "big name talent" has transferred into Lawrence, there is a reason all those options were available this past offseason. Weis hasn't got the job done at any of his stops in college football, and the same can be said for every guy that transferred into this program. They are all likely to be upgrades over what was there prior, but how much remains to be seen. Even if Weis does a fine job I do not see him doing a good enough job in his tenure to overtake Bill Snyder and make the Jayhawks the best program in Kansas once again.
-- SOP: FINALLY! Finally, the TCU Horned Frogs get their wish, first moving to the Big East but before even playing a game joining the Big 12, which is a better fit geographically and as a conference in the long run. Now, what will Gary Patterson be able to accomplish facing the big boys weekly? Hey, it's one thing to play well and rise up to a challenge a few times a year - but how will they handle the need for being "up" just about every week? That will be the big test, especially on their depth in their first few seasons residing in a power conference.
-- Strongest unit: Offensive backfield. There aren't many, if any, backfield units in the Big 12 that will feature a QB and the RB depth that TCU will. Casey Pachall enters his second season as the starting QB, and he had a whale of an opening act completing 66.5% of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt, with 25 TDs and only 7 INTs. In a league such as the Big 12 that is absolutely stacked with fine QB play, the Frogs won't lose a step there. The three headed RB monster of Wesley, James and Tucker would have easily be the best trio in the Big 12, before Wesley went down for the season. This still figures to be a solid unit with a pair returning who rushed for 700+ yards last season.
-- Biggest area of concern: Size, especially on defense. While the offensive line surely is not a strength, TCU has plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball to try and help a group that will be growing into their roles. On the other side of the ball, I see a lot of issues, especially with the size of much of the roster that will be key pieces of the rotation. While players of that size worked well in the MWC, it will not be as easy in the Big 12. The pair of starting LBs check in at 210 & 235, while 3 of the 5 starters in the secondary are 180 or less. That could turn into a big problem many ways; testing depth, injuries, and just being overmatched physically against some of the better Big 12 opponents, especially the explosive passing games.
-- Upside: 8-4 including 3-0 in OOC play. TCU does get the short end of the stick this year having to play 5 road conference games in the new 9 game Big 12 slate, but that will even out over time. The last five games of the season will be pivotal to their chances at winning the conference, featuring 3 road games and hosting Oklahoma & Kansas State.
-- Downside: .500. Any way you slice and dice it the Frogs should be 5-0 heading into the October 13th matchup @ Baylor. But then it gets tough, with the only win that appears to be fairly certain is the following week at home vs. Texas Tech - but even that isn't a lock considering the high powered TT offense facing a smallish secondary that could start wearing down by that point.
-- Bottom Line: TCU will most likely have their moments in their inaugural season in the Big 12, but they will also struggle some matching the emotions and physicality of their opponents on a week to week basis. The defense is small, and overall the team is not very deep - the roster depth will come in time, but for this year and the near future that will be an issue. TCU will likely wind up being involved in a ton of shoot-outs, and a middle of the pack Big 12 team.
-- SOP: Bill Snyder enters his fourth season in his second go-around as K-State coach and once again, he continues to overachieve in the Little Apple. This guy, even at age 73, gets the job done, and does it his way - the right way, after all, the stadium his Cats play in is named after him. After a brilliant 10 win season in 2011, the cupboard is still stocked, with 14 returning starters, to perhaps make a run to a Big 12 title in 2012. Snyder also has to start contemplating who his eventual successor will be, someone who can keep the Wildcats challenging in the Big 12, when he steps aside for a second, and final time in the next few years most likely.
-- Strongest unit: Offensive backfield. One of the best leaders in college football, QB Collin Klein, returns for his senior season after a spectacular junior season that seemed to come out of nowhere. Check out his 2012 stats: 1,141 rushing yards, 27 rushing TDs, 1,918 passing yards, 13 passing TDs with only 6 INTs. This guy is working his way to legend status in Manhattan, and could be a sleeper Heisman Trophy contender this year. Joining him at RB are all the pieces from a year ago, led by John Hubert, Robert Rose & Angelo Pease. Look for one of the best statistical rushing attacks in the country this year from KSU.
-- Biggest area of concern: Both lines. And that is never a good thing, especially in college football where the differences between strong lines and weak lines is extremely drastic, and plays a key part in deciding the outcome of games. In all fairness, the OL is very solid in run blocking, which is the key piece of the K-State offense; however, pass blocking is another story, a weaker story for certain. Essentially 3 starters are back, including Foketi who started in 2010 but missed last season with an injury. On the DL quite a few key pieces were lost, which will cause issues rushing the passer. Rushing defense should be average, not a liability.
-- Upside: Another double-digit win regular season, and potential Big 12 title - or at least a tie as remember, in the new Big 12 there will not be a Championship Game this season. K-State does get unlucky in the sense they will play 5 road conference games vs. 4 home, including trips to Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU - all three of which are amongst the top half of Big 12 contenders this season at the least. Due to that trio it will be near impossible for an outright Big 12 title - may even be tough to even tie, but they should contend and be in the mix late.
-- Downside: Safely getting a bowl invite, but not the New Year's Day bowl they are hoping for. In a downside scenario they could lose to revenge minded Miami, drop three of five conference road games, and possibly the home game vs. Texas. With the new 9 game Big 12 slate they will only have 3 OOC games, which could cost them a win vs. the typical competition they would play. Anyway you cut it, barring an injury to Klein, the 'Cats will certainly be bowling this season.
-- Bottom Line: This team was very good to me last season, and Klein is one of my favorite players to watch in college football. With a talented defense, and Klein leading an explosive rushing attack, K-State could take that next step and surprise folks with a BCS bowl invite - which they deserved to receive last year.
-- SOP: The Mountaineers finally got their wish, moving to a bigger name, more competitive football conference when they decided to join the Big 12. Had WVU stayed in the Big East this season they almost certainly would have won that conference, and earned the big pay day BCS bowl invite. Now, they are just another team in a deep, new look Big 12 conference that has added WVU & TCU from the Big East, but lost Missouri & Texas A&M to the SEC. Dana Holgerson enters his second season in Morgantown, and should have some knowledge of his new opponents from his days at Oklahoma State. In a bit of sad news, Bill Stewart, the former WVU coach immediately prior to Holgerson passed in the spring, which will leave heavy hearts in the program for the near future. Hopefully WVU can use that as a rallying point in 2012.
-- Strongest unit: Passing game. Flat out WVU will fit in very nicely with their new conference rivals, as the Big 12 is known for their high flying aerial assaults, and that is precisely what the 'Neers bring to the table. The key cogs to the passing attack are as follows: QB Geno Smith, who threw for 4400 yards last year, 66% completions, and a 31/7 TD/INT split; WR Tavon Austin 101/1,186/8; WR Stedman Bailey 72/1,279/12; WR Ivan McCartney 49/595/3. Oh, and also, WVU will boast one of the best, if not the best, OL's in the Big 12. This will be a prolific passing attack, that shouldn't see their numbers drop too much even with the uptick in competition.
-- Biggest area of concern: DE. Generating a pass rush wasn't an issue last season with Bruce Irvin & Julian Miller pressuring from the outside. This year that will be a big question mark as both of those players were lost, and not much experience, but some talent, will look to fill those shoes. WVU may need to leverage the OLB's more than they like this season to generate enough pass rush, especially in their new conference. Good thing their secondary is experienced and should be the strongest unit on defense.
-- Upside: 11-1. If they put forth their best effort each week, and got a few breaks, this team could potentially be in the national title discussion as late as mid November. WVU doesn't play a road game till October 6th @ Texas, and only faces 4 all season with the others being Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Their November 17th home game vs. Oklahoma could have a ton on the line - keep an eye on that date and possible scenario.
-- Downside: 8-4. They are as close to a lock as possible to go 3-0 in OOC play; with 5 home/4 road conference games, and the layout mentioned above getting most of the better teams at home, there really isn't much downside to this season for WVU.
-- Bottom Line: It should be a very good year, with the potential to be great with a break or two in their first season as a member of the Big 12. That transition will only be helped by the experience their HC already has from his Big 12 days. This offense will be almost unstoppable in 2012 (remember the shredding they did to LSU last season?), and the defense will be just opportunistic enough to put them in the hunt for at the very least a Big 12 title. This team will clearly fit right in with their new conference.