Posted 06/12/2012 at 04:44 PM
For the second straight season the Big XII has undergone a great transformation. While there are concerns about the long term viability of this collection of ten teams, it is an interesting grouping that should make for a compelling conference race in 2012. This will again be a ten team race with no conference championship game and every team will play every other team in the conference. Here is an early look at the ten teams in the Big XII and the early odds to capture the championship.
Baylor (+3500): It was a banner year for Baylor in 2011 but Heisman winner Robert Griffin III is gone to the NFL and the Bears also lose several other key pieces on what was an explosive offense. Nick Florence is assumed to take over the starting QB spot and he has some experience starting. The defense also brings back eight starters. The schedule features very tough road games for Baylor with games at West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma, three of the top contenders in the league. Baylor has winnable home games as well as a manageable non-conference slate so the Bears should be able to maintain a place in the bowl picture.
Iowa State (+5000): Iowa State was the team that turned the BCS championship picture upside down last year with the upset over Oklahoma State. That upset cost the Big XII a team in the championship game but the Cyclones were on the whole rather mediocre last year in a 6-7 season. There are question marks at QB after a rotating battle last season and neither starter was overly effective passing last season. Iowa State has just 13 starters back in action this season and it may be difficult for the Cyclones make a return trip to the postseason. Tricky non-conference games with Tulsa and at Iowa open the season and while the Cyclones get five conference home games there are not many easy outs on the schedule. Iowa State also does not have a bye in the conference season, playing nine games in nine weeks.
Kansas (+10000): Charlie Weis certainly has his work cut out for him but the offensive guruís work may be overshadowed by former Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo who is the new defensive coordinator. Kansas had some of the worst defensive numbers in the nation last year and only 13 position players will be returning starters. Kansas has to play five conference road games this season and the home games are certainly a difficult group of games which could make for a long first season in Lawrence for the new staff. Kansas was 0-9 in the Big XII last season and 2-10 overall so it wonít take much to show improvement. The Jayhawks should be expected to top last yearís win total in the first few weeks of the season but conference wins wonít come easily.
Kansas State (+1000): The Wildcats were 7-2 last season in conference play and second in the conference, eventually finishing the season 10-3. Kansas State returns 18 starters and this team should be considered a legitimate threat to win this conference. Kansas State has to play Miami in the non-conference schedule and the Big XII slate features five road games for a slight disadvantage however. The Wildcats have to play at Oklahoma, at TCU, and at West Virginia so many of the tougher games will be away from home. Kansas State can win all of its home games however, including the finale with Texas which could come in a favorable situation. The huge conference opener with Oklahoma will determine if Kansas State is capable of a special season or if another solid also-ran campaign is in the works.
Oklahoma (-125): The Sooners are heavy favorites in the Big XII with 17 returning starters including its QB Landry Jones. Oklahoma was statistically dominant last season but they lost three games and settled for an underwhelming season despite opening the year as one of the national title favorites. The schedule will not be easy this season with six games away from home and tricky non-conference games with an opener on the road at UTEP and then a big game with Notre Dame packed into the middle of the conference season. The games with the top remaining contenders in the conference will all be away from home with games at West Virginia and at TCU as well as the annual Red River Rivalry game with Texas. Oklahoma should be expected to win all of its home games but this team has shown the ability to slip up as favorites.
Oklahoma State (+2200): The Cowboys are coming off a grand 12-1 season including a bowl victory but many of the key players from last yearís squad will be absent and this could be a rebuilding season. Still this program has established itself and these odds look too steep given a fairly favorable schedule ahead. Oklahoma State plays a light non-conference schedule and then plays five of nine conference games at home. Included among the home games are most of the toughest battles including games with Texas, TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. The Cowboys will go on the road against rival Oklahoma but that game will come in a favorable spot as the Sooners have tough road games surrounding that contest. The Cowboys have to pull a lot of pieces together to have a successful year but the schedule should help the cause and Oklahoma State may not fall as far as some expect.
TCU (+500): The Horned Frogs have certainly looked like a team that could compete in a major conference in recent years but there will be just 13 starters back on this squad as TCU looks to make the leap to taking on a much tougher conference schedule. TCU also has a relatively difficult non-conference schedule with Virginia and SMU on the schedule and five of the nine conference games will be on the road. Defense has been the key to success for this program and the Big XII has not featured much defense at all in recent years, how that will translate is the big question for TCU as they may not be able to hold up week in and week out. The off season scandal also hurts the cause with notable players involved and now off the team. The conference draw is certainly one of the more difficult paths and it could be a disappointing opening season in the conference for the Horned Frogs.
Texas Tech (+2800): The Red Raiders were just 5-7 last season, failing to make a bowl game. It was an incredibly disappointing year and the defense allowed 46 points per game in the Big XII. Texas Tech has the most returning starters in the conference however and the schedule is about as favorable as it gets. The non-conference schedule is extremely light and in conference play games with Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas will all be at home. The experience on this team should lead to improvement but the Red Raiders probably are a few steps away from getting back into the national spotlight they had under former coach Mike Leach.
West Virginia (+600): The Mountaineers donít fit in geographically with the rest of the conference and there will be long travel on the season although there are just four true road games on the schedule. West Virginia has a favorable draw for its first year in the conference with most of the toughest games on the schedule at home, outside of visits to Austin and Stillwater. Games with Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma will all be at home, as will the toughest non-conference games with Marshall and Maryland. Dana Holgorsen overcame a rotten off season to deliver a big season for the Mountaineers last, closing with an Orange Bowl victory and QB Geno Smith could put up huge numbers in this conference that is known for big offensive statistics. West Virginiaís defense will take a step back this season with just six starters back and tougher competition but this is definitely a team that can be in the mix for the championship.