Signing day has come and gone and spring practice is on the horizon. It’s time to break down the Big 12 and predict how the league will shape up in 2011.
The league will be stronger overall with the absence of a Colorado team that has never really been competitive since the Katie Hnida days and a Nebraska squad that hasn’t done anything since it was a national power in the 1990’s in the first few years of the Big 12. Both of those schools are probably better off in their new conferences, and the Big 12 is better off as well. Nebraska will struggle on the recruiting front since they won’t be getting any players from Texas anymore.
This year, we also listed a key game for each team. This is a game where, if the team wins, they have the opportunity to jump up in the final standings or hold a competitor down. These will be the most competitive games of the year for the respective teams.
Here’s how we at HSJ rank the teams going into spring practice:
The Sooners return quarterback Landry Jones and have all the pieces to make another run at the BCS title game. Last year’s BCS bowl victory gives Sooner fans some hope.
Key game: At home vs Texas A&M
2. Texas A&M
With 18 returning starters, the Aggies look to continue to shore up the defense. Texas A&M has a six game Big 12 winning streak.
Key game: In Norman vs Oklahoma
Gary Pinkel seems to do it with mirrors up there. Replacing Blaine Gabbert is the key to a successful season.
Key game: A late October home game against Oklahoma State
4. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys return an aging quarterback and still have T-Boone’s checkbook. Breaking in a new offensive coordinator is a concern.
Key game: October 22 at Mizzou
5. Kansas State
As long as the surly Bill Snyder is around, don’t expect the Wildcats’ defense to continue to struggle.
Key game: November 5 at Oklahoma State
Broken record time, but could this be the year that Baylor cracks the top half of the Big 12 standings? Robert Griffin returns for yet another season.
Key game: October 22 vs Texas in Waco
7. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads seems to be turning the Cyclones around, but his concern is replacing the dynamic Austen Arnaud behind center.
Key game: November 5 vs Kansas in Ames
Mack Brown has a mess on his hands. He needs to break in tons of new coaches and find a quarterback.
Key game: October 22 at Iowa State
9. Texas Tech
Tommy Tuberville has a plan. Mike Leach left some nice players, but not for Tuberville’s system.
Key game: Conference opener vs Kansas
I think we all like Turner Gill, but he’s in over his head.
Key game: Conference opener at Texas Tech