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2011 Spring Preview - New & Improved Big 12
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon
Posted Mar 10, 2011

Losing Nebraska and Colorado might hurt, but there are positives to a reduced-sized Big 12. Can smaller be better? Will the nine-game slate be more fun than a two division format? What players need to have big springs? Who'll be the players of the year? What are the league's key storylines? All this and more in the 2011 CFN Big 12 Spring Preview.

2011 Spring Preview - No. 19

Will the Big 12 Be Better?

Click for each team's spring preview
Baylor | Iowa State | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri
Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech
2011 Big 12 Spring Preview
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Preview 
- 2011 Big 12 Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Buzz   
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 Big 12 Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 Big 12 Positions To Watch  
- Big 12 Spring Rankings 

2011 Spring Preview

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50) 

By Pete Fiutak

While it’s no fun to lose Nebraska and Colorado in a blow to the ego, the Big 12 survived what could’ve, and probably should’ve, been Armageddon.

Texas is still around, the SEC didn’t steal Texas A&M, Missouri didn’t get the call from the Big Ten offices like it had hoped, and the Pac 10 that turned into the Pac 12 didn’t become the Pac 14 or 16. So now the question throughout the offseason will be whether or not being sleeker is better. It was the party line after losing the Huskers and the Buffs that everyone might make more money and that ten teams might work out in the long run, and fans might like the conference better right away.

It’s not like there were a slew of upsets in the Big 12 Championship over the years. Oh sure, there was a Kansas State shocker over Oklahoma here, and a Texas A&M classic over Kansas State there, and, of course, James Brown and Texas had a moment against Nebraska, but for the most part there was little drama in the title game. But at least the underdogs had their shot at the title after winning a six-game division, and now it’ll take winning a ten-team league to be called a champion.

The concern, of course, is that no one other than the Texas or Oklahoma has any reasonable chance now that everyone plays everyone else, but outside of the Big 2, how many remaining Big 12 teams won the conference title? Two, and Kansas State and Texas A&M each only won once in shocking upsets over the league’s dominant team in the respective seasons (KSU over Oklahoma in 2003 and A&M over Kansas State in 1998).

So will the Big 12 have the same issue the Big Ten has faced for years with a dominant Ohio State program running roughshod through the conference? Will it be the same deal the Pac 10 faced when it was USC and the other nine under Pete Carroll’s reign? There might be some challengers to the throne every once in a while, and there will certainly be some split championships in the near-future, but the danger will be that the Sooners and Longhorns will take turns winning the championship, just like it has in recent years, and no one else will come close.

Oklahoma might be the No. 1 team in the nation going into the year – at least according to some polls – but the best thing that could happen to the league would be for someone to come out of the blue to win the conference outright to give the Big 12 some juice and bring a new player to the party to replace what Nebraska would’ve been. Missouri is close, but it has to get over the hump and actually win a title to make national fans care about more than the Red River Rivalry. Oklahoma State knocked on the door last year, and Texas Tech was part of the fun a few years ago, but again, if they couldn’t win a six-team division race outright, can they really win a ten-team chase?

But even if the new Big 12 Championship is unofficially played on October 8th in Dallas, there’s a chance the league could still be nasty and strong with a slew of big performances in non-conference play. Give the Big 12 credit; everyone, with the exception of Texas Tech, has at least one monster game on the schedule to worry about. The league will have plenty of spotlight chances to show how strong it is even if Oklahoma and Texas are the show.

The line – used over the years by the Pac 10 to excuse a cupcake game - that some teams will schedule a McNeese State or a Texas State because the conference schedule is nine games instead of eight is more than forgivable as long as there’s one real battle outside of conference play, and the Big 12 has come through.

Baylor has to face TCU; Iowa State has to deal with Iowa and a trip to UConn; Kansas goes to Georgia Tech (and the Northern Illinois game is no layup); Kansas State goes to Miami; Missouri goes to Arizona State; Oklahoma goes to Florida State; Oklahoma State faces Arizona; Texas goes to UCLA and hosts BYU; Texas A&M plays Arkansas; and Texas Tech, who has the lightest non-conference threesome of the lot, still has a good game against Nevada.

Throw in the lack of a gimmicky championship game and the fairness of a nine-game schedule for a ten team league, and all of a sudden the Big 12 is the new Pac 10.

And the conference will be better for it.

The Top Five Big 12 Players Who Need A Big Spring
1. Garrett Gilbert, QB Texas
2. James Franklin, QB Missouri
3. Bryce Brown, RB Kansas State
4. Damontre Moore, DE/LB Texas A&M
5. Seth Doege, QB Texas Tech

The Top 5 Position Concerns/Battles
1. Texas quarterback
2. Texas Tech quarterback
3. Oklahoma State secondary
4. Missouri linebacker
5. Iowa State quarterback

The 5 Biggest Big 12 Spring Storylines
1. Can Garrett Gilbert actually play? The one-time superstar recruit had a nightmarish 2010 season and he became the face of the epic Texas failure. The offense tried to become more balanced last year and it didn’t work mostly because the running backs were so mediocre and the offensive line couldn’t push anyone around. Even so, Gilbert was awful and made too many poor decisions. His improvement could be the key to the Big 12 race.
2. Oklahoma has to avoid imploding. The team is loaded for a run to the BCS Championship, but the offseason hasn’t been kind with a slew of off-the-field problems early on. As good as the Sooners were last year, they were inconsistent. If they want to win the national title, they have to play every game like they did against Florida State (and that includes the dangerous showdown in Tallahassee).
3. Could Missouri possibly be better without Blaine Gabbert? The offense needs James Franklin, or one of the other decent prospect vying for the starting job, to be excellent, but the offense relied a bit too much on Gabbert’s NFL talent last year and bogged down. If the Tigers can somehow get by Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener in Norman, look out. With the Kansas game being played in Kansas City, Mizzou only has three true Big 12 road games and two come in back-to-back weeks at Texas A&M and Baylor.
4. Is Ryan Tannehill the real deal? Even if he’s not, the Texas A&M offense might be so good that it can pick up the slack. Jeff Fuller would get more love as a top-shelf receiver if he wasn’t in the same league as Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles, and RB Cyrus Gray is a weapon who should do more behind a more experienced line.
5. Who is Todd Monken and why do you care? He coached the Jacksonville Jaguar receivers for the last four years and now he has to show that Oklahoma State’s offense wasn’t all Dana Holgorsen’s doing. The new offensive coordinator has tremendous pieces to play around with, and he has to keep the machine rolling.

The Pre-Spring Call For Player Of the Year
1. Landry Jones, QB Oklahoma
2. Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State
3. Ryan Broyles, WR Oklahoma
4. Robert Griffin, QB Baylor
5. Brandon Weeden, QB Oklahoma State

The Spring Big 12 Team Rankings
1. Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma State
3. Missouri
4. Texas A&M
5. Texas
6. Texas Tech
7. Baylor
8. Kansas State
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

Click for each team's spring preview
Baylor | Iowa State | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri
Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech
2011 Big 12 Spring Preview
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Preview 
- 2011 Big 12 Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Buzz   
- 2011 Big 12 Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 Big 12 Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 Big 12 Positions To Watch  
- Big 12 Spring Rankings