Big 12 Bloggers: 5 Bold Predictions, Part I
UT QB Garrett Gilbert
CFN's Big 12 Bloggers share their first five outside-the-box predictions for the 2011 football season. From just who will upset Oklahoma and why, to the premature rumors of Missouri's demise and the resurrection of Texas QB Garrett Gilbert.
Mike Vorel: Texas QB Garrett Gilbert will silence the doubters.
Before we start, let's get one thing straight: Garrett Gilbert is no Colt McCoy.
With that said, he has the size and arm strength to thrive in both college football and at the next level. Gilbert is 6-4, 218-pounds, has a rocket of a right shoulder, and is accurate when he has time to make the right decision. His problem is just that: decision-making.
Gilbert shot himself in the foot, repeatedly, in 2010, usually by trying to force passes into miniscule windows, a habit that eventually led to 17 interceptions. It's true that his hand was forced by his less than mediocre receiving core (led by James Kirkendoll and Mike Davis), who often failed to get separation and struggled with drops throughout the season. The loss this offseason of fifth year senior Malcolm Williams also doesn't help matters.
Offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin (formerly of Boise State) are working to turn that poor decision-making into a thing of the past. The co-offensive gurus main goal is to put Gilbert in a situation where he can be successful and build confidence, allowing him to get the ball to his weapons in open space. The Longhorns believe that Davis is the star wide receiver the program has been searching for since Jordan Shipley left; if he can create open space in the secondary, Gilbert has all the physical tools to find him. The problem they'll have is that the sophomore Davis is the only returning receiver with any experience to speak of.
Still, an improved running game should take some of the lofty pressure off Gilbert's shoulders. Hot shot recruit Malcolm Brown will get his first crack at the Big 12 this fall; if he can manage to live up to the hype then that will make Gilbert's life noticeably easier.
Of course, that's not to say that Gilbert himself can't also run. Lost in the haze of 2010 interceptions and home losses was the junior's impressive scrambling ability. Over his last seven games, Gilbert motored for 366 yards and five touchdowns, flashing the ability to get out of the pocket also shared by his predecessor. If Texas can develop a useful option attack to take advantage of Gilbert's strength, the Longhorns could be in business.
Everything is pointing towards Garrett Gilbert having a productive bounce-back season. He has weapons in Davis and Brown. He has a few of college football's brightest minds, Applewhite and Harsin, putting him in positions where he can shine. He has the arm, legs, and frame to do the job.
When it comes down to it, there will be no excuses in 2010. Gilbert will rise, or fall. It'll be the former.
Mike Vernon: Oklahoma State will beat Oklahoma.
On December 3rd, the Sooners will roll into T. Boone Pickens Stadium and it will be rocking.
It's rare for the Cowboys to have this good a chance to beat Oklahoma and you can be sure they'll take advantage of the opportunity. The Cowboys return most of its offensive arsenal from a unit that averaged more yards and scored more points than any other Big 12 team last year.
Offense is what makes the Cowboys so special, with quarterback Brandon Weeden leading the way. He finished first in the conference in pass efficiency and should lead the conference in most passing categories this season.
The weapons around Weeden, though, are why he'll have such a big year, including beating the Sooners.
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon is a legitimate Heisman candidate and one of Weeden's top weapons. The Cowboys will use Blackmon against the Sooners like Texas Tech did with Michael Crabtree against the Longhorns, often.
Blackmon's size, speed, and strength make him nearly impossible to stop, and for OSU to have any chance to beat Oklahoma, he's going to have to go off. The good news is, he usually does. In his last game at T. Boone Pickens stadium – and his final chance to take down the Sooners, Blackmon will have more than enough motivation.
A key for Oklahoma State all season and particularly against Oklahoma will be the play of the offensive line. Fortunately, Weeden will have time in the pocket, as the Cowboys return their entire offensive line from a unit that surrendered 10 sacks last year, a Big 12 low.
Sophomore running back Joseph Randle won't have any complaints running behind that line either; he is just another threat Oklahoma will have to worry about. After averaging 5.5 yards a carry as a frequently used backup last year, we can expect Randle will open up the passing game even further.
Now for the tricky part: stopping Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State returns six players from a defense that was quite inconsistent last year, and the Sooners may just have the second best offense in the Big 12, behind Oklahoma State. Bit of a wrench, that.
The Cowboys return six players from a defense that finished eighth in the Big 12 last year and gave up 47 points to the Sooners. But they'll know better this season, particularly after a year spent being blamed for last season's crushing six-point loss to Oklahoma.
It's time for revenge, as the Cowboys' dynamic offense will be enough for Oklahoma State to put the exclamation mark on its 2011 season by beating the Sooners at home in the last game of the season. The offense will put up big numbers and the defense will do just enough to give the Cowboys the win over their hated rival, Oklahoma.
Liz Gonzales: OSU will take down a favored OU.
For all those in Sooner nation, I will start off by apologizing - not for the prediction, but because this season OU will lose the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma State.
The preseason Coaches' top 25 poll has already placed OU at #1, with OK State at #8. It is sure that OU will see a BCS Bowl, say the pundits. Nothing is sure. Auburn was ranked #23 at the start of last season and by the end were a strong #1.
While that happened to set the record for longest climb ever in our BCS-dominated football era, if it teaches us anything it's that ANYTHING is possible. That particular poll also had Texas ranked #4, and we all saw how well that turned out.
Can OSU make a climb from #8 to #1…maybe. Can they beat the now #1 and take the Big 12…absolutely. And they will.
Last year the Cowboys fell to OU in the last game of the regular season, but OSU finished 11-2 and averaged league bests of 520.2 yards of Total Offense and 44.2 points. QB Brandon Weeden became the OSU's first All-League QB since 1932. And he's back. With their hefty O-line, Weeden will have plenty of time to make some magic happen with all-star receiver Justin Blackmon. No receiver in the country adapts as well during plays to make things happen, even when double-teamed.
OSU's solid run game could be taken up a notch with the Cowboy's top incoming freshman, Herschel Sims. With the addition of ex-NFL coach Todd Monken as OSU's new offensive coordinator, and many of the pieces still in place, the offense should remain a force to be reckoned with.
But what about the defense? The defense could still be struggling, but DE Jaime Blatnick and linebacker Shaun Lewis have both been excellent and could lead the inexperienced linebackers and tackles by example. Safeties Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas also return. The defense is definitely not the gem of the team, but with a powerhouse offense, the Cowboys can afford to roll the dice a bit in order to produce takeaways and victories.
Special teams is looking a little brighter too. Quinn Sharp has taken over as the Cowboy's kicker, doubling up as a punter as well. As long as he stays healthy, Sharp is undoubtedly a strong weapon. Last year he averaged 46.2 yards, ranking him second nationally, and led the country in touchbacks.
There's no denying that OU is the team to beat in the Big 12 (and according to the poll, in the nation). Landry Jones is a superb quarterback, and will stand behind a veteran offensive line, making him all that more dangerous. Ryan Broyles leads the the WR's unit and is clearly Landry's go-to guy. He pretty much holds the record on every Sooner receiver category.
The OU defense returns most of its starters, but this year they will run without the leadership and skills of their best player on the line, Jeremy Beal. Austin Box's death was a tragic loss as well. Travis Lewis will be back, but not until October. The Sooner defense may not be anything to write home about, it's substantial enough to keep OU in the running with its stellar offense.
It's not a stretch to suggest it may all come down to the December third showdown between these two teams, but in Stillwater, with similarly matched teams, we'll see a new, more orange Oklahoma is coming for yOU.
Josh Mosley: Missouri will once again be near the top of the conference.
The loss of captain Elvis Fisher to a season ending knee injury is indeed devastating for Fisher and his family. However, as valuable a leader as the senior left tackle is, his absence from the field is not the end of the Missouri Tigers' football season that many are making it out to be.
Not to downplay the loss of an all-conference lineman that has started an astonishing 40 consecutive games, but the Tigers have recruited to the level that the guy behind Fisher will be good enough to keep James Franklin upright.
Missouri has made a concerted effort the last three seasons to recruit the kind of linemen that help you compete in the Big 12. Help may not come in the form of one body; indeed, it may take Missouri rotating people in at that blind side tackle spot for the season, or until they find their man.
But given the wealth of talent that head coach Gary Pinkel has brought in of late, it's likely sooner than later that Fisher's replacement will be found, and Missouri will again challenge for the top of the conference.
Nico Roesler: Kansas State will upset Oklahoma.
Kansas State will make an enormous statement in week eight when it hosts the Oklahoma Sooners at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats will edge out the Sooners with the help of an upstart offense, a new look defense, and a wild home crowd.
KSU has built a talented offense anchored by a committee of running backs led by John Hubert, Angelo Pease and Bryce Brown. There might not be another Daniel Thomas at Kansas State for a while, but the trio of shifty backs brings a threat to any defense in the Big 12.
At quarterback, the 6- 5, 226-pound Collin Klein will be talked about much more than people expect heading into the season – he's likely to be a top quarterback in the conference. Although Klein doesn't have much experience, he did break out against Texas last season in the game that made Kansas State bowl-eligible.
For his size, Klein showed unbelievable mobility as he tore up the Texas defense for 127 yards on the ground. His passing improved throughout the season and by all accounts took a big step forward in the 2011 spring game. So much so that his coaches are reported to believe that the sky is the limit for Klien and they have unanimously named him starter.
On defense, the Wildcats are led by Kansas native Arthur Brown – someone who teammates have compared with Von Miller. If he's not embroiled in the recent allegations involving Miami (he signed with Miami out of high school), look for Brown to be considered one of the top linebackers in the conference. If the defense can tighten up around him and shore up its ability to stop the run, the Wildcats will be set to beat the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
Moreover, KSU will be able to build its momentum in the first seven weeks of the season in which their only two tough games are Miami and Missouri. If the Wildcats can get around Miami and challenge Missouri, they will have all the confidence necessary to take down the Sooners in Manhattan. If they do, you can be sure Oklahoma will fall out of national championship contention, and the Wildcats will have made a statement about their return to prominence in the Big 12 conference.
Please follow Mike Vorel on Twitter @mvorel25, Nico Roesler @nicoroesler, Mike Vernon @m_vernon and Josh Mosley @jmosley6.
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