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Big 12 Preview 2006

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 9, 2006


Preview 2006 CollegeFootballNews.com Big 12 Preview


Big 12 Preview | All-Big 12 team and top 30 players | Top 5s | Unit Rankings 
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Baylor Preview | Colorado Preview | Iowa State Preview
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Kansas Preview | Kansas State Preview | Missouri Preview
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Nebraska Preview | Oklahoma Preview | Oklahoma State Preview
- Texas Preview | Texas A&M Preview | Texas Tech Preview

 Predicted Big 12 Championship
Texas over Nebraska

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK

Expect a big bounceback year from a league that had Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and a bunch of other teams over the past two seasons. The North is appreciably better with the emergence of Nebraska back to national prominence and Iowa State with one of its strongest teams ever. Texas Tech will still be a thorn in everyone’s side, while Texas A&M should rebound after struggling so far in the Dennis Franchione era. Colorado will be an X factor with Dan Hawkins taking over adding more offensive firepower to the already explosive conference. Of course, it will be all about the Sooners and Longhorns, at least early on, with both powerhouses among the handful of national title favorites. Are those two going to roll? Not likely. This should be the strongest the league has been from top-to-bottom since it was formed in 1996.

 3 THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
1. Texas and Oklahoma will each lose a conference game outside of the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns have to play back-to-back road games at Nebraska and Texas while OU could get tagged at either Missouri or Texas A&M.

2. Expect the quarterback play to be mediocre early on. You don’t immediately replace Vince Young, Brad Smith, Reggie McNeal, Cody Hodges and Joel Klatt without going through some growing pains.

3. Keep an eye on how effective Oklahoma star RB Adrian Peterson is late in the year. Watch for a crankier-than-usual Bob Stoops if he has to answer questions about Peterson’s health if the star has 200 carries under his belt by the time the Missouri game rolls around. 

GAME OF THE YEAR
October 7, Oklahoma vs. Texas.
Last year's 45-12 Longhorn drubbing of OU can be chalked up to a hurt Adrian Peterson, a not-ready-yet Rhett Bomar, and the magical Longhorn season. Two straight losses would mean the hex Bob Stoops once held over Mack Brown would officially be over, but a win would mean last year might have just been a fluky convergence of everything right happening for the orange side of the field.

North Division

1. Nebraska
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: DE Adam Carriker, Sr.
Offense - The West Coast offense should finally blow up with the pieces in place to run it the way head coach Bill Callahan wants to. It all starts up front with an improved offensive line that should be more athletic and, eventually, more consistent. There are more than enough star prospects at receiver and running back to put up some huge numbers as long as quarterback Zac Taylor makes the jump in production he's expected to. The return of tight end Matt Herian from a broken leg should mean big things for Taylor.
Defense - All the press seems to be about the offense, but it's the defense that will carry the Huskers to a big season. The front seven is loaded with talent, depth, and NFL prospects led by ends Adam Carriker and Jay Moore. Nebraska led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and should be among the best in the nation with all the great players up front and so many fantastic linebackers that the D might use a little 3-4. The question is the secondary that has speed, but needs to be more productive after starting to come on over the second half of last year.

This season will be a success if … the Huskers win the Big 12 North. While many will set the sights on winning the league championship, this isn't as good a team as Oklahoma or Texas. Just getting to the title game for the first time since 1999 would be a fantastic step forward.

2. Colorado
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: PK Mason Crosby, Sr.
Offense - Call the new offense under Dan Hawkins a work in progress. It's not going to be the fun 'n' gun like many will make it out to be with an emphasis on balance and a strong running game. However, the pieces aren't quite in place considering there's a three way battle to figure out who the quarterback will be, there's no depth on the offensive line, and the receiving corps, while talented, hasn't lived up to its potential. On the plus side, there's a decent backfield and a great starting five on the line. Of course, there's also Hawkins, who'll be as inventive and creative as any coach in the Big 12.
Defense - The college football world mostly remembers the defensive meltdowns against Nebraska and Texas at the end of the regular season, but outside of two games against the eventual national champions as a few quarters here and there, this was one of the nation's better defenses. Now it should be even better. The overall team speed is average, but there are several all-star playmakers to get excited about from the 1-2 linebacking punch of Thaddaeus Washington and Jordon Dizon to talented defensive backs Terrence Wheatley and J.J. Billingsley. Defensive tackle will be the big concern early on with the search for a steady second corner also a pressing need.

This season will be a success if … the Buffs finish second in the Big 12 North. The schedule is too brutal and the rest of the division has improved too much to reasonably expect a fifth Big 12 title appearance in six years.

3. Iowa State
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Player: WR Todd Blythe, Jr.
Offense - Ten starters return to an offense that has the potential to be the most explosive in the Big 12 North. The offensive line struggled last year in all phases, but it's experienced and very, very big with an emphasis this year on being more physical for a running game that averaged a mere 111 yards per game. Getting RB Stevie Hicks back at 100% from a groin injury should help make the Cyclones a power running team again, but it'll be hard not to throw it and throw it some more with Todd Blythe leading a dangerous receiving corps. Bret Meyer is back for his third year as the starting quarterback and should be one of the North's total offense leaders.
Defense - The defense made a ton of big plays last year with a high-risk, high-reward style that led the way to a strong run defense and 35 takeaways. Expect more of the same with plenty of blitzing from the back seven. There are more good athletes than the Cyclones have had under head coach Dan McCarney, but there are also some major holes to be filled on the line and secondary with several good-looking young prospects needing to quickly become playmakers. There are great building blocks to work around with Brent Curvey and Shawn Moorehead on the line and corner DeAndre Jackson all sure to be in line for Big 12 honors. 

This season will be a success if … the Cyclones win the Big 12 North. After the last few seasons and with ten returning starters on offense, anything less than a 14 game season will be a tremendous disappointment.

4. Missouri
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: DE Brian Smith, Sr.
Offense - Everything is in place for a better all-around year on offense even though quarterback Brad Smith is no longer running the show. As crazy as this might sound, the attack might be better and more effective since it can't rely on just one player to do everything. New starting quarterback Chase Daniel is a strong talent who'll spread the ball around well while bringing his toughness and attitude to the offense. The 1-2 tight end punch of Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman is one of the best in the nation, the receiving corps is big and fast, the running back corps is little and fast with four interchangeable parts led by Marcus Woods, and the line will be among the best in the Big 12 as long as there aren't any major injuries to the starting five.
Defense
- The defense had to overcome big-time growing pains on the front seven last year, but it should all pay off with a huge 2006 led by a deep and talented line that should be among the best in the Big 12. Brian Smith is a superior pass rusher to go along with a quick group of prospects at the other spots. Dedrick Harrington and Marcus Bacon form a nice 1-2 linebacking punch with Van Alexander ready to break out on the weakside. There might be problems in the secondary if new starting corners Domonique Johnson and Darnell Terrell get off to rocky starts, but safety David Overstreet provides a good, veteran presence who'll keep the overall production from sliding.

This season will be a success if … the Tigers win the Big 12 North. It’s going to take plenty of upsets, but the team is too experienced to shoot for anything less.

5. Kansas
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: C David Ochoa, Sr.
Offense - This won't be an offense built for shootouts, but there's enough talent to hope for decent production against average defenses and enough upside to provide plenty of hope for the future. The strength is on the line with the deepest and most talented group the program has had in years. The receiving corps is shaky losing top two targets Mark Simmons and Charles Gordon, while the quarterback situation is even more unstable with redshirt freshman Kerry Meier the most viable option. The ground game will be the focus on with Jon Cornish and a slew of fast, young backups carrying the attack.
Defense - The defense carried the team last year with a phenomenal linebacking corps and a surprising, active line. Wholesale changes will be made at linebacker, while all of the pass rushing talent up front is gone. The secondary will be the strength early on with corner Aqib Talib and safety Jerome Kemp on the verge of being among the best in the league. This is an athletic enough defense to be aggressive and come up with some big plays, but it's woefully short on overall experience, much less developed depth.

This season will be a success if … KU wins seven regular season games and goes back to a bowl game. If it can take advantage of the relatively soft schedule and the offense can come together, then it'll be the first time in the school's history it’ll go to back-to-back bowls..

6. Kansas State
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: LB Brandon Archer, Sr.
Offense - Gone are the days of the old Wildcat offense that was quarterback run, running back run, quarterback run. There's not going to be a true spread attack, but there should be some hybrid of styles that opens things up a bit more for the passing game. After three quarterbacks transferred, it's up to Dylan Meier and freshman Josh Freeman to run the show. The receiving corps, one of the fastest in the Big 12, should shine with more passes their way, while the backfield has interesting but uncertain options. The key to the season will be the performance of a line that suffered from major inconsistencies and injuries last season.
Defense
- New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will employ some cover 2 and cover 3 schemes putting the pressure on the safeties to make smart plays and asking the outside linebackers to be explosive in all areas. Fortunately, the Wildcats have a great free safety in Marcus Watts to be the quarterback of the secondary, while Brandon Archer, Maurice Mack, and Reggie Walker are disruptive linebackers who'll crank out some huge stats. The line has decent talent against the run as long as tackle Quintin Echols can get into shape, but it has to figure out how to get into the backfield.

This season will be a success if … KSU gets back to a bowl game. There are plenty of problems and too much young talent to count on for a big season, but the schedule is breezy enough to fall into a few wins by simply showing up.

South Division

1. Oklahoma
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: RB Adrian Peterson, Jr.
Offense - The OU offense isn't quite back to form and probably won't be until the middle of the season. There's no question in the backfield with Adrian Peterson loaded up for a Heisman run, but the loss of starting QB Rhett Bomar to a violation of NCAA rules has changed the potential of the attack. Now, the receiving corps needs all the sophomores to make more big plays and be more consistent, and the offensive line has to figure out who the starting five is going to be after losing several key starters. The main focus will be among the coaches where Kevin Wilson and Kevin Sumlin have to replace offensive coordinator Chuck Long.
Defense - The defense should be among the best in America even though there aren't too many sure-fire, household name All-Americans. It begins on the end with the return of Larry Birdine and Josh Williams to join Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You to improve upon the nation's fourth best sacking D. Rufus Alexander is an All-America to be at outside linebacker, and Zach Latimer in the middle isn't far behind. The secondary will be a lot better than it'll get credit for.

This season will be a success if … OU wins the Big 12 championship. There are just enough holes to prevent a trip to the BCS title game, but a win over Texas on the way back on top of the conference heap would do wonders after last year's slip.

2. Texas
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: OT Justin Blalock, Sr.
Offense - The offense was unstoppable last season averaging over 50 points and 512 yards per game with only one outing (the 25-22 win over Ohio State) with fewer than forty points. The backfield is loaded with talented backs, there's plenty of experience and next-level ability in the receiving corps, and the line will once again be among the best in the country despite losing All-Americans Jonathan Scott and Will Allen. It all comes down to the quarterbacks where Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead will try to combine to take over for the irreplaceable Vince Young. Expect the Longhorns to run, run, and run some more until the new signal-callers get their feet wet.
Defense - Lost in the dominance of the 2005 offense was how good the defense was finishing tenth in the nation and eighth in scoring D. There are only four losses, but safety Michael Huff, corner Cedric Griffin, linebacker Aaron Harris and tackle Rodrique Wright were All-America caliber players. The cupboard is hardly bare with a tremendous end tandem of Tim Crowder and Brian Robison sure to be among the best in the country and more than enough talent in the back seven to fill up the All-Big 12 team. The big question marks are at tackle next to Frank Okam and at middle linebacker, where Rashad Bobino and Roddrick Muckelroy will battle it out, but there's not a lot to be worried about.

This season will be a success if … Texas plays for the national title. After last year, would anything less be acceptable? If there isn't a Big 12 title, the heat will be back on Mack Brown.

T3. Texas Tech
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: WR Jarrett Hicks, Sr.
Offense - Once again, Texas Tech's offense will put up high-octane passing numbers and be among the top producing attacks in the nation. Now the question is who gets to be the star who runs the show. Graham Harrell and Chris Todd will battle it out for the starting quarterback job until the opener with freshman Taylor Potts adding another good arm to the mix. The receiving corps will be one of the most productive around led by All-America candidates Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani. The offensive line welcomes back four starters and should be the best yet under head coach Mike Leach. There's no replacing RB Taurean Henderson, but speedy Shannon Woods won't be bad in the starting role.
Defense - The defense has done more than just try to hold serve for the offense over the last few years, but it's going to need a while to jell this season with three new starters in the secondary, and two new starting ends on a line that desperately has to figure out how to rush the passer. The linebacking corps will be the strength with end Keyonta Dawson moving to outside linebacker and Brock Stratton back in the middle after missing most of last year hurt. The pass defense didn't give up many yards, but it didn't pick off many passes. That will be the biggest work in progress until safeties, Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia figure out what they're doing.

This season will be a success if … Texas Tech wins ten games. It hasn't happened yet under Leach despite coming close last year. The offense is good enough to simply outbomb most of the better Big 12 teams.

T3. Texas A&M
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: LB Justin Warren, Sr.
Offense - After years of relying on Reggie McNeal to carry the offense, the coaching staff realizes where the team's strength is and will pound the ball with a tremendous trio of backs working behind one of the Big 12's best offensive lines. With a shaky defense, the offense will try to crank out as many long drives as possible. The passing game won't be ignored with a big, experienced group of receivers for new starting quarterback Stephen McGee to throw to.
Defense - After finishing dead last in the nation in pass defense and getting pushed around a bit too much against the run, A&M will switch to a 4-2-5 defense under new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell. The line is huge at all four spots, but there's no sure-thing pass rusher for offenses to be concerned with. Justin Warren is an All-Big 12 caliber linebacker, and he'll need to play like it as the leader of the back seven. There's speed and potential in a secondary that can't be any worse.

This season will be a success if … A&M wins eight wins and goes to a bowl. Anything less means a new coaching staff will be in place next year at this time.

5. Baylor
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: P Daniel Sepulveda, Sr.
Offense - Playing around with the parts available, head coach Guy Morriss and his staff will turn to the Texas Tech-like passing attack. While it won't be a pure throw, throw and throw some more offense, but Bears will try to work with their good receiving corps and veteran quarterback Shawn Bell to get the offense moving. The line isn't bad, but it has to prove it can consistently pass block. Paul Mosley and Brandon Whitaker are serviceable veteran backs.
Defense - The Bear defense shouldn't be all that bad with a strong secondary and enough options among the front six to find the right pieces as time goes on. This isn't going to be the type of D that stops anyone cold, but it'll be strong against the pass and there's size up front to hold up better against the run. There need to be more playmakers up front, and defensive coordinator Bill Bradley is hoping for the new starters at linebacker to add more athleticism while the experience on the line should account for something.

This season will be a success if … BU wins six games. It's a far taller task than it might seem with the only sure wins to come against Northwestern State and Army.

6. Oklahoma State
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: OT Corey Hilliard, Sr.
Offense - The OSU spread offense has some great prospects and some nice pieces to the puzzle, but the attack won't go anywhere unless there's better play from the quarterbacks. Bobby Reid had a nice spring and finally looks like the star he was supposed to be coming out of high school. Mike Hamilton is one of the Big 12's better backs and D'Juan Woods is a star receiver, but they need help. Julius Crosslin and Dantrell Savage have to take away more carries, while North Carolina transfer Adarius Bowman has to be the receiver the coaching staff thinks he is. All-star Corey Hilliard leads a promising line that could be good if the guards become settled right away.
Defense - Few teams had to fight through more defensive growing pains than Oklahoma State, and despite the return of plenty of experienced players, the back seven is very, very young and needs another year of seasoning. The line, which should be better after the return of some key injured players, is where the experience is with four senior starters and senior tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy rotating in. This group has the depth and talent to be far better against the run, but there needs to be a second pass rusher to help out Victor DeGrate. Most importantly, this group has to force more turnovers after picking off a mere five passes.

This season will be a success if … OSU comes up with a winning season. Considering it’ll likely be the underdog in every Big 12 game except the home date against Baylor, there can't be any misses in the non-conference schedule