Preseason Lookaheads - Big 12
Posted Jan 22, 2007

The Big 12 should be far better this season with several teams, like Oklahoma State, coming back loaded offensively, but Oklahoma and Texas should still be the stars. Here are the pre-preseason lookahead for all the Big 12 teams to help tide you over during the early part of the long off-season.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

3. Texas   2006 Record: 10-3
Why to get excited: The skill talent is tremendous. Colt McCoy is a legitimate All-America, Heisman candidate with Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, and Jermichael Finley, among others, to throw to. Jamaal Charles leads a loaded backfield, while the defense gets its linebacking corps back full. There's no Ohio State on the non-conference schedule to deal with. TCU is going to be nasty, but 5-0 before the Oklahoma showdown is a must playing Arkansas State, TCU, at UCF, Rice and Kansas State. The road schedule is as easy as it can reasonably be going to UCF, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
Why to be grouchy: Three starters are gone off the offensive line including All-American Justin Blalock. The secondary had Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross and NFL talents Tarrell Brown and Michael Griffin, and it was awful. Now those three are gone, along with top defensive ends Tim Crowder and Brian Robison.
The number one thing to work on is: Developing a backup quarterback. Texas has national title potential, but it can't crash like it did last year when McCoy got hurt. With no Jevan Snead to rely on, and Alamo Bowl backup Matthew McCoy gone, Texas fans won't rest easy throughout the year unless there's a number two man who can step in and produce.
Biggest offensive loss: OL Justin Blalock
Biggest defensive loss: CB Aaron Ross 

7. Oklahoma   2006 Record: 11-3
Why to get excited: The loss of an all-timer caliber back like Adrian Peterson would be a death blow for most teams, but the Sooners actually ran more effectively with Allen Patrick and Chris Brown combining forces. The offensive line was crushing and killing by the end of last year, and now four of the five starters are back. If the secondary that returns all four starters isn't the best in the nation, it'll be close, while PK Garrett Hartley has to be on the preseason short list for the Lou Groza Award. Juniors-to-be Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias form a devastating 1-2 receiving punch.
Why to be grouchy: Oh yeah, the quarterback. Paul Thompson was far, far better than he got credit for throughout last year and will be missed. When teams lined up to stuff the run, he came through with big pass after big pass on the way to the Big 12 championship. OU always gets talent, but it'll still hurt to lose the pass rushing talents of Larry Birdine, C.J. Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux. The tremendous linebacking tandem of Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer are also gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Finding a quarterback. Junior Joey Halzle will get the first look at the gig after backing up Thompson throughout last year, but true freshman Keith Nicholson and redshirt freshman Sam Bradford will get every shot to start. There's enough overall talent to be in the hunt for the national title, so the faster the coaching staff settles on a starter, the better.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Adrian Peterson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Rufus Alexander 

15. Nebraska   2006 Record: 9-5
Why to get excited: Was 2006 just a springboard to a monster 2007? As good as Zac Taylor was, Arizona State transfer Sam Keller might be better. He has the better arm and should be able to stretch the passing game deeper than it's been able to do over the last few years. Most of the entire defensive back seven is back, while four of the five offensive linemen and the top receivers return. If the Huskers want to make a huge national statement early in, they'll get a chance with likely No. 1 rated USC coming to Lincoln on September 15th.
Why to be grouchy: The defensive line might not have played up to expectations, but it was still a strength. Now it has to replace all four starters including NFL first-round-draft-pick-to-be Adam Carriker. Three of the last four games are on the road, including a date at Texas, while the schedule has eight games against 2006 bowl teams.
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. The punt returns weren't anything special, but the kickoff return game was absolutely abysmal averaging 17.43 yards per try. Cortney Grixby and Nate Swift have experience, and now they have to produce.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Zac Taylor
Biggest defensive loss: DE Adam Carriker 

20. Texas A&M   2006 Record: 9-4
Why to get excited: Talent-wise, this needs to be the year A&M finally goes ballistic under Dennis Franchione. Except for leading receiver Chad Schroeder, everyone of note returns on offense, while the defense gets back seven starters and excellent punter Justin Brantly. With Stephen McGee, Jorvorskie Lane, and Mike Goodson in the backfield, the Aggies will be a lock to run for well over 200 yards a game.
Why to be grouchy: The schedule that worked out so well last year is far more harsh. The five road games are at Miami, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri. Steady PK Layne Neumann is gone, but the real hit comes up the defensive middle losing tackles Marques Thornton and Bryce Reed along with LB Justin Warren and SS Melvin Bullitt, the team's two leading tacklers.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield. A&M was woeful at pressuring the quarterback and worse at stopping the run behind the line. With so much experience returning on the outside, coming up with ways to make more big plays is a must. The D was decent at forcing turnovers, but it can be better.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Chad Schroeder
Biggest defensive loss: LB Justin Warren

30. Missouri   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: The way the Tigers lost to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl might be a plus if it serves as a motivating factor. All the key parts return to the offense that gets back eight starters, including tight ends Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman along with QB Chase Daniels, while seven return to the defense along with both kickers. The non-conference schedule is relatively fluffy playing Illinois, at Ole Miss, Western Michigan and Illinois State. There's only one team in the North, Nebraska, that should provide a challenge to the division title, and the Huskers have to come to Columbia.
Why to be grouchy: Four top players are gone off the defense, end Xzavie Jackson, linebackers Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington and SS David Overstreet. For a team that fell apart at times over the second half of the season, especially on defense once Brian Smith got hurt, it might take a while to replace the leadership of those four.
The number one thing to work on is: Special teams. The punting was awful averaging 32.17 yards per boot, and the return game was miserable averaging 17.08 yards per kickoff return and 7.48 yards per punt return. All the kickers and returners are back, and the coverage units have to be far better.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Joel Clinger
Biggest defensive loss: LB Marcus Bacon 

33. Oklahoma State   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the fireworks. OSU is as loaded and ready for a humongous offensive season as any team in America thanks to the return of NFL-caliber receiver Adarius Bowman for his senior year, the experience of QB Bobby Reid, and the scary-good backfield trio of Dantrell Savage, Keith Toston and Mike Hamilton. The defense gets the entire back seven back, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... loses the entire defensive front. Actually, end Marque Fountain is back after splitting starting duties, but he'll need plenty of help to take the heat off. Two starters are gone off the O line, but tackle Corey Hilliard was special. Can the team survive if the start of the Big 12 season is a bit rocky? Playing Texas Tech, at Texas A&M and at Nebraska could mean an 0-3 conference start with Oklahoma and Texas still to deal with.
The number one thing to work on is: Controlling the ball a little bit better. Fine, so time of possession is an overrated stat, especially for a team like OSU that can strike in a hurry, but the defense that struggled a bit too much at times throughout 2006 could use as much time on the sidelines as possible. OSU was 90th in the nation in time of possession holding the ball for 28:53, and that can be upped a bit with all its running back talent.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Corey Hilliard
Biggest defensive loss: DT Ryan McBean 

40. Texas Tech   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: Graham Harrell showed what he could do in the Insight Bowl when in comeback mode, and now should be sharp with a year of starting experience under his belt. RB Shannon Woods, who perfectly fits the team's offensive needs, also returns to do a little bit of everything for the attack. Three starters are back on the Big 12's top pass defense.
Why to be grouchy: There are near-wholesale changes in several key spots. Four starters on the offensive line are gone, three starters on the defensive front have to be replaced, and all three starting receivers have left. Three of the final five games are on the road with the season finale at home against Oklahoma..
The number one thing to work on is: Kickoff returns and penalties. Getting more out of the defensive front will be the big concern this off-season, but the team needs to vastly improve at returning kickoffs after finishing next-to-last in the nation averaging just 15.86 yards per try. Cutting down on the sins would also be nice after getting tagged for 7.38 penalties per game.
Biggest offensive loss: WRs Joel Filani and Robert Johnson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Keyunta Dawson 

42. Kansas State   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: The youth movement kicked in a year early. QB Josh Freeman was a major recruiting coup for Ron Prince, but he wasn't supposed to play much his first season. Things didn't exactly start out smoothly until Freeman pulled off a shocker against Texas on the way to the Texas Bowl. Now, Freeman is a veteran leading an offense that welcomes back eight starters. Ian Campbell is one of the nation's best defensive ends, and is one of eight returning defensive starters. 
Why to be grouchy: The coaching staff loses defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the D has to replace top two tacklers Brandon Archer and Zach Diles. Both starting offensive tackles, Greg Wafford and Michael Frierson, are gone, as is rock-solid PK Jeff Snodgrass.
The number one thing to work on is: Doing everything possible to help Freeman to progress. He's an elite talent who has the potential to carry the Wildcats to huge things over the next few years. However, he's still young and still needs plenty of work on his consistency. The coaching staff has to do whatever it takes to put their star in a position to make the plays he can make until he gets even more experience.
Biggest offensive loss: PK Jeff Snodgrass
Biggest defensive loss: LB Brandon Archer 

50. Colorado   2006 Record: 2-10
Why to get excited: The Buffs were closer than you might think to not being totally abysmal. The defense came up with a strong year, and six starters return. The offense will be appreciably better as long as experience turns into production for QB Bernard Jackson, who struggled to do anything with the passing game. Eight offensive starters return, along with plenty of experienced depth. As Big 12 road slates go, CU's is as easy as they get playing at Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State, however ...
Why to be grouchy: ... September isn't all that nice. After starting off with an emotional rivalry game against Colorado State, the Buffs have to go to Arizona State before hosting Florida State and Oklahoma. Key defensive ends Abraham Wright and Walter Boye-Doe are gone, but the killer is the loss of PK Mason Crosby.
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. Unless Jackson is a night-and-day better passer, or if someone else takes over who can throw, CU isn't going to be explosive and could use as much positive field position as possible. Finishing last in the Big 12 (and 104th in the nation) in punt returns averaging 5.59 yards per try, and averaging a mere 18.22 yards per kickoff return, isn't going to cut it.
Biggest offensive loss: PK Mason Crosby
Biggest defensive loss: DE Abraham Wright

57. Kansas   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: 2006 was a rebuilding year on the defense needing to replace several key starters. Now, most of the back seven returns led by star CB
Aqib Talib. Several good players return to the offense with Kerry Meier a promising young quarterback to build around (if, in fact, he's really the starter come fall). Three of the top four receivers are back. Missing Texas and Oklahoma from the South are plusses, while getting Missouri in Kansas City and Nebraska at home are positives.
Why to be grouchy: Just enough good players are gone to prevent much in the way of continuity. RB Jon Cornish, who was the offense throughout last year, is gone, as is Brian Murph, who led the team in receiving yards. The big question mark is at quarterback where Meier and Todd Reesing could be involved in a controversy all season long.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense, pass defense, pass defense. The Jayhawks actually did a decent job on the short to medium passes, but got torched by just about everyone deep finishing last in the country giving up 269 yards per game. The pass rush was there to hurry the quarterbacks and Talib turned into a tremendous player, but nothing seemed to work.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Jon Cornish
Biggest defensive loss: SS Jerome Kemp 

84. Iowa State   2006 Record: 4-8  
Why to get excited: Getting Gene Chizik was a major coup. Dan McCarney did a great job of getting the program on the map, but it was time for some new blood and new ideas, and Chizik is a potential coaching star who knows the Big 12. QB Bret Meyer returns to provide some stability through the transition, while nine starters are back on defense only losing three players from the two-deep. On the non-conference schedule, the yearly battle with Iowa is at home along with layups against Kent State and Northern Iowa. Four of the last six games are at home, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the Cyclones get tagged by the Big 12 slate having to play Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the South. With away games at Nebraska and Missouri, getting to seven wins might be a tough task. Four starters are gone off an offensive line that was awful last year. Also gone are two of the defense's most productive playmakers, DE Shawn Moorehead and DT Brent Curvey.
The number one thing to work on is: Finding a running back. The horrendous defense will sort itself out with all the returning experience and Chizik almost certain to make an immediate difference, but for the Cyclone offense to start to get back on track, it needs a running game. With Stevie Hicks gone, someone else has to emerge to help carry the load.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Aaron Brant
Biggest defensive loss: DT Brent Curvey

86. Baylor   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: The high-octane passing attack has had a year to work, and now the players know a little more about what they're doing. The loss of QB Shawn Bell to injury last year might have killed the season, but it allowed Blake Szymanski to get plenty of live reps and lots of experience to be ready to hit the ground running. The Bears won't challenge for the Big 12 title, but they'll be a thorn in everyone's side because of the offense.  However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the pieces aren't quite in place. Losing Bell is a big problem, and the departure of top receivers Trent Shelton and Dominique Zeigler will also be tough to overcome. The offensive line wasn't anything special last year, and now it has to replace two starters. The production of all-everything punter Daniel Sepulveda won't be replaced.
The number one thing to work on is: Line play. The Bears didn't generate any pass rush last season, got pushed around all over the place against even the most pedestrian of running plays, and did nothing in pass protection. Adding more offensive balance would be nice after finishing last in the nation in rushing.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Shawn Bell
Biggest defensive loss: S Maurice Linguist