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2008 Early Big 12 Lookaheads
Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell
Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell
Posted Feb 13, 2008

If you thought last year's Big 12 race was interesting, wait until this season when Kansas and Missouri will be good again, Texas and OU will be great as always, and Texas Tech is loaded. Here's an early look-ahead at each Big 12 team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2008 Big 12 Early Lookaheads

North Colorado | Iowa St | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri | Nebraska
South Baylor | Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech

2007 Pages
2007 Big 12 Season | 2007 SEC Lookbacks/Recaps
North Colorado | Iowa St | Kansas | Kansas State | Missouri | Nebraska
South Baylor | Oklahoma | Oklahoma State | Texas | Texas A&M | Texas Tech

North Division


Why to get excited:
Eight starters return on offense and eight are back on defense, along with punter Matt DiLallo. That doesn't even count a slew of good players who missed last year for a variety of reasons, and are expected to return. After two years in the Dan Hawkins era, the program finally appears ready to turn the corner and be back in the Big 12 title chase again now that the pieces are in place. Hawkins is a fantastic coach, and now he has his guys where he wants them. The Buffs start out playing Colorado State and Eastern Washington, and then ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the schedule gets nasty. If you consider a home date against Kansas State a week off, than that's the only relative oasis until mid-November. After two weeks off following the Eastern Washington game, CU goes to Florida State, hosts West Virginia and Texas, goes to Kansas, faces KSU, and then goes on the road to face Missouri and Texas A&M. Yes, the team is loaded with experience, but losing LB Jordon Dizon and CB Terrence Wheatley will sting.
The number one thing to work on is: Generating defensive pressure. The secondary wasn't that bad, but it didn't get a whole bunch of help from the pass rush that was among the worst in the nation and a defensive front that was dead last in Big 12 in tackles for loss. Alonzo Barrett is gone, but everyone else returns on the defensive line. Now it has to do more to hit passers.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Tyler Polumbus
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jordon Dizon
Best returning offensive player: QB Cody Hawkins, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DT George Hypolite, Sr.

Iowa State
Why to get excited: The team took a step back to possibly take a giant leap forward this year after playing several young prospects before they were ready, and now they have the experience to hit the ground running. Eight starters are back on offense, and that doesn't include QB Austen Arnaud, who's ready to take over for Bret Meyer, and hot young back Alexander Robinson and senior J.J. Bass. Seven starters are back on D. The schedule gets a huge break missing Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, who's loaded this year.
Why to be grouchy: There are a few big holes to fill. Bryce Braaksma and Athyba Rubin were strong anchors in the middle of the line, and now they need to be replaced. Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks were ultra-productive linebackers who'll be missed. While the offense should be better, replacing WR Todd Blythe will be tough.
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. On experience alone, the offense and defense should be better. They're not going to be juggernauts quite yet, but they'll be improved. Now the little things have to be done right, and that includes forcing more turnovers, being stingier with the ball, and doing more to get better field position. The Cyclones were dead last in America in punt returns, averaging a mere 3.25 yards per try, and were last in the Big 12 in kickoff returns averaging 18.53 yards per attempt.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Todd Blythe
Biggest defensive loss: LB Alvin Bowen
Best returning offensive player: RB Alexander Robinson, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: FS James Smith, Jr.

Why to get excited: 2007 was supposed to be a rebuilding season with 2008 expected to be when the team was supposed to blow up. Six starters are back on offense, not including RB Jake Sharp, and nine are back on defense. The schedule starts out as nice as could be asked for, outside of a mid-September road trip to South Florida. KU starts out the year with FIU, Louisiana Tech, the USF date, Sam Houston State, at Iowa State, and Colorado, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... payment is due starting October 18th. KU's last six games are at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State, at Nebraska, Texas, and Missouri (in Kansas City). The team succeeded last year despite suffering major personnel losses, but it's still going to be hard replacing NFL talents like OT Anthony Collins and CB Aqib Talib, who left early, along with RB Brandon McAnderson and DT James McClinton. Both kickers, P Kyle Tucker and PK Scott Webb, are gone.
The number one thing to work on is: The all-around punting game. Tucker wasn't bad, but the coverage team was mediocre as KU netted a mere 31.82 yards per punt. Anthony Webb and Dezmon Briscoe, if they're the punt returners again, have to do more after combining to average only 5.97 yards per try.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Anthony Collins
Biggest defensive loss: CB Aqib Talib
Best returning offensive player: QB Todd Reesing, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Joe Mortensen, Sr.

Kansas State
Why to get excited: The team is built to win right now. Eight starters are back on offense, and while only five are back on defense, there's plenty of all-around experience coming back. Added to the mix are a slew of JUCO transfers in this year's recruiting class. The Wildcats are loaded with new ready-made players to challenge for starting jobs, like receivers Attrail Snipes and Aubrey Quarles. In all, 20 JUCO transfers were brought in.
Why to be grouchy: Is there enough talent? Yeah, there's experience, and the team has the players in place to make this Ron Prince's team, but considering the collapse over the second half of the season, there's still a major question mark about how good the team is compared to the rest of the improved Big 12. Again, there are veterans, but it's never good to lose an All-America receiver like Jordy Nelson, while All-Big 12 punter Tim Reyer needs to be replaced.
The number one thing to work on is: Generating more defensive pressure and getting more overall production. The D was changed up to a 3-4 last year with Ian Campbell playing a bit of a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. While he had an All-Big 12 season, he wasn't the terror into the backfield he was as a sophomore. That was just one issue with a defense that allowed 41 points to Oklahoma State, 31 to an anemic Iowa State attack, 73 to Nebraska, 49 to Missouri and 45 to Fresno State over the second half of the year.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Jordy Nelson
Biggest defensive loss: CB Justin McKinney
Best returning offensive player: QB Josh Freeman, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB/DE Ian Campbell, Sr.

Why to get excited: There's no Oklahoma on the schedule. The team is loaded with experience, getting Heisman finalist Chase Daniel back along with TE Chase Coffman and nine starters on defense. If the Tigers can beat Illinois in a neutral site opening day game against Illinois, then the first month will be a breeze with SE Missouri State, Nevada, and Buffalo to follow. A road trip to Texas is tough, but the other three away games are at Nebraska, Baylor and Iowa State. That's not that bad.
Why to be grouchy: Now the bull's-eye is on Mizzou's back and there are some key losses on both sides of the ball. The pressure won't just be on to have another good season, the team will be expected to win the Big 12 North or else the year might be considered a failure. Losing center Adam Spieker is huge, and losing tight end Martin Rucker, left tackle Tyler Luellen, leading rusher Tony Temple, and nose tackle Lorenzo Williams will hurt.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. Everything else was fine last year, but the kicking game was a consistent struggle finishing 111th in the nation in punting, averaging 31.46 yards per kick. Punter Adam Crossett is gone with senior Jake Harry to get the first shot at making an improvement.
Biggest offensive loss: C Adam Spieker
Biggest defensive loss: NT Lorenzo Williams
Best returning offensive player: QB Chase Daniel, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS William Moore, Sr.

Why to get excited: Bo Pelini. The defense will never, ever be anywhere near as bad as it was last year with Pelini in charge. The entire defensive line is back, including all the key backups, while the offense gets back seven starters with QB Joe Ganz getting key experience down the stretch. The offense was unstoppable at times at the end of the year, and if Pelini does what he's supposed to with the D, there's no reason to expect anything less than a big turnaround.
Why to be grouchy: This isn't the mid-1990s Huskers Pelini is taking over. There are big losses in the defensive back seven, including the entire starting linebacking corps, while there still needs to be a talent infusion at some point on the lines. Step one is to get the team more physical and a whole bunch nastier, and while the new coaching staff will instill the will from the start, there's still a big question mark about the talent level from top to bottom. No, the team isn't bad, and it'll go to a bowl, but the star players aren't there at a national title level like the Big Red fans might want it to be.
The number one thing to work on is: Defensive aggressiveness. This is where Pelini will come in. The Huskers were dead last in the Big 12 in sacks, didn't get in the backfield nearly enough against the run, and didn't do anything to force turnovers. Nebraska came up with a mere 11 takeaways as the team finished 117th in the nation in turnover margin.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Carl Nicks
Biggest defensive loss: LB Steve Octavien
Best returning offensive player: RB Marlon Lucky, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Zach Potter, Sr.

South Division


Why to get excited: Art Briles can coach. It's not like Guy Morriss couldn't, but with the way Baylor is looking to move forward with a higher octane offense, Briles and his staff have a great track record of being able to crank out attacks with big numbers. No, this isn't going to be a Big 12 title winning season, but if Kansas can turn into a power, than so can BU ... eventually. However, with nine starters returning on offense, there's hope for Briles to hit the ground running.
Why to be grouchy: Baylor is still in the Big 12 South. Oklahoma and Texas are still Oklahoma and Texas, Oklahoma State should be better, Texas A&M will be strong, and this could be the best Texas Tech team yet under Mike Leach. Baylor might be night and day better, and it still might not matter all that much.
The number one thing to work on is: Finding one thing the team can do really, really well. That was supposed to be throwing the ball last year, but the offense was way too inconsistent and struggled way too often in Big 12 play scoring a mere 108 total points. That's just the start. The defense has to come up with something it can hang its hat on, and even the punting game, with averaged a mere 30.96 yards per kick, has to improve.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Brandon Whitaker
Biggest defensive loss: LB Nick Moore
Best returning offensive player: OT Dan Gay, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Jordan Lake, Jr.

Why to get excited: Yet again, Oklahoma is loaded with a national title-caliber team. QB Sam Bradford has a year of experience under his belt, most of the key players are back, and everything is in place to win another Big 12 championship. The return of massive tackle Phil Loadholt means the entire offensive line is intact, RB DeMarco Murray is back after knee surgery, and the recruiting class was top-notch with enough talent to provide some good competition early on.
Why to be grouchy: The defense takes a hit. The offense might be unstoppable, but there's no way the D will be as strong as it was last year after losing seven starters including LB Curtis Lofton and CB Reggie Smith early to the NFL. Garrett Hartley was one of the nation's best kickers and will be sorely missed.
The number one thing to work on is: Playing better away outside of Oklahoma. Considering the game at Tulsa was essentially a home day, the Sooners went 3-3 outside of the state and struggled to beat Iowa State and battled to beat Texas. The program has to overcome a PR hit after getting pantsed in the last two Fiesta Bowls, and even if it rocks and rolls all season long and blows everyone away, everyone's going to be waiting for the shoe to drop.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Malcolm Kelly
Biggest defensive loss: LB Curtis Lofton
Best returning offensive player: QB Sam Bradford, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: FS Nic Harris, Sr.

Oklahoma State
Why to get excited: The program appears to be ready to explode. Mike Gundy has come up with a few big recruiting classes in a row, and while there might not be a slew of All-Americans ready to roll, this should be a scary-good team. Eight starters are back on offense and seven return on defense, while punter Matt Fodge and PK Dan Bailey is also back. The non-conference schedule, assuming there aren't any gags like last year, is relatively light going to Seattle to play Washington State and hosting Houston, Missouri State and Troy.
Why to be grouchy: The defensive line needs some work after losing Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson on the outside, and Maurice Cummings inside. These three might not have been consistent, but they were strong blocks to work around. Offensively, you don't get better by losing Dantrell Savage.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense. Part of the problem was a lack of a consistent pass rush, and part of the issue was poor play from the secondary. The losses up front won't necessarily help the cause early on, so the veteran secondary that gave up passes short, long, and everywhere in between will have to be better right away. Considering Washington State and Houston like to throw the ball, that could be a problem.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Dantrell Savage
Biggest defensive loss: DE Nathan Peterson
Best returning offensive player: TE Brandon Pettigrew, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
CB Jacob Lacey, Sr.

Why to get excited: The offensive line might have been mediocre last year, but at least it'll be experienced coming into this season with all the starters returning. The passing game got used to not having Limas Sweed, and it should be ready to shine with QB Colt McCoy back for his third year as a starter with Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley to throw to. Arkansas is the only non-conference game worth worrying about, and that's in Austin.
Why to be grouchy: Normally, South teams wouldn't be upset with playing Missouri and Kansas from the North, but things have changed over the last 12 months. The defense has to undergo some massive changes with tackles Derek Lokey and Frank Okam gone, while five of the defensive back seven starters need to be replaced. Losing Jamaal Charles and TE Jermichael Finley early to the NFL might be the difference between a Big 12 title and an also-ran South finish.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense. The NFL-caliber secondary of two years ago gave up yards in bunches, but that was explained away by the Gene Chizik scheme that left the defensive backs in a horrible position. Chizik went to Iowa State and the secondary was supposed to improve, and it was still among the worst in the nation allowing 278 yards per game. Considering the four non-home games are against UTEP, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas, five teams that'll be able to throw the ball, tightening up is a must.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Jamaal Charles
Biggest defensive loss: FS Marcus Griffin
Best returning offensive player: QB Colt McCoy, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
DE Brian Orakpo, Sr.

Texas A&M
Why to get excited: New head coach Mike Sherman is stepping into a good situation with most of the top skill players returning including one of the nation's best backfields (QB Stephen McGee and RBs Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson). The defense gets three starters back in the secondary along with top sackman Cyril Obiozor up front. Unlike last year, the schedule is terrific with a non-conference schedule against Arkansas State, at New Mexico, Miami (this still might not be Miami yet), and Army, while the Big 12 road games are against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor before ending the year at Texas.
Why to be grouchy: The lines take a monster hit losing four good starters off the offensive front and three off the defense. The biggest issue, at least early on, could be at tackle with Red Bryant and Henry Smith needing to be replaced out of the middle, while Kirk Elder, Cody Wallace, Chris Yoder and Corey Clark are off the offensive side. The top three receivers, led by TE Martellus Bennett, who left early for the NFL, are gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield. A more efficient, effective passing game would be nice, and it might not happen right away with the losses from the receiving corps, but the more glaring issue is a lack of a pass rush after finishing with a mere 18 on the year while also having problems making tackles behind the line against the run. Replacing five starters off the defensive front seven won't help the cause, so the new coaching staff will have to figure out how to manufacture pressure.
Biggest offensive loss: C Cody Wallace
Biggest defensive loss: DE Chris Harrington
Best returning offensive player: QB Stephen McGee, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Michael Bennett, Sr.

Texas Tech
Why to get excited: This should be the best Texas Tech team Mike Leach has ever put together. Ten starters return to the nation's No. 2 offense, losing only WR Danny Amendola, while eight starters are back on the Big 12's No. 3 defense. Yup, the team with the best passing game in college football gets QB Graham Harrell, Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, and eight of the top ten receivers. This is Texas Tech, so the non-conference schedule, as always, isn't exactly challenging facing Tulsa, at Nevada, SMU and UMass.
Why to be grouchy: The four Big 12 road games are all losable. Going to Kansas State for the conference opener is the easiest one of the group. Back-to-back dates at Texas A&M and Kansas in late October will be critical with a home date against Texas to start November. The fourth road game is at Oklahoma. While almost all the talent is back, losing ultra-clutch PK Alex Trlica, who earned First Team All-Big 12 honors, stings.
The number one thing to work on is: Stopping the run. The Red Raiders finished dead last in America in rushing, but it should be able to run if it wants to. Coming up with more defensive stops against power running teams will be a must after allowing 177 yards per game. Five Big 12 teams gained over 200 yards, with Oklahoma State tearing off 366, and Virginia ran for 249. Texas Tech was 6-0 when holding teams to under 200.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Danny Amendola
Biggest defensive loss: SS Joe Garcia
Best returning offensive player: QB Graham Harrell, Sr. & WR Michael Crabtree, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Brandon Williams, Jr.