It’s only June, which means there is plenty of time left for programs to shape their look for the 2012 college football season. Some guys are still in the classroom, while others should be but aren’t. And, being summer and all, we know the local police blotter will claim a player or two somewhere for their own leagues.
None of that is stopping me from taking a stab at predicting the Big 12.
Call it chalk if you want, but I, like many others, have the Oklahoma Sooners as the team to beat in 2012. It won’t be easy, though, as I think both West Virginia and TCU will wreak a little havoc as the new kids coming in. Texas, I think, will have a pretty nasty defense; it’s a question of how nasty the quarterback play is for Mack Brown. And, Mike Gundy’s team is loaded (maybe more than some realize), though it may take a few weeks to get things really rolling.
K-State will be in thick of things (if it is able to get any defensive tackles actually on campus), while others fall into place behind them. By year’s end, if OU is atop the conference with one loss, Sooners fans better just hope having two games to recover from a loss to West Virginia is enough time to nail down a spot in the BCS Championship hunt.
You can see each game as I picked it by clicking the image, but here’s how things shake out according to my picks:
1. Oklahoma (12-1, 8-1) – We’re used to the Sooners being in this spot. They just have to avoid the ship-sinking loss(es) this year. Then again, seems like we’ve heard that somewhere before… Biggest game: Yes, Texas is always huge, but this year’s November tilt in Morgantown…that makes even the Longhorns and Fighting Irish games pale a little in comparison.
2. Oklahoma State (9-3, 7-2) – A new quarterback, but this offense is still stuffed with talent. After an early-season lesson in Tucson, OSU gets the train running on smooth rails the rest of the way. It also doesn’t hurt getting the Mountaineers in Stillwater. Biggest game: I have it marked as an “L,” but say OSU gets past TCU at home. It will set up a monster game (again) with the Sooners in Norman with two weeks left in the season.
3. West Virginia (10-2, 7-2) – WVU thinks its going to jump in and take off with a conference title its first go-round. A couple of haymakers (having to play at Darryl K. Royal and Boone Pickens, for example) will quiet that talk, but it will be fun watching Dana Holgorsen try to hang 50 on the board every week. The only thing better than one Okie St. is another one in the same conference. Biggest game: Here’s another one I have marked as a loss, but if Holgorsen’s team can outclass Mack Brown’s Longhorns in Austin, look out; especially when I think WVU beats OU in Morgantown.
4. Texas (9-3, 6-3) – Mack Brown has said for two years his program was making its way back to the top. Mack, it’s time to go, or you might be going at season’s end. Texas has some special pieces in place defensively. It just has to score, or maybe just move the ball some, which proved hard enough at times a year ago. Biggest game: While it should be K-State, I’ll go with the tilt against OU since that’s the only game that REALLY seems to matter to Longhorns fans outside of a national championship appearance.
5. TCU (9-3, 6-3) – The Frogs are a wildcard to me. I have them among the top Big 12 schools, but that’s my buying into that Gary Patterson has a program capable of playing high-level football each week instead of having to gear up only once or twice a season. The schedule is super friendly through the first half of the year; it’s the back half that could be pretty nasty to a team acclimating itself to weekly top-shelf competition. Biggest game: It may just be that road visit to Waco. Win that one, and confidence starts shooting skyward. Lose it, however, and there might be a hint of doubt hiding behind that win against Texas Tech as the team prepares for a trip to Stillwater.
6. Kansas State (8-4, 5-4) – A lot of the offense is back. Half of the defensive starters return. A pair of road games to Fort Worth and Morgantown are mixed into a brutal away schedule for Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. I’m not sold this team can repeat the phenomenal vibe it carried all last season, which manifested into a couple of improbable wins. And, the team is still waiting on several junior college defensive tackles to make it to Manhattan. Until they arrive, that’s a little scary. Biggest game: After taking their lumps in Norman early, KSU could make some mid-season noise by winning on the road in West Virginia. Past that, knocking off Texas again would always be fun.
7. Baylor (6-6, 3-6) – Who is Baylor without Robert Griffin III? I think they’re a .500′ish program. Decent defense and a steady presence with senior Nick Florence at QB will keep Baylor in games, but if the Bears need that flashy, gamer-type play that RGIII pulled out to get BU the win a couple of times, I don’t know if that shot is still in the bag. Biggest game: That three-game stretch (@WVU, v. TCU, @Texas) will tell us what Art Briles has in 2012. I don’t think Baylor wins any of those games. If they were to go 2-1, though? Well, maybe it doesn’t mean anything really, as I have them going 1-3 down the final stretch.
8. Iowa State (4-8, 2-7) – I really wish Paul Rhoads could catch a break. It seems like the Cyclones have scratched and clawed for every single inch of traction they’ve gained under their head coach, but progress is painfully slow. Maybe ISU takes a step forward and catches a Baylor or Kansas State this year. It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely without some unforeseen help. Biggest game: Texas Tech won’t be circled on many teams’ calendars this season, but ISU needs that win, at home, to propel itself forward into the oncoming three-week freight train after that.
9. Texas Tech (4-8, 1-8) – Tommy Tuberville is in trouble. The Red Raiders have dummied down their non-conference schedule to beyond laughable, and conference slate isn’t kind this season. I have Tech winning its first, and only, Big 12 game at home against KU, but that’s not until Nov. 10. And, that’s saying the team hasn’t tuned out a coach who, by that time, could see the giant writing on the wall. Biggest game: I don’t think Tech can really compete with many teams this year, especially on the road. That game against KU might be the only thing standing between a single win and a giant rolling zero on which TTU fans send Tuberville down the dusty road.
10. Kansas (3-9, 0-9) – Charlie Weis is here. Dayne Crist is here. It’s the most talent in the head coaching and QB position the Jayhawks have had in years. It’s just not nearly enough to compete week in and week out, not at this point. KU has way too many holes to fill – some of which opened as Weis ran off guys who apparently weren’t pulling their weight. It will be fun to see a new style and actual football being played in Lawrence; it’s just going to take time to build to a point where KU can legitimately compete…and that’s not even a guarantee. Biggest game: The Jayhawks will be pumped to take on Kansas State and try to regain some foothold against the in-state rival. But, it’s that home game with Iowa State I’ll pay attention to. If some things go right (like maybe sneaking out a win the week before in Lubbock), and guys are still pumped about playing that late in the year, it could mean a couple of conference wins for KU, which would be huge.