2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

2007 Big 12 Conference Preview
by Jordan Adams

For many years it was considered that the winner of the Red River Shootout, the annual Oklahoma/Texas rivalry, would dictate the conference race and go on to represent as the league champ in the BCS. While Texas will do everything to make sure they keep that trend alive, 2007 might be the year that others emerge as a top contender.

Last season six teams finished with at least eight victories, with the Oklahoma Sooners topping the South and the Nebraska Cornhuskers claiming the North. The Big 12 is one conference that lacks consistent parity as you wander deeper down the conference standings. Colorado, Iowa State and Baylor combined for just six league wins in 2006, but hopefully they will prove this fall that it was nothing more than an aberration.

The Longhorns will find themselves amongst the preseason Top 10, however Oklahoma cannot say the same. The Sooners will try and fill the larger than life shoes of 'All Day' Adrian Peterson. And on top of that, their quarterback issues speak even louder as they lack experience from nearly every arm on the depth chart.

Oct. 6 is when the Horns and Sooners will clash in Dallas, but the nation better be following how the rest of the conference handles their own business. The usually inferior North Division will still be second to the South, however Nebraska will sit atop that division thanks to one Sam Keller, a senior transfer quarterback from Arizona State that will transform the Cornhusker offense into an aerial onslaught.

Of course, the Longhorns and Sooners will eat up attention like no other in their respective state, but if you overlook the other up-and-comers, you'll miss some impressive team football. The Texas A&M Aggies have lots of promise, while Oklahoma State is an offensive juggernaut capable of scoring with the best in the country. Missouri, Kansas State and Texas Tech will also create their share of headlines.

Teams on the Rise:

Nebraska topped their division in Bill Callahan's third year as head coach. His fourth campaign with the program will easily be his best, as Sam Keller takes the reigns of an offense desperately needing a spark. His move from Arizona State paves the way for a more two-dimensional attack, while the Blackshirt defense will again prove to be stingy, Waiting in the wings, though, is a trip to Austin and a difficult non-conference schedule that includes Nevada, Wake Forest and the always dangerous Trojans from Southern Cal.

The K-State Wildcats saw immediate improvement with first year head coach Ron Prince last season, and again he'll take lead his team another step in the right direction. Marred in the middle of the conference, Kansas State will see no more than eight victories. However, another winning season will show consistency, and with sophomore sensation Josh Freeman at quarterback, that's a good look.

Teams on the Decline:

In terms of the number of wins, 2007 will be a down year for Oklahoma. Bob Stoops doesn't really have off years, he simply reloads. However, the graduation of Adrian Peterson and a number of key defenders will see their win total fall by one or two games. Let's not also forget about their quarterback quandary as I'm not sure what to expect from the underclassmen on the depth chart.

Of course the Colorado Buffaloes will have more wins than they did in their miserable season last year. However, while that increase in wins will suggest improvement, another losing year for Colorado is still a failure, especially for a Dan Hawkins team. The Buffs are extremely young, and while time might make for a more successful team, it is extremely important they get out from under the hole their buried themselves in 2006.

Treading Water (hasn't done much to improve):

Mike Leach's Texas Tech Red Raiders continue to churn out wins. But how long until their offensive firepower becomes a novelty act that can't produce more than a third of fourth place finish to earn a mediocre bowl invite? Sure, Texas Tech will rake in the points, but they also surrender more than enough to keep games competitive. Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and company will be able to outshoot most of the Big 12, but when it comes to Texas, OU, and a more talented Oklahoma State offense, all bets are off.

Another program that cannot shake the middleman role is the Kansas Jayhawks. Another underachieving season is most likely forthcoming, especially with their intra-state rival (the Kansas Wildcats) surpassing them for the moment. Mark Mangino knows how to coach, but talent is always the overriding factor and the 'Hawks simply don't have enough. They'll be a good bet against Toledo early in the year in a big revenge game from last season, not to mention they should be able to take care of the bottom feeders when it comes time.

Money Player (player to bet on):

If there is something circulating the water in Stillwater, Oklahoma, then quarterback Bobby Reid must have gulped some down prior to last season. The Cowboys do-it-all quarterback is just a junior, but don't tell that to the 6'3'', 235 lb specimen. Reid tallied 24 passing touchdowns a season ago and added 500 yards on the ground for his vaunted offense. He led a unit that was one of two offenses to average 200 yards passing and rushing in 2006. He again will create havoc in the backfield and put up well over 30 points a game for Oklahoma State this fall.

Bankroll Buster (player to avoid betting on):

Questions still arise in my mind about the quarterback A&M QB Stephen McGee. As a runner he is brilliant and he's truly a remarkable leader for only having two years under his belt. McGee threw for just 12 touchdowns last season, and knowing that the Aggies already have talented rushers in Jorvorksie Lane and Mike Goodson, how much does their quarterback need to carry the offense?

Important Betting Trends:

Last season the dominant South Division went 13-5 against the North, finishing them off in the conference title game as Oklahoma bested Nebraska, 21-7. 2007 should see the gap narrow, as Nebraska and Missouri make a strong run and reach at least nine win seasons. No doubt, the winner of the North will hold a strong conference record due to the weakness below them. However, the biggest question, as it always is, will be if that North representative can hold a candle to Texas or whoever comes out on the southern end when a BCS berth is on the line?

Potential Conference Champ:

After seeing Colt McCoy flourish as a freshman for the white and burnt orange, there are no worries coming from myself that Texas will play in another BSC bowl. The Horns return all their weapons for McCoy to use, while the Texas defense should again be one of the best and most lethal in the conference. Don't rule out feisty teams such as Nebraska and Missouri to meet Texas in the conference championship, but too much talent resides in Austin for them to falter in 2007.

Key Games:

Oklahoma at Texas, Oct. 6 - The Longhorns go for their third straight win in this glamorized series. Not good news for Sooner fans, as this one looks pretty one-sided as of July.

Texas A&M at Texas Tech, Oct. 13 - The Aggies and Red Raiders will look to make a statement, just in case Texas falls the week prior in their big game. The Aggies are just 3-9 in their last 12 in Lubbock, having lost every game since 1993.

Texas at Texas A&M, Nov. 23 - The Aggies shocked the world last season when they knocked off Texas in Austin. Two in a row would be quite an uppercut coming from the squad from College Station. Speed isn't the issue, it's more so the depth and overall ability that will get the 'Horns their revenge.

Predicted order of finish:

North Division: Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa State

South Division: Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

Scouting the Big 12 at its media days
July 26, 2007

A roundup of news, notes and observations from this grid gala deep in the rain-soaked heart of Texas.

SAN ANTONIO -- After exchanging text messages, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins talked for a while in the lobby of San Antonio's regal St. Anthony Hotel. Here are three good questions with the guy folks in the biz simply call "Hawk."

# On his son, Cody, who is in the quarterback battle: "Being a coach's kid, a lot of people think I force fed him football. That's not the case. He loves football. We'll be watching a game and the quarterback will throw an interception. I'll say, "Cody?" And he'll say: "Never throw the ball late down the middle." Another time, a quarterback will get sacked early in a possession. I'll say, "Cody?" And he'll say: "Never get sacked on first or second down." He has just been around it for so long. Cody doesn't have a 'hose,' but he's accurate and knows how to win."

# On meditation: "I try to prepare my mind each day before I go to work. I love to read. People always ask: 'How do you find time to read?' I always say: 'How can you find time not to?' (At this point, Hawk reaches into his computer bag and pulls out two books.) Check this out: 'When Good Things Happen to Good People.' I'm also reading this Catholic-based book. It all helps me stay balanced and focused."

# On the his famous spring "rant": "Look, Tom, it wasn't a rant. I think it got blown way out of proportion. Did I know what I was doing? Yes, but I think it got more play than it deserved. It almost happened again at a recent media event in Colorado. They all wanted to know which players were hurt, which ones looked good, who was ineligible. I said: What about the good stuff? Like our GPA, community service. ... Then, I hit the table and said: How about dog fighting?"

Where's the commish?

The Big 12's big leather chair is empty since Kevin Weiberg bolted for the Big Ten Network after nine years on the job. Expect an announcement naming a new commish sometime before the start of the season. I wouldn't be shocked if interim chief Dan Beebe gets the gig. He's a good man who knows the league. It's the safe -- and smart -- thing to do. Others who could be considered to varying degrees are Oklahoma A.D. Joe Castiglione (long shot) and Mountain West commish Craig Thompson.

KU QB quandary

I met with Kansas big boss man Mark Mangino in a conference room tucked on the third floor of the St. Anthony Hotel earlier in the week. I tried to pin him down on who would be his quarterback: Todd Reesing or Kerry Meier.

"I just don't know yet, Tom," says Mangino. "I'd really like one to emerge. I don't like playing two. Most coaches don't. But, if I have to and it makes us a better team, I'll do it."

Don't send that text

The text message ban in recruiting is about to be implemented. But it remains a hot topic in coaching circles. And almost all the coaches I talked to in San Antonio are opposed to it.

"I don't like it," says a Big 12 coach. "I think texting should be like phone calls, where you still can do it at certain times. I think it will come back."

Get to know him

Myriad players paraded through San Antonio. But few drew a bigger crowd than Oklahoma State defensive back Martel Van Zant.

Who's he? Only the best deaf football player in America.

Van Zant answered questions thorough a translator. And I learned there are some advantages to being a deaf football player.

"I don't always know when to stop because I can't hear the referee's whistle," says Van Zant. "But I also can't hear players trash talking to me. And crowd noise on the road isn't an issue either. No big deal, but I can feel the vibrations when it gets really loud."

And it'll be plenty loud when the Pokes open the season at Georgia, in what could be a breakout year for Mike Gundy's troops.

Big division, little division

I asked a Big 12 North head coach during this three-day event if the perception that the South division was better equipped to succeed than the North is true. After all, the South has won three straight league crowns, and four of the last five. And it won 14 of 19 meetings between the divisions last year.

"Off the record, yes," he says. "I had a spreadsheet of the budgets, and the differences are big. I was looking at one that detailed each school's money allotted to academic programs. And Oklahoma's, for instance, was much bigger than ours. And that stuff matters when it come to recruiting."

TV daze

Talking to one coach, I remarked on how many TV networks were on hand to obtain footage: FOX Sports Net, Versus, CSTV ... it was dizzying.

"Yeah, I know, Tom," says the coach. "I had one of those networks in last fall, and the guy they sent in to talk to me before our game had no clue about our team or league. I said to the fella: "You aren't from around here, are you?"

The coaching hit list

Toughest looking: Ron Prince, Kansas State. A career as a bouncer would work out if this coaching stuff doesn't.

Best hair: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. Love the bristle-brush look on top. Kinda like an American Gladiator.

Best dressed: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma. Check out his pinstriped get-up. All he needed was a fedora and a stogie.

Funniest: Mike Leach, Texas Tech. I'd pay to listen to him speak. A Vegas gig is in his future.

Most presidential: Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M. Smooth. That's all I'll day. Smooth.

Most intense: Gene Chizik, Iowa State. Let's just say that if I were in a foxhole, I'd want Gene sitting shotgun.

Most casual: Bill Callahan, Nebraska. Every coach had on a sport coat or long-sleeved collar shirt on -- even Leach -- save for Callahan. He sported a snappy white Nebraska golf shirt. And, I have to say: I like it. I'm all about casual.

Friendliest: Guy Morriss, Baylor. He stood in the lobby and talked to every last peon. Nice, nice man.. Than again, he is the Baylor coach.

Media predicted order of finish

North
1. Missouri (16)
2. Nebraska (8)
3. Kansas State
4. Kansas
5. Colorado
6. Iowa State

South
1. Texas (16)
2. Oklahoma (7)
3. Texas A&M (1)
4. Oklahoma State
5. Texas Tech
6. Baylor

(first-place votes)

Offensive player of the year: Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
Defensive player of the year: Reggie Smith, DB, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the year: Sam Keller, QB, Nebraska

My takes: I'd have Nebraska first in the North. I don't wanna bury Big Red yet. ... Who voted A&M first in the South? The Aggies' schedule is too tough. ... I like OU to win the South. I think their defense will carry the team. And, like Stoops, I'm not worried about the quarterback situation. ... I think Kansas State is too high. But, who are you going to put third in the North? I like CU, if the quarterback situation settles. And Kansas may surprise.

This and that

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no representative in San Antonio, despite the fact Missouri was picked to win the North for the first time ever. One word: amazing. ... Former NFL star defensive tackle D'Marco Farr was in the house gathering info for his FOX Sports pregame show. Two words: Great human. ... Jackie Sherrill also was roaming the lobby for a TV network. Three words: Classic football coach. It's always fun to talk with Jackie. Heck, it's fun just saying and typing his name. I'm a sucker for old coaching stories. So, I talked with Jackie about his days at Pitt. "I almost lived at the high school of Tony Dorsett," he says. "They threw me out at first. But I was around so much I ended up being a substitute teacher there since I always was around. If a teacher was out, I'd take over. And when I went to Tony's house, I always brought his mother a pecan pie. They loved that." And I love Jackie's tales.

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

The Big 12 South Report
By: Tony George   

As I have already posted up the Big 12 North for you with Missouri on top followed closely by my alma mater Nebraska, I will repeat myself again. October 6th is Judgment Day in the Big 12, with Nebraska and Missouri playing in Columbia for the northern bragging rights and a probable trip to San Antonio on the line, while Texas and Oklahoma will battle it out in Dallas at the annual Red River Shootout. These two games outcomes could tell the tale of the Big 12 championship game in San Antonio this year.

Unlike the north division, the south division presents some serious landmines for the front runners. There is a ton of parity in the southern division and it is entirely possible that neither Oklahoma or Texas could win it, as both Texas AM and Oklahoma State have a legitimate shot this year. This southern division depends on scheduling and injuries that could play a role late in the season. For what it is worth, I will give out my rankings which may in fact surprise a few people, and just like my northern rankings, ruffle a few feathers from loyalists. Do not forget, this is my specialty conference that I have won 62% ATS or better in all my games posted over the past 6 years.

THE BIG 12 SOUTH

1. TEXAS

No doubt with preseason rankings in polls as high as #2 behind USC; this is a no brainer, as they are the most talented team in the Big 12 conference. They are not the best coached team in the Big 12, which is what puts the fear of God in every Longhorn fan every year. Mac Brown has a reputation for a colossal blunder every year, and last year's loss at Kansas State cost them a trip to the title game, and then a monster upset at the hands of rival Texas AM. A very close 2-point bowl win against Iowa left a bad taste in the mouth of fans and players in Austin off a national title the year before.

On offense this team is talented and deep at skill positions, and loaded with speed. After a freshman year of learning, Colt McCoy tied and NCAA frosh record with 29 TD passes. The stage is set for the next 3 years at QB in Austin, the kid is a stud. Backed up by another in the long line of Texas RB's who can get it done, Jamaal Charles is a solid back who averaged over 7 yards per carry as a freshman and over 5 yards last year. That is the problem however this year if not corrected. The drop in OL production is an issue, and the Longhorns have to replace 3 studs that have graduated but have seasoned seniors to fill in he gaps, but line play must improve. They are loaded at WR headed up by all-world Limas Sweed, as well as Pittman and Cosby, with plenty of back-ups in the fold. This offense was 6th in the nation in scoring at 35 ppg last year, and I expect more of the same, but running the ball better will win them a championship.

On defense they are once again tough against the run, ranked 3rd in the nation last year and should be better this year. They are still loaded at DL, but the linebackers were not as solid as usual last year, but they return loads of experience. Head defensive coordinator Gene Chizek left for the Iowa State job, so secondary coach Duane Akina steps in. The pass defense was ranked 99th in the country last year and they lost 3 DB starters on that squad, and it still may be a weakness but should improve. They will need to blitz and rush the passer better this year, and with a new scheme or two should provide relief. Too much emphasis was placed on stopping the run, so man-to-man coverage was the problem, and this year expect to see more zone and Cover-two defense from Texas. I also would expect to see more blitz packages with their speed. Special teams is iffy and the worst issue they must face in fall camp, but Kicker Ryan Bailey stepped in last year, won a game at Nebraska in the final seconds and has not looked back since.

SUMMARY; All in all, Texas is a top 3 team in the nation, and clearly better than anyone in the Big 12 right now, especially at skill positions on offense. They get Oklahoma in Dallas, and a weak non-conference patsy schedule, and also get Nebraska and Texas Tech at home this year. The game at Texas AM in Dallas this year looms large in late November, but the Longhorns have serious payback in mind. Another possible upset spot, perfect for Mac Brown's reputation, is at Oklahoma State in November. Texas could easily be undefeated with this schedule, and should win the Big 12 this year and play for a national title, barring the fact Mac Brown does not fall asleep at the wheel in the getaway car this year.

2. TEXAS A&M

Yep, Oklahoma has been demoted and we will get to that later. I liked this team last year and they simply were a year away from what I felt was greatness, and a win over Texas last year in Austin was a preview of things to come in my mind, they had 1 point losses to both Oklahoma and Nebraska and 3 point loss to Texas Tech. They could have won all 3 of those games, especially Nebraska at home. They ended up getting blown out by a solid Cal club in a bowl game, but this team is balanced, strong and for real. Head Coach Dennis Franchione is under the gun this year to hit it big, but he vastly improved this team last year, they are ready to make a major move in 2007. They are my dark horse pick in the South.

On offense they have one of the strongest running games in the nation led by Javorskie Lane and Mike Goodson. Lane comes in at about 270 pounds and is like trying to stop a train, and Goodson is speedy and averaged over 6 yards per carry last year. They are fronted by an all-world offensive line that is ranked in the top 3 in the nation. The compliment is QB Stephen McGee, who threw for 12 TD's and only 2 interceptions and ran for over 600 yards. He is accurate, dangerous, and now has experience and confidence, and his line in tact to boot. They are loaded at WR with Taylor and have a 2 tight end set featuring 2 good ones, led by all American material Martellus Bennett. There is no weakness on offense; the balance and experience are rock solid.

On defense they went from dead last in 2005 in pass defense to 44th last year and return 6 starters on defense. Chris Harrington returns at end, and is a good one, and led the team in tackles last year. The DL is big and strong and will be tough to run against, and their pass rush is solid. The linebackers are iffy but experienced and should improve. The secondary returns 3 guys who can make plays, as well as the fact this position is very deep for Texas AM. They also force turnovers well, and were ranked 9th over all last year in turnover ratio. I like this unit a lot, and think they will be a top 30 overall unit in 2007. The special teams returners are back and they are burners, and they have a good punter and capable kicker as well.

SUMMARY: The obvious test is Texas in Dallas on November 23; it could easily be for the Big 12 south title. They have a non-conference game at Miami which will be a huge test early on, and if they win that, look out! Games at Nebraska and Oklahoma loom large, but this team is capable of winning both of them, especially at Nebraska with this offense and balanced attack. Another landmine is playing at revenge minded Missouri the week after OU, which is a tough spot. They have a week off before playing Texas after that, which they will need. Could this be the year of the Aggies and the 12th man? I think it might be, but you are looking at a 9 -10 win team potentially and a major bowl bid in the works.

3. OKLAHOMA

Bottom line is, no proven QB in the house right now. I am not sold on OU when pitted against Texas AM in the south, but the saving grace for Sooner fans is that they get the Aggies in Norman this year. They ended last year with a wild and whacky loss to Boise State in the bowl game, one of the best games ever played in college football. A team leader on offense is needed at QB and is a question mark even at this late stage, so I give the nod to Texas AM as an overall better team. The good news is Bob Stoops is a coaching wizard and they have an easy schedule to help them along. Sooner nation is in for an uncertain ride this season.

On offense as mentioned, OU needs a QB. The spring game which I watched on film was a nightmare at QB, and with 3 guys entering fall camp still trying out for the job, youth and inexperience is the theme. Junior Joey Halzel, redshirt frosh Sam Bradford, or incoming frosh Keith Nicole will vie for the spot, I expect Halzel to win it. Whoever gets it will have a good OL, a solid RB in Patrick, and some good WR's, especially Malcolmb Kelly, who is one of the best in the Big 12, and top 10 in the nation, and is a huge playmaker for the Sooners. There will be a learning curve here early on, so hopefully whoever gets the QB job, will be ready come conference time. An injury at QB could be devastating, which is why I ranked this team 3rd.

On defense the Sooners, as always are strong with a great secondary led by Reggie Smith, and DB's Walker and Harris are big hitters and good cover guys as well. The linebackers are iffy at best, and without leader Ryan Reynolds back from knee surgery (a question mark, check status in the fall), this could be a serious issue for the Sooners. The DL is average at best, with both starting DE's needing replaced. Without experience on the DL and weak at LB, against high octane teams or teams like Texas AM that will run it down your throat, this defense needs a few guys to step up and make plays to establish an attitude that OU is known for. One good thing to report, the special teams are loaded for Oklahoma with a great kicker, solid punter and a solid return game all in tact. This will be a crucial part of this team in tight games.

SUMMARY: Oklahoma is going to win their fair share of games this year, but they have 3 massive tests. They get Miami at home in game 2 of the season and though Miami is down, without an experienced QB it is a tough test. Then the bog one, Texas in the Red River Shootout, which is a HUGE test, and then Texas AM at home. Those 3 games are their biggest hurdles by far. The rest of schedule is easy and they get their tough games at home, including one against Okie State which is always a thriller and never a gimmie, and should again be a shootout this year. Overall, with talent a skill positions, but weak in stopping the run and rushing the passer, and a huge question mark at QB, I cannot go higher than 3rd. Texas and Texas AM look better on paper to begin the season, although Bob Stoops has pulled off some miracles in his day, he will have to coach his best season this year to return to the championship game and a BCS bowl. A national 7th place ranking is way too high.

4. OKLAHOMA STATE

This is a young team with talent, a young coach hungry to make his mark, and rabid support from the fans in Stillwater make the Cowboys a dangerous team and a huge upset in the making for anyone who overlooks them like Nebraska did in 2006. This team is LOADED on offense and have tons of talent, and if the defense gets better, they can make some noise this season. Beating Alabama in the Bowl Game last year was a fitting end to the season. Mike Gundy the head coach may have his best season ever in 2007, and 2006 was a big stepping stone.

On offense this team is awesome. Bobby Reid at QB is a stud, they have 8 starters returning from the 7th ranked scoring offense in the nation in 2006, and all players who made it happen at skill positions return. WR Bowman returns and is a game breaker and stud and a go to guy in the clutch. The running back Dantrell Savage returns and his back-up Toston also is back. Both RB's can catch and run it, and they amassed over 1400 yards last year together. QB Reid is a major force, and will take off and run it, and he is quick. He threw for 29 TD's last year and has an arsenal of weapons. This offense scored 35 ppg last year and may score more this year. Look for Reid to take off and run it more this year and not force passes, and if so, it opens everything else up.

If the defense can improve, this team could win 8 or 9 games with ease. A new coordinator was brought in from Ohio State in Tim Beckman, and he has installed an aggressive style of defense that should pay dividends. This team returns 8 starters from last year and they have solid young LB's, and good cover guys as well in Van Zant and converted ex-QB Donovan Woods is back for his senior year and is a playmaker. The defensive ends are both seniors with vast experience and they have a solid DL in tact, but they must do better in all areas, and especially in scoring allowed. An average unit overall at best, but there is massive potential with some new schemes with this much experience in place. The defense will determine their path in 2007.

If the defense shores itself up, this team is dangerous, and I mean they can score lights out if they want to. With good special teams in place, a solid offense and big playmakers, and a few key turnovers, they could upset any team in the south. Games at Nebraska, who has serious revenge on their minds after a defeat last year in Stillwater, and games at Texas AM and Oklahoma are going to be tough ones. The opener this season is at Georgia, which is brutal. If they can play well there and gain some confidence on defense, it could set the tone for the rest of the season. A bowl game again is very likely for Cowboy backers this year and potentially a breakout season.

5. TEXAS TECH

The head coach Mike Leach experiment in Lubbock is wearing thin. Tons of offense and a quick strike attack with little or no defense, and not many signature wins against strong opponents is not a good thing. In division I football, and especially the Big 12, you have to play defense and be a well rounded team to succeed. A lopsided attack with even the best QB's, is always troublesome and a defense ranked 86th versus the run needs to be improved on this year, but still the Red Raiders will compete at a high level.

On offense QB Graham Harrell returns and what a great year he had, like all Tech QB's under Leach. Harrell threw for over 4800 yards and 38 TD's, and Shannon Woods returns after a 900 yard season at RB, although he was demoted in spring practice, he will start. Losing their 2 top WR's is going to hurt some, but they have a proven veteran in Amendola and some good rotation receivers from last year, so the production in the quick strike spread throwing attack should be good again. The problem is replacing all but 1 starter from an OL line which was extremely proficient at containing the pass rush, so there is inexperience here. Overall the offense will click, but needs to be more balanced after posting a 112th place ranking in rushing the ball last year. With only 4 starters returning on offense, there is cause for concern early on.

On defense they return 5 starters from last year so-so unit. They will be good in the secondary, as they led the Big 12 in passing yards allowed, and they have 3 out of 4 players back. The linebackers and DL is a huge question mark with youth and inexperience and physical teams that run could dominate them. They must develop quickly as only 1 LB returns, and this unit had trouble rushing the passer last year with good players, and both ends are gone. This will once again be a sore spot and the pressure will be on the offense to score 30+ points a game to contend. With little depth, it also takes its toll when you have a prolific offense that can score quickly and you send the defense back out with little rest. For a better defense, they need more balance on offense.

SUMMARY: Business as usual in Lubbock. You are looking at 7-8 wins and a bowl game. Last year they won a thriller against Minnesota that cost Glen Mason his job in the bowl game, and they no doubt will see a lower tier bowl again in 2007. They have good special teams players and a great kicker, and an offense that will win them games, but in the South, you must play defense. Not championship material but a better than average ball team that is not as good as last year edition in my mind.

6. BAYLOR

No surprise here, the Bears bring up the rear in the Big 12 South again. Guy Morriss is breaking in 5 new coaches and I hope 1 of them can teach Baylor how to run the ball. They ranked 199th in the nation at running the ball at 40 yards per game, which is just horrible.

QB Shawn Bell is gone and a 5th year Senior who is at his 4th university in 5 years may get the call, Michael Machen. They have all new WR's and their top receiver last year was RB Whitaker who does return. A revamped and inexperienced OL and last years 11th ranked passing attack in the nation will struggle this year. This unit is young and will need some time. I will not spend much time here, but Baylor will struggle this year on offense. They need some serious balance on offense and without a mobile QB in their spread attack it could make for some long Saturday’s. Shawn Bell will be sorely missed this year.

The defense will be on it knees after the 2nd quarter with no offensive production, and though they return 6 starters and a decent LB unit in Moore and Pawelek, who was a frosh All-American last year. The secondary is a mess and they ranked 100th last year in total defense in the nation. I see little improvement in terms of young players other than whom they have returning, but Jordan Lake at safety could play for about anyone in the Big 12 and is a big hitter. When your safety is one of your leading tacklers, you are not getting it done up front. They could not get much worse than last year, so I give them a chance to improve.

SUMMARY: Another dismal year in Waco. A road trip opener to TCU will be brutal and the southern division will use Baylor as a whipping boy again. For Baylor fans another insufferable year and the string of getting no more than 3 conference wins in a season is another real possibility.

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

The Big 12 North Report
By: Tony George

Four teams in the Big 12 conference made it to the pre-season Top 25, with Texas at #2, Oklahoma at #8, Nebraska at #18 and Texas AM at #23. My dark horse Missouri came in at #28 in the rankings so a respectable number of teams this year as the entire conference should be stronger. Let’s break down first the north division in this report and the south division in my next report.

THE BIG 12 NORTH RANKINGS

It should come down to a game in Columbia Missouri on October 6th for the northern division rights to head to the Championship game in the Almodome. Have no doubts, Nebraska is the front runner with depth on offense as the West Coast attack from Bill Callahan enters this season with a full head of steam, and Missouri counters with all world QB Chase Daniel and the returning 8th ranked offense in the country. Let’s break it all down including my dark horse winner.

1.Missouri Tigers

I give the edge to Missouri over Nebraska for 3 reasons in the North. They get Nebraska at home first and foremost. Secondly they have more proven talent overall at skill positions, and thirdly, they can trade punches on offense with the nation’s elite. Quarterback Chase Daniel led the 8th ranked offense in the country last year, and they will need to score plenty of points with a defense that only returns 4 starters from last year. Leading the quick strike attack which returns 9 starters, Daniel had a school record 3527 yards through the air with 28 TD passes and all his weapons at WR return, and TE Martin Rucker (whose brother played for Nebraska and is a starter on the Carolina Panthers) is a potential All-American. Tony Temple rushed for over 1000 yards last year and there is no shortage of depth for this team, and the line returns in tact. They also have an all conference kicker to make big plays in the clutch. Scoring 35 ppg should be no problem for the Tigers. This is a high octane, up-tempo offense that keeps defenses on their heels.

The problem is special teams and defense. While being able to put enough points on the board to compete with the conference elite, they must have some playmakers here to win a championship, or a bowl game. The good news is Brock Christopher returns at LB and he was the teams leading tackler last year. They also have a rock solid and experienced DL with Williams and Hood leading the charge. The question mark is the secondary and pass rush. Darnell Terrell is an all conference type cover corner; however the rest of the unit is young and shaky. They will allow passing yards against them, although running against the Tigers may be tough going. Missouri ranked 115th in the nation in kickoff return yards last year and have not ran a kickoff for a TD since 1982, so special teams will have to improve, but with a good punter returning and a solid kicker, I give this unit a B+.

SUMMARY- While trying to outscore Nebraska will be a feat against a west coast offense with their defense; I feel at home they can win a big game this year against the Huskers. Missouri’s offense will be one of the top 10 in the nation again, and I feel enough to carry them in big games. Do not underestimate Chase Daniel, a 2nd team all conference QB in the pre-season, he could easily emerge big time like Brad Smith before him. Led by HC Gary Pinkel, this team has some real potential. Having to play Oklahoma in Norman the week after Nebraska looms large, as well as playing Kansas State in Manhattan in November. They get Texas AM at home November 10th and that will be a huge test for them. Overall if they beat Nebraska and win against K State and Kansas at seasons end, they should make it to the championship game, where a beat down from a team to be named from the south could occur. The Tigers have some bite and are lurking in the shadows in 2007.

2.NEBRASKA

Being from Lincoln Nebraska and a huge Husker fan, it pains me to rank them 2nd, but it also gives me hope that NU can return to Championship game in December. The problem is on offense, and the question marks that surround it. They have yet to really explode consistently for Bill Callahan. Having to replace Big 12 offensive player of the year, QB Zac Taylor is a huge obstacle, as well as RB Brandon Jackson who is now a Green Bay Packer, drafted as a junior. Nebraska does have their swagger back, but losing to Oklahoma in the championship game last year, and getting beat by Auburn in the bowl game has them ready to prove something in 2007 on a national level.

When you lose your top 2 players on offense, not to mention off field troubles for their best player overall, WR Bobby Purify, the offense is a question mark. It is unknown the status of Purify heading into fall camp, but their will be a suspension for a domestic violence charge against his girlfriend. The all saints savior is slated to be Sam Keller at QB. An NFL prospect 2 years ago at Arizona State, he transferred last year and took a redshirt to play his senior season at Nebraska, as he was benched in a huge controversy at Arizona State. He has had a year to learn the complicated offense, and has a gun for an arm, and does have division I experience as a starter. He looked good in NU’s spring game and is a pure drop back NFL type passer. He has weapons at RB despite the departure of Jackson, with Lucky and Glenn, both proven backs who can turn the corner, and he has 3 returning WR’s in the arsenal who are playmakers led by Purify and Terrance Nunn, who also does special teams duties and can turn on the jets. The OL should be a vast improvement and are big and physical. If QB Keller cannot get it done, the Joe Ganz, a 3 year second stringer will get the call. It will be interesting the pre-conference schedule to see if this unit gels, and if they do, they can be productive.

The defense is solid this year, but the pass rush lost Adam Carriker at DE and he was a high draft pick and Defensive player of the year at end in 2006. With Potter and Turner projected to start at end with little experience, let’s hope the all star unit of LB’s, the strength of the defense, does some blitzing. Bo Rudd (bother and father both played at NU, and both played in the NFL) is an all conference player at LB and McKeon is also a stud. Another big question mark is DB Zach Bowman, a potential all star who missed all last year with a knee injury. Potentially an NFL player, his status in unknown, and Nebraska simply does not have good cover corners. DB Grixby is a horrible cornerback, and Oklahoma threw all over him last year in the championship game, and he returns as a starter again. NU also has some kicking issues as well, which is a big concern in tight games.

SUMMARY- With a shaky pass rush and shaky cornerbacks, games at Missouri and Texas are troublesome, along with a September 15th date against #1 USC in Lincoln as well. QB Booty may set a record in Lincoln in passing yards for USC. If the QB position settles in, Nebraska could beat Missouri in October and win the title in the north. Border rival Kansas State is at home and the Huskers also get Texas AM at home as well, so a season final against Colorado could decide the north. Coach Bill Callahan enters his fourth year and has yet to really have a signature win, so a win against USC and or Texas, or a title game win is needed in Husker nation in order to keep the natives happy, as NU is desperate for a top 10 finish in the country. There is a lot riding this season in Lincoln Nebraska, and the Huskers have some real potential to make a mark. Husker nation is optimistic this year they can return to the championship game again. If not heads may roll at seasons end in Lincoln.

3.Kansas State

Ron Prince’s first year as head coach last year had many ups and downs. The biggest win at K-State last year was a shootout against Texas at home which they won, showcasing their biggest weapon, 6’6” 250 pound QB Josh Freeman, only 1 of 2 freshman starters to led their team to a bowl game in 2006. Freeman is the key for K-State again this year and has NFL potential. Switching defensive schemes this year, the addition of 4 new position coaches, 13 returning starters, and a solid defense should keep K-State in the hunt, and if overlooked by anyone, the Wildcats are an upset in the making.

On offense QB Freeman is all world, but after a freshman year of more interceptions that TD’s, it rests on his shoulders to calm down and lead this team, and they have plenty of firepower. Freeman is mobile and can launch it deep. Running backs Johnson and Patton are a great 1-2 punch, and Patton has breakaway speed and is a special team’s threat as well. Jordy Nelson at WR was slowed with injuries in 2006, but still led the team in receptions at 45 last year. With his return at 100%, he is a deep threat and a guy who can make big plays when spread out in the flat with dump off passes. Using a two tight end set, they look to spread out defenses and have Freeman roaming, and this provides a challenge for most defenses. Only scoring 22 ppg must be improved on from last year, but the OL must improve so the Wildcats can balance their offense better. If this can happen and the offense gels, K-State will be able to score some points and have a quick strike offense.

On defense a new scheme, switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense should utilize skill players better and make the Wildcats better on the corners. Ian Campbell and Reggie Walker are good ones at LB, and they have a solid core of returning lineman here. The return of safety Marcus Watts is key, back from missing 4 games at seasons end, he is all Big 12 material and he anchors the DB’s who are speedy and big hitters. Starting 2 junior college transfers early may produce some mistakes; but the defense is will be better this season. Kansas State is tough against the pass but must shore up the run defense this year. Special teams are iffy and a mixed bag of players. The kicking duties are up in the air and a weak spot for the Wildcats.

SUMMARY- Games at Texas and at Nebraska loom large on the schedule along with Oklahoma State. A bowl bid could come down to a late November, out of conference game against Fresno State on the road. With QB Freeman’s continued growth, and the defense settling in with a new scheme that highlights their talents better, K- State should see a bowl in 2007, but I doubt they contend with Missouri and Nebraska for the north title. A late season tilt with Missouri at home could prove pivotal. This team is young but talented but struggling through a learning curve in 2007, but very capable.

4.KANSAS

Last year Kansas was rolling until all the wheels came off late. The Jayhawks blew so many leads and lost by 7 points or less it was scary. They took Nebraska into double OT in Lincoln only to lose while a back-up QB set an all-time passing record against Nebraska in that game, they blew a lead to Texas AM at home and lost, and lost to Toledo on the road in overtime as well. They are loaded at QB and continue to improve their status in the Big 12 under Mark Magino as head coach.

On offense they have 2 QB’s capable of starting, but the two headed QB monster could backfire. Kerry Meir looked great in the spring game I attended, as well as Todd Reesing. Both are good solid QB’s, with Meir having the experience factor on his side; he is well above average for a division I QB. Kansas has to replace all big 12 RB Jon Cornish and 3 OL starters, one of them all Big 12 last year. They are weak at RB, and also lost their top receiver from last year but both Fields and Henry are veterans and should become a threat if Meir can get them the ball. Kansas must stop turning the ball over through the air.

On defense Kansas was ranked 119th in the country at stopping the pass, that was dead last in division I. Kansas is deep and good at LB with Wright and Holt along with Joe Mortensen in the middle and they have a very capable cover corner in Talib. They should improve in the secondary but their pass rush was deplorable in 2006, and I see no new blood to change that. This must improve since ground control on offense is shaky at best with their running game.

SUMMARY – Kansas has an inability to stop the pass again this year and with high octane offense’s like K-State, Missouri and Nebraska, as well as Texas AM, it could be a struggle to match last years 6-6 record with no bowl game. A road trip to in-state rival Kansas St on October 6th is a huge test early, and roadies at Texas AM and improving Oklahoma State look like losses. Kansas needs to get through the preseason conference schedule undefeated to have a shot at a winning record and pick up a road win at Colorado here to have a shot at a bowl. I doubt Kansas is as good as last years addition and another .500 or less season in the making.

5.COLORADO

Last year ex-Boise State coach Dan Hawkins was welcomed to BCS conference football with a horrific year overall. Colorado was defeated by Division II-A Montana State at home, lost badly to rival Nebraska at seasons end and finished 2-10. They ranked dead last in almost every offensive category in the Big 12, as the spread attack and shotgun offense of Hawkins has serious talent problems, and the defense simply was wore out by the 3rd quarter. This year should improve with wins, but the learning curve is still in effect. Implementation of an all new scheme on offense always takes time, just look no father than Nebraska 4 years ago.

It will start at quarterback for the Buffs. Last year they struggled to make anything happen on offense. This year Cody Hawkins, the coach’s son enters as a redshirt frosh and should get the starting nod, he was all world in high school. Incoming JUCO transfer Nick Nelson was highly touted and will compete for the starting job, but the future lies with Hawkins. The OL is deplorable and they recruited 8 Offensive linemen this past year. This is a rebuilding process here on offense and mistakes will be made. Using their running game as a threat with Hugh Charles at RB will be key, he is a solid back. There is little at WR either in terms of talent, and in this offensive scheme is doom. They have no playmakers on offense right now and their top WR who returns, only had 24 catches all last year. A work in progress, young and inexperienced.

The defense is solid at LB with Jordon Dizon being an all Big 12 performer but the rest of the defense is poor. The secondary who is young and inexperienced gave opposing QB’s a 67% completion rate against them last year and I see little improvement here. That is trouble against the spread attacks they will face. They have run stoppers on DL and at LB and are very good against the run, but overall they will give up big plays. Special teams for Colorado are all new players and yet to even be established other than a 4 year kicker who has been a back-up till now.

SUMMARY- Getting the fans back in the seats, who are disgruntled with the program and some of the worst fans in college football in terms of loyalty and behavior, will be a tall chore this year for Colorado. Getting a season opening win against Colorado State in Denver would be a huge plus, so they have a big game right out of the gate. Road trips to Arizona State, and Texas Tech are losses along with season ending game at Nebraska are simply too much to expect a win for the Buffs. A 5 or 6 win season along with establishing the QB position and having some playmakers emerge for next season would be a vast improvement. Coach Dan Hawkins knows how to win, but this season will be a struggle.

6.Iowa State

After huge expectations last year with a vastly talented team, especially on offense, the Cyclones self destructed and long time head coach Dan McCarney was fired at seasons end. Enter Gene Chizek from Texas as the new head coach, and an all new staff of coaches and you have a slight mess on your hands in Ames this year. All world QB Bret Meyer had no help last year, but still could be the best QB in the Big 12 North behind Chase Daniel of Missouri. A learning process this year for Iowa State and a brutal schedule will not help.

On offense they managed with all star cast last year to rank 81st in the nation overall and 99th in scoring. QB Meyer is mobile and can make big plays, but the running game is not there in any form. One main weapon returns, all Big 12 WR Todd Blythe, and he is a good one. Only 4 starters on offense return, and all new OL is in place and a new coordinator as well, so this year will prove to be about the same as last year, no balance. Even though they have talent at skill positions here and a decent 1-2 punch at RB, with a young OL, it will be tough sledding.

The defense returns 5 starters from a unit that was ranked 105th in the nation in scoring allowed. There are issues at the DB position and rush ends for openers. They did not force many turnovers last year, and with an ineffective offense, the defense will see tons of playing time again in 2007, and with little depth at skill positions, this unit will give up points. Alvin Bowen at LB is the leader of the defense, and is an NFL draft pick without question, and led the nation in tackles per game last year. Without a supporting cast, he will be busy again.

With little to work with, Gene Chizek will find about the same results as last years team, about 4 or 5 wins at best. The implementation of JUCO players (12 were signed last year), and the mixed bag of current talent will be a tall chore in this division. Games at Nebraska, Texas Tech and Missouri are locks to lose, but Iowa State does have numerous games at home including pre-season patsies Kent State and Northern Iowa. The annual Iowa game is also at home this year, but do not look for an upset there. A complete rebuilding year for ISU, and it is shame since Bret Meyer is a great QB in the shadows of mediocre talent around him. Anything over 5 wins would be a huge success here.

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BIG 12 2007 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW

North Division

Missouri - Missouri started last year 6-0 and people started to take notice. They then proceeded to lose 5 of their last 7 games. A look back at last year tells us that once Mizu stepped up in class, they couldn't get it done. When it came time to play A+M, Oklahoma or Nebraska, the Tigers came up short. So it should be no surprise that this season it will come down winning against the stiffer competition if they are to break out of the 7 or 8 win season routine. The Mizu offense was one of the better units in the country last year. They lose QB Brad Smith, however they are otherwise loaded, returning just about everyone else from last years offense. It's on the defensive side of things where the Tigers had trouble last year, particularly against the run. Unless they improve, it's another 7 or 8 win season for Mizu. Many of the pre-season pundits are picking Mizu to do big things in the Big 12 this year. It's possible, but we'll wait until after the first two weeks in October to pass final judgment. That will be after facing Nebraska and Oklahoma back to back. That should answer all of our questions.

Nebraska - It took former Nebraska QB Zac Taylor a couple of years to learn Bill Callahan's offense, but things started to click last year. Unfortunately, Zac Taylor is now gone, and a new QB must step in and execute this offense. Nebraska's 2006 season was not that different than Missouri's in that, they beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but couldn't get it done against the cream of the crop, with losses to Texas, Oklahoma,  USC and Auburn in the Cotton Bowl. With some holes to fill on both sides of the ball, The Huskers may be looking at another 8 win season at best. It will be interesting to see what happens September 8th at Wake Forest. If Wake Forest still has the good, the Huskers could be looking at a 1-2 start (they have USC the following week) and could have a little hole to dig out of early on. It won't get much easier after that as they have road games at Mizu and Texas. We see more of the same for Nebraska this year. Good but not great.

Kansas State - Yet another Big 12 team that was able to handle lesser opponents but couldn't handle the step up in class with the exception of their upset 45-42 win over Texas last November. The bright spot heading into this year is that 2nd year QB Josh Freeman has another year under his belt. But with the exception of the Texas game, the margins between Kansas State and the better teams they lost to, wasn't close enough to expect any significant changes this year. 24-6 to Louisville, 21-3 to Nebraska, 41-21 to Mizu, 37-10 to Rutgers. This year they have road games at Auburn, Texas and Nebraska. Last year was a 7 win season. This year, we see a repeat, plus or minus a game.

Kansas - When teams have magical seasons, like Rutgers or Wake Forest last year, they get just about every break. The ball just bounces their way. Well, 2006 for Kansas was just the opposite. They finished 6-6 but were in every game they played with the exception of their season ending loss to Mizu, 42-17. A couple of overtime losses, including one at Nebraska, as well as a 3 point loss to A+M are usually the types of building blocks that lead to improvement in the win column the following year. But they Jayhawks will have their work cut out for them as they try to improve a very shaky defense and look to replace a few key offensive starters, including the QB. The goal for this team, this year, should be to get to a Bowl game. To accomplish that, they'll need the 6 win minimum, preferably 7 wins, and the schedule looks like it might cooperate with them. It's certainly not a lock though.

Colorado - Only one way to go for the Buffs......up. Can't get much worse for a team that was 2-10 a year ago. So it's hardly stepping out on a limb to predict some improvement this year. But "some" is the key word. This offense was near the bottom of several categories, Nationally. Too much of a gap to expect much this year. 5 wins would be a good year for this team. Anything more than that would put them way ahead of schedule and would certainly be a major accomplishment.

Iowa State - Under former coach Dan McCarney, Iowa State was generally a team that could win 7 games, pull an upset or two along the way and get to a Bowl game. But a 4 win 2006 season put an end to the McCarney era as Iowa State brought in new head coach Gene Chizik. Chizik comes with a great resume, having been the defensive coordinator at Texas and Auburn. But he figures to find the going a bit tougher at Iowa State for one very big reason. Talent. Iowa State will simply never get the same talent as schools like Auburn and Texas. Such is life in College football. That will never change. Sure, he may be able to have the lone 10 win season once in a blue moon. but otherwise, the best Chizik can hope for is to be able to equal what McCarney did. Which is make Iowa State a team which can win 7 games a year and pull an upset or two along the way. Let's see what he does in year number one. Looks like less than 6 wins to us this year.

South Division


Oklahoma - For the same reason new Iowa State coach Dan McCarney will find it tough going at Iowa State, the Sooners will once again be a force in the Big 12...... Talent. If there's Talent to go around in the Big 12, Oklahoma will always have their share of it. This is a team that's won 11 or 12 games 4 of the last 5 years and returns a good bunch on both sides of the ball. Where the Sooners figure to struggle a bit is at QB, with no clear choice having yet emerged. There's perhaps 4 games on their schedule that could be question marks, but even a split in those 4 games puts the Sooners at 10-2 with perhaps a shot at the Big 12 title game with a chance to make some noise in the National Picture. But the QB position will be key if that's to play out. Circle October 6th on your schedules. That's when Texas comes to town and the Sooners get a chance to avenge last years 28-10 loss.

Texas - With the Big 12 South bound to come down to Texas and Oklahoma, the Longhorns may very well get the nod due to the all important QB position. With Oklahoma struggling to find a starter, there's no doubt in Texas as Colt McCoy returns with some very high expectations. Texas struggled on defense against the pass last year, but with the toughest divisional test likely coming against the Sooners, even just a slight improvement against the pass from a year ago may be enough to get it done in 2007. This team will win at least 10 games with the October 6th Oklahoma game more than likely deciding the South.

Oklahoma State - This is a very dangerous team that could very well upset the apple cart in the Big 12. One thing is certain. Oklahoma State can beat any team on their schedule. They proved as much last year by knocking off Nebraska and with the exception of only scoring 10 on Texas, they had no trouble putting the ball in the end zone against every other team they played last season. It will be more of the same this year as the offense remains intact. While the defense also remains intact, it's a defense that couldn't stop anyone last year and doesn't figure to stop many this year. But it won't matter. This team will be involved in some exciting shootouts this year and should be fun to watch. They'll no doubt pull a major upset or two and could have something to say when the dust clears in the Big 12.

Texas A&M - A&M was 6 points away from a perfect regular season last year. They lost by 4 to Texas Tech, and by one in consecutive weeks to both Oklahoma and Nebraska. Of course they then failed to show up for their Bowl game as Cal routed them 45-10, but this team left little doubt that it can play with anyone, and returns  several key players from a year ago. The problem with this years schedule is that all of their toughest tests will come on the road which figures to keep this team in the 8 win range this year. They could be an attractive dog this year though, as they figure to be able to stay with anyone on the dance card.

Texas Tech - Another team that due to it's high powered offense, it can be a threat to beat anyone it plays on any given day. There is room on the schedule for Tech to grab 7 wins, but it's how they do against A&M, Mizu, Okl St, Texas and Oklahoma that will decide whether the season is a success or not. With only two of those at home, we'll give Tech 7 or 8 wins and a December Bowl game.

Baylor - Next

To sum up - It looks like all the excitement in the Big 12 this season will be in the South division. Sure, you have Oklahoma and Texas, but every other team except Baylor also has the potential to make some noise and beat any other team on any given day. Not so in the North where you have much more mediocrity mixed in with a couple of teams with some major rebuilding to do. It's easy to pick the usual suspects here. If we had to go out on a limb with one team to watch it would probably be Oklahoma State as they look to be the most dangerous of the bunch. But in the South, anything can happen and probably will. Should be fun!

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2 Texas players charged with DWI to miss first 3 games
August 5, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -Texas defensive end Henry Melton and linebacker Sergio Kindle will miss the first three games of the 2007 season after being charged in separate DWI cases over the summer.

Melton and Kindle will also be held out of the first couple of days of practice and must perform community service for the team.

``I think we've got to send a message and kids have to learn,'' coach Mack Brown said on Sunday

The Longhorns reported Sunday for training camp for the upcoming season.

Kindle, a sophomore, was expected to compete for significant playing time this season. Nelson, a converted running back, had moved to defensive end full time in the spring.

Kindle and Nelson are among four Texas football players who were arrested and charged over the summer.

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Big 12 Preview: BCS or Bust for Texas, Colt McCoy     
Written by David Williams

With tailgate season just around the corner, Bleacher Report's David Williams is taking a tour around Division I-A.


North Division

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2)
Losses: USC (9/15), Texas A&M (10/20), at Texas (10/27)

Key Players: QB Sam Keller, IB Marlon Lucky, WR Maurice Purify, WR/KR Terrence Nunn, G Andy Christensen, G Matt Slauson, LB Bo Ruud, LB Corey McKeon, DT Ndamulong Suh, CB Cortney Grixby, CB Zackary Bowman

Newcomer: CB Armando Rumillo (JUCO Transfer)

While Nebraska’s transition from a traditional option offense to a West Coast system hasn’t been easy, Bill Callahan has the tools to lead his team to the Big 12 Championship Game in 2007.

The departure of QB Zac Taylor is mitigated by the arrival of senior Arizona State transfer Sam Keller, who might be better than his predecessor. Keller has size, a strong arm, and experience to boot.

I-backs Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn support Keller, as does an experienced, sure-handed receiving corps. The O-line will also be solid, led by guards Andy Christensen and Matt Slauson.

The “Blackshirt” defense’s strength, meanwhile, lies in its linebackers—the Cornhuskers have arguably the best in the Big 12 in Bo Ruud. The only concern may be the front four, which is relatively inexperienced and will struggle to replace first-round draft pick Adam Carriker.

Final verdict: Nebraska will be tested early and often. In September, the team travels east to play defending ACC champ Wake Forest before returning home to host USC. In October, the Cornhuskers face Texas A&M at home before traveling to Texas—and one of the most hostile environments in college football.


2. Missouri Tigers

Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: Nebraska (10/6), at Oklahoma (10/13), Texas A&M (11/10)

Key Players: QB Chase Daniel, RB Tony Temple, TE Martin Rucker, TE Chase Coffman, C Adam Spieker, T Tyler Luellen, DT Lorenzo Williams, DT Ziggy Hood, LB Brock Christopher, CB Darnell Terrell, K Jeff Wolfert

Newcomer: WR Jeremy Maclin

QB Chase Daniel gained national recognition with a breakout season in 2006.

Leading Missouri to an 8-5 record, Daniel threw for 3,527 yards and 28 touchdowns (against only 10 interceptions) with a 63.5 completion percentage. Most of the Mizzou offense is back this year, which means trouble for Big 12 defenses.

Daniel has two of the best tight ends in the country in Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. RB Tony Temple, meanwhile, gets to run behind an experienced offensive line anchored by C Adam Spieker.

The defense, unfortunately, could doom Missouri’ title hopes: Only four starters remain from a team that struggled mightily against the run. Defensive tackles Lorenzo Williams and Ziggy Hood provide an experienced foundation which could help improve that weakness.

Final verdict: Despite its shortcomings, Missouri will certainly compete for the Big 12 North title—and may even be able to steal a win against Texas A&M at home. The biggest test for the Tigers is their October 6th game at home against Nebraska. A win puts them in the driver's seat to play in San Antonio for a right to claim a BCS bid.


3. Colorado Buffaloes

Projected Record: 6-6 (4-4)
Wins: Colorado State (9/1), Miami University (9/22), at Baylor (10/6), Kansas (10/20), at Texas Tech (10/27), at Iowa State (11/10)

Key Players: RB Hugh Charles, WR Patrick Williams, T Edwin Harrison, C Daniel Sanders, TE Riar Greer, DT George Hypolite, LB Jordon Dizon, CB Terrence Wheatley

Newcomer: QB Cody Hawkins

Could someone remind us what division the Buffaloes play in? D-I football, you say?

Well it ain’t intramurals, brother.

Dan Hawkins’ now infamous rant on ESPN radio highlighted the despair of CU in 2006, when the first-year coach led his team to a 2-10 record. With a season under his belt and a few more experienced players at his disposal, Hawkins should do better in 2007—especially in this weak division.

Hawkins will lean on his son, redshirt freshman Cody Hawkins, at the quarterback position. Young, inexperienced quarterbacks generally spell trouble, but Hawkins has support from an excellent run game.

On defense, Jordon Dizon leads a solid front seven. However, the Buffaloes must improve upon a secondary that allowed an astounding 67 percent completion rate a year ago.

Final verdict: While Colorado should beat the lower-caliber teams in the Big 12—and possibly archrival Colorado State—the Buffaloes just don’t have the talent yet. Still, 6-6 would better than 2-10.


4. Kansas State Wildcats

Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5)
Losses: at Auburn (9/1), at Texas (9/29), Kansas (10/6), at Oklahoma State (10/20), at Nebraska (11/10), Missouri (11/17)

Key Players: QB Josh Freeman, RB James Johnson, RB Leon Patton, WR Jordy Nelson, DE Rob Jackson, DE Ian Campbell, CB Justin McKinney, S Marcus Watts, P Tim Reyer

Newcomer: LB Chris Patterson (JUCO transfer)

The play of sophomore QB Josh Freeman could determine the Wildcats’ fate in 2007.

Freeman has drawn comparisons to JaMarcus Russell due to his size (6’6”, 255 lbs.) and arm strength. If his play bears any resemblance to Russell’s this season, K-State could surprise some people.

If he throws six touchdowns and 15 interceptions like he did as a freshman, on the other hand, don’t expect the Wildcats to be anywhere near the Big 12 title.

The defense, which is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, will be led by All-Big 12 selection Ian Campbell.

Final verdict: One would guess that Freeman will fall somewhere between Russell’s standard and his freshman year form. If he continues to progress, and if the running game delivers, the Kansas State offense should at least be much more efficient. As long as State beats the Jayhawks and posts a winning record, it’s a salvaged season. At this point, neither is certain.


5. Kansas Jayhawks

Projected Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Wins: Central Michigan (9/1), SE Louisiana (9/8), FIU (9/22), at Kansas State (10/6), Baylor (10/13)

Key Players: QB Kerry Meier, TE Derek Fine, T Anthony Collins, DE Russell Brorsen, DT James McClinton, CB Aqib Talib

Newcomer: RB Brian Murphy

In 2006, Kansas quietly mounted one of the best rushing attacks in the Big 12 behind running back Jon Cornish.

With Cornish gone in 2007, the ‘Hawks will look to sophomore Jake Sharp and freshman Brian Murphy for continued success on the ground.

QB Kerry Meier performed adequately as a freshman, but will need to cut back on his mistakes (56.5 completion pct., 13/10 TD/INT) ratio) for Kansas to succeed this year.

CB Aqib Talib, the nation’s leader in pass breakups a year ago, is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. The defensive line is to blame for Kansas’ 119th-ranked pass defense (last in D-IA), as its rush was nonexistent.

Expect a slight improvement up front, but the D-Line is still bad.

Final verdict: Kansas is young and not very talented, but could win some games in the weak Big 12 North. Although their record may not reflect it, the team should get better as they gain confidence through the year.


6. Iowa State Cyclones

Projected Record: 4-8 (1-7)
Wins: Kent State (8/30), Northern Iowa (9/8), at Toledo (9/22), Kansas

Key Players: QB Bret Meyer, RB Jason Scales, WR Todd Blythe, TE Ben Barkema, LB Alvin Bowen, LB Jon Banks, S Caleb Berg, K Bret Culbertson

Newcomer: DT Michael Tate (JUCO transfer)

Last year was supposed to be the year for Iowa State. The Cyclones had experience at several positions...but failed to click and finished with a disappointing 4-8 record.

In 2007, QB Bret Meyer and WR Todd Blythe return for their senior seasons with not much in the way of support. The offensive line returns just one starter, and several junior college transfers will immediately start on O and D.

Iowa State won’t be able to compete with the Big 12 powers this year.

Final verdict: Coach Gene Chizik is trying to win sooner rather than later, as evidenced by his recruiting class of sophomore and junior transfers. However, the Cyclones still don’t have enough talent.


Big 12 North Offensive MVP: QB Chase Daniel, Missouri
Big 12 North Defensive MVP: LB Bo Ruud, Nebraska
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year: QB Cody Hawkins, Colorado


South Division

1. Texas Longhorns

Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Losses: at Texas A&M (11/23)

Key Players: QB Colt McCoy, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Limas Sweed, WR Billy Pittman, T Tony Hills, G Cedric Dockery, DT Frank Okam, DT Derek Lokey, LB Robert Killebrew, LB Rashad Bobino, S Marcus Griffin

Newcomer: CB Chykie Brown

Last year, Colt McCoy had the rather large task of replacing Vince Young at quarterback—and he did so masterfully.

Completing 68.2 percent of his passes, McCoy threw for 2,570 yards with 29 TDs against just 7 INTs. In fact, McCoy was having one of the best seasons of any QB in the country...until he injured his shoulder against Kansas State and wasn’t the same again.

This year, McCoy is healthy and is surrounded by elite athletes. Junior RB Jamaal Charles could make a run for the Heisman. WRs Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman and linemen Tony Hills and Cedric Dockery all have first-round NFL potential.

On defense, Frank Okam is the enforcer on the defensive line; he, Derek Lokey, and Roy Miller will make things tough for opponents on the ground. Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino make up a solid linebacker group—but Texas may struggle in the secondary, where they have to replace stalwarts Tarell Brown and Michael Griffin.

Final verdict: Texas may have a little trouble against TCU early in the season, but the Longhorns’ first big test is Oklahoma. An away game at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field could also cause problems. Remember, Texas is looking to go 12-0 (and then some) this season. One slip and they may not make the Big 12 title game.


2. Texas A&M Aggies

Projected Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: at Miami (9/20), at Oklahoma (11/3)

Key Players: QB Stephen McGee, RB Mike Goodson, RB Jorvorskie Lane, FB Chris Alexander, WR Earvin Taylor, TE Martellus Bennett, G Kirk Elder, C Cody Wallace, DE Chris Harrington, DT Red Bryant, S Devin Gregg

Newcomer: DE Amos Gbunblee

Aside from James Davis/C.J. Spiller and Darren McFadden/Felix Jones, Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson form the most dangerous running back combo in college football.

Thunder (Lane) and Lightning (Goodson) will have plenty of room to maneuver thanks to the Aggies skilled offensive line. The passing game, meanwhile, will feature the tough, poised Stephen McGee throwing to athletic tight end Martellus Bennett.

The pride of A&M’s defense is its line, led by Chris Harrington and Red Bryant. While the linebackers and D-backs are relative unknowns, several players, including former JUCO transfer LB Misi Tupe, are returning.

Final verdict: Aside from the obvious talent on offense, Texas A&M gets a huge boost from its “12th Man” fans at Kyle Field. Teams rarely come out of College Station with a win—and those who do have to claw for it.


3. Oklahoma Sooners

Projected Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Losses: Texas (10/6), Oklahoma State (11/24)

Key Players: RB Allen Patrick, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Malcolm Kelly, G George Robinson, C Jon Cooper, DT DeMarcus Granger, CB/KR/PR Reggie Smith, CB Marcus Walker, S Nic Harris, S D.J. Wolfe, K Garrett Hartley

Newcomer: RB DeMarco Murray

The departures of QB Paul Thompson and RB Adrian Peterson may not matter as much as you’d think.

Thompson was mobile as well as efficient, but can be replaced. With a wide receiver as good as Malcolm Kelly, former JUCO transfer QB Joey Halzle should be able to make a smooth transition into the starting role.

Peterson, on the other hand, was hurt for half of the year, and Allen Patrick ran for 127.6 yards per game as a starter in his place. Patrick will have highly-touted redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray pushing him for playing time.

The OU defense returns the best secondary in the Big 12, highlighted by shutdown corners Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker and safety D.J. Wolfe. Defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger and Cory Bennett add some size up front.

Oklahoma also has some of the best special teams units in the country. Kicker Garrett Hartley was a Lou Groza Award finalist after missing just one field goal in 20 attempts, and Reggie Smith is dangerous in the return game.

Final verdict: Bob Stoops always has Oklahoma in contention for the Big 12 title. This year will be no different, but new players in key roles have to perform well for the Sooners to land a BCS bid.


4. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Texas A&M (10/6), at Nebraska (10/13), Texas (11/3)

Key Players: QB Bobby Reid, RB Dantrell Savage, RB Keith Toston, WR Adarius Bowman, TE Brandon Pettigrew, C David Washington, DE Marque Fountain, LB Patrick Levine, LB Chris Collins, S Andre Sexton

Newcomer: WR Dez Bryant

Oklahoma State will surprise some people this year.

The Cowboys return the nation’s seventh-best rushing attack (208.0 yards per game), led by running backs Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston and dual-threat quarterback Bobby Reid.

Reid can also produce with his arm, having passed for 2,266 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a year ago. He’ll be throwing primarily to Biletnikoff Award candidate WR Adarius Bowman in 2007.

OSU’s secondary will need to be strong as the Cowboys break in an entirely new group of defensive linemen. Sophomore linebackers Chris Collins and Patrick Levine should be the glue that holds the defense together.

Final verdict: The biggest issue for Oklahoma State is its tough schedule: The Cowboys open the season at Georgia, then have to play Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma on the road. This team is talented enough to hold their own against those opponents, though—and could even win a few.


5. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)
Wins: at SMU (9/3), UTEP (9/8), at Rice (9/15), Northwestern State (9/29), Iowa State (10/6), at Baylor (11/3)

Key Players: QB Graham Harrell, RB Shannon Woods, WR/PR Danny Amendola, DE Jake Ratliff, CB Chris Parker, S Darcel McBath, S Joe Garcia

Newcomer: WR Michael Crabtree

Some observers have written off Graham Harrell as just another system quarterback in Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense, but there’s no denying his ability.

The issues for the Red Raiders this year concern the departures of three of their top receivers and a running game that looks to again be one of the worst in Division I football.

One can only rely so much on a talented quarterback.

The solid secondary is led by strong safety Joe Garcia. Other than that, the unit is inexperienced.

Final verdict: If it weren’t for Tech’s soft out-of-conference schedule—which consists of three small schools in Texas and one D-IAA school in Louisiana—they’d be in worse shape. Then again, Texas Tech would be in the middle of the pack or better in the Big 12 North.
 

6. Baylor Bears

Projected Record: 2-10 (0-8)
Wins: Texas State (9/22), at Buffalo (9/29)

Key Players: QB Michael Machen, OL Jason Smith, OL Dan Gay, DT Vincent Rhodes, LB Joe Pawelek, S Dwain Crawford

Newcomer: RB Jay Finley

Led by senior QB Shawn Bell, Baylor was 11th in the nation in passing in 2006.

With Bell gone, the Bears will lean on an unproven journeyman quarterback and a run game that was last in the country with 40.2 yards per game a year ago.

The defense, for its part, has a few good individual players who will allow the Bears to stay fairly competitive in some games.

Final verdict: Baylor has been among the dregs of the Big 12 for some time now. That trend will continue. Forget being the worst team in its conference—Baylor may be the 8th-best team in Texas, behind UT, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Rice, Houston, and SMU.


Big 12 South Offensive MVP: QB Colt McCoy, Texas
Big 12 South Defensive MVP: DT Frank Okam, Texas
Big 12 South Newcomer of the Year: RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

All-Big 12 Conference

Offense

QB – Colt McCoy, So., Texas
RB – Jamaal Charles, Jr., Texas
RB – Mike Goodson, Jr., Texas A&M
WR – Malcolm Kelly, Jr., Oklahoma
WR – Adarius Bowman, Sr., Oklahoma State
TE – Martin Rucker, Sr., Missouri
OL – Matt Slauson, Jr., Nebraska
OL – Adam Spieker, Sr., Missouri
OL – Kirk Elder, Sr., Texas A&M
OL – Tony Hills, Sr., Texas
OL – George Robinson, Jr., Oklahoma

Defense

DT – Frank Okam, Sr., Texas
DT – Red Bryant, Sr., Texas A&M
DT – James McClinton, Sr., Kansas
DE/LB – Ian Campbell, Jr., Kansas State
LB – Bo Ruud, Sr., Nebraska
LB – Chris Collins, So., Oklahoma State
LB – Jordon Dizon, Sr., Colorado
CB – Reggie Smith, Jr., Oklahoma
CB – Aqib Talib, Jr., Kansas
S – Nic Harris, Jr., Oklahoma

Big 12 Championship Game

Texas over Nebraska

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

2007 Sleeper Candidates (Big 12)    
       
In our next installment of sleepers for the 2007 season, we’ll travel to the middle of the country and take a look at the Big 12. The Big 12 houses quite a few interesting teams – from the pass happy Texas Tech to the rebuilding Iowa State Cyclones. With the wealth of talent in the conference, there is no shortage of fantasy options and owners can find plenty of productive players all across the board (see Colorado QB Cody Hawkins). The Big 12 South is definitely the power of the conference and while the North has some catching up to do, there have been signs things may be improving. Although the conference is home to a dearth of talented players, fantasy owners will want to watch these players in particular as picks to be sleepers in your fantasy league.


-- Quarterbacks --

Cody Hawkins, Colorado

Of course, everyone should know about Hawkins and his relation to the head coach for the Buffaloes, but he falls in this category for his production. You shouldn’t expect the redshirt freshman to dominate the Big 12 in his first year, but I think he will surprise some people. Hawkins should be very familiar with his father’s scheme and the Buffaloes have the talent around him to make a jump in the standings. Additionally, Hawkins should only improve as the season continues to go along. Why can you consider him a sleeper? After last season’s dreadful year, all Buffaloes will be underrated in 2007.

Michael Machen, Baylor

If you read our preseason fantasy quarterback rankings, you should see Machen in the mix in our top 50. He may not be a true sleeper, but there’s definite reasons to consider him as underrated. I don’t want to ruffle the Baylor faithful with this one – but really, if the Bears are going to struggle as bad as everyone thinks they are this year – it’s possible Machen will throw 35-50 times a game. Even though Shawn Bell is gone from campus, the Bears will still keep their spread offense intact.

Oklahoma quarterback

You have to consider the winner of the Sooner quarterback mix (Keith Nichol, Sam Bradford, Joey Halzle) a sleeper. The quarterback should be more of a caretaker for the offense, but the winner could put up quality fantasy numbers in games. Last year’s starter Paul Thompson passed for more than 250 yards in four performances and passed for two or more touchdowns in a game nine times. Not exactly setting the fantasy world on fire, but the Sooners always find a way to get their quarterback going and if Nichol wins it – we could have a sleeper dual-threat on our hands.


-- Running Backs --

P.T. Gates, Colorado

Hugh Charles is a fine back and he’ll continue to carry the rock for the Buffaloes. However, head coach Dan Hawkins would like to work in a second back and Gates appears ripe for the job. Gates is a junior college transfer from Saddleback College and the 5’11, 190 pound back will immediately contribute time in the fall. I don’t think Gates will start (at least right away), but I think he’s a quality player and will cut into Charles’ carries this season.

J.J. Bass, Iowa State

New head coach Gene Chizik hit the junior college ranks hard and Bass is one of his prized recruits. Bass was considered one of the better junior college running backs last year and he’ll get a shot during fall camp at starting. With Stevie Hicks gone, the competition to replace him is wide open. Bass rushed for more than 1200 yards and compiled 13 scores last season on the JUCO level, while leading his team to a California state junior championship. The Cyclones desperately need someone to step up at running back and help take the pressure off of quarterback Bret Meyer – maybe Bass is that someone.

Jake Sharp, Kansas

The Jayhawks are going to miss Jon Cornish and there’s no doubt the running game won’t be as strong, at least in the early going this year. The Jayhawks think they may have a pretty good replacement in Sharp. Sharp played in 12 games last year and compiled 21 carries for 131 yards – an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. While keeping that average high once again may be a chore, there’s no denying this Jayhawk has a lot of speed and potential in 2007.


-- Wide Receivers --

Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

Some call him “Dez” others call him Desmond – but he’s definitely one to watch this year. The Cowboy receiving corps are a concern – Anthony Parks left the team, Artrell Woods is out for the year and D’Juan Woods graduated – which leaves Bryant in a position to immediately contend for starting snaps. Bryant was widely considered one of the top 100 players in high school last season and there’s good reason when you consider his stats his senior year – 53 receptions for 1207 yards and 21 touchdowns. Someone has to catch passes other than Adarius Bowman and Bryant is a sleeper pick to be that guy.

Justin Fenty, Baylor

For any fantasy owner looking for a little help in the receiver department, definitely consider any Baylor receiver who is able to see playing time in 2007. Fenty caught 19 balls for 183 yards and one touchdown last year, but is someone I think is due for a breakout season. The Bears have to replace a couple of targets at receiver and while the starting quarterback may be a question mark, in an offense that could throw 35-50 times per game, you have to consider Fenty as a sleeper candidate.


-- Tight Ends --

Riar Geer, Colorado

The Buffaloes were dreadful with the forward pass last year, but Geer was selected to a few Freshman All-American teams. However, for fantasy owners, there wasn’t many points scored in his 24 catch season. His catches, receiving yards and three touchdowns were team bests – so there’s plenty of room for improvement. Look for Geer to be an even bigger part of the offense in 2007 and he should immediately become the top weapon for the Buffaloes new starting quarterback.


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Texas has question marks, but is Big 12 favorite
August 8, 2007

Associated Press

A sixth straight 10-win season was no reason to celebrate at Texas.

The Longhorns went 10-3 in 2006, but dropped their last two regular-season games, including a 12-7 stunner to rival Texas A&M. The Longhorns settled for a trip in the Alamo Bowl after botching a golden chance to win the Big 12 South.

Not good enough. Not after Vince Young took them to the national championship the previous year.

"There's been a real high standard set at our place now," coach Mack Brown said.

The Longhorns have enough talent this season to bull their way into the national-title discussion and again be the favorites to win the Big 12 -- though they have some holes to fill.

Texas lost 10 starters from last season, most of them on the offensive line and in the secondary. Brown also needs a backup quarterback and has to break in a new defensive coordinator after Gene Chizik left for Iowa State.

"We have a lot of question marks with our team," Brown said.

One big certainty is quarterback Colt McCoy, who returns after an impressive freshman season. The offense should be one of the nation's most explosive, with Limas Sweed and Quan Cosby heading a veteran pack of receivers and 2006 leading rusher Jamaal Charles spearheading the ground attack.

The Longhorns had the third-best rushing defense in the country last season (61 yards per game) and massive tackles Frank Okam, Derek Lokey and Roy Miller return, along with all the linebackers. Texas ranked 99th in pass defense (236 yards per game) and -- for better or worse -- only one starter is back in the secondary.

The list of capable challengers to Texas is long.

Texas A&M and Missouri are positioned for breakout seasons, Nebraska is strong again and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech still have the offenses to spring an upset or two.

And as usual, Oklahoma is the most formidable contender of all. Like the Longhorns, the Sooners have some preseason questions, most notably at quarterback.

The situation is not nearly as dire as it was last August, when Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team and converted receiver Paul Thompson was thrown in as a last-minute replacement. This year, Sooners coach Bob Stoops has more time to evaluate three contenders for the job.

Junior Joey Halzle is the most experienced of the trio, but he only appeared in two games in 2006. Redshirt freshman Sam Bradford and true freshman Keith Nichol are also in the mix.

The Sooners also have gaps to fill at linebacker, but they should again have one of the nation's top secondaries. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in scoring defense last year, giving up only 17 points per game.

A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

South

TEXAS -- McCoy threw for 2,570 yards and completed 68 percent of his passes. He says he's fully recovered from a pinched nerve in his neck that hampered him in the finale against A&M. ... Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff will share defensive coordinator duties. ... Redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris and true freshman John Chiles will compete for the backup quarterback job.

OKLAHOMA -- The starting quarterback, whoever he is, will have a loaded offense around him. Most of the line is back, as are the top five receivers from last year, including all-Big 12 pick Malcolm Kelly. ... The Sooners may not miss Adrian Peterson all that much. Senior Allen Patrick (761 yards, four TDs) and sophomore Chris Brown (343 yards, six TDs) shared the load when Peterson broke his collarbone last year, and Stoops thinks redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray may be the most explosive back of the three.

TEXAS A&M -- The Aggies have 15 starters back, including quarterback Stephen McGee. The junior threw for 2,295 yards and completed 62 percent of his passes in 2006. ... A&M has one of the league's most varied running back tandems with 265-pound battering ram Jorvorskie Lane (725 yards, 19 TDs) and speedster Michael Goodson (847 yards, four TDs). ... The defense allowed more than 330 yards in five of last seven games, including 476 in the Holiday Bowl loss to Cal.

OKLAHOMA STATE -- WR Adarius Bowman (60 receptions, 1,181 yards, 12 TDs) might be a Heisman Trophy contender. Bowman averaged 19.7 yards per catch and had five TD catches of 50 yards or longer in 2006. ... Dual-threat quarterback Bobby Reid threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for five more. ... The Cowboys gave up 26 points per game last season and ranked ninth in the league in total defense (364 yards per game).

TEXAS TECH -- QB Graham Harrell threw for 4,555 yards in 2006, more than 1,000 yards more than the next closest quarterback in the Big 12 (Chase Daniel). He led the league in total offense (345 yards), completions (412) and TD passes (38), though he also threw 11 interceptions. ... Texas Tech had the nation's third-best passing offense in 2006 (370 yards per game), though they led the nation in the previous four seasons.

BAYLOR -- Like the Sooners, the Bears are looking for a starting quarterback. Kent State transfer Michael Machen is the front-runner, though Coach Guy Morriss says junior-college transfer John David Weed "has closed the gap." ... Baylor had the worst rushing defense in the Big 12 (191 yards per game) in 2006.

------

North

MISSOURI -- The Tigers may never get a better shot at tiptoeing to the top of the league. QB Chase Daniel (3,527 yards, 28 TDs) is one of nine starters returning for an offense that averaged 426 yards and 30 points per game in 2006. ... Missouri started 6-0 last year, then lost five of its last seven when the defense allowed an average of 26 points. ... The same day Texas plays Oklahoma, Missouri hosts Nebraska in an equally pivotal game in the Big 12 North.

NEBRASKA -- A killer schedule could mask how good the Cornhuskers will be. The nonconference slate includes a road trip to defending ACC champ Wake Forest and a showdown with Southern California in Lincoln a week later. ... Arizona transfer Sam Keller steps in to replace QB Zac Taylor (3,197 yards, 26 TDs) who was the league's top offensive player in 2006.

KANSAS STATE -- QB Josh Freeman (1,780 yards, six TDs) threw 15 interceptions last season as a freshman and must cut down that total and gain more consistency. ... The road schedule is brutal -- the Wildcats open at Auburn and finish the season at Fresno State. In between are games at Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. ... Junior LB Ian Campbell led the Big 12 in solo tackles for loss (15).

COLORADO -- The Buffaloes are also auditioning quarterbacks and the candidates are junior-college transfer Nick Nelson and Cody Hawkins, the son of Coach Dan Hawkins. Colorado had the Big 12's worst offense in 2006, averaging 16 points and 291 yards. ... The Buffs lost five defensive starters, including Big 12 sacks leader Abe Wright.

KANSAS -- The Jayhawks went 6-6 in 2006, but blew four second-half leads. Kansas was outscored five times in the fourth quarter. ... Eight starters return for a defense that ranked third in the league against the rush (109 yards per game). ... Kansas must replace RB Jon Cornish, the league's leading rusher.

IOWA STATE -- Chizik was hired to shore up a defense that gave up 31 points and 392 yards per game last season. Seven defensive starters return, including linebacker Alvin Bowen, the league's top tackler in 2006. ... WR Todd Blythe (34 catches, 484 yards) has 124 career receptions for 2,317 yards and 26 touchdowns.

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

Big 12 - Sooners or Longhorns?
August 17th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What a difference a year makes. The conference was on top of the world two seasons ago after Texas won the National Championship, and the league as a whole went 31-5 in non-conference play. Last season, the Big 12 placed zero teams in AP's Top 10 and its out-of- conference record was just 25-20. The decline was felt in the bowl games as well, as the league did a complete 180 going 3-5 SU and 2-6 ATS as opposed to 5-3 SU and 6-2 ATS the year before.

Almost all college football preseason magazines have Texas winning the South and Nebraska winning the North. They are half-right, with the Cornhuskers having the most talent in the North. However, the Longhorns will not beat out Oklahoma. Read on for the reasons why, along with the rest of the conference predictions and odds to win the BCS National Championship:

SOUTH DIVISION

1) OKLAHOMA (12-1) - The Sooners endured an outlandish summer last year, which left them a wreck in the early going. This season will be a much smoother ride to the top.

Strengths - Oklahoma's defense was a bit of a disappointment despite finishing 19th in the country in scoring (17.3 ppg) and 16th in total "D" (287 ypg). This season, with seven starters returning, the Sooners will end up in the top five in both categories. In addition, the secondary could be the best in the nation. The loss of RB Adrian Peterson will not hurt as much as people think, as the DeMarco Murray-Allen Patrick combo will ring up better numbers than the Peterson-Patrick duo. All top receivers return, along with four starters from the offensive line. Another reason Oklahoma will hold off Texas is the kicking game. Garrett Hartley was 19-of-20 last year in FG accuracy and despite the new rule pushing kickoffs back to the 30 yard-line, he has consistently placed his kicks into the end zone in the early fall practices.

Weaknesses - Who will start at quarterback? The three-headed monster of Sam Bradford, Joey Halzle and Keith Nichol continue to impress (with Bradford expected to get the nod), but that group is not in the same league as Paul Thompson, who fared very well after being thrust into the starting role after the suspension of Rhett Bomar.

Bottom Line - The Sooners were -5 in turnover margin in their 28-10 loss to Texas, despite outgaining the Longhorns by over 100 yards. Oklahoma's schedule is extremely conducive to an undefeated season, with Miami-Florida, Texas A&M and Missouri all coming to Norman. The only concern will come in the national title game, since it's been four years since an unproven quarterback (Matt Leinart) guided his team to the top. In regards to the spread, the Sooners are only 4-10-2 as a road favorite the last five seasons.

2) TEXAS (10-1) - Colt McCoy's injuries late in the season prevented the Longhorns from finishing in the AP's final Top 10 rankings, but if he stays healthy, they could make a run at it this year.

Strengths - McCoy will pass for more yards this season than any Texas quarterback since the days of Chris Simms and Major Applewhite. His primary target, Limas Sweed, will catch more balls than any Longhorn receiver since Roy Williams. Running back Jamaal Charles will rush for over 1,000 yards. On the defensive side, the front seven is among the best in the nation, with five returning starters from a unit that finished third in the country against the run.

Weaknesses - Texas must overcome its least experienced offensive line since 2003. The two-deep unit offers up just 26 career starts, as opposed to 76 to begin last year. Another cause for concern is the secondary where Aaron Ross, Tarell Brown and Michael Griffin all must be replaced.

Bottom Line - This club has some holes, which other teams will exploit throughout the season. Still, there's enough talent here for a solid campaign, just not a championship one. Texas will go 9-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play. Take away the 'Horns title season in '05 and they are only 10-12 ATS since 2004.

3) TEXAS A&M (60-1) - Last year's schedule, which produced a 9-3 regular season, was as easy as it gets with Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all coming to College Station. This year, all those contests are on the road, along with a trip to Miami-Florida.

Strengths - Schedule aside, this team is for real and will continue to pile up wins as 15 starters return, including nine on offense. The O-line is as good as Oklahoma's and the RB twosome of Mike Goodson and Jorvorski Lane is one of the best in the country. In addition, Stephen McGee tossed a mere two picks in 313 attempts. Even with all that offensive talent, the main reason A&M improved from 5-6 to 9-3 was its pass coverage. The secondary, which returns both starting CBs, gave up under 200 yards per game, a dramatic decrease from over 300 yards allowed in '05.

Weaknesses - Despite all its offensive weapons, Texas A&M finished just ninth- best in conference play with 24 points per game. In addition, the Aggies will be without their two leading receivers from a year ago.

Bottom Line - Even with the difficult schedule, the Aggies will still go 8-4, 5-3 in the Big 12. They won't finish 8-3-1 ATS this year, but they are 5-0-1 the last three seasons as a home underdog.

4) OKLAHOMA STATE (50-1) - The Cowboys offense ranked second in Big 12 play after finishing in 10th place in '05. That improvement carried them to a 7-6 season and a bowl victory over Alabama.

Strengths - The passing offense, led by the Bobby Reid-Adaruis Bowman connection, sparkled with 27 touchdown tosses. The Cowboys allowed just 13 sacks in their last 10 games and the rushing totals increased from 3.9 ypc to 5.2 ypc. Another angle that cannot be overlooked is turnovers. Oklahoma State coughed up the ball over 30 times in its eight league games back in '05, but cut that figure down to 13 last year. Defensively, the top seven tacklers all return.

Weaknesses - Speaking of the defense, the unit allowed 30 ppg and 4.8 yards per carry, both good for 10th place in conference play. All four defensive linemen must be replaced, but this unit won't be as bad as one might think. Two seniors will man the end spots and they bring with them 20 career starts with 22 sacks.

Bottom Line - The talent in Stillwater is improving, but more importantly, the confidence level is sky-high. Eight wins is in the cards this season, with five coming in conference play, setting up a three-way tie for second place. The Cowboys are 7-2 as an away favorite the last six years.

5) TEXAS TECH (300-1) - The Red Raiders' chance to build on their 17 wins the previous two seasons might be small, as only 10 starters return in '07.

Strengths - For the first time since 2002, a Texas Tech quarterback will start consecutive seasons. Graham Harrell has a chance to become the school's all- time passing leader if he puts up similar numbers the next two years. The secondary, which returns three starters, has finished in second place in league play against the pass each of the last three years.

Weaknesses - The defensive backfield better be solid, because eight of the Red Raiders' top 11 tacklers from the front seven have used up their eligibility. Offensively, Harrell will not have the protection he had last season, as only one starting O-lineman returns. In fact, the four that left started 51 of 52 games in '06. In addition, wideouts Joel Filani and Robert Johnson must be replaced.

Bottom Line - Tech should still win seven games, but only three will come in conference play. The Red Raiders went OVER the total nine times last season, and look for similar numbers with the defense on a downswing.

6) BAYLOR (100-1 - Field) - Baylor has not had a winning season since 1995 and won't come anywhere close in '07.

Strengths - The Bears ranked 110th in the country last year in scoring (32.6 ppg) and total defense (408 yards). With seven starters returning, the unit has to improve, especially vs. the run. Baylor allowed 191 yards per game while recording just 11 sacks, only five in its eight Big 12 games.

Weaknesses - The Bears' own running game was invisible last year finishing 119th in the nation averaging just 40 yards per game. The offense begins 2007 with a whole new set of skill position players, which will halt any progress Baylor made the past couple of years.

Bottom Line - The Bears should beat Texas State and might defeat Rice. Other than that, there will be zero opportunities to post a victory. They will also fail to go .500 against the spread.

NORTH DIVISION

1) NEBRASKA (40-1) - The Cornhuskers have improved two games apiece in each of the last two seasons. If that happens again, they will go 11-1.

Strengths - Zac Taylor leaves as the leading passer in Nebraska history, but former Arizona State starter Sam Keller should post fine numbers over the course of the season in Lincoln. The 'Huskers bring back the most explosive set of receivers in the conference now that Maurice Purify has been reinstated. Nebraska has the top defense in the North, and if cornerback Zackary Bowman (ACL) returns at any point of the season, the "D" will be that much stronger.

Weaknesses - The entire front four and its 19 sacks must be replaced, but as is the case with most of the high-ranking programs, the Cornhuskers will just reload, rather than rebuild. Keller might struggle early as he adjusts to the west-coast offense, and with games against Wake Forest and USC in early September, it could have a ripple effect heading into Big 12 play.

Bottom Line - Nebraska will not win 11 games, but it is better than Missouri and will win the North. Nine victories, six in the conference, will get the Cornhuskers into a decent bowl game.

2) MISSOURI (25-1) - The only reason the Tigers are lower odds than Nebraska is the fact the Cornhuskers must travel to Columbia this season.

Strengths - Chase Daniel was super in his initial campaign under center with over 3,500 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. Both tight ends (Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker) are back in '07, along with wideout William Franklin. Not to mention 1,000-yard rusher Tony Temple.

Weaknesses - Whatever positives the Tigers possess on offense will be matched with negatives on the defensive side of the ball. The unit allowed 254 points (19.5 ppg) last season, but those numbers are extremely misleading. Thirteen of the top 17 tacklers returned from '05 making the unit an experienced one, and defense gave up only 37 points in its four non-conference games. The Tigers finished next-to-last in conference play against the run (184 ypg) after allowing just 175 TOTAL in their first four contests. This year they lose five of their top seven tacklers and only eight of their top 17 return.

Bottom Line - Missouri's offensive prowess will lead the club to a 9-3 mark with all three losses coming in the Big 12. The Tigers are 12-12 ATS the last two years, despite a 15-10 SU record.

3) KANSAS STATE (300-1) - Ron Prince guided the Wildcats to their first winning season since 2003 in his first year after replacing the legendary Bill Snyder.

Strengths - Kansas State went the JUCO route to rebuild its team, which was one reason why many starters were lost on a yearly basis. However, 16 starters returned last year and 15 come back in '07, so look for continued improvement on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Josh Freeman picked up his play as the season progressed, completing over 60% of his passes the final five games as opposed to just over 40% his first eight. The Wildcats' top run producer (Leon Patten) and receiving leader (Jordy Nelson) will post stronger numbers in their second season under Prince.

Weaknesses - The 'Cats must move ahead without their top two leading tacklers, but the team has better depth this year to withstand such losses. On the other hand, they don't possess the level of talent that Nebraska or Missouri has.

Bottom Line - Kansas State is a year away from reaching that level. Until then, look for another 7-5, 4-4 record. Don't forget, the Wildcats are 6-1 as home favorites the last two years.

4) COLORADO (200-1) - Dan Hawkins left Boise State for the greener pastures of Colorado. What he didn't expect was a 2-10 record in his initial season in Boulder.

Strengths - The offense, which took a while to get on track, came to life in week six as the Buffaloes averaged 21 ppg in their final seven contests. Last year's QB Bernard Jackson threw for a league-worst 120 yards per game, but help is on the way in the form of Hawkins' son, Cody, who will start from day one.

Weaknesses - Despite the improvements, the offense averaged just 10 ppg against the top defensive teams in the league. One defensive area that must be addressed is the secondary, which allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67% of their passes.

Bottom Line - Colorado will be one of the most improved teams in the country yet its record might not reflect it, with out-of conference games vs. Colorado State, Arizona State and Florida State. The Buffs have improved their talent level and will go 4-4 in the Big 12, along with a 5-7 overall record. They will also end the season above the .500 mark ATS.

5) KANSAS (100-1 - Field) - The Jayhawks have not had a seven-win regular season since 1995 and the odds of them reaching that mark this year are extremely remote.

Strengths - Anytime a defense loses eight starters (unless you're Ohio State), the unit will regress, and that's exactly what happened to Kansas last season. However, its "D" still finished third in Big 12 play allowing 3.8 ypc, and the secondary, led by star cornerback Aqib Talib, held opposing quarterbacks to just a 55% completion rate. Look for those numbers to improve even more with eight starters back. Sophomore QB Kerry Meier held his own in '06 guiding Kansas to four wins in his eight starts as a freshman. He has a wealth of receiving options, which led the coaching staff to send freshman Chris Harris to the defensive backfield.

Weaknesses - Kansas is banking on Jake Sharp replacing 1,457-yard rusher Jon Cornish. The sophomore was highly touted coming out of high school and he did rush for over six yards per carry in limited action last year. However, he'll be running behind a line that lost all three of its interior starters.

Bottom Line - An easy non-conference schedule will allow the Jayhawks to reach six wins for a third straight season. However, they will not be a factor in the conference race with just two victories. KU is 5-1 as a home underdog since 2004.

6) IOWA STATE (100-1 - Field) - After finishing in a second place tie two straight years, the Cyclones fell to the bottom of the division with a 1-7 mark. It will be a miracle if they move up in the standings.

Strengths - The defense was so bad last season that it can only go in one direction. Iowa State allowed 31 ppg and opposing QBs lit up the defense with an alarming 72.5% completion rate. Seven starters do return, which should ease the pain for new head coach Gene Chizik. The QB-WR connection of Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe returns for a fourth straight season and there are a host of running backs (Jason Scales, J.J. Bass and Jason Harris) to lessen the burden placed on them.

Weaknesses - The skill position players may not be able to strut their stuff if the offensive line doesn't improve. The unit gave up 38 sacks last season, including 20 in a four-game stretch to Oklahoma, Texas Tech, K-State and Kansas. To make matters worse, only one starter is back and the line as a whole returns just 12 career starts. Three of the defense's top four playmakers have used up their eligibility, taking with them 18 of the club's 24 sacks.

Bottom Line - Chizik had tons of success as a defensive coordinator with Auburn and Texas, but has his work cut out for him at Iowa State. Look for no more than three wins, with one of them coming in league play. Stay away from wagering on the Cyclones.

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Injuries mounting at WR for Texas
Associated Press

That deep and talented group of Texas receivers is taking a beating.
On Saturday, No. 4 Texas announced that senior Billy Pittman is out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury, news that comes just a few days after senior Limas Sweed sprained his left wrist, leaving his status in question for the Sept. 1 season opener against Arkansas State.

Pittman hurt the shoulder in practice Friday and was in a sling Saturday, according to Texas officials, who did not disclose how he was hurt. Trainer Kenny Boyd said the injury was still being evaluated but that Pittman would be out indefinitely.

Pittman has 69 catches for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns over the past two seasons.

"I felt like I was having a really good camp and in the best shape of my career so I'm pretty disappointed about getting hurt," Pittman said. "I have faith in our doctors, trainers and strength staff that they will get me back as soon as possible, hopefully for the first game."

Sweed injured his left wrist when he fell after a catch in a scrimmage Wednesday. He told reporters on Friday he has good range of motion in the wrist and that a protective sleeve he's wearing makes it look worse than it feels.

"There's nothing really wrong," Sweed said. "It looks like I broke it in 30 different places."

Sweed tied a school record with 12 TD catches last season and was one of the top deep-threat receivers in the country with 46 catches for 801 yards.

Texas' passing attack is a big reason why the Longhorns are ranked in the top five in the preseason rankings for the third straight year.

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Big 12 Conference Preview

Oklahoma and Texas lead a competitive South division

It doesn't get much bigger than the Big 12. On the list of toughest divisions in the nation, the Big 12 South sits just behind the SEC East, and the big games here are some of the biggest there are. With the exception of Baylor, the division is loaded with offensive talent in Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The spread offenses in this conference are thrilling to watch, racking up huge point totals behind strong-armed quarterbacks and uncoverable wide receivers.

As usual in these parts, Texas and Oklahoma are the teams to beat, but neither is the invincible team of years past. Oklahoma has yet to name a quarterback and has some questions on defense, while Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's pomp and circumstance seem to have eclipsed the Longhorns' pitiful run game and defensive secondary. Texas A&M will lead the charge on the ground with a two-headed running back monster, Texas Tech will win through the air behind Graham Harrell's 4,500-plus yards throwing and Oklahoma State will run the nation's most balanced offense yet again. Look for high scores and plays the size of Texas when these teams take the field.

The North division is certainly the weaker of the two, but Missouri could surprise a lot of people with quarterback Chase Daniel throwing to a tight end duo that creates mismatches everywhere it steps. Nebraska will need to sort out its quarterback situation and improve its defense before taking another trip to the championship game, but it's not out of the question. Kansas State's young team should pull off another Texas-caliber upset this season, Colorado should pull itself back to respectability and Gene Chizik will whip the Cyclones into shape in his first year at Iowa State.

Oct. 6 will be a big day in both divisions: the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma will be as big as always, but Nebraska's trip to Missouri will have just as many implications for the conference championship. Expect McCoy to lead Texas back to that hallowed ground, and if Missouri makes the right adjustments, the Tigers should be facing the Longhorns in San Antonio on Dec. 1.

North Division

Missouri - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 4-4 Big 12


Offense

With every weapon returning from last year's unit, ranked No. 8 in the nation, and quarterback Chase Daniel still under center, Missouri should be a potent point-scorer this season. Daniel threw for 3,906 yards last season and comes into his junior year looking for his third consecutive bowl appearance. With an All-American tight end tandem in 6-foot-6 powers Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, he should have no trouble finding it.

"I think it's pretty unique what we have," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "We have two of the best tight ends in the nation. They both have great speed, they can make plays, they're unselfish. We can move them around on offense, we can put them anywhere on the field."

Rucker is regarded as the better blocker, while Coffman is the better receiver, but look for more sets with both on the field, either at receiver or in the backfield. Wide receiver Will Franklin, who would have had a 1,000 yard-season if not for a late shoulder injury, completes the conference's most explosive pass-catching trio.

As the Big 12's leading returning rusher, tailback Tony Temple will help balance the spread attack. Two four-year starters anchor an experienced offensive line.

Defense

The only thing standing between Missouri and a Big 12 North title is its defense. With five last season's top six tacklers gone, Pinkel enlisted the help of six JUCO transfers for immediate help. Senior nose tackle Lorenzo Williams will anchor the defense, as long as the leg problem that kept him out of spring ball stays quiet. He and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood are the best players from last year's group, but depth is a problem at every position.

Brock Christopher is the only returning linebacker with starting experience. Freshmen Michael Keck and Luke Lambert graduated early to join spring practice, and could see playing time from the get-go. Corner Domonique Johnson left the team in the spring, leaving room for Hardy Ricks and Castine Bridges to fight for the remaining spot opposite Darnell Terrell, Missouri's active career leader in interceptions (3).

The Skinny

The Tigers' offense put them in a position to win last season, and everything looked good at the halfway point. But then the bottom fell out on the defense and a 6-0 start was followed by a 2-5 finish, the lowlight being the 39-38 Sun Bowl loss to Oregon State.

Partly to blame was the special teams - the Tigers' net punting average ranked 104th in the nation and their kickoff returns were 115th. Junior college transfer Jake Harry should give Missouri the punting expertise it needs to get out of the kicking doghouse, but Williams saw the defense to blame for the second half breakdown.

"Our first six games you hardly ever see anybody outside of where they're supposed to be," Williams said. "The second six games, everybody's all over the place. People try to think too much; you just gotta do what you're supposed to do."

The Tigers' schedule puts them in perfect position to win their division - the two neutral site games are closer to home games, and three of the bigger conference games - Nebraska, Texas A&M and Texas Tech - will be played in Columbia. The Oct. 6 matchup against the Cornhuskers will make or break the season for the Tigers, who will take the North as long as the defense holds.

Regular Season Prediction: 10-2 Overall, 6-2 Big 12


Nebraska - 2006: 9-5 Overall, 6-2 Big 12

Offense

With the Big 12 offensive player of the year gone, Nebraska has five players all in contention for the quarterback spot, and none will know who the man will be until the last week in August. Arizona State transfer Sam Keller is the likely candidate, passing for 2,100 yards in seven Pac-10 games in 2005. But experienced junior Joe Ganz heads up the long list of competitors, with junior college transfer Zac Lee, Patrick Witt and Beau Davis all in the mix. The uncertainty under center does not worry head coach Bill Callahan.

"Our players know exactly where they stand day in and day out," Callahan said. "When they go on the practice field they know what's expected of them, they know the line of communication is wide open, so that's what makes for great competition at that spot."

Senior wide receiver Maurice Purify, heralded as the team's best offensive player, will step in after he serves his one-game suspension for off-season behavior. Purify led the team in receiving yards and caught seven TD passes in only five starts. He'll be joined by Terrence Nunn in effectively running the west coast offense. Senior tight end J.B. Phillips also returns to help the receiving corps.

Marlon Lucky and Cody Glen are complementary backfield threats, but Glenn was hampered by injury throughout the spring. Recruiting has brought in a bigger, deeper offensive line than ever before, which should give ample time to the quarterback, whoever he may be.

Defense

Linebackers Corey McKeon and Bo Ruud are the strength of the Huskers' 4-3 defense, but the entire group is going to have to be better than last year's 56th best performance. Ruud moves from the weak to the strong side this season to give a boost to the pass rush. Cortney Grixby and Andre Jones return at corner, where they will be pushed by junior college transfer Armando Murillo.

The entire front four cleared out, leaving a wealth of inexperience to fill the shoes of guys like conference Defensive Lineman of the Year Adam Carriker. Three junior college defensive tackles should help bridge the gap, but the concern on defense is the line.

The Skinny

Nebraska was plagued by turnovers last season, especially in the 17-14 Cotton Bowl loss to Auburn. Take away those two first-half turnovers, and the game could easily have gone the other way. Losing 17 fumbles again will not win this team a second trip to the Big 12 Championship Game.

With Callahan coming into his fourth season in Lincoln, his own recruits now fill the roster and it's time for his program to take the next step, but tough luck in the scheduling game may slow that process.

"It's probably the most challenging schedule we've had since I've been at Nebraska," Callahan said.

Traveling to face ACC champion Wake Forest precedes a home contest against USC, but the season rides on an Oct. 6 victory at Missouri. A loss to the Tigers will lock Nebraska out of the North title, unless they can work some magic and beat Texas A&M and Texas in back-to-back contests.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4, 5-3 Big 12


Kansas State - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 4-4 Big 12

Offense

The hopes and dreams of the Kansas State faithful lie with sophomore quarterback Josh Freeman. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound true sophomore took over midway through last season, and turned a lot of heads with his 1,780 yards and six touchdowns, plus that surprise 45-42 upset win over Texas. A year of decision-making under his belt should reduce that 15-interception mark, and Freeman looks poised to lead his team to another bowl game, hopefully with a more favorable result than the 37-10 shellacking they took at the hands of Rutgers in the Texas Bowl.

Behind Freeman in the backfield are running backs James Johnson and Leon Patton, and senior Jordy Nelson will be a prime receiving target. After leading the team in receptions as a sophomore, he was bothered by injuries through much of last season, but should be back to full health for 2007.

The biggest offensive worry is the offensive line, where every position other than Jordan Bedore's center spot is up for grabs.

"That's not a real comforting feeling for a coach," head coach Ron Prince said.

Still, signing six linemen in the off-season, including some JUCO transfers, should help solve that puzzle.

"This is a maturing team," Prince said. "It's a team of young players and what we've tried to do in adding talent to the offensive line, not only adding talent to the wide receiver corps, will hopefully allow [Freeman] to play his very best."

Defense

Prince knows the key to competing in the Big 12 is defense, so he's taking the Wildcats from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to combat the conference's spread offense epidemic.

"We were heavy on defense in our class because we had a sense we were coming into a conference that's very good on offense," Prince said. "Everybody has a receiver that you can't cover one-on-one. Everybody has a terrific quarterback. We felt if we were going to be able to make a dent in the conference we were going to have to play some defense."

Junior linebacker Ian Campbell should thrive under the 3-4. Named the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Campbell recorded 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season. Senior safety Marcus Watts is a key leader in the secondary and on special teams, and he'll join top JUCO transfer Gary Chandler in trying to decrease the 58.3 completion percentage the defense allowed last season.

The Skinny

Kansas State was young all around last season, and will be young again this season, but JUCO transfers will give the team a chance for immediate improvement.

"The way in which we integrate the team and the level at which the returning players have improved will show if this is a group with a lot of depth, or if we're going to have to scratch and claw to win games," Prince said.

The scratching and clawing will begin early, with the season opener at Auburn. The Oct. 20 matchup with Oklahoma State will be a telling game, as the Cowboys will be looking to avenge last year's loss while the Wildcats continue their quest to prove themselves. Look for Kansas to display another year of improvement, but they're not yet contenders for the North title.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 4-4 Big 12


Kansas - 2006: 6-6 Overall, 3-5 Big 12

Offense

First and foremost, Kansas must pick a quarterback to its the newly simplified offense. The frontrunner is sophomore Kerry Meier, who played adequately through his eight starts last season before an injury gave sophomore Todd Reesing a chance to prove himself. Reesing has the stronger arm, but Meier is more athletic, so the competition will continue through camp.

Running backs Jake Sharp and Brandon McAnderson will try to make up for the void left by the graduation of Jon Cornish, the conference's leading rusher. Junior Dexton Fields and senior Marcus Henry are expected to step up at wide receiver after losing the team's biggest receiving threat.

Anthony Collins will anchor a rebuilt line from the left tackle spot, and 315-pound junior college transfer Chet Hartley should help the rebuilding process.

Defense

Returning eight starters on defense may not be such a blessing for Kansas. All-Big 12 cornerback Aqib Talib is one of the most dynamic cornerbacks in the nation, leading the nation in pass break-ups, but he anchors a defense that ranked dead last against the pass in 2006.

The good news is that Kansas did rank 28th in the nation against the run and returns senior tackle James McClinton, who recorded 14 tackles for a loss last season. And the linebacking corps looks significantly faster, led by Arist Wright and James Holt, who started in the outside spots by the end of last season. Joe Mortensen moves to the middle linebacker spot, where junior Mike Rivera will challenge him for playing time.

"The same team coming back with a little bit more experience and repetition in games, it should be a real good season for KU this year," Talib said.

The Skinny

With this soft of a schedule, the Jayhawks cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to use 2007 to dig themselves out of Big 12 North mediocrity.

"I don't know if it's the year we need to make that break, but I plan on it," head coach Mark Mangino said.

Kansas plays all four of its non-conference games at home to start the season, giving the Jayhawks adequate time to test out a quarterback and find players to take charge on the offensive line. Kansas is 2-18 in conference road games under Mangino, but games at Kansas State and Colorado early in the conference lineup may help that mark, and a win in Manhattan would be the Jayhawks' first since 1989.

"Everybody has rough seas out there," Mangino said. "There aren't many Division I programs in the last 20 years that haven't had some rough times one way or another. When you have good people that care and do the right things, it will work out."

If Kansas can get its people to do the right things by pulling out a few close games rather than dropping them like a rock (reference 42-32 loss to Oklahoma State, in which Kansas allowed 42 second-half points, or the evaporated 18-7 fourth quarter lead over Texas A&M), they have a shot at returning to bowl contention.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 2-6 Big 12


Colorado - 2006: 2-10 Overall, 2-6 Big 12

Offense

Colorado's offense was the conference's worst last season, so head coach Dan Hawkins is pushing his players to compete diligently for that spot under center.

"We're going to push from practice one to find a starting quarterback," Hawkins said. "I don't think we can afford to wait for first scrimmage, it needs to be a race."

Freshman Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, looks to be the leading candidate to be the opening day starter. He's competing with JUCO transfer Nick Nelson, but both are lacking in experience, so the sooner one is chosen, the better prepared the Buffs will be in Hawkins' spread attack.

Colorado badly needs playmakers to step up at receiver, as the team's leading pass catcher in 2006 was tight end Riar Greer, who ended the season with 24 catches. Senior running back Hugh Charles is talented and quick on his feet, and could show it if the Buffaloes can put together a strong offensive line. Having signed eight offensive linemen in the off-season, Hawkins is desperate to rebuild the run game.


Defense

The Buffs had a solid run defense in 2006, holding teams to 3.3 yards per carry, but opponents completed 67 percent of their throws against the young team. Losing the conference sack leader won't help the cause either, but the linebackers are the silver lining. Led by senior Jordan Dizon, who tallied 137 tackles last season, linebacking is the heart of the Colorado defense. Corner Terrence Wheatley and safety Ryan Walters will anchor the secondary.

"We couldn't get everyone on the same page, couldn't put those pieces of the puzzle together," Dizon said of last season, the first of Hawkins' tenure in Boulder. "The problem was we didn't only change a head coach, we changed every coach, we changed the whole staff, academic, everything. I think everyone's finally buying into the fact that if we do everything right as Coach Hawkins says, we're gonna get there."

The Skinny

Hawkins left Boise State in 2005 as that team was reaching its pinnacle to take the helm at Colorado, where he found a program at the polar opposite. After last season's 2-8 downward spiral, the Buffs cannot go anywhere but up, and finishing with the fewest wins in program history since 1984, they do not expect losing seasons to be a trend.

"That freshman to sophomore year is probably the largest jump in learning," Hawkins said.

Losing four games by five points or less, including a triple-overtime home loss to Baylor, ought to accelerate that learning process, which will be helpful with this year's schedule. The opening slate is rough: at Arizona State followed by a home stand against Florida State, Miami University and Oklahoma. If Colorado can knock off any the Seminoles or the Sooners, it may be the catalyst this program needs to get back on track.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8, 2-6 Big 12

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Iowa State - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 1-7 Big 12


Offense

First-year head coach Gene Chizik looked to junior colleges around the country to help his floundering offense. With 12 JUCO transfers on the roster to support returning quarterback Bret Meyer and leading wide receiver Todd Blythe, Chizik has made clear that he is not interested in making 2007 a rebuilding year.

Meyer was anything but consistent last year, although he had precious little time in the pocket (and was sacked 37 times), so Chizik's first order of business will be toughening up the offensive line. Luckily, new offensive coordinator Robert McFarland has experience in that area, and he'll have work to do breaking in four new starters.

Once that's set, the Cyclones can try to pick a go-to running back between Jason Scales, Jason Harris and J.J. Bass and start to transform last year's non-existent run game.

"We feel like you've got to start running the football," Chizik said. "I'll go to my grave believing if you're going to win the Big 12 or any league, you have to be able to run the football first. And so we're going to start with a running game."

With 2,317 career yards and 26 touchdowns, Blythe leads the receiving corps, but he'll need tight end Ben Barkema and some other pass catchers to step up if he's going to get out of the constant double-team.

Defense

Chizik's experience as defensive coordinator at Texas will undoubtedly improve the 102nd-ranked defense in the nation. Powerhouse linebacker Alvin Bowen certainly leads the defense, logging 155 tackles last season, but he'll be without Adam Carper, who will not make the comeback from knee surgery.

The secondary needs help - Iowa State allowed its opponents a 72.5 completion percentage last year. JUCO transfers will be expected to provide immediate assistance on the line and Iowa State has to find a way to force more turnovers. The Cyclones finished -5 in the turnover margin last season.

The Skinny

The town of Ames has already taken to Chizik, emblazoning his face on a commemorative coin that will be used for the coin toss at all Iowa State home games. The players have taken to him as well, appreciating his change-of-pace intensity (but perhaps not the 5:30 a.m. off-season workouts). Intensity is one thing, but winning is quite another.

"I certainly didn't come here to lose," Chizik said. "I'm not used to it, I don't like it."

He may not like it, but the Cyclones are not yet ready for a winning season. Traveling to Nebraska and Texas Tech before hosting Texas and Oklahoma is a fate not to be wished on any team in the North, especially one attempting to find a groove with a new head coach. The Nov. 3 matchup with Kansas State will be critical - if the Cyclones can pull out a win at home against the Wildcats, they may turn another four-win season into a 6-6 step upwards.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8, 1-7 Big 12

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South Division


Texas - 2006: 10-3 Overall, 6-2 Big 12


Offense

Two words: Colt McCoy. The sophomore quarterback will be among the nation's best this season. In his rookie campaign, McCoy completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,570 yards and tied the NCAA record for touchdown tosses by a freshman (29).

He will have an array of threats at receiver this season, led by senior Limas Sweed who came down with a record-tying 12 touchdowns in 2006.

When McCoy went down with an injury late in the season, Texas went down with him, losing to Kansas State and Texas A&M, but with the team leader back on his feet, don't expect another late-season breakdown.

"Right now we feel that Colt has control of this football team," head coach Mack Brown said. "He has great confidence. That's a great relief for us from this time last year."

Of less relief is the run game. Texas was inconsistent running the ball last season, even with three of the best linemen in school history leading the way. Junior running back Jamaal Charles hopes to return to his freshman-year 7.4 yards per game behind a rebuilt line, but he'll have some help from McCoy.

"One thing that I can do better is to make a couple of first downs with my feet," McCoy said. "That kind of throws the defense off and it moves the chains. Coach Davis feels like I have the ability to make plays with my feet that I didn't do last year."

Defense

The Longhorn defense had a split personality last season. Ranking third in the nation against the run, Texas allowed a school-record low 61.2 yards per game, but the pass defense was awful. Ranked 99th in the country, the 2006 Longhorns allowed a school-record 236.2 yards per game through the air.

Co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina should be more aggressive with blitzes this season and will have to find some answers in the secondary, where Marcus Griffin is the only returning starter. New co-defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff (of Arizona Desert Swarm fame) will take over the linebacking woes that caused last year's defensive backs to over-commit to stop the run.

The Longhorns will have the top defensive line in the nation, led by tackle contingent Derek Lokey, Roy Miller and Frank Okam, whose last-season injury Brown called the biggest loss of the year.

The Skinny

Texas is the only NCAA school to win at least 10 games in the last six seasons, and 2007 will make it 11 straight. A manageable non-conference schedule with home games against Arkansas State, TCU and Rice and a road trip to UCF should give the new offensive line time to gel, which will be key to kick-starting the run game.

November will be a tough month, with road games at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M and a home date with Texas Tech. Although the Oct. 6 Oklahoma battle will be as big as ever, Nov. 23 at A&M will be the one to win for the Longhorns, especially after last year's 12-7 loss. If Texas can get better at running the ball and stopping the pass, they should easily take the Big 12 title and get into the BCS mix.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 7-1 Big 12


Oklahoma - 2006: 11-3 Overall, 7-1 Big 12

Offense

The Sooners return nine offensive starters, including every receiver and running back Allen Patrick, and are certain to move the ball well, provided they can find a quarterback.

"The big issues that everyone wants to talk about are our quarterback situation, everyone wants to know who that guy is," head coach Bob Stoops said. "We don't have a time table. That position needs to be earned."

Stoops stressed that Oklahoma has won four conference championships with four different quarterbacks, so uncertainty under center is nothing new for the Sooners. The candidates are a trio of inexperience - junior Joey Halzle, freshman Sam Bradford and true freshman Keith Nichol are all battling for the starting spot without ever having taken a snap at Oklahoma (although Halzle did get some snaps in during his two years in junior college).

The Sooners are well prepared to run the ball without Adrian Peterson. In 2006, Oklahoma averaged more rushing yards per game when Peterson was sidelined than they recorded with him healthy. Stepping into his shoes are Patrick, who delivered four 100-yard games once Peterson bid adieu, and redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray, who made waves in spring ball.

Junior Malcolm Kelly is one of the Big 12's best receivers, coming off of a 993-yard, 10-touchdown season. The line returns four starters with an average size of 6-feet-5, 316 pounds and boasts a 6-foot-8, 350-pound left tackle in JUCO transfer Phil Loadholt, which should give Patrick plenty of room to run.

Defense

Oklahoma should have the nation's top secondary, but the front seven are far shakier. Corners Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker team with free safety Nic Harris. All are playmakers, while Harris is a blitzing specialist. The Sooners need to add to the front seven and get more pressure on the passer, as they only recorded 26 sacks in 14 games last season.

Stoops pointed to linebacker as the biggest defensive question this season, but having sophomore Ryan Reynolds back from surgery is a boost.

"We have guys in there that can be better maybe than what we've had the last couple of years," Stoops said.

The line is another question, especially at defensive end, where the top three pass rushers were lost to graduation. Inconsistent seniors Alonzo Dotson and John Williams must step up their play this season to match the output of returning tackles Cory Bennett and Steven Coleman.

The Skinny

In spite of that stunning loss at the hands of Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, and the NCAA violations stemming from the Rhett Bomar/J.D. Quinn no-show-job controversy last summer, and that blown onside call against Oregon in the beginning of 2006, Oklahoma did finish 11-3 and win the Big 12. The question at quarterback is probably the only reason why the Sooners were not picked to repeat as champions, but it is a significant question.

Expect Oklahoma to get over that Boise State thing faster than the rest of the country has - "One season to the other, nothing carries over, not to us," Stoops said - and the Sooners should find themselves back in the BCS scramble this season.

Oklahoma has been blessed with a favorable schedule, facing North Texas, Miami and Utah State all at home to start the season. Facing Missouri at home should soften the only real test against the North, and traveling to Texas Tech is Oklahoma's only tough road game. As per usual, the game of the season will be Oct. 6 against Texas, as that could be the Sooners' only loss of the season (and would mark three straight losses to the Longhorns for the first time since 1997-1999). If Oklahoma's young quarterback matures fast enough, Oklahoma can snatch the South title from Texas and avenge last year's BCS debacle.

Regular Season Prediction: 10-2 Overall, 6-2 Big 12

Texas A&M - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 5-3 Big 12

Offense

The Aggies had the eighth-best rushing offense in the nation last season and with two powerful backs and four starters returning on the offensive line, A&M should be able to run on anyone. Hard-nosed quarterback Stephen McGee threw for 2,295 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, giving up only two interceptions in 313 pass attempts - not bad for a first-year starter.

"I'm very conscious of not turning the ball over," McGee said. "Throwing interceptions is not just a stat for the quarterback - it's great calls by the coaching staff, work by the offensive line, tail backs running the ball well and opening things up, receivers catching the ball well."

The Aggies have a powerful one-two punch at running back, with 268-pound Jorvorskie Lane grinding through defenses and Mike Goodson using speed to his advantage. Fullback Chris Alexander is also in the mix, providing the necessary behind-the-scenes help.

"Chris Alexander is really an unsung hero on our team," head coach Dennis Franchione said. "He threw some key blocks for us."

McGee should have plenty of receiving targets at his disposal in senior wide receiver Earvin Taylor and a superior tight end tandem in Martellus Bennett and Joey Thomas. The line should be one of the best in school history, anchored by seniors center Cody Wallace and guard Kirk Elder.

Defense

This is year two of the current defensive scheme and the Aggies are looking for more consistency. The front four is an experienced unit, led by tackle Red Bryant and end Chris Harrington. Bryant missed the second half of last year with a knee injury, and it showed - in the final six games, the Aggies allowed three teams to put up more than 200 yards running the ball. Sophomores Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis are looking to make names for themselves at linebacker.

Three starters return from a secondary that went from dead last in the nation in 2005 to 44th in 2006, and the improvements should continue this year. Watch for sophomore Jordan Pugh to have a standout year after moving from cornerback to rover.

The Skinny

The Aggies certainly had an up-and-down season last year, as elation at beating Texas in Austin was tempered by the 45-10 thrashing A&M received at the hands of Cal in the Holiday Bowl. But A&M did escape the season 4-0 in road games, which is no easy feat when playing in the Big 12 South.

"That takes a degree of mental toughness and physical toughness and grit, fight, determination," Franchione said. "It's hard to go undefeated when you play the Big 12 on the road."

The Aggies will have to stand up to that challenge again this season, traveling to Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri. If A&M is going to compete for a Big 12 title, the Aggies will have to beat the Red Raiders Oct. 13 and try to rebalance the scales in that battle - Tech has beaten A&M five times in the last six years. The run game will undoubtedly flourish this season, but how far the Aggies go in the Big 12 race will depend on how much more progress that developing defense can make.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 4-4 Big 12


Oklahoma State - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 3-5 Big 12

Offense

The Cowboys should once again have the most balanced offense in the conference, and one of the top offenses in the nation. Seven starters return from the country's seventh-best scoring and rushing unit, which put up almost identical numbers in the pass and run game, and every one of last season's contributing receivers returns this fall. Quarterback Bobby Reid will be looking to be more consistent as a dual threat passer in his junior year.

"He's developed into a pretty good throwing quarterback, and he's dangerous when he runs the ball," head coach Mike Gundy said.

All-conference wide receiver Adarius Bowman is a stellar player, totaling 1,181 yards and 12 touchdowns on 60 catches last season. Artie Woods, Anthony Parks and Jeremy Broadway are all receiving threats as well, along with senior running back Dantrell Savage, who is a capable receiver as well as a strong rushing threat.

A deep roster of linemen will compete for the two open starting positions, and should provide adequate protection to continue creating a balanced offense.

Defense

Oklahoma State's defense has major strides to make to catch up with its point-scoring offense, and Gundy knows it.

"Obviously we're not as athletic defensively as we are on offense," Gundy said. "I don't think there's any question about that. But that doesn't mean our players won't hit and run to the football."

The Cowboys allowed 30-plus points seven times last season, losing five of those contests, but returning the defense's back seven should help bring that point total down. Senior cornerback Martel Van Zant anchors the secondary, while former quarterback Donovan Woods will continue to play a combination linebacker/safety role.

"I do think we have some maturity in the secondary to where they can make great strides early in the year and play better," Gundy said. "But there's no question, in order for us to compete for the Big 12 championship, we have to play better on defense and our offense has to carry us a little while until our defense gets going."

Linebackers Chris Collins and Patrick Lavine were freshmen all-Americans last season, and should be more competitive after a year on the gridiron. The Cowboys have to replace their entire front line, and Gundy is hoping junior college All-American Tonga Tea can step in immediately to fill the biggest void, at tackle.

The Skinny

The Cowboys' schedule gets going hard and fast, with the season opener at Georgia.

"As everybody knows, we don't have a warm-up game," Gundy said. "Because of the opener in Georgia, I think they have stayed very focused. It's a great opportunity for us."

Hosting Texas Tech will also be a great opportunity, as the Cowboys have beaten the Red Raiders the last two times they've hosted them. Topping Tech Sept. 22 would set a tone for the season, as the next conference games are at Texas A&M and Nebraska. Assuming the defense improves, which may be a big assumption, the Cowboys can come away with eight regular season wins.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 4-4 Big 12


Texas Tech - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 4-4 Big 12

Offense

Year after year, one thing Texas Tech does well is score points. The Red Raiders had the third most prolific passing offense in the nation last year, led by quarterback Graham Harrell's 4,555 yards and 38 touchdowns.

"After a point it becomes taken for granted that you're going to have a level of success throwing the ball at our place," head coach Mike Leach said. "If he's not one of the better quarterbacks in the country, I'd like to know who is."

The junior is back for his second year as a starter and will have to develop a relationship with the slew of new receivers on the roster. Senior Danny Amendola leads the group along with returning backups L.A. Reed and Eric Morris, but redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree might be the most talented pass catcher in the field.

"I think our receivers are alive and kicking, despite popular belief," Leach said. "There's going to be some faces that people aren't quite as familiar with. But they've been developing as players. As a core, I expect them to be better than our receiving core last year was."

The spread attack makes the Raiders one of the more exciting teams to watch in college football, even if their team is woefully lopsided. The Raiders ranked 112th in the nation in rushing last season, but junior running back Shannon Woods was responsible for nearly all of the team's run yardage.

Louis Vasquez will be the cornerstone on an offensive line that has to break in four new starters.

Defense

Tech's offense can bend long enough for the offense to rack up its inevitable points, as long as it doesn't break. The defensive personnel should be good enough to do just that. The tackle spot is currently up for grabs, but Jake Ratliff, Tyler Yenzer and Brandon Williams are solid on the ends. Kellen Tillman is the only returning starter at linebacker but three of four starters return from a secondary that led the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game. Strong safety Joe Garcia teams up with free safety Darcel McBath to lead a strong defensive backfield.

"We're younger and more athletics than we were last year," Leach said of the defense. "We're a more athletic unit secondary-wise, probably one of the more solid secondaries I've been a part of."

The Skinny

Even with Harrell's potent arm, kicker Alex Trlica could be the team's MVP this season. Trlica has an NCAA-record 166 extra points without a miss and hit a 52-yard field goal as regulation expired in the Insight Bowl to force overtime against Minnesota.

The Raiders certainly don't have trouble moving the ball, but their quick-strike offense leaves the less athletic defense on the field too long (they had a time-of-possession deficit of 4:36 last season). If Tech is going to win 10 games this season, which is not out of the question, the defense is going to have to get better at stopping the run. The offense should take care of itself, especially in the capable hands of Harrell.

Consider the four non-conference games gimmes (SMU, UTEP, Rice and Northwestern State), along with the contests against Big 12 bottom feeders Baylor and Colorado. The Sept. 22 matchup at Oklahoma State will make or break the season for the Red Raiders - facing Texas and Oklahoma to end the regular season, they'll need this game if they're going to stay in the race for a conference title.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 4-4 Big 12

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Baylor - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 3-5 Big 12

Offense

Baylor used last season to shift to a new offensive system, which explains some of the atrocious statistics (No. 119 in the nation in rushing, for example). With a year completed in the system, playmakers will need to emerge for the Bears to score some points, starting with a quarterback.

"The quarterback situation is kind of clouded rather than cleared," head coach Guy Morriss said. Senior Michael Machen, a transfer from Kent State, is the frontrunner for the job, but John David Weed is more familiar with the system, and is closing the gap on him. Sophomore Blake Szymanski is also in the mix.

The chosen signal-caller will have a few options at receiver, all of whom are inexperienced as well. Ernest Smith, Thomas White and Mikail Baker lead the wide receiver ranks.

Baylor's running game was the nation's worst last year, tallying only 40 yards per game. Running back Brandon Whitaker is the team's leading returning receiver, bringing in 60 catches for 352 yards over the last two seasons. Helping the run game should be an improved offensive line. Morriss brought in sophomore J.D. Walton, an Arizona State transfer, to help at center, and junior tackle Jason Smith will switch sides to try to shore things up on the left.

Defense

Baylor had the 110th ranked defense in the country last season, allowing more than 50 points in three different games. The Bears' 4-2-5 scheme gave up an average of 408.2 yards per contest, including almost 200 yards on the ground and five yards per carry. Newly promoted defensive coordinator Larry Hoefer plans to make enough changes to the existing system to bring those numbers down considerably.

Senior linebacker Nick Moore will lead the group of six returning starters alongside Joe Pawelek, who earned freshman all-American honors last season after recording 86 tackles for the Bears. He also had two sacks and four broken up passes.

Cornerback is the largest area of concern after losing two starters to graduation and having Braelon Davis miss the spring trying to regain academic eligibility.

The Skinny

Baylor is going to be a young team this season, with as many as seven freshmen and sophomores starting on offense, five more on defense and five new assistant coaches all getting the hang of things. The veterans of the program are tired of practicing well and playing poorly.

"All the running we're doing, all the lifting we're doing doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you don't take it to the field," Morriss said. "And that's where we've got to have some results, is between the white lines this year. Just playing close is no good. We've got to find a way to win some closer games."

Hosting Rice and Texas State between road games against TCU and Buffalo should allow Baylor the opportunity to begin conference play with a winning record.

From there, the road gets tough: trips to Texas A&M and Oklahoma will not help Baylor's continued quest to win more than three conference games in a season, and hosting Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will remind Baylor just how tough the Big 12 South is. Beating Colorado Oct 6. will be essential to the Bears' plan to increase their win total for the fourth year running. Expect this to be another rebuilding year in Waco.

Regular Season Prediction: 3-9 Overall, 0-8 Big 12

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Big 12 Insider: A few things to watch for
San Antonio Express-News

The Big 12 season is only a week away. And after poring over media guides and preseason stories for the better part of the last month, the season can’t get here fast enough to suit me.

Couldn’t teams start playing this weekend?

But since we’re going to have to wait for the start of the season until Thursday night’s Iowa State-Kent State contest – one that will be interesting for reasons other than it’s Gene Chizik’s debut with the Cyclones – here are a few tidbits to think might happen once action begins.

I expect Texas to have one of the nation’s most explosive offenses with Colt McCoy in charge and Jamaal Charles and Limas Sweed involved. Any of them would be a fantasy player’s dream – if there were such a thing as college fantasy football.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Longhorns stumble down the stretch again this season, with lack of depth at quarterback and growing pains in the secondary costing them a shot in the national title hunt.

I expect Oklahoma’s running game to be just as potent as in recent seasons, as the trio of Allen Patrick, Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray will end up just as productive as what the Sooners enjoyed with Adrian Peterson.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if OU’s lack of defensive playmakers keeps them from becoming the first team to repeat as Big 12 champions.

I expect Texas A&M to feature one of the nation’s most potent running attacks. With a massive returning offensive line, ball carriers like Jorvorskie Lane and Michael Goodson and the running ability of quarterback Stephen McGee the Aggies should pile up rushing yardage to match any team in the country.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Aggies have a worse record this season than last year – even with a better team.

I expect Oklahoma State to have one of the nation’s most productive offenses. The Cowboys’ emerging talent and recruiting success should make them one of the most entertaining teams to watch over the next few seasons.

But it wouldn’t surprise me that the Cowboys never sniff a Big 12 title until they significantly upgrade their defensive talent.

I expect Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree to post monster numbers as the Red Raiders’ primary receiver this season.

But it wouldn’t surprise me that Tech’s defense ends up being the team’s strength this season – particularly with an underrated pair of safeties in Joe T. Garcia and Darcel McBath.

I expect Baylor coach Guy Morriss to shock a team or two in Big 12 play this season with an upset victory. Games that might be winnable include Colorado on Oct. 6 and a visit to Kansas the following week.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears have to win some games late this season in order to save Morriss’ job. And that might be a daunting task considering Baylor’s final three games are against Tech, OU and OSU.

I expect Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller to have the same kind of success with the Cornhuskers that he enjoyed at Arizona State, in a more settled environment. And I don’t think Keller will be looking over his shoulder with the Cornhuskers and Bill Callahan nearly as much as he did with Dirk Koetter at his old school.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cornhuskers claim the Big 12 North title despite falling into an early hole that starts with a loss at Missouri on Oct. 6.

I expect Missouri to crack the top 15 teams nationally after starting the season with a flourish, probably capped by a victory over Nebraska that pushes them to the early lead in the North Division.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tigers squander that lead and finish behind Nebraska at the end of the season. Punishing late-season road games against Colorado and Kansas State will be difficult. But the game that might prove to be Missouri’s undoing will be its season-ending game at Arrowhead Stadium against Kansas.

I expect Josh Freeman to emerge as one of the nation’s top playmakers sometime during his playing career at Kansas State – if he can battle the sportswriter’s biggest problem of watching his weight.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Freeman’s emergence comes after this season – unless he can guarantee playing UT’s secondary every week.

I expect Kerry Meier to ultimately win back the starting job at Kansas this season from Todd Reesing, who won the job during fall practice but remains on a short leach from Coach Mark Mangino.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Jayhawks actually challenge Missouri and Nebraska in the title race late in the season.

I expect Colorado to gravitate to the 'Hawk Love' teachings of Dan Hawkins a little bit more easily this season.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Buffaloes return to a bowl game in 2007 and prove to be one of the most underrated teams in the conference by the end of the season.

I expect ISU to struggle with Chizik in his first season as coach.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Chizik pulls starting quarterback Bret Meyer late in the season for a younger quarterback who can help Chizik’s turnaround in later seasons.

I expect at nine Big 12 teams to make bowl trips this season – UT, OU, OSU, A&M, Tech, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.

But it wouldn’t surprise that the only Big 12 teams not in bowl contention late in the season are everybody but Baylor and ISU.

The number

46: The vertical leap of Missouri WR Danario Alexander. It’s the school record and was 4 1/2 inches more than the top vertical leap at the NFL combine last March posted by linebacker Quincy Black, now of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Something that struck me as interesting

Tech is the only Big 12 school that has never had a losing conference record in the 11 seasons of the league. 

Something else that struck me as interesting

OSU hasn’t had an all-conference quarterback in the past 46 seasons.

Who’s hot

Kansas State coach Ron Prince, who likely is still seething after the sputtering performance of his offense at an open scrimmage last week. It’s not that unusual when an angry coach makes players run stadium steps after what he considers to be a disappointing effort. But Prince was so angry about KSU’s struggles that he made his assistant coaches run the steps with the players – before a crowd of about 200 spectators.

Five Kansas State assistants left the program after last season, along with three support people and a graduate assistant. Wonder if there’s a connection?

Who’s not

Kansas State TE Rashaad Norwood, who was suspended from the Wildcats’ opener against Auburn after he was arrested twice at this girlfriend’s apartment earlier this week. He was charged with battery, criminal damage to property, criminal trespass and obstruction in the first incident and criminal trespass in the second. Which is probably another reason why Prince is so hot this week.

Five things I think I think

1. Baylor coach Guy Morriss never would have believed that Blake Szymanski and Tyler Beatty would have been the finalists for his starting quarterback job. I’m surprised because Mike Machen provided the safest chance for the Bears to win immediately.

Playing Szymanski and Beatty appear to be moves that will benefit the Bears most in the future. Unfortunately, Morriss might not be around to enjoy the fruits of that personnel decision.

2. Nebraska WR Terrence Nunn might be one of the most underrated players in the Big 12. The flashier Maurice Purify sometimes overshadowed Nunn among Nebraska’s offensive weapons, but Nunn needs only 43 receptions to become Nebraska’s career receiving leader.

3. It’s not a good sign for the so-called football renaissance of Missouri football that more than 16,000 seats still remaining for the Tigers’ Sept. 1 game against Illinois at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis next week. Maybe the 'Show-Me State' still hasn’t caught 'Pinkel fever' yet.

4. Considering the way that A&M got thrashed in the Holiday Bowl, I was a little surprised to see the Aggies ranked the preseason AP top 25. The Aggies have a strong cast of returning players – particularly on offense. But the way they were humbled by the Bears is usually the kind of reminder that most pollsters don’t necessarily blot away that quickly.

5. OSU would be a likely location for Emmanuel Moody to end up after UT coach Mack Brown has indicated he’s not interested in recruiting the former Coppell standout. But the Cowboys will be facing a formidable recruiting foe in North Carolina, which has dedicated yard-dog recruiting specialist John Blake as their primary contact with Moody, a one-time UT commitment.

Even if the Cowboys don’t get Moody, Mike Gundy got some good news with the commitment earlier this week of bullish 210-pound running back Kye Staley of Guthrie, Okla. Staley would be an ideal complement for Keith Toston – even if Moody never shows up in Stillwater.

Jawjacking

"We feel if you are a top-10 team, then you play top-10 opponents."

—- OU coach Bob Stoops on the Sooners’ upcoming schedule, dotted by teams like Notre Dame, Washington, Cincinnati and Tennessee. Maybe Stoops’ definition of top 10 teams is a little different than mine is.

"If you ask our defensive coaches, they throw up. If you ask our offensive coaches, they are pumped."

—- UT coach Mack Brown on the new rule pushing kickoffs back five yards to the 30-yard line

"I really felt that everything that he gave us a year ago was a bonus. But if you look at some of the games he had last year, it was fantastic, the plays that he made with his ability."

—- KSU coach Ron Prince on sophomore QB Josh Freeman’s first season with the Wildcats.

"I kind of wondered how I could go from being so good to being in Nebraska."

—Nebraska QB Sam Keller, who told the Denver Post of his sudden drop from Arizona State’s starting lineup to the Cornhuskers’ scout team last season after his transfer.

"Coach asked me where I was in the spring. I said I was out there. But he said, ‘You were out there, but your mind wasn’t out there.’"

-- Baylor redshirt freshman QB Tyler Beatty, on his discussions with Baylor quarterbacks coach Lee Hays as he challenges Blake Szymanski for the starting job.

Quick kicks

•The Big 12 received scant mention in the 2008 Princeton Review’s list of top party schools in the nation.

Texas is ranked No. 3 in the nation, ranking only behind No. 1 West Virginia and No. 2 Mississippi. But that was the only mention among Big 12 schools in the top 20.

Other schools in order include Florida, Georgia, Penn State, New Hampshire, Indiana, Ohio University, California-Santa Barbara, Randolph-Mason, Iowa, LSU, Maryland, Tennessee, Illinois, Arizona State, Florida State, Alabama and State University of New York-Albany.

I’m thinking the pollsters might have underrated Texas Tech and definitely Colorado. But definitely not Baylor.

•Matt Simms, the little brother of former Texas quarterback Chris Simms, will redshirt this season for Louisville.

The presence of returning starter Brian Brohm and backup Hunter Cantwell made for a crowd at the top of the Cardinals’ depth chart.

Matt Simms is listed at 6-3 and 195 pounds. His father, Phil, a former NFL quarterback and current analyst for CBS Sports, said that redshirting will suit his son.

"He can learn more and grow up and get a little head start on school," Phil Simms told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Of all the schools that recruited Matt, only one said he could come in and compete for playing time right away. That didn’t flatter me at all."

•Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said he’s been surprised that quarterback Stephen McGee developed into more of a leader than he imagined after he recruited him from high school.

"I knew that we had a good quarterback, and a good person and a good leader, but not as good as he is," Franchione told the Bryan Eagle. "You hope, someday, that you have someone like this. He cares about his team. He doesn’t how he does as long as (his team) wins the game."

•OU has broken ground on the installation of statues that will honor two more Heisman Trophy winners in an area besides existing statues of Steve Owens and Billy Vessels east of Owen Field.

School officials expect statues honoring Jason White and Billy Sims will be unveiled later in the fall.

•Don’t count OU coach Bob Stoops among those who feel that the college game has been dragged down because games typically take longer to play when compared to the NFL.

"I feel like we have a great game," Stoops said. "I’ve never heard any fans complaining that the game is too long. In the end, you think of people who travel to our games – not just us, but across the country.

"Some people are in the car for half a day just coming to the game. They don’t want to see a quick game. They’re not looking to be out of there in 2 1/2 or three hours."

Stoops is right on this one. The college game is to be savored, even if the television wonks are satisfied that it can’t be packaged into a neat three-hour programming window.

•The rumors of the demise of the Nebraska program are a little exaggerated, at least according to tight end J.B. Phillips.

Phillips isn’t buying the media’s early prediction that Missouri will topple the Cornhuskers from the North Division championship.

"We’re the ones that put on pads and we’re the ones that are going to have to win," Phillips told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "Even for the media picking us second, I looked back in the last 11 years, they’ve gotten five right and six wrong. They’re not even batting .500.

"So I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into that if I were a gambling man, which I’m not because of the NCAA’s rules. But I probably wouldn’t bet on what they say."

Phillips might look a little more closely. The media has actually picked seven of the 11 North Division champions correctly. But that prediction still isn’t one I’d put the mortgage payment on if I was gambling, either.

•One of the more interesting Web sites I’ve seen this summer is coacheshotseat.com, which ranks the relative job prospects of all 119 Division I-A coaches.

Only one Big 12 coach is ranked among the top 15 coaches and that’s Guy Morriss of Baylor at No. 15. Houston Nutt of Arkansas holds down the No. 1 slot, followed by Ty Willingham of Washington, Al Groh of Virginia, Joe Glenn of Wyoming, Ed Oregeron of Mississippi, Tommy Bowden of Clemson, Tommy West of Memphis and Karl Dorrell of UCLA.

Other Big 12 coaches who are ranked with 'hot seats' include Kansas’ Mark Mangino, 16th,  and A&M’s Dennis Franchione, 23rd.

Coaches listed 'on the edge of the hot seat' include Colorado’s Dan Hawkins,  27th; Nebraska’s Bill Callahan, 30th; Missouri’s  Gary Pinkel, 40th;  OSU’s Mike Gundy, 50th and Tech’s Mike Leach, 55th;

Coaches who are listed as 'safe for now' include Gene Chizik of ISU, 68th; Ron Prince of KSU, 86th; Bob Stoops of OU, 115th and Mack Brown of UT, 116th.

The only coaches who are judged to have better job security than Stoops and Brown are Pete Carroll of Southern California (117th), Jim Tressel of Ohio State (118th) and Urban Meyer of Florida (119th).

•If there’s any doubt why UT play-by-play announcer Craig Way consistently is the best-prepared play-by-play announcer in the Big 12, consider how he spent the final week before the Longhorns’ season opener.

Way traveled to Jonesboro, Ark., for a sit-down interview with Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts for his Friday show. 

For those of you counting at home, that’s a round trip of 1,118 miles. And as is his tradition, Way made the trip by car.

But such dedication is why Way is the best game announcer there is in the Big 12 – and has been for a long time.

•Colorado will be undermanned for its Sept. 1 opener against Colorado as quarterback/receiver/kick returner Bernard Jackson (grades) and standout freshman wide receiver Josh "J-Fly" Smith (bruised kidney) both are doubtful for the game.

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Rocky Mountain News this week that Jackson could miss the opener because of pending academic issues.

"He’s got some extenuating circumstances that would be tough on me," Hawkins told the newspaper. "My heart goes out to the guy; he’s got a lot of irons in the fire."

Smith has emerged as one of surprises in the Buffaloes’ training camp. Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich told the News that Smith was one of the Buffaloes’ two best receivers in camp this season.

•Leading Big 12 rusher Tony Temple has shown little wear at recent practices after he severely bruised his right knee early in Missouri’s practices.

Temple has been back sooner than Coach Gary Pinkel ever would have expected – good news as the Tigers try to claim their first conference championship of any kind since 1969.

"In like two days, he was already back to full speed, looking good and bringing his helmet when he meets a defender," Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon told the Kansas City Star.

•Baylor coach Guy Morriss is facing extreme pressure to be competitive this season. The Bears are looking for their first bowl appearance since 1994, the longest drought of any Big 12 school.

But Morriss likes the attitude of his team.

"I sense a little bit different football team this year than we’ve had in the past," Morriss said. "It seems to me that for the first time we have everybody in the program rolling in the same direction."

•The Orlando Sentinel had an interesting breakdown this week ranking the quarterbacks for all 119 Division I-A football programs.

Missouri, with starter Chase Daniel and backup Chase Patton, was ranked sixth nationally. The Tigers trailed behind Louisville, Southern California, West Virginia, Hawaii and Michigan.

UT’s quarterback rotation was ranked seventh in the country, Tech was ninth, A&M was 13th and Nebraska was 20th. The Cornhuskers’ ranking was surprising given that neither Sam Keller nor Joe Ganz has ever started a game for the Cornhuskers.

Other Big 12 teams in order included OSU, 21st; ISU, 30th; OU, 40th; KSU, 50th; Kansas, 62nd; Colorado, 75th; and Baylor, 104th.

•According to an ESPN.com story written by Mark Schlabach, the Big 12 was the most overrated conference among those with automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series. Schlabach based his story on comparing preseason Associated Press rankings and how the teams finished in the AP poll at the end of the season.

During the last 10 seasons, only ISU, KSU and Tech improved their ratings. Nebraska, UT and A&M were among the league’s most overrated teams.

Here’s an item to remember when looking at the poll released last week. Since 1997, only 60 percent of the teams ranked in the preseason top 25 were still ranked at the end of the season.

Which might some good news for teams like Missouri and OSU and not so good for A&M and Nebraska.

•Speaking of the top 25, ESPN Classic has come up with an innovative way to stoke some college football interest in the next few days before the season begins.

Every team ranked in the AP top 25 will be featured in the network’s top 25 countdown, starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday. For the record, seven games involving Big 12 teams will be featured.

The countdown kicks off with the best Big 12 championship game in history, as A&M’s stunning 1998 upset over KSU will be the first game shown.

Other Big 12 games that will be featured in the series include TCU against ISU in the 2005 Houston Bowl  (9 p.m., Tuesday), Nebraska vs. Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl (2 a.m., Wednesday), Florida State vs. Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl (4 a.m., Wednesday), OU vs. Florida State in the 1981 Orange Bowl (2 a.m., Thursday),  UT vs. USC in the 2005 Rose Bowl (9 a.m., Thursday) and OU vs. LSU in the 2005 Sugar Bowl (2 p.m., Thursday).

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Re: 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview

Pittman out, Sweed probable, Shipley doubtful vs. Arkansas State
ESPN.com

Texas will be without wide receiver Billy Pittman when the Longhorns open their 2007 season against Arkansas State on Saturday, ESPN's Joe Schad reported Monday.

Pittman is suffering from a shoulder injury.

Pittman isn't the only Longhorn wide receiver who's hurt as the season approached. Limas Sweed is probable with a wrist injury, and Jordan Shipley is doubtful with a hamstring injury.

The Longhorns are prohibitive favorites over Arkansas State, but face a stiffer challenge the following week against TCU.

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