1. Oklahoma Sooners
With Mike Stoops coming back to Norman after a failed stint at Arizona as their head coach, the expectations are high for the Sooners. The Oklahoma defense had a disappointing season in 2011, and looks to get back to its glory days. The offense was as good as any in the country to start the season, but they lose two major players to injuries (Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley).
After those two went out for the season, the Sooners just did not have enough offense to overcome their defense. Coming back for the Sooners though are 4th year starting quarterback Landry Jones. Jones might be the Big XII's best Heisman candidate and leads an explosive cast of receivers headlined by Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers
In their first year in the Big 12, the Mountaineers expect to make quite a bit of noise. They have arguably the best offensive player in the Big 12 next year leading their offense in Geno Smith. Smith threw for over 4300 yards last season and 31 touchdowns. Joining him in the backfield is Dustin Garrison, who led the Mountaineers in rushing during his freshman campaign with 742 yards on the ground.
The Mountaineers will fit in well with the offensive minded Big 12, as last year their offense was excellent while their defense was good enough. They really remind me of Oklahoma State last year, and have the capability to have that type of year, ending in a BCS game. The question will be the defense, and how it holds up against the offenses of the Big 12.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
We all learned a valuable lesson last year; never doubt Bill Snyder. In his second stint as the Wildcat coach, he has rebuilt Kansas State at an even quicker pace than his first go around. The Wildcats were the surprise of the Big 12, winning 7 conference games on their way to a 2nd place finish.
There is one thing that all of the top 3 teams have in common, and that is a great returning quarterback. The Wildcats welcome back Colin Klein, the dual threat senior coming back for his second year as the starter. While Klein's passing statistics left much to be desired (1918 yards, 13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions), he really excelled on the ground. With 27 rushing touchdowns, Klein finished with the second most in the FBS (Montee Ball led with 39).
The Wildcats used a good defense and a steady offense that was very efficient, scoring a touchdown or field goal on 86% of their trips inside the red-zone and averaging .469 points per play (good for 21st in the country). This overcame their lack of total yards (93rd in the country) and meager passing attack (106th).
4. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU is the other newcomer to the Conference, and in my mind is the last of the teams with a pretty decent chance to win the conference. TCU returns a lot of fire-power on offense led by quarterback Casey Pachall. In his first year of starting, after taking over for Horned Frog legend Andy Dalton, Pachall performed very well and allowed Coach Patterson to expand the passing offense more vertically. The issue with the Horned Frogs next year will be depth at key positions, which was not helped during the off-season due to some major defections for a variety of reasons.
The Frogs are another team that is looking to get better on defense, after having an excellent defense in previous years. In fact, last year ended a streak of 3 years of having the best total defense, in terms of opponent yards per game. TCU had allowed an average of around 230 yards per game over the previous three years, but during the 2011-2012 campaign, saw that skyrocket up to 351.8 yards per game.
5. Texas Longhorns
With arguably the best defense in the Big 12 and one of the best in the nation going into next year, the longhorns have the talent to be MUCH better than 5th in the Big 12. The key to their season will be the development at the quarterback position. Is David Ash ready to lead Texas and become the answer? If he turns into an average quarterback, this is the right spot for UT. If he repeats his performance from last year, they could be worse. However, if he can turn into a good quarterback, they have the potential to be Top 5 in the country.
6. Baylor Bears
The Bears lose the Big 12's leading passer, rusher and receiver. They suffer the biggest losses to one side of the football of any team in the Big 12, but they have experienced talent waiting to fill the void. That is the main reason why I have them above Oklahoma State. Replacing the irreplaceable RG3 is Nick Florence who has 9 starts under his belt and has been in the offense since 2009. Taking over Ganaway is a collection of Running Backs led by senior Jarred Salubi, and finally taking over for Kendall Wright is a deep group of wide receivers led by Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese, two of the best and most accomplished receivers in the Big 12.
While the Bears have some major holes to fill on offense, they return most of their defensive players. However, that might not be a great thing, as the Bears struggled to stop very many teams throughout the season. Can the defense take a big step forward and help out the Bears more this year?
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Losing Brandon Wheeden and Justin Blackmon to the NFL drop the Cowboys down from Conference Champs to the 7th spot. Replacing Wheeden will be Wes Lunt, a true freshman who has just this spring in the offense. Replacing Blackmon is only part of the problem for the Cowboys reciving unit. They are also losing Josh Cooper and Hubert Anyiam, who finished 2nd and 4th on the team in receptions. The lone returning starter is Tracy Moore who finished with 45 catches for 672 yards and 4 touchdowns. That is a big step down from a guy like Blackmon.
The Cowboys last year lived off of turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. Oklahoma State finished 105th in yards allowed at over 456 per game, but finished only 59th in the country in defensive scoring at 26.8 points per game. This was mainly due to finishing with the 2nd best Turnover margin per game at +1.6. They averaged 3.4 takeaways per game. The recovered an amazing 76.92% of their opponents fumbles (7th overall) and got the second most interceptions per game at 1.8. Are those repeatable performances, or a one-hit wonder?
8. Iowa State Cyclones
With the Cyclones struggling to get their offense going in the first half of the 2011 campaign and on a 3-game losing streak, Paul Rhodes decided to make a change at quarterback. In came freshman Jared Barnett, a dual threat passer from Garland, TX. With his first start against Texas Tech, Barnett led them to 3 wins in a row over the Red Raiders, Kansas, and finally Oklahoma State. Against the Championship game bound (and undefeated) Cowboys, Barnett was brilliant, finishing with 376 yards passing, 84 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. In games that Barnett was the lone single-caller, they Cyclones went 3-2.
Will he be able to continue to grow and build upon a successful freshman season? He loses his top pass catcher in Darius Reynolds, but they return their leading rusher in James White. He is also helped by an improving defense and a home-field advantage that can help you get 1 big upset a year. Outside of that, there is still building to be done for Coach Rhodes, as there is a pretty big gap between 7th and 8th.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Tommy Tuberville came into Lubbock touting his ability to bring an SEC defense to the explosive Air Raid offense, and quite honestly he has failed to do both. The defense finished 116th in yards allowed (out of 120) and allowed 41.9 points per game (119th), while the offense has not been able to keep up the extraordinary pace it had under previous coach Mike Leach. The Red Raiders have lost almost a touchdown per game since Leach left (averaged 36.9ppg in 2009, 30.5 in 2010, and 32.4 in 2011).
Seth Doege returns for his senior campaign, throwing for over 4000 yards last season. However, the Red Raiders problems offensively were not moving the ball, it was in scoring. They finished 50th in points per offensive play (.380) and 55th in Yards per Point (14.4). That paled in comparison to their last year under Leach (.466 for 17th, and 12.5 for 22nd) and shows the true digression in offensive performance.
While Tuberville has been able to get higher ranked talent to campus, he has not seen the results on the field, yet. Their 2011 class ranked 13th overall in the country according to scout, while 2012 ranked 24th. Most of these kids though are still freshman and sophomores so there is time for them to bring the Red Raiders back to the top.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Let the Charlie Weis era begin! The Jayhawks struggled in almost every area of the game, and really only had a chance in 4 games all year. They beat light-weights McNeese State and Northern Illinois, while falling by just three to Iowa State. Their best chance to win a Big 12 game though came against Baylor, as they fell in overtime, trying to get for a 2-point conversion and the win. However, the play fell short, just like the Jayhawks season. Out was Turner Gill as head coach replacing him with the big name (among other things) of Charlie Weis.
The talent is quite bare for the Jayhawks, but Weis has already picked up several transfers from his previous head coaching spot at Notre Dame. You can expect some growing pains for KU next year, but as with any coaching change brings, there is hope for the future.