OKLAHOMA: My pick to win the national title this season. The Sooners have a good shot at making it through their regular-season schedule unbeaten. They have the best defense in the nation, with nine starters returning…and more speed than the 1985 Cardinals. Plus, Oklahoma has one of the best coaching staffs in the country with Bob Stoops sporting a career record of 43-9 (83%). Downside? Only four returning starters on offense. A new quarterback and a new tailback. However, I think that Wartburg's offense would win nine games on this schedule, with the Sooners' defense.
TEXAS: Very talented. Highly ranked. Blah, blah, blah. Do YOU trust 'em? Neither do I. Some experts are picking the Longhorns to win the whole enchilada, but I could see this team losing three regular-season games (Oklahoma, at ISU and either Kansas State or Nebraska). Seriously, the starting QB for Texas is a lad by the name of Chance Mock, Jr. Not Chance Mock. Chance Mock…JUNIOR. Uh, maybe it's just me. But, someone named Chance Mock, Jr. should be playing tennis with a sweater tied around his waist. Too much for Texas to overcome. They'll underachieve.
OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys averaged over 34 points per game last year and return eight starters on offense, including 1,000-yard rusher Tatum Bell, 3,000-yard passer Josh Fields and 1,000-yard receiver Rashaun Woods. They will definitely be dangerous. Defensively, Okie State may be improved…although Eddie Sutton will not be impressed. The Cowboys finished strong in 2002…can they maintain the momentum? Doubtful. They open at Nebraska on August 30. But, look for them to make a run at another bowl game.
TEXAS TECH: Not many people know that the Red Raiders had Kliff Kingsbury on a "pitch count" last season. He was not allowed to throw more than 115 passes in any games. Perhaps Coach Mike Leach will finally open things up this season with BJ Symons at QB. Tech has nine returning starters on offense to help Symons get comfortable. Defensively? Ummm…not so good. The biggest game of the year for the Red Raiders could well be its Homecoming tilt on October 11 against Iowa State. Don't bet the farm that this team will play in a fourth consecutive bowl game.
TEXAS A&M: Look for the Aggies to go 2-6 in the league under new head coach Dennis Franchione. A&M will defeat Baylor and Kansas…but that's it. The Aggies are probably the only team in the nation to have defensive starters who have the first names of "Linnis" and "Nurahda." So maybe that's something to build on.
BAYLOR: This team is bad. The Bears will not win a game in the Big 12. Positives? Mike Singletary played for Baylor. And…that's just about it.
NEBRASKA: The Huskers were 7-7 last season (just like the Cyclones) and the natives are restless. With leading runner and passer Jammal Lord returning, Nebraska should be better offensively than a year ago. Defensively, seven starters are back, including leading tackler Demorrio Williams. (A piece of trivia: My middle name was almost "Demorrio." I think.) Frank Solich knows that it's now or never in Lincoln and I think the Huskers will be 7-0 when the Cyclones come to town on October 25. Nebraska will bounce back from its disappointing 2002 season to finish in the Top 20 in 2003. Solich saves his job.
KANSAS STATE: Bill Snyder is a terrific coach and this might be his best team yet. I have the Wildcats ranked #4 in the nation right now (behind Oklahoma, Miami and Michigan). Ell Roberson threw for 1,580 yards and ran for 1,032 more last season. Darren Sproles rushed for 1,465 yards. Josh Buhl had 135 tackles. All these guys—and 40 other lettermen—return from a team that finished 11-2 last year. However, something tells me that Iowa State has a shot at these guys in Ames on November 8. I might be the only person outside of the Cyclone lockerroom who thinks that, but at some point, Iowa State has to beat K-State. Right?
COLORADO: I don't particularly like this team. I don't particularly like its coach, either. Only nine starters return for the Buffaloes, so they could have a long year. Look for a five-win season in Boulder.
MISSOURI: Brad Smith is a terrific player as he proved last year as a freshman, passing for 2,333 yards and running for 1,029 yards. And he's got plenty of experience surrounding him offensively. However, the Tigers will miss Justin Gage, who was their top receiver, and four of their top five tacklers from a year ago. It should be an exciting season for Mizzou and I expect the Tigers to play in their first bowl game since 1998.
KANSAS: Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison have moved on to the pros, so there are some big holes to fill for the Jayhawks. Kansas will go 1-7 in the league, with a Homecoming victory over Baylor on October 18. But, it won't be easy.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)