1. Oklahoma Sooners: Yes, I know they played North Texas, which is a team in transition, not to mention an up-and-coming program currently under the new regime of Todd Dodge and Company, but ‘Holy Stromboli' OU was sensational. Sam Bradford is the best redshirt freshman QB in the land and looked far more mature behind the ears than most anyone could have expected, save those of us who watched the OU Spring Game on ESPN, where he proceeded to slice up his own and one of the most athletic defenses in the nation. The kid is doing his best last year's-Colt McCoy impersonation -- where it looks like he might be the best redshirt freshman QB in the country this year and one of the best, regardless of classification (at least in terms of efficiency, accuracy, decision-making and poise a la UT's McCoy last year). Not only that, he looks like he has an awesome team that'll rally around him, not to mention a great stable of tailbacks. [Did anyone see my boy Mossis Madu go off, averaging 10 yards a carry not to mention factoring into the Sooner passing game? Jerry Scott knows what I'm talking about!] Or how Demarco Murray, the starting Crimson and Cream tailback, who had an extremely impressive college debut, looks primed to be the one of the next great tailbacks in Sooner lore? And how bout that receiving corps, led by Malcolm Kelly, Julio Iglesias, stud tight end Jermaine Grehsam, Manuel Johnson and AT – Adron Tennell for those of you who do not know who I'm talking about – the next Malcolm Kelly). Add to the fact that Oklahoma's defense appears to rank up there with anybody in the country, and the Sooner Nation ought to be talking National Championship run. Their performance, despite it being only one game and much tougher tests await, my friends, showed Oklahoma to be the toast of the Big 12. OU is for Real! Better ask somebody.
[Next Game: Miami + 10.5 @ Oklahoma.]
2. Texas A&M: Yes, they played Montana State and had a lackluster showing. And while some Aggie fans are going to moan and groan, I'll take Mack Brown's explanation for his Texas teams' poor showing as the gospel for why the Ags did not impress as much as they should have: "We need a preseason game like the NFL has." Fair enough. I guess what I'm saying is do not fret Aggie fans. Some of my A&M colleagues tell me 'Stacey, that's just the way it is over here in Aggieville.' Well, get over it already. Move on and support your team! Fran and Gang have
a sleeping giant on their hands. If and when they nail down a couple of more ace recruiters on their staff Oklahoma and Texas better beware. Until then Fran and Co. will have to do it with motivation, Xs and Os (and make no mistake they're as good in the Xs and Os department as any coaching staff in the Big 12) and pushing the right buttons. Having said all of that, and speaking of pushing the right buttons, they're not going to have to rely on all of that this season at least. Because this season, the Aggies have the talent level, coaching prowess and physicality to whip your tail. You grab that sharpie out of your desk drawer and mark this down: This Franchione-led Texas A&M team is also the real deal. They're hungry, not getting any respect, and chomping at the bit. Forget all of that 'They have the toughest schedule in the NCAA,' although it's true. But that schedule is why I'm picking the Ags to kick ass. In my humble, yet confident opinion, the Maroon and White look very similar to me in terms of being that OU 2000 Sooner team, who behind former OU QB Josh Heupel went onto to win the national championship against Florida State despite an extremely tough schedule. They turned that into a positive and that is what I think the Aggies can do. If Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee, RBs Michael Goodson and Jovorskie Lane play their game. And they'll be given the opportunity to do just that behind a line some say is the best in the nation (although the Sooners might have something to say about that). And then one more important part of the equation is to get a tremendous effort from their defense. Combine all of that and TAMU actually has a realistic shot to contend for a National Championship berth, provided of course they take care of business in the Big 12 against OSU, OU, NU, TTU, UT and the rest of the Big 12 schedule. I know that's easier said than done. But those aforementioned Big 12 teams would be wise not to sleep on the Ags. And if the Maroon and White have high hopes of factoring into the National Championship hunt they must beat a resurgent Miami team on the road behind the leadership of junior QB Kirby Freeman, a former Brownwood, Texas product and an enthusiastic Randy Shannon-led Hurricane football team. But the Canes ain't gonna beat the Aggies. You can mark that down with your sharpie too. It'll be one of the Big 12 teams handing the Ags their first loss, more than likely OU. This year's challenging schedule has the attention and the focus of the TAMU coaches and players. That's important. Because that focus needed week in and week out will more than likely keep this Aggie team workmanlike as they prepare to make perhaps the most memorable run ever. Folks, Fran and Co. are capable of getting on a roll with each and every win breeding only more confidence. Every week they're a winner is another week they're going to feel that they have what it takes to win it all!
[Next Game: Fresno State + 17.5 @ Texas A&M.]
3. Nebraska: Yes, I am picking the Huskers over Texas and the rest of the Big 12 teams not named Oklahoma or Texas A&M. And the 5-6 teams behind them make no mistake are an extremely scrappy bunch of Big 12 teams vying for Big 12 supremacy. So, they'll have to continue to impress to remain No. 3, much less move up. But for now, and after a solid week one appearance, the Huskers have a squad this year that looks ready to romp. They're that good in my opinion and should remain focused for that reason each and every week. USC is going to be an awesome test, but win or lose I'll be simply gauging their performance, how they fare, how they respond. And a treacherous Big 12 slate will be enough to know, sooner rather than later, just how good this Husker football team really is. After week one, however, they look pretty darn good. Where they will wind up in the end is what counts though. Good thing they don't have to play OU. But the bad news is they've got the AP No. 1 USC looming soon. Having said all of that, the Big Red, behind the play of Arizona State-transfer and senior QB, Sam Keller, and an excellent tailback in Marlon Lucky (who might actually be one of the top three tailbacks in the Big 12), plus a stout defense, might be on their way to recapturing the glory of old. Winning all of their games will be extremely difficult to say the least. I'm not sure they have what it takes to do that. But by the same token, a chance to win this year's Big 12 Championship game is not a dream folks. It's a reality. The Huskers appear to be that good, finally poised to be a legitimate contender for the Big 12 crown under Bill Callahan and Co. And maybe, just maybe, the goods to contend for a national championship berth. We'll find out more about this year's Nebraska team when we tune into to watch the Wake Forest game.
[Saturday: Nebraska – 8 @ Wake Forest.]
4. Texas: Is Colt McCoy headed for a sophomore jinx? Folks, expectations were set too high for this year's Longhorn team. They've got a lot of work just to remain in the No. 4 spot. And as McCoy goes, the Longhorn will go, right? Well, Horn fans better hope McCoy finds himself, plays within himself, makes better decisions, is more accurate, and finds his confidence right now. Oh, and UT faces a tough TCU team who looks primed to pull the upset. Who in their right mind would have picked the Horns over Oklahoma and Texas A&M (and they better watch out for Oklahoma State) for Big 12 South bragging rights when they knew UT would have to field an O-line minus three standout offensive linemen who are now in the NFL? Oh, yeah, and that was not the only unit with question marks. How about trying to find three DBs to replace the three who are now in the NFL? Oh, and did I forget to mention the fact that they lost their top two edge rushers, both of whom were good enough to hear their names called by the NFL commissioner? Having said all of that, I must say the UT O-line does not appear to be the problem I thought it might be, at least not yet. They actually played fairly well, save goal line situations. And kudos to Mac McWhorter who might be doing his best OU OC/OL coach Kevin Wilson-impersonation when Wilson was able to morph a weak Sooner OL unit into a fairly salty Sooner offensive line by the end of the 2005 season. That was the season where OU had to overcome more line issues than previously ever in the Bob Stoops Era. Back to the UT short yardage-running game, or lack thereof: Is Jamal Charles the right goal line/short yardage back? As gifted as Jamal Charles is and primed to post some monster numbers this year – and he did play very well – I'm not sure he's capable of moving the pile. And if he is, then it is a feeble O-line interior without the gumption to open up the running lanes needed for Charles to punch it in. At the very least, that's what it looked like to this college football fan in their game against Arkansas State. Make no mistake about it UT fans if Texas aspires to contend in the South, much less remain in the hunt for the Big Championship Game, they better get better in a hurry. And don't even get me started on the secondary. While in fact the safeties showed me that they are up to task with Marcus Griffin, Erick Jackson (and Drew Kelson backing up both safety spots), Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer are Jeckyl and Hyde corners. One minute they're sticking close to their man, the next minute they're getting beat. Why doesn't Duane Akina and Co. have, albeit the less experienced tandem of Deon Beasley and Chykie Brown starting at cornerback? Who cares if they're not quite yet ready? Let ‘em play man to man and let the best man win. They're the best set of corners the Longhorns have and the quicker they figure that out, the better their pass defense will be. And woe to the Longhorn front four, not to mention secondary, if DE Brian Orakpo cannot return to action soon. He is the best pass rusher the Horns have and at times they struggled to pressure the Arkansas State QB when he left the game. Although I was impressed with the athleticism of Eddie Jones, a redshirt freshman with excellent quicks. Question on Jones goes: Does he have enough junk in the trunk to hold up in run defense? Plain and simple, Texas was unfairly overrated by the preseason prognosticators, the AP, the Coaches Poll, etc. They have so many holes to fill that it's laughable that anyone would have expected the Horns to simply reload. Unless they shore up some major weaknesses, not to mention see the Real McCoy return to the form he showed last year -- the Horns are in for a disappointing season. Eking out a 21-13 win against the Indians last Saturday is the last thing anybody expected. That being said, I do think Arkansas State will contend for their respective Sun Belt conference championship behind a great defense, impressive ball control offense, a playmaking QB in Josh Leonard, who has a rifle for an arm and mobility to run the zone read. Still, the Horns were one ASU converted onside kick (which appeared to me that they converted), one ASU TD drive, and one ASU two-point conversion from having to win or lose in overtime. Not a good sign. But perhaps that is in fact what the Longhorns needed to get up for upset-minded TCU. We shall see.
[Next Game: TCU + 9.5 @ Texas]
5. Kansas State: Okay, I know some of you are calling BS on this pick given the fact that this is just the second year under the Ron Prince regime. But, did you see their game against SEC stalwart Auburn, where the Wildcats went on the road and with just 2:00 minutes remaining in the game were on their way to pulling the proverbial upset special? Folks, K-State is for real this year and as Josh Freeman goes, the team will go. Why do I say that? They've got an attacking style of defense, a good enough running game, a fairly decent wide receiver unit, and an O-line that if it can buy Freeman the time he needs to make plays will win a lot of games. Left tackle might be the biggest issue on the O-line—dude needs to get better in a hurry, IMO. If this occurs, then KSU alumni, fans and opponents in the Big 12 are going to be in for quite a surprise. Props to the Wildcat football team for never giving up and big-time props to the Wildcat coaching staff in terms of what they've got going on in Manhattan. They have a program. And, a program that is going to make some hay in the Big 12 North this year, and I'll do you one better. They have the potential to be the North Representative in the Big 12 Championship Game. One thing I'm certain of, KSU will not be intimidated by anybody on their schedule this year. And I think it safe to say they're going to come out week in and week out with the necessary swagger to win each and every game. While that is probably unlikely, do not bet against Ron Prince and Co. too often because they're definitely back on the right track. Despite handing the Auburn Tigers the ‘W' this past Saturday, just failing to finish in the last two minutes of the game, KSU did a far more right than wrong. The folks in Manhattan ought to be celebrating what looks to me, under the guidance of hotshot head coach/master recruiter Ron Prince, a program worth tuning in to watch every week.
[Next Game: San Jose State + 17 @ Kansas State.]
T6. Oklahoma State: OSU QB Bobby Reid was outstanding, but I could not keep from wondering how much better he might be if he had a solid No. 2 wide receiver to throw to. He does have arguably the best receiver in the nation (Adarius Bowman) and one of the top five tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew) in the Big 12 to throw to. But Reid needs a few more weapons. And the faster the Boys can trot out a solid No. 2 receiver, or perhaps get Dez Bryant up to speed quicker, the better Mike Gundy and Co. are going to be this season. Having said that, replacing the front four on the defensive line is perhaps the biggest weakness needing addressed ASAP. The Georgia Bulldogs were able to plow their way to 2nd-and-short situations regularly enough. That in fact, was where the game was won. I wanted to rank the Cowboys higher because I think they're capable of wining a lot of games. But after watching their front four on defense look woeful, I simply could not justify ranking them any higher. The bottom line is that they were not up to task when in came to stopping the Bulldog rush attack. I will be watching this week to see if they can address this major issue. They better or they'll be slipping down the Big 12 Power Rankings and slipping fast.
[Next Game: Florida Atlantic + 22.5 @ Oklahoma State.]