Jayhawks at the Mic Today

The following is the second part of a three-part series reviewing the Big 12 teams set to participate in Media Days.

Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas A&M were the first to go on Monday, and today's meal includes Missouri, Baylor, Kansas and Oklahoma. Wednesday will mark the end of Big 12 Media Days, with Texas, Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas State closing out the festivities.

Nobody, likely not even Gary Pinkel, knows exactly what the Tigers will look like this year. Gone are Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, Stryker Sulak and William Moore. Instead, in step unknowns like Blaine Gabbert, Andrew Jones, Wes Kemp, Terrell Resonno, Aldon Smith and Kenji Jackson. The good news is that all the above mentioned players have plenty of talent. The better news is that the Tigers aren't completely starting over. Derrick Washington is a nice safety blanket for any new quarterback to have, while De'Vion Moore supplies nice depth at the running back spot. The Tigers also return an experienced line, including three starters and a likely future star in Dan Hoch. Jared Perry and Danario Alexander both have starting experience at receiver as well. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Luke Lambert will again be the centerpiece of the defense while young talents like Smith and Jackson get up to speed.

But all of that is a best-case scenario. As many Missouri fans can surely attest, it's one thing to look great in warm-ups, and another thing entirely to succeed in games. The Tigers' defense wasn't especially successful last year even with star power like Hood, Sulak and Moore, and it may be expecting too much for the newcomers to make that unit better right away. The same goes for the offense, where not only do the Tigers have to replace Daniel, who willed them to several wins over his career, but also Coffman and Maclin, his two biggest clutch players. The secondary has athleticism, but if Smith and Brian Coulter can't generate pressure, the Tigers could struggle to get people off the field. It should also be interesting to see where the Tigers finish. You can't play the no-respect card in the preseason and go out and lay an egg. The pieces are there to win eight games. But with a young team, a slide could also occur. A lot of boom-or-bust potential here.

Perhaps no 4-8 team has generated excitement this offseason like the Baylor Bears. Most of it revolves around sophomore phenom Robert Griffin, arguably the fastest quarterback to lace ‘em up, at least in recent memory. Griffin excelled as a freshman, rushing for more than 800 yards and 13 touchdowns. But it was his maturity as a passer that caught many off guard — Griffin finished with a 5-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and set an FBS record by throwing 209 passes without a pick. But while Griffin is the main actor in the Bears' showcase, he's hardly the only one. Running back Jay Finley actually led the Bears in rushing while averaging 5.8 yards per tote. The receiving corps also looks nice with slot receiver Kendall Wright and speedster David Gettis. Defensively, the Bears boast two of the top defensive players in the conference in linebacker Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake, along with preseason defensive newcomer of the year Phil Taylor, a mammoth 355-pound Penn State transfer.

But it's just so difficult to turn the corner in the Big 12 South, a fact that Baylor fans know all too well. Last year, the Bears were a score away from both Missouri and Texas Tech, but dropped both games, the difference between going .500 in Big 12 play and making a bowl game and 4-8, 2-6. The Bears also lost some talent, including two excellent offensive tackles. The offensive line must rebuild with only two returning starters, and the defensive line is in desperate need of pass rushers off the edge. The Bears must also find cornerbacks capable of standing up against the Big 12's passing attacks. But just like last year, the Bears' main obstacle is the schedule. With three top 10 teams sitting in the six-team South, it's just difficult to take big steps forward. A bowl game would be a great goal.

Media voters gave Kansas the second-most first place votes out of the North teams, and with good reason. Todd Reesing returns as one of the conference's top signal callers, and he should have plenty of weapons to spread the ball to. Jake Sharp has 1,000-yard back potential … he finished third in the league in yards in conference play last year. But the real talent lies at receiver, where the Jayhawks return Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and John Wilson, arguably the top receiving trio in the conference, and likely the country. The Jayhawks also return every defensive tackle from a year ago, along with most of the key defensive line depth, and all five starters in the secondary. That secondary also includes Darrell Stuckey, likely the Big 12's top defensive back. Many of those players have played key roles in leading the Jayhawks to 20 wins over the last two years, including two postseason victories.

But not all is rosy in Jayhawkland. Those returning defensive line players must combine with newcomers like Quintin Woods and Travis Stephens to try to generate more of a pass rush. Without a successful pass rush, the secondary players had to spend too much time in space and were exposed at times. The Jayhawks must also replace one of their top all-time linebacker trios and need offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson and John Williams to grow up in a hurry. Perhaps no problem is as scary as the schedule though … the Jayhawks face the South Murderer's Row in Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, with the latter games coming on the road. Even Southern Miss. could put Kansas on upset alert. At the same time, the Jayhawks have a great chance to make it to their first Big 12 title game, a scenario that could play out even if the Jayhawks lose all three South games.

The Sooners put up Playstation numbers last year, setting several records and becoming the first team to have a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers on the same team. The 4,000-yard passer is Sam Bradford, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a born-leader with a deadly accurate arm. The 1,000-yard rushers are DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. How deep are the Sooners at running back? Mossis Madu, who rushed for nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns, was moved to the slot in the spring to free up more space for Jermie Calhoun and Justin Johnson, two five-star backs from the 2008 class. Jermaine Gresham is the nation's top returning tight end. But the Sooners are especially loaded on defense, where they return All-Conference caliber talent at each spot on the front four. If Ryan Reynolds is healthy, he and Travis Lewis likely make up the nation's top linebacking duo, while Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson are steady, dependable cornerbacks.

There isn't a whole lot not to like about the Sooners. The main weakness appears to be on the offensive line, where they must replace four starters from one of the nation's top units a year ago. The Sooners also must break in two new starters at safety, and must replace Juaquin Iglesias's production at wide receiver. Neither of those two appear to be major issues though—the Sooners defense is so loaded that the athletes at safety will step into a near-perfect situation, while Adron Tennell and Ryan Broyles are more than capable of picking up any slack in the receiving unit. For the Sooners, this year should play out like most years … hover around the top five and attempt to poach a National Championship game birth. Only the Longhorns appear poised to stand in the Sooners' way.

Phog.net Top Stories