***Colorado (2-10 overall, 2-6 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Sixteen overall, nine on offense and seven on defense.
*Impact Players: LB Jordan Dizon (137 tackles, seven tackles for loss), LB Brad Jones (72 tackles), WR Bernard Jackson (108-of-219, 1,298 yards, 7 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 677 yards rushing, 7 touchdowns), RB Hugh Charles (779 yards rushing, 1 touchdown) , TE Riar Greer (24 receptions, 261 yards, 3 touchdowns), OT Tyler Polumbus, S Lionel Harris (67 tackles, three tackles for loss), CB Terrence Wheatley (57 tackles, five interceptions).
*Summary: Dan Hawkins survived an unimaginable first season at Colorado after building Boise State into a mid-major power. With his team finally buying into everything, and with his team having a better understanding of the systems instituted, especially the spread offense, the Buffaloes have the potential to bounce back and be one of the best teams in the North.
Led by four-year starter Jordan Dizon, the defense in Boulder will be a stout one. Complimenting Dizon on the weak-side will be Brad Jones. Sophomore Michael Sipili takes over in the middle, but really played well when called on last season. Three full-time starters, and a part-time starter return to the secondary. Lionel Harris and Ryan Walters are back at safety, Terrence Wheatley is back at cornerback and Ben Burney, who made two starts at safety last season, has smoothly made the transition to cornerback. Any kind of pass rush from first-year starters Maurice Lucas and Alonzo Barnett or JUCO transfer Drew Hudgins would be an extreme boost. The team struggled in this department during the spring. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Nicholas starts at defensive tackle.
Bernard Jackson makes the move from quarterback to jack-of-all-trades. He will line up at receiver and in the backfield, as Hawkins tries to get the ball in his best playmakers hands as much as possible. Cody Hawkins, a red-shirt freshman and the coach's son is most likely going to be the starter at quarterback. Tight end sophomore Riar Greer led the Buffaloes with 24 receptions last season. Running back Hugh Charles will be running behind an offensive line that lost three starters from last year. Freshman tackle Ryan Miller could push for immediate time.
The Buffaloes also have to replace two-time All-American kicker Mason Crosby.
*Key Games: Sept. 1 vs. Colorado State, Sept. 8 at Arizona State, Sept. 15 vs. Florida State, Sept. 29 vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 23 vs. Nebraska.
***Iowa State (4-8 overall, 1-7 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Ten overall, five on offense and five on defense.
*Impact Players: LB Alvin Bowen (155 tackles, five tackles for loss), QB Bret Meyer (211-of-374, 2,546 yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions), WR Todd Blythe (34 receptions, 484 yards, eight touchdowns), LB Jon Banks (99 tackles), S Caleb Berg (76 tackles), OG Tom Schmeling.
*Summary: There are some pieces here for first-year head coach Gene Chizik to work with. The former Texas defensive coordinator has quarterback Bret Meyer, who has started 36 games in a row back, and linebacker Alvin Bowen, who's 12.92 tackles per game led the nation in 2006. Eleven JUCO players come in ready to contribute.
Iowa State struggled to stop other teams from moving the football, and they're hoping Chizik is the answer. Bowen and converted safety Jon Banks are back at linebacker. Safety Caleb Berg and cornerback Chris Singleton also return, but the rest of the defense needs to be rebuilt, which could be a good thing. Defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Nate Frere both weigh over 300 pounds, and should open things up for the linebackers.
Meyer is the only quarterback in the nation to come into the season who has thrown for over 7,000 yards and rush for over 400 in a career. Those are impressive rushing stats for a quarterback that has been picking himself up off the ground often. Once again he will basically have a brand new offensive line in front of him. JUCO transfers Doug Dedrick at tackle and Joe Blaes at guard could start right away. Another JUCO transfer, Jamicah Bass has a great chance to win the starting running back job. Meyer's favorite target, Todd Blythe and his 26 career touchdown receptions is also back.
Kicker Bret Culbertson has never missed an extra point in his career.
*Key Games: Sept. 15 at Iowa, Sept. 29 at Nebraska, Oct. 13 vs. Texas, Oct. 20 vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 10 vs. Colorado.
***Kansas (6-6 overall, 3-5 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Fourteen overall, six on offense and eight on defense.
*Impact Players: DT James McClinton (51 tackles, 16 tackles for loss), QB Kerry Meier (104-of-184, 1,193 yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions), LB Mike Rivera (90 tackles, eight tackles for loss), LB Joe Mortensen (82 tackles), WR Dexton Fields (45 receptions, 455 yards, 5 touchdowns), OT Cesar Rodriguez, OT Anthony Collins, CB Aqib Talib (42 tackles, six interceptions).
*Summary: As usual, Kansas will be tough to run the football against. James McClinton is one of the best defensive tackles in the country. Next to him, Todd Haselhorst is finally healthy. The linebackers are so deep, that Mike Rivera, who led the team in tackles last season, left the spring running with the second unit. Joe Mortensen has supplanted him as the starting middle linebacker. In the last two seasons, the Jayhawks have only allowed one 100-yard rusher. With Aqib Talib leading the secondary, this could be one of the best defenses in the conference if they could find away to generate more pressure on the quarterback than they did last season..
Head coach Mark Mangino will not name a starter at quarterback until fall camp. Kerry Meier returns and is being pushed by Todd Reesing. Jake Sharp looks to replace Jon Cornish at tailback. Dexton Fields and Marcus Henry give whoever the quarterback is going to be, a couple reliable receivers. Cesar Rodriguez and Anthony Collins are flipping sides at tackle, while the interior line needs to be rebuilt. Ed Warriner returns to Kansas from Illinois as the school's offensive coordinator.
*Key Games: Oct. 6 at Kansas State, Oct. 20 at Colorado, Oct. 27 at Texas A&M, Nov. 3 at Nebraska, Nov. 24 vs. Missouri.
***Kansas State (7-6 overall, 4-4 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Thirteen overall, seven on offense and six on defense.
*Impact Players: RB Leon Patton (609 yards, six touchdowns), RB James Johnson (403 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns), DE Ian Campbell (67 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss), CB Marcus Watts (26 tackles, 3 interceptions), QB Josh Freeman (140-of-270, 1,780 yards, 6 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), WR Jordy Nelson (39 receptions, 547 yards, 1 touchdown), TE Rashaad Norwood (36 receptions, 358 yards).
*Summary: Ron Prince led Kansas State back to a bowl game in his first season at the helm. The program is expecting continued success in his second year. Prince promoted Tim Tibesar from special teams coach to defensive coordinator, and he installed a brand new 3-4 defense this spring.
The Wildcats have a pretty talented defense returning, especially across the defensive line. Defensive end Ian Campbell is coming off an outstanding season where he had 11 ½ sacks and 17 ½ tackles for loss. He will play outside linebacker in the new scheme, but mostly wreak havoc as a pass rusher. Alphonso Moran has a grip on the nose tackle job coming out of spring ball. There is as many as 10 guys in the secondary with playing experience led by Marcus Watts, who led the team with three interceptions despite missing five games last year. Incoming JUCO All-American Chris Patterson‘s arrival boosts the linebacker play.
The big question for this team is the development of quarterback Josh Freeman. In his first season as a starter last year, he threw 15 interceptions and only six touchdowns. He followed that up with a mediocre spring. This team will go as far as he can carry them offensively. The talented running back duo of James Johnson and Leon Patton are back, but the offensive line doesn't return much experience. A healthy Jordy Nelson is poised for a big season at receiver, and tight end Rashaad Norwood was second on the team in receptions a year ago.
*Key Games: Sept. 1 at Auburn, Sept. 29 at Texas, Oct. 6 vs. Kansas, Oct. 20 at Oklahoma State, Nov. 10 at Nebraska.
***Missouri (8-5 overall, 4-4 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Thirteen overall, eight on offense and five on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Chase Daniel (287-of-452, 3,527 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions), RB Tony Temple (1,063 yards rushing, seven touchdowns), WR William Franklin (829 yards receiving, eight touchdowns), TE Chase Coffman (638 yards receiving, nine touchdowns), TE Martin Rucker (511 yards receiving, five touchdowns), DT Lorenzo Williams (53 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss), CB Darnell Terrell (58 tackles, seven pass breakups), C Adam Spieker.
*Summary: One of the best offenses coming into the season in the conference, if not the country. Quarterback Chase Daniel, who put together the best ever single-season in Tigers history last year is back under center. Tony Temple's 1,063 yards rushing last season is the most returning in the conference. Daniel has his top three pass catchers returning in William Franklin and tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker.
The Tigers could put numbers on the board last season, and with Daniel showing that he is even better during the spring, this will be a scary unit to prepare for. The only question comes along the offensive line, where the unit was healthy during the spring and unable to gel properly.
Defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams will be a force in the middle of the Tigers defense, and Darnell Terrell is a reliable cornerback. There isn't much experience other than that. If this defense can hold their own, Missouri has a great chance of winning the North title.
*Key Games: Sept. 8 at Ole' Miss, Oct. 6 vs. Nebraska, Oct. 13 vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 10 vs. Texas A&M, Nov. 17 at Kansas State.
***Nebraska (9-5 overall, 6-2 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Ten overall, five on offense and five on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Sam Keller (sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State), WR Maurice Purify (630 yards receiving, seven touchdowns), Terrence Nunn (597, three touchdowns), LB Corey McKeon (69 tackles, eight tackles for loss), LB Bo Ruud (65 tackles, seven tackles for loss), S Tierre Green (65 tackles), OT Carl Nicks, C Brett Byford.
*Summary: Sam Keller is ready to take over for the departed quarterback Zac Taylor after transferring from Arizona State the season before last. The heralded signal-caller will look to get the ball in the hands of the talented duo Maurice Purify and Terrence Nunn as much as possible in Bill Callhan's west coast offense. Brett Byford and Carl Nicks anchor a rebuilding offensive line. With running back Brandon Jackson leaving early for the NFL, Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn battle for the starting duties.
There is also a lot of changes on defense. All four starters along the line are gone from last season, and cornerback Zach Bowman might miss most of the season after rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee during the spring. The Cornhuskers are set at linebacker with four guys with playing experience back led by Corey McKeon and Bo Ruud. Safeties Tierre Green and Larry Asante give Callahan comfort in his final line of defense.
*Key Games: Sept. 8 at Wake Forest, Sept. 15 vs. USC, Oct. 20 vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 27 at Texas, Nov. 10 at Kansas State, Nov. 23 at Colorado.