Preseason Big 12 Conference Rankings
1. Oklahoma--The Sooners are coming off a disappointing 10-win season in which they won the Insight Bowl. They return Heisman hopeful quarterback Landry Jones behind a veteran offensive line and get renewed energy back on the other side of the ball with the return of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, plus new linebackers coach Tim Kish. They're a serious national championship contender.
2. West Virginia--The Mountaineers will fit in just fine in the Big 12 with their electric offense fueled by stars quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Tavon Austin. They could cause the Sooners all kinds of problems up here at the top and are a definite BCS contender.
3. Texas--They're not quite back to national championship caliber yet--that's a year away--but a much improved Longhorns squad could finish with 10 wins. That'll put them right in the thick of things in the conference race, where they'll likely receive a very nice bowl bid. A couple key losses, though, will prevent them from winning the league.
4. Kansas State--Quarterback Collin Klein made a force out of this team a year ago. He accounted for 40 total touchdowns, including 27 on the ground, and he will provide similar numbers this year en route to putting the Wildcats in the upper half of the Big 12. They could realistically finish anywhere in the top half but wind up near the bottom end because of road trips to Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU.
5. TCU--Speaking of the Horned Frogs, they come in at fifth. They'll be pegged as a Top 25, likely Top 20 team by the preseason polls, but that won't be enough to win this league. A couple of things will hinder TCU's chances. First, they're adapting to a new league without quite as dynamic of an offense as West Virginia has, so that should give them trouble. Second, the spring suspensions leave them in a less than desirable position.
6. Oklahoma State--Out goes Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, and down go the Pokes. They'll slide out of the upper half of the Big 12. Still, everyone will be keeping an eye on a team that won the Fiesta Bowl in 2011-12.
7. Baylor--Similar story here with the loss of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. RGIII catapulted the Bears onto the national stage, and now he's gone. But they are one of the most intriguing teams in this league, simply because they return a senior quarterback in Nick Florence that does have some experience. He's thrown 290 times in his career and completed 62.1 percent of those, including eight touchdowns. A big year from him could see a better finish than expected.
8. Texas Tech--Throw in another veteran senior quarterback to the Big 12 mix with Seth Doege. He threw for more than 4,000 yards last year and 28 touchdowns and is ready to get after it again. Still, the Red Raiders won't be stout defensively and they'll have their struggles getting to the top half of the league.
9. Iowa State--It's also tough to see the Cyclones making any sort of surge towards the top half. They'll fight behind head coach Paul Rhoads, like his teams do, but they're just simply not talented enough. Returning Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year A.J. Klein is a nice start, though.
10. Kansas--Brighter times are ahead for new coach Charlie Weis, but the Jayhawks figure to be a certain cellar dweller in 2012. Dayne Crist as signal caller gives them hope for a victory or two, though.
Preseason All-Big 12 Conference Team
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas--He's a returning unanimous All-Big 12 selection, coming off a season featuring 58 tackles, 14 for loss and seven sacks, and he'll be one again.
DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas--Jeffcoat is the second of the Longhorns' dominant front four duo returners and he's destined for a big year after recording 21 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season.
DL: Jamarkus McFarland, Oklahoma--The Lufkin, Texas product is poised for a big time year, perhaps a lethal interior defensive lineman season. He finished with 20 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a half sack in 2011.
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU--He's on the Bronko Nagurski Watch List for a reason. He's a monster up front and ready to showcase his skills in a new league.
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State--The returning All-Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year is back for more. He finished with 116 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss last season.
LB: Tom Wort, Oklahoma--Wort finds himself on the preseason list for the first time because his production is expected to spike as one of OU's two primary defensive leaders. He recorded 71 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks last year and will do that much and more this time around.
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State--You can't keep the 2011 Defensive Newcomer of the Year off the list because he's feasting for a better season than last year's, which featured a team-leading 101 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss.
DB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma--A preseason Jim Thorpe Award Watch List candidate, he has finally shifted to more of a playmaking position at free safety and that should afford him big opportunities for a breakout season. He led the Sooners with four interceptions last year and can likely build upon that this year. Look out for him in the Defensive Player of the Year battle.
DB: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas--Vaccaro is another Thorpe Watch List player, and he'll show why in 2012. He's an easy selection for All-Big 12 after doing so last year.
DB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State--Another 2011 All-Big 12 selection, Malone finished with seven interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 17 passes deflected. There's no reason to believe he won't put up at least somewhat similar numbers.
DB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State--Yet another 2011 selection earns the final secondary nod. The fact that he was a Thorpe Award semifinalist should tell the tale.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State--Sharp beats out Oklahoma's Tress Way because he's a two-time selection. He averaged 46.3 yards per punt last year with 12 inside the 20.
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State--His last name is among K-State lore from his father Kevin and uncle Aaron, and he reestablished it by earning All-Big 12 second team honors as a returner last year. Now, he makes the step to first team.
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia--Austin lit up the Big East skies last year with nearly 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 receptions. He'l put up numbers like that in the Big 12, too.
TE: Jordan Najvar, Baylor--A returning upperclassman, Najvar finished with 15 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He earned honorable mention status last season.
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma--He's a returning first team All-Big 12 offensive lineman, he's on the Outland Trophy Watch List, and he's on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List. What else more is there to say?
OL: LeAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech--There's a reason Doege can stand in there and throw for 4,000+ yards. It's because of his big 6-foot-6, 318-pound senior bruiser up front. Waddle, another Lombardi Watch List recipient, made second team a year ago and will ascend to the premier rank this time around.
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma--His health dictates how far the Sooners go because he has a special bond up front snapping the ball with Jones. Habern, also a member of both the Outland and Lombardi Watch Lists, underwent minor offseason shoulder surgery and missed five games last year with a broken wrist but should be back to his old form. He'll have triple digit knockdowns for one of the most prolific offenses in the country, and that's reason alone to include him here.
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State--Another one of the best offensive linemen in the league, Taylor is the fourth to be named to those two watch lists. Taylor has 36 career starts, including the final 12 at right guard last year.
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor--He's a returning All-Big 12 honorable mention candidate and completes the perfect 5-for-5 for offensive linemen on the Outland and Lombardi lists. Richardson should justify his position here when he helps restore an offense that loses RGIII.
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma--Stills was somewhat of a disappointment when NCAA all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles went down with a torn ACL last year. He didn't step up in the manner he wanted to, but 1,000 yards is very doable for him because he's feeding off that motivation to be a different player this year. That's why he earns the spot.
QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia--Interestingly enough, Smith gets the nod here over Jones for a couple of reasons. First off, the Sooners will resort to the Belldozer package inside the 10 in many circumstances, which will be deceptive to many voters as far as Jones' numbers are concerned. Second, Smith has this little option named Tavon Austin. That will make him look quite nice in a new league.
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State--He's certainly one of the more obvious choices on the ballot. Randle finished with 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns on 208 carries in 2011. Yep, he'll do it again.
RB: Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma--Many would find this as at least a somewhat surprising selection, but Whaley is poised for a huge year. He's healthy coming off his broken ankle and ready to lead all Sooner backs, perhaps surpassing the 100-yard mark he was poised to easily shatter last season.
PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State--Sharp nailed 88 percent of his kicks a year ago, completing 22-of-25 attempts. He managed a long of 46 and was 2-for-3 from beyond 40. He's the best kicker in the conference and will put up similar numbers.
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia--You've already heard his name several times, and that's because he's arguably the best pure playmaker in the league. As much as he can do at receiver, the reigning Big East Return Specialist of the Year can do it just as well in special teams. Two words: watch out.
Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia--Because Smith gets the nod over Jones, who is a close second in both categories, he also gets the spot here. There are a number of guys, likely including his teammate Austin, who could have earned this position, but Smith will lead the potent Mountaineers offense to ridiculous numbers and just one or two losses in the regular season, and that should cement his case.
Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Klein, Iowa State--Quite a debate here honestly between Jefferson, Klein and Maponga. But Klein receives it because he was the co-recipient with Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander last year and he's coming back with expected similar numbers. Don't dethrone the king until it's justified, so to speak.
Newcomer of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia OR Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma--For the third time on my ballot, Smith finds his name called. That's because he's in a new conference, which, to my knowledge, puts him up for NOY. If not, well that's why Trey Metoyer is also there. Anyone worried about the Sooner offense after three receivers were suspended indefinitely should look no further than this true freshman. He's the former 2011 No. 1 Scout.com player and he'll show why. That's enough for me to put him here.