2006 Big-12 Football Preview

The Scout.com Big-12 publishers have come together to give you a quick glance at each team in the conference for the upcoming 2006 season.

North Division

Colorado Buffaloes
By: Mark Collins/ BuffaloSportsNews.net

What You Need to Know about the 2006 Colorado Buffaloes

Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Senior running back Mell Holliday hasn't played a down of Division I football, but could be a difference-maker for the Buffs this fall. He transferred to Boulder after playing at Wayne State, then sat out last season due to an NCAA ruling. He's the Buffs' best back between the tackles, and will get carries as a change-of-pace to speedster Hugh Charles. If Charles, the starter, wears down as he did late last fall, look for Holliday to find his way into the lineup on a consistent basis.

Superstar in the Making: It's no secret that receiver/return man Stephone Robinson can make people miss when he's got the ball in his hands. The mystery is why the previous coaching staff didn't put it in his hands more often in 2005. Don't expect the new staff at CU to make the same mistake. Robinson will be a go-to guy in the new offense.

Biggest Storyline: Will senior placekicker Mason Crosby get a chance to break the NCAA field goal record of 68 yards? Coach Dan Hawkins likes to go for a first down on fourth, and look for Hawkins to give Crosby a shot at writing his name in the books before the Buffs cross midfield at some point this fall.

Impact Freshman: Speaking of Crosby, a key to his success will be the development of Justin Drescher, the true freshman long snapper. Drescher, who played at perennial power Southlake Carroll in Texas, will need to be ready to go in September as the Buffs' experiments at the position in April failed.

Iowa State Cyclones
By Chris Williams/CycloneNation.com

The 2006 Iowa State Cyclones return 10 of 11 starters on the offensive side of the football. That's a good thing, considering the majority of last year's stout defense will be gone.

Keep an eye on the name Tyrone McKenzie when watching Iowa State play this season. McKenzie is a transfer from Michigan State who will replace Tim Dobbins at MLB. He doesn't have Dobbins's strength at this point, but he's faster and more athletic.

On offense, make sure to watch wide receiver R.J. Sumrall. He will see a lot of open field with teammate Todd Blythe playing the opposite end. Sumrall has the build and the speed to be an NFL receiver and he's Iowa State's number one breakaway threat.

The passing combination of Bret Meyer to Todd Blythe is arguably the best in the Big 12, but a consistent running game is a must if the Cyclones want to go to the next level. Expect five seniors to start on the offensive line, led by last year's AP All-Big 12 center, Scott Stephenson.

Special teams have plagued Iowa State the past two seasons, as numerous missed kicks at crunch time have cost them big games. Kicker Bret Culbertson earned himself a scholarship last season and will be on scholarship for the first time in his junior season.

Iowa State has been one game away from a trip to the Big 12 championship game for the past two seasons. Talent-wise, this team has the ability to win the North, but a brutal schedule will test Dan McCarney's squad.

Kansas Jayhawks
By: Phog.net

Despite losing nine starters the Jayhawks are not expecting much of a drop off on the defensive side of the ball. The squad was 11th in the country in total defense last year, only allowing 303.3 yards per game, and third in the nation in rush defense, only allowing an astounding 83.3 yards per game. Anchored by a solid interior defense, the coaches will be able to free up some of the speed from the corners and safeties to do more. The biggest question on defense will be at the linebacking position. All three starters have departed leaving the Jayhawks to reload. Expect good things out of LB's Eric Washington and Mike Rivera as both turned in solid spring camps.

The offense returns seven starters and will be led by redshirt freshman QB Kerry Meier. Meier will be protected by an experienced and talented offensive line that should take some of the pressure off of the freshman QB. Who Meier will throw to remains the biggest question for the offense. WR Brian Murph returns but who will be behind him remains a question mark. The ground game will be led by senior John Cornish and should be improved. If Meier can grow into this offense quickly and establish a rhythm with the receiving corps, look for one of the most explosive offenses of the Mangino era to develop.

The schedule plays out well for Kansas, five of the first seven at home, no matchups with Texas or Oklahoma and a light non-conference schedule. The Jayhawks should be bowl bound once again.

Kansas State Wildcats
By: Sean Kelly/Purple Pride.com

The 2006 Kansas State Wildcats are a team in transition. The winds of change blew into Manhattan and brought new Head Coach Ron Prince and almost an entirely new coaching staff. Shortly after being named as the replacement for coaching legend Bill Snyder, Prince quickly put together a coaching staff that is both young and experienced.

Look for new schemes on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball with new innovations that will be a work in progress early on. This staff brings fresh ideas from numerous conferences as well as the NFL. Youth and energy abound with this staff. Using the majority of spring practices to implement their style of play and instill their coaching philosophies, new systems means new players and starters. Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris, who came from the Tampa Bay Bucs, will look to install his version of the Tampa Two defense. By definition, the Tampa Two D is an attacking defense predicated on pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers.

On offense, look for Prince to go to a more pro-style offense and stretch the field vertically in the passing game. Look for the tight ends to be more involved in the passing game, and a premium will be placed on offensive line play.

This staff will continue to identify the best players and get them on the field. Having lost players to transfers this off-season, the Cats must find depth at critical positions and it is imperative that key JUCO players emerge quickly. Players like Robert Jackson and Moses Manu must emerge at DE to provide depth behind starters Eric Childs and Ian Campbell. Defenders like Ray Cheatham, Antwon Moore, Justin Roland and Devin Anderson look to press for playing time and will be counted on immediately. Early on, this K-State team will be a work in progress, as players and coaches develop chemistry and adjust to one another.

Missouri Tigers
By: Brad Burgess/InsideMizzou.com

Missouri…a fan base divided.

One camp of Missouri fans believe that the Tigers are back on track after struggling in football for over 25 years. This group of fans points to Missouri's two bowl games in three years under head coach Gary Pinkel. They also point to improved recruiting in Texas, Florida and the western junior colleges.

The other camp of Tigers fans can appreciate the bowl trips and the additional wins Pinkel's Tigers have generated, but remain unpersuaded that Missouri is significantly different than during previous coaching tenures. This group of fans points to watered- down non-conference schedules, a greatly depleted Big 12 North division, and continued difficulties with in-state recruiting. Also, Missouri has lost to Kansas State for the past 14 years, and Kansas for the past three seasons. Losing streaks to those teams used to get Missouri coaches fired, and now Pinkel is up for a contract extension.

It all depends how you look at things.

By all accounts, the 2006 season is a watershed campaign for Pinkel and his staff. Pinkel is now playing with all of his own recruits, has received millions of dollars in capital improvements for the football program, and has been given plenty of leeway to keep his staff intact despite extreme pressure to upgrade several position coaches.

2006 is also the first season Pinkel will have without the most profound offensive player in the history of Missouri Tigers football…Brad Smith. Ironically, several insiders believe that Missouri will actually be better off with a more traditional QB at the reins, such as Chase Daniel. However, it is strained logic at best to imagine how your offense improves by subtracting a player like Smith.

Once again, the Missouri camp is conflicted.

Stars in the making: The Tigers have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but the best of the best starts with their center, Adam Spieker. He doesn't get as much press as he deserves, but he is already one of the best centers to ever play at Missouri, and this is a school that has produced some great ones. The Tigers have the best tight end tandem in the nation in Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. If used properly, this one-two punch should provide numerous problems for opposing defenses. On defense, Missouri is loaded at defensive end, with three top performers in Brian Smith, Xzavie Jackson, and Styker Sulak.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
By: Steve Ryan/BigRedReport.com

What you don't know about Nebraska is what the fans don't even know, and that's how good the O-Line will be. If they are good, Nebraska is going to be a very tough team, with a legit shot at upsetting either USC or Texas. If they aren't good, though, senior QB Zac Taylor will be looking at another year of taking it on the chin…literally.

The defense is going to be "sick" as in good, led by All-American candidate, senior DE Adam Carriker. But be on the lookout for junior LB Steve Octavien. A broken leg in game one ended his season in 2005, but if he's healthy this year, he could be a big candidate for Newcomer of the Year accolades.

Another name to watch out for is Cody Glenn. Going into his sophomore season at running back, he did not figure to be in the running for the top spot, but over the spring, he changed that expectation. At 6-0, 230 pounds, sporting six percent body fat, this kid is a load, and he's got deceptively good feet and explosiveness. Even with all the talent at the position in the conference, people will take notice of him.

Most of the unknowns for Nebraska are on offense, and we won't know the answers to those questions until perhaps the third game of the season, when Nebraska travels to USC. And the answers could very well determine how the rest of the year goes.

South Division

Baylor Bears
By Chris Bullajian/BearsIllustrated.com

Baylor enters this season with a bowl game on their mind. Showcasing a new spread offense, the Bears have the talent to make a splash in the Big 12 this year.

New Offensive Coordinator Lee Hays and quarterbacks coach Wes Phillips bring to Baylor a spread offense much like conference foe Texas Tech University runs. The Bears will start Shawn Bell behind center. Bell, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12 coming into this season, will have the opportunity to play behind the most talented offensive line Baylor has had for quite some time. Jason Smith, a towering offensive tackle, will most likely be the key to the offensive line's success.

Baylor returns Dominque Zeigler and Trent Shelton, two of the Big 12's fastest wide outs. All eyes will be on David Gettis, a high school All-American and a true freshman wide receiver. The wide receiver position will lead the way for the newly installed offense, while Baylor's version of "Thunder and Lightening", running backs Paul Mosley and Brandon Whitaker will look to continue their success at the running back position.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears have an extremely athletic secondary, and C.J. Wilson will be the player to watch. A leader both on and off the field, Wilson will lead a young Baylor defense on the field.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Antonio Jones could possibly be the best player no one knows about. His speed, tackling ability, and nose for the ball will allow him to be a difference-maker for Baylor's defense.

The Bears have steadily improved under the watch of head coach Guy Morriss, and this is the year they just might break out.

Oklahoma Sooners
By: Chad Willming/ Sooners Illustrated

After an 8-4 rebuilding season in 2005, Oklahoma is looking to get back to the level that saw them win a national title in 2000 and play for the crystal football in back-to-back BCS title games in 2003 and 2004.

The Sooners return most of their top skill players from the 2005 team, including running back and Heisman Trophy Candidate Adrian Peterson, but the big question offensively rests with the offensive line and quarterback with the dismissal of Rhett Bomar. OU lost five offensive linemen with starting experience from last year's team that ended the season beating 6th-ranked Oregon in the Holiday Bowl and won six of their last seven games. At quarterback, the Sooners will turn to fifth-year senior Paul Thompson. But the Leander, Texas native has just one career start under his belt and only a month to prepare for the upcoming season after moving from receiver to replace Bomar, who was 8-3 as a starter last year and the Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP.

Also returning to help the offense are sophomore receivers — Malcolm Kelly, Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson — who impressed at times as true freshmen last season and should be improved with a year of experience under their belt. Joe Jon Finley is back at tight end, and freshman Jermaine Gresham is drawing rave reviews early on in two-a-days.

Defensively, Oklahoma expects a return to dominance following a season in which they gave up an uncharacteristic 23.1 points per game. The Sooners return eight starters on defense, including senior linebacker and Butkus Award candidate Rufus Alexander and sophomore cornerback Reggie Smith. Smith, who started at safety as a true freshman, made the move to corner during spring practice and drew rave reviews from OU head coach Bob Stoops. OU lost defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek to graduation and the NFL, but the cupboard is fully stocked to replace him with five-star prospects DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy waiting in the wings.

But Oklahoma's path to a BCS bowl bid has several bumps on the road with a tough early-season road test at Oregon, a matchup with defending national champion Texas in Dallas in October, and traditionally tough road tests at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
By: Robert Allen/ GoPokes.com

It would be real easy for Big 12 fans to pick the Oklahoma State Cowboys for a season similar to last year's 4-7 campaign under first-year head coach Mike Gundy, but remember this is a program that had been to three straight bowl games before taking a backward step last season. For the following reasons – and more – the Cowboys will be back in a bowl this season, and those same observers will be scratching their heads, wondering why. Here's why.

The new offensive and defensive schemes needed a year to soak in, and for the players to begin feeling comfortable. The offensive switch was from a power run-dominated pro-style attack to a multiple spread no-huddle offense devised and installed by offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. Adding to the confusion was a quarterback battle and later an injury to starting quarterback Bobby Reid that kept him out of four games and stunted his progress throughout the season. In the spring – Reid and the entire offense – looked much more comfortable and made fewer errors. The defense went from a 4-2-5 to a more conventional 4-3-4 that used a lot of cover two. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford tried to encourage his players to cut loose and make plays, but you could tell there was too much thinking going on and not enough doing.

Adarius Bowman and Brandon Pettigrew give the offense and the passing game two new playmakers. Bowman was considered one of the best high school wide receivers in the country when he came out of high school in 2003. The 6-4, 215-pound Bowman makes a lot of plays and will compliment senior standout wide receiver D'Juan Woods on the other side of the formation. Pettigrew is ready to shine as a sophomore now, as a 6-5, 255-pound tight end with downfield speed.

The defensive line is stacked with talent and experience. As a result of injuries, there are now three former starters on the second-team defensive line. As most teams do, Oklahoma State will rotate its defensive front players, but when you have three starters in the second group, the play up front gets much better. This will be the fastest set of linebackers in school history and newcomer Chris Collins is a "you have to see to believe" kind of player. The secondary will be improved, and the special teams are stocked with veterans at kicker, punter, deep snapper, and kick returner. The biggest question will be finding a starting right guard and depth on the offensive line. Expect the Cowboys to recover from last season and be back in the holiday bowl plans again.

Texas Longhorns
By: Bill Frisbie/InsideTexas.com

Everyone knows that The Eyes of Texas, if not the nation, will be upon the heir apparent to Vince Young at QB, either redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or true freshman Jevan Snead.

But what most don't know is that the 2006 Texas defense, despite the loss of All-American SS Michael Huff, All-American DT Rod Wright, All-Big 12 CB Cedric Griffin and MLB Aaron Harris, is expected to be the program's finest in a quarter-century, and could be the key to the Longhorns' title defense. Mack Brown has never enjoyed this much explosive, sack-producing depth at DE. In the middle, Frank Okam slid from NT to DT during the spring, and the 2005 second-team All-Big 12 honoree should be the next big thing on Texas' D-line and continue UT's great defensive tackle tradition.

As a group, the linebackers will be bigger, faster and more athletic than any group since Brown's arrival for the ‘98 season. FS Marcus Griffin and SS Michael Griffin will become the first twins to start for Texas since Keith and Kerry Cash were catching passes in 1990. And to further terrorize opposing offenses, Texas' incoming class of freshman defenders is punctuated by two Five-Star studs who will play substantially for Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik (SLB Sergio Kindle, DE Eddie Jones). In other words, even with possible growing pains at quarterback, look for the Texas defense to keep the Horns in, and possibly win, every game.

Texas A&M Aggies
By: Scout.com Staff

The Aggies once again present a potent offense despite losing QB Reggie McNeal. Led by a dominant offensive line, the Aggies will once again focus on running the ball with the likes of RB's Courtney Lewis and Jorvorski Lane. Highly-touted recruit Michael Goodson will also be in the fray at the running back position. Sophomore QB Stephen McGee's transition to the starting role will also be aided by a solid receiving corps and the tight end play of Martellus Bennett.

The real question for the Aggies again will be their defense, which ranked 117th in the country in pass defense last season. Returning several key starters will help, especially junior defensive end Chris Harrington, defensive tackle Red Bryant and linebacker Justin Warren. However, as the defense goes the Aggies go. The play of the secondary must greatly improve for the Aggies to compete with the Big 12 elite.

The schedule looks very favorable for the Aggies to get back to a bowl game after a rough 2005 campaign. They should enter conference play with four wins, as their non-conference schedule is a laugher with the The Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech all at home, and a date with Army in San Antonio. Key conference matchups with Oklahoma and Nebraska are at home, which should help the Aggies as well.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
By: Trent Wycoff /RaiderPower.com

The best player you have never heard of is inside receiver Danny Amendola. In Texas Tech's Air Raid offense, Amendola is overshadowed by big-play wideouts Joel Filani, Jarrett Hicks, and Robert Johnson. Still, Amendola has already proven to be a difference maker in several games with his reliable hands. It could be argued that Texas Tech might have lost both the Nebraska and Oklahoma games last season had it not been for his awareness. Amendola is as good a possession receiver as you will find, and is a talented punt returner as well. Expect big things from him in his junior season.

The biggest storyline is new linebacker Keyunta Dawson. He was moved from defensive end in the offseason due to his dangerous combination of size and speed, and all signs point to him becoming a huge component of Tech's defensive success next season. Dawson has the potential to make the most significant impact of a Red Raider linebacker since the days of Zach Thomas.

The superstar in the making is sophomore quarterback Graham Harrell. In Mike Leach's prolific passing system that puts up outrageous numbers year after year, there has never been a highly recruited quarterback running the show. This all changes with Harrell, who is the prototypical pocket passer for Texas Tech's spread offense. Graham is an extremely accurate quarterback who grew up a coach's son in a football household, which should give defensive coordinators nightmares. If Harrell starts for three years, the current NCAA passing records don't stand a chance.

The freshmen who can make an impact are running back Baron Batch and safety Jamar Wall. Both are talented recruits who play positions with a bit of uncertainty following the losses of key starters. Batch has to outperform projected starter Shannon Woods and Kobey Lewis, the elusive newcomer, if he expects to see the field. As for Wall, it appears that he may need to step up at strong safety to have a chance at playing time.

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