The Sooners return several key players from a team that was slightly disappointing in 2011. If Dominique Whaley can stay healthy, and the Sooners can maintain a running game all season long, Oklahoma will be tough to beat. The toughest task defensively will be replacing a talented pair of defensive ends.
The Mountaineers have an uphill battle in that they play Texas, one of the Big 12's stronger teams, on the road. But don't cry for a team that may have the best returning skill position talent in its new league. Can the Mountaineers outscore every team on the schedule? It will be fun to find out.
Can the Longhorns meet these expectations? The talent is certainly there, even if it is still somewhat green. Texas has the Big 12's top returning defense, and returns most of the offense from a team that was 6-2 before it was beset by injuries. If the Longhorns can get just average Big 12 quarterback play from David Ash, they could compete in the league. Red River looms large.
4) Kansas State
Many expect the Wildcats to fall off because they needed so many things to go right to win 10 games a year ago. But Collin Klein should have a better supporting cast for this go-round. The Wildcats might not win so many close games, but they won't fall way off, either. Arthur Brown and Nigel Malone lead a defense that forced so many key turnovers a year ago.
The Horned Frogs have some serious upper-end Big 12 talent at several key spots. But can they overcome a more grueling schedule on a week-to-week basis? That's the main question. Still, you'd rather be going into those battles with the TCU skill position players, and Gary Patterson can coach some defense.
It says a lot about the strength of this league that Oklahoma State could go from first to sixth. And honestly, teams two through five are pretty much interchangeable. The Cowboys do get both West Virginia and Texas in Stillwater, but will that be enough to overcome a true freshman at quarterback? Mike Gundy has built a strong program, so don't expect the Cowboys to fall below eight or so wins this year.
One of the stories of the Big 12 season will be whether the Bears can overcome the loss of last year's devastating offensive trio of Robert Griffin III, Terrance Ganaway and Kendall Wright. But don't sleep on Nick Florence, Jared Salubi and Terrance Williams. The defense should be much-improved as well.
8) Iowa State
Every year, the Cyclones are picked near the bottom of the league, and seemingly every year, Iowa State knocks off somebody its not supposed to. Count on Iowa State doing something similar this year. A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are two outstanding building blocks for a defense, but can Iowa State find enough offense?
9) Texas Tech
How often does the No. 9 team in the league have a returning quarterback like Seth Doege? I'll go with rarely, if ever. The Red Raiders have some offensive weapons, as always, but must get more stout defensively if they want to move up the charts. Tech did beat Oklahoma last year, but faltered down the stretch.
The Jayhawks are potentially the most intriguing team of the Big 12, with a bevy of transfers — some JUCO, some graduate transfers — arriving on campus to fill weaknesses. Kansas didn't win any Big 12 games a year ago, but gave Texas Tech and Iowa State tough games, and led Baylor 24-3 in the fourth quarter. Getting a quarterback like Dayne Crist could turn one or two of those into wins.