TCU: Can the Horned Frogs hold up to a tougher schedule?
I've long said that the difference between a non-BCS conference and a BCS conference isn't necessarily at the top. Is it tough to beat Oklahoma and Texas? Sure. But any team can get up for two or three games per year. The more difficult part comes in that the teams in the middle and the bottom of the league are capable of nipping your squad if you don't show up ready to play in those contests. Don't believe me? The three worst teams in the Big 12 last year were Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas. Iowa State beat eventual league champ Oklahoma State, while Texas Tech beat Oklahoma. Kansas led a 10-win Baylor squad 24-3 in the fourth quarter and took the Bears to overtime. It's that depth that makes a major conference more difficult. In the Mountain West, TCU wasn't challenged on a week-to-week basis as the Frogs will be in the Big 12. How will they handle it?
Oklahoma: Can the Sooners rebound from a disappointing 2011?
Oklahoma looked like a national title contender through the first six games, going 6-0 with double-digit wins over Texas, Missouri and at Florida State. But disaster struck in a shocking loss to a mediocre Texas Tech team, the first of three losses in a 3-3 close to the regular season that included a 44-10 beatdown at the hands of Oklahoma State. The Sooners return the most stacked roster in the Big 12, but they might have had that last year as well. Staying healthy would be a major step in the right direction.
Iowa State: Will the Cyclones take the next step beyond "giant killer"?
Let's write the book on Iowa State: somewhere between five and seven wins, and an upset along the way. That's precisely what Iowa State has done the last three years, winning seven games in 2009, five in 2010 and six a year ago. It's tough to win in Ames, and the Cyclones haven't been able to pull in some of the high level offensive skill position talent they've had in the past. The defense will always give the Cyclones a chance, and Paul Rhoads is one of the Big 12's better coaches. But can they move up the ladder a rung? Or will they be stuck in that 5-7 win mode for the near future.
One of the reasons I've been so high on Klein is just how much he was able to accomplish last year despite the lack of a great supporting cast. Klein was hammered to the turf seemingly 40 times per game last year, making the fact that he didn't get hurt among his bigger accomplishments, potentially moreso than the copious touchdowns he scored. But you'd have to think Kansas State would like to ease the burden on the quarterback, who was essentially in a high-speed car accident every Saturday last fall. If the Wildcats can do that by developing the players around him, they have a chance to prove last year's 10-win season wasn't a fluke, as many are making it out to be.
Texas Tech: Which Tech team will show up this year?
Tech had a much stronger nosedive in 2011 than Oklahoma did. The Red Raiders went 4-0 to start the season, then won just once more in the ensuing eight games, with that victory coming over the Sooners. During one three-week stretch, Tech was hammered 41-7 by Iowa State, lost to Texas 52-20 and lost by 60 to Oklahoma State. So which Tech squad shows up in 2012? The Red Raiders don't lack for talent, including quarterback Seth Doege and (likely) running back Eric Stephens. They're certainly capable of surprising some teams in 2012. Just as long as the right Tech squad makes its way to the stadium.