An early look ahead at what to expect from the Big 12 this fall
June 19, 2007
By Brian Jones
Special to CSTV.com
Brian Jones is a football analyst for CSTV and CSTV.com. E-mail here!
Ah hell, he's back!
That's correct; I've returned from a much needed break from entertaining the masses with my ingenious writing skills.
Okay, entertaining the masses may be a stretch, but I'm sure my two, true fans really missed my commentary? What's that you say; they didn't miss me either? Well, too bad, I'm back, so deal with it.
This week and the next five, I will commence breaking down teams in the six major conferences. The first conference I want to dissect is the Big 12 Conference, so lets get started.
KansasState: Ron Prince's team played extremely well down the stretch last season, going 3-1 and upsetting Texas. This season look for sophomore QB Josh Freeman to continue to improve. On defense it's all about defensive ends Ian Campbell and Rob Jackson. There was turnover in the coaching staff, but Prince downplays that by saying its all about the message from the top...tough test early for the `Cats versus Auburn and always physical Fresno State.
Missouri: Gary Pinkel has much offensive fire power returning to campus this season. Stud QB Chase Daniels was awesome last year with over 3,500 passing yards. He has a couple of big targets at tight end in Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. Add to the mix running back Tony Temple and scoring should not be a problem for the Tigers. However, on the other side of the ball limiting scoring could be a challenge. The Tigers lost a few top producers at end and were not very good stopping the run last season. They need to be more physical at the point of attack, but have the potential to be very good.
Texas Tech: My main man Mike Leach didn't have to concern himself with breaking in a new QB this spring. For the first time in a long time Texas Tech has a returning starter under the center. While Graham Harrell was pushed this spring by Taylor Potts, he didn't rest on his laurels to retain the starting job. The Tech defense dominated the spring game, led by safety Joe Garcia. This defense is faster and by far the strongest unit on the team. While that's just dandy, everyone knows that the Red Raiders entire defense requires improvement. As my buddy and Tech grad George Nelson says, "We score every three minutes and our opponents score every two." Leach is also looking for signs of improvement with his kick return unit. I'm just glad the NCAA reverted back to the old clock rules so we don't have to hear Leach and other coaches bitch about losing plays.
Baylor: Guy Morriss is breaking in five new coaches this season, but doesn't seem concerned about the overhaul. Of more concern is his Bears' inability to run the football, last in the nation a year ago. So, welcome new running back coach Cornell Jackson and some new run schemes. Also, factor in a little toughening up of the offensive line and their may be a prayer that Baylor exits the cellar. At QB, Morriss is very high on twenty-five year old Michael Machen. Machen tried his hand at pro baseball for three years and three other schools, prior to landing in Waco. The staff loves his maturity, he doesn't get rattled and standing 6-foot-6, 237pounds he has all the physical tools. Up front he will have to depend on a very young group of linemen, ditto for the wide receiver corp. Defensively, secondary coach Larry Hoefer has been promoted to defensive coordinator. He brings a 4-2-5 blitzing scheme to a defense that needs play more physical. The Bears still have "miles to go before they sleep."
IowaState: Gene Chizik, the well known defensive guru from Auburn and Texas is the new head man in Ames. In his first stint as head coach he states, "It's surprising all the things non-football related you have to deal with." Well, he better start focusing on his offensive line, where only one starter returns. He does have a pretty good signal caller in Bret Meyer, who ranks third among active quarterbacks in career passing yards. Their running game hopes rely on transfer J.J. Bass getting up to speed very quickly, to help receiver Todd Blythe generate some scoring. The Cyclones averaged less than 19 points a game. Five starters return on D that surrendered almost 400 yards a contest. But don't fret Cyclone faithful, Chizik has the nation's leading tackler Alvin "Ace" Bowen to coach up and help implement his new defensive scheme.
Texas A&M: Those darn Aggies are back I tell you! There offense has punked my Longhorns defense the last two years and the main culprit returns. His name is Stephen McGee folks and he's one of the toughest QB's around. At running back you have potentially all-world speedster Mike Goodson and big as the worldJorvorskie Lane. We all know that it starts up front with the big boys and the O line returns almost intact. The Aggies are young and inexperienced at wideout. Defensively, the Aggies improved under first year defensive coordinator Gary Darnell, but four year starter DT Red Bryant and his mates must keep climbing if they are to sit atop the Big 12 atthe end of the season. Special teams need to be upgraded as well, too many mistakes on these units in the past.
Texas: My Horns break in a new defensive coordinator it seems as often as Texas Tech breaks in a new quarterback. Larry MacDuff is the fourth coordinator in the last five years. He brings with him a swarming, attacking style ala Arizona Wildcats "bear down" D, where he once coached. Look for the defense to be more aggressive and less reactive. Offensively speaking, the Horns are stacked at the skill positions. QB Colt McCoy broke or tied every freshman record in the books; RB Jamaal Charles has more moves than a roach in a bowl of cereal, plus he's added some extra padding in the form of muscle. Limas Sweed at receiver and tight end Jermichael Finley round out his talented group. The O line and secondary will have to step up considerably for this team to have shot a conference title. And lastly, please junk the darn "zone read" as your base offense. Hello, Vince Young is gone and Colt is no Vince Young. Neither is anyone else for that matter. Find a fullback and run Charles 25-to-30 times and let Colt flourish as the prototypical drop back quarterback that he is.
Nebraska: Bill Callahan has a major decision to make as to who is going to be his quarterback. Most think Sam Keller, the Arizona State transfer, is the man, while others point to San FranciscoCityCollege transfer Zac Lee. Both candidates know that everything in this offense centers around the quarterback. His decision and play making, as well as management of the offense, are key factors in determining who wins and keeps the job. Callahan would like to pound the ball more this season, so get ready for some old fashioned Big Red football right?Wrong. They have two talented, tall receivers to hit downfield in Maurice Purify and Terence Nunn. The Black Shirts - can we still refer to the Nebraska D as the Black Shirts? While the jury is still out on that one, Bo Ruud will be the bell cow for this unit. The Huskers should have a better than decent chance of repeating a Big 12 North Champs.
Colorado: Dan Hawkins is glad last year is over so he can start anew with his Colorado football team. There is no MontanaState on the schedule and no clear cut winner at quarterback just yet. The battle is between junior college transfer Nick Nelson and Hawkins' son Cody. From all accounts, Cody clearly out shown Nelson in the Spring Game, so no cries of nepotism. Hugh Charles stands out in the backfield, but not much else on offense. LB Jordan Dizon and CB Terrance Wheatley are the headliners on the Buffaloes defense which has seven returning starters. The Buffs D will give it the best chance to win this season, while Cody Hawkins shouldn't surprise a lot of fans with his mastery of his daddy's offense.
Oklahoma: The Sooners once again have quarterback issues, but not for the same reasons as last year. Paul Thompson has departed leaving the position wide open for either redshirt freshman Sam Bradford or junior Joey Halzle to take the reigns. Halzle has been the more inconsistent of the two but the competition is still not settled. Unlike the QB spot, the rest of the offensive is stellar. Allen Patrick proved that he is as tough a runner as Adrian Peterson and Chris Brown showed promise. But the guy in the OU backfield that has everyone talking is redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray. Remember his name folks; he just might be OU's next Heisman Trophy winner. The receiver slots are filled with experienced talent as well, with the likes of Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias. Look out local Sooner dining establishments, because the O line of this team is humungous! At least four of the five projected starters are well over 300 pounds. On the defensive side of the ball there are question marks on the line and at linebacker. But the secondary has plenty of experience returning and should be the strength of this unit.
OklahomaState: Mike Gundy and his Cowboys beat Alabama last year in the Independence Bowl, but it was not your daddy's Alabama. Nonetheless, they got the victory and are feeling good about themselves coming into the '07 season. This will be the third year of offensive coordinator Larry Fedora's spread offense and he expects vast improvements over the last two campaigns. QB Bobby Reid is a better decision maker and may share time with Zac Robinson, giving OSU a two quarterback headed offense ala Florida last year. In the backfield all eyes are on Dantrell Savage and at wideout it's all about Adarius Bowman. The big fellas up front will have some continuity with only a few first time starters. Their counterparts on the D line will have some holes to fill as well. It seems every year the Cowboys lack depth in their defensive front, no exception this season. They do have some good young linebackers and an emerging star in cornerback Martel Van Zant. If the Cowboys D can hold up the entire season they may have the opportunity to enjoy another bowl game.
Kansas: The Jayhawks's success will depend, just like almost every other team in the conference and the country, on the play of their quarterback, which could very well be Kerry Meier, or not. It hurts that KU isn't going to have Brian Murph to throw to or Jon Cornish to hand the ball of to, but an experienced corps of receivers should help. The defense could be the Jayhawks downfall. They were the worst in the nation last year in pass defense because they had trouble getting any pressure on the opposing quarterback so a lot if going to be placed on James McClinton's shoulders up front. One thing we know for sure about Kansas: they need to improve their road record under Mark Mangino in conference play. The Jayhawks are just 2-18 since the coach has been on campus.
That's my outlook for the Big 12 Conference, stay tuned for next week when I breakdown the now very competitive Pac-10.