Previewing the Big 12

Aug. 25, 2006

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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Vince Young had always said he was going to stick around Texas for five years.


But after Young led the Longhorns to the national championship in famous fashion, that plan went by the wayside. He struck while the iron was hot, bolting Austin for the NFL, in the process leaving a gaping hole at quarterback for the Longhorns.


On the bright side, that's about the only real question mark Texas has as the Longhorns look to defend their title.


The race to replace Young is between Colt McCoy, a redshirt freshman, and Jevan Snead, a true freshman. McCoy seems to have the inside track based on his year of experience with the Texas offense. He's reportedly been getting more snaps with the first team offense in practice and offensive coordinator Greg Davis said his knowledge of the playbook is ahead of Snead's.


But the position is still wide open, and Brown seems intent on giving them both a chance to play, even during the season. Rarely does a two-quarterback system work, and Brown has experienced the pains of not settling on a starter - the example being the Major Applewhite/Chris Simms saga of 2000-01 - but there's not much else for the coach to worry about with his team.


Texas will return a total of 16 starters and the bulk of its offense that averaged over 50 points per game last season. The defense, which could be one of the best in the nation, may be faced with the added pressure of carrying the team if the offense struggles, but has more than enough talent to take on the task.


Brown's other important job is to make sure his team doesn't become complacent. He and his staff could have relaxed after their win over USC, but went right back to work, especially after Young declared for the draft. Brown said it's great to win one, but two would be sweet.


"And after watching our guys in the spring and hearing the guys talk, there's been absolutely no complacency as they get ready to start the season," Brown said.


2006 Texas Schedule




It was an eerie statement, in retrospect, from Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, one that would turn out a few weeks later to almost be prophetic. 


"And I feel that with our coaches on our staff," Stoops said at Big 12 Media Day July 26th, "we've got guys that are coming up that will be in place if other guys move on."


Stoops had better believe those words, because after booting quarterback Rhett Bomar from the team after his no-show job at a Norman car dealership came to light, the Sooners took a big step back in their pursuit of a national title.


In will step Paul Thompson, whom Bomar replaced permanently at quarterback after the Sooners lost to TCU in last year's opening game. Thompson was converted to a wide receiver, and now will be back in charge of the Sooners offense where he'll figure to hand off plenty of times to Adrian Peterson.


Stoops was feeling pretty good about the prospects of his team, and deservedly so. With one of the most talented defenses in the country and the duo of Peterson and Bomar anchoring the offense, the national championship talk around campus was loud.


Peterson, a Heisman Trophy candidate, has the potential for a huge season. But now he'll be the sole focus of every defense Oklahoma faces, as opponents are going to make Thompson try and beat them with his arm. Peterson is healthy after an injury plagued 2005 season, but he's going to get knocked around because he's going to get the ball - a lot - including more receptions out of the backfield.


"He can't play every snap and he needs his breaks, but Adrian has good hands," Stoops said. "I kid him all the time. How come they say you can't catch? He catches the ball really well. I'll tell you this too, he's not the easiest guy to sneak out on a screen. It's not like they're not watching him."


Oklahoma will still be a good team, but not what it could have been with the duo of Bomar and Peterson.


2006 Oklahoma Schedule


Texas Tech


It seems like no matter whom Mike Leach plugs in to be his quarterback, he fits like a glove.


The Texas Tech coach is set to once again begin the season with a new signal-caller for the fifth straight season with sophomore Graham Harrell getting the nod over redshirt freshman Chris Todd as training camp winds down.


"There's no real secret to it," Leach said. "I mean, you try to figure out who is the best one and then you play `em. I mean, it's honestly as simple as that."


Leach's spread offense has been so successful over the past several seasons - leading the nation in passing four straight years - with his different quarterbacks, there doesn't seem to be any reason why 2006 will be any different.


Harrell will have a ton of talent to throw to, with a deep corps of receivers led by Jarrett Hicks. But the real question will be how to replace Taurean Henderson, the NCAA's all-time leading receiver at running back.


"There wasn't anybody in the conference that could do as many things as Taurean Henderson could," Leach said.


Shannon Woods, Kobey Lewis and Pete Richardson will battle to see who steps into Henderson's place.


"I feel good about the running backs that we have, the people that we have, the bodies that we have, that type of thing," Leach said. "But I don't know that we'll be able to do all the things with one person. It may be like two or three people and we just have to sub them in around what we're trying to get done."


What Tech is ultimately trying to get done is narrow the gap between itself and the division's top two teams. 2006 should be another step in that direction, but a third place finish seems in order, as well as s seventh straight bowl game.


2006 Texas Tech Schedule



Texas A&M

The Aggies aren't going to have to worry about their offense this season. Not with Stephen McGee and a boatload of talent returning.

A&M finished 2005 as the 17th best team in the nation in total offense and ranked No. 10 in rushing with almost 235 yards per game.

The question with this team will be the defense that gave up over 443 yards per game last year. They were dead last against the pass and gave up an average of 43.5 points per game during their four game losing streak to end the season. They couldn't have gone out on a worse note.

So, coach Dennis Franchione brought in new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell, who's implementing a new scheme.

"4-2-5, which is not a big adjustment from 4-3," Franchione said. "You know, with all the one-back sets that you'll face today, you're actually playing with nickel personnel in the game most of the time anyway."

The job Darnell does could go a long way toward saving Franchione's job, as Franchione is on the hot seat. He has yet to produce the kind of results expected when he came to College Station in 2003. He's only 16-19, has had just one winning season and missed out on a bowl last season after 2004's appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

However, Franchione has a pretty favorable non-conference schedule this season and the Aggies should be 4-0 before their first Big 12 game against Texas Tech Sept. 30. The Aggies are capable of winning 10 games, but seven or eight seems like a more realistic bet.

2006 Texas A&M Schedule


If you can't beat them, emulate them. That might as well be the new motto at Baylor.

Coach Guy Morriss has implemented a spread attack offense, similar to that of Texas Tech's, in hopes of improving the Bears offense that seemed to get worse the closer it got to the endzone last season.

"We were a poor football team in the red zone, and I knew that part of our offense was going to have to change," Morriss said. "I think with this offense, because of the quick-strike capabilities, you don't spend as much time in the red zone."

It'll be up to fifth-year senior Shawn Bell and his receiving corps to see if the new look offense is worthy of it's keep.

"It's a system, I think, that will level the field for us much like it's done for Texas Tech," Morriss said. "Because it's a system I think you can operate and be successful with, without having the ready-made player coming out of high school that maybe the Texases and Oklahomas are getting."

Baylor won't be getting the kinds of recruits Texas and Oklahoma regularly get anytime soon, but they seem to be building toward more consistent success. Off of a 5-6 season in which they were plays away from becoming bowl eligible, Morriss thinks his team deserves better than the last place ranking it received in the Big 12 preseason media poll.

"It kind of PO'ed me, to be honest with you," Morriss said. "But everybody is entitled to their opinion. I don't think we'll end up in the cellar."

2006 Baylor Schedule

Oklahoma State

Coach Mike Gundy realizes he may be fighting an uphill battle as he enters his second season at the helm for the Cowboys.

"We're somewhat in a rebuilding process at Oklahoma State," Gundy said. "We're working hard at recruiting and everything we do on a daily basis to build our program and gain enough depth to where a few injuries in certain areas don't affect us much as they do now."

After a 4-7 season that ended Oklahoma State's streak of three straight bowl game appearances, Gundy hopes his team will be able to capitalize on a weak non-conference slate to start the year and build some early momentum.

And he likes his defense for the most part, especially his experienced defensive line, but knows there will be growing pains with several newcomers expected to play significant roles.

"We have work ahead of us, but we're very confident we'll get there and we feel good about the direction we're going," Gundy said.

2006 Oklahoma State Schedule



While Nebraska fans have been getting antsy with Bill Callahan, the Cornhuskers coach should be able to get the naysayers off his back this season.

That's because Zac Taylor returns to man the Nebraska offense and Callahan should finally see his West Coast offense - the anti-quintessential Nebraska offense - begin to take off.

That is if his Callahan's offensive line, a sore spot for the Cornhuskers last season, is improved. Nebraska allowed 38 sacks and ranked a measly 107th nationally in rushing last season, performances that are unheard of in Lincoln.

"We needed to do a better job with the efficiency of the running attack," Callahan said. "A lot of that has to do with the consistency and the stability of the offensive line, which is an area we focused on strongly this past spring. We've got a number of young players that are starting to emerge, starting to come onto the scene."

Callahan will have returning center Kurt Mann and a plethora of young, but experienced, linemen to rely on. The improved line will mean more lanes for the Cornhuskers running backs to exploit and less time Taylor will spend looking up at the sky.

Nebraska hasn't played for the Big 12 title since 1999, but that should change this year, despite a difficult schedule that includes dates with USC and Texas.

2006 Nebraska Schedule

Iowa State

There aren't going to be too many offensive problems with Iowa State this season. Not with 10 starters returning from last year.

And the 2005 Cyclones weren't all that bad, finishing 7-5, and losing three games in overtime and falling by three to TCU in the Houston Bowl.

Quarterback Bret Meyer, entering his third season at the helm, will have five seniors on the offensive line to protect him and depth at the receiver. After a 2005 season that saw him pass for 2,876 yards, a 3,000-plus year seems in order.

The big question about the Cyclones will be their defense, where they've been forced to "start over," in coach Dan McCarney's words. McCarney, the longest tenured coach in the Big 12, has seen a lot in his time at Iowa State. But he believes his young unit will be able to overcome the loss of seven seniors from last year.

"We turned this program around slowly, but surely playing good defense," McCarney said. "We couldn't stop anybody, couldn't slow anybody down years ago to putting ourselves in a position every year now having a chance every Saturday to have a defense, and I don't expect anything less out of this group."

The Cyclones should make a run at their sixth bowl game in seven years. That's if they navigate through a schedule that isn't kind. Iowa State will have to face the South's three best teams in Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The matchups against the Longhorns and Sooners are away from Ames.

2006 Iowa State Schedule


So, who's going to fill in for Brad Smith and the rather large void he left?

Smith broke 69 Missouri, Big 12 and NCAA records during his time running the Tigers' offense, and became the only player in Division I-A history to pass for 8,000-plus yards and rush for 4,000-plus yards.

Chase Daniel looks to be coach Gary Pinkel's choice to replace Smith as the season quickly approaches. But Daniel's job isn't going to be to take over the offense. Sure he'll put the ball in the air more than Smith did, but Daniel won't be scrambling like Smith when a play breaks down. It'll be Daniel's job to "distribute the football" Pinkel said.

"But you know, I think he's got a lot of good players to distribute the ball to. I think we have a lot of players to make some plays."

Pinkel will look to rely heavily on his running game, led by Marcus Woods, with a veteran offensive line. The passing game will feature two quality tight ends in Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. They each had 47 receptions last season and, if they aren't already, should develop into Daniel's best friends.

2006 Missouri Schedule


It's been a steady, but slow rise for Kansas under coach Mark Mangino.

Kerry Meier, a redshirt freshman, takes over the quarterbacking duties for the Jayhawks and will be a dual threat for opposing defenses. He's never played a down of college football, so it'll be interesting to see how he manages the offense when it's game time, but Mangino feels he can be really special.

What was such a strength for the Jayhawks last season - Kansas featured the No. 11 defense in the nation - won't be this year. Only three starters are back and a rebuilding job seems to be in order, especially with the departure of Nick Reid, the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.

For a school still known for its basketball, Mangino, who is entering his fifth season in Lawrence, is making strides in the conference. The Jayhawks won the Forth Worth Bowl last year and persevered after a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season could have derailed them.

"I feel like our personnel right now, regardless of whether they're veteran players or young kids, I believe we have the best personnel that we've had as a total football team," Mangino said. "Our talent pool is higher. It's better on offense and defense probably collectively than at any time since I've been at Kansas."

2006 Kansas Schedule


Dan Hawkins has officially replaced Gary Barnett as Colorado coach and has done his best to put all the controversy and strife that marked Barnett's time in Boulder in the past.

"I did not try to dwell on a whole bunch of that," Hawkins said. "And like I said, I think the biggest, greatest surprise was just how willing they were to jump on board and say let's go."

That may because the Buffaloes know there's much work to be done.

Hawkins has settled on a quarterback, tabbing James Cox to take the reins of his new offense that will put more of an emphasis on throwing the ball downfield than Colorado saw under Barnett.

The defensive line will be a question mark with only one starter returning from a unit that was one of the best in the nation against the run last season

The best thing going for the Buffaloes - other than Hawkins - is kicker Mason Crosby, one of the strongest kickers in the nation and most consistent.

After ending 2005 on a four game losing streak, the defending North champs said there won't be any carryover to 2006. Not with all the upheaval Hawkins has brought. But a daunting schedule - Colorado will visit Georgia, Oklahoma and Nebraska - will be too much for this team to overcome. 

2006 Colorado Schedule

Kansas State

The legendary Bill Snyder, the man who put Kansas State football on the map, is gone.

In steps Ron Prince, via Virginia, whose task it will be to first settle on a quarterback and begin the process of returning the Wildcats to Big 12 prominence.

The race seems to have come down to senior Dylan Meier and freshman Josh Freeman. Prince will have to pick one soon, but neither has yet to distinguish himself from the other.

An offensive line that was relatively young last season returns to block for two talented tailbacks in Thomas Clayton and Parrish Fisher.

Synder was only 9-13 in his final two seasons in Manhattan. Now with Prince's new West Coast offense, and enough returning players with valuable Big 12 experience, the new coach hopes a .500 mark or better is in the cards. And he likes his team's chances because his "tough" team knows the difficulties of playing in the Big 12.

"We think that goes into a lot of things, not just physical ruggedness, but the kind of competitive toughness that allows you to go into these stadiums and perform your task, just as if it was the first game," Prince said.

2006 Kansas State Schedule

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