Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Big 12 South Preview: Locked & loaded

OU beams with returning talent



Harry Cabluck/AP Photo

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (14) reacts in this file photo near the end of the Big 12 Conference championship game from Dec. 1, 2007. Bradford will orchestrate a high-octane offense in Norman this fall.


Harry Cabluck/AP Photo

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has Texas fans dreaming big.


"The Big 12 North division defeated the Big 12 South division in head-to-head, regular-season matchups last year for the first time in nine years. Here's how the matchups have gone in the Big 12 era:

1996: North, 12-61997: North, 11-71998: North, 10-81999: Tied, 9-92000: South, 10-82001: Tied, 9-92002: South, 11-72003: South, 12-62004: South, 15-32005: South, 11-72006: South, 13-52007: North, 10-8

When it comes to the Big 12 South, the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas typically decides which team will advance to the conference championship game with a chance at a BCS berth.

This year shapes up to be no different, although Texas Tech has higher expectations than any of coach Mike Leach's eight other years with the program.

On to the Big 12 South preview:


2007 record: 11-3

Bowl: Fiesta, lost to West Va., 48-28

Key players lost: WR Malcolm Kelly, LB Curtis Lofton, CB Reggie Kelly, RB Allen Patrick.

2008 outlook: Sam Bradford set an NCAA freshman record with 36 touchdown passes and had only eight interceptions last year. DeMarco Murray had 787 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, all while missing the last three games. Murray wasn't even the featured back. He could have a monstrous 2008: All five starters will return on the Sooners' offensive line, and three have made the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Heaven help the Big 12 if OU's offense stays healthy. Success is measured at OU with national title banners, and the expectations will be such in Norman, Okla., this fall.


2007 record: 10-3

Bowl: Holiday, def. Ariz. St., 52-34

Key players lost: WR Limas Sweed, RB Jamaal Charles, TE Jermichael Finley, OT Tony Hills, DT Frank Okam

2008 outlook: UT has offensive experience returning in junior quarterback Colt McCoy and senior receivers Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. Replacing Charles could be the biggest question mark, as Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whitaker competed for the starting job in the spring.

Texas Tech

2007 record: 9-4

Bowl: Gator, def. Virginia, 31-28

Key players lost: WR Daniel Amendola, S Joe Garcia

2008 outlook: Fireworks on offense are expected with the return of senior quarterback Graham Harrell (5,705 yards, 48 touchdowns) and sophomore wide receiver Michael Crabtree (134 catches, 1,962 yards, 22 touchdowns). There's a running-back battle brewing, but with Mike Leach's spread offense scoring at the pace of Jerry Rice in Tecmo Bowl, it likely won't matter who emerges.

Oklahoma State

2007 record: 7-6

Bowl: Insight, def. Indiana, 49-33

Key players lost: WR Adarius Bowman, RB Dantrell Savage

2008 outlook: It will be interesting to see how the six junior-college recruits impact the defense next fall. Brutal road schedule: Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech and Colorado.

Texas A&M;

2007 record: 7-6

Bowl: Alamo, lost to Penn St., 24-17

Key players lost: TE Martellus Bennett, C Cody Wallace, DT Red Bryant, DE Christopher Harrington, OT Corey Clark

2008 outlook: The Aggies return quarterback Stephen McGee (3,210 total yards, 17 total TDs) and workhorse Jorvorskie Lane (16 TDs).


2007 record: 3-9

2008 outlook: The classic quarterback battle is taking place in Waco, where incumbent Blake Szymanski is competing against Miami transfer Kirby Freeman and freshman Robert Griffin.

What Keegan says

The Big 12 North won in the standings, finishing two games above .500 against the South. Even on NFL draft day, the North edged the South, 15-14.

Much of the credit belongs to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, Kansas coach Mark Mangino and their two quarterbacks, Chase Daniel and Todd Reesing.

Still, to believe the North has passed the South permanently would be to believe pigs fly, politicians never lie and boys don't cry.

As that fiddler on the roof was fond of hollering, "tradition, TRADITION!" rules, and the history of Texas and Oklahoma is such that Mack Brown and Bob Stoops still get the first crack at the top talent from Texas, the lifeblood of Big 12 recruiting.

The recent success enjoyed by MU and KU should help close the gap, but the gap still exists.

- Tom Keegan


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