Conference chatter

Week 3 Big 12 picks: Kansas or Georgia Tech? Oklahoma or Florida St.?

After two weeks of picking every Big 12 game here in the Conference Chatter blog, I've come away with a 12-3 record of predicting games straight up, and a 6-5 record of selecting games against the spread.

Here's what in store for week 3:


Iowa State at Connecticut, 7 p.m.
Line: UConn by 4.5
Pick: vs. line: UConn; straight up: UConn
One-line reason: The Huskies' defense (10th in country in total defense) appears to be considerably ahead of its offense (95th, total offense), and I'm expecting UConn, at home, to create a turnover or two to make it easier on its offense against Iowa State, which is 3-8 on the road the last two years under coach Paul Rhoads.


Kansas at Georgia Tech, 11:30 a.m.
Line: Georgia Tech by 14
Pick: vs. line: Kansas; straight up: Georgia Tech
One-line reason: KU's suddenly potent offense (43.5-point average in first two games) keeps the Jayhawks close, but the Yellow Jackets are rather potent themselves (56-point average in first two games, second in country) and should have the revenge factor in their favor for last year's 28-25 loss in Lawrence.

No. 23 Texas at UCLA, 2:30 p.m.
Line: Texas by 4
Pick: vs. line: Texas; straight up: Texas
One-line reason: In an ugly, low-scoring affair, the Longhorns do just enough on offense with their new, two-quarterback system (true freshman David Ash, sophomore Case McCoy) to hold off a UCLA team that struggled to beat San Jose State (27-17) at home last week.

Texas Tech at New Mexico, 2:30 p.m.
Line: Texas Tech by 21
Pick: vs. line: Texas Tech; straight up: Texas Tech
One-line reason: New Mexico has put up only 13 points in two home losses this season.

Stephen F. Austin at No. 19 Baylor, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Baylor
One-line reason: Stephen F. Austin lost at home to Northern Iowa last week.

Kent State at Kansas State, 6 p.m.
Line: Kansas State by 17.5
Pick: vs. line: Kansas State; straight up: Kansas State
One-line reason: Kent State lost by 41 on the road at Alabama in week 1, and I'm guessing Kansas State can rebound from an embarrassing week 1 (10-7 victory over FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky) and topple the Golden Flashes by at least 18.

Western Illinois at Missouri, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Missouri
One-line reason: Western Illinois had trouble on the road in week 1 in a 20-6 loss at Sam Houston State.

Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M, 6 p.m.
Line: Texas A&M by 35.5
Pick: vs. line: Texas A&M; straight up: Texas A&M
One-line reason: Now this will be fun; Idaho lost at home to Bowling Green by 17, and beat North Dakota at home by 30; my guess is the Aggies take this one by 40+.

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State, 7 p.m.

Line: Oklahoma by 3
Pick: vs. line: Oklahoma; straight up: Oklahoma
One-line reason: In the nation's game of the week, Sooners keep their BCS title hopes alive, and Florida State is introduced to the fact that this isn't Louisiana-Monroe (34-0) or Charleston Southern (62-10).

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 9 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma State by 13.5
Pick: vs. line: Oklahoma State; straight up: Oklahoma State
One-line reason: The Cowboys proved last week they can score in bunches and blow out a decent team (Arizona); OSU's average margin of victory in its first two games was 25 points.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 review, week 2: League may not exist in future, but it’s pretty darned talented in 2011

It's a shame the Big 12 is so unstable at the moment. One minute, the league seems like it could be saved, while the next minute, doomsday strikes, plays the role of Buzz Killington and threatens the existence of the conference.

Repeat cycle.

Depending on the decisions from Oklahoma and Texas, this could be the final year of the Big 12, which began athletic competition in 1996.

All the more reason it's tough not to feel a little uneasy when tallying up the Big 12's combined football record after the first two weeks: 13-1, tops among BCS-level power conferences.

It's not like Big 12 schools are beating up on cupcakes, either. TCU, Iowa, Arizona, BYU, Northern Illinois, Tulsa and SMU — each of these teams made bowl games last year — have already fallen to Big 12 squads this fall.

Furthermore, five Big 12 schools are ranked in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll, including the top team in America, No. 1 Oklahoma.

Nonetheless, there may not be a Big 12 after this year. Ridiculous and crazy to think about.

This past weekend completed my second week of picks on every Big 12 game, straight up and against the spread. The results, from week 2:

Straight up: 3-2
vs. spread: 2-3
Season, straight up: 12-3
Season, vs. spread: 6-5

An unpredictable second week in the Big 12, which actually made picking games straight up difficult. My two missed picks: Iowa State pulled off a 44-41 triple overtime thriller over Iowa, while Kansas took down Northern Illinois in a riveting shootout, 45-42.

Some bullet-point observations from week 2:

Kansas currently ranks No. 10 in the country in rushing offense, with 277 yards on the ground per game. That figure is also tops in the Big 12. Yes, it's a small sample size, but the Jayhawks ranked 87th in the country in rushing offense last season with only 134.58 yards per game.

The presence of an effective ground game has made KU's Jordan Webb a better quarterback. The sophomore signal caller has a super-efficient touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6-0 after two games. The six touchdown passes are one shy of Webb's entire 2010 season total.

Player of the week: Jordan Webb, Kansas. Has anyone looked more improved from last season so far? This honor could have also gone to Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz (25-of-37, 279 yards, four TDs), but Webb (21-of-30, 281 yards, three TDs) steals the award because of his ability to tilt the clutch-o-meter the farthest in his favor. Webb tossed a game-winning, six-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Beshears on fourth down with nine seconds left against Northern Illinois on Saturday.

Saturday essentially marked the end of the Garrett Gilbert era at quarterback in Austin, Texas. How's this for a line: 2-of-8, eight yards, two interceptions. It confuses me why Gilbert never figured it out at Texas, especially after showing promise in the BCS Championship as a freshman two years ago and taking over for an injured Colt McCoy. Since then, he's thrown 11 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions. True freshman David Ash and sophomore Case McCoy (yes, they're related) will take over in a two-quarterback system.

Earlier in the blog, I mentioned the Big 12 was 13-1 after two weeks of play. The one loss came late Friday night/early Saturday morning, when Missouri fell at Arizona State. MU quarterback James Franklin looked good, however, completing 26 of 42 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 59 yards and an additional score. MU should rebound against Western Illinois this weekend.

Upcoming game of the week: Saturday night primetime, when No. 1 Oklahoma travels to No. 5 Florida State. OU's path to the BCS Championship could take a hit. OU destroyed Florida State last season, 47-17, in Norman, Okla. The Sooners enter this year's contest as 3.5-point favorites.

The latest edition of the Sorrentino Scale is listed below. The number in parentheses is what the team was ranked last week:

1 (1). Oklahoma (1-0): Had off week to prepare for Florida State.
2 (3). Oklahoma State (2-0): Cowboys made easy work of Arizona, 37-14.
3 (2). Texas A&M (1-0): Had off week to prepare for Idaho, but I wouldn't blame Aggies for looking ahead to Oklahoma State on Sept. 24 in College Station.
4 (5). Baylor (1-0): Bears move up with Missouri's loss. Baylor shouldn't suffer a non-conference loss this season (vs. Stephen F. Austin, Rice).
5 (6). Texas (2-0): I don't have much faith in two-quarterback systems.
6 (4). Missouri (1-1): Yes, Tigers drop two spots, but they lost to a solid Arizona State team on the road. Not a horrible loss.
7 (10). Iowa State (2-0): With a brutal schedule (Friday at Connecticut being next up), this could be best ranking for Cyclones all year.
8 (9). Kansas (2-0): How good is Georgia Tech? Tough to know for sure, after 63-21 victory over Western Carolina, and 49-21 victory at Middle Tennessee. Big road contest this weekend for KU.
9 (7). Texas Tech (1-0): ISU and KU have beaten better teams so far. Red Raiders, who trailed Texas State at halftime in week 1, will have many chances to rise back up.
10 (8). Kansas State (1-0): Wildcats only have a 10-7 victory over FCS Eastern Kentucky on their resume at the moment. Until further notice, they sleep in the basement.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Week 2 Big 12 picks: Baylor deserves credit for making a stand

I'm trying to picture the scene on Oct. 15, when the Baylor football team travels to College Station, Texas, to take on Texas A&M.

Complete mayhem, in all likelihood.

Baylor's threat on Wednesday to sue Texas A&M if it left the Big 12 to join the SEC caused a momentary pause in college football realignment, which is beginning to more closely resemble a circus act than a gathering of rational minds that make decisions for the good of the sport.

The SEC agreed to extend an invitation to Texas A&M only if the nine other Big 12 schools waived their rights to pursue litigation against the SEC. Baylor refused. No formal invitation for Texas A&M, at least for now.

Good for Baylor.

Laugh all you want, but I applaud the Bears for sticking up for themselves.

Sure, Baylor isn't Texas or Oklahoma, but can you blame the Bears? Baylor is set to receive between $17 and $20 million in TV revenue starting next year with the Big 12's new TV deal. If Texas A&M peaces out to the SEC, and the Big 12 collapses, Baylor could be left out of a major conference. In this scenario, it's safe to say the Bears wouldn't make between $17 and $20 million in TV revenue, and their plans to renovate Floyd Casey Stadium with some of that money would not be feasible.

Plus, look what happened after Baylor decided to make a stand. Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State joined the Bears in their refusal. All after Baylor showed a little pride and stood up for itself.

In this every-man-for-himself era of college football realignment, where decency, common sense and tradition are thrown by the wayside, who in their right mind can blame Baylor for wanting the Big 12 to remain intact?

I have no idea what will happen to the Big 12. But I'm confident in saying this: Good for Baylor.

So I hear there are actually games to be played this weekend.

I keep a running tally of picks on Big 12 football games here on the Conference Chatter blog every week. I make two sets of picks, one against the spread, and one straight up. After week 1:

Straight up: 9-1
Vs. spread: 4-2

Let's see what's in store for week 2.


Arizona at No. 9 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma State by 13
Pick: vs. line: Arizona; straight up: Oklahoma State
One-line reason: In a rematch of last year's Alamo Bowl (a 36-10 OSU victory), Arizona makes it more respectable, but Justin Blackmon (held without a score last week) finds the end zone once or twice and the Cowboys play just enough D to hold on.


No. 21 Missouri at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m.
Line: Arizona State by 8
Pick: vs. line: Missouri; straight up: Arizona State
One-line reason: I think MU's defense is good enough to keep the Tigers close all game, but it's asking a lot of sophomore quarterback James Franklin to engineer a victory in his first road start against a stout opponent.


Iowa at Iowa State, 11 a.m.
Line: Iowa by 7
Pick: vs. line: Iowa; straight up: Iowa
One-line reason: Iowa has won six of the last eight against Iowa State, and for the last two years, it hasn't been close (35-7 in Iowa City in 2010; 35-3 in Ames in 2009).

Northern Illinois at Kansas, 6 p.m.
Line: Northern Illinois by 6.5
Pick: vs. line: Kansas; straight up: Northern Illinois
One-line reason: KU's ability to run the ball effectively should keep the game close, but the Jayhawks could struggle against senior dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish, who threw for five touchdowns and ran for another against Army last weekend.

BYU at No. 24 Texas, 6 p.m.
Line: Texas by 7
Pick: vs. line: Texas; straight up: Texas
One-line reason: In a potential future Big 12 matchup, Garrett Gilbert continues to involve freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley (two catches, 54 yards, TD in season opener against Rice), and UT's defense holds its own at home.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 review, week 1: Realignment rearing its ugly head again

This is starting to feel like that course in advanced statistics that everyone tells you is impossible to understand.

Head spinning. Mind exploding. No end in sight.

When thinking about college realignment, v. 2.0, I have no idea what to think anymore.

For the second consecutive year, realignment dealing primarily with the Big 12 has dominated college football. The only difference this year is that the rampant speculation is taking place during the season, stealing the focus away from the field and putting it somewhere in outer space. Seriously.

Oklahoma might join the Pac-12 and take Oklahoma State with it.

Reports have tied Kansas with potential landing spots in the Pac-12 or Big East. Ditto for Missouri and the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 or Big East.

Who knows what Texas will do. But the Longhorns, like last summer, are the heavy hitters who likely hold the key to either saving the league again or dissolving it into oblivion.

Texas A&M still has to accept an invitation from the SEC.

Can anyone make any sense of these developments?

Then, there's the financial side of this mess. Texas signed a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN for the Longhorn Network in January. Could UT keep the LHN in the Pac-12, which has equal revenue sharing? Last summer, the answer was no. That's essentially why UT is still a member of the Big 12. For now.

Furthermore, there's the 13-year, $1.17 billion deal commissioner Dan Beebe and the Big 12 landed with Fox in April. What happens to this deal if there are no teams left in the Big 12 to play any games next year?

Our Matt Tait mentioned this on Monday, but there's simply too much financial uncertainty for this thing to be completely resolved in a week.

There is no fixed penalty for a member institution leaving the Big 12. The conference bylaws are complicated and vague. For reference, Nebraska (Big Ten) settled for $9.25 million, while Colorado (Pac-12) settled for $6.86 million in exit fees last year.

I have no idea what will happen, but I do hope Kansas stays in a BCS Conference, as Tom Keegan pointed out today.

Now, for the put-on-the-back-shelf, on-the-field analysis from the first week of action in the Big 12:

I completed my first week of ConferenceChatterTV, where I make picks (straight up, and against the spread) on every game in the Big 12.

After week 1 ...

Straight up: 9-1
Vs. spread: 4-2.

Not a bad showing for the first week. My one straight-up loss was Baylor pulling off a 50-48 thriller over TCU on Friday. If quarterback Robert Griffin (21-of-27, 359 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT) keeps putting those numbers up, he could find himself in the Heisman conversation.

Some bullet-point observations from the first week:

After one week, the top two teams in the country in total offense? 1. Oklahoma State (666 yards); 2. Oklahoma (663 yards).

Every Big 12 team won its week 1 games, netting the conference a 10-0 record to begin the season, the best mark in the country. The Big East also went undefeated in week 1 at 8-0.

Big 12 team that looked the best: Oklahoma (47-14 rout of Tulsa). How the Sooners play on the road (at No. 6 Florida State on Sept. 17) will define their season.

Big 12 team that looked the worst: Tie between Kansas State (10-7 escape over Eastern Kentucky) and Iowa State (20-19 scare of a victory over Northern Iowa). Iowa State needed a game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left, while Kansas State trailed Eastern Kentucky for three quarters. Kansas fans have to feel a little better about potentially beating these two teams this season (Oct. 22 at home vs. K-State; Nov. 5 at Iowa State).

Player of the week: Baylor's Robert Griffin. As mentioned above, he was sensational on Friday against TCU in Baylor's 50-48 victory. He was also more accurate with the ball than in the earlier stages of his college career. People will compare him to Vince Young, but Griffin throws a much better deep ball, and is also more accurate. Could that translate into NFL success for Griffin?

Keep in mind two Big 12 games before Saturday this week: Arizona at No. 9 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. Thursday; and No. 21 Missouri at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Here's the first edition this season of the Sorrentino Scale, which ranks each Big 12 football team every week:

  1. Oklahoma (1-0): Offense could be most electric in country.
  2. Texas A&M (1-0): Aggies can beat teams in variety of ways; A&M dismantled SMU, 46-14, behind two touchdowns apiece on the ground from Cyrus Gray (132 yards) and Christine Michael (85 yards).
  3. Oklahoma State (1-0): Big 12 should have three of top scoring offenses in country, with Cowboys (61-34 winners over Louisiana-Lafayette) potentially leading the way.
  4. Missouri (1-0): Once James Franklin and Missouri's offense come around, Tigers will be dangerous.
  5. Baylor (1-0): If defense steps up, Bears could threaten with seven or eight wins. Don't forget about receiver Kendall Wright (12-189-2).
  6. Texas (1-0): Interesting Saturday matchup at home vs. BYU.
  7. Texas Tech (1-0): Red Raiders' pass defense (sore spot last year) off to great start (held Texas State to 75 net passing yards in 50-10 victory).
  8. Kansas State (1-0): Have a week off to try to figure out just what the heck that was against Eastern Kentucky.
  9. Kansas (1-0): Beautiful formula for offensive success in week 1: Jordan Webb plays the caretaker (7-10, 146 passing yards, 3 TDs), lets talented ground game go wild (301 rushing yards, 3 TDs).
  10. Iowa State (1-0): If Cyclones play like they did in week 1 for rest of season, they may not win another game.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Week 1 Big 12 picks: At last, games take focus away from talk of scandal, realignment

It's nice to finally focus on the action again.

In the midst of an ugly offseason, the most prominent college football headlines essentially had nothing to do with the games.

Miami (Fla.) was investigated for rules violations centering around improper benefits given by booster Nevin Shapiro in one of the largest scandals in the history of college sports.

Ohio State players sold memorabilia to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.

Arrest warrants were obtained for LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and a teammate on charges of second-degree battery for a bar fight that injured four people. The school suspended the players indefinitely.

Texas A&M surely will cause another realignment cluster of a situation across college football after notifying the Big 12 that it planned to leave the conference in the summer of 2012. The SEC, A&M's likely destination, would have 13 teams. The Big 12 would be down to nine. How many more will each add? Will the Big 12 survive a third member school leaving in the past year? It's unknown. And it's a mess.

Perhaps what college football needs is some game action. A time to sit back in front of the TV over the weekend and unwind. Or a time to catch a game live. Follow it online. Anything to detract from probation, rules violations or realignment. It kind of feels like a break.

At long last, the games are back. I'm kicking off the Big 12 season here on the Conference Chatter blog with some predictions for week 1.

I'll post my predictions for each Big 12 game around this time every week, picking against the spread and straight up. I'll keep a running tally of both.

If you think some or any of my predictions are absurd, feel free to let me know about it. Or maybe you agree with some of my forecasts. Either way, I'd be glad to interact with our loyal readers every week in the comments section.

For a brief video version of my picks, check out my ConferenceChatterTV account on YouTube.

The last two seasons, I picked every Big 12 game, straight up, on YouTube. Here are those results:

2010 season: 82-23 (78.1 percent accurate, straight up)
2009 season: 81-24 (77.1 percent accurate, straight up)

This is my first year of picking against the spread. Let's get this thing going.


No. 14 TCU at Baylor, 7 p.m.
Line: TCU by 3.5
Pick: vs. line: TCU; straight up: TCU.
One-line reason: Baylor needs to prove it can stop someone on 'D' before I have more faith in the Bears, led by junior do-it-all quarterback Robert Griffin.


Miami (Ohio) at No. 21 Missouri, 11 a.m.
Line: Missouri by 20.5
Pick: vs line: Miami (Ohio); straight up: Missouri.
One-line reason: The Tigers, even with new sophomore QB James Franklin making his first start, should provide noticeable separation along offense and defensive lines. But 20.5 points are a whole lot.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma State by 37
Pick: vs. line: Louisiana-Lafayette; straight up: Oklahoma State
One-line reason: Cowboys beat Lafayette by 26 last year on the road, but 37? That's asking a lot, as much as I love watching the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon touchdown show.

Northern Iowa at Iowa State, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Iowa State
One-line reason: Cyclones won, 27-0, vs. UNI last season.

Eastern Kentucky at Kansas State, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Kansas State
One-line reason: Should be a yawner. More interesting: How many rushing yards will Bryce Brown have? Set line around 50.

McNeese State at Kansas, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Kansas
One-line reason: Because a North Dakota State catastrophe can't happen two times in two years; Kansas should score as many points as it can and not worry about running up the score; confidence will build, as a result.

Texas State at Texas Tech, 6 p.m.
Line: n/a
Pick: straight up: Texas Tech
One-line reason: Let's just play this one and quickly move on.

Rice at Texas, 7 p.m.
Line: Texas by 24.5
Pick: vs. line: Rice; straight up: Texas
One-line reason: I want to see something from Longhorns before picking them by more than three touchdowns.

Tulsa at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma by 25
Pick: vs. line: Oklahoma; straight up: Oklahoma
One-line reason: OU has won 36 straight home games, tops in the country; with talent level, Sooners should blow people out this year at home.


SMU at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.
Line: Texas A&M by 15.5
Pick: vs. line: Texas A&M; straight up: Texas A&M
One-line reason: If realignment talk isn't a distraction, Aggies should cruise at home.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


It’s game week: Top question facing each Big 12 football squad

This time of year — more specifically this week — holds a certain amount of special sports significance across the country.

Perhaps you'll feel an added jolt of enthusiasm this week as you go about your daily routine.

College football is upon us. The seven-month drought is over, and thankfully, we're pretty much done hearing about fall practices and anything pertaining to the offseason.

Yes, we've officially hit game week.

The Big 12 will take part in its first game Friday, when Baylor plays host to No. 14 TCU, one year after the Horned Frogs destroyed the Bears, 45-10, in Fort Worth, Texas. Eight conference teams will jump into action Saturday, while Texas A&M will open its season Sunday.

In the meantime, here are my top questions facing each Big 12 team before the season starts.

No. 1 Oklahoma

Week 1: Saturday vs. Tulsa, 7 p.m.

Biggest question: How will the absence of Travis Lewis, chosen as preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, affect the Sooners and their quest for a national championship?

Lewis, who broke his toe on Aug. 8, is expected to miss eight weeks. If that timetable holds, eight weeks from the time of injury would be Oct. 3.

The good news: OU faces archrival Texas on Oct. 10 in Dallas. The bad news: The Sooners have a front-heavy schedule, with games at No. 6 Florida State on Sept. 17, and a home tilt against No. 21 Missouri on Sept. 24. Can OU remain undefeated in the time Lewis misses?

Oklahoma is a factory for producing above-average Big 12 players at virtually every position on the field, but this injury came at an inopportune time. The Sooners are still trying to cope with losing senior linebacker Austin Box, who died in May because of a toxic mix of pain pills.

No. 8 Texas A&M

Week 1: Sunday vs. SMU, 6:30 p.m.

Biggest question: How many games would the Aggies win in the SEC this season?

Texas A&M reportedly notified the Big 12 late Monday night its intentions of withdrawing from the conference. Today, Texas A&M denied that it sent the withdrawal letter. This will be a long, dragged-out process that should still result in A&M bolting.

In a similar manner to Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) last year, A&M's announced departure should make for some super-awkward matchups this season with the Aggies still in the Big 12. A&M may take the heat off Texas for one season as the Big 12's most despised team. Maybe not, but we'll see.

If greener pastures await the Aggies in the SEC, then best of luck, but their path to any kind of BCS appearance will take a mammoth hit. A&M figures to be the second- or third-best team in the Big 12 this season. Without a Big 12 championship game, the Aggies will be legitimate contenders to take the Big 12 crown and an automatic berth to a BCS bowl game.

But what if A&M played in the SEC this year? Eight of 12 SEC teams are ranked to begin the season. Add an SEC Championship game to the mix, and the path to a BCS game just became a whole lot more difficult for the Aggies.

More long-term stability in the SEC? Probably. But I'm not expecting the Aggies to play in many BCS games coming out of their new conference.

No. 9 Oklahoma State

Week 1: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 6 p.m.

Biggest question: Can OSU finally take the next step and win its first-ever Big 12 Championship?

The Pokes never won or even represented the South in the Big 12 Championship game (back in the good old days when there was one).

The Cowboys took a significant step last year by going 11-2 and capturing the most victories in a single season in program history. Clearly, though, they want more.

This year seems to be as good a year as any to accomplish something bigger. Senior quarterback Brandon Weeden and junior wide receiver Justin Blackmon are the most dangerous pass-catch combo in America, the offensive line returns everyone and is known as the best in the conference, OSU's defense returns six starters and the Cowboys draw Oklahoma in Stillwater this year. What's not to like?

"It's very motivating. We all are striving to get there," Blackmon told me last month at Big 12 media days in Dallas, about breaking through and winning the conference. "We all look at the big picture. We think about it every time we're in the weight room. We have a big sign that says Big 12 champs. That's what we want to do. And that's where we're trying to get."

No. 21 Missouri

Week 1: Saturday vs. Miami (Ohio), 11 a.m.

Biggest question: How ready for the big-time is James Franklin?

The sophomore will follow a list of successful MU quarterbacks that went on to have careers in the NFL (Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert).

Franklin, though, doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense with the Tigers' returning talent. Losing left tackle Elvis Fisher to season-ending knee surgery certainly hurts, but Missouri will still return three of five starters on the offensive line, to go along with receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.

If Franklin steps in as a caretaker who doesn't turn the ball over, MU has a shot at double-digit victories this season. But is he up to the challenge?


Week 1: Saturday vs. McNeese State, 6 p.m.

Biggest question: Who knows what state McNeese State is in?

OK, I'll move on to a serious question (the answer is Louisiana for those who didn't know. I sure as heck didn't before looking it up).

Real question: How much maturity on the field will we see from quarterback Jordan Webb?

Webb went through his share of freshman mistakes in 2010. More interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven). Being sacked 21 times in nine games. Only averaging 132.8 passing yards per game.

How much difference will we see in 2011? With an expected boost from the running game and an experienced offensive line, Webb enters a more favorable situation this season. He has speedster Daymond Patterson back at receiver, along with a slew of promising, young targets looking to prove themselves.

KU receivers caught only six touchdown passes last year. That should change with a more developed and experienced Webb. Webb's maturation could be directly tied to how many more victories, if any, the Jayhawks see this year after a dismal 3-9 showing in 2010.

Kansas State

Week 1: Saturday vs. Eastern Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Biggest question: Will Bryce Brown exhibit a consistent enough work ethic to be able to take over the reins at running back from Daniel Thomas?

It seems foolish to even ask this question, based on Brown's sky-high ceiling. Naturally, the 6-foot, 220-pound Tennessee transfer seems to be the guy to replace Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rushing the previous two seasons. But Brown has not separated himself from the pack, which includes sophomore John Hubert and junior college transfer Angelo Pease.

Brown, a sophomore, was the No. 1-ranked high school recruit in the country by in 2009. Maybe he feels a sense of entitlement. Perhaps coach Bill Snyder is just pushing the motivation buttons. From the recent reports I've seen, Brown has not been the clear-cut No. 1 running back in practice KSU fans expected. Brown, for all we know, could view fall practice like Allen Iverson, only to explode on the scene once the season starts. Either way, he better start getting on Snyder's good side.


Week 1: Friday vs. No 14 TCU

Biggest question: How much has the defense improved from last year?

By now, Big 12 fans know that Robert Griffin can move the Bears offense down the field. But the Bears couldn't stop anybody last season on defense. BU ranked 114th out of 120 Div. I teams in pass defense with 265.08 yards allowed per game last year.

Over the offseason, Baylor hired new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who previously held the same position at Pittsburgh. Bennett installed a new system, the 4-2-5 defense, in an attempt to put more speed on the field. How well BU picks up the new defense will determine how much success it has in the win column after a 7-6 season in 2010 that saw the Bears make their first bowl appearance since 1994.

Iowa State

Week 1: Saturday vs. Northern Iowa, 6 p.m.

Biggest question: How much early success will quarterback Steele Jantz have in the Cyclones' system?

Jantz, a junior college transfer, recently won the starting quarterback job over Jerome Tiller, who was declared academically ineligible and won't play in 2011. Jantz is coming off a season in which he accumulated 3,676 total yards and 37 total touchdowns at City College of San Francisco.

Of course, the competition will be just a bit more fierce in the Big 12. Iowa State's non-conference schedule won't offer much down time for Jantz, either. After opening at home to Northern Iowa, ISU will play host to Iowa on Sept. 10 and travel to Connecticut on Sept. 16. Welcome to Div. I, Mr. Jantz.


Week 1: Saturday vs. Rice, 7 p.m.

Biggest question: The Longhorns' record should be better than their abominable 5-7 showing from last year. But how many more victories will that equal?

UT has new offensive coordinators (Bryan Harsin, previously at Boise State, and Major Applewhite will take over for Greg Davis), and a new defensive coordinator (Manny Diaz, previously at Mississippi State, will take over for Will Muschamp).

The coaching staff recently tapped junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert to be the starter. Gilbert must improve from his 10 touchdowns against 17 interceptions one year ago.

Gilbert's help on the perimeter took a hit over the summer when UT lost Malcolm Williams (left team to deal with family issues) and Marquise Goodwin (took redshirt to focus on track and field after winning national title in long jump).

Gilbert has a No. 1 receiver in the making in sophomore Mike Davis, and Jaxon Shipley, younger brother of UT career receiving leader Jordan Shipley, has turned heads in summer and fall camps. Freshman Malcolm Brown could be UT's best running back since Jamaal Charles, and could help take the pressure off Gilbert.

UT's defense will be solid. But how much progress will the offense make?

Texas Tech

Week 1: Saturday vs. Texas State, 6 p.m.

Biggest question: How much more will the Red Raiders and second-year coach Tommy Tuberville run the football than previous Tech teams?

Tech's strength on offense, for a change, appears to come from pounding the football on the ground. All five offensive linemen return, and TTU boasts three solid running backs in junior Eric Stephens, senior Aaron Crawford and true freshman Ronnie Daniels.

The Red Raiders will still look to the air with junior quarterback Seth Doege and junior receiver Alex Torres, but TTU doesn't possess the same depth at receiver as it had in previous years.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 Media Days, Day 2: KU sets goal of ‘Going to Mass Street’; Jeremiah Hatch trims down; Gill says communication better in Year 2

4:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

We're going to go ahead and wrap up our online coverage from Big 12 football media days.

Be sure to check back to for more stories in the coming days from our time here in Dallas.

3:57 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Two more videos before we wrap up our live blog from Dallas.

First, KU coach Turner Gill was asked what his team's goal was this year. He didn't back down, saying it was to win the Big 12 championship.

Also, KU offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch (like tight end Tim Biere) has been impressed by KU's incoming freshmen.

3:45 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Matt mentioned in his 11:02 a.m. update that KU offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch was in great shape after dropping between 35 and 40 pounds this offseason.

The senior explains (in an entertaining way) how he went about losing that weight in this video.

3:31 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

It's official: KU will be switching to a base 3-4 defense this fall.

KU linebacker Steven Johnson said new defensive coordinator Vic Shealy had informed the team of the change about two weeks ago.

"We have a lot of good linebackers," Johnson said, "so we're trying to make our defense built to our favor."

Last year, the Jayhawks ran a base 4-3 defense. The year before, under former coach Mark Mangino, KU's base set was a 4-2-5.

Matt Tait previously reported that KU might switch to a base 3-4 in this article from last month.

3:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Kansas coach Turner Gill said KU's second offseason under his watch was more productive than their first. See video below:

2:28 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Evidently, the Jayhawks getting picked last in the Big 12 changed linebacker Steven Johnson's shopping habits.

The KU senior said — though he was tempted — he avoided buying all of the preseason magazines he saw at Wal-Mart.

Check out the video below:

2:15 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Though last year's 3-9 record was tough on KU fans, it sounds like it was even tougher on offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch.

He talks about how last year's struggles motivated him this offseason in the video below:

2:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

KU coach Turner Gill said Tuesday that he anticipated that the Jayhawks would win more games in 2010 than they did. Video below:

12:46 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

I know there's no cheering in the press box, but it's still hard to not like KU linebacker Steven Johnson (Here's a feature on his remarkable journey from walk-on to starter from last year, in case you haven't seen it).

Not only is he engaging in interviews and a good storyteller, he also isn't somebody that takes himself too seriously.

That can be seen in the video below as Johnson — who said one of his goals was to represent KU at Big 12 media days — actually thanks media members for interviewing him.

12:35 p.m. update: By Matt Tait

One of the more incredible things to watch at these types of events during the past couple of years has been the increased role Twitter has played.

Like with any other aspect of our society, Twitter seems to be one of the media's favorite methods to deliver news fast.

With all kinds of Tweets flying around throughout the morning, it can become tough to keep an eye on the best ones out there. Some are funny, some are newsy and others are just flat-out baffling.

One of the most interesting Tweets to pop up so far today came from Brian Hanni, host of Rock Chalk Sports Talk on 1320 KLWN. During the radio portion of the day, Hanni had KU coach Turner Gill one-on-one. When he asked him if freshman QB Brock Berglund could come in and compete, provided he arrives as scheduled on Aug. 3, Gill delivered an interesting response. Here's a look at Hanni's Tweet:

"Asked if Berglund has his issues enough behind him to come in & compete, Gill said "Michael Cummings is gonna be able to compete" #kufball"

Earlier in the day, I asked Gill if he had any further comment on the Berglund situation, considering that Berglund's lawyers [released another statement yesterday][1] about him planning to report to camp on Aug. 3 and having a trial date set for December.

Gill was mostly quiet and simply said, "That's about it, he'll be here Aug. 3, ready to go."

Maybe his response to Hanni was unintentional, but we'll definitely check back with him during the one-on-one sessions with the print media later today.

More to come...

12:15 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

To view photos from Day 2's action of Big 12 football media days on Tuesday, [visit our online photo gallery][2].

12:10 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Kansas senior tight end Tim Biere says KU's 2011 recruiting class is the best he's seen since he's been in Lawrence. Video below:

Noon update: By Eric Sorrentino

I thought one of the most interesting topics of Turner Gill's press conference regarded the levels of communication between the Jayhawks' players as last season progressed.

"I thought early on in our season and all that, our players didn't talk to each other very much," Gill said on Tuesday at the Westin Galleria. "Not just football-wise, I'm just talking about just in general."

KU suffered back-to-back brutal losses of 55-7 (at Baylor) and 59-7 (vs. Kansas State) in the first half of last season. The Jayhawks' highlight of the second half of last season was the historic 52-45 comeback victory against Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010 in Lawrence, the greatest comeback in KU history (35 unanswered points in the final 11:05).

Gill took action himself last season to assure better communication amongst his players.

"I'm trying to find ways and did a little bit of seminars and trying to get our players to be able to communicate," Gill said. "If you're not able to communicate, we're not going to be able to move forward in our program to be champions."

11:38 a.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino

Here are some Tweets I had (follow me [@Big12_Spotlight][3]) from Turner Gill's press conference, which ended a few minutes ago:

• Turner Gill: I'm a little bit more at ease as I go into this football season. Last year at this time, I didn't quite understand deep details.

• Gill: Everybody is a lot more confident ... I really feel good about our work ethic. We have gotten faster.

• This year, we got competition. That's what we didn't have last year at some positions.

• On Big 12 schedule/round-robin format: I think that's a plus for the Big 12. It's good for our fans. I think it will be a long-term deal.

• I think there was tremendous improvement as a football team in the last four games of the season ... There was communication. At the beginning of last season, our players didn't talk to each other too much.

Stay tuned for more updates shortly...

11:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Kansas coach Turner Gill says that he doesn't think it will take a long time for the Jayhawks to become a winning football program. Video below:

11:15 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Kansas linebacker Steven Johnson talks about the Jayhawks' goal in 2011 of "going to Mass. St." See below:

11:02 a.m. update: By Matt Tait

We've heard about it all summer but now we've finally seen it. KU senior Jeremiah Hatch is in fantastic shape and looks as good as he's looked in years. The reason? Consistency. Hatch, who's dropped about 40 pounds, said he's always been able to lose the weight but keeping it off was the problem.

This year, the end of his career looming has inspired him to amp it up a notch and the result has put him in the best shape of his life.

Hatch credits strength coach John Williams and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes for helping him focus in and said his faith, his pride and his family have all played key roles in getting him ready for a big senior year.

Beyond shedding the extra weight, Hatch said he's entering the season at 100 percent and added that knee and back problems that have plagued him in the past are now behind him.

More to come...

10:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Kansas tight end Tim Biere reads over the KU media guide on Tuesday morning at Big 12 Media Days at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.

Kansas tight end Tim Biere reads over the KU media guide on Tuesday morning at Big 12 Media Days at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. by Eric Sorrentino

Stay tuned for video of several Kansas football topics, including Jeremiah Hatch's weight loss, KU's goal of "running to Mass," Turner Gill talking about how long it will take to turn around the program, and Tim Biere talking about KU's impressive 2011 recruiting class.

Original post: By Eric Sorrentino

Dallas — After a rough start in coach Turner Gill's first season, in which the Kansas football team finished 3-9 overall and 1-7 in Big 12 Conference play, not many pundits pinned the Jayhawks as bounceback contenders in 2011.

Earlier this month in the Big 12 preseason poll, [the media predicted Kansas][4] would make a return appearance to the basement of the conference.

Will the Jayhawks surprise folks and string together some victories, or continue their downward spiral in Gill's second season in Lawrence?

Welcome back to the second day of's live coverage of [Big 12 football media days][5] at the Westin Galleria.

We'll have live updates throughout the day, so keep it locked on and follow us on Twitter. I'm live in Dallas with KU football beat writer Matt Tait (Twitter [@mctait][6]) and online editor Jesse Newell (Twitter [@jessenewell][7]). My Twitter feed is [@Big12_Spotlight][8]. We plan to string together video, text updates, pictures and more from today's proceedings.

Gill is scheduled to address the media at 11:20 a.m.

Should you have any questions, comments or otherwise, post in the comments section below or Tweet at us. Is there a question you want us to ask one of the players? Seniors Tim Biere, Steven Johnson and Jeremiah Hatch will be available to the media from 2-3 p.m. today. Ask your question in the comments section and we'll do our best to try and have it answered.

Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville will begin Day 2 at 11 a.m. The Red Raiders will be followed by Gill (11:20 a.m.), Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads (11:40 a.m.), Kansas State coach Bill Snyder (noon) and


Big 12 Media Days, Day 1: KU media guide unveiled; Pinkel says prep games on Longhorn Network ‘ludicrous’

5:30 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

We're going to wrap up our Day 1 coverage from Media Days here in Dallas.

Check back Tuesday morning for live blog posts, videos and photos from KU's day in front of the press.

5:12 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Just in case anyone was wondering, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon has no problem with Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles.

You can see for yourself in the video below.

So why would there be bad blood between this year's two preseason Big 12 first-team selections at receiver?

Turns out that last week, OU receiver Kenny Stills tweeted that Blackmon "is all about big bodying people and sloppy routes."

That should add a little fire to the Bedlam Series this year, which already has the potential to be a top-10 matchup.

4:58 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Last year, Missouri receiver T.J. Moe made headlines before the KU-Missouri game with some bulletin-board material.

“I hate them,” Moe said of the Jayhawks. “I’ve been a Mizzou fan my whole life. From day one. Every time I see a [KU] shirt I just want to burn it.”

Moe told me Monday that his strong feelings about MU and KU came from growing up in St. Louis.

“Mizzou was my team,” Moe said. “I don’t care if we’re losing 62 to zero against Oklahoma, I’m still a diehard Mizzou fan when I’m 8 years old.

“So I just went, ‘We hate Kansas. OK, so do I then.’ I did what I was told, because that’s what we did. We’re Tigers. That’s what happens.”

When I asked Moe if he’d rather play the KU-MU game at Arrowhead or on the campus sites, he interrupted me before I could even get the question out.

“I don’t ever want to play at Kansas,” Moe said. “And they probably never want to play at Missouri. So let’s play at Arrowhead.”

Moe, like his teammates in videos below in this blog, said the KU-MU rivalry hasn’t been hurt by the Jayhawks’ recent struggles.

“Not in our minds. In fact, I don’t even know what their record was last year. I’m not worried about that,” Moe said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re playing Kansas, and we’re both 0-0 and we’ve got to figure out a way to beat them.”

Right before the interviewed ended, I asked Moe specifically about his comment about wanting to burn KU T-shirts when he saw them.

“I’m not supposed to talk about Kansas,” he said.

Fair enough.

4:39 p.m. update: By Matt Tait

One of the things that always amazes me at these things is how well players from different teams know each other. It's probably foolish of me to be amazed by that seeing how many of the players in the league are from Texas AND many of them played with or against each other growing up. However, it always gets me.

Today's one-on-one sessions with the players are finished and here are a few of the "amazing" highlights that came from them.

Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright said he's great friends with new KU linebacker Malcolm Walker. Wright, one of the top targets in the league, said he was looking forward to playing against Walker this fall in Lawrence but still kind of bummed that the Bears weren't able to sign his buddy. They tried and Walker was interested, but the juco transfer chose Kansas instead, a move that he'll probably be glad he made considering the fact that Walker's in line for serious playing time this fall.

Trent Hunter, of Texas A&M, said he had committed to Kansas State before getting an offer from the Aggies.

Kenji Jackson, of Mizzou, said he visited Kansas, Missouri and TCU out of high school and nearly picked the Jayhawks. In the end, Jackson said MU was the best fit for him but, surprisingly, he doesn't seem to have anything against KU. I doubt his teammates will be too happy about that.

Another Sunflower State note of interest comes from Markelle Martin, of Oklahoma State. Martin, a Texas native, said he always used to play with the Wildcats on the old college football video games growing up because he liked the look of the Powercat. Outside of that, Martin admitted to not knowing a single thing about Kansas.

While all of those tidbits struck me as interesting, by far the most surprising moment came from Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray, who said that KU legend Gale Sayers is his favorite running back of all-time.

When asked how that happened, Gray proved he knew his stuff. He admitted to knowing Sayers more as a Chicago Bear than a Kansas Jayhawk but gave big-time props to the Kansas Comet for being the first true home run threat to ever play the game. Gray said he modeled some of his game after Sayers and is hoping to meet him face-to-face when the Jayhawks head down to College Station, Texas, later this year to play A&M.

Continuing with the theme of this entry, Gray and teammate Tony Jerod-Eddie both grew up playing little league football with KU's Lubbock Smith (see Jesse's update below) and Jeremiah Hatch.

More to come...

4:35 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

If you remember, in a feature last year about KU safety Lubbock Smith, we had a photo of Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray and Smith in a photo together.

Lubbock Smith, right, is shown with current Texas A&M football player Cyrus Gray, left, and godfather Willie Weeks. Gray and Smith were teammates during youth football in Dallas.

Lubbock Smith, right, is shown with current Texas A&M football player Cyrus Gray, left, and godfather Willie Weeks. Gray and Smith were teammates during youth football in Dallas.

The two played on the same youth football teams growing up in Dallas.

When I talked to Gray — a preseason Big 12 first-team selection this season — he said he still talked to Smith at least once a week and referred to him as his "brother."

"He's been on a team where they've won, and I've been on a team where we lost. It's kind of reversed right now," Gray said. "We just talk about finishing out strong."

Gray — whose older brother actually dated Smith's sister a while back — said he didn't rag Smith at all following the Aggies' 45-10 victory over KU in Lawrence last year.

"When I saw him, I hugged him after the game," Gray said. "He was just like, 'Man, I didn't play my best.' I was like, 'Hey, what I want you to do is get in that film room and just learn from that.'

"I know that's what Lubbock's going to do."

4:30 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

While here, I wanted to make sure to ask Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden what he thought about recent Kansas City Royals first-round draft pick Bubba Starling.

For those that don't know, Starling — from Gardner-Edgerton High School — has not yet signed with the Royals and has a scholarship offer to Nebraska to play football. Soon, he'll have decide which sport he wants to play.

Weeden comes from a similar situation. He was drafted in the second round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. He spent five years in minor-league baseball before an injury ended his baseball career.

"I know what I would do," Weeden said about Starling. " ... I don't know what his situation is or what he's thinking, but that's a lot of money as an 18-year-old kid. You can always go back to school."

After baseball, Weeden chose to play college football at Oklahoma State, where he is now a senior. He is 27 years old and — it's hard for me to believe this — just 41 days younger than me.

"I was able to enjoy minor-league baseball for five years. Enjoyed every single minute of it," Weeden said. "I get to flip the script, turn the page and do something completely different, and enjoy every single minute of this.

"I feel pretty fortunate. I'm lucky to have the opportunity."

3:53 p.m. update: By Matt Tait

Though the Kansas University football team won't officially be a part of the 2011 Big 12 media days until tomorrow, the Jayhawks have arrived in Dallas and are currently getting settled into their rooms in preparation for tomorrow's big day.

One element of the KU program that came along with head coach Turner Gill, player reps Steven Johnson, Jeremiah Hatch and Tim Biere and athletic director Sheahon Zenger, was the 2011 media guide, unveiled for the first time around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.

We'll flip through it and try to bring you the best notes and nuggets at some other time. For now, though, here's a photo of the cover. Not bad.

The 2011 Kansas University football media guide, first unveiled at the Big 12 media days in Dallas.

The 2011 Kansas University football media guide, first unveiled at the Big 12 media days in Dallas. by Eric Sorrentino

More to come...

3:35 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

I asked Missouri safety Kenji Jackson and offensive lineman Elvis Fisher whether the KU-MU game had lost any luster with KU's recent struggles.

Their responses are below.

2:27 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

I have to give credit to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.

While most coaches have dodged questions about the Longhorn Network, Pinkel has been the most honest with his thoughts.

Below, Pinkel says the idea of having high school games on a college network is "ludicrous."

A lot of coaches seem to be thinking that, but Pinkel is the one, so far, that has had the guts to say it with the cameras rolling.

2:07 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

We'll have a few Missouri videos up in a few minutes, but for now, here's another video of Texas coach Mack Brown.

Below, he says that he thinks that the impact of potentially having high school football games on the Longhorn Network is "overplayed a little bit." Very interesting ...

12:50 p.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino

Texas coach Mack Brown was asked about the Longhorn Network and said the added exposure could actually work against his program.

"I can tell by the work that we've put in in the first six months, it's not going to be an easy partnership, because they're (ESPN) paying us $300 million for access, and we gotta figure out how much access we can give them and not hurt our chance to have an edge to win the game," Brown said. "So Dave Brown (of ESPN) called me mid-summer and said: 'We want to have your first scrimmage online. Everybody's going to want to see it.' And I said: Yeah, Oklahoma, A&M, Kansas, Texas Tech, they're going to be sitting there grading our practice as we do it. We can't do that."

Brown also joked about UT's disappointing 5-7 finish last season.

"My wife told me most hotels don't have a 13th floor. And (2010) was my 13th year, so I should have skipped it. Some people thought I did (laughter). But it didn't work well. So we're starting over on year 14."

The Longhorns were picked fifth in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll.

"You all (media) make our players mad daily," Brown said. "And you motivate them first. One of them told me last night: 'Do you know they picked us fifth in the league?' I don't know that. I do now. Thank you for reminding me."

Player interviews begin at 2 p.m., so stay tuned throughout the day.

12:43 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Baylor coach Art Briles spoke earlier about the Bears, who finished 7-6 last season and made an appearance in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, trying to avoid being a one-hit wonder, like the infamous Vanilla Ice (you're welcome):

12:32 p.m. update: By Matt Tait

Texas A&M Wide receiver Jeff Fuller, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior from McKinney, Texas, was asked about how good the wide receivers were in the Big 12.

He said, in no uncertain terms, that they were great and then mentioned a couple. First, he singled out OSU's Justin Blackmon and OU's Ryan Broyles. He then even mentioned a couple of other guys on his own team.

So where does Fuller fall in? He was asked that very question and wasn't too worried about the answer.

"I kind of leave that up to you guys to decide who's the best."

Color me a Fuller fan.

More to come...

12:20 p.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was asked about the Tigers' new starting quarterback this season, sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He was the backup last season to Blaine Gabbert, who was selected by the Jaguars in April's NFL Draft.

"James is a really good athlete, at 6-3, 225 (pounds)," Pinkel said. "People ask me to compare him to Brad Smith. Brad is a leaner, more extreme athlete. James has great movement, can extend the play, can do damage in running game. We haven't really had that since Brad Smith. He has a good arm, has good touch and has a lot going for him."

Pinkel has done a solid job of molding quarterbacks these last few years between Smith, Chase Daniel and Gabbert. Franklin is young, but MU returns four of five offensive linemen, who should make the transition a smoother one.

11:56 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Interesting tidbit: Texas coach Mack Brown spoke about the Longhorn Network perhaps working against his program. View the video below:

11:47 a.m. update: By Matt Tait

A lot of the talk from Texas A&M camp was about senior QB Ryan Tannehill and his status as the clear-cut starter heading into this season.

Last year, Tannehill split time at WR and QB and started just six games under center. Despite his inexperience, A&M coach Mike Sherman believes 100 percent in his QB's ability and he's looking forward to watching him lead the Aggies on the field.

"He's got all the tools we're looking for," Sherman said. "He's extremely competitive, highly confident in his ability and he's a tremendous leader."

Never was that more evident than during the offseason when Tannehill used his power of persuasion to entice wide receiver Jeff Fuller to return to A&M for another season instead of leaving for the NFL.

"I sent him a text every day just trying to nudge him to come back," Tannehill said. "He's a great player and it's huge for me to have a weapon like that down the field."

Tannehill wasn't the only one sending those texts. Fuller said he heard from several teammates and even his parents on the matter. When asked if he ever asked any of them to leave him alone, Fuller smiled and said, "I'd never tell 'em to leave me alone."

More to come...

11:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell

Below is video of Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin speaking about the similarities between him and teammate Robert T. Griffin, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound senior offensive lineman. At one point as a high school athlete, the talented quarterback Griffin wasn't even ranked by

11:20 a.m. update: By Matt Tait

While a good chunk of the talk has been and will continue to be about the ongoing feud between Texas and Texas A&M and how it will shape the future of the conference, UT coach Mack Brown took time out to answer plenty of questions about last year's rough season in which the Longhorns finished 5-7 and missed a bowl.

Of the challenge of bouncing back, Brown said: "Sometimes you need to get kicked in the face to wake up. We've been one of the top teams in America and last year we weren't. The challenge for us is to get to work and make sure we get there again. It's a fun time for us, a challenging time for us. And it's time to get to work."

Like UT or hate UT, you gotta appreciate the way Mack Brown answers questions.

More to come...

11:10 a.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino

Not surprisingly, the first question to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman on Day 1 of Big 12 media days concerned his thoughts on the Longhorn Network airing high school football games. The fourth-year Texas A&M coach didn't really take a side on the issue.

"I've got enough on my plate to get my team ready to play," Sherman said at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. "There will be half a million Aggies watching it. Truthfully, I'm just focused on what I have to do. I'm focused on my job and winning the first ballgame. I'm sure you guys can sort that one out yourselves."

Questions regarding the Longhorn network probably won't go away today and Tuesday. Stay tuned. More coming soon from coaches who take the podium, including Baylor's Art Briles (11:20 a.m.), Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy (11:40 a.m.), Missouri's Gary Pinkel (noon) and Texas' Mack Brown (12:20 p.m.).

10:44 a.m. update: By Matt Tait

Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson wraps up rules talk with the following statement: "We will continue to place an emphasis on hits on defenseless players."

We could not confirm whether he was talking directly to KU cornerback Isiah Barfield, but those KU fans dying for football to get here might enjoy looking back at this hit. Flag or no flag.

10:25 a.m. update: By Matt Tait

The lobby of the Westin Galleria in Dallas is buzzing with Big 12 flavor as the conference's 2011 football media days gets set to begin Day 1.

The lobby of the Westin Galleria in Dallas is buzzing with Big 12 flavor as the conference's 2011 football media days gets set to begin Day 1. by Eric Sorrentino

Day 1 getting off to a slow start. No teams in the print room yet. They're all off doing TV and radio stuff. Our own Jesse Newell is in there with the big boy cameras getting what he can get. Check back throughout the day for videos from Newell. Should be some good stuff.

Texas coach Mack Brown unofficially got things started today by stepping to the podium around 9:40 for a live interview with ESPN's SportsCenter. Brown was pretty loose and personable throughout but I couldn't help but notice how funny it was that Texas cut in line to kick things off. Hey, it's their conference, right?

First team to step to the podium will be Texas A&M around 11 a.m. They'll be followed by Baylor, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas. After that players will be available for one-on-one's from 2-3 p.m. and head coaches again from 3-4 p.m.

Big 12 coordinator of officials, Walt Anderson, is talking now about the rule changes for the 2011 season. Incredibly, and probably appropriately, he kicked off his presentation with a look back at the infamous K-State salute that cost the Wildcats in last year's Pinstripe Bowl.

Anderson said the rule hasn't changed, just the language so that something like that must be made in the direction of an opponent for it to be flagged. Good change. Poor Cats.

Stay tuned for more as the teams step to the podium.

Original post: By Eric Sorrentino

Dallas — Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have plans to dethrone the defending Big 12 football champion Oklahoma Sooners, who have won four of the past five league crowns. Texas is on a quest to prove it belongs back in the race for conference supremacy. Missouri's defense should give it a chance to be in every game as the Tigers attempt to reach double-digit win totals for the fourth time in five years. Baylor, fresh off its first bowl appearance since 1994, flaunts arguably the most electrifying quarterback in college football in Robert Griffin.

Adding to the intrigue of recent Big 12 storylines, Texas A&M already doesn't like how the Longhorn Network is choosing to televise high school football games. Will the Aggies flirt with the pretty girl in the nice dress and think about leaving for the SEC, thus creating another rumor thunderstorm that threatens the Big 12's existence?

Welcome to's live coverage of Big 12 football media days, live from the Westin Galleria in Dallas. College football is back.

The above storylines will surely be addressed and discussed today, when Texas A&M (11 a.m.), Baylor (11:20 a.m.), Oklahoma State (11:40 a.m.) Missouri (noon) and Texas (12:20 p.m.) take the podium at Big 12 media days. Player representatives will speak from 2-3 p.m. today.

The rest of the conference will meet with the media on Tuesday. That includes Kansas and coach Turner Gill, who's scheduled to speak at 11:20 a.m. on Day 2.

It should be interesting to listen to what Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have to say about contending for the Big 12 title. The last time a school not named Oklahoma or Texas won the league was 2003. Remember who that was?

Texas A&M has competed in two Big 12 championships and won in 1998. Oklahoma State has never competed for a Big 12 title. Both have top 10-caliber squads entering the 2011 season. The unfortunate part for the Aggies and Cowboys: OU isn't going anywhere. The Sooners are loaded with talent and could enter the fall ranked No. 1 in the country.

This season, of course, won't have a conference championship game with Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) in different leagues. The formula, then, is pretty simple: The best regular season record in the Big 12 will win the league and earn the conference's automatic BCS bowl berth. The only question left to ask: Who will it be?

I'll be posting live today from the Westin Galleria alongside online editor Jesse Newell (Twitter @jessenewell) and KU football beat writer Matt Tait (Twitter @mctait). All three of us will have fresh updates throughout both days of the proceedings. My Twitter account is @Big12_Spotlight. Hit us up with questions and comments at any time and we'll do our best to get back to you.

Be back on with updates all day, so keep it locked on And as always, discuss.


Big 12 topics in threes to get ready for next week’s football media days

Plano, Texas — Mark your calendars, iPhones, iPads or technological device of choice for 10 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, July 25-26, when Big 12 football media days take place at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.

I arrived a few days early to visit the family in Plano and take some vacation time before the two-day event. Next week, I'll attend media days with KU football beat writer Matt Tait and online editor Jesse Newell. Hit us up on Twitter (I'm @Big12_Spotlight, Matt is @mctait, Jesse is @jessenewell) with media days inquiries and/or comments.

We'll have live updates Monday and Tuesday on the Conference Chatter blog, so feel free to become sidetracked from work for a few hours, join the online discussion, ask questions or make requests in preparation for the 2011 college football season, which is 44 days away from opening weekend.

Kansas coach Turner Gill will take the podium at 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by players Tim Biere, Jeremiah Hatch and Steven Johnson from 2-3 p.m.

Click here for the complete two-day schedule, which includes when each Big 12 coach will speak, along with player representatives who were selected to make the trip.

Before next week's media days, I thought of a few topics to help get us in the college football frame of mind.

Answers will come in threes. Feel free to include your answers in the comments section below. Let's do this:

Three bold predictions for upcoming season in Big 12

1. Oklahoma will average 45 points per game. Oregon led the country in scoring offense with 47 points per game last season, and I think the Sooners will put up similar, gargantuan numbers in 2011. Three years ago, Sam Bradford-led OU put up 51.14 points per game during the year it lost to Florida in the BCS Championship. This OU team is just as loaded.

2. Kansas running back James Sims will amass 1,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. The Jayhawks' record may not look good in 2011 due to its brutal schedule, but fans should notice visible progress in coach Turner Gill's product on the field. Running the football will be the strength of KU's offense this year, and Sims should have a chance to build off a productive freshman year in which he scampered for 735 rushing yards and nine scores.

3. Missouri will rank in the top five in the country in quarterback sacks. The Tigers ranked ninth last year with 37 sacks (2.85 per game). Despite losing Aldon Smith to the NFL, MU's defensive front is stocked with talent (Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton, Kony Ealy, Sheldon Richardson). Missouri should make a push for 40 total sacks.

Top quote-makers in last three years of Big 12 media days

1. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. The pirate king was also the quote king.

2. Former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Didn't work out for him last year (benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill), but he was extremely articulate and an interesting guy.

3. Former Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. A very original quote who three years ago said he tried to mimic Torry Holt on the field. He might turn out to be better.

Top quarterbacks in Big 12 for 2011

1. Landry Jones, Oklahoma. Threw for 4,718 yards and 38 TDs vs. 12 INTs last season. Crazy to think the junior should improve those numbers this year.

2. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. All-world receiver Justin Blackmon is also back for the Cowboys. Most fun tandem to watch in the country.

3. Robert Griffin, Baylor. As long as RG3 (only a junior) is under center, the Bears will most likely go bowling.

Top skill position players in Big 12 for 2011

1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State. Put in its simplest form: the best wide receiver in college football.

2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma. Put in its simplest form: the second-best receiver in college football.

3. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M. Prototypical NFL size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) who will find the end zone plenty in 2011.

Top Big 12 games for 2011

1. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Dec. 3. Bedlam could decide regular season champion this year in Stillwater, Okla. The Sooners carry an eight-game winning streak in the series.

2. Texas A&M at Oklahoma, Nov. 5. The Sooners don't lose at home. They've won 36 straight in Norman, Okla., the longest active streak in the country. However, if A&M wants to contend for the Big 12 crown, this is a game the Aggies would likely need to steal.

3. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17. For all the hype surrounding the Sooners, a perfect season and a potential BCS title berth could be on the line in their second game of the season in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles should be ranked around the top five in the country to start the season.

Three things to look forward to in 2011

1. Offensive firepower. The Big 12 only had two teams ranked in the top 15 last season in scoring offense (Oklahoma State, No. 3, 44.23 points per game; Oklahoma, No. 14, 37.21). This season, I expect OU, OSU and Texas A&M to rank in the top 10.

2. Wide receivers. Sure, we know about Blackmon, Broyles and Fuller, but don't forget about Baylor's Kendall Wright, Missouri's T.J. Moe and Oklahoma's Kenny Stills. It's certainly the best crop of Big 12 receivers since 2008, when the conference had Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Brandon Banks, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley, etc.

3. No Big 12 Championship game. At first, I felt like I'd miss the conference title game. I thought with the basketball postseason tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the football championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Big 12 had the best hardwood-gridiron postseason combination of any conference. I don't think I'm going to miss the football title game too much, though. The North division had lost seven straight title games and nothing suggested the South's dominance was going to end any time soon. Plus, without a championship game, a Big 12 squad will have an easier path to the BCS Championship.

Three things to dread in 2011

1. The absence of elite running backs in the Big 12. Cyrus Gray from Texas A&M is the exception. Other than that, no back in the Big 12 is truly elite yet.

2. The thought of dethroning the SEC. Just because it seems so far-fetched. The SEC has won the past five national championships, and the Big 12 has lost two in that time. Can anyone knock off the SEC in the title game?

3. No Mike Leach at media days. Long live the pirate.

That should be all for now, friends. Looking forward to taking part in media days conversations next week on

As always, discuss.


Big 12 fall football preview: As new-look conference moves forward, league crown remains OU’s to lose

It's easy to forget how much has happened with the Big 12 Conference in the last year.

Just one summer ago, the Big 12 was on the brink of extinction, stuck in the every-school-for-itself realignment mess that altered the landscape of collegiate athletics.

Nebraska said adios and joined the Big Ten, while Colorado, fearful with the league on life support, bolted for the Pac-10.

Texas heavily considered joining Colorado in the Pac-10, whose commissioner Larry Scott had a vision of starting college football's first 16-team super conference. Instead, the Longhorns remained in the Big 12, saving the league from crumbling. The Pac-10 added Colorado and Utah and became the Pac-12.

The other nine Big 12 schools remained loyal to the league, and the Big 12 moved forward without Nebraska and Colorado.

Reasons vary for UT staying put, but the Longhorns could not have started their own television network as a member of the Pac-12/16. They could, however, in the Big 12. In April, UT agreed to a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN for a 24-hour television network to broadcast Longhorn sports. It's set to launch in August.

Essentially, TV revenue was the focus of last summer's realignment talks.

The Big 12 strengthened its long-term stability in April by signing a 13-year deal with Fox Sports that will bring in $90 million per year — more than four times the current deal — starting in the fall of 2012. Combine that with the conference's ABC-ESPN deal that runs through 2015-16, and the Big 12 is looking at roughly $130 million in annual TV revenue.

It's been a roller coaster of a last year, but Dan Beebe's conference is finally stable again. New deals are in place, TV revenue is flowing and Big 12 members appear pleased with the new configuration.

When the 2011 college football season kicks off — the first Big 12 game is Friday, Sept. 2, when Baylor plays host to TCU — the race for the Big 12 Championship will have a bit of a different feel.

For the first time in 15 years, there will be no Big 12 Championship game in December. The NCAA requires a conference to have at least 12 teams to stage a championship game.

There won't be North or South divisions, either. Big 12 teams will play each other once in a round-robin format every year.

The absence of a conference championship game should make it easier for a Big 12 school to reach the BCS Championship. It's one fewer game a powerhouse team like Oklahoma has to trip up and have its BCS title hopes destroyed.

As it is, the Big 12 has put a representative in the national title game seven times in the 13-year history of the BCS. That number should continue to grow without a Big 12 Championship.

That brings us to right now, roughly two months until college football begins. Which team from the Big 12 has the best chance at securing a BCS title berth?

Welcome to Conference Chatter's Big 12 fall football preview. Here are my league rankings heading into the 2011 season, with analysis to follow:

1. Oklahoma

Good news: Remember the 2008 OU offense led by Sam Bradford that put up 51.14 points per game? The 2011 edition is just as talented.

The Sooners are loaded. With junior Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 TDs, 12 INTs) back at quarterback, along with senior receiver Ryan Broyles (131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 TDs) back at wide receiver, OU should average 40 points per game at minimum.

Sophomore receiver Kenny Stills (61 catches, 786 yards, five TDs) is one of the most explosive deep threats in the league. Senior tight end James Hanna (seven TD grabs) also has all-league potential.

If that's not enough, four of five offensive linemen are back for the Sooners. Jones should have plenty of time to locate his weapons. Broyles and Jones are early-season Heisman Trophy candidates, and the Sooners could enter the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Oklahoma will have to replace DeMarco Murray's production at running back, but that shouldn't be a problem. Sophomore Roy Finch has experience and a lightning-fast running style, while incoming freshman five-star recruit Brandon Williams should be one of the top newbies in the country.

All the defense has to do is hold the opposition to a respectable number. Senior linebacker Travis Lewis has led OU in tackles since his freshman year, accumulating a ridiculous 362 stops in three years. Senior defensive end Frank Alexander could crack double-digit sack totals.

Bad news: Honestly, not much. A difficult road matchup in week 2 against Florida State could threaten a perfect season. The secondary is somewhat inexperienced and returns only one starter in junior cornerback Demontre Hurst. That's about it.

Bottom line: Similar to Kansas in men's basketball, Oklahoma football has a certain aura about it that screams 'class of the Big 12.' Since the Big 12's inception in 1996, no football team has been more consistent or dominant. The Sooners have won the Big 12 seven of the past 11 years, and four of the past five years. This season, coach Bob Stoops' squad is in a class of its own atop the conference in a quest to repeat as Big 12 champs and play for a national title.

2. Oklahoma State

Good news: A message for college students, ages 21 and up, in Stillwater: Do not play drinking games involving OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden and OSU wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or you'll run the risk of being blitzed by halftime. Seriously, though, this duo was the most lethal pass-catch combo in college football last season, and they both return, Weeden (4,277 yards, 34 TDs, 13 INTs) for his senior season and Blackmon (111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 touchdowns) for his junior campaign. It's quite possible the Heisman Trophy candidates match or eclipse their staggering numbers from last year. Reason numero uno: All five offensive linemen are back. Hello end zone.

The Cowboys must replace running back Kendall Hunter, but sophomores Joseph Randle (82 carries, 452 yards, two TDs) and Jeremy Smith (56-262-7) are more than capable. Oklahoma State was the top-scoring offense in the Big 12 and third in the country last year with 44.23 points per game. They shouldn't be far off that pace this year, even with the loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen (head coach at West Virginia). Todd Monken, previously the wide receivers coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a former OSU receivers coach, should pick up right where Holgorsen left off as offensive coordinator.

Bad news: The defensive line might struggle to put pressure on the quarterback, as the unit returns one starter in senior defensive end Jamie Blatnick.

Bottom line: If any league team challenges Oklahoma this year, it's the in-state rival Cowboys. OSU faces difficult road tests at Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri. If the Pokes survive those tests, a Dec. 3 Bedlam meeting against OU in Stillwater could decide the conference race.

3. Texas A&M

Good news: The Aggies possess the top one-two running back combination in the Big 12 with senior Cyrus Gray (200 carries, 1,133 yards, 12 TDs) and junior Christine Michael (126 carries, 631 yards, four TDs). Michael missed the last five games last season with a broken leg, but is back to full strength. Gray excelled in Michael's absence, rushing for at least 100 yards in A&M's last seven games.

To label the Aggies as a one-dimensional offense that can only run the ball would be a huge mistake. Senior Ryan Tannehill is a legitimate threat at quarterback, steering A&M to a 5-1 record in games he started after taking over for Jerrod Johnson at the midway point of last season. Tannehill will have the luxury of the top three receivers from a year ago returning to College Station. Senior Jeff Fuller (72 receptions, 1,066 yards, 12 TDs) is one of the most physically-imposing receivers in college football. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Fuller isn't necessarily a burner, but his strength in fighting off defenders, particularly on jump balls, will play to Tannehill's advantage. Any pass in Fuller's vicinity has a chance of being caught.

Bad news: Replacing Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick by the Denver Broncos in April's NFL Draft, will be difficult. The top two candidates to replace Miller at the 'jack' position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position, are sophomore Damontre Moore (Miller's backup last season, 5.5 sacks, 40 tackles) and junior Caleb Russell (impressed in spring).

Bottom line: A&M has the talent to win the Big 12. Coach Mike Sherman enters his fourth year with higher expectations than in his previous three seasons in College Station. This is an A&M team that should be disappointed if it doesn't reach double-digit win totals. Sherman has gone 4-8, 6-7 and 9-4 in three seasons at A&M. Time for the next step.

4. Missouri

Good news: The Tigers should be able to maintain the defensive standard set last season when they led the Big 12 in scoring defense with only 16.1 points allowed per game (sixth in country). It's tough to imagine Missouri actually better without defensive end Aldon Smith, taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 7 overall pick the draft, but that may be the case.

MU will boast a ridiculous front led by Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith on the ends. Madison was a pest last year in the backfield, accounting for 7.5 sacks despite starting only two games. Imagine what he can do as a starter. MU has incredible depth on the ends, with freshman Kony Ealy impressing coaches in the spring, and sophomore Sheldon Richardson, a highly-touted former recruit whose eligibility is still in question. If Richardson suits up this fall, the Tigers will have four starting-caliber ends.

Bad news: The Tigers will enter the season with an unproven quarterback in sophomore James Franklin, who will take over for Blaine Gabbert (10th overall pick, Jacksonville Jaguars). On the positive side, Franklin will have returning stud receiver T.J. Moe (92 catches, 1,045 yards, six TDs) and tight end Michael Egnew (90 catches, 762 yards, five TDs) back this year.

Bottom line: Missouri will face two early tests, the first in week 2 at Arizona State, and then in week 4 at Oklahoma. It's a stretch to suggest the Tigers will win the Big 12, but double-digit victories are not out of the question.

5. Texas

Good news: Surely, it can't get much worse than last year, when the Longhorns sputtered to a 5-7 record, lost seven of their last nine and missed a bowl game. The uncharacteristic finish prompted coach Mack Brown to bring in five new assistant coaches and a new strength and conditioning coach.

UT's strength figures to be its defense, led by returning seniors Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson at linebacker, and senior safety Blake Gideon.

Bad news: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert appeared to have his confidence shattered last season, throwing 10 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. As a junior, he's the most experienced option the Longhorns have, and should start in the fall. He must be better.

What really would help Gilbert's cause is the threat of a running game. Freshman Malcolm Brown may be just what Gilbert needs. The five-star running back figures to make immediate impact this fall. UT hasn't had a reliable tailback since Jamaal Charles in 2007.

Bottom line: UT has as much talent as anyone in the conference, especially on defense. But for Texas to win the Big 12, it will need a playmaker to break out on offense (like Brown, or sophomore receiver Mike Davis, for instance).

6. Baylor

Good news: Quarterback Robert Griffin proved last season his surgically repaired right knee was fine. He's back this season as a junior because he was granted a medical redshirt after the injury in 2009. As long as Griffin is leading the offense, the Bears, who went bowling last season for the first time since 1994, have a chance to reach the postseason again.

The dual-threat Griffin (3,501 passing yards, 22 TDs, eight INTs; 635 rushing yards, eight TDs) will engineer an offense that returns its top four receivers, led by senior standout Kendall Wright (78 catches, 952 yards, seven TDs).

Bad news: The Bears won't have any trouble putting points on the board. But can they stop anybody? Baylor ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 last season in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett (previously defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh) has a tall task ahead.

Bottom line: Briles, entering his fourth season in Waco, has gone 4-8, 4-8 and 7-6 in three years. The Bears were 7-2 at one point last season, but lost their final four contests. Expect a similar record to last year in 2011.

7. Texas Tech

Good news: The schedule sets up nicely for the Red Raiders to start the season 6-0 or 5-1. Tech, which will enter its second season under Tommy Tuberville, faces the unusual position of being deeper at running back than at receiver. Junior Eric Stephens (127 carries, 668 yards, six TDs) and senior Aaron Crawford will receive the bulk of the carries.

Bad news: Trivia question: After Oklahoma State's Blackmon (20 TD catches), who was second in the country in TD grabs last year? The answer may surprise you: Texas Tech's Lyle Leong (19).

The Red Raiders no longer have reliable receivers Leong or Detron Lewis. Junior Alex Torres has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver, but battled a back injury all of last year. If he's fully healed for 2011, he must provide consistency, especially with Tech breaking in junior quarterback Seth Doege.

Bottom line: Tech should make a bowl game in Tuberville's second season. Fun fact: The Red Raiders have been bowl eligible for 18 straight seasons. Only three other teams — Florida, Florida State and Ohio State — have longer active bowl eligibility streaks.

8. Kansas State

Good news: Bryce Brown, the former No. 1 recruit in the country in the Class of 2009, transferred to K-State from Tennessee and will join the Wildcats this fall. The Wichita native rushed for 460 yards his freshman year in 2009 at Tennessee, and sat out last season due to transfer rules. Brown should create some buzz around Manhattan.

Bad news: The Wildcats still need to replace Daniel Thomas. Brown carries incredible hype, but he's still unproven. And, let's be honest, Thomas was the K-State offense. Handoffs. Screen passes. Shotgun/wildcat formations. KSU will miss Thomas, who rushed for 2,850 yards and 30 scores in two masterful years in Manhattan after transferring from Northwest Mississippi CC.

Bottom line: K-State has some pieces on defense (like Bryce Brown's brother, Arthur, a transfer linebacker from Miami), but the Wildcats must improve their defensive front, which was routinely gashed last season. KSU surrendered a whopping 231.4 rushing yards per game in 2010, dead last in the league and 119th in the country. If that number doesn't improve quite dramatically, KSU could struggle to reach a bowl game.

9. Iowa State

Good news: The Cyclones have some solid pieces on defense, particularly at linebacker with returning junior starters A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, who combined for 241 tackles last season. ISU also returns three of four in the secondary, including senior cornerback Leonard Johnson, who has all-league potential.

Bad news: The Cyclones lack playmakers on offense. Even with quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson, who exhausted their eligibility, Iowa State failed to make big plays last season. ISU's longest pass from scrimmage was 39 yards. In the age of the spread offense? Come on, fellas.

Bottom line: Iowa State has a rough nonconference slate, with games against Iowa and at Connecticut. Combine that with the newly-designed Big 12 schedule (i.e. no avoiding Big 12 South teams), and the losses could start to pile up.

10. Kansas

Good news: Well, it's not 2010, when the Jayhawks finished 3-9 and 1-7 in Big 12 play. Kansas must run the football as much as possible with talented backfield options at its disposal. Sophomore James Sims (742 yards, eight TDs) was fantastic last season. True freshman Darrian Miller electrified spring onlookers with his home run potential. Red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon could get looks, as could true freshman Anthony Pierson. Junior Rell Lewis, if healthy, could also be in the mix. Run. The. Football.

Bad news: Quarterback issues still linger. Freshman Brock Berglund's status remains in question. Jordan Webb looks like he'll start. But the sophomore threw more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven) last season. Senior Quinn Mecham, more of a game manager under center, appears to have a limited ceiling. The Jayhawks don't need a game manager at QB, though; they need a playmaker.

Last season, KU quarterbacks tossed only 11 touchdown passes, and had 14 passes picked off.

Bottom line: The schedule is brutal, with nonconference tilts against Northern Illinois and at Georgia Tech. The Jayhawks are also at Oklahoma State, at Texas and at Texas A&M. There's not a game on the schedule that can be pinpointed as a guaranteed victory. The Jayhawks should play better than last year, but it may not reflect in their record.

That should be all for now, friends. Agree with the picks? Disagree? As always, discuss.


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