While the SEC and Big 10 have been getting lavished with praise over the last few years for having the best football conferences in the nation, the Big 12 conference has quietly grown strength in college football. The emergence of Kansas and Missouri proved last year that no longer is it the "Big Two" conference between Texas and Oklahoma. And, this season it appears Colorado, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all look ready to enter the elite status in NCAA football.
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2008 Baylor Bears College Football Preview:
Baylor fans are hoping new head coach Art Briles will turn around the Bears like he did with the Houston Cougars. It will be a difficult task. Baylor hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 1995, stumbling to a 35-101 record since joining the conference.
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Despite having an unsettled quarterback situation, Briles insists his first priority is shoring up the offensive line. Tackle Jason Smith drew huge praise from Briles during spring practice and looks to be the anchor of a still evolving line. Returning quarterback Blake Szymanski (2,844 yards, 22 TDs) is being pressed by a trio of challengers including freshman Robert Griffin who enrolled early. Jay Finley looked sharp in spring practice and expects to handle the brunt of the carries this season.
The defense, which will be shifting to a 4-3, is deep at linebacker, led by Joe Pawelek. Last year as a sophomore he finished second on the team with 99 tackles. Free safety Jordan Lake returns after leading the team in tackles (120) and interceptions (2).
Last year Baylor finished last in the conference with 37 turnovers. Trimming this number will go a long way in making Baylor more competitive in 2008.
2008 Colorado Buffalos Football Preview:
The pieces are finally fitting into place. After coach Dan Hawkins guided the Buffaloes into the last year's NCAA Football Independence Bowl, he followed up with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.
This year's squad has the look of the high-octane teams Hawkins used to coach at Boise. The offense switches to a no-huddle attack led by quarterback Cody Hawkins (son of the coach). For the offense to work Hawkins will need to improve his consistency. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, he tossed an impressive 22 touchdowns, but an unimpressive 17 interceptions. He'll be joined in the backfield by prized recruit Darrell Scott. Last year in high school he rushed for 2,443 yards and 33 touchdowns on just 275 carries.
For the Colorado Buffalos to improve on defense they'll need to generate more pressure on the quarterback. Last year's squad totaled only 20 sacks. Switching to a 3-4 will take advantage of the team's wealth at linebacker, even with the loss of starter Jake Duren for disciplinary reasons, and give them more speed when rushing the quarterback. Cha'pelle Brown showed enough in spring practice to nail down one of the starting cornerback positions.
The Buffalos face a brutal 2008 college football schedule that includes six consecutive games against West Virginia, Florida State, Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri. College-elite status may be one season away for this young team.
2008 Iowa St. Cyclones Football Preview:
Don't expect any Cyclone warnings in the Big 12 conference in the 2008 season. After finishing 3-8 last ncaa football season, Iowa State looks to again be facing a tough season as it rebuilds under coach Gene Chizik.
Losing the best pass-catch combination in the school's history - quarterback Bret Meyer and receiver Todd Blythe - does not bode well for a team that finished last in the conference in offense. Phillip Bates and Austen Arnaud are deadlocked in their battle for starting quarterback honors. Whoever gets the call will be operating behind an experienced offensive line that began to show good cohesiveness towards the end of last season. Running back Alexander Robinson (465 yards, 6 TDs) returns as the team's number one carrier. And prize recruit, Sedrik Johnson, could make the starting lineup at wide receiver.
The defense, last year's strength, must find a replacement for linebacker Alvin Bowen's team leading 99 tackles. Jesse Smith, who tallied 79 tackles of his own, could be a suitable heir. The defensive line also has some holes to fill, especially at tackle.
The schedule could be the Cyclones lone bright spot of the 2008 football season. Absent are Texas and Oklahoma from their ncaa football schedule.
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2008 Kansas Jayhawks NCAA Football Preview:
After finishing 12 -1 last year, which included an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, Kansas won't be taking anyone by surprise in 2008.
Last season's number one offense in the conference returns six starters including quarterback Todd Reesing (3,486 yards, 33 TDs). With the departures of running back Brandon McAnderson (1,125 yards, 16 TDs) and wide receiver Marcus Henry (1,014 yards, 10 TDs) Reesing will have to find a new supporting cast. Highly touted junior college transfer Jocques Crawford could provide the answer at running back. Jake Sharp (821 yards, 7 TDs) should also see time in the running game, but his small stature makes him a situational player. Both backs will be running behind a solid offensive line spearheaded by center Ryan Cantrell, a Rimington Trophy candidate.
The defense, which led the conference and forced 35 turnovers, returns nine starters. Joe Mortensen, a Nagurski candidate (106 tackles, 3 sacks) leads a talented linebacking corps. Despite the loss of Aqib Talib to the NFL the secondary still looks fast and formidable.
After missing Texas and Oklahoma on last year's schedule, the Jayhawks get the two powerhouses this year. Repeating last year's magic will be difficult.
2008 Kansas State Wildcats Football Preview:
The pressure is on third-year coach Ron Prince. The once mighty K-State program has limped to a 12-13 mark under his reign, making, perhaps, 2008 a make-or-break year for Prince.
Realizing he had to make fast changes, Prince recruited an astounding 19 junior college transfers. Running back Keithen Valentine, a walk-on junior college transfer, looked impressive during the spring game, scooting for 104 yards on 15 carries. Josh Freeman returns as the team's starting quarterback for the third straight year. Despite throwing for 3,353 yards and having a 63 % completion rate last year, the coaching staff would still like to see better consistency from him. Wide receiver Deon Murphy (605 yards, 5 TDs) will benefit if the offense adopts a no-huddle attack.
The defense, which yielded 167 points over the final three games, must improve. The secondary features two first-rate safeties in Gary Chandler and Chris Carney (4 interceptions), but otherwise looks shaky with plenty of unknowns.
While challenging for the Big 12 title is out of the question, K-State could make a run at a bowl bid. Easy non-conference games against Montana State and North Texas will help their chances.
2008 Missouri Tigers NCAA Football Preview:
With 10 returning defensive starters and two potential Heisman candidates on offense, the Tigers enter 2008 as contenders for the national title.
Last season's high-revved attack, which averaged 490 yards per game, will again be steered by quarterback Chase Daniel. Last season he connected an incredible 68% of his passes for 4,306 yards and 33 scores. He also possesses the ability to tuck the ball and run (253 yards, 4 TDs), putting added pressure on defenses. Daniel will again be passing to fellow-Heisman candidate, Jeremy Maclin who, as a freshman, caught 80 balls for 1,055 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Chase Coffman (52 grabs, 7 TDs) also makes for a topnotch target. Finding a starting running back looms as the only question on offense.
Missouri's defense, which finished fifth overall in the conference, looks better this year. Defensive end Stryker Sulak possesses All-Big 12 potential. Junior linebacker Sean Linebacker, who led the team with 127 tackles, returns, as does William Moore (115 tackles, 8 interceptions) who some consider as the number one safety in the country.
The Tigers will be tested early with an opening game against Illinois. They'll then play three easy non-conference games - Southeast Missouri State, Nevada, and Buffalo - before opening its Big 12 schedule on the road against Nebraska, where they have not won since 1978.
2008 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Preview:
Bo Pellini's return to Nebraska, where he once served as the defensive coordinator, has Husker fans feeling optimistic again. His Old School style fits perfectly with a program that yearns to return to its Tom Osborne glory days.
Repairing the defense will be Pellini's first task. Last year's squad yielded 476 yards per game and created only 11 turnovers. Cornerback Armando Murillo gives the secondary a good foundation and should benefit from Pellini's reputation for developing strong corners. Last year Murillo started every game and finished with 71 tackles. Freshman recruit Sean Fisher, a 6-6 tower, could step in immediately at linebacker and join Tyler Wortman who looked strong in the Red/White spring game.
Joe Ganz (1,435 yards, 16 TDs) returns as the starting quarterback. He probably won't be throwing as much in 2008. For Pellini, in true Nebraska fashion, favors pounding the ball on the ground. Not a bad idea if it can keep the Huskers defense off the field. Nebraska will probably use Quentin Castille and Marcus Mendoza, a human gazelle, as a running back tandem, giving the ground game both power and speed.
The Huskers open with four non-conference games at home - Western Michigan, San Jose State, New Mexico State, Virginia Tech. A good warm-up before opening its Big 12 schedule against Missouri.
2008 Oklahoma Sooners Football Preview:
This year's Sooners team looks formidable on both sides of the ball and is bolstered by one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. So expect Oklahoma to once again make another BCS championship run.
The offense features the best line in the nation. Two of the five returning starters - Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt - are Outland Trophy candidates. And tight end Jermaine Gresham, a bruising blocker with soft hands (37 catches, 11 TDs), is a Mackey Award candidate. Whoever gets the green light at running back will benefit from running behind this line. If sophomore DeMarco Murray (764 yards, 13 TDs) doesn't fully recover from last year's busted kneecap, look for prized freshman recruit Justin Johnson to get the ball. Quarterback Sam Bradford, who, as a freshman, put up Heisman-like numbers (3,121 yards, 36 TDs, 69% completion rate) should have another strong year.
Defensive end Auston English, a Lombardi Award candidate, anchors a king-big interior line. Last season English led the unit with 9.5 sacks, even though he missed four games due to injury. He'll be joined by defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, another Outland Trophy candidate. Cornerback Dominique Franks has a lock on one of the corners after picking off three balls during the spring game.
With no Missouri on the schedule, and Kansas at home, Oklahoma should be a lock for the college football Big 12 title game.
2008 Oklahoma St. Football Picks Preview:
If Oklahoma State's six junior college transfers can bring immediate impact on defense, the Cowboys could surprise in 2008.
Last season's third rated offense in the conference defined the term "balanced attack" by finishing with 3,161 yards on the ground and 3,161 yards in the air. Quarterback Zac Robinson will again give defenses fits with his passing (2,824 yards, 23 TDs) and running (847 yards, 9 TDs) abilities. He'll be operating behind a strong offensive line that's so deep the coaches are pondering using a two-line rotation to keep the guys in the trenches fresh. Sophomores Dez Bryant (43 grabs, 6 TDs) and Damian Davis both posses playmaking abilities whenever they catch the ball. And tight end Brandon Pettigrew (35 grabs, 4 TDs) is already being hailed as a first round pick in next season's draft.
But then there's the defense. Last year's team was a constant wince, squandering a 21-point fourth quarter lead against Texas, and a 17-point halftime lead to Texas A & M. The presence of linebacker Donald Booker, a junior college All-American who led the nation with 167 tackles, should bring an immediate impact. The coaches are also high on the emergence of redshirt freshman Jamie Blatnick. The 250-pound defensive end recorded three sacks in the Orange-White spring game.
The Cowboys face a tough schedule with road games against Colorado, Texas, and Missouri. Yet, if the Cowboys' defense shows improvement, Oklahoma State could be the dark horse of 2008 college football season.
2008 Texas Longhorns NCAA Football Preview:
Most programs would be pleased with a 10-3 record. But coach Mack Brown has created such a culture of winning that anything less than a Big 12 title is considered a disappointing season in Austin.
To improve on last year's "disappointment" Brown brought in Will Muschamp from Auburn as the team's new defensive coordinator. Last year's unit yielded 371 yards per game, which, by conference standards wasn't bad (4th overall), but by Texas standards rated as one of the worst in the school's history. The line features defensive end Brian Orakpo, a Lott Trophy candidate.
The biggest challenge on offense will be to find a replacement for running back Jamaal Charles (1,619 yards) who left early for the NFL. Vondrell McGee and redshirt freshman Fozzy Whittaker, a human jitterbug, are the leading candidates. Both looked sharp in the spring game. Quarterback Colt McCoy (3,303 yards, 22 TDs) will again be throwing to Quan Cosby (680 yards, 5 TDs) and Jordan Shipley (417 yards, 5 TDs).
Texas is good enough to challenge for Big 12 honors. But the team's fate will be determined in October when it plays Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri in successive weeks.
2008 Texas A&M Aggies Football Preview:
Former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman takes over an Aggies team that finished a disappointing 7-6 last season and returns only nine starters.
Sherman's first task will be to decide on a quarterback. Returning starter Stephen McGee (2,311 yards, 12 TDs) received no indication from Sherman that he'll be under center when the season begins. He's being challenged by sophomore Jerrod Johnson, who, like McGee, possesses great scrambling abilities. The offense will revolve around running back Mike Goodson (711 yards, 4 TDs) whose breakaway speed makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He'll be spelled by Jorvorskie Lane (780 yards, 16 TDs) and possibly redshirt freshman Bradley Stephens.
The defense could make some strides by improving on last year's anemic 18 sacks. The emergence of defensive end Cyril Obiozor during spring practice will be a boost for the interior line. Jordan Pugh and Devin Gregg bring experience to the secondary.
Kansas and Missouri are noticeably absent this year. Yet, despite the favorable schedule, the Aggies don't have the defense to compete for the Big 12 crown. Give them another year.
2008 Texas Tech NCAA Football Picks Preview:
After eight straight bowl appearances Texas Tech now wants to add a Big 12 crown to its trophy case. The offense has always been there, but for the team to make the next step the defense has to show improvement.
The defense actually played well last season, finishing third overall in the conference. But its inability to stop the run (177 yards per game) allowed opposing teams to milk the clock and keep Tech's high-octane offense off the field. Tech has several key players returning including junior linebacker Marlon Williams who led the team with 81 tackles, and defensive end Brandon Williams who tallied six sacks.
Ten starters return to an offense ranked second nationally in college football. Quarterback Graham Harrell (5,708 yards, 48 TDs, 71% completion rate) will again be tossing the ball all over the field. Sophomore Mike Crabtree (134 catches, 22 TDs), a preseason Playboy All-American, returns as the number one target. Detron Lewis (10 catches, 3 TDs), another sophomore, should benefit from teams double-teaming Crabtree. Coach Mike Leach still hasn't settled on a running back. Unlike most other offenses, Tech's backs must be able to pick-up blitzing linebackers. Shannon Woods appears to have the inside edge following an impressive spring.
The Red Raiders have the potential to challenge for first in the Big 12. It will all depend how the team fares on the road against Kansas and Oklahoma.
2008 Big 12 Conference Summary
Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech all have a shot at college football's Big 12 title in 2008, with Colorado and Oklahoma State looming as potential dark horses in the Big Twelve. But look for Oklahoma to emerge on top thanks to a balanced attack and the conference's (maybe all of college football's) best defense.