Prior to last season, 1999 was the
last time Oklahoma lost four regular season games. They went undefeated the next year and
won the national title.
One of those two teams will win the
South Division this year and could play in the BCS National Title game in
In the North, it’s been seven long
years since Nebraska last played in the Big 12 Championship game. While Colorado went to that game four of
the last five seasons, the Buffaloes find themselves with a new head coach. There’s a new coach in The Little Apple
after legendary coach Bill Snyder hung up the reins at Kansas State. Missouri must go on without Brad
Smith. This division is a wide open
In the media’s official preseason
poll, Nebraska was picked to end their North Division title drought, with Iowa
State a close second. Colorado was
the third choice, followed closely by Kansas and Missouri. Kansas State was a distant sixth and
In the South Division poll, the media
selected Oklahoma to take the crown back from Texas with the Longhorns picked
second. Texas Tech was all by
itself in third, while Texas A&M was a distant fourth. Oklahoma State barely edged Baylor for
The PiRates disagree only
slightly. While agreeing on
Nebraska to begin the 2006 season as the best in the North, the rating says
Texas is still a top five team.
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers
National Ranking: 25
In year two of the great
metamorphosis, Nebraska won seven regular season games and then knocked off
Michigan in an exciting Alamo Bowl game.
The ‘Huskers threw the ball for 224 yards a game, but they finished dead
last in the Big 12 in rushing with just 96 yards per game—this from a team that
used to exceed 350 yards rushing year-after-year.
Nebraska returns enough starters and
letterman to be the favorite in the North this season. The offense should be more efficient,
but the defense should win a majority of the games.
Zac Taylor returns as the starting
quarterback a year after tossing for a school record 2,653 yards and 19
touchdowns. Taylor came of age last
year against Iowa State, when he completed 36 of 55 passes for 431
When Taylor looks for his receivers
this year, he will have two exceptional wide outs getting open. Nate Swift and Terrence Nunn combined
for 88 catches for 1,136 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Leading rusher Cory Ross has finished
his collegiate career, but Nebraska cannot fare any worse than last season. Marion Lucky takes over the running back
spot with Cody Glenn, Brandon Jackson, and Kenny Wilson look to contribute. This group should rush for more yards
than last year’s average.
The offensive line isn’t as good as
the lines during the Tom Osborne days, but center Kurt Mann and tackle Lydon Murtha are good
enough to draw votes on the All-Big 12 team.
The Cornhuskers averaged 24.7 points
and 320 yards per game last year.
The yardage should jump to the 350 to 375 yard mark, and the points per
game should top 27 points per game.
Nobody will confuse this defense for
the “black shirts,” but Nebraska should give up less than 20 points and 325
yards per game this year. All three
units are stock full of talent.
The front seven has two All-American
players. End Adam Carriker pulled
off 17 tackles for losses last year, including 9.5 sacks. Linebacker Corey McKeon led the ‘Huskers
with 98 tackles with 22 behind the line and seven sacks. He also intercepted three passes and
broke up seven others.
Other stars up front are end Jay Moore
(14 tackles for loss) and linebacker Bo Ruud (14 tackles for loss, 7 defended
passes). Back from injury is
linebacker Steve Octavien, who should find a place in the starting
The secondary needs to kick it up a
notch, and if the front seven continues to limit the time the passer gets to
throw, the defensive backs could hold passers to under 50% completions this
year. Cornerback Courtney Grixby
defended 11 passes last year, and he should be the big weapon in the
When the Nebraska defense forces a
punt, the Cornhuskers will have two excellent speedsters set to return it. Terrence Nunn and Grixby both averaged
over 10 yards per return.
The ‘Huskers open with two patsies in
Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State.
At 2-0, they will travel to the Los Angeles Coliseum to take on Southern
Cal. Later in the season, Texas
comes to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, and Colorado closes out the season by
coming to Nebraska. The only tough
conference road games are at Iowa State and at Texas A&M. I foresee Nebraska losing at USC and at
home to Texas, but they should beat everybody else on their schedule to play in
the Big 12 title game at 10-2.
2. Colorado Buffaloes
National Ranking: 30 (t)
Colorado started the 2005 season 7-2
with the losses at Miami and at Texas.
Losses at Iowa State and at home to Nebraska still didn’t prevent CU from
clinching the North Division flag.
The Buffs got a chance to play Texas a second time and lost 70-3! After a Champs Sports Bowl Loss to
Clemson, CU finished 7-6. It
brought the Gary Barnett regime to a crashing end in
Enter Dan Hawkins from Boise
State. Hawkins went 53-11 in his
stay in the land of the blue carpet.
He takes over a team that lost its starting quarterback and leading
receiver, but he welcomes back five of the top six tacklers.
The key to this year’s offense will
rest in whether the new quarterback can run Hawkins’ offense. Getting first crack at the job is James
Cox, who saw limited action last year when he completed 17 of 41 passes for 119
yards. Backup Bernard Jackson can
play multiple positions, and as a quarterback, he is a rocket on two
CU rushed for only 110 yards per game
last year. Hugh Charles returns to
his tailback position where he rushed for 858 yards last year. With a healthy line blocking for him, he
should top 1,000 yards. While not
overly talented, there is some depth here including a couple of true freshmen
who could see action.
Charles is an excellent receiver out
of the backfield, where he grabbed 28 passes last year. Two other key receivers are Dusty
Sprague and Patrick Williams, who teamed for 73 catches and 730
The offensive line lacks depth, but
two players could earn 1st team All-Big 12 honors. Mark Fenton was the 1st team
all-league center last year, and guard Brian Daniels gives the Buffs a great
inside hole to run over.
The biggest offensive weapon is kicker
Mason Crosby. He is in field goal
range whenever CU gets to the opponents’ 40-yard line (at least at home in the
high altitude of Folsom Field).
Last year, he nailed a 58-yard field goal and finished 22 of 29 overall;
he also converted on all 32 PAT attempts.
The Buffalo defense fell apart at the
end of the 2005 season giving up 130 points to Iowa State, Nebraska, and
Texas. CU was actually quite
difficult to run against, but they played matador pass defense, giving up almost
250 yards through the air.
Hoping to improve those pass numbers
is a secondary that returns a lot of experienced talent. Cornerback Lorenzo Sims broke up 17
passes and intercepted another last year.
Terrence Wheatley returns to the opposite cornerback spot after missing
all of 2005. Safety J.J.
Billingsley made 88 stops and defended seven
The Buffs have two strong linebackers
that combined for 185 tackles last year.
Thaddeus Washington registered 15 tackles behind the line including seven
sacks, and Jordan Dizon stopped seven opponents behind the
The first line of defense is led by
end Abraham Wright, who picked up seven tackles for losses and defended six
passes. Nose tackle Brandon Nicolas
is eligible after transferring from Notre Dame.
The schedule includes road games
against Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. The rest of the slate is
manageable. Call it a 7-5 or 8-4
season in year one of the Hawkins regime.
3. Iowa State Cyclones
National Ranking: 39 (t)
Two years in a row! That’s what ISU fans must be muttering
in their sleep. In both 2004 and
2005, the Cyclones lost their season finales in overtime. Both times, a win would have given them
the North Division title and berth in the Big 12 Championship
This year, most Iowa State games
should be shootouts. The Cyclones
are loaded on offense and full of holes on defense. If the running game returns this year,
ISU could be unstoppable even against the top defenses in the Big
Quarterback Bret Meyer had some big
games last year, especially after the running game fell apart due to
injuries. He completed 61.7% of his
passes for 2,876 yards and 19 touchdowns, and those numbers could actually
improve this year. He has a
truckload of quality receivers on hand.
One of the top receivers in the league
is Todd Blythe who snared 51 passes for 1,000 yards (19.6 avg). Former quarterback Austin Flynn caught
56 balls, while H-back Jon Davis grabbed 41. Backup R.J. Sumrall is yet another deep
threat who caught 20 passes last year.
Even tight ends Walter Nickel and Ben Barkema chipped in with 38
receptions and four touchdowns.
Running back Stevie Hicks rushed for
just 545 yards at a 3.7 yard average in 2005. He suffered a groin injury during the
season. When fully healthy in 2004,
he topped 1,000 yards and provided excellent pass blocking in the
backfield. Fullback Ryan Kock is
excellent on 3rd and one and at the goal line. Last year, he scored 13
The offensive line is huge but may be
a tad on the slow side. All five
starters tip the scale over 300 pounds, and tackle Aaron Brant has NFL
There are a few defensive stalwarts on
the team, but ISU is missing several stars who contributed last year. Cornerback DeAndre Jackson should see
enemy passers throwing to the other side a lot this year. Last year, he intercepted five passes
and batted away eight others.
Jackson is the only returning starter in the secondary. ISU gave up 242 passing yards per game
and could give up 250-275 this year.
The only returning starter at
linebacker is Adam Carper. He moves
over from outside to the middle this year and should become one of State’s
Up front, the Cyclones return
2nd team All-Big 12 tackle Brent Curvey, who was credited with 6.5
sacks last year. End Shawn
Moorehead picked up 5.5 himself, giving ISU a nice pass rush. They will need to come up with more this
year to keep quarterbacks from shredding the
The conference schedule couldn’t have
gotten any harder. Baylor and
Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M go off the ledger and Texas, Oklahoma, and
Texas Tech replace them. That’s
three losses there. Iowa will be
waiting for revenge, while Nebraska and Colorado should be tough to beat. Unless ISU can pull off a major upset or
two, it looks like 6-6 is all they can hope for.
4. Missouri Tigers
National Ranking: 43 (t)
The Brad Smith era ended with yet
another underachieving mediocre Tiger team. This one finished 7-5, making it two
five-loss winning seasons and two losing seasons.
Missouri’s woes could not be blamed on
Smith last year. With his leading
the way, Missouri rushed for more than 200 yards and passed for 225 while
scoring right at 31 points per game.
It was a defense that yielded almost
30 points per game that doomed Mizzou to 4-4 in the league. The defense is still going to be average
this year, so the Tigers will continue to play exciting, albeit average
The one major defensive area of
concern is the secondary. Safety
David Overstreet cannot make every tackle and defend every pass. Last year, he recorded 100 stops and
defended 10 passes. He is the only
experienced defensive back.
The rest of the Missouri defense is
quite good. Linebackers Dedrick
Harrington and Marcus Bacon teamed up for 158 tackles; Harrington had 12.5
tackles for loss. Nose tackle Jamar
Smith and end Brian Smith could both earn some post-season accolades. Jamar made 12 stops behind the line,
while Brian recorded 17 stops for loss, nine sacks, and six defended
passes. End Stryker Sulak made the
Freshman All-Big 12 team last year and should record double digit tackles for
Figure on Missouri’s defensive stats
to improve in 2006. They should
hold opponents to about 22-24 points and give up less than 350 total yards per
Offensively, the Tigers cannot
possibly match last year’s output.
With a more conventional quarterback, the rushing average will fall, as
Smith avoided sacks and scrambled for large gains on his way to 1,301 yards
rushing. Chase Daniel gets first
crack at trying to fill Smith’s shoes.
He could easily surpass Smith’s passing yardage
When was the last time two tight ends
tied for first in receptions on a Division I-A team? Prior to last season, the answer was
probably back in the days of the old full-house, split-t offense (which Missouri
popularized). Missouri’s two tight
ends, Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, finished with 47 receptions each, and
both of them return this year. Also
back this year are William Franklin and Brad Ekwerekwu who teamed for 72
Marcus Woods and Tony Temple will be
asked to carry the load at running back this season after being counters to the
quarterback. They split 912 yards
last year. Both are on the small
side, so neither can be counted on to carry the ball 300
The offensive line could be the
strongest unit on this side of the ball.
Center Adam Spieker was an honorable mention all-league player last
year. Tackles Tyler Luellen and
Joel Clinger should provide strong protection for
Adam Crossett handles both the kicking
and punting duties and is above average at both. Missouri should have good return units
The Tigers should be 4-0 when Colorado
comes to Columbia. The opening four
games are against Murray State, Ole Miss, at New Mexico, and Ohio. Home games with both Kansas and Kansas
State should provide them with enough wins to become bowl eligible. Will 6-6 be enough to save Gary Pinkel’s
5. Kansas State Wildcats
National Ranking: 49
Ron Prince takes over for legendary
coach Bill Snyder, who did the impossible in Manhattan. Prior to Snyder’s tenure, Kansas State
had enjoyed four winning seasons in the previous fifty years, and two of those
were five-loss seasons. K-State had
actually fallen low enough to lose at home to Austin Peay and go 0-21-1 the two
year’s prior to his arrival. Snyder
guided the Wildcats to 11 winning seasons plus a 6-6 season in his 17 years in
the “Little Apple.”
Snyder left Prince with a full
cupboard, and Kansas State should compete for bowl eligibility. The offense returns nine starters if you
count 2004 starting quarterback Dylan Meier. Both of last year’s co-starters at QB,
Allan Evridge and Allen Webb, transferred.
Evridge left after August practices began. That means Meier will fight it out with
true freshman Josh Freeman for the starting job.
The running back situation isn’t
totally clear at this moment.
Thomas Clayton returns after leading the K-Cats last year with 637
rushing yards. However, he has been
in trouble off-the-field and will miss the season opener against Illinois
State. JUCO star James Johnson will
likely start game one, and a prime performance could earn him the regular
The Wildcats’ receivers all have great
speed, but they are not tough enough to catch passes in a crowd. Yamon Figurs caught only 14 passes last
year after snaring 31 the year before.
Jordy Nelson and Jermaine Moreira return after finishing one-two in
receptions with 45 and 35 respectively.
Nelson caught most of the crucial conversion passes that other KSU
receivers could not do last year.
The offensive line doesn’t have a star
on it, but guard John Hafferty is strong and tough. Three other starters return to the line
with him, but these guys only opened blocking holes for 3.5 yards per
The defense does not come close to
matching the standards set by the late 1990’s and early 2000’s teams. The Wildcats surrendered 28 points per
game in 2005 after giving up 31 points the year before. Look for a similar result this
Each unit has one upperclassman who
could wind up as an honorable mention all-league selection. Tackle Quintin Echols should improve
upon his 5.5 stops for loss.
Linebacker Brandon Archer led State with 72 tackles and 9.5 for
loss. Safety Marcus Watts finished
second on the team with 71 tackles and broke up five
The strength of this team is probably
the special teams. Jeff Snodgrass
is not Martin Gramatica, but the kicker connected on a 57-yard field goal last
year. Moreira and Figurs teamed up
for an 11.3 yard punt return average; Moreira returned one all the way. As kickoff returners, the duo averaged
23.8 yards per return with Figurs taking one back for
Even though Kansas State should be
better this year, the Wildcats may only rise one spot in the standings. The usually easy non-conference schedule
has three softies and one tough opponent.
State hosts Illinois State, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, and then
Louisville before opening league play.
The first two conference games are at Baylor and home for Oklahoma
State. If K-State is not 5-1 after
the first half, you can forget planning to watch them in the postseason. They close with Nebraska, at Missouri,
Iowa State, at Colorado, Texas, and at Kansas. A 5-1 start can mean a 7-5 record or 6-6
at worse. If the record is 4-2 or
less, then the losses will exceed the wins for the third straight
6. Kansas Jayhawks
National Ranking: 56 (t)
The Jayhawks hit a stretch last year
where they looked like they were ready to become a player in the North
Division. They knocked off Missouri
then slaughtered Nebraska. After
enduring the Texas buzz saw, they closed out the regular season by eliminating
Iowa State in overtime. Then, in
the Fort Worth Bowl, Kansas annihilated Houston 42-13 and outgained them 538 to
That was last year, and this is this
year. It’s back to reality for Mark
Mangino, as he lost a lot of talent.
The Jayhawks will be lucky to just have a record reversal, as they return
the fewest starters in the Big 12.
Defense is going to be a major concern
as nine of the top 12 tacklers are gone including eight starters. Kansas gave up 22 points and only 303
yards per game in 2005, and those stats will climb a good bit this
The offense may equal last year’s
output, as KU scored only 22.4 points per game while averaging just 330 yards
per game. Quarterback Kerry Meier
inherits the vacant position after beating out senior Adam Barmann. Meier has no collegiate game experience,
while Barmann completed 16 of 30 passes for 118
At running back, senior Jon Cornish
returns and could threaten 1,000 yards this season. He rushed for 780 at 5.8 yards per clip
last year as the backup and scored nine times.
Cornish may be asked to run the ball
20-25 times a game this year, because the receiving corps is lacking a true
star. Brian Murph, Derek Fine, and
Marcus Herford will not carry the team on any of their arms and
The offensive line has a couple of
exceptional players in center David Ochoa and guard Bob Whitaker. Ochoa has been placed on the Lombardi
award watch list.
Only three receivers return on
defense. Tackle James McClinton
made 27 tackles last year with four for losses. Cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Jerome
Kemp combined for 112 tackles and 13 defended
The Jayhawks need to come up with a
stopper at linebacker, as all three starters from 2005 are gone, including Big
12 Player of the Year Nick Reid.
Mike Rivera made 20 stops in a backup role and could be the future
Punter Kyle Tucker is on the Ray Guy
watch list. He averaged 42.9 yards
per punt last year.
The only saving grace for the Jayhawks
this season is an easier schedule.
Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech are replaced by Texas A&M, Oklahoma
State, and Baylor. Northwestern
State (La.) and Louisiana Monroe pay visits to Lawrence, while KU must go to
Toledo and also host South Florida.
It looks like 2-6 at best in the league and 5-7 at best overall. That’s quite an improvement from the
last time the Jayhawks returned less than half their starters—they went
1. Texas Longhorns
National Ranking: 2
Texas fans need only to look at recent
history to remain upbeat about the 2006 season. Replacing Vince Young may be an
impossible task, but repeating their 2005 accomplishment isn’t. Southern Cal replaced Carson Palmer with
Matt Leaner and won the national championship. Tennessee replaced Peyton Manning with
Tee Martin and won the national championship. When Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan
left Auburn after 1971, the Tigers went 10-1 with Randy Walls directing the
run-dominated offense. After
Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett led Stanford to the Rose Bowl in January,
1971, Stanford wasn’t supposed to return to the Rose Bowl the following year,
but Don Bunce led the Indians (as they were then called) back to Pasadena and
another victory over an unbeaten opponent to finish with the same 9-3 record of
the year before.
So, who is the next Leinert, Martin,
Walls, or Bunce? That job belongs
to redshirt freshman Colt McCoy.
McCoy’s next snap as a college quarterback will be his first. His backup is true freshman Jevan
Snead. McCoy is not the runner
Young was, but he is a much better runner than Snead. Snead may have the better arm, so he is
likely to see action in a rotation with McCoy.
Texas averaged 275 rushing yards per
game last year with 81 of those yards coming from Young. This year, Jamaal Charles, Ramonce
Taylor, Selvin Young, and Henry Melton will share the load. All four of these backs can have a
breakout game and rush for 100 yards.
These four horses averaged six yards per rush last year and they should
easily offset the 81 yards Young gained.
As a group, Texas could out-rush Adrian Peterson and his
Texas isn’t about to revert back to
the Daryl Royal days and run the ball 85% of the time. The ‘Horns have a fine stable of
receivers, led by Billy Pittman and Limas Sneed. These two speedsters can take a 10-yard
reception and turn it into a long gain.
A year ago, they finished with 70 receptions for 1,295 yards and 10
touchdowns. They will make the new
quarterbacks look good.
You want to know the secret of how
Texas won the national title last year?
Vince Young was great, but it was the offensive line that won the
title. They were the best
contingent since Nebraska’s 1995 line.
You want to know something else?
Texas still has the best line in the country. Start with the next Willie Anderson at
tackle. Justin Blalock is the best
offensive lineman in the Big 12, and he is a leading candidate for the Lombardi
and Outland Trophy awards. Center
Lyle Sendlein and guard Kasey Studdard give UT two more All-Big 12
The Texas defense had a breakdowns
against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, but they held eight teams to 17 points
or less. The USC game was not a
breakdown. It was more like
Nebraska giving up 31 points to Oklahoma in their epic 1971 game. The Longhorns lost four stars, but the
replacements will soon gain star-status themselves. Texas will field one of the top five
defenses this year, but it may be the second best in the Big 12. More about that in the next team
The strongest component of this
fantastic defense is the front four.
Tackle Frank Okam and end Tim Crowder caused opposing quarterbacks to
dump the ball or force a bad pass.
The two only sacked quarterbacks four times, but quarterbacks are smart
enough to dump the ball before someone has to deliver flowers to their hospital
The linebackers aren’t the weakest
defensive unit—that would be a disservice.
Let’s call these guys the least superior. Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino
combined for 17 stops for losses and should increase that number this
The secondary features two potential
All-Americans. Cornerback Tarell
Brown defended nine passes and safety Michael Griffin stopped 11 to go with 124
tackles. Replacing Michael Huff and
Cedric Griffin will be hard, but Aaron Ross should be the next big
Vanderbilt fans remember kicker/punter
Greg Johnson who left the Commodores after it was too late to replace him in the
recruiting process. He finally gets
a chance to be a regular at Texas after sitting for the better part of the last
three years. When he was a
Commodore regular in 2002, Johnson booted 27 of 27 PATs and 8 of 13 field goals
and carried a 43.3 yard punting average with a net of
Texas plays two other preseason Top
Five teams. They face Ohio State
September 9th in Austin, and they have their annual Cotton Bowl Texas
State Fair match with Oklahoma.
They must also travel to Nebraska and Texas Tech and of course end the
season against those Aggies. While
UT may be as good as last year, I cannot see them running the table once
again. Add in the fact that the
players might wear down after practicing day after day in triple digit heat, and
it figures to be a 10-2 or 11-1 season in Austin.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
National Ranking: 6
Oklahoma was an early wise guy choice
for national champ this year. Then,
news came out that starting quarterback Rhett Bomar had been declared
ineligible. The Sooners dropped out
of the news and Ohio State took their place as the team of the
Fret not for the Sooners. They have Adrian Peterson. Can quarterback Paul Thompson come back
from the wide receiver position and direct the offense? Sure, he has Adrian Peterson. Can the receivers get open and make huge
gains to take some pressure off the running game? They can, because Adrian Peterson will
delay the linebackers from dropping back into passing zones any time he could
run the ball. What about a
rebuilding offensive line? They’ll
do fine because they block for Adrian Peterson.
Okay, enough of Adrian Peterson
already. No, it’s not. How can a player have an off-year due to
injury and finish with 1,104 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns? I compare it to Babe Ruth in 1929, when
he hit only 46 homers in 135 games.
If Peterson stays healthy all year, he could top 2,000 yards
Thompson returns to the quarterback
position after planning to play at receiver this year. Thompson supplies great foot speed and
size. He won’t be asked to do what
Josh Heupel and Jason White were asked to do. If he can get the ball to Peterson and
keep defenses honest with accuracy on play-action passes, Oklahoma should move
the ball and score points. With the
Sooner defense expected to be one of the tops in the nation, 25-28 points per
game should be enough to win every game.
Thompson’s chief pass catching weapon
is Malcolm Kelly. Kelly caught 33
passes for 471 yards last year and should increase his 14.3 yard per catch
average this year.
The offensive line is young with four
sophomores and a redshirt freshman among the top six and only one senior in the
group. Whether they can run block
adequately enough to open holes for Peterson to explode through is the big
The Oklahoma defense may be as good as
any defense in the last 20 years!
The last team to hold opponents to a single-digit average was Miami in
2001. If Oklahoma’s offense moves
to a 70-30 rush/pass ratio, they may hold onto the ball long enough for the
defense to hold opponents under 10 points per game.
So where is the Sooners’ Achilles’
heel on the stop side? There isn’t
one. All three of their units are
in the top 5 nationally, and all three could be number one by year’s end. The last time a defense had the best
three units may have been Alabama in 1961 (they surrendered a grand total of 27
points in 11 games).
The line returns two full-time
starters and one part-time starter, but the one new starter, tackle DeMarcus
Granger, may be better than the other three. Ends C.J. Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux
teamed for 29 tackles for loss with 17 sacks.
All three starting linebackers from
last year return. Rufus Alexander
and Zach Latimer finished one-two in tackles last with 102 and 84
respectively. They teamed for 23
stops for loss and 15 defended passes.
The 2005 secondary returns in one
piece. Cornerbacks D.J. Wolfe and
Reggie Smith form the nation’s best twosome. Safeties Jason Carter and Darien
Williams play the run and pass equally well.
Garrett Hartley is yet another weapon
at the Sooners’ disposal. Whenever
OU gets to the 35-yard line, the kicker is in field goal
Oklahoma has two roadblocks standing
in their way of a national title.
They must venture to Eugene, OR to give the Ducks a chance at revenge in
game three. Texas comes two games
later. If these two games came in
November, I would happily predict OU to Boomer Sooner over both of them. However, at this stage of the season,
Thompson and the rebuilt offensive line could stumble in one of those
games. Still, 11-1 could get them
in the National Championship picture if the rest of the nation is too evenly
matched. That could very well
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders
National Ranking: 13
The Red Raiders began to show they can
play both offense and defense last year.
TTU gave up only 18.8 points and 335 yards per game last year and upped
their annual amount of regular season wins to nine. If it weren’t for an upset loss to
Oklahoma State, Tech may have been a BCS at-large
This year, expect Texas Tech to take a
step back to seven or eight-win status.
The Raiders lost too much on the defensive
The offense should continue to shine
with 350 to 400 passing yards and another 100 on the ground. The next 4,000-yard passer will be
Graham Harrell. Harrell completed
67.3% of his 55 passes last year for 422 yards and three touchdowns against no
interceptions. If he completes 67%
of more than 500 passes, he should top 4,500 yards if Tech plays in a
Making Harrell’s job all the more
easier is the fact he has four top-notch receivers to work with. Joel Falani caught 65 passes for 1,048
yards and eight touchdowns as the top deep threat. Robert Johnson (67-951) and Jarrett
Hicks (65-850) provide Harrell with excellent intermediate route runners. Danny Amednola is the H-Back who caught
35 passes last year.
If you remove QB sacks from the
equation (and they don’t belong being included in rushing stats), Texas Tech
rushed the ball 273 times for 1565 yards, an average of 5.7 yards per
carry. That’s what Navy averaged
last year. This year’s single back
will be Shannon Woods, who rushed for 168 yards on just 24 carries last year; he
scored three times.
Four starters return to the offensive
line, led by guard Manuel Ramirez, who earned 2nd team All-Big 12
honors in 2005. They should
protect Harrell and open large holes on the draw.
The defense will rely on the play of
linebackers Keyunta Dawson, Brock Stratton, and Fletcher Session. Dawson moves from end where he made 62
stops last year. Session is the
leading returning tackler, while Stratton returns after missing 2005 with an
The line welcomes back tackles Chris
Hudler and Ken Scott, while end Seth Nitschmann returns after missing all of
The secondary better be glad they
don’t have to face their own offense.
TTU needs some newcomers to step in and contribute immediately. Only cornerback Antonio Huffman returns
as a starter. He defended five
passes last year.
Texas Tech could top 40 points a game
this year, as Harrell could be on his way to breaking Cliff Kingsbury’s record
for 12,429 passing yards. The
defense may give up 25 to 28 points a game, but TTU could win eight or nine
games if they give up 28 points every week.
4. Texas A&M
National Ranking: 39 (t)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way when
Dennis Franchione took over in College Station. After going 4-8 in his first season,
A&M went 7-4 in 2004 and then was ridden hard and put up wet against
Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. Last
year, with 17 starters returning, the Aggies finished an inexcusable 5-6. One more underachieving season could be
curtains for Coach Fran.
A defensive breakdown ruined the
season for TAMU. They gave up 31.2
points per game, not being able to stop any quarterback. The Aggies watched opponents pass for
over 300 yards per game; that mark was dead last among the 119 I-A teams. To help the pass defense this year, new
defensive coordinator Gary Darnell is switching to a 4-2-5
The five defensive backs, safeties
Devin Gregg, Melvin Bullitt and Japhus Brown, and cornerbacks Marquis Carpenter
and Danny Gorrer absolutely must improve the horrid pass defense stats this
year, but two of them are going to have to contribute against the run. Making several tackles after opponents
gain five to seven yards rushing won’t help that
Justin Warren led A&M with 95
tackles. He could challenge for
All- America recognition this year.
Joining him in the two-man unit will be Mark Dodge, a
Up front, tackle Red Bryant is a rock
at 6-5 and 330 pounds. He made 7.5
tackles for loss last year and needs to double that amount this year. End Jason Jack tries to return to 2004
status after missing several games last year.
This defense will have to gamble with
blitzes, dogs, and stunts to keep quarterbacks off balance. They may increase their sack total, but
the Aggies could give up more big plays.
Offensively, TAMU averaged 32 points
and 442 yards per game. That should
have been enough to win eight or nine games. This year, A&M could drop a few
notches in the offensive statistics, as quarterback Reggie McNeal and top
receiver Jason Carter are no longer around.
Stephen McGee takes over under center
for McNeal. He completed just 45.3%
of his 53 passes last year in limited duty. He rushed for 235 yards as well, saving
his best for Texas by running for more over 100 yards and two
Tailback Courtney Lewis returns after
leading the Aggies with 723 yards on the ground. Jovorskie Lane, all 5-11 and 274 pounds
of him, rushed for 595 yards and nine touchdowns, and he should team with Lewis
for 1,500+ yards.
Earvin Taylor, Chad Schroeder, Howard
Morrow, Kerry Franks, and Martellus Bennett give McGee a deep receiving
corps. If Taylor is healthy after
missing nine games last year, this unit could be one of the top three in the
Three offensive linemen figure to
compete for All-Big 12 awards this year.
Center Cody Wallace, guard Kirk Elder, and tackle Yemi Babalolo combine
size and speed. They should allow
A&M to rush for 225 yards or more this year.
I expect TAMU to give up fewer points
this season, but the offense will also score less. However, the defense should improve more
than the offense regresses. A very
fortunate schedule should help the Aggies win more than they lose and return to
a bowl. The season commences with
The Citadel, Louisiana Lafayette, Army, and Louisiana Tech (all at home except
Army which will be played in the Alamodome in San Antonio). At 4-0, Texas Tech will be the first
real challenge. After that a road
game at Kansas, a home game against Missouri, and road games at Oklahoma State
and Baylor are all winnable. The
Aggies should need to be bowl eligible with a minimum record of 6-3 at that
point; they finish with Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas and will more than likely
lose all three. If the final record
isn’t at least 7-5, expect a new coaching search to begin.
5. Baylor Bears
National Ranking: 63 (t)
Guy Morriss came close to ending the
long Bear winning season hibernation last year, bringing his troops in at
5-6. An overtime loss to Texas
A&M and double overtime loss at Oklahoma kept them from going bowling.
This is a pivotal season in Waco. Baylor has the benefit of having the
easiest schedule in the South Division, getting both Kansas schools and Colorado
as the North Division opponents.
Baylor threw the ball 36 times per
game last year, and that number could actually go up in 2006. The Bears cannot run the ball against
the better defenses, as they averaged just 70 yards rushing against Nebraska,
Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma State and 89 yards overall in Big 12
Shawn Bell returns to pilot the
In 2005, he completed 59.4% of his passes for 1,964 yards and 12
touchdowns. Backup Terrance Parks
is now the starting tight end.
When Bell throws, he’ll have a couple
of good options to locate downfield.
Dominique Zeigler and Trent Shelton, finished with 87 total receptions
When the Bears run, Paul Mosley will
be the first option. He led Baylor
with 657 rushing yards. Brandon
Whitaker is a better pass catcher as judged by his 30 receptions out of the
The offensive line doesn’t blow
opponents off the line of scrimmage, but they do a decent job protecting the
passer. Center Yancy Boatner moves
over from guard, and he is the prime-time player of the
Baylor improved from 36.9 points
allowed in 2004 to 26.5 points allowed last year. With the four leading tacklers gone this
year (and seven of the top nine), expect BU to give up more than 30 points per
game once again.
The five-man secondary features an
outstanding cornerback in C.J. Wilson, who intercepted five passes and batted
away five others last year. Anthony
Arline returns to the other corner.
The defensive line returns two
starters in end Marcus Foreman and nose tackle M.T. Robinson. The two seniors combined for 73 tackles,
10.5 for losses.
Both starting linebackers from last
year have moved on, leaving junior Nick Moore as the only experienced player in
this unit. Moore played enough to
make 23 tackles, but none of them were behind the
BU has an above-average kicking
game. Punter Daniel Sepulveda
averaged 46.2 yards per punt, while kicker Ryan Havens connected on 16 of 23
Baylor has five games on their
schedule that are virtual locks in the loss column. TCU, Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, and
Oklahoma should be out of reach.
Games against Northwestern State (La.), Washington State, Army, Kansas
State, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State gives the Bears seven chances
to win. I think they will win
either three or four of these.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
National Ranking: 78 (t)
Year one in Stillwater was a bust for
former Cowboy star Mike Gundy. The
OSU career passing leader took over for Les Miles, and guided the Pokes to a 4-7
record, breaking a string of three consecutive winning seasons ending in bowl
A defense that gave up 31.3 points and
418 yards per game could actually be weaker this year. The offense should improve by leaps and
bounds in year two of the passing offense.
The one spot defensively where OSU is
above average is in the trenches.
Tackle Ryan McBean was credited with 5.5 stops behind the line. End Victor Degrate and nose guard Xavier
Lawson-Kennedy return as starters up front.
The three-man linebacking crew lost
all three starters from a year ago.
Rodrick Johnson did start one game and returns after making 74 tackles,
five for losses.
The secondary was much too generous,
allowing 62% of enemy passes to be completed. Former quarterback and now safety
Donovan Woods and cornerback Calvin Mickens return.
The offense is in much better shape
with the return of quarterbacks Bobby Reid and Al Pena, top running back Mike
Hamilton, and the top five pass receivers.
Reid and Pena threw for a combined
1,704 yards, but neither completed half of their passes. They also tossed 17 passes to players
wearing the wrong jersey.
Wide out D’Juan Woods is a future NFL
receiver. Last year, he caught 56
passes for 879 yards and eight scores.
Ricky Price, Hamilton, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and Tommy Devereaux
combined for 58 receptions but only one touchdown.
Hamilton rushed for 961 yards, while
short yardage bruiser Julius Crosslin crossed the goal line 12
The offensive line features all-league
tackle Corey Hilliard. He joins
returning center David Washington and returning tackle David
Kicker Bruce Redden nailed 11 of 14
field goal attempts with a long of 52.
He converted on four of seven kicks from beyond 40
Oklahoma State starts the year behind
Baylor in the PiRate ratings. As
the season progresses, I think the Cowboy offense will improve and allow them to
possibly upset a Big 12 opponent.
With non-conference games against Missouri State, Arkansas State, Florida
Atlantic, and Houston, OSU should be at least 3-1 and possibly 4-0. Road games against the Kansas schools
and home games against Texas A&M and Baylor give the Pokes six winnable
games. I believe they will fall
short by about two. Call it 4-8 in
year number two of the Gundy administration.
Next Up: The wild and crazy Pac-10 Conference
where the average score per team in conference play was 30 points. Can somebody overtake Southern Cal, or
will the Trojans continue their stranglehold on
Sources: The official website of the Big 12
conference and the official websites of the 12 member
Ft. Worth Star