02 June 2008

2008 Preview Series - Big 12

We at The Rivalry, Esq. are dedicated proponents of instant gratification (and hullucinating allusions of grandeur). So, with a long, hot month remaining until the official college football preview yearbooks hit the stands, we’re taking things into our own hands.

Introducting the The Rivalry, Esq.’s 2008 Conference Preview Series. Over the coming weeks we’ll be featuring bits and bytes breakdowns of the programs that populate the college football landscape. Each installment will feature an off the cuff overview, stock assessment, and crystal ball forecast of what to expect this fall. Without further adieu...

Big 12

Ah, middle America. Still waters and sweeping alluvial plains. Gentle winds and sleeping giants. Like the July asphalt on I-70 that bisects the north and south, promise is blistering from Austin to Columbia.

After eight teams garnered bowl appearances in 2007, the conference carried back a respectable 5-3 record. Texas’ route of Arizona State in the Holiday, Missouri’s blasting of Arkansas in the Cotton, and Kansas’ vindication against Virginia Tech in the Orange punctuated a season full of surprises including an (albeit short-lived) No. 1 ranking from a team not named Oklahoma or Texas.

But the roar of the Tigers couldn’t outsound their deep disappointment at being buried in the Conference Championship Game and brushed-off by the BCS selection committee. Big-game Bob Stoops couldn’t convince the crimson and cream to show up on the national stage for the second year in a row.

If college football is really something corporate the Big 12 is the conference with the most unfinished business. Here are the players in predicted order of finish:

Esquire Rating: 1/5

The Bears, under new head coach Art Briles are certain to make strides in statistical categories this fall but a schedule that's about as friendly as a brain tumor -- with out of conference matchups against Wake Forest, Washington State, and Connecticut, and blinding away games at Texas, Nebraska, and Texas Tech -- will keep the bottom line bare.

Must Win: IOWA STATE (Oct. 11). Without this mid-season pick me up Baylor might be staring down the barrel of a one-win season. (Where is Glen Mason when you need him?)

Predicted Finish: 1-11 (0-8 conference)

Esquire Rating: 1/5

That "other" team to go 3-9 in 2007 struggled to propel their two-stroke lawnmower engine further than 4.4 yards per play (a number that placed them last in the Big 12). The fifteen returning players (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 kicker/punter) will have their work cut out for them, sans quarterback Bret Meyer.

That said, fortune has delivered a favorable 2008 lineup with both Texas and Oklahoma off the regular season schedule, and matchups against Kansas, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri at home.

Must Win: @ BAYLOR (Oct. 11). Coming into this matchup the Cyclones will likely be 2-3. A win would right the ship before a two-game home stretch, and might give them a shot at bowl eligibility.

Predicted Finish: 4-8 (2-6 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

A big September away win at then No. 10 Texas (and a lone loss to No. 15 Auburn) put the Wildcats in pole position to command their own destiny in 2007. They promptly called California for help and went 2-6 over their final 8 games.

The team's "Cold War" spring rations of night workouts and closed practices should better focus the 2008 squad.

Must Win: @ LOUISVILLE (Sep. 17). A win earns KSU a 4-0 start and a little momentum heading into the beginning of conference hostilities against Texas Tech on October 4th.

Predicted Finish: 7-6 (3-5 conference)

Esquire Rating: 2/5

When he's not blowing up in front of the national media head coach Mike Gundy isn't bad with the Xs and Os. His 7-6 mark last year is more impressive when you consider that his 07 Cowboys opened up with a nice helping of No. 2 Georgia on the road.

Sixteen returning starters, and a burgeoning defense should help carry a lighter out-of-conference load in 2008.

Must Win: @ WASHINGTON STATE (Aug. 30). A opening showdown in the Pacific Northwest will set the tempo for the entire 2008 season.

Predicted Finish: 7-6 (4-4 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

After being about as lively as a three-day-open can of Coke in games against ranked opponents in 2007, the Aggies have a chance to get revenge on Randy Shannon when the Hurricanes visit College Station.

A new offense will help in 2008 if a receiver corps steps up to the plate.

Must Win: MIAMI (Sep. 20)

Predicted Finish: 7-6 (4-4 conference)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

As Boulder learned in 2007 a landmark upset means little if followed by little. Cody Hawkins is sure to improve in 2008 when a running threat under super recruit Darrell Scott makes the Buffalo offense multi-dimensional.

Must Win: WEST VIRGINIA (Sept. 18). To be a national program you have to win national games. If the altitude negatively affects the gang from Morgantown, this might be the first major upset of 2008. And, it might give them a little confidence on the long-flight east to face Bobby Bowden's Seminoles the following week.

Predicted Finish: 8-5 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

When they're not streaking slants and burning quick outs, Texas Tech is going through the motions, and that's why they can't seem to break into the upper echelon of the conference. Still, season ending wins against Oklahoma and Virginia were impressive and have chalked expectations.

Must Win: @ KANSAS (Oct. 25th)

Predicted Finish: 9-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating 3/5

In case you haven't encountered the old adage "offense wins games, defense wins championships" the Pelini product in Lincoln will attempt to extoll its virtues.

Will the new Big Red last, or get chewed?

They can't do much worse. Last year's Cornhuskers went 2-6 in conference play under Bill Callahan. Its defense, finishing 112th out of 119 teams in the FBS, leaked like a bad tampon. Still, the offensive wasn't bad -- finishing ninth and putting up an average of 33.4 points a game.

Pelini will keep his quarterback, and his fingers crossed.

Must Win: VIRGINIA TECH (Sept. 27th).

Predicted Finish: 9-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 4/5

It's true that there might be nowhere to go but down for Mark Mangino's explosive Jayhawks. It's also true that The Rivalry, Esq. remains slightly skeptical about how good they really were last year.

Still, the numbers don't lie and with an average of 42.8 points a game Kansas was about the closest thing we had to a basketball, ahem, football power in 2007. And they're back a la mode with Todd Reesing and a wide-out lineup that makes Urban Meyer jealous. But the 2008 conference schedule is peppered with names they haven't seen before -- friendly programs like Oklahoma and Texas.

To turn luck into legacy the Jayhawks will have to breed physical play, specifically offensive line protection. To match last year's output Reesing has to stay cool in the pocket.

Must Win: @ OKLAHOMA (Oct. 18). The strength of the Sooner D-line alone might be enough to collapse the Jayhawk offense (think Virginia Tech at LSU last September). If Kansas can keep their pro-form intact and hang with the Stoops Spread they may get into a points race that, in a high octane matchup, can only work in their favor.

Predicted Finish: 10-3 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 4/5

6,018 yards of total offense lit the burner for the Longhorns in 2007. Then again, an uninspired defensive unit let an average of 25.3 points spill onto the board. With the departure of (Big 12 rushing leader) Jamall Charles and Limas Sweed, Mack Brown's latest incarnation may need to develop a sound backfield and lineup of playmakers to stay near the top in a north division that will be as good as it's been in half a decade.

Nonetheless, Colt-45-McCoy is back with a solid arm and knack for coverage pickup. His leadership will be essential in guiding a young team that returns a modest 11 starters from 2007. At present acclaim new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp should revive a unit that lacked fourth quarter discipline in 2007.

As long as Mack Brown can keep his grandson off the field, these Longhorns will be big and bright in October when they face Oklahoma and Missouri back-to-back.

Must Win: OKLAHOMA (Oct. 11th). If Texas can't hold em' in the Red River Rivalry, they're dead in the water.

Predicted Finish: 10-3 (6-2 conference)


Esquire Rating: 4/5

If you take away those polite run-ins with Oklahoma, the 2007 Missouri Tigers were megatons. As it turns out -- they're not much worse for the wear. A team that finished last season fifth in total offense was fifty-ninth in total defense. Still, they managed to outscore opponents by a whopping 16.6 points on average in a catch-me-if-you-can Chase. Daniel, by the way, is back -- with a meat and potatoes kind of work ethic that makes him admirable in a Ben Roethlisberger kind of way.

The problem is they're without Tony Temple-ton. If sophomore Derrick Washington hopes to fill the void, he needs to do it without an anchored offensive line. If Missouri can't turn out a reliable ground game they'll be forced to go to the air where opposing secondaries will be loaded.

Still, the thing that favors Pinkel's Mizzou is their schedule. With no Oklahoma on the horizon these super tigers can steer clear of their conference Kryptonite -- at least until the championship (where The Rivalry Esq. is convinced Boomer Sooner will be there to spoil their fun).

Still, the 2008 Tigers will not be void of consolation. They'll land an at-large bid to a coveted BSC bowl. The first in the program's history.

Must Win: @ TEXAS (Oct. 18th).

Predicted Finish: 12-1 (8-1 conference)

OKLAHOMA SOONERS Esquire Rating: 5/5

Let's face it, this squad was dangerous when Bradford was a freshman and huddles were the norm. Now that wisdom has conspired with madness in Norman the Buckeyes of the south will circle the wagons on the Big 12. Eight returning offensive starters will brand a unit Stoops is daring to outmatch its spellbinding 42.3 points per game in 2007.

With a defense primed to poison, the Sooners are loaded in the fertile soil of the secondary. Expect fast play on both sides of the ball, disorientating drives, and curly-Q routes. This is the team to beat in the Big 12.

Must Win: TEXAS (Oct 11th).

Predicted Finish: 12-1 (8-1 conference)


Damage_96 said...

Pretty accurate look at KU, but I think I'd peg our must-win as Tech the next week. Also, a win at USF would certainly be an early indicator of things to come ... similar to the KSU game last year.

If you do a link for hawkdigest.com, I'll exchange the favor in my college football section.

Jonathan M. Franz said...

Thanks for checking out the site. I'm happy to add Hawk Digest as an "Associate" of The Rivalry, Esq.

We appreciate your doing the same.

Good luck this season.