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Freshly scathed from the exodus of Nebraska and Colorado, as well as the failed flight of Texas A&M, the Big 12 desperately desires kickoff to commence in order to revert attention back to the field of play.
For all the noise concerning Texas and their TV station, the Oklahoma Sooners are this year's forecasted favorite, ranking atop the USA Today Poll. Sporting one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation in Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and Ryan Broyles (131 receptions, 1,622 yards, 14 touchdowns), the Oklahoma offense will endure one of the more explosive attacks in the land despite the loss of running back DeMarco Murray. What remains to be seen is how the defense will respond to the blows to their LB corps, with the shocking death of starting LB Austin Cox and injury to Travis Lewis leaving the crew depleted.
But Norman isn't the only football hotbed in the state this season. In Stillwater, coach Mike Gundy has built Oklahoma State into a perennial power, as the Cowboys have won 29 games in the past three seasons. This campaign projects to be promising for the Cowboys, who have field general Brandon Weeden (4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns) and All-American receiver Justin Blackmon (111 receptions, 1,782 yards, 20 touchdowns) returning to an offense that averaged 44.2 points per game. The Cowboys will be tested early with matchups against Arizona and Texas A&M.
Although last season's 5-7 record served as a wet blanket to the program, expectations remain high in Austin, where a quarterback competition will be the main storyline for the Longhorns. In Columbia, the Tigers will vie for their fourth double-digit win season in the last five years while trying to replace Blaine Gabbert behind center. Texas A&M will not be one to be trifled with, as Ryan Tannehill looks to build off a strong second half for the Aggies.
Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this Big 12 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 19th. What you see in the WIS-Big 12 Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
WIS-Big 12 Predictions
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Joey Helmer of SoonersIllustrated.com is our Oklahoma Sooners insider:
The Sooners are lauded to be the No. 1 team in the land by many for several reasons. They are loaded with returning starters and experience on both sides of the ball. They are extremely talented, perhaps the most talented team in the country. And they have very few weaknesses. OU surges into the 2011 season on a high, winners of five straight, including a Big 12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl victory in the process. Should the Sooners ride that momentum and click early, they'll be very tough to beat.
For more from Joey Helmer and the Sooners, check out SoonersIllustrated.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Oklahoma Sooners
|1||Tulsa Golden Hurricane||88||41-27|
|3||@Florida State Seminoles||56||35-33|
|5||Ball State Cardinals||95||50-9|
|8||Texas Tech Red Raiders||93||39-21|
|9||@Kansas State Wildcats||92||39-21|
|10||Texas A&M Aggies||60||35-32|
|13||Iowa State Cyclones||95||41-14|
|14||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||52||37-36|
Terry Tush of GoPokes.com is our Oklahoma State Cowboys insider:
The Cowboys averaged 44.2 points a game last season (third best in the nation) on the way to winning a school-record 11 games, and there's no reason to believe they won't have one of the most prolific scoring offenses again this fall with All-America receiver and Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon and All-Big 12 quarterback Brandon Weeden returning. Strong safety Markelle Martin, cornerback Brodrick Brown and Big 12 co-defensive freshman of the year Shaun Lewis at linebacker will lead an improved defense.
For more from Terry Tush and the Cowboys, check out GoPokes.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys
|1||Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns||95||45-14|
|3||@Tulsa Golden Hurricane||90||44-29|
|4||@Texas A&M Aggies||54||37-35|
|10||Kansas State Wildcats||84||40-23|
|11||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||84||39-25|
|12||@Iowa State Cyclones||95||43-18|
No fewer than 18 starters return among 60 lettermen, including top playmakers such as quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller. They figure to lead a prolific attack after the Aggies ranked fifth in the Big 12 in total offense (441.8) and scoring (31.2) last season.
There is a disclaimer to consider regarding the Aggies' experience. Tannehill did not start until midway through last season, when Sherman benched Jerrod Johnson. So those six starts account for all of the senior's experience at quarterback after playing as a receiver before that.
The greater concern for A&M is on defense. That unit made considerable strides last season after Tim DeRuyter was hired as coordinator. Still, one of the most versatile defenders in the country, hybrid linebacker Von Miller, is gone after winning the Butkus Award and going second overall in the NFL draft. The Aggies' top tackler from a year ago, linebacker Michael Hodges, also departed. Leaders must emerge among potential standouts, such as cornerback Coryell Judie, who also rates as one of the Big 12's top return threats.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Texas A&M Aggies
|1||Southern Methodist Mustangs||75||38-30|
|4||Oklahoma State Cowboys||46||35-37|
|6||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||77||36-26|
|8||@Iowa State Cyclones||94||38-15|
|11||@Kansas State Wildcats||81||35-23|
JP Rock of ShowMeMizzou.com is our Missouri Tigers insider:
Despite losing two NFL first round draft picks from last year's team, the Missouri Tigers have a chance to be just as good or possibly even better if they stay healthy and certain newcomers live up to their potential.
On offense new QB James Franklin has the goods to be an outstanding college signal caller and will provide more of a dual threat weapon than Blaine Gabbert. He has a veteran offensive line returning along with a strong stable of running backs and reliable receivers such as Michael Egnew and TJ Moe to help make the transition easier.
On defense, the Tiger front seven should be a strength and should be able to provide more depth than last year. The return of DT Dominique Hamilton to help defend the run game is key. DE Jaquies Smith and Brad Madison are on national pre-season watch lists, and Madison returns after leading the Tigers in sacks in 2010, and being the Tigers most productive defensive lineman. Look for newcomer DE Kony Ealy to remind people of former Tiger and 1st round pick Aldon Smith.
How they perform on the road, especially with key road games at Oklahoma and Texas A&M will be big determining factors as to how far their win total will go in 2011.
For more from JP Rock and the Tigers, check out ShowMeMizzou.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Missouri Tigers
|1||Miami (OH) RedHawks||89||30-15|
|2||@Arizona State Sun Devils||50||24-24|
|3||Western Illinois Leathernecks||95||54-7|
|6||@Kansas State Wildcats||78||31-22|
|7||Iowa State Cyclones||90||31-15|
|8||Oklahoma State Cowboys||29||27-34|
|9||@Texas A&M Aggies||35||25-31|
|12||Texas Tech Red Raiders||75||30-22|
Texas probably faces as many question marks as any time since Mack Brown arrived before the 1998 season. Brown had never failed to record at least nine wins in Austin until last season. Now, the offensive line returns without a front-runner at left tackle. The best candidate for a go-to running back could be freshman Malcolm Brown, who arrived on campus in June.
Then there's the quarterback. A year ago, Garrett Gilbert was the guy, the can't-miss prospect inheriting the starting job from Colt McCoy. Now he's one of four players in an open competition after throwing 17 interceptions as a first-year starter in 2010. The other contenders: 2010 backup Case McCoy, fresh from an impressive spring game; one-time top recruit Connor Wood; and true freshman David Ash, who has already impressed.
"The No. 1 thing we want is leadership," Brown said. "We want somebody that can get the swagger back and make sure that the rest of the kids know that this person's going to lead them to victory."
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Texas Longhorns
|2||Brigham Young Cougars||70||27-21|
|5||@Iowa State Cyclones||88||32-14|
|7||Oklahoma State Cowboys||29||26-34|
|10||Texas Tech Red Raiders||67||29-22|
|12||Kansas State Wildcats||79||30-20|
|13||@Texas A&M Aggies||18||21-32|
Chris Bullajian of BearsIllustrated.com is our Baylor Bears insider:
While the offense might struggle early to find someone to replace NFL draft pick Jay Finley in the backfield, the Bears' explosiveness at the other skill positions make it likely that plenty of points will be scored through the air. Baylor's offensive line might also be the best it has been in a decade, although sophomore Cyril Richardson will have big shoes to fill in replacing NFL 1st round draft pick Danny Watkins at left tackle.
The Bears will have a new defensive coordinator roaming the sidelines this fall with Phil Bennett taking over the job. Expectations are high with new faces on the defensive side of the ball, but there still might be a few bumps along the way. After losing defensive tackle Phil Taylor to the NFL draft, the Bears will have to find a new anchor on the defensive line.
The Bears must build upon last season's success, and they must use that momentum to surpass last year's achievements.
For more from Chris Bullajian and the Bears, check out BearsIllustrated.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Baylor Bears
|1||TCU Horned Frogs||22||25-37|
|3||Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks||95||55-9|
|5||@Kansas State Wildcats||65||32-28|
|6||Iowa State Cyclones||88||34-20|
|7||@Texas A&M Aggies||34||30-36|
|9||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||18||30-42|
|13||Texas Tech Red Raiders||49||32-30|
Joe Yeager of RaiderPower.com is our Texas Tech Red Raiders insider:
Look for the Red Raiders to be a better team because of the continuity and stability that will come with the personnel's second year under Tommy Tuberville. The defense, in particular, will be improved. Trips to Texas and Oklahoma, however, preclude a truly special season.
For more from Joe Yeager and the Red Raiders, check out RaiderPower.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Texas Tech Red Raiders
|1||Texas State Bobcats||95||50-8|
|3||@New Mexico Lobos||95||36-11|
|4||Nevada Wolf Pack||50||30-29|
|6||Texas A&M Aggies||23||26-36|
|7||Kansas State Wildcats||60||29-26|
|9||Iowa State Cyclones||76||29-20|
|11||Oklahoma State Cowboys||16||25-39|
Expectations aren't particularly high this year with the Big 12 cutting out divisions and adapting a round-robin format. Picked eighth, the Wildcats must improve dramatically on defense to make any noise.
The secondary is the strength of that unit. Safeties Tysyn Hartman and Ty Zimmerman are both solid, while cornerback David Garrett is a versatile performer who led the team in tackles last year while ranking among the Big 12 leaders in tackles for loss (15).
Even with Arthur Brown, the front seven is shaky. The top performer along the line is end Brandon Harold, though he too has frequented coach Bill Snyder's doghouse.
Collin Klein won the starting job at quarterback during spring camp and now must refine his throwing touch after being used situationally as a rusher last season. Experienced receivers exist, yet most either underperformed or were injured last season. Brodrick Smith is the top talent, but he must bounce back from a broken leg.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Kansas State Wildcats
|1||Eastern Kentucky Colonels||95||50-9|
|3||Kent State Golden Flashes||77||26-16|
|4||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||23||20-30|
|7||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||40||26-29|
|10||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||16||23-40|
|11||Texas A&M Aggies||19||23-35|
|14||Iowa State Cyclones||78||27-18|
The only thing the Cyclones appear to be lacking is a bona fide quarterback, and ISU hopes that doesn't hold the program back from trying to make its second bowl game in three seasons.
The three men battling for the starting spot -- Jerome Tiller, Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett -- will only have a month of practice to improve before the season starts. Each showed flashes of brilliance in the spring, but none ran away with the job. Tiller opens camp No. 1 on the depth chart, but he needs to improve his accuracy. Jantz, a junior-college transfer, needs to learn the playbook. And Barnett, a redshirt freshman, lacks college experience.
The defense appears to be the strength of the team with seven starters returning. Linebackers Jake Knott, a preseason first-team All-Conference selection, and A.J. Klein will anchor the defense. Cornerback should be a strength as the top four return.
"Everywhere you turn the program is in better shape," coach Paul Rhoads said. "I think we'll have our best football team that we'll put on the field this fall. The marker is wins and losses. We'll see how that plays out. We'll certainly take the field every Saturday to win them and see what the numbers end up at by the time the season's done."
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Iowa State Cyclones
|1||Northern Iowa Panthers||95||39-7|
|8||Texas A&M Aggies||6||15-38|
|9||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||23||20-29|
|12||Oklahoma State Cowboys||5||18-43|
|14||@Kansas State Wildcats||22||18-27|
In a second season as Kansas coach, Turner Gill promises he will field a faster and deeper team. If true, the Jayhawks could lack experience. Although Gill restrained from pulling redshirts off all but four freshmen last year as the Jayhawks struggled to go 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12, he is encouraged by the newcomers he signed as part of a class ranked 34th nationally.
"We got quality recruits," Gill said. "Many legitimately have a chance to play right away."
There is reason to understand the optimism Gill will always attempt to exude. His top returnee on offense is a running back, sophomore James Sims, who broke in and gained 742 yards last year as a true freshman. One of the best players Kansas redshirted, Brandon Bourbon, is a running back. So too is Darrian Miller, an incoming recruit who reported for spring camp and enters the fall as Sims' backup.
Defensively, much work remains and will be handled by a new coordinator after veteran Carl Torbush stepped down after being diagnosed with cancer. Vic Shealy, the cornerbacks coach, was promoted to the coordinator's post and will attempt to capitalize on a talent infusion featuring a pair of transfer linebackers, Darius Willis (Buffalo) and Malcolm Walker (junior college).
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Kansas Jayhawks
|1||McNeese State Cowboys||95||38-9|
|2||Northern Illinois Huskies||6||18-39|
|3||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||15||16-32|
|5||Texas Tech Red Raiders||12||18-32|
|6||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||5||16-46|
|8||Kansas State Wildcats||11||19-35|
|10||@Iowa State Cyclones||25||19-27|
|12||@Texas A&M Aggies||5||14-44|
Joel Beall is the assistant content manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.