It’s the last year for the Big XII as we know it. Nebraska will be moving on to the Big 10, and Colorado will head west to the Pac-10. There is still plenty of star power in the Big XII, so no one should cry for them. A lot of household names have moved on, and there are some really good players ready to step in. Without futher adieu, let’s break it down.
1. Are they ready? Nebraska seems to have regained the toughness that was prevalent through all of the Tom Osborne years. Bo Pelini now has to get the team to take the next step to national prominence. The last 2 years, they have been near the top of the conference, and were 1 point… really, 1 second from being Big XII champs. Senior Zac Lee is the incumbent at QB, and if he wins the fall camp battle, needs to win games rather than try not to lose them as he did last year. That is the key to the Huskers this year.
2. Out with the old, in with the new. Gone is the #1 pick in the NFL draft, Sam Bradford. Landry Jones will try to pick up where he left off. Jones gained valuable experience last year when Bradford went down with his shoulder injury. To ensure that the Sooners don’t have the same problem this year, their offensive line needs to make some big strides. Also riding on that line is the running game, led by DeMarcus Murray. If he can stay healthy, and Jones gets time to get the ball downfield, Stoops will have the Sooners in great shape.
3. Show me. Missouri’s main problem last year was the defense. They could not get off the field on 3rd down, and their pass defense needs a serious upgrade. Their offense wasn’t spectacular, but took care of the ball, so if the defense improves they can stay close in games. They want to find a replacement for leading Big XII receiver Danario Alexander, since they are an offense built around slinging the football. The Tigers have a ton of capable receivers but no stars yet. Their development, as well as that of junior QB Blaine Gabbert, will be interesting to watch.
4. Down in Aggieland. This is a make or break year for coach Sherman and the Aggies. They have what should be one of the best offenses in the conference, headed by probably the best QB in the conference, Jerrod Johnson. He can run like the wind, and has the arm to get behind the defense. Speaking of defense, there is a new coordinator in town who can hopefully bring back the tradition of the hard-hitting squads of the ‘90s. Obviously, the big games are OU, Nebraska, and the rivalry game with Texas on Thanksgiving Day. If Sherman doesn’t improve on that 10-15 record he has, this could be his swan song.
5. Bevo’s boys. Garrett Gilbert takes over for favorite son and Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy. Gilbert has all the tools, and was highly regarded out of high school. He was thrown into the fire in the national title game against Alabama, and fared okay once he got his feet wet. I can see a change in philosophy from the wide open offenses that we’ve seen from the ‘Horns the last few years. It would seem that running the ball more would be the formula, and playing to their strength which again will be a fast and aggressive defense run by Will Muschamp. They have an interesting stretch this year with UCLA, OU, and Nebraska all in a row. We’ll see how their new signal caller can handle the pressure.
It should be a fun year in the Big XII. My pick is Oklahoma simply because the experience they have returning on offense will be the difference in overcoming Texas and winning the conference. It’s been a long time since the Sooners have been in the hunt for more than just the conference title. If they can stay healthy and focused, this should be their time.