The Sooners find themselves in a familiar position: sitting atop the preseason rankings for the conference. Mike Stoops returns to the Oklahoma sideline as defensive coordinator and will be responsible for tightening up a pass defense that allowed over 3,100 yards in the air last season.
2. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are coming into the Big 12 on a wave of momentum having thoroughly trounced Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Head coach Dana Holgorsen brings an offense that should fit in well in the shooting range the Big 12 has become. West Virginia had the No. 15 ranked offense in the country last season — behind four other current Big 12 teams.
The Longhorns field what should be the number one defense in the conference. The offense, however, is a different story. Texas looked anemic at times last season trying to move the ball, and when the running game stalled, the entire offense ran into a tar pit. The number one question revolves around quarterback: can David Ash take the necessary steps forward to make Texas into a championship contender?
TCU has been waiting for a chance to show the big dogs what it can do and now it finally has the opportunity. The Horned Frogs have had their shot at Big 12 teams in the past, but now they must traverse the full conference slate. TCU’s first seven games should be very manageable, as it opens Big 12 play against the bottom three teams in the conference from last season, and a Baylor team that has to reload.
5. Kansas State
Kansas State can’t repeat the magic of last season, can it? Surely it can’t win so many close games; surely it can’t win 10 games while being among the bottom-15 in the nation in passing; surely it can’t go 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. There’s no way it can repeat that kind of season, right?
6. Oklahoma State
The defending conference champions have a lot to prove this season. Like Kansas State, the Cowboys will need to show that last season wasn’t an anomaly. With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon now in the NFL, quarterback Wes Lunt will take over control of the team, having graduated from high school just a few months ago.
7. Texas Tech
In year three under coach Tommy Tuberville. it’s only a matter of time until the Red Raiders begin to produce. Taking a win in Norman last season when it was given almost no chance to win was a big step, but Texas Tech needs to keep progressing.
How will the Bears respond after losing several of the best players in the history of the program? Losing Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III is one thing, but Terrance Ganaway was the leading rusher in the Big 12 last season by nearly 400 yards, and Kendall Wright was one of the best receivers in a league that has been producing them at a prolific rate. The Bears must also deal with a schedule that sends them on the road against the three top-ranked teams in the conference.
9. Iowa State
Having lived in the Big 12 cellar for several years, Iowa State has shown potential over the last few seasons, and could begin to climb the conference rankings. Two seasons ago, head coach Paul Rhoads led the Cyclones to the programs first ever win over Texas, and were responsible for one of the largest upsets in recent memory when they knocked Oklahoma State out of the national championship with a 37-31 win. Iowa State may not be ready to compete for a conference title, but it should give some other teams near the top a headache.
Since going 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Kansas has fallen to 18-32 over the last four seasons and is riding a 10-game losing streak into this season. The Jayhawks have only won two conference games over the last three seasons, and were shut out of the conference last year. Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has been brought in to resuscitate the program and he’s bringing his old quarterback, Dayne Crist, with him.