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Sooners Are Pick in Big 12

WVU grabs early respect at No. 2 in poll

August 22, 2012
dsp By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

In the Big 12, it's out with the old - Missouri and Texas A&M, who left for the Southeastern Conference - and in with the new, as West Virginia and TCU each paid a king's ransom to get away from the tattered Big East and jump aboard in time for the 2012 season.

Already among the top football-playing conferences in the land, the addition of the Mountaineers and the Horned Frogs means the Big 12 features four of the nation's top 10 winningest programs the last nine seasons. West Virginia and TCU combined to win 21 games last year, including WVU's 70-33 Orange Bowl victory, and the Horned Frogs' 31-24 victory against Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl.

They're joining a league that won six of eight bowl games in 2011 - the most bowl victories and fewest bowl losses in league history.

''I think it's fair to say our league, when you add West Virginia and TCU, two teams coming off bowl wins, two ranked football teams, you put them with the rest of what we've been doing here in the Big 12, that our league is every bit as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

In all there are three conference champions from last season competing in the Big 12 in 2012 - WVU (Big East) TCU (Mountain West) and Oklahoma State, the reigning Big 12 champ.

When the preseason poll came out last month, Oklahama, which was 10-3 overall and 6-3 in the league last season, garnered 32 first-place votes and 396 total on its way to being named the favorite. The following are capsules of Big 12 teams, in order of predicted finish.

Oklahoma

The Sooners, the No. 4 team in the Coach's poll who were similarly picked at the top in last year's preseason poll, wound up tied for third in the league. Oklahoma has won seven Big 12 titles as the league readies for its 17th season, the same number of national championships it has won in its history.

So the pedigree is there.

But the offensive linemen aren't.

During the first week of August, veteran center Ben Habern gave up the sport because of lingering neck and back issues. Habern had started 30 games. During the second week, offensive guard Tyler Evans, who has 29 career starts, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is out for the season. Furthermore, Will Latu was one of two junior college transfers who didn't make it into school and reserve lineman Dylan Dismuke suffered a career-ending injury.

Still, the Sooners are the Sooners.

Quarterback Landry Jones is well known, freshman receiver Trey Metoyer, the Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, is expected to make an immediate impact, and the Sooners got more help when Justin Brown, one of the Penn State players who left State College, chose to transfer to Oklahoma. He had 35 catches for 517 yards and three touchdowns.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers figure to make plenty of noise in their initial season in the league.

With a record-breaking quarterback, a deep pool of receivers, a motivated coach with a new contract, and a veteran offensive line, it seems the sky is the limit for the WVU offense. The only question is will a young defense that has made a scheme change be able to keep other league offenses at bay?

In a preview of what many think are the league's top two teams, the Mountaineers play host to the Sooners Nov. 17.

Texas

Texas, a perennial national power that is just 13-12 during the last two seasons, with losing conference records in both years, opened camp with a quarterback controversy between David Ash and Case McCoy. Each started games last season with Ash, then a freshman, going 3-3 in his starts and McCoy going 3-2.

In McCoy's last start, he had five turnovers against Baylor. Ash started the Holiday Bowl and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Still, led by what figures to be the league's top defense, and with the hope of a rejuvenated running game, the one who shows the ability to make the fewest mistakes figures to lead this team to big things.

Oklahoma State

Last season's champion will be breaking in a new quarterback after veteran Brandon Weeden was drafted by the Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys plan to open their season with a freshman starting quarterback for the first time since 1950 in Wes Lun.

Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith combined to rush for 1,862 yards last season, which should help, but the Cowboys have another first rounder to replace in Justin Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver. Tracy Moore, who had 45 catches last season, looks to take over that spot, though coach Mike Gundy says he might look to as many as five players combining to replace Blackmon's production.

TCU

TCU, the only program outside of West Virginia and Oklahoma to receive a first-place vote in the media poll, is the only school in the nation to win at least 11 games in six of the last seven seasons.

The Horned Frogs have won four of their last five games against top-five teams, so they're no stranger to big games, either.

Quarterback Casey Pachall did not face suspension for failing a drug test, but four other players were among the students arrested Feb. 15 after a six-month drug sting, adding to a busy offseason.

Pachall completed a school-record 228 passes and threw for 25 touchdowns, while returning wideout Josh Boyce caught a team-leading 61 passes for 998 yards.

Kansas State

Veteran coach Bill Snyder returns 17 starters from a team that went 10-3 last season, but all that got the Wildcats was a sixth-place prediction in the new-look league.

Quarterback Collin Klein who threw for 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 1,141 yards and an FBS quarterback record 27 touchdowns, returns with top target Tyler Lockett and 1,000-yard rusher John Hubert, but the Wildcats must replace three offensive linemen.

Among the returners on defense is cornerback Nigel Malone, an All-America last season.

Baylor

The Bears have college football's biggest hole to fill - quarterback Robert Griffin III took his Heisman Trophy to the NFL. But his omission isn't the only one in Waco. Also gone are receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway, who ran for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Taking Ganaway's spot will likely be Lache Seastrunk, a transfer from Oregon who sat out last season. He was a five-star recruit in the class of 2010.

Nick Florence takes over at QB, but perhaps a bigger question is how much has a Bears defense that gave up 37.2 points per game improved? Phil Bennett, a former Pitt assistant, was brought in and tasked to make sure that happens.

Iowa State

West Virginia fans will remember Iowa State coach Paul Rhodes as the defensive coordinator at Pitt in 2007 when the Panthers held the heavily favored Mountaineers to single digits in a 13-9 loss that knocked them from the national title game.

Entering his fourth season with the Cyclones, Rhodes has a quarterback battle going between Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett. Each won three games during a 6-7 season but neither was overly impressive.

Jantz, last season's opening day starer, threw 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions while Barnett threw six of each. Neither completed as high as 54 percent of their passes.

The Cylcones have a deep running back pool and the top five receivers return so whoever wins the QB job will have help.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech has been on a downward slide since former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville took over and the preseason poll suggests that just may continue.

The good news - perhaps - is after suffering through their first losing season since 1992, the Red Raiders have 17 returning starters, including quarterback Seth Doege, who threw for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last year.

They'll have to improve a defense that ranked 115th in the country, yielding more than 485 yards per game.

Kansas

If nothing else, the Jayhawks should be an interesting team to watch for Notre Dame fans, as former ND head coach Charlies Weis and ex-Fighting Irish quarterback Dayne Crist have reunited in Lawrence.

The first thing Weis did was clean house. By June, 23 players had either left the program or were dismissed, which may not be a bad thing, considering the Jayhawks won just two games last season and were badly beaten in most of those losses.

 
 

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