Much of the chatter around the Big 12 in the preseason centered around the quarterbacks.
Doesn't it always in this conference?
Only this time, the conversation isn't about the great ones. They're nearly all gone from a league that featured some of the best signal callers in the land a season ago. One notable exception is at TCU, where senior Casey Pachall returns after playing in four games last season before excusing himself and entering a substance-abuse program. Pachall had started 17 games in his career and put up prolific numbers in them.
But his fall from grace, and the subsequent play of his backup, Trevone Boykin, started something of a trend. Things like that happened all over the Big 12 last season. The star quarterback went down, and the backup generally played as well, and in some cases, better. West Virginia lost twice to teams that had starting quarterbacks with a combined four career start under their belts. As was the case with most QBs against WVU a season ago, those guys put up big numbers in those games.
So even in a year when the Big 12 quarterbacks aren't the headliners, they're still the headlines.
In this case, seven of the league's 10 teams had senior quarterbacks last season, including Heisman finalist Collin Klein (Kansas State), and NFL draft picks in West Virginia's Geno Smith, and Oklahoma's four-year starter Landry Jones.
There's also a lot of parity in the league, with few agreeing on who the preseason favorite is. It happens after a season in which two teams tie for first (K-State won that via tiebreaker for a head-to-head victory against Oklahoma), and four teams tie for fifth place.
Oklahoma State was the media pick to win this season.
The Cowboys were one of the teams that used multiple quarterbacks last season, with true freshman J.W. Walsh earning a starting job before being injured and replaced by less-ballyhooed junior Clint Chelf, who began the season third on the depth chart and once considered transferring out of Stillwater. Both were effective in leading the Cowboys, and always-secretive coach Mike Gundy was in no hurry to name a starter for the opener against Mississippi State in Houston Aug. 31. That's a step up in the non-conference schedule from a season ago, when they opened against Savanah State and won, 84-0.
They bring back 14 starters and are loaded at the receiver position. They'll have to develop a running game without Joseph Randle and revamp the kicking game without Quinn Sharp, one of the best in the Big 12 last season as a punter, place kicker, and kickoff man.
There was a two-man competition to replace Pittsburgh Steeler Landry Jones after sophomore quarterback Kendal Thompson suffered a broken foot.
Junior Blake ''Belldozer'' Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight were battling it out with Bell having the more experience of the two. He's scored 24 rushing touchdowns in his two years in Norman.
But in the end, it was Knight who won the competition and will start the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 31.
Having a receiver like Jalen Saunders (62 catches, 829 yards, three TDs last season) is sure to help the redshirt freshman from San Antonio, who will make hisfirst collegiate start.
The Sooners lost a all but four starters on defense, including all of their linemen, which may not necessarily be a bad thing, given that was the team's weakness last season.
Given all of that, it's no surprise Oklahoma was not the preseason pick to the win the league for the first time since it moved to 10 teams.
The quarterback position will be an interesting one to watch here, too, as Pachall and Boykin are two very different players. While Boykin can throw it, his specialty is with his legs. Pachall is a difference-maker through the air, and the type of quarterback who probably has the ability to raise a team's profile all by himself.
Though they had a few guys quit the first week of practices, they've got things in place - including some standouts on defense - to stay in the Big 12 race.
Few teams in any league get the respect that Texas does. The Longhorns seem to be annual contenders on paper, but the reality is they've not done much on the field. They're 22-16 since playing for the 2009 national title, including a 5-7 season in 2010.
Still, that could change in a hurry. Texas has the Big 12's most experienced team with 19 returning starters, including veteran quarterback David Ash. Ash, a junior, is 12-6 as a starter but his consistency remains an issue- as in he isn't. He's got 23 career TD passes and 16 interceptions. He's led big comebacks, and faltered in blowout losses.
Another Big 12 team, another starting quarterback to replace. This is nothing new to Art Briles and Baylor, though. They did it last season after losing the previous season's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III.
Taking over for Nick Florence, who had a big year, is Bryce Petty.
The defense improved toward the end of the season, but was West-Virginia-like in the first half. Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman could help there, along with ends Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd.
Were it not for an out-of-nowhere, late-season loss to Baylor, Kansas State was in position to potentially play for a national championship ahead of a one-loss Alabama team.
As it was, the Wildcats settled for the league's automatic BCS-bowl berth to the Fiesta Bowl behind the standout work of Klein, then lost 35-17 to Oregon in that one.
Expectations remain high, despite losing Klein and a host of seniors on defense. Daniel Sams was the backup QB last season, and though he showed some flashes with his legs, was never called upon to throw a pass. He rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
Never afraid to go the JUCO route, veteran coach Bill Snyder brought in Jake Waters, the JC Offensive Player of the Year last year after throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
The entire offensive line is back, paving the way for stud running back RB John Hubert.
Former Red Raiders' QB Kliff Kingsbury is the league's only new coach, having come over from Texas A&M where he helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman to win a Hesiman Trophy.
Texas Tech was 8-5 (4-5) last season under Tommy Tuberville, who left for Cincinnati. They'll have to replace QB Seth Doege (sophomore Michael Brewer and freshman Davis Webb are the main competitors) and receiver Darrin Moore, but offense is certainly Kingsbury's specialty.
With eight starters back on defense, including leaders defensive tackle Kerry Hyder and defensive end Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech might be better than some think.
The Mountaineers thought they'd open some eyes in their first season in the Big 12. Instead, they had their eyes opened.
The defense gave up a school-record 495 points. In some cases, they had to score 70 just to ensure a victory.
Many think that defense, behind defensive end Will Clark, linebacker Isaiah Bruce, and safety Karl Joseph, along with a change at the coordinator position, figures to be better. As freshmen, Joseph and Bruce were the team's top defensive players a season ago.
They lost the program's most productive offensive players in Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, but coach Dana Holgorsen has never coached an offense that didn't put up huge numbers. The running back position, with the addition of transfer Charles Sims, appears to be as good as its been since the Steve Slaton days.
Finding Smith's replacement was the biggest story in preseason camp.
Expectations rarely soar at Iowa State, and this season appears to be no different. The Cyclones, coming off a 6-7 season (3-6 in Big 12) survived a last-place media pick in the league only because Kansas is down there to soften every fall.
Fifth-year coach Paul Rhoads lost his top three receivers, his most experienced quarterback (Sam Richardson) has two starts, there's one starter returning on the defensive line, and there are six guys competing at running back.
In short, they've got fewer returning starters than any team in the league
Welcome to college football's abyss, where the home team is consistent at only one thing - losing. That's losing players and games.
Since Charlie Weis arrived on campus prior to last season, 29 players have been dismissed and replaced, in large part by junior college players as they feel a sense of urgency to fix things in a hurry. It didn't work in Year 1, where they went 1-11 and built on a streak that has seen them lose 21 consecutive league games.