What we learned this spring in the Big 12

1. The shifting balance of power is continuing. Since Bob Stoops and Mack Brown's arrival, Texas or Oklahoma has never gone two years without representing the Big 12 in the BCS.

Until last season, that is. Stoops' Sooners shared a title with Kansas State, but lost the tiebreaker in Norman early in the season while Texas is still trying to rebuild from a big drop-off after playing for the 2009 national title. This season, there's a reasonable shot neither Texas or Oklahoma will be in the top two of the Big 12's preseason poll, possibly being passed up by Oklahoma State and TCU. We won't know if that's official until the fall, but every year offers more reminders of the Big 12's move toward a more balanced conference as Texas and Oklahoma's stranglehold on the league continues to slip.

2. If defenses are going to have a banner year, the time is now. The Big 12 could have some elite defenses in Texas and TCU, but Oklahoma State returns seven starters from an underrated defense in 2012. Meanwhile, Baylor's looking for improvement after looking legitimately dominant in lopsided wins over BCS No. 1 Kansas State and UCLA in its bowl game. And seven starters return to the Bears. Texas Tech's dealing with a new scheme but returns eight starters and almost its entire front seven from last season's improved defense. Only two Big 12 quarterbacks have more than a half-season of starting experience, which could mean more opportunity for a league with notoriously downtrodden defenses.

3. The top of the Big 12 could be pillowy soft. The Big 12 has never, ever opened a season without a team in the preseason top 10. This season looks likely to be the first. At least four Big 12 teams are probably in the Top 25, but it's entirely possible that the conference gets shut out of the top 15, too. We may see a surprise team rise, similar to Kansas State last season making noise in the national title hunt. But the Big 12 in 2013 is another wide-open league title race. Without an elite team in the mix, two losses might be enough to win a share of the league title, which means a larger pool of teams getting into the mix. Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Oklahoma look like the favorites, but don't be surprised if Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State control their own fates in the race come November.