Even With Change, Big 12 Stays Powerful
The Big 12's going to look a lot different in 2012.
Texas A&M and Missouri are out.
TCU and West Virginia are in.
The cosmetic differences are obvious. TCU and West Virginia are the first non-founding members to join the Big 12, which began in 1996, and they join it as the league is undergoing plenty of less tangible changes.
Over the past decade, a crimson and burnt orange ceiling has capped the rest of the Big 12, keeping expectations measured for teams that didn't have "TEXAS" or "SOONERS" emblazoned on the front of their jerseys.
Colorado knocked off Texas in 2001 and Kansas State upset the Sooners in 2003, but every other Big 12 title since 2000 had been won by one of the Red River rivals.
Oklahoma State, though, wafted an air of hope across the rest of the Big 12 in 2011, outplaying preseason No. 1 Oklahoma and Texas for the entirety of a 12-game season in the first year of the league's new round-robin schedule.
Well, there goes the neighborhood.
The Big 12 is a two-team league? Think again.
Or should you?
The Big 12 feels different these days. Oklahoma State provided hope to the Kansas States and Texas Techs of the Big 12, but just as quickly as that window of hope arrived, Oklahoma and Texas would love nothing more than to slam it shut.
For the time being, both teams have the ability to do so in the next two seasons.
Oklahoma went from preseason No. 1 to Insight Bowl winner with a late-season swoon in 2011, but that swoon simply doesn't happen if Ryan Broyles' knee remains intact against Texas A&M and Dominique Whaley's leg doesn't get rolled up and broken at Kansas State.
OU beats Baylor. Season-ending Bedlam is still a toss-up, but the mental edge in a close game could come back into play for the Sooners, and that window never creaks open.
Texas? The Sooners have been flying solo as the Big 12's resident national powerhouse since the Longhorns went from national title game participant in 2009 to 5-7 punchline in 2010.
The Longhorns, though, are finally establishing the power running game they wanted since 2010, as Manny Diaz has spliced together the nastiest group of defenders in the Big 12 that has the personnel to state a case as the nation's best by season's end.
Oklahoma and Texas have continued to recruit top-tier talent, and their stranglehold on the Big 12 has loosened only slightly. One year without a title is one year without a title.
It doesn't change the fact that OU and Texas still have the most talent, from starters to benchwarmers, of any team in the Big 12.
That doesn't always equal wins, but it does equal a higher probability of wins. Oklahoma has proved that with seven Big 12 titles since 2000. Texas' renewed sense of purpose and more careful recruiting has helped the Longhorns begin to rebound from the 2010 disaster.
Last season was a big win for the little guys.
This season could be the year Oklahoma proves it was a little blip in Big 12 history. The Sooners will rebuild in 2013, but Texas could take its turn and win its first Big 12 title since 2009 with a team built for big success in 2013.
The Big 12 feels different, but is it really?
Just like always, that's for Texas and Oklahoma to decide.
What We Learned This Spring
Another spring has come and gone in the Big 12. In this league, it's a long one. Texas Tech kicked things off Feb. 17, just two weeks after signing day.
Kansas and Kansas State didn't wrap it up until spring games April 28.
Through it all, we learned a lot. Here's a taste.
1. Texas is inching much closer to contention: The offense? Well, it's still a work in progress, though David Ash showed some solid progression during the spring. But the defense? It's leading the way for the Longhorns' road back from the 5-7 implosion in 2010. Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom might just be the two best cornerbacks in the Big 12, and Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are probably the two best defensive ends. Great coverage and a great pass-rush? Sounds like a good start to slowing down Big 12 offenses. Add in junior college man-child Brandon Moore and solid linebacker play with Jordan Hicks, Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond, and the Longhorns have a unit that can help them get back into title contention.
2. Only one team doesn't know who its quarterback will be: Baylor hardly had a competition to replace RG3. Kansas replaced Jordan Webb with transfer Dayne Crist. Oklahoma State pulled the trigger on a youngster. Texas hasn't officially named him, but Ash has all but sewn up the job in Austin. That leaves Iowa State, which has sophomore Jared Barnett and senior Steele Jantz competing for the job for a second consecutive fall. Anything could happen there.
3. Mike Gundy has guts: Oklahoma State said goodbye to a mature, big-armed passer in Brandon Weeden, who won 23 games in two seasons. However, the reigning Big 12 champion again will have a big arm at quarterback. Gundy made the league's gutsiest move this spring, handing the reins to 18-year-old Wes Lunt from Illinois. He's one of just six players in the Big 12 from Illinois, and he's a decade younger than Weeden. Robert Griffin III was the league's last true freshman to start a majority of games, but Lunt might be the first to win the job in the spring.
4. There's a new sheriff in town: The Big 12 knew Chuck Neinas was a quick fix at the commissioner spot, but the league made a quick move in pegging Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby as the new commissioner to replace Dan Beebe, who was fired in September. The Big 12 is likely to cash in on a nice TV deal shortly after Bowlsby takes over, but he'll have to help reconnect a league that must work through some possibly divisive issues like expansion in the near future. He'll also need to manage the relationship between Texas, which he referred to as an "800-pound gorilla," and the rest of its Big 12 brethren. The relationship sounds good now, but over time, issues could arise.
5. Charlie Weis is making sure KU looks nothing like its 2011 team: Kansas has undergone the biggest change of any team in the Big 12 this offseason. New coach Weis saw a lot of problems at KU, and went about fixing them quickly. He welcomed six Division I transfers, including three from Notre Dame, which included his new quarterback, Crist. He also saw gaping holes along the defensive line and tried to fill them with junior college players and high schoolers who will be challenging for playing time in the fall. Kansas will look very different, but will it be better?
Best Of Spring
With the spring in the Big 12 over, it's time to hand out some awards.
Best newcomer: Brandon Moore, DT, Texas. Moore and offensive lineman Donald Hawkins were the first two juco transfers at Texas since 2002. This spring, Moore showed why, and Hawkins should start on the offensive line. Moore, a 330-pound force in the middle of the defense, was reportedly "unstoppable" this spring. Conditioning may be an issue, but that could get better over the summer. If he's busting up offensive lines, Texas' defense is going to be terrifying. Honorable mention: Blake Jackson, WR/TE, Oklahoma State, Dayne Crist, QB, Kansas
Biggest shocker: Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State. OSU OC Todd Monken said himself he'd be "shocked" if Lunt came in and won the QB job. Well, consider him shocked. Junior Clint Chelf didn't distance himself from his competition, and Lunt learned enough to surpass dual-threat J.W. Walsh and win the job. Chelf and Walsh don't sound like they're itching to transfer, which is a welcome sign for OSU's coaches, but Lunt could begin a storied career in Stillwater this fall, even if there are growing pains in the immediate future.
Best quote: Todd Monken, OC, Oklahoma State. Monken got the Sooners fired up with his take on how quickly things can change for a quarterback when it comes to confidence. "It didn't take long when ol' [Oklahoma receiver Ryan] Broyles went down and [OU] started running the dozer to think, 'Do we have our guy?' That didn't take long," Monken said. "Landry Jones went from like, 'I'm the man,' to all of a sudden, 'I haven't thrown a touchdown pass, I'm fumbling it over my head at Oklahoma State. I gotta go back and see my quarterback guru." Monken later apologized, and even though he made an example of a rival player, it wasn't explicit criticism. Out of line? Maybe. Definitely not what Mike Gundy wanted to hear. Above all, though, it was fact. Even Oklahoma fans who watched the Sooners in 2011 would admit that. It's the truth. Nice move to apologize, and Oklahoma can call it disrespect if it wants. I'll call it what it is: the truth.
Biggest black eye: TCU drug scandal. TCU had a squeaky-clean image before this spring, but there's no doubt the newcomers picked a bad time to have it end. Not the best first impression. Four players were arrested in a campus drug sting, including former All-American linebacker Tanner Brock, who would have been the team's top defender. There's some debate about how widespread the problem was, but the impact, scope and attention of the scandal were a bigger problem for the schools than players at Baylor and Iowa State being under investigation for sexual assault. Isn't that a problem in itself?
Best spring-game performance: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State. Klein was going up against second-teamers, sure. Other K-State quarterbacks have put up crazy numbers in this game, but Klein bested them all with an eye-popping stat line. He completed 47 of 56 passes for 480 yards and six touchdowns, though he threw an interception on the final drive with the game tied at 42. Most impressive? He called all the plays, as K-State QBs traditionally do in the spring game. Honorable mention: Charlie Moore, WR, Oklahoma State
Big 12 players to watch
Team-by-team spring reports
Baylor: Can Baylor carry on with Robert Griffin III? It has the pieces in place. For more on the Bears, click here.
Iowa State: Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz both had their moments in 2011, but who is the QB this season? For more on the Cyclones, click here.
Kansas: A culture change is under way at Kansas under new coach Charlie Weis. For more on the Jayhawks, click here.
Kansas State: Can Kansas State build off its surprise 2011 season? Don't doubt Bill Snyder. For more on the Wildcats, click here.
Oklahoma: Ryan Broyles is gone, but OU has Trey Metoyer waiting in the wings. For more on the Sooners, click here.
Oklahoma State: Wes Lunt will be under center. How will the true freshman handle the pressure? For more on the Cowboys, click here.
Texas: Texas hasn't named a starter, but its QBs have made strides. For more on the Longhorns, click here.
Texas Tech: Eric Stephens does it all for Texas Tech, but will he be full-speed in the fall? For more on the Red Raiders, click here.
TCU: It's a new world for TCU. How will it handle the jump to the Big 12? For more on the Horned Frogs, click here.
West Virginia: West Virginia is used to big games, but now it's week in and week out in the Big 12. For more on the Mountaineers, click here.
Big 12 games to watch
Big 12 spring superlatives
Baylor: Despite losing a talented player every year, Art Briles keeps reloading at receiver. For more on the Bears' positions of strength and weakness, click here.
Iowa State: Nobody in the Big 12 is better situated at linebacker than the Cyclones. For more on ISU's strengths and weaknesses, click here.
Kansas: Despite its recent struggles, Kansas does have quality talent at running back. For more on the Jayhawks' strengths and weaknesses, click here.
Kansas State: The Wildcats have a great base in the middle of their defense. For more on KSU's linebackers and its position of weakness, click here.
Oklahoma: The Sooners have quite a one-two punch at quarterback in Landry Jones and Blake Bell. For more on Oklahoma's positions of strength and weakness, click here.
Oklahoma State: With Brandon Weeden gone, the Cowboys will rely on a stable of talented backs. For more on Oklahoma State, click here.
Texas: The Longhorns had a couple of spots that could be considered best, but defensive end takes it. For more on Texas, click here.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders' position of strength is quarterback thanks to Seth Doege. For more on Doege and Texas Tech's weakest position, click here.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are loaded at running back, but they have questions at safety. For more on TCU's positions of strength and weakness, click here.
West Virginia: Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin start the season as the Big 12's best receiver duo. For more on the Mountaineers and their weakest position, click here.
For full recruiting coverage, including the latest ESPN 150 rankings and commitment news, check out RecruitingNation.
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