Big 12 title contenders: Now's the time

Our newest colleague, Travis Haney, took to his blog this week to identify five teams who need to win conference or national titles now, and why.

The flip side? He also explained why it may not happen.

You'll need Insider to see his full thoughts, but here's what he had to say about two teams from the Big 12:


OU's rising junior class figures to be the backbone of both of the offense and the defense. Tony Jefferson, moving from sam linebacker back to safety, and Kenny Stills, the team's top returning receiver, have made no secrets about their desires to leave early. OU returns four offensive linemen, including all-conference types Ben Habern and Gabe Ikard.

Why not? This movie's a sequel, essentially. The Sooners will again be positioned near the top in August, but they have to demonstrate that they're different upstairs as the fall moves along. They're skilled all over the field; it's just a matter of how they come together (or don't).

My take: I've said it a few times, but the Sooners are my narrow Big 12 favorites, edging out a group of three legitimate contenders (K-State, West Virginia, TCU) and two dark horses (Texas, Oklahoma State). The Sooners will be rebuilding in 2013, but Texas and Oklahoma State look poised to be the frontrunners in 2013 if they piece together solid seasons in 2012.


Why now? ... The trio of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey is about as electric as it gets -- and that's not easy to find, really. Not three players with that much athleticism -- and experience. While there will continue to be offensive talent coming to Morgantown (four-star QB recruit Ford Childress was a big get for Holgorsen in the 2012 class), it's important that the Mountaineers make the most of this trio's abilities this season. Smith is a senior. So is Austin. Bailey is a redshirt junior.

Why not? It seems like a lot to ask for West Virginia to change leagues, shift its geographic focus and immediately compete for titles. Plus, it's joining a conference that already has a number of teams constructed similarly. In fact, the Mountaineers sort of resemble last year's Baylor team, from a skill-player standpoint. While those Bears were solid, dangerous and speedy, they also didn't really sniff the Big 12 title.

My take: I'd never really thought of it, but the Baylor 2011/West Virginia 2012 comparison is a good one. Baylor had better athletes on defense, but West Virginia is replacing a lot, including what amounts to basically their entire pass rush from 2011. Like the Bears in 2011, West Virginia is also adjusting to a new defensive scheme. Co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson are installing a 3-4 that Holgorsen says gives offenses like his (plentiful in the Big 12 for sure) fits.

Smith and Austin will be gone after this year, and though Bailey likely returns, with the recruiting shift and loss of offensive firepower, it could be a few years before WVU is anywhere near as primed to win a title.