Despite dropping to ten teams, the Big 12 opted against rebranding. “The Longhorn Conference” and “Texas and Friends” just didn’t offer the same zing. Here are five questions facing the conference as it heads into the 2011 season. If you want more, you can check out similar posts for the the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Pac 12.
Texas: The name itself is a question, enveloping many questions. The Longhorns swabbed the decks after last year’s stunning 5-7 finish. They have new offensive coordinators, a new defensive coordinator and a four-way competition to be starting quarterback. They have a potential scandal, a new TV network and a plausible impetus to declare independence. Texas should improve. They’ve brought in top-five recruiting classes the past three seasons. Freshman running back Malcolm Brown should help. Presumably they won’t have a -12 turnover margin again. If Mack Brown can find some time in between his TV gigs to do some coaching, a 10-win season is not unreasonable.
Is Oklahoma the Nation’s No. 1 Team? Everyone likes Oklahoma, because they return 18 starters from a team (including seniors Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis) that won 12 games last year. They will be the baseless No. 1 team in preseason. That inertia, plus an unimposing schedule give them a good shot to stay there. Nebraska left the conference. Texas is rebuilding. There’s no title game. Gabbert left Missouri. They face Texas A&M at home. They do have to go to Florida State, though they dismantled them last season. How good are they compared to the elite SEC teams? We’ll find out, possibly, in an exhibition game six weeks after the season ends. As it should be.
How will Oklahoma State fare without Holgorsen? Dana Holgorsen was a whirlwind. In his 12 months in Stillwater, he improved the offense by a yard and a half per play, helped them win 11 games and then scuttled off to West Virginia to become head coach. It’s worth noting, however, that 2009 was an outlier. The Cowboys was about as proficient as last year in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Brandon Weeden returns, as does Justin Blackmon. New OC Todd Monken has experience as “passing game coordinator” at LSU and as a quarterbacks coach in the NFL. Holgorsen is a great play-caller, but the drop-off may not be that extreme.
Can Texas A&M Win the Big 12? After Ryan Tannehill took over as a quarterback, the Aggies closed last season with six straight wins, including scalps of Oklahoma and Nebraska. The finish didn’t “save” Mike Sherman’s job, but it staved off speculation. Tannehill returns in 2011, as do sixteen other starters. Though, one of the departures is Von Miller. In terms of experience, the Aggies are as well stocked as Oklahoma. Though the Sooners have a higher ceiling and host their showdown that could decide the conference title.
Does Missouri have a quarterback? This should have been the year. Gary Pinkel had the Tigers loaded, lined up to compete for a national title. Then Blaine Gabbert left for the NFL Draft. Missouri brings back all of their running backs and receivers, All-American tight end Michael Egnew and four seniors on the offensive line. They lost Aldon Smith, but still return a loaded, gifted front seven on defense. If James Franklin can be decent and limit mistakes, he’ll put up numbers in Missouri’s system and make them a very good team. We’ll find out how good quickly, as they open the conference season at Oklahoma on Sept. 24.
[Photo via Getty]