As Peter wrote yesterday, we're giving you previews of the other five BCS conferences and the major non-AQ teams. Today, I get to tell you about the 12's, the Big and the Pac. I'll start with the Big 12.
Teams listed in the order I think they'll finish
Oklahoma starts the year off ranked #1 in both the Coaches' Poll and the irrelevant AP poll. Despite this, Oklahoma is notorious for dropping a game it shouldn't somewhere along the line. That being said, Landry Jones to Ryan Broyles has the potential to be a lethal connection this year. If the Sooners can get some production out of sophomore RB's Roy Finch and Brennan Clay, they should win the Big 12 easily.
Texas A&M Aggies & Oklahoma State Cowboys
OSU and A&M are ranked 8th and 9th in the coaches poll and are flipped in the AP poll. They meet on September 24th, so we'll soon know which of these teams deserved the top 10 ranking to start the year.
Texas had a bit of a down year last year, and missed a bowl game for the first time since 1997. I don't think they'll have two bad years in a row, but I do believe that their success will be tied to the improvement of Garret Gilbert. He threw 17 INTs last year and only 10 TDs. I think Texas will finish somewhere around 4/5 this year.
If Mizzou can get over the shame of being shunned by the B1G, they could have a pretty nice team this year. They finished 6th in the nation in scoring defense last year, which is pretty hard to do in the Nintendo 12. They are going to be breaking in a first year starter at QB, but they have two solid RBs in De'Vion Moore and Henry Josey and a stud WR in T.J. Moe. They should help take the pressure off the new QB.
Baylor was a nice surprise last year, winning 7 games and going to their first bowl game since 1994. I'm optimistic that they can repeat their success based solely on the fact that QB Robert Griffin III accounted for 4,100 yards last year and he's only a junior this year.
Adam James is still on the team for some unknown reason, as his contributions have been negligible over the course of his career. But who knows? Maybe he'll break out this year as TTU has to replace their starting QB, RB and top two WRs on offense. Or maybe he'll end up like Craig James who allegedly killed 5 hookers while at SMU.
K-State needs to find a way to clone Collin Klein and start him at QB, RB and WR as he's essentially the only offensive contributor left from last year. K-State was 22nd in scoring last year, but they'll be hard pressed to repeat it this year.
I always forget that there's another team in Iowa. Somehow, I don't think Penn State would struggle to beat the Cyclones on a regular basis. I don't know much about ISU, except that they're going to be bad, and there's a pretty good chance they won't get to last year's mark of 5 wins.
If you love watching blowouts, watch the Jayhawks this year. Last year they were 111th in points for, and 103rd in points against. Brutal.
The Ducks offense should be as good as it was last year as Darron Thomas and Lamichael James both return. However they have to replace their top two wide receivers from a year ago, and have a stiff test against fellow top 5 team LSU in week one. I don't think the Ducks will run the table again this year, but I do think they have enough to win the Pac-12 for a third straight year.
Count me as a member of the Andrew Luck bandwagon. He's returning for his senior year, and is a preseason Heisman candidate, and I think his offense will seriously challenge the Ducks for the top spot in the North. Stanford's schedule breaks nicely for them as they get Oregon at home, and their stiffest road test will be at a still depleted USC. The victor of the Pac-12 North will be the winner of the November 12th matchup against Oregon.
Oregon State has fallen victim to the injury bug of late. LG Josh Andrews sustained a concussion in practice yesterday, which is one of many injuries to befall the Beavers. They've already lost senior CB Brandon Hardin for at least six weeks and freshman TE Kellen Klute likely needs surgery on his right knee. Despite the injuries, the Beavers still have James Rodgers at WR and they may get some unexpected contributions from freshman WR Brandin Cooks. If the Beavers can stay healthy, they'll be a tough out, but not quite good enough to contend with Oregon and Stanford.
I hope Cal fans don't mind playing a lot of Pac-12 teams, because Cal is playing ten conference games this year. The Golden Bears have been a middle of the pack team for the past four years, and I don't expect that to change much this year.
Steve Sarkisian has really helped turn the Huskies around since their atrocious 0-12 2008. However, Jake Locker is no longer on the roster, so the Huskies will need to replace his production somehow if they want to compete with the Oregon's and Stanford's of the Pac-12.
The Cougars won two games last year. And that was an improvement.
The Pac-12 South is uhh weak to say the least. I had a hard time picking ASU to win the division, but I think Utah is going to take a step back this year, and USC is still dealing with sanctions, so by default, ASU is my choice for South division champion. Steven Threet left the team after the 2010 season citing concussion problems, so it will be up to junior QB Brock Osweiler to guide the team to the inaugural Pac-12 title game.
We will know a lot about this Arizona team after week five. The Wildcats start off with creampuff Northern Arizona, but then play three top ten teams in succession, followed by a trip to USC. Nick Foles returns for Arizona, a year after averaging 307 passing yards per game. If Arizona comes out of week 5 with a winning record, you have to like their chances to win the South.
The Utes are one of two new teams joining the Pac-12 this year and they should be competitive right away. They miss both Oregon and Stanford on their schedule, and return their starting quarterback, and top WR. They are thin at RB though, and will have to rely on a lightly used sophomore to gain yards on the ground. Griff Robles did average 7.3 YPC last season, so if his production keeps up, Utah could find themselves in the Pac-12 title game.
Contrary to popular belief, Rick Neuheisel is NOT having lunch in the Corner Room. There's some good news and some bad news for Bruins fans this year. The good news is that their leading rusher, Johnathan Franklin, is back for another year. Unfortunately for the Bruins, so is junior QB Richard Brehaut, the quarterback that lead the nation's 116th best passing attack.
Colorado is the other new team in the Pac-12. They've had a rough go of it lately, with only one winning season since 2004. This year doesn't figure to be much better as they have to play at Hawaii, Ohio State and Stanford.
USC is still feeling the effects of the sanctions handed down last year. So even if they improve on last year's 8-5 record and win the division, it will not matter as they're banned from post season play.
So I have the Oregon Ducks playing the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first ever Pac-12 championship. I believe that Oregon will win this handily to take their third straight Pac-10/12 title.