My early season ratings have proven more accurate than the Vegas odds makers and last year I pegged Stanford as the 9th best team heading into the season (they were unranked), Oklahoma State rated 19th (also unranked) and had Texas (#5 ranked in the polls) as my 34th rated team. I've used my early season ratings to give me an edge over Las Vegas over the years and this year I want to share some conference previews with you. I will also have free analysis of almost every College game in the free analysis section at drbobsports.com.
Big 12 Preview
(projected Big 12 record: 7.5 - 1.5, 1st Place)
Oklahoma's fast break style of football leads to a lot of plays per game and more plays against bad teams usually leads to bigger blowout wins and makes the Sooners appear to be more impressive than they actually are when looking at their average point margin and computer ratings. However, Oklahoma is generally not as impressive when faced with a quality opponent. Last season the Sooners were very lucky to go 5-0 on games decided by 7 points or less and they only out-scored their 6 good opponents (Florida State, Air Force, Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska) by an average of 3.2 points, a number that is was skewed by their 30 point win over Florida State. Aside from that early season blowout over the Seminoles, Oklahoma didn't beat a good team by more than 6 points. Oklahoma is the pre-season #1 team in the polls but I'm not convinced. I actually rate the Sooners as being considerably better on both sides of the ball than they were last season, as the rushing attack should finally contribute again after two seasons of bad rushing numbers (just 4.1 yards per rushing play last season against teams that would combine to allow 4.7 yprp to an average team) and quarterback Landry Jones should continue to improve with star receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills back for another campaign. The defense will be without their top defender, LB Travis Lewis, for the first part of the season due to a broken foot, but I still rate that unit as a bit better overall than they were last season. The Sooners should go from mediocre against the run (5.1 yprp allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yprp) to better than average while the pass defense remains very strong (after giving up a ton of passing yards in week 1 against Utah State the Sooners yielded just 4.9 yards per pass play to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.5 yppp against an average defense). Oklahoma should also be better in special teams this season after an off year in that department and overall I think the Sooners will be 3 or 4 points better than a year ago (and a bit better later in the season if Lewis returns to his old form after recovering from his injury). However, I thought the Sooners were an overrated team last season and they are not deserving of the #1 ranking (I rate them at #5).
(projected Big 12 record: 6.5 - 2.5, 2nd Place)
Oklahoma State was a team that I identified as one of the most underrated teams in the nation heading into last season and the Cowboys went from out-scoring their opponents by 6.7 points in 2009 to out-scoring them by 17.8 points last season. With 9 returning starters on offense, including All-Big 12 QB Brandon Weeden, All-American WR Justin Blackmon, and all 5 offensive linemen, the Cowboys should once again be one of the best offensive teams in the nation after ranking 10th in my ratings last season. The rushing attack may regress a little without RB Kendall Hunter (1548 yards at 5.7 ypr), but the offensive line should be even better and the pass attack will be potent again. What many don't realize is how good Oklahoma State's defense was last season. The Cowboys gave up a mediocre 26.4 points, but they only allowed 5.0 yards per play despite facing teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young only has 5 returning starters to work with but he had just 4 returning last season and just 5 in his first season running the defense in '09. Both of Young's previous defensive units were good (0.6 yppl better than average last year and 0.7 yppl better than average in 2009) with similar experience and talent and I expect this year's stop unit to be just as good as they were in 2010. Oklahoma State is a legitimate Top 10 team and they have a very good chance to be on top of the Big 12 this season after tying for the division title last year (getting Oklahoma at home to end the season helps).
(projected Big 12 record: 6.3 - 2.7, 3rd Place)
Texas A&M returns 18 starters from last year's team that won 6 of their last 7 games with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback after veteran Jerrod Johnson struggled early in the season. Tannehill returns along with 9 other offensive starters and the Aggies' attack will be better. However, I don't rate A&M's offense as highly as other top teams in the Big 12 so it will be up to a very good defense to catapult the Aggies into the conference championship hunt. Texas A&M turned their defensive fortunes around last season with the hiring of defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who had good defensive teams with lesser talent at Air Force. DeRuyter's switch to a 3-4 defense worked very well as the Aggies went from being 0.4 yards per play worse than average in 2009 to being 0.9 yppl better than average last season (4.9 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average team). This year's defense loses Butkus Award winner LB Von Miller to the NFL (a 1st round draft pick) but 8 defensive starters do return and my model projects a similarly good stop unit this season despite the loss of Miller. The Aggies are getting a lot of preseason hype this season and they may be a bit overrated, but playing 3 of their 4 toughest conference opponents at home (Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Texas) should keep them in the Big 12 race until their big game at Oklahoma rolls around in early November (and I don't think the Sooners are as good as others do).
(projected Big 12 record: 5.8 - 3.2, 4th Place)
Most people think the loss of quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a 1st round NFL draft pick (what a bad move that was by Jacksonville), will lead to Missouri being a worse team this season after going 10-3 in 2010. However, I think Missouri's offense will probably be better without Gabbert, who averaged a modest 6.1 yards per pass play last season (against teams that would combine to allow 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback) after having a very good 2009 season. Missouri passing rating last season with Gabbert was easily the worst since 2005 and I expect the passing numbers to improve with James Franklin taking over behind center. The very good rushing numbers (5.3 yards per rushing play against teams that would combine to allow 4.8 yprp to an average team) should be better as well given Franklin's better running skills (Gabbert ran for 372 yards on 90 runs for just 4.1 yprp) and the return of all 3 of last year's running backs, who combined for 1376 yards at 5.5 ypr and 17 touchdowns. The defense has been 0.3 yppl better than average in each of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel's first two seasons and I expect that unit to be about the same this season -- although with a much better run defense and a worse pass defense. Missouri looks like a better overall team from the line of scrimmage this season but the Tigers probably won't be +11 in turnover margin again and last year's 16.1 points allowed per game was a mirage given how mediocre their defense was overall (their 22.2 yards per point was among the best (i.e. luckiest) in the nation). Missouri is certainly not as good as the top 3 teams in the Big 12, but getting Texas at home should result in a 4th place finish.
(projected Big 12 record: 5.6 - 3.4, 5th Place)
Texas started last season ranked #5 in the polls but my 2010 preseason ratings pegged Texas as an overrated team that shouldn't even have been in the Top 25. It turns out that the Longhorns were even worse than I thought they'd be and they ended the season rated 46th in my ratings. Texas has too much talent, and an overhauled coaching staff intent on getting the most out of that talent, and the Longhorns will be better. How much better depends on the quarterback play. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert has great tools but he made bad decisions and isn't good at reading defenses. The result was a pass attack that averaged just 5.7 yards per pass play (against teams that would combine to allow 6.2 yppp to an average quarterback) and 17 interceptions in 12 games. The receiving corps also hasn't lived up to expectations and that group has been thinned by graduation (2 of the top 3 in receiving yards are gone) and the decision of two projected veteran wideouts (Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin) to take this season off. Gilbert reportedly has been horrible in practice and in the first scrimmage and he may lose his job to talented freshman David Ash, who has looked good in August. The running backs and offensive line are nothing special and I project the offense to be worse than average again (0.4 yards per play worse than average last season) if Gilbert is the starting quarterback. The Longhorns' defense was good last season, allowing 4.8 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average defense) and that unit looks to be about the same this season with a better run defense and a worse pass defense. There is, of course, plenty of upside potential defensively. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz greatly improved Mississippi State's defense last season in his only year on that staff and he's got great talent to work with on this team. Texas should also be better in special teams and an attitude change will keep the Longhorns from losing to mediocre teams like they did last season (UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State all beat the Horns in 2010). Texas is going to better and they could be very good if Gilbert loses his job and the defense plays up to their potential.
(projected Big 12 record: 3.9 - 5.1, 6th Place)
Baylor had my 11th ranked offense last season and should be in the Top-15 or 20 this season despite losing top rusher Jay Finley and LT Danny Watkins, a 1st round NFL draft pick. RB Finley (1218 yards at 6.2 ypr) is gone but Jarred Salubi has racked up 513 yards last 2 seasons at 6.8 ypr and Terrance Ganaway ran for 295 at 6.4 ypr last season. Robert Griffin III came back last season after missing most of the 2009 season and he continued to be impressive both throwing the ball (7.2 yards per pass play against FBS teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback) and running it (755 yards on 129 runs ( for 5.9 yards per rushing play). Griffin has also thown just 11 career interceptions on 790 pass attempts and he may be the most talented quarterback in the Big 12 (Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden put up big numbers but they also have better supporting casts). Losing big play WR Josh Gordon, who quit the team after being suspended, will hurt, as his 17.0 yards per catch was by far the best on the team last season, and the offense probably won't be quite as good as it was last season (6.6 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yppl to an average team) but the Bears' attack will still be very good. Defense is the issue for Baylor, as that unit surrendered 32.8 points at 6.1 yppl last season (against teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average defense). New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett should improve that unit but the Bears still figure to have a worse than average defense (on a national scale) and certainly one of the Big 12's worst stop units. If Bennett improves the defense more than expected then Baylor could pull a few surprises and have a winning conference record for the first time in memory, but I'll call for them to fall a game short of that accomplishment.
(projected Big 12 record: 3.3 - 5.7, 7th Place)
Texas Tech was 8-5 last season but the Red Raiders were a pretty average team (out-gained by 14 yards per game) that was lucky to win all 4 games that were decided by 7 points or less. The Red Raiders look like a better team this season with an improved ground attack (all 5 offensive linemen return and the talent at running back is good) and what should be a better pass attack after last season's mediocre numbers (5.9 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average team). The Red Raiders' biggest improvement should come on the defensive side of the ball, as former TCU assistant Chad Glasgow was brought in to install the Horned Frogs' successful 4-2-5 scheme after last year's Tech stop unit gave up 5.9 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average team. I expect improvement but the talent level on defense is pretty average and I'm not sure the new scheme can hide that fact. Overall, Texas Tech should be a better team in year 2 of the Tommy Tuberville era but they probably won't win 8 games again unless they continue to win every close contest.
(projected Big 12 record: 2.8 - 6.2, 8th Place)
Kansas State managed to go 6-6 and out-score their FBS opponents 32.4 points to 29.5 points last season despite being out-gained 370 yards at 5.7 yards per play to 450 yards at 6.7 yppl allowed. That Bill Snyder is a heck of a coach to pull off that sort of trick but Kansas State isn't likely to make it back to a bowl game this season despite being a better team. The offense probably won't be quite as good as it was last season unless new quarterback Collin Klein becomes a proven passer. Klein has only 18 pass attempts on his resume while running the ball 69 times for 465 yards. Klein reportedly has looked good in camp and his running ability will help offset the loss of RB Daniel Thomas, who ran for 1585 yards at 5.3 ypr last season. Klein will probably do a decent job throwing the football and the rushing attack should be good, so the Wildcats' offense should be good again (I rate them slightly worse than last season). Obviously the problem is on the defensive side of the ball, but that unit should be much better with experienced defensive backs and the addition of Miami transfer LB Arthur Brown, who figures to make a huge impact in the middle of the field. Kansas State should be considerably better defensively this season, but they will still probably be worse than average on the stop side of the ball and just a point or two better than average overall this season. That's not likely to be enough to get them to the .500 mark this season unless Snyder has more magic tricks up his sleeve.
(projected Big 12 record: 2.3 - 6.7, 9th Place)
Iowa State offense was bad last season (4.8 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yppl to an average team) and lose the Cyclones will be without last year's top back Alexander Robinson (946 yards at 4.7 ypr) and 3 year starting QB Austen Arnaud. The rushing attack should be decent even without Robinson, as the other backs actually had a slightly high ypr and new lead back Shontrelle Johnson ran for 218 yards at 6.2 ypr as a freshman. Arnaud had his worst season last year (5.2 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average QB) and backup Jerome Tiller continued his horrible career performance when Arnaud was injured. Tiller has completed only 52% of his 155 career passes while getting sacked way too often and averaging a pathetic 3.7 yppp on 172 pass plays (against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average QB). Tiller runs pretty well (406 yards on 69 runs for 5.9 yprp) but that's not enough to make up for his horrendous passing numbers. Junior Steele Jantz should get the starting gig and I expect his numbers to suffer, despite his cool name, thanks to a poor receiving corps with no big play threats. Jantz probably will be a bit worse than Arnaud was last season but the Cyclones overall pass rating will be slightly higher than last year's team numbers, which were dragged down by Tiller. The offense should be just as bad as it was last season and it will be worse if Tiller gets under center. The Iowa State defense has improved significantly in each of head coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons, going from 1.1 yards per play worse than average in 2008 to 0.6 yppl worse than average in Rhoads' first season to just 0.1 yppl worse than average last season. The Cyclones have 7 returning defensive starters, including 5 of last year's top 6 tacklers, and I rate the ISU defense at 0.2 yppl better than average heading into this season with potential to be better. Iowa State does have better than average special teams and overall the Cyclones look like an average to slightly worse than average FBS team, which isn't nearly good enough to compete in the Big 12 most weeks.
(projected Big 12 record: 1.0 - 8.0, 10th Place)
Turner Gill turned around the dormant program at Buffalo, but Kansas was horrible in Gill's first season in Lawrence. The Jayhawks started the Gill era with a 3-6 home loss to Division 1AA North Dakota State and they were outscored by an average of 17.1 points to 34.4 points for the season. The Kansas offense was horrible last season (4.3 yards per play against FBS teams that would combine to allow 5.6 yppl to an average team) but the pass attack should improve in Gill's 2nd season. Gill's first team at Buffalo in 2006 was 1.3 yards per play worse than average, 1.5 yards per pass play worse than average and was sacked 9.6% of time on pass plays. Last year the offense was 1.3 yppl worse than average the pass attack was 1.9 yppp worse than average and the quarterbacks were sacked 9.5% of the time (6.5% is average). Gill's 2nd season at Buffalo showed a major improvement of 0.7 yppl and 0.9 yppp as the pass protection went from horrible to average. With 5 veteran linemen the Jayhawks' pass protection should improve and I expect the offense to go from 1.3 yppl worse than average to 0.6 yppl worse than average, with the potential to be better if strong armed freshman QB Brock Berglund wins the job and lives up to his potential. The defense should also improve with 8 starters returning along with LB Huldon Tharp, who was a 1st Team Frosh All-American in 2009 but missed last season due to injury. Kansas was 0.8 yppl worse than average last season (6.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average team), but the Jayhawks should be about 0.4 yppl worse than average this season defensively and could be better than that. Kansas is still likely to be the worst team in the Big 12, but they'll be considerably better than last season's horrible squad.