BIG TWELVE NORTH DIVISION
Offense: The Cornhuskers have what they want in QB Zac Taylor (2,653 yards and 19 TD's), Taylor was prolific at times last year but mostly he was consistent. Five of Taylor's top six receivers return led by standout WR Nate Swift (641 yards and 7 TD's) this group of WR's is a good mix of possession and deep threats, this will give Taylor and the Cornhuskers allot of options on offense. If there is any concerns in Husker land it is with offensive line and the running game. For a team that once set the standard for running the ball – ranked 107th in the nation in rushing last year. With six returning starters and a senior QB at the helm they should be right at the top of the North Division come the end of the year.
Defense: This is easily the most solid defense in the Callahan era. The Blackshirts recorded 50 sacks last season, tops in the country. Returning players accounted for 33 sacks, and to think they could even be better this year is scary. The linebackers are the best in the conference and if LB Steve Octavien can live up to his high expectations they could be the best in the nation. The secondary is rock solid and tough and physical and won't back down to the talented WR's in the Big 12. Look for the Blackshirts to regain the dominant form and help push the Cornhuskers to the top of the North Division.
Player to keep your eye on: QB Zac Taylor had a breakout season last year and looks sharp coming into this year. If Zac has the same type of season he had last year he could have the Cornhuskers playing in the Big Twelve Championship game.
Offense: The biggest question mark coming into this season is at QB where HC Mark Mangino has anointed Fr. Kerry Meier. Meier had an outstanding spring game but still is a freshman and lack depth at the WR position. With a lack of play makers and a true freshman at QB the Jayhawks offense could look very conservative early in the year. To help take the load off the offense the Jayhawks will look to Sr. RB Jon Cornish (780 yards and 9 TD's) to shoulder the responsibility. In order for the Jayhawks to improve on offense they will have increase their scoring average from a year ago (22.4 pts per game, 83rd in the nation).
Defense: Last year defense was outstanding (11th in the nation), it will be hard to duplicate last year’s performance with amount of key losses on this side of the ball. Kansas loses eight starters from a defense that led the Big 12 in rush defense. The toughest challenge for this defense will be replacing end Charlton Keith, arguably Kansas top player of the last decade. The secondary looks to be in good shape with two returning starters including NFL prospect CB Aqib Talib who is 6' 2 and has extremely good closing speed. If the defense can play to level it did a year ago the Jayhawks could find themselves bowling at the end of the year.
Player to keep your eye on: sophmore CB Aqib Talib is an outstanding cornerback with good height (6 ' 2) to defend taller WR's and cat like closing speed. This guy won't be around long…NFL here he comes.
Offense: The good thing the Cyclone offense returns nine starters with experience because they are going to need it to make up for their lack luster defense. The person that makes the Cyclone offense go is QB Bret Meyer (2,876 yards and 19 TD's), Bret completed 62 % of his passes last season and there is NO reason to think he won't surpass that this season. Bret also has a deep core of WR's to throw to including talented Austin Flynn (624 yards and 3 TD's) and a pair of excellent TE's that can do damage in the passing game. The key to the Cyclones offense is the running game and whether Stevie Hicks (545 yards and 4 TD's) can regain his form from his sophomore season. If he can then the Cyclones offense could be very dangerous and multi dimensional.
Defense: Do to suspensions of (Berryman and Robertson) the defense that was very good last season is left with nothing but question marks. The biggest question marks will be at nose guard and in the secondary, which lost three first teamers. Allot of this season will depend on how well the "rookies” so to speak come in and produce. There will be plenty of gaps to fill. The one bright spot on defense DT Brent Curvey (61 tackles 32 solo and 6.5 sacks) he has a knack for disrupting plays and getting the QB.
Player to keep your eye on: RB Stevie Hicks was outstanding as a sophomore he ran for over 1,000 yards. His junior season he was plagued with injuries most of the season and never regained his form. If Stevie can come back and have a good year it would help an offense that lacked a running game last season.
BEST OF THE REST
Missouri: The big question is who will fill the cleats of QB Brad Smith. They will likely look to Chase Daniel the former EA sports National High School Player of the Year. The good thing for Chase is he won't be alone out there are eight returning starters on offense including a good set of WR's and a deep core of RB’s. They will be hard pressed to average 30 pts per game this season but should still have a competent offense to compete week in and week out. The strength of the defense remains intact. Brian Smith will again be a terror on the defensive side of the ball and he will look to improve on his 9 sacks while anchoring the defense. Missouri will depend on their defense to get their offense good field position as you shouldn’t expect to see too many quality scoring drives out of the Tigers.
Colorado: The Buffalo's should do well in the Big 12 North, but with lack of offense they will struggle against the talented South. This is not going to be a team which wins pretty but with defense and a decent kicking game. Expect inconsistent QB play from Cox, White, or Jackson, whoever gets the job, it is QB marry-go-round in Boulder. I wouldn’t be surprised if early in the season, Coach Dan Hawkins splits up the time between two of these guys. Hawkins may be the offensive specialist from Boise State, but don't expect that right away from the Buffalo's it will be Colorado’s defense which will be the more consistent side of the ball. It will be the defense that keeps the Buffs in nearly every game.
Kansas State: The Wildcats returns 17 of 22 offensive and defensive starters so experience shouldn’t be an issue. But the question still remains if new coach Ron Prince can get this K-State squad back into the national spotlight. The Wildcats have just four conference wins since winning the Big 12 title in 2003. It doesn’t look good for this season either. However, I think they should make a little improvement although it may not show in the win column. They are still debating who to go with at the QB position and the offensive line is too soft. Minimizing their turnovers this season will help out both the offense and defense this season. Turning the ball over 28 times is way too many and the Wildcats were good at giving their opponent a short field to work with.
BIG TWELVE SOUTH DIVISION
Offense: The Sooners offense was very unproductive last season (they ranked 94th in passing in the nation and 71st in total offense only averaging 355.1 yards per game). The offense centers on this year's Heisman Trophy candidate in Adrian Peterson (1,104 yards and 14 TD's). He was hurt last season yet still managed to gain over 1,000 yards on the ground. He was a Heisman runner-up two years ago and will be a legit Heisman candidate this season even without Rhett Bomar. They will lean on talented WR Malcolm Kelley (471 yards and 2 TD's) to give Bomar a go to target this season after a very good freshman season. The passing game is essential if the Sooners want compete with the likes of Texas and Texas Tech teams that can score at will.
Defense: Defense has never been a problem for Oklahoma under Bob Stoops and with seven starters returning from a group that only allowed (23.1 points per game 37th in the nation and 90 yards rushing a game 4th in the nation) they will make it very tough for opponents to score this year. The secondary has experience and one of the most talented corners in the Big 12 in Reggie Smith. The line is going to cause problems for the opposition with Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the year CJ Ah You set for a big senior season. Look for Rufus Alexander to make a run for the Butkus award at weak outside linebacker. The Sooners defense should keep them in just about every game this season and may even win a few for them.
Player to keep your eye on: RB Adrian Peterson is an absolute man among boys when it comes to RB's. If Adrian can stay healthy and regain his freshman form not only will he have a shot at the Heisman but the Sooners may be playing for a National Championship.
Offense: Offensively the Longhorns are going to have to win with a quarterback who hasn't seen the field. They will look to redshirt freshman Colt McCoy to step in and take command of the huddle and manage the game and allow their skill position players to make plays. The team's ground attack should be in capable hands with the return of sophomore Jamaal Charles, sophomore Henry Melton, and senior Selvin Young. All three of these guys are a threat to put up a hefty amount of yards and get the ball into the end zone. The Longhorns have two very good WR's that are both capable of stretching the field Jr. Limas Sweed (545 yards and 5 TD's) and Jr. Billy Pittman.
Defens: The defense may be even more talented this year than the team that ranked in the top 10 in both scoring and yards against last year. The front seven may be the best it's been since Brown took over. Brian Robinson (7 sacks) , Roy Miller, and pass rushing expert Frank Okam make up one of the strongest defensive lines in the country. The linebackers are led by returning starters Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino who are looking to help shore up the Longhorns run defense. The secondary has a lot of talent but not a lot of depth, led by Michael Griffin (124 tackles and 3 interceptions). The Longhorns defense may have to carry them more this season with an inexperienced QB.
Player to keep your eye on: QB Colt McCoy has some big shoes to fill, but did show promise this spring and will play a big part in whether or not the Longhorns repeat as National Champions. Keep your eye on this kid he has a lot of talent and a very strong arm.
Offense: It doesn’t seem to matter who the Red Raiders stick at QB as the endless supply of athletic receivers that they keep bringing in makes these QB’s into All-Americans. You will hear plenty about last season’s leading receiver, with 1007 yards, Sr. WR Joel Filani as well as Sr Wr Robert Johnson and Sr Wr Jarrett Hicks. The loss of running back Taureen Hicks is a concern, but then again everyone knows that Texas Tech is going to split out five guys and air it out and they continue to be successful with that. Let’s face it these guys are going to put up points and can anyone stop them? We will have to just wait and see but most teams try to avoid a shootout with Red Raiders.
Defense: The Red Raiders defenses last year was outstanding, they ranked 30th nationally in total defense and 18th in scoring defense only allowing 18.8 points per game. The strength of the defense will be the linebackers where they have a set of three (Brock Stratton, Fletcher Session and Keyunta Dawson) that are very good. If there is one area of concern it could be the secondary will they will have to replace both of their safeties, they will look to Jr. Joe Garcia and Sophomore Darcel Parker to step up and fill the void. With five returning starters and a defense they has gotten better each of the past three years the Red Raiders look again to be a very good defense.
Player to keep your eye on: WR Robert Johnson had an outstanding Jr. season (951 yards and 4 TD's) and sometimes was un-guardable as he shredded Big 12 secondaries. Look for him to do more of the same in the pass happy Red Raiders offense.
BEST OF THE REST
Texas A & M: The Aggies were a disappointment a season ago and they will remain one until the defense can start holding up their end of the bargain. As long as running back Courtney Lewis (723 yards and 7 TD's) can stay eligible the offense appears to be intact. But the defense gave up 443.8 yards per game (ranked 108th in the nation) including a nation’s worst 304.6 through the air. We’ll see if the two new secondary coaches can make a difference for this struggling "D" this season. An easy non-conference schedule (Citadel, UL Lafayette, Army and Louisiana Tech) could allow the Aggies to get to five maybe six wins this season.
Baylor: The Bears were a big surprise last season, but they slipped down the stretch and weren’t able to earn a bowl bid. I expect much the same scenario this season for the Bears as their offense, which returns eight starters including QB Shawn Bell (1,964 and 12 TD's) and running backs Mosley and Whitaker, will remain strong. The Bears defense which returns just 4 will be exposed….it may be hard to hear but true. When it is all said and done the Bears will have a hard time replacing seven key starters. The Bears will be hard pressed to get to five wins again this season.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys can improve on last season’s (1 – 7 conference record) by simply holding on to the football. The Cowboys turned the ball over 35 times last season. They have good weapons in place at receiver in D’Juan Woods (879 yards and 8 TD's) and Adarius Bowman, but it won’t make any difference how good their skill players are in 06-07 if they can’t take care of the football. On defense the Cowboys return five starters from a team that gave more up then 31points per game from last season. That will have improved if the Cowboys are to compete in the South Division.
BIG TWELVE PROJECTIONS
3. Iowa State
6. Kansas State
3. Texas Tech
4. Texas A& M
6. Oklahoma State
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