By Krista Pirtle
On Friday fans across the nation gladly welcome back college football for another year. As always, there’s plenty of potential and new possibilities, and everyone has something to prove. Here’s a preview of the new-look Big 12, who to watch and what to expect.
Topping nine preseason polls are the Oklahoma Sooners. Returning for the Sooners is the dynamic duo of breakout junior quarterback Landry Jones and senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles. Last season, Broyles led the NCAA in receptions per game (9.36) and total receptions (131). Jones is due for a breakout season after compiling 4,718 passing yards, two shy of OU’s school record held by Sam Bradford.
On the defensive side of the ball, both of last season’s starting safeties have graduated, causing the shift to safety from cornerback for sophomore Aaron Colvin, who made 34 tackles, broke up three passes and forced a fumble on the field as a true freshman.
Saturday, Oklahoma will face Tulsa, who finished the 2010 season ranked No. 24 by the Associated Press. The game will be in Norman, a place where the Sooners seldom lose.
Big 12 offensive player of the year, junior wide receiver Justin Blackmon is back for the Cowboys after a 2010 season with 111 catches, 1.782 receiving yards and 20 touchdown receptions. He also set NCAA records with 12 straight 100-yard receiving games. The yards are impressive, but the man throwing to him is also becoming a better Big 12 quarterback. Senior Brandon Weeden threw for more than 4,000 yards last season and 34 touchdown passes. Big 12 co-defensive freshman of the year Shaun Lewis leads a front seven full of possibilities.
Offensively, Oklahoma State fire on all cylinders, but the defense will have to prove themselves in a conference with the most talent the Big 12 has seen in a while.
Saturday, the Cowboys will host a less talented squad from Louisiana-Lafayette, a sure win for the start of their season.
Whether they leave the Big 12 or not, the Aggies are a force to be reckoned with. They are solid on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Texas A&M is returning eight starters, and they are more confident in their 3-4 scheme. The Aggies have a position on defense, joker, in which junior Caleb Russell is expected to excel. Their secondary appears to have the best coverage in the Big 12 preseason.
Offensively, A&M is returning 1,000 yard receiver Jeff Fuller, rusher Cyrus Gray and passer Ryan Tannehill. This offensive trifecta will attack defenses in ways that will be hard to stop. After years of rebuilding, Kyle Field will finally house a top-notch football squad. Sunday, the twelfth man will be in action as SMU comes to town.
Out of all the Big 12 match-ups, this one proves to be a possible upset. A&M better not get too cocky and focused on the SEC or the Mustangs will take advantage of them. The reality of that happening is very slim.
The Tigers are returning 17 starters (eight offense and nine defense) from a 2010 team that finished 10-3. One of the inexperienced Tigers on the gridiron is their quarterback, sophomore James Franklin. All eyes will focus on how he commands his troops. To his right and left, every one of Missouri’s 312 receptions and 3,292 receiving yards return from the 2010 season. Junior wide receiver T.J. Moe provides some safety for the new quarterback, as he recorded 92 catches last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, six of the front seven are returning starters from last season. The Tiger defense was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense last season. Uncertainty for Mizzou lies in the effectiveness of the new quarterback, but the depth of experience in the 2011 roster proves promising.
Saturday, they host Miami (Ohio). Like OSU, this opening game should be an easy W for the Missouri squad.
Last season is one that the Longhorns would rather forget than remember. The Longhorns are returning five offensive and seven defensive starters. Recently, coach Mack Brown named junior Garrett Gilbert the starter under center.
Even though the fall was destructive for the Longhorns’ pride, the spring brought the fun back to the game. The reason for this fun is found in the new offensive coordinator team Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, bringing about more motion and formations. The hiring of a new defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, will force the defense to blitz more than it did in the past.
Usually, when a team has such a destructive season, people wonder how they will fare in the new season, but because they are Texas, there is great hope for the Longhorns. Their first game is in Austin against Rice, a game that will showcase whether Longhorns will come out on the field and play or struggle.
Robert Griffin III—Fans have seen what happens with and without him; however, football isn’t a one-person sport. His leadership is essential to the level of performance on the gridiron, but the amount of talent around him is also important. Senior wide receiver Kendall Wright, Griffin’s favorite target in 2010, is back and ready to improve on last season. Baylor’s offense ranked in the top 25 nationally in both passing and rushing offense.
Defense, however, is the subject of concern for the Bears. With the hiring of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, the defense proves to have much potential going into the 2011 season. Their home opener on Friday is a big test for the Bears as they host TCU. TCU lost a good amount of their talent from last season, and with the strengthening of their defense, Baylor has hopes of upsetting the Horned Frogs.
The Wildcats are back after a 7-6 record in 2010. Nothing much about Kansas State stands out on paper, but after their first week of play, the playmakers will emerge. Look for junior wide receiver Brodrick Smith to breakout this season as the primary threat on the outside. Fellow wide receiver, sophomore Tramaine Thompson, is expected to standout as K-State’s primary playmaker on offense. Throwing the ball to these two will be junior Collin Klein. Senior Sammuel Lamur could also take snaps under center, so the uncertainty of who will rise as play caller may effect the communication and production of play of the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, the safeties are the strongest positions. Sophomore Ty Zimmerman and senior Tysyn Hartman bring back experience and athleticism to the secondary. The Wildcats host Eastern Kentucky on Saturday for their season opener. This sure win for Kansas State will provide quality practice to get their offense more stable.
The Red Raiders are entering 2011 off an eight-win season and a bowl victory over Northwestern. Head coach Tommy Tuberville is entering his second season in Lubbock, ensuring more confidence in the success of his players. Stepping in to fill the hole at quarterback is junior Seth Doege. Junior running back Eric Stephens assists him in the backfield. With uncertainty on how productive the offense will be coming out of the gates, the main question lies on the defensive side. Tech hired defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow straight from TCU. Glasgow has implemented a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, perfect for slowing down the spread offense. The Red Raiders host Texas State to open the season. Tech should come out of the match-up victorious and experienced in their new schemes for 2011.
The Cyclones are returning 13 starters (six offense and seven defense) from their 2010 team that went 5-7. Stepping into the pocket for Iowa State will be junior college transfer junior Steele Jantz, who led San Francisco City Community College to an 11-1 season and state championship last year. The depth around Jantz appears shallow.
With the loss of a three year starter at running back, the Cyclones are depending on sophomore Shontrelle Johnson to prove his potential and produce touchdowns on the field. Last season, he averaged 6.2 yards per rush on 35 carries. Expectations are high at wide receiver, where senior Darius Reynolds is coming off a slow 2010 after being injured the season before.
Defensively, junior linebacker Jake Knott leads the pack. Knott averaged 10.8 tackles (130) per game last season which ranked 12th nationally.
Iowa State will host Northern Iowa on Saturday, a good place to hone their skills before facing in-state rival Iowa next week.
Turner Gill enters his second season for the Jayhawks, hoping to improve off a disappointing 2010 season. Fifteen are returning for Kansas (seven offense, eight defense). Sophomore Jordan Webb, who played nine total games last season and acquired 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns, will start under center for the Jayhawks. He just needs to find someone to catch the ball. Kansas ranked dead last in passing efficiency in the Big 12. Webb should have a decent amount of time in the pocket behind an experienced offensive line, led by senior center Jeremiah Hatch.
Senior linebacker Steven Johnson anchors the defense with the 95 tackles he recorded in 2010. However, the four men in front of him present a major concern, as they only had 14 total sacks last season to finish 11th in the Big 12 in that category. Kansas hosts McNeese State on Saturday.