After an eventful offseason, and a long, hot summer, we can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as college football returns tomorrow evening. Let's take a look at this last season of the original Big 12 Conference and who we expect to make it to the league championship game in Dallas.
Big 12 North
Nebraska is expected by everyone to win the Big 12 North in their last year in the league. The Huskers return 19 of their 22 starters from last year's North winner and play key games at home. However, I'm not convinced that NU will contend for the national crown--I expect them to beat Texas in Lincoln but then lose to the Longhorns in the rematch in the conference championship game.
Missouri plays at Nebraska, at Texas Tech and at Texas A&M, and will face Oklahoma at home. I am predicting that MU will lose all four of these games, given a defense which will be susceptible to the pass. The Tigers also sustained a huge blow this week with the permanent suspension of key running back, Derreck Washington.
Kansas lost all of its key skill position players and now has a depleted defensive line and linebacking corps due to injuries and suspensions. The defense will struggle to stop teams with strong ground games. On offense, Kale Pick has been anointed "the guy" and will take over for the most prolific QB in Jayhawk history, Todd Reesing. It's hard not to be optimistic about the program, given Turner Gill's coaching philosophy and the quality of his coaching staff, but the 'Hawks will be hard-pressed to make it to a bowl game. It's key that Kansas go 3-1 in the non-conference if they expect to make it to the post-season.
Kansas State won't benefit from a schedule which set up in its favor last year. The 'Cats have the chance to be good, with perhaps the best rusher in the league in Daniel Thomas, but must win games at Iowa State, at Baylor, at Kansas and at Colorado in order to finish third in the North.
Here are my predictions, which include the expected overall record, conference record, and key games which will determine whether this is a good year...or a bad year.
Nebraska: 11-1/7-1; Texas, Missouri, @Texas A&M
Missouri: 8-4/4-4; @Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @Nebraska, Kansas (in Kansas City)
Kansas: 6-6/3-5; Georgia Tech, @Southern Mississippi, Kansas State, Missouri (in K.C.)
Colorado: 5-7/3-5; @California, @Kansas, Kansas State
Kansas State: 6-6/2-6; UCLA, @Kansas, @Baylor, @Colorado
Iowa State: 3-9/1-7; @Kansas State (Kansas City), Kansas, @Colorado, Missouri
Big 12 South
Texas won't play for the national title this year but all roads to the Big 12 South championship run through Austin. The key game will, once again, be the Texas-Oklahoma clash in Dallas but other matchups will determine who plays North Division winner, Nebraska, in early December. These key games include Oklahoma at Missouri, Texas Tech at Texas A&M, and Texas A&M at Texas.
Texas: 11-1/7-1; Oklahoma (Dallas), @Nebraska, Texas A&M
Oklahoma: 10-2/6-2; Florida State, @Cincinnati, Texas, @Missouri, @Oklahoma State
Texas Tech: 9-3/5-3; Texas, @Texas A&M, Missouri
Texas A&M: 7-5/4-4; @Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri, @Kansas
Oklahoma State: 6-6/2-6; Texas A&M, @Texas Tech, @Kansas State, @Kansas
Baylor: 5-7/2-6; @TCU, Kansas, Kansas State, @Oklahoma State
Big 12 championship: Texas over Nebraska