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Athlon previews the Week 1 action in the Big 12.
It's a relatively quiet opening week in the Big 12. Nine teams will play non-conference games, while TCU has a bye for Week 1. Although there are no conference games, there is some intrigue in Ames, where Tulsa is a road favorite against Iowa State, while Texas hopes to find an answer at quarterback against Wyoming.
Big 12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 1
1. Can Texas find any clarity at quarterback?
Quarterback play has been an issue at Texas for the last two seasons, and the Longhorns enter 2012 with more uncertainty under center. David Ash finished 2011 as the starter but still needs to prove he can consistently beat teams through the air. He finished with eight picks last season, a number the coaching staff would like to see decrease this season. Ash finished fall practice atop the depth chart, but backup Case McCoy will play in Saturday’s game against Wyoming. With the Big 12’s best defense and a talented trio of running backs, the Longhorns won’t need to throw for 300 yards every game. However, Ash needs to show he can make some plays through the air, while eliminating some of the mistakes he made last year. With games against Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss to start the season, it’s important for Ash to get off to a good start and clearly assume the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
2. Upset alert at Iowa State?
Under Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones have pulled off their share of upsets, but this team should be on upset alert this Saturday. Iowa State hosts Tulsa, a team that returns 13 starters from an 8-5 season in 2011. The Golden Hurricane also has Nebraska transfer Cody Green starting at quarterback, and his experience will be valuable for a team that won’t be an easy out for Iowa State. Considering the Cyclones’ remaining schedule, it’s important to start the season 1-0. With a matchup against rival Iowa next week and a challenging Big 12 slate, it’s not unreasonable to think this game will have major bowl implications. Another factor for Iowa State to watch will be quarterback play. Steele Jantz edged Jared Barnett for the starting job, and it will be important for him to get off to a good start on Saturday. The Cyclones are a home underdog, which should certainly give Rhoads and this team plenty of motivation.
3. How will Wes Lunt perform in his first start at Oklahoma State?
The schedule couldn’t have worked out better for Oklahoma State. With true freshman Wes Lunt making his first start, the Cowboys should have no trouble scoring points against Savannah State. The Tigers were one of the worst FCS teams last season, ranking 120th in total offense and 117th in total defense. Although it’s tough to learn much from this lopsided affair, this matchup is a good opportunity for Lunt to acclimated to FBS play and get comfortable in game action with a trip to Arizona coming on Sept. 8. Expect an impressive debut for the freshman but the best judge of Lunt’s effectiveness will come on Sept. 29 against Texas.
4. Charlie Weis’ debut at Kansas
The Jayhawks enter Saturday night’s game against South Dakota State tied for the nation’s longest losing streak at 10 games. New coach Charlie Weis was one of the offseason’s most curious hires after struggling at Notre Dame, and he has plenty to prove this year. The Jayhawks can only go up after a disastrous 2011 season and should have plenty of help from a group of transfers, led by quarterback Dayne Crist. Kansas still has issues on defense, but the offense should be solid if Crist can stay healthy. Don’t expect a winning year, but the Jayhawks should get the Weis’ era off to a good start with a victory over the Jackrabbits on Saturday night.
5. Life without Robert Griffin at Baylor
There’s no question Robert Griffin will be missed at Baylor. However, the cupboard is far from bare on offense, especially with Nick Florence taking over under center. The senior started seven games for Griffin in 2009 and has thrown for 1,992 yards in his career. While Florence doesn’t have Griffin’s mobility, he should keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. The Bears are loaded at receiver, return three starters on the line and gain the services of Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk at running back. Baylor takes on SMU, who will be quarterbacked by former Texas passer Garrett Gilbert. The Bears' defense suffered a setback this week when defensive tackle Kaeron Johnson was lost for the year. Look for the Mustangs to exploit Baylor's rush defense with running back Zach Line. The Bears should win this one, but the defense will be tested.
6. Can Kansas State develop balance on offense?
Quarterback Collin Klein carried the Wildcats’ offense last season, accounting for 40 overall scores and 3,059 yards. Although Klein dealt with various injuries throughout the year, he started all 13 games and led Kansas State to a Cotton Bowl appearance. Keeping the senior quarterback healthy is the Wildcats’ best shot at getting to 10 wins once again. Klein doesn’t need to handle 300 carries in 2012, which is why the offense needs to establish balance and develop more weapons. Running back John Hubert returns after rushing for 970 yards last season, and he should threaten 1,000 once again in 2012. The coaching staff would like to see more big plays from the rushing attack, but Hubert is a reliable option. The Wildcats have a solid group of receivers, but this unit needs to be a bigger part of the offense. Sophomore Tyler Lockett’s 2011 season ended early due to injury, but he could be a breakout playmaker. With a matchup against Missouri State this Saturday, it’s a good time for Kansas State to work on the passing game and save some wear and tear on Klein.
7. Is Oklahoma running back Dominique Whaley 100 percent?
Dominique Whaley’s rise from Langston University to the starting running back at Oklahoma was one of the best storylines last season. However, an ankle injury ended his year early, as he was forced to sit out the final five games of 2011. Despite not playing during that stretch, Whaley finished as Oklahoma’s leading rusher with 627 yards. The Sooners’ offense sputtered without Whaley and receiver Ryan Broyles in the lineup over the final weeks of 2011, but Whaley is on track to play in Saturday’s opener against UTEP. The senior is listed on the top spot on the depth chart, but is he 100 percent? Whaley’s ankle injury was a significant one, and the Sooners brought in talented junior college recruit Damien Williams to compete for playing time. Oklahoma should have its way against the Miners, but the offense needs to get a good look at Whaley and see if he can handle 20-25 carries a week.
8. Will Texas Tech’s defense show signs of improvement?
It’s hard to have a dominating defense in the Big 12, but Texas Tech has to be better than it has the last two years. The Red Raiders have finished 114th nationally in total defense in 2010 and 2011 and enter 2012 with their fourth coordinator in four seasons. It will be hard to glean much from the opener against Northwestern State, especially since it averaged only 21.3 points a game last year. However, the opener will be a good test for Texas Tech’s defense, as it looks to work out the kinks in the new scheme. Junior college recruit Will Smith has shined at middle linebacker all offseason, and this will be his first opportunity to showcase his talent on the FBS level. With Texas State and New Mexico coming up, it’s important for the Red Raiders to build some confidence on defense before Big 12 play begins on Sept. 29.
9. West Virginia shouldn’t overlook Marshall
This is the final game in the scheduled Friends of the Coal Bowl series between West Virginia’s two FBS universities. With the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12 and playing nine conference games, these two teams aren’t scheduled to play anytime in the near future, and West Virginia’s non-conference schedule appears to be full until 2017. The Mountaineers have won all 11 meetings, including last season’s weather-shortened 34-13 game. Marshall is headed back in the right direction under coach Doc Holliday, and the Thundering Herd should not be taken lightly. Marshall’s secondary is a question mark, but the offense could have some success against a West Virginia defense that has a new scheme and must replace a handful of key contributors from last year. The Mountaineers should win this one, but the Thundering Herd will give them their best shot.
Week 1 Big 12 Predictions
|Big 12 Week 1 Games||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Marshall at West Virginia (-24)||West Virginia 42-14||West Virginia 45-17||West Virginia 44-20||West Virginia 38-14|
|Tulsa (-1) at Iowa State||Iowa State 28-21||Iowa State 21-20||Iowa State 30-27||Iowa State 33-28|
|Savannah State at Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State 38-10||Oklahoma State 42-10||Oklahoma State 55-3||Oklahoma State 51-6|
|South Dakota State at Kansas||Kansas 21-14||Kansas 21-14||Kansas 38-13||Kansas 37-10|
|Northwestern State at Texas Tech||Texas Tech 31-17||Texas Tech 38-21||Texas Tech 52-7||Texas Tech 48-7|
|Missouri State at Kansas State||Kansas State 35-10||Kansas State 45-10||Kansas State 45-7||Kansas State 41-0|
|Wyoming at Texas (-30.5)||Texas 35-10||Texas 34-7||Texas 38-10||Texas 34-13|
|Oklahoma (-31) at UTEP||Oklahoma 42-7||Oklahoma 49-14||Oklahoma 45-10||Oklahoma 41-14|
|SMU at Baylor (-10.5)||Baylor 28-21||Baylor 28-21||Baylor 38-24||Baylor 38-20|
by Steven Lassan
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