'11 Predictions: Big 12

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Drastic changes are in store for the new-look Big 12.

Drastic changes are in store for the new-look Big 12.

Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.

Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the Big 12.

Another conference, another set of cataclysmic changes. Nebraska “moved the needle” for the Big Ten in a big way. The Huskers moved the needle for the Big 12 as well — in the wrong direction. Despite both Colorado and Nebraska fitting better, personality wise, in their new conferences, the impact of the losses will have a profound effect on the Big 12.

No title game and no divisions certainly hurts the Big 12 coffers, but it does not necessarily hurt the remaining powers. The path to an undefeated season, BCS bowl and potential national title berth are now easier. And by definition, the round robin system of conference play is the single truest way to crown a champion. So there is a bright side to all this conference realignment. Well, for Texas and Oklahoma at least.

Until the Big 12 expands, Oklahoma and Texas should be the teams to beat nearly every season. While Texas will have to improve dramatically to challenge in 2011 (which isn’t out of the question), the Sooners will not. In fact, with the right names returning, Oklahoma will once again be the preseason favorite in ‘11. Big names like Jones, Broyles, Good and Lewis can leave early and will obviously be Bob Stoops biggest recruits these next few months. That being said, a loaded 2010 freshman class contributed in a big way this fall and should be expected to take big steps in their development. Sophomores-to-be like Roy Finch, Kenny Stills, Gabe Lynn and Tony Jefferson will be household names soon enough.

Texas A&M would have had a huge void to fill when quarterback Jerrod Johnson departs. However, with Ryan Tannehill taking over in admirable fashion midway through this season, the Aggie attack looks to return intact. The young offensive line and tailback tandem of Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray will be arguably the league’s best running game. If Mike Sherman can convince Jeff Fuller to stick around another year and find a suitable replacement for Von Miller (easier said that done), the Aggies could continue their late season surge into 2011.

The next pack of teams is a conglomerate of question marks with big time upside. Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin will give Missouri, Oklahoma State and Baylor a chance to compete at a high level — if they all return.

The Bears and Cowboys have to replace elite running backs in Kendall Hunter and Jay Finley, but return solid offensive lines and excellent pass catchers. Missouri is in a similar situation minus losing the elite tailback. Their offensive line will return for the most part and the pass catchers should be great. Missouri will have the best defense of the three as well and gets the slight edge because of it.

The success or failure, however, of all three programs hinges almost entirely on the return of the quarterback.

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Athlon takes a way too early look at the new Big 12 in 2011.

Then there is the Texas Longhorns. With one of the two best rosters in the league (by a wide margin), there will be no excuse for the Burnt Orange NOT to improve next fall. The front seven and the quarterback were young and inexperienced in 2010 – and it was painfully obvious. Up is the only way to go, and Mack Brown will most assuredly take them there. How much better remains to be seen. Can they jump back into Big 12 title contention? Probably not. But could they make a run at second or third place? Definitely.

The biggest issue for Texas will be replacing the entire offensive line and defensive secondary. But since the Horns couldn’t run the ball or stop the pass, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. The names stepping in were prep All-Americans too and could actually prove that turnover is a good thing in this case. Also, expect the running game to get a huge boost from the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in the form of Adrian Peterson-lite Malcolm Brown.

Tommy Tuberville’s first season in Lubbock was a tumultuous one to say the least. Fans have been boisterous about how the team performed in 2010, but Tuberville is a good coach and should turn that ship around eventually (if he stays long enough). Tubes had two quarterbacks last season and it hurt him. He will have none heading into 2011 and it could hurt him again. Not too worry too much, however, as there is plenty of talent there with Scotty Young, Jacob Karem and Seth Doege competing for that job. Replacing wideouts Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong hurts — as does filling the void six departing seniors on defense will leave.

Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State will sustain key losses at many key positions. But all three coaches have proven to be underrated and will have their teams ready to go again in 2011.

2011 Predictions (key losses):

1. Oklahoma: QB Landry Jones*, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Ryan Broyles*, OL Stephen Good*, OL Cory Brandon, DE Jeremy Beal, DT Adrian Taylor, LB Travis Lewis*, S Quinton Carter, CB Jamell Fleming*

2. Texas A&M: QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, WR Jeff Fuller*

3. Missouri: QB Blaine Gabbert*, OL Tim Barnes, TE Michael Egnew*, DE Aldon Smith*, CB Kevin Rutland, S Jasper Simmons, LB Andrew Gachkar, CB Carl Gettis

4. Oklahoma State: RB Kendall Hunter, WR Justin Blackmon*, DE Ugo Chinasa, LB Orie Lemon, DT Shane Jarka, DT Chris Donaldson, LB Justin Gent, QB Brandon Weeden*

5. Texas: OL Kyle Hix, OL Michael Huey, OL Tray Allen, OL Britt Mitchell, DE Sam Acho, DE Eddie Jones, CB Curtis Brown, CB Aaron Williams*, CB Chykie Brown, TE Greg Smith

6. Baylor: OL Danny Watkins, RB Jay Finley, DT Phil Taylor, LB Antonio Johnson, LB Chris Francis, CB Clifton Odom, S Byron Landor, S Tim Atchison, P Derek Epperson

7. Texas Tech: QB Taylor Potts, RB Baron Batch, WR Lyle Leong, WR Detron Lewis, DT Colby Whitlock, LB Brian Duncan

8. Kansas State: RB Daniel Thomas, OL Zach Kendall, OL Wade Weibert, OL Clyde Aufner, QB Carson Coffman, WR Aubrey Quarles, CB Stephen Harrison, DT Prizell Brown, LB Kevin Rohleder

9. Kansas: OL Brad Thorson, DE Jake Laptad, CB Chris Harris, LB Drew Dudley, OL Sal Capra

10. Iowa State: QB Austen Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, OL Alex Alvarez, OL Ben Lamaak, S David Sims

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