Can Geno Smith lead the Mountaineers to the Big 12 title?
Landry Jones might have been a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft. Instead, he’s still a Sooner, giving Oklahoma an elite quarterback and the inside track to the Big 12 title. Jones already owns 13 school passing records and must be considered a Heisman candidate. The Sooners will be looking for playmakers to go with him, which proved difficult a year ago once Ryan Broyles went down with an injury. And new/old defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has some shoring up to do on his side of the ball. Still, the pieces appear to be in place.
Texas possesses no such comfort or certainty at quarterback, a condition that has plagued it during a two-year slump that seemed impossible in Austin. Still, the Horns are otherwise well-stocked on offense and can count on the league’s top defense to put them back in the mix.
How will West Virginia’s act play in the Big 12? Don’t discount the former Big East beasts from the title chase — Big 12 and nationally. League defensive coordinators are more than familiar with Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen from his days at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. And they’re dreading facing him, with quarterback Geno Smith and a slew of offensive weapons ready to take off in Year 2 of Holgorsen’s madcap system.
After winning their first Big 12 championship and downing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, it looks like a rebuild at Oklahoma State, where Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and more must be replaced. Or, with stacked years of better recruiting classes, the Cowboys could just reload. A heavy burden falls on new quarterback Wes Lunt, yet skill players are present. This could be the year the Pokes lean on a stout defense — yes, defense.
TCU finally got the invitation to the big time it so sorely craved. Now the Horned Frogs will have to show they can play with the big boys week-in and week-out. Maybe it’s time to quit counting Kansas State — and Bill Snyder — out. The magic show continues in Manhattan, where Snyder does more with less, although quarterback Collin Klein is the real deal at quarterback. Robert Griffin III took his Heisman and face-of-the-program status to the NFL, leaving many to wonder if the clock has struck midnight on Baylor. The sense is that Art Briles has built a program, not a one-man gang.
Aside from a stunning upset of Oklahoma, Texas Tech’s 2011 season was a disaster, and there’s little reason to believe the Red Raiders are upwardly mobile. Not only is Iowa State in rebuilding mode, but the Cyclones are also looking for a quarterback to build behind. Charlie Weis is trying to pump life and hope into the program at Kansas. It will take time.
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Previews
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Take Me Home, West Virginia
For most West Virginia players and fans, their maiden season in the Big 12 will be a journey into the unknown. But they have their coaches to lead the way. At least partly by design, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen has assembled a staff loaded with knowledge and insight into the Big 12.
Of course, it starts with Holgorsen himself, a former assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. And it extends to five staff members, including co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. DeForest, a dynamic recruiter in the Houston area, joined Holgorsen from OSU one year after coaching alongside him with the Cowboys. Patterson is a former Tulsa aide who recruited the area and prepared game plans against several Big 12 squads. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is a Texas alum, while running backs coach Robert Gillespie left OSU with Holgorsen. Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital has been with Holgorsen at Houston, OSU and West Virginia.
“We probably know a lot more about the Big 12 than the Big 12 knows about us,” Holgorsen said. “We know a bunch about it. We’re not going to go into a hornet’s nest without knowing about it. Now, that in itself isn’t going to win you any games, but I do think it will be beneficial in the long run.”
QB Comings, Goings
The league lost marquee quarterbacks with Heisman winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State off to the NFL. Still, quarterback remains a position of strength league wide, thanks in part to the latest round of conference realignment. The Big 12 already had Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Kansas State’s Collin Klein coming back. The addition of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and TCU’s Casey Pachall provides four legitimate all-conference candidates.
Gundy On The Climb
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is on the rise. Entering this season, Gundy sits just four wins shy of becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach. With 59 wins through seven seasons, Gundy trails his former coach, Pat Jones, who is the leader with 62 career victories.
The 2011 season provided a major checkpoint for Gundy, who led the Cowboys to a school-record 12 wins, a first Big 12 championship and a first BCS bowl berth, won over Stanford. Gundy won both the Bear Bryant Award and Eddie Robinson Award as national Coach of the Year.
All that success earned Gundy a contract extension to the tune of eight years, $30.3 million. The deal is frontloaded, featuring a salary of $3.275 million this season, putting him third in the Big 12 behind only Mack Brown and Bob Stoops.
“I am humbled and appreciative for the new extension,” Gundy says. “Oklahoma State means a lot to me and my family. My duty is to continue building on the success we have enjoyed the past few years and make sure our program complements the academic mission of OSU.”
Giving Back, Big
Adrian Peterson had been thinking about doing something for his alma mater, Oklahoma. And just like he did during his playing career at OU, Peterson produced a record, pledging a $1 million donation to the athletics department. The funds will support the construction of Headington Hall, the school’s new student housing facility, as well as establish the Adrian Peterson Football Scholarship Endowment. The gift is the largest single donation ever from a former Sooners player. “I always hoped to be in a position to be able to donate back to the University of Oklahoma and make it an even better place — do whatever I could to help the university that did so much for me,” Peterson says.
Longhorn Running Mates
Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams were decades apart at Texas, but they now stand together outside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Bronzed.
Before the Longhorns’ Spring Game, the school unveiled a statue of Williams near the one of Campbell that has greeted visitors to the stadium since 2006. The Texas stars have previously been linked by their rushing prowess and their Heismans. Now they’re linked permanently.
The Williams statue is an 8-foot, 1,000-pound piece commissioned in honor of his outstanding years as a Longhorn from 1995-98. At UT, Williams produced a then-NCAA record 6,279 rushing yards, highlighted by a 2,124 total his senior year. As for the likeness?“Close enough,” Williams said.
“Words can’t describe how honored I am. Having a statue at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams when I came here from San Diego.”