2011 Football Predictions: Big 12

Who will finish second in the Big 12 in 2011?

Who will finish second in the Big 12 in 2011?

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the Big 12 in 2011?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don't completely trust them, but I'm going to pick the Aggies to finish second in the Big 12 in 2011. Texas A&M closed out the  2010 regular season on a tear, and most of the core returns intact. Replacing linebacker/end Von Miller will be difficult, but Damontre Moore looks like a future All-Big 12 performer, and nine starters are back on defense. The offense seemed to find its rhythm down the stretch, especially with a young offensive line coming together. With Christine Michael returning at running back, the Aggies have one of the top running back combinations in college football, along with an All-American at receiver in Jeff Fuller. Texas A&M's schedule sets up for a run at second place, with Oklahoma State, Texas and Missouri visiting College Station. The Aggies have high expectations, and that's usually a cause for concern in College Station. However, I think Texas A&M is ready to break through under Mike Sherman and threaten for its first double-digit win season since 1998.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I think this is going to be one of the great races in college football this fall — the battle for second place in the Big 12. There is a lot to like about Oklahoma State, but I am going with Texas A&M. It's hard to trust the Aggies sometimes, but I can't ignore how good they were in the final two-thirds of the 2010 season. There will be some pressure on this team to meet expectations, but I believe the Aggies are good enough to handle the pressure.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
There are five teams — and one Baylor quarterback — that have a legitimate claim to the two-slot in the Big 12 this fall. This is how I tried to whittle it down: Texas Tech has an outstanding offensive line and will have a balanced offensive attack but has serious issues on the defensive side of the ball. Texas has the best collection of players, but a totally reworked coaching staff, no No. 1 quarterback and no running game (at least, until Malcolm Brown shows-up). After seven losses, Texas needs to prove itself to me before I can pick them to challenge the Sooners. Oklahoma State also has an outstanding offensive attack, but losing Dana Holgorsen and holes on the defense could make for tougher sledding than a year ago. That leaves Texas A&M and Missouri. The Tigers have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in this league, and that is where championships are won. Gary Pinkel's bunch allowed a measly 16 points per game last year and in the Big 12 that is a serious accomplishment. Additionally, the Aggies have had a weird senior-itis with their quarterbacks over the last decade, so Ryan Tannehill needs to prove his mettle. The Tigers do have to play five on the road in conference, and second place could be on the line October 29 when Mizzou heads to College Station.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I feel strongly that Texas A&M will finish second in the Big 12, and maybe even challenge Oklahoma (Aggies won 33-19 last year) for the top spot. Mike Sherman’s offense took off in the middle of 2010 when he made Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback, as A&M won six in a row to end the regular season. Most of that productive offense is back, including two star running backs, two solid tackles and a deep group of receivers. The defense does have to replace pass rusher Von Miller, but the Aggies could have a better unit overall in 2011 with the improvement of their younger players. As far as the other contenders, Texas has the talent but we’ll have to wait and see how much two new coordinators can fix from last year’s debacle. Oklahoma State has a solid offensive line to block for the lethal combo of Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, but I think the loss of offensive mastermind Dana Holgorsen and leading tackler Orie Lemon will hurt the Cowboys’ chances of finishing in the top two. Missouri could also contend, but they will need their next quality quarterback to emerge and to get the same stellar defensive performance the Tigers had a year ago.

Nathan Rush
With Oklahoma as the clear No. 1 team in the 10-team Big 12 (as opposed to the 12-team Big Ten), the second fiddle is up for grabs — although it won’t mean as much now that there is no chance for a conference title game upset and BCS bid at the end of the road. I say “Hook Em Horns!” Everyone wants to kick dirt on Texas while it’s down, but I think the Longhorns will return to their normal 10-win expectations this season. In a classic CEO move, Mack Brown hired the best and brightest, adding a pair of young, energized coordinators — 37-year-old Manny Diaz (via Mississippi State) on defense and 34-year-old Bryan Harsin (via Boise State) on offense — after head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp left to run his own football factory at Florida. The key will be quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who struggled to follow in the footsteps of Colt McCoy and Vince Young in his first year on the job. But this is a new year, with new schemes on both sides of the ball and a more experienced young roster of Longhorns — led by sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat — who cut their teeth last year. Expect a fresh approach to result in a return to business as usual in Austin.

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

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<p> Athlon's editors debate who will challenge the Sooners in the Big 12 in 2011.</p>

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