Preseason 2005: A Look at the Big Twelve
The power of the Big Twelve has been questioned since the last time college football was played on the field. USC's humbling of Oklahoma in the national championship game, along with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M getting beat down in the bowl games, threw some doubt on the strength of the Big Twelve South. Throw in the fact that the Big Twelve North hadn't been respected all year, and suddenly the conference looked to be in shambles. Expect the North to rebound a little bit this year and the South to continue to look good during the regular season. But for the Big Twelve, nothing will be determined until the bowl games.
1. Iowa State (8-3, 5-3)- The Cyclones haven't won an unshared conference title since the very early 1900's. This may be the year that they at least win the division. Bret Meyer returns at quarterback as a sophomore and looks to get the team over the hump that they could not get over a year ago. Meyer is a solid and athletic quarterback. It won't hurt the offense any that Stevie Hicks is back to run the ball. He's a junior and ran for over 1000 yards last year. Todd Blythe is coming off offseason knee surgery, but says he'll be ready to be the go-to receiver by September 3 against Illinois State. The Cyclones are very deep at the receiver spot, as Austin Flynn and Jon Davis also appear prepared to be all-stars. The defense is lead by the defensive line of Nick Leaders and Brent Curvey. Tim Dobbins is a spectacular linebacker. Safeties Nik Mosher and Steve Paris are lightening fast. The defense was solid last year, and could be just as solid this year. If the offense can score more than 20.5 points per game (like they did a year ago), then the Cyclones have a chance to be very good. By October 2, we could know all we need to know about Iowa State. By that point they will have hosted in state rival Iowa, who they always play tough. They pay a visit to Nebraska on October 1 in a key North Division game. A visit to Missouri on October 15 also looms, but home dates with Kansas State and Colorado in November could spark the Cyclones to the division title.
2. Colorado (6-5, 4-4)- The Buffaloes return Joel Klatt at quarterback and he needs to improve on 11:15 touchdown to interception ratio. The offensive line returns three starters along with tight end Joe Klopfenstein, one of the teams best receivers. Lawrence Vickers returns at fullback, but the tailback position is uncertain. Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis are the favorites to start there. Evan Judge is a returning starter at wide receiver, but it is time to see what some of these younger receivers are made out of. The defense returns ten starters from a year ago. James Garee will anchor the very physical defensive line. Vaka Manupuna is also ready to lead the line. The linebackers may be the strength of the defense. Jordon Dizon and Thaddeus Washington are excellent players on it, while Brian Iwuh lead the team in tackles a year ago. There is also a lot of depth there for the Buffs. Lorenzo Sims is the team's best corner back, and while the rest of the secondary has experience, it also finished 105 in the country in passing yards per game a year ago. The Buffs got to the Big Twelve Championship Game a year ago using almost smoke and mirrors. After all the team finished 81 in scoring offense and 85 in total offense, while finishing 61 in scoring defense and 94 in total defense. This year, the Buffaloes may not get those same breaks. This is a good team and should be the favorite in the North, but not so much that the North is anything but wide open.
3. Missouri (7-4, 4-4)- The Tigers are lead by Brad Smith at quarterback. Last year, the Tigers focused on making him a passing threat. With the disappointment that was last season, they have installed an offense that will give him the opportunity to do what he does best- improvise. The offense is supposed to get the ball to the athletic receivers, Sean Coffey and Will Franklin. It also focuses on getting the ball in the hands of two new running backs, Tony Temple and Marcus Woods. Both should be very solid this year. The offensive line returns three starters, including Tony Palmer, who is one of the best in the conference. The Missouri defensive line has just one starter returning. That starter is Xzavie Jackson, who has potential to be an all-conference performer. They have quality depth, but it is mostly inexperienced. The linebackers will featur Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington, who did start at times a year ago. Derrick Ming will also be a nice addition. Jason Simpson returns in the secondary, and he is a solid safety. Marcus King is also back and looking to make an impact. In the wide open North, visits to Kansas, Colorado, and Kansas State make the schedule difficult. Like a year ago, the Tigers probably have the most talent of any team in the division. Like a year ago, they may not live up to that potential. If not now for Mizzou, when?
4. Nebraska (3-5, 5-6)- That Corn Coast Offense didn't work too well last year, as the Huskers missed a bowl game. Bill Callahan, the Huskers head coach, knows that the pressure is on. Fortunately, he has Cory Ross to build his offense around. The senior running back is one of the most underrated backs in Nebraska history. The offensive line returns three starters, and should provide a bit of a return to the Cornhuskers glory days of offensive lines. The receivers need to get more involved in the offense, but Terrence Nunn has shown sparks. Junior college transfer Zac Taylor takes over the offense at quarterback. He was recruited just to run this offense, so he should perform better than Joe Dailey did a year ago. The defensive line is lead by big Adam Carriker. He is a beast that could wreak havoc all year in opponents backfields. The defensive line looks like a potential strength this year. The linebackers are lead by Stewart Bradley, who is a solid but not spectacular linebacker. Daniel Bullocks is a very talented safety, but the rest of the secondary is inexperienced. Nebraska must go to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado in their own division, and games against Wake Forest and Pittsburgh to start the year are far from guaranteed wins. This team could put it all together and win the North, or they could suffer through another year of anonymity and a losing record.
5. Kansas State (5-6, 3-5)- The quarterback situation is the big question mark in the Wildcats camp. Dylan Meier has a little bit more passing proficiency, but is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Allen Webb has a little bit more running ability and athleticism. The concern for them regardless is if anyone can protect them. The line returns just one starter and is inexperienced all around. The receivers could be the strength of the offense with Jermaine Moreira and Yamon Figurs both returning, and Davin Dennis and Jordy Nelson provide quality depth. The running back spot is unsettled, but Thomas Clayton and Carlos Alsup both have some potential. The defense will be lead by the linebackers. Ted Sims comes back from injury, Marvin Simmons is a hitter, Brandon Archer is a playmaker and if Matt Butler can come off of offseason surgery and be healthy, he is a player as well. The Wildcats defensive line could show some improvement with Scott Edmonds (who lead the team with seven sacks a year ago) returning, and Tearrius George trying to restore the Wildcats good name on defense. The secondary is a solid group with no real standouts at this point. The defense is good enough to get this team in contention in the Big Twelve North, but the offense lags behind. If Meier and Webb can come through and play solidly, there is no reason htis team can't compete in the North. Going to Iowa State and Nebraska is no fun, and the Wildcats should be 3-0 (Florida International, at Marshall, North Texas) heading to Oklahoma on October 1. That will be when we find out how good this year's 'Cats are.
6. Kansas (4-7, 1-7)- The Jayhawks have a solid offensive line that returns three starters, including several potential stars. The receivers might be the best in Kansas history with Mark Simmons, Brian Murph, and Marcus Herford. So what's wrong with the Jayhawks offense? The quarterback and running back positions need to find some positive consistency. Adam Barmann and Jason Swanson should battle for the starting quarterback job. It was Barmann's last year until he went down with an injury, but he often looked confused on the field. Kerry Meier could also contend for the job. He is an incoming freshman who everyone wants to redshirt, but he may be thrust into the action immediately. The defense could be the best in the conference. The linebackers return Nick Reid, a headhunter who could be the best in the Big Twelve. He is joined by Kevin Kane and Banks Floodman. Charles Gordon is one of the top corners in all of college football, and he returns looking to do better than his seven interceptions from a year ago. Jermial Ashley and Tim Allen return on the defensive line, and Charlton Keith is not a returning starter, but has shown flashes of brilliance. The Jayhawks defense is good enough to win the North. If the offense shows even the slightest sign of life, they could contend in the North. Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa State all visit Kansas. Iowa State comes in for the last game of the year, and if the Jayhawks get just enough good breaks, then that could be for the North title. Last year, the Jayhawks lost five games by six points or less. Turn those into wins this year, and you will be looking at the next participants in the Big Twelve Championship Game.
1. Oklahoma (9-2, 7-1)- The Sooners have Rhett Romar, Tommy Grady and Paul Thompson replacing Jason White at quarterback, so do not feel too sorry for them. They are all very gifted quarterbacks. The offensive line returns three starters, and all should be solid starters. It is the other two positions that leave some doubt. Travis Wilson and Jejuan Rankins need to become even more reliable stars at the receiver position. Adrian Peterson had a monster freshman year running the football. If he continues that dominance, he may become the first to ever win the Heisman as a sophomore. The defense is lead by the return of Dusty Dvoracek on the line. Larry Birdine and Carl Pendleton are nice complements on the line. Clint Ingram, Rufus Alexander, and Zach Latimer all provide solid leadership at linebacker, but there is virtually no experience behind them. The secondary was last seen last year getting bombs thrown on it against USC. Or maybe it was last seen against Colorado in the Big Twelve Championship Game, because most of the Orange Bowl it looked like USC was just playing catch with themselves. Marcus Walker is a potential shut down corner, but this group must improve. The Sooners have to go to UCLA early in the year, which could provide a good indication of where they are right now. Of course, the Texas game looms just a couple of weeks later, but trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech make this an even more formidable schedule.
2. Texas (9-2, 7-1)- With Vince Young returning at quarterback, the Longhorns should be OK. He had his coming out party in the Rose Bowl. If he plays like that this year, the 'Horns could be looking at a return trip to the Rose Bowl...to play for the national title. The offensive line looks to be the best in the Mack Brown era with four returning starters. Selvin Young is taking over at running back and Ramonce Taylor will provide a nice backup. Both are very solid and very fast. The receivers are a big question mark, with tight end David Thomas the teams leading returning receiver. The defense could be lead by the linebacker Aaron Harris. He has 118 tackles last year. The rest of the linebackers are a question mark. The secondary is very deep and could be the strength of the defense this year. The defensive line will be lead by Rod Wright and Larry Dibbles. Rod Wright has the potential to dominate games. Tim Crowder had 4.5 sacks a year ago. The Longhorns have to go to Ohio State on September 10 in a huge game. A trip to Texas A&M late in the year will not be fun. Of course, in the end, it always comes down to the game against Oklahoma on October 8. Can the 'Horns finally break the curse?
3. Texas A&M (8-3, 6-2)- Reggie McNeal is as athletic of a quarterback as they come. He improved a lot last year, and his continued development is the key to the Aggies success this year. He also has speedy, deep threats at receiver. Deqawn Mobley, L'Tydrick Riley, and Earvin Taylor all appear to be ready to breakout at receiver. The offensive line returns four starters and looks to be very physical and very solid. Courtney Lewis returns at running back, and while there are questions about him, he shows a spark every now and then that makes people believe this could be one of the best backfields in America. The defensive line is lead by Red Bryant and Jason Jack. Both have potential to be all-conference players. Running the ball will not be easy against that Aggies front. The starting linebackers are solid, lead by Archie McDaniel, Lee Foliaki, and Justin Warren. The secondary is a weak spot for the defense, except for Jaxson Appel, who is one of the better safeties in the conference. The secondary got torched at times last year. Losses to Baylor, Tennessee, and Utah all seemed to establish that this team needed better consistency. The road trip to Clemson on September 3 could be one of the truly underrated games of the first day and one of the most fun to watch. Their season comes down to their final three games, when they visit Texas Tech and Oklahoma and play host to Texas. The rest is just preparation for that final exam.
4. Texas Tech (8-3, 5-3)- The Red Raiders have now established one thing. It does not matter if they lose their quarterback. Someone will step in just fine. Cody Hodges appears ready to step in, but Graham Harrell is still in competition with him for the starting job. Jarrett Hicks, Cody Fuller, Danny Amendola, and Joel Filani provide a very deep and established receiving group. Taurean Henderson returns at running back. He is a threat to do just about anything, as he can run and catch very well. The offensive line must be rebuiilt with just two returning starters, but who better to build around than Manny Ramirez? The line needs to get experience quickly. The defense made a huge leap to #46 in the country a year ago. That should continue with seven starters back. The defensive line features Chris Hudler, Dek Bake, Seth Nitschmann, and Keyunta Dawson. That group is as good of a whole group as they come, and they should lead the defense. John Saldi and Brock Stratton also have a lot of experience at linebacker. The secondary is also a strength. Vincent Weeks is an excellent safety. Khalid Naziruddin lead the team in tackles a year ago from his corner spot. The Red Raiders made a name for themselves by beating California in the Holiday Bowl a year ago. They have a decent schedule with a trip to Nebraska on October 8 being their toughest game in the first six games. After that, trips to Texas and Oklahoma State, plus home dates with Texas &M and Oklahoma make the closing kick very tough.
5. Oklahoma State (7-4, 4-4)- The quarterback situation for the Cowboys is interesting. Donovan Woods started a year ago, but was often used merely as a decoy. That leaves room for the new staff to pick Bobby Reid as the starter. Reid is a freshman with a ton of potential. Woods showed off his potential during the Oklahoma game a year ago, where he made several huge plays. D'Juan Woods returns at wide receiver, and he's one of the best in the country. The rest of the receivers are inexperienced. The running game will be lead by Mike Hamilton, Julius Crosslin, and Seymore Shaw. All are big backs. The offensive line returns four starters. The defense is lead by the linebackers. Paul Duren, Lawrence Pinson, and Pagitte McGee have a lot of starting experience. Vernon Grant and Daniel McLemore are very talented corners, but are small. The defensive line is the weak spot. Ryan McBean, a junior college transfer, could be the key. If he develops like they expect, the line could be more of a force. Trips to Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are not going to be fun for the Cowboys. Home dates with Colorado, Missouri, Texas, and Texas Tech add even more fun to the schedule. This is not going to be the best year the Cowboys have ever had, but there is plenty of potential there to get this team back to another bowl game.
6. Baylor (3-8, 0-8)- The Bears will be lead by Paul Mosley at tailback. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry a year ago, and that should only get better this year. The reason that should improve is because the offensive line should be a real strength this year. Due to players returning from injury and junior college transfers, this group will not look the same as last year, but should be way more dominant. The receivers are pretty good, lead by Dominique Zeigler. The quarterback situation is dicey. Shawn Bell is the new starter, and he had his shining moment a year ago when he completed the touchdown pass and two point conversion that beat Texas A&M. The defense will be lead by the secondary. Maurice Lane and Maurice Linguist are the best players out there. The linebackers graduated their starters, but Colin Allred and Jamaal Harper played a lot last year. Montez Murphy is an NFL prospect on the defensive line. The line needs to show some improvement on the whole this year. The Bears could be capable of stealing a game or two they shouldn't, like the Texas A&M win a year ago. With road trips to SMU and Army and a home date with Samford to start the season, there is hope for a 3-0 September. A trip to Texas A&M comes next, and we all know they can't beat the Aggies, right?
The Cyclones might just be happy to be there after the disappointing finish to last year. The North is closer to the South this year than they were last year. Oklahoma will play well and win, but it probably won't be the cakewalk last year's game was. Oklahoma 31, Iowa State 20.
ALL BIG TWELVE
QB Vince Young, Texas
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
RB Cory Ross, Nebraska
WR D'Juan Woods, Oklahoma State
WR Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech
TE Joe Klopfstein, Colorado
OL Tony Palmer, Missouri
OL Corey Hilliard, Oklahoma State
OL Aaron Brant, Iowa State
OL Darin Joseph, Oklahoma
OL Justin Blalock, Texas
DL Dustin Dvoracek, Oklahoma
DL Jason Jack, Texas A&M
DL Rod Wright, Texas
DL Johnny Jolly, Texas A&M
LB Nick Reid, Kansas
LB Anthony Harris, Texas
LB Brian Iwuh, Colorado
DB Jaxson Appel, Texas A&M
DB Charles Gordon, Kansas
DB Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska
DB Jason Simpson, Missouri
K Todd Pegram, Texas A&M
P Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
PR Danny Amendola, Texas Tech
KR Willie Andrews, Baylor