Monday, June 9, 2008

Tough at the Top

Since football season is barely 80 days away we thought this a good time to take a quick break from our NBA draft profiling to offer up a quick insert on IBT's perspective of the upcoming Big 12 race. Going into the season it appears that the league has 5 teams firmly entrenched in the Top 15 in the nation. Throw in a few others that have a chance to improve and it looks like the conference will be even more competitive than it was a year ago. Lest we forget that last year the league went 5-3 in bowl games and that is factoring in Big Game Bob's post-2000 annual protest of the BCS. Building upon that success, I would say that nine teams are likely to be bowl eligible this year…

Oklahoma: Despite their apparent unwillingness to show up for bowl games any more, OU has done little to show me that they don't deserve to be at the top of the conference as of now. However, we saw what their offense looked like without Sam Bradford under center, so they would be wise to protect him at all costs. Something else interesting to watch will be how they will adjust to their newly installed no-huddle offense. Then again, Kansas seemed to make the adjustment pretty seamlessly last year so there's little reason to think the Sooners won't be able to do likewise.

Tough ones: Red River Shootout
Losable: Kansas, @ KSU, Texas Tech, @ OSU (And you wonder why they're a chic pick for the national title)
Predicted: 11-1

Methzouri: This is not to signify that they're the second best team, but rather that two south teams can't play for the title and as of now, we have more reason to believe they, and not our beloved Jayhawks, will play at Arrowhead twice this year. With that said, they have some questions to answer after losing some key parts from their offensive line last year. And to a much lesser extent, they have some skill positions to replace, starting with Rucker, Temple and Franklin. As you'll notice below, though, they have an incredibly easy road schedule.

Tough ones: Neutral v. Illinois, @ Texas, Kansas @ Arrowhead
Losable: @ Nebraska (for now we're saying Nebraska in Lincoln isn't a cakewalk – that could certainly change)
Predicted: 10-2

Texas: With Will "Boom Muthafucka!" Muschamp (EDSBS) at the helm you have to expect the defense to be vastly improved. And assuming that's the case, Texas better work fast in putting together a whole team because Muschamp could be a prime head coaching candidate if he enjoys similar success as in season's past. Offensively, you know they'll have the athletes. They'll also have a third year quarterback, not to mention Chiles waiting in the wings to spell him with Vince like speed. I can't say the schedule stacks up in their favor though.

Tough ones: @ Colorado, Red River Shootout, Methzou, @ Texas Tech, @ Kansas
Losable: Texas A&M (Horns fans hope that with Fran gone, maybe they can start beating the Ags again)
Predicted: 9-3

Kansas: As alluded to above, they're no higher than second in the North pecking order. Some would likely even argue they will end up lower. And with this year's slate, that may be a valid argument. But as a team coming off a 12-1 Orange Bowl championship season and returning most of the key pieces, they get the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Defensively they lost Talib and McClinton, their two best, but return starters at every other position, not to mention nearly the entire second string, so they'll be both experienced and deep on this side of the ball. Offensively, it's all about the tackles. Sure, they lost their primary back and #1 receiver, but the replacements at those positions will be more than serviceable. However, if this offense is going to succeed, it's going to have to get solid play at the tackle positions, where Cesar Rodriguez and Anthony Collins were so stable a year ago.

Tough ones: @ South Florida, @ Oklahoma, Texas Tech, @ Nebraska, Texas, Methzou @ Arrowhead
Losable: @ ISU (Colorado and KSU were considered here as well, but given that they're both in Lawrence, it seems like if KU has any chance of putting together another good season, those have to be sure wins.)
Predicted: 9-3

Texas Tech: And now we get to everyone's cliché pick to finally break out of their 9-3 mold. Consistently the nation's best offense is supposed to now be joined by a much improved defense, led by their beloved Coach Ruffin, who was promoted mid-season last year. Apparently, the Red Raiders led the conference in defense after his promotion (8 games). However, what these experts are failing to consider is the opponent in these games. We here at IBT will not make the same mistake. Of the 8 games played, in 3 of them they allowed a mere 7 points; the opponents were Northwestern St, Baylor and A&M. Only the latter of that list does much for me. In the other five, they played Iowa St., Colorado, Methzou, Texas and OU and gave up 17, 31, 41, 59 and 27 points, respectively. That averages out to a solid 35 ppg and the 27 given up to OU was when the Sooners were sans Sam Bradford. Call me crazy, but I'm going to have to see this defense contain a legitimate opponent or two before I put too much faith in Tech as a genuine contender. Contrarily, I'd expect Harrell and Crabtree to light up the scoreboard no matter who they're playing.

Tough ones: @ A&M, @ Kansas, Texas, @ OU
Losable: @ KSU
Predicted: 9-3

It seems to me that after these five the cliff drops off a bit. However, one can hardly be too disappointed as all five of those teams are preseason top-15. From there, I would say the other teams likely to find their way into a bowl game would be Oklahoma State, Colorado, Texas A&M and possibly Nebraska or KSU. I highly doubt ISU or Baylor does much of anything outside of their own stadiums and even then I'm guessing the home crowds won't always get to leave drunk AND happy. Sometimes, maybe neither.

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