Oklahoma favored in new-look Big 12
Has no more divisions and two fewer teams this season
DALLAS -- There are no more divisions and two fewer teams. Welcome to the new-look Big 12, where one thing hasn't changed.
Oklahoma is still king.
The Sooners have won seven of the last 11 titles, including a season ago before Nebraska and Colorado left the 15-year-old conference. Now with confident quarterback Landry Jones throwing to All-America receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis fronting a solid defense, Oklahoma is an overwhelming favorite to win another Big 12 trophy and be a national championship contender.
"I think we are,'' Jones said. "At OU, we have the talent year in and year out to be at that game.''
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Coach Bob Stoops won a national title in 2000, his second season in Oklahoma. The coach is still looking for No. 2 even though the Sooners have played for the championship three more times since then.
Texas, which won the Big 12's last national title six seasons ago, is trying to recover from the humbling of its first losing season under Mack Brown. Texas A&M still has to prove it can be consistently good under Mike Sherman while Oklahoma State is loaded on offense for Mike Gundy but has to quickly grow up on defense.
Jones led the Big 12 with 4,718 yards passing and 38 touchdowns last season, when the Sooners finished 12-2 with a five-game winning streak after their two-touchdown loss at Texas A&M. The Aggies had a six-game winning streak before their Cotton Bowl loss to LSU that denied them a 10-win season.
With a round-robin conference schedule, there are no more worries about divisional tiebreakers - such as the three-way mess three seasons ago when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all were 7-1 in the South and 11-1 overall. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M had a three-way tie atop the South last year.
"At the end of the season there won't be any teams that say that a certain team from the North or a certain team from the South didn't play each other and didn't deserve to be in a conference championship game,'' Gundy said. "Ultimately at the end of the season, whoever has the best record in the conference will be the conference champion.''
Key players: LB Travis Lewis, WR Ryan Broyles, QB Landry Jones. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Oklahoma has had double-digit leads in 129 of its 160 games (81 percent) under Stoops. With RB DeMarco Murray in the NFL after setting school records for points and all-purpose yards, best candidate to take over is sophomore Roy Finch, who ran for 398 yards in eight games. Lewis has 362 career tackles, leading the team each of last three seasons.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Key players: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, S Markelle Martin. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Blackmon set a NCAA record with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown in 12 consecutive games, a still-active streak. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken was previously at Oklahoma State when coach Mike Gundy was offensive coordinator. Weeden, who played minor league baseball before getting to Stillwater, turns 28 halfway through the season.
Texas A&M Aggies
Key players: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller. Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: SMU, South Carolina and Toledo are only other FBS teams returning 1,000-yard passer, rusher (Gray) and receiver (Fuller). First time Aggies had 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in same season. Aggies last season were first Big 12 team to beat Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas in same season - and did in a span of 19 days.
Key players: WR T.J. Moe, DB Kenji Jackson, DE Jacquies Smith. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Best four-year run in school history with 40 wins, including three 10-win seasons. Two departed offensive starters were in middle of action - C Tim Barnes and QB Blaine Gabbert. Tigers allowed 16 points a game, best in Big 12 and lowest by Missouri since 1981.
Key players: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, LB Elliot Coffey. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett trying to rebuild defense that lost the top five tacklers. While going to first bowl since 1994, Baylor set 55 offensive school records - 22 team marks and 33 individual records, many by Griffin. Griffin, listed as a junior, received his undergraduate degree (political science) in December.
Key players: LB Emmanuel Acho, RB Fozzy Whittaker, S Blake Gideon. Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Only Boise State (140) and Oklahoma (134) have won more games than Texas (133) since coach Mack Brown's arrival in 1998, even with 5-7 record last season. Nine returners on defense have combined for 131 career starts. With Garrett Gilbert's struggles last season, there could be another McCoy at quarterback - sophomore Case, Colt's younger brother.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Key players: QB Seth Doege, S Cody Davis, RT Mickey Okafor. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: New defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow switching from 3-4 to 4-2-5 scheme he helped run past decade at TCU. Doege last full-time starter in 2005, as sophomore in high school before two major knee injuries and then waiting at Tech for his turn. All five starting offensive linemen return.
Kansas State Wildcats
Key players: LB Arthur Brown, DB Tysyn Hartman, QB Collin Klein. Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Couple of transfers, who happen to be brothers from Wichita, expected to make impact. RB Bryce Brown, who came from Tennessee, is younger brother of LB Arthur Brown, eligible after transferring from Miami. Since consecutive 11-win seasons (2002-03), coach Bill Snyder has won only 22 games his last four seasons, including two since coming out of a three-year retirement. Klein had two 100-yard rushing games last season.
Iowa State Cyclones
Key players: LB Jake Knott, LT Kelechi Osemele, WR Darius Darks. Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Coach Paul Rhoads was born only 10 minutes from Iowa State's stadium. Knott, team's leading tackler, broke arm two days before spring game. Osemele has started 30 consecutive games while playing 36 past three seasons.
Key players: TE Tim Biere, OL Jeremiah Hatch, LB Steven Johnson. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Jayhawks return players responsible for all their passing yardage, 84 percent of their rushing yards and 72 percent of the receiving yards last season. More players from Texas (38) than Kansas (24) on roster. Second-year coach Turner Gill could already be facing a win-or-else season.