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Early Look at the Big 12 South

6-24-09

What most people expect is a duel between Oklahoma, who won the Big 12 title and played for the national title, and Texas, which pinned the only regular season defeat on the Sooners and felt they got cheated out of a conference title game appearance. Who will win this race and why?

Let's look at the numbers:

BetUS Sportsbook Odds

To Win Big 12 South Division

Baylor +1500

Oklahoma +150

Oklahoma State +600

Texas Even

Texas A&M +2000

Texas Tech +850

TEXAS (Even money at BetUS) has Colt McCoy coming back, and that is obviously big news. McCoy was accorded first-team All-America recognition from the Football Writers Association, ahead of such luminaries as Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow. McCoy completed 76.7% of his passes last season, and was also a running threat, gaining 561 yards. He had to be effective on the ground, because he wasn't working with the best running game. This will be the principal challenge in the '09 season - getting someone to come to the forefront as a go-to back. Otherwise, McCoy is well covered on offense. He has one of the best offensive tackles in the country, Adam Ulatowski, to protect him, and Jordan Shipley, who made some All-America teams last season, is once again the main pass catcher. He's also got comrades who can fill in the holes when need be. I wouldn't worry too much about personnel losses on the defensive line (Brian Orakpo among them). This year's star is Sergio Kindle, a quick pass rusher-type. Very few teams will be able to put a better secondary on the field. The Longhorns will be difficult on opposing quarterbacks. Remember that this is the team that beat Oklahoma last year, and they've lost just twelve lettermen. They've got a chip on their shoulder remaining from being left out of the Big 12 title game, which gives them rights to the "team on a mission" label.

OKLAHOMA (+150 at BetUS) was sometimes vulnerable on the defensive side, and that situation is going to be addressed this season, with nine of the starters from that unit returning. In fact, it will be neck-and-neck between them and Texas as to who the top stop unit in the Big 12 is. Gerald McCoy anchors things from his defensive tackle position, and he should be in the discussion when All-America teams are announced. The group of linebackers is among the best in the conference, and the secondary yielded just 6.7 yards per pass last season with 19 interceptions, though that is where they must replace their all-conference safety tandem. The Sooners are going to have a load of weapons. Aside from Sam Bradford, the returning Heisman Trophy winner (67.9%, 4720 yards, 50 TD's), there are not one, but two 1000-yard rushers in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, and the top tight end in the country, Jermaine Gresham (14 TD catches last year). The big question mark is the offensive line, a major strength in '08, but now missing four of last season's starters. That could be the chink in the armor.

The most important person in the OKLAHOMA STATE (+600 at BetUS) NCAA football program this season might be new defensive coordinator Bill Young, an alumnus of the university who is in his third tour of duty with OSU, and also served at Kansas and Miami. Young gets six starters back from a team that gave up 28 points a game last season, and that is sometimes going to happen when you play in a pass-happy conference like the Big 12 and you register only 15 sacks in 13 games. If that number improves, the Cowboys will have a chance to outscore more opponents, because they have a "triplet" duo that rivals anything in the nation, between QB Zac Robinson (65%, 25 TD's), RB Kendall Hunter (1555 rushing yards) and WR Dez Bryant (87 catches, 1480 yards). They'll be able to score on land and through the air, from anywhere on the field. Can they prevent it? If they can, and perhaps steal a home win against Texas, they can sneak into the title game.

TEXAS TECH (+850 at BetUS) has major people to replace, namely quarterback Graham Harrell (45 TD's, 9 INT's, 5111 yards) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (97 catches, 1165 yards). Seven starters have departed that offense, but in Mike Leach's system, re-tooling may not be as hard as one might figure. Taylor Potts is the logical replacement at quarterback, although Leach was not thrilled with his performance in the spring game. They will find receivers, albeit no one with the overall ability of Crabtree. With Baron Batch (758 rushing yards) returning to the fold, one has to wonder whether Leach will elect to run the ball a little more. The defensive line is a strength on this team, so the Red Raiders should do a very capable job of controlling opposing ground games. However, there is a good chance they'll be starting two freshman safeties, and in the Big 12, that is going to make it very hard for them to contend.

BAYLOR (+1500 at BetUS) lost the most decorated player in its program in quite some time. Left tackle Jason Smith was an All-America who was taken second overall in the NFL Draft, and he leaves a hole that will be filled by Danny Watkins, who didn't start playing organized football until 2007. Aside from that, though, this will be an experienced offensive team. Robert Griffin is a different kind of quarterback than others in the Big 12, having the ability to affect a game with his passing (60%, 15 TD's, 3 INT's) or his running (843 yards, 13 TD's). The Bears will go as far as he takes them on offense. Coach Art Briles also gets nine starters back on defense, and those returnees include one of the best in the Big 12, middle linebacker Joe Pawelek. The secondary is experienced and should allow Baylor to hold its own with everyone but the conference's best. This is a team capable of pulling off an upset or two, and although it won't catapult them to the division title, it could place Baylor in contention for a bowl game.

TEXAS A&M (+2000 at BetUS) had to weather a rough first year under coach Mike Sherman, who didn't know how to use fullback Jorvorskie Lane and broke in Jerrod Johnson (21 TD's, 10 INT's) at the quarterback spot. Everyone except running back Mike Goodson is back on offense, but the Aggies must figure out a way to improve on defense, where they allowed 64% completions, 5.2 yards a rushing attempt and 37.4 points per game last season.

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