By Marc Lawrence
Much like the shrink-wrap used by food packagers these days, the BIG 12 shrank to 10 teams for the 2011 season with the defections of Colorado (PAC 10) and Nebraska (BIG 10) to new conferences.
And with it the new BIG 10/12 takes on a whole new persona. No more of the South beating the North like a drum (156-113, 58% win percentage). Instead the redesigned loop with play a round-robin of games against one another for the first time since they were recognized as the ‘Sure We Cheat’ (SWC) league in the 1970’s.
Seldom found is a team that played in the BCS title game one year, one who went 25-2 the previous two seasons, only to fall flat on its face and go 5-7 the next year (meet Texas). As a result the Longhorns never had a chance to add to the BIG 12’s shoddy 24-37 ATS mark in bowl games since 2003, including a deplorable 9-17 SU and 5-21 ATS mark against .750 or greater foes. The main culprit in the BIG12’s recent bowl demise is simple. It’s the age-old Indian disease that affects most lousy teams – lack-a-defense.
We could go on and talk of the firepower of which Oklahoma and Oklahoma State look to possess the season, but until either team decides to pledge its efforts on the defensive front they will remain nothing more than wait-and-see commodities in our eyes.
In closing consider this noteworthy insight, if you will: the last time a Mack Brown team suffered a losing season under his rein (1989 North Carolina), his club bounced back to go 6-4-1 SU and 7-1-1 ATS the following season, including 6-0-1 ATS in conference play and 5-0 ATS at home. No shrinkage there.
That’s a wrap.
Note: Team writeups excerpted from the 2011 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.
BAYLOR - *8 / 5 TEAM THEME: FIRE POWER Despite a 0-4 SU and ATS conclusion to 2010, the Bears enjoyed their first winning season since 1995, ending 16-years of bowl hibernation in the process. The offensive fireworks were provided by the return of QB Robert Griffin III and in a preview of things to come, RGIII and two back-up QB’s threw for 587 yards and four TD’s to 17 different receivers in the spring game. “Across the board our depth is the best it’s ever been,” gushed HC Art Briles. If new DC Phil Bennett, a former head coach at SMU, can tighten the screws on a unit that has regressed each of the last two seasons, then these Bears can be much more than average in 2011. Stat You Will Like: Well-balanced offense had four more pass attempts than rushing carries last season. PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Texas (10/22)
IOWA STATE - 6 / 7 TEAM THEME: ROUGH RHOADS AHEAD After tasting success in his first year on the Ames sidelines, Cyclones HC Paul Rhoads run at a second straight bowl game hit a dead end thanks to a season-ending three-game losing skein. 2011 presents a bigger challenge with the graduation of three-year starting QB Austen Arnaud (although his numbers actually regressed each year). In addition, Rhoads must also replace leading rusher Alexander Robinson and ISU’s top two receivers from a year ago. Making matters worse, the Cyclones are forced to take on 10 teams with winning records last season, along with a Texas squad eager for revenge. 2011 for ISU should be the ‘Rhoad’ not taken. Stat You Will Like: Rhoads is 0-9 SU and 2-7 ATS vs. .750 or greater opponents. PLAY AGAINST: vs. Texas (10/1) - *KEY
KANSAS - *7 / 8 TEAM THEME: MAJOR WEIGHT LOSS The world was right when the Jayhawks were recognized as legitimate heavyweights (sic) under Mark Mangino in 2007. A 12-1 campaign had them ranked No. 3 in the BCS poll at season’s end. However, it’s been a steady decline ever since. Last year’s anorexic three-win effort under new coach Turner Gill left fans hungry. In fact, that opening loss to N. Dakota State fit Gill’s M.O. to a tee as it typified his penchant for slow starts (5-13 in September with Buffalo). It looks like another lean season in Lawrence as an unsettled QB spot will square off against nine bowlers. Especially if Gill can’t improve both an offense and defense that dropped significantly. Stat You Will Like: Turner Gill is 0-5 SU and ATS in games when his team is playing with rest. PLAY AGAINST: vs. Texas Tech (10/1)
KANSAS STATE – 6 / 7 TEAM THEME: BROWNS’ TOWN Bill Snyder’s buzzword this spring was discipline. “They (the defense) understand that they stink,” said veteran head coach Bill Snyder. “We want to become a more disciplined football team. We want to become strong finishers.” He was thrilled, however, at the performance of LB Arthur Brown, a Miami transfer, this spring. “I’ve never seen a guy with that kind of freakish athletic ability,” said CB David Garrett. “He would have been the best player in the Big 12 last year.” Bryce Brown, the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in 2009, joins brother Arthur in Lawrence after leaving Tennessee. With 24 seniors and 32 juniors dotting the roster, no one appreciates the value of experience better than Snyder. Stat You Will Like: The Wildcats have gone bowling 13 of the last 16 years under Snyder. PLAY AGAINST: at Texas (11/19)
MISSOURI - *9 / 8 TEAM THEME: SHOW ME Despite the losses of QB Blaine Gabbert and DE Aldon Smith to the first round of the NFL draft, HC Gary Pinkel remains confident about his team’s chances in 2011. “We have a lot of experienced players, although the quarterback spot is tough to fill. But we have a chance to be a good team. Our players are very driven,” contends Pinkel. The Columbia Cats will have to show us before they get our support as we have a phobia about backing teams that improved both their SU and ATS mark while their yardage numbers declined on both sides of the ball. Nonetheless, 40 wins in four years, plus a school-record sixth straight bowl game has the Tigers in a positive frame of mind. Stat You Will Like: The Tigers return 25 lettermen on offense who collectively have totaled 198 starts. PLAY AGAINST: vs. Iowa State (10/15)
OKLAHOMA - *8 / 8 TEAM THEME: THE REASON GOD MADE OKLAHOMA Around these parts – and with apologies to David Frizell and Shelly West - it appears that Bob Stoops is the reason God made Oklahoma. With a 72-2 record at Owen Field, including 36 wins in a row by an average margin of 32 PPG and 14 straight wins versus ranked opponents, Stoops is revered in Sooner land. Especially today after snapping a filthy 0-5 SU and ATS skid in BCS bowl games. QB Landry Jones, the Sammy Baugh award winner as the top signal caller in the land last year, and WR Ryan Broyles, return to Norman to form a lethal combination. ‘Big Game’ Bob figures to once again be front and center in the national championship picture. Stat You Will Like: The Sooners have been ranked No. 1 in the BCS polls a total of 20 weeks, tops in the nation. PLAY ON: vs. Missouri (9/24)
OKLAHOMA STATE - *9 / 7 TEAM THEME: BIG GUNS Despite an offensive line that owned a combined 11 career starts, the Cowboys managed 11 wins for the first time in school history last year. They also went undefeated on the road, and won a game in Austin, both for the first since 1944. The scary news is that same line, which helped account for 520 yards of total offense, returns intact in 2011. In fact, only 19 lettermen depart, including just five seniors and 12 scholarship players. New OC Todd Monken will have plenty of firepower at his disposal, led by 27-year old SR QB Brandon Weeden, No. 4 among current signals callers in career passing efficiency, and 2010 Biletnikoff award-winner, WR Justin Blackmon. Stat You Will Like: HC Mike Gundy was 12-15 in his first 27 games with the Cowboys. He’s 35-14 since. PLAY AGAINST: at Texas A&M (9/24) - *KEY A&M off loss
TEXAS - *5 / 7 TEAM THEME: DO THE MATH Mack Brown knows why the ‘Horns failed last season. “In the five games that we won, we were plus 3 in turnovers. In the seven games we lost, we were minus 12,” said Brown. “So we can be a lot better than last year if we’ll knock a few balls loose and protect the ball. I mean being ranked 116 in this situation is ridiculous.” Also absurd is the fact that is cost the school $1,032,300 per win based on University paid compensation to Brown. The numbers don’t jive, hence five new assistants, including OC Bryan Harsin (Boise State) are on board. With nine straight 10-win seasons snapped in a big way, the 2011 Longhorns are the epitome of a MISSION TEAM. Stat You Will Like: The Longhorns are 21-8 vs. Top 15 opposition, and that’s with a 1-5 mark last season. PLAY ON: at Ucla (9/17) - *KEY
TEXAS A&M - *10 / 8 TEAM THEME: LOCKED AND LOADED In WWII the Sherman Tank was a superior, iconic weapon used against much lighter Japanese tanks with weaker armor and guns. The Sherman’s superiority was overwhelming. So too were Mike Sherman’s Aggies last year following the insertion of QB Ryan Tannehill when they closed out the 2010 regular-season campaign with six straight wins and covers. The sharpshooter is back this season along with 17 other returning starters, including RB Cyrus Gray and all six of Tannehill’s top receiving targets. Meanwhile, a well-fortified defense, featuring the entire secondary, is also back in place. These 60-returning lettermen Aggies look lethal. Stat You Will Like: The Aggies are 1-5 SU and 0-5-1 ATS with rest under Sherman. PLAY AGAINST: at Oklahoma (11/5)
TEXAS TECH – 7 / 7 TEAM THEME: ADDITIONAL BULLETS The common perception is that scoring points and piling up yardage has not been much of a problem around these parts over the last few years. However, a quick scan of our 4-Year Statistical Review shows the Red Raiders offensive output in steady decline each of the last three seasons. With that, Tommy Tuberville will be adding a new wrinkle – the pistol – to his offense in 2011. The onus will fall on QB Seth Doege (317 yards, 4 TD’s in the spring game), who replaces Taylor Potts as the main catalyst on offense. The bigger makeover, however, comes on defense as Tech switches to a new 4-2-5 alignment in hopes of improving a stop-unit that slipped 105 YPG in 2010. Stat You Will Like: The Red Raiders have had only one losing season in conference play since 1991. PLAY ON: vs. Iowa State (10/29) Be sure to check back here next Monday, July 4th for Marc’s 2011 CONFERENCE USA Football Preview!