THE BIG 12 CONFERENCE
BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
Conference Champ: Oklahoma vs. Texas: Texas has won the last two meetings in the Red River Shootout, after OU took five in a row, however it was the Sooners who won the Big 12 last season and have represented the South Division in four of the last five conference championship games (wining it three times). The Big 12 South representative is 5-2 over the last seven years. Both teams lost considerable talent, but neither program rebuilds they simply reload and with the Sooners returning 14 starters and the Horns 13, neither will miss a beat. Texas must shore up a poor pass defense that lost two star players, while Oklahoma is looking for a new starter at quarterback for the third consecutive season, coupled with the brilliant year Colt McCoy had as freshman, makes the Longhorns the favorite according to most preseason prognosticators. Nebraska is the team to beat in the North, which they were last season, but I expect them to lose to the South representative, as they did last season.
The Sleeper: Kansas St.: OK, so this is a long shot, but what’s the fun in going with Missouri or Texas A &M? The Wildcats, in Ron Prince’s first season at the helm, finished 7-5, including a 45-42 upset of the Texas Longhorns, which contribute to the Horns missing the Big 12 Championship game. Returning is strong-armed signal caller Josh Freeman (6’6”/238), who is already on the radar of NFL scouts after just one season under center. If he makes a big leap as a sophomore, the Cats could be back in contention. Defensively, they are still figuring out some things, but pass rushers Ian Campbell (11.5 sacks) and Rob Jackson (8.5 sacks) should make everyone’s life easier.
Offensive Player of the Year: Colt McCoy (UT) vs. Chase Daniel (UM): A & M running back Mike Goodson is hurt by the fact he must share carries with Jorvorskie Lane, especially near the goal line. As a freshman, McCoy replacing Vince Young threw for 2570 yards and 29 TDs, while Daniel tossed 28 TDs to go along with 3527 yards in his first season as starter replacing the departed Brad Smith. Each has what it takes to lead a huddle and make the necessary plays to win ball games -- first one the Big 12 Title game takes home the award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Reggie Smith (OU) vs. Frank Okam (UT): Okam thought about leaving, but as is the tradition at UT, most players come back for their senior seasons, a decision Smith will have to make at the end of his junior year. Okam has 26 starts heading into his final campaign and with his experience, as well as an improved level of play around him, the defensive tackle is set to have his finest year to date. Mostly a run stuffer, expect Okam to make more plays this season. Over his first two years at OU, Smith has bounced back and forth between cornerback and safety, playing wherever Bob Stoops needed him most. This season he should settle in at corner, allowing him to have a big year and display his playmaking ability. He has some of the best ball skills of any defender in America and is a threat to go all the way, quickly turning from defense to offense when he gets the ball in his hands.
Breakout Seasons: Josh Freeman (K-St.), Jermichael Finley (UT), Jermaine Gresham (OU): Freeman has all the necessary skills to be a big-time quarterback with a future in the NFL. He is even bigger and stronger than he was last year and if he begins to absorb the nuances necessary to play the position at the highest of levels, the sky’s the limit. Two players that Freeman wishes he had to throw to are rival tight ends Finley of Texas and OU’s Gresham. As a redshirt freshman, Finley caught 31 balls, while Gresham hit the field as a true freshman, making only eight grabs, but for an average of 20.1 yards per reception. Finley is 6’5”/236 and Gresham 6’6”/250, they have the size, with the speed and athleticism of smaller men. Also, keep an eye on Sooner running back DeMarco Murray, who lit up spring ball.
Best Pro Prospect: Reggie Smith (OU): The Big 12 is packed with future NFL players, especially the underclassman, with depth at several positions so I’ll go with the player who best combines NFL readiness with upside and that is the Oklahoma corner. The fact he has been able to bounce between corner and safety so seamlessly is a testament to his understanding of the game. He has all the tools, size, speed and quickness. In addition, he can contribute as a return man.
College Football Insiders Picks:
Conference Champion: Oklahoma Sooners: OU has been there before and done it without a so-called star quarterback. Talent elsewhere and Bob Stoops will more than make up for the lack of experience at the QB position.
Offensive Player of the Year: Colt McCoy, Texas: If not for a late season injury, McCoy would have topped 30 TD passes last season and there is no reason why he does not take the next step as a sophomore.
Defensive Player of the Year: Reggie Smith, Oklahoma: Smith hopes this is the season he will settle in at corner and stay there, allowing him to really break out and make a name for himself. He makes the rest of the DBs better.
Check back tomorrow for Part IV: The Big Ten