Big 12 Preview: All about Horns, Sooners

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Ask Texas, which was 11-1 in the regular season last year and didn't even make the Big 12 championship game because of a three-way tiebreaker.

"It may work for us this year," said Longhorns coach Mack Brown, still no proponent of the tiebreaker. "We need to learn from that and move on, quit talking about the system and just go play."

When they do, they may have to win every conference game to avoid another tiebreaker.

Yes, it could be that tight again in the division that had four teams in the AP Top 10 for several weeks last season. In the Big 12 preseason media poll this year -- league coaches don't do one -- Texas and Oklahoma tied for first.

Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy, already with 32 victories, will reset the record for a Texas quarterback each time he wins another game. Oklahoma junior quarterback Sam Bradford, the Heisman winner, also returns.

Bradford, whose Sooners lost to Florida in the BCS championship game, opted for another try instead of going to the NFL early. So did tight end Jermaine Gresham and left tackle Trent Williams.

Oklahoma and Texas Tech were also 11-1 in the 2008 regular season. The Sooners made the Big 12 title game against Missouri (and won by 41 points) thanks to the fifth tiebreaker, the BCS standings. Texas was No. 3 in that final poll despite beating Missouri by 35 points and Oklahoma by 10. Tech had been 10-0 and ranked second before a 44-point loss at Oklahoma.

"I don't know how it works, man," Gresham said. "We just play football."

Oklahoma has won three consecutive Big 12 titles despite losing to Texas twice in that span.

Texas Tech has to replace quarterback Graham Harrell, who threw an NCAA-record 134 touchdowns and had two 5,000-yard seasons, and receiver Michael Crabtree, a first-round NFL pick after leaving Lubbock early.

Still, coach Mike Leach doesn't sound overly concerned about a new quarterback, junior Taylor Potts, and new receivers in his passing scheme.

"It's a yearly ritual, honestly," Leach said. "I don't feel like there's a big letdown."

Oklahoma State, whose only losses were to South Division foes ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3, returns quarterback Zac Robinson, receiver Dez Bryant (19 TDs), and Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards, 16 TDs).

"Unfortunately, we're one of the few teams that can be in the top 10 in most polls and be third in our division," coach Mike Gundy said.

A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:


NEBRASKA -- Key players: RB Roy Helu Jr. Jr.; C Jacob Hickman, Sr.; DT Ndamukong Suh, Sr.; Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Huskers tied Missouri for first in North last season, but lost head-to-head. ... Nebraska allowed 350 yards per game, a 127-yard improvement under new coach Bo Pelini.

KANSAS -- Key players: WR Dezmon Briscoe, Jr.; WR Kerry Meier, Sr.; QB Todd Reesing, Sr.; RB Jake Sharp, Sr.; S Darrell Stuckey, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Jayhawks have key offensive weapons back, but will switch from 4-3 to 4-2-5 base defense to make up for loss of all three starting linebackers. ... South opponents are Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

MISSOURI -- Key players: DL Jaron Baston, Sr., OL Kurtis Gregory, Sr.; WR Jared Perry, Sr.; RB Derrick Washington, Jr.; LB Sean Weatherspoon, Sr. Returning starters: 5 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Weatherspoon led Big 12 with 11.1 tackles a game. ... Washington was a 1,000-yard rusher, but gone are QB Chase Daniel (4,335 yards passing) and WR/KR Jeremy Maclin (102 catches, 13 TDs).

COLORADO -- Key players: WR Scotty McKnight, Jr.; LB Jeff Smart, Sr.; CB Jimmy Smith, Jr.; TB Rodney Stewart, So. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Buffs first have to determine their No. 1 quarterback -- returning starter Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, or dual-threat sophomore Tyler Hansen. ... That "10 wins and no excuses" offseason comment by coach Dan Hawkins? He says it wasn't a guarantee.

KANSAS STATE -- Key players: WR Brandon Banks, Sr.; DE Eric Childs, Sr.; QB Carson Coffman, Jr.; TE Jeron Mastrud, Sr.; CB Joshua Moore. Jr. Returning starters: 5 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Three-year starting QB Josh Freeman left early for the NFL, but Bill Snyder is out of retirement to coach in a stadium named after him. Ron Prince was 17-20, but Snyder finished with two losing seasons after winning the Big 12 championship in 2003.

IOWA STATE -- Key players: QB Austen Arnaud, Jr.; DL Nate Frere, Sr.; RB Alexander Robinson, Jr.; OL Reggie Stephens, Sr.. Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Coach Gene Chizik was hired by Auburn, despite having a 5-19 record and losing his last 10 games. Paul Rhoads, who was Auburn's defensive coordinator, relishes having his first head job 10 minutes from where he was born.


TEXAS -- Key players: LB Sergio Kindle, Sr.; QB Colt McCoy, Sr.; LB Roddrick Muckelroy, Sr.; WR Jordan Shipley, Sr. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: McCoy's 32 victories are two more than Vince Young, who led Texas to the 2005 national title. ... Horns allowed 343 yards a game, No. 51 for FBS teams but best in Big 12.

OKLAHOMA -- Key players: QB Sam Bradford, Jr.; CB Dominique Franks, Jr.; TE Jermaine Greshan, Sr.; DT Gerald McCoy, Jr.; RB DeMarco Murray, Jr. Returning starters: 5 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: The Sooners have to replace four starting offensive linemen. ... Also gone are a trio of receivers who had half of Bradford's 4,720 yards passing and 21 of his NCAA-best 50 TDs.

OKLAHOMA STATE -- Key players: WR Dez Bryant, Jr.; RB Kendall Hunter, Jr., OT Russell Okung, Sr.; QB Zac Robinson, Sr.; LB Andre Sexton, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Robinson already has the school record with 7,786 total yards. He needs five passing TDs to break Josh Fields' career record. ... New defensive coordinator Bill Young is an OSU grad.

BAYLOR -- Key players: RB Jay Finley, Jr.; QB Robert Griffin, So.; S Jordan Lake, Sr.; LB Joe Pawelek, Sr.; WR Kendall Wright, So. Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: Griffin threw for 2,091 yards and 15 TDs and ran for 843 yards and 13 TDs before his 19th birthday. ... Three losses were by seven points or less, including Missouri and Texas Tech.

TEXAS TECH -- Key players: OL Brandon Carter, Sr.; LB Brian Duncan, Jr.; QB Taylor Potts, Jr.; DB Jamar Wall, Sr.; DL Colby Whitlock, Jr. Returning starters: 4 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Coach Mike Leach signed a new five-year, $12.7 million contract extension after a 15-minute session with school chancellor ended months of contentious negotiations.

TEXAS A&M -- Key players: WR Jeff Fuller, So.; RB-KR Cyrus Gray, So.; QB Jerrod Johnson, Jr.; DE Von Miller, Jr.; QB/WR Ryan Tannehill, So. Returning starters: 9 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Aggies ended last season with three straight losses by a combined 98 points. ... A&M finished at bottom of Big 12 South for the first time in the league's 13 seasons.

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