The South will rise again? It doesn’t have to in the Big 12 because it’s already on top.
The South division had the conference’s two best teams, Oklahoma and Texas, and three more bowl-bound teams in 2006. They let Big 12 bettors down in bowl season, however, as those teams covered the spread in only one of their five bowl games.
Scheduling is a huge issue when sorting out the conference standings, with home games meaning so much when facing equally talented opponents. There’s no bigger game, of course, than the Red River Shootout on Oct. 6 between the Sooners and the Longhorns.
Here’s how the Big 12 South shapes up in 2007.
Oklahoma may have won the Big 12, but football fans will remember 2006 as the year the Sooners lost to Boise State in an amazing Fiesta Bowl. Head coach Bob Stoops has the weapons and the schedule to not only resurface in the national title chase, but to erase memories of last year along the way.
Miami visits on Sept. 8, but these ain’t your daddy’s Hurricanes. Following that contest, their "road game" against Tulsa will be like a home game played in a smaller stadium. The conference road schedule is decent and the Sooners are nigh unbeatable at home in Big 12 play. That leaves the Red River Shootout as the key to a BCS bowl game run.
There’s a battle in Norman for starting quarterback, but the O-line is big enough and the skill positions talented enough to put points on the board no matter who takes the snaps. A decent game manager will do. The defensive secondary is the best in the conference, but they’ll be tested regularly if the front seven can’t pressure opposing quarterbacks. The special teams in Norman are even more special than usual.
Predicted record: 11-1
The Longhorns lost their last two regular season games as heavy favorites against Kansas State and Texas A&M. The losses put an end to conference title hopes in 2006, but Mack Brown has a team that could end up on top again in 2007. Texas’ offensive and defensive units are at or near the top of the Big 12 heap.
Colt McCoy is back to lead the offense and he has perhaps the nation’s top group of receivers as targets. The line is young, however, and needs to have its act together before facing the Sooners. It’s hard to top the Horns’ front seven on defense, where there’s size, speed, experience, savvy and depth to spare. The same can’t be said of the secondary, which lost a pair of all-conference players to the NFL.
Texas has its only non-conference test early when TCU visits Austin on Sept. 8. After that, national title hopes hinge on the Oklahoma game and even if the Horns win that one, a conference title could be on the line in the season finale at College Station against Texas A&M.
Predicted record: 11-1
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The offense is balanced, the defense is getting better and confidence is rising in Stillwater. The Cowboys were an entertaining team to watch in 2006 and their Independence Bowl win over Alabama was no exception. The key for 2007 is to get tougher and “cowboy up”, as it were.
Bobby Reid is a solid two-way threat and is difficult to bring down at his playing weight of 235 pounds. Feature back Dantrell Savage is a whippet while Keith Toston combines size and speed nicely in the backfield. Receiver Adarius Bowman, a potential All-American, is the star of a potent offense.
The question for Oklahoma State is whether the defense can actually hold a conference opponent to fewer than 24 points, something they couldn’t do in eight tries in 2006. Here’s saying that a top-notch group of linebackers leads to a upset or two in Big 12 play.
Predicted record: 8-4
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies were Big 12 contenders last year, but this year’s schedule should derail any conference title hopes in College Station. Miami, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri… and that’s just the road schedule. Add a visit from the Longhorns and a seven-win season isn’t too much of a letdown after a 9-4 campaign in ‘06.
A&M won’t have a problem running the ball. Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane are a legit lightning-and-thunder combo and quarterback Stephen McGee can scramble with the best of them. The offensive line is experienced and flat-out good. The aerial game will struggle to stretch the field when asked to do so.
The Aggies allowed 31.2 points per game in 2005, then hired Gary Darnell as defensive coordinator and trimmed that number to 20.5 last year. The defense was solid against the Sooners and Horns (24 combined points in two games) but suspect against lesser lights in the Big 12. The line is solid, but A&M doesn’t recruit national defensive talent like the conference’s top schools.
Predicted record: 7-5
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Lubbock likes a winner and that’s what the town has been given during head coach Mike Leach’s entire tenure. He’s a master of the spread offense and quarterback Graham Harrell, Leach’s star pupil, returns after throwing for 4,555 yards and 38 touchdowns last year. Harrell’s top two targets graduated, but Leach has no problem stacking his team with receivers.
The problems for the Red Raiders lie outside of the passing game. Only one starter returns on each of the offensive and defensive lines. There isn’t a lot of depth in the trenches either and the same is true at linebacker. Texas Tech’s defense could grow an unhealthy dependence on its experienced secondary.
Luckily for Leach, the schedule in 2007 should allow for another winning season and yet another bowl game. The Sept. 22 visit to Oklahoma State and A&M’s trip to Lubbock on Oct. 13 should decide whether Tech finishes third, fourth or fifth in the South.
Predicted record: 7-5
Baylor won three conference games last year for the first time in Guy Morriss’ tenure as head coach. Unfortunately all three victories came against teams from the North. The Bears were 0-5 SU against their rivals in the South with an average margin of defeat of 28.8 points. The average spread in those five games was +17 points, but Baylor still managed to go 0-5 ATS.
The 2007 schedule could allow for an improvement on last year’s overall 4-8 SU record, but the Bears are likely to go winless against the South again in 2007 thanks to the player turnover on both sides of the ball.
Kent State grad Michael Machen takes over at quarterback as a 25-year old. He’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate Shawn Bell’s success from last year, especially with only one returning starter in the skill positions. The defense returns seven starters, but that might not be a good thing, given some of Baylor’s final scores in 2006.
Predicted record: 4-8