With the 2012 college football season officially kicking off on Thursday, it's time to release the first power rankings for each conference.
Every Monday during the season (this week, it is Tuesday for the Big 12 and Pac-12) I will release league power rankings, which you can find under the College tab at the top of this page. The six BCS conferences will all have their own power rankings, while I will also rank the best of the non-BCS squads.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the Big 12 shapes up:
1. Oklahoma: Sooners head coach Bob Stoops was able to land brother Mike Stoops, the former Arizona head coach, as his new defensive coordinator this offseason. Before he coached the Wildcats, of course, Stoops served as DC at OU and helped lead the team to the 2000 national championship. His priority now is improving a secondary that was torched in 2011 as well as getting production from a defensive line that lost ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Meanwhile, quarterback Landry Jones returns, but clutch top performer Ryan Broyles is gone. However, veteran Kenny Stills, freshman and spring standout Trey Metoyer and Penn State transfer Justin Brown are valuable weapons. And Stoops said that running back Dominique Whaley looks to be at 100 percent after his season-ending injury last fall.
US PRESSWIRETavon Austin is one of the most explosive players in the country.
2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers enter their new league with an offense that embarrassed Clemson in the Orange Bowl. And quarterback Geno Smith should be even more comfortable in Year 2 of Dana Holgorsen’s offense, which features top skill-position players Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Defensively, the Mountaineers lost Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller from the defensive line as well as linebacker Najee Goode. But this unit stole the show in the team's spring game, recording three interceptions and recovering a fumble. While the Mountaineers do have to travel to Austin to play Texas, they get OU in Morgantown. Could Holgie's squad claim the league title in its first season?
3. TCU: The Horned Frogs begin play in their new league without All-America linebacker Tanner Brock and all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, who were part of the offseason drug bust that rocked the Fort Worth campus. Offensively, quarterback Casey Pachall returns along with receivers Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter. The backfield is still deep, but losing Ed Wesley hurts. Can Gary Patterson’s squad adjust to the rigors of Big 12 play after coming over from the Mountain West?
4. Kansas State: Head coach Bill Snyder did an incredible job coaxing 10 wins out of his Wildcats last fall behind a sound rush defense and the play of quarterback Collin Klein, perhaps the most unheralded dual-threat talent in the nation. He improved as a passer as the season progressed and will need to continue to do so this fall if the Wildcats want to have a shot at a BCS game. Defensively, keep an eye on transfer Nigel Malone, a cornerback who will strengthen the one area of this defense that needs improvement. While K-State may not play a sexy brand of football, this team is a tough "out" every Saturday.
5. Texas: Get ready to see plenty of David Ash and Case McCoy as head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin determine if either player could be a full-time starting quarterback. One has to wonder if either one is up to the task of helping the Longhorns get back to the top of the Big 12 standings. No matter who lines up under center, though, he will have a complementary sound power rushing attack with Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray. Defensively, coordinator Manny Diaz has two potential All-Americans on his line in ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. If the 'Horns get consistent quarterback play, we could see them at the top of the conference once again because the defense should be that strong.
6. Oklahoma State: All eyes will be on the starting quarterback this fall, as true freshman Wes Lunt beat out Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh for the right to replace Brandon Weeden and keep this prolific offense moving. With Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Hubert Anyiam gone, Charlie Moore stepped up in a big way at receiver for the Pokes this spring. Coordinator Bill Young’s opportunistic defense should be improved to further help an offense that may take some bumps early. The Pokes were able to thrive because they forced turnovers last fall, but this should be a more consistent defense this fall.
7. Baylor: Baylor football was put on the national map last season with the help of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. The follow-up act will obviously be very difficult. However, new quarterback Nick Florence started in 2009 when RGIII was hurt, and he played well this past season in the win over Texas Tech. But can he play consistently well for 12 weeks? He’ll have a good receiving corps and a deep backfield to help him out. Defensively, Phil Bennett’s defense was atrocious in his first season. Then again, defense comes at a premium in the Big 12. Still, he needs to at least be able to take advantage of some of the athletes on that side of the ball to help out the offense, especially if the 'O' takes a slight step back this fall.
8. Texas Tech: Another season, another new defensive coordinator for the Red Raiders, as Art Kaufman is the team’s fourth DC in as many seasons. He’ll be running a 4-3, and it’s important that this unit complements the offense at least a little bit if Texas Tech wants to return to the postseason and get head coach Tommy Tuberville off of the hot seat. Injuries have derailed Tuberville's squad the last few years, but Tech has more returning starters than any team in the Big 12. The major question is whether the defense can stop the run.
9. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads had his contract extended a season after his Cyclones knocked Oklahoma State out of the BCS national title picture. It seems that every year Iowa State is able to deliver one signature upset. Will that be the case this fall? At quarterback, Steele Jantz beat out Jared Barnett, and it will be interesting to see how long Jantz holds onto the job under new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. Is there a deep threat on the roster to replace Darius Reynolds?
10. Kansas: Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has taken over a team that lost six games by at least 30 points last season. Quarterback Dayne Crist has his chance to be a full-time starter once again after transferring from Notre Dame, but the defense needs to drastically improve for the Jayhawks to even be able to stay competitive. Weis worked the JUCO route to get some quick fixes, but will it be enough to keep the team out of the Big 12 cellar?
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