Missouri (9-2)(6-2) The road for the Big XII North title runs through Columbia this year. Behind QB Brad Smith, we see an offense whose athleticism is matched only by OU and Texas. But don't think that this team begins and ends with the offense. An All-Conference loaded defensive line provides the defense with a good back bone and will be crucial in this teams run. The only two road bumps for this team come in the middle of the season with trips to Texas on the 16th of October and then Nebraska on the 30th. The team gets a break this year as the off-setting schedule has them missing a meeting with Oklahoma until a possible Big XII Title matchup. Look for Brad Smith to have a season that Heisman voters drool over, and don't be surprised if he takes home the hardware at the end of the year.
Kansas State (9-2)(6-2) Kansas State's season really rests on how well the team can adjust to the loss of #3. We all saw what happened last year then Roberson was out of the line up against Marshall. But when you have a running back like Darren Sproles, the only thing you really need is a QB who can protect the football. Sproles should be on his way to another spectacular season and this time more than likely a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club. The big stretch of the season begins with Oklahoma at home on October 16th. After this, KSU gets Nebraska and Texas Tech at home, followed by Missouri and Colorado on the road. Another potential trap for the Wildcats is the trip to Kyle Field on October 2nd. This team has the potential to repeat as North champs, but look for them to have a tough time getting through the last half of the season.
Nebraska (8-3)(5-3) Probably the most difficult thing to grasp this college football year will be the philosophy change at Nebraska. Behind new head coach Bill Callahan, the nation's most prolific option attack will take it to the air. This year as the offense makes its adjustment, the Black Shirts will have to carry the load, and behind senior linebacker Barrett Ruud, they should be up to the task. The biggest game of the year will come on Oct. 23rd, when the Huskers travel to Manhattan to face the 'Cats. If they come away with this game, they could ride the wave all the way into an upset of OU in Norman. But don't look for that to happen as the Huskers will fall early in the conference schedule on the road against Texas Tech.
Colorado (4-7)(2-6) With all the off-season turmoil in Boulder, one forgets that Gary Barnett still has a football team to prepare. Though Colorado was once a front runner in the North, this year will see more of the skid we saw last year. Look for the Buffs to give a lot of teams some trouble, as they could play spoiler to a few teams. However, with a schedule consisting of 9 bowl teams, this seems highly unlikely. If the Buffs start to add some playmakers on offense to support junior quarterback Joel Klatt, this offense could once again start playing like the Colorado of the early 90's. The defense is led by strong safety J.J. Bingsley, who is one of the surest tacklers in the Big XII.
Iowa State (3-8)(1-7) After a 2-10 season last year, things do not look any better for the Cyclones. Their schedule turns in their favor as they miss out on Oklahoma and Texas and finish up with three of the final five games at home and a trip to Baylor. However, I see the Bears giving them more trouble than people expect, and I expect to see ISU drop this game. The only conference win I see for the 'Clones is October 30 against the Jayhawks at home. The brightest spot on offense seems to be offensive tackle Aaron Brant. The sophomore showed bright spots last year and should grow to be a huge blocker for Iowa State. This will be another rebuilding year for the Cyclones as they try to make it back to the bowls.
Kansas (2-9)(0-8) Don't look for any bowl repeat from the Jayhawks. After losing QB Bill Whittemore, the Hawks are left with a huge hole in their offense. A lot hinges on how well sophomore Adam Barmann can step up. If he can get the ball to this potentially stunning receiving corps, the Hawks could light it up once again. Another soft spot for Kansas is their defensive line. Though the back seven have a lot of experience, they will need to step up big to help out this weak line. Things will just get harder for the Jayhawks after the non-conference schedule. After facing a tough Toledo Rockets team at home, they travel to Northwestern, and after that it will be all downhill for Rock Chalk Jayhawk. There are a few conference games that could go KU's way, like Nov. 6th against Colorado, who barely got past the Jayhawks last year. But I see KU as this year's winless team in conference play.
Oklahoma (11-0)(8-0) All is still well in Norman, and why shouldn't it be? You return Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and receiver Michael Clayton, as well as most of one of the best defenses in the nation, and you should expect nothing less than the National Title. This has become the norm in Norman. The team has bought into Bob Stoops' philosophy and so have the fans, and anything less than perfection is unsatisfactory. The only teams standing in OU's way are UT, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. The annual trip to the Cotton Bowl has become routine for Stoops and Co., and Bedlam can always be a trap, but the only real threat to OU's undefeated season is the trip to Kansas State. Sproles and friends put an end to what seemed like an unstoppable force, so look for Stoops to exact a little revenge.
Texas Tech (9-2)(6-2) For the Red Raiders, we find ourselves asking the same question as we did last year: can a fifth year senior step on the field and lead the top rated offense in the nation? This year senior Sonny Cumbie takes hold of the reigns of the Raiders fast-paced offense and has to do so with an untested group of receivers. The only WR with real game experience is Nehemiah Glover, but he is backed up by sophomore Jarrett Hicks and former Texas recruit Marquis Johnson. Texas Tech has arguably the nation's toughest October, opening with a trip to Norman against the Sooners, followed by Nebraska and Texas at home, and then a trip to Kansas State. This will be the vital point in the season; if they can get out of October 2-2, they should be able to handle the last three games of the year.
Texas (9-2)(6-2) The Red River Shootout. For the last four years, it has been the beginning and the end for the Longhorns season. This year look for it once again to be the end as Oklahoma seems to be too powerful for Mack Brown to handle. This isn't the only tough test for the boys from Austin; a week two trip to Fayetteville to face old SWC rival Arkansas could also be a trap game. So could an Oct. 23rd game against Texas Tech in Lubbock, as they lost there in 2002 and needed a late fourth quarter drive to win last year in Austin. Gone this year are the talks of who should start at QB, as Vince Young is firmly in place as the starter. The season really rests on the legs of Cedric Benson, who should live up to his potential this year and put up 1500+ yards. Texas fans should be counting their lucky starts since he didn't make the jump to the NFL.
Oklahoma State (6-5)(4-4) The Cowboys are left with a lot of holes to fill on offense. Gone are superstars Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell, as well as quarterback Josh Fields. This leaves Coach Miles with unproven QB Donovan Woods and an experienced secondary to carry the team. They open up the season with a tough trip to UCLA and should be shocked if they come away with a win. The only sure wins in conference for Oklahoma State are Iowa State, Colorado, and Baylor. Texas A&M will be a hard test, and Texas Tech has dominated the Cowboys in Lubbock. This is a team that could finish anywhere from 8 wins to 5; look for the result to be a bit closer to 5.
Texas A&M (4-7)(3-5) There has been a lot of off-season activity with the Aggies, and not all of it has been good. With several players having run-ins with the law and leaving the team for other reasons, it seems that it will take a lot for Head Coach Dennis Franchione to right the ship. A&M will be relying a lot on JUCO transfers and true freshman to help get them back to winning. A tough early schedule will not help things out much as they have to travel to Utah and face Clemson at home. Running back Courtney Lewis is one of the most talented backs in the game; combine him with wideout Terrance Murphy and a healthy Reggie McNeal, and you have an offense that could put up some numbers. The key game in the year is November 13th when they host Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lit up the Aggies for 59 points last year, and since this game is positioned between two sure losses in Oklahoma and Texas, it is a must win for the Aggies.
Baylor (3-8)(1-7) Though it seems Guy Morris is making strides with the Baylor program, I don't see them building much off of last year. The gap in talent from most Big XII teams is just too wide for the Bears to overcome. The only part of the offense that has any upside is the experience of the offensive line, but an experienced offensive line that isn't very good doesn't count for anything. The defense will still be typical Baylor and will get scored upon at will by the rest of the Big XII.
2004 Preseason All-Big XII Team
The Best of the Conference
Best Team - OU - There is no explanation needed on why OU is the best team. You return Heisman winner Jason White, along with WR Mark Clayton, and a defense that returns starters such as Lance Mitchell; and you'll be hard pressed to find a team to compete.
Best Coach - Bob Stoops - The man who all other Big XII coaches fear to face, especially sophomore Coach Dennis Franchione. Stoops has by far been the dominant coach in the Big XII. His team is always motivated and rarely caught unprepared.
Best Player - Brad Smith (Mizzou) - Showed last year with his win over Nebraska that he can command his team under pressure. He also showed his ability to dominate with 295 yards rushing against Texas Tech in their contest last fall. Could be a true Heisman threat if he is able to lead Mizzou out of the Big XII North and into the title game.
Best Stadium - Owen Field - With one of the loudest environments I've ever been in, the newest renovations to the stadium place it at the top of the Big XII. Fans come early and stay late, which makes for great tailgating. If you can get past the excessive trash talking after your team gets beat, then this is a great stadium.
Best Game - Red River Shootout (OU vs. Texas) - The game always decides the Big XII South division champion and also always has national implications. These two things combined makes the meeting in the Cotton Bowl that much more exciting.
Best Fans - Nebraska - Very knowledgeable, friendly, and have a long tradition of winning. The fans of Nebraska are passionate about their football, so much so that the Sea of Red is at the top of the list.
Best Tradition - Texas A&M - The 12th Man, Midnight Yell, Maroon Out....all these things combine to make one of the greatest college game day experiences. Any school that can organize 30,000+ to show up at midnight the morning of the game wins hands down in the tradition department.
Best Bet to Underachieve - Oklahoma State - After losing Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell to the NFL, and Josh Fields to the MLB, there are just too many questions left unanswered for people to be ranking Oklahoma State.
Best Bet to Overachieve - Texas Tech - The only team to never have a losing record since the beginning of the Big XII, Tech is positioning itself to threaten for the Big XII South division title. With a handful of JUCO's ready to step up on both sides of the ball, the Red Raiders could surprise a few people.
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