Tuesday, August 29, 2006

2006 Cheap Seats MFP: Big XII North

Overview
Well, Aside from Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa State (who shocked the heck out of a lot of people last year) the Big XII North was still bad, but very competitive. There was a lot of coaching turnover in the offseason, as Bill Snyder decided to retire and Gary Barnett was finally forced out at Colorado.

No one's really in danger of getting fired this year, but while Nebraska and Iowa State will have competitive teams, no one's ready to proclaim the North Division as the Big XII South's equal. At least not yet.

Here we go, from worst to first:

Kansas
The Skinny: Kansas has actually gone to 2 bowl games since head coach Mark Mangino arrived. Last year, they went to a 7-5 record buyoed by defense that held Oklahoma to 19 points and Texas Tech to 23 on the offensive end (Tech also got a defensive TD). Both of those teams ended up winning, however, because the offense was horrible. Only twice did they get over 21 points in a Big XII game, and one of those was because Kansas hit an overtime game winning field goal to break the 21 point barrier. This year, Kansas only returns 3 starters from that defense, and the offense figures to be equally bad.

Schedule
Easy W's: Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe
Close, but probably a win: at Kansas State
Close, but probably a loss: at Toledo, South Florida, at Baylor
Definite L's: Colorado, Texas A&M, at Iowa State, Missouri, at Nebraska, at Oklahoma St.

Position Ratings
QB: D+ - The starter should be Kerry Meier, but Kansas played musical QBs all last year with Adam Barmann, so it's hard to tell.
RB: C+ - Kansas has at least settled on a starting running back: Jon Cornish, and 5 yards/carry isn't too bad.
WR: C- - I'm hard pressed to find a reciever here that can be good enough to help Meier or Barmann out.
TE: C- - Derek Fine's a blocker, that's it.
OL: C+ - David Ochoa is the unit's poster boy according to the preseason publications, but the other four must work in concert with him.

DL: B- - All the linemen have the size to stuff the run, but can they rush the passer?
LB: C- - When you lose 278 combined tackles, that's tough to replace
CB: C - Sophomore Aqib Talib got a lot of work last year while Charles Gordon was having to help the offense, but this unit was hardest hit by graduations.
S: C- - JUCO transfers must prove they can perform

Kicking Game: A-
- Scott Webb hit some clutch kicks last year, and at times was the Jayhawks' only offense. Kyle Tucker's one of the best punters and should see plenty of action with all the 3 and outs the offense will put up.
Return Game: D - Kansas needs to find a consistent returner to replace Charles Gordon

What the Jayhawks must do to win:
1. Run the ball - This will be the strongest area of Kansas's offensive game, and they need to rely on it.
2. Get consistency in the passing game - getting teams out of an 8 man front will help this team tremendously. The question is, do they have the talent?
3. Find a QB and stick with it - Kerry Meier or Adam Barmann. Settle on one. Don't keep switching.

Projection: Hard to see their offense being any better than last year. That will sink them down to the bottom of the Big 12. 3-9 overall, 1-7 in conference

Missouri
The Skinny: Gary Pinkel simply can't be trusted as a coach. Two years ago, they were supposed to contend for the North title, but an early season loss to Troy shattered their confidence, and 5 straight losses in conference cost them a bowl game. Last year, others picked Missouri as a dark horse in a weak Big 12 North, but managed only a mediocre 7-5 record and lost to New Mexico out of conference. Both of those years, Missouri had it's best QB talent ever in Brad Smith.

This year, Missouri is once again a dark horse to contend in the Big 12 North, never mind that Chase Daniels is now the starter in place of the now-graduated Smith.

To quote The Who, "We won't get fooled again."

Sure they have talent around Daniels, but Pinkel can never put that talent into a championship package, and his coaching will probably cost them a lot games that they would otherwise win. Brutal road trips to Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Nebraska won't help things.

Schedule
Easy W's: Murray St., Ohio, Kansas
Close, but probably a win: none
Close, but probably a loss: Ole Miss, at New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas State
Definite L's: at Iowa State, at Nebraska, at Texas A&M, at Texas Tech, Oklahoma

Position Ratings
QB: C+ - Daniels may have been a top 10 QB recruit, but let's see him perform.
RB: C - Marcus Woods has not been asked to carry the ball 20 times a game over the course of the season, which is what he'll have to do if he's not splitting carries with Tony Temple again this year.
WR: B - Fitting that they play for a team from the "Show Me State", because this recieving corps need to show people that there's a 1,000 yard reciever in the bunch. The talent is there, though
TE: B- - Martin Rucker is the team's leading returning reciever with only 567 yards recieving.
OL: C - Sure, they can run block, but can they protect Daniels?

DL: B+ - Could be one of the best defensive lines, but it's a wait and see process.
LB: C - nice players in Dedrick Harringtion and Marcus Bacon, but not a whole lot of depth
CB: C- - Lost both starters, and nickel and dime corners are very green.
S: C- - David Overstreet led the team in tackles last year. It's great to see that he can tackle, but you don't want your safties to be at the top of the tackling board.

Kicking Game: C - Adam Crossett has the leg, but needs to work on his accuracy
Return Game: F - This unit was averaging 19.6 kickoff yards per return, and they need to improve

What the Tigers must do to win:
1. Receivers have to catch the ball and make plays - Missouri's receivers have speed, but they weren't called upon to get open and help the QB out when Brad Smith could run out of trouble. If it's third and long and the blitz is on, will they give Daniels an open target?
2. Pinkel must get out of the way of his talent - The head coach is prone to folding in big games and dropping games he shouldn't.
3. Improve on defense - The preview magazines say this defense has potential. Prove it.

Projection: Don't believe the hype. 3-9 overall, 1-7 in conference

Kansas State
The Skinny: Yes, Bill Snyder is gone, but his legacy remains in the non-conference schedule he gave new head coach Ron Prince. Prince wasted no time in following Snyder's old formula of loading up on JUCO talent, and Kansas State should have a decent first season under their new head coach

Schedule
Easy W's: Illinois St., FAU, Oklahoma St.
Close, but probably a win: Marshall, at Colorado, at Missouri
Close, but probably a loss: at Kansas, at Baylor
Definite L's: Louisville, Texas, Iowa St., Nebraska

Position Ratings
QB: C- - Allan Evridge will probably hold down the fort until Josh Freeman is ready.
RB: B+ - Thomas Clayton will be one of the Big XII's best feature backs.
WR: B - all 3 recievers average 14 or more yards per catch
TE: B+ - Rashaad Norwood doesn't get the ball thrown his way much, but he does make plays when he gets it.
OL: C - If this unit gels, it could be top-notch. If it doesn't, look out.

DL: C- - Need to get a better pass rush on the quarterback
LB: A - Brandon Archer will be all-Big 12 and the rest of the linebackers will follow his lead
CB: C - Lacking in experience, but they will be helped by Kansas State mixing in more "Tampa 2" coverages
S: B - They will have the talent to help the corners, but will it be enough?

Kicking Game: D - Jeff Snodgrass has a strong leg, but is only 10 of 16 on field goals. ouch.
Return Game: B - Yamon Figurs could be one of the conference's best returners.

What the Wildcats must do to win:
1. Get a consistent pass rush - The line needs to do better than 1.9 sacks per game.
2. Get turnovers - K-State only had 8 picks last year and a turnover margin of -6
3. Hand the ball to Thomas Clayton - Clayton averaged 4.6 yards/carry last year and K-State needs to feature him more.

Projection: 6-6 overall, 3-5 in conference, bowl eligible.

Colorado
The Skinny: The past is the past. Former Boise State coach Dan Hawkins brings his high powered offense out of the WAC and into the Big 12. It takes at least a year to transition to a spread offense from a pro style one, but Colorado will be fun to watch this year while they make the transition.

Schedule
Easy W's: Montana St., Baylor, Kansas
Close, but probably a win: Arizona St., Texas Tech, at Missouri
Close, but probably a loss: Colorado St.*, Iowa St., Kansas St., at Nebraska
Definite L's: at Georgia, at Oklahoma
* - at Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver

Position Ratings
QB: C - Well, James Cox won the starting job by a razor thin margin, but he'll probably thrive in Hawkins' pass-happy system
RB: A - Hugh Charles was a consistent runner and should provide balance immediately
WR: B - Blake Mackey and Dusty Sprague could put up huge numbers.
TE: D - A dropoff from Joel Klopfenstein's performance from last year, but the TE may get phased out of the offense anyway.
OL: A- - Led by Mark Fenton, this unit could be one of the best in the Big 12

DL: C- - Needs to develop a consistent pass rush
LB: B+ - still one of the best overall units in the Big 12
CB: B - The talent is there with the starters, and they're both experienced
S: B+ - J.J. Billingsley is the leader of the secondary

Kicking Game: A+ - Mason Crosby returns for one more year.
Return Game: F - they can't do any worse than 18.2 yards/kickoff return, can they?

What the Buffaloes must do to win:
1. Learn quickly - Hawkins' offense isn't rocket science, but it does take some time to get the hang of it.
2. Don't drop passes - offenses like this depend on high-percentage, catchable passes to set up other passes downfield.
3. Figure out more uses for Hugh Charles - If Hawkins isn't going to give Charles 25 carries a game, he needs to find other ways for him to get the football.

Projection: A lot of flash, and a lot of growing pains. 6-6 overall, 4-4 in conference, bowl eligible

Iowa State
The Skinny: Iowa State has improved every year the last three years. Two years ago, they were bowl eligible and came within a field goal of making the Big XII title game. Last year, they pulled off an upset of Iowa and beat Texas A&M and Colorado on the way to another bowl game. This year, 10 of the 11 offensive starters are back, including all 5 skill positions and quarterback Bret Meyer. The defense, however, is young and must improve in a hurry, but scoring your way to a bowl is not uncommon in this conference.

Schedule
Easy W's: Toledo, UNLV, Northern Iowa, Kansas, at Kansas St, Missouri
Close, but probably a win: Texas Tech, at Colorado
Close, but probably a loss: at Oklahoma, Nebraska
Definite L's: at Iowa, at Texas

Position Ratings
QB: A+ - Bret Meyer has 2 years experience under his belt and is one of the leading returning passers
RB: C+ - Stevie Hicks was hurt by his offensive line last year
WR: A - Todd Blythe and Austin Flynn have a chemistry with Meyer
TE: B - The tight ends are decent when the ball is thrown their way
OL: B - The offensive line should be better after giving up 39 sacks last year

DL: B - Hey, when you've got a defensive tackle nicknamed "Big Play", don't expect the unit to give up many rushing yards.
LB: B - The talent is there, time will tell if they perform
CB: C+ - DeAndre Jackson is preseason All-Big XII, but it's a question of depth.
S: C- - lots and lots of inexperience all throughout the 2 deep

Kicking Game: C - If Bret Culberson can improve on his 20-26 FG performance, it would help. They are also breaking in a freshman punter.
Return Game: B - Jackson will handle kickoff return duties as well, Ryan Baum will be the primary punt returner

What the Cyclones must do to win:
1. Get better play from the offensive line - Better rushing numbers and lower sack numbers on offense will mean more wins.
2. Get turnovers - last year, Iowa State had a +14 turnover margin. A repeat performance in this category would build the defense's confidence.
3. Cut down on the miscues - While people expect young players to miss coverage assignments and make mistakes, this defense has to be rock solid from day 1.

Projection: Look for Iowa State to continue it's upward momentum. 8-4 overall, 5-3 conference, and bowl eligible.

Nebraska
The Skinny: Big Red Nation hasn't exactly handled the transition to a pro-style offense well. What they refused to see because they hated Callahan so much was that recruits are starting to come to Nebraska again to play football because it's still a name program and now, unlike the last 3 years under Frank Solich, it has an offense that will help get top recruits to the pros.

The time is right for Nebraska to make a comeback.

Schedule
Easy W's: Louisiana Tech, Nicholls St., Troy
Close, but probably a win: Colorado, at Iowa State, at Texas A&M
Close, but probably a loss: Texas (twice)
Definite L's: at USC

Position Ratings
QB: A-* - Zac Taylor should have a breakout year.
RB: A - Top 10 recruit Marlon Lucky takes over the starting running back position
WR: A - The best WR unit in the North
TE: B - Matt Herian returns from injury to bolster this unit
OL: B- - Struggled last year, but should be better this year.

DL: A+ - The defensive ends both had double-digit tackles for loss.
LB: A - The backups could start at other Big 12 programs. Oh, and the 3 starters are pretty good too.
CB: A - Both CB starters have the size and speed that NFL scouts are looking for...
S: A - ...as do both safety starters.

Kicking Game: A - Jordan Congdon was 2nd Team Big XII last year.
Return Game: A - Look for defensive standouts Tierre Green and Corntey Grixby to have great years.

* - This is not taking into account Sam Keller, who recently transferred from Arizona State. He'll probably have to sit out this year.

What the Huskers must do to win:
1. Better offensive line play - The sack numbers should improve now that this unit had a year to gel.
2. Turnovers are key - While the -2 turnover differential has more to do with the offensive mistakes, the defense does need to get more picks and fumble recoveries
3. Get Lucky - No matter what the offense, you still have to get good play from the running back position, and Marlon Lucky has the ability if he can just get some blocking up front.

Projection: If Nebraska fan is still complaining about Callahan after this year, then there's no help for them. Nebraska will retake the North. 10-3 overall , 7-1 in conference, Big 12 North champions.


All Big-XII First Team
Pos.PlayerSchoolPos.PlayerSchool

QB

Bret Meyer
Iowa St.

DL

Tim Crowder
Texas

RB

Adrian PetersonOklahoma

DL

Frank Okam
Texas

RB

Jamaal Charles
Texas

DL

DeMarcus Granger
Oklahoma

TE

Matt Herian
Nebraska

DL

Adam Carriker
Nebraska

WR

Jarrett HicksTexas Tech

OLB

Robert Killibrew
Texas

WR

Todd Blythe
Iowa St.

MLB

Zach Latimer
Oklahoma

WR

Billy Pittman
Texas

MLB

Corey McKeon
Nebraska

OL

Justin Blalock
Texas

OLB

Rufus AlexanderOklahoma

OL

Brian Daniels
Colorado

CB

D.J Wolfe
Oklahoma

OL

Mark FentonColorado

S

Tierre Green
Nebraska

OL

Justin BlalockTexas

S

Michael Griffin
Texas

OL

Corey Hilliard
OSU

CB

Tarell Brown
Texas

K

Mason Crosby
Texas A&M

P

Daniel SepulvedaBaylor

Ret

Terrence Wheatley
Colorado

Ret

DeAndre Jackson
Iowa St.
All-Big XII Second Team
Pos.PlayerSchoolPos.PlayerSchool

QB

Graham Harrell
Texas Tech

DL

C.J. Ah You
Oklahoma

RB

Thomas Clayton
Kansas St.

DL

Brent Curvey
Iowa State

RB

Courtney Lewis
Texas A&M

DL

Red Bryant
Texas A&M

TE

Martellus Bennett
Texas A&M

DL

Brian Robison
Texas

WR

Joel Filani
Texas Tech
OLBBo Ruud
Nebraska

WR

D'Juan Woods
OSU
MLBJustin Warren
Texas A&M

WR

Malcolm Kelly
Oklahoma

MLB

Jordon Dizon
Colorado

OL

Chris Messner
Oklahoma

OLB

Brandon Archer
Kansas St.

OL

Kirk Elder
Texas A&M

CB

Reggie Smith
Oklahoma

OL

Lyle Sendlein
Texas

S

Melvin Bullitt
Texas A&M

OL

Manuel RamirezTexas Tech

S

Jason Carter
Oklahoma

OL

Gabe Hall
Texas Tech

CB

Antonio Huffman
Texas Tech

K

Jordan Congdon
Nebraska

P

Alex ReyesTexas Tech

Ret

Cortney Grixby
Nebraska

Ret

Aaron Ross
Texas


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