Wednesday, August 30, 2006

2006 Cheap Seats MFP: Big XII South


Well, if Tech, A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State want to upset the Big 12 South's pecking order, this is probably going to be their best shot at it. Texas and Oklahoma both have serious questions at QB, even though both are surrounded by great talent, and both appear very vulnerable. However, Texas and Oklahoma both have great talent on defense and that may make the difference.

The Skinny: Last year, Baylor was one victory short of a bowl game. They went 4-1 in their first 5 games, the one loss was in overtime to Texas A&M at Kyle Field. Then they lost their next 5, including a double overtime loss to OU, back to back shut outs at the hands of Texas Tech and Texas. This year, they lose 7 of 11 starters from the defense, which was adequate at best. Granted, they catch a break in that they face both Kansas teams, but the rest of the schedule is brutal: Non-conference games against TCU and Washington State, and bad road trips at Texas Tech, Texas, and Colorado in conference. They will probably drop a tad from last year.

Easy W's: Northwestern State
Close, but probably a win: Army, Kansas, Kansas State
Close, but probably a loss: at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
Definite L's: TCU, Washington State*, at Colorado, Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, at Texas
* - at Qwest Field, Seattle

Position Ratings
QB: B- - Shawn Bell has been the starter for the past 3 years, which a lot of programs in the Big 12 can't say this year.
RB: B- - Paul Mosley and Brandon Whittaker combined for 1100 yards last year, and both return.
WR: C - Outside of Dominque Zeigler, there's not a whole lot of depth
TE: D - Their starter is a former QB who switched to the position in the spring
OL: B - This unit gave up fewer sacks last year than they did 2 years ago, and 6 of the 8 starters are back

(Note: Baylor runs a 4-2-5 defense. There's a free safety that plays in the defensive backfield, the other 2 safeties can play either near the line of scrimmage or deep, so we're calling them both rovers for convenience sake.)
DL: D - Less than 2 sacks per game last year.
LB: D - Nick Moore only had 23 tackles and Antonio Jones is a redshirt freshman that wasn't highly recruited
CB: C+ - Both corners are back, C.J. Wilson had 5 picks last year
ROV: D - One rover's a lightly regarded JUCO transfer, the other has only 22 tackles and no TFLs.
FS: D - The two deep is a sophomore and a redshirt freshman

Kicking Game: B - P Daniel Sepulveda is an A+, K Ryan Havens is a C-, when you average the two, you get a B.
Return Game: C+ - Replacing Willie Andrews is tough, but the coverage teams are decent

What the Baylor must do to win:
1. Score more on offense - The offense can help the defense out by putting together drives and keeping the defense off the field
2. Get pressure on the QB - Sacks are at a premium with this group
3. Play loose - They're not expected to do much, so they don't have anything to lose.

Projection: Another year, same old Bad News Bears. 4-8 overall, 2-6 conference

Oklahoma State
The Skinny: Last year, this team was not in synch, but they did manage an upset of Texas Tech, gave Texas all they could handle for a half, and they got 3 not-so-easy victories against a I-AA team and a couple of Sun Belt teams.

Easy W's: Missouri State, FAU, at Kansas
Close, but probably a win: Arkansas St*, Baylor
Close, but probably a loss: at Houston, at Kansas State,
Definite L's: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, at Texas, at Texas Tech.
* - at Little Rock, Arkansas

Position Ratings
QB: D - Bobby Reid suffered a foot injury midway through, watched Al Pena lead the team to an upset against Texas Tech, and struggled when he returned from injury.
RB: B- - Mike Hamilton had 991 yards as a redshirt freshman last year.
WR: B+ - D'Juan Woods heads a talented group, it just depends on if Bobby Reid can get them the football.
TE: D - Largely a group of blockers. Brandon Pettigrew struggled as a reciever.
OL: C- - Corey Hilliard may be an NFL prospect, but the rest of the line isn't

DL: D - Dead last in the Big 12 in rushing yards and yards/carry given up.
LB: D- - It all hinges on if Air Force transfer MLB Marcus Brown can be a solid tackler. Which is hard to do without decent defensive tackles.
CB: F - The secondary was dead last in the Big 12 in interceptions...
S: D- - ... and near the bottom in passing yards given up

Kicking Game: C+ - Bruce Redden and Jason Ricks are both long, but not necessary accurate.
Return Game: C- - Has the potential to be dangerous, but then again, it depends on how well they block.

What the Cowboys must do to win:
1. It's all on Bobby Reid - He has the players around him, he just needs to produce.
2. More turnovers needed - Last year's turnover margin: -15
3. Play well on defense - They were horrible in several key statistical categories and can only get better.

Projection: It's hard to trust a team who's two deep is filled with sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and freshmen just out of high school. 5-7 overall, 2-6 in conference

Texas Tech
The Skinny: There's reason for optimism in Red Raider Nation. For the first time, the team has a quarterback with next-level talent starting in Graham Harrell, and he has Jarrett Hicks, Joel Filani, and Robert Johnson to throw to. Coupled with Texas and Oklahoma having quarterback issues and graduation losses, and Tech's second place finish last year in the Big 12 South, Red Raider fans may think this is their year

To borrow a phrase from Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."

Objectively, no one's really sure what to make of the defense, which moves All-Big 12 DE Kenyuta Dawson, who had great speed, but not DE size, to outside linebacker, moves OLB/MLB Fletcher Sessions back to the outside now that MLB Brock Stratton is back from injury, gets Seth Nitchmann back from injury also, and has to replace 3 defensive backs.

Also, they have a much tougher non-conference schedule with roadies to UTEP and TCU. Plus, Mike Leach has a bad habit of dropping conference games he should win, usually on the road, as evidenced by last year's loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. There's a couple of those road games against Colorado and Iowa State. Throw in the fact that Leach is a combined 2-10 against Oklahoma and Texas, and you're looking at another 8-wins-and a bowl game season this year.

Easy W's: SMU, at TCU, SE Louisiana, Missouri, Baylor
Close, but probably a win: at UTEP, at Texas A&M, at Oklahoma St.
Close, but probably a loss: at Colorado, at Iowa St., Texas
Definite L's: at Oklahoma

(Note: Texas Tech's offense is a bit different than other spread offenses in that it employs 4 recievers. The inside receivers have passing game responsibilities similar to tight ends in a conventional offense in that they have to control the middle of the field and make first downs. So I list them as a separate position.)
Position Ratings
QB: A+ - Harrell is probably the first QB Tech has started which had "VHT" attached to his name. (For those who don't speak preseason mag, that's "very highly touted")
RB: D+ - It remains to be seen whether Shannon Woods can be a dual threat running back, which is what this offense requires. He may lose his job eventually to Kobey Lewis or Baron Batch.
WR: A - Jarrett Hicks and Robert Johnson make a tough matchup for any secondary.
IR: A - Joel Filani is also a homerun hitter who can catch consistently. Danny Amendola will also see playing time, with sophomore recruit Todd Walker and his 4.3 speed rotating in on some plays.
OL: B+ - This unit returns 4 starters and is boosted by BYU transfer Ofa Mohetau.

DL: B - Nitschmann is back, and DE McKinner Dixon will finally get a chance to show his 4.5 speed.
LB: B - Kenyuta Dawson's speed helps this unit out tremendously
CB: B- - Antonio Huffman leads this unit, but the younger players are faster than Tech CBs in previous years.
S: B - Replacing Vince Meeks and Dwayne Slay is no easy task, but Joe Garcia is athletic and Darcel McBath seems to be in that Dwayne Slay mold.

Kicking Game: B- - Alex Reyes is a solid punter, but Alex Trlica still needs to be more consistent.
Return Game: C - Shannon Woods and Danny Amendola will probably handle the return duties again this year.

What the Red Raiders must do to win
1. Find a RB who can be a dual threat - Taurean Henderson was valuable to Texas Tech's offense because he could both run with the ball and catch it out of the backfield. If Wood's isn't that type a threat, they need to go to someone else.
2. Better special teams - Yes, I said it, better special teams from Texas Tech. The field goal kickers and return teams both need to be more productive than they were last year.
3. Get more heat on the opposing QB - I realize that the sack totals from last year were disappointing, and that it was largely due to injury, but the injured players have returned and there's young talent behind the starters who are itching to prove themselves. Tech is out of excuses now.

If they can't find at least 24-30 sacks out of this group (that would be 2-2.5 per game over a 12 game season), defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich needs to be canned.

Projection: 8-4 overall, 4-4 in conference, bowl eligible

Texas A&M
(special thanks to Ryan at Texas A&M and Baseball for keeping the public informed on the Aggie depth chart. Phil Steele, Athlon, and all had different projections.)

The Skinny: Dennis Franchione is on the hotseat at A&M after going 5-6 last year, and probably rightly so since A&M fans actually give a darn about their program. Gone are Reggie McNeal and old defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. In comes Gary Darnell, John Mackovic's former defensive coordinator at Illinois and Texas, who plans on implementing a 4-2-5 system.

I hear the Longhorn fans chortling out there since none were impressed with Darnell's defensive schemes, but given that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Texas all run 3 reciever sets, and Texas Tech has 4 wideouts all the time, bringing in a DC who will roll 5 DBs as the base defense is a smart move, especially since they gave up 300 yard games to the likes of Barrick Nealy, Shawn Bell, and Allan Evridge.

Will they crack the top 2? Probably not. But they're not going 5-6 again. Their talent won't let them.

Easy W's: The Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette, Army*, Louisiana Tech, at Oklahoma St.
Close, but probably a win: at Baylor
Close, but probably a loss: Nebraska, Texas Tech, at Texas
Definite L's: Oklahoma
* - at Alamodome, San Antonio

Position Ratings
QB: B- - While Stephen McGee has the intangibles, he's not exactly as fast as Reggie McNeal, and it's hard to make any judgements about his arm strength because he only has one start and a few backup performances.
RB: A+ - I can't remember an A&M team where running back was a weakness. Courtney Lewis should be all-Big 12 if they feature him.
WR: B - Injuries plagued this unit last year, but the talent is there.
TE: A+ - Certainly, the talent is there in Martellus Bennett. If Franchione knows what's good for him, Bennett will be a feature reciever.
OL: B+ - Maybe needs to be tighter in the pass protection, but this unit does open running lanes effectively

(Note: As stated above Texas A&M is switching to a 4-2-5 defense, A&M is referring to it's 5th DB as a "Whip", I call it a Rover, but it's the same general position.)

DL: B+ - I would bump this group up a letter grade if Will Morrissey was playing, but he's left the team for personal reasons.
LB: B - Justin Warren will be flanked by JUCO transfer Misi Tupe at the moment. It may change.
CB: B+ - Certainly, this unit has speed, but A&M is starting a redshirt freshman and a sophomore. Maybe they will grow into it, maybe they won't.
ROV/SS: B+ - Japhus Brown is the new rover, if he can play a full season. Sophomore Devin Gregg moves to Strong Safety.
FS: B+ - Melvin Bullitt could be all-Big 12

Kicking Game: B - A slight drop off at K now that Todd Pegram is gone, but P Justin Brantly has a leg on him
Return Game: D- - considering the kick returns have been ranked in the triple digits the last 2 years, and the punt return only ranked 60 last year despite having fast returners, one has to wonder about the return team coaching.

What the Aggies must do to win:
1. Get ino the backfield on a regular basis - with only 4 down linemen and 2 linebackers, it's imperative that they get a good rush.
2. Grow up in a hurry, secondary - 3 of the 5 starters are sophomores or younger.
3. Many Happy Returns - As in they need to get better field position on their kick and punt returns

Projection: No one would who knows would look at you funny if you pick this team to win the South, but it just isn't going to happen. 8-4 overall, 6-2 in conference, bowl eligible

The Skinny: Forget about Rhett Bomar. OU returns 9 defensive starters, still has Adrian Peterson, still has talent to replace the departures on offense. They aren't going anywhere

Easy W's: UAB, Washington, Middle Tenn. St., at Missouri, at Baylor, Texas Tech, at Texas A&M
Close, but probably a win: Colorado, Iowa St.
Close, but probably a loss: at Oregon, Texas*
Definite L's: none
* - Cotton Bowl, Dallas Texas

Position Ratings
QB: C+ - Paul Thompson is probably keeping the seat warm for someone else, but there's a lot of talent around him.
RB: A+ - You know, that Adrian Peterson guy's pretty good. Even though he wasn't in Heisman contention, he had 1104 yards in 8 starts last year.
WR: A - In a word, fast.
TE: B - They're young, but can block and recieve
OL: C+ - We'll wait and see if the pass protection is better this year

DL: A - Bookends CJ Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux will get pressure on the QB
LB: A - Zach Latimer, Rufus Alexander, and DeMarrio Pleasant are probably one of the best linebacking trios in the country.
CB: A - D.J. Wolfe and Reggie Smith are a year older and still fast.
S: B - Position battles make this hard to predict, but all the players in the mix get a B on talent alone.

Kicking Game: B - Sophomore Garrett Hartley takes over the kicking duties
Return Game: F - averaged 18.2 yards per kick return last year and 7.4 yards per punt return (yo!)

What the Sooners must do to win:
1. Play to their talent level - This team is too good to go 8-4 again
2. Develop a passing game - The talent is there, Paul Thompson just needs to find them. Otherwise they will see a lot of 8 man fronts again.
3. Better return game - This has been an issue for Oklahoma 2 years running. Surely they have a returner in all that talent.

Projection: 10-2 overall, 7-1 conference, bowl eligible

The Skinny: Mack Brown finally took a team to a national title. Question is, was it all Vince Young or all Mack Brown. This is the year we find out.

Aside from an early loss to Ohio State, this team should be back in the BCS mix as Big 12 Champions.

Easy W's: North Texas, at Rice, SHSU, Iowa State, at Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State.
Close, but probably a win: Nebraska (twice), Oklahoma*, Texas A&M, at Texas Tech
Close, but probably a loss: Ohio State
Definite L's: none
* - Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas

Position Ratings
QB: C+ - Colt McCoy is the the starter... for now
RB: A - Jamaal Charles is the type of back that can carry this team.
WR: B - They were better than expected because of Vince, now it's their turn to make the QB look good.
TE: B- - Who will step up to replace David Thomas?
OL: A+ - 3 of the 5 starters return and the other two have the physical tools to start for an elite D-1 program.

DL: A+ - Tim Crowder, Frank Okam, and Brian Robison are NFL-bound
LB: A+ - Rashad Bobino and Robert Killibrew will lead this unit
CB: A - Young, but very talented.
S: A - Michael Griffith is the secondary's anchor

Kicking Game: B - Greg Johnson will handle both placekicking and punting duties. It remains to be seen whether he can be a consistent kicker. He certainly has a strong leg.
Return Game: A - Even with the loss of Raymonce Taylor, this return unit will be solid.

What the Longhorns must do to win:
1. No taking plays off or let ups - Texas is going to get everyone's best shot, and they need to play like it.
2. Be as aggressive as last year in the passing game - Playing conservative will do this team no good. One of the key plays from last year was Vince's long bomb to Limas Sweed at the end of the half
3. Don't get down if they lose to Ohio State - This year, it's possible to even be #1 with one loss, there's going to be time to play your way back in.

Projection: 12-1 overall, 8-0 in conference, and the Big XII Champions

Big XII North Summary
10-3Back on top in the North
Iowa State
Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe lead
4-46-6A year in transition
Kansas State
6-6Need help from WRs
3-9Dark horse? Don't believe it.
1-73-9Crashing back down to reality

Big XII Summary

Big XII South Summary
8-012-1Is Mack Brown good or lucky?
7-110-2Oklahoma's still got talent.
Texas A&M
8-4New D should help.
Texas Tech
8-4Will they play well every game?
Oklahoma State2-63-9Building for next year
Baylor2-63-9Last again

Big XII Summary

Big XII Championship Game: Texas over Nebraska
Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Crowder, Texas
Special Teams Player of the Year: Mason Crosby, Colorado
Coach of the Year: Bill Callahan, Nebraska
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