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August 2, 2006

Who is the best in the Big 12?

Fresh off the Big 12 conference media days and just a day prior to Oklahoma's opening of two-a-days it seemed that the only thing that could be ranked is the Big 12 itself. From top to bottom regardless of division it was time to take a look at just what the Big 12 would be dishing out this year. Can the Texas Longhorns repeat, or will the Sooners continue their odd-even schedule of Big 12 titles after winning in 2000, 2002, and 2004? And just where does the Big 12 North's top team rank among the previously dominant Big 12 South? Can this be the year that the Nebraska Cornhuskers again become the team that everyone grew up seeing as 'the game of the season'? SoonerScoop.com associate editor Josh Mccuistion breaks down the Big 12 in the first edition of his Big 12 Power Poll.
1. Texas Longhorns
Analysis: Replacing Vince Young is no small matter and with a pair of freshmen like Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead the task is made even more daunting. However with a running back like Jamaal Charles (pictured) , talented wide receivers, and an experienced offensive line the quarterbacks will have plenty of help. The defense lost some talented players but with players like Frank Okam and Michael Griffin returning the Horns are at no shortage of elite difference makers. In a tight race with Oklahoma, the Longhorns are picked if for no no other]reason than 'to be the best, you've got to beat the best'. Off a national title Texas is best until proven otherwise.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
Analysis: Much like Texas the Sooners one question is a big one, and it's also probably the difference between a national title contending team and a team hoping to slide into a January bowl game. For the Sooners it's a question of experienced offensive linemen. Of course a team with players like Adrian Peterson (pictured) always has a chance to win and if Rhett Bomar can continue to make strides as he did while winning the Holiday Bowl MVP the Sooners could be rather]dynamic on offense. Meanwhile defensively, the Sooners have a chance to be among the best of many great Bob Stoops' defenses.
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Analysis: Like many teams in the Big 12 this year the Red Raiders are working on a replacement at the game's glamour position. However unlike most teams, the Red Raiders feel that with a little time their quarterback could be an improvement that is just the type of talent that some in Lubbock feel Graham Harrell is. With talented targets like Joel Filani and Jarrett Hicks it will make Harrell's growth that much easier. Defensively the Red Raiders made strides last year and with the majority of their front seven returning, including emerging star McKinner Dixon the growth could continue so long as the secondary –which returns one starter- sorts itself out.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Analysis:One of the few schools in the conference returning their starting quarterback, and Zac Taylor is almost undeniably one of the chief]reasons some are expecting the Huskers to make a return to the top 25 and possibly even higher in 2006. While there is some re-tooling being done on the offense, the Huskers figure to have one of the conference's most dominant defenses with All-American candidates Adam Carriker and Zackary Bowman at defensive end and cornerback, respectively. The potential trio of linebackers between Steve Octavien, Stewart Bradley, and Corey McKeon could be the conference's best.
5. Iowa State Cyclones
Analysis: There are few teams in the conference with the combined mixture of talent and experienced like the Cyclones version of the triplets. Quarterback Bret Meyer is going into his third year as a starter and Todd Blythe is one of the nation's most underrated players, meanwhile Stevie Hicks gives head coach Dan McCarney a powerful back to make sure and win the battle of possession. This year's defense will pale in comparison to the talent and experience of last year's squad but with a star cornerback like DeAndre Jackson there are blocks to build on.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Analysis: Aside from the loss o f four-year starter Reggie McNeal the Aggies return nearly their entire offense in 2006. However last year Stephen McGee showed flashes of living up to the potential he showed during his illustrious high school career at Burnet, Texas. Yemi Babalola and Martellus Bennett are a pair of the Big 12's best sophomores and with running back Courtney Lewis and receiver Chad Schroeder the Aggies have a chance for a high scoring offense. The questions will remain until Gary Darnell can prove he has righted a defense that has been atrocious in recent years.
7. Colorado Buffaloes
Analysis: So there has been a massive amount of turnover for one of only two Big 12 schools to see a change at the head coaching position. The Buffaloes must also replace a three-year starter at quarterback but do return speedy playmakers like Stephone Robinson(pictured) and running back Hugh Charles that new head coach Dan Hawkins seems to have big plans to use. Defensively the scheme will be similar to what was run last season and with a pair of talented linebackers in Jordon Dizon and Thaddaeus Washington the Buffs have a solid core to build on.
8. Baylor Bears
Analysis: Honestly history may have placed the Bears here as much as anything, it's just hard to make one's self place Baylor any higher. But there is no question that Guy Morriss has the team on the right track and the Bears are very legitimate bowl contenders in 2006, a sentence that hasn't been uttered in roughly a decade. Offensively there may not be a more powerful back in the conference than 6-foot-3, 235-pound Paul Mosley and for three years Dominique Zeigler has failed to earn the recognition he deserves as a play-making wide receiver. Defensively the Bears have experience, even in spite of losing seven starters in 2005.
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Analysis: There may not be a more naturally talented quarterback in the conference than Cowboys sophomore Bobby Reid but as of yet the run-pass threat hasn't done much more than look nice in spring practice. If things can come together]for him the Cowboys could be a]real surprise in the Big 12. His maturation will be helped by three returning offensive lineman, running back Mike Hamilton, and wide receiver D'Juan Woods . Defensively the Cowboys have talent in their front seven but as always have questions in the secondary but the entire defense will need a big step]forward if the Cowboys are to reach their goals.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Analysis: In spite of the return of former starter Adam Barmann the Jayhawks are handing the reins over to freshman Kerry Meier, younger brother]of Kansas State starter Dylan. If you're looking for a running back that could surprise some people look no farther]than Kansas' Jon Cornish who rushed for nearly 800 yard splitting time as a junior. Rather]quietly last year the Jayhawks had one of the conference's elite defenses but lost a pair of All-Americans and returns just three starters. The maturation of those young defenders could determine if the Jayhawks take a step]back or continue to establish themselves in the Big 12.
11. Missouri Tigers
Analysis: One of the most dynamic, if not enigmatic, players in Big 12 history has moved on but some feel that Brad Smith was never properly used and Gary Pinkel's offense may be more suited for this year's starter, Chase Daniel. They say a young quarterback has no greater]friend]than a good tight end and in Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman Daniel has a pair of them. Defensively the Tigers return their entire front four but behind them only have one starter returning, with a league hell bent on tossing the ball, the secondary could be a]real problem.
12. Kansas State Wildcats
Analysis: The second of two teams to enter the season under new leadership Kansas State is not only changing it's ideals off the field but on it as well. No one is quite sure how the quarterback situation will play itself out but the Wildcats have three players with experience and former Rivals100 quarterback Josh Freeman as well. The return of Yamon Figurs and Jordy Nelson gives the Wildcats a talented corps of receivers. The Wildcats bring some experience back defensively but are still not as fast as they'd like to be and may struggle against some of the league's elite teams.

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