Other than that, I still like Texas over Oklahoma by a smidge — although the lack of a tight end or quick improvement from the Sooners’ offensive line could cause those to change.
1. Texas: The Longhorns have long memories about what happened last season when the BCS standings kept them out of the Big 12 title game. If a running game can be cobbled together and Will Muschamp can work his magic on the defensive front, the Longhorns might not have to worry about polls this season.
2. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has built the nation’s quietest dynasty with an unprecedented three straight Big 12 championships. He’s got a good shot at four straight if his young offensive line jells and that pesky recent problem at the Cotton Bowl with Texas can be taken care of.
3. Oklahoma State: No team in the conference is as balanced and explosive as the Cowboys, but the defense is another story. If veteran coordinator Bill Young can coax enough improvement from the defense, the Cowboys might shock their way to their first Big 12 title and BCS bowl game.
4. Nebraska: Last year’s late finish has Cornhusker fans believing the magic is back with Bo Pelini. But breaking in a new quarterback and trying to find some deep receiving threats will keep the Cornhuskers from dreaming about a Big 12 title — at least for this season.
5. Kansas: The Jayhawks are loaded offensively and have enough defense to arguably make this Mark Mangino’s best team. The only problem, however, is that a tough cross-division schedule will make Kansas play Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. It might be enough to keep the best North team from playing in the championship game.
6. Texas Tech: Why is Mike Leach smiling so much these days? It’s not just his new contract. The Red Raiders have an underrated defense and Leach doesn’t think the loss of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be as grievous as most outside the program believe. The Red Raiders are rebuilding, but Leach likes his new players.
7. Missouri: The Tigers are breaking in new coordinators and looking for replacements for Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin and Ziggy Hood. Gary Pinkel’s recruiting has improved — typified by new quarterback Blaine Gabbert — but there are likely too many holes to think about a third straight trip to the Big 12 title game.
8. Baylor: Could this finally be the team to break the bowl drought? Art Briles is starting to get the pieces in place — starting with Griffin at quarterback. But the schedule is unforgiving in the South Division and the Bears could be a little thin in the trenches to think about bowling just yet.
9. Colorado: Whether Dan Hawkins said his team would win 10 games or not isn’t the point. The fact is that a deep collection of running backs, an improving offensive line, an underrated defense and the North Division’s most favorable schedule could make the Buffaloes a surprise challenger. But there are still many questions — starting with the quarterbacks on hand and the lack of a proven deep threat.
10. Texas A&M: Expectations are lower for the Aggies than any time in recent memory. These Aggies bear little resemblance to the consistent winners of the early Big 12 era, particularly on defense. Jerrod Johnson gives Mike Sherman a playmaker to start building his offense around, but winning in the South with this group might be an impossible task.
11. Kansas State: Speaking of reclamation projects, Bill Snyder might have stepped into a big one as he tries to return the Wildcats to their earlier dominance of his previous coaching tenure. It will be a long trek back as Snyder settles on a quarterback and tries to improve a porous defense.
12. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads knows the culture at Iowa State after growing up near Ames and previously working as an ISU assistant. He has quarterback Austen Arnaud back to run a retooled high-tempo offense. But Rhoads will face a monumental rebuilding job as he tries to stem a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak.