Today is our last Big 12 roundtable before we head to the Big East. We have talked about the most intriguing storyline in the Big 12 as well as replacing Brandon Weeden and RG3. Today we are going to discuss who has a chance to take the Big 12 crown. This week our panel includes our usual gang from College Football Zealots (myself, Jay and Ross) and we are joined by Jay Beck of the great Big 12 site Turfburner.
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QUESTION: Which team is most likely to challenge Oklahoma for the conference championship?
Jay: Call me crazy, but I think West Virginia has what it takes to make a run at the Big 12 title. I know they lose a lot on defense, but it's not like the Big 12 is known for it's defense. The name of the game there is scoring, and WVU is primed to deliver that in spades with a wealth of returning star power on that side of the ball in year two of Dana Holgorsen's system, which already proved to be successful in the conference during his tenure at Oklahoma State (and continued to be so after he left). And while I don't know if you'll ever be able to consider their Big 12 schedule "ideal" due to the mileage they'll rack up visiting their conference neighbors, the Mountaineers were dealt a pretty nice hand for their initial conference slate.
This season, they'll play only 4 away games in conference, against Texas (a tough trip, but they may be mediocre again), Texas Tech (mediocre at best), Oklahoma State (may be good but definitely not nearly as great as they were last season), and Iowa State (it's Iowa State). In fact, 4 of their last 6 games will be played at Mountaineer Field, and they'll close out the season with a double dip from the bottom of the Big 12 barrel against the aforementioned Iowa State and...Kansas. And did I mention they get Oklahoma at home? All the pieces are in place for WVU to have a big debut season.
Jay Beck (Turfburner): Boy, this is tough. I'm going to go out on limb in some people's mind and say Texas. Are they back? I don't know, but they're close. Their defense has a chance to be the best in the Big 12, and very well could be one of the better units in the country. They have talent all over the place and considering they will be working under Manny Diaz for the second straight season, they'll know what they're doing instead of learning new schemes for the first time.
On offense, their O-line continues to improve and they should have one of the better running back tandems in the league to fall back on. If they can't get anything - and it's a big if at this point - from the quarterback position, they have a chance to look like the Longhorns we all were used to seeing before they hit the skids the last two seasons.
Ross: West Virginia. They return 8 starters on offense and 7 starters on defense. That continuity on offense could be devastating; just look at how unstoppable that offense looked at the end of the season in the Orange Bowl. The more comfortable those guys get in Holgorsen's offense, the more dangerous they're going to be. It doesn't hurt that they're entering a conference not exactly known for its defensive prowess, either.
West Virginia also got a largely favorable schedule: they get five conference home games, play Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma at home, and end the season with Iowa State and Kansas. It's difficult to win big in your first year in a league (gameplanning for eight totally new opponents is an incredible hassle, to say nothing of the logistics of traveling to four brand-new cities), but things do seem to set up well for West Virginia to have an excellent shot at taking down the Sooners.
Kevin: There is a certain team here that people are overlooking because they aren't a big name school. They came in second place in the Big 12 last year going 7-2 in the conference last year losing only to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (by seven points) in-conference. If this team would have beaten Oklahoma State they would have represented the Big 12 in the BCS. This team was also ranked eighth in the country prior to bowl season. Who is it? It's Kansas State. If OU falters, I think Kansas State is the most likely team to take their spot. Phil Steele has them tied for eighth in the country in returning starters (nine on offense and seven on defense and both specialists). Most importantly, the Wildcats have Colin Klein returning and he has the guts to win them a Big 12 Championship.
Come back on this weekend as we kick-start our Big East roundtables with a couple special guests.
ACC- Is this FSU's year?