***Baylor (4-8 overall, 3-5 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Eleven, four on offense and seven on defense.
*Impact Players: OT Jason Smith, OG Dan Gay, LB Joe Pawlek (86 tackles, 4.5 for loss), LB Nick Moore (75 tackles, 4 tackles for loss), S Dwain Crawford (55 tackles, 3 intereceptions).
*Key Incomers: QB John David Weed (6-5, 223), LB Earl Patin (6-2, 225), LB Leon Freeman (6-2, 230), OG John Jones (6-5, 285), DT Rex McDougald (6-2, 290).
*Summary: Last season Baylor couldn’t run the football, and they couldn’t stop the opposition from moving it. Head coach Guy Morriss fired five coaches after the season in hopes of bettering his football team, especially in those departments.
Morriss changed everything last season on offense and Baylor went to a spread attack. That certainly helped the passing game, as Shawn Bell threw for 2,582 yards and 19 touchdowns in nine games, and receivers Trent Shelton (802 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Dominique Ziegler (741 yards 3 touchdowns) put together two of the best seasons in school history. All three of those guys are gone.
As Baylor tries to become more balanced offensively, Kent State transfer Michael Machen appears to be the leader after spring ball to replace Bell. Senior Brandon Whitaker (41 carries, 181 yards, 1 touchdown) takes over the featured back role, and is the team’s leading returning receiver (30 catches, 192 yards, 1 touchdown). With four or five receivers on the field at one time, there is a lot of question marks at this position.
Tackle Jason Smith and guard Dan Gay are back, keeping the left side of the offensive line in tact. Joe Pawlek and Nick Moore give the Bears a couple of solid linebackers, and Dwain Crawford is a playmaker in the secondary. All four starters are back along the defensive line.
Baylor said good bye to punter Daniel Sepulveda, a two-time Ray Guy award winner.
*Key Games: Sept. 29 at Texas A&M, Oct. 6 vs. Colorado, Oct. 20 vs. Texas, Oct. 27 at Kansas State, Nov. 10 at Oklahoma.
***Oklahoma (11-3 overall, 7-1 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Fifteen, eight on offense and seven on defense.
*Impact Players: RB Allen Patrick (789 yards, 4 touchdowns), WR Malcolm Kelly (993 yards, 10 touchdowns), DT Gerald McCoy (red-shirt last season), C Jon Cooper, G Duke Robinson, CB Reggie Smith (41 tackles, 3 interceptions), DT DeMarcus Granger (20 tackles, 4 tackles for loss).
*Key Incomers: S Austin Box (6-3, 215), OT Phil Loadholt (6-9, 325), LB Mike Reed (6-3, 250), LB Travis Lewis (6-2, 220), QB Keith Nichol (6-2, 180), WR Corey Wilson (6-0, 185).
*Summary: If the quarterback play is above par, the Sooners and head coach Bob Stoops could be playing for the National Championship. The offensive line is intact from a year ago, Allen Patrick who did a nice job replacing Adrian Peterson when he was hurt is set to take over the featured back role, and the top four receivers including Malcolm Kelly return. On top of that, DeMarco Murray will really push Patrick, and could play almost anywhere.
Joey Halzle and Sam Bradford split time at quarterback during the fall. Both will enter the fall in the same capacity. Keith Nichol enrolled early, but doesn’t appear to be much of a factor.
Gerald McCoy had an impressive spring and will instantly become one of the nation’s best interior linemen. Reggie Nelson, an all-conference safety a season ago moves to cornerback. D.J. Wolfe in turn, moves from cornerback to safety.
There is some question at linebacker with the graduation of Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer, but like with losing Peterson, the Sooners should be okay here. JUCO transfer Mike Reed had a big spring game, Curtis Lofton, Lewis Baker and Demarrio Pleasant are ready for regular downs.
*Key Games: Sept. 8 vs. Miami, Oct. 6 vs. Texas, Nov. 3 vs. Texas A&M, Nov. 10 at Maryland, Nov. 24 vs. Oklahoma State.
***Oklahoma State (7-6 overall, 3-5 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Fifteen, eight on offense and seven on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Bobby Reid (2,266 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, 500 yards rushing, 5 touchdowns), WR Adarius Bowman (1,181 yards, 12 touchdowns), RB Dantrell Savage (820 yards, 8 touchdowns), RB Keith Toston (631 yards, 6 touchdowns), OG David Koenig, LB Patrick Lavine (70 tackles, 9 tackles for loss), S Donovan Woods (62 tackles, 2 interceptions), TE Brandon Pettigrew (310 yards, 4 touchdowns).
*Key Incomers: DT Tonga Tea (6-0, 310), WR Dez Bryant (6-1, 203), CB William Cole (5-11, 170), LB Jared Glover (6-4, 210), WR Damian Davis (6-5, 190).
*Summary: Oklahoma State had one of the best offenses in the country last season, and they could be even better this season. Only the Cowboys and Boise State each averaged over 200 yards on the ground and in the air per game. Bobby Reid just has to fine tune his decision making as a passer, and he could be one of the most dynamic signal-callers in the country along with Texas A&M’s Stephen McGee. Much better possibly than Missouri’s Brad Smith was. Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston are an outstanding 1-2 punch out of the backfield, and Adarius Bowman, a possible NFL first-rounder, is back as the go-to receiver. Three starters are back on the offensive line including guard David Koenig, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew will be more involved in the offense with receiver D’Juan Woods graduating.
Tim Beckman, Ohio State’s secondary coach a year ago, is asked to turnaround a sub-par defense from last season.The defensive line loses four starters, but Marque Fountain and Nate Peterson combined for 25 tackles for loss and 12 ½ sacks. JUCO transfer Tonga Tea will have to step up at defensive tackle. Linebacker Patrick Lavine returns to lead the unit.
*Key Games: Sept. 1 at Georgia, Sept. 22 vs. Texas Tech, Oct. 6 at Texas A&M, Oct. 13 at Nebraska, Nov. 3 vs. Texas, Nov. 24 at Oklahoma.
***Texas (10-3 overall, 6-2 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Twelve, six on offense and six on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Colt McCoy (2,570 yards passing, 29 touchdowns), WR Limas Sweed (801 yards, 12 touchdowns), RB Jamaal Charles (831 yards, 7 touchdowns), S Marcus Griffin (90 tackles, 3 pass breakups), LB Rashad Bobino (74 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss).
*Key Incomers: OT Tray Allen (6-5, 290), CB Curtis Brown (6-0, 175), DT Dre Jones (6-4, 305), QB John Chiles (6-1, 192), OG Michael Huey (6-5, 290), LB Keenan Robinson (6-3, 210).
*Summary: The first freshman quarterback to win 10 games in school history, Colt McCoy is fully healthy and ready to lead the Longhorns back to a National Title. It will be an uphill battle, as Texas has to replace five starters on each side of the ball and contend with a loaded Oklahoma team.
Texas is stacked at receiver led by Limas Sweed, has a solid runner in Jamaal Charles who won’t split time this year, and McCoy has added weight to take the physical pounding of the college game. Guards Justin Blalock and Kasey Studdard are gone, along with center Kyle Sendlein. Both tackles, Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski will have to anchor the line.
With safety Marcus Griffin ready to jump into the national spotlight, the secondary should be better than last season’s porous pass defense last year. Duane Akina takes over the Longhorns defense solely after Gene Chizik left to take over Iowa State’s program. Akina was the secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator before the switch, and is looking for a more attacking-style defense.
All three linebackers including Rashad Bobino are back, and the defensive line is reloaded. Tim Crowder and Brian Robinson are gone, but Aaron Lewis and Brian Orakpo are ready to step up.
*Key Games: Sept. 29 vs. Kansas State, Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 27 vs. Nebraska, Nov. 10 vs. Texas Tech, Nov. 23 at Texas A&M.
***Texas A&M (9-4 overall, 5-3 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Sixteen, nine on offense and seven on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Stephen McGee (2,295 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, 666 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns), TE Martellus Bennett (497 yards, 3 touchdowns), RB Jorvorskie Lane (725 yards, 19 touchdowns), RB Mike Goodson (847 yards, 4 touchdowns), DE Chris Harrington (59 tackles, 7.5 sacks), G Kirk Elder, C Cody Wallace.
*Key Incomers: LB Derrick Stephens (6-3, 220), TE Billy Chavis (6-5, 225), LB Von Miller (6-2, 211), DE Ben Bass (6-4, 260), WR Brandon Williams (6-4, 210), RB Bradley Stephens (5-11, 198).
*Summary: A healthy Stephen McGee has a very experienced offensive line and two talented running backs to work with, as Texas A&M tries to return to national prominence. Regularly in the shadow of rival Texas, with 16 returning starters, this could be the year the Aggies bust out.
McGee, who played through a tricep injury in his throwing arm last season is one of the most efficient passers in the country, being intercepted just twice. The dual-threat star burst on the scene two years ago against Texas, and in his first full season as the starter, led his team to nine wins and a road victory over the Longhorns. With his arm feeling fine, he will be a bigger threat in the air this season, while still chewing up yardage with his legs. A possible Heisman sleeper.
Jorvorskie Lane lives in the end zone, and the powerful back is complimented well by Mike Goodson. Everyone is back in the trenches led by guard Kirk Elder and center Cody Wallace. The only question mark is at receiver, but E.J. Shankle gives the team a homerun threat. Tight end Martellus Bennett has given up basketball to solely focus on football. He is one of the country’s best, and will most likely be McGee’s top target.
The Aggies will struggle to get to the passer, but the secondary makes up for it. Jordan Peterson and Danny Gorrer return, and are being pushed by Arkeith Brown. If Red Bryant’s knee gets better, the defensive tackle could be the difference on along the line.
Misi Tupe (54 tackles), the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, will have to be even bigger at middle linebacker.
*Key Games: Sept. 20 at Miami, Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 13 at Texas Tech, Oct. 20 at Nebraska, Nov. 3 at Oklahoma, Nov. 23 vs. Texas.
***Texas Tech (8-5 overall, 4-4 in the conference)
*Returning Starters: Nine, four on offense and five on defense.
*Impact Players: QB Graham Harrell (4,555 yards, 38 touchdowns), RB Shannon Woods (926 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns, 572 yards, 2 touchdowns), S Joe Garcia (87 tackles, 3 tackles for loss), S Darcel McBath (75 tackles, 3 interceptions), K Alex Trlica, G Louis Vasquez., WR Michael Crabtree (sat out last season).
*Key Incomers: OG Lonnie Edwards (6-5, 315), OT Jerrod Gooch (6-5, 295), DT Jonathan Hollins (6-3, 265), CB De’Shon Sanders (6-1, 200), WR Tramain Swindall (6-2, 170), WR Detron Lewis (6-0, 185).
*Summary: Graham Harrell is the first returning starter at quarterback for the Red Raiders since 2002, but unfortunately for him, his top three receivers and four offensive linemen have graduated. Harell led the Big 12 in total offense last season, and this spread attack is made to reload if he is protected.
Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola (487 yards, 5 touchdowns) give Harrell to reliable receivers to throw to. Tailback Shannon Woods hurts defenses with his legs and as a receiver out of the backfield. If the young line comes together, this offense will remain potent.
Similar to the offensive line, the entire defensive line graduated. A veteran secondary will be the unit’s strong suit, led by safeties Joe Garcia and Darcel McBath.
Kicker Alex Trlica has made an NCAA record 166 extra points in a row.
*Key Games: Sept. 22 at Oklahoma State, Oct. 13 vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 20 at Missouri, Oct. 27 vs. Colorado, Nov. 10 at Texas, Nov. 17 vs. Oklahoma.