Just as the Big East experienced turnover in the latest round of conference realignment, the Big 12 had its own near-death experience — again — from conference shuffling that resulted in a mixture of departures and arrivals. Missouri and Texas A&M are out; TCU and West Virginia are in.
What does it all mean? Well, seeing the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers on the Big 12 schedule is going to be an adjustment, but there’s no denying the recent on-the-field success of the conference’s newest members. TCU and WVU have combined for four BCS victories in the past seven years; the Big 12 totalled five BCS wins in that same span.
The SEC has been the dominant conference as of late, but the Big 12 has some depth. Can it continue to be one of the top conferences again in 2012 (provided it doesn’t collapse for real, of course)? The answers to those questions start in spring practice.
Here’s what to watch.
Can Texas build on Holiday Bowl win?
Surprise, right? The Longhorns are, once again, at the top at the top our focus for spring practice. Texas might as well have been in diapers last season they were so young in key spots, but a Holiday Bowl win over Cal catapulted UT in to the offseason where coordinators Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz can work their magic with a year under everyone’s belt. The biggest area of focus will undoubtedly be the quarterback battle, a two-player race between David Ash and Case McCoy. Who will emerge, if anybody, won’t be known until the fall depth chart is released. Both struggled significantly at times last season. Who knows, maybe freshman Connor Brewer will impress enough that he gets a shot on Game 1.
WVU starts over on defense
The Mountaineers didn’t just lose defensive playmakers like defensive end Bruce Irvin and linebacker Najee Goode to the NFL draft — they lost one of the better defensive staffs in the country when coordinator Jeff Casteel took D-line coach Bill Kirelawich and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood with him to Arizona. Now, the Mountaineers have to start over with a new defensive scheme and (likely) co-coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest. Put that in a conference known for scoring points and WVU will have its work cut out for it. Don’t be surprised if WVU’s box scores read “Final: 45-38″ more than a few times this season.
Replacing QB-WR combos
Some of the best quarterback and receiving talent in college football came out of the Big 12 in 2011. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III put up amazing stats at Baylor, but also had deep threat Kendall Wright. Both are gone, as are Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden and two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon. At Oklahoma, Landry Jones struggled down the stretch after Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury. Can Kenny Stills be the go-to receiver for Jones this season? There’s talent in the Big 12 at quarterback and receiver. It just has to jell.
K-State no longer under the radar
Kansas State entered 2011 with fairly low expectations attached — at least in the opinion of one hack. They finished the season 10-3 with a Cotton Bowl appearance. Under the radar no longer are Bill Snyder‘s Wildcats. Tough-as-nails quarterback Collin Klein is back, as is running back John Hubert. Together, Klein and Hubert accounted for nearly all of K-State’s rushing yards and nearly half of the team’s total offense. But with K-State having everyone’s attention, the emphasis will be on diversifying the offense while maintaining a stingy defense and solid special teams. Becoming more complete in 2012 will be the key for overachieving Kansas State.
The older the Weis-er
Hiring Charlie Weis from his offensive coordinator job at Florida was an unexpected move from Kansas after they canned Turner Gill at the end of just his second season in Lawrence. Weis made an immediate splash when he brought in two transfer quarterbacks, Dayne Crist from Notre Dame and Jake Heaps from BYU. The Jayhawks were awful in 2011 with a 2-10 record and there’s nothing to suggest KU is going to blow anybody away this time around as they adjust to more NFL-friendly schemes. Nevertheless, Weis is a wild card who gets attention (although sometimes for all the wrong reasons). KU spring practices won’t be dull, that’s for sure.