On Tuesday, we gave you the lowdown on what to watch in the off-season in the SEC. We're switching gears to the Big 12 today, where Texas is looking to get back on top and West Virginia and TCU are preparing for life in an upper-tier league.
10. To expand or not to expand?
We are talking about the off-season, and what would that be without your annual conference expansion rumors?
Currently sitting at 10 teams, the Big 12 seems to want to go back to the future and grow to a 12-team league. Actually finding two suitable candidates remains challenging. If the rumors of interest from a few ACC schools are true, the shot-callers would undoubtedly jump. But that's major "if."
9. Another year, another defense at Texas Tech.
Tommy Tuberville changes defensive coordinators like Lady Gaga changes outfits. First, Nick Saban disciple James Willis bounced after one year, albeit for reasons seemingly unrelated to performance. Chad Glasgow, a branch from the Gary Patterson tree, and his 4-2-5 scheme lasted one terrible season in Lubbock. Next up: Art Kaufman, who served as Tuberville's defensive architect at Ole Miss in the 1990s.
Kaufman will seek to install a more traditional 4-3 base set at Tech. Whatever he does, he'll need to improve upon the Big 12's second-worst scoring defense, which gave up 39.3 points per game last year.
8. Is Crist Kansas' savior?
Dayne Crist and Charlie Weis seem like they're made for each other, don't they?
Weis recruited Crist to ND in 208. Neither, of course, lived up to billing in South Bend. Both have come to Kansas seeking redemption.
(Sounds like a movie script – something like Resurrecting the Jayhawks. Or maybe Jayhawks: Resurrection. See what I mean? Works on multiple levels.)
Crist gives Weis a solid stopgap for his first year, a season in which the new coach will be trying to implement an entirely new system primarily with Turner Gill's players. The graduate transfer needs a big year to potentially get a shot in the big leagues. In the eight months leading up to the 2012 season, both have plenty of work ahead of them.
7. TCU, West Virginia get ready for the grind.
You could argue that from a football standpoint, the Big 12 might have upgraded in trading Missouri and Texas A&M for TCU and West Virginia. The Horned Frogs and Mountaineers have both had strong runs over the last decade-ish. They've certainly accomplished more during that stretch than the Aggies and Tigers.
What remains to be seen is whether or not TCU and WVU were really Mizzou and A&M in lesser leagues' clothes. The weekly grind that the newcomers will face in the Big 12 will definitely prove more taxing than what they've seen in the Mountain West and Big East. Preparing for a whole new set of conference opponents will be important for Gary Patterson and Dana Holgorsen in the off-season. Figuring out how to develop the depth to compete on a weekly basis represents an entirely different challenge.
6. Landry Jones prepares for his farewell tour.
When the Oklahoma Sooners' three-year starting quarterback announced he was returning for another spin around the Big 12's dance floor, OU became the betting favorite to win the league. Whatever your opinion of the 'Stache may be, it's tough to argue with a 29-8 career record and a conference title as a starter.
One of the biggest knocks on Jones during the last two years has been his body language and leadership. Jones doesn't have a bad attitude by any stretch, but it wouldn't kill him to take charge more in the huddle and on the sidelines. That starts with accepting a more active role in summer workouts. How he handles this off-season could go a long way to solidifying a spot near the top of the 2013 NFL draft.
5. Kansas State tries to perfect its passing game.
Wily Kansas State coach Bill Snyder used smoke and mirrors to help get the Wildcats to double-digit wins and a spot in the Cotton Bowl last season. It was a magical run – emphasis on "run."
K-State averaged 47 rushing attempts per game last season, most in the conference. Meanwhile the Wildcats threw the ball just 22 times per game. It was part of a strategy designed to control the ball and capitalize on opponents' mistakes, and it paid off.
For KSU to take the next step, or simply replicate last year's success, Snyder will have to be less predictable and figure out a way to get better production through the air.
4. Needin' a new Weeden.
After winning their first ever conference title last season, 2012 looks like a rebuilding year for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Job No. 1 for Mike Gundy will be replacing 43-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden, who's off to the NFL.
Clint Chelf, who'll be a junior in the fall, ran second-string behind Weeden last season. He'll likely compete into the fall for the starting job with J.W. Walsh, a touted recruit who redshirted in 2011.
Needless to say, whoever wins the job will have his work cut out for him following Weeden.
3. Mike Stoops, Part II: Godfather or Ghostbusters?
Back in 2003, schools around the country coveted mike stoops for his defensive acumen. Stoops left his gig as the Oklahoma Sooners' defensive coordinator for Arizona, where he proceeded to pump out a whole slew of defenses that... weren't all that great.
OU fans remember Mike as the guru who oversaw some truly elite units under the watchful eye of his brother Bob. Truth be told, though, his lack of success out in the desert does raise some questions about whether he still has it. Not to mention, the Big 12 Mike left in 2003 doesn't exist anymore. High-flying spread offenses now dominate the league.
Bottom line: A reprisal of the early 2000s in Norman is no sure thing.
2. Baylor looks to build on 2011.
I don't claim to be a Baylor football historian, but I can't imagine the Bears have had many seasons that can match last year. Heismans, double-digit victories and bowl wins don't exactly grow on trees around Waco.
Now, reality sets in, as the explosive offensive triumvirate of Robert Griffin III, Terrance Ganaway and Kendall Wright have left to pursue fame and fortune in the big leagues.
No one can realistically expect Baylor to match its success from a year ago. The key for Art Briles and Co. will be not sliding too far back.
1. Does David Ash have what it takes?
After seven seasons of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, quarterback play constitutes Reason No. 1 behind Texas' precipitous decline in the last two seasons. After giving up on Garrett Gilbert and Case McCoy, head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin have now put their eggs in the basket of true freshman David Ash, almost by default.
Ash showed glimpses of being a decent QB last year. More often than not, he just looked confused.
Texas has re-tooled across the board. Coordinator Manny Diaz's D is loaded, the running game will feature three strong backs and the receiving corps will have some weapons. Ash could be the difference between another pre-New Year's Day bowl game and gunning for an appearance in the national championship game. He needs to take some huge strides forward between now and September to make that happen.
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