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BIG 12 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW

 

 

 

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Picks

Texas and Oklahoma. Oklahoma and Texas. Though the Big 12 will have several strong teams again this season, the conference will once again be decided when these two titans clash on Oct. 8 in Dallas. The rivalry has been rather hammer-and-nail the last few years, with the Sooners taking five straight against the Longhorns by an average score of 36-13. But I believe that this is finally the year that Texas breaks through.

Colorado should once again pull through in the North Division, but it will receive stiff competition from some unlikely sources. I predict that Iowa State and Kansas will both have respectable seasons (by their modest standards) and push the Buffaloes. The wild card of the entire conference may be the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Theyíre coming off their first losing season in almost 40 years and should be back with a vengeance.

Although players like Cedric Benson and Jason White have departed, there is still plenty of star power remaining in the Big 12. Sophomore running back Adrian Peterson has to enter the season as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, but Texas QB Vincent Young and Texas A&M signal caller Reggie McNeal should give him a run for his money.

Here is how I predict the standings will look like in late December:

2005 Doc's Big Twelve Projected Standings

TEAM

Big Twelve Record

Overall Record

 

NORTH

 

Colorado

7-4

5-3

Iowa State

7-4

5-3

Nebraska

6-5

4-4

Kansas

5-5

4-4

Missouri

5-6

2-6

Kansas State

4-7

2-6

 

SOUTH

 

Texas

10-1

7-1

Oklahoma

9-2

6-2

Texas Tech

8-3

5-3

Texas A&M

8-3

5-3

Okalahoma State

5-6

2-6

Baylor

3-8

1-7



The following is Doc's detailed analysis of each Big Ten team highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and strength of schedule.
 
Texas Longhorns (10-1, 7-1).

Mack Brown shamelessly lobbied for his team to earn a BCS bid last year, and made the most of the opportunity by beating Michigan 38-37 in the first-ever meeting between the traditional powers. Brown parlayed that exciting win, and a 70-19 record at Texas over the last seven years, into a $25 million contract for the next 10 seasons. Gone are Cedric Benson (Chicago Bears) and Derrick Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs), two of the best players at their respective positions in school history. But plenty of talent, and 16 starters, remain from last yearís Rose Bowl champs. But the question remains Ė can the Longhorns beat Oklahoma? They meet in Dallas on Oct. 8 in a game that will again decide the conference championship.


Strengths: Vince Young quarterbacked the nationís seventh-ranked offense in 2004 and became the first Texas quarterback to both run and pass for over 1,000 yards. He is 17-2 as a starter, and his name is already on the short list of players gunning for the Heisman Trophy. He will have the benefit of a mammoth offensive line in front of him, anchored by All-American tackle Jonathan Scott, and playmakers in WR Limas Sweed and RB Ramonce Taylor. Defensively, they return nine starters from a unit that finished 16th in the country against the run. They have depth on the front line, and a solid secondary.


Weakness: Without Benson, the Longhorns lack a true No. 1 back. Taylor averaged an astounding 10.1 yards per carry last year, but he only had 28 touches. Selvin Young is another possibility in the backfield, but he missed all of spring practice to focus on his grades. The linebacking core is also an area of concern, simply because an animal like Johnson is nearly impossible to replace. Finally, even though it may have more talent, can Texas get past that severe mental block and beat the Sooners?

Best Bet: Nov. 5 vs. Baylor. Texas has outscored the Bears 100-14 the last two years. The number on this game will be enormous, but playing in Baylor should keep it at or below 40. Texas will be trying to impress voters late in the year. 58-7 sounds about right.


Be Wary Of: Sept. 10 at Ohio State. Texas has been a poor 11-16 ATS against non-conference foes, including 7-7 in the last three years. The Buckeyes are 10-5 in non-conference games over the last three years.

Oklahoma Sooners (9-2, 6-2)

I donít know who the 2005 Orange Bowl was worse for Ė Bob Stoops or Ashlee Simpson. Regardless, the 55-19 maiming that the Sooners endured at the hands of USC is most assuredly ancient history around Norman. Oklahoma returns only 10 starters from last yearís club, but rebuilding for them isnít that same as, say, Louisiana Tech. Jason White was denied an 11th year of eligibility, so OU will be looking for a new QB. They also lost Outland Award winner Jammal Brown (New Orleans Saints) at tackle, and saw three of their wide receivers go in the top 100 picks at the NFL draft. All in all, that is a lot to make up for. However, with Heisman runner-up Adrian Peterson back for his sophomore season things could be a lot worse.

Strengths: Itís all about Peterson this year in Norman. He electrified the nation last year as a freshman, finishing with 339 carries for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns. He did benefit from an outstanding passing game, and will see more eight-man fronts this year, but the Heisman front-runner should again have a tough offensive line to work with. Dusty Dvoracek returns from a team-imposed suspension and will anchor the Sooners defensive line. In 2003 Dvoracek has seven sacks and 16 tackles for losses.

Weakness: The secondary was highly ranked last season, but Matt Leinhart tore it shreds in the Orange Bowl. They lost three starters from that unit, and could be suspect this season. Also, there is uncertainty at quarterback. Paul Thompson, Rhett Bomar and Tommy Grady will all compete for the job this fall, and none threw over 14 passes in í04. Last year Oklahoma was ranked eighth in offense and 13th defense in the nation. They should again be solid, but I donít see them approaching either of those numbers again.

Best Bet: Sept. 3, 2005 vs. Texas Christian. TCU is one of the top teams in the Mountain West, which may hold the line below four touchdowns. The Horned Frogs have six new offensive starters, and OUís defense should have a field day.

Be Wary Of: Oct. 8, 2005 vs. Texas (at Dallas). Iím going out on a limb here and saying that I think Texas will finally top Oklahoma. And if not, they should cover against the Sooners, who should be the favorite despite a talent deficit. However, if OU is an underdog, take the points and run (Sooners are 8-3 as a dog under Stoops).


Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-3, 5-3)

Mike Leach insists that not just any quarterback can step in and put up huge numbers in his pass-happy attack. The numbers say otherwise. Texas Tech has dominated in its three straight bowl wins, with three different signal callers completing 72 percent of their passes for 1,392 yards. This year, it looks like its Cody Hodgesí turn to pad his stats. Tech finished 8-4 last year, and returns 17 starters from that club. With a weak non-conference schedule and both Texas A&M and Oklahoma at home, Tech should be able to meet or exceed that win total.

Strengths: Last year the Raiders led the nation with 399.7 passing yards per game. That was 66 yards higher than the next closest team. While Hodges is a bit green, Jarrett Hicks gives him an All-American caliber wide receiver to throw darts at. They return three starters along the defensive line, which should help their defense improve from its 46th national ranking. 

Weakness: Running back Taurean Henderson has some academic issues to deal with, needing 12 summer credits to maintain his eligibility. Without him and his 16 touchdowns, first-year starter Hodges will be asked to do even more. Also, the Raiders were 77th against the run, yielding 176 yards per outing. 

Best Bet: Nov. 5, 2005 vs. Texas A&M. If the Aggies live up to expectations, they should roll into this game with one loss after facing a much tougher schedule. That would lead to a favorable line for Tech, which should shred A&Mís weak secondary.


Be Wary Of: Oct. 22, 2004 at Texas. This is the only game they play off turf all season, and theyíre 9-11 ATS on grass under Leach. This game also pits pretty much the same two teams that met last year when Tech got ripped 51-21 at home.

Texas A&M Aggies (8-3, 5-3)

The wheels came right off of a very promising season after an inexcusable 35-34 loss at Baylor last season. The Aggies never recovered, losing three of their following four games and getting hammered by Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. But hopefully lessons were learned, and that brutal finish has A&M hungry this season. With multidimensional quarterback Reggie McNeal leading the show, this could be the surprise team out of the Big 12.

Strengths: McNeal generated 68 percent of the Aggies offense and is a Heisman sleeper. He piloted the nationís 20th best offense (428 yards per game) and should build on his 3,509 total yards and 22 touchdowns. Texas A&M also returns four of its five starting offensive lineman from Ď04. Defensively, safety Jaxson Appel is one of the best in the county. They return eight starters on what should be an improved defense, to go with nine returnees on offense.

Weakness: Turnover differential was something that coach Dennis Franchione focused on again this spring. The Aggies are 9-0 when they win the turnover battle, but 2-13 when they donít. McNeal lost his go-to receiver, Terrence Murphy (Green Bay Packers), from last year. The schedule also doesnít help. They have tough road games at Clemson and Colorado, and a brutal finish at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma and hosting Texas.

Best Bet: Sept. 3, 2005 at Clemson. Clemson should be favored at home here, but they feature six new starters on defense and may not be ready for the Aggies experienced offense.

Be Wary Of: Oct. 8, 2005 at Colorado. If A&M gets hot and stays focused, they could easily enter its game with Tech 8-0. But this game at Boulder will be a battle.

Colorado Buffaloes (7-4, 5-3)

Despite plenty of off-field distractions (watching the athletic director resign, the chancellor transfer, and the university president leave), the Buffaloes managed their third league title in four years. They were hammered by a dominant Oklahoma squad 42-3 in the Big 12 Championship game, but they bounced back to top UTEP in the Houston Bowl. Of course, the specter of scandal still surrounds Gary Barnett and may still have an underlying impact on his squad. The team returns 17 starters, including quarterback Joel Klatt, and 45 of their 50 returning players are seniors or juniors. In what is still the weakest division in the Big 12, thereís no reason Colorado canít make it four out of five.

Strengths: Barnett has called his group of linebackers the best heís had since heís been in Boulder. They are again led by last yearís leading tackler, senior Brian Iwuh. Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Jordon Dizon and Thaddeus Washington will flank Iwuh. Klatt was inconsistent last year (11 TDís, 15 INTís) but showed excellent leadership, especially late in the season. His primary target this season will be tight end Joe Klopfenstein, who is a solid 6-feet, 5-inches and 245 pounds. Also, Colorado possesses perhaps the best kicking tandem of anyone in the country, with kicker Mason Crosby and punter John Torp returning.

Weakness: The loss of leading rusher Bobby Purify (231 attempts, 1,097 yards, 9 TDís) leaves a gaping hole in the backfield. Senior Lawrence Vickers will attempt to fill the void. The offensive line allowed 62 pressures last season, which helped contribute to the Buffsí 85th national ranking in total offense. Also, the secondary was torched for 254.6 yards a game last year and 16 passing touchdowns. Three of the four starters from that unit return, but safety J.J. Billingsley is on indefinite suspension for his grades.

Best Bet: Oct. 29, 2005 at Kansas State. Colorado has been excellent ATS as an underdog (26-11 over the last seven years), and outstanding as a road dog (18-7). Theyíll be coming out of the toughest stretch of their schedule, and ready for a late push. 

Be Wary Of: Oct. 8, 2005 vs. Texas A&M. Tough home game is sandwiched between tilts at Miami, Oklahoma St., and Texas. The Buffs may be favored (11-18 over last seven years as home favorite) but arenít the better team.


 


Iowa State Cyclones (7-4, 5-3)

Last yearís sleeper team has gotten the attention of the rest of the Big 12. After a dismal 2-10 record in 2003 and a 2-4 start to 2004, the Cyclones ripped off four straight wins and came within a field goal of playing for the conference championship. Instead, they finished 4-4 and lost a tiebreaker to Colorado, whom they lost a 19-15 decision to. They return their leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler from last yearís club. With the division in a state of flux, the Cyclones could be in for a special season.

Strengths: Bret Meyer stepped in as a freshman and took control of the offense. He only completed 52 percent of his passes, but didnít turn the ball over (only 6 INTís). Stevie Hicks rode the landslide to a very productive season (1,062 yards), but needs to improve the 3.9 yards per carry. The run defense was the best itís been since WWII, allowing only 3.5 ypc and 139.2 yards per game. Linebacker Tim Dobbins, a JUCO transfer, was last yearís conference newcomer of the year.

Weakness: Yes, the Cyclones had an outstanding year last season, but they were pretty lucky as well. They finished second in the nation (behind Miami) in touchdowns scored when the offense was off the field. They also blocked nine kicks. You make your own luck, but I wouldnít expect that same level of good fortune.

Best Bet: Sept. 24, 2005 at Army. Iowa State is 6-1 ATS over the last seven years as a road favorite. That, and the Black Knights are terrible.

Be Wary Of: Sept. 10, 2005 vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a ridiculous 38-14 against the spread over the last five years. More talent and the pride factor will equal a big win for Iowa.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-5, 4-4)

No such thing as rebuilding at Nebraska. Coach Bill Callahan, who was bitterly tossed out of Oakland two years ago, had one season to get his feet under him, and now the Husker faithful are expecting wins and bowl games. Nebraska suffered its first losing season since 1961 last year. As a result, Callahan had to abandon his hopes of having a couple years to recruit and get some talent in Lincoln. Instead, he brought in 13 transfers and is hoping they can produce immediately.

Strengths: Cory Ross went over 1,100 yards last season, but may get bumped by Marlon Lucky, Nebraskaís most highly touted runner since Ahman Green. They return three offensive line starters and have a ton of speed on the outside. Defensive back Daniel Bullocks, brother of NFL draft pick Josh, returns to try to shore up a leaky secondary.

Weakness: Despite seeing two DBís picked in the first 40 players of the NFL draft, Nebraska had the nationís 110th-ranked pass defense last year. Their defense was a train wreck last season, yielding 27 points a game, and surrendering 45 and 34 points to Missouri and Iowa State, respectively.

Best Bet: Nov. 5, 2005 at Kansas. If Nebraska is going to do anything in the Big 12, this is a must game. Over the last decade, the Huskers are 12-2 ATS in road games after a loss (the play Oklahoma on Oct. 29).

Be Wary Of: Sept. 17, 2005 vs. Pittsburgh. Callahan will be matched up with Dave Wannstedt, former coach of the Miami Dolphins. Wannstedt should be familiar with all of Callahanís tricks.


Kansas Jayhawks (5-5, 4-4)

Call me crazy, but I think this is the year the Kansas snaps its 10-year losing streak. They are loaded with experience, fielding a team with a 50 juniors and seniors. Last season they finished a disappointing 4-7, but they lost five games by six points or less and topped their primary rivals, dousing Kansas State and Missouri. 

Strengths: The defense, which returns eight starters and will rely on eight seniors, is one of the best in the North Division. They have six solid linebackers to rotate, led by all-league performer Nick Reid. They also posses two solid defensive ends (Jermail Ashley and Charlton Keith) and multidimensional CB Charles Gordon. The offensive line is also solid, and will see the return of four starters.

Weakness: The skill positions on offense are a mess. Four different quarterbacks started games for Kansas last season. Brian Luke was the most impressive, but is probably still buried on the depth chart behind Adam Barmann and Jason Swanson. They lost 2004 leading rusher John Randle, and now have little depth at that position, and also have only one veteran receiver. Points will be at a premium.

Best Bet: Nov. 19, 2005 vs. Iowa State. The host in this series is 4-1 ATS over the past four years. 

Be Wary Of: Oct. 8, 2005 at Kansas State. I see revenge for last yearís 31-28 win. Also, K-State is 57-32-2 ATS at home under Bill Snyder.

 

Missouri Tigers (5-6, 2-6)

Missouri was able to salvage some pride by topping Iowa State in the season finale, knocking the Cyclones out of the Big 12 title game, but the season was pretty much a bust for the Tigers. They were 3-11 against the spread in 2004, one year after an outstanding 8-4 ATS in 2003. With only 32 returning players, and no running back, I would expect another down season.

Strengths: Quarterback Brad Smith is entering his fourth year as a starter for the Tigers. He had a nice year (2,185 yards, 52 percent, 21 total touchdowns) in í04, but needs some help. In 2003 he led all quarterbacks in the country in rushing, but tried to become more of a drop-back passer in 2004. Most analysts think he needs to revert to the scrambling, option QB he was before. 

Weakness: The Tigers defense has steadily improved over the last five years. It gave up 33.7 points a game in 1999 and shrunk that number down to 19.5 in 2004 while producing the countryís 14th-ranked defense. Thatís good news, but the bad news is that they only return three starters. Also, itís not a good thing when your quarterback is your leading returning rusher.

Best Bet: Oct. 8, 2005 at Oklahoma State. Over the last decade, Missouri is 30-2-2 ATS when winning straight up on the road. Mizzou could beat the Cowboys in Stillwater.

Be Wary Of: Oct. 29, 2005 at Kansas. This is part of my hunch that Kansas is decent this year. If the Tigers are favored, theyíre only 2-6 ATS under Gary Pinkel when road favorites.

Kansas State Wildcats (4-7, 2-6)

Last yearís disappointment ended a streak of 11 consecutive bowl bids for the Wildcats. I hate to spoil coach Bill Snyderís fun, but theyíre going to be just as bad in 2005. Snyder has been a miracle worker since he came to the program in 1989, but reality might be setting back in around Manhattan. They have a manageable schedule, but a major bowl is out of the question.

Strengths: The K-state linebackers, led by junior OLB Brandon Archer, are sure tacklers and will hopefully be a stabilizing force on defense. Offensively, the top two receivers, Jermaine Moreira and Yamon Figurs, return and can hopefully make some plays for QB Dylan Meier.

Weakness: They return one starter on the offensive line, and will have to clog the rest of the holes with redshirt freshman and JUCO transfers. Their returning rushers had a combined 77 yards between them last season. The defense allowed an eye-popping 30.6 yards per game, and has serious issues in the secondary. 

Best Bet: Sept. 24, 2005 vs. North Texas. The Mean Green serve as cannon fodder for many major conferences, and even lost by 23 to Baylor last year.

Be Wary Of: Oct. 15, 2005 at Texas Tech. The Wildcats only lost to the Raiders by 10 at home last season. But their atrocious secondary should get ripped apart this year.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-6, 2-6)

Oklahoma State is just the wrong team in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last year, the Cowboys finished 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12. Their conference mark left them in fifth place in the South Division, but would have been tied for the top spot in the North. Itís pretty much the same deal this year. Former OSU standout Mike Gundy in his first season as head coach, and takes over a team with 44 returning lettermen and 16 returning starters. But they still donít have the talent to topple their foes in the South.

 

Strengths: If Donovan Woods maintains the starting quarterback gig, he has an excellent chemistry with brother DíJuan Woods. The two hooked up 29 times last year for 650 yards. 

Weakness: The Cowboys have unsettled situations at pretty much every key position on the field. With no defined quarterback, running back or defensive leader, I donít see them competing with the top teams in their division. Also, the loss of Vernon Grant, a three-year starter in the secondary, hurts OSU both on and off the field.

Best Bet: Nov. 19, 2005 vs. Baylor. This will be the last home game of the season and Senior Night. Fueled by a stirring memorial of Grant Ė who was killed in a car accident in May Ė the Cowboys will crush the Bears.

Be Wary Of: Oct. 15, 2005 at Texas A&M. Their first true road test will come at the hands of a tough Aggies squad.
 


Baylor Bears (3-8, 1-7)

Even though itís a small consolation to the Baylor fans, the Bears finished an impressive 7-3 against the spread last season. What was good news for their fans was Baylorís incredible upset of Texas A&M last year. They won 35-34 despite entering as 24.5-point underdogs. They return 48 players from last yearís club, and they have he modest goal of their first four-win season since 1996.

Strengths: With eight defensive starters returning, Baylor should at least be able to avoid any 60-point explosions by opposing offenses.  They bring back their top rusher and receiver, but neither one of them topped 600 yards last year. In punter Danny Sepulveda (Ray Guy Award winner, 46.0 avg., 26 punts inside the 20) Baylor has one of the best in the nation.

Weakness: The Bears have lost 24 straight road games since the 2000 opener at North Texas. The offense lacks any depth or cohesiveness and eight defensive starters come back from a unit that let up 421.6 yards and 36.9 points per game last year.

Best Bet: Sept. 10, 2005 vs. Samford. Baylor is 6-0 ATS versus non-conference opponents recently. Under third-year coach Guy Morriss they are 1-0 as home favorites and 8-2 as home dogs.

Be Wary Of: Nov. 12, 2005 at Missouri. The Bears are 0-10 in Game Ten on the schedule over the last decade, and 1-12 as road underdogs versus and opponent coming of a loss. 

Overall Expectations:

The Big 12 was 4-3 in bowl games last year, highlighted by Texasí exciting victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. This year, two early non-conference clashes will determine the Big 12ís spot in college footballís hierarchy. Texas travels to meet Ohio State on Sept. 10 in a game that may eliminate one of the teamsí national title hopes. Oklahoma heads out to UCLA on Sept. 17, hoping to gain some respect in California after the beat down that USC game them in last yearís Orange Bowl.

 

While Oklahoma and Texas are obviously the heavyweights in this division, the teams to really watch are Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Either one of those teams could upset the Horns or the Sooners and cripple someoneís shot at not just the conference championship, but also the national championship. I have each of them at 8-3, but I wouldnít be surprised if one of the gets hot and makes a run into the Top 10 at some point this year. The two teams meet on Nov. 5 in Lubbock in what should be an outstanding game.

 

The North Division is once again the weaker sister in the conference. However, it the teams that comprise it could be a lot more interesting to bet on. Thereís parity (or mediocrity, take your pick) from top to bottom, and any one of five teams has a legit shot to meet and get crushed by Texas in the conference championship.

 

Best of luck.

 

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