The Big 12 XII conference has not seen much change in it's 13 year history. 11 Big XII championship games have been played, and the teams competing in them have not varied much. The Big XII North has been won by Kansas State (3 times), Colorado (4 times) and Nebraska (4 times).
Over in the South division, there has been even less competition, as Texas A&M has come out on top twice, but not since 1998. Only Oklahoma and Texas have represented the South in the Championship game since then, with OU playing 5 times, and Texas playing 4 times.
That could change this year, at least in the North, where Missouri figures to challenge Nebraska for the division crown.
The Tigers are led by junior QB Chase Daniel, WR William Franklin and RB Tony Temple, the leading returning rusher in the conference. They also feature the best tight end duo in America with Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. The Tigers play a spread offense, and they used that to compile the 8th ranked offense in terms of yards last season. They were also in the top 20 for scoring offense, and should be very, very difficult to stop. The biggest question comes on defense, where Mizzou had problems stopping the run. If head coach Gary Pinkel's defense can perform even slightly above average, they should make a run for the North title.
Key stretch of games: vs. Nebraska, at Oklahoma, vs. Texas Tech
The Cornhuskers rebounded from a so-so 2005 season and won the North with a 6-2 record. They lost starting QB Zac Taylor, but are hoping Sam Keller, a transfer from Arizona State, can make a seamless transition to head coach Bill Callahan's offense. As usual, the Huskers feature a very good offensive line, but losing RB Brandon Jackson to the NFL leaves another hole to fill. Defensively, the unit features outstanding linebacker Bo Ruud to a unit that returns just 5 starters.
Key stretch of games: at Missouri, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Texas A&M
3. Kansas State
After winning just 4 and then 5 games the previous 2 seasons, the Wildcats took another step forward under head coach Ron Prince and won 7 games and a bowl appearance in 2006. Young QB Josh Freeman struggled at times, but showed a load of promise as a freshman. He goes in as the starter and should improve exponentially. Defensively, the team returns half of it's starters, but they are a very solid unit led by DB Marcus Watts and DL Ian Campbell.
Key stretch of games: at Iowa State, at Nebraska, vs. Missouri
Despite winning just 2 games a year ago, head coach Dan Hawkins has a track record of success that should not be overlooked. They return 9 offensive starters from last season, including RB Hugh Charles. Though Charles had a disappointing season, he is still dangerous.
Key stretch of games: vs. Missouri, at Iowa State, vs. Nebraska
5. Iowa State
The Cyclones really struggled in Big XII play last season, going just 1-7, with the lone win coming against Missouri when an official blew a call that negated a last second Mizzou touchdown. The league admitted as much, but the victory counted and Iowa State had their only conference win. The team has a new head coach in Gene Chizik, who comes north from his position as Auburn's defensive coordinator. On offense, QB Brett Meyer returns for his senior season. He is a good player and more than capable of leading the offense. His primary weapon will be WR Todd Blythe, a 6'6" weapon who has hauled in over 100 passes in his career. Defense is going to be a chore for Iowa State, as they have a young unit with one outstanding player in LB Ace Bowen, but question marks elsewhere.
Key stretch of games: vs. Kansas State, vs. Colorado, at Kansas
In Lawrence, head coach Mark Mangino has a defense returning 8 starters, including outstanding corner Aquib Talib. That's the good news. The bad news is, they lost the conference's top rusher in Jon Cornish, have yet to settle on a quarterback, and lost 3 starting offensive lineman from a year ago.
Key stretch of games: at Colorado, at Texas A&M, vs. Nebraska
Once again, head coach Mack Brown has a powerhouse on his hands with the Longhorns. QB Colt McCoy led Big XII passers in efficiency, and threw 29 TD's against just 7 picks. Also returning are leading rusher Jamaal Charles at running back, and an outstanding group of receivers, led by physical freak Limas Sweed. The offensive line suffered a hit as they lost three outstanding players, but in Texas, you know what they say - they just reload. Defensively, the team returns 6 players, including DT Frank Okam and all 3 starting linebackers. The defensive backfield could be their only area of concern, which will happen when two of your players were picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
Key stretch of games: at Oklahoma State, vs. Texas Tech, at Texas A&M
Head coach Bob Stoops is known as one of the best in college football. There is no doubt he is, but his reputation took a bit of a hit when OU came under sanctions when it was found out two of his players took money for work they didn't do. He can gain some of that rep back by leading a Sooners team to a BCS bowl in '07. That may not be easy to do, as the team lost starting QB Paul Thompson, and all-world RB Adrian Peterson. However, the unit does return 8 other starters, and once they determine who will be under center, they should be solid again. Defensively, 6 starters return, but they lost 3 defensive lineman. The situation is better in the secondary, though, as all starters return.
Key stretch of games: vs. Texas A&M, vs. Baylor, at Texas Tech
3. Texas A&M
9 offensive starters return for head coach Dennis Franchione, as he looks to upgrade from his 9 win season a year ago. Back is QB Stephen McGee, a dual threat player who can throw and run consistently well. Speaking of running, the Aggies also have one of the more fun players in the nation to watch returning in RB Jorvorskie Lane. He is a 6', 260 pound beast who is a chore for anybody to take down. Last year, he ran for an astounding 19 TD's, as he is nearly impossible to stop on the goal line. He and RB Mike Goodson, who ran for over 800 yards, form a potent duo. Defensively, the unit returns just 6 starters, but they do have experience, as 3 seniors will anchor the defensive line, and both starting cornerbacks return.
Key stretch of games: at Oklahoma, at Missouri, vs. Texas
4. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State won 7 games last year under head coach Mike Gundy, an improvement of 3 wins from 2005. The team returns 15 starters, setting them up in good position to be a player in the South division. Among those players is QB Bobby Reid, who can do it all, whether it be running or throwing. He tossed 24 TD's a year ago, and half of those were to WR Adarius Bowman, one of the best wideouts in the nation. Bowman caught 60 passes for over 1,100 yards, and figures to better those numbers in 2007. RB Dantrell Savage, the team's leading rusher last season, also returns, and he is helped by an offensive line returning 4 starters. Defensively, the Cowboys are challenged, and they may have to win games by outscoring everybody else. No starting defensive lineman are back this year, so shoring that position up is a priority.
Key stretch of games: at Texas A&M, at Nebraska, vs. Kansas State
5. Texas Tech
If there's one thing the Red Raiders do, it's throw the football. QB Graham Harrell returns for head coach Mike Leach to lead the nation's 3rd rated passing game. Harrell threw for over 4,500 yards in '06, which was 1,000 more than anyone else in the conference. He also tossed 38 TD's, 9 more than the closest competitor, but threw only 11 picks in over 600 attempts. The team lost two of it's starting wideouts, Joel Filani and Robert Johnson, who combined for 180 catches, but Tech always has receivers at the ready. Defense is another story, as only 5 starters return from middle of the pack unit. There is no senior on the defensive line, but 3 starters return in the defensive backfield. If nothing else, Tech will be fun to watch once again.
Key stretch of games: at Baylor, at Texas, vs. Oklahoma
Every conference needs it's whipping boy, and Baylor is that in the Big XII. Head coach Guy Morriss' team won just 4 games a year ago, and '07 doesn't look much brighter. The team lost productive QB Shawn Bell, and will replace him with senior Michael Machen, who is going to be 26 in the fall. The leading returning rusher is Brandon Whitaker, who gained just 158 yards and had a 3.9 yards per carry average in '06. Defensively, there is a bright spot in LB Joe Pawelek, a first team all-freshman selection a year ago. However, the team still gave up 5 yards a carry and both starting cornerbacks are gone. The Bears could be in for another long year.
Key stretch of games: vs. Texas Tech, at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State