Big 12 Conference Preview
2001 record: 10-3 (Lost to Oregon in Fiesta Bowl)
Coach: Gary Barnett
Outlook: With one of the top rushing attacks in the country returning, the Buffaloes have the ingredients in place to repeat as Big 12 champions, though they need to develop a few receivers. TB Chris Brown made a huge splash against Nebraska last year, rushing for 198 yards and six touchdowns while replacing the injured Cortlen Johnson, who had been Colorado's featured back. Both return this year. QB Bobby Purify took over for an injured Craig Ochs down the stretch a year ago and spearheaded the Buffaloes' drive to the Big 12 title. But Ochs is healthy again and clearly rates as one of the conference's top signal-callers. Another stumbling block could be a defense that allowed 24.5 points per game last season.
Noteworthy: Colorado's six-game improvement last year was the best in the country. The Buffaloes went 3-8 in 2000, their worst season since 1984. True freshman WR Jeremy Bloom, whose eligibility is in question, finished ninth in the freestyle skiing competition in the Olympics.
Schedule: A difficult slate could prove to be the Buffaloes' undoing as they have road games at UCLA, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
2001 record: 7-5 (Lost to Alabama in Independence Bowl)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Outlook: The Cyclones have begun to turn things around under McCarney, who is 20-15 in his last 35 games, and will be gunning for their third straight winning season. Iowa State has a quality QB in Seneca Wallace, who is being touted as a Heisman Trophy long shot in Ames. He passed for more than 2,300 yards last year, but the Cyclones have to replace Enis Haywood, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards a year ago. They also have questions on the offensive line, with just one senior in the unit. Iowa State lost three tops assistants in the offseason, but the philosophy should not change much under Steve Brickey, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Former Kansas coach Terry Allen also is on the staff.
Noteworthy: The Cyclones led the Big 12 in turnover margin last year, scoring 69 points off 26 turnovers.
Schedule: Iowa State has seven home games, including non-conference contests against Tennessee Tech and Connecticut. However, the Cyclones face road games against Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado and open the season at home against Florida State at Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 24.
2001 record: 3-8
Coach: Mark Mangino
OUTLOOK: A new era begins in Lawrence as Mangino, a former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, takes over for Terry Allen, who endured five straight losing seasons at Kansas and was fired with three games left last year. Mangino will try to incorporate Oklahoma's spread offense, but the Jayhawks have major concerns at quarterback. The most experienced of Kansas' seven signal-callers is junior Zach Dyer, who started four games last year. Bill Whittemore, who was recruited by Mangino, could end up winning the job after throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 16 TDs last season at Fort Scott Junior College. He is trying to recover from a separated shoulder.
Noteworthy: Kansas returns just 10 starters, the lowest total in the Big 12, and must replace 21 of 60 lettermen. The Jayhawks were outgained by 219.5 yards in conference play last year and were outscored by an average of 41.4 to 14.3.
Schedule: The Jayhawks open with road contests at Iowa State and UNLV. Kansas' best chance for success will come during a four-game stretch that includes home contests against Southwest Missouri State and Bowling Green and road games at Tulsa and Baylor.
2001 record: 6-6 (Lost to Syracuse in Insight.com Bowl)
Coach: Bill Snyder
Outlook: Kansas State boasts arguably the Big 12's top linebacker in Terry Pierce, who recorded 68 tackles last year and may have to carry an even bigger load this season. But if the Wildcats are going to significantly better last year's mark, they must get improved quarterback play. While Kansas State set a school record for rushing last season, QBs Eli Roberson and Marc Dunn each completed less than 50 percent of their passes and threw nine interceptions apiece. Other than RB Josh Scobey, who ran for 1,350 yards last season, the Wildcats are inexperienced at the skill positions. They also have to replace Aaron Lockett, one of the top return men in the country last year who averaged more than 21 yards on kickoff returns.
Noteworthy: Since 1990, Kansas State has the nation's fifth-best home record(66-8-1). However, last year's 6-6 finish ended the Wildcats' string of four consecutive 11-win campaigns. Bob Elliott replaces Phil Bennett, now the coach at Southern Methodist, as Kansas State's defensive coordinator.
Schedule: Kansas State has eight home games, but among them are tough tests against Southern California, Texas and Nebraska. The Wildcats open conference play at Colorado.
2001 record: 4-7
Coach: Gary Pinkel
Outlook: The Tigers showed signs of progress in Pinkel's first season, but still may be a year away from challenging for a bowl bid. Pinkel has vowed to improve a passing attack that ranked only ninth in the Big 12 last year, but the Tigers do have an electrifying receiver in Justin Gage, who caught 74 passes for 920 yards in 2001. Missouri also has a capable running back in Zack Abron, who has been dubbed the "Bowling Ball" for his running style. The 5-10, 225-pounder rushed for nearly 800 last year despite injury problems. Still, Missouri lacks playmakers on defense. A year ago, the Tigers ranked last in the conference in takeaways (16) and sacks (15).
Noteworthy: Missouri has had only two winning seasons since 1983 and last year's record marked only a one-game improvement from 2000. The Tigers will need to improve their conditioning as they were outscored, 102-47, in the fourth quarter a year ago.
Schedule: Missouri's success in the non-conference portion of its schedule could go a long way toward determining if the Tigers have a chance for a winning season. With games against Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green and Troy State, the Tigers have a chance to open 3-1.
2001 record: 11-2 (Lost to Miami in Rose Bowl)
Coach: Frank Solich
Outlook: The Cornhuskers are still smarting from their final two games last season -- a 62-36 drubbing to Colorado that cost them a spot in the Big 12 title game and a 37-14 loss to Miami in the national championship game. They also will be breaking in a new quarterback as Jammal Lord takes over for Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. Nebraska's backfield tandem is intact, led by Dahrran Diedrick, who rushed for 1,346 yards last year. Still, Nebraska returns just 11 starters, its lowest total since 1998, when the Cornhuskers went just 9-4. The key to Nebraska's success could be how long it takes Lord to learn the team's option offense.
Noteworthy: The losses to Colorado and Miami marked the first time since 1962 that Nebraska had dropped consecutive games by at least 10 points. The Huskers will be seeking their 34th consecutive nine-win season and 41st straight winning season. Nebraska' 20-game home winning streak is the longest in Division I-A.
Schedule: The schedule is not easy. Nebraska has home contests against Texas and Colorado and visits Penn State, Texas A&M and Kansas State. The Cornhuskers also added home games against McNeese State and Arizona State, giving them a 13-game campaign.
2001 record: 3-8
Coach: Kevin Steele
Outlook: Baylor, which has lost 29 straight conference games, hopes to finally escape the South Division basement this season. At least the Bears will have a new look as new offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin, formerly at Cincinnati and known for his trickery, will try to incorporate the West Coast offense. A major problem for the Bears, however, continues to be the lack of a quality quarterback. Senior Greg Cicero, who has endured a spotty career, Aaron Karas and Davon Vinson are still battling for the starting spot. WR Reggie Newhouse is Baylor's biggest threat, grabbing 101 passes the last two years despite constantly being double-teammed. The Bears have improved their defense. Last year, they had 27 sacks, led by end A.C. Collier, who recorded six.
Noteworthy: Steele is 0-24 against conference opponents and just 6-27 overall at Baylor, but the Bears have actually increased their win total by one in each of his three years at the school. Baylor's 82 percent graduation rate is the best in the Big 12 Conference.
Schedule: The early slate is manageable as the Bears' first four games are at California, Samford, at New Mexico and Tulsa. Baylor's best chance to break its long conference losing likely will come against Kansas on Oct. 5.
2001 record: 11-2 (Beat Arkansas in Cotton Bowl)
Coach: Bob Stoops
Outlook: The Sooners have won 24 games over the last two seasons -- the most in Division I-A -- and should once again contend for a national championship. QB Jason White, the likely starter who played in seven games last year, appears to be fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. Trent Smith caught 61 passes last year and arguably is the Big 12's top tight end. Quentin Griffin paced Oklahoma on the ground with 890 yards last year. The heart the Sooners remains an aggressive, lightning-fast defense. Oklahoma must replace LB Rocky Calmus, the Butkus Award winner, and SS Roy Williams, but plenty of talent remains, led by DT Tommie Harris and CB Derrick Strait.
Noteworthy: Chuck Long, Iowa's all-time passing leader, begins his first season as offensive coordinator. Stoops is 31-7 after three years at Oklahoma. He is the first coach to lead the Sooners to bowl games in each of his first three seasons.
Schedule: Oklahoma catches a break this season in that it doesn't have to play Nebraska and Kansas State. In addition to their annual battle with Texas at the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners have to visit Texas A&M, but they get Colorado at home.
2001 record: 4-7
Coach: Les Miles
Outlook: The Cowboys hope to build on their stunning upset of Oklahoma in last season's finale. They believe they have a realistic chance for just their second winning season in 12 years and first since 1997. Oklahoma State was competitive in other games, leading Colorado midway through the fourth quarter. The Cyclones passed for 2,343 yards last year, the second-highest total in school history, but major improvement is needed in the running game. WR Rashaun Woods, who had 80 catches for 1,023 yards and 10 TDS in 2001, is underrated and his circus grabs helped the Cowboys shock Oklahoma. Improvement in the secondary also is needed. Oklahoma State allowed 19 passing TDS and a 61 percent completion rate last season.
Noteworthy: The Cowboys gained just 93.6 yards per game rushing last season, only the second time since 1940 they averaged under 100 yards. QB Aso Pogi was ineffective in spring practice after he was injured in a car accident in December. Josh Fields, also a member of the Oklahoma State baseball team, was tabbed as the starter at the conclusion of the spring.
Schedule: The Cowboys face six bowl teams, including Nebraska and Kansas State. They also have home contests against UCLA and Northern Iowa, which reached the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs last year. Oklahoma State gets Texas A&M and Oklahoma at home.
2001 record: 11-2 (Beat Washington in Holiday Bowl)
Coach: Mack Brown
Outlook: After averaging more than 39 points per game last season, the Longhorns once again will not lack for talent. There is no better receiver in the Big 12 than Roy Williams, who has been compared to Randy Moss. Last year, RB Cedric Brown became the first freshman in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and has recovered from a bruised nerve suffered in the Big 12 title game. QB Chris Simms is looking for a big senior season after enduring criticism and two years of unfulfilled expectations. The offense already has lost star TE Bo Scaife to a season-ending knee injury. Another run at an elusive national championship is certainly possible. but Brown still can't shake his reputation as a coach who can't win the big one.
Noteworthy: The Longhorns finished in the top five last year, but the national championship drought continues. Texas has not finished on top of the rankings since the days of Darrell Royal in 1970. During the regular season last year, the Longhorns allowed only 236.2 yards per game, their lowest total since 1983.
Schedule: More difficult than in recent years as the Longhorns visit North Carolina -- Brown's former school -- Kansas State, Nebraska and Texas Tech.
2001 record: 8-4 (Beat TCU in Galleryfurniture.com Bowl)
Coach: R.C. Slocum
Outlook: While never flashy, the Aggies' offense was unproductive last season, even by their conservative standards. Texas A&M ranked 106th in total offense and averaged just 113 yards per game, its lowest total since 1970. The Aggies can't be any worse this year, but don't expect things to change too much. Once again, the staple of the team will be its "Wrecking Crew" defense, though a lack of linebacking depth could be a concern. OLB Jarrod Penright, who had 10 1/2 sacks last year, leads the corps of linebackers, while CB Sammy Davis, an All-America candidate, gave up only one TD last year. Freshman QB Reggie McNeal could push senior Mark Farris, who sprained his left knee and ankle during spring practice, for playing time.
Noteworthy: Of the active coaches with 10 or more years of experience, Slocum and Syracuse's Paul Pasqualoni are the only ones without a losing season. The Aggies are 64-7 at home since 1990, the fourth-best mark in the country. Texas A&M has had 19 consecutive non-losing season.
Schedule: The Aggies have tough home assignments against Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech. They also have difficult road tests against Pittsburgh and Texas.
2001 record: 7-5 (Lost to Iowa in Alamo Bowl)
Coach: Mike Leach
Outlook: While the Red Raiders probably won't contend for a conference title, they will continue to cause sleepless nights for defensive coordinators because of their pass-happy attack. QB Kliff Kingsbury threw for more than 3,800 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 68.2 percent of his passes last year. The Red Raiders have a huge void left by the departure of RB Ricky Williams, who ran for 756 yards and caught 95 passes last last year. WR Wes Welker could be the most versatile receiver in the Big 12, while redshirt freshman Taurean Henderson and JUCO transfer Johnnie Mack are the top candidates to replace Williams. The Red Raiders will be as potent as ever and may even be improved on defense, with nine starters back on that side of the ball. They just aren't physical enough to challenge the teams above them.
Noteworthy: The Red Raiders are actually one game over .500 in league play over the last five years. The Red Raiders ran the ball 20 times or less in six games last season and gambled on fourth down 28 times. Texas Tech's gambling defense produced a turnover ratio of plus-nine, but the Red Raiders also had a penchant for allowing the big play, giving up 11 touchdowns of 23 yards or longer.
Schedule: The Red Raiders have added a 13th game this season, opening at Ohio State on Aug. 24 in the Pigskin Classic, one of seven road contests. Also among the road games are visits to Colorado and the season-finale at Oklahoma.