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College Football Anti-Preview: The Big 12 (10) (9) (It's A Fluid Situation)

The Big 12 is about to fall apart like the Soviet Union. Let's preview it anyway and wait for its spectacular collapse.

The Big 12's metaphor is all too obvious, as the Soviet Union of conferences, it has one huge member with all the power (Texas/Russia), one solid second banana with muscle and firepower (Oklahoma/Kazakhstan), a breakway republic and embittered rival on the way out of the conference and fighting the hegemon's influence at every step (Ukraine/TAMU) and then a long list of smaller satellites of varying influence and size. The winner of "Who is Moldova?" It's you, Kansas. It's always been you.

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So everything below is in effect already obsolete, but given that this is an anti-preview this only seems fitting. This remains a mightily entertaining slate of football teams playing high-octane, pass-happy football, and doing so with the rafters of the conference falling down around their ears gives the whole Big 12 a "playing the fourth quarter while Rome burns" kind of vibe. Enjoy the smell of the conference burning, and advance with the full knowledge that everyone here could be breaking up and parting ways in the next five minutes or five years.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: You probably have very dim memories of Texas 2010, and that's with good reason: purgatory is a dark place, filled with the ashes of the damned and the weak light of failing stars. Texas lost to Kansas State last year in a game where Kansas State didn't throw a pass until the third quarter and finished with four passes total. When the other team throws four passes, it means that they are waiting for you to shoot yourself in the face with the sketchy back-alley blunderbuss you call an offense. "Back alley blunderbuss" might as well have been the name of Texas' offense, because that is precisely what happened: Garrett Gilbert, a renewable resource, exploded reliably and on cue in each of Texas' seven losses. (T. Boone Pickens has bought his mineral rights, and will use them to fund Oklahoma State's football program. A conference where "12" means "10 with one on the way out the door" is filled with ironies.) 

That's all over. We'll summarize the offseason, spring practice, and every preview you'll ever read about the 2011 Texas Longhorns in five easy bullet points:

  • Brilliant new young coaching staff, and tons of talent!
  • No discernible quarterback of note, especially junior Garrett Gilbert, who has remained ineffective throughout spring and fall practices. You want Colt McCoy's brother Case to win the job, but only because you hate learning new names and are very lazy.
  • No receivers of note!
  • No running backs, but freshman Malcolm Brown is going to save us all. (The Isaiah Crowell Plan: in effect in Austin, too.)
  • Answer to all shortcomings: "We have successfully signed every recruit who has ever mattered over the past ten years they'll be fine." 

Texas will be Texas, unless they're not Texas, and even then they'll make so much tax-free money it will hurt your soul just to think about how poor you are compared to just one of Texas' sports programs.If you need Mack Brown, he will be playing Wii bowling on the Godzillatron.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: That Oklahoma's regional football-related commercials beat yours forever.

I don't doubt all of this is 100 percent accurate. Billy Sims does wear an afro wig out at Indian casinos in Oklahoma. Tony Casillas has no idea how to play blackjack. Barry Switzer does have the power to appear as a tiny holographic version of himself over the shoulders of beleaguered gamblers and yell jibberish in their ears. I know this from personal experience, as he told me to hit once at a table in Las Vegas. I was playing roulette at the time. None of this makes sense.

As for what you can claim to know about Oklahoma, it's the same thing as always. They have a quarterback who is going to throw for eleven million yards to a deadly receiving corps. Their defense will be good, and could potentially edge into very-goodness if the defensive line generates anything like a real pass rush. Everyone is ridiculously talented, and that's good because a daunting early schedule includes Texas, Missouri, and Florida State in the first five games. They have no trace of a proven, consistent run game, but HEY LOOK IT'S OKLAHOMA JUST PUT THEM AT TWO ON YOUR BALLOT. Everyone's been doing it for ten years, so just shut up and do it. 

SEASON CRUX: This being Oklahoma, just pencil in that late road game against Baylor, because that is so the kind of game a bored, disengaged Sooners' team would stroll into and get beat on something insanely stupid like a blocked extra point returned for two points. Console yourself after this loss by eating Billy Sims' barbecue, a meat so tasty even aristocratic Oklahoma State fans are won over by its charms.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: 1991. In a year of one of America's most protracted and pronounced recessions, Bill Snyder pilots Kansas State to a 7-4 season after the two winning seasons of Wildcat football in the previous 34 seasons of play. He does so by taking every possible edge a ruthless football coach with limited resources and a program located on the far side of Agriculturesvania can take: scheduling obscure sparring partners from D1AA football, taking chances on any JUCO who can lace up their shoes, feeding the club little but canned vegetables and wholesale potted meats purchased at discount clubs, and working his young, underpaid staff to the bone and watching film until his eyes bled.

Flash forward to 2011, 20 years later. America sits in the worst recession since the 1991 roll in the economic mire. In the midst of deep national discontent, who stands at the helm at K-State? Who sits with a grocery cart full of transfers, including the talented and troubled Brown brothers Arthur (LB) and Bryce (RB)? The, never mind that, since for some reason K-State has an away date scheduled with the Miami Hurricanes. (Who are this close to Sam's Club discount football after potential suspensions, anyway.) The approach? A pounding run game designed to shorten the game and make you, the other team who actually tries to do adventurous things with the football, turn the ball over to the defense with three-and-outs and turnovers.

I am not saying that K-State football doing well is bad for our nation as a whole. I'm saying their turnaround years under Bill Snyder are, and that the only good economic news we have for you is this: if K-State somehow wins nine games this year, we have hit the nadir of our recession, and you should dive with both feet back into the market. In the meantime, just note that Bill Snyder is the master of how to buy good football on a budget, mention the promising youth of this team, and always bring up the word "Scrappy" when talking about them. Everyone else does.

SEASON CRUX: Every game after the opening cupcake slate of Eastern Kentucky and Kent State, because this is a toboggan ride taken in the wrong direction, with a four game stretch including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas in succession. 



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: That this is the team everyone really thinks of when they think of Big 12 football as a whole? Massive offense, even under new management? (And you should mention that, because Todd Monken is no Dana Holgorsen, and that's certainly not Todd Monken's fault. There is one Dana Holgorsen, and authorities would like to keep it that way lest three of them get together and conquer the world as we know it.) That the defense is both spectacular and inconsistent? That the program makes its living off scoring a jillion points a game, throwing frequently to giant wide receivers (they always have at least one,) and holding serve a few times on the way to a shootout victory? Is 42-28 the basic score of every Oklahoma State game? Yes, yes it is.

You should mention that their quarterback, Brandon Weeden, is 27 and therefore the college football equivalent of completely ancient. Note that he gets to replicate last year's endless game of pitch-and-catch with Justin Blackmon. For extra smart sounding statements, go deep and remind everyone that Brandon Anyiam, 2009's leading receiver, is coming back after a long stretch rehabbing a string of injuries. No one will ask you about the run game. That's good! There is no obvious replacement for Kendall Hunter, though there are several suspects of interest.

The defense is exactly what you think it is, and will pummel a quarterback into tears one down while allowing him to throw a fifty yard bomb on the following play. Shadowy, domineering booster with billions constantly lurking over the program and paying for everything? Oklahoma State's is beyond compare on all points, and surpassed only by Oregon, where Phil Knight's $12 billion personal fortune makes T. Boone Pickens' $1.4 billion look like a mere pittance. Ha! Jokes about men who are each richer than a hundred thousand of you put together will ever be!

[note to editor: mike gundy is still 40 plus three and is still a man joke goes here. they are unfortunately mandatory.]

SEASON CRUX: The couplet of road games at Texas and Missouri in mid-October determine OSU's trajectory.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: Nothing. Horror is unknowable. It has no friends and writes no memoirs. It does leave numbers---horrendous, eye-scorching numbers suggesting that Kansas may have fallen into a trough so deep the very light of day itself may not shine upon their program for years. There are highway wrecks where you willfully slow down to examine the devastation, and there are those so fiery and horrible that even the dedicated rubbernecker turns away involuntarily. Kansas football 2010 was the latter.

This is a very bad football team, and returns everyone from a very bad squad who will have a very bad year. Maybe you'd like to hear more about them, but it makes me sad to even think about, because remember that this team went to the Orange Bowl just three years ago, and is now losing to FCS teams because The Curse of the Mangino is upon this program, and will be for quite some time. I'm going to go hug someone I love after thinking about Kansas football. I recommend you do the same.

SEASON CRUX: Beating McNeese State in Week 1. :(



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW:  That with the departure of Blaine Gabbert, they cannot possibly be as beautiful a team this year, and I mean that in the literal sense. Blaine Gabbert is the male Blake Lively, and his beauty is wasted on an ugly town like Jacksonville. Someday he and Tom Brady will be on the same team, and opponents will be crippled from sheer envy-induced paralysis. Why do two men hog all the beauty? DAMN YOUR PRETTY FACES, TOM BRADY AND BLAINE GABBERT.

James Franklin, a sophomore, is Gabbert's replacement, and like every other Missouri QB he's going to throw the ball out of the gun at least 40 times a game and sometimes stick his nose in on run plays when necessary. Please don't do this in your September 9th game against Arizona State in Tempe, or Vontaze Burfict will cripple you and throw you in the stands like a cheap mannequin. (Don't feel special: he does this to everyone.)

The offensive line's solid, though less so with the loss of starting left tackle Elvis Fisher in fall practice. (Losing a player named Elvis is never a good thing for college football. That leaves eight returning starters on offense including the deep receiving corps. Yay, you, Mizzou. There are only six starters returning on defense, so yeah, yay, offense: though the replacements for departures on defense are experienced, Mizzou's going to have to play some free-fire ball until the defense congeals later in the season. Ice packs for Franklin's shoulder: Mizzou needs them already.

SEASON CRUX: Versus Oklahoma in Week 4, since we just assume that they'll win the Big 12 North*, and that any ambitions beyond that receive their reality check here?

*There is no Big 12 North this year. But looking at the Big 12 Championship Game records, was there ever a Big 12 North? Is your mind blown? We hope so.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: That they try really, really hard despite being one of the most outmatched teams in the Big 12 in terms of facilities, recruiting base, and funding. That they have a lineman named Lattimer. That they have five returning starters on offense, and that despite all that effort the victories will be by thin margins, and the losses by wide ones, most likely? That they go to play historical rival* UConn in Storrs, Connecticut because...well, because they can, that's why. That this team is the Big 12's antipersonnel mine, designed less to destroy than to pop up and go off at the worst possible teams, crippling teams with defense and then waiting for you to bleed out in a torrent of your own mistakes? That they probably belong spiritually in the Big Ten? That their starting quarterback is named "Steele Jantz?" Did we mention effort, if not talent, and thus the one team that will completely blow a game against a fired-up and outmanned Iowa State team sometime this season? (COUGH COUGH TEXAS A&M.)

*This game is neither historical nor a rivalry.

SEASON CRUX: The Bowl Eligibility bowl on December 3rd with Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas. Conditions will be deplorable. Offenses will play to match conditions.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: Robert Griffin is this entire team. He runs a 4.4ish 40 after an ACL tear, threw for over 3,500 yards last year with a 22/8 TD/INT ratio, and is everything you could possibly want from a quarterback at the collegiate level. He has five fantastic receivers to throw to, as well, and a solid offensive line with some promising running back prospects. Baylor plays an innovative 1-1-9 defense with nine defensive backs playing blindfolded and screaming for four quarters straight. This is a lie: they have no defense, and will not have one for the duration. 

SEASON CRUX: Winning one of their last five against a burly conference home stretch: at Texas A&M, at Oklahoma State, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: That this offense is sneaky fun to watch, a pro-style attack with a zillion quick drops, rollouts, and endless little passes designed to open up running lanes for Cyrus Gray. That they switched Ryan Tannehill from wideout to QB last year with brilliant results, so they'll probably respond to adversity by moving a kicker to linebacker, and then begin a triumphant run to a Cotton Bowl berth? That yes, they do have to replace Von Miller, but that the 3-4 defense means loads of smack-happy defensive romps where they either knock the quarterback's head off or allow a 30 yard pass downfield.  That somehow despite his lumpen demeanor and unfun NFL style, Mike Sherman has made a legitimately fun team to watch. MOST IMPORTANTLY: that the funniest possible thing for Texas A&M to do would be to win the Big 12, shoot twin middle fingers in all directions, and then leave the conference for the SEC. (They probably won't do this, but please note that this would be magnificently funny, and that I will take credit for having called it even in a purely humorous hypothetical.) 

SEASON CRUX: The Arkansas game in the JerryDome. If they win it, they can go on a serious tear. If not, then we're back to Cotton Bowl ceilings and an entertaining but slightly disappointing season.



WHAT YOU CAN PRETEND TO KNOW: That rather than ruining Mike Leach's points-tornado and dumbing Texas Tech into a knockoff brand SEC team, Tuberville has been all too happy to bend with the prevailing breezes of the conference. Their Air Raid-style attack keeps the entire offensive line, and that's nice because they have to replace their QB, two wide receivers, and their starting running back. Tuberville decided to steal TCU's defense wholesale because a 4-2-5 just looks so nice on the kind of personnel you can recruit to play on the far side of the moon in Lubbock, and has adopted a Leachian strategy of playing nothing but a straight junk food schedule of out-of-conference opponents. They go to New Mexico to face Mike Locksley's Fightin' Lobos. The FCC will fine any network that shows this game for televising violence so graphic Mexican television would describe it as "barely family friendly."

The rest of the conference schedule isn't too bad, but the Red Rangers are a pleasant rehab project that will probably drop two games in embarrassing fashion, upset two teams, and find its way for a promising 2011 season. It feels odd to feel this cuddly about a team and an institution that fired Mike Leach, but here we are. Time makes cardigan-wearing, doddering sentimental codgers of us all.

[/rubs Texas Tech's head]

[/gives them a tortilla to throw]

SEASON CRUX: Week five versus Texas A&M, their first real test after a breezy/cheezy opening four games.


Previous College Football Anti-Previews: The Big East, The BCS' Mini Cooper.