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Big 12 conference preview

2012 Big 12 Conference Report
Are newcomers West Virginia and TCU ready for Big 12 play? Can Texas win without picking a quarterback? Will Baylor regress without Robert Griffin III? Stewart Mandel answers that and more in his Big 12 conference preview. For more coverage, visit our preseason content archive.

Note: The projected standings reflect the author's opinion, not SI.com's.
 
How They'll Finish
 
 ConferenceOverall
Oklahoma7-210-2
Texas7-210-2
Kansas State6-39-3
West Virginia6-39-3
TCU5-48-4
 
 ConferenceOverall
Oklahoma State4-57-5
Texas Tech3-66-6
Iowa State3-66-6
Baylor3-66-6
Kansas1-83-9
BCS automatic berth: Oklahoma
 
Offensive MVP
 
QB
Geno Smith
2011 stats: 65.8 COMP %, 4,385 YDS, 31 TD, 7 INT
2012 projection: 67.8 COMP %, 4,630 YDS, 37 TD, 7 INT
Entering Year 2 in coach Dana Holgorsen's system, Smith should make the same leap as former Holgorsen protégé Brandon Weeden. Though he doesn't have quite as strong an arm, Smith is a better athlete and a savvy decision-maker who has the benefit of throwing to dynamic receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. "I've become a totally different player than I was last year, and I'm ready to let the world see it," said Smith.
Debate: How will WVU, TCU do in Big 12 debut seasons?
 
Defensive MVP
 
DE
Jackson Jeffcoat
2011 stats: 54 tackles, 8 sacks, 16.6 tackles for loss
2012 projection: 64 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss
Jeffcoat teams with Alex Okafor as part of the nastiest set of bookends in the Big 12, if not the country. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound son of 15-year NFL staple Jim, Jeffcoat is a gifted athlete who uses his speed and extremely refined technique to get to the quarterback. The scary thing is: Jeffcoat is still growing. The junior has all the makings of a high first-round draft pick if he comes out early.
Jeffcoat headlines SI.com's Preseason All-Big 12 Team
 
Impact Freshman
 
QB
Wes Lunt
2011 stats (high school): 73.1 COMP %, 3,651 YDS, 31 TD, 4 INT
2012 projection: 64 COMP %, 3,900 YDS, 32 TD, 14 INT
The Rochester, Ill., native arrived in Stillwater in January. By April, he'd earned the Cowboys' starting quarterback job. A 6-4, 211-pound Illinois high school record holder for a 590-yard game, Lunt wowed coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken with his physical similarity to predecessor Brandon Weeden. Expect some growing pains from Lunt as a true freshman starter, but in Gundy's pass-heavy offense Lunt will still put up some big numbers.
 
Coach On The Hot Seat
 
Tommy Tuberville
Last season: 5-7 (2-7 Big 12)
Career at Texas Tech: 13-12 (5-12 Big 12)
With the exception of last year's stunning upset at Oklahoma, Tuberville has not yet produced the level of success he did during his 10-year run at Auburn. Most gallingly, the Red Raiders lost their final five games last season to miss a bowl for the first time since 1999. The main culprit: A horrific defense that finished dead last nationally against the run last season. Tuberville hired his third defensive coordinator (Art Kaufman) in as many seasons to try to make things better, but Tech needs to get back on the right side of .500.
 
Three Key Nonconference Games
 
Oklahoma State at Arizona
Saturday, Sept. 8
10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
The Cowboys have dominated the Wildcats the past two years, winning 36-10 in the 2010 Alamo Bowl and 37-14 in Stillwater last season. This year could be a little trickier. For one thing, Wes Lunt will be making his first college road start in what figures to be a hostile atmosphere. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will be rolling out new coach Rich Rodriguez's trademark spread offense, led by fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott, which could prove challenging for Oklahoma State's defense.
 
Iowa State at Iowa
Saturday, Sept. 8
3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The Cyclones have been a perennial thorn in their archrival's side, most recently pulling out a 44-41 triple-overtime thriller last season in Ames to help Paul Rhoads' team reach bowl eligibility. Running back James White and star linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott lead an Iowa State team that's looking to get over the hump after going 18-20 in Rhoads' first three seasons. The Hawkeyes are breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators.
 
Notre Dame at Oklahoma
Saturday, Oct. 27
TBD
One of the most glamorous intersectional games of the season figures to garner millions of television viewers, regardless of the stakes. The Sooners are just 1-8 all time against the Fighting Irish, but the teams have not met since 1999. Notre Dame famously ended Oklahoma's NCAA record 47-game winning streak with a 7-0 upset in 1957. If the Sooners take care of business in the games they're favored to win and knock off rival Texas, they could be working on another streak come this game.
 
Three Key Conference Games
 
Oklahoma vs. Texas
Saturday, Oct. 13
ABC
Last season marked the first time in eight years that one of these two did not win the conference. Expect the stakes to be back to their usual high level this season, and for the Longhorns to be more competitive than during last year's 55-17 blowout. Sooners quarterback Landry Jones looks to go out with three career Red River wins.
 
Oklahoma at West Virginia
Saturday, Nov. 17
TBD
The Sooners visit TCU on Dec. 1, but their first of two late-season trips to the Big 12's new members could hold BCS implications for both teams. It could also take four hours, what with the number of passes likely to be thrown by Landry Jones and Geno Smith.
 
Texas at Kansas State
Saturday, Dec. 1
TBD
The Wildcats have caused problems for Mack Brown's teams, winning four straight meetings dating to 2006. Last year saw K-State survive a defensive struggle, 17-13, in Austin. Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein will likely need more production to win this one -- and the possible Big 12 title that might come with it.
Schroeder: Collin Klein, Kansas State looking to surprise again
 
Five Key Questions
 
Can Mike Stoops bring back old times? Sooners fans hope Bob's brother can restore the type of defensive dominance OU enjoyed when it won the 2000 national title. That might not be realistic immediately, but Mike could patch the holes that led to too many big plays allowed in recent years.
Will Texas finally find a quarterback? David Ash and Case McCoy are into their second year of competition. Coaches continue to refrain from anointing Ash, despite Ash leading Texas to a Holiday Bowl win, but realistically they need him to emerge as a dependable, every-down signal caller to contend for the league title.
Is TCU built for the Big 12? Gary Patterson's program has long since shown it can hang with the big boys -- he's 12-7 versus ranked opponents -- but this will be the Frogs' first full season of BCS-conference competition. It didn't help that star linebacker Tanner Brock and three others were dismissed following a February drug sting.
Will Baylor regress post-RGIII? The Bears enjoyed a dream season in 2011, posting 10 wins and producing a Heisman Trophy winner. Robert Griffin III's replacement, senior Nick Florence, has seven starts under his belt, but unfortunately, stars Terrance Ganaway and Kendall Wright are gone too.
Is Charlie Weis committed to Kansas? There was much head scratching last winter when Weis opted to take over the woeful Jayhawks. Since his Notre Dame ouster in 2009, Weis has done one-season stints as offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida Gators. He's now reunited with former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist.
 
Big 12 Video Preview
Debate: How will Big 12 newcomers fare?
Source: SI
Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel debate the 2012 prospects for new Big 12 teams West Virginia and TCU.
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