There's plenty of offseason prognostication going on, and it's time to to join in the fun. The the Big 12 North race should come down to three teams, not necessarily in this order; Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.
First a couple points to remember. Last season, Missouri and Nebraska tied for first with 5-3 records. Given that there's not a clear-cut leader, it's not unrealistic to expect that a similar record won't win the North again.
Every team has strengths and weaknesses. This article focuses on the weaknesses, listing two for each team. The beauty of the offseason is the hope that fans have in their teams before the season begins, each fan hoping that their weakness... isn't.
Primary Weakness: Schedule
Kansas is the only Big 12 North team that plays both Oklahoma and Texas. Add to that a trip to Texas Tech and you're looking at a high probability for three losses before considering their games against their North counterparts. Add a trip to Colorado the week before Oklahoma and you've got your trap game.
Secondary Weakness: Offensive Line
I make no secret about an affinity for offensive lines. It's not a popular subject, most fans (and most pundits) tend to look at the skill position players and decide they can do everything on their own. Kansas can adjust in the passing game by getting rid of the ball quickly before quarterback Todd Reesing gets killed, but it takes a quality line to establish the run. Lack of a strong running game hurt Kansas last season. It may hurt them again this year.
Primary Weakness: The Passing Game
It isn't just about a new quarterback. It's about one half of the offense. A new quarterback, regardless who it is, can have much more success when he's throwing to a proven, dependable receiver (or two). Unfortunately, in this case, the Huskers don't have one. Niles Paul and Menelik Holt aren't at the same level as Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, the two players they're replacing.
If the passing game doesn't gel, the Huskers must hope they develop a strong running game or their Big 12 North title chances will be lost.
Secondary Weakness: Quarterback Depth & Experience
Zac Lee has attempted all of two passes and rushed twice - in his career. Kody Spano suffered a knee injury in the spring. After that, there's a converted linebacker and a true freshman. If Spano hasn't fully recovered, someone will be starting that doesn't have a full grasp of the offense. That's no way to win a division.
Primary Weakness: Defensive Line
Colorado lost a combined 130 starts on the defensive line from last season. They have a decent secondary, but any secondary can be beaten if the defensive line can't put pressure on the quarterback. A weak defensive line also exposes the team to the running game, meaning Colorado will need to score a lot of points to win games.
Secondary Weakness: The Passing Game
The Buffalo passing game took a big step backwards when playmaker Josh Smith unexpectedly transferred. The Buffs' two choices at quarterback, Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen, haven't exactly been consistent. Some of that can be blamed on the ton of injuries that happened last year - it's hard to get settled when you don't have the same guys in front of you throughout the year.
If Colorado can't find an answer here, they'll suffer the same fate as the Cornhuskers - a one-dimensional offense and another mediocre season.
Primary Weakness: Youth
It's one thing when you're replacing a new quarterback, but then add your main playmaker, your dominant tight end, and the anchors of your defensive line and secondary. Add to that your placekicker, it's just too much to do in one season. The Tigers have some good players coming in, but this is the Big 12 - who doesn't?
Keep in mind, though, that by the end of the season this team will no longer be ‘inexperienced'. That's when they play Kansas.
Secondary Weakness: Coaching Staff Changes
After eight years with no changes, Pinkel's staff went through a bunch of changes this offseason. Missouri fans might be grateful that defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is gone, but the new guy, Dave Steckel, has been coaching linebackers for the past eight seasons. Regardless of how good he is, he's in the same position as his players. It'll take some time to adjust. Add to that an offensive coordinator change as former quarterback coach David Yost takes over offensive coordinator positions from Dave Christensen who's now the head coach at Wyoming.
There's simply too much change to overcome in one season for the Tigers.
- Iowa State
Primary Weakness: New Coaching Staff
Gene Chizik left after two conference wins in two seasons, leaving the Cyclones with a ten-game losing streak. Iowa State appears to have made a good hire in Paul Rhoads, an Iowa native who was born within ten miles of Jack Trice stadium. Rhoads' hiring of offensive coordinator Tom Herman from Rice and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham from South Florida look like great moves, but, like any staff turnover, a new system takes time.
Secondary Weakness: They're Iowa State
Not to be rude to the Cyclone fans, but Iowa State couldn't grab the Big 12 North title when they had good teams. They have some good players (QB Austen Arnaud, DB/KR Leonard Johnson), but they don't have enough to make up for all the changes.
- Kansas State
Primary Weakness: Dis-array
It wasn't enough that Ron Prince brought in a bunch of JUCO transfers who didn't work out last season, nor that Bill Snyder was called in to perform another miracle. Add to that the discovery that former athletic director Robert Krause entered into a (double) secret contract with Ron Prince that would allow Prince to be paid $3.2M well after he'd already been fired. You might say this doesn't directly affect the football team, but you'd be wrong. Any time an organization suffers chaos, it impacts every aspect of operations. Coaches, fans, and players may choose to ignore it, but the monetary cost (whether KSU has to pay the full $3.2M or not) and prestige damage alone will hinder development.
Secondary Weakness: New Coaching Staff
Given what Ron Prince did to Kansas State, this could be considered a strength. Unfortunately, it's (again) all about change - players learning what the new coaching staff wants them to do. Snyder might have some magic left, and his hiring of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was a great move, but the Wildcats have to first find players to fill the slots. After they've figured out who's going where, they'll have to teach them their new systems, which means they've got more of a mountain to climb than your average new coaching staff.