The 2010 college football season is months away. Teams have yet to go through spring practice which means there's still plenty of opportunities for players to transfer, get in trouble doing something stupid, or suffer depth-chart rearranging injuries. In other words, there's plenty of time for things to happen that alter the 2010 landscape.
The 2010 schedules are set, however, so we can do a realistic breakdown of who benefits and who gets the shaft from this year's schedule. The conference apparently has fallen in love with Jerryworld (Cowboys Stadium) in Dallas as this year the stadium will host the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas, the Texas A&M-Arkansas game, and the Texas Tech-Baylor game.
Quick Team Review
Texas and Oklahoma are the perennial contenders in the Big 12 South and will be again in 2010. The Longhorns must replace all-everything quarterback Colt McCoy and his roommate Jordan Shipley, but watching Garrett Gilbert in the 2009 BCS National Title game must give ‘Horns fans some confidence. Oklahoma's Landry Jones has nearly a full season of starts under his belt and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles return on offense. The downside for Oklahoma is their loss of quite a few starters from their defense going into 2010, including Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks.
Texas A&M will get some consideration due to the fact they're returning eight starters on offense and nine on defense, including quarterback Jerrod Johnson who could be chosen as the Big 12's 2010 pre-season offensive player of the year.
Texas Tech will be rebuilding after firing Mike Leach and bringing in Tommy Tuberville, while Oklahoma State returns the least amount of starters in the conference. Baylor.... well.... they're still Baylor.
In the Big 12 North, Nebraska and Missouri will battle for the division crown. Both teams return a lot of starters - Nebraska with eight on offense and defense, and Missouri with nine on offense and defense. Nebraska won the Big 12 North with a nearly non-existent offense in 2009, but this season returns an experienced starter with quarterback Zac Lee. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert won't have Danario Alexander this season, but like Lee also has a year of starts which means he'll be much improved.
Iowa State and Kansas State remain in rebuilding mode as they enter the second year of Paul Rhoads and Bill Snyder, respectively. Kansas is starting anew with Turner Gill and without the productive trio of Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, and Kerry Meier. It will be enough for these teams to make a bowl game, let alone contend for the Big 12. Colorado seems to be lost and hoping that they don't lose more players under Dan Hawkins.
All of this leaves us with four contenders - Texas and Oklahoma in the South and Nebraska and Missouri in the North.
Tough Games for Contenders:
Texas - vs Oklahoma in Dallas, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech
The Red River Rivalry (er, Shootout) against Oklahoma is always a tough match up with national title implications. The winner has made the national title game six out of the last ten times these teams have met.
Nebraska will be looking for revenge after that second was put back on the clock in the Big 12 title game. On top of that Husker fans are tired of losing to Texas. The 'Horns have won all five match-ups this decade, with Texas four of those games by a total of nine points.
Texas Tech is always a tough place to play and a last-second loss in Lubbock kept the Longhorns from making the national title game in 2008. The key to Texas Big 12 fortune, though, lies in timing. They don't really have back-to-back difficult match ups as October ninth is an open date between Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma - Florida State, Cincinnati, vs Texas in Dallas, at Missouri, at Texas A&M
Oklahoma plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation again this year, facing nine bowl teams from last season. The good news for Sooners fans is that their two toughest non-conference teams will be breaking in new coaches - Jimbo Fisher is taking over for Bobby Bowden at Florida State while Butch Jones takes over for at Cincinnati.
I've already mentioned the Red River Rivalry against Texas. What I didn't mention is that the Longhorns have won four out of the last five meetings, so Bob Stoops must be anxious to reverse that trend. The Sooners will face tough tests in traveling to Columbia to face Big 12 North contender Missouri and at Texas A&M. Both teams should feature some firepower on offense that will test a rebuidlng Sooner defense.
Missouri - at Texas A&M, Oklahoma, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech
Missouri's non-conference schedule shouldn't scare any Tiger fans. Illinois is the only possible loss here, but shouldn't be considered much of a threat after going 3-9 in 2009 and not showing any improvement under head coach Ron Zook.
The only good thing about Missouri's Big 12 schedule is that they avoid playing Texas. The bad news for Tigers fans is they face Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas Tech in consecutive weeks.
Nebraska - at Washington, Texas, Missouri, at Texas A&M
Nebraska's schedule is the things dreams are made of. A tough non-conference test awaits at Washington, where Steve Sarkisian is turning things around quickly. The Huskies didn't win a game in 2008, going 0-12, but in Sarkisian's first year they went 5-7, including a 16-13 upset of USC and a 42-10 demolition of ranked California to end the season. The Blackshirt defense will face Jake Locker, who is considered one of the best returning quarterbacks in the nation.
The Big 12 conference schedule is sweet as the Huskers get Texas and Missouri at home and avoid Oklahoma. They do have to travel to face the Aggies late in the season, but the entire schedule doesn't include any consecutive road games.
I've already mentioned Nebraska's sweet schedule. On the other end of the spectrum is Iowa State, who gets to travel to Oklahoma and Texas on consecutive weekends.
Kansas and Texas Tech start the season with new head coaches - Turner Gill and Tommy Tuberville, respectively. Gill's Jayhawks get road games at Nebraska and Missouri, while Tuberville has his first Big 12 game at Texas, then later has to travel to Norman to face the Sooners where Tech hasn't won since 1996.
Kansas State starts the season against UCLA, a rather bizarre twist for Bill Snyder who is well-known for his preference to cupcakes in non-conference match ups. The Wildcats
Oklahoma State gets Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma at home with Texas on the road. That's not a bad schedule for a team looking to replace a bunch of productive starters.
Non-Conference Match Ups To Watch:
Baylor at TCU - With phenom quarterback Robert Griffin returning, Baylor has a shot at making some noise on the opening weekend. The bad news for the Bears is they lost
UCLA gets two Big 12 teams - Kansas State and Texas. Is this a sign that Rick Neuheisel wants more shots against his old opponents or that the SEC refuses to schedule anyone decent in non-conference play?
TCU was to play two Big 12 teams, but Texas Tech moved them to a later year to accommodate moving the Texas game earlier in the schedule. Tech will finish the year against two non-conference opponents, Weber State and Houston. What an odd schedule.
Nebraska at Washington - I've already mentioned it, but if Nebraska can take care of business against the Huskies they just might be national title contenders.
Texas A&M vs Arkansas in Dallas at Jerry World. The Aggies were destroyed 47-19 by their old SWC rival in 2009. If they expect to contend in the Big 12, this game better be close, otherwise it'll be a sign that the Wrecking Crew defense still isn't.
Oklahoma vs Cincinnati, Florida State - Good thing for the Sooners both of these teams have replaced their coaches since last season.
Kansas vs Georgia Tech - if the Jayhawks can stay with the Yellow Jackets it may be a sign that Gill has a team.