With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.
It makes us all look like geniuses.
So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.
That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.
And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.
And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.
2. Kansas State: The big question mark for this team is can it take care of business and not get stuck in close games in 2012? The Wildcats were 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. They can't count on duplicating that in 2012. They should be better, and return most of the big pieces from this season's 10-win team, most importantly quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Next season is the time to prove it.
3. West Virginia: Who else is excited to see Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer Express show up in Big 12 country next season? Like I wrote last week, giving up 33 points and still winning by five touchdowns is the Big 12 way of life. The Mountaineers broke Baylor's week-old bowl scoring record with 70 points, and bring back most of a good Big East champion team in 2012. The transition won't be easy, but they've got a chance to make a big splash in their inaugural year. The Big 12 and West Virginia are both convinced that the Mountaineers will join the Big 12 in 2012 and are planning as if it will happen, though pending lawsuits with the Big East mean it's still unofficial.
4. TCU: The transition will be more difficult for TCU, methinks. Depth could be an issue. There aren't any weeks off in the Big 12. Not even Kansas. Ask Baylor about that one. New Mexico's staying behind in the Mountain West. Eventually, I think TCU has a chance to be on par with Texas and Oklahoma on the recruiting trail and on the field. Being the only team in the metroplex is a huge deal. And it'll bring back a great team with lots of offense, headlined by QB Casey Pachall and receivers Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, along with Brandon Carter. It'll be fun to watch.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys should sustain success from this year, even though they lose Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. They don't have to worry about a losing season, but with a first-year starter at quarterback, the odds are against them winning the Big 12. First-year starters have only won the Big 12 twice. Look out for Joseph Randle to have a huge year in 2012. I'm also betting on Clint Chelf to grab the starting QB job, but keep an eye on early enrollee Wes Lunt.
6. Texas: The Longhorns should be better and have lots of upside, but it's looking more and more like this team will only go as far as David Ash will take it. We'll learn just how far that is during spring and summer. This offseason is paramount for Ash's development. He's got to show something big next fall. The defense should be stingy, the offensive line improved and the backfield loaded. It's up to him.
7. Baylor: Sounds like 2012 may be the Nick Florence Show in Waco. Baylor will take a step back without RG3, but we'll see just how much he had around him, which is to say, a lot. Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway will be gone, but Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese will get a chance to shine. Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will get plenty of preseason attention, too. The Bears look like a fringe bowl team with some upside without RG3.
8. Texas Tech: Tech and Oklahoma State probably have the most upside of any team in these power rankings. The Red Raiders were better than 5-7 this season, but will have to prove it in 2012, and have to stay healthy. Seth Doege, Eric Stephens and Darrin Moore could be a dynamic set of triplets in 2012, and don't rule out a top-three finish for the Red Raiders in 2012.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones may have a bit of a quarterback controversy in the spring after Steele Jantz reclaimed the quarterback job in the second half of the Pinstripe Bowl. Paul Rhoads joked about it after the game, but he's not joking when it comes to needing one of those guys to push the other. Jared Barnett has more upside, and the Cyclones could certainly grab a third bowl bid in four years if he plays well in 2012. ISU's a good team, but it's stuck in an absurdly deep conference that could have as many as seven (six, most likely, depending on RG3) Top-25 teams to start the season.
10. Kansas: There's a new flavor at KU, and the variables will be unpredictable for this team through spring and fall. The season should be fun. Can Charlie Weis redeem himself? What about Dayne Crist? Was Notre Dame just not the right fit for either? The opportunity to do something special at Kansas is here, and the bar is very, very low after a miserable two years. The defense can't be worse, and the Jayhawks have solid, maturing running backs.