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Posted: Monday August 15, 2011 11:55AM ; Updated: Monday August 15, 2011 12:11PM
Big 12 Conference Report
Is Oklahoma a legitimate national-title contender? Does Texas have a quarterback? Can Texas A&M handle the hype? Stewart Mandel tackles that and more in his 2011 Big 12 preview.
 
How They'll Finish
 
  Conference Overall
Oklahoma 9-0 12-0
Missouri 7-2 9-3
Texas A&M 6-3 8-4
Texas 5-4 8-4
Oklahoma State 5-4 8-4
 
  Conference Overall
Texas Tech 4-5 7-5
Baylor 3-6 6-6
Kansas State 3-6 5-7
Iowa State 2-7 4-8
Kansas 1-8 3-9
 
Offensive MVP
 
QB
Landry Jones
2010 stats: 4,718 yards, 38 TDs, 12 INTs
2011 projection: 4,920 yards, 44 TDs, 10 INTs
With the departure of go-to running back DeMarco Murray, co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel -- himself a former gunslinger in Mike Leach's Oklahoma offense -- is likely to go to the air even more. That could mean staggering numbers for third-year starter Jones, who will benefit from the protection of a veteran offensive line and game-breaking receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills.
Jones headlines SI.com's preseason All-Big 12 Team
 
Defensive MVP
 
DE
Brad Madison
2010 stats: 32 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 10 TFLs
2011 projection: 49 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 17 TFLs
Despite making just two starts last season, the former offensive lineman wound up leading the Tigers in sacks -- and Mizzou led the conference in that department. Taking over full-time for departed standout Aldon Smith, Madison could emerge as the Big 12's most dominant pass-rusher. He gets the nod over decorated Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis, who will miss time with a broken left foot.
Missouri team scouting report | More scouting reports
 
Impact Freshman
 
RB
Malcolm Brown
2010 stats (high school): 298 carries, 2,596 yards, 30 TDs
2011 projection: 235 carries, 1,227 yards, 12 TDs
Mack Brown doesn't have a choice. If he wants to produce the kind of consistent rushing attack the 'Horns have lacked the past three seasons, he'll need to get Brown, one of the top-rated running backs in the class of 2011, involved right away. The 6-foot, 220-pound bruiser may ease into his new role, but come conference season he should be Texas' primary ball-carrier, perhaps toting it 20-25 times a game.
Debate: Can Texas, or anyone, stop Oklahoma?
 
Coach On The Hot Seat
 
Turner Gill
Last season: 3-9 (1-7 Big 12)
Career at Kansas: 3-9 (1-7 Big 12)
Most coaches get at least three seasons to prove they can right the ship, but Gill's 2010 debut was so disastrous -- the 3-9 campaign included a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State and 55-7 and 59-7 routs in the Jayhawks' first two conference games -- that many already wonder whether the former Buffalo coach is in over his head. Kansas will become slightly more competitive this season, but no other league coach is in immediate danger.
 
Three Key Nonconference Games
 
Missouri at Arizona State
Friday, Sept. 9
10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This is not your typical late-night Friday matchup, as both teams figure to be ranked in the Top 25. New Tigers quarterback James Franklin will be making his first career road start against a talented Sun Devils defense led by star linebacker Vontaze Burfict. But this is a game where Mizzou's upstart defense could serve warning to the rest of the country by shutting down ASU's pass-happy offense.
 
Oklahoma at Florida State
Saturday, Sept. 17
7:30 or 8 p.m. ET (ESPN or ABC)
We'll find out quickly whether the Sooners are national-championship material when they travel to Tallahassee for the season's most-anticipated nonconference game. OU destroyed the Seminoles in Norman last season, but FSU has made major strides since under second-year coach Jimbo Fisher, and Doak Campbell Stadium figures to be rocking with fans thirsty for a statement win.
 
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas
Saturday, Oct. 1
TBD
The second installment of the Southwest Classic at Cowboys Stadium gained far more clout when both teams enjoyed breakthrough seasons last year, including Arkansas' BCS berth. The Razorbacks should field a ranked team despite losing running back Knile Davis, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Aggies could put the Hogs' defense to the test. Tannehill was not yet the starter last season when Arkansas beat A&M 31-24.
 
Three Key Conference Games
 
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M
Saturday, Sept. 24
TBD
The conference opener for both teams could go a long way toward shaping the title race -- and could end with a whole lot of yards gained. The Cowboys have won three straight, including a 38-35 thriller last season, so the Aggies need a win to make a move in the conference. A&M faces only SMU and Idaho before reaching this game, while the Cowboys face Arizona and visit Tulsa.
 
Oklahoma vs. Texas
Saturday, Oct. 8
Noon (ABC)
Always the most anticipated regular-season Big 12 game, this year's Red River Shootout could serve as a litmus test for the state of Mack Brown's rebuilding program. Barring a September collapse, the Sooners should come in as a heavy favorite and potential national-title contender. A close game would mark major progress for the Longhorns. An upset could make their season.
 
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Saturday, Dec. 3
TBD
Due to a quirk in the switch to the Big 12's nine-game conference schedule, the Sooners must visit Stillwater for a second straight season -- and the conference moved the matchup to Championship Saturday to boot. Oklahoma won last year's game in a wild 47-41 shootout to clinch its spot in the Big 12 title game. With no more divisions, this year's game could cement a BCS spot.
 
Five Key Questions
 
How will coordinator changes affect the Oklahoma schools? The Sooners are loaded, but projections like this one presume that Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell can seamlessly replace accomplished offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. The Cowboys' more modest prediction is based on lack of faith in Todd Monken replicating Dana Holgorsen's unique system.
Is James Franklin the next great Missouri QB? No pressure, but the sophomore's three predecessors (Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert) are all playing on Sundays. With nine returning offensive starters and a talented defensive front, a breakout season by Franklin could lift the largely overlooked Tigers into contention for a BCS berth.
Can Texas A&M handle the hype? With 18 starters returning from a 9-4 Cotton Bowl team, conference media picked the Aggies to come in second, their highest spot since the 1999 preseason. There's no question Mike Sherman's team is talented, but it's always dangerous when a traditionally overlooked team starts basking in hype. See: Ole Miss, 2009.
Does Texas have a quarterback? A thousand things went wrong for Texas' offense during last year's 5-7 debacle. While new coordinator Bryan Harsin (formerly of Boise State) could have an impact, the 'Horns won't make substantive improvement without a reliable signal-caller. Incumbent Garrett Gilbert faces competition from three challengers.
What can Brown(s) do for K-State? Bill Snyder has made a career out of high-impact transfers, and he's got quite the pair this season in running back Bryce Brown, the former No. 1 recruit in the country who spent a season at Tennessee, and his linebacker brother Arthur, formerly of Miami. Also, juco transfer Justin Tuggle could start at quarterback.
 
Big 12 Video Preview
Top Big 12 contenders
Source:SI
SI.com breaks down why Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State look like top Big 12 contenders.

 
SI.com
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