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August 29, 2010

Rivals.com publishers preview the Big 12

The Big XII Conference enters one final season in its current two-division state. With fall camp behind us and the season looming less than one week away, the Rivals.com publishers from every site in the conference wrap up the month of August. Get the lowdown on every team in the Big XII in this special camp review.

MISSOURI TIGERS
Biggest camp storyline: For the Tigers, it happened on the final day of camp. Leading returning rusher Derrick Washington was indefinitely suspended and accusations of sexual assault have since come to light. It is unknown at this point how long Washington will be out. Until (or if) they get him back, the Tigers will go with Kendial Lawrence at tailback. Lawrence is backed up by De'Vion Moore who is currently injured and true freshmen Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy.

Biggest hole to fill: Missouri has to find someone--or more likely, a group of someones--to step in for Danario Alexander. In 2009, Alexander led the nation in receiving yards. With Jerrell Jackson out for the time being with a broken wrist, the Tigers do not have a single wideoue or tight end with as many as 25 career catches.

Breakout player: Sophomore receiver T.J. Moe was the star of fall camp. Moe caught nearly everything thrown at him...and it was a lot. The sure-handed former quarterback caught only two passes last season, but emerged this fall as the favorite target of Blaine Gabbert. On defense, the best player was a semi-known commodity. Carl Gettis is entering his fourth season as a starter, but he has never looked as good as he did in August.

The pressure's on: With the situation at tailback up in the air, you have to go with Gabbert. Missouri's system relies more heavily on the quarterback than perhaps any in the country. When the QB has a good game, the Tigers can play with anybody. When he doesn't, they can look really bad. Gabbert was good as a sophomore. But he's going to have to be better as a junior.

Freshmen to watch: We mentioned Josey and Murphy and those are certainly the obvious ones. But Darvin Ruise played quarterback in high school and is now a linebacker at Mizzou. The Florida native was elevated to second-string late in camp and should see time on the field on both defense and special teams. He's wearing #12 and the comparisons to Sean Weatherspoon are inevitable.

Camp injuries: We already mentioned Jackson, whose status is unknown for the opener against Illinois. Reserve linebacker Donovan Bonner blew out his knee in the first week of camp and a knee injury will also keep safety Jarrell Harrison on the sidelines early in the year. Other than that, the Tigers should have everyone ready on Saturday in St. Louis.

Game of the Year: Clearly, it's the matchup at Nebraska the day before Halloween. The winner of this game has won the North four years in a row. That shouldn't change. In addition, Tiger fans would like nothing better than getting the last laugh against the team that took the spot they thought they were getting in the Big Ten.

The season's a success if...: Missouri wins the North. That's the goal to start every season. Certainly, the Tigers would like more (such as their first ever Big XII title). But you have to walk before you run and the starting point for the Tigers is winning the division. Anything short of that leaves a void in the season.

PowerMizzou.com publisher Gabe DeArmond
KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Biggest camp storyline: There were probably two with the quarterback battle and injuries. At one point during the beginning of camp three projected starters on the offensive line were out of action. Jeff Spikes is lost for the year, but two others have since returned. Projected starting linebacker Huldon Tharp is out for the season and the same for running back Rell Lewis. Other players have been on crutches during camp and expected back during the season. Kale Pick won a heated battle against Jordan Webb at quarterback. The competition carried over from the spring and midway through camp Turner Gill announced Pick as the starter.

Biggest hole to fill: Todd Reesing. He shattered the KU record book and was a fierce competitor as well as a leader. Kansas fans were comfortable knowing Reesing could always keep them in the game or come from behind. It is tough to replace to replace a three-year starter that accomplished what he did.

Breakout player: Daymond Patterson on offense. He made the switch back from defense and has earned praise from several teammates through camp. He's been playing at a high level since camp started and could be a weapon in more ways than one. Justin Springer on defense. He missed time with an injury, but has been healthy during camp. Springer will be the leader of the linebackers and will have to have a good season It is a position that doesn't have much depth or experience. Springer has the potential to be a solid player his senior season.

The pressure's on: For Kansas it is the quarterback and running back. Pick will be starter. The quarterback will have to play sound football and lead an offense where last year's weapons departed. They have to find a way to create a ground game. Sixth-year player Angus Quigley is listed atop the depth chart but there are questions whether he can handle the load. The future is likely with two true freshmen in James Sims and Brandon Bourbon. But neither has played a down of Big 12 football. If Kansas is going to be successful a running back will have to emerge and the new quarterback will have to manage a game and play solid. The quarterback won't need to be spectacular but just take of the ball and play within the offensive system.

Freshmen to watch: The only defensive player listed on the two deep is Keba Agostinho. He signed with the thought he would move inside but has been a pleasant surprise on the edge. Defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt said he's moving around better than they expected. On offense it is going to be one of the running backs in Sims or Bourbon. Likely one of them is going to get carries early on and it depends which one wins the battle.

Camp injuries: As already mentioned, the Jayhawks have three starters out for the season and injuries were a major storyline in camp.

Game of the Year: It might not be titled the game of the year, but the most important early game could be Southern Mississippi. It is a Friday night game on ESPN and on the road. It will be a tough environment and the Golden Eagles almost beat Kansas at home last year. The Jayhawks have struggled in recent Friday night games. The second game of the year is against Georgia Tech and Kansas will be an underdog. The next week they get Southern Miss. If they can find a way to beat Southern Miss and enter Big 12 play with a record no worse than 3-1 it would give them a lot of confidence.

The season's a success if...: If Kansas can go bowling in Gill's first year it will give them momentum and something to sell the program on. They can point to progress in year one with a new staff. It would energize the fan base and be a focal point to recruits. There are several games on the schedule that appear close on paper. There are many games Kansas could be an underdog but the odds will be close. If they can find a way pull out a close win or two, especially early on it could go a long way in building confidence. It is tough to predict the Kansas wins and losses. One of the things that would also make the season a success is if the coaching staff can get the team to play with maximum effort. If the team plays hard through four quarters each week it will be a good sign for the future.

JayhawkSlant.com publisher Jon Kirby.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS
Biggest camp storyline: The biggest storyline for Nebraska still remains around the quarterback position. It appears senior Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez are the front runners for the job, and some will tell you Martinez may have pulled ahead. The other obvious storyline for NU is handling the top 10 expectations in front of them this season. They haven't been ranked this high since 2002.

Biggest hole to fill: Nebraska still needs to prove up front on defense they can get by with life after Ndamukong Suh. Junior Jared Crick appears capable to get the job done in his place, but next to him it remains to be seen what type of production the Huskers can get out of sophomore Baker Steinkuhler, junior Terrence Moore and redshirt freshman Thaddeus Randle.

Breakout player: On offense, both sophomore running back Rex Burkhead and junior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie should have breakout seasons. Both players started to come on late last year and it's carried over into camp. Defensively, keep your eyes on sophomore defensive end Cameron Meredith. Last season Meredith rotated in with Barry Turner, but now he'll take a majority of the reps and is expected to be one of NU's best pass rushers off the edge.

The pressure's on: The pressure right now will be on the offensive line to perform. This line should be as good as Nebraska has had in a while, but they still need to prove it in a game situation. They also have to figure out who their left tackle will be between junior college transfer Jermarcus Hardrick and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles.

Freshmen to watch: Some new faces to watch for Nebraska are Sirles and redshirt freshman Brent Qvale on the offensive line. Both players are expected to see significant time this fall. True freshman wide receiver Quincy Enunwa also could figure into the mix. Defensively, junior college transfer Lavonte David should have a good chance to start at linebacker.

Camp injuries: Senior offensive lineman Mike Smith (broken leg), sophomore linebacker Sean Fisher (broken leg), junior cornerback Anthony Blue (Torn ACL) and senior tight end Dreu Young (back surgery) all suffered major camp injuries this August. Young is the only one that has a chance to return this season.

Game of the Year: This one is pretty easy for Nebraska, but their match-up with Texas is considered one of the games of the year in college football for several reasons. There hasn't been a more anticipated game in Lincoln for quite some time.

The season's a success if...: Nebraska wins the North and captures their first Big 12 title since 1999. NU hasn't been to a BCS Bowl game since 2001 and that's what many Husker fans have their sites on this fall. Anything less than a 10-2 regular season would probably be labeled a disappointment to most NU fans. Right now Vegas odds have Nebraska favored in all 12 of their games.

HuskersIllustrated.com publisher Sean Callahan
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Biggest camp storyline: The ongoing battle for the starting quarterback job has taken center stage since the end of last season. Coach Bill Snyder has not yet announced the winner of the race, but it is expected to be senior Carson Coffman. Coffman won the job last season, but after some struggles was replaced by Grant Gregory at the start of Big 12 play. Coffman appears to be a much-improved quarterback than a year ago, but he is receiving pressure from sophomore Collin Klein and junior Sammuel Lamur. Klein a tall, pocket passer, while Lamur (twin brother of K-State safety Emmanuel Lamur) is a strong-armed, athletic threat who is being held back by his lack of knowledge of the offensive system. If Coffman struggles with turnovers, Snyder may jump down the depth chart of Lamur, the playmaker.

Biggest hole to fill: K-State had a nominal pass rush last season, but almost all of that came from Jeffrey Fitzgerald. The coaches are hoping that junior Brandon Harold is ready to fulfill his vast promise. Harold was a standout freshman two years ago, but then was hurt almost all of the 2009 season. Quick at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Harold is difficult to block coming off the corner, but now he must stay healthy and play with the type of consistency K-State needs up front.

Breakout player: Many are doubting K-State's receiver depth but that group is supplemented by two transfers who played as true freshmen at BCS programs. Chris Harper (Oregon) and Brodrick Smith (Minnesota) returned home to Kansas last season to play for Snyder, but it's redshirt freshman Tramaine Thompson who has starred in camp. The 5-foot-7, 165-pound speedster will step right into Brandon Banks' role, while also inheriting the punt returner duties. The deepest and most talented position group on this team is safety, but a surprising standout from spring football is actually pushing for playing time. Ty Zimmerman grayshirted his first year of college and was expected to redshirt this season, but the former high school quarterback from Junction City, Kan., proved too good to not play. The son of a football coach, Zimmerman has a strong understanding of the game and is a physical hitter.

The pressure's on: This offense revolves around running back Daniel Thomas. There seems little doubt that Thomas will be good because the offseason program added to his speed and already remarkable physical fitness. Thomas, though, will be the center of attention in the Wildcats' offense and everyone, particularly defensive coordinators, know it. Expect to see Snyder use Thomas even more in the "Wildcat" formation and camp has featured many new wrinkles out of the formation to confuse defenses even more.

Freshmen to watch: We've already mentioned Thompson at receiver and Zimmerman at safety, so let's add two more freshmen who may make their presence felt for different reasons. On offense, watch out for redshirt freshman tight end Andre McDonald. At 6-foot-8 and 282 pounds, the original intention was to convert him to offensive tackle, but he's shown himself to be surprisingly nimble and a solid pass catcher. On the defensive side of the ball, true freshman Tre Walker may find the field. At only 205 pounds, Walker is undersized, but he's impressed the coaches with his football knowledge and instincts. The hope would be to redshirt Walker, but the linebacker spot is a concern for this team, which may force him into action.

Camp injuries: This team has stayed remarkably healthy through fall camp, although starting right tackle Clyde Aufner is still hampered by an injury suffered in the spring.

Game of the Year: Against Snyder's usual scheduling wishes, the Wildcats will kick off the season at home against UCLA. The Bruins went to a bowl last season, but have been hit with preseason injuries. The game could be a tone-setter for the Wildcats. A win should lift their spirits, but a home loss in the season-opening game would be considered a setback. Other big games loom, including week three against Iowa State in Arrowhead (if the Cats get off to a 3-0 start, Snyder may be working his old magic) and a Thursday night ESPN game with Nebraska, which should feature an amazing atmosphere at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The season's a success if...: K-State went into the final week of its season last year with a shot at the Big 12 North title and the Wildcats expect to be contenders this season, too. That won't measure this team's success, though. After 11-straight bowl seasons, K-State has made one bowl trip in the last six campaigns and getting back into the holiday action is certainly a priority for the program.

GoPowerCat.com publisher Tim Fitzgerald
COLORADO BUFFALOES
Biggest camp storyline: Youth was often used as an excuse for Colorado's struggles during Dan Hawkins' first four years in Boulder. The Buffaloes finally have an experienced team. The players on Colorado's 2009 opening roster collectively had played in 847 games. The players on the Buffs' current 2010 roster collectively have played in 1,540 games. The increased experience and depth is especially apparent on both lines and at receiver. Only one receiver - Scotty McKnight - had caught a pass going into last season. This year, they have eight receivers that have hauled in a pass at the college level. Nine of the 20 offensive linemen on Colorado's roster have started multiple games. And there are five upperclassmen that are expected to be in the rotation on the defensive line. Last year, there was only one.

Biggest hole to fill: Colorado is forced to replace Cha'pelle Brown, who manned the nickel back position for four seasons and was named the Buffaloes' Most Valuable Player in 2009. Redshirt freshman Parker Orms will step into the role. He led the team in tackles during the spring game and had a strong camp. Like Brown, Orms has great football instincts and is a sure tackler.

Breakout player: Former high school All-American Bryce Givensdbdb], who started seven games at right tackle last season, missed most of spring ball in order to focus on academics. And this month, Givens has been hindered by an ankle injury. In his absence, redshirt freshman [db]David Bakhtiari has taken advantage of the extra reps. He has worked primarily with the first-team offensive line at right tackle. Bakhtiari has packed on 50 pounds since he joined the team last summer. On defense, Josh Hartigan rose up to the top of the depth chart at left defensive end after a strong camp. He was moved from linebacker to defensive end midway through last season after doing a good impression of Texas standout Sergio Kindle on scout team. Hartigan is undersized at 6-foot-1, 225-pounds, but has good speed and is quick off the line of scrimmage.

The pressure's on: After making just 15 of his 32 field-goal attempts in 2008 and 2009, senior Aric Goodman has one last chance at redemption. Goodman has always been a consistent kicker in practice but it hasn't translated to game day. During camp, the coaches decided to narrow the practice goal posts to nine feet (normal width is 18-feet, six-inches), hoping that it will help correct their kicking woes.

Freshmen to watch: Paul Richardson and Justin Torres are the two true freshmen expected to play on the offensive side of the ball. Richardson, a four-star recruit from the Class of 2010, originally signed with UCLA. But the Bruins released him this summer after his involvement in an off-the-field incident. Richardson is a fluid athlete that makes it look easy. He is listed at the top of the depth chart along with USC transfer Travon Patterson at Z-receiver. Torres adds a much needed big back to the mix. He is good at gaining yards after first contact. Defensively, true freshman Chidera Uzo-Diribe is expected to be in the rotation at defensive end. He appears to have great upside. Uzo-Diribe was focused on basketball until late during his junior year of high school. Coach Hawkins compared Uzo-Diribe's skills to former Colorado pass rush specialist Abraham Wright, who finished second in the NCAA in sacks in 2006.

Camp injuries: Bryce Givens, who was projected to start at right tackle, has been out with an ankle injury. His status for the opener is unknown at this point. Backup left tackle Jack Harris is out with a sprained shoulder and backup safety Vince Ewing suffered a torn ACL during the Buffs' first preseason scrimmage

Game of the Year: The Buffaloes are focused solely on their first opponent Colorado State. And it is not just lip service. They watched the Rams celebrate on their home field last season, and they were embarrassed again at Toledo the following week. The slow start appeared to shatter the team's confidence. It will be imperative for Colorado to get off to a faster start this season.

The season's a success if...: After four straight losing seasons, a successful season for Colorado would be seven wins. Anything less and chances are the Buffaloes will be looking for a new head coach. Despite the fact that Colorado finally has experience and depth, it won't be easy. As usual, the Buffs have a touch non-conference schedule. They will travel to Cal and face Georgia.

BuffStampede.com publisher Adam Munsterteiger
IOWA STATE CYCLONES
Biggest camp storyline: Iowa State's offense is expected to much improved and for the most part, it showed in pre-season camp. Perhaps the biggest component to that was improved play by the wide receiver corps. Several of ISU's top athletes at receiver were hurt to varying degrees in 2009 but with everyone back and healthy this fall, the receiver group performed very well in pre-season camp. And they worked primarily against the strength of the Cyclone defense in terms of experience and talent - the secondary. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman has a track record of seeing his offense's breakout in year two of his system. That could be the case for the Iowa State offense this season.

Biggest hole to fill: Replacing Jesse Smith at middle linebacker is Iowa State's biggest hole to fill in 2010. In fact, the Cyclones must replace all three starting linebackers. The silver lining is that ISU will use its nickel personnel group a lot with an extra, experienced defensive back on the field (junior Ter'ran Benton) in place of a linebacker. As far as replacing Smith, the task falls on junior Matt Tau'fo'ou, a former JUCO transfer who redshirted due to injury last season in Ames. But Iowa State will miss not only Smith's tackling machine performances on the field, but also his intelligence and leadership both on and off the field.

Breakout player: On defense, it's no surprise that junior nose guard Stephen Ruempolhamer is no. 1 since he entered camp that way. But Ruempolhamer, a native of the Netherlands who is still relatively new to American football, was dramatically better than expected on the ISU practice fields in August, according to coaches. His execution and performance are catching up his athleticism. Offensively, true freshman running back Shontrelle Johnson exceeded expectations in every area except actually running the football. There was never any doubt what he could do there. But the Iowa State coaches were surprised by how well he blocked in pass protection and overall how physically he plays the game. He's a rare speed back who also seems to relish and enjoy contact.

The pressure's on: As with most teams, it's the quarterback. Senior Austen Arnaud has to be good as the trigger man in Iowa State's spread offense. He was an inconsistent passer as a junior, some of which was on the receivers, in his first season operating the spread. ISU doesn't want to be pass happy, but it needs to be more efficient in the passing game. Arnaud's completion percentage must go up and he must have a better touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio if the Cyclones are going to have a good season.

Freshmen to watch: Chances are it will be Johnson on offense. For starters, Iowa State has a veteran offense and Johnson would appear to be the one freshman most likely to really play at all in 2010, redshirts included. And he's just super talented. ISU would like to reduce the wear and tear a bit on senior standout back Alexander Robinson and Johnson could end up being the Cyclones' No. 2 back before September is over.

Game of the Year: A neutral site game against Kansas State in Kansas City is one of several games that have pivotal potential. If Iowa State's first two games follow the form chart, the Cyclones will be 1-1 heading into the Big 12 opener on September 18. A win puts ISU at 2-1 and 1-0 while a loss, obviously, makes the Cyclones 1-2 and 0-1. That's a huge difference when presented with a very winnable game on a neutral field. Iowa State has to have that one.

The season's a success if...: Iowa State makes it to a bowl game. The Cyclones face a schedule that is very difficult at the top end--road trips to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa--but there are also seven home games and just four true road games. No team in the Big 12 North will strike fear into the Cyclones as it remains a balanced, lukewarm division with only Nebraska and perhaps Missouri having any potential to really separate from the pack. In short: there are most definitely 6+ winnable games on ISU's 2010 schedule.

CycloneReport.com publisher Paul Clark
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS
Biggest camp storyline: The continuing installation of Dana Holgorsen's version of the Mike Leach "Air Raid" offensive system at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a long way to go following spring football, particularly in terms of tempo and chemistry in the offense, and appear to have progressed considerably this fall. How Holgorsen will tweak his system to take advantage of All-American (2008) running back Kendall Hunter has been a related storyline this fall for the Cowboys.

Biggest hole to fill: The obvious answer is at quarterback, where the Cowboys' all-time leading passer has moved on to an NFL career. Zac Robinson would not have been an ideal fit in the new offensive system in Stillwater though, so the impact is lessened somewhat. Regardless of the scheme, Robinson's leadership is a major hole that has to be filled by 26 year-old junior Brandon Weeden.

Breakout player: Sophomore wideout Justin Blackmon has been virtually unguardable at times in fall camp. There's never been a doubt that Blackmon has talent, but has lacked consistency. He seems to be picking up steam in that area. On defense, junior "STAR" linebacker James Thomas has withstood charges by freshmen Shaun Lewis and Joe Mitchell to hang on to the starting job, and has made big plays in virtually every scrimmage session.

The pressure's on: Weeden. OSU's defense should make another positive step after overachieving in 2009, but the Cowboys will have to score in bunches in order to pull an upset or two. That falls on the trigger man in the new offense. Though Weeden is relatively unknown outside of Oklahoma, he has a world-class arm. What he does not have is much game experience.

Freshmen to watch: Cornerback Justin Gilbert will have an impact on defense and particularly in the return game. Running back Joseph Randle gives the Cowboys another home run threat behind Hunter, and could also have an impact in the return game.

Game of the Year: Sept. 30 versus Texas A&M. A Thursday night game with a national audience on ESPN and the Aggies are a trendy darkhorse pick in the Big 12 South. OSU has won two in a row against A&M and another win here could jump start OSU's season. A home loss to A&M could throw the Cowboys off track.

The season's a success if...: OSU hits or exceeds the eight-win mark in 2010. That would exceed the expectations placed on the Cowboys nationally by a considerable margin.

OStateIllustrated.com publisher Jeff Johnson
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS
Biggest camp storyline: The biggest storyline of Texas Tech's fall camp has been the battle between Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield for the team's starting quarterback position. Sheffield was regarded as the favorite to win the job at the end of spring, but Potts clearly had the better camp, outperforming Sheffield in both preseason scrimmages, and was named the starter on Monday. The news caused a bit of a stir among the Red Raider fanbase, but it's Potts' job and Tommy Tuberville has said that he will have a long leash heading into the season.

Biggest hole to fill: The defensive line. Tech returns just one player, nose tackle Colby Whitlock, who was in the team's primary defensive line rotation last season. As a result, defensive coordinator James Willis will be relying on an unproven collection of second-year players (Kerry Hyder, Myles Wade) junior college transfers (Donald Langley, Lawrence Rumph, Scott Smith) and converted linebacker Brian Duncan to fill out the rest of Red Raiders' defensive line.

Breakout player: Receiver Jacoby Franks was almost an afterthought as Tech entered the month of August, overshadowed by players like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong and Alex Torres, but was arguably the offense's most consistent performer during camp. Scott Smith, the No. 4-ranked junior college prospect in the country last year, has surprised with how quickly he's picked up the defense and worked his way into the mix up front; at 6-foot-6, coaches have also been impressed with how well he plays with leverage despite his height.

The pressure's on: Quarterback Taylor Potts. Neal Brown's offense won't be 75 percent pass like Mike Leach's, but the success of Tech's 2010 season will still largely rest on the shoulder of its quarterback. His biggest challenge will be consistency, something he struggled with last year. Potts will have plenty of talent around him -- few Big 12 programs have a better or deeper collection of proven skill players -- but the key will be limiting his mistakes and not trying to win the game with every throw.

Freshmen to watch: Running back Ben McRoy probably won't get many reps on offense this season, but he is expected to make an impact on special teams. Florida's reigning 200-meter champion (20.93 seconds) is expected to be one of the Red Raiders' top options at kick returner. Cornerback Tre Porter will factor in heavily in Tech's rotation in the defensive backfield, especially early in the season as incumbent starter LaRon Moore recovers from a leg injury.

Camp Injuries: Cornerback LaRon Moore is still recovering from a broken leg he sustained at the end of the spring and is expected to miss at least the first game of the season. Reserves Britton Barbee (defensive lineman) and Jared Flannel (defensive back) each tore their Achilles during camp and will miss the season. Offensive lineman Beau Carpenter and receiver Austin Zouzalik both underwent appendectomies early on in the preseason but are expected to return some time in September.

Game of the Year: Texas, September 18 - Because of how memorable Texas' last trip to Lubbock was, their matchup with Tech this season would have been the game of the year regardless of who is coaching on the sidelines for the Red Raiders. With Tech's football program under new leadership, though, this early season conference matchup will serve as a litmus test of sorts for the first year of the Tuberville era.

The season's a success if...: Tech wins nine games. The Red Raiders should keep their Big 12-leading bowl eligibility streak alive thanks to its favorable schedule, but the team's unproven defensive line and thin secondary will make it difficult for them to challenge for a division title.

RedRaiderSports.com contributor Aaron Dickens
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Biggest camp storyline: Who's where on the lines? Losing three starters on the offensive line and switching to a 3-4 scheme had the Aggies looking for combinations late into camp and will rely on several freshmen, especially true freshman Luke Joeckel at left tackle, to play major roles.

Biggest hole to fill: Though he was unsung, Michael Shumard was the glue to the Aggie offensive line last year. He started at left guard and took one for the team midway through the season, moving to left tackle. That move stabilized the line and improved what had been to that point a porous O-line. Luke Joeckel will replace him. A close second Is at right tackle, which was manned by Lee Grimes. Either Brian Thomas or freshman Jake Matthews will have to step in there.

Breakout player: Christine Michael was a revelation as a true freshman last year, but the running back has brought a new level of intensity and competitiveness to the practice field this fall. Look for him to have a huge year, offensive line woes or not. Defensively, Stephen Terrell has gone from struggling backup corner as a freshman to starting safety as a sophomore. He's much more in his element and a lot bigger, showing no fear of putting a hit on a back in run support or dropping into coverage.

The pressure's on: Jerrod Johnson. The Aggies will only go as far as the best quarterback in the conference can take them.

Freshmen to watch: Does the name Luke Joeckel sound familiar? A darkhorse is tight end Nehemiah Hicks, whose size and speed could cause matchup problems. On defense, LB Demontre Moore has shown himself to be a highly effective speed rusher from the Joker position.

Game of the Year: The conference opener at Oklahoma State. If A&M wins, they will be, at worst, 4-1 and a young team with a lot of momentum. If they lose, the torches and pitchforks will be out for Mike Sherman all around the state of Texas.

The season's a success if...: The Aggies win 10 games. Nine wins, certainly, would be nice, but a fan base weary of mediocrity and aware that other teams in the conference are a little down this year aren't going to accept much less.

AggieYell.com contributor Mark Passwaters
OKLAHOMA SOONERS
Biggest camp storyline: The biggest storyline coming out of Oklahoma's fall camp is the presence of freshmen up and down the two-deep depth chart. That was expected on the offensive side of the ball where an infusion of talent was needed at wide receiver. It was also thought freshmen Roy Finch and Brennan Clay would be factors at the running back position. But Tony Jefferson is on the verge of locking down a starting nickel back spot on the defense and Corey Nelson, a late switch from A&M on signing day, is slated to back up Travis Lewis at weakside linebacker. The biggest newcomer impact will be felt at the receiver position where Kenny Stills takes over as the best receiver not named Ryan Broyles and there could be major contributions from Joe Powell and Trey Franks.

Biggest hole to fill: It's tough to pick a biggest hole when Oklahoma turned the NFL Draft into the Oklahoma Draft with Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams taking three of the top four picks. Bradford missed most of the 2009 season, giving Landry Jones time to develop heading into the 2010 season. The Sooners have a deep stable of offensive linemen to replace Williams at left tackle. But the loss of McCoy is the biggest hole to fill. The difficulty of replacing McCoy is complicated by the fact returning starter Adrian Taylor still hasn't recovered from a horrific broken leg in the Sooners' bowl game. Jamarkus McFarland is coming on strong, but the Sooners will have to make due with inexperienced, but talented, players such as Stacy McGee and Casey Walker. Taylor will return shortly after the start of the season, but the position definitely takes a hit with the loss of McCoy.

Breakout player: On offense, look for Donald Stephenson to become a name to know at left tackle. Stephenson was ineligible last season but has as much athletic ability as any offensive linemen in the Stoops era. Stephenson takes over for Trent Williams and the Sooners aren't likely to see much of a drop off. Considering Williams had an up and down season a year ago, Stephenson could actually improve the Sooners at that position in 2010. The easy answer on defense is Ronnell Lewis, who will play a hybrid strongside linebacker/defensive end position for the Sooners in 2010. But since this is Rivals.com, we're going even deeper and naming Tom Wort at middle linebacker as the player to watch. Wort redshirted last season after tearing his ACL during preseason practices. This year he'll take over the middle linebacker position. He's an intense and fierce hitter who defines the mentality coaches look for at the position.

The pressure's on: Landry Jones is the easy answer. Jones did a nice job in a tough situation during the 2009 season. But he's going to be judged on a completely different scale in 2010. Jones should have a better running game surrounding him after injuries decimated the offensive line a year ago. Jones is bigger, faster and stronger after a strong offseason, but the only measurable Sooner fans care about from their quarterback are touchdowns and interceptions. Jones has to make better decisions, he has to be more accurate and he has to have better presence in the pocket. He will make some improvements, but will he improve enough to be the quarterback Oklahoma fans have come to expect?

Freshmen to watch: Kenny Stills will be the new face to watch on the offensive side of the ball. The wide receiver enrolled early and went through spring football and ended up being the star of the spring game. He has battled a groin injury through camp and has missed significant practice time, but he'll be ready to go in the season opener. Tony Jefferson is likely to start at the nickel back slot. With so much experience returning, it's amazing he's even scratching the surface of playing time as a true freshmen. Jefferson is a safety with a linebacker mentality, but he also excels at covering receivers in the secondary.

Game of the Year: It's always the big game in Dallas for Oklahoma. OU/Texas or Texas/OU, depending on where you reside relative to the Red River, that's the name of the big one. There is an ominous looking matchup with Texas A&M in College Station, but Texas has to travel to a very irritated Lincoln, Neb. If both schools trip up on those road trips, then this game is even bigger. This game isn't just for a leg up in the South Division race, it's not just bragging rights, it's also Landry Jones vs. Garrett Gilbert to determine which school has the true quarterback of the future.

The season's a success if...: If Oklahoma wins the Big 12 Championship and plays in a BCS bowl game. I know there is national championship talk out there for the Sooners, but realistically, this is a team coming off a disappointing 8-5 season. They have a quarterback who has much left to prove. It doesn't appear they have a great wide receiving corps. If the Sooners are going to compete and win a national championship, they'll have to have one of Stoops' better running attacks and their defense will have to be one of the nation's best. The defense could be one of the nation's best, but with so many questions on offense, with so many freshmen contributing, I'm capping off this team's potential at a Big 12 title.

SoonerScoop.com publisher Carey Murdock
TEXAS LONGHORNS
Biggest camp storyline: After losing a four-year starter at quarterback, the most productive receiver in the history of the program and a couple starters off the offensive line, the Longhorn offense is still a bit unsettled as the season approaches. There's plenty of talent that's expected to step in, but there are still a lot of unknowns. On the flipside, the defense is expected to be maybe the best that Texas has fielded under Mack Brown. The D is loaded with NFL talent at every position.

Biggest hole to fill: You have to go with Colt McCoy on this one. When McCoy departed the 40 Acres, he left as the winningest quarterback in NCAA Division I history. In steps Garrett Gilbert, a highly-touted player out of Lake Travis. Fans got a glimpse of Gilbert's talents last year when he was thrown to the wolves in the BCS Championship after McCoy got injured. Gilbert's got a strong arm and he's extremely sharp with his preparation and grasp of the offense. The coaches are asking him to work from under center more than McCoy ever did, so that will be an adjustment (Gilbert ran a spread offense in high school as well).

Breakout player: On offense, look out for running back Cody Johnson. Johnson has struggled with his weight in his first few years in the Longhorn program, but he worked hard this off-season to get himself in shape and drop some unneeded pounds. He's now making a strong challenge to be the team's top tailback. On defense, safety Christian Scott steps in for Earl Thomas and both players and coaches are excited about what he brings to the table. Scott's a physical hitter at the position and he's a guy that people have been waiting to see for the past couple years. This year could be his time to shine.

The pressure's on: Gilbert's an easy choice here, but we'll look at the defensive side of the ball and go with defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. There's a good chance the defense will have to carry this year's Texas team if the Longhorns are going to challenge for a conference or national championship, and Randall may be the most important player on that side of the ball. DT is the one spot where the Horns don't have a lot of depth so Randall has to be good, and he has to stay healthy.

Freshmen to watch: On offense, wide receiver [DB]Mike Davis[/DB] has really made waves in the preseason. He'll play in week one, he'll be a starter when Texas goes to it five-wide package and Gilbert has already developed a terrific relationship with the slipper slot receiver. On defense, keep an eye on defensive end [DB]Jackson Jeffcoat[/DB]. He's played so well in fall camp that he's considered a starter. Jeffcoat has a terrific natural skill set and he's very well polished with his pass rush moves.

Camp Injuries: Senior guard Tray Allen was expected to start on the right side of the line, but he reaggravated a foot injury that he suffered in the spring before camp ever started. Allen has been unable to work his way back and the team's not sure when he'll be ready. Mason Walters, a star in the making, is expected to move into the starting line-up but Allen's absence really hurts UT's offensive line depth.

Game of the Year: The Longhorns' game in Lincoln looms large because of the way Texas and Nebraska played so closely (and some would say, controversially) in last year's Big 12 Championship game. But the most important game on the schedule is still going to be against Oklahoma in Dallas. The winner of that contest will be the runaway leader to play for the Big 12 title and whoever comes out victorious in that contest will be front and center in the national championship talk as well.

The season's a success if...: Mack Brown openly admits that the bar at Texas is now at a place where the team isn't happy unless it wins all its games. A Big 12 title would probably keep the fan base happy, but anything shy of playing for the national title will be a bit of a letdown for those within the program.

Orangebloods.com contributor Jason Suchomel
BAYLOR BEARS
Biggest camp storyline: Quarterback Robert Griffin, who missed most of last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee, is healthy and in pre-injury form. In fact, he appears to have come back with a stronger throwing arm - he's up to 217 pounds - and he's showing even more leadership in the huddle after deferring to seniors his first two seasons. The only question now is how will his surgically-repaired right knee hold up when he gets for the first time in Saturday's season opener against Sam Houston State.

Biggest hole to fill: The Bears have replaced leading tackler and all-Big 12 linebacker Joe Pawelek with speed and more speed. Senior Antonio Johnson is the new leader of the linebacking corps, and he brings a lively leadership style and speed and a hard-hitting style. Middle linebacker Chris Francis and strong-side linebacker Elliot Coffey can also run, and backups Chris McAllister and LaQuince McCall are considered two of the team's fastest LBs along with Johnson.

Breakout player: Redshirt guard Cyril Richardson[db] (6-4, 315) has starred in camp. He is one of the team's biggest and most physical linemen. He started camp as the backup at left guard and now it's likely he'll be the starter at right guard if he can hold off junior-college transfer [db]Robert T. Griffin.

The pressure's on: Nose guard Phil Taylor was simply a bust in 2009, considering that Bears coach Art Briles billed Taylor as the likely Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Instead, Taylor was a non-factor except for the season opener at Wake Forest and the last game against Texas Tech, ending the season with 25 tackles (13 in the first three games). He looks like a new man this fall, shedding close to 25 pounds. He's down to 340 pounds and he's been much more of an impact player so far this fall.

Freshmen to watch: On the offensive side of the ball, it's receiver Tevin Reese[db], who has great speed and runs good routes. On defense, the tie goes to three safety candidates, all slated to start the season as backups. [db]Ahmad Dixon, a four-star recruit, gets the most publicity, and he's delivered some big hits. But Prince Kent and Sam Holl have been the more consistent players this fall and are slightly ahead of Dixon with a week to go before the season opener.

Game of the Year: The Bears' Sept. 18 game at No. 7 TCU will provide a glance at just how close to being a bowl team Baylor is in Briles' third year as head coach. But the Oct. 9 game against Texas Tech and first-year coach Tommy Tuberville at the Cotton Bowl will be the pivotal game for the Bears. If Baylor and Tech hadn't have moved this year's game to Dallas, they'd be playing a road game in Lubbock. And the Bears have come close against the Red Raiders in recent seasons, including a 20-13 loss to end last season at Cowboys Stadium.

The season's a success if...: The Bears end their 17-year bowl drought. This is the most talented roster Briles and his staff have put together, and with Griffin back healthy, Baylor is capable of running off a seven-win season. A four-game stretch against Kansas, Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas State will likely determine if Briles can end the suffering in Waco.

SicEmSports.com contributor Todd Wills



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