Thursday, August 25, 2011

Big 12 Forecast: At the front of the pack, Oklahoma feels right at home

Ten hyper-specific predictions for 2011. Wrapping up Big 12 Week.

? Oklahoma will extend its winning streak in Memorial Stadium to 42 games, tying Texas (1968-76) for the fourth-longest home winning streak since World War II. The Sooners are a ridiculous 72-2 at home in coach Bob Stoops' 12-year tenure ? their last loss in Norman came at the hands of TCU in the 2005 season opener ? and only face one serious challenge to the streak this fall: A visit from Texas A&M on Nov. 5.

? Three years removed from finishing as the worst rushing offense in the conference in Mike Sherman's first season as head coach, Texas A&M will produce two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history. Duel workhorses Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael will both go over the millennium mark behind the league's nastiest offensive line.

? Oklahoma State will average a full touchdown less per game under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken than it did in 2010 under departed spread mastermind Dana Holgorsen. The scheme is the same, as is most of the personnel ? most notably prolific quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-Universe receiver Justin Blackmon. But when Monken arrived in the spring, it was Weeden who took on the role of teaching the offense to his coach, a bad sign for matching last year's bombastic totals.

? Texas will lead the Big 12 in total defense for the fourth year in a row under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, but will lose multiple games in which opponents fail to score 20 points. The rebuilding Longhorn offense should help the D on paper by slashing last year's sky-high turnover rates, but won't be much better at actually putting points on the board itself.

? Missouri quarterback James Franklin will throw more touchdown passes and post a higher pass efficiency rating than his predecessor, Blaine Gabbert, who went with the tenth overall pick in April's NFL Draft despite finishing eighth in the conference and 64th nationally last year with a mediocre rating of 127.0. Still, the Tigers will barely improve at all on the scoreboard and ultimately fall short of their fourth 10-win season in five years.

? Baylor's veteran offense will re-break most of the 55 school records it set or tied in 2010, including new single-season marks for yards and points per game, but still struggle to stay above .500 opposite the league's worst defense. The Bears were eviscerated for at least 38 points in seven different games last year, and shipped out six of their top seven tacklers.

? Texas Tech will average less than 30 points per game for the first time since 2000, former head coach Mike Leach's first season at the helm. Last year, the first under more conservative boss Tommy Tuberville, was Tech's worst on the scoreboard in a decade (33.1 ppg), and Tuberville has vowed to continue the transition away from Leach's "Air Raid" to a more "balanced" attack.

? Kansas State tailback Bryce Brown will lead the Big 12 with more than 1,200 yards on the ground, the third consecutive season a Wildcat has finished as the league's No. 1 rusher. Brown is cut from the same slab of marble as 225-pound workhorse Daniel Thomas, the top gainer each of the past two years, and should have little competition for touches in an otherwise uninspiring K-State attack.

? Emotional coach Paul Rhoads will break down in tears after Iowa State pulls a dramatic upset over a ranked team. The Cyclones have won as 20-point underdogs at Nebraska and then at Texas in Rhoads' first two seasons, and came within a surprise two-point conversion of stunning Nebraska again last year in overtime. With a bowl game on the line in November, though, they'll also fall short by going out on a three-game losing streak for the second year in a row, against three different teams.

? Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb will be knocked unconscious in the midst of a sudden tornado before the Jayhawks' season finale against Missouri, mentally transporting him to a fantastic land filled with singing dwarves, glittering sorceresses, friendly woodland creatures and a self-proclaimed "wizard" who turns out to be former KU coach Mark Mangino. His cover blown, Mangino will advise Webb to click his ruby cleats together three times and repeat, "I will never amount to anything," returning him to Arrowhead Stadium just in time to lead Kansas' only conference win of the season.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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