The Big 12 Conference has come back strong after two straight summers of uncertainty about its future.
Find another league that has ever featured three reigning conference champions like the Big 12 will have this season. It has its own defending champ in Oklahoma State and both newcomers _ TCU from the Mountain West and West Virginia from the Big East _ are coming off titles.
Six of the current teams won at least 10 games last season. There is a new commissioner (former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby) and a new alignment with the powerhouse SEC, which has won the last six national championships since Texas’ title, for a future bowl game to match the champions of the two leagues.
“I think it’s fair to say our league, when you add West Virginia and TCU, two teams coming off bowl wins, two ranked football teams, you put them with the rest of what we’ve been doing here in the Big 12, that our league is every bit as strong as it’s ever been, if not stronger,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “So it will be a challenging year.”
Oklahoma won seven Big 12 titles in an 11-year span before last season, when the league dropped from 12 to 10 teams and scrapped divisional play for a round-robin schedule.
The Sooners, with quarterback Landry Jones back for his senior season and already with 37 starts, is still considered a league favorite. Their schedule includes road games against the two new teams that replaced Missouri and Texas A&M, now in the SEC.
TCU has won 24 consecutive conference games, having won three consecutive outright Mountain West titles since its last league loss in November 2008. They also won the Rose Bowl in an undefeated season two years ago.
West Virginia won or shared the Big East title six times since 2003, and had a record-shattering 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl in January that made the Mountaineers 3-0 in BCS games. Their 4,000-yard passing quarterback Geno Smith got tabbed as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year over Jones.
“What’s awesome about the Big 12 as opposed to where we were last year is just the national exposure,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who knows that well after nearly a decade in the Big 12. “And it’s going to be West Coast to East Coast.”
An overall look at the Big 12:
OKLAHOMA _ Key players: QB Landry Jones, DB Demontre Hurst, OL Gabe Ikard. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Heisman Trophy hopeful Jones has 93 career passing touchdowns, and has thrown for 9,181 yards the last two seasons. The Sooners also have short-yardage running quarterback Blake Bell, who ran for 13 TDs as a freshman last year. … Coming off 33rd 10-win season, more than any other team. … Play both TCU and West Virginia on the road. … Mike Stoops is back for his second stint as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator for his brother. He left in 2003 after overseeing a defense that was among top seven in the country for fewest points allowed his four years in charge.
WEST VIRGINIA _ Key players: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, C Joe Madsen, DL Will Clarke. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Mountaineers make Big 12 debut coming off first 10-win season since 2007. … Before becoming West Virginia head coach last season, Dana Holgorsen spent nine of the previous 11 seasons as a Big 12 assistant coach, eight years at Texas Tech and one as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. … Smith, going into his third season as the starter, averaged 337.3 yards passing per game last season, which would have been third in Big 12 last season. … Austin had 101 catches last year. … West Virginia is 9-4 against current Big 12 teams.
KANSAS STATE _ Key players: QB Collin Klein, LB Arthur Brown, LB Tre Walker, DB Ty Zimmerman. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.