Everybody, the Kentucky Derby is tomorrow!
Sorry, I can't do it. I really can't stand horse racing. Alas, our boys on the Big Ten blog handicapped the league title race, and for those of you who do like horse racing, here's how I'd slot the Big 12 if all 10 teams were making the nervous walk to the track right now.
We'll take it from the top.
Oklahoma: 8-to-1 odds
As I've written before, this thing is wide open, and nobody's going to walk into the 2012 season feeling too confident about their chances. That said, Oklahoma has the closest thing to a truly complete team. The Sooners have an experienced quarterback with lots of weapons around him at the skill positions, along with a solid offensive line. OU's defense should be one of the league's best, and the Sooners have been in this position plenty of times. They are a narrow favorite in a loaded Big 12, but the Sooners have enough upside to sneak into the national title game, too.
Kansas State: 10-to-1
Deep down, I don't think I truly believe Kansas State is the Big 12's second-best team (WVU), but I do believe in Bill Snyder, and the Wildcats have very, very few variables. That's a far cry from the two new teams in the league, who both have huge questions on defense and bigger questions about their ability to handle a more difficult schedule. That considered, there's no doubt in my mind Kansas State has the second-best chance to take home the league title. Kansas State is the little engine that could -- that keeps on chugging, seemingly oblivious to the spread offenses all around it.
West Virginia: 12-to-1
Speaking of high-powered offenses, West Virginia might well have the best in the entire Big 12. It's loaded at receiver and running back, and Geno Smith might be the best quarterback in the league. He'll get a chance to prove it this fall. In the meantime, WVU's got to make sure its defense is ready to give its offense a chance to outscore folks across the Big 12.
TCU has plenty of question marks on a depleted defense without projected starters, but its offense will be as good as any in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs still can't answer their biggest question -- How will they handle the jump from non-AQ to a major conference? -- until they actually do it. TCU's floor seems pretty high, but can it actually win the Big 12 in its first season?
Texas has the most upside of any team in the Big 12, but 2012 seems more likely as a set up for a title run in 2013. It's hard to see Texas running the table or going 11-1, but if the top of the league gets muddled and 9-3 is good enough to win the league? These Longhorns will be physical mudders. Pray for losses raining down on everybody, UT fans. There's nobody in the Big 12 Texas can't beat, but does it have enough offense to beat them all?
Oklahoma State: 20-to-1
Oklahoma State's defense, an underrated unit in 2011, will be much better, and its running backs will be some of the best in the league. Emerging weapons like Josh Stewart, Blake Jackson and Charlie Moore will make names for themselves in 2012, but how far can OSU really get with a true freshman at quarterback? Look out for OSU and Texas in 2013, though.
Aaaaand here's your big drop-off from the legitimate Big 12 title contenders. Baylor's a good team. It might even be a borderline top 25 team. But the Big 12 is so, so stacked at the top. You don't win 10 games, lose a Heisman winner, the Big 12's leading rusher and receiver, and then go win the Big 12. I'd be pretty surprised if Baylor didn't make a bowl game, though.
Texas Tech: 55-to-1
Tech wants to prove it's back, but find me a spot where Tech is better than Baylor. The quarterbacks are close, and Seth Doege's been better when he's played, but Nick Florence is due for a big year at Baylor. Tech's focus for now needs to be staying healthy and getting back into bowl games, not fighting for a Big 12 title.
Iowa State: 75-to-1
Iowa State might sneak into a bowl game again, too. They're good enough. This is still a team that's come pretty close to maxing out its talent the past few seasons and won seven games twice. That's legitimately impressive, but not anything close to Big 12 title contention. This season's team should be solid, though. The battle between Baylor, Tech and Iowa State to grab the last bowl bid or two is going to be really heated.
Charlie Weis has made some nice moves to get KU moving in the right direction, but if the Jayhawks go from 2-10 to Big 12 champs, I'll get a three-foot tattoo of a Jayhawk on my chest. That's a promise.