Oklahoma Sooners: Jared Barnett

We'll be walking through the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12 before the season, but we'll start with the most important, especially in this league.

Let's do this:

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia: Smith put up huge numbers (4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8 completion percentage) and did so efficiently last season. Both of his top two targets are back and the adjustment to Big 12 defenses shouldn't be too difficult.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones and Smith will go head-to-head all season for honors as the Big 12's top passer. Who comes out on top is anyone's guess, but Jones regressed last season, and his receivers let him down after Ryan Broyles' season ended with a knee injury. He'll try to bounce back with just one reliable target (Kenny Stills) to start the season. The rest of the receiving corps is loaded with potential, but very inexperienced.

3. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Clearly, I'm taking more than just passing acumen into account here. Klein is the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, and also threw for just under 2,000 yards last season, adding 13 passing touchdowns to the 27 he scored rushing. We'll see how much better he is as a passer this fall.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesTCU's Casey Pachall could be poised for a big year with a stable of talented receivers.
4. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: I refuse to hang last year's failures on Doege's shoulders. Absolutely not. He played well, at least as well as he could. The running game struggled and offered almost no support after Eric Stephens' injury. The defense was a disaster and there were injuries all over the place. Doege still went for more than 4,000 yards, 28 scores and just 10 picks. Don't be surprised if Doege throws his hat in the ring as the Big 12's best passer by season's end.

5. Casey Pachall, TCU: Pachall didn't have eye-popping numbers, but only because TCU rode on the shoulders of its trio of running backs. Still, Pachall's numbers are going to be better this year, and he's got great targets in Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter, not to mention youngster LaDarius Brown.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor: I like Florence to have a big year with really good receivers, but he's got too much to prove for now. He looked good in spot duty for RG3 against Texas Tech last season, but his senior season will look much, much different than his inconsistent freshman year all the way back in 2009.

7. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: The Big 12's only freshman quarterback is a true freshman, and Lunt earned this spot by beating out some really tough competition in J.W. Walsh and Colton Chelf this spring. Amazing stuff, and his coaches know good quarterbacks. Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden have established quite the QB tradition in Stillwater. Here's guessing Lunt continues it.

8. Dayne Crist, Kansas: Crist's college career hasn't been what he imagined after coming to Notre Dame as one of the most highly recruited signal-calling prospects in his class, but he's got a chance to start something special at Kansas in his senior year, reunited with former coach Charlie Weis. Crist won't have the weapons some of the other guys on this list have, but he gives KU a big, big upgrade at the position.

9. Steele Jantz/Jared Barnett, Iowa State: These two have to cut down the turnovers, but they've both shown the ability to be playmakers. There's no guessing who wins this legitimate battle in the fall, but coach Paul Rhoads isn't afraid to bench either one if the turnovers don't stop.

10. David Ash/Case McCoy, Texas: Mack Brown insists it's still a contest. My jaw will be on the floor if Ash doesn't trot out on the field for the first game of the season. Ash has some potential and promising targets in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, but he hasn't shown the big-play ability of Jantz or Barnett. Expect Ash to move up this list by season's end, but for now, it's all just potential.

Big 12 position rankings: Quarterback

January, 25, 2012
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Today, we'll kick off a look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back on where our first position, quarterback, stood in the preseason.

Quarterbacks' rushing talents are factored into these rankings. As such, it's tough to figure out how to weigh that vs. passing acumen. Ultimately, teams ranked 4-7 were really, really close.

In these position rankings, we take into account backups, though that impact is minimal at the quarterback spot.

1. Baylor

If your quarterback wins the Heisman, you're not finishing below No. 1 on this list. Robert Griffin IIIlit up defenses and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency, even though Wisconsin's Russell Wilson did the same this year, and finished higher than RG3. Even when RG3 suffered concussion-like symptoms against Texas Tech, backup Nick Florencecame in and burned Texas Tech's defense in a 66-42 win. Griffin finished with as many touchdowns as Brandon Weeden (37), but threw as few interceptions as Collin Klein (6), despite throwing the ball 121 more times than Klein.

2. Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden is a solid second place in this ranking, and backup Colton Chelflooked good in lots of mop-up duty, too. Weeden was the star, putting together an All-Big 12 caliber season, though Griffin's otherworldly performance in 2011 knocked him off his first-team perch from 2010. He led the league with 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also had the second-most pass attempts in the league, with 564.

3. Oklahoma

Landry Jones got some help late in the season when Blake Bell's BellDozer racked up a team-high 13 touchdowns. Jones wasn't outstanding late in the season after Ryan Broyles' knee injury, but his receivers didn't help him much, either. The dropsies seemed to infect everybody after Broyles' college career ended. Jones finished with 4,463 yards passing, second most in the Big 12. He also added 29 touchdowns but must improve on his 15 interceptions, a regression back to freshman-year Jones.

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Early 2012 Big 12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.

It makes us all look like geniuses.

So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.

That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.

And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.

And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.

2. Kansas State: The big question mark for this team is can it take care of business and not get stuck in close games in 2012? The Wildcats were 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. They can't count on duplicating that in 2012. They should be better, and return most of the big pieces from this season's 10-win team, most importantly quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Next season is the time to prove it.

3. West Virginia: Who else is excited to see Geno Smith, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineer Express show up in Big 12 country next season? Like I wrote last week, giving up 33 points and still winning by five touchdowns is the Big 12 way of life. The Mountaineers broke Baylor's week-old bowl scoring record with 70 points, and bring back most of a good Big East champion team in 2012. The transition won't be easy, but they've got a chance to make a big splash in their inaugural year. The Big 12 and West Virginia are both convinced that the Mountaineers will join the Big 12 in 2012 and are planning as if it will happen, though pending lawsuits with the Big East mean it's still unofficial.

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Oklahoma won. That's done with.

The 26-6 final score over the Cyclones is convincing enough not to raise eyebrows. It should, though.

The Sooners suffocated Iowa State's offense, perhaps aided a bit by wind ,and quarterback Jared Barnett never consistently found receivers. The defensive miscues and poor safety play that plagued the Sooners against Baylor last week was gone, but Iowa State has nothing close to what Baylor has at its skill positions. Still, the defense was impressive.

But the offense?

It's clear this offense misses Ryan Broyles, and today, missed receiver Jaz Reynolds, too. Reynolds was suspended for a violation of team rules, and had a banged up shoulder from last week's loss to the Bears. Landry Jones' most reliable and most-often open target is gone, and against the Cyclones, it showed.

Jones finished 22-of-43 for 253 yards and no touchdown passes for the second consecutive game. His first interception? A ball thrown well enough to have been caught, but tipped up on a drop by Kameel Jackson and intercepted by ISU safety Ter'Ran Benton.

Why was Jackson playing? Because he had to. No Broyles and no Reynolds means the Sooners must dig deeper into the depth chart.

His second interception came on a pass intended for Trent Ratterree but CB Jeremy Reeves didn't clear out on an in route by Dejuan Miller and snatched an easy interception.

Who would have thought that missing the all-time FBS leader in receptions could leave a gaping hole in a passing offense. Oh, everyone? OK.

Backup quarterback Blake Bell's played well in short yardage situations and punched in eight touchdowns in three games for the Sooners.

It's clear Jones misses Broyles and against Oklahoma State next week, the Sooners will have to put up points. Iowa State's defense is improving, but Oklahoma State's defense is better. Make the same kinds of mistakes against Oklahoma State next week with a Big 12 title in the balance and the eight-year run of in-state dominance is over for the Sooners.

Reynolds will likely be back. That'll help.

But Oklahoma State has the offensive weapons to stretch the defense and force the offense to make plays. Turn the ball over three times in the second half next week like the Sooners did today and that's a near certainty. The defense forced four turnovers but the offense turned them into just nine points.

It was an ugly day. The defense might be capable of carrying the Sooners next week, but life would be easier if the Sooners offense made sure we all didn't find out.

If that's going to happen, there's plenty of work to do before next Saturday in Stillwater.

Odd mistakes plaguing OU, Iowa State early

November, 26, 2011
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What an odd game in Norman thus far.

A chilly wind, the Thanksgiving holiday and no big-name opponent have produced thin numbers in Oklahoma's student center. But a handful of awkward mistakes have Iowa State up on Oklahoma, 6-3, midway through the first quarter.

Iowa State's given up two fumbles, but got one of them back on a bad snap on a punt by James Winchester. The wind is whipping, and it looked like it may have influenced the snap, too.

Iowa State took over and Jared Barnett threw a 10-yard touchdown pass off a defensive lineman's helmet that floated into the arms of Albert Gary for the lead.

The point after attempt was no good though. Wind?

Landry Jones has the experience and the stronger arm. The Sooners are playing with the wind, too. But so far, it hasn't helped the better passing team.

Jones is 2-of-5 for seven yards. Barnett is 5-of-5 for 41 yards and the score. Iowa State is working shorter, underneath routes and moving the ball consistently.

It's been a wacky day, and already, it feels like an upset over an injury-plagued bunch of Sooners could be in the making.

First Glance: Breaking down Iowa State 

November, 21, 2011
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Record: 6-4 (3-4 Big 12)

[+] EnlargeIowa State's Jarred Barnett
Michael C. Johnson/US PRESSWIREQuarterback Jared Barnett and Iowa State upset No. 2 Oklahoma State last week.
Sept. 3: Northern Iowa, 20-19 (W)
Sept. 10: Iowa, 44-41 OT (W)
Sept. 16: at Connecticut, 24-20 (W)

Predictions: Big 12 Week 10

November, 3, 2011
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Week 9 wasn't my best, but it always gets a lot tougher in conference play.

Last week: 3-2 (.600)

Overall: 42-12 (.777)

Texas Tech 31, No. 21 Texas 27: Tech showed what it's capable of two weeks ago against Oklahoma, and Texas hasn't dealt well with dynamic offenses. The Red Raiders are getting healthier and healthier, and will pose major problems. Seth Doege and the Red Raiders are angry, and this challenge looks a lot different than Kansas. A word of advice, Horns: Look out for that slip screen.

Iowa State 38, Kansas 28: All of a sudden, there are major questions about Kansas' offense, but the Jayhawks will get back on track this week. Once again, though, the defense will keep the Jayhawks from capitalizing on their best chance to grab a conference win. Jared Barnett continues to mature, and Darius Reynolds gets back to early season form with a big game.

No. 6 Oklahoma 45, Texas A&M 21: I went back on a fearless prediction once. Not this time. You wouldn't like the Sooners when they're angry, and this team isn't real happy about what happened the last time they played on their home field. Oklahoma protects the quarterback better than anybody, and Landry Jones is smart enough to get the ball out to prevent putting the offense in holes. Texas A&M's poor pass defense is exposed, and the Sooners roll.

Missouri 34, Baylor 30: Missouri has by far the Big 12's best rushing offense in conference play. Baylor has the league's worst rush defense. That'll be too much for Robert Griffin III to overcome, though he'll get back on track with a huge day. E.J. Gaines on Kendall Wright will be a fun matchup to watch, but Henry Josey and James Franklin carry the Tigers to a second consecutive road victory in Texas, the first time all season Missouri has won consecutive games.

No. 3 Oklahoma State 44, No. 14 Kansas State 28: There will be too much offense for the Wildcats to handle in this one. Oklahoma State's is playing at Oklahoma's level, and this one won't be pretty for the K-State defense. Come back later Thursday for a video that further explores this matchup.
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in this week's games.

1. Kansas State's secondary. The Wildcats failed their big test last week against Oklahoma and it gets just as difficult, if not more so, this week in Stillwater. And time it's on the road. OSU's running game is better than Oklahoma's, and its passing game is just as difficult to cover. Brandon Weeden has been sharp, and the task ahead of Nigel Malone and David Garrett is enormous. This matchup will decide the game.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesMissouri QB James Franklin should give SEC defenses cause for concern next season.
2. Baylor's front seven. The Bears are giving up almost 250 yards on the ground in conference play, and Missouri fields a two-headed rushing attack with James Franklin and Henry Josey, who both torched a solid Texas A&M front seven last week. These guys have to play well to give Robert Griffin III and the Bears a chance, or Missouri will control possession and the game.

3. Oklahoma's home prowess. The home streak is gone, but did the mystique follow Texas Tech out of the building? Badly beating a good Texas A&M team would be a nice start for the Sooners, but Texas A&M has to be significantly less intimidated by a) seeing that result and b) beating Oklahoma last season. So which is it?

4. Texas QB(s)? Texas continues to list Case McCoy and David Ash as co-starters when the playing time looks like there's nothing "co" about it. Does McCoy still have a future on the field, or has the true freshman, Ash, taken over a full-time role? My guess is the latter, but Texas Tech will be a real test, unlike Kansas. The Red Raiders could be revealing.

5. Kansas ... offense? Prove to us that this offense really is better. Iowa State's defense doesn't really scare many folks across the Big 12, but KU had just three first downs against Texas last week and 46 total yards in a 43-0 loss. Part of that was the Longhorns eliminating the Jayhawks' running game, but can the offense help the Jayhawks get their first conference win?

6. Missouri's secondary. E.J. Gaines & Co. have stepped up their play in recent weeks, but this week will be a tough test for the Tigers. Griffin III endured a frustrating outing against Oklahoma State last week and will be back at home, where he's been dominant all season. Are the Tigers up to the task? They're dealing with one of the best receiving corps in the league, and a quarterback that would love nothing more than to beat them over the top.

7. Seth Doege's accuracy. Iowa State didn't blitz Tech much in last week's 41-7 win, but Doege wasn't sharp and the Red Raiders paid the price with a nonsensical loss. Doege's been outstanding, but can he bounce back this week? I expect him to, but Texas' secondary is one of the league's best, and the Longhorns will harass him and make him hurry throws at corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom.

8. Texas A&M's second half. It has to be said, does it not? Texas A&M has been the league's most odd team this year, only a few plays away from being in the top 3, instead of Oklahoma State. But alas, here they are, with losses to three teams after possessing double-digit halftime leads. Second halves haven't been the issue on the whole for this team, but they've been more evident in the losses. What's in store this week at Oklahoma?

9. Iowa State's identity. Who are these Cyclones? Was last week a statement of how good they can be? Or did Texas Tech lay an egg? I don't know how much Kansas can answer that question this week, but the Cyclones would be well-served to be the next team to blow out the Jayhawks, but Kansas could reach up and do to Iowa State what the Cyclones did to Tech. Should be an interesting matchup.

10. Oklahoma State's yes, focus. We've seen it the past two weeks. Oklahoma, then Texas Tech. If Oklahoma State isn't sharp, K-State will make it pay for dropped passes and poorly-timed three-and-outs. The ranking beside K-State's name should help the Cowboys perk up, but seeing last week's blowout loss to Oklahoma might inspire a bit of complacency. Or will it? OSU's stayed pretty loose this week, and this will be one of the toughest tests left before the showdown with Oklahoma.

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