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July 5, 2009
It's that time folks.
Time to determine if Bill Snyder has enough lactic acid left in his 69-year-old body to jog out to practice. If Mike Sherman can show a pulse in College Station and remember to wear maroon for the games. If Art Briles, a.k.a. "McGuyver" Briles, can grab a paper clip and rubber band and turn Baylor into a bowl team. Or if Mike Leach and the Texas Tech administration will even look at each other in the hallways this season after their near-split.
We will be previewing the Big 12 season this week, and I see nothing but mediocrity for the Big 12 North as Missouri comes crashing back to reality. In the Big 12 South, the crashing back to reality will occur in Lubbock. In fact, Baylor may be getting ready to pass not only Texas A&M but Texas Tech this season.
We're going to go from the bottom up in each division based on my humble predictions for the year. So let's start with Iowa State and Texas A&M.
Predicted finish in '09 (Overall and Big 12 North): Sixth, 2-10, 0-8
Predicted losses in Big 12 play: All of them
Can build around: QB Austen Arnaud can hurt you with his arm and his legs. He's the clear-cut starter and he's got young talent around him at running back, receiver and tight end. New coach Paul Rhoads also brought in former Rice offensive coordinator Tom Herman to install the up-tempo, spread attack that Herman had success with under Owls' coach David Bailiff.
Need to rebuild: The defense. Good thing Rhoads is a defensive coach (he replaced Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator at Auburn last year). The Iowa State defense gave up an average of 35.8 points per game last season and allowed teams to complete 68.6 percent of their passes. Horrible.
Final analysis:Gene Chizik, who got the Auburn job despite going 5-19 at Iowa State, left some decent young talent on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is a mess. Iowa State also has only three league home games because it is playing its home game against Kansas State in Kansas City this season.
Predicted finish in '09 (Overall and Big 12 South): Sixth, 5-7, 2-6
Predicted losses in Big 12 play: Oklahoma St., at Texas Tech, at Colorado, at OU, Baylor and Texas
Can build around: QB Jerrod Johnson has shown he can be an effective quarterback and must even out the inconsistency that plagued him last year. He has weapons around him at RB in sophomores Cyrus Gray, Bradley Stephens and freshman Christine Michael. He has a star in WR Jeff Fuller and last year's surprise contributor at WR Ryan Tannehill, who made the move from quarterback and led the team in receptions. On defense, Von Miller appears to be the real deal as an outside linebacker/defensive end.
Need to rebuild: A huge question is on the offensive line, where players were inexperienced and hurt last season. A&M had 19 players undergo surgery after last season. Two of them were on the offensive line in center Kevin Matthews and tackle Lee Grimes. This group was dead last in the Big 12 in rushing (88.5 yards per game) and gave up 39 sacks last season, eight more than any other team in the Big 12. The defense also has issues along the line and at linebacker. The Aggies were dead last in the league in 2008 against the run and produced only 16 sacks (Texas led the nation with 47).
Final analysis: If Mike Sherman goes 5-7 as I'm predicting, how patient will Bill Byrne be? Byrne has done good things at A&M and has just about every other program headed in the right direction -except football. With Tommy Tuberville sitting out there, tantalizing A&M fans, Sherman could already be on the hot seat. A&M hasn't finished in the AP Top 25 since 1999 and is 1-7 in bowl games since the Big 12 formed. The more Byrne stews over facts like these, the less patient he'll become. I had sources tell me Byrne succumbed to a faction of high-dollar boosters who pushed for Sherman because he was a tie back to R.C. Slocum and the days when A&M dominated Texas from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. But Byrne will not hesitate to change course if he sees it's a dead end. Could A&M be looking for a new coach after the season?
Tomorrow: My fifth-place finishers in both divisions - Kansas State and Texas Tech