Thursday, July 26, 2007

Big 10/11 Expansion and Final Preseason Predictions

Picked this story up from the extensive comments on Burnt Orange Nation's Big 12 blogger poll post. It seems that in the wake of the Big 10 Network's struggle to gain acceptance from cable providers, the conference may look to extend its already sasquatchian footprint.

Considering the conference already stretches from Iowa to Pennsylvania, this will naturally have far-ranging speculation as to who will be added (not to mention whether the conference will change its logo to a "10" with a 12 cut into the number).

Naturally this got the crack reporting squad from the KC Star on the case by talking to...Missouri. They came to basically the same conclusion I did. Mizzou is pretty far down the Big 10's list. I can't figure out a few of the things about the Mizzou-Big 10 connection. Mizzou doesn't have it too bad in the Big 12, as they have more money than most other schools and one of the best natural rivalries in the conference with KU. In the Big 10, they'd have a minor rivalry with Illinois and would be stuck in a conference with Ohio State and Michigan rather than Texas and Oklahoma.

If the Big 10 is looking to add TV markets, Mizzou is not the place to go. While it certainly is a presence in St. Louis and Kansas City, it's far from the primary presence in either town. It shares STL with Illinois (as mentioned in the Star), and shares KC with K-State and KU.

Even if it had sole control of both markets, Mizzou wouldn't be nearly as attractive as Rutgers and (maybe) Syracuse, who are the other schools being talked about right now (we'll get to Notre Dame in a minute). I have to believe Rutgers is the leader in the clubhouse right now. They bring a far better football team than Mizzou does, and open the doors to lovely Piscataway, N.J., not to mention the rest of Joisey and probably at least a solid presence in NYC.

--Welcome to New Jersey!--

As for Notre Dame, it's my guess that the Big 10 doesn't want a re-run of its failed attempt at the Leprechauns in 1999. Not to mention, Notre Dame doesn't really bring in any new markets, which is what the conference is really looking for. Sure, they're a national team, but you don't point to Los Angeles and say "hey, ND is a national team, let's put its game against Navy on TV next week."


It's time to wrap up my preseason predictions for the 1st Annual Big 12 Blogger Days. PB over at BON posted the results or all our votes, which I linked above. Here are my results for the top units (not individuals) at each different group of positions, along with some miscellaneous picks...

1. Texas: Colt McCoy is the real pick here. He was great last year until he got hurt, even being mentioned as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. We'll see if the newcomers on the offensive line come together, but he's got a good running back to help him out and a tanker full of good receivers.
2. Oklahoma State: My man-crush on Okie State continues. But I picked Bobby Reid as the offensive player of the year, so it's probably a little disingenuous that I would pick him behind anyone. However, I think McCoy will lead his team to more wins, as I noted in my other picks.
Notes: I had a hard time not picking Mizzou with Chase Daniel on this list, especially given the targets he'll have. Just shows the talent coming back at QB in the conference this year.
K-State at QB: Right now I have us listed at eighth. I think most would agree we have the potential to move way up from that position. We'll see how much Josh Freeman matures and whether the offensive line actually gives him time to throw, not to mention a viable running game.

Running Backs
1. Texas A&M: It's the old lightning/thunder thing. Jorvorskie Lane is about as easy to stop as an 18-wheeler on an ice road once he gets going, and Mike Goodson has some moves. Throw in an experienced offensive line, and this group could put up big numbers if they don't trip over Coach Fran.
2. Oklahoma State: Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston. Two good backs, in a good system, with weapons at other positions (Reid, Adarius Bowman) to keep the focus off them.
Notes: I probably shortchanged UT's Jamaal Charles here. I question his offensive line, but knowing Texas they'll just plug in another couple future all-conference linemen in and will never miss a beat.
K-State at RB: I really like both of the Cats' returning rock-toters. The KC Star confirmed this morning that Leon Patton is expected to be back with the team for fall practice after an undisclosed academic issue. He's the 'moves' back while James Johnson is supposed to bring the hammer. I have the Cats at seventh based on statistical formulas that are too complicated for you to understand (mainly because they don't make any sense), but again, given some offensive line improvement, this group could easily be among the four or five best units.

Wide Receivers (***Note: Because this group is called "Wide Receivers" I didn't include tight ends, which explains why Mizzou isn't among my top two teams.***)
1. Oklahoma: They only return Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias, not to mention Manuel Johnson. Maybe an audacious pick because they aren't sure who's going to throw to them, and OU may focus on the run this year.
2. Texas: Close call with these two teams, especially with UT returning Limas Sweed, Quan Crosby and Billy Pittman. With a proven QB throwing to these guys, I may end up looking like an idiot for picking them second.
Notes: As mentioned, I didn't include Mizzou in this. If it was just receivers, they would likely be one or two. Nebraska has a lot of decent receivers, but nobody that really stands out. Finally, Bowman from Okie State may be the best individual receiver in the league, but nobody else really sticks out. Oh yeah, and best wishes go out to Artrell Woods after his injury, though I know I'm quite a bit late.
K-State at WR: Losing Yamon Figurs knocks us down to the lower echelons of the conference at this position, at least on returning talent. Jordy Nelson and Daniel Gonzalez were solid if not spectacular; if Jordy can stay healthy he should return to his 2005 form. We should also see highly touted athlete Lamark Brown at WR, and a solid corps of tight ends (Jeron Mastrud, Brett Alstatt, Rashaad Norwood, Michael Pooschke).

Offensive Line
1. Oklahoma: Lots of returning players with starting experience, lots of rushing yards, not many sacks allowed. You know what's scarier? All that experience, and no seniors. Look out in '08.
2. Texas A&M: If you're going to run a rush-based attack, you better have the hogs up front. Four seniors and a junior from one of the Big 12's best rushing attacks return.
Notes: Nebraska has quite a bit of experience returning and just missed the list. Okie State also has quite a bit of experience returning.
K-State at OL: A lot of returning experience...but not a lot of production. This unit couldn't open up much in the running game and Freeman was running for his life way too often. Here's hoping Ron Prince's experience as an offensive line coach, as well as the additions of Alesana Alesana and Clyde Aufner lead to an improved unit. It will be the key to the season.

Defensive Line
1. Texas: I don't know how anyone is going to run on the Horns this year. For that matter, I don't know how they'll pass. This group is stacked.
2. K-State: This group returns Ian Campbell, Rob Jackson, Steven Cline and Alphonso Moran, not to mention a few reserves. Campbell and Jackson will take care of the pass rush, we need the guys in the middle to stiffen up against the run.

1. Oklahoma State: Return six players with a combined 36 starts from last year, not to mention 7 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. I can't argue with that, although stats don't always tell the entire story.
2. Nebraska: Bo Ruud, Corey McKeon and Steve Octavian will anchor this group as long as they stay healthy. Rangy players who will be asked to do a lot with an all-new defensive line.
Notes: Iowa State's Alvin Bowen led the country in tackles last year, which should give Gene Chizik something to build around. Colorado also returns highly acclaimed Jordan Dizon. Texas has a lot of returning experience, but this group has underachieved a little bit thus far.
K-State at LB: On paper, we have probably the weakest linebacking corp in the conference. That'll happen when you lose guys like Brandon Archer and Zach Diles. Marcus Perry needs to anchor the group, and it would help if JuCo transfer Chris Patterson could step in and provide immediate help. Going to a 3-4 will be interesting, as it will mean Ian Campbell and Rob Jackson occasionally lining up at LB. JuCo transfer Gary Chandler may see some time here.

1. Oklahoma: Returns four players who were all-conference second team or better, including preseason media defensive player of the year Reggie Smith (also second-team all-conference and former first-team freshman All-America).
2. K-State: This group has a lot of returning experience, including Marcus Watts at safety, probably the team's most valuable player. Joshua Moore had a good freshman season, making the all-conference freshman team. Other returnees of note include Bryan Baldwin, Byron Garvin, Justin McKinney and Andrew Erker.
Notes: Other notable secondary players in the North include Colorado's Terrence Wheatley and KU's Aqib Talib. Also keep your eye on Okie State's Andre Sexton.

Most exciting/interesting/compelling conference game of the season (I'm not allowed to pick a K-State game): Nebraska @ Mizzou
--I'm sure the South-centric folks in this conference would pick the Red River Shootout or the Lonestar Showdown, but this game is more interesting to me. It determine who has the upper hand in the North, and should be a primetime game in front of Columbia's snakepit. They've been hyping this game on KC sports talk radio since May. Honorable mention goes to Nebraska at Texas and Texas A&M at Mizzou, because I want to see the best of the North get back into the game with the South.

Most exciting/interesting/compelling non-conference game of the season (again, I can't pick a K-State): USC @ Nebraska
--Nebraska gets one of the national title favorites in Lincoln. On paper they don't match up well, but we'll see if they can give the Trojans a game. Honorable mention goes to Oklahoma State @ Georgia in the opening game of the year. We need to get some national respect back by beating power conference powers.

That's it for Blogger Days. Happy Friday.

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