1.) Oklahoma. If there was a team that benefitted from Nebraska’s move to the Big 10, it would be Oklahoma. Without the Cornhuskers around, the Sooners are the prohibitive favorite in the conference-championship-game-lacking Big 12. I know that a lot of the preseason prognosticators will tell you that Texas A&M and Oklahoma State will challenge Oklahoma, but don’t listen to them; it’s their job to make things interesting. My job is to tell it how it is and Oklahoma will walk away with the Big 12 title … barring an injury to Landry Jones. When Sam Bradford got injured in 2009, Jones stepped in and quietly had a solid season, tossing 26 touchdowns and 14 picks in 13 games. Proving that he wasn’t a fluke, Jones had an even better season in ’10. Being the unquestioned starter, Jones threw for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns. To have those types of numbers, Jones has to have targets to throw to and his favorite target will be returning in 2011. Senior Ryan Broyles hauled in 131 catches in 2011, but the big question offensively will be how does Oklahoma replace the versatile DeMarco Murray? Looking to replace Murray’s productivity will be Roy Finch and freshman Brandon Williams who will probably end up as the top running back by the end of the season. Defensively, Oklahoma forced 32 turnovers last year, but will have to replace two All-Americans (DE Jeremy Beal and S Quinton Carter). The benefit for Oklahoma is that their offense will mask the possible growing pains of a defense that returns seven starters. Overall, as long as Jones stays healthy the Sooners will win the Big 12 and be in line for a birth in the BCS National Title Game. 2.) Texas A&M: The battle for second place in the new-look Big 12 will be between the Aggies and Oklahoma State. While I could see either team taking home the silver medal, I give the edge to the Aggies because of their experience. Texas A&M returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense which will be enough to hold off the Cowboys. Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback in high school who was switched to wide receiver in college before moving back under center, took over in midseason last year and proceeded to complete a school record 65% of his passes for 1,638 yards and 13 TDs. After the switch to Tannehill, the Aggies reeled off six straight wins, before losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. In addition to Tannehill, tailback Cyrus Gray was a replacement in 2010 and produced in a big way. Gray rushed for 1,133 yard and 12 touchdowns and will team with Christine Michael to form a potent one-two punch. The big question for the Aggies will come on defense because they lost their leading sack man (Von Miller) and leading tackler (Michael Hodges). That is a lot of productivity to have to replace on defense, but the linebacking cupboard isn’t bare as Steven Jenkins, Caleb Russell and Damontre Moore will look to step up. If the productivity of Miller and Hodges can be somewhat replaced and the offense continues its play from the last half of 2010 the Aggies will be poised to end a five-game losing streak in bowl games. 3.) Oklahoma State: As I said with Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and the Aggies will be in for a tough battle for second place behind Oklahoma in the Big 12. The one thing I do not worry about with the Cowboys is offense. If they are to win or share their first Big 12 title since 1976, it will be on the shoulders of an offense that returns seven starters. The Cowboys do have a new coordinator, Todd Monken who spent the past four years coaching receivers with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but don’t expect to see a different offense from Oklahoma State. Monken has said during the preseason that he will run almost exactly the same type of offense as last season and it will continue to be fast. Good first decision by Monken, because in 2010 the Cowboys averaged more than 44 points a game. Returning to lead the Cowboy offense is 28- year-old signal caller Brandon Weeden. Weeden passed for nearly 4,300 yards a year ago and his top playmaker, Biletnikoff award winner Justin Blackmon, returned. The question for Oklahoma State is on defense. They will be replacing six starters and head coach Mike Gundy said that the defense will be faster and more athletic than a year ago. That may be the case, but speed and athleticism can’t replace experience and the Cowboys will go through growing-pains on defense and that will cost them a chance to compete with the Aggies for second place. 4.) Texas: Even the most positive of Longhorn fans would be hard pressed to find any silver lining in last year’s season. Coach Mack Brown insists that Texas will be back to normal in 2011, but I just don’t see it. Brown is going to have to break in three new coordinators and Garrett Gilbert, who a few years ago was the heir apparent to Colt McCoy, will be looking over his shoulder as another McCoy, Case, continues to make big strides. With the potential for a quarterback carousel and the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it running game, the Longhorns defense will have to pick up the slack until the offense finds its groove. The Longhorns will return Keenan Robinson who led the team in tackles in 2010. The biggest defensive returnee however is Kheeston Randall who had 39 tackles last year. Texas will need even more from the senior defensive tackle in order offset the loss of Sam Acho. Back to the running game, Texas hasn’t had a productive running back in years and incoming recruit Malcolm Brown will be the next tailback to get a chance to show he can be a workhorse. His job will be even more difficult, however due to an inexperienced line. After reading this, it is feasible that you think I made an error placing the Longhorns at No. 4. I could understand people ranking the Longhorns lower, but I just can’t see two consecutive years of awfulness by a program as storied and talent-laden as Texas. 5.) Missouri: The Tigers had two players drafted in the Top 10 of the 2011 NFL Draft: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and outside backer Aldon Smith. On one hand, that is a good thing for Missouri because it shows recruits that the Tigers can pump out NFL ready players. The other hand isn’t so rosy for Missouri because that means there are huge holes to fill. Filling the shoes of Gabbert will be James Franklin. Tyler Gabbert is also in the shadows as a potential signal caller for the Tigers, but neither quarterback was very impressive during spring workouts or the spring game. Whoever ends up taking most of the snaps under center will have plenty of targets to throw to. Michael Egnew provides a pass-catching target out of the tight end spot and returning wideouts T.J. Moe and Jerrell Jackson give the Tiger quarterbacks no shortage of targets. Defensively ends Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith look to replace the production of Aldon Smith. I was tempted to place Missouri higher, but the question mark at quarterback and a green set of cornerbacks will prove to be too much to overcome in the Big 12 in 2011. 6.) Texas Tech: Tech finished the season strong under the underappreciated Tommy Tuberville. While the 5-2 finish to 2010 was a step in the right direction for the program, I think that they will be stuck in neutral in 2011. If Texas Tech is going to finish higher than my projected No. 6, they will have to take advantage of an early season schedule that will most likely see them favored in six of their first eight games. If they can win the games they are favored to win and can somehow pull out an upset of Oklahoma, they could really shake up the national title picture and place themselves in the running for the Big 12 title. While I’ll never say anything is impossible, that is not going to happen. Seth Doege is pegged to replace Taylor Potts as the starting quarterback, but I have a hard time trusting a quarterback that has had two knee surgeries already. The real Achilles heel for Texas Tech will be a passing defense that allowed nearly 300 yards a game through the air and 28 touchdown passes. At least Tuberville realized that the defense needed to change something as he brought in Chad Glasgow to run the defense. Normally replacing seven starters on defense and a new coordinator would be a bad thing, but things couldn’t really get any worse for Texas Tech on defense so maybe the turnover will improve the porous defense. Then again, probably not. 7.) Baylor: The Bears are on the rise after their first bowl berth since 1994. The biggest advantage Baylor has is at the quarterback position where junior Robert Griffin will look to continue his strong play. Griffin threw for 3,501 yards and ran for 635. Griffin, who is probably known more for his running than passing, will have five receivers who hauled in at least 40 passes returning from last year’s team. With those weapons returning, Griffin will try to make people take note of his arm as well as his legs. The Bears big concern will be replacing tailback Jay Finley, who ran for 1,218 yards. The task of replacing Finley will be made easier because Baylor returns four out of its five starting offensive lineman. While the Bears should be able to hold their own offensively, the defense will be what dooms them this year. Even with 2011 first round pick, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, in 2010 Baylor couldn’t stop anyone. They allowed almost 450 yards per game and 30 points. They did hire Phil Bennett to run the defense and even though he has knowledge on the Big 12, don’t expect big production changes in his first year. 8.) Kansas State: Any talk of Kansas State has to begin with what was the worst rushing defense in the country in 2010. The Wildcats allowed 3,008 rushing yards and until the run defense gets fixed, Kansas State will remain cellar dwellers in the Big 12. The Wildcats will be running a new 4-3 scheme this year, but I have a hard time believing that their underwhelming defensive line will produce any better than it did last year. A lot is going to be expected of transfer Arthur Brown, who will line up at linebacker, but if the defensive line can’t keep lineman off of him, it won’t matter. Offensively, K-State will have to replace three starters on the offensive line. That transition may not be as bad as it looks as Collin Klein takes over at quarterback and considering he was used mainly as a running threat last year, his legs will be needed as the new lineman jell. 9.) Iowa State: Paul Rhoads has slowly, but steadily been improving the Cyclones, but 2011 may be more of neutral step. Gone is quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. There had been a four-man battle to replace Arnaud at quarterback and on Aug. 20 Rhoads named Steele Jantz the starter (although who knows what his decision would have been if Jerome Tiller hadn’t been declared academically ineligible. Jantz will have capable targets to throw to in Darius Clark and Darius Reynolds, so long as they stay healthy. The schedule is what will make for a long year for the Cyclones. In addition to the Big 12 schedule, non-conference games against Iowa and Connecticut make the schedule daunting for a re-building team like Iowa State. 10.)Kansas: When does Jayhawk basketball start? Kansas went an atrocious 0-9 in Big 12 play last year and 1-11 overall. Turner Gill’s offense averaged a league-low 296 yards and managed only 17 points a game. Running back James Sims returns after a freshman year that saw him score 10 touchdowns and rush for nearly 750 yards. Kansas will most likely be improved from 2010, but the record won’t show it.