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Stormin' Around the Big XII: 100 Days to Kickoff Edition

2011 Iowa State Football Entrance Video (via isuvideo)

Today marks 100 days until most of the Big XII kicks off their 2012 season. The only two schools who do not kickoff on Saturday, September 1st are Baylor (moved their game vs SMU to Sunday so more fans could stay at home) and TCU (who for some reason has a bye week to start the season).

With two new members joining the Big XII I thought it appropriate to go around and do one of those fancy "preview" things where we talk about who has the best schedule, who the best players in the league are, and why Oklahoma State will fail without their Rock and Sock Connection. The only difference between what I do and David Ubben of ESPN does is I don't pander to the bigwigs of the conference. And I have no affiliation to Missouri... ew.

Jump with me to the best wordiest preview of the Big XII you will see this summer.

The Changing Landscape

By now you know the Big XII exchanged male cheerleaders with mason jars and tuff as rain Tigers for drug dealing frogs and backwoods couch burning moonshiners. Not sure about you, but I think we traded up. Iowa State travels to TCU on October 6th and hosts the first annual Riot Bowl against West Virginia on November 24th.

Regarding the rumors of Florida State and Clemson to the Big XII all I can say is it impacts nothing for the 2012 season so why sweat about it. For once it's nice to be on the other side of realignment. My long standing prediction still has four 16 team conferences being the new norm in the next five years. We'll see if those steps begin to happen in the next year.

What 2012 Means for Iowa State

At this point it's safe to say that the expectation with Paul Rhoads at the helm is a bowl every season. Considering the 2010 team had three chances to get that sixth win and took two of those teams deep into the game, it's reasonable to think that six wins is what this team should achieve year in and year out.

We're all waiting for "the" season though. Kansas and Missouri had theirs in 2007, Texas Tech had their glory years under Mike Leach, and Kansas State came out of nowhere last season to nearly win a share of the Big XII Championship.

So why not Iowa State?

2012 was always the year I targeted as the "big step" after Paul Rhoads took over. You finally have experienced players that have always been under Rhoads' system (Jake Knott, A.J. Klein, James White all come to mind, and are all co-captains) and a healthy mix of players that gained valuable experience in 2011 to build off of (Jarvis West, Jared Barnett, Jacques Washington, et al). The only significant question mark is who the quarterback will be on September 1st. Here's the thing to remember though: both men are capable of winning while they're at the helm. We'll never know how the Big XII season would have played out with Jantz because of his injury, but his magic in the first three games of the year cannot be ignored. We have seen our offense be productive with average quarterback play and we have seen what it can do with above average play (Jantz vs Iowa, Barnett vs Oklahoma State). Now let's see what happens with another year under each player's belt and if the sorely needed consistency finally starts to appear more often.

If I'm a betting man I pick a healthy Steele Jantz to start against Tulsa.

Scheduling, A.K.A. Who has the best shot to steal the Big XII?

With a nine game conference schedule it stands to reason that the teams hosting five home conference games will have a slightly easier path to winning. Those teams in 2012 are Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia. Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech all host four conference games at home, but have a fifth game on the road at a neutral site.

Clearly out of the three teams listed above the scheduling best favors West Virginia... to a point. They get Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma, and Kansas at home but spend two weeks in a row in mid-October in Texas. How West Virginia comes out of their Texas and Texas Tech road trips will set the tone for the rest of their season.

The good news for Iowa State is they host three of their conference toss-up games with Texas Tech, Kansas State, and Baylor. All three are possible wins for the Cyclones and the October 13th game against Kansas State will be the first game in Ames for everyone on Kansas State's roster. The last time the Wildcats visited Ames Gene Chizik was accumulating 20% of his win total at Iowa State.

Schedules are always a crap shoot since you never know which team will have untimely injuries and mishaps but with the possibility of a one or two loss team winning the Big XII this fall you have to keep an eye on teams who have a favorable schedule in the month of November. The team that garners that honor is currently Texas. With dates against Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU, and Kansas State they have the chance to make a move late in the year.

Top 15 Players in the Big XII

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

2. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

3. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

4. Joseph Randle, HB, Oklahoma State

5. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State (Wally Burnham still thinks he's lazy)

6. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

7. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

8. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State

9. Tyler Lockett, WR/KR/PR, Kansas State

10. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas

11. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

12. Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State

13. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

14. Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State

15. Johnathan Gray, HB, Texas

Quinn Sharp almost made this list, but... well...

Five Predictions About Big XII Teams

Oklahoma State - As eluded to earlier, Oklahoma State is set to come back to reality without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon hooking up 63 times a game. The Cowboys will still remain relevant in the top half of the Big XII but any hopes of them repeating as Big XII Champions should be put to rest quickly.

Kansas State - The Wildcats are going to return a solid, veteran team in 2012 but after going 8-1 in games decided by less than 7 points you have to wonder how those breaks will go this fall. Also, Collin Klein was bruised and battered over and over last year and you wonder about his durability this season (Exhibit A: Arnaud, Austen). Kansas State will be a tough out for any team this season but a duplication of their Cotton Bowl appearance will be tough to come by.

Texas - It pains me immensely to admit this, but I think Texas will get very much on the right track in 2012. Quarterback play will still be an issue until either Case McCoy or David Ash proves to be consistent but the running game and Manny Diaz's terroristic defense will keep them in every single game this fall. A top three finish for the Longhorns would not surprise me.

TCU & West Virginia - One of these teams will finish in the top two and the other one will finish more than two games out of first place.

Kansas - The Jayhawks are still going to finish last in the Big XII but they are going to give some teams fits as the season wears on. One thing that was never a problem for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame was his offense and that will fit right in with this league. However, the addition of Dave Campo (failures in Dallas aside) should give the defense more of a backbone than it ever had in 2011. Still likely to be a 3-9 or 4-8 team at best but this Jayhawk squad could take a lot of teams late into games.

Final Big XII Standings

1. Oklahoma

2. West Virginia

3. Texas

4. Kansas State

5. TCU

6. Oklahoma State

7. Iowa State

8. Baylor

9. Texas Tech

10. Kansas

The league is not wide open this year (Oklahoma and West Virginia clearly have the most talent returning than the rest) but Texas is knocking on the door and Kansas State will be coached well enough to continue to threaten in every game. Oklahoma gets the nod as Big XII Champion due to their depth and experience in the Big XII. It's still not known how West Virginia's defense will hold up in the Big XII but I expect them to be a team very similar to Oklahoma State from last year.

Spots 5-9 are a toss up as every team has its weakness and lost a lot from the prior year. Believe it or not, TCU and Iowa State have the best defenses of the bunch and that may be the key to determining where they fall at the end of the season. TCU and Oklahoma State currently get the nod over Iowa State due to hosting the Cyclones and likely coming away with victories. I fully expect Iowa State to sweep the three teams ranked below them meaning they will either be bowl eligible after those sweeps (assuming 3-0 non-conference start) or one upset away from going bowling like in 2011. For what it's worth, my drunken prediction a few weeks ago was a 3-0 non-conference start, sweeping the three teams below Iowa State, and an upset of West Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend.

For those of you counting at home that's seven wins and 100 days until we start the journey.