(Editor’s Note: Every week during the 2008 season, everyone’s favorite handicapping urologist, Buffalo Wild Wang, will offer his take on the Big XII’s slate. On the line: an order of delicious boneless wings in a pickoff with Homerism.)
I would like to be the first to welcome you all to the inaugural edition of the Big XII weekly picker. Feel free to utilize the following prognostications for pure enjoyment, something to laugh and argue with, or as a tool to help scratch that annoying gambling itch. Errr… I mean, for entertainment purposes only.
Chattanooga at Oklahoma (no line)
Let’s start with just about everyone's pick to win the Big XII this year, your Oklahoma Sooners. OU opens the season with a visit from Chattanooga. The Mocs finished a dismal 2-9 last year in the Southern Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA). Despite the coachspeak you may hear from OU coach Bob Stoops prior to the game, I don’t think last year’s record or “Scrappy,” Chattanooga’s mockingbird mascot, will evoke much fear among this year’s Sooners.
Chattanooga brings back six starters on the offensive side of the ball, but only three starters from last year’s defense can be found on the 2008 roster.
Head coach Rodney Allison will need to rely heavily on the team’s leading returning rusher Bryan Fitzgerald as the Mocs enter the season without a proven quarterback. Fitzgerald posted an impressive 6.8 yds/carry average last year and can hang his hat on the fact that he outrushed Darren McFadden when Chattanooga faced Arkansas.
The departure of senior QB Antonio Miller has left a large void in the Chattanooga offense. The Mocs bring back three signal callers from last year’s squad and welcome the addition of two JUCO transfers to the roster. Early reports have junior Tony Pastore and transfer Jare Gault leading the race to take the first snap under center this season at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
This year’s version of the Moc defense will need to improve upon last year’s 33.5 points per game allowed if they want this game to remain interesting past the first 15 minutes.
The defense will look to versatile linebacker Joseph Thorton for hopes of slowing down Oklahoma’s juggernaut offense. Thorton ranked 13th nationally last year with 18 tackles for a loss and even picked off four passes to lead the team.
The strength of the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners already has been well documented here, and I think their preseason top five ranking is well deserved. While OU has tended to come out of the gates slow in the past, I don’t think that will be the case here. Look for Bradford, Murray, and company to roll here and get the 2008 season started off with a bang.
The Pick: OU rolls, 62-6.
Homerism: Sooners, 77-3.
Florida Atlantic at Texas (Texas -23.5)
Last year’s Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl champs roll into Austin this year boasting the reigning conference player of the year and a legendary coach (I apologize; my computer has no sarcastic font). QB Rusty Smith was 21st in the nation in passing efficiency, throwing for over 3,600 yards and 32 TDs. Texas brings in a new defensive coordinator to fix a leaky pass defense. The Big XII’s leading rusher, Jamaal Charles, can now be found taking handoffs from Brodie Croyle in Kansas City. A recipe for disaster? I think not. The Horns will look to start off strong and build on their Holiday Bowl domination of Arizona State.
The Pick: Look for Texas to cover here.
Homerism: Florida Atlantic.
Arkansas State at Texas A&M (no line)
After the Dennis Franchione disaster, the Aggies welcome new head coach Mike Sherman, as they continue to look for a worthy replacement for the venerable R.C. Slocum. The Aggies bring back Stephen McGee back at QB, alleviating the need for Sherman to get involved in the recent Brett Favre trade negotiations. With thunder and lightning in the backfield in the form of a Jovorskie Lane-Mike Goodson combination, the running game seems to be in good shape. With only one returning starter among the defensive front seven, Sherman has his work cut out for him. While a 5-7 record may not seem that impressive, Arkansas St. shouldn’t to be taken lightly. Just ask our friends in Austin what this team is capable of. Nonconference wins over Memphis and SMU highlighted Arkansas St.’s 2007 season. The Red Wolves return O’Brien Award semi-finalist Corey Leonard, two-time all-Sun Belt running back Reggie Arnold and five of its top six receivers to challenge the revamped Aggie D.
The Pick: A&M pulls out a close battle.
Oklahoma State at Washington State (OSU -6)
“I’m a man! I’m 41!” Just doesn’t sound as good. That’s what head coach Mike Gundy and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are hoping, as both try to put last year’s news conference debacle behind them. The Pokes open with a tough out-of-conference test against Pac-10 foe Washington St. OSU brings back a potent offense lead by QB Bobby Reid... I mean Zac Robinson. Robinson comes off an impressive season, setting records for total offense in both a season and single game, as well as for passing yards in a game. A replacement for all-conference performer Dantrell Savage must be found at running back. At the top of the list is sophomore Kendall Hunter, who turned what was supposed to be a redshirt season into 6.5 yds per carry once called upon. Wazzu’s new head coach Paul Wulff will look to redshirt senior QB Gary Rogers to run his new spread offense this season in Pullman. The 6’7” signal caller will be called upon to fill the shoes of the departed Alex Brink, the Cougars’ reliable QB last year. Junior Dwight Tardy looks to return from a torn knee ligament to shoulder the load in the backfield behind Rogers. While the defense may return nine starters this year, they finished eighth in conference in total defense and 85th in the nation. That won’t hold up against the Pokes this year. I look for OSU to win this one and cover.
The Pick: OSU.
Eastern Washington at Texas Tech (no line)
With an offense that rivals OU’s as one of the best in the country, Texas Tech will again look to QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree to continue to put up the big numbers Red Raider fans have grown accustomed to in the Mike Leach era. With the nation’s second-ranked ranked offense last year, slowing down this attack will be a chore for any team this year, let alone Eastern Washington. Reigning Big Sky Conference MVP Matt Nichols better be ready to put a big number on the scoreboard, and DE Greg Peach needs to spend a lot of time in Tech’s backfield to keep this respectable. Won’t happen.
The Pick: Crabtree and Co. keep it rolling and win big here.
Wake Forest at Baylor (Baylor +12.5)
The 2008 Bears will look to new coach Art Briles to help improve upon last year’s 3-9 record. Briles brings the reputation as an offensive guru to help improve upon 2007’s 18.2 points per game. The offense brings back nine starters, but must replace the team’s leading rusher and receiver in 2007, Brandon Whitaker. At QB the Bears must decide between returning starter, Blake Szymanski, and Miami transfer Kirby Freeman. The rich keep getting richer in Waco, huh? Wake Forest is hoping to earn its first ever victory over Baylor. The Demon Deacons were one of only 3 schools to lose their first two games last year but end the season with 9 wins. They return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, and QB Riley Skinner has 24 career starts.
The Pick: The Briles era gets off on the wrong foot in front of the home crowd. Wake covers.
Homerism: Demon Deacons.
Missouri vs. Illinois (Mizzou -8.5)
One of the best games of the opening weekend. Missouri’s return a loaded team coming off a two-loss season. Chase Daniel will compete for the Heisman. Jeremy Maclin is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Chase Coffman is the best tight end in the country, in my opinion. On the the other side, Ron Zook has sculpted a pretty good team at Illinois since being discarded from Florida. The Illini must find a replacement for first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall, but do return the always dangerous Juice Williams at QB. Illinois will keep this game close in the first half, but the Tigers are too good and will prove it all year.
The Pick: Missouri by 2 touchdowns.
South Dakota St. at Iowa St. (no line)
While the Cyclones finished a dismal 3-9 last year, they did manage to beat in-state rival Iowa and put a scare into OU fans. The cyclones need RB Jason Scales to stay healthy and find a replacement for QB Brett Meyer. The Jackrabbits from South Dakota finished an impressive 7-4 last year in the brutal Great West Conference. They bring back their QB and three starters on the offensive line. This will be South Dakota State’s first ever game against a D-1 team since making its own transition into upper division. Honestly, how does someone pick this game?
The Pick: Iowa St. wins on pure athleticism, but I can’t see them putting up huge numbers in the process.
Homerism: Iowa St.
Western Michigan at Nebraska (Nebraska -14)
The Cornhuskers are hoping new head coach, Bo Pelini, can right the sinking ship that has been Nebraska football. Pelini will have the fortune of returning 100 percent of last year’s rushing game, along with a rising star in QB Joe Ganz. RB Marlon Lucky will get to run behind an experienced line with a total 67 career starts. The defensive side of the ball sees the return of all 4 starters on the line, while Oklahoma native Phillip Dillard leads a completely revamped linebacking core. Western Michigan returns an impressive 19 players that started games last year. The list includes QB Tim Hiller, who became only the second player from WMU to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, and all-purpose RB Brandon West.
The Pick: Cornhuskers who find a way to win, but won’t cover the two touchdowns.
Florida International at Kansas (Kansas -36.5)
Mark Mangino and the Jayhawks turned in a year for the ages in 2007. KU made its first January bowl game since 1968 and came away with a win in the Orange Bowl. Back is QB Todd Reesing, who set a plethora of team records last season. Kansas was the only team in the nation last year to finish in the top five in scoring offense and defense. They also led the nation in turnover margin. FIU finished an unimpressive 1-11 last year, including a 55-3 loss at the hands of the Jayhawks.
The Pick: Expect more of the same this year, with KU covering the mile-long spread.
North Texas as Kansas St. (KSU -24.5)
2007 started out promising for the Wildcats after going 5-3 in their first eight games, including a win at Texas. The second portion of the season was not as kind, losing their last four to finish 5-7. Gone are leading the team’s leading rusher, James Johnson, and top receiver Jordy Nelson. Back behind center, though, is Josh Freeman, who finished the 2007 campaign with 3,353 yards and 18 touchdowns. Last year, the Wildcat defense finished eight in the Big XII in total defense, but second in sacks. With the return of 19 players who have started at least one game and the addition of 2 JUCO All-Americans at linebacker, the defense figures to improve from a year ago. The Mean Green from North Texas finished last in the nation last year in scoring defense, allowing an alarming 45.1 points per game. That defensive squad loses five starters from last year’s team, but that may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The offense will return Sunbelt freshman of the year Giovanni Vizza at QB, plus honorable mention All-American WR Casey Fitzgerald. Gone, however, is All-American RB Jamarrio Thomas. The defensive question marks are too much for the Mean Green.
The Pick: KSU wins this one in a rout and covers.
Homerism: North Texas.
Colorado vs. Colorado St. (Colorado -12)
Optimism is high in Boulder this year thanks in large part to the return of the entire coaching staff, the first time this has happened in 20 years at CU. Coach Dan Hawkins will hope his son, Cody, is ready to run his newly implemented no-huddle offense. The defense must find a replacement for a pair of second round draft picks in Jordon Dizon and Terrence Wheatley. After finishing 3-9 last year, the Rams are looking for anything to hang their hats on. Gone are QB Caleb Hanie and the team’s top three receivers, but returning are a pair of running backs, Gartrell Johnson and Kyle Bell, who both have 1,000 yard potential. The defense needs to replace both starting CBs and DTs for a unit that finished eighth in its conference in 2007.
The Pick: Buffaloes win this rivalry game with ease.