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July 20, 2008

Countdown to Camp: Big 12 North preview

PowerMizzou.com will preview fall camp extensively over the next two weeks. Our countdown has included previews at every position and individual looks at players who must step up to make 2008 a success. If you are not yet a premium subscriber, click here to start your free seven-day trial today!.

The Missouri Tigers are a unanimous choice to win the Big 12 North this season. A year ago, the Tigers were tabbed as the division favorites and went 7-and-1 in league play to make their first ever Big 12 title game appearance. To do so again, Missouri will have to survive the season with a target squarely on its back. PowerMizzou.com takes a look at the competition, in order of predicted finish:

Kansas Jayhawks


Biggest Strengths: The Jayhawks bring back one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Todd Reesing. Reesing draws many comparisons to the Tigers' own Chase Daniel for both his stature and his Texas background. He engineered an offense that put up 480 yards per game and led the Big 12 in scoring a year ago. However, some of the weapons from that offense are gone. Defensively, Kansas probably has the league's best linebacking corps led by Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera.

Biggest Weaknesses: Kansas lost what many considered to be their best offensive player in Anthony Collins and their two best defenders in Aqib Talib and James McClinton. Gone also is leading rusher Brandon McAnderson. The Jayhawks will have to prove they have capable backups or Reesing will have to be super-human to repeat last year's run.

Why they're picked here: Talent-wise, Kansas probably has as much as anyone outside of Missouri. Mark Mangino has also done a great job getting his program going in Lawrence. They are a notch below the Tigers, but they are a cut above anyone else in the league. In addition, a conference schedule that picks up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech to replace Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M will make things tough.

To win the division they must…: First of all, beat Missouri in Arrowhead Stadium. With the league slate they have, it's tough to see the Jayhawks going any better than 6-and-2. Kansas will have to win the tiebreaker and have the Tigers drop another league game to take home the crown.

Colorado Buffaloes


Biggest Strengths: The Buffs have built momentum, going from 2-and-10 to a bowl team in Dan Hawkins second season. They boast the league's newcomer of the year in Darrell Scott, who should help to take some pressure off of quarterback Cody Hawkins. Colorado boasts one of the Big 12's best linemen in George Hypolite and almost always has a solid defense.

Biggest Weaknesses: Many seem to question whether or not Hawkins is capable of being a top-shelf Big 12 quarterback. The Buffs ranked tenth in the league in pass efficiency and total offense last season. Hawkins also lacks a true go-to guy in the passing game as the Buffs' receiving corps is not one of the league's best. They also have to play Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska all away from Boulder. Tough draw for the Buffs.

Why they're picked here: The signs are there that CU is on the way back. They're good enough to beat anybody on the right day (witness a win over Oklahoma last season), but probably not consistent enough to be a legitimate contender for the title. Colorado is getting there, but the Buffs aren't all the way back just yet.

To win the division they must…: Be road warriors. To have any chance of winning it all, they are going to have to win two of three against Kansas, Mizzou and Nebraska on the road. They also have a home date with Texas and a roadie against A&M. Realistically, it will be tough for Colorado to win this unless Kansas and Missouri disappoint.

Nebraska Cornhuskers


Biggest Strengths: The Huskers may have the best running back in the league in Marlon Lucky. They are going to lean heavily on him. Joe Ganz did well in the latter part of the season, but he never played in a game where the Huskers were playing for anything. He is going to need some help for sure from Lucky. In addition, Bo Pelini comes in and should bring a new attitude to Lincoln. Everyone around Husker football is ready to turn the page from the disastrous Callahan era.

Biggest Weaknesses: The defense was among the worst in the country last season. Yes, Pelini is regarded as a great defensive coach, but this team gave up 76 to Kansas and was pushed around by just about everybody, including Ball State. Does he have the horses to compete, no matter how good his scheme is? In addition, with Mo Purify gone, who's a difference maker in the passing game to help out Ganz?

Why they're picked here: The free fall last year was complete. Problems were exposed all over the field. It's simply not realistic to expect a team that looked as bad as the Huskers did last season to be much better than this. Could they surprise? No doubt. But there's a limit to how far this team can go in the Big 12 North that suddenly has two highly regarded teams at the top.

To win the division they must…: Beat Missouri and Kansas. Nebraska is on the road at Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Those have to be looked at as losses. Therefore, to have much hope to win the thing, Nebraska has to sweep the other six games. They get the Tigers and Jayhawks at home, but it's tough to see a scenario where a title is a realistic possibility.

Iowa State Cyclones


Biggest Strengths: Gene Chizik has a year under his belt and is looking to the future. Chizik was a hot coaching commodity when the Clones got him out of Austin and many think he's got a shot to get things going in Ames. Running back Alexander Robinson looked very strong in the second half of 2007, but the roster is still a work in progress.

Biggest Weaknesses: ISU is the only North team without a single player on the all-Big 12 team. The talent just isn't there. Gone are Bret Meyer, Todd Blythe and Ace Bowen, perhaps the three best players from a season ago. Across the board, the Cyclones just can't compete with the upper echelon teams in the league on a weekly basis.

Why they're picked here: See above. The talent is just better at the other four schools. They're above Kansas State because the Cyclones beat the Wildcats a season ago.

To win the division they must…: They have the division's easiest schedule. The avoid Texas and Oklahoma and get Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska at home. But, realistically, it isn't gonna happen.

Kansas State Wildcats


Biggest Strengths: The Cats have plenty of experience at quarterback as Josh Freeman enters his third season as a starter. Leon Patton is a quality back if he's a part of the team for the full season and Ian Campbell is a difference maker on defense. In addition, the Cats beat Texas each of the last two years and have proven they're not afraid of anyone.

Biggest Weaknesses: They lost Jordy Nelson, who was the only real difference-maker on offense. Freeman has all the tools, but he's yet to show on a consistent basis that he can lead a team to a strong, consistent Big 12 season. A recruiting class of 19 junior college players is a glaring sign of desperation and an indication that Ron Prince didn't feel too good about his roster.

Why they're picked here: Simple. With road games at Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and A&M, it's tough to find a win away from home. Texas Tech and Oklahoma come to Manhattan. That leaves KSU having to beat Nebraska and Iowa State at home and search for upsets. The Cornhuskers and Cyclones both beat the Wildcats last season. A winless Big 12 season is not out of the realm of possibility.

To win the division they must…: Receive divine intervention. The talent is down, the schedule is unfavorable and there just is no realistic way it can happen. A bowl game has to be the goal, but thoughts of winning the league are out of the question.

PowerMizzou.com will continue our fall camp previews with coverage of media day in Kansas City on Monday.

PowerMizzou.com will preview fall camp extensively over the next two weeks. Our countdown has included previews at every position and individual looks at players who must step up to make 2008 a success. If you are not yet a premium subscriber, click here to start your free seven-day trial today!.


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