Need to get caught up on the new Big 12 before games kick off on Sept. 1? Here is Mike Baldwin's 5-minute guide to the 2012 Big 12 football season.
5 MOST INTRIGUING STORYLINES
1. Can West Virginia compete?
The Mountaineers appear to be a perfect fit for the Big 12. West Virginia's reputation is a dynamic, wide open offense but questionable defense — similar to their new Big 12 brethren.
One new variable is teams must travel more than 1,000 miles to play in a “unique” home atmosphere. The Mountaineers, though, also must make trips to Texas (twice), Oklahoma and Iowa.
2. Is there a national title contender?
A team that finishes 11-1 probably has a resume strong enough to warrant national title game consideration if one-loss teams are in the mix.
It's a ringing endorsement if a team can go 8-1 or better in a conference where Kansas State and Baylor are picked sixth and seventh. The questions will be, with so many Top 25-caliber teams, could it be difficult to reach 8-1 or better?
3. Will Big 12 defenses ever make a stand?
The Big 12 is the highest scoring conference in the country, but you have to dig a little deeper to find good defense in the league.
The conference produced six of the top 15 offenses in the country based on total yards. But only Texas (11th) and West Virginia (33rd) were ranked in the top 50 in total defense last season.
4. Will the Longhorns bounce back?
Want to know how far Mack Brown's program has fallen? The Longhorns have gone 6-11 in conference play the past two years. That's how many conference losses Texas compiled the previous nine years combined. Over those nine seasons Texas went 60-11.
The defense is top rate. UT's running game should be steady. The key, as everyone knows, is whether David Ash or whoever plays quarterback can contribute enough to help the Longhorns win a couple of games.
5. Can the conference end its Jim Thorpe drought?
In the Big 12's first dozen years, the conference accounted for half (six) of the Thorpe winners, an award given by the Oklahoma City-based Jim Thorpe Association to the nation's top defensive back. But the league hasn't won since Texas' Michael Huff (2005) and Aaron Ross (2006) won.
The conference has several Thorpe candidates this year including: Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown and Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. Kansas State's Nigel Malone also is on the watch list.
5 IMPACT PLAYERS
* Geneo Smith, West Virginia, QB: Smith already is getting Heisman consideration coming off a season of gaudy stats. Many of his top receivers return. West Virginia's offense, led by Dana Holgorsen, will be a tremendous challenge for Big 12 defenses.
* Alex Okafor, Texas, DE: The preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year can disrupt the backfield. A projected first round NFL Draft pick, Okafor leads a defense that hopes to not only stop people but produce momentum-changing plays.
* Tony Jefferson, OU, S: A big hitter with good instincts, Jefferson sometimes is compared to former OU star Roy Williams. In the Sooners simplified scheme, Jefferson has vowed to be a leader on a defense that gave up too many big plays.
* Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas, DE: Two Longhorn defensive players on the list is why some believe Texas' defense might own a huge edge in an offense oriented league. ESPN's Todd McShay has Jeffcoat going No. 3 overall in the draft.
* Arthur Brown, Kansas State, LB: If the Wildcats stay in the Big 12 race, Brown probably has soared past his 101-tackle total from last season. A sideline-to-sideline monster will help offset a few speed disadvantages.
5 DATES THAT WILL SHAPE THE SEASON
* Oct. 6: We'll know more about the Mountaineers and Longhorns after West Virginia plays in Austin. Oklahoma will also be trying to end a three-game Lubbock losing streak. OU hasn't won in Lubbock since 2003.
* Oct. 13: In addition to the Red River rivalry in the Cotton Bowl, West Virginia visits Lubbock. TCU also travels to Waco, which might be a slightly more intimidating road game than in the past.
* Nov. 10: West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen returns to Stillwater for a telltale showdown. Kansas State plays in Fort Worth. Baylor also travels to Norman a year after ending their 0-for drought against the Sooners.
* Nov. 17: The Sooners' trip to Morgantown could decide the Big 12 race. But with two games remaining for each, it might be a stave-off-elimination game for one or both.
* Nov. 24: Bedlam tops the list. This one is in Norman after back-to-back games at Boone Pickens Stadium. TCU plays in Austin on Thanksgiving. West Virginia makes the trip to Ames when the weather can be a factor.
5 BOLD PREDICTIONS
* West Virginia and TCU will both lose at least three conference games: The Mountaineers' offense will keep them in a lot of games and win some shootouts. But they'll face teams that can also light up scoreboards. TCU has a lot of holes to fill on defense.
* Texas will win its final six games: The Longhorns face a brutal start: at OSU, West Virginia, OU in the Cotton Bowl. It will be interesting to see how Texas navigates those first three games because they could go 6-0 down the stretch.
* Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville will be fired after the Red Raiders get off to an 0-6 start in conference, their best shot being the opener against Iowa State in Ames.
* The Big 12 will produce only seven bowl teams: Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas won't play past the first Saturday in December. The Cyclones and Red Raiders have a shot but their margin for error is extremely small.
* The conference will go the entire year with zero defections or zero additions: First it was Colorado and Nebraska heading to the Pac 10. Then Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the SEC. With TCU and West Virginia firmly in place and conference presidents pledging unity, the league will finally stand pat.