STILLWATER – Big 12 football prognosticators have projected the Sooners No. 1 for the 2012 season, presumably because OU has a veteran quarterback and a salty secondary.
West Virginia is slotted No. 2, because the Mountaineers have a veteran quarterback and their 70-33 Orange Bowl pasting of Clemson is fresh in minds.
Texas checks in at No. 3, apparently because voters like their orange burnt.
But here's a warning. Don't discount Mike Gundy's Cowboys. Don't misjudge the depth of OSU's talent increase. Don't sleep on an OSU repeat.
Time was, Gundy would laugh or crack wise at the suggestion of his team's prowess.
Those days are gone.
I asked Gundy straight up Wednesday if his Cowboys could repeat as Big 12 champs. He played it straight.
“Do we deserve to be preseason No. 1?” Gundy said. “No, we don't.”
But there are warning flags about OU and West Virginia.
The Sooners have the best team on paper. But they keep incurring offensive line losses (center Ben Habern the latest), and Bob Stoops reinstated wayward players Wednesday, including thrice-suspended receiver Jaz Reynolds, because, you know, everyone deserves a fourth chance.
Doesn't smack of desperation, but it does make you wonder if Stoops is worried about who exactly will catch Landry Jones' passes.
Meanwhile, I've been driving the West Virginia bandwagon, but critics – and Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen – have rightly pointed out that WVU didn't exactly run roughshod over the Big East.
West Virginia scored 21 points on LSU, a great defense, but just 24 on Cincinnati, 23 on Syracuse and 21 on Pitt. None were great defenses. The Mountaineers beat South Florida 30-27 with just one offensive touchdown. What we saw in the Orange Bowl is not what the Mountaineers displayed most of the 2011 season.
As for Texas, well, please. OSU is breaking in a freshman quarterback. We have no idea if Wes Lunt can play effectively at this level. But we do have an idea about UT quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy. Mack Brown would trade them both for Lunt right now, straight up.
Best yet for OSU, the schedule breaks for the Cowboys. State won the Big 12 a year ago despite a rugged schedule; five road games, including trips to Austin, Lubbock, Columbia and College Station.