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.
Continue reading this story on the...