The Big 12 Conference has come back strong after two straight summers of uncertainty about its future.
Find another league that has ever featured three reigning conference champions like the Big 12 will have this season. It has its own defending champ in Oklahoma State and both newcomers — TCU from the Mountain West and West Virginia from the Big East — are coming off titles.
Six of the current teams won at least 10 games last season. There is a new commissioner (former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby) and a new alignment with the powerhouse SEC, which has won the last six national championships since Texas' title, for a future bowl game to match the champions of the two leagues.
"I think it's fair to say our league, when you add West Virginia and TCU, two teams coming off bowl wins, two ranked football teams, you put them with the rest of what we've been doing here in the Big 12, that our league is every bit as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "So it will be a challenging year."
Oklahoma won seven Big 12 titles in an 11-year span before last season, when the league dropped from 12 to 10 teams and scrapped divisional play for a round-robin schedule.
The Sooners, with quarterback Landry Jones back for his senior season and already with 37 starts, is still considered a league favorite. Their schedule includes road games against the two new teams that replaced Missouri and Texas A&M, now in the SEC.
TCU has won 24 consecutive conference games, having won three consecutive outright Mountain West titles since its last league loss in November 2008. They also won the Rose Bowl in an undefeated season two years ago.
West Virginia won or shared the Big East title six times since 2003, and had a record-shattering 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl in January that made the Mountaineers 3-0 in BCS games. Their 4,000-yard passing quarterback Geno Smith got tabbed as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year over Jones.
"What's awesome about the Big 12 as opposed to where we were last year is just the national exposure," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who knows that well after nearly a decade in the Big 12. "And it's going to be West Coast to East Coast."
An overall look at the Big 12:
OKLAHOMA — Key players: QB Landry Jones, DB Demontre Hurst, OL Gabe Ikard. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Heisman Trophy hopeful Jones has 93 career passing touchdowns, and has thrown for 9,181 yards the last two seasons. The Sooners also have short-yardage running quarterback Blake Bell, who ran for 13 TDs as a freshman last year. … Coming off 33rd 10-win season, more than any other team. … Play both TCU and West Virginia on the road. … Mike Stoops is back for his second stint as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator for his brother. He left in 2003 after overseeing a defense that was among top seven in the country for fewest points allowed his four years in charge.
WEST VIRGINIA — Key players: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, C Joe Madsen, DL Will Clarke. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Mountaineers make Big 12 debut coming off first 10-win season since 2007. … Before becoming West Virginia head coach last season, Dana Holgorsen spent nine of the previous 11 seasons as a Big 12 assistant coach, eight years at Texas Tech and one as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. … Smith, going into his third season as the starter, averaged 337.3 yards passing per game last season, which would have been third in Big 12 last season. … Austin had 101 catches last year. … West Virginia is 9-4 against current Big 12 teams.
KANSAS STATE — Key players: QB Collin Klein, LB Arthur Brown, LB Tre Walker, DB Ty Zimmerman. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Klein matched Big 12 overall record and FBS mark for quarterbacks with 27 rushing TDs last season. … Kansas State won 11 games six times during a seven-year span in coach Bill Snyder's first tenure. They won 10 games last year, in Snyder's third season back from his three-year retirement. Wildcats swept the Big 12's four Texas teams last year (including departed Texas A&M in four overtimes), but lost to both Oklahoma schools.
TCU — Key players: QB Casey Pachall, OL Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain, CB Jason Verrett. Returning starters, 6 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: Horned Frogs haven't lost a conference game since November 2008, winning the last three Mountain West titles outright. … Only FBS team to win at least 11 games in six of last seven seasons. … Coach Gary Patterson has 109 wins, tied with Dutch Meyer for most in school history. … Averaged 440 yards, 41 points game last season. Return starting QB, two of three top rushers and three of four top receivers.
TEXAS — Key Players: RB Malcolm Brown, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DL Alex Okafor, DB Kenny Vaccaro, CB Carrington Byndom, LB Jordan Hicks. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Since 13-1 record in 2009 season that ended with loss in BCS national championship game, Longhorns have won a combined 13 games the past two years. Before the recent slide, Texas had nine consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins and had never won fewer than nine games under coach Mack Brown. … Texas again goes into the season unsettled on a starting quarterback. Junior Case McCoy and sophomore David Ash both started games last season. … The logo on the front cover of the media guide is RISE (Relentless/Intensity/Swagger/Emotion), representing the team's theme and created by players.
OKLAHOMA STATE — Key players: OL Lane Taylor, RB Joseph Randle, DB Brodrick Brown, DE Cooper Bassett. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: After winning first Big 12 title, Cowboys have eight offensive starters back. But missing are two first-round picks, quarterback Brandon Weeden (4,727 yards passing and 37 TDs) and receiver Justin Blackmon (122 catches, 1,522 yards, 18 TDs). … Oklahoma State has won 41 games the past four years. … Coach Mike Gundy tabbed true freshman Wes Lunt, who was in school for spring drills, as the starting quarterback. … Junior RBs Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle combined to rush for 1,862 yards and 33 TDs last season.
BAYLOR — Key Players: QB Nick Florence, OL Ivory Wade, NB Ahmad Dixon, WR Terrence Williams. Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Baylor enters the season with a six-game winning streak, third-longest among FBS teams (North Illinois 9, TCU 8). … After winning 10 games to match a school record, the Bears lost some big playmakers: Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III, receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway. … Williams last season had 59 catches for 957 yards and 11 TDs, including the game-winner with 8 seconds left against Oklahoma.
IOWA STATE — Key Players: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, RB James White. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Notes: Next win for Cyclones will be No. 500 in program history. There are also 595 losses and 46 ties. … Iowa State upset Oklahoma State in two OTs last November, likely costing the Cowboys a BCS championship game berth. The Cyclones then lost their last three games, including their bowl game at Yankee Stadium. … Klein and Knott combined for 231 tackles last season.
TEXAS TECH — Key Players: QB Seth Doege, WR Eric Ward, S Terrance Bullitt. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: After unexpected 41-38 win at Oklahoma to end the Sooners' 39-game home winning streak, Red Raiders lost their last five games to finish 5-7. That ended a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons. …. Texas Tech has third defensive coordinator, and third different scheme, in three seasons. The new coordinator is Art Kaufman, who has been on coach Tommy Tuberville's staffs in the past. … Doege, who threw for 4,004 yards and 28 TDs last season, gets back his top three receivers, who accounted for 1,987 yards and 23 TDs.
KANSAS — Key Players: QB Dayne Crist, LT Tanner Hawkinson, DE Toben Opurum. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Jayhawks have won only two Big 12 games the last three seasons. … Charlie Weis takes over as head coach and brought NFL veteran coach Dave Campo along as his defensive coordinator. … Crist graduated from Notre Dame and then transferred to Kansas to join Weis, who originally recruited him to South Bend. Crist will have only one season as a starter.