With NFL training camps opening last week and the start of college fall practice this week, Kansas City sports fans now have the countdown to the football season as a welcome diversion from the dog days of Major League Baseball and the little engine that keeps trying, otherwise known as the Kansas City Royals, that, despite their best money-hoarding efforts, by this time every year always seem to find themselves falling further behind the rest of the major league teams.
The pro football experts are telling us, and we're all hoping, as we do virtually every NFL season, that the Chiefs are going to be better. Whether that proves to be true and in reality translates into a better won-lost record than last season's seven wins remains to be seen.
I'll have more to say about the Chiefs' prospects in the coming weeks, but this week I want to take a short dive (more like a snorkel dive) into the 2012 college football season and offer a perspective on what I believe is going to be a truly exciting year in the new-look Big 12.
The West Virginia Mountaineers and the TCU Horned Frogs have joined the conference, replacing the departed Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies, both of whom became members of college football's all-powerful Southeastern Conference in July.
Anyone who thinks the addition of West Virginia and TCU will weaken the football standing of the Big 12 on the national stage either isn't a true fan of college football or simply hasn't been paying attention. Both schools head into their first season of Big 12 football with a full head of steam. We're talking about reigning conference champions in their respective leagues last season: West Virginia in the Big East and TCU out of the Mountain West (and, by the way, Boise State - no slum dog, regardless of its non-BCS league status - was a member of that same conference).
West Virginia was 10-3 overall a year ago and 5-2 in the Big East; the Horned Frogs, after finishing No. 2 in the country in the 2010 season, were 11-2 overall in 2011 and a perfect 7-0 against Mountain West opponents. Both schools also finished in the top 25 in the final BCS standings last season (TCU 18th and WVU 23rd). By contrast, neither Missouri nor Texas A&M finished in the top 25 in any of the major polls at the end of last season.
By that comparison, in football at least, the Big 12 clearly fared the better out of the exchange of teams. And I wouldn't rule out that it also will prove to be advantage Big 12 in basketball, as well.
For you naysayers who say the past is not necessarily a prediction of the future, consider this: The Big 12 2012 football preseason coaches' poll has West Virginia coming in second behind Oklahoma in the conference race this fall, and TCU is projected to finish fifth, just behind Oklahoma State and ahead of Kansas State and Baylor, both of whom finished in the top four in the conference last season. Still not convinced that the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are entering the conference from a position of strength? The USA Today/ESPN preseason coaches' poll has West Virginia at No. 11 and TCU 17th, two of the six Big 12 teams ranked in the top 25 heading into the 2012 season. Oh, and by the way, neither Missouri nor that Texas wanna-be team from College Station is ranked.
All of this to make the point that West Virginia and TCU are very good teams and are not about to make life easier for the remaining eight of the ten schools that make up the current Big 12. Quite the contrary.
According to the Big 12 coaches, the preseason pick for Offensive Player of the Year in the conference is at West Virginia. Senior quarterback Geno Smith has started 26 consecutive games for the Mountaineers. Last season, the 6-3, 214-pound signal caller threw for 4,385 yards and averaged 373 yards per game, fifth best in the country - behind Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State and Landry Jones of Oklahoma, but better than Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, all of whom were ranked in the top-10 nationally.
The Big 12 coaches believe that the battle for the conference football crown will be fairly competitive among six teams (Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State), then a middle group of Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech and a pretty steep drop-off to Kansas, which should be much better under new coach Charlie Weiss, but still not where it needs to be to be competitive with most all of the rest of the conference teams.
I'll have more to say about the respective strengths and weaknesses of all of the Big 12 football teams, but in the spirit of projecting winners and losers barely a day or two into the fall practice schedule, here is how I see things happening in the conference heading into the 2012 season:
2012 Big 12 Football Projected Finish
2. West Virginia
5. Kansas State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Iowa State
9. Texas Tech
For more news and insights on Big 12 football and all Big 12 sports, you can find them all year long at SB Nation Kansas City.