What exactly does Zac Robinson have to do?
Three games into last season Robinson, then a sophomore, became Oklahoma State's starting quarterback. He led his team to a school record in total offense — the Cowboys finished 7th nationally in that category — while he gained 2,834 yards passing and 847 yards rushing.
Only one quarterback in the nation exceeded Robinson's totals in both those categories. That player? Tim Tebow. The Heisman Trophy winner.
And yet Robinson's name is not found on any preseason All-Big 12 first- or second-team lists. One publication, widely respected for its prognostications, lists an All-Big 12 1st, 2nd, 3rd and even 4th team. No Zac Robinson anywhere.
Why can't the junior from Littleton, Colo., find his name on an all-conference two-deep (or four-deep)? Because the Big 12 quarterback talent pool is too deep.
Yes, the Big 12. The conference that gave us the wishbone offense, whose member schools boast eight Heisman-winning tailbacks in the past 40 years, whose two additional Heisman-winning quarterbacks never threw a pass in the NFL, suddenly is acting as if it's the Pac-10.
The conference of cattle-drive country has rounded up a prize herd of passers. For example, how do you improve upon Kansas QB Todd Reesing, who in his first season as a starter threw 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while leading the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record? Surely, even at 5-foot-11, Reesing is head and shoulders above ...
... but then who could be better than Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, who threw for 4,306 yards and 33 TDs as well and finished 4th in the Heisman race? Certainly every other passer in the conference is chasing Daniel ...
... except Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, who as a freshman led the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 36 touchdown tosses, an NCAA freshman record, and only eight interceptions. If any passer could even dream of ...
... There are passers, and then, at Texas Tech, there are superpassers. The Red Raiders' Graham Harrell led the nation in total offense and passing. As a junior he threw for 5,705 yards and 48 TD passes while completing 71.8 percent of his throws. In a season in which Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan was roundly and rightly praised for his throwing acumen, finishing 3rd in the Heisman race, Harrell completed nearly 10 more passes per game (39.38) for nearly 80 more yards per game than Brennan.
It's that crazy: Josh Freeman set the school single-season passing yardage record at Kansas State last year (3,353 yards), and that was only the fourth-most prolific effort in the Big 12. Back in triple-option days of Elvis Peacock and Jarvis Redwine, if you had said that this conference would one day showcase the best passers in the country, they would have replied, "When pigs fly."
That's exactly what's happening.
CONFERENCE GAME OF THE YEAR
Oct. 18: Missouri at Texas
The Tigers were 11-0 when not playing Oklahoma last season, and the good news is that this year the Sooners are not on the schedule. Neither is Texas Tech; the Longhorns represent the biggest hurdle to Mizzou being undefeated come Nov. 29 when they meet Kansas in Kansas City.
Mizzou's last win in Austin? A 10-0 shutout in 1986.
OTHER KEY CONFERENCE GAMES
Oct. 4: Missouri at Nebraska
Bo Pelini's first conference foe is loaded with offensive talent and eager to erase that 15-game losing streak in Lincoln dating back to 1978.
Oct. 11: Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas
The Red River Rivalry's latest wrinkle is the Longhorns' addition of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who is charged with fixing a unit that allowed a school-record 371.2 yards per game in '07. Only once since 2000 have both programs failed to be ranked entering this game.
Oct. 18: Kansas at Oklahoma
Jayhawk coach Mark Mangino did not have to face his former team (and boss) last season en route to KU's magnificent 12-1 finish. Yeah, what about that?, ask the folks in Columbia, Mo.
Nov. 22: Texas Tech at Oklahoma
This will likely decide the Big 12 South as the Red Raiders, with their best team yet under Mike Leach, have won two of the past three.
Nov. 27: Texas A&M at Texas
Aggies have won the past two in this series and KO'd Colt McCoy the last time they met in Austin.
NON-CONFERENCE GAME OF THE YEAR
Sept. 12: Kansas at South Florida
You do not just stumble haphazardly to a 12-1 finish, but nine of KU's 13 games were against .500 or lower opponents. And that 214-23 scoring margin against four non-conference foes last September also invites skeptics (and you thought Missouri was the "Show-Me State."
The Jayhawks, facing their first ranked non-conference foe since Mark Mangino arrived in 2002, have an opportunity to demonstrate their mettle.
OTHER KEY NON-CONFERENCE GAMES
Aug. 30: Illinois vs. Missouri at St. Louis
Tigers are too focused this year to trip up against their border brethren in this season opener.
Sept. 13: Oklahoma at Washington
Sam Bradford and Jake Locker, the two best sophomore quarterbacks in the land.
Sept. 13: Arkansas at Texas
Shades of Broyles and Royal, as these former Southwest Conference rivals meet for the first time in four years.
Sept. 20: Miami at Texas A&M
Hurricanes embarrassed the Aggies in prime-time last season, racing to a 31-0 lead at Orange Bowl before winning 34-17.
Sept. 27: Virginia Tech at Nebraska
Huskers have two weeks to prepare and they'll need it.
WHY WE LIKE ...
Oklahoma in the South
All five O-line starters return and all are seniors.
Missouri in the North
All the playmakers who believed in '07 — sack leader Stryker Sulak, tackles leader Sean Weatherspoon, QB Chase Daniel, picks leader William Moore, QB Chase Daniel and tight end Chase Coffman and All-World returner Jeremy Maclin — return, and this year they know.
WHY WE DON'T LIKE …
Texas in the South
Jamaal Charles is gone and a pass defense that ranked 109th last year may not be as talented this year.
Kansas in the North
Last year the Jayhawks met the bottom three South schools. This year the face the top three: Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
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