With South Division teams having won six consecutive Big 12 Conference championships, it often seemed they would dominate until the end of time.
Actually, it may just be until the end of the conference as we know it.
This is the last year for the Big 12 as it has existed since the Big Eight and four Texas schools merged in 1996. Nebraska will be joining the Big Ten and Colorado is headed to the Pac-10.
Nebraska is exiting much like it entered the Big 12. Back in '96, the Huskers were projected as one of the best teams in the country and the favorite to win the conference championship. And although there were some trying seasons under Frank Solich and Bill Callahan earlier this century, the Huskers have returned to prominence and want to show they're back among the elite.
Of course, there is one similarity they hope to avoid.
In '96, the heavily favored Huskers lost to Texas in the first Big 12 championship game. They sure don't want to come up short in what may be the last Big 12 title game.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles. In two seasons, Broyles has more than 1,800 receiving yards, 1,120 of them coming last season. He's a big-play threat -- 21 receiving touchdowns in his career -- and is among the nation's best punt returners. Last season, he scored seven touchdowns via rush, reception or return that covered at least 25 yards.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Texas A&M LB Von Miller. Last season, he earned All-American recognition while establishing himself as one of the nation's elite pass rushers. He led the nation with 17 sacks. A&M was ranked 106th in the country in pass defense, so those weren't coverage sacks. He also was fifth in the nation with 21 tackles for loss.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Baylor QB Robert Griffin. No team relies more on one individual than Baylor does Griffin. With Griffin two years ago, Baylor made a run at its first bowl since 1994. A postseason appearance seemed possible in '09 until an injury knocked Griffin out for the year early in the season. Now, Griffin has returned and so has hope for Baylor to reach a bowl game. But Griffin will have to carry the Bears most of the way.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Nebraska T Jared Crick. He's hailed as an All-America candidate and is expected to be the anchor of the Huskers' defense after posting 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. But five of those sacks and seven tackles for loss came in one game, against Baylor. He also benefited from playing next to Ndamukong Suh, who was the second player selected in the NFL draft. Crick has to show he can be just as dominant without Suh next to him.
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE STAR: Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson. He had 37 catches for 458 yards in '09, and it would come as no surprise at all if those stats at least doubled this season. Missouri will throw the ball, and he's the Tigers' most productive returning receiver. Further, Mizzou has had a 1,000-yard receiver in each of the past three seasons. Jackson could keep that trend going.
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE STAR: Oklahoma State LB Orie Lemon. Technically, Lemon broke out in '08 when he was second among Cowboys with 90 tackles. But a knee injury forced him to miss the'09 season. Now, that he's back, he's the leader of a rebuilt defense. He's drawn raves from coordinator Bill Young, who thinks he'll be one of the best in the country at his position.
BEST OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Kansas State WR Chris Harper. A converted quarterback with big-play ability, Harper sat out last season after transferring from Oregon. As a true freshman in '08, he was the Ducks' first player in eight years to score via run, pass and reception. That season, he moved to receiver after five games and caught nine passes for 122 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown. With a year to focus on playing receiver, he should be much more effective for a team that needs playmakers.
BEST DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Oklahoma LB Tom Wort. Wort, a redshirt freshman, was going to play last season before a torn anterior cruciate ligament knocked him out of action. He's recovered now and played well in the spring. He's projected to be the starter at middle linebacker.
MOST OVERRATED PLAYER: Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. Yes, he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he did most of his damage against lightweight defenses. Against four top-35 defenses (Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma State and Navy) Gabbert completed just 46.3 percent of his attempts for an average of 208.5 yards. The Tigers lost all those games. He needs to raise his performance against good teams to truly be among the nation's elite quarterbacks.
COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Colorado's Dan Hawkins. He is a great guy in a tough spot. The Buffaloes haven't managed a winning record in any of his four seasons in Boulder, and last season was a 3-9 disaster. Speculation was Hawkins would have been dismissed if the financially strapped athletic department could've afforded his buyout. If the Buffs don't win this season, he won't get another year. Remember, his predecessor was fired despite winning the North Division four times in five seasons.
BEST COACHING STAFF: Oklahoma. Flip a coin between Texas and Oklahoma. For now, we'll take OU based on a half-dozen Big 12 championships the Sooners have won under Bob Stoops and with Brent Venables working with the defense.
BEST OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Oklahoma's Kevin Wilson. The Sooners have won three Big 12 titles in Wilson's four seasons as offensive coordinator. He's also supervised four offenses that ranked among the nation's top 29 in scoring, including the '08 unit that led the nation and the '07 offense that was fifth. He has worked with three starting quarterbacks in that span (Paul Thompson, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones).
BEST DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Texas' Will Muschamp. Three years ago, Texas ranked 45th in the nation in scoring defense and posted 28 sacks. Then, Muschamp took over the unit. In two seasons under his guidance, opponents have averaged fewer than 19 points per game and the Longhorns have posted 91 sacks. This season's defense could be Muschamp's best yet in Austin.
THE OTHER STUFF
Florida State at Oklahoma, Sept. 11
Nebraska at Washington, Sept. 18
Texas at Texas Tech, Sept. 18
Oklahoma at Cincinnati, Sept. 25
Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas, Oct. 2
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas, Oct. 9
Texas at Nebraska, Oct. 16
Missouri at Nebraska, Oct. 30
Nebraska at Texas A&M, Nov. 20
Texas A&M at Texas, Nov. 25
TEAM THAT WILL SURPRISE: Baylor. With Griffin back at quarterback, the Bears aren't the patsies they are most seasons. In fact, with an advantageous schedule, Baylor could be bowl eligible before Halloween. Six of the Bears' first eight opponents did not post winning records last season and four of them travel to Waco. Baylor won't challenge for a championship, but the Bears may not be in the South Division cellar, either.
TEAM THAT WILL DISAPPOINT: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys posted back-to-back nine-win seasons in '08 and '09, but maintaining that standard won't be easy. Four starters were lost on the offensive line, including All-America T Russell Okung, Brandon Weeden is entering his first year as starting quarterback, the linebacker corps and secondary must be rebuilt and starting DE Jamie Blatnick's status is uncertain after a recent arrest for assault. Unless RB Kendall Hunter, who is back from injury, has a big year, the Cowboys could struggle to become bowl eligible.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Texas at Nebraska, Oct. 16. Usually, the Red River Rivalry matchup between Texas and Oklahoma is an obvious choice. But this game in Lincoln may upstage the annual grudge match. Huskers faithful are aching to end a five-game losing streak to Texas. Of course, that streak includes the Longhorns' 13-12 victory in the 2009 Big 12 title game.
TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Iowa State. The Cyclones' schedule has numerous potential top-10 teams. The Cyclones are the only North Division team that has to play both Texas and Oklahoma -- and both games are on the road, too. Also looming are games with North Division rival Nebraska and non-conference clashes against state-rival Iowa and MWC heavyweight Utah. Texas Tech, Northern Illinois and Missouri visit Ames. Overall, the Cyclones face eight teams that played in bowl games last season.
EASIEST SCHEDULE: Kansas. Turner Gill gets a break of sorts in his first season as Kansas coach. The Jayhawks don't play Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech from the South Division. Two of their league road games are against Baylor and Iowa State. A matchup with Georgia Tech is formidable, but Kansas' other three non-Big 12 foes were a combined 13-24 in '09.