DALLAS — Nebraska is headed for the Big Ten next season. Colorado is going to the Pac-10, probably in 2011 as well. The remaining 10 schools are going to stick it out together, going "back to the future," as the commissioner describes it, with no championship game — but perhaps a new name.
All of that shuffling dominated conversations this summer and probably will generate more headlines this fall.
NEBRASKA — Key players: RBs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, DT Jared Crick, Prince Amukamara. Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Three of last season's losses were by a total of four points. ... Pelini is taking a peculiar approach to Nebraska's departure from the Big 12, treating it as a non-issue. He's sure to be reminded otherwise during conference road games. ... Held last eight opponents to 20 points or less, including four games in single-digits.
MISSOURI — Key players: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, DE Aldon Smith. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Smith had 11½ sacks last season and was the AP Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year. ... Among Gabbert's backups is his younger brother, Tyler, a freshman. ... First six games are against five teams coming off losing seasons and an FCS opponent.
KANSAS STATE — Key players: RB Daniel Thomas, S Tysyn Hartman, QBs Carson Coffman or Collin Klein. Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Thomas was the only Big 12 RB to average more than 100 rushing yards per game last season; he also was the AP Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year. ... Coach Bill Snyder never got around to having knee surgery and likely will be limping through the fall. ... Four offensive line starters return.
KANSAS — Key players: TB Toben Opurum, LT Tanner Hawkinson, CB Chris Harris. Returning starters: offense 7, defense 6.
Notes: New Coach Turner Gill went 20-30 over four years at Buffalo and was twice named MAC coach of the year. He replaces Mark Mangino, ousted after allegations of player mistreatment. ... Chuck Long, Oklahoma's offensive coordinator staff from 2002-05, has the same role under Gill. But most of what was a high-powered offense, directed by QB Todd Reesing, is gone.
IOWA STATE — Key players: RB Alexander Robinson, QB Austen Arnaud, CB Leonard Johnson. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: After turning 2-10 team he inherited into bowl winners, what will Paul Rhoads do in his second season? It'd be easier if he could avoid Oklahoma and Texas again. Instead, the Cylones play Sooners and Longhorns on the road in consecutive October weeks. ... Defense had only 16 sacks last season.
COLORADO — Key players: WR Scotty McKnight. QBs Tyler Hansen, Jr. and Cody Hawkins. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Coach Dan Hawkins must drastically improve his 16-33 record if he's going to stick around for the move to the Pac-10, er, Pac-12. ... The Buffs won two conference games last season — by a total of five points. ... Tough nonconference schedule includes games at California and home for Georgia.
OKLAHOMA — Key players: RB DeMarco Murray, WR Ryan Broyles, QB Landry Jones, DE Jeremy Beal. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Three of the first four players in the NFL draft were Sooners, yet they aren't expected to miss a beat; heck they should even improve on last year's injury-plagued 8-5 season. ... Coach Bob Stoops has lost four of the last five games against Texas. His response: OU has won three of the last four Big 12 titles. ... Jones threw for 3,198 yards with 26 TD passes and 14 interceptions.
TEXAS — Key players: QB Garrett Gilbert, RBs Trey Newton and Fozzy Whittaker, DE Sam Acho, CB Curtis Brown. Returning starters: 4 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: WRs James Kirkendoll, Marquise Goodwin and Malcolm Williams to try replacing Jordan Shipley as the go-to guy. ... Although defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is coach-in-waiting, coach Mack Brown not even thinking about retirement. ... Muschamp's defense has 91 sacks last two seasons, but he is breaking in new defensive ends.
TEXAS A&M — Key players: QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, RB Christine Michael. Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: Johnson could run, throw the Aggies back into prominence. ... A return to the 3-4 defense, under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter, also should help A&M's potential revival. ... Miller was tops in the nation with 17 sacks last season, the bright spot on an inexperienced defense that figures to get better with age.
TEXAS TECH — Key players: QBs Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield, DT Colby Whitlock, WR Detron Lewis. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: The Red Raiders are the only school never to have a losing season in Big 12 play. ... Mike Leach is gone after a messy divorce and Tommy Tuberville replaces him as coach. Tuberville is sticking with the pass-happy spread offense Red Raiders fans love. And he won't have a two-QB system. He'll pick one and stick with him until he proves he can't do the job.
BAYLOR — Key players: QB Robert Griffin, LB Antonio Johnson, WR Terrance Williams. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Griffin's return from a knee injury and a soft early schedule (Sam Houston State, Buffalo, Rice) could have Bears fans thinking about a bowl berth. ... Alas, a closing stretch that includes Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma may burst that bubble.
OKLAHOMA STATE — Key players: QB Brandon Weeden, RB Kendall Hunter, S Markelle Martin, Jr.; Returning starters: offense 5, defense 5.
Notes: With Leach gone from the league and his former right-hand man Dana Holgorsen now calling plays for the Cowboys, coach Mike Gundy is hoping to have the league's most-difficult-to-prepare-for offense. ... OSU's conference win total has gone up four straight seasons (3, 4, 5, 6) but it'll be tough with a lot of inexperienced defenders and a new starting QB.
Yet there's plenty of intrigue on the field, too, starting with the Cornhuskers' bid to go out on top.
Coach Bo Pelini declared "Nebraska's back and we're here to stay" following a 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. "Here," apparently, meant national prominence and the Cornhuskers really could climb the polls if they get solid play at quarterback.
They didn't last season and still nearly beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game. Nebraska only lost when the Longhorns nailed a long field goal as time expired.
The teams meet Oct. 16 in Lincoln, Neb., and it's already gotten juicy. Nebraska's marketing types put a "Beat Texas" line into a promotional campaign and Pelini insists it was dropped as soon as the football staff found out about it. Longhorns coach Mack Brown is playing it cool, reminding his side of how classy Cornhuskers fans always have been and expecting it to remain that way.
Nebraska's quarterback competition is between incumbent Zac Lee, who hopes to return better than ever following surgery on his passing elbow; last season's backup, Cody Green; and this season's spring sensation, Taylor Martinez.
"Any time you have great competition in any position, quarterback position included, it's going to make everybody better," Pelini said. "It will be interesting to see how that competition plays out."
The Cornhuskers no longer have Ndamukong Suh clogging up the middle of the defensive line. But Jared Crick (9½ sacks last season) returns, as does end Pierre Allen. Cornerback Prince Amukamara leads a standout secondary.
The South race — surprise, surprise — should come down to Oklahoma and Texas.
Both powerhouses lost high-profile quarterbacks, the Sooners sending Sam Bradford off as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and the Longhorns parting with Colt McCoy, winner of the most career game by any Division I-A quarterback.
No biggie, though. Both already have replacements broken in.
Landry Jones played most of last season because Bradford was hurt.
"We've won championships, six of them, with five different quarterbacks," coach Bob Stoops said. "That says a lot. And he's in that mold of all those guys."
Oklahoma is favored to regain the South crown.
The defending Big 12 champion Longhorns are handing their offense to Garrett Gilbert. He was relegated to mop-up duty as freshman until the biggest game of the year. When McCoy was hurt on the opening series of the national title game, Gilbert led a second-half rally and showed he can play.
"I do think his presence in the national championship game gave him instant credibility with the older kids," Brown said. "Unlike Colt, who hadn't taken a snap when he stepped in that huddle, Garrett has."