We end our long journey through each conference with the Big 12 North. Sure, this division plays second fiddle to its higher profile brother in the South, but this doesn't mean a fantasy drafter should go to sleep on da North side. After all these are six offenses that can score points, especially when they're playing against each other.
2009 Record: 10-4, 6-2
Returning Starters: 10 offense / 4 o-line, 6 defense
Who They Lose
Without question the biggest loss will be defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He was the talk of college football for much of the year and nearly changed the makeup of the National Championship Game with his performance against Texas in the Big XII Title Game.
On offense they return nearly everyone, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
Starting quarterback Zac Lee, leading rusherRoy Helu Jr. and leading receiver Niles Paul all return. As does starting tight end Mike McNeill.
Despite the wealth of returning starters, the offense isn’t without its question marks. Lee will miss spring practice after having elbow surgery. And even if he were healthy the starting quarterback spot would have been been hotly contested between Lee and Cody Green. Lee was far from consistent last season, and Green will get plenty of work this spring, setting up a duel for the starting job in August.
Helu rushed for 1,147 yards and ten scores, but you get the sense that Rex Burkhead is ready for a more prominent role. Helu was benched mid-season for fumble problems and struggled with a shoulder injury, while Burkhead saw at least 17 carries in each of the Huskers’ last three games.
How big is the loss of Suh?
Despite the loss of Suh, the Cornhuskers' defense still looks promising. It starts up front with tackle Jared Crick. Bo Pelini has done a remarkable job of returning the Blackshirt defense to prominence, and they should be a solid fantasy consideration in 2010...despite the loss of Suh.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Not thrilled
Helu is probably still the best option, but we hardly feel confident in him matching last year’s totals. Let someone else take the draft day risk on him.
Don’t forget about McNeill; he doesn’t put up huge numbers but he is solid and has the potential to be a Top-10 tight end if the balls get thrown his way.
2009 Record: 10-4, 6-2
Returning Starters: 6 offense / 4 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
We had a gut feeling that South Florida transfer Grant Gregory would eventually win the starting quarterback job based on his ability to run. And he turned into a productive, but not spectacular starter for the Wildcats.
Also gone are a pair of starting receivers inBrandon Banks andAttrail Snipes, as well as tight end Jeron Mastrud
Daniel Thomas , Daniel Thomas and Daniel Thomas. We liked Thomas’ prospects when the JUCO enrolled last summer, but we had no idea he be able to make the transition from quarterback to running back so seamlessly. With nearly the entire offensive line returning there is no reason to believe Thomas won’t crack 1000 yards rushing once again.
Will Chris Harper win the Starting Quarterback Job?
The Oregon transfer will certainly get his chance. There was a reason we liked Gregory to beat out Carson Coffman for the starting job last season, and it was his ability to run. And that same philosophy applies here.
Harper has loads of upside and could be the type of quarterback that fits coach Bill Snyder’s system. But Coffman has been in the system a while so we aren’t counting him out just yet. This will be one to watch this spring
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Limited but promising
Thomas is a no-brainer and if Harper can win the starting job, he’s in the mix too. Especially if your league penalizes quarterbacks for throwing touchdowns instead of running them in.
2009 Record: 8-5, 4-4
Returning Starters: 6 offense / 3 o-line, 9 defense
Who They Lose
Danario Alexander finally lived up to our lofty expectations placed on him back in 2007. Of course we had all but given up on the injury-plagued wideout. It is going to be tough to replace his 113 receptions, 1781 receiving yards and 14 scores.
The Tigers also lose receiver Jared Perry, who was also on pace to reach 1000 yards receiving before being sidelined with a knee injury.
Last year was a rebuilding year for the Tigers and if a rebuilding year means finishing 8-5, Tigers fans should count their lucky stars.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is back off a successful campaign. Did Gabbert lack consistency? Yep. But that was to be expected from a first-year starter. Gabbert has the tools to be a stud, and he showed flashes of it in 2009. We expect him to show more in 2010.
Workhorse running back Derrick Washington also returns for his third season as the starting tailback. Washington’s numbers took a bit of a dip in 2009, but he still had 216 touches, which is a good number for a fantasy back. Gabbert’s success will dictate whether or not Washington will get more room to run and see the scoring opportunities he had in 2008.
Who will be Gabbert’s Top Target in 2010?
Someone is going to emerge as a fantasy threat. Jerrell Jackson seems like an obvious choice. Jackson is the Tigers' leading returning receiver with 37 catches for 458 yards and two scores. He played both inside and out last season and played a prominent role when Perry went down at the end of 2009. Jackson will take over the inside H-receiver spot vacated by Alexander. Look for plenty for bubble screens, slants and seam routes where they can utilize Jackson’s speed and ability to run after the catch.
Wes Kemp started last year at the Z-receiver and the 6-foot-4 receiver should see more balls thrown his way without Alexander in the mix, especially in the red zone.
Taking over Perry’s position at the other outside receiver spot (X-receiver) will be Rolandis Woodland. This has the makings of a solid group of receivers. Jackson and Kemp have the most upside, but we are probably looking at a situation where the ball is spread more evenly between the three of them.
At tight end highly-touted Andrew Jones and Michael Egnew are still in the mix, though Jones will miss spring practice after shoulder surgery. The pair hasn’t reached the lofty expectations set by Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker, but they could be more involved in 2010.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Back on the rise
Plenty of options, starting with Gabbert. He should only get better with a year of experience under his belt.
We were a bit down on Washington last year due to the overall offensive losses, but he is still getting his touches. As long as his knees hold up, look for his numbers to be somewhere in between those from 2008 and 2009.
At wide receiver Jackson and Kemp look like solid mid-to-late round picks depending on your league. And if you are in a Big 12 heavy league, Woodland is an option.
We’ll take a wait and see approach on the tight ends this year, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them emerge.
2009 Record: 7-6, 3-5
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 4 o-line, 4 defense
Who They Lose
Wide receiver Marquis Hamilton and tight end Derrick Catlett move on. Hamilton caught 50 balls for 606 yards and four scores last season, and he completes his career in Ames with 127 catches and eight scores. Catlett emerged as the team's top tight end, and a senior season of 29 catches for 301 yards and two scores will leave a void.
A whole bunch of good feelings return after Paul Rhoads' successful first year. And though we may see a little letdown in year two, it won't be due to Alexander Robinson. The senior tailback is coming off an impressive 232-1195-6 season on the ground, and he also caught three touchdown passes. The offense will go through Robinson as Austen Arnaud has not proven to be a very consistent quarterback.
Arnaud did account for 22 scores as a junior, however his 13 interceptions helped kill plenty of momentum along the way. It's this lack of consistency that makes all those involved in Iowa State forward passes players to avoid. Though if you're forced to nab a Cyclone wide receiver, then you'll want to look to either Jake Williams or Darius Darks. Williams is the steady option, while Darks has struggled to make noise of late.
So What About Darks?
Heading into last season we saw Darks emerging as the main beneficiary of the new offense, but a hamstring injury slowed him down and the wide receiver could never get healthy or put it together in 2009. And it's hard to deem him anything more than a late-round sleeper in Big XII leagues for 2010. The talent is there, but there are so many other options out wide in this conference that Darks really is a shot in the...dark.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Back to reality...for now
There is no doubt that Paul Rhoads has done a hell of a job, especially after the Cyclones were stunned by Gene Chizik's decision to head to Auburn. And by all accounts the Iowa State staff did a very nice job on the recruiting trail. However this team will struggle this season. Arnaud simply is not consistent enough, and teams will now overplay on Robinson.This doesn't mean that Robinson should be avoided; rather, he should be a top conference back. But expecting him to match last season's impressive total is simply asking too much.
2009 Record: 3-9, 2-6
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 2 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
Tight end Riar Geer will look to take his act to the NFL, and with his departure the Buffaloes lose one of the conference's top tight ends. Geer had shown a propensity for scoring prior to his senior season, but last year he really put it all together, snaring 36 balls for 402 yards and four scores.
And running back, which could have been deemed a position of strength heading into 2009, is now one that is short on talent. BothDarrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler decided to move on, leaving Rodney Stewart as the remaining back who's seen significant action.
Darrell Scott 's era at Colorado could be seen as a metaphor for Dan Hawkins' tenure. Scott arrived with a whole bunch of promise and enthusiasm, but things could never get rolling. And if 2010 is anything like last season, then the head coach may soon be loading up the moving van.
We can expect to see another quarterback battle.Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will again fight for the right to start. The coaching staff has expressed a desire to get a starter named by the time summer rolls around, but please forgive us if we're a little skeptical.
At tailback we'll see if Rodney Stewart can stay healthy. The junior tailback is all guts, runs hard and make plays. IF he can stay healthy then we're likely looking at a 1000-10 season. If Stewart can't stay healthy then Brian Lockridge is next in the running back line.
Scotty McKnight is the steady one, Markques Simas the enigmatic one, and Toney Clemons is the intriguing one. If you're looking for a receiver that will catch a bunch of passes for a decent amount of yards then go with McKnight. He's proven himself a good Buff over the last three years, and he'll be the quarterback's security blanket. Simas presents the highest ceiling, however this young lad cannot make good decisions, as it seems he's always getting suspended for something. Clemons is a highly-regarded transfer who left Michigan when it was clear that Rich Rodriguez would run it a little more than Lloyd Carr.
So How Will it Go?
There are far more questions than answers in Boulder. 1. Will Colorado be the first domino to fall and end up moving to the Pac-10? 2. Will there be a quarterback controversy all season long? 3. Will Dan Hawkins be shown the door before 2011?
2010 Fantasy Outlook: There are options
A healthy Rodney Stewart is a draftable commodity. Scotty McKnight is a great receiver to have on your bench as he'll not kill you with a goose egg. And if you're feeling a little crazy then Markques Simas may be worth a shot.
2009 Record: 5-7, 1-7
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 4 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
Everybody leaves. Todd Reesing,Kerry Meier,Dezmon Briscoe,Jake Sharp and Mark Mangino all depart Lawrence, Kansas. Three ran out of eligibility, one wanted out, and the big guy was shoved out for not being nice. And while last season was a complete and utter debacle, it shouldn't overshadow the Jayhawk careers of all five moving on. Todd Reesing is a legend who got every ounce out of his potential, and he deserved much better in his senior campaign. Meier dealt with the sting of not playing quarterback and became one of the nation's most prolific pass catchers. Briscoe made big play after big play, and Sharp was a workhorse that just couldn't stay healthy. And for all of the negative publicity that surrounded his final campaign, there is no doubt that Mark Magino took Kansas football to incredible heights.
It's an understatement to say that there are a whole bunch of unknowns heading into the Turner Gill era. Clearly Gill knows the Big XII, and he has the charisma to lure a whole bunch of recruits to Lawrence. But for this year, there are more fantasy questions than answers.
Kale Pick will battle JUCO Quinn Meacham for the starting quarterback job. In a normal year (one where the staff isn't fired) the returning player would be the favorite. However Meacham posted some very impressive numbers last season, and Gill is bringing him in for a reason. Thus we expect Meacham to get the nod, and should he make the step (and it's a big one) then he may be a spot starting option.
There's a lot of buzz surrounding running back Toben Opurum, and this is with good reason. Opurum scored ten touchdowns with only 146 touches last year. And should he serve as the true #1 tailback then this sophomore could emerge as one of the conference's top tailbacks.
Two talented wide receivers are also anxiously awaiting their larger roles. Johnathan Wilson has shown good hands and the ability to get open, but he's struggled to find the end zone over the last two years. He's joined out wide by Bradley McDougald, a rising sophomore who caught 33 balls as a freshman in 2009.
The Jayhawks' 2010 schedule sets up for some high-scoring affairs. Kansas welcomes Georgia Tech to Lawrence in week two and travel to Nebraska in mid-November; otherwise this schedule is a fantasy owner's dream. Do any of these defenses scare ya? North Dakota State, Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Missouri.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Don't write these guys off
IF the Jayhawks can get somewhat consistent quarterback play, then this could be an offense to fear in 2010. Opurum, McDougald and Wilson all could be factors on any given week.