TCU and West Virginia should be the favorites to win the Big 12 this year.

Sounds a little crazy to pick the Big 12 newbies, doesn't it? But before you jump to the comment page to tell us how ridiculous you feel that declaration is, consider this: In the last five years, the Big 12 has been won by a team with one of the two most efficient quarterbacks (see chart below). Four of those Big 12 champions returned their starter. Sam Bradford led the Sooners to the title in 2007 as a redshirt freshman and is the only freshman quarterback in the history of the Big 12 to win the conference title. Bradford, of course, was the most-efficient QB that season. 

Pass Eff.



Sam Bradford




Sam Bradford




Colt McCoy




Landry Jones



Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden


Out of the returning starters in the Big 12 this year, Casey Pachall and Geno Smith were the most efficient in 2011. 

Pass Eff.


Casey Pachall


West Virginia

Geno Smith



Landry Jones


Texas Tech

Seth Doege



Case McCoy


Kansas State

Collin Klein


Iowa State

Steele Jantz


The fact that Pachall and Smith top this list comes with a big caveat. Pachall and Smith put up their numbers outside of the Big 12 against weaker competition. 

According to most strength of schedule calculations, Big 12 teams played the most difficult schedules in the country last season. The USA Today's Jeff Sagarin had the eight returning Big 12 schools all in the top 11 for SOS; TCU's SOS ranked 86th and West Virginia's 57th. It makes sense that Oklahoma is the preseason favorite, as Landry Jones is the most proven quarterback who has played against Big 12 defenses. 

It's not like this is the SEC, however, as Big 12 defenses are not as dominant as they once were. At one time, it was defense that won the league championship and not QB play. 

In 2006, Oklahoma won the Big 12 with Paul Thompson at quarterback, and Thompson ranked sixth in the league in passing efficiency. K-State won in 2003 with Ell Roberson, the fifth-most efficient QB that year. OU won the year before with Nate Hybl, the fifth-most efficient QB. 

All three of those teams had great defenses that ranked in the top two in total defense in the Big 12 and in the top 20 nationally.

In the last five years, it's obvious that spread offenses have changed the landscape of the league, and Big 12 champs have been able to get away with an average defense. Oklahoma State, for example, ranked seventh in total defense last season, OU ranked fourth in 2010 and third in 2008. In the last five years, only Texas in 2009 has won the Big 12 with the best defense. The Longhorns also had the most efficient quarterback, which is how they ended up in the national title game. 

Before you pick Texas Tech as a darkhorse to win the Big 12 because of Seth Doege, consider that it is important to play at least a little defense. Robert Griffin III was the most efficient QB in the league in 2011, but Baylor ranked ninth in total defense. In 2010, Brandon Weeden led the league in passing efficiency and the Cowboys finished behind OU because of a defense that ranked eighth. Basically, keep your defense out of the cellar and you have a chance with a great quarterback. 

West Virginia's hopes could rest on how the defense develops under first-year coordinator Joe DeForest, who came over from Oklahoma State to try to rebuild WVU's defense to handle Big 12 offenses. TCU always has one of the nation's best defenses, but the Horned Frogs are inexperienced at linebacker, typically a position of strength. 

If those two defenses can be at least average and Pachall and Smith can repeat their numbers from 2011, it's not so far-fetched to pick one of the newbies to win the title. And before you count out Wes Lunt and Oklahoma State, consider that Oklahoma State's Air Raid offense has produced the best passing offense for two straight years, and as Patrick Southern wrote on Wednesday, there's a history of first-year starters performing well in the system

The best bet -- if you're the betting type -- is to go with experience and efficiency, and that leaves West Virginia, Oklahoma or TCU as the most likely champions.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big 12, follow bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern on Twitter @CBSSportsBig12.