Big 12 preview: No end in sight for North's woes
By Dennis Dodd
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!
The Big 12 North isn't a division, it's a kennel.
You know, a place where all the mutts go.
The division's six teams fell just short of making it into Letterman's monologue last year. Colorado was the "champion" and lost by 39 points to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. In inter-divisional play, the North won only three of 19 games against the loaded South. Conference officials are still determining whether those even count. All three were against Baylor.
2. Iowa State
4. Kansas State
3. Texas A&M
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma State
Off. player of year:
Vince Young, Texas
Def. player of year:
Rodrique Wright, Texas
Coach of the year:
Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M
Once again, the conference's title game (Dec. 3 in Houston), is expected to be a formality. Texas or Oklahoma will wipe the floor with the North's Last Comic Standing.
It wasn't always this way. The league debuted 10 years ago with most of the power concentrated in the North. Nebraska was in the midst of winning three national championships in four years. Kansas won 10 games in 1995. Kansas State was an emerging national power. But while you were in the kitchen getting a sandwich, Big 12 North football became the island of misfit boys.
Actually, it took a little longer than that. In the pillow fight that was the Big 12 North race last year, all Iowa State had to do was beat floundering Missouri -- which had lost to Troy -- to win its first race of any kind since tying for the Missouri Valley in 1912. After 92 years, a tap-in right?
No, just another case of the yips. Missouri won in overtime, leaving the field feeling somewhat better about a 5-6 train wreck of a season in which its hothead coach needed some anger management and a new offensive coordinator. How dare media ask why Gary Pinkel's offense was able to turn Brad Smith from brilliant scrambling Heisman contender to pocket piņata?
Once again, all six teams in the North have a chance to win the division going into 2005. That's kind of the problem. Colorado won it last year as much as the other five didn't.
Gary Barnett and the Buffs are the best team in a bad Big 12 North division. (Getty Images)
Can the Big 12 North bounce back? The short answer is "no" which, for now, is also the long-term answer. Blame it on Tom Osborne. When T.O. hung it up in December 1997, in retrospect, that sent Nebraska and the North into decline.
You see, pretty much the only reason news outlets sent reporters to games in the Great White North was because of Nebraska. It won games with humility (Osborne) and controversy (Lawrence Phillips). It always won with that funky I-option while the rest of the world was going Spurrier.
Nebraska "declined" during the Frank Solich era, at least not winning championships at an Osborne clip. And, basically, no one stepped up to fill the gap.
Colorado has played in three of the past four conference title games (winning one). But since 2000, Oklahoma has played in three of the past five national championship games. Texas is on an unprecedented run, even if you include five straight losses to the Sooners.
Oklahoma State had Les Miles for only four years, but he became the school's only coach to lead the Cowboys to three consecutive bowls.
How? Those schools didn't cede the state of Texas in recruiting. While the Little Six made some successful forays into the state, the formation of the conference made it more important than ever for the Big 12 South to keep its talent at home.
A quick snapshot: Oklahoma has raided Texas since Barry Switzer. If you have NFL aspirations, Texas might be the No. 1 program in the country right now. Texas A&M already has won a Big 12 title and is resurrecting itself under Dennis Franchione. Texas Tech has trotted out three consecutive national passing leaders under Mike Leach.
In any given year, the Big 12 South is the toughest conference in the country.
Big East Pac-10
Big Ten SEC
Big 12 Sun Belt
It has taken these nine years of the league to properly set the geo-political boundaries. Aside from Nebraska, the largest budgets, most money, best facilities and talent generally are located in the South. Did we mention weather, too?
Up North, Missouri is the biggest tease this side of Desperate Housewives. The Tigers haven't won an outright title of any kind in 44 years, which is about how long their annual refrain has lasted: This is our year.
Kansas State is going retro, looking more like it's 1985 instead of 2005. Less than two years from winning its first Big 12 title, the Wildcats are at a crossroads in the Bill Snyder era.
You want to get excited about a young Iowa State. You really do. Yup, Wayne Morgan might have the best backcourt in the league.
Isn't Kansas still reeling from the Bucknell loss?
Everything goes in cycles, but no one said it had to be TRIcycles, which is what the North is riding -- again -- compared to the Harleys in the South.
The South's dominance is so obvious that Kansas coach Mark Mangino finally spontaneously combusted last season. The Kansas coach basically accused Big 12 officials of engineering a win for Texas at Lawrence in order to get the 'Horns a BCS bowl. A league fine and, later, contrition hardly lessened the humiliation.
"We're not the big spenders, we're not the big BCS team in the league," Mangino said.
He got that part right. North Division membership has its burdens.
Predicted order of finish:
Big 12 North
1. Colorado: Still the most talent and best coaching in this moribund division.
2. Iowa State: Go-to tailback (Stevie Hicks), run-pass quarterback (Bret Meyer), stout defense. Dare we say the 'Clones are loaded?
Which Big 12 North team has the best chance to win the conference title?
Nobody has a shot
3. Nebraska: Last year was bound to be a train wreck. Bill Callahan has more pieces in place this year. Plus the Huskers have Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State at home.
4. Kansas State: No serviceable quarterback. Darren Sproles is gone. The defense allowed 31 points per game last year. Hard to find hope.
5. Missouri: The lingering effects of Aaron O'Neal's death have yet to be determined.
6. Kansas: Mark Mangino is on a short leash after NCAA violations were tied to his program during the summer. One bright spot: preseason All-American Charles Gordon.
Big 12 South
1. Texas: Running game still a giant question mark. However, 'Horns could lose to Ohio State and Oklahoma and still win the South.
2. Oklahoma: It's mid-August and the Sooners still don't have a quarterback. When is the last time you read those words?
3. Texas A&M: Everyone's trendy pick to win the South. Why not? Reggie McNeal might be the best quarterback in the league. The defense is stout except for the secondary. That's why they invented non-conference games.
4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach has built in an eight-win season (at least). The Red Raiders don't play a I-A opponent on the road until Oct. 8 and have seven home games.
5. Oklahoma State: Too much transition in Mike Gundy's first year to hope for anything higher.
6. Baylor: Call the paramedics. Texas A&M is waiting for revenge on Oct. 1 in College Station. Guy Morriss should be tickled if he matches last year's 3-8 record.