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Big 12 preview: No end in sight for North's woes

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  • Big 12 preview: No end in sight for North's woes

    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS 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.

    Big 12
    Predicted Finish
    1. Colorado
    2. Iowa State
    3. Nebraska
    4. Kansas State
    5. Missouri
    6. Kansas
    1. Texas
    2. Oklahoma
    3. Texas A&M
    4. Texas Tech
    5. Oklahoma State
    6. Baylor
    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.

    Conference Previews
    Big East Pac-10
    Big Ten SEC
    Big 12 Sun Belt
    MAC Indep.
    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
    Iowa State

    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.

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    Weekend in Review: 'New' BCS still could produce a mess
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 10, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    Halfway through the season, the national championship race has some feel, some texture.

    Dodd's Power Poll

    1. Oklahoma
    2. USC
    3. Miami
    4. Florida State
    5. Auburn
    6. Virginia
    7. Purdue
    8. Louisville
    9. Georgia
    10. Texas
    11. Utah
    12. Boise State
    13. Wisconsin
    14. Arizona State
    15. Cal
    16. LSU
    17. Michigan
    18. Tennessee
    19. Florida
    20. West Virginia
    21. Oklahoma State
    22 Minnesota
    23. Navy
    24. Southern Miss
    25. Missouri
    25. UCLA
    Non-BCS Top 10
    1. Louisville
    2. Utah
    3. Boise State
    4. Navy
    5. Southern Miss
    6. Florida Atlantic
    7. UAB
    8. Memphis
    9. Wyoming
    10. Northern Illinois
    And some chaos just in case you forgot the BCS is a week away from weighing in. USC remains No. 1 but lost style (and poll) points in beating Cal. No. 2. Oklahoma handled Texas to creep closer. It's hard to believe Miami is now a heartbeat away at No. 3 considering some of its problems.

    What's it all mean? Refer back to last season when the BCS couldn't make up its mind between LSU, USC and Oklahoma. A similar nightmare scenario is developing.

    Three words: Split national champions. The new BCS that was supposed to lessen that likelihood looks like it is leading down the same path. Remember, there is nothing in the new BCS formula that can pick the "right" teams if there are three or more worthy teams for the two Orange Bowl slots at the end of the season. By leaning more on the human polls this year, the BCS commissioners are hoping the credibility of those rankings will sort things out.

    One of many problems: The computers still count for one-third of the formula, which could just as likely create split champions as prevent it. Last season, LSU, Oklahoma and USC all lost one game before the bowls. The BCS math picked Oklahoma and LSU to play in the Sugar Bowl despite the fact USC was No. 1 in both human polls.

    We'll say it again: More reliance on the human polls this year doesn't necessarily clean things up.

    Here's an early glimpse at this year's potential train wreck: Assume there are these 13 legitimate national championship contenders at this point. Nine of them are undefeated -- USC, Oklahoma, Miami, Purdue, Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, Arizona State and Auburn. Four have one loss -- Florida State, Michigan, Cal and Tennessee.

    At this point a year ago (using the Oct. 12, 2003 Associated Press poll), there were 14 contenders. But there were only three undefeated teams worthy of title...
    -10-11-2004, 01:36 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Oklahoma awaits Iowa State or Colorado
    by DJRamFan
    By Jacob Brown Daily Texan
    Austin, TX (U-WIRE) -- It's not surprising the Big 12 North Championship depends on what happens in this weekend's games. What is surprising, though, are the two teams who still have a chance to win the division.

    Either Colorado or Iowa State, both picked to finish near the bottom of the North, will play No. 2 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 4.

    The Cyclones are in if they beat Missouri Saturday or if Colorado loses Friday at Nebraska. The Buffaloes are in if they win and Iowa State loses.

    "I've got to get those Tigers fired up," Colorado head coach Gary Barnett said, referring to Missouri.

    While they were eliminated from the division title picture Saturday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-5, 3-4 Big 12) still have a lot to play for. They need a win to become bowl-eligible and extend their streak of consecutive years with a postseason appearance to 36. They have also finished with a winning regular-season record every year since 1962.

    "I think it's really important," Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan said of the streak. "It's significant in every respect, from morale, to spirit, to tradition, to recruiting. It all ties in, so we're going to do our best to keep that streak alive."

    While the Cornhuskers hold a 44-16-2 overall edge in the rivalry, the Buffaloes (6-3, 3-4) have won two of the last three meetings, including a win at Nebraska in 2002. Barnett knows it won't take much to get his team riled up for Friday's contest.

    "It's one of those games that I think the only thing I have to do is tell our players what time the bus leaves," he said. "Not much more has to be said."

    Considering what the Colorado football team went through in its offseason, it was unexpected the team would be this position. But it might be even more astonishing if Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) makes the turnaround from a two-win season last year to a possible division championship this year.

    The Cyclones' impressive play led Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel to praise the work of Dan McCarney, Iowa State's head coach.

    "Dan has done a great job this year with the Iowa State football team. They really started off slow," Pinkel said, "[but now they are] just really playing well."

    Iowa State lost its first three conference games but is currently on a four-game winning streak, with its last two wins coming against Nebraska and at Kansas State.

    While the Cyclones have exceeded expectations this season, Missouri (4-6, 2-5) has been the most disappointing team in the Big 12. The Tigers opened conference play with a win over Colorado, but they have lost their past five games. Junior quarterback Brad Smith, a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate, has had his worst season with the Tigers....
    -11-26-2004, 08:18 AM
  • Nick
    Top 25 games of the season (or why the SEC still rules)
    by Nick
    Top 25 games of the season (or why the SEC still rules)
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Aug. 26, 2011

    This season's five Ws -- who, what, when, where and wahoo!

    The games of the year (ranked 1-25):

    1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: Seriously, can we hit the "sim" button on the season and just fast-forward to this mega-matchup? A lot of folks think these are the two best teams in the country. This game could decide the SEC West, the SEC and half of the BCS championship game. Alabama still has quarterback issues, but, oh, that defense. Speaking of quarterback issues, for all of his problems, Jordan Jefferson has missed only seven of 27 passes in his career against Alabama. Last year's 10-of-13 performance in Baton Rouge was one of the best of his career.

    2. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17: FSU has to prove it's back. No. 1 Oklahoma has to stay unblemished to continue its national championship run. The Sooners will have to win without leading tackler and best trash talker Travis Lewis. You get the feeling this is an all-in game for the 'Noles. In other words, if they do lose it's going to be hard to recover emotionally with a trip Clemson up next. Bottom line: OU can afford a loss. FSU can't.

    3. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 26: Don't sleep on the Iron Bowl after last year's all-timer. Remember what has happened in the offseason -- the Toomer's Oaks, the tornado, Saban's 9-foot statue, the Cam Newton investigation hovering over it all. 'Bama will be favored but what will that mean? This is guaranteed to be one of the most emotional Iron Bowls ever.

    4. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12: This game should decide the Pac-12 North. (It feels funny just writing that.) It also could decide the Heisman given that the leading active vote getters are playing in this game (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James). This is the Cardinal's revenge game. There aren't many of them. After blowing a 21-3 lead last year at Oregon, Stanford watched the Ducks score 49 of the next 59 points.

    5. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1: Anyone not wearing red gets smacked over the head with a full Leinenkugel's. This is what Jim Delany had in mind when he expanded the Big Ten. Inventory for the league, lots of hype and two top-11 teams. Big Ten title-game preview? Nebraska plays its first conference game in its new league. Wisconsin tries to remind the Huskers who's boss. Russell Wilson never faced a defense like this in the ACC.

    6. LSU-Oregon, Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas: At this rate, patrolmen from Eugene and Baton Rouge will be going out for the coin toss. Call it in the air -- heads and Jordan Jefferson is suspended. Tails, Oregon receives -- another call from the NCAA. But seriously folks, this is one of the biggest season openers in years. The last time two top-five teams played on a neutral field to start the season was 1984. LSU will want to keep its momentum...
    -08-30-2011, 05:22 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Boise again stands between Fresno and WAC title
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 14, 2005
    By J. Darin Darst
    CBS Staff Writer
    Tell J. Darin your opinion!

    Expectations are high at Fresno State this season.

    But as long as Pat Hill is coaching, this year is just like any other.

    "My expectations have always been to win -- that will never change," said Hill, who is entering his ninth season at the school. "Until we finish the job every game for the entire season, we aren't getting the job done. It places a big bull's-eye on my back every year, but we are going to set our goals high and our job is to obtain those. And we haven't done that yet."

    Predicted Finish
    1. Fresno State
    2. Boise State
    3. Nevada
    4. New Mexico State
    5. Louisiana Tech
    6. Hawaii
    7. Idaho
    8. San Jose State
    9. Utah State
    Off. player of year:
    Bryson Sumlin, Fresno State
    Def. player of year:
    Korey Hall, Boise State
    Coach of the year:
    Pat Hill, Fresno State

    Fresno State returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Paul Pinegar and running back Bryson Sumlin. That's good news for a team that finished 9-3, averaged 40 points per game and won its third consecutive bowl game over a team from a BCS conference.

    But the one thing the keeps evading the Bulldogs is a conference title and a chance to play in a major bowl game.

    Fresno State's last conference title was 1999, and a major reason for the drought is Boise State.

    Boise State is 4-0 against Fresno State since joining the WAC in 2001 and has won the past three championships and a record 26 consecutive conference games.

    Boise State QB Jared Zabransky returns after throwing 16 TDs in 2004. (Getty Images)
    "If you are going to win this conference you have to win against Boise," Hill said. "I compare Boise State to BYU in the '70s and '80s; they just didn't lose. Right now we are going through a cycle where Boise State has a very good program. What they've done over the past three years is amazing."

    Fresno State has lost at least two conference games in each of the past four seasons but has knocked off an impressive list of teams from BCS conferences, including Kansas State, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Virginia, Oregon State and Colorado.

    This season's schedule features two more out-of-conference games that could get the Bulldogs closer to achieving their goals -- Sept. 17 at Oregon and Nov. 19 at Southern Calfornia.

    "We have the type of schedule for us to obtain certain goals in Division I. We need to focus and play every game like a Game 7," said Hill. "This team has a lot of potential, but you got to win the WAC. ... You...
    -08-16-2005, 03:24 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Iowa State coach certain Cyclones will be contenders
    by DJRamFan
    By Daniel Berk University Daily Kansan
    Lawrence, KS (U-WIRE) -- Iowa State was the surprise of the Big 12 Conference last year, taking advantage of a weak division to earn a piece of the Big 12 North crown.

    Last season, the Cyclones were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. They hadn't captured a football trophy since 1912.

    This season, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said he was hopeful the Cyclones would continue to improve and contend for the Big 12 Championship again.

    "We have rewritten the history books at Iowa State," McCarney said. "We have done things the school and program has never done in football, and yet we have lots and lots of room to improve. I am proud of what we have done."

    Iowa State finished the season winning five of its last six games, including a victory against Miami of Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The only game the Cyclones dropped during that stretch was a 17-14 match against the Missouri Tigers in the final regular season game of the year.

    A victory in that game would have given the Cyclones sole possession of the Big 12 North division, and would have sent them into the Big 12 Championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

    Leading the charge for the Cyclones this season will be sophomore quarterback Bret Meyer. Meyer started all 12 games for Iowa State last season, and accumulated 122 rushing yards in the Independence Bowl.

    McCarney said in order for the Cyclones to have another successful season, Meyer would have to continue to improve.

    "There is a tremendous upside to Bret Meyer," McCarney said. "It is just a matter of improving, doing the little things right, and picking up where he left off last year."

    Meyer will be joined in the backfield by junior running back Stevie Hicks. Hicks ran for more than 1,000 yards last season and will take the pressure off Meyer on offense.

    Also important on offense will be sophomore wide receiver Todd Blythe. Blythe was named to the Big 12 Media Preseason Football Team after wowing opponents by catching nine touchdowns and leading the conference last year with 21.4 yards per catch.

    Another target for Meyer will be junior wide receiver Austin Flynn. Flynn saw time at quarterback last year, but was moved to wide receiver in the off season to make room for Meyer.

    On defense, the Cyclones will have to replace first-team All-Big 12 cornerback Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs was the only Cyclone chosen in the NFL draft. Senior safety Nik Moser will be expected to replace Hobbs as the leader in the secondary.

    Another stand-out on defense will be senior defensive tackle Nick Leaders. Leaders is a four-year starter who coaches named second-team All-Big 12. Last season, Leaders racked up 50 tackles and led...
    -08-29-2005, 05:11 PM