Friday Forecast: Separation Saturday

  • Friday, October 23, 2009 12:03 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Suddenly, with a few upsets around the conference, you start to see how the stars could align themselves at the end of the season. Two of the three favorites in the Big 12 North are massive underdogs this week against Oklahoma and Texas, opening the door for Kansas State -- playing a winnable game at home -- to start 3-1 in the conference.

In the Big 12 South, it's less clear at the top, but we should be able to see a clear division between the top four and bottom two teams. But, barring an upset, the Longhorns should still finish on top.

It's a critical juncture for a team like Missouri, which runs the risk of starting 0-3 in the conference. It would take the entire season to dig out of that hole, and it's more likely they wouldn't. Nebraska would have to go 4-4 in the conference for Missouri to jump them, and that's just one team.

The picks:

Iowa State at Nebraska: Two years ago, Iowa State was a terrible team that almost beat a terrible defense on its home turf. This year, Nebraska gets time to work out its major offensive woes, because the Blackshirts will hold down the Cyclones all afternoon.

Colorado at Kansas State: I usually give Colorado a lot of credit, because I think it has the personnel to win most games it goes into. It's no credit to Dan Hawkins that the Buffs blow it most weeks. And since this game features my best and worst Big 12 coaches at midseason, I'll have to go with Bill Snyder's Wildcats. At 3-1 on a week when most of their division competition falls, they'll create some buzz.

Oklahoma State at Baylor: Closely related to those non-conference games that make me want to gouge my eyes out. OSU wins, onto the next game.

Oklahoma at Kansas: Some people seem to think Kansas on the upswing can beat Oklahoma on a downswing. But it's not true. Because Kansas is overrated, and Oklahoma will have no trouble squelching KU's offense. The Jayhawks will be humbled and knocked from that Top 25 perch they don't deserve.

Texas A&M at Texas Tech: If Kansas State could drop 62 on A&M, maybe the Red Raiders can hit 100. Seriously. If you want to know what watching me play NCAA Football 10 on the junior varsity difficulty setting looks like, watch Texas Tech in this game. It's going to be ugly.

Texas at Missouri: The air seems to be coming out of Missouri's sails fast. I'm sure Gary Pinkel's worrying about the morale of his team. I could see the first half played closely, for a few reasons: Texas has been starting slow during much of the season, it's coming off a big game against Oklahoma, and Missouri's season is all-but-doomed if its loses this one. Though ultimately, Texas will prevail.

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Big 12 Midseason Review: Coaches

  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009 5:29 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


What I love about college football is the emphasis and control coaching has. There aren't GMs or contracts to blame. Coaches build their teams, select every player. Coaches develop players. Coaches win games. Coaches. In the NFL, mediocre coaches can make it to the Super Bowl when they have a good team -- Sam Wyche, Jim Fassel and Bill Callahan are sterling examples -- but few coaches in college football reach the highest levels of achievement by accident.

Credit the slim margin of error. You can lose seven games in the NFL and win the Super Bowl. In college football, you might be able to withstand two losses, but you'll need a lot of upsets, a tough conference to play in and hype.

I've never been a huge fan of midterm grades -- they've always woken me from a daydream in which I believe I'm doing well in school -- but when it comes to coaching, I inhale them. I put a lot of emphasis on the direction a school seems headed, rather than where they stand. It's not the records that matter, it's the progress of rebuilding schools and the standing of established programs in regards to their expectations.

And since nothing makes or breaks a program like coaching, there's no better way to forecast a school's future. So here you go -- the best coaching jobs in the Big 12 this season:

1. Bill Snyder: I'm not afraid to say I love this coach. I love his dedication to his school, I love the charred remains of a football team he inherited, and I love that he has them chugging along like the tortoise vs. the hare. Kansas State seems to get better every week -- remember, it lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 17-15 earlier this season. Now the Wildcats are dropping 62 on a Big 12 school? Part of it is that the depth chart is sorting itself out, but make no mistake: This team has tons of momentum. They're better than everyone thought. They're probably better than Snyder thought. But he's a legendary coach who made a career out of achieving unexpected things. He's doing it again.

2. Paul Rhoads: Let me reiterate what I've said in past blogs: Iowa State could so easily be 3-0 in Big 12 play. The Cyclones missed an extra point at the end of the game with Kansas State. A game-winning touchdown pass against Kansas sailed just beyond an open receiver. They're playing good defense, and they're doing it with a roster that Rhoads has admitted to be too thin and weak for the Big 12. Plus, Rhoads was an assistant under former ISU coach Dan McCarney. He was already familiar with the school, brought a ton of energy, and got his players to commit to his style. They've accomplished more halfway through the season than I thought they would all year.

3. Mack Brown: You could do a lot worse than being undefeated and in the heat of the national title race, so it's hard to discredit Brown's coaching efforts. But even then, Texas hasn't exactly blown anyone out. The Horns beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma by a combined 10 points, struggled at Wyoming and were down 14-3 to Colorado at one point. But as unimpressive as they are, they've still passed two huge tests, and they're in the position every team America covets. Besides, it's tough to please people when you're in the Longhorns' shoes. They can't go anywhere but down, yet despite everyone's best efforts, they remain at the top.

4. Mike Gundy: They've drifted into obscurity after their loss to Houston, but Oklahoma State is still plugging away, undefeated in conference play, and is one upset of Texas away from being in the division driver's seat. It handled Missouri well, stands a good shot against Texas Tech and Oklahoma this season, and currently has a Top 10 recruiting class coming in next February.

5. Art Briles: That Baylor program is changing, and Briles is the catalyst. Never mind if the Bears lose the rest of their games this season (they won't); if they hadn't lost their starting quarterback -- arguably the brightest star in Waco since they joined the Big 12 -- we'd be hearing and fearing Baylor's resurgence. Briles shouldn't be faulted for an on-field injury. And aside from Robert Griffin, the coach has assembled a decent defense and is developing his talent -- a key for the only Big 12 South school outside's current Top 25 recruiting classes for 2010.

6. Mike Leach: People had middling expectations about Texas Tech, and the results have been equally middling. So placing Leach smack in the middle of this list seems appropriate. He does seem to have found a solid option at quarterback, and the Red Raiders' two losses are by a combined eight points. Leach makes the top half by virtue of a win over No. 7's program.

7. Bo Pelini: I've always thought Pelini was a sure thing. He seems poised for success, and he's got a coaching staff with an offensive background that nicely complements his strengths as a defensive coach. And even though I think Pelini will eventually put together a power program at Nebraska, the results this season have been sub-par. The offense is struggling, the defense is good but prone to big errors, and the Huskers followed up their first big win of Pelini's era with a letdown at home. We can talk about being headed in the right direction, and it seems the Huskers are. But they're also good enough that they should be producing now, and they're faltering.

8. Bob Stoops: Landry Jones is a good quarterback. So as good as Sam Bradford is, I'm surprised that the Sooners have gone 3-3 to this point. I don't think the switch from Bradford to Landry can be entirely blamed, even if the Sooners have lost their three games by only five points. The reality is that the offensive line isn't what it was last year, and neither are the Sooners. They're better than their record shows, but this season is still a nightmare.

9. Gary Pinkel: Missouri started off fast, but Nebraska and Oklahoma State have cooled it quickly. This was a big year for Pinkel, who was supposed to show the country that his system was built to reload with talent every year, rather than wait for a few exceptional athletes to boost Missouri up into relevancy. Maybe that system is still in place, but they're not showing it. Missouri is the only Big 12 North team without a conference win, and there's still plenty of difficult season remaining.

10. Mark Mangino: Kansas is 5-1 and nationally ranked, so why would they be this low? Pure inference, my friend, and it goes like this: If we are to assume Kansas' record is weak, then we can assume that their record is not representative of their talent level. If we assume that Iowa State and Colorado are both bad teams, and we look at Kansas' record to discover that the Jayhawks lost to Colorado and were lucky to beat Iowa State, then we can conclude that while anything can happen in one game, two games goes a long way towards identifying a trend. And the trend I'm seeing is that Kansas can't play defense well, and its offense isn't what it used to be. That they are nationally ranked blows my mind.

11. Mike Sherman: Remember my general inclination to appreciate everything Bill Snyder does? I have a similar inclination to assume Sherman will fail at Texas A&M. It's nothing personal. He was a fine NFL coach, but many NFL coaches struggle to acclimate to college football, and I've always expected Sherman would struggle to adapt. He's got a strong roster, he's got good recruits coming in, but he just isn't a college football coach. I don't blame him for trying, but like 98 percent of romantic comedies, we know how this one will end. I'm already looking ahead to the next guy.

12. Dan Hawkins: Now here's a guy you blame for his own predicament. I'm talking more about the 10 wins prophecy that is currently being supplanted by the seven losses reality, but that has more to do with public embarrassment than job security. In fact, the statement suggests that Hawkins himself understood the urgent need to win and rolled the dice. Nevertheless, this program is mired in a free-fall, and Hawkins has been there long enough to absorb complete blame. I don't see a future in which he's not the next Big 12 coach fired.

Big 12 North Turned Upside Down

  • Monday, October 19, 2009 4:57 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Seven weeks of college football, and who leads the Big 12 North? Kansas State, the team some picked to finish last (I was not far behind, tabbing them 11th). A couple weeks ago it looked like the Big 12 North was split in two, with half the teams rising to the Top 25 and half slumming it in obscurity. Instead, we've got three teams at 1-1 in conference play, another at 1-2, with Kansas State leading and Missouri in the basement.

Unfortunately, parity doesn't earn you respect -- at least not this early in the season, in this division. Maybe the SEC East could get away with a logjam, but the Big 12 North has been the dunce for a few years now. And we've seen too many poor performances to buy stock in the belief that perhaps it's back to being highly competitive. More likely, what we have is a few C-grade teams trying to pull down a few B-grade teams to their level. And so far, so good.

Week 6 record: 2-4, 2-4 Big 12

Overall record: 42-18, 10-4 Big 12


Oklahoma State 33, Missouri 17: Missouri's had a hard run. Nebraska and Oklahoma State are a hard way to open Big 12 play. Nevertheless, the Tigers are still 0-2, and clearly not a Top 25 team -- for now, at least. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is 2-0 in conference play, but that counts for very little when your wins are over Mizzou and A&M (see below).

Texas 16, Oklahoma 13: Texas was a little less than inspiring. Even against Oklahoma, I expected more than 16 points. On the other side of the ball, I imagine Bob Stoops wants to choke a doctor right about now. Preferably the one that said Sam Bradford ran no risk of re-injuring his shoulder.


Iowa State 24, Baylor 10: Sure, it's Baylor, but Iowa State is competing well. Paul Rhoads is doing a great job with the Cyclones, who have been in the game for every second of Big 12 play this season.

Colorado 34, Kansas 30: In the preseason, this wouldn't have seemed so unlikely. But that was before the Buffs fell apart. And Kanssa was supposed to have a solid defense. So does this mean Colorado's turned it around? No, not at all. Rather, the Jayhawks are no good this year. Cue the Iowa State footage if you don't believe me. They don't deserve their Top 25 ranking.

Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14: Talk about a flashback to 2003. This has to be the most unlikely line score I've seen this season. Never mind how pitiful Texas A&M is -- Kansas State is supposed to be running on fumes, limping through 2009. Guess what? The Wildcats are 4-3, a bowl game is a possibility, they're recruiting well, and Bill Snyder has a long-term contract. Things are looking sunny in Manhattan.

Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10: A lot went wrong for Nebraska, but the Huskers did their fair share wrong. Like failing to commit to the run. Having an ineffective offensive gameplan. Playing Zac Lee too long. Letting Ndamukong Suh get handled in the second half. The list goes on. But at the end of the day, Nebraska blows it right when it seems on the cusp of reaching the next level.

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Every Week Matters For Suh's Heisman Hopes

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:28 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


I read at least three new articles every day telling me that Ndamukong Suh should win the Heisman or could win the Heisman. None, of course, say that he will, since no Heisman winner has ever exclusively played defense. That's what makes this quest so compelling -- the quest taken on by the media and fans, since Suh's only a football player, not a campaign manager. The stakes and significance are not as high for Suh as they were when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but the circumstances are the same: Suh is the centerpiece of an uphill battle, and today's poster boy for an under-represented side of college football. Defense wins championships, but stars play offense -- that's what the Heisman award tells us.

Robinson didn't break his barrier by being good. It took being great -- that's usually a prerequisite to changing people's minds. If Suh wants to win the Heisman, it won't be enough to be the best player in the country. He'll have to be far and away the greatest, not only of this season, but of all time.

These parameters almost demand perfection from Suh. At the very least, he'll need to ace these three circumstances:

Have a good game every week: It sounds like common sense, but think about it: Few Heisman winners performed well in every single game. For Suh, that has to happen. Nationally-televised games have to be killer outings for the big man.

Emphasize the uncharacteristic stats: Tackles, tackles for loss and sacks are traditional stats for a defensive tackle. That is, they won't get you anywhere close to the Heisman. Suh needs to continue dominating in the unusual ways that have garnered him national attention, such as interceptions and passes defended, where he ranks sixth nationally (and is the only defensive tackle in the top 97).

Ten wins for Nebraska: And only on the condition that the Huskers lose to Oklahoma despite Suh hounding Sam Bradford for a full 60 minutes. The more Nebraska wins, the more credit Suh will get. The more they lose, the more his bright star will fade, no matter how spectacular he is.

And even then, the best he can expect from voters is an invitation to New York.

The picks:

Texas Tech at Nebraska: The Red Raiders only plan to put one lineman on Suh and don't seem overly concerned about him getting into the backfield, where Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in most plays per sack. But you could also argue that Suh can cause just as much disruption batting throws and complicating passing over the line. He and the Blackshirts will find a way to slow down Tech's offense and let Nebraska get ahead for the win.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: Unlike last year, Oklahoma's trying to play spoiler in this game. And while Texas has stayed out of national headlines so far this year, the Colt McCoy-Jordan Shipley combination will carry Texas past the Sooners.

Texas A&M at Kansas State: Neither of these teams have much reason for optimism this season, but A&M played well against Oklahoma State and has far too much for Kansas State to handle.

Baylor at Iowa State: Robert Griffin goes down for the season, and suddenly, this is a tough game to call, particularly given how well Iowa State played against Kansas. But Baylor's not a one-man team and still has a decent defense. I can't imagine Iowa State can feel good about itself after the letdown against the Jayhawks.

Kansas at Colorado: Does Dan Hawkins get fired before the end of the season? Kansas suffered a moral loss last week, lowering its profile. The Jayhawks take out their frustration on Colorado.

Missouri at Oklahoma State: Missouri has to be kicking itself for its letdown against Nebraska. Both these teams have similar offenses and similar inconsistency. Given the home field and more experienced starting lineups, Oklahoma State wins.

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Vote Boomer in as Capital One College Mascot of the Year

  • Wednesday, October 14, 2009 8:42 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Herbie Husker has won it in 2005 for Nebraska, and Cy the Cardinal brought it home for Iowa State last year. This year, Oklahoma's Boomer is the lone Big 12 representative in the contest, but you can extend the Big 12's run of dominance by voting for Boomer in the Capital One College Mascot contest.

The Big 12 is the only BCS conference to have won the contest multiple times. Montana's Monte the Grizzly won the award in 2002, the contest's inaugural year, and 2004.

If Boomer isn't your cup of tea, you can write in any college mascot after voting for one of the featured mascots. The winning school receives $10,000 from Capital One to put towards its mascot program.

To vote, visit, or .

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Don't Underestimate The Underdog

  • Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:47 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Every team favored to win in the Big 12 did so this weekend. But the first full week of conference matchups proved that underdogs shouldn't be underestimated. Missouri had the Huskers hogtied for three quarters on Thursday. Iowa State and Texas A&M both threatened to knock off Top 25 teams early in the day Saturday, and Colorado came out of the gates in Texas looking like the Buffs were the team with the No. 2 ranking.

The end result saw every game go the way it should, but it's clear that parity is calculated in different ways among conference teams. You simply can't look at the paper and find a reason Iowa State could have -- should have -- beat Kansas. But that's how it happens.

Week 6 record: 6-0, 6-0 Big 12

Overall record: 40-14, 8-0 Big 12


Nebraska 27, Missouri 12: I was ready to pull out my hate mail stationery and look up the mailing addresses of Craig James and Jesse Palmer, the way they were giving gratuitous credit to Missouri for such a dominant game. Four reasons: 1) Nebraska's special teams gave them every opportunity possible for big plays; 2) Missouri's offense failed to put together a single field-length drive; 3) Blaine Gabbert threw at least a dozen passes right between the numbers of Nebraska's Blackshirts before one of them finally grabbed it for an interception; and 4) Nebraska's offensive play-calling was as bad as I've seen it under offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Despite this, they scored all their points in the fourth quarter and picked off Gabbert twice.

Oklahoma State 36, Texas A&M 31: While the Aggies' loss to Arkansas looked less and less embarrassing as the Razorbacks steamrolled Auburn, Oklahoma State had its hands full. The Cowboys still seem to lack the consistency needed to crack Oklahoma or Texas.

Kansas 41, Iowa State 36: The Cyclones were about four feet from winning this game, when Austen Arnaud's final pass of the game carried just beyond the arms of an outstretched receiver in the end zone. How bad must it hurt to be an Iowa State fan? Their team is a missed extra point and a slightly overthrown pass away from possibly being 2-0 in the conference. Paul Rhoads seems to be on the right track.

Oklahoma 33, Baylor 7: Sam Bradford wasn't always in rhythm, but if his receivers hadn't dropped so many passes, the Sooners would have dropped 60 on the Bears. Third-string quarterback Nick Florence played admirably for Baylor, given the circumstances.

Texas Tech 66, Kansas State 14: Steven Sheffield threw seven touchdown passes amid 490 passing yards. Kansas State had no chance.

Texas 38, Colorado 14: The Buffaloes came out on fire, taking an early lead. Cody Hawkins' passing was on point. Who could have guessed that he would have fallen apart to the point of being pulled mid-game?

Thursday Forecast: It's All About the Quarterbacks, Baby

  • Thursday, October 8, 2009 2:21 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


This season is reminding us how critical quarterbacks are to their teams -- not only the starters, but the second string (and if you're Baylor, third-string). Last week alone, we saw Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech look to quarterbacks other than the ones who took the helm at the start of the season. That's four out of the seven teams that played last week. Half the Big 12 has clear issues at quarterback, by virtue of either injuries or poor performance. You wouldn't be surprised to know that, by and large, the schedule thus far has favored the schools with stability under center.

This week's Thursday night ESPN game features a Big 12 contest that has been zeroed in on the quarterbacks since the day Chase Daniel left school. Blaine Gabbert leads Missouri against Nebraska, the team he had originally made a verbal commitment to back in 2007. He's currently undefeated as a starter and has yet to throw an interception, and Husker fans hope the top scoring defense in the nation can humble him.

Quarterbacks aside, this is a key game in the Big 12 North, where Missouri looks sharper than expected. The winner of this game will get an early inside track in the division, not to mention bragging rights in a rivalry that has already gotten ugly.

That aside, six conference games this weekend will provide some much-needed stratification among Big 12 schools, although schedule-makers did a great job at providing some pretty one-sided affairs, Nebraska-Mizzou aside.

The picks:

Nebraska at Missouri (Thursday): Tune into this game. The past two seasons Missouri has picked Nebraska apart using its spread, speed and prowess. That won't be enough to beat the Huskers this year, with their old-school defense. The Tigers don't have the physicality to stand up to the Blackshirts. Huskers win.

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Both teams have issues looming over this game. For Oklahoma State, it's the loss of Dez Bryant after the NCAA ruled him ineligible. The Aggies are more concerned with their propensity to suck. It's a pretty big issue, one that seems nowhere close to being resolved this season. Given that, OSU wins.

Iowa State at Kansas: I'm sure Iowa State is reeling from that loss to Kansas State, but I'm not sure if abysmal teams have letdown games. Either way, the point is moot. Kansas rolls, and yet again makes it to mid-October without facing a team of consequence.

Baylor at Oklahoma: Will Sam Bradford return? He hopes so. On the other side, Baylor's hoping Blake Szymanski will be able to replace Nick Florence. It's right about here where Baylor's disappointing slide begins.

Kansas State at Texas Tech: Mad props to my friend that took one look at Carson Coffman at Big 12 Media Days and concluded he wouldn't make it in the Big 12. He's been replaced by Grant Gregory, and so far, so good. Just don't judge Gregory when his team gets buried beneath at least 50 Texas Tech points.

Colorado at Texas: You know, I keep hearing how hard it's going to be for Colorado to win 10 games. "Impossible" is a term thrown about loosely. And yes, maybe it would take them running the regular-season table and winning their bowl game to hit 10 wins. But perhaps you failed to realize that running the table would give them a Big 12 Championship Game appearance and -- dare I say -- a shot at 11 wins? It's true, mathematically speaking, though I'm still saying seven losses, and No. 4 comes this weekend.

Big 12 Prestige Sinking In Down Year

  • Tuesday, October 6, 2009 11:48 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


While the ACC's reputation continues to elevate, the Big 12 Conference is plummeting. Ten months ago the debate was over which of three conference schools was worthy of a BCS Title Game appearance. Now, only Texas remains in the Associated Press Top 14, while the slide to mediocrity is illustrated by five Big 12 teams being ranked between 15th and 24th place.

But polls can be biased and stubborn, particularly early in the season. After all, Kansas and Missouri are still undefeated, and Nebraska's record is marred only by a one-point road loss to the nation's current No. 5 team. So here I present the Big 12's performance against the other notable football conferences, meaning the BCS auto qualifiers and the Mountain West. The results have been far from dominant:

Big East: 0-2

SEC: 1-1

ACC: 2-2

MWC: 5-2

Big 10: 1-1

Pac 10: 0-1

Other: Two losses to Conference USA (both at the hands of Houston), one to a MAC school, and one to the Sun Belt.

The numbers aren't always fair. UCLA-Kansas State is not an accurate barometer for comparing the Big 12 and Pac 10. The ACC and SEC games, however, all featured games between schools that were perceived as worth opponents, Kansas-Duke aside. And while the MWC numbers look nice, Wyoming and New Mexico accounted for four of those victories.

So if Texas loses at any point this season, don't expect a Big 12 team in the BCS Title Game. The ACC, on the other hand, has been playing its way back in to high regard and has two teams with viable hopes, provided they run the table. And there's always USC, who is seventh despite losing to a team that lost 15 of its prior 16 teams.

Don't underestimate the power of reputation.

A quick review of the weekend:

Week 5 record: 3-3, 1-0 Big 12

Overall record: 34-14, 2-0 Big 12


Kansas State 24, Iowa State 23: You know what, Kansas State's going to be all right under Snyder. I had my doubts, but his decision to start quarterback Grant Gregory over Carson Coffman was probably the biggest factor in the Wildcats' win -- even more than the Cyclones' missed extra point with two seconds left. Just a cruel way for ISU to lose.

Texas Tech 48, New Mexico 28: Slow start for Texas Tech, and I guess it's understandable with the disappointment that there early season has been. The good news: backup quarterback Steve Sheffield is a lightning rod. After taking over when Taylor Potts went down injured, Sheffield created a QB controversy in Lubbock.

Baylor 31, Kent State 15: Down to its third-string quarterback, the Bears did a reasonable job on Kent State, playing it safe with Nick Florence in the pocket. He managed this game well enough to win, but they need Blake Szymanski back in the pocket ASAP.


West Virginia 35, Colorado 24(Thursday): When Colorado scored early in the third quarter to cut the lead to four, I thought the Buffs were in good shape, having won the first five minutes of the second half and reclaiming momentum. But West Virginia just pounded the defense on the ground. The defensive line was overpowered and exhausted, and Dan Hawkins didn't look much different on the sideline.

Arkansas 47, Texas A&M 19: Whoa, Nellie. Who saw that coming? So much for both teams being in the same place. Arkansas has made its presence known to the rest of the SEC, while Texas A&M looks very much like the team I thought could finish in the South Division cellar. It really surprises me that Mike Sherman could do nothing to stop the hemorrhaging in this game. A&M just lost everything it had gained while rolling through its cakewalk of an early schedule.

Miami (FL) 21, Oklahoma 20: It's a huge testament to Miami that it was able to rebound, not just from the Virginia Tech loss, but from falling behind early in this game. I hadn't come to a solid conclusion on Miami, particularly when the early stretch of the schedule can be so deceiving, but I don't think you can deny the Canes have returned as a power. Oklahoma, on the other hand, can't do much better than win its division and play spoiler to Texas, turning what was supposed to be a BCS title-contending season into a nightmare.

Thursday Forecast: Teams Charging Up for Conference Slate

  • Thursday, October 1, 2009 12:12 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Only seven Big 12 teams are in competition this weekend, with the rest taking a breather to prepare for the upcoming conference season. Consider it the lite portion of the schedule, but even with only six games on the schedule, there's still more to look forward to than there have been in weeks past. Most of the fluff has been flushed out by now. In fact, only two of the 12 teams competing in Big 12 games this weekend are from non-automatic qualifier schools, and four out of six games offer at least some reason to tune in.

The picks:

Colorado at West Virginia (Thursday): There's still intrigue to this game, despite how it may look. Colorado is coming off a win and a bye week, giving them time to regroup mentally, while West Virginia has a shot at starting 5-1 if it can just win the games it's supposed to. I think Colorado comes into this game hungrier, approaching it as a do-or-die game, and wins on the road.

Iowa State vs. Kansas State: Alright, the Cellar Dweller Bowl! Enjoy this one, because it could come to matter at the end of the season. I put Iowa State slightly below Kansas State in my preseason rankings, and I think it holds true here. Iowa State is simply lacking the talent to win. Pity, because it's probably the Cyclones' best shot the rest of the way.

New Mexico at Texas Tech: Strange seeing the Red Raiders at 2-2, and certainly not what they'd hoped for. They played well against Houston and regroup against New Mexico.

Kent State at Baylor: The Bears will win, but who cares? Robert Griffin's out, the end-of-season bowl game a likely bust. I'll bet you alcohol consumption at that little Baptist school has spiked.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: We'll call this the Man in the Mirror Bowl. Both teams are in their second year under new coaches. Both teams have recruited well but are still waiting for the payoff on Saturdays. Both programs have their heads just above the water in their conferences, and both teams will be measured by how they perform against their perceived counterpoint in a different power conference. The Aggies and Razorbacks even have similar colors. But more than anything, both teams MUST win this game to convince critics they're progressing. I say A&M does it.

Oklahoma at Miami (FL): Obviously, this is the big ticket, although what I think you'll see is a solid Oklahoma win. The Hurricanes were far from the Top 10 team they were pegged to be when they went up to Virginia Tech, but losing to Oklahoma won't be a setback. Their nonconference schedule has to be the toughest in the country, and for a rebuilding program to come out of it 2-2 is solid progress.

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Houston Spoils Big 12 Sweep

  • Monday, September 28, 2009 11:48 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


The one game I got wrong had me punching the coffee table. Hindsight makes it easy to say Houston was the right call, but wasn't the evidence there beforehand? It wasn't just Houston's upset of Oklahoma State that was convincing, it was the way they outscored the Cowboys 21-0 to rally and win. Underdog teams don't do that -- the script almost always has them running out to a lead and seeing if they can hold on. Houston got punched in the mouth, and it responded.

And that had just been its most recent big win under coach Kevin Sumlin. The man has a Mike Tomlin demeanor on the sideline, and he just doesn't lose when the spotlight's on him. Nevertheless, I bet against the Cougars, and I got burned.

That was the final game out of 10 Big 12 contests this weekend, most of which went as planned. Nebraska and Kansas State get kudos for exceptional performances after losses -- signs of great coaching.

Week 2 record: 9-1

Overall record: 31-11, 1-0 Big 12 Conference


Missouri 31, Nevada 21 (Friday): Nevada's not terrible, but if Missouri were good, they would have made the Wolfpack look terrible. Final verdict on Missouri: middling.

Texas A&M 56, UAB 19: The Aggies got off to a slow start but piled it on UAB. Then they got unexpected good news that will likely improve their standing at the end of the season (see Baylor below).

Kansas 38, Southern Miss 28: Didn't expect the Jayhawks to be tied entering the fourth, and they needed most of their 433 yards to pull out the win. Running back Jake Sharp was injured, but it was the defense that looked sluggish in KU's final nonconference game.

Kansas State 49, Tennesee Tech 7: I really, honestly thought the Wildcats would win by 10 or 15. They hadn't done much this season offensively, and Carson Coffman still isn't impressing as K-State's quarterback, but the running game was solid and Brandon Banks' two kickoff returns for touchdowns provided a spark.

Texas 64, UTEP 7: Another week, another big win rolled out by Texas. If Tim Tebow's concussion forces him out of multiple games, Colt McCoy has to be the Heisman frontrunner. Texas A&M 56, UAB 19: The Aggies got off to a slow start but piled it on. Next up is Arkansas, a border state representative in a similar rebuilding mode as TAMU.

Baylor 68, Northwestern State 13: There's no amount of points or margin of victory that could make this game good for Baylor. Robert Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury over the weekend and is out for the season. And thus, the big jump Baylor was expected to take is stuck in the mud.

Oklahoma 56, Grambling 6: Another mindless blowout for which there is little to say except: that was expected.

Iowa State 31, Army 10: I really thought Iowa State's defense played well in this game. Army's not a good team, but they're not miserable, either, and they threw a couple different quarterbacks with different strengths at the Cyclones. Pitching a second-half shutout was a strong performance for a team that's mostly looking to improve as the season goes on.

Nebraska 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 0: Nebraska scores its first shutout since 2006 over a team that beat Kansas State earlier this season. The Huskers are currently third nationally in points per game allowed, trailing only Oklahoma and South Florida. And I think Virginia Tech's melee of Miami illustrates how good the Huskers might actually be.


Houston 29, Texas Tech 28: Case Keenum is the real deal. Houston's the real deal. If you didn't catch that last scoring drive of the game, you missed a beautiful series. Keenum threw for 435 yards but ran a quarterback draw four yards for a touchdown and the win over Houston's former Southwestern Conference foe.

Friday Forecast: W's Across The Board For Big 12

  • Friday, September 25, 2009 11:33 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


Maybe plan a picnic or some croquet with old friends. Or both. If you were hoping for a compelling Big 12 game to watch this weekend, you're out of luck. Not much happens this week, as almost every Big 12 team scheduled what it expects to be an easy win heading into Big 12 season. Just make sure you get back inside in time for the Texas Tech-Houston game.

My morale needs this week's predictions to go according to schedule. The picks:

Missouri at Nevada (Friday): Possibly the most compelling game, although if you had plans to watch football from the local high school's grandstands, maybe hold on to that $3 general admission ticket. If this is another Bowling Green for Mizzou, it could become a Friday night groaner. I don't expect much from Nevada, but I don't know what I'm supposed to expect from the Tigers, so it's a toss-up. Playing it safe, I'll take Missouri.

Southern Miss at Kansas: Southern Miss is undefeated and owns a win over Virginia (sidenote: how in the world is Al Groh still a Cavalier?) but I don't think its defense can handle the Jayhawks, even if its offense does look respectable early on.

Tennessee Tech at Kansas State: Both Division I football teams from Kansas are playing a school whose mascots are the Golden Eagles. I wish I had a StatBoy who could find me the last time that happened. K-State rebounds from the hard-fought loss to UCLA.

UTEP at Texas: Colt McCoy is over the flu. Even if he wasn't, UTEP would still lose handily.

Louisiana-Layfayette: The Ragin' Cajuns go for their second win over a Big 12 team this season. Nebraska uses them to get over that gut-wrenching loss to Virginia Tech (anyone else still seeing game highlights in their nightmares?).

UAB at Texas A&M: The Aggies didn't look too impressive against Utah State, but hey, when you've got a preseason schedule like A&M, you're bound to fall asleep, am I right? Hopefully they're awake Saturday, 'cuz they should stomp UAB.

Grambling at Oklahoma State: You know, I had briefly considered looking up Grambling's numbers this season, but do we care? Not really. So aside from choosing the Cowboys, here's something worth your time: Eddie Robinson was the longtime coach at the historically-black Grambling State and a legend. Nine one-loss seasons, a perfect 9-0 in 1942. Even more amazing? All nine games were shutouts.

Army at Iowa State: I've agonized over this game, since it's the most likely one to dash my dreams of perfection. But Army's got a freshman quarterback, and dual-threat as he may be, I'll respect the Cyclones for a week.

Northwestern State at Baylor: The Bears can exercise their offensive frustrations after being stifled by UConn.

Texas Tech at Houston: I suppose this could turn out to be a good game, given Houston's high hopes for this season. I'd be real surprised if Texas Tech didn't pick them apart offensively, but I'm not overly confident given Houston's soaring confidence and its two weeks of preparation for the game.

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Nebraska Chokes On Big Opportunity

  • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 8:21 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


All game long last weekend, ABC's broadcasting team discussed Nebraska 12-year drought since its last road win over a ranked opponent. It's hard to believe, considering nine bowls in the 11 seasons since and an appearance in the 2001 BCS Championship game, but it's true. And with every stifled Virginia Tech drive, fans became more confident in Nebraska's defense, which effectively shut down an offense that ran all around and over it last season.

Then third-and-nine happened. Don't expect many Husker faithful to remember who caught that 81-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor (it was Danny Coale). But the image of that play's blown coverage still burns bright. Matt O'Hanlon -- the safety who drifted too far toward the middle of the field and left Coale wide open on a fade route -- made a touchdown-saving tackle that ultimately only hurt Nebraska, after Taylor connected with Tyrelle Roberts in the end zone with 21 seconds left.

And let's not forget that third-down play, which Taylor extended by stuttering in the backfield and freezing NU lineman Ndamukong Suh for a split second. Given enough time to re-stitch the football, Taylor capped off the Hokies' only sizable drive of the game. Final alcohol sales figures for the weekend aren't yet available, but it's a good guess Nebraska kicked the Miller family fortune up into the strata shared by Gates and Buffet.

Once again, the Huskers find themselves looking to the future, hoping a few wins strung together will help nudge Nebraska back into the national spotlight. Gotta be frustrating, though, losing a Top 20 match-up that you dominated the same weekend historical arch-nemesis Miami climbed into the Top 10 in its third season after bottoming out.

Of course, we have Nebraska's loss to thank for this video, which I've seen 100 different places this week:

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Tech Surprises, Colorado Notches First Win

  • Monday, September 21, 2009 1:26 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


It'd be hard to build an argument for the Big 12 being the strongest conference in the country this year. Not when two of its preseason Top 10 teams have already lost, and certainly not after a weekend in which teams lost to schools from the Pac 10, ACC and Big East. Much like last week, few teams played as well as they could have or should have. Consequently, my predictions continue to let down when it comes to the toss-up games.

Week 2 record: 8-3, 1-0 Big 12 Conference

Overall record: 22-10, 1-0 Big 12 Conference


UCLA 23, Kansas State 9: The Wildcats played better than expected, holding down UCLA until the fourth quarter. Even if UCLA was a bit hungover from its victory at Tennessee the week before, this was a respectable performance from a Kansas State team I expected to get blown out.

Texas 34, Texas Tech 24: The result is no surprise, but that Tech stayed so close -- and better yet, stifled Texas' offense early -- is surprising. I doubt many expected the defenses to perform so well early on, but it's worth remembering that this was the first game either team played against a worthy opponent. Tech looks better than expected.

Oklahoma State 41, Rice 24: I would have thought the Cowboys could do better than beat Rice by 17. Take it as an indication OSU is still deflated after its loss to Houston.

Texas A&M 38, Utah State 30: This is textbook under-performing, even for a team that lost two offensive starters in the game. The first-half defense was much too sloppy for a team looking to move up the rankings.

Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 0: Who would have expected the Sooners would shut out high-flying Tulsa? I'm guessing about as many who thought Landry Jones would hold the OU single-game passing touchdowns record. Oklahoma's defense seems out to prove the Sooners have a strong team outside of Sam Bradford.

Colorado 24, Wyoming 0: My perseverance has paid off with the Buffs' first win, and what a surprising one it was. The defense found itself against Wyoming, shutting out the Cowboys after allowing more than 600 yards to Toledo the week before (which, if you were wondering, was shut out by Ohio State this past weekend).

Missouri 52, Furman 12: The Tigers bounced back from a sad effort against Bowling Green, scoring six straight touchdowns and taking a 42-0 halftime lead. Really, about what you could expect. Blaine Gabbert seems to have passing and running skills that will cause trouble in the Big 12.

Kansas 44, Duke 16: Todd Reesing scores a win over the only other Division I school that recruited him. That's a testament to Mark Mangino's thorough recruiting job at Kansas.


Iowa State 34, Kent State 14: I tell you, it really hurts you credibility when you have no idea what Iowa State is going to do in a given week. I guess it's the result of paying minimal attention to a school that's won five games the past two seasons.

Connecticut 30, Baylor 22: This is a momentum-killer for Baylor, and it also shows the Bears' areas of weakness. UConn forced Robert Griffin to throw, and he couldn't do enough from the pocket to win.

Virginia Tech 16, Nebraska 15: If you didn't watch this game, you have no idea the sucker-punch kind of ending this game provided. After dominating VT on defense all day, blown coverage gave the Hokies the ball on the three-yard line with a minute left. The Hokies scored, and fans left in complete shock over the win. For Nebraska, it was a missed opportunity to put itself back in the national spotlight.

Friday Forecast: Texas-Texas Tech Open Big 12 Play

  • Friday, September 18, 2009 12:04 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


The season's first Big 12 Conference match-up is Saturday night, with Texas Tech traveling to Texas for a likely punishment after the Red Raiders shattered the Longhorns' BCS Title hopes last season. Like last year, it's a prime-time game that will be shown across most of the country, but unlike last year, it shouldn't be expected to deliver solid entertainment, as close games go.

Of course, we could be wrong about Texas Tech and the long fall they're assumed to have taken. TTU won't be alone when they stand up next to the yardstick. Baylor and Nebraska both have games that will test them and possibly burn them. A couple other teams will enter their games as underdogs. The predictions:

Duke at Kansas: Fans of the color blue will love this game. Even though Duke seems to be making small strides with its program, the Blue Devils are nowhere near ready to handle a team like Kansas, which is on a campaign to assert itself as the nation's greatest flyswatter. Perhaps someday the Jayhawks will trip into a compelling non-conference match-up.

Furman at Missouri: You're probably not as quick to pull the Missouri trigger now as you were last week. But that was when we thought Missouri had reloaded with a great team on both sides. Now we have no idea what to think, although we know not to place bets on Missouri either way. Alas, I'm obligated. Missouri it is, though there's no money riding on it.

Tulsa at Oklahoma: It's more of a challenge than Idaho State, mostly on the Sooners' defensive side. Meaning, expect Tulsa to actually score. That'd be about it, though.

Nebraska at Virginia Tech: That's what I'm talking about, a toss-up. Say what you want, but Virginia Tech's never impressed me that much. It should have lost in Lincoln last year, and even though the Hokies have a dynamic run game, I think Nebraska has the best defensive line they'll have faced this season. I'll take Nebraska ending VT's 31-game home non-conference win streak.

Wyoming at Colorado: Alright, another toss-up! I wish I were kidding. Colorado's accounted for two of my seven miscues this season, and the Buffs are looking worse than ever. Wyoming's coming off a game where it got pounded by Texas after a close first half but managed to walk away feeling good about itself. I can't begin to tell you how tempting Wyoming is. But if I bet against Colorado and it decides to win, I'll never get over it.

Connecticut at Baylor: Connecticut has had a tough go in this early season and comes off a 12-10 loss to North Carolina, but that's still a good football team. They won't make it easy, but Baylor's had two weeks to prepare for UConn, and if Wake Forest's defense couldn't contain Robert Griffin, I'm not seeing the Huskies making much headway.

Iowa State at Kent State: There's no way I'm betting against a Mid-America Conference team playing Iowa State. The Cyclones were terrible in every way against Iowa, and the MAC seems to be steadily improving top-to-bottom.

Utah State at Texas A&M: The battling of rebuilding Aggies programs will probably go down as a big TAMU win. We won't know until they start playing games of consequence, but Texas A&M seems to have improved after last year's disappointment.

Rice at Oklahoma State: If Oklahoma State struggles, I guess we call that a letdown following a letdown following a win. After a fast start last season, Oklahoma State sputtered to four losses. Expect them to win this one, but watch to see what team steps onto the field. That'll tell us how well coach Mike Gundy has rallied his team.

Texas Tech at Texas: We've gone over this already, but let's set it in stone: Texas will win, and Texas will not relent. Texas fans will go wild, and it will not be pretty. But it will be a fun atmosphere, and that's key to those prime-time games.

Kansas State at UCLA: Boy, the Bruins are going to take it to the Wildcats. We're going to see just how bad K-State is under the lights in southern California. Hopefully at the end of the day, Kansas State fans remember to blame Ron Prince.

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Hawkins' Motivational Tactics Backfire

  • Wednesday, September 16, 2009 10:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl


I don't care if he flat out denies it: I know Dan Hawkins regrets his preseason motivational mantra.

So much for "10 wins and no excuses!" While catchy, those five words are haunting the Colorado coach in worse places than the media. They're wreaking havoc on the psyches of his players.

Whenever a team with high expectations for itself takes a hit -- particularly an early one -- you immediately guard against a letdown. Everyone will be watching teams like Oklahoma State and Ohio State for ones this weekend, just like they eyed Oregon against Purdue last Saturday.

Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has said that, in the 1970's and 80's, he was always leery of setting finite preseason goals such as winning a national championship or winning 10 or 11 games for fear of the letdown. If you lose early and suddenly find that you can't achieve your goals, it's difficult to change course and establish lesser goals.

Granted, come the 1990's he began to let the team set its own goals, and those goals were often very lofty, such as winning a national championship. Even though the Huskers were in the hunt for a title many of those seasons, there were still times when Nebraska lost early in the season -- remember a 19-0 loss at Arizona State in the second week of the 1996 season -- but rallied to finish strong.

That may say more about Osborne's ability to rally his team and motivate them. But beyond the intangibles of a legendary coach that Hawkins lacks, the word of caution rings relevant: Be careful about the goals you set. Remember, even though Osborne did not win a title until 1994, he still fielded teams every season that believed they could win every game they entered. Colorado circa 2009 is a much different story, coming off a 5-7 season under a coach that hadn't yet proved himself at a major-college level.

Hawkins rolled the dice by setting the stakes so high and allowing no room for error. Maybe he meant to, but even if he did, the gamble wasn't smart. Perhaps he thought a do-or-die attitude, a public charge to his team, was what they needed to get over the hump. If he did, though, he was wrong. Their 0-2 record is proof.

Although Colorado is notorious for scheduling in almost lunatic fashion, annually putting together non-conference schedules that make or break their teams before the Big 12 stretch rolls around, there's no way CU should be 0-2. No program on the rise would lose to a team that's barely good enough to respect as an in-state rival, then give up 624 yards at Toledo.

Does this mean Hawkins is gone? At another school, almost certainly. At some schools, it might have already happened. But Hawkins has the luxury of an expensive buyout, and Colorado would have to tap its meager athletic funds significantly to get rid of him. If disgruntled donors start offering up lump sums, though, CU's administration might start warming up the trigger finger.

Keep in mind, the loss at Toledo saw the Buffs fall behind 30-3. This wasn't a shootout they simply came up short in. This was a trouncing that made both teams look like they were in the wrong conference. Colorado looked lifeless.

Doesn't surprise me. Hawkins set up his team for failure, and there's no excuses.

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