Pinkel's Program Reloaded With A Blank

  • Friday, November 13, 2009 12:34 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The big talk in Missouri this off-season was that the team wasn't in rebuilding mode -- it was in reloading mode. This was the year where questions plagued Missouri's roster, but Gary Pinkel made a passionate case that this team wouldn't lose a beat, it just wouldn't be the same team. Maybe the offense didn't have Chase Daniel or Jeremy Maclin, but it did have Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander, not to mention an experienced defense that was supposed to pick up any slack the offense couldn't handle.

Well, that assessment proved to be grossly misguided in almost every way. It turns out Gabbert, for all his efforts in the off-season to prepare himself to fully fill out Daniel's shoes, is not as a sophomore what Daniel was as a senior. The Tigers' passing yards per game has dropped to 276 yards from 330 yards in 2008. For a number of reasons, the less threatening passing game being one of them, the running game also dropped off sharply this season, from 154 yards per contest to 111.

The result is a steep drop in scoring offense from 42.2 points per game in 2008 to 27.9 in 2009. Two fewer touchdowns a game is a tremendous drop-off, and it's taking its toll.

Then there's the defense, which for all its lauding and praise has only improved marginally, from 27.2 points per game to 24.4, a jump in the national rankings from 69 to 63. Is it pessimistic for me to say that's not making much of a difference in the box score?

Missouri is in the midst of what looked in the preseason like its cakewalk portion of the Big 12 schedule, with games against Colorado, Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State all strung together. But the Tigers gave up 40 points to a famously-inept Baylor program playing its third-string quarterback, and now they face a Kansas State team trying to stake its claim to surprise team in the nation.

So it turns out the Tigers are who we thought they were -- a program with potential, but not an annual player. I wonder how long they'll give Pinkel to prove strong seasons can come consistently -- and let's remember his track record for producing underwhelming seasons. Prior to 2007, all of the Tigers' records under Pinkel were a disappointment. Even 2008, when they went 10-4, was a letdown after their preseason national title hopes.

I'm not holding my breath. I don't think Pinkel can lead Missouri where it wants to go.

The picks:

Texas at Baylor: I think if Baylor can score seven and hold Texas under 40, it should go down as a moral victory. But then again, who knows? Bears quarterback Nick Florence seems to be getting more comfortable in the pocket and getting more production out of his unit. Maybe they can squeeze a quarter or two of intrigue out of this one.

Missouri at Kansas State: The Karma Gods say Missouri, which has excelled at catching the wrong team at the wrong time, would knock off Kansas State, which has had everything go its way as of late. And while I'm tempted to pick Missouri, I just wrote seven paragraphs blasting almost every aspect of the Tigers' football program and issuing a vote of no confidence in their coach. So consider this an obligatory pick against Missouri rather than for Kansas State.

Colorado at Iowa State: I would enjoy watching this game between two programs headed in opposite directions. I think Colorado could pull it out, because it has had shown some surprising fight recently, and perhaps its mathematically-alive hopes of making a bowl game are fueling the Buffs in this last leg of the regular season. But at home, with the better coach, I'm going with the Cyclones for the win and the bowl eligibility. That's right, Cyclones fans! Book your flights for Shreveport!

Nebraska at Kansas: Is Nebraska's offense worse than Kansas' defense? I'm guessing it is. And I'm guessing you'll see both quarterbacks on Saturday trying to create something, anything on the offensive end. Luckily, Nebraska's defense is not only far superior to Kansas' offense, it's also the best in the country, and debate is almost futile. Go find another defense out there playing alongside an offense that can't even muster 40 passing yards in a game -- find that defense and ask them if they can hold Oklahoma to just three points for an entire game. Only the Blackshirts. They're why Nebraska wins.

Texas A&M at Oklahoma: So every other week, Landry Jones is labeled either the second coming of Sam Bradford or complete garbage. He was complete garbage last week, but I'm guessing A&M makes him look more like a Heisman winner. Sooners win.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: Another interesting game. These teams usually have wild games between them, often shootouts. Texas Tech has been a stumbling block for Oklahoma State, but I think the Cowboys will finish the year second in the Big 12 South, and a big step towards that goal is by beating Tech this weekend.

Huskers Win Battle Of Top Defenses

  • Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:14 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Oklahoma's visit to Nebraska represented the top two defenses in the country taking on offenses with more than their fair share of offensive struggles. The Sooners' issues are well-documented: the careers of Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham were prematurely ended by injuries, putting a freshman quarterback behind a sub-par offensive line. Nebraska's woes are largely from a tactical point of view -- they haven't settled on a starting quarterback because neither is able to move the ball down the field, though that assignment has grown tougher as the season has progressively neutered the running game. First Quentin Castille was dismissed for failing his fifth drug test, and then Roy Helu Jr., probably their best offensive weapon, is hampered by a shoulder injury that's reduced his effectiveness and caused him to miss snaps.

So there shouldn't be much surprise that the game was low-scoring, a 10-3 Nebraska win, given their offensive reputations. Oklahoma finished first nationally in scoring last season, averaging more than 51 points per game. The Huskers scored 35.4 points per game and were ranked 25th nationally.

The game was also significant in regards to the disparity between the Big 12 North and South Divisions. Nebraska's win was the first time since 2007 a Big 12 North team beat Oklahoma, and the first Nebraska win over the Sooners since 2001, when Eric Crouch caught a touchdown pass on his way to a 20-10 win and a Heisman.

It's a down year for Oklahoma, but if the North wants to rebuild its reputation, games like this must be won. Nebraska can rest easy, now that it has a signature win under coach Bo Pelini.

This week: 3-3 overall, 2-3 Big 12

Overall: 55-23, 22-9 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8: Keith Toston is a nice storyline in the Big 12. The senior got his chance to start after running back Kendall Hunter went down injured in the second game of the season. He had his day in the sun against the Cyclones, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas State 17, Kansas 10: Manhattan and Lawrence are only a few hours apart, but they might as well be at the North and South poles. You'd think they're cashing each other's checks every weekend, with the Wildcats soaking up all the success the Jayhawks were supposed to have and KU wallowing in KSU's shoulda-been failure. Back to the same old mantra for Kansas: When does basketball start?

Texas 35, Central Florida 3: I can't help but feel that a game against Central Florida after a schedule featuring Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech has to feel like a vacation. I doubt Jordan Shipley would disagree. The wide receiver decimated the school record for receiving yards in a game, finishing with 273.

Misses

Nebraska 10, Oklahoma 3: How many teams can upset a ranked team with only 39 passing yards and seven first downs? About as many as can boast the top defense in the nation. Nebraska's offense was completely inept, but it took care of the ball and did what it needed to win. Best stat: The lone touchdown drive was one yard long.

Colorado 35, Texas A&M 34: There's just no telling what these teams will do. A&M had the win and was running away with it, but they tripped over themselves and let Colorado surge back for the win.

Baylor 40, Missouri 32: I can tell you Gary Pinkel's having trouble sleeping. This was supposed to be the Tigers' "let's get back on track" game. Instead, Baylor quarterback Nick Florence turned it into the "who's Robert Griffin?" show. Next up for Mizzou: Kansas State. Uh oh.

Don't Underestimate The Underdog

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

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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

Hits

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

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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

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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

Hits

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.

Misses

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.