Hawkins, Mangino Safe For the Moment

  • Wednesday, December 2, 2009 6:27 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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What should we expect from Big 12 athletic directors this off-season? Or, better yet, will we see what we should see? Early on, it looks like most of the Big 12 offices mulling a firing of the head football coach are inclined to give it one more year; really, the two hot seats are Colorado and Kansas.

We've already heard that Colorado plans to give coach Dan Hawkins one more year. Maybe it does believe in Hawkins, and maybe there are signs of improvement. I think there might be, but I'm convinced of Colorado's fear of the buyout in Hawkins' contract more than I am its fear of ruining forward progress. In a recession, and at a school with a meager athletic fund, it's not surprising that Hawkins is coming back. Coach should be thanking the state of economics more than the grace of his athletic director, but he lives on regardless.

The verdict is still out on Mangino, but that doesn't mean Kansas isn't trying to get rid of him. It's more likely the Jayhawks are trying to find cause to fire him and save the school a boatload of money. Until the investigation of Mangino gets sorted out, you can expect him to remain head coach. The longer they wait to fire him, though, the tougher it will be to pull the trigger, knowing the potential ramifications such a move could have on the recruiting front.

This week: 4-1 overall, 4-1 Big 12

Overall: 69-26, 36-12 Big 12

Hits

Texas 49, Texas A&M 39: The Aggies made an impressive show of their battle with the Longhorns, but all it ended up doing was provide Texas QB Colt McCoy to have a signature Heisman performance.

Nebraska 28, Colorado 20: Nebraska didn't instill much faith that it can keep close to Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game this week, but it's hard to predict how the game should have gone given the pretenses leading up to it: Nebraska had won the Big 12 North, and Colorado had already solidified its losing season. Add on Colorado's decision to retain Hawkins regardless of the game result, and you have a perfect storm of disinterest.

Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 0: I'll tell you what, only the loosest gambler would ever make a wager in an Oklahoma State football game. Even if you picked Oklahoma to win, no one with a brain would have predicted a shutout. But hey, that's OSU football: They have no idea who they are.

Texas Tech 20, Baylor 13: Baylor kept it close with some impressive defense, and it's too bad its late drive to tie the game stalled. Both teams had impressive moments this season, but I doubt you'd find many people aligned with either school that was happy with the season results.

Misses

Missouri 41, Kansas 39: If Mark Mangino remains the head coach at Kansas, that school doesn't deserve a good football team. Forget the Orange Bowl win a few years back. The Jayhawks just missed a bowl trip with the best quarterback in school history (Todd Reesing), two of the best receivers in school history (Desmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier) and a defense that was supposed to be revamped and respectable. There's no upside to this program. And now Mangino looks like an overweight, angry man that eats players' self-esteems for lunch (with a side of Crisco). I realize firing Mangino means you're basically saying the forward movement the program made was an illusion. But let's take the body of work for what it is. Mangino brought the Jayhawks to heaven and back to hell. Tell him thanks for the honeymoon, and send him on his way.

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Iowa State's Bowl Eligibility Surprise Storyline of Big 12 Season

  • Wednesday, November 18, 2009 6:16 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Oklahoma's fallen far from where it was, and Texas could very well end the season as the consensus national champion. And let's not forget, Iowa State isn't even the sole surprise in its own division -- Kansas State had equally grim expectations and has out-performed the Cyclones to this point, including winning head-to-head (by virtue of a missed PAT). But I don't think anyone in America saw the Cyclones coming. It's bad news for the Big 12 Conference that Paul Rhoads can make a bowl game with a team of misfits, and even worse news that he's got a promising freshman quarterback who can run and throw.

In a season where Kansas and Missouri were supposed to bounce back from down years, they're playing the way Kansas State and Iowa State were supposed to. Where the Cyclones end up in the postseason is irrelevant. The fact that they've made it there is a borderline miracle. And you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Rhoads inherited a team that had won five games the past two years and hadn't won six games in a season since 2005.

I would be surprised if the Cyclones weren't perennial bowl teams now, particularly considering the improvement Rhoads can be expected to make in recruiting. It's further proof that a lot of times, it's not the school or the players that can't win games, it's the coach.

This week: 5-1 overall, 5-1 Big 12

Overall: 60-24, 27-10 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 24, Texas Tech 17: It played out with less insanity than I'd expected, but OSU wins, surprisingly, thanks to its defense. What I fail to understand is why Tech started Potts, and why they've ever played Potts. His performance this season hasn't compared to that of quarterback Steven Sheffield.

Oklahoma 65, Texas A&M 10: Maybe in the wake of a 55-point rout isn't the best time to bring this up, but Oklahoma definitely does not look like a team two stars from a national champion. The Sooners look more like a middling team that is great against lesser competition but doesn't know how to win when it gets hit in the mouth. Good thing the Aggies are a good half-decade removed from being able to land a punch.

Nebraska 31, Kansas 17: Maybe Nebraska's offense is starting to get back to normal. On the other side of the field, Kansas is in completely disarray, losing five straight games while a probe of coach Mark Mangino's potentially-inappropriate conduct in practice surfaces. Could things be worse in Kansas?

Iowa State 17, Colorado 10: I won't rehash it, but what a great job by Iowa State. Now, Colorado, that's a different beast. Dan Hawkins has clearly lost control of his crew. His team's talent far exceeds its results, and Hawkins has struck out in motivational tactics since coming to Colorado from Boise State. In college football, that's a fatal error.

Texas 47, Baylor 14: Colt McCoy tied the mark for most victories by a major-college quarterback, and he needed less than 200 passing yards to do it. Now he has to keep his team awake for the next month, because the Longhorns will have a rude awakening if they get caught daydreaming of the BCS Title Game.

Misses

Missouri 38, Kansas State 12: Don't think this takes MU coach Gary Pinkel off the hot seat. The Tigers still have two losable games ahead of them. Still, Missouri seemed to exorcise some demons on both sides of the ball in a win that brought bowl-eligibility weeks later than they'd hoped or expected.

Friday Forecast: Separation Saturday

  • Friday, October 23, 2009 8:03 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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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 1:29 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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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 Scout.com'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.

Every Week Matters For Suh's Heisman Hopes

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:28 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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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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Don't Underestimate The Underdog

  • Sunday, October 11, 2009 2:47 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?

Big 12 Prestige Sinking In Down Year

  • Tuesday, October 6, 2009 7:48 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.

Hawkins' Motivational Tactics Backfire

  • Wednesday, September 16, 2009 6:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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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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Friday Forecast: Near-sweep Week

  • Friday, September 11, 2009 6:50 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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What's become of football scheduling is a shame. Gone are the non-conference schedules abundant with what would become BCS conference schools. Instead, we're left with disappointing matchups between big-time programs and the Bowling Greens, Toledos and UTEPs of the world. And why? Three reasons:

A) BCS conference schedules make up for weak non-conference schedules;

B) Schools would be stupid to make a long, hard road longer and harder than it has to be in a sport where championships are decided by formulas and speculation instead of on-field results;

and (most importantly)

C) Money.

Think I'm wrong? Ask Nebraska how much it makes off those 85,000 seats selling out at $45 a piece (minimum). Add in the $30 pay-per-view charge for schools with committed fan bases. We're already well over $3 million heading towards $4 million. And this is hardly a conclusive estimate.

So schools minimize the home-and-away series they schedule with respectable programs and bring in teams like Arkansas State, throwing more money at the opposing school than they know what to do with, and everyone's happy.

Except fans.

But unlike the polls vs. playoffs debate, which I expect to rage until Orrin Hatch is a young 400 years old, this problem has a solution:

Bring down the free market.

Easy to say, tough to do. Which brings us to this week's Big 12 Alum of the Week: Nebraska's Warren Buffet, formerly the richest man in the world. The guy knows his economics.

With that, this week's picks:

Colorado at Toledo (Friday): Remember what I said about BCS schools banking off home games against lower-tier schools? CU didn't get that memo. I have no idea why they're playing at Toledo. I also have no idea why they could only manage a 1.4-yard rushing average in a loss to Colorado State last week. And I have no idea what Dan Hawkins plans on doing to keep this team believing they can win 10 games. I'm still saying five. One of them comes this week.

Iowa at Iowa State: The only Big 12 loss I'm predicting this week. Iowa blocked field goal attempts on two consecutive plays against Northern Iowa last week to win by one point, notching a nice win over a team that's been the best in the state, or close to it, the last couple years. Iowa State's been the worst by a considerable margin, and it will uphold that reputation.

Arkansas State at Nebraska: Arkansas State won 61-0 last weekend -- something you don't expect from teams named Arkansas State. It runs a spread offense similar to what Nebraska will see during much of the Big 12 season. Nebraska will win, but ASU will land some punches, too.

Houston at Oklahoma State: Man, did you see the Cowboys take down Georgia last weekend? OSU fans won't even be able to see this win through the smoke still lingering from last weekend's barn burner.

Texas at Wyoming: Before you start lambasting me for totally botching my "Top teams just schedule home games except for the rare semi-annual marquee non-conference match-up," let me explain: This is Texas' marquee non-conference match-up. "But didn't they visit Ohio State, like, yesterday?" Yes. Well, 2005, though it seems much more recent. That's actually the Longhorns' last road game against a ranked foe outside the Big 12. So let's retract that blanket statement with a "generally speaking" statement with the same parameters. Oh, Texas wins.

Bowling Green at Missouri: I can't wait to see if this Tigers defense, that Blaine Gabbert, that offense of no-names, is for real. And on October 8 against Nebraska, I'll get to. But I bet they don't disappoint en route to a win.

Idaho State at Oklahoma: Boy, does Oklahoma need Idaho State more than Idaho State needs Oklahoma. What a tragedy of a season, and it's only week one. Luckily, Landry Jones will have it easy after a demanding game last week.

Kansas State at Louisiana-Lafayette: You know, Kansas State has always traveled to the middle of nowhere to play football games. I'm guessing its paying teams back for traveling to the middle of nowhere to play the Wildcats in the late 1980's, when, much like now, K-State was a program in shambles, and Bill Snyder had just been hired to fix things. Kansas State wins. If I were you, I'd bet against me.

Rice at Texas Tech: I bet there's some scoring in this game. Am I alone in my near-total lack of interest in Texas Tech? I thought it was just that they played North Dakota last week, but I'm starting to think I just don't care for the product Mike Leach has put on the field every year except last: good offense doomed by sub-mediocre defense. They're still good enough to win this one easily.

Kansas at UTEP: Todd Reesing is so good. UTEP is going to make him look good. Then next week they'll play Duke, and once again they'll look good. But that won't matter as much, because next week has some intriguing games in the Big 12. Be smart: hit the snooze button. You won't miss much.

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Big 12 Preview | Colorado No. 8

  • Sunday, August 16, 2009 5:48 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 5-7 overall, 2-6 Big 12 Conference

2009 projection: Coach Dan Hawkins says 10 wins. I say seven or eight. Every game in the Big 12 North is winnable, but I'd expect only one win against the top three.

Reason to get excited: New run-oriented offense will take the pressure off Cody Hawkins to move the ball in the spread offense and control the game clock.

Reason not to get worked up: They decided to implement the power run game after spring practice, so expect them to be a little wet behind the ears -- not good for an offense trying to bounce back from being the Big 12's worst a year ago.

The gist: A lot went wrong for Colorado last season, from injuries to inconsistencies to occasional hard luck. After all, they had a bowl appearance in their teeth until this happened:



Things look a little better this season. The running backs Darrell Scott and fellow sophomore Rodney Stewart, who led the Buffs in rushing last year, are one of the strongest components of the team, and have a respectable offensive line to work behind. Conversely, junior Cody Hawkins is an experienced quarterback who won't get much help from a young group of wide receivers that ranks among the worst in the Big 12. Unless the new recruits at wideout can step up, Hawkins may be in for a frustrating season.

The defense won't take any steps backwards after last season and is probably the stronger of the two units, despite Dan Hawkins' reputation as an offensive genius. There's no shortage of potential starters at linebacker, led by senior Jeff Smart, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Cha'pelle Brown star in a secondary that can hold its own against most of the Big 12. The D is also prepped to operate out of 3-4 as well as 4-3, which will help keep opposing offenses on their toes. A lot is riding on how much and how fast CU's freshman can contribute.

Rallying point: Scott. His coaches are expecting him to break out as a sophomore.

Cover your eyes: If that 10-win marker starts to fall out of reach. The problem with setting a goal as lofty and finite as 10 wins is this: if you place too much importance on it, and then you lose a couple early games or find out 10 wins is either unrealistic or mathematically impossible, you might be poised for a big letdown.

For what it's worth: I like the idea of using two running backs heavily, and in theory it will help the passing game. Plus, as late as they're installing it, I'd expect it to share snaps with the spread offense, particularly early in the season. The running backs and offensive line are good enough that Cody Hawkins only needs to manage games instead of win them. Finding that balance will at least get them to a bowl game and should be enough to keep Dan Hawkins out of the hot seat.

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