Pinkel's Program Reloaded With A Blank

  • Friday, November 13, 2009 7:34 AM
  • 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.

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.

Tech Surprises, Colorado Notches First Win

  • Sunday, September 20, 2009 9:26 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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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

Hits

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.

Misses

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.

Disappointment Plagues Big 12

  • Monday, September 14, 2009 7:13 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The Big 12 Conference didn't do much to improve its reputation nationally. Far more teams performed well below expectations than those that played like they should have. Three programs lost to teams outside the major BCS conferences, and one had their fledgling national championship hopes all but crushed. Only Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma met expectations (so did Iowa State, though losing by 25 shouldn't be praised.) But the rest of the conference showed why no one should look ahead. It's only week three, and we've seen two of the projected top three teams lose, and one team that expected to be near the top smoldering at the bottom as the conference's only winless team.

Week 2 record: 7-3

Overall record: 14-7

Hits

Kansas 34, UTEP 7: Total rushing yards: Kansas 255, UTEP 4. That's four on 20 attempts. As good as the offense is, the team's defense will be the determinant in its success this season, as it has been in the past. So far, so good.

Oklahoma 64, Idaho State 0: Kind of expected, but Landry Jones did a great job in Sam Bradford's absence. The Sooners are smart enough to know their season is far from over.

Texas Tech 55, Rice 10: I expected more scoring from Rice, but I'm not heartbroken over it. Quarterback Taylor Potts was more comfortable this week than last, throwing for seven touchdowns in typical Red Raiders fashion.

Missouri 27, Bowling Green 20: This doesn't seem like a Missouri win, and I'm sure the Tigers don't feel like it after scrapping to rally and save their season at home, no less. A week after trouncing Illinois, the Tigers nearly botch a sure-win. So we're back to having no clue what kind of a team MU is.

Texas 41, Wyoming 10: After a rough first half and a three-point halftime lead, Texas put together a solid second half to reassert itself as the dominant team. I'd chalk it up to a mix of lack of focus by the Longhorns and a mad crowd in Laramie. But unlike other teams yet to be mentioned, Texas shook off the dust and refocused with plenty of time to spare.

Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9: It would have been a bigger blowout if not for some questionable calls favoring Arkansas State, but the Huskers were never threatened by the Red Wolves. Zac Lee had a solid game to balance Roy Helu Jr.'s relatively quiet one. If he can carry the load against teams of relevance, the Huskers will be in great shape down the road.

Iowa 35, Iowa State 3: Iowa State sure can make people's careers, as it did for the Hawkeyes' Tyler Sash. Sash collected three interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Cyclones. Sad day for Austen Arnaud, who threw for interceptions and got pulled.

Misses

Toledo 54, Colorado 38: Holy Toledo, the Buffs are terrible. Giving up 624 yards to Toledo is inexcusable (and the defense is supposed to be CU's strong suit). Few 0-2 teams rally for a 10-win season, and I guarantee you that team does not believe it can win even close to 10 right now. More on this later in the week.

Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35: In my predictions, I talked about Oklahoma State fans too lost in the smoke standing from the Georgia game to care much about Houston coming to town. Apparently, that went for the Cowboys, too. They got down early, put it together in the third quarter and took the lead, but couldn't lock down on defense in a fourth quarter they lost, 21-0. They've completely erased everything gained from the Georgia win.

Louisiana-Lafayette 17, Kansas State 15: I knew it. Knew it, knew it, knew it. At least I had the foresight to bet against my bet when I picked KSU in this game. His recruiting may be great, but the suggestions Bill Snyder made in the preseason about letting his coaches have lives outside of football -- I admire it, for sure. But it doesn't win football games. I'm not sure this won't be par for the course this year.

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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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