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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Wednesday Forecast: End Of The Road For Big 12 Turkeys

  • Wednesday, November 25, 2009 3:18 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The last week of the Big 12 regular season is coming to a close, but few teams have anything worth playing for. The division championships have already been decided, and only Kansas is playing for a bowl berth. There's always rankings and prestige, but it's tough to predict what will motivate teams -- or if nothing will.

Typically, the highest entertainment value from these final games is the rivalries (of which most games this weekend are) and the potential for firings. Obscured by the media cloud hovering above Charlie Weis, there are a couple different Big 12 coaches sitting squarely on the hot seat, and at least a couple more headed that way if they repeat this season's success in 2010.

The picks:

Texas at Texas A&M: It's the last regular-season hurdle for Texas. But the Longhorns just seem too aware of themselves and the opportunity ahead of them to blow it against the Aggies. Plus, do you see coach Mike Sherman having the skill set to lead A&M in an upset of Texas? It's not that he's a bad coach -- it's that he's a bad college coach. But the ineffective pro-ball mentality will get at least one more season to reign in Aggieland, no matter how badly they lose this game.

Nebraska at Colorado: Last year, NU's Alex Henery booted a 57-yarder that gave Nebraska the lead late in the fourth quarter. It was this game that the Huskers regained the swagger they had been missing for the past half-decade -- they weren't back, but they put on a charmed performance that carries good programs to wins and bad programs to sucker-punch losses. This is always a great game and often hard to predict, but let's say Nebraska.

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: You're telling me that if Oklahoma loses this game, it ends the season 6-6? No way. I just can't fathom that happening at the hands of its in-state rival. Plus, OSU tends to be unreliable. It seems like a trap game for the Cowboys, and besides, I pick the favorite too often. So it's Oklahoma.

Kansas at Missouri: Two years ago, both Mark Mangino and Gary Pinkel were candidates for national coach of the year. Now, KU is trying to find a way to get Mangino fired, and Pinkel has fallen out of favor in Missouri, although he won't be going anywhere this year. But I guarantee you, the Kansas athletic department is trying to find a way to can Mangino over his alleged verbal abuse of players. Why, you ask? It's all about the Benjamins: If they fire him for being awful, he gets around a $6.6 million buyout. If they have cause, he's on the street without a dollar's worth of severance. It doesn't help that he and athletic director Lew Perkins don't get along.

Baylor at Texas Tech: Overall, Tech's season has gone better than many would have expected. Its big win over Oklahoma exercised some demons, and with a win over Baylor it'll hit eight wins. You can't say it was a failed season for Baylor -- even when the quarterback position imploded, the Bears still managed four wins and proved they've got a respectable defense and solid prospects for the future. If Robert Griffin's behind center for the entire season next year, they'll make a bowl game. For now, they're limping (admirably) to the finish.

Thursday Forecast: All The Focus On Mangino

  • Thursday, November 19, 2009 8:35 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Not that there's a whole lot to get distracted from, but news of a probe into Kansas coach Mark Mangino's coaching habits has fully eclipsed the bulk of games on the Big 12 slate (pun slightly intended). Amid a five-game losing streak, stories have surfaced of Mangino verbally abusing athletes and hitting them in the chest and shoulder pads. The philosophy behind the actions, according to several players speaking out on the subject, is that Mangino aims to break his players down in order to build them back up stronger, and to motivate through anger.

Some definitely seem motivated by their anger, but not in the way he'd hoped. Now Mangino has to scrape and claw to get his Jayhawks bowl eligible while wondering if he'll have a job at the end of this probe.

If KU has grown tired of Mangino, this could be a convenient means to an end. It seems like Mangino has a hairy situation even if he doesn't leave -- recruits generally don't want to go play football so they can be humiliated and attacked.

I don't have any insider knowledge of the situation. But I do have YouTube to help me draw my conclusion, which is that the claims aren't far from the truth:





The picks:

Colorado at Oklahoma State (Thursday): I can't easily articulate why, but Oklahoma State's games so often fail to intrigue me. It's not that the Cowboys aren't a good team with an explosive offense and a bright future. It's just that until I see them make a leap toward the elite level, they're just a good team that isn't living up to what it could be. They had me after the Georgia game, but lost me against Houston the following week. Even a crushing win over Colorado won't make them easier to love, although beating Oklahoma next week will.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech: If Texas Tech ever wanted to exact revenge on Oklahoma for ruining its perfect season last year, opportunities like this only come once every few years. But when you look at Oklahoma's losses this season, all of them have been at the hands of capable, if not excellent, defense. The Sooners also have a penchant for muzzling the Red Raiders, and unless Steven Sheffield plays the whole game and throws close to 500 yards, I think Oklahoma escapes.

Iowa State at Missouri: Easily the toughest game to call this week. Do you go with the team that has more talent and, on paper, should win, or the team that has proven it knows how to win and continues to improve? The thing about Iowa State is that it has played consistently on the road. In the Big 12 North the Cyclones won at Nebraska and lost to Kansas State and Kansas by a combined six points. And it seems like confidence has been one of the bigger hurdles this team has faced this year, and they've continually cleared it. So let's say seven wins for the Cyclones.

Baylor at Texas A&M: Texas A&M can become bowl eligible with a win, and you should expect that to happen. The Aggies are still a pretty shoddy team, and you would be wise to note that I would definitely pick Baylor if they still had their starting quarterback. But if Baylor pushes the Aggies, I won't be surprised. Even with a plague of injuries, this program's better now than it has been in past years.

Kansas State at Nebraska: The Big 12 North Championship game is a throwback to a decade ago, when Kansas State was coming into its prime and forcing its games with Nebraska into nationally-televised contests. It's great to see this game have meaning again, even if it doesn't have the national title implications of the past. Nebraska will win with defense and give itself a shot at Texas in the Big 12 title game.

Kansas at Texas: This was a good week for all the Mangino buzz to come out. With or without it, the Jayhawks would be losing this game. That'll be six straight losses. But hey, at least this bad news didn't come out in 2007 during Kansas' mid-Orange Bowl run. Back then, Mangino was the hottest item on the meet rack. After two sub-par seasons, he doesn't exactly have a wellspring of support.

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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.

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.

Big 12 Preview | Kansas No. 5

  • Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:37 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big 12 Conference

2009 projection: With the best quarterback and strongest offense in the Big 12 North, Kansas should be headed for a Top 25 finish.

Reason to get excited: The Jayhawks have star talent at all the offensive playmaker positions.

Reason not to get worked up: Defense will create a lot of shootouts, leaving KU at the wrong end of the winning bullet.

The gist: Quarterback Todd Reesing continues to be underrated in the shadows of Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, but I can't imagine Kansas trading him for either. He threw for 3,888 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. This season, many of his helpers return, including the best wide receivers corp in the Big 12 led by Dezmon Briscoe, who merits All-America consideration, and Kerry Meier. Also back is Jake Sharp, who ran for 860 yards last season. The offensive line is Kansas' greatest weakness on offense. The defense is led by preseason All-Big 12 defensive back Darrell Stuckey and a strong defensive line, but the Jayhawks have lost all their starting linebackers from a season ago and must find replacements.

Rallying point: Reesing. He's among the most exciting players in KU history.

Cover your eyes: If teams can get past KU's D-line. Expect the linebackers to be bad and the secondary outside Stuckey to be mediocre.

For what it's worth: Kansas gets Nebraska at home in what should be the division title-determining game. It's easier to put Kansas over the Huskers when we don't know what NU quarterback Zac Lee will become, but if he's 80 percent of what they say he is, Kansas' defense will be the weakest link in what should be a narrow Nebraska win.