Wednesday Forecast: End Of The Road For Big 12 Turkeys

  • Wednesday, November 25, 2009 8:18 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.

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

  • Wednesday, November 18, 2009 11:16 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.

Pinkel's Program Reloaded With A Blank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huskers Win Battle Of Top Defenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall: 55-23, 22-9 Big 12

Hits

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

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

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

Misses

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

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

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

Friday Forecast: Separation Saturday

  • Friday, October 23, 2009 12:03 PM
  • 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 Preview | Missouri No. 7

  • Friday, August 21, 2009 7:09 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12 Conference, co-Big 12 North Division champions

2009 projection: Missouri takes a huge hit offensively, losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman. The schedule is packed with teams good enough to put a bowl game trip in jeopardy.

Reason to get excited: Youth is opportunity.

Reason not to get worked up: Youth will lose a lot before it learns how to win big games.

The gist: Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs to prove he can throw well enough to make room for Derrick Washington -- possibly the best talent on MU's offense -- to run. The defense has lost eight of its starters. Even kicker Jeff Wolfert is gone from a roster that was built for a BCS title run last season but fell well short. Potential All-American Sean Weatherspoon is by leaps and bounds the team's best player, and possibly its most important. More than half of both the offensive and defensive lines will be first-time starters. Coach Gary Pinkel is leaning on new leadership at offensive and defensive coordinators. This team's in transition.

Rallying point: Weatherspoon. He's the top athlete on the stronger unit, and he'll need to keep the defense calm and communicating. When the screws start to come loose, particularly in hostile Big 12 stadiums, Weatherspoon needs to hold the defense together.

Cover your eyes: For every Big 12 game but ISU and K-State. All could be ugly losses.

For what it's worth: Missouri is a couple seasons away from competing for a Big 12 title again. I'm not sure I'd buy stock in this program. Talents like Daniel and Maclin are rare. Without a better defense -- not Pinkel's strong suit -- climbing back to where they were in 2007 seems unlikely. If that's true, Pinkel could be in trouble.