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.

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.

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.

Mountain West Gives It To The Big 12

  • Monday, September 7, 2009 7:52 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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So much for Big 12 domination, right? It fell on its face when the Mountain West Conference came to town, with two teams losing to MWC schools over the weekend. Orrin Hatch never made so much sense -- the Mountain West deserves an automatic bid. It keeps getting better despite the BCS' efforts to keep it at bay. It's at least better than the ACC, right? We'll put that conversation on hold until TCU plays Virginia next week.

In the meantime, consider this: Boise State joining the MWC, maybe Fresno State, too. Now that's a football conference. San Diego State and New Mexico would still be hanging around at the bottom, but hey: the Big 12 has dealt with Baylor as long as its existed.

Ahh, Baylor. What a great show this weekend. What, you missed it? Well, so did America. Baylor-Wake Forest isn't a big pull, but maybe the Bears will get more airtime with Robert Griffin playing quarterback. The first week is always a bit of an unknown, and it doesn't get easier when the former Heisman winner goes down in a Top 25 match-up. Here's the weekend wrap-up for the Big 12, starting with what I got right before bemoaning my errors:

Week 1 record: 7-4

Overall record: 7-4

Money Shots

Oklahoma State 24, Georgia 10: I'm proud of this prediction, and it went much the way I had expected. OSU's offense is good even against a good defense, and its defense is strong against a mediocre offense, picking up three turnovers. Dez Bryant caught for 77 yards and two touchdowns on three catches.

Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3: I expected a win, but this score is a bit beyond what I thought possible. FAU doesn't have a slouch offense (and it didn't look like one against the Huskers, gaining more than 350 yards) but Nebraska locked down on defense and kept them out of the end zone. That says good things about its division title hopes.

Kansas 49, Northern Colorado 3: Everything I just said about Nebraska you can say here. Except for: Reesing is solid out of the gates.

Texas 59, Louisiana-Monroe 20: Colt McCoy accounted for 381 yards and left the game early. But I'm more impressed by Jordan Shipley's eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Wholly uninteresting games I was right about

Texas A&M 41, New Mexico 6: Maybe Mike Sherman will put it together down there this season.

Iowa State 34, North Dakota State 17: This game gets stricken from my personal record book since I failed to make a prediction before the game.

Texas Tech 38, North Dakota 13: I remain fully committed to my stance of ignoring all football games played by schools from North Dakota. I have nothing else to say.

Kansas State 21, Massachusetts 17 I barely got this one right, after the Wildcats gave up three interceptions and a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Incompletes

Baylor 24, Wake Forest 21: Holy Mike Singletary, it's happening. Baylor is rising from the muck like Swamp Thing. I thought Griffin and coach Art Briles could put something together, but here's what I didn't expect: the Bears' defense thrice picking off the all-time ACC leader in completion percentage. Now they get two weeks to prep for UConn, and then two easy wins that could lead them to a 4-0 record when they travel to face Oklahoma -- a possibly Sam Bradford-less, weak, broken, defenseless, ripe-for-the-taking Oklahoma (more on that later). Shudder.

Missouri 37, Illinois 9: Alright, either Illinois is a mess of poor-color-schemed suckage, or criticism of Missouri's offense was premature. That did not look like the third-best team in the Big 12 Conference. That looked like a team that will be tough to beat.

BYU 14, Oklahoma 13: On the one hand, I really hate this game. To watch Heisman winner Sam Bradford go out of the game in the first half, and to see that team lose by one point playing the entire second half with a freshman quarterback who found himself in a heck of a situation, is too bad for everyone. But on the other hand, I don't know why everyone's condemning Oklahoma's season. After all, the Sooners lost to Texas last season but proceeded to win a tiebreaker for the division title and, ultimately, a spot in the national title game over Texas. They've got all season to climb the rankings, and if they win out, don't you think voters would have sympathy over the way they suffered their only loss? Of course, the key to all this is the Sooners going undefeated from this point on, which I don't think they can do. Exhibit A on why that can't happen is currently undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests.

Synonyms for "Awful" don't do this game justice

Colorado State 23, Colorado 17: Wow. Wow wow wow. Ten wins, right? That's the goal? Going off this game, I'd bet five before 10. The two-back, run-heavy offense was uglier than Oregon's last Thursday night. Just awful. Pack up and go home. It's over.

Just awful.

Big 12 Preview | Texas A&M No. 10

  • Monday, August 10, 2009 11:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Big 12 Conference

2009 projection: Maybe coach Mike Sherman will turn it around in College Station. But it's not happening this year.

Reason to get excited: A&M has a respectable secondary, and a number of talented underclassmen gained valuable experience during the rough patch known as the 2008 season.

Reason not to get worked up: The Big 12's worst defense in 2008 (37.4 points per game) won't get make huge strides this season.

The gist: The Aggies will use a run-oriented offense led by sophomore Cyrus Gray and freshman Christine Michael. They have enough experience on offense to stay competitive in shootouts, but the offensive line is still in question. Sherman overhauled the line in the offseason, even moving former defensive lineman Lucas Patterson to left tackle. But if Texas A&M makes a jump back into Big 12 relevance, it'll be in 2010. This season's roster is too full of inexperience and question marks to rise up into the top half of the South Division.

Rallying point: Ryan Tannehill. The sophomore set school records for receptions and receiving yards as a freshman, but now he's battling for the starting job with Jerrod Johnson. Wherever he ends up, he'll bear a lot of weight on his shoulders and have the respect of his teammates. Look for his multiple talents to be used as a trick-play asset.

Cover your eyes: In the trenches. A&M's greatest weaknesses show on the offensive and defensive lines, and the running game could be rough going both ways, no matter how good the Aggies' backs are.

For what it's worth: There's more talent on A&M's squad than their 4-8 campaign last year showed. Expect a quick, agile team, but don't expect to pour in the wins yet. Hope for flashes of brilliance, maybe a big upset and dream of next season.