Friday Forecast: Texas Clears The Hurdle

  • Friday, October 30, 2009 3:21 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Texas has been far from exceptional while remaining undefeated this season, producing unimpressive wins that tempt voters to drop the Longhorns in the Associated Press rankings. Part of that can be credited to Colt McCoy, who has battled the flu and nagging injuries that have held him back for much of the season. Even so, this weekend might be the most realistic shot any team has at beating Texas prior to the national championship game. Oklahoma State is down Dez Bryant and won't have a fully healed Kendall Hunter, but it has a defense that can lock down when it commits itself and an offense that's as good as any.

Personal interests aside, there aren't many more compelling matchups in the Big 12 this weekend, unless you believe upstart Kansas State has a shot against Oklahoma. You're quite the optimist, if that's the case.

The picks:

Nebraska at Baylor: If Baylor hadn't lost Robert Griffin to injury, I'd pick Nebraska to lose this game. They're starting Zac Lee again, and Baylor's defense is good enough that if the Huskers continue to play out of sync, they'll get manhandled by the Bears. However, Nebraska also has an exceptional defense that won't give up much to Baylor's offense. Husker fans with high blood pressure should still consider taking the day off.

Missouri at Colorado: Talk about two teams that both need wins. Mizzou is winless in the Big 12, and the Buffs are 2-5 with almost no reason for optimism. But unlike Colorado, we've seen Missouri can play well, despite its record. Its conference schedule this far has been Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas. Expect the Tigers to find Colorado much easier.

Iowa State at Texas A&M: Iowa State's offense looks positioned to improve every week. It's still putting the pieces together. Meanwhile, the defense overachieves on a daily basis. And that win against Nebraska was big, but the Aggies don't have as many offensive problems as the Huskers did. They may get slowed but Jerrod Johnson won't be stopped. I'll pick A&M, but I'm rooting for Iowa State. Did you realize they're one win from bowl eligibility?

Kansas at Texas Tech: Texas Tech clearly needs solidarity at the quarterback position, and it is struggling this season. It's interesting, because Tech so rarely has quarterback problems. It comes down to whether the Red Raiders can be stable behind center. I think they will, and I don't think Kansas will be able to keep up.

Kansas State at Oklahoma: Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder always put on a good show. For that reason, I don't think this will be a blowout. And what a win it would be if the Wildcats could pull it out. It's just too much to ask of this young, confident Kansas State team. They've done well, but Oklahoma is a different beast than they've faced thus far.

Texas at Oklahoma State: This could be McCoy's Heisman performance, and it might have to be. Texas' offense has excelled at doing just enough to win, but it won't be able to hide in this game. Oklahoma State will get its points, and Texas will have to keep up. Expect the Longhorns to do so, but remember that the spotlight's on McCoy, now more than ever. It's his team, and his play will decide who wins.

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Big 12 Midseason Review: Coaches

  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009 5:29 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 North Turned Upside Down

  • Monday, October 19, 2009 4:57 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Seven weeks of college football, and who leads the Big 12 North? Kansas State, the team some picked to finish last (I was not far behind, tabbing them 11th). A couple weeks ago it looked like the Big 12 North was split in two, with half the teams rising to the Top 25 and half slumming it in obscurity. Instead, we've got three teams at 1-1 in conference play, another at 1-2, with Kansas State leading and Missouri in the basement.

Unfortunately, parity doesn't earn you respect -- at least not this early in the season, in this division. Maybe the SEC East could get away with a logjam, but the Big 12 North has been the dunce for a few years now. And we've seen too many poor performances to buy stock in the belief that perhaps it's back to being highly competitive. More likely, what we have is a few C-grade teams trying to pull down a few B-grade teams to their level. And so far, so good.

Week 6 record: 2-4, 2-4 Big 12

Overall record: 42-18, 10-4 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 33, Missouri 17: Missouri's had a hard run. Nebraska and Oklahoma State are a hard way to open Big 12 play. Nevertheless, the Tigers are still 0-2, and clearly not a Top 25 team -- for now, at least. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is 2-0 in conference play, but that counts for very little when your wins are over Mizzou and A&M (see below).

Texas 16, Oklahoma 13: Texas was a little less than inspiring. Even against Oklahoma, I expected more than 16 points. On the other side of the ball, I imagine Bob Stoops wants to choke a doctor right about now. Preferably the one that said Sam Bradford ran no risk of re-injuring his shoulder.

Misses

Iowa State 24, Baylor 10: Sure, it's Baylor, but Iowa State is competing well. Paul Rhoads is doing a great job with the Cyclones, who have been in the game for every second of Big 12 play this season.

Colorado 34, Kansas 30: In the preseason, this wouldn't have seemed so unlikely. But that was before the Buffs fell apart. And Kanssa was supposed to have a solid defense. So does this mean Colorado's turned it around? No, not at all. Rather, the Jayhawks are no good this year. Cue the Iowa State footage if you don't believe me. They don't deserve their Top 25 ranking.

Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14: Talk about a flashback to 2003. This has to be the most unlikely line score I've seen this season. Never mind how pitiful Texas A&M is -- Kansas State is supposed to be running on fumes, limping through 2009. Guess what? The Wildcats are 4-3, a bowl game is a possibility, they're recruiting well, and Bill Snyder has a long-term contract. Things are looking sunny in Manhattan.

Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10: A lot went wrong for Nebraska, but the Huskers did their fair share wrong. Like failing to commit to the run. Having an ineffective offensive gameplan. Playing Zac Lee too long. Letting Ndamukong Suh get handled in the second half. The list goes on. But at the end of the day, Nebraska blows it right when it seems on the cusp of reaching the next level.

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Big 12 Preview | Oklahoma No. 2

  • Wednesday, September 2, 2009 7:05 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 Big 12 Conference, Big 12 Champions

2009 projection: The Sooners will be in the thick of the national title race until the very end, but they might only be the second-best team in their division.

Reason to get excited: Great coach, great program, Heisman-winning quarterback, high preseason ranking ... what's left?

Reason not to get worked up: Let's face it -- at this point in the rankings, there's no reason not to get worked up.

The gist: Sam Bradford returns as Oklahoma's quarterback, but his spot may not be as comfortable as it was last year. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown return at running back, and Jermaine Gresham is one of the nation's best tight ends, but the offensive line loses four of its starters from last season. Tackle Trent Williams is the only returner, though he was arguably the best of the lot. None of the wide receivers is exceptional, but they're good enough. The defensive front seven is as strong as any other group on the team, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Linebackers Ryan Reynolds and Travis Lewis lead a strong second line, of defense, but pass defense remains a question mark. If teams go into four- and five-receiver sets, OU's depth at defensive back beyond Dominique Franks could be exposed.

Rallying point: Is a Heisman Trophy winner ever NOT the rallying point? It's Bradford.

Cover your eyes: At Nebraska and Kansas. Both teams have quarterbacks with arms and balanced offenses that could cause trouble in the Sooners' secondary, and both have improved defenses. Losing to either could kill OU's BCS title hopes.

For what it's worth: Making the BCS title game two years in a row is a tough order, but expecting Texas to beat Oklahoma twice in a row isn't much easier. Nebraska over OU is a trendy pick, maybe because of NU coach Bo Pelini's familiarity with OU after one season as a co-defensive coordinator in 2004. I'd expect OU to beat Texas but stumble elsewhere later in the Big 12 season.