Archive for Monday, October 11, 2004

Balance lacking in Big 12

South division dominant; North squads dormant

October 11, 2004


The Big 12 Conference is out of whack.

The imbalance between the South and North divisions seems so pronounced right now that the North looks like a Division I-AA conference by comparison.

Need evidence?

Try 70-10 for starters. That was the score of the shellacking Texas Tech of the South gave Nebraska, once the North's dominant team. It was the worst loss in the Cornhuskers' storied 114-year history.

Iowa State of the North has lost to the South's Oklahoma State and Texas A&M; by a combined -- and here are those ugly numbers again -- 70-10.

Oklahoma State went north Saturday to Colorado and rolled over the Buffaloes, 42-10. A&M; beat defending North and Big 12 champion Kansas State, 42-30, a week ago, then pounded Iowa State, 34-3, Saturday night.

The North hasn't had a team in the top 25 for the last five weeks. The South gained a fourth when A&M; joined at No. 23 on Sunday.

In the six interdivisional games so far, Missouri is the only North team with a victory. That was a 30-10 victory Saturday at lowly Baylor, and you have to wonder how many fans actually saw it. The game drew only 22,652. And while it was televised, it didn't start until 9 p.m.

Still, the Tigers have become the early frontrunners in the North. Somebody has to win it, and Missouri (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) is the only team in the division that is unbeaten in conference play.

A better gauge of the Tigers will come Saturday, when they play at No. 9 Texas.

"We're 2-0 in the conference, but we have a long way to go," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "There were certain things we did well and certain things we did not do well."

Kansas State, the preseason favorite in the North, is 0-2 in the league after a 31-28 loss at Kansas University (3-3, 1-2) -- the Jayhawks' first victory in the series since 1992.

The Wildcats overcame a 0-2 league start last year to win the North, but these Wildcats don't seem capable of duplicating that. First off, they rely too much on running back Darren Sproles. Plus, they have to play No. 2-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday.

"Right now we have to keep our heads up and turn this thing around," said Kansas State kicker Joe Rheem, who took little solace in moving ahead of his brother, Jamie, into second place on the school's career scoring list.

As for Sproles, his Heisman Trophy chances finally may have evaporated. He failed to score a touchdown for the second straight week, committed his sixth turnover of the year when he muffed a punt and managed only 73 yards in 24 carries.

And Nebraska?


The Cornhuskers have had trouble adjusting to new coach Bill Callahan's passing game all season. Now, it looks as though the defense needs work, too.

A week after Nebraska (3-2, 1-1) slugged out a 14-8 win over KU, Tech's Sonny Cumbie riddled the Cornhuskers for 436 yards passing and five touchdowns. He had plenty of help from a Nebraska offense that coughed up the ball seven times, including five interceptions.

The turnovers are nothing new. Nebraska already has 23 this season -- one fewer than the Cornhuskers had in 13 games under Frank Solich last year. But at least they'll get a chance to regroup. Nebraska will play host Saturday to Baylor.

"This team will bounce back fine," guard Brandon Koch said.

Colorado joins Kansas State and Iowa State at 0-2 in the league. The Buffaloes started 3-0 for the first time under coach Gary Barnett, but they've scored only three touchdowns in conference play and their defense was dominated physically by Oklahoma State.

"That was an embarrassing performance by our team, the players and the coaches," Barnett said.

One North team will get a victory for sure next weekend because Colorado will play host to Iowa State.

This is starting to look more and more like last season for Iowa State (2-3), which lost its final 10 games a year ago after a 2-0 start and now has 12 straight Big 12 losses.

The Cyclones' offense continues to struggle -- they haven't scored more than 10 points in their last seven league games -- and the defense faltered Saturday night. A&M; scored on its first two possessions, then drove 96 yards for a second-quarter TD.

The South could take a while to sort out with Oklahoma, No. 16 Oklahoma State and Texas A&M; all 2-0, Tech at 2-1 and Texas at 1-1.

Oklahoma, the defending South champion, cleared a major hurdle with Saturday's 12-0 victory over Texas. There's another key game Saturday: A&M; (4-1) at Oklahoma State (5-0).

A&M; has bounced back from a season-opening loss to Utah and is starting to look like a force in the Big 12 again after last year's 4-8 disaster.

There are major challenges ahead with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech still to be played, not to mention Oklahoma State. But the Aggies, led by nimble quarterback Reggie McNeal, aren't likely to lose to Oklahoma 77-0 again.

"Last year we were like the laughingstock of college football," A&M; wide receiver Jason Carter said. "We know how it feels on both sides. It feels a lot better on the winning side."

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