Archive for Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When it came to squaring off with top-shelf programs, the Big 12 was rank against the ranked

Conference members finish 0-9 against nonconference heavyweights

September 26, 2006

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— With nonconference play all but over, the teams of the Big 12 Conference still find themselves looking for a signature victory.

Big 12 teams finished a combined 0-9 against ranked foes from other conferences, with only a pair of games against Division I-AA teams left on the nonconference schedule.

Still, league coaches feel the Big 12's strong reputation is not at risk.

"I wouldn't get my shorts in a bunch too much over that, to be honest with you," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said. " ... There's just so much football to be played. I think when this whole college football season is over, all of us associated with the Big 12 will be able to hold our heads high."

After four weeks, the Big 12 has only three wins against teams from the five other conferences with automatic berths to the Bowl Championship Series: Kansas' 13-7 victory against South Florida, Missouri's 34-7 win against Mississippi and Oklahoma's 37-20 defeat of Washington. Those are also the Big 12's only other games against BCS conference teams besides the ones against ranked opponents.

There have been close calls, including Oklahoma's controversial 34-33 loss at Oregon two weeks ago and Colorado's 14-13 loss to Georgia on Saturday on a last-minute touchdown.

What's unclear is whether the conference's reputation will take a hit because of the lack of a big win. Four Big 12 teams are in the top 25 - Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri - and Texas A&M and Texas Tech are receiving votes.

Because it is the highest-ranked team in the bunch, No. 7 Texas might be the most affected when it comes time for the BCS standings to be released Oct. 15.

"It obviously will have some bearing, but when you look at it I have not seen strength of schedule as big of a factor as I would like to see it over the last few years," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said.

"Give the Big 12 credit for playing some really good nonconference games. ... On the one hand, we want people to schedule games like that, and then we beat them up when we don't win them. I think to be fair the Big 12 is sticking their neck out to try and improve schedules nationally."

When asked about the Big 12's reputation, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy asked how many times the conference had been represented in the national title game. The answer: five times in the last six years.

"I think that pretty much speaks for itself," Gundy said.

Kansas State coach Ron Prince, in his first year in the Big 12, said he wasn't qualified yet to speak about the conference's reputation. But he did have some familiarity with the Big 12, even as the offensive coordinator at Virginia.

"I think everybody understands that the teams that come out of this conference and go into the BCS are very powerful and have a very good chance," said Prince, whose Wildcats lost 24-6 to No. 8 Louisville on Saturday. "I think the conference's bowl records have been just fine."

Return to the rankings: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he addressed his team's return to the top 25 in a meeting with his players Sunday.

"I simply said, 'Does this have anything to do with us preparing to play our best game against Colorado?' And they all said, 'No.' Then we went on to something else," Pinkel said.

The 25th-ranked Tigers (4-0) were last ranked in the second week of the 2004 season before a 24-14 loss at Troy. Pinkel said he thinks this team is prepared to take being ranked in stride.

"I don't think that they think they're better than they are. I think that these guys are pretty well grounded," Pinkel said. "They understand each week you've got to prepare and then you go out and try to play your very, very best. I think the ranking is just what it is. They're aware of it. It doesn't change anything from our standpoint."

Extra points: A week after saying his team had "guys sauntering around like prima donnas" in a loss to TCU, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was pleased with the effort in a win over Southeastern Louisiana but wants to see it continue. "Is our attitude and mind-set really what it needs to be? Is it going to sustain? Are we going to revert back? Are we kind of a one-game or one-quarter or one-series wonder kind of guys? We're going to just have to see," Leach said. ... Baylor is the most penalized team in the nation, with 91.75 penalty yards per game. "We talk about that on a daily basis about being consciously aware of it," Bears coach Guy Morriss said. "So far, the message is not getting through."

Players of the week: The Big 12's players of the week were Nebraska tailback Marlon Lucky on offense, Texas defensive end Tim Crowder on defense and Oklahoma defensive back Reggie Smith on special teams.

Lucky had touchdown runs of 34, 45 and 51 yards - the longest three runs of his career - and finished with 156 rushing yards on 10 carries in the Cornhuskers' 56-0 win against Troy.

"During the week he had a little bit of a sore elbow that he was working through, and he just got continually better and more competitive as the game went on," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "The more you can get those guys the ball and see cuts and see holes, the better they'll be."

Crowder had eight tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hurries in Texas' 37-14 win against Iowa State. Smith had a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown in Oklahoma's 59-0 victory over Middle Tennessee.

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