Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sorrentino: North making strides

May 7, 2008



"The Big 12 North division defeated the Big 12 South division in head-to-head, regular-season matchups last year for the first time in nine years. Here's how the matchups have gone in the Big 12 era:

1996: North, 12-61997: North, 11-71998: North, 10-81999: Tied, 9-92000: South, 10-82001: Tied, 9-92002: South, 11-72003: South, 12-62004: South, 15-32005: South, 11-72006: South, 13-52007: North, 10-8

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Comparing the Big 12 North football division to the Big 12 South division a few years ago used to be like comparing the NBA Eastern Conference to the Western Conference.

It never really took much thought. The answer was more obvious than a question on one of Jim Harrick's basketball exams at the University of Georgia.

Nowadays, it's different. There has been a shift of power in the last year in the Big 12. Thanks to a recent trend, the following statement next fall won't sound as senseless as it did just two years ago: The Big 12 North is a superior division to the Big 12 South.

Crazy? Thanks to Kansas and Missouri, not so crazy anymore.

Consider that last year was the first time in nine years the Big 12 North won more head-to-head battles against the Big 12 South. The North went 10-8 against the South in 18 regular-season games.

Kansas and Missouri, both 7-1 in 2007, brought the North to a level not seen in the division since 1999, when K-State and Nebraska both were 7-1 in the conference.

There's no reason the Big 12 North's supremacy should last just one year. Looking ahead to 2008, it's not out of the question for the North to trump the South again.

Missouri, which represented the North in the 2007 Big 12 Championship game, will have expectations to get back there. Everyone knows about 2007 Heisman finalist Chase Daniel, but what will make the Tigers a likely preseason Top-10 team is what will return around Daniel: home run threat wide receiver/special teams returner Jeremy Maclin and running/receiving threat Derrick Washington, the tailback. Furthermore, Missouri will return 10 starters on defense.

Kansas could start the year near the Top 10 as well. KU returns Todd Reesing and will surround him with a plethora of weapons, including running backs Jake Sharp and Jocques Crawford, who led all junior-college running backs with 1,935 rushing yards last year. Reesing loses Marcus Henry from the receiving corps, but will return Dezmon Briscoe, Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier. The KU defense is experienced, particularly in the secondary and at linebacker.

Nebraska has to be better than last year, when it went 2-6 in the Big 12 and gave up 37.9 points per game. First-year coach Bo Pelini, who was the defensive coordinator for LSU's championship team last season, should help.

Colorado, after a 4-4 conference season, also should be on the rise. Freshman running back Darrell Scott, one of the top recruits in the nation, should take pressure off quarterback Cody Hawkins. CU won't have to play OU or Texas Tech and drew UT at home.

The shift of power started last season, and it likely won't be fully recognized until the North wins the Big 12 championship, something it hasn't done in five years. It's up to these four teams to make it happen.


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