KENS 5: Sports
Big 12 Insider: Parity pops up this football season

Web Posted: 10/12/2007 02:50 PM CDT

Tim Griffin
San Antonio Express-News

As we reach the middle of the season, the Big 12 has been as mediocre – or competitive – as we all expected. It all depends on your definition.
The league might have the most pronounced parity in the history of the league. The North Division appears to be competitive with the South Division again. And save for Baylor and Iowa State, it looks like any of the 10 teams in the conference can win – or lose – depending on the circumstances from week to week.
The most notable example of this trend is South Division leader Texas A&M. The Aggies were humiliated in a loss at Miami. They nearly lost at home to Fresno State. And Coach Dennis Franchione’s name has been sullied after charges that he sold “state secrets” about his program to influential Aggie boosters for $1,200 per season in a VIP newsletter.
So how does his team respond when conference play begins? The Aggies respond by notching an impressive victory over Baylor and a comeback for the ages against Oklahoma State for a 2-0 start.
The Aggies’ meat-grinder schedule kicks in this week when they visit Texas Tech, a place where A&M hasn’t won since 1993. That game will later be followed by trips to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri before their traditional season-ending game against Texas.
So we might want to hold off printing the Aggies’ championship berth to San Antonio just yet. And Franchione still isn’t out of the woods as far as keeping his job – particularly if the Aggies turn into pumpkins during the second half of the season.
OU looked like a legitimate national contender with four impressive non-conference wins to start the season. But the Sooners were gassed in the high altitude at Colorado where they squandered a big lead in a loss to the Buffaloes. They then responded by beating UT last week at the Cotton Bowl to keep their title hopes alive.
The Longhorns qualify as one of the nation’s biggest disappointments. Colt McCoy has been bedeviled by a sophomore slump and Jamaal Charles has been hamstrung with inopportune fumbles. The offensive line has struggled protecting McCoy and the Longhorns haven’t been able to make big defensive plays in losses to Kansas State and OU.
Tech still has hopes for their first South Division title, mainly because of a talented pitch-and-catch combo of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree that threatens to obliterate the NCAA’s record book after a fast start. But the Red Raiders’ championship hopes will depend on the play of a defense that has developed a nasty attitude under new interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill as much as any video-game passing numbers from their offense.
OSU coach Mike Gundy received more notoriety than any other coach this season after his infamous rant about the work of a newspaper columnist than anything his team has accomplished. The Cowboys were fashionable dark-horse contenders this season, but have struggled with key penalties, turnovers and finding a quarterback.
And Baylor has struggled in conference play after a 3-1 start in non-conference action boosted their bowl hopes. Quarterback Blake Szymanski is posting some big numbers, but the rest of his team has lagged behind.
North Division preseason favorite Missouri has played as well as advertised. The Tigers have one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. Chase Daniel could play himself into prime Heisman consideration with a big game Saturday against OU.
The rest of the North looks similarly jumbled. Colorado looked woeful on offense early in losses to Arizona State and Florida State. But freshman quarterback Cody Hawkins has rebounded nicely and a defense has solidified to push the Buffaloes into prime title contention.
The North’s biggest surprise has been Kansas. Little was expected from the Jayhawks coming into the season. But Coach Mark Mangino’s team devoured a pillow-soft non-conference schedule has boosted them into an undefeated start. They looked like the real deal last week at KSU. But the next couple of weeks will tell how legitimate of a title contender the Jayhawks really are with games against Colorado and A&M.
The biggest disappointment in the North has been Nebraska. The media is on crisis watch for the Cornhuskers after extreme defensive woes during the first half of the season. Embarrassing losses to Southern California and Missouri have dropped them to a 4-2 record. But Nebraska legitimately could be 2-4, if not for victories in close games against Ball State and Wake Forest.
KSU showed the wackiness of the conference over a recent two-week period. The Wildcats delivered one of their most impressive victories in conference history when they went into Austin and delivered a ringing 41-21 triumph over the Longhorns, beating them in every phase of the game. But they looked bad coming off the triumph and couldn’t beat Kansas at home the following week.
And ISU coach Gene Chizik might be wondering why he needed to be a head coach so fast. Chizik earned an impressive “bragging rights” victory over Iowa, but has little else to show with five other losses. Included in the disappointments were struggling performances in a home loss to Division I-AA Northern Iowa and a special-teams meltdown that led to a loss at Toledo.
If the second half of the Big 12 race is as upside-down as the first part was, it should be an entertaining race to follow.
The surreal has become commonplace around the conference. And it should continue to be that way during the rest of the season.
Midseason Coach of the Year: It’s hard to argue with any of the league’s undefeated teams, but the edge goes to Kansas coach Mark Mangino, whose team wasn’t expected to be sitting where it is. Close – Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, Colorado’s Dan Hawkins.
Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: The league has had several offensive players with breakout seasons who are deserving of the honor. But the nod goes to Tech freshman receiver Michael Crabtree, who is on a pace to smash every Division I-A receiving mark with a strong second half. Close –Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, OU quarterback Sam Bradford.
Biggest midseason disappointment (player): UT quarterback Colt McCoy has struggled through a sophomore slump with as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes. Some of the problems haven’t been his fault, but his struggles have been symbolic of a program that hasn’t lived up to its national title expectations before the start of the season. Close – OSU quarterback Bobby Reid, UT wide receiver Limas Sweed, A&M running back Michael Goodson, Nebraska wide receiver Maurice Purify.
Biggest midseason disappointment (team): Texas. The Longhorns have struggled through their worst record to start conference play in 51 seasons. That came on the heels of off-the-field problems where seven Longhorn players have been arrested since June, including two players since the start of the season. The halcyon days of the Vince Young era have never seemed farther away. Close – Nebraska, OSU.