FOX Sports on MSN - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - North Division stating case in Big 12 North Division stating case in Big 12 Brandon Vogel For the past three seasons, the Big 12 has looked a lot like its Roman-numeral logo: two singular lines, representing Oklahoma and Texas, and one big ugly "X" representing everyone else. The space between them said it all: Two greater than 10, and through the first third of the 2007 season there had been little reason to believe anything was different. Of course, that all changed last Saturday. Colorado dealt unstoppable Oklahoma its first loss to a team from the great lite North since 2003. A couple hours later, Kansas State polished off a 41-21 pasting of the Longhorns in Austin, marking the Wildcats' first win over Texas since, well, the last time they played. Couple those two statement games with the fact that this week's AP poll features three teams from the North for the first time since, again, 2003, and you might have some signs of life from a division that's recently been left for dead. But in a season where the unthinkable has become almost unremarkable, it might be a bit early to declare that the North is back. If you're penciling in favorites in any conference, you'd be best advised to write lightly, but we do know this: The Big 12 race is officially wide open, and that's probably the best thing to happen to the conference in at least four years. The fall of the Big 12 from national respect to talk-radio ridicule is pretty easy to trace. It all began sometime late on the night of Dec. 6, 2003. On that date, Kansas State threw the last great punch from the North, beating an Oklahoma team that had spent the entire season atop the AP poll 35-7 in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game. Including that game, the Big 12 crown had swung back and forth between the two divisions on a yearly basis. The conference was competitive, an unquestioned heavyweight on the national scene. In its first 10 years of existence, the Big 12 saw one of its members play in six national title games. In 2000, five Big 12 teams started the season ranked in the preseason Top 25 and the conference finished with four in the top 12 after it was all said and done. Since that championship game in 2003, however, the conference may as well have been a match race. Only Oklahoma and Texas can claim conference crowns over that span and no team outside of the Red River rivals has reached the AP top five in more than five years. New Mexico, Troy, Montana State, Southern Mississippi, Marshall and Northern Iowa can all claim wins over favored Big 12 teams since that last conference title for Kansas State. The also-rans from the South share in some of that blame, but the public perception of the conference has been undeniably linked to the fall of its northernmost members. The North reached its nadir in 2005, when no team climbed higher than No. 22 in the polls and Colorado won the division with a 5-3 record before losing by 67 points to Texas in the conference championship game. Until Kevin Eberhart kicked his game-winning field goal on Saturday, completing Colorado's 17-point comeback, that was still the reputation of the North — a division full of middling teams who played for the right to be trounced by the South. Now, however, college football fans across the country have to at least entertain the notion that football is in fact played north of Norman. While the winner of this Saturday's Red River Rivalry game is still likely the favorite to take home the conference crown, for the rest of this week all we know is that the South's best has been beaten by the North. Dan Hawkins and the Buffs pulled off a stunner vs. Oklahoma. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images) Determining who exactly is the best in the North is a bit more difficult. Statistically speaking, Kansas is the most complete team in the Big 12 with the third-ranked offense and defense in the country, but Saturday's Sunflower State showdown will be their first game of the season against a team with a pulse. Meanwhile, Missouri has put up its usual gaudy numbers, including a win over Illinois that looks better each week, but September has never been the Tigers' problem. It's October and November that haunt the columns in Columbia, and we'll learn a lot more about the Tigers, too, when they open conference play at home against traditional bellwether Nebraska. With apologies to Iowa State, that leaves the only three programs to win conference titles out of the North: Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas State. After last week, both the Buffs and Wildcats look better off in Year 2 of their regime changes than Nebraska does in Year 4 under Bill Callahan. While the Cornhuskers have been exposed defensively, Colorado and Kansas State both boast top-15 defenses and each has faced a tougher schedule than either Oklahoma or Kansas, the two Big 12 schools topping them in total yards allowed. Of course, some of those ratings are sure to plunge as conference play picks up. It's never been more difficult to stop teams from scoring in the Big 12 as it has been this year. Half of the conference ranks among the top 30 teams in the country in terms of passing yards per game, and seven teams possess top 30 scoring offenses. And that's where this conference race will be decided. Which team is the best without the ball? For the time being, the Big 12 lost a legitimate national title contender last week but the conference could be on its way back to something much more valuable: National respect.