<
>

What we learned in the Big 12 on Saturday?

10/12/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some things we learned in the Big 12 Saturday:

1. Cannibalization can be fun. After watching the Big 12's top two ranked teams fall by the wayside on Saturday, blowing halftime leads in the process, it will prove that each week in the conference will be an adventure this season. The conference's balance will make the road to the national championship game -- or even a BCS bowl game -- a hazardous proposition every week.

2. The success of this season's Texas team might be the ultimate vindication of Mack Brown's coaching acumen. In the old days, Brown was known as "Mr. February" for his recruiting success and many ascribed an asterisk to his 2005 national title because of Vince Young. But Brown has taken a team of good -- but not great -- talent this season and made them collectively much better through the sum of their individual parts in his best coaching job at Texas halfway through the season. In a way, this Texas team is reminiscent of the 2000 Oklahoma team that came out of nowhere to win the national championship. That Sooner team charged through a perilous October schedule, gaining confidence with each step before claiming the national title. This Texas team will have a similar opportunity over the next few weeks -- facing a schedule that might end up being even tougher.

3. Looking back, my helmet sticker analysis was a little hasty when I considered Oklahoma State's victory over Missouri. But I'm now thinking the whole Oklahoma State team should have been honored. The Cowboys made enough plays offensively to pull off the most stunning upset in school history with their win at Columbia. But the biggest reason for the victory was the play of an improving defense that has gotten better each week. More challenges await them. But these Cowboys are the biggest surprise in the Big 12 -- and maybe in college football -- at the halfway point of the season.

4. The national championship hopes of Missouri and Oklahoma aren't dead, but both are clearly on life support. Both teams have some major work in front of them with little margin for error during the rest of the season. The Tigers appear to have the easier path to do this, although a daunting challenge awaits them Saturday in Austin. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has all kinds of questions. The Sooners will be without the standout play of defensive leader Ryan Reynolds for the rest of the season. Former Stoops strengths like special teams and a running game have inexplicably disappeared. And a gauntlet of tough South Division teams still is awaiting them. It might be the biggest coaching challenge of Stoops' career to get this team back into South Division title contention.

5. Other Big 12 teams may have learned a lesson from Nebraska to beat Texas Tech. The best way to control the Red Raiders is to keep their offense on the sidelines and keep Graham Harrell and Co. off the field. The Cornhuskers nearly pulled off a monumental upset. And other more talented teams in the South Division will have a better chance of finishing that job -- especially if the Red Raiders don't get more consistent kicking from sputtering freshman Donnie Carona.