NCF Nation: Big 12 Conference


The Kansas State Wildcats showed why Big 12 pundits should be paying closer attention to Bill Snyder’s squad with a dominant 52-13 victory over Miami. Here’s a closer look at how it happened:

It was over when: Miami appeared to be driving to tie the game at 7-7 early in the first quarter, but KSU defensive end Adam Davis had other ideas, forcing a Eduardo Clements fumble which was recovered by Arthur Brown. Davis’ play gave the Wildcats all the momentum and, more importantly, sent the message that Davis and the rest of the KSU defense were going to be creating havoc for most of the game.

Game ball goes to: The Hurricanes didn't have an answer for Collin Klein. The Wildcats' quarterback accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) and showed improved passing skills. He’s not a finished product by any means but he’s improving, undoubtedly putting a scare into defensive coordinators across the Big 12.

Unsung hero: Davis. The Wildcats' linebacker forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks. If he was wearing No. 92 in black and gold, you would have sworn James Harrison was on the field.

Unsung hero, Take 2: While the skill position players get the attention, the Wildcats dominated the game in the trenches. KSU’s offensive line opened running lanes and paved the way for 498 total yards (288 rushing, 210 passing) on offense.

Heisman watch: Largely considered a dark-horse candidate, Klein could catapult into the Heisman conversation if he continues to play like he did on Saturday. The senior had 210 passing yards and 71 rushing yards in the win. The Wildcats’ Sept. 22 date with Oklahoma could be a defining moment.

What it means: The Wildcats' win boosts the BCS profile of the Big 12 Conference after a dominating win over an ACC opponent. And for KSU, the battle with the Sooners -- assuming KSU wins its home game against North Texas on Sept. 15 -- has become a huge game with national implications.

Press coverage: The nation's No. 2 league?

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
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The SEC is king in college football after producing each of the last four national champions. That won't change until a team from another league hoists the crystal football.

But the SEC has a reason to look over its shoulder this season. Several of them, in fact. The Big 12, Pac-10 and Big Ten are trying to catch the SEC, and all three leagues can make cases for being the nation's No. 2 conference right now. According to the ESPN Stats & Info conference power rankings, the Big 12 is No. 2, followed by the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.

Which conference is right behind the SEC?

Bloggers David Ubben (Big 12), Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) weigh in.

Adam Rittenberg: What the Big Ten lacks -- an undefeated team -- it more than makes up for with incredible depth. The league boasts three 1-loss teams in Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, all of which could finish 11-1. It also boasts a veteran Iowa team that no one wants to face in a bowl, in addition to decent squads like Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan. Even Illinois has made some major strides from 2009.

[+] EnlargeIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe Big Ten boasts some great talent at quarterback, including Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who ranks third in the nation.
This is the deepest the Big Ten has been since 2006, when it entered late November with the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 team and three teams -- Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin -- ranked in the top 7 of the final BCS standings. The Big Ten's rise also has occurred while Michigan rebuilds. The league also has significantly upgraded its quarterback play, boasting five of the nation's top 15 rated passers. Although the Big Ten's nonconference performance was just so-so, competition within the league seems to be largely undervalued by those evil BCS computers. A top-tier SEC or Big 12 program seems to get much more credit for beating a mid-level team in its league than Wisconsin gets for beating Iowa on the road or Michigan State gets for beating Northwestern on the road. The human voters see the Big Ten in a different light.

The Big Ten finished the 2009-10 bowl season as the nation's No. 2 conference, recording four victories against top 15 opponents.

Nothing has changed to move the Big Ten off of the second line.

David Ubben: Hey, I get it. In college football, a conference is only as strong as its strongest link. That's how the expression goes, right? Gimme a break.

The Big 12 has landed a team in the title game in each of the past two seasons. Despite being on the outside looking in on this year's chase, the league still has five teams in the top 20, and earlier this year, nine teams were in the poll or receiving votes. All that should be even more impressive considering the league's glamour program, Texas, at 4-6, is having a "down year" that is insulting to down years. Nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins for the Longhorns has come to a rather spectacularly bad end.

But otherwise, strength is everywhere. Baylor is having one of the program's best years and should be just as good in 2011. Missouri, had they not tripped up at Texas Tech, could be in the top 10. Oklahoma State has emerged as the league's surprise top 10 team and Nebraska is proving everybody wrong who thought they were overrated in the preseason. Texas A&M struggled early, but has won four Big 12 games in a row to reach the top 20. All in a down year for the two programs who have ruled the conference, Oklahoma and Texas.

Outside of Colorado, which is leaving anyway, and rebuilding Kansas, every team in the league is proving to be, at the very least, capable. Iowa State, despite playing the toughest schedule in college football, still has a chance to qualify for a bowl, and if Texas does the same by beating rival Texas A&M, the league could have 10 bowl-eligible teams.

So maybe the Big 12 doesn't have a team vying for the crystal football this year, but it has a whole lot of really good teams, and a handful of others who are proving there's no such thing as an easy week in the Big 12.

Ted Miller: Over at the Pac-10, we're grinning. We're about to point out the Pac-10 plays a nine-game conference schedule, which automatically adds five losses to the conference, which, of course, hurts the conference's national perception, not to mention its number of bowl-eligible teams. Every other BCS conference plays eight, other than the eight-team Big East. But that’s not why we're grinning. We're grinning because the Big Ten and the Big 12 will do that soon, and then they'll find out the perception consequence of not giving your entire conference an extra win with a nonconference patsy. Of course, the savvy SEC will continue to play eight conference games, schedule weak nonconference opponents and then trumpet itself as super-awesome.

Why is the Pac-10 No. 2? Well, it's got the nation's No. 1 team in Oregon. It's got the nation's No. 6 team in Stanford, which many believe to be the nation's best one-loss team. And four of 10 teams are ranked. Are Iowa and Wisconsin good teams? Absolutely. But Iowa lost to Arizona, which has three Pac-10 defeats, and Wisconsin got a fluky one-point win at home over Arizona State, which is 2-5 in the Pac-10. The Pac-10 is 10-4 overall vs. other BCS conferences. It's ranked No. 1 by the Sagarin ratings, which for some reason don't believe stadium size is a true measure of a team or a conference. Even lowly Washington State is no longer the pushover it was the previous two seasons.

Depth? Let's put it this way: The Pac-10 would love to match the team that ends up second to last in its conference versus the one that ends up in that spot anywhere else.

Rittenberg: Three strong cases for the No. 2 spot. But are any of these leagues closing the gap with the SEC?

Ubben: I guess we'll find out come bowl season, but I don't know that anybody in the Big 12 is in position for a run like the SEC's enjoyed in the latter half of the last decade.

Oklahoma and Texas will be Oklahoma and Texas, but the strength of the Big 12 has been a rising middle class with teams like Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M and maybe Baylor and Texas Tech positioning themselves to become mainstays in the top 25 during the next couple years or beyond.

That's good for the computer ratings, but not good for a league trying to field a national champion. And for better or worse, a league's ultimate identity boils down to its best team or two. Thanks to that rising middle class, getting inside the top five and staying there could be harder than ever in the next few years.

[+] EnlargeOregon quarterback Darron Thomas
AP Photo/Paul SakumaThe SEC might be the top rated conference, but the Pac-10's Darren Thomas leads the nation's No. 1 team in Oregon.
Miller: Are we talking reality or perception? Because the SEC's ostensible superiority is largely about perception -- i.e., fan passion equals great football. The Pac-10 has a winning record vs. the SEC over the past decade, and the Big Ten has done just fine vs. the SEC in the Capital One and Outback Bowls. The SEC is probably No. 1, but the margin is thin, and the conference refuses to prove its superiority during the regular season by consistently scheduling tough nonconference games.

When USC ruled the Pac-10 from 2002-2008, folks called the conference the Trojans and the nine dwarfs. Now that USC has fallen, Oregon has risen, and teams such as Stanford and Arizona also have made moves. But USC will be back. That's just inevitable. And if Utah continues to play at a high level after it joins the Pac-12, you could make the case that the Pac-10 should start to produce multiple top-10 teams and five or six top-25 teams annually, which would put it on par with the SEC.

And, honestly, with resurgent Nebraska joining the Big Ten, I'm not sure we won't have a new No. 1 conference in 2011 anyway.

Rittenberg: Well, Ted made most of my points for me. I'll be sending a gift basket to Scottsdale.

The Big Ten certainly has matched up well with the SEC in the Capital One and Outback bowls, and the addition of Nebraska next fall truly enhances the league's clout. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany often points out the only way his league truly regains national respect is by beating the best from another conference at the championship level. The Big Ten still gets bashed for Ohio State's stumbles against the SEC in the BCS title game, and barring a wild final three weeks, a Big Ten squad won't be facing Auburn on Jan. 10 in Glendale. So the Big Ten must wait for that true statement game.

When I look at these two leagues from top to bottom, I don't see much difference. The Big Ten has continued to build off of its strong finish to 2009, while the SEC seems to have backslid. All you need to do is look at the SEC East division. Could Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State beat Auburn or LSU? It's possible, but I really think the entire league matches up better now with what the SEC is offering.

Like Ted writes, it's all about perception. Until a team from another league beats the SEC at the highest level, the SEC will keep living off of its incredible run.

But the Big Ten is catching up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

By all accounts, 2008 was a landmark season for Big 12 football.

The unprecedented three-way tie for the South Division championship that involved Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma made the conference must-see television for the second half of the season for fans across the country. Attention was riveted to the conference unlike any previous time in the Big 12's history.

It should be more of the same this season as strong races are expected in both the North and South Divisions.

The conference again will feature cutting-edge offensive units that will score boatloads of points and be powered by the most talented collection of quarterbacks that can be found anywhere.

Those numbers are nice, but the Big 12's lack of defensive production is the main reason I still think it ranks behind the Southeastern Conference.

The top athletes in the Big 12 are clustered on offensive units, helping to result in shootouts.

In the SEC, those same athletes seem to end up playing defense. It might not be as much fun to watch, but the physical nature is apparent.

In recent bowl games, the Big 12 has struggled to match that defensive nature of the SEC for many statement-making victories.  Oklahoma's loss to Florida in the BCS title game and Texas Tech's defeat to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl last year indicated there's still a gap between defenses found in the SEC and the Big 12.

The SEC also has a deeper concentration of top teams, as seen by its four teams in the top 10 when the USA Today coaches' poll was released earlier today.

It doesn't mean the Big 12 won't be exciting or fun to watch this season. Because it will be -- again.

But until Big 12 teams can notch some statement-making victories where defense isn't an afterthought, its national perception will continue to lag behind the SEC's.

The rest of the nation is no comparison. Big 12 teams can occasionally win their BCS bowl games, unlike the ACC. It might not have the fancy television network of the Big Ten, but has a more exciting brand of football to showcase. And it's not nearly as top heavy as the Pac-10 with its concentration of USC and Oregon at the top and little balance after.

Here's my ranking of the top eight conferences heading into the upcoming season

    1. SEC
    2. Big 12
    3. ACC
    4. Big Ten
    5. Pac-10
    6. MWC
    7. Big East
    8. WAC
      Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

      As media days have started across the various automatic qualifying and nonautomatic qualifying leagues, there has been one common theme -- the BCS.

      Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said last week that his conference is not going to stop fighting to reform the system that crowns the national champion despite signing an agreement that keeps the system the same for the next four years.

      "You try not to get into the money game, but it is about money, huge money," Thompson said at Mountain West media days in Las Vegas last week. "The only way the BCS changes is if 10 conferences, four bowls and ESPN agree to a change. We've got a contrarian position. We need to get everybody involved or there won't be change."

      But getting everyone involved is the problem.

      In Sunday's Dallas Morning News, Big 12 Conference commissioner Dan Beebe had some fervid words for the Mountain West and its plight to change the current BCS system.

      "I was very disturbed about any of our conferences that are a part of the BCS coming out after we negotiated with television and then proposing drastic changes to the system ...," Beebe told The Dallas Morning News.

      "I went to my board last December with the ESPN contract and got approval to sign it. Afterward, the Mountain West makes these proposals and acts like we're holding a gun to their head on the television contract."

      Beebe also responded to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who compared the BCS to communism when the Mountain West took its fight to Capitol Hill in May during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee.

      "My memory of when I studied history and Karl Marx was that a major tenet of communism involved taking from each according to their ability and giving to each according to their need," Beebe said.

      "It's ironic we're being labeled as communists when what was actually being asked of us was to be more communistic, taking from those of us who produce more in the marketplace and giving to those who don't produce in the marketplace."

      While Beebe's words might be the strongest of all the commissioners who have decided to tackle the BCS criticism, both SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford agreed they didn't see any changes to the BCS happening anytime soon.

      Slive said he didn't think university presidents, chancellors and commissioners would support a playoff. And Swofford, who has been the BCS coordinator for the past two years, admitted that the current BCS system isn't perfect, but didn't expect much to change.

      "In terms of the next five years, I think what we're going to see is the BCS, by and large, as it is today, and then we'll go from there," Swofford said during ACC media days.

      "It's not perfect. We know that. It is controversial. We know that. But like it or not, I think it has reached its goals and what it's there for."

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      The media that regularly cover the Big 12 have selected Texas and Oklahoma as co-No. 1 teams of the South Division in the conference's annual preseason poll.

      Both teams received 174 points in the balloting of 32 media members. Texas had 17 first-place votes and Oklahoma had 15. They were followed in order by Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M.

      Nebraska got the nod in the Big 12's North Division in the media poll. The Cornhuskers had 172 points and 17 first-place votes, compared to 164 points and 12 first-place votes for second-place Kansas and Missouri was third with three first-place votes and 124 points. The other Big 12 North teams in order were Colorado, Kansas State and Iowa State.

      The conference will release its preseason All-Big 12 team on Friday in advance of the conference's media days that begin Monday in Arlington, Texas.

      Here's a look at the media balloting, with the number of first-place votes in parentheses, followed by the point totals. 

      North Division
      1. Nebraska (17) 172
      2. Kansas (12) 164
      3. Missouri (3) 124
      4. Colorado 100
      5. Kansas State 81
      6. Iowa State 33

      South Division
      1. Texas (17) 174
      1. Oklahoma (15) 174
      3. Oklahoma State 130
      4. Texas Tech 89
      5. Baylor 75
      6. Texas A&M 33

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      The gloom-and-doom financial talk that eminated out of the Big 12 meetings this week seemed a little disingenuous.

      It really got to be that way -- at least for me -- when conference officials informed us that conference members would be splitting up a record $130 million pie among the conference members.

      That figure represented an increase of nearly 15 percent over last season's record disbursement.

      Obviously, the cost of running an athletic department has gotten much more expensive in recent seasons. Just like it has for all of the rest of us, I might add.

      While paying for team charters and scholarships have risen, the money that the conference is giving back to its member institutions keeps rising, too. Along with ticket prices, parking costs, concession prices and everything else.

      Those numbers should keep going up in the future.

      The Big 12's television contract is coming up for negotiation. Commissioner Dan Beebe and the member institutions will have the difficult but potentially lucrative decision of figuring whether starting their own television network will be better for them financially than being paid not to start one. The Big Ten took one road. The Southeastern Conference took the other.

      That will come on the heels of new deals with the Big 12's bowl partners after the 2010 season. The financial climate should be better by then. And I would be shocked if the Big 12 can't make more money in their next grouping of bowl deals than in the current one.

      The Big 12 is a hot national property. Exciting offenses and big scoring numbers caught the nation's football imagination last season. Look at how many times ESPN made trips to Big 12 games last season -- particularly in the latter stages of the season.

      It should be even better this season with many of the key players back for more. The nation will be getting another heavy dose of Big 12 football again this season. It should be the same way for basketball, too.

      So while the conference grapples with the idea of doing away with media guides and foreign trips for its athletes, I still keep coming back to that 15 percent growth rate from a previous record season.

      Most businesses in today's economic climate would be turning cartwheels if they could achieve those kind of numbers.

      I've got to believe that the Big 12 school presidents secretly were the same way when they learned about them, too.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Worried about those post-championship game blues? Don't worry about the trauma. Here are some lunchtime links that will nurture you back from that disappointment -- particularly if you are an avid Missouri fan still getting over the Tigers' 41-point loss in Kansas City on Saturday night.

      • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman proposes some changes that would help fix the BCS. And his weekly top 10 observations from the couch discuss Bob Stoops running up the score, Stoops' future employment possibilities and why the Big 12 football championship games needs to stay in South Division locales.
      • Dominant play in championship games by Oklahoma and Florida removed any real drama about the BCS's championship game announcements, Dallas Morning News Big 12 columnist Chuck Carlton wrote.
      • Kansas City Star editorial page writer Yael T. Abouhalkah ventures into sportswriting with a bold claim: The Big 12 should go 7-0 in its bowl games this season.
      • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is facing a high-risk, high-reward opportunity in Oklahoma's BCS national title game against Florida, according to the Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel.
      • After a disappointing loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that Missouri must regroup to face Northwestern.
      • Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal writes that it's not unexpected that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach would skip out on a media teleconference announcing the Red Raiders' Cotton Bowl matchup against Mississippi.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here are some things we learned over the Big 12's final weekend.

      1. However Sunday's BCS announcement plays out, it's clear that the Big 12 should have taken a more active role in promoting transparency for the final BCS vote of the regular season. Obviously, one group of fans will be happy and the other two will be irate when the final decision comes down in a couple of hours about which South Division team will advance to Saturday night's conference championship game. It would have behooved Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to have pushed to make sure all of the votes of the coaches and pollsters should have become public.

      As it stands now, shrouded in secrecy, all kinds of conspiracy theories will be floated after the vote is released. Everybody's vote should have been common knowledge -- just like it will be next week when the BCS bowls will be released. Because playing for a conference championship game will be just as important to those schools as playing in a BCS bowl game.

      2. There's a reason why Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds' move of hiring Will Muschamp as the Longhorns' head-coaching designate was so smart. It will be seen in his work next season with his second Texas defense. The Longhorns' defense has been one of their biggest strengths all season. Texas has limited opponents to an average of 11.5 yards rushing per game and 0.5 yards per carry in the last two games, outscoring opponents 84-16. Muschamp will have a chance to build on those concepts in his second season. He'll have to rebuild a defensive front that will lose all of its starters. Texas will return only five defensive starters. But having Muschamp back to direct the team, rather than starting his head coaching career someplace else with somebody else calling defensive signals, clearly benefits the Texas program in the short term.

      3. If there was such an award as the Big 12's most improved defense player, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh would win the honor. Before Bo Pelini arrived at Nebraska, Suh had been an underachieving disappointment. But he's blossomed this year into Nebraska's leading tackler -- an extremely rare occurrence for a defensive tackle -- and its top defensive playmaker. The work by Pelini and his brother, Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, is seen all over Suh's transformation.

      4. The best story of the final weekend in the conference played out in Kansas City, where Kansas former quarterback rivals Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up for a dramatic comeback victory over Missouri. Reesing might be the most underrated quarterback in college football and Meier persevered despite an injury that made his availability doubtful earlier in the week. Meier produced a career-best 14 receptions, showing the skill at the position that makes most NFL scouts are predict that he'll have a professional career at wide receiver for Meier. Working together, Reesing and Meier helped the Jayhawks to their first back-to-back bowl berths in school history.

      5. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach provided an obvious indication Saturday why he deserves to be the Big 12's Coach of the Year this season. His team was clearly flat coming into the Baylor game, a result of their draining and emotional loss to Oklahoma last week. Tech was forced to play without likely All-Big 12 safety Daniel Charbonnet from the start. Michael Crabtree suffered an ankle injury that left him in street clothes along the sidelines for the second half. And Graham Harrell suffered a finger injury to his non-throwing hand that likely will require surgery early this week, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.

      Despite those handicaps and a two-touchdown deficit, Leach kept the Red Raiders focused as they persevered for a gutsy victory over the Bears and claimed a share of their first Big 12 South Division title. It likely won't be enough to get them into a BCS bowl, but still showed why Leach is an underrated motivator to go along with his clear offensive genius.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here are a few Big 12 stories to tide you over with the leftovers until the Nebraska-Colorado game starts this afternoon.

      Enjoy the game. It's a good excuse to stay out of the shopping malls today.

      • Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple calls today's Nebraska-Colorado game "The Rumble for Relevancy."
      • Topeka Capital-Journal columnist Kevin Haskin suggests that Kansas State should proceed with caution before hiring a trendy head-coaching designate with new 69-year-old coach Bill Snyder taking over.
      • A history-making potential three-way tie in the South Division has the Big 12 flirting with gridlock, the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff writes.
      • Cotton Bowl officials told Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams that Texas Tech is receiving heavy consideration for their Jan. 2 bowl game.
      • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel opines about the pressure that will be facing Oklahoma State's defense, Oklahoma kicker Jimmy Stevens and Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder's controversial ticket policy in Saturday's "Bedlam Game" between the Sooners and Cowboys.
      • Loquacious Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is as relentless on the field as he is carefree when he's laughing and joking with his friends off the field, Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here are some trends I'm watching for this weekend in Big 12 games:

      1. The Big 12 South race -- The tightest Big 12 divisional race in history is playing out as Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma enter the final week of the season tied for first place in the South Division. If all three win, it will send league officials scurrying to the Bowl Championship Series standings to determine who will meet Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game next week. In case of a two-way tie, Texas Tech holds the tiebreaker over Texas, Texas holds the edge over Oklahoma and the Sooners would advance if tied with Texas Tech. It will make the fine art of earning style points very important in all games this weekend for the three South challengers.

      2. The Heisman race heats up -- Texas' Colt McCoy, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell are involved in a similarly tight battle for the Heisman. Most voters are expected to hold onto their votes until after next week's championship game, providing an edge for the quarterback that finishes with the biggest late-season performances. All of them have that chance heading into this week's games.

      3. Texas' revitalized strength in the trenches -- Texas players were humiliated after they were whipped inside in embarrassing losses to Texas A&M in the last two seasons. It's given them a chip on their shoulders as they prepare for Thursday's game in Austin. Texas coaches pushed the Longhorns through rougher practices leading up to the A&M game, hoping that the harder work would toughen them for an inexperienced Aggie team that doesn't appear to have the interior strength this season as some of former coach Dennis Franchione's previous squads.

      4. Stephen McGee's last hurrah -- McGee earned a place in Aggie lore by directing two dramatic victories over the Longhorns in the last two seasons. He's lost his starting place after injuring his shoulder earlier this season, giving way to record-breaking sophomore Jerrod Johnson. Would A&M coach Mike Sherman consider giving McGee a chance to play in a tight game because of his previous success over the Longhorns? It will be interesting if McGee will get to play in what will be the last game of his college career with the Aggies.

      5. Can the Sooners play any better? -- Oklahoma produced one of the most complete games of coach Bob Stoops' tenure with an impressive 65-21 drubbing of Texas Tech that resuscitated the Sooners' national title hopes. The Sooners notched an impressive beatdown over Texas Tech, cruising to a 42-7 halftime advantage in a game that was over early. Can they duplicate that emotion in what should be a tough battle against old foe Oklahoma State on the road? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes and chances to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game will be riding on it.

      6. Kendall Hunter's gimpy quadriceps muscle -- The Big 12's leading rusher was injured midway through Oklahoma State's victory over Colorado two weeks ago. Coach Mike Gundy expects Hunter to be ready to play Saturday against Oklahoma. If Hunter isn't 100 percent, it will be much more difficult for the Cowboys to spring a home upset. And it would also mean more work for backup Keith Toston and place more demands on other phases of the Cowboys' balanced offensive attack.

      7. Any hangover for the Red Raiders? -- Texas Tech's national title hopes were quashed by their humiliating loss, a performance where they allowed more points than in any game in school history. The Red Raiders still have legitimate hopes to rebound and claim their first berth in a Big 12 Championship Game if they can beat Baylor and other variables work in their favor. But they won't have any hopes unless they blot those bad Norman memories very quickly in Harrell's last home game.

      8. Art Briles' return to Lubbock -- The Baylor coach is a Texas Tech graduate, was an original member of Mike Leach's staff and still has many friends and family members in the area. Despite that association, Briles would like nothing better than to unleash freshman quarterback Robert Griffin on his old team and hope he ends their Big 12 title game hopes in the process.

      9. Not much national buzz at Arrowhead Stadium this time for Missouri-Kansas -- The rest of the country is greeting Kansas-Missouri this season with a collective yawn.
      The Tigers have already wrapped up the North Division title. But it won't matter in this blood feud between these two bitter rivals. Chase Daniel will be gunning to make history as he attempts to beat the Jayhawks for the third straight time. Kansas coach Mark Mangino just hopes his defense will show up after being toasted for 209 points in its last five games. Missouri's high-powered offensive attack will provide a huge challenge for the struggling Jayhawks, who are headed for back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history.

      10. Bowl hopes in Lincoln -- Surging Nebraska can take a big step to earning a New Year's Day bowl game by beating Colorado. Underrated Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz will be putting the finishing touches on one of the top statistical seasons in school history. He'll be facing an injury-depleted Colorado secondary that likely will be starting freshmen safeties Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke against him. That group needs a big performance as the Buffaloes must win in order to become bowl eligible.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      The Big 12's bowl alignment isn't any clearer after only two games last week. The conference could have one, two or maybe even three teams in the BCS depending on how things work out.

      The only assurance appears that Nebraska is poised to crack New Year's Day for the first time since playing in the Cotton Bowl in 2006 if they can win Friday against Colorado.

      The conference's strength at the top is coming with a price, however. The Big 12 likely won't be able to fulfill its bowl obligations, leaving at least one partner and maybe two, scrambling through other options.

      No matter how this weekend plays out, it seems extremely unlikely the Big 12 won't have two teams in the BCS. And after that, the other bowls appear to be falling into line in an orderly manner with one week left in the regular season.

      Because of the uncertainty at the top, bowls above the Alamo Bowl likely will not be able to arrange matchups until the final BCS standings are released on Dec. 7.

      Here's a look at how the bowl possibilities for each of the school schools that still have a chance heading into this week's games.

      Colorado
      The Buffaloes must win at Nebraska on Friday to have any hope of making a bowl trip. Colorado has played well there before, winning two of the last three games at Memorial Stadium. But Dan Hawkins will be making his first trip there in a game where his bowl chances are on the line.

      • Possibilities: Independence Bowl, Texas Bowl.
      • Prediction: None.

      Kansas
      The slumping Jayhawks are set for a bowl no matter how they play this week against Missouri. But a victory would provide them with some badly needed momentum, considering they have lost four of their last five games after starting the season 5-1. It's already a good year in one respect as coach Mark Mangino's team is making history with the first back-to-back bowl trips in the 119-season history of the program.

      • Possibilities: Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl, Independence Bowl.
      • Prediction: Insight Bowl.

      Missouri
      The Tigers' national title hopes were killed by two embarrassing October losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. But Gary Pinkel has done a nice job of refocusing his team for the task at hand, which was winning the Big 12 North. After doing that, they have a chance to play in the Big 12 title game for the second straight season. A victory there would enable them to crash the BCS and throw the Big 12's neat plans for an orderly bowl configuration on its ear. A Big 12 title win likely would send the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl. A loss means they most likely could end up heading to San Diego or San Antonio, where memories are not good after last season's second-half collapse against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

      • Possibilities: Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Gator Bowl.
      • Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

      Nebraska
      The Cornhuskers have been one of the Big 12's hottest teams after winning four of their last five games since their midseason three-game losing streak. If Nebraska can win against Colorado, they could soar into a New Year's Day game at the Gator Bowl against old rival Florida State. A loss -- or a Notre Dame upset victory over USC Saturday in Los Angeles -- means they are most likely headed to Phoenix or El Paso.

      • Possibilities: Gator Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl.
      • Prediction: Gator Bowl.

      Oklahoma
      The Sooners' demolition of Texas Tech has resuscitated their BCS hopes. A win over Oklahoma State on Saturday improves their portfolio and could push them into the Big 12 title game for a history-making third straight time. And a victory there could boost them into serious BCS national title game discussion. The Sooners are the hottest Big 12 team down the stretch. They've played like it during a recent spurt since their midseason loss to Texas, averaging 59.2 points in their last five games.

      • Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.
      • Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

      Oklahoma State
      The Cowboys will have a lot of fans in Lubbock this week as a victory over Oklahoma would boost the Red Raiders into the Big 12 title game. Mike Gundy's team is poised to make its best bowl trip since the 2004 Cotton Bowl depending how they play next week. The Cowboys are a regional bowl's dream team because of the way they travel, and bowls in Dallas, San Antonio and Shreveport would salivate at their chances to get them. But that support might convince an out-of-the-region bowl like the Holiday or Gator might take a chance if the Cowboys upset Oklahoma this week.

      • Possibilities: Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Gator Bowl
      • Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

      Texas
      After soaring to No. 2 in the BCS standings this week, the Longhorns have serious national title hopes. And that could be maintained, even if they don't play in the Big 12 Championship Game. The first priority is to beat Texas A&M this week and let the other possibilities take care of themselves.

      • Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.
      • Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

      Texas Tech
      The Red Raiders must pick up the pieces after their humiliating loss at Oklahoma last week. They still have perhaps the easiest path to make a trip to their first Big 12 title game by winning along with Texas and hoping that Oklahoma State stuns Oklahoma on Saturday. However it plays out, the Red Raiders' offensive firepower will be attractive to a number of bowls. But their BCS bowl hopes are likely shot unless they can win the Big 12 title.

      • Possibilities: Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl.
      • Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      The Big 12 is receiving unprecedented national attention this season. Most observers consider the teams at the top of the conference as good collectively as any in the nation.

      But that upper dominance has come with a price. The strength bunched at the top will likely result in the conference being unable to fulfill its bowl obligations -- likely in history-making proportions.

      The conference will already fall one bowl short of its obligations if it snags a second BCS bowl bid, as it appears likely to do. And it could fall two short unless Colorado notches a season-ending upset at Nebraska in its final game of the season.

      If Colorado loses, it would mark the first time since 1997 that a Big 12 bowl team hasn't played in the Independence Bowl. And the Texas Bowl in Houston could again be without a Big 12 team for a second straight season.

      All of the sorting will take place over the next two weeks. But for all of the strength at the top, the Big 12 still might not be able to complete its bowl portfolio come December.

      Here's a look how each team could shake out during the final three weeks of the season:

      Colorado: The offensively-challenged 5-6 Buffaloes have to win Nov. 28 in Lincoln over Nebraska to gain bowl eligibility. Colorado always plays well in Lincoln, winning two of their last three games there. That would earn the young Buffaloes a bowl trip to either Houston or Shreveport, La., and some important extra practices in December.

      Possibilities: Independence Bowl, Texas Bowl.

      Prediction: None.

      Kansas: The slumping Jayhawks need a victory over Missouri to provide momentum after back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Texas. But they've already made history by making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in the 119-season history of the program. Their final location will depend on the Nebraska-Colorado game and their regular-season finale.

      Possibilities: Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl, Independence Bowl.

      Prediction: Insight Bowl.

      Missouri: Two straight October losses killed their national title hopes. But the Tigers can throw a monkey wrench into the Big 12's national title hopes with an upset in the title game -- not out of the realm of possibility considering the game's location in Kansas City and how they've been playing recently. Even with a loss, the Tigers figure to be traveling to somewhere warm for their bowl game.

      Possibilities: Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Gator Bowl.

      Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

      Nebraska: Bo Pelini has got the Cornhuskers believing after an impressive recent spurt. A win against Colorado, and some help from elsewhere around the country, could point them to the Gator Bowl. But the Alamo or Sun bowls are more likely destinations.

      Possibilities: Gator Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl.

      Prediction: Sun Bowl.

      Oklahoma: The Sooners have the kind of closing schedule that could catapult them into the Big 12 title game and maybe even the national championship game. Or it could leave them in a much lesser bowl game depending on the results. Tough closing games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State might be tougher than anything the Sooners would face in the postseason.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

      Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have a chance improve their bowl portfolio with their first 10-win season since 1988. And a victory over Oklahoma in the Bedlam Game might nab them a New Year's Day Bowl and a possible delicious rematch with Les Miles and LSU in the Cotton Bowl.

      Possibilities: Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Gator Bowl

      Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

      Texas: The Longhorns still have serious national championship hopes alive with only a game against Texas A&M remaining. They need a big victory to impress the BCS computers and some help from with other BCS favorites dropping to sneak their way in. Depending on that game's results and how the South plays out, the Longhorns could play in Miami or end up in San Diego.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

      Texas Tech: A 10-0 start has the Red Raiders harboring serious mid-November national title hopes for the first time in school history. A victory this week over Oklahoma nails down their first Big 12 Championship Game appearance. A loss means they will likely have to rely on BCS standings to get there. If Tech can get past Missouri in the Big 12 title game -- and they've lost five or six to the Tigers in the Big 12 era -- it would earn them the first BCS berth in school history.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      The Big 12 is receiving unprecedented national attention this season. Most observers consider the teams at the top of the conference as good collectively as any in the nation.

      But that upper dominance has come with a price. The strength bunched at the top will likely result in the conference being unable to fulfill its bowl obligations -- likely in history-making proportions.

      The conference will already fall one bowl short of its obligations if it snags a second BCS bowl bid, as it appears likely to do. And it could fall two short unless Colorado notches a season-ending upset at Nebraska in its final game of the season.

      If Colorado loses, it would mark the first time since 1997 that a Big 12 bowl team hasn't played in the Independence Bowl. And the Texas Bowl in Houston could again be without a Big 12 team for a second straight season.

      All of the sorting will take place over the next two weeks. But for all of the strength at the top, the Big 12 still might not be able to complete its bowl portfolio come December.

      Here's a look how each team could shake out during the final three weeks of the season:

      Colorado: The offensively-challenged 5-6 Buffaloes have to win Nov. 28 in Lincoln over Nebraska to gain bowl eligibility. Colorado always plays well in Lincoln, winning two of their last three games there. That would earn the young Buffaloes a bowl trip to either Houston or Shreveport, La., and some important extra practices in December.

      Possibilities: Independence Bowl, Texas Bowl.

      Prediction: None.

      Kansas: The slumping Jayhawks need a victory over Missouri to provide momentum after back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Texas. But they've already made history by making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in the 119-season history of the program. Their final location will depend on the Nebraska-Colorado game and their regular-season finale.

      Possibilities: Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl, Independence Bowl.

      Prediction: Insight Bowl.

      Missouri: Two straight October losses killed their national title hopes. But the Tigers can throw a monkey wrench into the Big 12's national title hopes with an upset in the title game -- not out of the realm of possibility considering the game's location in Kansas City and how they've been playing recently. Even with a loss, the Tigers figure to be traveling to somewhere warm for their bowl game.

      Possibilities: Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Gator Bowl.

      Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

      Nebraska: Bo Pelini has got the Cornhuskers believing after an impressive recent spurt. A win against Colorado, and some help from elsewhere around the country, could point them to the Gator Bowl. But the Alamo or Sun bowls are more likely destinations.

      Possibilities: Gator Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl, Insight Bowl.

      Prediction: Sun Bowl.

      Oklahoma: The Sooners have the kind of closing schedule that could catapult them into the Big 12 title game and maybe even the national championship game. Or it could leave them in a much lesser bowl game depending on the results. Tough closing games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State might be tougher than anything the Sooners would face in the postseason.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

      Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have a chance improve their bowl portfolio with their first 10-win season since 1988. And a victory over Oklahoma in the Bedlam Game might nab them a New Year's Day Bowl and a possible delicious rematch with Les Miles and LSU in the Cotton Bowl.

      Possibilities: Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Gator Bowl

      Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

      Texas: The Longhorns still have serious national championship hopes alive with only a game against Texas A&M remaining. They need a big victory to impress the BCS computers and some help from with other BCS favorites dropping to sneak their way in. Depending on that game's results and how the South plays out, the Longhorns could play in Miami or end up in San Diego.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

      Texas Tech: A 10-0 start has the Red Raiders harboring serious mid-November national title hopes for the first time in school history. A victory this week over Oklahoma nails down their first Big 12 Championship Game appearance. A loss means they will likely have to rely on BCS standings to get there. If Tech can get past Missouri in the Big 12 title game -- and they've lost five or six to the Tigers in the Big 12 era -- it would earn them the first BCS berth in school history.

      Possibilities: BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Holiday Bowl.

      Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Here are some lunchtime links for your noon-time edification.

      Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

      Let's get linked up over an early lunch. Lots of good stories across the conference today.

      • Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle does a nice job on a story about the perils of personal web pages for athletes. Best factoid in the piece is that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has a MySpace page where you learn under his personal profile that his favorite movie is Rio Bravo and his interests include pirate history, football and throwing stuff.
      • No more charges about being a "system quarterback." John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald writes that Graham Harrell deserves all of his Heisman Trophy mention he's receiving.
      • Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera writes that Ron Prince didn't receive a fair shake when he was dismissed after less than three seasons at Kansas State. But, Ringo writes, at least Prince gets to move back to civilization after he leaves Manhattan, Kan., for his next job.
      • Forget about the South Division having the Big 12's only potential train wreck that could rely on BCS standings to determine a championship-game participant. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star writes that the North could get thrown into similar turmoil if Kansas upsets Texas and Missouri.
      • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Stateman wonders how Texas can be ranked below Oklahoma, considering the Longhorns' head-to-head victory over the Sooners. One major reason for the Longhorns' erosion in the computer polls might be their weak nonconference schedule, compared to Oklahoma that has beaten two potential conference champions in Cincinnati and TCU -- both who are currently in the BCS top 25.
      • Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald credits defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill's work turning around Texas Tech's defense as an underrated component in the Red Raiders' 10-0 start.

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