NCF Nation: Donald Trump

Big changes expected for Big 12 in new decade

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
10:11
AM ET
The Big 12 just concluded an eventful decade: two national championships, seven trips to the BCS national title game and a spectator-friendly offensive attack earned the league national notoriety.

But you haven’t seen anything yet.

I dusted off my crystal ball and looked ahead to see some of the major events that we could see during the upcoming decade.

  • We’ll see some realignment in the league as Missouri leaves for the Big Ten and TCU is added to fill the Tigers' place. That move will give Big 12 leaders an excuse for realignment, which will be decided by a blind draw of plans desk. The Osborne Division will have Nebraska, Colorado, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The Royal Division will give a home to TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State. After four years of play, that grouping will prove so unpopular that the old divisional format will be adapted with TCU joining the South Division and Oklahoma State moving to the North.
  • Mike Leach eventually will return to the Big 12 -- but this time as a television analyst. His quirky conversational style will be panned by the critics but embraced by fans. And he’ll also appear on television in good friend Donald Trump’s series, “The Apprentice.”
  • After being rebuffed by the major television networks, the Big 12 and Pac-10 will strike out on their own with a television network jointly owned by both. It will give us a late game every Thursday night from the Pac-10, along with an early Big 12 game every Saturday at noon. The two conferences will share the prime Saturday afternoon programming window and games on Saturday night, building national awareness for both conferences.
  • The most intriguing part of the Pac-10/Big 12 programming association will be the “Kickoff Classic,” a week-long start of the season where the Big 12 teams will meet their counterparts from the Pac-10 in a series of eight games each year. The series starts off with a bang when USC beats Texas in 2015 at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, earning a measure of revenge for losing to the Longhorns in the national championship game in 2006.
  • By that time, Will Muschamp will have taken over at Texas. Mack Brown will remain at Texas through the 2012 season, celebrating as Garrett Gilbert leads the Longhorns to the national championship with a victory over Ohio State in the BCS title game. After that game, Brown announces his resignation, with Muschamp taking over and naming Major Applewhite as his offensive coordinator and Kirby Smart as his defensive coordinator in his first series of personnel moves.
  • Bob Stoops’ association with Oklahoma will end in the middle of the decade when he accepts an offer to become the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It will end the longest association of any Big 12 coach with his school. He’ll be replaced at Oklahoma by Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.
  • After Bo Pelini leaves for the vacant LSU job after the 2014 season, former Cornhusker Turner Gill takes over the Nebraska program after developing his Kansas program into a solid bowl contender. His hiring is one of the last acts that Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne orchestrates before his retirement.
  • Much to the chagrin of football fans, the BCS will endure. We’ll see one alteration, however. A “plus-one” model will be added with one game added for the national championship. Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma all will win national championships during the upcoming decade. With Boone Pickens' influence lessening, Oklahoma State will fall back into a lesser position in the South. And Colorado will go through two head coaches in the decade before hiring Kyle Shanahan in 2018.
  • Thanks to huge seasons from Robert Griffin and national interception leader Ahmad Dixon, Baylor will end its bowl drought with an appearance in the 2011 Texas Bowl. To celebrate, the Dr Pepper bottlers in Waco will release a commemorative bottle that becomes a prized collectors’ item.
  • One change in the BCS will affect the Big 12. The Cotton Bowl eventually will become the fifth bowl in the national title rotation. To fill that hole, the Alamo Bowl will move to New Year’s Day as the destination for the top Big 12 team that doesn’t make the BCS.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach surveys the scene outside Jones AT&T Stadium this week, he can't help but feel a little bit rewarded by what he has been able to accomplish over the last few seasons.

  

The winding line of student tents around the stadium is tangible proof of his school's appeal heading into Saturday's game against No. 1 Texas. It's a game many are calling the biggest game in the 84-season history of Tech's football program.

And Leach has been the biggest reason, turning this once sleepy school on the fringes of the South Plains on its ear during his nine-season coaching tenure.

His entertaining passing offense and quirky musings have gained the attention of admirers as diverse as Donald Trump -- sometimes even overshadowing what the Red Raiders have been able to accomplish on the field.

"People forget we're the third-best winning record in the conference over that time," Leach said.

Ah, but that's the rub. Mainly because the two schools in front of him have been Texas and Oklahoma, one of which has every South Division championship during Leach's coaching tenure.

That's why Saturday's game is so important for the No. 7 Red Raiders.

A victory would give the Red Raiders credibility and a chance to stand with the other BCS contenders as they play out a killer schedule that still includes games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Tech's 8-0 start is its best since 1976 and has stretched a 10-game winning streak that is tied for the best in the nation. The Red Raiders will be taking a perfect record into November for the first time since 1938. But the program will still have doubters until it can topple Texas and climb into the BCS discussion.

To get there, Leach appears to have his best team.

The biggest area of improvement is defensively. The Red Raiders have developed depth in the trenches, which has been a significant problem in previous games against the Longhorns.

In the last four seasons, the Longhorns have never averaged fewer than 4.6 yards per carry against the Red Raiders as Texas has piled up an average of 266.5 yards per game. That has enabled them to dictate the tempo of the game, no matter how many yards Leach has been able to roll up with his passing game.

And the last two Texas-Texas Tech games have really encapsulated the Red Raiders' defensive challenges against the Longhorns.

Texas has clicked on 17 of 27 third downs against Texas Tech and a perfect 5 for 5 on fourth down plays. In essence, the Red Raiders have only produced five true stops against Texas in those two games.

At the same time, Tech has struggled running the ball, producing nine net yards in 20 carries in the two games.

Even as Graham Harrell has completed 78 of 110 passes for a staggering 985 yards in those two games alone, it hasn't been enough. And it's been the reason that Leach has had to tweak his team to stay up with the Longhorns.

Tech's defensive front is playing better than at any previous time, allowing opponents only 101 yards rushing per game, good for 14th nationally. They are also deeper, getting big performances from seven or eight players.

The Red Raiders secondary has been particularly strong in recent weeks. Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet both had three-interceptions games earlier this season. And Jamar Wall's big pick against Nebraska sealed that overtime victory in Tech's biggest challenge to date.

"I hope we have enough depth," Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "Texas does such a great job. Our kids aren't worried about who they are playing next. And they'll be ready to play."

But recent second-half performances against Kansas and Texas A&M have convinced McNeill that this group might be different than some he has sent on the field against Texas.

Tech's defense has allowed only 23 points in the last six quarters. During a span of 19 defensive possessions during that span, the Red Raiders have allowed only three scoring plays and forced six turnovers.

"We hope we get to the point where we're playing as well as we can," McNeill said. "But we're still far away from that point. And we better get there quick because this is a pretty good team that will be coming in this week."

Harrell appears to be a more mature leader. Texas coach Mack Brown calls him the best quarterback he's seen at Tech during his time with the Longhorns.

The Tech running game is better with Shannon Woods and Baron Batch alternating at tailback. The Red Raiders are averaging 138.5 yards per game and rank 64th nationally. They've never produced more than 107.5 yards per game in any of Leach's previous eight seasons and they've never ranked higher than 104th nationally.

Will that be enough to beat Texas?

It might be, as long as Leach doesn't have to depend on a long field goal from his struggling kicking game.

And that's another story.

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