Big 12 North still a mess

No more jokes about the Big 12 North ...

OK, maybe one more. "How many Big 12 North teams does it take to pull a float in a bowl parade?"

One. Because only one is bowl eligible.

Colorado, the team that spent most of the offseason giving the conference a black eye, is 6-4 and could soon find itself in the Big 12 title game -- if it gets some help, of course.

The scary part? One of these teams has to meet Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Imagine the chaos if somehow, someway, the Big 12 North representative pulled off an upset for the ages.

"We're the Fiesta Bowl's worst nightmare," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said after CU beat K-State last Saturday.

You talk about reality TV. The Big 12 North has it all:

Fear Factor: Nebraska -- this team has some frightening losses, including the school's worst, 70-10 at Texas Tech.

The Biggest Loser: Missouri -- the Tigers found ways to lose 14-point, 17-point and 21-point leads against Troy, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

The Surreal Life: Kansas State -- how could the Big 12 champs tumble to their first losing season in 12 years?

The Apprentice: Kansas -- the Jayhawks are still learning how to close out games under third-year coach Mark Mangino.

Survivor: Iowa State -- the team picked to finish dead last by league coaches and media is the only one with control of its own destiny.

Don't get the Big 12 South started. Baylor coach Guy Morriss' 3-7 team might have fared a little better in the North instead of the power-packed South, where five teams are already bowl-eligible.

Morriss chuckled and said, "It is what it is. It's going to be interesting to see how things finish up there."

Let's look at the North in the order the Big 12 media picked them to finish before the season:

1. Kansas State (4-6, 2-5): The defending Big 12 champions lost more than they thought when quarterback Ell Roberson and linebacker Josh Buhl moved on. As a result, the Wildcats had suspect on-field leadership and suffered its first losing season since 1992.

2. Missouri (4-5, 2-4): The Tigers should have run away with the division this year once it was clear K-State didn't have the goods, which was apparent in Week 2. Instead, the Tigers have spontaneously combusted under questionable leadership from coach Gary Pinkel, losing four straight.

3. Nebraska (5-5, 3-4): If the Cornhuskers had just built the offense around running back Cory Ross all season, they probably would have won the division by now. But they had to try that passing stuff and turned it over 29 times -- more than all but one team in Division I-A (Washington, 38).

4. Colorado (6-4, 3-4): Inconsistency on both sides of the ball hurt the Buffaloes in narrow losses to Missouri and Texas A&M. But the team has emerged from allegations of sexual assault and recruiting scandal to help Barnett keep his job.

5. Kansas (3-7, 1-6): The Jayhawks led Northwestern, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Texas in the second half -- three of them late in the fourth quarter -- and lost them all. And then Mangino lost his mind after the Texas game.

6. Iowa State (5-4, 3-3): Ladies and gentleman, here is your Big 12 North leader, way down here in the basement of the preseason predictions. As coach Dan McCarney will tell anyone who asks, "We opened the season as an underdog at home against a Division I-AA team, Northern Iowa. That's a fact."

Most of the coaches in the North couldn't explain why the division has dissolved this season like a sugar cube. But Barnett took a stab at it.

"It's cyclical," Barnett said. "There was a coaching change at Nebraska. Kansas State lost a lot of kids on defense and went through a rebuilding year. Missouri appeared before the season to be the team to have more people coming back and more achievement within their grasp than anybody. But they probably didn't play a couple games as well as they wanted to. We went through what we went through and lost six kids to transfer. What I see is a bunch of young football teams out there, including Kansas and Iowa State. I think you'll see it bounce back next year."

Now here comes the tricky part. Get out your flow charts and diagrams to keep up with all this.

  • Iowa State wins the North by winning its last two games against Kansas State and Missouri.

  • Iowa State would also win the North if it loses to Kansas State, beats Missouri and Nebraska beats Colorado.

  • If Iowa State beats Kansas State and loses to Missouri, there could be a three-way tie at 4-4 involving Iowa State, Missouri and the Colorado-Nebraska winner.

    In that scenario, if Nebraska beats Colorado, Nebraska would hold the tiebreaker and go to the Big 12 title game. (The Big 12 tiebreaker would be wins over the next-highest finisher Colorado, eliminating Iowa State. Nebraska would hold the head-to-head win over Missouri.) If it's Colorado over Nebraska, in the three-way tie scenario, Missouri would win the North because it has beaten both Iowa State and Colorado.

  • Nebraska wins the North if Iowa State loses its final two games and Nebraska beats Colorado.

  • Colorado wins the North with a win over Nebraska and a loss by both Iowa State and Missouri.

  • Missouri wins the North if it beats Kansas as well as Iowa State and Colorado beats Nebraska.

    Take two Advil and prepare for another weekend of reality TV in the Big 12 North.

    Chip Brown covers the Big 12 for The Dallas Morning News.