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Official Husker Locker Blog

2009 Jul 26

Due, North


By HuskerLocker

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The season may not bear it out – water has, after all, been turned into wine a couple times – but one should expect the Big 12 Media Days, starting Monday in Dallas, to be a three-day tour and discussion of the Great Divide between the dominant South Division and relatively bedraggled North.

For it’s no longer just a question of Texas and Oklahoma rising above the other ten teams of the Big 12. It is, now, Texas Tech doing so in 2008. And Oklahoma State, poised to do so in 2009. And Baylor, the permanent member of the Big 12 basement, the Gregor Samsa of the bunch, hiring the right coach in Art Briles, who recruited the right quarterback in Robert Griffin, and has the right Texas high school connections. Suddenly, when you check offer lists and comments from the best players in Texas, some of them have Baylor right at the top. That’s how quickly lightning can strike.

Now, it’s not just Mack and “Big Game Bob,” but that West Texas pirate, Mike Leach, getting headlines. Childish or not, OSU coach Mike Gundy’s rant two years ago about a newspaper column won his team attention, and, somewhat surprisingly, praise from other corners of the media. Even Texas A&M, which stunk last year, is putting together a Callahan-style monster class for 2010 – already 18 verbal commitments, many of them top-line players.

The South has the money, the organization, the commitment, and the Mojo.

The North isn’t exactly floundering – Missouri and Kansas have gained a foothold of success, while Nebraska seems to have returned back to its core values, if not that classic option style.

But it is still recovering from its Dark Ages, that period between 2002-2006 when only one Big 12 North team – that 2003 Kansas State squad with Darren Sproles and Ell Roberson – could even manage to compete with the South. Colorado – a team rocked by recruiting allegations and the Katie Hnida scandal – still managed to win three league titles in that span. It then lost its three Big 12 title games by a combined score 141-13. Iowa State blew two North titles on the last day of the regular season, in overtime. Nebraska mostly played Humpty Dumpty during that time, while Missouri couldn’t shake its inconsistency, and KU was in the earliest, ugliest years of what’s become the quite successful Mark Mangino era.

Nebraska had moderate success during this period, but know this: That was more attributable the mediocrity of the competition than the excellence of the Cornhuskers.

Since that awful era, CU hasn’t really moved out of the fog, Kansas State went back to the old master, Bill Snyder, and Missouri and KU gamely filled the vacuum. But the Jayhawks were thumped thrice last year by UT, OU and Tech, while Missouri took its lumps from OSU, Texas and Oklahoma. A game that symbolized the chasm the best was probably Mizzou’s trip to Baylor, a game won, just barely, by the Tigers, 31-28. Here was the most potent team in Missouri history, playing the basement boys in their half-empty stadium. Baylor only had a handful of really good players – maybe eight – and that was nearly enough to win. The best team in the North. The second-worst in the South. Nearly even.


So was this: On the Big 12 media’s all-conference squad, just five of the 26 members were from the Big 12 North. Not even 20 percent.

And for good reason: The South has most of the big-name talent in 2009. Certainly four of the five best quarterbacks in Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin and Zac Robinson. Certainly the best offensive linemen. Certainly the best running backs (although I’d take Roy Helu over any one of them except Kendall Hunter).

This divide of talent and experience is big enough as to inform which team will win the Big 12 North. Kansas, presumably the strongest club with a crucial home game vs. Nebraska, has to face OU, Texas and Texas Tech in the same year. That alone may take the Jayhawks out of the race. Missouri probably has the best go of it, getting Texas and Baylor at home. Meanwhile, Iowa State harbors realistic hopes of a bowl season simply by avoiding UT, OU and Tech.

Do you see any pundits piecing together the Big 12 North games for Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State?

So. How to fix it? We’ll look at both solutions both socialist – stuff the Big 12 can do to level the playing field - and free market-based – stuff the North teams can do to help themselves.

Close the Divide: An interesting argument, put forward most recently here, is to dissolve divisions and just go at it, much like the Big Ten and Pac 10 do. But, then, determining the contenders for a conference championship game becomes iffy, and some teams (you can bet it’ll be NU, OU and UT) will be penalized for being popular, and thus playing each other year in, year out. In turn some team – think Wisconsin in the Big Ten – will benefit from avoiding one or more of those teams. We’ll pass.

Better Revenue Sharing: The SEC recognized several years ago that in order to promote competition within the league – to spur schools to stay motivated – it had to make sure they all shared equally in the TV money pot, which, as many of you know, is getting sweeter for the SEC all the time. The Big 12’s structure effectively helps the stronger, more popular teams more.

Some capitalist-types cringe at this kind of socialism, but think of it more as a significant tax break to the Big 12’s smaller businesses, Iowa State, Colorado and Baylor. ISU, in particular, is inching toward morphing into the Big 12’s first MAC school. It doesn’t have the local fanfare in Iowa or the advertising opportunities to realistically get its name out there.

Do Something about Holding: Big 12 fans were confused when the high-powered offenses of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas Tech suddenly looked “less than” in their bowl games. With the refs no longer jamming their hands in their pockets, like they did during the Big 12 season, it suddenly became a lot harder to stave off blitzes. Holding isn’t called nearly enough, but it was an epidemic in 2008. And all it does is help the better team.

Build at Home: There’s nothing wrong with hiring an assistant coach with great ties in Texas. But, sooner or later, all you’re doing eating the leftovers Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and, yes, Baylor don’t want. The Texas pipeline will never be closed. But the entrance is a little narrower than it used to be.

Which is why Big 12 North programs have to do a better job of reaching into the high school levels to begin integrating their style of play and telling the coaches specifically: This is the kind of guy we want. And not just preferred walk-ons. Guys who are worth giving a scholarship to.

Tags: big 12, big 12 media days, football, texas, oklahoma, oklahoma state, baylor, missouri

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