Monday, October 1, 2007

Thoughts on the Big 12...

Here's a question: how in the hell do you make a Big 12 Power Poll right now? Is there any way to do it justice? The top two on everybody's list just lost to teams ranked between #7-10 on everybody's list...and one of them lost by 3 TD's at home. The North Division, the conference whipping boy for half a decade, rose up in a major way. Next weekend's two huge games just got downgraded, while a KU-KSU game is possibly the biggest game in the conference's first two weeks now.


I decided to dare myself to create a Big 12 Power Poll this week...just because of the sheer 'degree of difficulty' first, I thought about just treating my 'Who's proven the most?' list from last week and treating it like an AP poll...bumping you down if you lose and bumping you up if you win. That would have resulted in something like this:

1. Kansas
2. Missouri
3. Kansas State
4. Oklahoma
5. Texas Tech
6. Colorado
7. Texas A&M
8. Texas
9. Nebraska
10. Oklahoma State
11. Baylor
12. Iowa State

Needless to say, that didn't work very well. I mean, it probably makes as much sense as anything else, but...yeah.

So here's what I'm going to do in attempt to make sense of all of this...for each team I'm going to 1) give my general thoughts, 2) talk about why they win games (when they win games), and 3) talk about how sustainable their methods of winning are...if that makes any sense. It will when I get started.

12. Iowa State

General thoughts. So far the Chizik Cyclones aren't too different from the McCarney Cyclones...which, I guess, make sense considering it's the same personnel. As they did quite a few times in 2006 (Mizzou game aside, grumble grumble), ISU put up a pretty decent fight for a half before their lack of talent and/or athleticism caught up with them in the second half.

Why they win games. They don't. But when they do, it seems to be when they have something extra to play for. They beat Iowa because it's their biggest rivalry game, and they always play Iowa well. They beat Missouri last year because it was Dan McCarney's last game (and because Monte Wyrick got called for holding on 4th-and-goal despite not actually touching anybody...but I'm trying to avoid going down that rant for the 78th time). They only time I can see them putting up an extra fight this year could be on Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe's Senior Day, which comes against Colorado. Watch that game. Until then? Yikes.

And yes, because I said that just now, this year's MU-ISU game will go into OT. I hate myself already.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Pretty sure I just covered this one. Not bloody likely.

11. Baylor

General thoughts. They put up a fight for a while against ATM, but they blew too many chances and eventually wore down.

Why they win games. Baylor got to 3-1 by utilizing their spread offense against defenses that weren't athletic enough to handle it.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? In a conference full of strong offenses and defenses with some semblance of speed? No, notsomuch. If a team makes some mistakes...turns the ball over a couple times...misses a tackle and gives up a big TD pass or something...then Baylor's got just enough talent to make them pay for it. But most likely it would have to be a series of mistakes...kind of what Oklahoma did against Colorado, only double. But after everything that went down yesterday, I can honestly say that stranger things have happened than a team losing to Baylor.

10. Oklahoma State

General thoughts. I realize it was just Sam Houston State, but if this win gets people to stop talking about Mike Gundy and Jenni Carlson, then it was one helluva win. I'M A MAN. I'M FORTY.

Why they win games. Big plays and a strong home field advantage.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Yes and no. They have another three tough-but-winnable home games (Texas, KU, KSU), and with Dantrell Savage apparently full speed, they've got a full arsenal of weapons at their disposal. But I just can't get over how many yards they gave up against Texas Tech (even Sam Houston pulled off 270 passing yards...albeit on 50 attempts). I know, I know...a Missouri fan talking about another defense giving up yards. Doesn't make just a ton of sense. But it's true. As bad as Mizzou's defense has been, OSU's has been worse, and that, plus the possible QB controversy, plus the trips to College Station, Norman, and Lincoln, doesn't lead to likely success.

9. Colorado

General thoughts. This is a very obvious thing to say, but...what a great win for them. They took advantage of every opportunity OU gave them (sans the missed FG early in the 4th quarter), and they used the strengths they have (quick defense, a healthy Hugh Charles) to their utmost advantage.

Why they win games. Quick defense and healthy Hugh Charles. Even last year, when the Buffs went 2-10, they rarely gave up big defensive plays. They use their quickness to keep the ball in front of them, and they make you drive the length of the field without making mistakes. Against an OU team with a freshman QB accustomed to making big plays, that was perfect. As for Hugh Charles...their O-line really hasn't been all that good for a while, but if they get him minimal blocking up front, he can use his phenomenal quickness to his advantage.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? I can see them going 5-3, which would put them in the range of the Alamo or Independence Bowl--quite a nice improvement from last year--but that's probably their ceiling. Charles will take quite a pounding over the course of the season, and his backups really aren't very strong. The defense will be strong, but the offense will likely put them in too many pressure situations. They'll force enough mistakes that it will be hard to blow them out--they eventually gave up points and yards to Arizona State, but that was after about 27 straight three-and-outs. In all, I love Charles, but I just don't think they have the offense to make a serious North Title run.

8. Texas Tech

General thoughts. Well, they're tied with OU and UT in conference record...that's a good thing, right?

Why they win games. They outscore their opponents. As many yards and points as they give up, they can usually count on gaining more and scoring more.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? least not when it comes to winning their division. I loooooooooooove Michael Crabtree, but...let's put it this way: when your defensive coordinator resigns mid-season, you're probably not going to reach lofty heights. There's nobody more fun to watch, though.

7. Kansas

General thoughts. Still have no idea what to think about them. That will be remedied next weekend when they travel to Manhattan.

Why they win games. So far, they've beaten teams by being a lot better than them. That's all we know for sure. It appears that Mangino has put together a team that makes few offensive mistakes and takes advantage of its defensive talent--ahem, Aqib Talib--and athleticism to make plays.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? I have absolutely no freaking idea. I think #7 might be way too low for them, but...well, the entire Big 12 script will change again in five days, so I don't want to think too hard about this.

6. Nebraska

General thoughts. The NU-ISU game started with the following results: fumble, fumble, FG, INT, punt, fumble, INT. Yes, NU ended up winning easily, and yes, half of those possessions were ISU's, but...EWWW. Sam Keller still makes some bad decisions--and being that he's halfway through his senior season, I'm pretty sure what you see is what you get on this one--and Marlon Lucky is very solid and very far from spectacular. The lineplay is...okay. The secondary is damn near dreadful. I know they'll get their yards and points against Mizzou, and the game will much closer than I would like it to be, but...they're shaky. Very shaky.

Why they win games. Screen passes and timely defensive stops. That's pretty much the recipe as far as I can tell.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Screen passes? Yes. I never understand how defenses repeatedly fall for that little "let the pass rusher through and dump it to the RB in the flat" play, but I've already mentally prepared myself for Marlon Lucky having 125 receiving yards Saturday night. Timely defensive stops? Playing with fire there. They haven't lost a single game they shouldn't so far this year, but they've toed the line. If Riley Skinner isn't hurt, Wake Forest beats Nebraska. If that Ball State WR doesn't momentarily go blind, the ball doesn't bounce off his helmet and Ball State beats NU. Hell, even ISU hung with them for a while. NU hasn't looked good since Week 1, and they could very easily be 2-3 right now, but they're not. They could very easily pull everything together and play just well enough to win the North again, but I'm not putting money on it right now.

5. Texas

General thoughts. Everybody cut them a lot of slack for struggling against Arkansas State and Central Florida, and justifiably so. They're Texas. They'll be ready when conference play starts, right? No. Colt McCoy is submerged in a major sophomore slump, and the defense still gives up quite a few untimely plays. Plus, after this last Saturday, the special teams unit is a mess.

Why they win games. Balanced offense, overpowering line play. Their pass defense has struggled for a while, but having strong weapons at offensive skill positions and lots of huge, talented hosses on the lines have usually been enough to procure a victory.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Probably, but it's not a given. I've been conditioned by the past 10 years or so to assume that Texas will right the ship just fine, bears mentioning that these are the results for Texas' last 8 games:

1) road loss to K-State
2) home loss to ATM
3) underwhelming bowl win over Iowa
4) underwhelming home win over Arkansas State
5) home win over TCU
6) underwhelming road win over Central Florida
7) easy home win over Rice
8) home loss to K-State

In other words, they've really only looked like Texas in two of their last 8 games...and honestly, against TCU they didn't look good until the fourth quarter. I'm still cutting them some slack here and keeping them at #5, but...they have a lot to prove against OU this weekend.

4. Texas A&M

General thoughts. I had them at #2, but I just could not get out of my head a) their horrid performance in the Orange Bowl, b) Jorvorskie Lane pouting on the sidelines at the Orange Bowl, or c) the 'how could this not be illegal in some way?' Dennis Franchione antics that were uncovered this week. They're 1-0 in the South, and they could very easily make a nice run here...but there are so many shadows looming. So I bumped them down.

Why they win games. Run, run, run. Their defense is okay, their WR's are mediocre, and their O-line was exposed quite a bit against Miami. But they have the three-headed attack of Lane, Goodson, and Stephen McGee (and to a lesser extent now, freshman Keondra Smith), and they can still pummel you with them.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Well, yes, if the aforementioned shadows--and a brutal slate of road trips (Lubbock, Lincoln, Norman, Columbia)--don't sink them first.

3. Kansas State

General thoughts. The Beef put it well this morning: K-State has an "odd ownership" of Texas. I can't explain it, but they do. Texas did them a lot of favors (a LOT of favors), and I still can't stand Ron Prince, but that was a strong statement they made on Saturday. They played their game and won big in Austin doing so. Nothing wrong with that.

Why they win games. Pressure defense and throwing to Jordy Nelson. The RBs have been underwhelming so far--kick returns aside--but they haven't needed much yet.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? With their schedule? Yes. Now that they've conquered Austin, three of their next four games are at home (KU, CU, @OSU, Baylor). Following a trip to Ames for Game 6, they could honestly be 5-1 before finishing at Nebraska and at home against Mizzou. Suddenly the MU-NU game has had quite a bit of its thunder stolen by KU-KSU...and I don't appreciate it.

2. Missouri

General thoughts. I hate this pick already. I had Mizzou anywhere between #2 and #6, and I didn't like it no matter where I put them. So in the end, I just decided to take the homer route. At least I'm honest about it. I do find it amusing, by the way, that--with the shot that Bernie Miklasz took at him--only in Missouri does the head coach take heat in a week where his team didn't even play.

Why they win games. The best QB in the league, and the best WR/TE corps in the league. Throw in some timely bend-don't-break defense, and there's the formula. I mentioned 'timely defensive stops' as almost a bad thing for Nebraska, and yet here I have Mizzou ranked #2. What's the difference? Right now, the difference is Chase Daniel and Martin Rucker. Daniel has the improvisational skills that Graham Harrell lacks and the experience that Sam Bradford lacks. And the has the best TE in the country (not to mention the fifth-best TE in the country...give or take a couple spot) to throw to on third down.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Oy. I think so, but I'm hundreds of miles (and about eight weeks) away from being convinced. After this crazy weekend, the easier games just got harder, and the harder games just got easier. I could analyze every single minute reason why I'm nervous and worried and hand-wringy at the moment, but instead I'll just say that right now Mizzou's #2 in the conference, and about 139 different storylines could emerge over the next two months.

1. Oklahoma

General thoughts. Their freshman QB--and the prototypical trap game--overtook them Saturday, but let's not go crazy here. Top to bottom, they're still quite obviously the best team in the conference.

Why they win games. Skill and speed.

Are their winning reasons sustainable? Yes. They'll get every opponent's maximum effort, and their QB very much proved himself to be a freshman in Boulder Saturday, but they will still be able to beat just about every team in the conference on sheer skill and speed.