Big 12 Roundtable: State of the Conference Edition

1.  The Big 12 conference has only four unbeaten teams left and has endured numerous embarrassing performances on television. State where you believe the Big 12 ranks among the BCS conferences.

In the Pac-10, we have USC, Cal, Oregon and Arizona State.  The SEC has LSU, Florida and Kentucky unbeaten, and solid teams in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.  So the boys from the South appear to have the deepest league in America, although USC’s performance thus far and Cal’s win over Tennessee make me think the race is fairly close at the top.

To actually answer the question, the Big 12 stacks up favorably with any conference after that.  I would rank the ACC as the worst conference at this point, as they don’t have a single serious national title contender.  The Big 10 probably doesn’t have a serious title contender, either, but both Ohio State and Wisconsin are still undefeated.  In the Big East, you can make a case that West Virginia and Rutgers are in the title chase, South Florida is still undefeated pending this Friday’s showdown with WVU, and Cincinnati is having a good season.

I would probably put the Big 12 in a tie for third with the Big East, with the Big 10 close behind.

2.  What has been the conference’s best victory and worst defeat so far this season?

I can’t think of a single bigger victory than Oklahoma’s demolition of Miami, which is kind of sad because I really don’t think Miami is very good this year, notwithstanding last week’s slapdown of Texas A&M.  Texas over TCU looked good at the time, before TCU went in the tank the next week against Air Force and then snuck by SMU.

When I think of a "worst defeat" type game, I don’t look necessarily at the quality of the team dealing the loss.  I look more at the team who lost, what its expectations were, and how the game was supposed to play out.  For that reason, I don’t consider Iowa State’s loss to Northern Iowa the worst, because UNI is a good FCS team and ISU was supposed to struggle this year.  My finalists for worst loss are Nebraska to USC and Texas A&M to Miami.  I’ll go with A&M, because I actually got to the point this fall where I believed they would challenge for the South title, before my high burned out and I remembered Dennis Franchione is still the Aggies’ coach.  Further, the Aggies were never competitive with the Canes’, whereas the Huskers at least made it respectable through 30 minutes against USC.  And Miami is, well, not USC.  By a lot.

3.  Who is the worst coached team in the conference?

It’s tempting to go with Nebraska here, because Kevin Cosgrove runs a defense that doesn’t work and Bill Callahan runs an offense that can’t be understood by NASA’s best and brightest.  However, Dennis Franchione has managed to take a program that has an extensive budget, sits in the middle of the most high school football talent in the nation, and has facilities that could act as Viagra for a college football fan, and yet he can’t field a competitive team.  That absolutely boggles my mind, and makes Texas A&M my clear choice for worst-coached team.

4.  With the regular season already a third of the way over, which players received too much hype in late August and which players didn’t receive enough?

I’ll have to drop a mea maxima culpa here and admit I went overboard with the preseason hype of Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid.   Questions about his attitude and toughness aside, he hasn’t played very well at all this year, and that is when he’s playing.  He has gone so far as to lose his starting job to Zac Robinson, and who knows if he’ll get it back.

It would seem OU quarterback Sam Bradford is the obvious choice here, but I considered him more unproven than underrated.  I’ll cast a vote for K-State wide receiver Jordy Nelson.  After a good season in 2005 (including eight touchdowns), Nelson played hurt most of last year and fell out of the spotlight.  He’s back this year, tied for second in the conference in receptions per game and third in receiving yards per game.

5.  Conference Power Rankings. The best part of the roundtable is voicing how we believe the conference teams rank each week, from top to bottom. So, go ahead, let us know who’s up and who’s down in your book this week.

 Oklahoma: Miami’s dismantling of Texas A&M, coupled with OU’s dismantling of high-octane Tulsa now has me officially convinced.  I still don’t think Miami’s that great of a team, but if they can beat up A&M, they can’t be all bad, and OU throttled them.  I’m going to be very interested to see Sam Bradford take on Big 12 defenses, as he’s been extremely impressive thus far.

 Texas: Did what was expected against Rice, although you can’t logically say that means Texas is back if you also don’t think KU’s play thus far is impressive.  So far, Texas has shown it is a talented team whose coaches don’t use the talent effectively.  Game with our Cats this week will be a good indication of both teams’ direction this year.

 Missouri: Another beatdown of an average team.  I should also note Mizzou’s first-week victim, Illinois, is now 3-1 after wins over Syracuse (who made Louisville look silly) and conference-foe Indiana (itself 3-1).  The questions about the defense will always be with Mizzou, but Nebraska fans should be terrified of the numbers Chase Daniel will put up if Gary Pinkel doesn’t get in his way again.

 Nebraska: Still here more by default than anything.  Since my last ranking, NU got run by USC (at home) and gave up 600+ yards to Ball State (at home), but the three teams I had ranked behind them (A&M, K-State, Tech) have not asserted themselves as definitively better than Nebraska.  This entire ranking will be better sorted after October 6th, when we get K-State/KU, Nebraska/Mizzou, and Oklahoma/Texas.

 K-State: Blew out FCS Missouri State, which is another "what you should have done" win.  Former opponents Auburn and San Jose State finally picked up another win, but neither was very impressive (Auburn led by one at half against New Mexico State before pulling away, SJSU snuck by winless Utah State).

 KU: If KU can come out of Manhattan in 10 days with a win, I’ll look dumb for this ranking.  But at this point, they’ve done nothing more than blow out four teams who are a combined 3-13 against even worse competition.  How important is the October 6th game in Manhattan to KU fans?  They returned to K-State 275 unsold tickets.

 Texas A&M: The Aggies remain this high simply because I consider them more talented than other teams below them.  With players like Mike Goodson, Jorvorskie Lane and Stephen McGee running the ball, and Martellus Bennett catching it, there’s no reason other than poor coaching why A&M should not be scoring points.  The Ags better get ready; Blizzle Szyzzle and the AirBear attack arrive in College Station this weekend for the Battle of the Brazos.

 Oklahoma State: Takes this spot by virtue of beating Texas Tech in one of the biggest track meets I’ve ever seen (OK, I didn’t actually see it, I just heard about it).  Both teams have obvious defensive deficiencies, and some would say Okie State now has off-the-field distractions with the Mike Gundy saga.  I don’t think that will affect the Pokes’ on-field play much, and they get a tuneup with Sam Houston State before the trip to College Station.

 Texas Tech: How do you have a quarterback throw for 646 yards and NOT win?  Answer: Give up 366 rushing yards to your opponent.  It will be interesting to see how this team reacts to Mike Leach’s scathing post-game remarks and the resignation of defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich.  They should have a chance to get two wins with Northwestern State and Iowa State coming to town in the next two weeks.

 Colorado: If nothing else, the Buffaloes know how to play them some defense.  For that fact alone, I almost moved them ahead of Tech, before I came to my senses and realized how much more prolific Tech’s offense is.  The Buffs shut out Miami (OH) in a 42-0 win.  Did I also mention Miami (OH) beat Ball State on the road?  I may have the Buffs to low (or the Huskers too high).

 Baylor: Break up the 3-1 Bears!  Baylor shuffled off to Buffalo and picked up a rare road win last weekend, and now return to Texas (though not to Waco) and get a shot at an ailing Aggie team.  If the Bears win that one, they will be only two games from bowl eligibility.

 Iowa State: Couldn’t sustain the momentum of an emotional rivalry game win over Iowa with a one-point loss at Toledo.  Any time the Cyclones manage to get up for a game this year, they could be dangerous against a team that takes them lightly, but it’s going to require a Clones’ best game versus opponent’s worst game scenario.  On a side note, ISU will sport new uniforms next season.  I think they look pretty sharp.

(Jordy Nelson photo courtesy ESPN.com)

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