I will be the host for this week's Big 12 Roundtable, so check the comments here as the week goes on for links to the other Big 12 bloggers' reponses.
1. Some teams are coming off a big win or wins (Oklahoma, Colorado, KU, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Missouri), while others are dealing with the sting of a tough loss or losses (K-State, Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State). Tell us where your team is headed in the wake of the first two weeks of conference play.
K-State is truly a team at a crossroads right now. It has experienced the ultimate high one week with the win over a top 10 team on the road, then experienced the ultimate low the next week by losing a home game to its hated intra-state rival. Now the Cats stay at home for a pivotal, nationally televised game under the lights with Colorado, who is 2-0 in conference and looking DAMN good.
It comes down to this...win this game, get back in the North race at 2-1...or lose, drop to 1-2 and all but out of the race before it starts. I can't predict a win right now, even at home, but it's far from impossible. If our defense gets things worked out this week, they will make life tough on Cody Hawkins. They better, because our own offense ain't gonna do much on that Buffs' defense.
So to sum it up: beat Colorado, we still have hopes of finishing near the top of the division. Lose, and we might be looking at a 3-5 conference record.
2. Colorado and Texas A&M have emerged as unlikely conference leaders at 2-0 (give yourself a cookie if you predicted that), while preseason darlings Texas (0-2) and Nebraska (1-1 and not playing well) are floundering. Do the current leaders have the wherewithal to make it to San Antonio, or will somebody from elsewhere in the pack overtake them?
I'm still a tad skeptical of how far Cody Hawkins can carry the Buffaloes, but their defense will usually ensure that he won't have to do much more than not lose the game all by himself. Still, at this point I have to think Mizzou looks like the team to beat in the North. Is it insane to say that a Gary Pinkel-coached team is the favorite in the North? If it is, I went crazy this spring when I first predicted that, so I might as well stick with it now.
So far, Texas A&M has beaten (I use the term loosely) Baylor and Oklahoma State, who at this point are looking like they may finish 5-6 (not respectively) in the South. I'm not saying the Aggies are a fraud, but...well, maybe I am, because I think their comeuppance arrives this weekend in Lubbock. Unless the J-Train and Mike Goodson run wild through the Tech defense, the Aggies will lose this weekend. After that, they have road trips to Norman, Columbia and Lincoln (that game may be a pillow fight), not to mention home games with KU and Texas. At this point I have to go with Oklahoma to win the South.
3. A few weeks ago we did a ranking of the six BCS conferences, with most bloggers picking the Big 12 in the middle of the pack, which would be a big improvement over the last couple years. Have the middle and bottom teams of the conference improved significantly, or have the teams at the top declined significantly? Or is it something else?
One thing is for sure, Texas is not the same team it was with Vince Young. So from that standpoint, the top of the conference has declined somewhat. But Oklahoma is still operating at a high level. So my position is that the middle of the pack has improved, some teams significantly. For example...
K-State was a sub-.500 team in 2004 in 2005. They aren't back to 1998 or 2003 form by a long shot, but they went to a bowl last year and beat a top-10 team on the road this year. Definite improvement.
Colorado was a mess at the end of the Gary Barnett era, with accusations of scandal and a team that quit on Barnett, leading to a 70-3 loss to UT. I'm not even sure they'd be an underdog to UT this year, at least not at home. Obvious improvement (2-10 last year seems like a distant memory).
Missouri...do I really have to say anything here? Sure, they start every year out like this, but I tend to think the Tigers are the real deal this year.
KU: It's almost the middle of October and I still haven't heard (much) basketball talk out of Lawrence, which is a record by at least a month. KU already has five wins this year, with a sixth likely this week, and are a legitimate contender for the North. I still hate that a-hole that passes for the 'beaks coach, but he has done a good job turning that program around.
Nebraska...well, never mind. Before this year I would have noted significant improvement from Callahan's first year, but is this team better than Frank Solich's last team (2003)? Nope.
Oklahoma State still doesn't play consistently and has disappointed this year, but is certainly a lot better team than Mike Gundy had in his first campaign. I should reserve final judgment, but I see at least slight improvement from the Pokes.
The rest of the teams have either stayed pretty steady (Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State) or I'm not sure what to make of (Texas A&M...was last year smoke-and-mirrors for Fran?), thus they aren't discussed above.
4. Getting waaaaay ahead of ourselves: What if Missouri or KU goes undefeated and wins the Big 12 Championship Game? Would they get a shot at the national championship game?
First of all, I don't think either team will go undefeated, I only asked this question to get some discussion going. I think Missouri would almost certainly get a shot at the national title game IF it went undefeated, because along the way it would beat Oklahoma and whomever won the South (probably Oklahoma again). On top of that, the Tigers beat Illinois the first game of the year, and all the Illini have done since is win every game, including tilts with Penn State and Wisconsin.
On the other hand, KU could win out and possibly get left out. If the 'beaks were to have a chance, they would pretty much have to have MU come into the Border War undefeated, then hope they got to face a one-loss Oklahoma in the Big 12 CG. Much as Mangino wants to make of staying at home and winning games in the non-con, he gained no national respect by doing so, which means he's going to have to find a win somewhere along the way that will be a signature win in the eyes of the nation.
Typing all that felt a little surreal. KU and MU possibly undefeated? I'll believe it when I see it.
5. Rank the conference teams
Got by a grudge match in Dallas, and now turn toward the high-flying Missouri Tigers. Sam Bradford should find the going easier against the Mizzou defense than he did against Colorado and Texas, but the way this season has gone, I wouldn't bet on USC beating Stanford straight up. Wait, they didn't??? You don't say.
Last weekend was a statement game for Mizzou, from the first-possession touchdown drive to the fourth-quarter fake field goal. Pinkel finally got his team to really finish a game, and hasn't "Pinkeled" (I used to say Quinned, but he got canned) himself yet this year. If MU can steal a win in Norman this week, the conference championship talk can officially heat up.
I really had thought the earth would crash into the sun before I'd rank a non-basketball KU team in the top three of the conference, but they have validated themselves. I guess the only real question left to be answered, if it's even a question at all, is whether the 'beaks play as well consistently against conference competition when they don't have a bye week to prepare. I guess we'll have to wait a while to see that, considering they play Baylor this weekend.
The Longhorns won back a lot of respect by taking it to Oklahoma this weekend, but they still lost and have quite a few question marks. I tend to think they'll "salvage" the season and still get a pretty good bowl berth (by non-Texas standards), and it all begins with a game against Iowa State this weekend. Healing has to start somewhere.
I probably have the Buffs too low, considering they pickled Baylor this weekend and look to be legitimately back. But Texas' tough game and the realization that Baylor is, well, Baylor led me to give the 'Horns the nod...for now. I may regret this ranking if that beotch known as karma comes around in the form of a big CU win in Manhattan this weekend.
A loss to KU this year probably isn't as bad objectively as it seems to a K-State fan, but I haven't shaken the disappointment yet. This ranking can be solidified with a win this weekend, or a precipitous fall may begin if...better not to think about that.
The Aggies are 2-0 and leading the South, but yet I don't have them in the top half of the conference? I really must be an idiot. But the Ags two wins have been at the expense of Baylor and Okie State, who are not going to contend in the South this year. And I just can't get over that blowout loss to Miami, who just lost to that North Carolina juggernaut last weekend.
The Red Raiders took it to Iowa State and evened their conference record. I have predicted they will get that second conference win this weekend against A&M, but the defensive questions remain. This is probably the floor for this team, but that doesn't mean it's not the right ranking...yet.
Tough loss for the Pokes. Despite the supposed unification we were supposed to see after Mike Gundy went ballistic on Jenni Carlson, this team still has been far from dominating, or even decent. The Pokes-Huskers game, which looked like a great matchup preseason, is suddenly two offenses and two "defenses" engaging in a pillow fight in front of 85,000 people wearing red.
Another team for which this ranking is probably the floor, but the Huskers are in disarray right now. For as crappy as Mizzou's defense was statistically--worse than 90th in the nation--Sam Keller and Cronies couldn't even cross the goal line once. The defense gave up 600+ yards, again, and the finger-pointing has begun in earnest on the Sea of Red.
Got waxed at home and that 3-1 start seems like a distant memory. The Bears better hope they catch KU in a purple haze this weekend coming off their landmark win Saturday, because that's about the only shot they have in Lawrence.
The Cyclones will probably knock somebody off when you least expect it this year, but 1-11 is looking more likely with every passing weekend. Chizik gets a shot at his old crew, and he may be missing more than the balmy Austin weather when the high Saturday tops out in the upper 60s.