Monday, October 15, 2007

Big 12 Recap...some Nebraska musings included

I would be remiss as a Jayhawk fan not to open with a little commentary on the inaugural 2007 BCS standings, which place Kansas University 13th, directly in front of two teams that can stake a claim to 3 out of the last 4 national championships. I've said it before and I'll say it again, that is surreal. I'm not sure Kansas is the 13th best team in the nation any more than I'm sure South Florida is the 2nd (or Ohio State is 1st, for that matter). What I am sure of though is that they deserve to be ranked as though they are. Out of 119 teams, they are 1 of 6 that remain unbeaten. Despite the competition, given their record and the nature of their 6 victories, until proven differently, they should be ranked as one of the nation's elite teams in 2007. I feel this way about every unbeaten team, except Hawaii. On account of Colt Brennan's (probably unwarranted) hype, I have had a chance to watch more of Hawaii this year than I have in the previous 5 seasons combined…and I'm not impressed. June Jones' system is undoubtedly an impressive aerial attack, but as a team, Hawaii is little more than a poor man's Texas Tech. They have absolutely no defense, running game or ability to play within the contiguous 48 states. Unfortunately, I fully expect them to win their next 3 games (New Mex. St., Fresno St., Nevada) heading in to their final 2, both at home against Boise St. and Washington. Neither are that formidable, but here's to thinking that one or both knock off the Rainbow Warriors. Hot Toddy! (Then again, Boise St. did just let Nevada score 67 points - even Nebraska could stop them - so Brennan may have a field day against the Broncs.)

Back to Kansas, the Baylor game went pretty much as planned, aside from the weather delays. As predicted, Kansas was able to exploit Baylor in a completely balanced manner. Hot Toddy was not nearly as sharp as you'd like to see him, yet he passed for just under 200 yards, with 2 TDs and 0 interceptions. The ground attack was even more impressive in racking up 236 yards and 4 TDs on 50 totes (Sharp with 110, 1 TD and B-Mac with 53 and 1 TD). Angus Quigley and Kerry notched the other rushing scores, each looking solid in doing so. And despite all of that offensive success, the first touchdown of the game went to Marcus Herford with an 88 yard kickoff return after Baylor had notched a field goal to tie the game at 3.

Though the defense was the lone unit not to account for a score, they did have a very impressive day limiting Baylor to 3 offensive points and 202 total yards, while picking off 4 passes. It's no secret that Baylor is going nowhere fast, but to limit their acclaimed aerial attack to 154 yards is damned impressive. With that said, especially after the Power Towels posted 47 on them, I am also a bit more suspect about Colorado's celebrated defensive unit. In the games I had watched I thought they looked pretty solid (I didn't watch the ASU game though). Also, they were the first team to keep OU under 50 points and did so by holding them to 24, yet they surrendered 23 points to Baylor. Either Kansas' defense is even better than I imagined or Colorado's is worse. I'm thinking it's a combination of both.

Amazingly, Tom Keegan wrote a coherent article this morning on Kansas' balance. I have been saying this for a while and Coach Genie shed some light on it last week, but there really is no glaring weakness that hurts this team. That will all start to change though if the punting (and return) units do not improve within the next 5 days. I have no idea what is wrong with Kyle Tucker – he has the shanks worse than Tin Cup before the Open – but it has to end now. Two years ago, he was counted on (and delivered) as pretty much Kansas' best offense. Not only could he boom them deep and into the coverage, but he could also land them inside the 20 and let the defense go to work. Now…we have our backup quarterback handling both the regular and pooching duties – this cannot continue. (Side note: Under the right conditions, I absolutely love the idea of using Meier in the quick-kick role. If he can get off good kicks, it's a win-win every time. The opponent either has to squander the opportunity for a return or gamble on not defending a QB who easily could have been the starter and is a threat to either run or pass. The return game is similar: 10 guys are doing their jobs just fine, but the one handling the ball is having some issues. I don't care if they don't get another return yard all season as long as they don't muff the kick. Find someone who can catch the ball every time and put him back there, please.

It's pretty strange to be in the middle of October and to have only found one true flaw in the Kansas football team. The same cannot be said for the perennial powerhouse, class of college football, Husker Blackshirts. With that, on to the Big 12 wrap-up. Again for fun, the teams will be listed in order of their chances to win their respective divisions.


1. Kansas (6-0, 2-0) Won v. Baylor 58-10. Whether or not you think Missouri is better, Kansas is undefeated while Missouri has already notched an L and probably has the tougher remaining schedule. As fun as Arrowhead will be, I really, really, really… wish we had not given up home field advantage in that one. Very tough game in Boulder this week – if they pass this test, we could be looking at something pretty special.

2. Missouri (5-1, 1-1) Lost @ OU 41-31. This game went pretty much exactly as I expected - I don't think any more or less of either team. As Oklahoma State and Iowa confirmed, Missouri's wins over Nebraska and Illinois were not all that magnificent. They definitely have one of the top offenses in both the country and the conference, but an offense can only take a team so far. If Missouri is going to win the north, they need to shore up the defense – and quickly – as they have Tech next week.

3. Kansas State (4-2, 2-1) Won v. CU 47-20. I didn't have a chance to see much of this one, but although the outcome doesn't surprise me, the score does. As I said earlier, either Colorado's defense is worse than I thought or Kansas' is better (we should know in 5 days). As I said last week, every game left on their schedule is winnable. By far the two toughest are this week in Stillwater and later on v. Missouri. Other than that, they should coast. With Kansas playing in Stillwater in a few weeks, I'll be very interested to see how the Purple do down there.

4. Colorado (4-3, 2-1) Lost @ KSU 47-20. They have the easiest remaining schedule of all 4 teams in contention. However, I think they are only the fourth best of those teams (plus they just lost to KSU). I have special interest in their game this week for obvious reasons, but I think a Kansas win this week effectively eliminates them. After that they have to travel to Lubbock and I really doubt they can score with the Red Raiders, which would give them 3 losses with Missouri, @ ISU and Nebraska on the slate. Even if they win out, I doubt 3 losses (and losing TB with KU and KSU) gets it done.

5. Nebraska (4-3, 1-2) Lost v. OSU 45-14. I don't even know where to start. After they celebrated the ISU game (a 35-17 win), I said Nebraska had reached a new low and probably would not be favored again the rest of the season. What happens? They get pasted by MU, 41-6 and somehow end up a favorite the next week. Despite Tom Osborne's speech to the team and honoring the 1997 national champions, Bill Callahan's boys came out looking as uninterested as I have ever seen a football team. When OSU is engrossed, they have all the components of a good, balanced offense. This does not mean that they should ever run for 317 yards against a Big 12 opponent, let alone the Cornheads. And it definitely does not mean that they have any semblance of a defense. The same unit that gave up 562 yards and 41 points to Troy held Nebraska's west coast masterpiece scoreless for over 3 quarters. I was not watching at this point, but I'm not even sure OSU had their starters in as they were already up 38-0. Many 'Brasky fans are calling for a no-show this week. I'm guessing very few fans oblige as there is little else to do in Lincoln, but I'm not entirely convinced some players won't. From another angle, is everyone entirely convinced that Callahan and Pederson are not in cahoots to destroy the Nebraska football program and get rich in doing so? However, in the last 3 months, each have received 5 year extensions, Pederson's worth $500K annually and Callahan's at $1.75M per year. Um…wow! If the Bugeaters don't win this week, there is a good chance they will not win again. By the way, this week they play TAMU, who is rushing for 250 yards per game. (Side note: I am also unimpressed with TAMU, but how can they not be licking their chops at the chance to run for about 500 yards next week. I honestly don't know why they would ever have Stephen McGee attempt a forward pass. Then again, a play action pass once a quarter might not be all that bad an idea.) ***Edited after original post*** Nebraska has just fired AD Steve Pederson. I know it would be an expensive buyout, but I am now under the impression that Callahan will be fired if the second half of this season goes the way the first half did. On that same note, Cosgrove may not even make it through the year. Then again, scheming may not be all that is wrong here?

6. Iowa State (1-6, 0-3). Lost v. UT 56-3. I watched the 1st quarter and then some, but could take no more after that. On offense, ISU's coaches were raping Texas', yet they could only muster a field goal. Defensively, Texas only moved the ball on broken plays, yet they scored at will. Basically, it went exactly as anyone who has watched Texas figured it would. Can you imagine what a real coaching staff could do with those players?


1. Oklahoma (6-1, 2-1) Won v. MU 41-31. Clearly the class of the conference and definitely back in national title contention. I don't understand why this team does not run more. They have 3 great backs and an outstanding offensive line. Bradford has looked solid all year, but why throw when you can run? Also, they rapidly need to remedy their field goal unit, as the last 3 PAT attempts failed as well as a 2 point conversion try. They are in an enviable position as that is their biggest weakness, but they are not nearly dominant to be immune to having the kicking game ruin their season. A trip to Lubbock is all that separates them from the Big 12 Championship game.

2. Texas Tech (6-1, 2-1) Won v. TAMU 35-7. Again, not surprised with the outcome, but definitely the score. Any time this team holds an opponent to 7 points they will win the game. However, I don't see that happening again this year. Another note here: They are again 2nd by default, but probably have the toughest remaining schedule with Missouri, Colorado, Texas, and OU still on the docket.

3. Texas (5-2, 1-2) Won @ ISU 56-3. Said all I need to say here in the ISU recap. Next real game isn't until Nov. 3 @ OSU. There will be a lot of orange there.

4. OSU (4-3, 2-1) Won @ NU 45-14. Should I just talk about how bad Nebraska is again? Their fans will think it's because people are more obsessed with them losing than their team's winning, but in fact it's just fascinating to watch a storied program completely crumble and have no one even attempting to resuscitate it. As for the 'Pokes, if they can use this game as a jumping off point, they have the athletes to either make some noise or spoil a season as they have KSU, UT, KU and OU all left on their slate.

5. TAMU (5-2, 2-1) Lost @ Tech 35-7. How they did not run all over Tech for more than 7 points is beyond me. 233 rushing yards isn't bad if you are not a team entirely dependent on running the ball and are not playing a team without a defense. If those things are true, though, you need to rack up a few more. You should also be able to score more than 7 points with 366 yards of total offense. With only 1 loss, they are in good position – I just have no faith in this team.

6. Baylor (3-4, 0-3) Lost @ KU 58-10. I won't kick them while they are down, but I'll be shocked if they win a conference game.

I'll be back later in the week with picks for the upcoming games and to preview Kansas/Colorado. In the meantime, here are some Kansas stats to enjoy. I know they won't last the season, but it's still a pretty site halfway through.

Total Offense: 515.8 - Ranked 7th nationally, 3rd in Big 12
Scoring Offense: 50.3 - Ranked 2nd nationally, 1st in Big 12
Total Defense: 240 - Ranked 3rd nationally, 1st in Big 12
Scoring Defense: 9.5 - Ranked 2nd nationally, 1st in Big 12

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