Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ruminations on the First Half of Big XII Play

My, how much we've learned in four short weeks. Think back to the first days of October:

- Oklahoma was the unquestioned national number 1
- Their only legitimate challenger in the conference was Methzou with an offense that couldn't be stopped
- Texas Tech's offense was struggling (by their standards)
- Oklahoma State was the same old Okie State with a lot of offense and no defense
- Texas was good, but not great
- Kansas was the tiniest misstep away from being an undefeated top 10 team
- And Nebraska was as bad or worse than a year ago

Now, as we get ready for November and the second half of the league seasons:

- No one is quite sure about Oklahoma. Their offense is pretty much exactly what we thought it was, but it has to be because their defense, primarily their back 7 (score one for KJ-IBT) has proven to be awful allowing nearly 40 points and 500 yards over the last three games.
- Methzou was hit hard with reality as they were beaten in Columbia by OSU and then humiliated in Austin. They're still the best in the north, but a legit challenger in the conference or country, they are not.
- Texas Tech's offense looks better than ever, but they'll face their first real defense this week. We'll see how they respond. (Note: Graham Harrell is a whiny bitch)
- OSU is not at all the same old Pokes. And honestly, I really don't know why. Their offensive balance is better than anyone else in the country, but that was expected. And though their defense never looks all that good, they keep holding high scoring offenses in check. I'll admit when I'm wrong; that is a good football team.
- Texas is now the unquestioned #1 team in the country and looks like the prohibitive favorite for the MNC.
- Kansas' defense has completely abandoned them (are we all ready to admit that I was right when I said d-line was a bigger concern than o-line?!?) and good as their offense is, it just can't keep up. They've fallen out of the rankings and are resorting to panic moves. If they don't right the ship quickly, they're at risk of letting the season slip away.
- And finally, the Bugeaters look semi-legitimate. They've identified their weaknesses (defense) and done everything in their power to hide them (read: efficient, ball control offense). Please follow suit, Mark Mangino.

So ya, a lot has changed. And while I think we have a pretty good handle on every team in the league (Tech may be the exception) right now, I'd bet on a few more surprises along the way. For now, here are your
KJ-IBT mid-season award winners.

Offensive MVP: Colt McCoy. And it's really not close. Others have similar stats, but no one is being asked to do nearly as much as Colt. He's also the only one without a legitimate running back. Lest we forget, not much was even expected from this offense and yet it's proving to be one of the best around.

Defensive MVP: Roddrick Muckelroy. This is a tough call, because no unit in the whole league has been all that good. And a big part of Muckelroy's success comes from the d-line he gets to play behind with Roy Miller commanding double teams and Orakpo (he of the 14 TFL, 9 sacks and a very legit choice) and Houston almost always winning their 1-on-1 off the edge. But Muckelroy is the clean up guy and in a conference with offenses like the ones he's playing against, tackling is as important as anything. He has 79; the next closest on UT is safety Blake Gideon, with 40. Muschamp asks a lot of Muckelroy and so far he's getting it done.

Coach: Mike Gundy. There's something I never thought I'd type. But really, the only other possible choice right now is Mack Brown. At a maximum, there are four teams meeting (or exceeding) their expectations: Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and OSU. Mack is a very legitimate choice. Leach could be, but isn't yet, solely based on competition. Briles has Robert Griffin to thank and still has only won once in the league. Gundy, meanwhile, has turned a perennial underachiever into a legitimate top ten/BCS caliber team. A lot can change in a month, but he's the clear cut favorite right now.

Most underrated – offense: Kendall Hunter. This is kind of a cop out answer, because anyone who really follows Big XII football knows that Hunter is as important to their offense as anyone. But somehow you never really hear about him, even though he has nearly twice as many yards (1,116 -6.6 per- to 624 -5.0 per- for Murray) as the next closest back in the league. And really, he has shared a ton of carries with Toston (517 at 7.3 per). Baron Batch is also a very good answer here. And Jake Sharp could be, but even his own coach is underrating him.

Most underrated – defense: Roy Miller. I honestly have no idea here. With the offenses dominating like they are in this league, every good defensive performance seems to get pretty noticed. I went with Miller because of what he does for their defense, nearly always occupying two blockers. One of the biggest differentiations for Texas is their ability to make teams one dimensional (and capitalize). Roy Miller is as big a reason as any for that capability and yet you rarely hear his name called.

Biggest surprise: Oklahoma State. Tech will certainly have their chance to steal this award, but for now it's a no-brainer. You saw their talent the last couple of years, but there was never any reason to believe they'd put it together. But unless a Gundy implosion is on the horizon, there is no reason they can't be a BCS team.

Biggest disappointment: Colorado. This was everyone's chic pick to possibly contend for the north, with only their brutal schedule getting in the way. Instead, they look as helpless as ever. In a league dominated by offense, they're barely cracking double digits (10.5) and they're over 50 yards behind the next worst in total offense, only registering 263 per game. This team has actually regressed from the progress they made last year. Maybe Hawkins has a plan here, but we haven't seen it yet.

On that note, I'd like to leave you with a couple related links. The first comes from the Omaha World-herald in which Lee Barfknecht proposes realignment within the conference.

Big XII East: OU, OSU, MU, ISU, A&M, Baylor
Big XII West: UT, Tech, KU, KSU, CU, Nebraska

With this alignment, you would play a 5-2-1 format that allows you to play all five in your division, rotate 2 from the other and have one annual cross-division game a year to preserve an old rivalry. Personally, I think it is genius and I'd make it happen as soon as possible. (H/T goes to Tim Griffin for linking to this article and posting his reaction. However, his suggestion of an 11 game conference season is a bit much. I see his points, but it's just not feasible. It works in a 10 team league without a championship game (i.e the Pac 10), because they're still able to play three OOC games. Limiting that to one game is just taking things way too far.)

Your thoughts?

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