[Note by Stacey Dean: I will not necessarily adjust these from week-to-week rather I might wait two to three weeks but I will make changes soon, if needed. Right now, I think these power rankings are money. So let's get to them and let's learn more about what the Big 12 teams are bringing to the table in the still relatively new 2007 season.]
1. Oklahoma Sooners: Folks if you have yet to figure out that there is Oklahoma and then everybody else in the Big 12, then you've been hiding under a rock. While several preseason polls (AP, Coaches, etc), football annals and prognosticators penciled in the Texas Longhorns above the Oklahoma Sooners, you heard it here first, OU should have been the Big 12 favorite going into the season. We told you after week one, after watching them dismantle a lesser North Texas team who is in the process of rebuilding under new head coach Todd Dodge, that OU was primed to make a national championship run. Behind a squad of horses on both sides of the ball as well as plenty of horses in the kicking game, this team has what it takes to go all the way. Cannot even begin to explain how well Josh Heupel, OU QB coach, has done in mentoring redshirt freshman QB sensation Sam Bradford. The job he's done so far rivals the job Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis did last year in getting Texas' RS-FR QB Colt McCoy ready to peform. But while McCoy of Texas is still trying to break out of sophomore jinx mode, Bradford is excelling and putting his name in the top of the discussion for best QB in the land, period, and regardless of classification. When you look at all of the weapons Oklahoma has on offense it's ridiculous. Maybe even more incredible is how well the OU offensive line group is playing, once thought to be Top Five in the nation along with the Texas A&M O-Line group. But after a few weeks of review, I think it safe to say that the Sooner OL is one of the top three lines in the nation while the Aggie OL group is closer to one of the Top 20 units. Back to the Sooners: Add a pair of shutdown corners on defense in Marcus Walker and Reggie Smith, an impressive front seven that flies to the ball and tackles very well, make no mistake about it this Sooner football team is on its way (provided they do not lose focus during conference play, or get the big head) to battle for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Their competition for that berth will not come from the Big 12 – that's almost certain after watching Nebraska, Texas and Texas A&M look less than stellar on more than one occasion. No, sir. The only team capable of beating OU in conference play is the Sooners themselves. Although I will say this, the OU has been upset more than a few times in conference play and the Big 12 has more than a few times capable pulling off the upset special at least once this season. Outside of the conference, however, you're looking at four to five teams who are more than capable of giving the Sooners a run for the money. If I had to trot out my AP Top 5 today it would look like this: 1. USC, 2. OU, 3. LSU, 4. Penn State, 5. Florida. If that holds true to the end it'll be another Bob Stoops-Pete Carroll match up for all the marbles. And this time, it will be a good, hard-fought, best team wins-kind of game, totally different from the blowout loss Oklahoma suffered a few years ago when they were manhandled and exposed by a quicker, faster, and more physical Southern Cal football team in the BCS National championship contest.
[Next Game: Friday Night @ 7pm on ESPN2: Oklahoma – 23 @ Tulsa]
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Okay, I know they gave USC a game for a while, and for those of you who did not see the game, Nebraska actually took a 10-7 lead with 9:36 remaining in the first half. And they showed, with a good game plan, good execution what they're capable of if they can get that kind of effort for four quarters. However, they were exposed by a supremely talented Trojan football team over the remaining 2nd, 3rd and 4th Quarters. That said I do not think they should slip just because of that one game. I'm sure after Bill Callahan, his assistant coaches and players do their film review, study and adjustments that they probably feel like USC actually did them a favor, highlighting quite a few things to work on as they face one last tune-up game before entering conference play. And because of that I think Callahan and Co. have an excellent opportunity to get on a roll by reinforcing their strengths and working on their weaknesses. In our next edition of the Big Power Rankings we will make some personnel observations and break the Huskers down, but until then, I think this is a good Big Red team that has enough to contend for the North Division championship, possibly the Big 12 Championship as long as they continue to get better week in and week out. Something that remains to be seen I know full well. That said, I am not going to penalize the Huskers for losing to the No. 1 team in the nation, no matter how outmatched they looked after taking a 10-7 lead over USC in the second quarter of their contest because I think they'll learn and improve from that game. So, I'm showing faith in the Big Red machine and giving them the No. 2 nod for now. We're going to learn a lot more when conference play rolls around. It'll be tough for them to hold onto the No. 2 spot because I believe there are at least four to five other Big 12 teams capable of moving into that slot in our Big 12 Power Rankings in the weeks and months ahead. So, the Huskers will have to continue to prove that they're one of the best in the Big 12 in order to keep such a lofty spot.
[Next Game: Saturday Morning @ 11:30 am: Ball State + 22 @ Nebraska]
3. Texas Longhorns: After the Longhorns struggled to beat Arkansas State, then looked like a team to reckon with after whipping TCU, they reverted back to the squad that resembled the first week edition by narrowly beating an inspired Central Florida team. So hard to say exactly where the Horns should be when it comes to the Big 12 Power Rankings. I think we're going to learn quite a bit about just how good or bad this Mack Brown/Colt McCoy-led Longhorn squad really is after they play their next two scheduled opponents, Rice and Kansas State, more so KSU who is playing physical ball. At this point, I think you could put up a good argument to move UT into the No. 2 or 3 spot as well as make a very good argument to keep them where we had them a couple of weeks ago, No. 4. But as of this edition of the Big 12 Power Rankings, they're checking in at No. 3, just behind the Huskers. Although that is subject to change in the weeks ahead. And make no mistake about it the Horns are going to have their hands full when going into Manhattan to face one of the most physical defenses in the Big 12, not to mention a KSU offense that has the capability of improving week-to-week.
[Next Game: Saturday Night @ 6pm on FoxSportsH:Rice + 38.5 @ Texas]
T4: Texas A&M: I'm going to eat some crow. I said the Aggies would not lose to the Canes and I was wrong. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Texas A&M came out so conservatively on offense in the first half, waiting until the game was pretty much out of reach before giving Stephen McGee the green light to stretch the field. I thought we might see a little downfield passing attack in the opening half but to the chagrin of Aggieville, Franchione and Co. kept it too conservative in the first half, not giving their offense the opportunity to make big plays in the passing game by stretching the Miami defense, and putting pressure on its secondary the way Oklahoma did in their contest a couple of weeks ago, a blow out win over Miami. That said, I think the Aggies will go back to work this week and come out and play inspired football for four quarters if and when they open up a more vertical passing attack. You've got 6-foot-7 Martellus Bennett, sure-handed Joey Thomas and a fast wideout in Kerry Franks to stretch the field with, not to mention a few other receivers perhaps the fastest one in the receiving corps, albeit a very inexperienced and youthful one in E.J. Shankle. Utilize those targets in the weeks ahead and the Aggies can move back up the Power Rankings. Having said that I was encouraged by the A&M DC Gary Darnell's defense in the second half, where they flew to the ball, and tightened up their gap control in run defense. ILB Misi Tupe is a total bad ass and SS Alton Dixon isn't too shabby either. The Ags have some players, but they need the front four on defense to play up to its potential week in and week out. If you watched the entire game, the Aggie front four proved capable of being a formidable unit in the second half of their game against the Canes where they limited the Kyle Wright-led offensive attack to just 7 points, albeit with the Canes nursing a very comfortable lead. Still, Darnell and Co. have to be encouraged either way because they made some adjustments and they worked. Take that into the remainder of their schedule and this Aggie football team could show signs of being the team I thought they were capable of, a team to reckon with week in and week out despite having the toughest schedule in the nation.
[Next Game: Next Saturday Sep. 29: Baylor @ Texas A&M]
T4: Kansas State: Ron Prince and Co. have a bye week, giving them an extra week of preparation for their conference opener, a road game against Big 12 South foe and the No. 7/8 team in the nation, the Texas Longhorns. K-State since the inception of the Big 12, has given the Horns nightmares, going 3-2 against Texas, including one painful loss where they handed UT a W in Darrell K Royal Memorial Staidum. That Vince Young-led 2003 team managed to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat that day essentially via a gimme fumble as KSU looked to put a little more distance between themselves and UT before an impromptu fumble by KSU's Ell Roberson, jarred loose by Texas MLB Aaron Harris. That set up the impropable comeback, a game-wining UT TD-Drive. So the Wildcats could very well have had a 4-1 lead over the Horns since the inception of the Big 12 or even 5-0 against UT if not for a go-ahead KSU blocked field goal attempt to win the game in Manahttan (and with just seconds remainign on the clock the year before). That said, this is another season, and another team. And make no mistake about it, KSU boasts an attacking style of defense that is currently No. 2 in the conference in stopping the run, No. 1 in sacks, and No. 4 in the conference in stopping third-down conversions to the tune of an eye-popping 28 percent opponent conversion rate. They'll also trot out an offense capable of moving the ball better than they did against Auburn behind the play of cool-headed QB Josh Freeman, with a running game that looks to be improving week to week, not to mention an offensive line that could begin to mesh in time to give Freeman the time he needs to make plays in the passing game. No doubt in mind, the Wildcats are looking for an upset to kick off their Big 12 conference slate, something that if they manage to do, will have them gaining national recognition as an up-and-coming team as well as being a serious player for the North Division Crown (although Missouri and Nebraska may have something to say about that). This KSU @ UT match up September 29 could be one of the better match-ups in all of the country and is already slotted for an ABC 2:30 pm Saturday tilt where expectations suggest it could be a game that goes all the way down to the last few seconds. I'm looking forward to this game as it will tell us quite a bit about the direction of not only Kansas State but the Texas Longhorns too.
[Bye Week: Next Game Sep. 29 on ABC @ 2:30 pm: Kansas State @ Texas]
T6: Texas Tech: Okay climbing into the upper-half of the conference pecking order, despite actually being tied with Missouri for No. 6 as well, is a step in the right direction for the Mike Leach-led Red Raider football team. They've continued to impress week in and week out and this week kick off the conference schedule by going into Stillwater to tangle with an Oklahoma State Cowboy team who has its best QB – Bobby Reid -- a 6-foot-5 Donovan McNabb-type QB -- holding a clipboard on the sidelines, who received no reps in practice this week while Mike Gundy/Larry Fedora and Gang elect to start a signal caller who will never play in the NFL, Zac Robinson... While that might sound a little harsh to the Oklahoma State alumni, coaches and fans, not to mention Robinson and his family, we'll go into a little bit more detail in Part Two of our Power Rankings which is where Oklahoma State resides, slipping into the bottom half of the Big 12 despite actually having a team with the overall talent, coaching prowess, and a terrific QB in Bobby Reid to ascend back into the upper-half of the conference rankings. That said, let's get back to Texas Tech who we mentioned would be a team capable of moving into the upper-half of the conference after surprisingly filling some questionable holes on offense and defense in our first release of the Big Power Rankings two weeks ago, something they continue proving that they have done and especially well following our initial assessment about the state of the Red Raider football team. With a road win over Oklahoma State this weekend, they can cement their place into the upper-half of the conference, which I personally think they'll do. Let's not kid ourselves either. Graham Harrell is a bad ass QB and he's in the starting line up for the Red Raiders. Bobby Reid is a bad ass QB and he's not in the starting line up for the Cowboys. Pretty easy to predict a road win for Mike Leach and Gang if you ask me, unless of course, Mike Gundy/Larry Fedora and Gang will have just as itchy of a trigger finger when it comes to pulling Robinson as they've demonstrated that they have had with Reid. And, that my friend, is the only chance Oklahoma State has in my opinion to knock off Texas Tech. This, if you're following me here, suggests that if Robinson cannot move the ball effectively, something he proved not able to do against Troy last week, then the OSU coaching staff ought to put Reid in and give him a shot. Because, in my humble yet confident opinion, that is the only chance OSU has to beat TTU. Make no mistake about it, there's not a more exciting Big 12 game this weekend and I cannot wait to see how the Oklahoma State and Texas Tech game plays out. I will be tuning in. Will you?
[Next Game: Saturday on FoxSportsH @ 2:30 pm: Texas Tech – 6 @ OSU]