Now that we have the first week of college ball behind us it seems a fitting time to evaluate each team's strengths and weaknesses in order to determine where they fall in the Big 12 power continuum.
1. Texas (1-0 0-0) Texas sits alone atop the first Big 12 power ranking on potential alone. There is no other team in the conference so loaded with talent and experience as the Longhorns. But, as recent history has shown in Austin, talent, experience, and $2.00 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks…barely. With the exception of their annual disappearing act in the Cotton Bowl in early October, Texas ran the table last year. Vince Young's erratic performances were enough in 2004 to get the Horns past the average-to-good teams on the schedule, including a sub-par Michigan team in the Rose Bowl. However much has been made of the Rose Bowl victory and Young's feats of bravado, the fact remains that Vince has a history of erratic play and Mack has a history of choking on the big one. And after watching Oklahoma play like McNeese State against TCU on September 3rd, every Texas loyalist with a full-time job is busy rolling pennies to pay for those Big 12 Championship game tickets this coming December. But a thorough plowing of Louisiana-Laugheyette does not a number one team make and Texas must still get by a dangerous Sooner squad still capable of pulling a sixth straight rabbit out of their Cotton Bowl hat on October 8th.
Next up: September 10th - Ohio State in Columbus.
2. Colorado (1-0 0-0) The Buffaloes sent Colorado State packing as their opportunistic secondary picked off Justin Holland four times en route to a 31-28 victory last Saturday. Although the Buffs allowed a whopping 386 yards of total offense to Colorado State, they still displayed the resiliency and toughness necessary to come from a 21-10 third quarter deficit to win the game. Klatt and Charles did not disappoint and as the non-conference pastries continue, expect the Buff's confidence to build.
Next up: September 10th - New Mexico State in Boulder.
3. Oklahoma (0-1 0-0) Just when you think that the only major question mark the Sooners might have is on defense, the offense collapses. The Sooner nation, having come to expect little from the Sooner defense after the fiasco of 2004, must have been pleasantly surprised by the performance turned in by the Venables/Wright coaching tandem against TCU. But the Achille's Heel for the Sooners last Saturday was the offense. The o-line was out-blocked all afternoon and the starting quarterback, a three-year veteran of the system, played like an incoming freshman. Chuck Long's play calling was patently predictable and the Horned Frogs fed all afternoon on Oklahoma's sloppy execution. The current question on everyone's mind is whether TCU is truly as good as they seemed or whether Oklahoma is actually as bad as they appeared. The true picture should come into focus after October 8th.
Next up: September 10th - Tulsa in Norman.
4. Iowa State (1-0 0-0) The Big 12 may have a rising offensive star in Cyclone quarterback Bret Meyer, who passed for an impressive 314 yards and 1 touchdown with no interceptions in Iowa State's opening day win over Illinois State. The Cyclones only allowed the Redbirds 89 yards rushing and 12 first downs in their 32-21 victory. Although Illinois State is a I-AA Gateway Conference team, Iowa State did what they had to do – iron out the first-game wrinkles. Beginning next week, the Cyclones get to play with the adults when the Hawkeyes come to town.
Next up: September 10th - Iowa in Ames.
5. Missouri (1-0 0-0) This Tiger team has more promise than last year's squad with none of the pressure of high expectation. Which is good news for Missouri and bad news for the rest of the conference's northern tier. Brad Smith displayed flashes of past brilliance while dominating Arkansas State. The problem with this scenario is that everyone dominates Arkansas State. But the fact remains that Missouri should and probably will carry a 3-0 record into their October 1st showdown with Texas in Columbia. But in order for Pinkel's boys to pull off the upset several things must occur; Texas must be looking ahead to Oklahoma and have a letdown after the Ohio State game, whether it was won or lost. And more importantly, for Missouri to have a chance, Mack Brown and Greg Davis must once again snatch defeat from the yawning jaws of victory.
Next up: September 10th - New Mexico in Columbia.
6. Texas A&M (0-1 0-0) Texas A&M losing their opening game is a tradition that extends back to the early days of R.C. Slocum. And the way this Aggie team managed to lose to Clemson was reminiscent of the Aggie days of old; a 42-yard Clemson field goal with two seconds remaining in the game. But all things considered, progress is being made in College Station. Last year, the Aggies were blistered by St. Urban the 1st in Provo in their opener. However be that as it may, better things are on the horizon for TAG…like SMU.
Next up: September 17th - SMU in College Station (Sept 17).
7. Kansas State (1-0 0-0) If the K-State defense is better in '05 than it was in '04 when it placed sixth in conference, their first contest against Florida International didn't show it. Although holding FI to 236 total yards, the Wildcats still allowed Don Strock's Golden Panthers 21 points and the game was still in question with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The ‘Cats will be traveling to West Virginia to try to exact a measure of revenge from 2003's painful 27-20 loss to the Thundering Herd but may have a hard time in the offing. Marshall, even though they downed lightly-regarded William & Mary on September 1st in a closer-than-anticipated victory, will be a tough team to defeat on their home turf. If Snyder's KSU team can clear the Marshall hurdle they should take a 3-0 record and a barrel full of momentum into Norman on October 1st.
Next up: September 10th - Marshall in Huntington, W. VA.
8. Texas Tech (0-0 0-0) If Mike Leach ever figures out that his team needs to be effective on both sides of the line of scrimmage, the other Big 12 teams may be in for a world of hurt. But until that time, you'll be looking at a very dangerous, upset-minded second tier squad. Leach's quarterbacks continue to be plugged into the system every season and they continue to break records. And they continue to lose at least four games to teams who know how to stop the pass and attack the Raider's mediocre defense. This year could be different as Tech returns eight defensive starters along with their punter and place kicker. Now if Leach would just provide some parental supervision for defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich, the Raiders might be able to clear that final hurdle from mediocrity to stardom.
Next up: September 10th - Florida International in Lubbock.
9. Nebraska (1-0 0-0) There once was a time when the Cornhuskers appeared to be one of those teams who would perpetually avoid a recession in talent and performance. While many major college teams with historic traditions were floundering (e.g. USC, Oklahoma, Alabama, Notre Dame) the Huskers seemed able to plug in new, dynamic talent year after year and just keep on keepin' on. And then Tom Osborne retired. Frank Solich brought a stolid, workmanlike demeanor to Nebraska, but failed to keep up with the innovations occurring in the college football world. Solich expected to continue running the ball in the same bruising fashion employing a quarterback more sleek and mobile than arm-accurate, and the program sank. Mix in the loss of respected AD Bill Byrne and you have a recipe for imminent failure. The combination of new AD Steve Pederson and new head coach Bill Callahan has taken the university to a level unanticipated by anyone associated with the Nebraska program within the past half century. Star players have been alienated and have transferred, respected opponents have been offended by Callahan's crass post-game remarks and the team has lost games on a scale not seen since Bill Jennings coached in the late fiftie /early sixties. What to expect in 2005? Callahan has lured juco quarterback Zac Taylor to campus to breathe life back into the moribund NU offense. If Taylor can perform as advertised, the West Coast offense on the Nebraska plains could fly and save Callahan's job. The defense, so dreadful in '04, returns only five starters which presents us with one of those good/bad situations. If the opening game against Maine is any indication, the Huskers are in for a long season.
Next up: September 10th - Wake Forest in Lincoln.
10. Kansas (1-0 0-0) Mangino, crown-prince of the juco transfer transfusion, is having a bit of a struggle working the same magic in Lawrence that he helped engineer in both Manhattan and Norman. His '04 team was perhaps the most underrated 4-7 team in America. The Jayhawks played well last year and in many cases, completely over their heads. Mangino knows how to get the best from the talent at hand, which should mean sunny skies for the program in the next few years, if not this season. The victory last weekend over Florida Atlantic provided a boost and the schedule over the next two weeks, designed for confidence building, should do exactly that before the Jayhawks travel to Lubbock for what could prove to be a make-or-break game. Should Kansas successfully attack Leach's jello defense and stave off the Red Raider's aerial blitzkrieg, Mangino's boys have a chance at a winning season and a bowl.
Next up: September 10th - Appalachian State in Lawrence.
11. Oklahoma State (1-0 0-0) You've got to respect Mike Gundy, if not for brains at least for guts and integrity. Coach Gundy suspended a multitude of talented players during the off season and in light of other lost players (one to death and several to injury and graduation), it makes his disciplinary actions all the more admirable. Gundy had just better hope that the alumni association share his penchant for discipline because the results as they translate between the sidelines on Saturday afternoons promise to be painful in 2005. The Cowboys' opening win against 1-AA Montana State wasn't a laugher, as had been hoped. The Cowboys trailed MSU 10-8 at half before finally eking out a 15-10 victory. OSU should manage a misleadingly respectable 3-0 start before receiving a Big 12 wake-up call when Colorado visits Stillwater on October 1st.
Next up: September 8th - Florida Atlantic at Dolphin's Stadium, Miami.
12. Baylor (1-0 0-0) After ambushing an unsuspecting Texas A&M team in '04, instead of building on that momentum Baylor went back on the downhill toboggan with ensuing wipe-out losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. So who woulda' thought the Baylor Bagels could go 3-0 to start the'05 season? But that result is a distinct possibility for Guy Morriss' team. Going beyond that I'd like to be able to write an encouraging word for Baylor this year, but after September 17th, the Bagels will turn back into pumpkins. With only four returning starters on offense coach Morriss could possibly post his second consecutive three-win campaign.
Next up: September 10th - Samford at Waco.
Wann Smith has served two years as national columnist for the Pigskin Post, contributed to the College Football News (a contributor to Fox Sports and the Sporting News) and is currently the editor of the College Football Gazette. Smith lives in St. Louis with his family.
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