I had expected Nebraska to win the Big 12 North. I thought it would be less of a struggle for them to get there, though. Zac Taylor had a strong Senior year at quarterback, arguably having the best season of any Big 12 QB. Their defense was good, but not quite as dominant as many thought they would be. Their front seven is still one of the best in the nation, but I don't know how they gave up 41 points to Oklahoma State. Bernard Jackson had a breakout year, and impressed on many runs this season. Nebraska has some serious talent at running back, with Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn in the backfield as well. I honestly think that Nebraska could have won some more games if they had kept their offense simpler and used a little bit more of the good ol' Nebraska rushing attack. Still, they are headed to the Big XII Championship game to take on Oklahoma in what should be one of the best Championship games that the Big XII has seen in a while. As for next season, it seems likely that Arizona State transfer Sam Keller will take over the reins of the O from Taylor, who graduates this year. How well he picks up the offense will be key for their success next season. All the running backs return, as do most of the receivers. The big question for Nebraska's future is if they can replace Jay Moore, Adam Carriker, and Dontrell Moore. Bo Ruud must use his talent and take on a leadership role next year to make Nebraska's defense cohesive. If they can get that done, and Keller figures out the offense, watch out.
The Tigers started out the year on fire, looking nearly unstoppable until they lost a close game to A&M at Kyle Field. From there, it was mostly downhill. Aside from expected wins over Kansas and Kansas State, they struggled against the end of their schedule, with double-digit losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska, followed by an embarrassing loss to Iowa State. Even with all of that, all it would taken for the Tigers to win the North and have a shot at the Big 12 title was a victory over the Cornhuskers, so that puts things in perspective a little bit. The future looks bright with Chase Daniel at the helm, as he truly was impressive this season. Daniel might have the best NFL potential of the young Big 12 QBs, and that's saying something with the strengths that players like Graham Harrell bring to the table. The Tigers return most of their skill position players, so if they can get the job done in the trenches and keep up their aggressive defense, they could keep challenging Nebraska for the North title for a few years to come. Their offensive scheme is difficult to defend if they are executing well, as they bring multiple threats by using Daniel's talents to their full potential. Chase Coffman is one of the league's best tight ends, and punishes teams that lose sight of the TE because they are worried about Daniel's scrambling abilities. Gary Pinkel will be coaching for a while longer despite finishing the year poorly, so the program will have some stability over the next couple of seasons as well.
The Wildcats were two games that they should have won away from having a great season. An early loss to Baylor and a late loss to Kansas are the only reasons that everyone isn't talking about how Kansas State is back. They had the big win over UT, as QB Josh Freeman proved to the nation that he has some serious potential. Freeman reminds me quite a bit of Texas State's Barrick Nealy from a few years back, in that all the tools are there, but he needs to just develop a bit more consistency. That may very well come with time, and if it does, Kansas State will be a team not to be taken lightly. KSU is a relatively young team, and should only improve next year. Combine that with coach Ron Prince's aggressive mentality, and anyone who doesn't take them seriously next season could easily be in for a surprise. Offensively, they need to improve on execution and consistency. The defense needs to improve a bit with the linebackers and secondary, but the defensive line did well this year with their many sacks. The ingredients are there for the Wildcats to take that leap back into contender status next season. Whether they get it done or not will depend on Freeman's progression as a quarterback and minimizing mistakes as a team. The team needs to focus on fundamentals and techniques in the offseason, which is indicative of how close KSU is to getting back to the next level. It's the little things that kept this season from being Kansas State's big year. Maybe next year is the year.
The Jayhawks keep hitting a talent glass ceiling. I believe that Mangino is actually doing a great job with the program. Kansas was a better team than their record suggests, as they suffered many close losses. The middle of their schedule was cruel, as they lost to Nebraska by seven, A&M by three, Oklahoma State by ten, and Baylor by one. So it is basically only 21 points that separate Kansas from possibly being 10-2 instead of 6-6. Kansas' only bad loss of the season was to Toledo, and even that was an away game early in the season. The only game that they didn't have a chance to win was at Missouri. Jon Cornish had a fantastic year, but few people know about the way that he rushed for 1,457 yards with an average of 5.8 yards per carry. All the attention at KU revolves around basketball. Such is the plight of the Kansas football program. When I think Kansas, I think about the round ball, and so do football recruits. Until Kansas throws more money at supporting and promoting their football program, they will be a basketball school. They are really close to being a good program, but will probably get snubbed from a bowl game this year despite arguably deserving one. The Jayhawks might struggle to replace the production of Cornish next year, especially considering the quarterback issues that they had this season. They must select a QB early in the offseason and stick with him. It looks like next season will be a rebuilding year for KU, but don't count their program out just yet.
The Buffaloes got off to an abysmal start, losing their first six games. However, in some of those losses, you could see a bit of potential. After the Montana State disaster, they managed to nearly pull an upset on Georgia and gave decent efforts against Missouri and Baylor. Then, they had the good fortune of catching TTU at a time when we were demoralized as a team and a fanbase following our struggles against Missouri, and CU got a much-needed win for their program. They weren't able to keep it going, though, as the Oklahoma game the following week brought them back down to earth. The Buffs would only end up getting one more win on the season against an extremely disappointing Iowa State team, and Dan Hawkins' first year with the program wasn't nearly as good as anyone thought it would be. It remains to be seen how the team will respond to the struggles of this season, but if I had to guess, I would predict that next season will be more of the same, with a three or four win season this time. They may surprise another team that doesn't take them seriously the way that we did, but I don't see the talent, fan support, or coaching necessary to have a winning season yet. Judging by his comments throughout the season, Hawkins is either really apathetic or extremely resilient. Hopefully, it is the latter if you are a Colorado fan. Bernard Jackson made some decent strides as a QB this year, but it will take more from his surrounding cast for the Buffaloes to have a good season next year.
What happened here? This is a team that many, including myself, had as a legitimate contender for the North spot in the Big 12 Championship game. They had a Senior QB coming off of a strong Junior year, talented wideouts in Todd Blythe and Austin Flynn, and a capable running back in Stevie Hicks. Combine this with a defense that usually got the job done, and you have a recipe for success, right? Apparently not. I really can't even begin to figure out what went wrong here. I tried to find statistics that highlight the problems, but even there, nothing really jumps out other than the overall offensive and defensive struggles. If anyone can enlighten me more as to the glaring deficiencies that kept them from having a good team this year, feel free to let me know. There must have been more off-the-field than issues than we heard about, or a serious coaching issue with McCarney or others on the staff. Something went horribly, horribly wrong. The Cyclones are the underachiever of the year. Changes are afoot, however, as Iowa State has reportedly hired UT defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to fill the head coaching vacancy left by Dan McCarney. Chizik was bound to get a head coaching gig eventually with the way that he turned the Texas defense into an aggressive unit that was able to stop most teams that they faced. Time will only tell how successful Gene will be out in the Midwest, but for the time being, it appears to have been a good move on Iowa State's part. We'll have to wait and see.
(Questions, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be directed to Trent within the forums or through email at email@example.com.)