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Big 12 (North) Conference Preview
by Matt Fargo - 09/02/2009
As strong as the Big XII South is, the North is just the opposite. There are good teams within the division no doubt but it is unlikely that any team will be able to challenge the top teams in the South as the top team in this division would finish either fourth or fifth in the other division. It looks as though it may be a two-team race in the North between Kansas and Nebraska although Colorado could be a sleeper and even a rebuilding Missouri team should not be discounted. Since 2006, there have been only nine bowl appearances from teams out of the North which comes after five of the six teams made it to a bowl game in 2005.
Kansas Jayhawks 8-5 SU, 7-5 ATS, 8-4 O/U
Summary: The Jayhawks get the edge because of the offense and namely, quarterback Todd Reesing. He was sensational last season as he completed over 66 percent of his passes while throwing 32 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. Kansas finished 21st in the nation in total offense and 22nd in scoring offense and with seven starters back, it should be just as potent as all of the playmakers are returning. The reason Kansas is not an elite team in this conference is because of the defense. In 2007, the Jayhawks were one of the best defensive units in the country but slipped to 89th overall last season. Seven starters are back so things should improve but just not enough to make a run at the big boys. It may be sufficient in this division though.
Schedule: Kansas only has one road game through the first six weeks of the season as four of its first five games are at friendly Memorial Stadium and also included in there is a bye before Big XII action starts. The Jayhawks play two home games, including Nebraska, and two road games within the division along with a neutral site game. Kansas has to play Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from the South.
Bottom Line: Kansas has gone from perennial doormat to annual contender and that is because of head coach Mark Mangino who has turned this program around. He sent them to the Orange Bowl two years ago but he has yet to win the big ones against the top dogs in the Big XII as he is 0-9 against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. He gets a shot at all three this year and we will probably see that record jump to 0-12.
Betting Forecast: Kansas is 16-6 ATS the last six years as a home favorite. It will be in that role four times this season and that record should improve even more.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 9-4 SU, 7-6 ATS, 7-6 O/U
Summary: We may be seeing the reemergence of Nebraska football. After head coach Bill Callahan went 27-22 in his four seasons, he was replaced by Bo Pelini who led the Huskers to a 9-4 record and a bowl win. Pelini is known for his defense as he was the defensive coordinator at LSU for three seasons before coming back to Lincoln where he was the DC in 2003 when Nebraska allowed just 14.5 ppg. In 2007, the Huskers allowed 477 ypg, the worst in school history but they improved that by 127 yards last season and should be even better this year. The issue this season will be on offense where the quarterback, running back and receivers all need to be replaced. Nebraska hopes that the defense can carry the load for a while until the inexperienced offense can come together.
Schedule: The non-conference schedule contains three relatively easy home games as well as a tough one at Virginia Tech where the Huskers will be out for some revenge. The Big XII schedule is not all that bad with two of the three games against the South taking place at home with those being Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Three of the five North games are on the road including the big one at Kansas.
Bottom Line: Nebraska has a very good shot at this division if and only if the offense can come around. It has five weeks before conference action gets underway and that should be ample time to see how this team is able to move the ball. The ‘Blackshirts’ of years past are not back yet but Pelini, along with his brother Carl, are moving back in that direction as this defense will once again reign supreme in the very near future.
Betting Forecast: Pelini went 0-1 ATS as a home underdog last season but with a defense that will be improving, the Huskers could be good takes in those spots this year.
Colorado Buffaloes 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS, 4-7 O/U
Summary: The Dan Hawkins era did not begin well with an embarrassing home loss to Montana St. in his very first game as head coach. His team went 2-10 that year but he has gone a respectable 11-14 since then including a trip to the 2007 Independence Bowl. It is now time for Hawkins to make big improvements or he could be looking at his final days in Boulder. The offense was pretty anemic last season as it finished 95th overall and 100th in scoring. The offensive line and running backs are the strength so expect to see more power football from the Buffaloes. The defense is bringing back just four starters and the entire defensive line needs to be replaced. The secondary should be good which is important in this conference. If the defense can make big strides then Colorado does have an opportunity to make a move toward the top.
Schedule: Colorado starts the season with its annual game against Colorado St. before facing Toledo and West Virginia on the road sandwiched around a home game against Wyoming. The Buffaloes open the conference slate at Texas before returning home to take on Kansas the next week. Three of the five North games are at home while the other two games in the South are at Oklahoma St. and at home against Texas A&M.
Bottom Line: This is a very young team as there are only 13 seniors listed on the entire roster with only five of those being projected starters. While that may sound horrific, the good news is that a lot of young players got playing time last season because of the numerous injuries that took place. There are still a lot of lingering questions, most surrounding the defense, that need to be answered.
Betting Forecast: Colorado is 14-21 ATS under Hawkins with all three years being non-profitable. I think we can see a reversal as people will once again be down on Colorado.
Missouri Tigers 10-4 SU, 5-8 ATS, 7-6 O/U
Summary: Missouri has put together terrific back-to-back seasons with 22 combined wins but the run could be over. Only nine starters are back overall and there were big hits on both sides. The Tigers need to retool on offense following its rankings of 8th in the nation in total offense and 6th in scoring offense. Losing quarterback Chase Daniel is a huge hit but the Tigers are also without All-American receiver Jeremy Maclin and All-American tight end Chase Coffman and those two losses are arguably worse as a new quarterback can adjust quickly if he has proven pass catchers around him. Also gone is offensive coordinator Dave Christensen who took the head coaching job at Wyoming. The offense is very young with over half of the half of the starters being sophomores. Defensively, the Tigers lost seven All-Big XII players and that is tough to overcome.
Schedule: Missouri starts off with a neutral site game against Illinois in St. Louis before hosting Bowling Green and Furman, The Tigers close the non-conference season with a game at Nevada. The Big XII schedule is not that bad as of the eight games, only three are true road games and two of those are winnable at Colorado and Kansas St. From the South, they are at Oklahoma St. but get Texas at home for homecoming.
Bottom Line: It looks like a rebuilding season is in store for Missouri following two special years. Head coach Gary Pinkel has put together four straight winning seasons and four straight bowl games including three wins. It may take his best coaching job ever to get the Tigers back to the top of the division and to achieve a winning record for that matter. The defense was horrible last year and won’t be much better now.
Betting Forecast: Missouri is 18-11 ATS in non-conference games under Pinkel but look for that to reverse itself out as all of those are early this season.
Iowa St. Cyclones 2-10 SU, 5-6 ATS, 8-3 O/U
Summary: Iowa St. could be in store for a very good season if it can somehow find a way to stop the opponent. The Cyclones have finished in the basement of the North Division for three straight years and the only way they will come up for air is if they can win on the road. They have dropped 17 straight games on the road so it is pretty obvious what they need to do. The offense finished 44th in the nation last year and with nine starters back, the unit should be even better. Scoring is not the problem however as the defense allowed 35.8 ppg last season, 110th in the country. Head coach Paul Rhodes is a former defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn and he had success at both as did his new DC Wally Burnham in his eight years at South Florida. Iowa St. will get better on that side of the ball but we don’t know how much.
Schedule: Iowa St. has arguably the easiest schedule in the entire conference. The toughest non-conference game is against rival Iowa but that one is at home this season. The other three non-conference games are against North Dakota St., Army and Kent, the last being the only one on the road. In the Big XII, the Cyclones miss Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from the South.
Bottom Line: It would be easy to put Iowa St. back in the basement once again but it looks as though progress is being made already even though a game has yet to be played. The offense will be solid and the hiring of Tom Herman, who set records at Rice the last two years, as offensive coordinator will make it even better. A win or two on the road may mean the first bowl game since 2005.
Betting Forecast: After a 1-9 ATS run as a home underdog from 2000-2003, the Cyclones are 10-6 ATS since then and could surprise many in that role this season.
Kansas St. Wildcats 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS, 8-3 O/U
Summary: It’s hard to believe that Kansas St. was in the fiesta Bowl just six years ago. Since then, the Wildcats have had only one winning season and saw the greatest coach the program has seen retire only to come back this season. Legendary Bill Snyder is back on the sidelines in hopes of returning the program back to its glory days of the late ’90’s. It isn’t going to happen overnight and he may not make it happen at all depending on the length of his stay. The Wildcats of old were about defense and that is something that has been lacking for the last five years. Last season, Kansas St. finished 117th in total defense and 106th or worse in the other three main categories. The turnaround must begin with that unit. The offense is not looking much better as there are big holes at quarterback and running back.
Schedule: As is the case every year in Manhattan, the Wildcats are playing a soft schedule outside the conference. They face two FCS teams, Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech while also playing La-Lafayette. They do have a challenging game at UCLA as well. Kansas St. only has three true conference road games but two of those are at Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Getting three North home games definitely helps.
Bottom Line: Snyder did it once and he can certainly do it again but unfortunately he is starting from scratch once again. Former head coach Ron Prince, who lasted only three years, is being held responsible for the downward spiral of the program but truth be told, it was going downhill in Snyder’s last two seasons so Prince should not be totally blamed. Snyder is 3-23 lifetime against teams ranked in the top ten.
Betting Forecast: After a 4-0 ATS run as home dogs under Snyder, Kansas St. went 2-6 ATS under Prince. Even Snyder won’t be able to turn that back around.