And now, music editor John Nova Lomax drops the CDs and offers up a little college football prognosticatin'...
This year's Big 12 season is shaping up to be a microcosm of college football in general. Just as no prognosticator has any real grasp on who should be ranked No. 1 at the beginning of this year, any one of several teams could take home whatever it is that they'll be handing out to the winners at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City this December.
Sure, a few teams have absolutely no shot. Missouri, for example. Now that Brad Smith is finally gone, I can't think of a single player off that team. The same goes for Kansas, but I can't think of anybody off that team from last year, either.
Baylor is getting better but still isn't ready for prime time, though a bowl game is possible. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is getting worse. Anything less than eight wins for the Aggies and their patsy non-conference schedule and mass suicides might ensue in College Station. And it would almost certainly spell the end of the Dennis Franchione experiment. I'm expecting they win exactly eight, though, with none of those wins being exactly glorious.
None of the schools with the word "State" in its name has a chance either. Kansas State is circling the drain, well on its way to its customary pre-Bill Snyder perpetual irrelevance. Oklahoma State needs to wait for the benefits from T. Boon Pickens's $50 trillion cash donation to kick in, and that's still a few years away. And Iowa State is the same ol', same ol' — a bunch of squareheaded cornfed dudes on both lines with names like "Schmeling," "Scherbring," "Tjaden" and "Braaksma" supplemented with whatever skill position scraps their coaches can round up from the inner cities of Omaha, Kansas City, Des Moines and Wichita. Kind of like Nebraska back in its glory days, only mediocre. Don't expect to see them and their Kansas City Chiefs rip-off uniforms playing at Arrowhead this December.
Speaking of the 'Huskers, they seem to be as good a pick as any to win the North. Only they won't. And it's not that winning the Big 12 North is much of an accomplishment -- it's right up there with whipping Paris Hilton at Scrabble. We're thinking here that Colorado repeats. We always liked their new coach Dan Hawkins at Boise State, though we can't say the same about the Buffs or Gary Barnett, their slimeball of a former coach. And did we mention their thuggish fans?
Still, CU is the program on the rise in the North. Don't believe the hype about Nebraska. Hell, if you were a high school football player, where would you rather spend the next few years — Boulder or Lincoln?
As has become the norm, the real contenders for the conference and national titles are all in the South. Texas Tech and their pack of greyhound receivers will put up some serious numbers on offense, new QB or no, but they will probably miss elusive little bowling ball of a halfback Taurean Henderson more than they would like to admit. But piratical coach Mike Leach has decided to actually field a defense this year — their front seven is sturdy and experienced, but their secondary has more question marks than the Riddler's costume.
And it looks like the wheels are falling off the Boomer Sooner wagon. Oklahoma's offensive line is as thin and brittle as phyllo dough, and this year's quarterback is the same guy who was beat out last year by an arrogant douchebag who got kicked off the team a few weeks ago for accepting a whole lot of cash for very little work. The black buzzards of NCAA doom are circling over Norman — it looks from here like Bob Stoops will be gone in a year or two and the Sooners will be getting punked by both Tech and their instate rivals from Stillwater, not to mention the Horns, year-in and year-out.
But this year? They still have Adrian Peterson, who when healthy reminds me of a mutant hybrid of Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell. And they've also got a rugged defense, at least up front. In back, there's the usual clusterfuck with the safeties. If your QB and linemen can withstand the Sooner pass rush, you can beat them with play-fakes and deep balls.
Which leaves us with Texas. The Horns return most of their starters on both sides of the ball off an undefeated national championship team. But the godlike Vince Young is gone, and now, so is the thuggish but electrifying Ramonce Taylor. The bottom line is this: If new QB Colt McCoy is the faster version of Major Applewhite Mack Brown and company say he is, the Horns could repeat. The offense is still stocked with gamebreakers in Quan Cosby, Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, Jamaal Charles and the newly-rejuvenated and slimmed-down Selvin Young, and the line features Pantera roadie look-alike Kasey Studdard and pre-season All-American Justin Blalock.
The defense should take on more of assistant defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's image this year — much like a herd of velociraptors, they will be fast, mean and coming at their opponents from all over the place. Look for defensive ends Tim Crowder and Brian Robison and strong safety Michael Griffin to have big years.
Or on the other hand, McCoy could falter early and Brown could revert to his puckered-butt pre-Vince form. A quarterback controversy between McCoy and highly-regarded true freshman Jevan Snead could swell up like a gulf storm and devour this team the same way the Chris Simms-Major Applewhite controversy did those underachieving turn-of-the-century squads. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis could renew his long-lamented passion for the dreaded three-yard out pass. And both of the top two halfbacks in Austin — Charles and Selvin Young -- have so far been injury-prone players with occasional bouts of fumbleitis. And OU could reassert their mental mojo over the Vince-less Horns, and Texas could go back to losing at least one game a year they shouldn't, as they did in the N.C. State, Stanford, Arkansas and Texas Tech games of the past few years.
Still, it would take all of those things happening at once to derail the Longhorns chances at a repeat of the conference title. And that's just a few too many what-ifs.
Big 12 North
1. Colorado 2. Nebraska 3. Iowa State 4. Kansas State 5. Kansas 6. Missouri
Big 12 South
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1. Texas 2. Texas Tech 3. Oklahoma 4. Texas A&M 5. Baylor 6. Oklahoma State