With recent complaints about our Big 10 dominated coverage on the blog, I thought it would be prudent to shine some light on other conferences. Therefore, I decided to conduct a little synopsis of this years Big 12 football squads and how they look headed into 2009. Below are my thoughts on the Big 12 North Division with the south predictions coming later in the week (this took a lot longer than I thought it would). Also, I plan on posting my breakdown and prediction of the Iowa vs. Iowa State basketball game this Friday. Well, go ahead and read my thoughts and predictions on the mighty North Division and tell me what you agree and disagree on.
Record: 9-4 (5-3); #17
The Tigers came into 2008 with a top ten ranking and minor discussion of a run at the national championship being whispered around Columbia. Its defense would unfortunately not be up to the challenge of matching Gary Pinkel’s masterful offense in performance. This lack of success was in spite of the defense returning nine starters and four of its top five leading tacklers. 2008 will always be a season remembered for failed expectations. Quarterback Chase Daniel put up over 4,000 passing yards and helped lead his team to a North Division title, but with the programs increased expectations, Gary Pinkel’s supposed best team ever couldn't achieve the coveted BCS bowl game that had eluded them in 2007. Losses to arch-rival Kansas on the last play of the game and a 41 point demolishing at the hands of Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game have also left a sour taste for the Tigers unclaimed dream season.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Looking ahead the Tigers will fall back towards the rest of the North Division pack with the graduation of their top passing quarterback in school history (Daniel). An underachieving defense will only get worse with the graduation of All-Big 12 unanimous first-team selection safety William Moore. Fellow first teamers Ziggy Hood on the defensive line, weakside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, and sack specialist Stryker Sulak (2nd Team) will also be abandoning the Tiger’s atrocious defense. Superb tight end Chase Coffman (83 receptions, 10 TDs) is also headed for pomp and circumstance.
A positive note is that you can only go but up with the #59 ranked defense in the country. Super wideout Jeremy Maclin and shifty running back Derrick Washington will return to help provide much needed weaponry to an offense lacking a proven passer. Texas and Nebraska will also be coming to Columbia next season. Still, Missouri is headed for some deep regression. If Pinkel doesn’t move to another coaching job, he’s in store for a heck of a rebuilding year and high scoring shootouts galore. I call for a .500 season, 4th place in the North Division, and no more than seven wins for the Tigers in ‘09.
Memorial Stadium (cap. 68,349) though a picturesque venue for football, reminds me of the mellow ACC stadiums with its grassy knolls for picnicking and tossing the Frisbee around. If you want to be a hard-core football school, you have to ditch the picnic blankets. Missouri’s home field fails to sell-out consistently and strikes little fear into visiting teams, especially if it’s a day kickoff. For this program to take the next step and maintain its recent success, a more proper intimidating atmosphere must be instilled at Memorial Stadium. Otherwise, this team will lose games against evenly matched squads that a hostile crowd tips the favor for.
Stadium Grade: B-
Record: 7-5 (4-4)
Topping a team record 12 wins was quite a chore for any program and the Jayhawks’ seven win 2008 season is nothing to look down upon. The team failed to maintain its lofty top 25 ranking but the team again should not see their bowl eligible season as a step backwards. The loss of defensive coordinator Bill Young to Miami was immediately felt. Kansas in 2007 had the nations #4 ranked defense nationally but quickly fell to 94th with nine returning starters. Offensively, the Jayhawks showed continued success with quarterback Todd Reesing (Jr.) developing into a top-flight passer. Head coach Mark Mangino in his seven years has finally developed a solid football program in Lawrence.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Todd Reesing saw his completion percentage and total passing yards improve but did increase his interceptions thrown (12), while throwing less touchdown passes (28) than in 2007 (33). Critics must understand that Reesing was only a sophomore and is just now becoming an upper-classman. Experience will be returning to the skill positions for Kansas too with stud possession receivers Kerry Meier (led team with 87 receptions) and sophomore Dezmon Briscoe (team high 12 TDs) lining up on the outside. Kansas’ top two rushers in juniors Jake Sharp and Angus Quigley will also be returning.
Losses will be prevalent along the offensive line with center Ryan Cantrell being the biggest loss. Graduation in 2008 will decimate the Jayhawks’ front seven with only tackle Caleb Blakesley returning. The Kansas secondary will return fully intact, yet their 2008 performance leaves nothing to be desired. Returning first-team Big 12 safety Darrell Stuckey does provide hope that the pass defense may improve next year. Kansas has some major holes to fill, but where the Jayhawks are solidified, they’re extremely talented. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri are coming to Lawrence in 2009 and Mangino is consistently fielding an annual offensive powerhouse. The head coach also has a knack for beating the teams he’s supposed to and avoiding the upset. The Cornhusker’s visit to Lawrence will allow for a second-place finish in the North division and an 8 win season.
Memorial Stadium’s (cap. 50,071) lack of size demonstrates the fact that Kansas is a basketball school. A major university of Kansas’ caliber should be able to sport stronger football passion amongst its fan base. The crowds can get pretty nasty for big games but there should be at least 30,000 more seats in this stadium. Kansas didn’t even average a sell-out for their dream season. Maybe continued success under Mangino will bring further expansion to Memorial Stadium and acknowledgment from Jayhawk fans that they have a football program.
Stadium Grade: B-
Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Ron Prince was hoping his third year in Manhattan would birth a breakthrough season. Instead, the Wildcats season took a turn for the worst with the team displaying a total lack of discipline on the field that led to Prince’s firing at the end of the season. Super prep Josh Freeman failed to place himself in comparison with his elite Big-12 quarterback brethren. Though, you can’t totally blame him when you look at the loss of Jordy Nelson to the NFL and a complete absence of a running attack. The Wildcat program is a now a shadow of its former 1990s self. To stop the slide, the Wildcats have brought back the man that built Kansas State into a national power (Bill Snyder) and hired former Clemson offensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Converted defensive back/tight end Lamark Brown being the leading rusher (412 yards) for the Wildcats displays how desperate the team sought a running game. Brown’s tremendous size (6-3, 229 lbs) does inspire vast amounts of potential though. Three year starting quarterback Josh Freeman has shown flashes of brilliance while wearing the Wildcat uniform and flashes of failure. The fact remains; there just isn’t much talent around the gifted quarterback. No longer do Big 12 foes have to worry about lining up against a vaunted defense when they travel to Manhattan. One thing is for sure with Bill Snyder’s return, a much improved physical defensive system. Something that was very lacking under Ron Prince.
An infusion of junior college players has been the hallmark of Kansas State football since its resurgence in the early 1990s, but with the growth of other Big 12 programs (Missouri and Texas Tech), a reliance on quick infusions of talent is no longer a viable long term solution. Consistency and camaraderie are difficult facets to construct with a turnstile flow of two-year players. Coach Bill Snyder will have to understand the need to change a philosophy he fostered by ending the reliance on jucos for quick success. With the graduation of Ian Campbell, the Wildcats will fail to field any possible NFL talent on their 2009 defense, something that has been unheard of since the early 1990s. Therefore, a tumultuous season waits with a possible winless Big 12 campaign and a definite last place finish in the North Division. Four wins should be viewed as a miracle.
Bill Snyder Stadium (cap. 50,000) formerly Wagner Field is your basic cookie-cutter stadium. It’s a concrete behemoth with a total lack of charm or uniqueness. The stadium’s open end-zone allows the cold prairie winds to blast the fans and dissipate any crowd noise. Even in the Wildcat heyday of a decade ago, this stadium never garnered a reputation as a difficult atmosphere. The surrounding scenery is nothing but flat grassland with no trees in sight. The games look like they’re being contested on the moon. At least Lincoln has an urban-college campus vibe going on considering its Nebraska.
Stadium Grade: D
Record: 5-7 (2-6)
2008 Synopsis: Like Ron Prince at Kansas State, Dan Hawkins felt his 3rd season would be a ground-breaking campaign. It looked to be heading in that direction with an early season Thursday night upset of then top ten ranked West Virginia, but as December rolled around, the Buffaloes found themselves staying home for the upcoming bowl season. Hawkins, brought to Boulder for his offensive mind, failed to place a single offensive player on the first or second All Big 12 teams. Detractors have begun to believe current Boise State head coach and former offensive coordinator Chris Petersen was the reason for Hawkins success with the Broncos. The disappointing Colorado season culminated with a disheartening last minute loss to their arch-rival Nebraska 40-31.
Strengths and Weakness:
Dan Hawkins has placed his faith in returning Colorado to a top-tier program on the shoulders of his son Cody. Though, with no starting center, Cody Hawkins will have four returning starters on his offensive line to help pass to an emerging and maturing receiving corp. Team reception leaders Scotty McKnight (46) and Josh Smith (29) will return along with under-utilized tight end Riar Greer. Passing production will only improve with a more experienced offensive line. Losing a center is never easy to replace, Keenan Stevens will have to solidify the center position or else inhibit a potential powerful O-line. One surprise for Colorado has been the electric running of freshman Rodney Stewart (4.7 ypc). Stewart has made everyone forget highly touted Darrell Scott. Either way, the Buffaloes will have a deep stampede of backs to go with their improved offensive line.
Like all of the teams in the North, the Buffaloes will be decimated on their defensive front. All four starters will be lost including second team All Big 12 tackle George Hypolite. Sturdy safeties Daniel Dykes and Ryan Walters will also be missed. Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler will help maintain some semblance of defense through the linebacking corp. Colorado will not have to worry about special teams with both punter Aric Goodman (So.) and kicker Matt Dillallo (Jr.) returning to aid a rebuilding defense. With Nebraska and Missouri coming to Boulder, I see the Buffaloes taking the North Division title with a victory over the Cornhuskers on Thanksgiving weekend. I see 8 wins, maybe 9 depending on the non-conference performance of the Buffaloes.
Folsom Field (cap. 53,750) is a far cry from its late 80s self. Boulder was once an intimidating venue with teams being flummoxed by the high altitude, snowy weather, boisterous crowd noise, and Ralphie the galloping buffalo. Today, the Folsom Field crowd is loaded with wealthy transplant coeds more worried about slope conditions than providing dedicated passion to Colorado football. The stadium is quite modern, well kept, with precision stonework. The surrounding mountainside is unmatched for scenery. Still, this place can be dominated by fans of the visiting team, which is unspeakable for a program that sees itself as part of the elite of college football.
Stadium Grade: B
Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Bo Pelini’s first year was marked with criticism for his flamboyant sideline behavior that stands in stark contrast to iconic coach Tom Osborne’s steel reserve. With the Nebraska job placing head coaches under a tremendous spotlight, Pelini’s 8 wins are a point in the right direction. The Cornhusker’s solid record can also be attributed to having their first five games played at Memorial Stadium. Another shellacking at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners has still shown that the Nebraska program has a long way to go in returning to glory days of the past.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
With the graduation of Joe Ganz and his 69.3% completion percentage, the following offseason will be dominated by a bloated quarterback competition. Either sophomore Zac Lee, freshman Patrick Whitt, or freshman Kody Spano will be leading the Husker offense next fall. Neither will strike fear into opposing defenses as each players gets acclimated to division one football. The passer with the most mobility might win the job due to losses on the offensive line. Leading sophomore Roy Helu (804 yards, 6.7 ypc) brings all-conference capability to a forgotten position in Lincoln. Though, will his production continue to prosper with so much of the offensive line leaving? Quentin Castille and Marcus Mendoza will make sure everyone stays fresh. Tight end Mike McNeil and his six touchdown catches will return. Nebraska is gradually moving back to a power running game with a sprinkling of passes to keep defenses honest.
Nebraska will also be losing much of its defensive line with only Ndamukong Suh returning to shore up their run defense. The linebacking corp will be improved with the return of starter Phillip Dillard and seasoned Blake Lawrence. The linebacking depth will also improve with the unleashing of youth in Will Compton and Sean Fisher. The secondary should be tough with the awesome tackling strong safety Larry Asante. Major Culbert and Ricky Thenarse will battle for the free safety position. Cornerbacks should be fine with Prince Amukamara and Anthony West manning the receivers. Like most of the North, the Cornhuskers have a handful of deficiencies. An eight win season and traveling to Colorado to lose the defacto North Division title game seem to be in the cards for Nebraska in 2009.
Memorial Stadium (cap. 81,067) is one of the top stadiums in the country. Nebraskans live and die for their college football team and it shows up on Saturday’s with their pageantry. The venue is treated like a shrine and Nebraska fans from all over the globe pilgrimage to Lincoln for their beloved Huskers. The “Sea of Red” is a sight to behold and the banners draped throughout the grandstand proclaiming allegiance to Nebraska can bring any neutral fan to a state of amazement. I love the simple steel fencing at the end of each end-zone; it strikes me as truly Midwestern. Unlike the other so-called memorial football fields in the Big 12, Nebraska’s stadium actually has the architecture of a structure dedicated to America’s fallen.
Stadium Grade: A+
Record: 2-10 (0-8)
Gene Chizik’s second season in Ames was marred in turmoil with complaints of his team being out of control and the coach himself even being caught with his guard down (heard by local media claiming to regret the decision to take the Cyclone job). 0-8 in the Big 12 regular season was not expected in Ames and it immediately led to the dismissal of both coordinators by Coach Chizik. The supposed defensive guru (Chizik) fielded one of the worst defenses in college football (#111) in 2008 and was nearly shut out by arch-rival Iowa for the first time in the rivalries history if not for a voluntary safety from the opposition late in the game.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Where do you start with one of the worst programs in America? One positive for the squad has been the brilliant play of first-year starter and local product Austen Arnaud. His moxie and accuracy (61.6% completion) within the pocket was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. Sophmore running back Alexander Robinson emerged as a legitimate Big 12 running back with his 700+ yards rushing and 4.6 ypc. Problems with the Cyclones are their inability to stop the opposition. Eight starters will return for one of the most abysmal defenses in division one, but it seems Chizik has determined to take over managing the defense in a bid to save his job.
The linebacking corp, with all three starters in Jesse Smith, Michael Bibbs, and Josh Raven returning should form the backbone of a most likely improving defense in 2009. Cornerback Allen Bell and free safety James Smith will help bring along newcomers to the secondary. The loss of sack artist Kurtis Taylor will be hard to cope with for Iowa State. The responsibility of manufacturing a pass rush will fall into the hands of junior Rashawn Parker. Hosting the Hawkeyes in Ames where they (Iowa) haven’t won since 2003 could help keep the wolves at bay for Chizik, but this team needs six wins to save his job. I have a tough time selecting that many victories for the Cyclones. I call for 4 to 5 win season with a 5th place finish in the North.
Jack Trice Stadium (cap. 55,000) is a token 1960s era concrete monolith with open ended end-zones that allow notorious Canadian Clippers to swarm in and send the few attending fans running for warmer conditions. Having been to this stadium, I can say the Cyclone fan base only shows up for Nebraska and Iowa games, with their hated rivals usually having a dominating fan presence inside and outside the stadium's confines. The last two years have shown a boost in attendance for Iowa State, but this state bleeds Hawkeye gold throughout the Iowa countryside with portions of the western half supporting the Cornhuskers. Like Kansas State’s stadium, Trice has that processed, Soviet style concrete masonry that takes away any traditional feelings college football fans love to fawn over when describing their beloved schools.
Stadium Grade: D