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Big 12 Football Report, v 1.5 - North Division Review

A weekly report on the weekend of Big 12 football.

Previous weeks: 12, 3, 4, 5 (South)


In lieu of the usual game-by-game rundown, this week's report offers a big picture review of the now concluded non-conference slate as well as a look ahead to conference play. Teams are reviewed in order of projected finish, with national ranking preceding teams in the Top 25.

#4 Missouri Tigers (4-0)


n-Illinois W, 52-42
SE Missouri St
W, 52-3
Nevada W, 69-17
Buffalo W, 42-17

Offensive MVP: Jeremy Maclin, WR  - Chase Daniel is a great quarterback, Derrick Washington is a great tailback, and Chase Coffman is a great tight end. But Missouri's offensive potency derives more from Jeremy Maclin's explosiveness than anything else. Based on what he's capable of, Maclin's merely having a "very good" season so far in 2008 (193.5 all-purpose yards per game), but his presence on the field so affects how the defense must play that his contributions to the Tigers extend well beyond those times when the ball is in his hands. No player (with the possible exception of Percy Harvin) is as big a threat to score as Maclin, a terrifying truth which alters opposing defenses and opens up space for the rest of the excellent Tigers offense to maneuver.

Defensive MVP: Sean Weatherspoon, LB  -  The First Team All Big XII linebacker from a year ago has been even more active thus far in his junior year, accumulating an astonishing: 48 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 passes broken up, 6 passes defended, and 1 quarterback hurry. The secondary remains a concern, but Missouri's front seven (6 returnees) is looking solid enough heading into conference play.

Big 12 Schedule  -  at Nebraska, vs Oklahoma State, at Texas, vs Colorado, at Baylor, vs Kansas State, at Iowa State, vs Kansas (Kansas City)

Projected Big 12 Finish: 8-0, 1st, North Division  -  If Missouri gets through the first three unscathed, they'll be in commanding position to run the table and play for the Big XII title at 12-0. With the Oklahoma State match up in Columbia, Missouri's perfect regular season hopes appear to hinge overwhelmingly on the outcome of their tangle with the Longhorns in Austin. Whatever happens the previous week in Dallas, Missouri fans should take note: Mack Brown is 10-0 the week after the Red River Shootout, with an average margin of victory of 19.5 points.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-1)


Western Michigan
W, 47-24
San Jose State
W, 35-12
New Mexico State
W, 38-7
Virginia Tech
L, 30-35

Offensive MVP: Joe Ganz, QB  -  It takes a moment to realize the only reason Nebraska's offense appears a little workmanlike is its place alongside the hyper-productive units of the Big XII's top teams. Upon closer inspection, the 'Huskers have been far from sluggish with the football, thanks in large part to quarterback Joe Ganz, who's passing for a very solid 249 yards per game while chipping in here and there with his feet (25 rushes, 123 yards, 1 TD on the season) and even hands (he caught a 20-yard TD reception). Nice a job as Ganz has done, Bo Pelini knows he'll need the running game to become a little more explosive to help our his senior quarterback. With Marlon Lucky looking average in the early going, don't be surprised to see more and more carries go to true freshman Roy Helu Jr..

Defensive MVP: Ndamukong Suh and Zach Potter, DL  -  The pass defense has a ways to go yet, but 'Huskers' defensive line is one of the conference's best, led by Zach Potter on the end and Ndamukong Suh inside. The two have combined for 34 tackles, including 8 for a loss (4 sacks), Suh has forced a fumble, and both have an interception. Though this is a defense which should steadily improve under Pelini between now and November, time is not on the 'Huskers side as Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma make up the nastiest portion of a difficult five-game stretch that begins next Saturday against the Tigers.

Big 12 Schedule  - Missouri, at Texas Tech, at Iowa State, vs Baylor, at Oklahoma, vs Kansas, at Kansas Sstate, vs Colorado

Projected Big 12 Finish: 4-4, 2nd, North Division  -  While a 5-3 conference record is certainly achievable, Nebraska is a difficult team to project--a bit of a tweener, with neither an offense high-caliber enough to win shootouts nor a defense well-suited to keep a track meet from breaking out. Like Kansas, they also face a daunting Big XII slate, drawing Oklahoma and Texas Tech away from Lincoln, making wise the Husker fan who takes the long view with this team and new head coach. The rebuild is just getting started.

#16 Kansas Jayhawks (3-1)


Florida International W, 40-10
Louisiana-Tech W, 29-0
@ South Florida L, 34-37
Sam Houston State W, 38-14

Offensive MVP: Todd Reesing, QB  - Kansas cannot run the football, which has meant Todd Reesing quite literally has had to do it all for the Jayhawks offense in 2008. After averaging 34 pass attempts per game in 2007 when Brandon McAnderson provided a devastating punch in the rushing game, Reesing's seen his attempts per game this year spike by more than 10, to nearly 45 per game. He's been up to the task, but the situation does not bode well for Kansas heading into conference play.

Defensive MVP: James Holt, LB  -  MLB Joe Mortensen was the First Team All Big XII player last year, but OLB James Holt has been the early MVP for Kansas with his team-best 4.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles, to go along with 24 tackles. If the Jayhawks do have a Big XII run in them this year, it will be because the 9 returning starters on defense come together as a unit disruptive enough to overcome the rushing deficiencies on offense.

Big 12 Schedule  -  at Iowa State, vs Colorado, at Oklahoma, vs Texas Tech, vs Kansas State, at Nebraska, vs Texas, vs Missouri (Kansas City)

Projected Big 12 Finish: 4-4, 3rd, North Division  -  It's a little unfortunate Kansas' 2007 and '08 schedules weren't reversed. Last year's team with Aqib Talib, Marcus Henry, and Brandon McAnderson wound up under-appreciated because of the schedule they played (weak non-con and favorable Big XII South rotation of Baylor, A&M, OSU), while this year's Jayhawks team could have really used a less formidable schedule. So it goes. As is, the rushing-challenged '08 Jayhawks draw Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, and though they're fortunate to face the Texas teams in Lawrence, they'll likely find themselves underdogs in all three games. With high powered Missouri waiting at the back end, four to five losses could await KU.


Colorado Buffaloes (3-1)


n-Colorado State W, 38-17
Eastern Washington W, 31-24
West Virginia W, 17-14
@ Florida State L, 21-39

Offensive MVP: Rodney Stewart, RB  -  All-everything five star Darrell Scott was supposed to be the freshman leading the Buffs' offensive youth movement from the tailback position, but through four games he's been outshone by the micro Rodney Stewart (5'6", 175), hero of Colorado's victory over West Virginia (28 carries, 166 yards). Stewart solidified his starting position in Saturday's losing effort against Florida State, picking up 107 yards on 21 carries to move his season total up to 349 yards on 62 rushes (5.6 ypc). Scott, meanwhile, has managed just 148 yards on 39 carries--a subpar 3.9 yards per attempt--and now finds himself a back up who will have to play his way into increased usage or hope Stewart slows down.

Defensive MVP: Brad Jones, LB  - I guess. This is not a good defense--especially against the run--and one wonders whether super blue chippers Lynn Katoa and Jon Major may get the call sooner rather than later should Colorado continue to struggle against the run. [Not likely. -ed] In the meantime, OLB Brad Jones has been better than expected through four games, accumulating 25 tackles, 4 for a loss (2 sacks). He's also scoring well in zen master Dan Hawkins self-styled defensive statistics, which he uses instead of traditional metrics because, c'mon, this ain't intramurals, brotha! Jones has 3 Third Down Stops (tackle, INT, or PBU)(, 6 Quarterback Pressures, and 1 Quarterback Chase Down.

Big 12 Schedule  - vs Texas, at Kansas, vs Kansas State, at Missouri, at Texas A&M, vs Iowa State, vs Oklahoma State, at Nebraska

Projected Big 12 Finish: 3-5, 4th, North Division  - Colorado could turn this projection on its head over the next two weeks when it hosts the Longhorns and then travels to Lawrence--two contests for which it will be an underdog. Win one or both of those, and a .500 or better conference record is well within reach. But lose both those games, and the Buffs would likely need to beat Oklahoma State in Boulder or Nebraska in Lincoln to get to 4-4.


Kansas State Wildcats (3-1)


North Texas
W, 45-6
Montana State
W, 69-10
@ Louisville
L, 29-38
W, 45-37

Offensive MVP: Josh Freeman, QB  -  When Freeman's on, he's a marvel to watch--a giant, fluid Ent firing tightly-spiraled bullets right on the money. The problem, of course, was that as a freshman that marvelous player showed up sporadically throughout games, or not at all, and while he made strides as a sophomore, consistency still eluded him. Now, as a junior, Freeman's looking more often than not like the quarterback that has NFL scouts watching lustfully, completing 67% of his passes through four games, at 9.61 yards per attempt, with 11 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions (one of which came on a ball that bounced up and off his intended receiver). Now, of course, he'll have to show he can carry the production forward with consistency, and certainly not just for his sake--as awful as Kansas State's defense is, the Cats' only chance to have a reasonably successful season rests on Freeman playing like a superstar.

Defensive MVP: Courtney Herndon, S  -  2007 Big XII Defenisive Newcomer of the Year Gary Chandler began the season as the Wildcats' starting strong safety, but after back-to-back defensive atrocities for KSU, head coach Ron Prince on Sunday morning shook up the depth chart. Replacing Chandler as a starter next week will be junior Courtney Herndon, who's done a little bit of everything while on the field in KSU's first four games--22 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss (1.5 sacks), as well as 1 interception, 2 passes broken up, 3 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, and a blocked kick.

Big 12 Schedule  - vs Texas Tech, at Texas A&M, at Colorado, vs Oklahoma, at Kansas, at Missouri, vs Nebraska, vs Iowa State

Projected Big 12 Finish: 2-6, 5th, North Division  -  The loser of Kansas Stsate's visit to Kyle Field may well finish the season 1-7, but it wouldn't be a huge shock (as it would with A&M) to see Kansas State win one they shouldn't along the way. When Freeman is at his best, the Wildcats will score points, perhaps enough on a given Saturday to pull of a notable upset. Still, it's hard to call for much success when a team features a defense this bad.


Iowa State Cyclones (2-2)


South Dakota State
W, 44-17
Kent State
W, 48-28
@ Iowa
L, 5-17
L, 31-34

Offensive MVP: Austen Arnaud, QB  -  With Baylor up off the mat, the Cyclones officially become the conference's lone door mat, showing only marginal improvement during Gene Chizik's second year at the helm. But if Robert Griffin has been the one to very loudly announce his and Baylor's presence, Iowa State fans should be encouraged in their own right by sophomore Austin Arnaud's very solid debut as the starting QB. He's completing 65% of his passes at a respectable 7.75 yards per attempt, including 4 touchdowns against 2 interceptions (141.2 Passer Rating). He's not bad on his feet, either, where he's added 90 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. The Cyclones have a ways yet to go, but having a young quarterback show this kind of promise is a great sign for a program looking to create some momentum.

Defensive MVP: Christopher Lyle and Kurtis Taylor, DEs  -  Iowa State's defense has struggled mightily, making it hard to single out any shining stars, but Lyle and Taylor have at least performed well in their duties, accounting for 10.5 of the team's 21 tackles for loss, including 4 of the 5 sacks on the year.

Big 12 Schedule  - vs Kansas, at Baylor, vs Nebraska, vs Texas A&M, at Oklahoma State, at Colorado, vs Misssouri, at Kansas State

Projected Big 12 Finish: 0-8, 6th, North Division  - Avoiding a winless conference season likely means winning in Waco or against Texas A&M in Ames; overall, though, with a porous defense and work-in-progress offense, the outlook is decidedly grim for Iowa State's Big 12 season.