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South rises in Big 12

Updated:
DALLAS (AP) -- Texas A&M might give the Big 12 South something it
hasn't had: the conference's best team from August through
November.

Although the Texas-Oklahoma half of the league has produced two
of the first three champions, teams from the North division have
had the best regular-season record since the conference began in
1996.

The Aggies appear ready to change that. With eight starters
returning on each side of the ball from a team that went 11-3 last
season, A&M is aiming for a second consecutive Sugar Bowl -- this
time, though, with the national championship on the line.

"That should be everyone's ultimate goal," linebacker
Cornelius Anthony said. "But we must take care of the little
things first." Quarterback Randy McCown hopes to use the high
expectations as motivation.

"We can't come in not prepared," said McCown, ready to be a
full-time starter following the departure of Branndon Stewart. "We
accept that and we wouldn't want it any other way."

McCown has asserted himself as the leader of the A&M offense,
but his backfield partners will be important, too. Dante Hall was a
1,000-yard rusher last season and sophomore fullback Ja'Mar Toombs
is a bruising runner capable of doing more than just opening holes.

The biggest challenge for the Aggies' defense will be replacing
Dat Nguyen, their heart and soul the last several years. But A&M
always has capable defenders waiting to emerge, and with seven
junior starters it's likely to happen again.

"We are very confident in our defense as a unit," Anthony
said. "The thing that really matters is what you do on the field.
We're going to let our actions speak for themselves."

The Aggies have a relatively soft schedule until going to
Nebraska on Nov. 6. Two games later they play archrival Texas in a
game that could determine the division championship.

The challenge for the Longhorns is to help quarterback Major
Applewhite be as good a sophomore as he was a freshman. The
difference is that defenses will now focus on him instead of
departed running back Ricky Williams, last year's Heisman Trophy
winner.

Don't be surprised if Ricky Williams is once again the
conference's best offensive player. The difference, though, is that
this time the award will have to be mailed to Lubbock instead of
Austin.

The Red Raiders running back with the same name as the former
Longhorn began making his own reputation with 1,582 yards as a
sophomore last season. Although he's smaller than the other
Williams, this guy is just as durable and nearly as difficult to
tackle.

"I admire him for a lot of the things he did," the Tech star
said of the Texas-ex. "He helped me make a name for myself."

The Kansas State Wildcats made quite a name for themselves last
year as they told their rags-to-riches tale en route to challenging
for the national title.

But after being derailed by A&M in the Big 12 championship, the
Wildcats are building again. Coach Bill Snyder has to replace eight
offensive starters, including spark plug quarterback Michael
Bishop.

Snyder admits his top two quarterback candidates Jonathan
Beasley and Adam Helm can't run as fast or as tough as Bishop and
they don't throw as hard or as far as Bishop.

"But they have been in the system longer than Michael," Snyder
said. "Each has been in the program at least three years. They
have a bit better understanding of the total concept on how we do
things."

The North race is likely to still be a battle between Kansas
State and Nebraska, which is trying to bounce back from its first
four-loss season since 1968.

"I try not to dwell on the four losses," said coach Frank
Solich, who lost more games his first season than predecessor Tom
Osborne did in his final five. "I try to dwell on the things this
football team did well. We had nine victories last season and had a
chance to win them all."

Defensive back Mike Brown said the Cornhuskers want to "show
everyone in the country that we're the same Nebraska team" as
before.

Although Nebraska and Kansas State aren't starting this year
ranked as high as they were in 1998, the North title could still be
decided by their Nov. 13 matchup in Lincoln, Neb.

Another North team sure to draw attention is Colorado, now
coached by Gary Barnett, who returns to Boulder after seven years
coaching Northwestern.

Barnett, a former assistant under Bill McCartney, is considered
a motivator who can help his teams be overachievers. That would be
quite a turnaround from a talented team that went 4-4 and finished
fourth in the North last year.

The South has two new coaches in Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and
Kevin Steele at Baylor. Neither has ever been a collegiate head
coach, but both are former assistants at Big 12 schools.

Stoops worked for Snyder at Kansas State for six years before
spending the last three as the defensive coordinator at Florida.
His associate head coach is his younger brother Mike, who was
defensive coordinator at Kansas State the last three years.

Steele spent six years at Nebraska under Tom Osborne and was at
Oklahoma State for three years in the mid-1980s. He was the
linebackers coach with the NFL's Carolina Panthers the last four
years and is known by many as the guy attacked by Kevin Greene, one
of his players, on the sidelines last fall.

Oklahoma State wasn't able to follow its 1997 success in 1998,
but four of the Cowboys' six losses were to ranked teams. With
seven senior starters on offense and defense, coach Bob Simmons
expects the program to get back on track."They see themselves with
an opportunity to do big things," Simmons said.

Quarterback Corby Jones and running back Devin West helped
Missouri have a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first
time since 1982-83. Now coach Larry Smith has to find a way to keep
the momentum going without them.

Kansas hasn't gotten things rolling in coach Terry Allen's first
two years, but that could change if quarterback Zac Wegner can stay
healthy and if junior running back David Winbush has more games
like his 268-yard, three-touchdown performance against Colorado.

Iowa State coach Dan McCarney is tired of going 1-7 in league
play, as the Cyclones have done all three years of the Big 12, and
is looking forward to having a crooked number in the win column.

"Gaining momentum and confidence and getting the young people
to believe and expect, knowing that they can win games, is really
important when you haven't turned the corner yet," McCarney said.

(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)




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