At Halfway Point, Big 12 Still As Unpredictable As Ever
Monday, October 22nd 2007, 2:11 pm
News On 6
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Surprises have been the norm in college football this season, and it's been no different in the Big 12 Conference.
Halfway through league play, the standings and the preseason poll aren't exactly carbon copies of each other _ well, unless you count the bottom _ and even now it's hard to choose who'll be playing in the conference championship game Dec. 1 in San Antonio.
The surprise of the year has easily been Kansas. After being picked to finish fourth in the North, the No. 12 Jayhawks are within a win of their first 8-0 start since the 19th century.
That has coach Mark Mangino, who'd never before won more than four straight games at Kansas, dealing with different issues during his daily team meetings.
``I think you have to be able to handle success and adversity because both can create serious problems for you if you don't know how to manage them,'' Mangino said Monday in the Big 12 coaches conference call. ``I just tell our kids it's great people are recognizing you, but stay focused on the task at hand and be careful. In the end, you need to handle success just as you would handle adversity.''
And no one knows adversity better at this point than Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. The defending North champions have been the league's biggest disappointment this season. Picked to finish second in the division, the Huskers (4-4, 1-3 Big 12) have been blown out three straight weeks
``We've got to keep upbeat and positive. There's really nothing that you can do otherwise. You can't go in the tank mentally, you can't give up, you can't point fingers,'' Callahan said.
``You just try to rally your kids and help them through it. It's a tough time. We're struggling and we realize that. We understand that we can be a better football team and we're doing everything we can to try to get these kids to play better.''
The South standings are jumbled too, with preseason favorite Texas getting off to an 0-2 start in league play. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are locked in a three-way tie for first.
Eight of the conference's 12 teams have spent time in the Top 25, and two of those teams got major scares into the fourth quarter last week from last-place Iowa State and Baylor.
``I think the level of play in this conference has just gone really, really gone through the roof,'' said Cyclones coach Gene Chizik, whose defense shut out Oklahoma until midway through the third quarter Saturday.
``Week in and week out, it's somebody in the top 10, top 15, and that's what makes the conference great.''
BAYLOR'S NEW QB: Fifth-year senior Michael Machen will get his second start at quarterback when Baylor plays at Kansas State on Saturday.
``He's an older young man,'' Bears coach Guy Morriss said. ``He's got a lot of maturity about him. I saw some leadership from him that I liked, that we've been desperately needing around this place.''
Machen, who replaced sophomore Blake Szymanski (concussion) last week, had the Bears within seven points of Texas in the fourth quarter before he threw three late interceptions to help the Longhorns pull away for a 31-10 victory.
Machen, 26, played three seasons of minor league baseball after being drafted in the 14th round by the Atlanta Braves in 2000. He went to Alabama in 2003, Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College in 2004 and then spent two seasons at Kent State before transferring to Baylor last spring.
``He's an older guy, he's been around, he's seen a lot and hopefully some of that's going to shine on through to some of our younger kids,'' Morriss said. ``We've got a lot of young players on our offense. We've only got three seniors on the ball team that are on the offensive side of the ball. We desperately need his leadership.''
REID'S RETURN: Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid, who was declared inactive for last week's game against Kansas State after missing two practices, will resume his role as Zac Robinson's backup, coach Mike Gundy said.
``He's our backup quarterback, back in full go,'' Gundy said.
Reid had been the Cowboys' starter throughout last season and started their first two games this season before getting injured against Florida Atlantic. Robinson took over as the starter the following week against Troy, and Oklahoma State is 4-2 with him in the starting lineup.
Reid was wrapped up in some controversy after being demoted. He was the subject of the newspaper column that sparked Gundy's often-replayed tirade following a 49-45 win against Texas Tech earlier this season.
``He's had some personal issues that were on and off the field,'' Gundy said. ``He got back to practice. We weren't going to play him in the game, but he'll be back up and running this week.''
HOGGING BIG 12 HONORS: Missouri cornerback Cornelius ``Pig'' Brown was named the Big 12 defensive player of the week for the second time this season after notching a career-high 14 tackles and an interception in the Tigers' 41-10 win against Texas Tech.
Brown, the second repeat winner this season, had 4 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and also tipped a pass that Stryker Sulak intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
``Some guys are good athletes and just decent football players, and I think he's probably even a better football player than he is an athlete. He's a good athlete, but he is just a real good football player,'' Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.
``He gets a lot of big hits in games, and he's a guy that seems to always be around the ball. He just always seems to be close to the ball, and therefore gives himself the opportunity to make plays.''
Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee, who had a career-high 167 yards rushing in the Aggies' 36-14 victory at Nebraska, was the offensive player of the week. Kansas kicker Scott Webb earned the special teams honor after making two field goals in the Jayhawks' 19-14 win at Colorado.