Today, we get to the real meat of the North, the 3 teams that will be fighting it out to represent the North in the Big XII Championship Game: Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado
The Skinny: If Bill Snyder wonders where some of his JUCO talent went, he need look no further north than Nebraska. Callahan got some talented transfers that fit his system, whatever it is. (I don't know if I'd necessarily call it "West Coast", his offenses in Oakland featured more of the ground game than traditional West Coast offenses do.) The problem is, the younger members of his highly rated recruiting class are also having to play key roles right away. Still, they will be better than last year. If Nebraska fans can be patient enough with Callahan, and quit blaming him for every crop failure or bit of bad weather, this team may return to the top in 2006.
QB: 2 - New QB Zac Taylor needs a year to get into the system. Plus, there's no real depth behind him if someone gets hurt
RB: 4 - Cory Ross drives the offense like Charlie Garner did for Callahan's Oakland teams
WR: 3 - You may see true freshmen rotating in a lot at reciever, albeit very promising freshmen.
TE: 2 - This unit is hurt by injuries to Matt Herian. His backups are very green.
OL: 3 - Left side returns from a line that allowed 17 sacks, the right side is completely new and may not have the pass protection skills necessary.
DL: 5 - It's going to be hard to do better than this front 4 and their tackle and sack numbers.
LB: 2 - Very inexperienced crew that must live up to it's potential sooner rather than later
CB: 1 - Both starting corners are sophomores, one of the starters is making a transition from the running back position, and this unit only runs 3 deep. This unit will be better next year, but right now, high percentage passing teams will torch them.
S: 2 - Daniel Bullocks could be All-Big XII, but the other starting safety is a career special teamer and no one knows what to expect from the backups.
Kicking Game: 2 - It's hard to trust a kicking game where one kicker hit only 2/3 of his field goals last time he played and the other is a true freshman who's not used to BCS Conference-level game pressure.
Return Game: 2 - Last in the Big XII in average return yardage last year, but an infusion of youngsters should help that
What the Cornhuskers must do to win:
1. Pass rush is key - Huskers must get sacks with their down linemen otherwise they will get burned when facing the 3 and 4 reciever sets that Texas Tech, Kansas, and others like to throw out.
2. Ross must carry them - Cory Ross must shoulder the offensive load so the Huskers can open up the passing game.
3. More return yards - Special teams can help out this offense by creating better field position and making plays.
Projection: While they may breeze through their 4 of their first 5 games, their defensive weaknesses will catch up with them later. 7-4 overall, 4-4 conference, tied for second in the Big 12 North, and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl.
The Skinny: Finished 4-7, but it could have easily been better when you consider that 5 losses were by less than a touchdown. Now, the Jayhawks have the best defense in the North, which could prevent a few of those touchdowns.
|10/1||at Texas Tech||L|
|10/8||at Kansas State||L|
QB: 3 - Adam Barmann will probably start, which helps the offensive consistency.
RB: 3 - Gary Green was All Big XII in 2003 and should return to form with John Randle out of the way.
WR: 3 - The talent may be there, and Mark Mangino may like what he saw in spring practice, but they have to produce.
TE: 2 - The "2 deep" at this position is young and unproven
OL: 4 - Despite all the shuffling, this unit returns 4 starters and should be improved.
DL: 4 - Look out for Jermail Ashley and Charlton Keith
LB: 5 - Hard to ignore a unit that returns all 3 starters , 2 of which are capable of 10+ tackle for loss seasons.
CB: 5 - Charles Gordon is an All-American, Theo Baines has recovered from the injuries that plagued him in 2004, and the nickel and dime backs are twin terrors.
S: 3 - Rodney Fowler is solid, but no one knows what to make of Agib Talib yet.
Kicking Game: 2 - Scott Webb needs to improve his field goal distance or else he will find his job lost to Johnny Beck.
Return Game: 5 - Gordon will make plays here as well.
What the Jayhawks must do to win:
1. Be consistent on offense and manage the game - The defense is Rock Chalk solid, the offense just needs to hang on to the ball and put up enough points to win.
2. Stay mentally focused in mid-season - Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and at Colorado will be a tough stretch for anyone, but if they can keep the other team off the scoreboard, they may be able to steal a few.
3. Run the ball well - If they can improve their yards per carry average, they can control the clock and the game
Projection: If they can survive the rough middle of their season, their defense makes them a dark horse candidate to win the Big XII North. Projection 7-4 overall, 4-4 in conference, tied for second in the Big 12 North, and a trip to the Houston Bowl.
The Skinny: Gary Barnett must be either a vampire or Rasputin because he's been hit with every possible allegation you can level at a football program, and not only is he still standing, he was Coach of the Year in 2004 and had a very good shot at taking his program back to the top of the Big XII North. They just need to do something about that offense.
|9/10||New Mexico State||W|
|10/1||at Oklahoma State||W|
|10/29||at Kansas State||W|
|11/12||at Iowa State||W|
|12/3||Big XII Championship**||L|
** - Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
QB: 3 - Joel Klatt needs help from other positions
RB: 3 - Hugh Charles and Lawrence Vickers will be a lot better than Bobby Purify
WR: 2 - Unknown, inexperienced, and unproven with some potential
TE: 5 - Joel Klopfenstein is one of the best in the nation
OL: 4 - Look for this unit to have a breakout season and give the offense enough rushing yards and time to throw.
DL: 3 - Could be one of the best pass rushing units in the Big 12, but need to stop the run.
LB: 4 - Buffs return all 3 starters from last year. Their tackle totals? 98, 93, and 82. Yo!*
CB: 3 - Athletic, but on the small side.
S: 4 - J.J. Billingsley is back from suspension, which bolsters the secondary.
Kicking Game: 5 - You've got potential Groza and Guy winners in Mason Crosby and John Torp
Return Game: 3 - Good, but needs to help the offense with field position more.
What the Buffaloes must do to win:
1. Stuff the run - Stopping the run was a problem last year, and while not a glaring weakness, they are facing some teams with good running backs.
2. Be more physical in pass coverage - A bump and run strategy will throw off the timing of short passing games.
3. Sustain offensive drives - Buffs need to convert 3rd-and-longs and cut down on the 3-and-outs.
Projection: Until someone drives a stake through Gary Barnett's vampire heart, Colorado has the inside track to winning the Big XII North. 7-5 overall, 5-3 in Conference, the Big XII North title, and a trip to the Alamo Bowl
|Colorado||5-3||7-5||If off field stuff can't kill this program, they're immortal|
|Kansas||4-4||7-4||Best defense in the North|
|Nebraska||4-4||7-4||A year away from returning to prominence|
|Missouri||3-5||5-6||Brad Smith and who else?|
|Kansas State||2-6||4-7||It's going to be tough to claw their way out of the cellar|
|Iowa State||2-6||3-8||Enjoy your bowl from last year, Cyclones|
Next: Part 4: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
Back: Part 2: Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri
* - Apologies for the Lee Corso moment. Comes from playing too much NCAA 2006