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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Big XII North, 2007(8) (P)review

Last year, some teams in the Big XII North finally caught a few splinters from the ugly stick and started hitting back. They even sent a team to a BCS bowl for the first time since Kansas State in '03 and then Nebraska in '01 (if my memory serves me correctly). But in the end, the South continued its reign.

So what should we expect from the land of prairie, corn, cows and, in small isolated gatherings, people? Here are my big questions for the Big XII North in 2008:

1) Will we see a repeat performance from Kansas?
2) Will we see a repeat performance from Nebraska?
3) Can someone from the North win the Big XII?

(See here and here for an explanation of the Performance and Reputation graphs, respectively.)

1) Kansas has an all time record of 554-550-58 for an all time winning percentage below 51%, and has scored a total of 11 points more than their opponents. Nebraska, on the other hand, has won 70% of its games all time and has scored 14,000 more points than its opponents.1 But last year, Kansas scored 37 more in one game than that particular opponent (it is also notable that Kansas scored 76 against the Nebraska basketball team as well).

Kansas was a consistent, solid, and underrated team from beginning to end last year. Mangino made some brilliant personnel moves (whether his own or those of his staff I don't know, but the result is the same) and some guys that the big schools didn't want turned out to work together like clockwork. In the end, though, you can't always expect former QB's to succeed at wide out, thugs to not get in trouble, and players the big schools didn't want to dramatically exceed expectations. For Kansas to have continued success they have to recruit, and Lawrence is still not a high school kids dream destination.

For 2008, though, Kansas has three big things going for it. One, a successful basketball program breeds ready made fans that are looking for something to cheer for (see Texas A&M basketball for an example). Two, they have some stars and many cogs back from a very good team a year ago. Three, they have another soft schedule. They'll lose at OU, but could win the rest and get a second shot at the Sooners on a neutral field. A repeat of last year is too much to ask for, though, and I expect Kansas to lose three this year and finish second to Missouri and Missouri can then make snide remarks about the Cotton Bowl.

2) Nebraska hit rock bottom last year when they demonstrated the human sieve against the Aggies, but then were able to rebound to a more respectable level. This level (about 20 on the Trend-O-Meter, see above) is where Nebraska belongs and will finish again this next year.

The truth of the matter is that Nebraska is on the wrong end of a demographic shift in the United States. As I noted earlier, Tom Osborne achieved more per capita in Nebraska than any coach ever, but now Nebraska is settling back where it belongs. Demography is destiny. A shrinking population relative to other states means that Nebraska has less talent and resources to pull from, and all that tradition will melt into oblivion as the program shrinks into mediocrity.

3) Generally, expect the South to continue its dominance and to even recover some of its big stick shrapnel from the North. Focusing more on the Big XII championship game, though, the North has in Missouri a potential contender that could bring the title north again. But, as always, the Big XII is OU's to lose.

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