Who Will Win the Big 12 North?

With the departure of Mark Mangino and several key players like wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe and four-year starting quarterback Todd Reesing, new Kansas coach Turner Gill will have his hands full this season.  Kansas State had six wins in 2009, but two of those victories came at the hands of FCS schools UMass and Tennessee Tech and only one of the other four wins came against a team with a winning record (Iowa State).  There is a good possibility that Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins could lose his job if he has a similar season to last year’s 3-9 team.  And Iowa State is….let’s face it…Iowa State.  They finished with a 7-6 record, but they should have with their out of conference schedule, which featured North Dakota State, Army and Kent State.

If all goes as expected, there are two teams left, and their showdown on October 30th could very well determine who will represent the northern division in the Big 12 Championship Game–Mizzou and NebraskaCollege FootBlog takes a look at the two early favorites and will offer up a way-too-premature preview of the head to head match up in October.


In his two years as head coach of the Huskers, Bo Pelini has delivered, going 20-8.  He has the Sea of Red excited about football again, boasting one of the top defenses in the country last season.  The Huskers will not be able to replace All-World defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the middle, but they do have a couple solid players who should fill in nicely, in Jared Crick and sophomore Baker Steinkuhler.  Look for redshirt freshman Thaddeus Randle to get in the rotation as well, and many believe he could be the next great DT to come out of reinvigorated Black Shirt Defense.

The Huskers’ running game should be solid, highlighted by senior Roy Helu, but sophomore tandem Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson both had solid springs and will get their carries this fall.  The big question mark, and ultimately what needs to improve if Nebraska wants to compete for a Big 12 Championship is the play at quarterback.  Despite leading the offense to a 10-win season, quarterback Zac Lee didn’t exactly light it up last season, and as such, the buzz coming out of Nebraska’s spring practices actually have Cody Green and Taylor Martinez with a legitimate shot at replacing the senior signal caller. 

If Mizzou's Blaine Gabbert can stay healthy, he will put up big numbers in 2010 (google images)

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert headlines the Tigers’ returning starters this fall, and if he can stay healthy, he will have a very big year, even with the departure of All-American wideout Denario Alexander.  After rushing for over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2008, starting tailback Derrick Washington had a drop in production in ’09, only rushing for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns.  The word from the spring is that Washington has dropped some unnecessary weight and looks more the part of the 2008 version.  At wideout, someone will have to step up this fall, like Alexander did last year after All-American Jeremy Maclin left early for the Philadelphia Eagles.  Wes Kemp and Jarrell Jackson are two of the likely starters, but it will be difficult to replace Alexander’s eye-popping 1,781 yards and 14 TDs from last season.

Like Nebraska, Mizzou must find a way to replace an NFL first round selection on defense as well.  Sean Weatherspoon was all over the field and gave head coach Gary Pinkel a coach on the field.  Despite this huge loss, linebacker should actually be pretty solid for the Tigers.  Luke Lambert had a solid spring and appears to finally be healthy at the MLB spot, and redshirt sophomore Zaviar Gooden and senior Andrew Gachkar add experience and speed that should be a strength of the 2010 team.

The biggest strength of the defense, however, should be the defensive ends.  The Tigers return a ton of experience and athleticism at this position, and there is some quality depth here.  Look for at least six different players to get quality reps this fall, highlighted by Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith.

The October 30th Showdown

As we mentioned this will be a huge game for each team and will likely have the divisional championship on the line.  In order to make a realistic prediction, we really need to see how these teams perform in the first seven weeks of the season.  At that time, we will have our full breakdown of each team with a score prediction. 

But in the meantime, we have a few things to consider.  Mizzou has been very lucky at wide receiver–they have had a go-to receiver for the last several years.  So far this spring, no one WR has stepped up as that guy.  Gabbert has the ability to spread it around, but someone needs to assume that role of the primary target if they want to be effective.  They have the summer and two-a-days to figure it out, but Mizzou fans would have liked to have resolved that this spring. 

Nebraksa should have another great defensive football team.  They host the Texas Longhorns two weeks before the rivalry game with Mizzou, so we should have a much better idea of what the offense will do after that game.  They simply must get better offensively this season if they want to make a run, and all signs point to the Huskers being better than last season on that side of the ball.  At 99th nationally in total offense, they can’t get much worse, and Zac Lee will either need to step up his play or one of the younger, more athletic QBs on the roster will fill in and provide a different look. 

An improved offense and some key returners on last year’s dominant defense (despite losing Suh), along with this game being played in Lincoln gives Nebraska the slight edge, at least for now.  However, a lot can change before this game (it is, afterall, only May right now).  We will do a more comprehensive breakdown of this match up the week of this game with more insight, but hopefully, this is a serviceable appetizer.


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