The Big XII North should be a very entertaining division to keep an eye on this year as it is one of several divisions in college football that is really up for grabs. A handful of teams have a shot at being in the mix to win the Big XII North and potentially play the spoiler role against Texas in the Big XII title game. Nebraska and Kansas appear to have the inside track on potentially winning the division but Missouri and Colorado could both be factors in the chase as well. Kansas State is a wild card and the only "sure" thing in the North is that Iowa State will finish last.
Missouri- Gary Pinkel and the Tigers face some serious challenges heading into 2009 with only 9 total returning starters. The Tigers also replaced both departed coordinators from within. Mizzu will plug QB Blaine Gabbert in for Chase Daniel which for many pundits is the true tipping point in Mizzu predictions. If the Tigers struggle I personally don’t think that will be the reason. In my opinion Daniel benefitted greatly from running the same system in college that he had run under current North Texas Coach Todd Dodge at Southlake Carroll HS just outside of Dallas. During Daniel’s recr
uitment Pinkel asked Dodge to teach them that version of the spread and the rest is history. Daniel was highly effective in college running virtually the same offense he had been running for years. As a result he was very effective but from a talent perspective Gabbert should be even better. He is much more talented than Daniel and I think you will see him step into the QB role this year quite nicely. Similar to Texas Tech the Tigers tend to be able to replace individuals a little easier within their offensive system so I don’t expect a horrendous drop off there. Like most of their counterparts in the Big XII their defense will be a major question mark and only returns 4 starters. That Defense will likely be the thing that keeps them from winning the North especially with Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor on the schedule from the South.
Colorado- The Buffs are an interesting case that also have an outside shot at competing for the North title if everything finally comes together for Dan Hawkins. Hawkins himself has been Johnny soundbyte this off season predicting 10 wins and spouting off about some other things not typical of a Head Coach. Regardless Hawkins enters his 4th year in Boulder probably well aware that his job is likely on the line this season. He badly wants to prove he can make the jump from Boise State to the big time as his former team hasn’t missed a beat in his absence. Colorado has 9 returning starters on offense including Hawkins' son Cody at QB. The Buffs also have Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart as a very effective 1-2 punch at RB. Hawkins switched to a pro style scheme post spring which is an unusual move to say the least. Perhaps he’s planning on running those two kids 50 times a game. The defense is a major question mark with 4 returning starters that allowed 29.3 points per game. The Buffs have one interesting non-conference matchup with West Virginia and draw Texas, TAMU and Oklahoma State from the South. If the Buffs can get some semblance of Defense together they should at least have a winning season but I’ll be very surprised if Hawkins gets the 10 wins he predicted.
Kansas State- K State legend Bill Snyder returns to take the reigns in a stadium that is named after him. The Wildcats have struggled since their last conference title in 2003 and have a roster stocked with JUCO kids as Ron Prince kept up with Snyder’s tradition as a JUCO magnet. I expect the Cats will get some mileage out of Snyder’s return but I don’t expect any major overnight transformations. With 14 total returning starters they will be better but likely won’t be a factor in the division race. They play 3 patsies and UCLA in September then start conference play with Iowa State. They should be 4-1 before diving into the meat of their conference schedule where winning 2 of 7 could make them bowl eligible. Some genius scheduled them for 12 straight weeks without an open date so if they can’t win at least 2 of those 7 they will be turning in equipment before Thanksgiving.
Iowa State- Paul Rhoads and Gene Chzik swapped schools and in a way jobs as Rhoads takes over the Head Coaching job at Iowa State after being the DC at Auburn. Rhoads has 9 returning starters to work with on offense and 6 on defense but Ames is a tough place to win and I don’t expect anyone will ever be as successful there as Dan McCarney was. They should be better than last year when they only won 2 games but won’t be bowl eligible without a miracle. The Cyclones also play 12 straight games with no open date and will definitely be turning in their gear before Thanksgiving.