Much has been made about the fact that three teams from the Big 12 South (Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma St.) cracked the top 10 in the AP Preseason poll. UT comes in at No. 2, OU at No. 3 and OSU at No. 9.
The Big 12 North doesn't have anyone in the top 15. In fact, the highest-ranked team, Nebraska, didn't show up until the 24 spot, with Kansas at No. 25.
The North has struggled to stay competitive with the South ever since the football programs at Nebraska, Kansas St., and Colorado have taken a step back from their heydays in the 90s and the early part of the new millennium.
So who will win the North this year?
The most popular pick around Big 12 Country seems to be Nebraska. The promise they showed in 2008, head coach Coach Bo Pellini's first season, which included going 9-4 and beating Clemson in the Gator Bowl, has raised optimism in Lincoln to the highest level it's been in a long time.
With Pellini, a defensive-minded coach with impressive credentials (he was the DC for LSU in their '07 National Championship season) at the helm, I believe the Huskers program is headed in the right direction.
Kansas seems to be the other team getting most of the love from the media, and for good reason. The Jayhawks return one of the finest quarterbacks in the conference in Todd Reesing, who is back for his final year in the blue and red.
Also returning will be Reesing's top three targets from a year ago, including first-team All-Conference selection Dezmon Briscoe, who could be one of the first receivers taken in this year's NFL draft.
No one is expecting anyone to seriously challenge these two teams for the North crown in 2009, which is odd to me considering the schedule sets up nicely for the Buffaloes of Colorado to end up in Dallas to face Texas as the North representative.
So why do I expect a team that went 5-7 and 2-6 in conference last year to represent the North? Here are a couple of reasons:
1) Dan Hawkins is entering his fourth season as head coach at CU and it's time for the Buffs to start showing some promise on the field. They return 10 starters on offense, several of which were injured last year, so competition will be eminent and depth will be strong.
CU returns a deep and physical O-line which is exciting for those around Boulder, considering they may have the most talented RB tandem in the conference in Rodney Stuckey and Darrell Scott. Scott was the top RB recruit in the nation in 2008.
2) The Buffs strength on D will be the secondary and linebacking corps. Nice considering they will play in a 3-4 scheme. Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler, the team's leading tacklers from a year ago, anchor a talented linebacking corps with a lot of speed.
The secondary will be the strength, led by senior Cha'pelle Brown and junior Jimmy Smith, who has the potential to be an all-conference selection. Returning will be starters Ryan Walters and DJ Dykes in the safety positions, who were injured late in the season last year, forcing the coaching staff to insert two freshman in their spots.
The backups' added experience gives the Buffs added depth in the secondary.
3) The schedule. The Buffs' Big 12 slate sets up them up nicely after the conference opener in a road game vs. Texas, if they can take care of business in a home game vs. Kansas the next week.
I think their ability to control the clock coupled with their strength in the secondary will keep the Jayhawks receivers in check.
That win at home will have the Buffs flowing with confidence. The next four games on the schedule (@ Kansas St, vs. a rebuilding Missouri, Texas A&M and @ Iowa St.) are very winnable games. If they can go through that stretch unscathed that would put them at 5-1 in the conference with two more games remaining on the schedule (@OSU, vs. Nebraska).
They will lose on the road to OSU but will get Nebraska at home with a possible Big 12 North crown on the line. Colorado stadium will be rocking. I think the home field advantage gets them to play inspired football and find a way to get it done vs. the Huskers.
If my calculations turn out to be true, this would give the Buffs a 6-2 conference record, including an unbeaten record in the division. The prospect of playing Kansas and Nebraska at home will be the difference in the Buffs winning the Big 12 North crown, their first since 2005.
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