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FOOTBALL | AROUND THE NATION / BIG 12 CONFERENCE

Five Points

September 01, 2006|Chris Dufresne

* The conference has addressed the new 12-game format by scheduling more free-win games against Division I-AA opponents -- 11 -- than any of the six Bowl Championship Series leagues. The Atlantic Coast Conference plays nine games against I-AA schools; the Southeastern Conference plays eight; and the Pacific 10 Conference plays five. Oklahoma is the only Big 12 school that doesn't have a patty-cake payout game. A few of these no-mercy bowls include Nebraska vs. Nicholls State, Kansas State vs. Illinois State, Texas vs. Sam Houston State, Texas Tech vs. Southeast Louisiana, Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Lafayette, Baylor vs. Northwestern State, Oklahoma State vs. Arkansas State.

* The South Division will be superior to the North again, but no one will consider a plan to balance out the schools. How wide is the gap? Last year, Colorado won the North for the honor of getting hammered, 70-3, by Texas in the Big 12 championship game. Colorado didn't even bother waiting for the bowl game before firing coach Gary Barnett. Colorado, after losing to Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl, finished 7-6. Oklahoma and Texas, both in the South, have won national titles this century; former North Division powers Nebraska, Kansas State and Colorado have struggled.

* First-year Zen master Coach Dan Hawkins could be just what Colorado needs after the turbulent Barnett era. Hawkins seems to fit the granola-bar Boulder mind-set with his penchant for Taoism tenets such as, "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Hawkins was 53-11 in five free-flow years at Boise State and spent years fending off jobs from bigger schools. "Bigger isn't better," Hawkins would say. "Better is better." The question: Will he make Boulder better? And how many times do you get to play at Georgia in consecutive years as the coach of Boise State and Colorado? "Far out!" as John Denver used to say.

* Oklahoma won't miss deposed quarterback Rhett Bomar as much as people are making out. Bomar was kicked off the team in July after he was found guilty of NCAA violations, and everyone assumed the Sooners' national title hopes were destined for the dust bowl. People forget that although Bomar had up-side, he was the erratic factor in last year's 8-4 season and had as many interceptions last year, 10, as he did touchdown passes. It would have been far worse had star tailback Adrian Peterson, who appears in peak form after an injury-riddled season, been kicked off the team.

* Texas Tech will again be an opposing defensive coordinator's worst neck pain. It doesn't matter that the Red Raiders have to break a new passer into Mike Leach's hybrid system. It's the system that works. The Texas Tech quarterback will lead the conference in yards passing and touchdowns. You just don't know his name yet. Playing in the same division as Texas and Oklahoma, Texas Tech finished 9-2. This year's team may be better but have a worse record because of a tougher nonconference schedule.

-- Chris Dufresne

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Quick Facts

* AP preseason top 25: Texas No. 3; Oklahoma No. 10; Nebraska No. 20; Texas Tech No. 25.

* AP final 2005 ranking: Texas (13-0) No. 1; Texas Tech (9-3) No. 20; Oklahoma (8-4) No. 22; Nebraska (8-4) No. 24.

* 2005 bowl record: 5-3.

* 2006 division favorites: North -- Nebraska; South -- Oklahoma.

* Top newcomers: Adarius Bowman, Jr., WR, Oklahoma State -- Transfer from North Carolina will take some pressure off D'Juan Woods; Sergio Kindle, Fr., LB, Texas -- A blue-chipper, but an ankle sprain in camp has hampered his progress; Gerald McCoy, Fr., DT, Oklahoma -- 6-4, 305 and USA Today's national defensive player of the year in 2005, he may be a starter.

* Top returning players: Justin Blalock, Sr., OT, Texas -- USC fans might remember his key block in the Rose Bowl and he will be a strong contender for the Outland and Lombardi awards; Mason Crosby, Sr., K, Colorado -- Has strongest leg in the nation, with Coach Dan Hawkins saying he'll get a shot at a 70-yard field goal; Bret Meyer, Jr., QB, Iowa State -- Passed for 2,876 yards last year and is the best of a largely inexperienced Big 12 quarterback contingent; Adrian Peterson, Jr., RB, Oklahoma -- Despite sophomore slump (1,104 yards), he's among the early Heisman Trophy favorites; Rufus Alexander, LB, Oklahoma -- Had 102 tackles, including 17 for losses.

-- Eric Maddy

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