Big mess in Big 12

LAWRENCE, Kan. – As Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford walked off the field following his team’s 35-13 victory over Kansas on Saturday, a group of Sooners fans stood behind a barricade and snapped photos of last year’s Heisman Trophy winner.

Unfortunately, he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, not pads and a helmet.

“We love you, Sam!” one woman yelled.

Bradford smiled and waved half-heartedly. This certainly isn’t what he envisioned when he passed on the NFL draft to return for his junior season. Instead of leading his team to a second straight appearance in the BCS title game, an injured shoulder is forcing Bradford to watch from the sideline as Oklahoma attempts to claw its way back into the top 25 following a trio of losses he likely would’ve prevented.

Damaging as Bradford’s injury was to Oklahoma, it also hurt the Big 12. Just one year removed from one of the most successful seasons in conference history, the league has lost its shine in 2009.

Other than undefeated Texas, not one Big 12 team will be ranked among the top 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll. And only two other teams (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma) will be in the top 25.

That’s hardly what you’d expect from one of the premier leagues in the country. Then again, it’s not as if anyone could’ve seen this coming.

The suspension of receiver Dez Bryant and injuries to tailback Kendall Hunter and linebacker Orie Lemon have kept Oklahoma State from reaching its potential. Baylor’s quest for its first bowl berth in 15 years ended when quarterback Robert Griffin blew out his knee in Week Three.

First-year starting quarterbacks Taylor Potts (Texas Tech), Zac Lee (Nebraska) and Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) haven’t fared nearly as well as their predecessors. And as bad it was last year, Kansas’ defense has actually regressed.

All of it continues to result in strange scores from week to week.

In the South Division, Oklahoma – which has also been without star tight end Jermaine Gresham – fell out of the national championship hunt after an opening-week loss to BYU. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech both lost to Houston, a non-BCS school.

Those upsets are nothing compared to what’s happened to schools from the dreadful North Division. As if Kansas State’s non-conference loss to Louisiana-Lafayette wasn’t bad enough, the teams that were supposed to finish the highest (Kansas and Nebraska) have lost to the ones that were supposed to place the lowest (Colorado and Iowa State).

“We can’t sit here and feel bad for ourselves,” Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said after Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma. “We’re still very much in the hunt for things. Everyone has a loss or two in the North. There is a lot of football left to be played. By no means are we out of it.”

Oklahoma’s players shared similar sentiments. Frustrated as they were with last week’s 16-13 loss to Texas, they know anything is possible in what’s becoming a zany year for the Big 12.

“We’ve lost to Texas two of the last three years and gone on to win the Big 12 title,” defensive end Jeremy Beal said. “We’re not down at all. This thing is still wide open.”

Indeed, tough as the games have been to predict from week to week, here’s a look at how I expect the conference standings to look at the end of the season.

SOUTH DIVISION

Texas

Current record: 7-0, 4-0

Projected finish: 12-0, 8-0

Comment: The Longhorns had looked a bit shaky before Saturday’s 41-7 victory at Missouri. If Mack Brown’s squad continues to play at this level, it shouldn’t have any problem advancing to the BCS title game with an unblemished record. Texas’ biggest remaining game is its next one: A showdown with high-scoring Oklahoma State on Halloween night in Stillwater.

Oklahoma

Current record: 4-3, 2-1

Projected finish: 9-3, 7-1

Comment: The Sooners shouldn’t lose again – especially since they get archrival Oklahoma State at home in the regular-season finale. While the offense is still a work in progress under first-year starting quarterback Landry Jones, the defense is one of the best in the country. The Sooners’ record is deceiving considering their three losses have come by a combined five points.

Oklahoma State

Current record: 6-1, 3-0

Projected record: 9-3, 6-2

Comment: How the Cowboys finish will depend largely on whether the NCAA lifts its suspension of star receiver Dez Bryant, who could make a huge difference in next Saturday’s game against Texas. Solid as the Cowboys have been without Bryant and standout tailback Kendall Hunter, they desperately need both of them as they enter the toughest stretch of their schedule.

Texas A&M

Current record: 4-3, 1-2

Projected record: 7-5, 4-4

Comment: No Big 12 team is as tough to figure out as the Aggies. One week after getting blown out by a so-so Kansas State team, they bounced back and demolished Texas Tech on the road. Running back Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael make the Aggies a threat to beat anyone they play. Victories over Iowa State, Colorado and Baylor will make Mike Sherman’s squad bowl eligible.

Texas Tech

Current record: 5-3, 2-2

Projected record: 7-5, 4-4

Comment: Other than Baylor, the Red Raiders don’t have an easy game left on their schedule. Even this week’s home game against Kansas doesn’t appear to be a sure thing thanks to a defense that surrendered 52 points and 559 yards of offense to Texas A&M. Look for Texas Tech to squeak by the Jayhawks in a high-scoring affair before dropping two straight to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Baylor

Current record: 3-4, 0-3

Projected record: 3-9, 0-8

Comment: The end of the season can’t come fast enough for the Bears, who are a completely different team without Robert Griffin. Baylor has been virtually inept on offense since Griffin went out in Week Three. The shame of it all is that a solid, senior-laden defense is going to waste.

NORTH DIVISION

Kansas

Current record: 5-2, 1-2

Projected record: 8-4, 4-4

Comment: Disappointing as they were against Oklahoma on Saturday, the Jayhawks still have a strong opportunity to win the North. They should beat Kansas State, Nebraska and Missouri and will also stand a chance at Texas Tech – especially if Todd Reesing cuts down on the turnovers that have plagued him the past two weeks. Kansas’ offense is still one of the nation’s best with Reesing and receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe.

Nebraska

Current record: 4-3, 1-2

Projected record: 7-5, 4-4

Comment: Saturday’s 9-7 home loss to Iowa State has to be one of the lowest moments in Nebraska’s storied history. If offensive coordinator Shawn Watson doesn’t lose his job after that one, something is wrong. Still, it’s not as if Nebraska is going to have eight turnovers every week. Look for the Cornhuskers to rebound this week against Baylor before closing out the regular season with wins against Kansas State and Colorado.

Kansas State

Current record: 5-3, 3-1

Projected record: 6-6, 4-4

Comment: Bill Snyder has done a phenomenal job in his first season out of retirement and is making a strong push for Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. But don’t be surprised if the Wildcats’ luck begins to change. Oklahoma will bring Kansas State back down to earth in Norman on Saturday, and Snyder’s squad won’t be able to contain Kansas the following week. A Nov. 14 home game against Missouri is the best chance for another victory.

Missouri

Current record: 4-3, 0-3

Projected record: 7-5, 3-5

Comment: The Tigers opened Big 12 play with losses to Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas – easily three of the toughest teams on their schedule. From here, things should get a bit easier. Wins against Colorado and Baylor the next two weeks should boost Missouri’s confidence. Heck, if quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s ankle injury improves, the Tigers could win out and play in the Big 12 title game for the third straight year.

Iowa State

Current record: 5-3, 2-2

Projected record: 6-6, 3-5

Comment: No Big 12 team has improved as much as the Cyclones, who need one victory to become bowl eligible after winning just two games in 2008. Iowa State is good enough to beat three of the remaining four teams on its schedule, but it has to play Texas A&M and Missouri on the road. Look for the Cyclones to lose those two games – but they’ll beat Colorado in Ames.

Colorado

Current record: 2-5, 1-2

Projected record: 2-10, 1-7

Comment: One week after former backup quarterback Tyler Hansen led the Buffaloes to an upset win over Kansas, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins sent Hansen back to the bench so he could play his son, Cody, against Kansas State. The move resulted in two interceptions and a 20-6 loss that will surely evoke even more criticism of the coach. Colorado may not win another game.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Oct 25, 2009