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Big 12 North winner should be above .500
Coaches think the division will yield a better team this season.
DES MOINES, Iowa -- A year ago, Iowa State was limping along at 0-3 in the Big 12 before getting hot and tying Colorado for the North division championship.
So far, this season looks the same.
The Cyclones again are 0-3 in the league and hoping for another turnaround. The difference is that coach Dan McCarney doesn't think the 4-4 record that gave his team its title share last year will cut it this time around.
"I'd be surprised if the winner of the North has a .500 conference record this year," McCarney said Monday.
Still, McCarney and other coaches say there's plenty of time for things to get crazy again in the division, which was ridiculed last year as the league's runt because of its poor showing against South division teams, including Oklahoma's 42-3 mauling of Colorado in the conference championship game.
"I think you could have a wacky North with the way it's going," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. "We haven't played anybody in the North yet, so I don't know if we'll know for couple of weeks how this thing is going to go."
Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri are tied for first at 2-1, with Kansas State at 1-2 and Kansas joining Iowa State at 0-3. The key game this Saturday is Nebraska at Missouri. Colorado will be at home against Kansas.
The disparity between the top teams in the two divisions showed up again when Texas routed Colorado 42-17 last Saturday. But the North coaches feel their division is stronger this year.
Nebraska (5-1) looks much improved after going 5-6 last fall, Barnett says his team is better and McCarney feels the same about the Cyclones, who have lost two overtime games in league play.
"I think we're a better division than we were a year ago," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "I don't know if all of us are, but collectively, that's the case. I think the North champion will be above .500."
At this point, all one of the leaders has to do is win out to claim the division crown. Colorado is in the best position because it gets both Nebraska and Missouri at home. But if Iowa State gets going again, things could get complicated.
"All these games are going to be critical," Barnett said. "It's sort of like a playoff scenario. All I know is I've got three of the five at home. I'd take four if somebody wants to give one up."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is saying little about the status of quarterback Brad Smith other than to note, "He's fine."
Smith left in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's game against Iowa State after taking a hard shot from the Cyclones' Tim Dobbins. Freshman Chase Daniel took over and rallied the Tigers from a 24-14 deficit to a 27-24 victory in overtime.
So who starts against Nebraska?
"Nothing's changed. Brad's our starter, Chase is our backup," Pinkel said. "We'll make a decision Thursday as we always do with all our players on how much they're going to play."