Big 12 reflects season's unpredictable nature

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Kansas coach Mark Mangino directs his team Saturday during the Jayhawks' 19-14 victory over Colorado in Boulder, Colo. At 8-0, Kansas has been the biggest surprise in the Big 12. (DAVID ZALUBOWSKI ~ Associated Press)

UNBEATEN KANSAS is the big surprise in the conference and a major surprise nationally.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Surprises have been the norm in college football this season, and it's been no different in the Big 12 Conference.

Halfway through league play, the standings and the preseason poll aren't exactly carbon copies of each other -- well, unless you count the bottom -- and even now it's hard to choose who'll be playing in the conference championship game Dec. 1 in San Antonio.

The surprise of the year easily has been Kansas. After being picked to finish fourth in the North, the No. 12 Jayhawks are within a win of their first 8-0 start since the 19th century.

That has coach Mark Mangino, who'd never before won more than four straight games at Kansas, dealing with different issues during his daily team meetings.

"I think you have to be able to handle success and adversity because both can create serious problems for you if you don't know how to manage them," Mangino said Monday in the Big 12 coaches conference call. "I just tell our kids it's great people are recognizing you, but stay focused on the task at hand and be careful. In the end, you need to handle success just as you would handle adversity."

And no one knows adversity better at this point than Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. The defending North champions have been the league's biggest disappointment. Picked to finish second in the division, the Huskers (4-4, 1-3 Big 12) have been blown out three straight weeks.

"We've got to keep upbeat and positive," Callahan said. "There's really nothing that you can do otherwise. You can't go in the tank mentally, you can't give up, you can't point fingers.

"You just try to rally your kids and help them through it. It's a tough time. We're struggling and we realize that. We understand that we can be a better football team and we're doing everything we can to try to get these kids to play better."

The South standings are jumbled too, with preseason favorite Texas getting off to an 0-2 start in league play. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are locked in a three-way tie for first.

Eight of the conference's 12 teams have spent time in the top 25, and two of those teams got major scares into the fourth quarter last week from last-place Iowa State and Baylor.

"I think the level of play in this conference has just really, really gone through the roof," said Cyclones coach Gene Chizik, whose defense shut out Oklahoma until midway through the third quarter Saturday.

"Week in and week out, it's somebody in the top 10, top 15, and that's what makes the conference great."

New QB at Baylor

Fifth-year senior Michael Machen will get his second start at quarterback when Baylor plays at Kansas State on Saturday.

"He's an older young man," Bears coach Guy Morriss said. "He's got a lot of maturity about him. I saw some leadership from him that I liked, that we've been desperately needing around this place."

Machen, who replaced sophomore Blake Szymanski (concussion) last week, had the Bears within seven points of Texas in the fourth quarter before he threw three late interceptions to help the Longhorns pull away for a 31-10 victory.

Mizzou's Brown honored

Missouri cornerback Cornelius "Pig" Brown was named the Big 12 defensive player of the week for the second time this season after notching a career-high 14 tackles and an interception in the Tigers' 41-10 win against Texas Tech.

Brown, the second repeat winner this season, had 4 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and also tipped a pass that Stryker Sulak intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

"Some guys are good athletes and just decent football players, and I think he's probably even a better football player than he is an athlete. He's a good athlete, but he is just a real good football player," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.

Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee, who had a career-high 167 yards rushing in the Aggies' 36-14 victory at Nebraska, was the offensive player of the week. Kansas kicker Scott Webb earned the special teams honor after making two field goals in the Jayhawks' 19-14 win at Colorado.

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