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Big 12 North up for grabs this season

Aug. 23, 2004

By MATT RICHARDS, sports writer

Just a few weeks ago, a solemn e-mail helped to break the monotony of this summer's internship. As many of you can relate, the business word spent this summer trying to wrestle my heart from my passions and chain it to a desk.

For the third summer in a row, the ploy of corporate America failed.

Thanks to a reminder about the upcoming college football season by the Big 12 home office, my passions were reignited for one of my loves -- college football.

While most of my co-workers continued to poor themselves into sales and receipts, I dove into research about the upcoming season.

My work suffered -- but it was worth it.

So, in the hope of re-igniting the football flames in your hearts, here are my top five storylines for the 2004 Big 12 season.

1. The 11 game schedule

Everyone in college football is upset about this one. The NCAA thought it would be a great idea to shorten the schedule from the traditional 12 games down to 11 games.

Why is everybody so upset? Simple. Bowl eligibility.

Every team from Tulane University all the way to Harvard University wants an extra non-conference game in order to reach the magical six-win plateau.

Teams in desperate need of a bowl game to boost alumni support (i.e. Baylor) are the real losers in this deal. Athletic directors around the country will likely be protesting this decision throughout the entire year.

Prediction: The schedule will be changed back to 12 games next year.

2. Nebraska switches offenses

No, it's not a misprint. Thanks to the "wisdom" of University of Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson, the Huskers hired former Oakland Raiders head Coach Bill Callahan to lead the Big Red.

Somehow, after failing to lure University of Arkansas head Coach Houston Nutt, Pederson settled with Callahan -- a coach run off from Oakland.

Now, Callahan hopes to erase more than three decades of the option in favor of the West Coast passing attack.

Although change is usually a good thing, it's the worst thing in this case.

Not only does he dismantle the prolific option, but Callahan won't be able to run the finesse West Coast Offense with option personnel.

Prediction: Nebraska is going to be bad this year -- really bad. If they win five games all year, it'll be a miracle. Callahan will be gone in less than two years. Pederson won't even last that long.

Note: Baylor fans should circle Oct. 16 on their calendars. Make the trip up to Lincoln to see Baylor have a outside shot at beating the Big Red for the first time ever.

3. The Oklahoma Sooners

What happened last year? The Sooners rolled over everybody in the regular season, only to fall to Kansas State University and LSU by a combined 35 points.

Did the pressure get to Oklahoma? I don't think so.

This season, the Sooners will be out to prove those two games were flukes. I think they'll be even better than they were last year, thanks to medical redshirt for quarterback Jason White and the addition of true freshman running back Adrian Peterson.

Prediction: The Sooners will stomp the University of Texas on Oct. 9 in the Red River shootout, costing Texas head Coach Mack Brown his job at the end of the year. Then, the Sooners will convincingly capture the National Championship.

4. Coach Fran and the Aggies

A lot of sportswriters think this will be the year that Texas A&M University head Coach Dennis Franchione turns around the underachieving Aggies.

Sorry, but it's still going to be another long year for the Aggies.

There have been major discipline and eligibility issues in College Station over the summer. Since November, an astounding nine Aggie players and one recruit have been arrested.

The last player, wide receiver Nick Rhodes, was dismissed after punching his roommate and hitting him with a guitar. Ouch!

And if that wasn't enough for Coach Fran's blood pressure, there continue to be rumors that junior quarterback Reggie McNeal may not be academically eligible to play next season.

What is going on in College Station? The answer: a heart attack for Franchione.

Prediction: The Aggies finish near the bottom of the Big 12 South again. Coach Fran just has too many problems and not enough time.

5. The Big 12 North

It's going to be a dogfight in the Big 12 North this year.

There is no clear-cut favorite. Nebraska and Iowa State University are obvious not in contention. The University of Kansas is on the way up, but still remains two years away from a division title. The University of Colorado is lucky to still have a football program after this summer's scandal.

It looks like the North will come down to two teams: Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. Both teams have issues to resolve early in the year.

Kansas State lost quarterback Ell Roberson but retained Heisman hopeful senior running back Darren Sproles. Sproles can cover some of the miscues of incoming starting sophomore quarterback Dylan Meier, but not all of them.

Missouri senior quarterback Brad Smith is beginning his push for the Heisman this season. Fans in Columbia are gearing up for a big year.

Even though Smith's combined 28 touchdowns were stellar last season, the Missouri defense was not. They allowed more than 20 points per game and showed an inability to make the big play.

Prediction: KSU head Coach Bill Snyder's offensive and defensive systems work. He knows how to win. KSU will take the North again from Missouri but will fall to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.