As the season hits its stretch run, SMQ cynically, foolishly commits to quick, dirty and only marginally relevant looks over the next few days at what's primarily ailing each of the six major conferences at the moment. He is not, however, a problem-solver, so solutions other than 'play better football' - or, if he wants to get really in-depth, 'recruit better players in order to play better football' - are optional.
Dan McCarney is out this morning at Iowa State, the league's longest-tenured coach falling victim in large part to the sweltering oppression that already had claimed since 2003 the once-heralded trio of Frank Solich, Bill Snyder and Gary Barnett, each less than three seasons removed from winning a conference championship. While, across the divisional aisle, exactly one coach - Kevin Steele at Baylor - has bitten the dust in the same span.
Mark Kiszla's column Wednesday in the Denver Post certainly realizes the space-eating capabilities of the 'Enter' button, the use of which here rivals the actual number of words, but when assessing what ails the Big XII, it cuts more or less to the league's partisan heart:
A week ago, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops extended an olive branch and offered the one idea I believe can save this conference from eventual dissolution.
"It would probably be great if you threw out the Big 12 championship game and just crown your (regular-season) champion and play everybody like the Big Ten does, or the Pac-10," Stoops said during a teleconference with reporters. "You could play an extra conference game, get away from the divisions and mix up the teams you are not playing each year."
The proposal by Stoops makes perfect sense.
Which is why it probably has zero chance of becoming reality.
Because Big 12 football stopped making sense a long time ago.
For example: Take the league's championship game.
Having attended three of the past four productions of this farce, where the higher-ranked team had nothing to gain and everything to lose, fans circled the stadium begging anyone to buy an unwanted ticket and CU lost three times by a combined score of 141-13, I can report with passion and authority that anyone who truly loves college football should hate the Big 12 championship game.
I dunno, Mike, OU and Texas fans seem to have a great time every year at the Big XII Championship Game
That last compund sentence is the closest Kiszla comes to getting a second period into one paragraph not consisting of a coach's quote, but he is certainly right about the unparalleled lameness of the Big XII Championship. `Hate' is too strong a word for an event SMQ would say is better described by `disinterest,' though Kiszla does inspire some degree of revulsion via this column's most telling stat: South teams this season are 13-3 against teams from the North. Colorado and Missouri handled Texas Tech, Kansas beat Oklahoma State. Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and even Baylor have not been touched. The current standings show the top teams from the North would languish, again, no better than fourth in the South.
Since Colorado singlehandedly unhinged the wagon Nebraska had steered to a decade of dominance in two conferences and won the league back in 2001, the North has won one of four championship games, and that one was a stunning upset. And Kansas State, since, has conceded its brief rise to the status of "program of note" nationally was a cupcake-fueled ascension of circumstance whose sugar rush has ended in a crash. The scandal and mediocrity-plagued Buffs have staggered around probation and into a position for which they are, to put it mildly, unqualified. No one ever said, "The Big XII North title goes through Colorado," and this is essentially because no one over the last three seasons has really considered surviving the division worthy of a title. CU "won" last year after dropping its final three games by shocking margins; it was outscored overall in conference games, and played for the championship. In two straight North-winning seasons, the Buffs' collective league record, including championship games, was 9-9.
Nebraska presumably had a chance to change that this season, but instead fumbled away its chance to knock off Texas at home and lost badly at Oklahoma State to ensure the division will wrap up its third consecutive season without a ten-game winner; if either the Huskers or Missouri manage eight wins, in fact, it will represent the best showing by a North team since KSU's 2003 league champions.
Gary Barnett at the height of his championship legacy
It's no wonder, then, that Stoops, two years removed from his team's last title, is floating vague, short-term impossible notions of scrapping the championship game and especially about a playoff: why should a Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State or Missouri get the chance to sneak into a BCS bowl with one upset, when a team like Oklahoma (or Texas) is left in the dust after a single loss to a quality rival? Stoops sees his team, because of the circumstances of the Oregon loss, in the same vein as the one-loss contingent ranked 10-15 spots ahead of it, but OU has no chance of playing its way into one of the roped-off, big money affairs. Yet Nebraska, posting no wins over a South opponent to date, or Missouri, leveled by the Sooners two weeks ago, will have that opportunity?
Long-term, maybe, Stoops' reaction could be a sign that what's bad for the Big XII North is bad for the Big XII in general, and probably bad for college football. If unjust quirks are what it takes to get far more influential coaches as adamant as a few of we pro-playoff onlookers about the screwy nature of the system, well, then, by all means, suck, Big XII North, suck. It is, perhaps, your noble historical role.
Superficial Quick Fix: As long as there is a championship game (which is, of course, forever, right, accounting majors?), the North team has a hypothetical opportunity to win it. This season, Nebraska's already played Texas within two points - in Lincoln, okay, but it remains one of the games of the year to date. A rematch on a neutral field wouldn't be all that much more shocking than Nebraska handing a loss to Michigan in last year's Alamo Bowl. No, actually, that is false. Gravely false. It is, however, the North's only avenue to short-term respectability. Win the championship, save the league.