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MIDSEASON META: THE BIG 12 AT THE TURN

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What we think we know about the Big 12, halfway through:

The Huskers are who we thought they were, that year they completely sucked. No matter who you are, if you are using the Internet right now (and you are), the odds are overwhelming that you grew up with Nebraska as punishing, bone-grinding overlord. In that context, Bill Callahan was supposed to save a piece of your childhood. He killed it instead, not only by losing - which Frank Solich was beginning to do a little too much of, obviously - but by losing in a way that is so wholly un-Nebraska, it feels probably about the same as it would have if Bob Devaney was replaced in the seventies by Brezhnev. At least Solich's teams had the dignity to go down fighting, the Cornhusker way, with the option and defense and who gives a damn what you think? Not Nebraska.

At the moment, this is Nebraska Football:

• 528 yards per game allowed over the last five games.
• Over 550 allowed in three of the last four, including 610 to Ball State (!) and 606 to Missouri.
• At least 40 points allowed in four of the last five. Nebraska did not allow a single 40-point game by an opponent throughout the 1980s.
• Since crushing Nevada on the ground in the opener, the Huskers have been outrushed in every game, including Ball State (200-114), with an average margin on the ground of 139 yards (250 by opponents (!) to 112 by Nebraska) over the last six.
• In the last two games, a 41-6 loss at Missouri and 45-14 home loss to Oklahoma State, Nebraska's offense has thrown more interceptions (three) as it's scored touchdowns (two).
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At least someone will have a hard time letting go.
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The only news to console the 1994 you that still defines your notions of the world in its perfect, natural state is that the Callahan and his watered-down NFL schtick is doomed as doomed can be, with the Huskers going back to the future with the quintessential college boss in charge of making the next hire. Not to be fatalistic, but the Huskers' last five games are against Texas A&M, Texas, Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado. Callahan has to shift his way to victory in three of those to have any kind of chance, and he'll be the underdog in all five.

Battle of winning losers. You know, it feels like Kansas is pretty good - qualifying for a bowl in early October with an average margin of victory of six touchdowns is a sure way to foster optimism. And KU is not  entirely untested: the Jayhawks won at Kansas State a week after the Wildcats buried Texas in Austin. Even if the status quo holds, it won't rise to the level of a bloody struggle for control of the expansion of slavery into Western territories, but Kansas' Thanksgiving weekend "Border War" finale with Missouri in Kansas City would be the most significant collision of the two states 150 years.

This is a completely different status quo than the one that's ruled the league since 2002, the first year of Nebraska's freefall, which holds the Big 12 North is a mire of mediocrity, kindling to stoke the fire of BCS ambitions for the winner of the Texas-Oklahoma struggle in the South. Colorado won the division in 2004 with a 4-4 record and lost to Oklahoma as a 22-point underdog in the championship; CU was 5-3 and a 26-point underdog to Texas in 2005, and was wiped out by 67 points. Trading on its name as much as anything it had accomplished on the field, Nebraska was only a three-point underdog last year, but still faithfully delivered the North's fourth championship loss in five years. Including those games, from 2004-06, the North was 43-14 against the South; even Baylor, 3-0 against the North last year, managed to go 4-5 in interdivision games in that span.

If there's a new paradigm at work this year, the sea change occurred in a couple of hours back on Sept. 29, when Oklahoma and Texas fell within a matter of hours to Colorado and Kansas State, neither loss dismissable as a fluke, and the North will be trading those victories as currency in the public mind for the rest of the year. Kansas' subsequent win at KSU was meaningful because of the Wildcats' triumph in Austin; KU had its necessary statement game after a month of mercilessly pulling the legs off helpless MAC teams that just wanted to escape with a check. K-State rebounded by bouncing Colorado last week, a suddenly significant game that three weeks earlier would have been a complete afterthought between also-rans. That win keeps the Wildcats in the conference discussion, but didn't eliminate the Buffaloes, who fell into a three-way tie behind Kansas at 2-1 in the league. The third leg is Missouri, which earned about as much respect for leading all the way into the fourth quarter at Oklahoma as it had for starting 6-0. So far this year, the North is 4-4 against interdivision games, three of the losses by its obvious bottom-dwellers, Nebraska and Iowa State.

So Saturday's game between Colorado and Kansas will be another litmus for Kansas' cupcake-inflated poll position and the ostensibly rebuilding Buffs' chances to hang in the crowded race, and even if the evidence of the division's complete rehabilitation is incomplete, November will be interesting again for the first time in years: Missouri plays all three fellow challengers, plus Texas A&M, closing with the Jayhawks in a potential winner-take-all. For the sake of the division, just for the chance to send a team to the championship game that doesn't feel like a sacrificial lamb, the more meaningful that game, the better.

Michael Crabtree Report. Three of the country's top five receivers are on Big 12 offenses, two of them on one team, and two thirds of the league is averaging at least 260 yards per game through the air, making the once stodgy, crusty, dusty, option-dominated heartland league the most pass happy conference in the country. Actually, no conference is pass wackier, including the always wacky WAC:

Team-by-Team Passing Averages
Passes/Gm. Yds./Game Pass O Rank
Big 12 37.9 279.8 37.5
WAC 36.0 254.0 56.2
Pac Ten 35.9 245.3 48.5
C-USA 34.2 243.9 55.1
Big East 30.8 247.9 56.6
Big Ten 33.4 234.2 57.6
MWC 32.7 229.5 61.1
MAC 33.4 219.2 62.5
Sun Belt 34.2 217.7 67.0
ACC 31.4 216.6 70.4
SEC 30.5 209.6 73.6

Peaking kind of early, aren't we? I mean, this must be the peak, right? Right?!
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The only teams running for more yards than they're passing are Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, which is really something of a surprise when you consider that ten of the conference's twelve teams (all but Baylor and Iowa State) have winning records and on the whole dominated out-of-conference filler. This might better be called the "run up the score" league. Like everything else, I credit Mike Leach.

Speaking of which, redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree's updated pace for the season, assuming a bowl game (the Raiders are already eligible): 145 catches, 2,310 yards, 32 touchdowns. All would be Division I-A records.

Show me. Show me now. Between them, there is an upstart title contender in Missouri or Texas Tech, both of which begin crucial months this weekend in Columbia. It's mathematically possible for the loser to forge ahead with championship ambitions intact, but practically, with Missouri facing Colorado, A&M and the two Kansas schools to close the year and Tech closing up with Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma among its last four, the chances of making a splash in the polls, staying alive for the rare New Year's Day game or making a H*i*m*n push for either prolific quarterback hinge on beating another contender not preparing to fire its lame duck coach. With Nebraska biting the dust, Missouri is still trading on its opening two-point win against Illinois, which, if last week was any indication, won't be worth much in another few weeks. Both teams need an upgrade.