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October 10, 2007

Big 12 North finally bouncing back

DALLAS In recent seasons, critics have snidely disparaged the Big 12 as the big two.

That criticism may resurface again, although it's uncertain which two teams will be afforded "big" status.

That distinction no longer is reserved for Oklahoma and Texas, and for the first time in at least three seasons, it's uncertain in which division the dominant teams reside. The winds of change seem to be blowing in from the North, especially after Colorado upset Oklahoma and Kansas State upset Texas two weeks ago.

"I'm glad K-State and Colorado won," Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said. "You can look at it one of two ways: You can look at it like, 'The Big 12 North is back,' or you can look at it like, 'The Big 12 sucks.'

"I'm looking at it like the Big 12 North is back."

In recent seasons, the North just backed down. In interdivisional competition since 2002, the six teams from the Big 12 North were usually splattered like insects on the windshields of the South. Yes, Kansas State upset OU in the 2003 championship game, but South teams have won four of the past five title games and have been just as dominant in interdivisional play.

The South has held at least an 11-7 advantage in each of the past six seasons. In 2004, the South won 15 of 18 interdivision regular season games. All three North victories came against Baylor, the South's perennial doormat.

There are several theories why the North faltered after dominating the early years of the Big 12. The state of Texas supplies the majority of talent in the Big 12 especially the skill-position players and teams in the South obviously have a huge geographical advantage in recruiting. Also, the schools in the South had better facilities and fan support.

Kansas State1-13-2
Iowa State0-21-5
Texas A&M2-05-1
Oklahoma State1-13-3
Texas Tech1-15-1
But at this season's halfway mark, the Big 12 has two undefeated teams, and both Missouri and Kansas are in the North.

"A lot of people have been talking about how good the Big 12 South is and how bad the Big 12 North is," Kansas State wide receiver Jordy Nelson said after the Wildcats beat Texas. "But anybody can beat anybody else in college football."

Just two years removed from annihilating Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship Game on its way to the national crown, Texas is fifth in the South Division after losing to Kansas State and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks.

Virtually out of the conference-championship picture now, the Longhorns face another North team this week when they travel to face Iowa State in one of four interdivisional games.

Of course, the argument could still be made that the South remains stronger. After all, the South still has three teams with one loss Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Despite their loss in Boulder, the Sooners remain the Big 12's highest ranked team and perhaps the odds-on favorite to defend their conference championship.

But they face high-scoring Missouri on Saturday in a showdown that could be a preview of the conference championship game. At the least, it could serve as an indication of just how much the balance of power in the Big 12 has shifted or if it has truly shifted at all.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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