The Big 12 should attach a Surgeon General's warning to its schools' contracts for football coaches: Coach here at your own risk.
Of the league's 12 head coaches, seven have been at their jobs for three seasons or fewer. Of the seven who now are gone, three were told it might be a good idea to clean out their desks and three others left without heartfelt thank-yous.
Mike Leach begins his head coaching career this season at Texas Tech, where the media-friendly, highly successful Spike Dykes stepped down after 13 seasons. Or was it pushed out? Bob Stoops has settled in at Oklahoma, but he should remember that three predecessors have sat behind his desk since 1994.
The Gary Barnett era at Colorado was ushered in last season with a 7-5 bowl season after Rick Neuheisel -- take your pick -- (a) ran off, (b) took a better job in Washington, (c) took too many rafting trips, or (d) couldn't meet the demands at Colorado.
Mack Brown at Texas and Frank Solich at Nebraska have enjoyed success in their two seasons, but they had best keep winning to justify high expectations and, in Brown's case, high dollars.
Despite knocking off Iowa the last two years and drastically improving the defense, Dan McCarney's hanging on for dear life at Iowa State and needs a winning season in year six. Larry Smith's in the same boat at Missouri and would be smart to score at least a point against a Kansas school after enduring 66-0 and 21-0 shellackings from the Wildcats and Jayhawks.
And the clock is running for Terry Allen, who was hired at Kansas in 1997 when the Jayhawks were weary from Glen Mason's constant flirtations with other schools. Allen isn't yet in serious trouble after winning three of his last five and taking Nebraska to the wire, but he needs to improve a 14-20 mark.
The bottom line: Big 12 coaches had better produce fast, often within two years of signing on the dotted line.
|Nebraska QB Eric Crouch|
Ascending: Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. The Longhorns have won nine games each of the last two seasons. They may be a year away from any serious national title run, but they have a vastly improved defense and two of the league's best quarterbacks. Only a last-second bowl loss has slowed the Sooners' momentum. And Barnett, who has two incoming in-state Parade All-Americans, has the Buffs poised for great things.
Descending: : Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Missouri. The Aggies backtracked last season amid running game problems and could be headed for more trouble with a taxing schedule and no established quarterback. The Cowboys, depleted at linebacker and wide receiver, are poster boys for 5-6 seasons. And wasn't it the Tigers who were coming on just two short seasons ago?
Dream schedule: Kansas State, as usual, plays every patsy within the 50 states. Bill Snyder dropped USC from the 2001 schedule after learning this was not the University of South Carolina. Kansas has a cupcake schedule as well.
Nightmare schedule: Colorado might have to be coaxed to come out of the locker room in September. Its first six games are a survival course: Colorado State, USC and Washington, followed by Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas. Can you say 0-6? Probably not, but a 3-3 start might be good news for Barnett.
Best matchup:Rick Neuheisel returns to Boulder September 16 as not so much the prodigal son, but the son who took the big bucks with Washington and prodded CU into hiring the Northwestern miracle worker to come home. Washington-Colorado Part II could get nasty.
Ugliest matchup: Take your pick from K-State-Iowa, K-State-Louisiana Tech, K-State-Ball State or K-State-North Texas. Ain't a keeper in the bunch. The four opponents combined for an 11-33 record last season.
Upset of the year: : Oklahoma over Nebraska October 28. Josh Heupel completes 43-of-65 passes with five touchdowns in Norman. The Sooners, who have been outscored by Nebraska 179-28 in their last three meetings, knock off the Huskers for the first time since 1990, or three OU head coaches ago.
Bowl bound: : Who ain't going? With the addition of the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl, seven Big 12 teams could land bids. Pencil in the Huskers, Wildcats, Longhorns, Sooners, Buffaloes and Aggies. Texas Tech and Kansas need a lot of things to go right.
Biggest shoes to fill: : Finding someone to take over for Darren Davis at Iowa State won't be easy. There won't be a Davis carrying the ball in Ames for the first time since 1993, after Darren and older brother Troy combined for 10,185 all-purpose yards and 63 of the Cyclones' 149 touchdowns from 1994-99. Since younger brother Jason didn't qualify, ISU will choose from among Ennis Haywood, redshirt freshman Michael Wagner and freshman JaMaine Billups, the USA Today Player of the Year in Nebraska.
Most overrated player:
This goes to one of the league's most oversized players. Texas A&M's Ja'Mar Toombs has had more scrapes with the law than he has with defensive linemen because he hates the idea of playing fullback and blocking every down. Some consider him selfish because he so desperately wants to be the featured back. He also has average hands.
|Missouri E Justin Smith |
Most underrated: : Kansas State's Quincy Morgan is, without question, the league's premier wide receiver. He caught only 42 passes, but he produced nine touchdowns (average distance 48.7 yards) and 1,007 yards. The 6-2, 215-pound senior averaged 24 yards a catch, which was at least six yards more than any other top 10 Big 12 receiver.
Best coach: How can anyone argue with Bill Snyder? What Snyder has done for the perennial doormat of college football is nothing short of remarkable. This is the first year in his tenure K-State has had no staff turnover.
Best staff: In two seasons, Mack Brown has not lost an assistant from a staff that includes primarily former head coaches and coordinators. Other colleges and even the NFL have come calling for coordinators Carl Reese and Greg Davis, but to no avail.
Coach on the hot seat: Make that the hot row. Larry Smith may have one foot out the door at MU. Bob Simmons might have both at OSU despite last fall's extension. Dan McCarney shouldn't dare break a chain letter. Even R.C. Slocum has lost much of his allure at Texas A&M despite a tremendous record.
Best bets: Kansas State's David Allen will return at least three kicks for touchdowns. He has seven and needs one to own the NCAA record. ... Chris Simms will supplant Major Applewhite, who is coming off major knee surgery in January, as Texas' starting quarterback because Applewhite might not be 100 percent and the taller, more mobile Simms has a bigger upside. ... Josh Heupel will throw for 500 yards in a game and will become Oklahoma's all-time career passer by the sixth game of his second season. ... TE Bo Scaife will catch 70 passes for the Longhorns and lead the team in receptions. ... Larry Smith's wife will not bake cookies for Missouri reporters on media day. ... Missouri DE Justin Smith, who is bigger (265 pounds) but just as fast (4.51), will consider leaving school early for the NFL. ... Aggie fans will miss former QB Randy McCown more than they think. ... Bill Snyder will lose an assistant to somebody. R.C. Slocum will fire an assistant. The Aggie boss has made 24 staff changes since 1989. In fairness, not all were fired, and some have better jobs, like Bob Davie (Notre Dame), Bob Toledo (UCLA), Tommy Tuberville (Auburn) and Mike Sherman (Green Bay Packers). ... Nebraska at K-State game November 11 could be between two undefeated, top-five-ranked teams.
Odds and ends: With Kevin Steele keeping all of his assistants, it marks the first time in 11 years that Baylor has had zero turnover on its coaching staff. It has to help a program that is searching for its first winning season since 1995. ... Kansas signee Mario Kinsey was a point guard for Waco (Texas) LaVega's state champion basketball team and will play basketball for the Jayhawks as well. ... Missouri plucked two coaches, including offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, off Western Michigan's staff and will at times employ five receivers. One will be Justin Gage, who played some at quarterback last year. Coaches considered using him at linebacker in the spring because he's so athletic. He also plays for the Tigers' basketball team. ... Kansas FB Moran Norris is a bull of a running back who last year wore offensive lineman's shoulder pads and can bench-press 500 pounds. ... WR Kyle Shanahan, whose father Mike won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Denver Broncos, transferred from Duke to Texas and has three years of eligibility. ... Nebraska P Dan Hadenfeldt got a sixth year of eligibility. ... Missouri opens a new 149-seat press box with 35 luxury suites. ... Colorado is salivating over RB Marcus Houston, who is such a model citizen he was scheduled to take farm tools, books and educational materials to villages in Ghana this summer. ... After finishing last in the league in pass defense, Kansas will double up with two secondary coaches, Dick Moseley and newcomer Tim Burke, who arrives from Purdue. ... Another Kansas coach, quarterbacks assistant Jay Johnson, has the unique distinction of having been the starting quarterback at Northern Iowa with Kurt Warner as his backup. Yep, that Kurt Warner, the NFL MVP last year for the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams. ... R.C. Slocum's son, Shawn, returns from Southern California to handle special teams at Texas A&M, which didn't have a return touchdown last season for the first time since 1992.
Breaking down the Big 12:
Scouting | Preseason Team | Player of the Year Projections | In a Nutshell
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