October 31, 2007

Fritch's Big 12 Tour: Divisional balance

For the first time in this season, Big 12 division teams will solely attempt to dismantle their brethren. As time dwindles, Missouri looks to stay within clawing distance of undefeated Kansas in the North while South co-leaders Oklahoma and Oklahoma State hope to remain ahead of Texas A&M and Texas. Oh, this is also the perfect opportunity to tally the North-South squabble to this point. (Hint: The outcome isn't that surprising.)

Here's how it stands: Dead even. The North, considered a bottom-feeder division among BCS conferences entering this season, low and behold has Kansas and Missouri ranked in the Top 10 and is 8-8 against the South with two matchups left to go. Kansas travels to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M visits Missouri on Nov. 10. With two wins, the North would clinch its first season victory against the South since it went 11-8 in 2001.

Consider that including Big 12 title games, the North was a combined 15-42 against the South in the previous three years for the sorriest showing by either division in the league's history and 2007 becomes quite an achievement. Colorado this season joined Kansas State (1999) and Nebraska (2001) as the only North teams since 1998 to sweep its three South opponents during the regular season.

As for the Buffaloes' task on Saturday? Of course, to win their first game in the North. Their latest opportunity comes against No. 9 Missouri in Boulder. But Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team finishes with two games on the road (Colorado and at Kansas State) and one at home (Texas A&M) before meeting No. 8 Kansas in Kansas City, loves his kids and leadership ("I love our kids and we have great leadership," he said) and believes these Tigers could be different down the stretch.

At least, Pinkel hopes they will be different.

"We'll find out, won't we," said Pinkel, whose team trails Kansas by one game. "If you want to win at a high level and compete for a championship you've got to win at the end of the season. It's an exciting place to be in. Other people in our league are in the same position we're in, too. Now, can you do it? Time will tell and that's good."

The track record: Not so good.

In six seasons under Pinkel, the Tigers are a combined 6-18, including 2-10 on the road and 0-7 against ranked teams in their final four Big 12 games.

"The beauty about football is you have to go out and do it," Pinkel said. "You take one game at a time and see how it comes out. As everyone knows, the North has certainly changed. Certainly they were a lot of good teams out there and this thing is open for everybody."

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