Recruiting base big factor in South's advantage
The luckiest man in coaching this season is Kansas coach Mark Mangino. The Jayhawks may have a redshirt freshman quarterback and an inexperienced defense, but they could easily play in their second consecutive bowl.
That may not make much sense until you look at Kansas' Big 12 Conference schedule. Defending national champion Texas, Holiday Bowl champion Oklahoma and Cotton Bowl participant Texas Tech rotate off the Jayhawks' schedule. Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M rotate onto it.
"Oklahoma and Texas, those are two elite programs," Mangino said. "Most people would take a trade for just about anybody, including me."
The Big 12 North is the National League All-Star team. The South is the AL All-Stars.
The Big 12 North is the French Alps. The Big 12 South is Lance Armstrong.
Years ago, Timex watches had a slogan: "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking." If the Big 12 North is looking for a title sponsor
There are 18 regular-season interdivisional games every year. In the last three years, the South has won 38 of those 54 games for .704 winning percentage. Of the North's 16 wins, seven have come at the expense of Baylor.
The Big Eight Conference merged with four Texas universities a decade ago to form the Big 12. Amid the congratulatory peals came a warning from Tom Osborne, then the head coach of Nebraska. Osborne warned that the competitive balance would tilt toward the state of Texas. Too many high school recruits will want to stay home.
Here's the result. Texas is 19-1 against the North over the last six seasons. Oklahoma, which always has recruited well in Texas, is 20-2. Texas Tech, over the last three seasons, is 8-1.
The question: Can this marriage be saved?
"I'm not sure the edge of the South will ever go away," said Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, and he's only 5-4 against the North.
The case can be made that Texas and Oklahoma are dominating the conference because they made shrewd coaching hires. For instance, in the first four years of Big 12 Conference play, the Sooners went 3-9 against the North. However, once Bob Stoops established Oklahoma's dominance, he could sink roots into the loam of Texas recruiting. Once Stoops turned Oklahoma in the right direction, the Sooners could travel farther.
"The only educated guess I can give you," Mangino said, "is the recruiting base is more fertile in the southern part of the conference than the north. We have 24, 25 Texans on our team. That's Big 12 territory. That's giving you an educated guess. All the teams in the north are recruiting Texas."
"In 1999, when I was at TCU, we did a demographic study," Franchione said. "Three hundred five players from Texas signed with 56 different institutions. Some of the biggest coaches in the nation came in. There are a lot of players in our state. You just have to have a good feeling that you can get 20 you like."
There have been other factors that have impacted the North, and not for the good. The rise of Texas and Oklahoma coincided with the demise of Nebraska and Colorado, both of which suffered self-inflicted wounds. The Huskers seemed slow to adapt to changes on the field and in recruiting under Bill Callahan's predecessor, Frank Solich. The recruiting scandal at Colorado handcuffed former coach Gary Barnett.
It is easy to belittle the Buffaloes for losing the last two conference championship games by a combined score of 112-6. But how Colorado managed to get there in spite of its problems is remarkable.
Callahan believes in the circle of football life, perhaps because the Huskers are favored to appear in their first Big 12 Conference championship game in seven years.
"I think it's cyclical, personally," Callahan said. "Whether or not, you know, there's a direct advantage there, I don't know. I couldn't tell you one way or the other. But I know this division is a very competitive division."
Competitive just means that the teams are bunched together. What the North needs is for a team to unbunch itself, and soon. Nebraska is expected to make a move this season. If it doesn't, the prospects aren't good for the rest of the division. Colorado and Kansas State have new coaches. Kansas is rebuilding its defense and Missouri must replace its best player, quarterback Brad Smith.
The North will keep on ticking. The question is whether it can keep from getting another licking.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Buckeyes' Miller throwing ahead of schedule
- Manziel A&M jersey expected to fetch $100K
- Fitzgerald: Union push 'unified' Northwestern
- Giving back: Beadles donates $750K to Utes