, Muskogee, OK


September 22, 2010

It’s early, but Big 12 teams lag in top 10

BOYNTON — NORMAN  (AP) —When Big 12 football fans take a quick glimpse at the top of the rankings, there’s something missing.

Three weeks into the season and with seven teams still undefeated, the conference doesn’t have a team in the top 5. No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Texas and No. 8 Oklahoma are there waiting in the wings, but each has some work to do to get into the mix for the national championship.

The presence of No. 3 Boise State and No. 4 TCU has the Big 12 in an unusual situation. Not since 2006, when Texas and Oklahoma each suffered early losses, has the league failed to have a top 5 team in the AP poll three weeks into the season.

That could start sorting itself out after Texas and Oklahoma play in Dallas on Oct. 2 and the Longhorns visit Nebraska two weeks later. If any of those three teams are still unbeaten, the wins could result in a bump in the polls —and in the BCS standings, when they come out Oct. 17.

“Long term, if you have an undefeated Big 12 team, there’s no doubt in my mind they will finish ahead of Boise in the BCS and probably ahead in the polls,” BCS analyst Jerry Palm said.

The same goes for TCU. With three teams in the top 10, there’s enough power in the Big 12 that anyone who can run the table will move up over time.

“It’s hard to go undefeated,” Texas defensive end Sam Acho said. “We know that if we focus on what we have to do, everything will work out.”

Because of closer-than-expected wins early this season, Oklahoma and Texas have each fallen in the AP poll despite starting the season 3-0. The Sooners edged Utah State 31-24 and Air Force 27-24, with a blowout win against Florida State in between. The Longhorns fell even after winning at Texas Tech, where they had lost in three of their last six visits.

Meanwhile, Nebraska racked up perhaps the conference’s most impressive win with a 56-21 rout at Washington and leapfrogged the other two Big 12 schools. Yet there’s still more work to do to get into the two coveted positions at the top.

“There are some things you can’t control, and that’s one of them,” Huskers coach Bo Pelini said. “All you can do is play the best football you can. That’s something, there’s no way you have any control over. All you can control is winning as many games as you can.”

But there’s a scenario where even that may not be enough, Palm said.

“For a Big 12 team, it’s just win all of your games. If anybody can do that, whether it’s Texas, Oklahoma or Nebraska, they’re going to be in the national championship discussion,” he said.

“Nobody’s catching Alabama or Ohio State. Nobody’s catching those two. If they finish undefeated and a Big 12 team finished undefeated, then they’re Auburn.”

Auburn famously got left out when it went undefeated through the 2004 season, with unbeaten USC and Oklahoma teams playing for the title in the Orange Bowl.

Early on, though, the Big 12 has been holding its ground. Its 27-5 record in nonconference play is the best of any league in the country, even if some of the wins haven’t been impressive. By comparison, the league was 23-9 in nonconference play and there were only four undefeated teams left at this point last year.

Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Missouri and Kansas State are also unbeaten through three games.

“If you look, you’ll see that most coaches in our league will tell that you better be ready to play every week because there’s enough guys that are making plays on offense and guys that can shut you down on defense if you’re not prepared,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “There’s some parity in this league that some people may not have been aware of.”

Whether it’s the Cowboys’ 65-28 romp over Tulsa or Missouri’s last-minute escape against San Diego State, each of those nonconference victories will only help in the computer rankings months from now if the league is in a position to push one of its teams for a shot at the BCS championship.

For that to happen, though, the wins have to keep coming.

“I just know it’s out of our hands and we try not to think about that,” Nebraska safety Rickey Thenarse said. “We’re going to do our part and let the chips fall where they may.”

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