Big 12 coaches downplay rankings

Monday, September 29, 2008 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 10:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 29, 2008

COLUMBIA- After the unveiling of football rankings Sunday, the Big 12 Conference had half of its teams in the Top 25, and four in the Top 10.

But, as conference play begins, coaches say the rankings aren't on their minds.

"I don't think you can think about that," Kansas State coach Ron Prince said in the Big 12 teleconference Monday. "All you can do is just try to play the game and look at where your matchups are and how you're going to try to take advantage of whatever advantages you may have."

Texas coach Mack Brown said he isn't concerned where the Longhorns or anyone else in the country are ranked. He's made it clear that he's not a fan of polls early in the season.

"I really believe that polls are unimportant until the middle of October, after you get into the meat of your schedule," Brown said. "We're talking about everybody that's upset each week, I think it takes a while to play really good teams in your league to figure out who you are, and if you're any good or not."

Although taking things one game at a time is one of the oldest coaching clichés, Prince clung to it.

"Doing anything else and trying to look ahead, that doesn't do anybody any good," Prince said. "The reality is that you can only have impact on the game this weekend, and it deserves your full attention."

The Big 12 used to have a large gap separating its strongest teams from the rest of the conference. Brown appears convinced the gap is gone.

"I would think that this year, we're going to be more like the SEC," Brown said. "We're going to have some real battles within the league that will hurt the national rankings, but at the same time, will show how good this league has become. It's much better top to bottom."

HAVE I SEEN YOU HERE BEFORE?: Being on top of the polls is nothing new for Oklahoma. The Sooners have had the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll 96 times, tied for the most appearances.

The ranking gives the Sooners' opponents more motivation to beat them.

"We're pretty used to that," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

But Stoops wasn't as quick to say that experience would help Oklahoma avoid the upsets that have claimed other teams.

"I don't know that that gives us any special advantage," he said. "Just because we've done it before, sometimes that's a long time ago. Everybody knows that if you don't perform at your best and play foolishly, you're going to lose."

The last time the Sooners were ranked No. 1 was in 2003, before anyone on the current team began his college career.

DOWN TO THE WIRE: Saturday's game between No. 21 Oklahoma State and Texas A&M could be exciting. Since Mike Gundy took the head job at Oklahoma State, he's come close to beating Texas A&M twice but came up a point short each time.

"I just think they've been good football games," Gundy said. "It's hard to predict what happens in college football anymore."

Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, whose team owns a four-game winning streak against the Cowboys, wasn't interested in referencing the past, particularly a past that he is not a part of.

"It's past history, and I don't spend a lot of time (with that)," Sherman said. "I deal with the present, what we're doing today. That's more important to me. We've got to beat this team on this Saturday at 6 o'clock. Nothing that happens in the past reflects what we're going to do."

CHANGING THE CULTURE: Baylor coach Art Briles has the Bears at 2-2 as they enter the Big 12 season. But the nonconference schedule has not been the Bears' problem in the Big 12.

Since joining the league, Baylor has gone 11-85 in 12 seasons of conference play and posted four winless Big 12 seasons.

"What we have to do is change the way that people view us," Briles said. "We understand that our judgment will come through these next eight games, not these first four. We are in the Big 12, we live in the Big 12 South. What we have to do is be a player in the Big 12, not just a member. That's the culture part that we're changing."

SHORT AND SWEET: Colorado coach Dan Hawkins was direct in his assessment of the Buffaloes' next opponent, Texas.

What was his scouting report of Texas?

"Awesome," Hawkins said.

In what way is Texas awesome?

"Every," he said.

SHORT AND NOT-SO-SWEET: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini picked up an ill-timed unsportsmanlike conduct arguing a call in the Cornhuskers' loss to Virginia Tech. But Pelini said he thinks it was a one-time lack of judgment, not a serious personality flaw.

A calm and direct "no" was Pelini's only response when he was asked if he was worried about his temper.


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