COLUMBIA — A year ago, the consensus was that football teams in the Big 12 Conference North Division had finally caught up to the South Division in terms of depth.
Missouri and Kansas were both good enough to finish the season in the top 10 nationally, and on the division's next tier, Kansas State won at Texas and Colorado upset Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
No. 14 Missouri (6-3, 2-2 Big 12) at Baylor (3-5, 1-3)
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texa
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
The 10-9 mark the North Division had against the South was just last year. But now it looks like a lifetime ago, given the South's dominance in 2008. The South is a combined 10-2 against the North this season, which Texas coach Mack Brown said has more to do with the talent in the South than struggles in the North.
"I don't think it's a swing of years," Brown said. "It just happens that this year, when you look at the teams in the South, it's just phenomenal. I think that the teams overall in the South are the strongest division in college football."
After taking a look at the standings and the national polls, it's hard to argue with Brown. Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all Big 12 South teams ranked in the top 10 nationally. The four have combined for a record of 30-2, and the two losses both came when one of them played Texas.
"I guess that the results of the games would suggest that (we're dominant), but I don't have a big explanation," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. "Texas and Oklahoma are both very good, and Oklahoma State's hot this year, so some of that (explains it), maybe, but I don't have a quick answer."
Neither do Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops or Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who have each knocked off one of the top teams in the North Division this season.
"I've got great respect for the teams in the North as well, and I think we all know that you've got to be at your best to win regardless of who you're playing in the league," Stoops said.
Gundy said that he doesn't spend time worrying about his opponents or how they match up against other teams.
"For us, we get ready to play week-to-week," he said. "Whether from the North or South, it doesn't change for us. It's really hard for me to explain how teams have competed against each other."
The North coaches have no trouble explaining the situation. In their eyes, the conference has become so deep on both ends that every game poses a threat.
"I just think this conference overall is strong, and you're going to have up and downs," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "I don't want to get into the North and South too much. I really think that overall, the conference is competitive. It's a very good conference, on any given day, anyone can beat anyone."
Iowa State coach Gene Chizik and Brown think that the quarterbacks have the most to do with that development.
"The quarterback situation in this league is so outstanding, it's unbelievable," Chizik said. "I think the speed is very similar to what the SEC has, and usually, that's what the SEC has over other conferences. I think the great equalizer is the Colt McCoys and Chase Daniels of the world. I could go on and on."
Brown added that even the teams viewed as have-nots in the current Big 12 are strong at the quarterback situation, such as this week's Missouri opponent Baylor, which boasts a promising athlete in Robert Griffin.
"You look at Baylor and Robert Griffin, who we see next week, he's just done phenomenal things," Brown said. "You look at Texas A&M, we know what Stephen McGee can do, and Jerrod Johnson completed 79 percent of his passes last week. It's probably quarterbacks more than anything else."
It's clear that every game is important to the players, but the focus is on beating the teams in their own division first. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said nobody wants to lose three games to the other division, but there was no question what mattered most to him.
"The North is home," Weatherspoon said.
Weatherspoon's home might be down right now, but Brown thinks that a rebound is coming. He cited the success of the Tigers and Kansas last season, and said that the other programs in the North are sure to follow eventually.
"You have to look at what Missouri and Kansas have done over the last two years and give them credit," Brown said. "Nebraska's coming back, Colorado's coming back. Gene's done a great job up at Iowa State, it's just going to take him a while, and Ron Prince is the same at Kansas State."