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Early-season favorites fade in Big 12

Monday, October 1, 2007 | 12:33 a.m. CDT; updated 4:33 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Texas’ Limas Sweed is stripped by Kansas State’s Chris Carney. The Longhorns and Oklahoma weren’t the only top teams to drop the ball on Saturday. Seven of the nation’s top 13 ranked teams earned their first loss.

No need for any secret newsletter. The facts are in the open for everyone to see, without having to pay extra.

Even before a game is played in October, notably the Red River Rivalry, the Big 12’s hopes of sweetness in January have already taken a big hit. Actually a couple of them.

In the days following the revelation that Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione sold information to big-money boosters, another image problem is emerging in the Big 12.

Sure, there were plenty of other upsets around the country this weekend. But losses on the same day by Oklahoma and Texas to unranked opponents took much of the luster of their game and have already put the Big 12 on the outer fringes of any national title talk.

Forget the Sooners or Longhorns trying to establish themselves as legitimate contenders for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans. The 102nd meeting in their unique series, played in the middle of the State Fair of Texas, instead is a desperation game Saturday for two teams trying to avoid 0-2 in the Big 12.

“We have to bounce back from the loss like good teams do, like great teams do. ... We think we’re a great team,” Oklahoma receiver Juaquin Iglesias said after the Sooners blew a 17-point lead in the second half Saturday and lost to Colorado 27-24.

“We just have to come back and win all of our games now,” running back Jamaal Charles said after Texas’ 41-21 setback against Kansas State. “We lost one so now it’s time to wake up and play the rest of them.”

Still, that may not be enough for the Sooners or Longhorns, who are both 4-1 and had free falls in the new Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday. Oklahoma dropped seven spots to No. 10, and Texas was down 12 to 19th.

The poll was shaken up after seven of the top 13 teams lost over the weekend. But no conference was hurt more than the Big 12.

“The only thing surprising would be if there were no surprises,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “It happens every single year. There’s going to be more to come.”

For the Big 12, that’s the only hope of getting back in the national championship picture.

Above the 10th-ranked Sooners are three teams from the SEC, two from the Pac-10, two from the Big Ten, surprising South Florida and Boston College. The top eight are undefeated and defending national champ Florida was ninth after losing on a last-play field goal against Auburn.

At least the Big 12 got another ranked team. Kansas State (3-1), which only lost in the season opener at Auburn, jumped into the poll at No. 24 after beating Texas for the second straight year.

Missouri (4-0) was up three spots to 17th after an idle week. Nebraska (4-1) remained 25th after a 35-17 victory over Iowa State, the Cornhuskers’ 32nd conference-opening victory in 33 years.

The only undefeated Big 12 teams left are Kansas and Missouri, both 4-0 without playing a conference game — and a long way from truly proving themselves. The only notable victory among them was Missouri’s season opener against Illinois, which has since won four straight games.

Kansas and Missouri now have eight straight weeks of conference games, culminating with their Nov. 24 game in Kansas City. Yes, it’s much too soon to think about possible implications of that game.

The last time Texas or Oklahoma came into the Red River Rivalry coming off a loss was 1999 — when both of them also lost the previous game. But that was when both teams were still in rebuilding stages and hadn’t won national championships again.

“I think we surprised Texas,” Kansas State running back James Johnson said. “I think they were looking past us because they have Oklahoma coming up.”

In 1999, it was Kansas State that also beat the Longhorns, but that was a Wildcats team still routinely having 11-win seasons. Oklahoma lost to Notre Dame, back when the Irish were still Fighting and even won games.

Now, the Longhorns and Sooners are 0-1 in the Big 12 South, along with Baylor and Texas Tech, looking up at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State in the standings.

The Aggies didn’t seem distracted this week after Franchione’s secret newsletter became public, running over Baylor 34-10 in the conference opener for both teams.

The firestorm surrounding the newsletter, which boosters paid $1,200 a year to receive, followed a 34-17 loss to Miami on Sept. 20.

Franchione said he discontinued the newsletter two weeks ago. The coach apologized to his team on Friday and admitted after the game that he made a mistake.

“I’ve felt bad about all the distractions they’ve had to put up with,” Franchione said.

A week after Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s postgame tirade at a newspaper columnist following a victory, Zac Robinson — not Bobby Reid, the former starter Gundy had defended a week earlier after a victory over Texas Tech — threw for 279 yards and two TDs in a 39-3 victory over Sam Houston State.

The public address announcer introduced Gundy as “America’s head coach,” and some fans wore orange T-shirts with the message “I’m a man. I’m 40. Go Pokes.” — a play on one of Gundy’s most replayed remarks.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino has also been widely viewed on the Internet, with his expletive-filled tongue-lashing of a player that was filmed on the sideline during the season opener.

That hasn’t distracted the Jayhawks. Then again, their non-conference schedule has comprised of teams with a combined record of 4-15.


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