Big 12 makes a comeback but still trails SEC as best in the nation

Top 25 Notebook

Sharif Talukder

A Big 12 resurgence

Last year, many experts thought the Big 12 was the fifth-best conference, behind even the ACC. This year, the Big 12 looks like the second-best conference in the nation.

It has five teams ranked in the Top 25 and has other teams upsetting good colleges. Baylor beat then-ranked North Carolina State, Oklahoma State beat Mississippi State and Iowa State upset Iowa.

The Big 12 also has two in the Top Five ranked teams, and one could even appear in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 4.

The SEC is still head and shoulders above everyone else, but the Big 12 could get the SEC's kind of numbers and have five or six teams in bowl games this year. If not for a disappointing UT team, it would be closer to the SEC in quality.

Yet it is clearly better than the Pacific-10 or Big Ten.

Looking back

The best game Saturday was clearly Notre Dame and Purdue. Purdue had the game in hand until Irish QB Drew Brees threw the ball to Tony Driver. That set up the game-winning field goal and gave Notre Dame a 31-30 win. The Irish will play Stanford at home this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on NBC.

The most-anticipated game was (2) Nebraska playing (8) Washington in Omaha. The Cornhuskers silenced doubters who questioned the defense by stopping the passing game of Brock Huard, holding the Husky rushing game to only 96 yards.

Nebraska, on the other hand, ran up 434 yards on the ground and showed that it is very much a contender for a national championship.

This game also signaled the end of Huard's Heisman campaign.

Heisman Watch

Ricky Williams is back in the hunt and is knocking on the Heisman door. Confused? UT's Ricky Williams had a great game against Rice by rushing for 318 yards, scoring six touchdowns and once again emerging the front-runner. Texas Tech's Ricky Williams leads the nation with 190.5 yards per game.

Other Heisman contenders include Donovan McNabb, who is still the leader, but if he has one bad game he'll be gone. Tim Couch's standing was helped by his performance at Florida, but he needs a win against a ranked team to have a chance to win.

Michael Bishop was actually hurt by playing Division II-caliber teams (including Texas) because he did not impress anyone with his stats and was not a factor in those victories. He can redeem himself with a big performance in Colorado and at home against Nebraska.

This weekend

The best game this weekend is Penn State at Ohio State. This is a matchup of undefeated teams and will have Big Ten and national championship implications. An Ohio State victory will guarantee a No. 1 spot for the Buckeyes until they lose. Michael Wiley has been the best player on the Buckeye team and is chasing Kevin Faulk, UT's Williams and Ron Dayne for the Doak Walker Award for the best running back in the nation.

The Nittany Lions have done a great job on both sides of the ball, but they haven't faced a team with the talent of Ohio State. This could be a close game, but will more likely be a blowout by Ohio State. This game will be on ABC at 11 a.m.

Georgia at LSU starts a bad October for LSU, but playing this game in Death Valley will help a lot. Georgia got solid performances out of freshman QB Quincy Carter, but looked sloppy against Wyoming. It will struggle against the potent LSU offense.

LSU has one of the rowdiest crowds in the nation, which will distract the freshman QB. Combined with a dangerous backfield, the Tigers will have the edge over a young UGa. team.

Watch for Herb Tyler and Kevin Faulk to run on this Bulldog defense. Prediction: LSU will cover the spread.

TV listings

Tonight: Syracuse at North Carolina State at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Saturday: Illinois at Northwestern on Channel 51 (KNWS) at 11 a.m.; Texas A&M at Kansas on CBS at 11:30 a.m.; Colorado at Oklahoma on ABC on 2:30 p.m.; Southern Miss at Tulane on Fox Sports Net at 2:30 p.m.; TBA on CBS at 3 p.m.; TBA on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.

Reach Talukder at

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