Big 12 North in midst of breakout season

Brett Mcintyre

When it comes to Big 12 Conference water-cooler talk lately, the North Division has been little more than an afterthought.

Not this year.

For the first time since the early years of the conference, the North has been fighting back this year and standing up for itself.

The division boasts the conference’s only undefeated team in Kansas, and has two teams in the BCS Top 10 (No. 8 Kansas, No. 9 Missouri) to the South’s one (No. 6 Oklahoma).

What’s even more surprising is the North’s resurgence has been led by two teams that have never won the division since the conference’s birth in 1996.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino said the new success for a Jayhawks team that has historically been a perennial doormat presents a few new challenges, but he isn’t changing the way he handles his team.

“I would say that the way I approach things is that I always communicate with my team on a daily basis whether it’s after a meeting or a practice,” Mangino said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “We deal with the issues at hand. Some years it’s been about some tough losses and how to handle that. Other times, like now, it’s how to handle success.

“I think you have to be able to handle success and adversity because both can create serious problems for you if you don’t know how to manage them.”

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is not surprised by the uprising in the North, especially in regards to Kansas.

Mangino worked under Stoops at Oklahoma where he was Stoops’ offensive coordinator for three seasons including the Sooners’ national championship season.

“[Kansas’s success] is what we’d expect,” Stoops said. “Mark was here for a good number of years and we had great success here. We were together at Kansas State too, so he knows what it takes to win.”

Kansas isn’t the only team that’s turning things around lately either. Colorado has bounced back from scandal and a rough year to start the Dan Hawkins era and is including delivering Oklahoma its only loss of the season.

Kansas State has turned things around under Ron Prince after a slow finish to the Bill Snyder era, going 7-6 in 2006 with a trip to the Texas Bowl.

Currently, the North Division is 8-8 against the South, and is primed to win the season series for the first time since 1998 when the North went 10-8.

The two remaining inter-division games are Kansas at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M at Missouri, with the North likely to be favored in both games.

This year also breaks a nasty run of the last five years where the South went 62-28 against the North. The worst was in 2004 when the South won 15-3, with all the North’s wins coming against Baylor.

But 2007 has been a bit of a changing of the guard, and ISU defensive end Kurtis Taylor said the Cyclones can’t wait to make their mark on the changing division.

“This is a year where the North is definitely playing well,” Taylor said. “We haven’t really shown up to the party yet. We’re going to try to do our best in these last few weeks to get some wins.”