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Quick Slants: Red River Love

This week, you've most certainly heard about the knucklehead LSU lineman who wants to "take out" Tim Tebow. And you've probably heard one of those novelty statistics showing the price of Wisconsin milk when Joe Paterno first started at Penn State (those are cute). But strangely, as a weekend slate of Mark Mangino-sized games approaches, there is one thing you haven't heard: much recognition for Texas-Oklahoma, the most important contest of the week.

It's been all too easy to forget about Oklahoma being the top-ranked team in the country. Primarily, that's because the average college football fan can't name more than one player on the Sooner roster. The same holds true for Texas. Hell, what do we really know about the Big 12? Until now, the most notable Big 12-related stories have been Kansas' loss at South Florida, Chase Daniel's emergence as a Heisman frontrunner (and the bozos that spell his last name with an "s"), and Mike Leach's impromptu dating advice on his weekly coaching show. That's about it. Yet here we are, nearly halfway through the college football season, and the Big 12 has six teams in the AP Top 25 -- not to mention three in the top five -- and two of them will square off in Saturday's Red River Shootout.

This season, we've been so content hobnobbing over the SEC's tenacity and Ohio State's, USC's and the ACC's collective shortcomings that the Big 12 has gone relatively unnoticed in a St. Elmo's Fire kind of way. We might not recognize the Big 12's depth until a few years down the road, or at least until bowl season. Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska aside, most of these teams don't have national followings. And unless fans live in the region, they're simply not getting their teams games on television. And that's a shame.

The fact of the matter is the Big 12 has changed its image from the days of run-heavy offenses and grind-it-out football. The spread offense, or some variation thereof, has all but infiltrated the conference and affected both the style and pace of play. This exciting new dynamic has given the conference a Pac-10 feel to complement its traditional atmosphere of Midwestern folksiness. And above all else, the little no-name teams of your father's generation have found a way to compete with the conference's larger, brand name schools. Much like in the SEC, competition in the Big 12 has turned homogeneous.

So, this weekend's Texas-Oklahoma game, though grossly underpublicized, should offer a glimpse into what could be this year's sneakiest conference. And though LSU/Florida and Penn State/Wisconsin will be fantastic games to watch, the Red River Shootout deserves your utmost attention.

With spread-offense guru Tony Franklin's pre-2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl hiring came much anticipation among Tigers fans that Auburn and its 16 returning starters could make a run at an SEC West title. There's a chance that could still happen, but if so, it'll be with little thanks to the offense. Not unless Franklin can channel his inner Tony Robbins and light a fire, that is.

Franklin, who had stints at both Kentucky and Troy, is well known for his development of something called The Tony Franklin System Seminar, a copyrighted, "as-seen-on-TV"-ish offensive scheme he successfully sold to hundreds of high schools and dozens of colleges around the nation. Who better to install a whiz-bang system to improve Auburn's offense? In a football sense, this was as exciting as hiring Ron Popeil to personally chop your onions.

But things started coming off the tracks after Auburn's 3-2 victory over Mississippi State earlier this year. That raised some eyebrows. And then there was the heartbreaking loss to LSU. And then only 226 total yards against Tennessee. And then only 82 yards in the final three quarters of Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt. And now, well, Tiger fans just aren't as enthused about the hiring.

In related news, Tom Emansky's chances of coaching Auburn baseball just went out the window.

If Jimmy Clausen still had his goldilocks hairstyle on Saturday, we totally would've understood Jim Harbaugh's decision to snub the young quarterback's attempt at a postgame handshake. (Seriously, you don't want to encourage things like that.)

However, as it stands, sour grapes may be the culprit.

Harbaugh's excuse was that his team was involved in a midfield fracas with Notre Dame after suffering a 28-21 defeat. Stanford offensive lineman Chris Marinelli's anti-Notre Dame comments triggered the melee, which was probably of the SAT Word Power variety. During the bedlam, Harbaugh claims he did not see Clausen's gesture because he was busy protecting his team. In all fairness, he may have been telling the truth.

But there's reason to be suspicious. While you have to respect the brand of tough, chippy football Harbaugh is trying to instill in the Cardinal program, you should also note Harbaugh's reputation as a bit of a loose cannon. His antics don't exactly scream "sportsmanship." Here's hoping he can accomplish his football goals without first turning the Cardinal into a shining beacon for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Last week's quip about BYU being less-than-qualified for a top 10 ranking drew a harsh response on the e-mail front. Some said I was being dismissive. Others cited impressive blowouts against UCLA and Wyoming as well as a competitive game against winless Washington. Still others asserted BYU has as much, if not more, talent than the likes of Georgia and USC. Uh, sure.

But none of those statements really threw me for a loop. Frankly, I've met a lot of cougar fans before, but none of them were fans of the football team.

There's a first for everything.

1. More tolerable chick show:Desperate Housewives or Grey's Anatomy?

2. More reliable Pac-10 team: California or Arizona?

3. Better gaming system:Playstation 3 or Xbox 360?

4. Odder coach name: Steve Kragthorpe or Jeff Jagodzinski?

5. Better green tea temperature: Hot or Cold?

6. Better numbers-only helmet: Army or Alabama?

7. Better Heisman candidate: Chase Daniel (Missouri) or Max Hall (BYU)?

8. Worse football decision: Shirt-and-tie or sun dress?

9. More disappointing season:West Virginia or Michigan?

10. Likelier Saturday winner: LSU or Florida?

Illinois (-11) vs. Minnesota

Notre Dame (+7) at North Carolina

Mississippi State (-2.5) vs. Vanderbilt

Ty Hildenbrandt writes Quick Slants every week. Check out his podcast at SolidVerbal.com or drop him an e-mail at tyhildenbrandt@gmail.com.

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