Once viewed as a college football lightweight, Kansas has turned into a heavyweight contender under the leadership of rotund coach Mark Mangino.
The Big 12 Conference North has rightfully taken its share of verbal jabs the past few seasons, being little more than an afterthought in the national picture. But a lot has changed.
Kansas and Missouri are playing for Big 12 North supremacy today at Kansas City, Mo., and this time the stakes are much more than determining who gets to serve as the sacrificial lamb to Oklahoma. Amazingly, today’s winner will have a shot at the BCS national championship game Jan. 7.
The Jayhawks are 11-0 straight-up, 10-0 against the spread, and the Tigers are 10-1 straight-up, 8-2 against the spread.
The meeting in Kansas City is actually a home game for Kansas as the schools are toying with a neutral-site arrangement such as the Texas-Oklahoma and Georgia-Florida rivalries.
Kansas State coach Ron Prince has seen his team lose to Kansas and Missouri at home, falling by six to the Jayhawks and 17 to the Tigers last week. His comments to a Texas newspaper indicate he thinks Missouri is the stronger team.
I agree. I made Missouri a slight favorite in this one, so I will take the Tigers as 2-point underdogs.
Featuring junior quarterback Chase Daniel, the Tigers have the more prolific offense, reaching new heights with the development of redshirt freshman wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has 16 touchdowns.
The Jayhawks’ defense has been outstanding, but Kansas’ schedule did not include Big 12 powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.
Other selections for today (home team in CAPS):
• Utah (+41/2) over BRIGHAM YOUNG — Both are riding seven-game winning streaks, and the underdog is 9-1 against the spread in the past 10 series meetings.
Utah has covered six straight and is 16-3 against the number in its past 19 games as an underdog. The Utes were decimated early by injuries, mostly at offensive skill positions, but have been a different team since multi-talented quarterback Brian Johnson returned from an injury.
• MEMPHIS (-71/2) over Southern Methodist — Though this represents Phil Bennett’s last game as SMU’s coach, I do not see the Mustangs taking this game into the fourth quarter.
Memphis probably is playing for a bowl bid, and Tigers quarterback Martin Hankins should be able to exploit a vulnerable SMU defense allowing almost 300 yards passing per game. The Mustangs have allowed 41 points or more in six of their 11 games.
• Georgia (-31/2) over GEORGIA TECH — The Bulldogs have won five straight since redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno emerged as one of the nation’s top young running backs.
Georgia is 11-4-1 against the spread against Georgia Tech in the past 16 meetings, including six straight outright wins.
Plus the Bulldogs have a distinct advantage at quarterback with sophomore Matthew Stafford being head and shoulders above the Yellow Jackets’ Taylor Bennett.
• SAN JOSE STATE (+31/2) over Unr — For all practical purposes, UNR played its bowl game last week and lost to Hawaii, 28-26. Now the Wolf Pack has to travel to play San Jose State, which is 9-1-1 against the spread in its past 11 home games. The Spartans took Hawaii to overtime in early October.
• FRESNO STATE (+1) over Kansas State — The Wildcats certainly have the better pedigree and talent, but this nonconference matchup strongly sets up in Fresno State’s favor.
Kansas State, playing for the ninth week in a row, has lost three straight, falling to the point spread by a whopping average of 32 points per game in those defeats. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye and have just enough talent to win this game.
• Washington State (+6) over WASHINGTON — The Cougars have been favored over the Huskies in the previous five meetings in the Apple Cup, losing three of those outright.
Washington State is coming off an embarrassing 35-point home loss to Oregon State, and 7-point underdog Washington upset California by two touchdowns. It only makes handicapping sense in this spot to assume the contrarian approach and grab the points.
Last week: 3-4 against the spread
Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone of Vegas Sports Authority (vegassportsauthority.com) is providing weekly college football analysis for the Review-Journal this season.