DALLAS – The Big 12 Preseason Poll issued an added, if not unexpected take on the conference's united front:
Welcome, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State, to the Big 12 South.
Of course, divisions have been abandoned in the new Big 12, where Nebraska and Colorado have fled and the remaining teams are now stacked together in the current 10-team landscape.
Still, a dividing line remains.
Missouri commands some respect, albeit as the pick for fourth place in the conference, behind Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The other North holdovers, however, are relegated to the bottom three pegs, with Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas at 8-9-10, in that order.
Where once there was a North Division title dangling a split prize as well as entry into the league's championship game, the new arrangement offers no consolations. Instead, a gauntlet exists in the form of a round-robin schedule. Gone is the staggered crossover that paired three North and South teams in two-years-on, two-years-off rotations.
“It's definitely an exciting conference now,” said Kansas State defensive back Tysyn Hartman. “We get to play everybody. And it's definitely challenging, for us North teams who haven't been used to playing OU and Texas every year, those teams who have been so dominant in the past.”
Mostly, the North teams haven't been up to the challenge, particularly of late.
Through the history of the Big 12, the four remaining North teams are a combined 63-114 against the South. And of the victories, 20 came against a Baylor program that used to absorb weekly beatdowns, but doesn't anymore.
The past three seasons, the South has dominated to the tune of 40-14, and that's including Nebraska and Colorado.
Oklahoma and Texas have ruled the Big 12, winning every championship since Kansas State's upset of the Sooners in 2003 and all but two this millennium. Many of the North-South title game showdowns have been ugly – OU 62, Missouri 21 in 2008; OU 38, Missouri 17 in 2007; Texas 70, Colorado 3 in 2005; and OU 42, Colorado 3 in 2004.
The North teams have basically been treated like helmet-headed stepbrothers.
“We don't feel sorry for anybody,” said Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis. “We definitely know that anybody can win on any given day. You never know when one of your bad days is going to come.
“Definitely don't feel sorry for anybody. And I'm looking forward to playing all them guys.”
During the Big 12 era, OU is a whopping 24-7 against the remaining North teams. Texas is 25-6.
Missouri has emerged as a consistent winner, although success against South squads has been spotty at best. Kansas State thrived during the first Bill Snyder era, but is struggling to climb back to those standards in Snyder's return.
Now the shift from three games against South teams to six threatens the North teams' ability to reach .500.
“The difficulty is, basically, they're bigger than you usually, physically, so that's a challenge in itself,” said Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele, an All-Big 12 pick on the offensive line. “And in addition to that, teams like that execute well. They're just so organized and well-oiled you have to be on your game.”
Osemele actually found some optimism in the Cyclones' place at No. 9, an elevated status of sorts.
“The way I see it, it's actually an improvement,” he said, “because the past two years we've been dead last.
“But also, I take it as a little chip on our shoulders to get better and grind it into a motivating factor for us to come out and work every day to prove people wrong.”
On the bright side, along with the challenge comes opportunity. Beat an Oklahoma or a Texas or Oklahoma State or Texas A&M — all projected top 20 teams this season — and some positive publicity can flow.
Besides, players don't want to shy away from the best competition, they welcome it.
“I see it as more fun, being able to play these high-caliber offenses that can score at will,” said Hartman. “They have some great receivers down there, with (OU's Ryan) Broyles, (OSU's Justin) Blackmon, (A&M's Jeff) Fuller and the list can go on.
“I like putting my talents up against the best. In the Big 12 Conference, you have the best quarterbacks and the best receivers.”
And for the most part, they're on the best teams, the South teams.
“We're going to see how it goes,” said Kansas offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch. “There's no excuses now – ‘who's the better team or it's not fair.' Either you win, or you don't. We'll see.
“The fairness is everyone gets their shot. You can't complain about that.”
The new Big 12 brings the South and North teams together for one big – happy? – gang of 10. While the divisions have been removed, a separation remains competitively, with the South squads owning a history of dominance.
Here's how the North teams have fared against the South's top five teams:
Iowa State vs.
Texas A&M: 1-9
Texas Tech: 1-7
Texas A&M: 1-6
Texas Tech: 1-7
Kansas State vs.
Texas A&M: 4-5
Texas Tech: 3-5
Texas A&M: 3-3
Texas Tech: 5-2