Big 12 mailbag: North challengers need to start winning divisional games

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a group of letters I got this week from readers. Keep them coming and I'll check again Friday afternoon.

Alex Kecke from Columbia, Mo., writes: The Big 12 North is a mess this year with any team able to claim the title and make their way to the conference championship depending on how things shake out over the next few weeks. It's obviously a division of parity in the North and every team has struggled and none are ranked. We saw how the south division tie-breaker was decided last year (highest rank in the BCS), but since none of these teams are in any of the polls, how would it be decided?

Tim Griffin: Here’s the list of criteria that the conference considers to break ties.

According to Big 12 rules, if two teams within a division are tied for first place at the end of the regular season, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall determine who wins the division and plays in the Big 12 title game. If three or more teams are tied, there are seven steps to be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the final deciding factor.

1. The records of the three teams against each other will be compared.

2. The records of the three teams within their division will be compared.

3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6).

4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.

5. The highest-ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of Big 12 regular-season conference play shall be the representative.

6. The team with the best overall winning percentage (excluding exempted games) shall be the representative.

7. The representative will be chosen by draw.

Two teams would seem to be pretty straightforward. Three could get messy, like the Big 12 South was last season. But a four-way tie, which could happen in the North this season, would really get crazy.

The best advice I could give any of the North teams in contention for the championship would be to win divisional games. Because I think that will be the most important factor in determining the winner of the division over the next month.

Don Bowers from Dallas writes: Tim, love the blog and your insights in the world of college football. I know this isn't Big 12 specific, but considering your keen insight, I was hoping you could help explain how Brandon Spikes’ eye-gouging incident is any different LeGarrette Blount's punch? Both were "heat of the moment" displays. Both were deliberate attempts to cause physical pain on an opposing player. Both were "retaliation" for something the opposing player said or did first, yet Blount is suspended for the entire season and Spikes is suspended for half of one game. Is this fair? It seems like a grossly inadequate punishment considering the seriousness of what Spikes did.

And to tie this in to the Big 12, wasn't it Spikes that was accusing Oklahoma of playing dirty in the National Championship last year?

Tim Griffin: Don, the eye gouging isn’t as clear-cut as Blount’s punch because it was captured on television, on top of his antics as he left the field. But I am surprised that Spikes’ incident wasn’t penalized to a greater extent.

And you are right. It was Spikes who accused Oklahoma of playing dirty in the BCS title game last season.

Nick from Seward, Neb., writes: Tim, looking at the standing in the conference it looks very possible that there may be 10 bowl eligible teams this season. If that happens who gets pushed out?

Tim Griffin: I think there will be some attrition when the teams start beating each other up late in the season, so 10 teams might be a little much. And remember that Kansas State has to win seven games in order to become bowl-eligible because the Wildcats played two FCS teams earlier this season.

But if the Big 12 has more teams than eligible spots, the conference usually does a pretty good job of placing those teams in bowls that might have had trouble filling their teams because of their conference affiliations. I would expect that every Big 12 team that is bowl-eligible will have a bowl to play in.

Owen Sigley from Wichita, Kan., writes: Tim. I'm a Jayhawk fan, and unfortunately the way we have been playing lately, I don't think we can win Saturday against K-State. I hate to admit it, but Bill Snyder has done a masterful job this season. What do you think his chances are of getting the conference's coach of the year award?

Tim Griffin: Owen, I think that Snyder’s coaching performance is one of the best in the country and will get more national bounce if the Wildcats can remain in contention for the Big 12 North title. The way he brought team back from its blowout loss against Texas Tech to beat Texas A&M and Colorado was impressive. And the way his team came back against Oklahoma last week had a lot of people talking around the country. Most reporters I’ve talked to understand that the Wildcats don’t have the best talent in the North Division, but are being coached to maximize their talents by Snyder.

I would have said that Mike Gundy would have been up there, but Oklahoma State’s loss to Texas diminished his hopes. Other potential contenders -- particularly if their teams make bowls -- will include Paul Rhoads of Iowa State and Mike Sherman of Texas A&M. But if Snyder’s team makes a bowl and somehow sneaks away with the Big 12 North title, it will ranks as one of the most memorable coaching performances in the history of the Big 12.

Joe Leon of Oklahoma writes: Hey Tim, I love the blog and read it often. I know a lot of Oklahoma State fans view this season as a disappointment, but when was the last time OSU was ranked all season in both major polls and finished with a conference record better than 5-3? I think that they still will be able to do both of those. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Joe, thanks for the nice compliment. And you are right about the rarity of Oklahoma State’s accomplishments for this season. The Cowboys have been ranked in every poll during a season only once in school history, in 1945 when they were ranked in all eighth polls and finished 8-0 after the season. Oklahoma State has never won more than five conference games in a season. They did have 5-2 records in 1976, 1979, 1984, 1987 and 1988 for better conference winning percentages in the old Big Eight Conference.

If Mike Gundy can do this, it would be a first for the program and a big accomplishment.