Horns, Buffs emerge as division leaders

The Big 12 has traditionally been one of the most balanced conferences in the country, with depth at the top of both divisions and in the national polls.

But the emergence of national-title contender Texas in the South Division and Colorado in the North might have the conference pointed to its most one-sided conference races in history. Considering that only once in conference history has a Big 12 division race been settled by more than one game, those potential gaps between the top teams and the rest of the division would be unprecedented.

The Longhorns should have a clear path to their first Big 12 championship since 1996 -- if they can get past Colorado and Texas Tech at home in the next two weeks. Earlier victories over Ohio State and Oklahoma have them pointed at a shot at contending for their first national championship since 1970.

Colorado is cruising in the North after winning two games against South Division teams to start the conference race. The Buffaloes appear well-positioned to claim a share of their fourth North title in five seasons.

The rest of the North appears much like last year -- balanced or mediocre depending on semantics. All the conference's teams have a chance to get six victories if they get hot. And no Big 12 team has ever missed a bowl trip with at least six wins (unless it was making a coaching switch).

Texas Tech appears to be the biggest challenger to Texas, and the Oct. 22 showdown with the Longhorns should be the biggest game of the season. Oklahoma is in the unaccustomed position of rebuilding, and Texas A&M's defense struggled even before it started playing South Division teams. Even Baylor still has legitimate bowl hopes and should escape the South cellar in front of struggling Oklahoma State.

The conference's mediocrity could be its biggest story down the stretch, particularly if it acts as a liability for Texas' national-title hopes. Texas appears in good shape in the human part of the Bowl Championship Series equation but will struggle in the computer polls because of the Big 12's lack of strength.

The Big 12 currently has only three teams ranked in the national polls, which matches the lowest number at this point of the season in the history of the conference. That means Texas' schedule likely will be weaker than any of the other potential national contenders.

Coach Mack Brown will have more trouble selling his team to the computers than he did last season to human pollsters. It might end up that the Longhorns got to the Rose Bowl a year before they really to needed to be there.

Biggest surprise
Nobody expected Baylor to be 4-1 at this point in the season. The Bears already have broken a 37-game conference road losing streak and probably should have beaten Texas A&M in a bitter overtime loss at College Station. Defensive coordinator Bill Bradley has developed an opportunistic unit that is the backbone of the team. Bruising tailback Paul Mosley has provided a consistent running threat. And the Bears have legitimate bowl hopes for the first time since 1995 if they play as well at home as they have on the road.

Biggest disappointment
It's not a surprise that Oklahoma would drop off after losing 10 players to the NFL draft, including nine who were All-Big 12 selections last year. But few expected the Sooners to fall so far, so fast. Oklahoma has been bullied at the line of scrimmage and plagued by turnovers and youth. Their humiliating loss against Texas tied their largest margin of defeat in the 100-year history of the rivalry. Unless Adrian Peterson is a fast healer and coach Bob Stoops gets his young defense to play much better than it's showed, the Sooners could be headed for San Antonio in the Alamo Bowl.

Midseason MVP
He doesn't have the best statistics and has been prone to haphazard mistakes. But it's hard to imagine Texas being undefeated and No. 2 in the nation without QB Vince Young. He's provided the swagger that has boosted the Longhorns to their 5-0 start. And he's only a junior, meaning that if he remains for another college season, it will be more of the same next season.

Midseason Coach of the Year
No surprise here. Considering Baylor's 4-1 start, Guy Morriss is the runaway winner. His team already has won three road games -- after not winning any road games in nearly five years. If the Bears can steal a couple of victories in the remaining games, the Bears might go bowling for the first time since 1995. And with all due respect to Joe Paterno and Charlie Weis, Morriss deserves "Coach of the Century" honors if he can pull off that feat.

Bowl bound
Colorado, Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.