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Random Friday Thoughts

Something will happen Saturday that has never happened before.

Either Missouri or Kansas will win the Big XII North on the gridiron. Neither has ever done so.

Since when does this decide anything? In football, anyway?

In fact, it has been nearly 40 years since either has won a championship of any kind in football. Kansas shared the Big Eight championship with Oklahoma in 1968; Missouri divided it with Nebraska the next year.

Four or five years ago, this kind of match-up did not at all look likely. Again, neither Missouri nor Kansas had ever won the North. And they were in a tough division, with respected, tradition-rich powerhouses Nebraska and Colorado and solid competitor Kansas State. And why would any high-caliber recruit play for the Tigers or the Jayhawks?

Times, as they often do in sports and life, changed. Kansas State tailed off, Nebraksa fired Frank Solich and ushered in hard times, Colorado fell victim to the excesses and scandals of its former coach and went with a replacement who was apparently overrated.

And now, one of the teams that just a few years ago would "never" win the Big XII North will be crowned champions.

For those of you who haven't picked up on the theme, it's a cautionary tale about saying a college football team will "never" do anything. Paricularly about saying a team will "never" win a division because it hasn't.

I'm not saying that South Carolina will win the SEC East in the next few years. I belive the Gamecocks will, but I understand the skepticism until they do it. And there are legitimate differences between the Big XII North, where the establishment all fell apart at the same time, and the SEC East.

But if you're going to say that South Carolina won't win, you should have a better reason than saying they're in a tough division and they've never done it before.

Because, by that reasoning, this weekend's big game would be a meaningless intraconference skirmish and not a marquee matchup on Saturday Night Football.

And turnarounds don't always happen in a couple of seasons. Ask Sylvester Croom, who came into the season riding the hottest seat in the conference. Then, on Friday, he knocked off his in-state rival in a thriller that propelled the Bulldogs to an assured bowl berth.

Along the way, he "Croomed" Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn, taking some of the sting off the label.

You can smile now, Sly. Your guys did pretty good.

After the final seconds ticked off the clock, the camera flashed to Croom, doubled over, his hands on his knees, and you could see the toll the last few years have taken on a proud man who (justifiably or not) thought he had been deprived of his dream job because of the color of his skin.

Then, one of the Three Daves grabbed Croom, and the man couldn't say anything. There were no words for what had just happened. A critical season had started inauspiciously, with a drubbing at the hands of LSU, and everyone with any sense though Mississippi State was headed for another dismal year and Croom was headed for the unemployment line.

It didn't happen. Croom didn't give up on his players, and his players didn't give up on him. They won in improbable ways, maybe even impossible ways. But they won.

It might be sad that that's all that matters. But even by that measure, Croom was a success this year.