BOULDER - It's OK . . . go ahead and wonder (aloud, if it helps) what's going on in the Big 12 Conference's North Division.

The two teams and their first-year coaches that were consensus choices to finish fifth - Kansas State (3-1) - and sixth - Iowa State (2-2) - now occupying the top two positions?

And everyone else below .500 - that's Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado (each at 1-2) - with Missouri winless (0-3)?

Something doesn't compute, but it's pretty close to mirroring what's going on from sideline to sideline in college football.

The Big 12 South, where unbeaten, third-ranked Texas reigns, also can be pulled into this conversation, with Texas A&M perhaps the poster boys for unpredictable behavior.

On the road the past two weekends, the Aggies have been involved in a 62-14 loss (at K-State) and a 52-30 win (at Texas Tech).

By most accounts, A&M's performance at K-State was several gasps below hideous. Aggies coach Mike Sherman, ah, challenged his team to play with more purpose at Texas Tech and the response was, well, something he wishes he could explain.

"I can't," he said on Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference, adding "our backs were against the wall" - which is coach-speak for his whistle potentially being in a wringer with well-heeled Aggies alums if another walkabout weekend followed.

Here's the puzzling thing for Sherman and other coaches: He said his meetings and practices on the Monday prior to the K-State debacle were "great," but on the Monday prior to the Texas Tech trip "not as good as the week before."

Go figure.

Enigmatic A&M, which visits Boulder in two weeks, is playing about 20 freshmen, and with none of them ever having visited Manhattan, Kan., Sherman surmised the shock of that first trip might have been a factor.

Or, he added with a laugh, "It was cold - but I hope it wasn't (a factor)."

More plausible, though, was K-State merely taking advantage of a visitor succumbing to whatever it is (and the possibilities are many) that plagues visiting football teams. That, or Texas A&M's young talent, like any assemblage of former high school stars - coping like former high school stars when faced with college-game adversity for the first time.

Plus, Sherman added, "Kansas State played well." But K-State didn't play particularly well last Saturday against Colorado. Start your list with this: The Wildcats were penalized nine times for 69 yards and were 2-for-11 on third-down conversions.

At least coach Bill Snyder found humor in it: "I'm going to start punting on third down so we don't have to face that anymore."

But as mediocre as his team was, CU was inexplicably worse - rushing for 60 yards, while yielding 204; losing two fumbles; throwing two interceptions and being penalized eight times for 69 yards . . . and that list could go on.

With Mizzou visiting Folsom Field Saturday (11:30 a.m., FSN), Dan Hawkins and the Buffs find themselves in the same indelicate position as Sherman and the Aggies did a couple of weeks ago - their backsides flush with the drywall.

But in the Big 12 North, there's always room for one, two or three more backsides on the brink.

Said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel: "You never know what you're going to go through in a season. I told (his players) that adversity comes and you have to handle it and deal with it in a positive way.

"We've been here before and no one likes it. There's a sense of urgency . . . we have to start playing better. It starts with me and filters down to our coaches and players.

"Our kids are doing OK, but they have to see it (the urgency). We have to get going - fast."

The Tigers, adjusting to life minus Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, et al, are 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 2002. Daniel's successor, Blaine Gabbert, has been playing on a bum right ankle for a couple of weeks, and he tweaked the injury in Saturday's 41-7 loss to No. 3 Texas.

Pinkel expects Gabbert to play Saturday at CU, and Tyler Hansen will start at quarterback for the Buffs. But Mizzou will be minus starting middle linebacker Luke Lambert, who suffered a shoulder separation against Texas and could be lost for the season.

The Tigers' three losses (they've won four) all have been in conference play, and they're yet to face the two North frontrunners - K-State, Iowa State - and border rival Kansas.

They're undoubtedly viewing their next two - CU, Baylor - as "get-well games" before launching that season-ending stretch mentioned above and attempting to reclaim their North title.

More and more, unless Snyder and K-State continue to reap the benefit of teams visiting Manhattan and playing dead, the North appears destined to crown a 4-4 champion. It's happened before (see: CU in 2004).

Kansas State's conference loss was at Texas Tech (66-14), while Iowa State's two league losses were against K-State (24-23) and Kansas (41-36) - with both honestly in the could-have-won category.

And first-year Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, formerly the defensive coordinator at Auburn (the Tigers initiated the "coach swap" by hiring Cyclones head coach Gene Chizik), believes his team's confidence swelled even in those losses, but most certainly in the 9-7 win at Nebraska last weekend.

"I think our confidence has grown every week," Rhoads said. "Our goal from Day 1 was to improve in everything . . . and we continue to do that as a team and as players."

Under Chizik, the Cyclones won five games in two seasons. Rhoads hasn't dwelled on that, or which schools have beaten Iowa State how many times, where or by how much.

Case in point: Before last Saturday, the Cornhuskers hadn't lost to the Cyclones in Lincoln since 1977. And Iowa State won this time with a backup quarterback and No. 2 tailback. (Nebraska's eight turnovers helped, too.)

"We've been able to focus on this year's team," Rhoads said. "We've gone about the business of trying to win every game despite the point spread or how many times (Iowa State) has won or lost against that opponent . . .

"Our kids have bought into that - one day at a time, one game at a time. We're living it, not just thinking it."

Hold that thought. Winning the Big 12 North might not be such an outlandish idea in Ames, Iowa. At this point, the division is a grab bag; reach in and pull out a prize. Someone . . . anyone.

Expect Mizzou to enter Folsom Field Saturday with a heightened sense of urgency. Unless the Buffs match it, you can scratch one from that scramble in the Big 12 North.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU