What we learned in the Big 12: Week 6
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things we learned around the Big 12 over the past few days:
1. Texas and Oklahoma need to improve their running games -- fast. The Sooners and Longhorns both overcame sputtering starts to win their conference openers. But their key showdown next week at the Cotton Bowl could hinge on a factor that both teams struggled with in their victories on Saturday. The team that runs the ball best likely will win the Red River Rivalry -- as usual. And both teams struggled in that facet of the game Saturday. Oklahoma finished with 203 rushing yards against Baylor, but the Sooners had produced only 52 rushing yards midway through the third quarter. And the Sooners struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals on four second-half drives where they couldn't score touchdowns against the Bears. Texas was even worse, rushing 25 times for 46 yards against a Colorado defense that was allowing 4.9 yards per carry coming into the game as Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton both were idled with injuries. Both teams will have extensive preparation for their ground games as they prepare to play against much better defenses than they struggled against on Saturday.
2. Is Kansas the nation's worst undefeated team? After Saturday, I think so. The Jayhawks needed all kinds of luck to escape with a gritty 41-36 home victory over Iowa State. A memorable offensive performance keyed by record outings by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe almost was undone by the Jayhawks' defense. Mark Mangino admitted after the game that his team had been exposed defensively. Its margin of victory over the Cyclones was the narrowly overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks that if completed would have likely beaten them. And Mangino's biggest concern has to be that if Iowa State can produce 6.1 yards per snap against the Jayhawks, what will teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech be able to do?
3. It's a season of firsts for Mike Leach. Before Saturday night, the Texas Tech coach had never had a backup quarterback start a game. And after Steven Sheffield singed Kansas State for 490 yards and seven touchdowns, Leach has got something else new on his hands -- a quarterback controversy. Leach had reasons for installing Taylor Potts as his new starter earlier this summer. Potts' performance had been that much better. But Leach might have to at least consider revisiting that choice after Sheffield blistered rival defenses for 10 touchdown passes since Potts sustained a concussion last week. Sheffield said after directing a 66-24 beatdown of Kansas State that he feels he has won the starting job. But he won't be the one making the decision.
4. Shipley and Suh deserve Heisman consideration. After their performances this weekend, the Big 12 has two unconventional players who I think merit consideration for college football's most prestigious award. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is the most dominant defensive player in college football. Suh has to be accounted for on every play, making game-changing statements like his interception return that sparked the Cornhuskers' wild comeback over Missouri. And Jordan Shipley is just as important for Texas, becoming one of the Longhorns' primary forces as a receiver and a returner. Shipley accounted for a career-high 273 all-purpose yards against Colorado, producing 11 catches for 147 yards and a 74-yard punt return that was his second TD return of the season. Most of the media will consider Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen and stop at that. But to this point of the season, it can be argued that Suh and Shipley deserve strong consideration -- and not just from voters who might be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to present the award.
5. Oklahoma State's offensive reinforcements are pretty good. The loss of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter was expected to cripple Oklahoma State's potent offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to a 36-31 victory over Texas A&M: The Cowboys found some productive replacement players on their bench. Keith Toston rushed for a game-high 130 yards and caught two big screen passes that sparked the Cowboys' offense early. Zac Robinson stepped up with a boatload of big offensive plays, including 11 passes of at least 13 yards against a beleaguered Texas A&M secondary. The Cowboys' offensive concerns remain present with a tough conference schedule approaching. But after one game, the Cowboys' replacements at least provided a least a temporary answer to their offensive questions.