What to look for in the Big 12 this week
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some trends I'll be watching for across the Big 12 on Saturday:
1. How Texas and Oklahoma handle the emotional cauldron that is the Red River Rivalry. Saturday's game appears to be one of the most intriguing matchups in the storied series in years. Quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates. The battle between Texas' defensive front and Oklahoma's collection of hugely talented offensive linemen is dotted with future NFL standouts on both sides. Bob Stoops and Mack Brown are both headed for the College Football Hall of Fame one day. But I'm most interested in watching how these two teams -- both potential national title contenders -- overcome the challenges presented by their biggest rival on the Big 12's biggest annual stage. And the fried Twinkies and Fletcher's Corny Dogs are a bonus.
2. The battle of offenses at Faurot Field. Missouri and Oklahoma State both rank among the nation's top three offenses in scoring. Both teams have enough defensive questions to make it entirely possible that we might see them combine for more than 100 points and more than 1,000 yards when the two teams hook up Saturday night. It might resemble an Arena Football League game, but it should be fun watching it.
3. Kansas State's struggling rush defense against against Texas A&M's running attack. The Wildcats have been gashed for more than 300 yards twice in the last three weeks. Even Texas Tech looked good running the ball against KSU. The Wildcats will be tested to keep Mike Goodson, Brad Stephens, Cyrus Gray and even Jorvorskie Lane in check behind an improving Aggie offensive line that showed some flashes of life last week against Oklahoma State.
4. The Austen Arnaud/Robert Griffin battle. Sure, there are bigger games across the Big 12 this week but the matchup between Baylor and Iowa State will feature two of college football's most underrated quarterbacks. Arnaud has pumped some life into the Cyclones offense, nearly sparking an upset over Kansas and UNLV in the last two games. Griffin is the shining hope for better days in the Baylor program, along with being the nation's only quarterback with more than 100 pass attempts this season with no interceptions.
5. Colorado's makeshift offensive line. The Buffaloes are down to taking reinforcements from the defense after defensive tackle Eugene Goree was moved to guard this week. They must get some kind of running game going to reduce some of the pressure facing beleaguered quarterback Cody Hawkins. Kansas will present some challenges, but not nearly those that were seen last week against Texas. This might provide Colorado a chance to run the ball - as it has done when it's been most successful this season.
6. What gives in the battle of losing streaks at Waco? Somebody's futility has to end Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor comes in with a 13-game conference losing streak that is the second longest among FBS schools behind only Idaho's 15-game conference losing streak. And the Cyclones' 13-game losing streak is for the nation's second-longest (with SMU) behind UAB's 17-game road losing streak.
7. Jake Sharp. After being relegated to the bench as what coach Mark Mangino considered a situational player, Sharp flourished in the second half last week against Iowa State. His continued use came when he was able to play long enough to gain rhythm with the Kansas offense. The result was an offensive eruption that enabled the Jayhawks to overcome a 20-0 halftime deficit and escape with a comeback win. Will that performance enable him to get more carries and prolonged use Saturday against Colorado?
8. Can Texas protect Colt McCoy? The Longhorns are counting on McCoy not only for his passing, but also to be their primary rushing threat. He'll have to do that against a ferocious Oklahoma defense that has knocked out a rival starting quarterback for at least a series in every game but one this season. Will McCoy be able to withstand the pounding in the pocket, but also as a ball carrier against a Sooner defense honing for kill shots when it gets an opportunity?
9. Nebraska's response to its embarrassing home loss against Missouri last week. The Cornhuskers were humbled by a trip to the woodshed against the Tigers, leading coach Bo Pelini to apologize to practically the entire state of Nebraska after the loss. A similarly talented team in Texas Tech is upcoming. On the Cornhuskers' last trip to Lubbock, they allowed 70 points. This Red Raider is much better than that 2004 squad. And the jury is still out about this Nebraska team and particularly its offense. So, it could get ugly at Jones AT&T Stadium.
10. Will Missouri overlook Oklahoma State with the huge game against Texas looming next week? After an emotional victory last week at Nebraska and an even bigger one at Texas approaching, it might be understandable if Missouri was looking past its game against the Cowboys. But that attitude isn't one that a national title contender can afford. And I don't think that Chase Daniel will let his team play that way, either.