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Thursday, October 4, 2012
What to watch in the Big 12: Week 6

By David Ubben

Here's what I'm keeping an eye on across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Get 'em down and keep 'em down. Texas' tackling issues were on display in a big way in a narrow victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns got away with it in Stillwater. I don't think that'll be the case against West Virginia, even at home. Texas has emphasized the issue this week. How will it work?

2. Time for a quarterback change? Steele Jantz turned the ball over four times in Iowa State's loss to Texas Tech, and coach Paul Rhoads said this week the quarterback who looks best in practice will play. Does Jared Barnett finally see some time? For Jantz, it will ultimately boil down to turnovers.

3. Take care of opportunities. TCU has reached the red zone 20 times this season, but has come away with a touchdown on just nine occasions. The Horned Frogs have scored just 12 times. The touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 106th nationally. The Frogs are good enough to get away with it against Kansas or SMU or Virginia. Iowa State? The Cyclones will take advantage if the Frogs leave the doors open.

4. A big piece is missing. West Virginia's running game has taken a big hit with Shawne Alston on the sidelines. Coach Dana Holgorsen was tight-lipped this week in regards to Alston's status, but he's going to be needed this week against Texas. He's a better pass-blocker than Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, too. Will big back Ryan Clarke make a return, too?

5. It's real. We know that. But is it spectacular? Texas Tech took a step toward validating its defense, holding Iowa State to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers and maintaining its spot as the nation's No. 1 defense. How good is this unit, though? Oklahoma will be the toughest test yet, and its offense will be more like what Tech will see the rest of the season. Teams like OSU, Baylor and West Virginia have more high-powered offenses, but the Sooners will offer a huge checkpoint for Tech on its defensive road to redemption after an awful 2011.

Johnathan Gray
Freshman Johnathan Gray led Texas in rushing in relief at OSU; the spotlight will be brighter Saturday.
6. The young legs are back. Sophomore Malcolm Brown, Texas' leading rusher a year ago, is out against West Virginia, but he'll sit on Saturday with an ankle injury. Now's the time for hyped freshman Johnathan Gray to step up. He looked really good in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State and led the Longhorns in rushing. How will he handle West Virginia and how will he look with a week to know he'll be counted on?

7. Getting competitive yet? I stick to my belief that Kansas is better than it was last year, despite its frustrating losses and worse record than in 2011. Nothing would signify progress more than hanging with in-state rival Kansas State. When Charlie Weis got the job, he looked at K-State and Missouri to see what they had and what KU didn't have, and how the Jayhawks could start closing the gap. Here's his first chance to measure up on the field.

8. Call it a Heisman special. Geno Smith's not throwing for 656 yards against Texas. Let's just get that out of the way. The Longhorns have defensive personnel and depth unlike anything Baylor's got. It's one of a few major hurdles for Smith to go from Heisman front-runner, as he is now, to Heisman winner in December. Can he maintain his crazy numbers that are better than RG3's from a year ago?

9. Where is the elder statesman? The young'un Devonte Fields, a true freshman, has grabbed all the headlines so far this year at TCU, leading the Big 12 with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, preseason All-Big 12 representative Stansly Maponga has been really, really quiet thus far. He's got just 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Can he have a coming-out party against the Cyclones?

10. A lesson in thievery is needed. Oklahoma's got just one turnover through three games this year. Buffalo is the only other team in the country who has forced just one turnover. Texas Tech has lost six turnovers this year (32nd nationally), but if Oklahoma doesn't force a turnover against the Red Raiders, the Sooners could very well be looking at an upset and a drop out of the top 25.