Thursday, November 5, 2009
What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 10
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some trends I'll be watching for in Big 12 games on Saturday:
1. Kansas State’s continuing turnover-producing binge: The Wildcats have been proficient turning the ball over in Big 12 games, providing one of the biggest reasons KSU is unexpectedly in first place in the North Division. The Wildcats have produced 13 turnovers with a plus-7 turnover margin and six interceptions in five Big 12 games. Their opportunism will test Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, who has contributed seven turnovers in his last three games directly leading to five opposing touchdowns. If the Wildcats can keep up that pressure, they have a great chance of stealing an upset on Saturday.
2. How Kansas handles the Reesing benching circus: Reesing arguably has accomplished more than any Jayhawk quarterback in history, taking his team to a BCS bowl game and leading them to the brink of the team’s first Big 12 North title in 2007. He’s also made the Kansas record book his own personal playground while he’s been at the school. That’s what makes his benching last week even more curious. It will be interesting to see if the Jayhawks pick up their performance around him against Kansas State. Reesing has never lost to the Wildcats in three previous starts. He needs another victory on Saturday to keep the Jayhawks’ North Division title hopes alive -- and provide some personal redemption.
3. Missouri’s surging pass rush against Baylor: The Tigers really picked up the defensive pressure against Colorado, notching eight sacks last week to spark an impressive victory. Aldon Smith had three sacks and five other Missouri defenders totaled one sack apiece. It was a big turnaround as the Tigers had produced only eight sacks in the previous five games. And they should be able to capitalize on a struggling Baylor offensive line that allowed seven sacks to Nebraska last week -- including five to Jared Crick. Baylor has to do a better job protecting its quarterback if it has any hopes of winning its first conference game.
4. Will Bo Pelini and Shawn Watson chance starting Cody Green against Oklahoma’s blitz-heavy defense? Brent Venables is one of the savviest defensive coordinators in the conference with a vast collection of defenses he likes to employ. His unit might be like sharks smelling fresh blood as it faces Green in his second career start. Consider that Colt McCoy said that he saw blitzes when playing against Oklahoma earlier this season he had never seen before. And that was in his 45th career college start, when he was knocked to the ground 14 times in the first half of that game and struggled through his most troublesome game of the season against the Sooners. Imagine the challenge facing that defense will provide for the inexperienced Green.
5. Landry Jones against the Nebraska defense: The Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback has been effective since taking over the starting job after Sam Bradford’s injury. But he will be facing a huge challenge against a Nebraska defense that has allowed only eight touchdowns all season. The Cornhuskers have held their last seven opponents to 280 yards or less. And the Cornhuskers have allowed only three touchdown passes all season, tied with Air Force and Penn State for the nation’s best. It will be a tough test for Jones, the nation's leader among all freshman quarterbacks in the with 17 touchdown passes, to attack the Blackshirts.
6. Will Cody Johnson emerge as Texas’ featured running back? Texas coaches have been pleased with Johnson’s development after he lost about 20 pounds since the start of the season. They believe his tough inside running provides the most consistent running presence the Longhorns have. Will he edge past Fozzy Whittaker in the starting lineup, or will Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis prefer to use them in a two-pronged attack? Whoever emerges will be challenged by an underrated UCF defense that ranks ninth nationally in run defense, eighth in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss, and has allowed its last four opponents to rush for an average of only 74.3 yards per game.
7. What will the Texas defense will do for an encore after Oklahoma State? Four different members of the Longhorns’ secondary produced interceptions last week. Two of them were returned for touchdowns. Earl Thomas is playing at the level of a Thorpe Award winner. The Longhorns are allowing opponents a nation-best average of 52.9 rushing yards per game and 1.76 yards per carry. Can they continue that intensity with a schedule that will provide few challenges between now and the Big 12 championship game?
8. Oklahoma State’s performance after its blowout loss to Texas: The Cowboys’ loss to Texas likely ended their hopes of playing in their first Big 12 title game or making the school’s first BCS trip. The Cowboys were their own worst enemy against the Longhorns with five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by Zac Robinson. It will be a challenge for them to rebound against a gritty Iowa State team that is only a blown extra point against Kansas State and an overthrown pass against Kansas from leading the Big 12 North. The Cowboys have developed some confidence on the road in recent games, winning six of their last nine games away from Stillwater after going 2-11 earlier in Mike Gundy’s tenure. His team still has a lot to play for, even though their title hopes are gone.
9. The return of Iowa State’s offensive weapons: For the first time since the Baylor game on Oct. 17, the Cyclones will have starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and tailback Alexander Robinson back in the starting lineup together. And starting center Reggie Stephens will be back after missing 10 days following an appendectomy. The return of offensive standouts will give the Cyclones a better chance of competing against Oklahoma State in a game that Iowa State desperately needs to keep its Big 12 North title hopes alive. A victory would secure eligibility for its first bowl game since 2005.
10. Meet Jerrod Johnson, the nation’s most underrated and productive starting quarterback: The Texas A&M quarterback leads the conference in touchdowns passes (20) while throwing the fewest interceptions (three) of any Big 12 starting quarterback. How will the surging Aggie offense fare against a struggling Colorado team that ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency defense and 11th in scoring defense? The Aggies, however, will be battling some long history as they’ve won in Colorado only once in the history of the conference. That came in 1997 when R.C. Slocum was coaching A&M and Rick Neuheisel was directing the Buffaloes.