Monday, November 30, 2009
Texas, Nebraska top Big 12 weekly rankings
By ESPN.com staff
Here's how I rank them heading into the Big 12's championship game week.
1. Texas: The Longhorns are cruising to the BCS title game, although they showed some unexpected defensive struggles against Texas A&M. Fortunately for them, Colt McCoy was ready with the kind of performance that subdued their old rivalry and gave him some big Heisman Trophy traction. Their challenge beating Nebraska this week will be to stay away from mistakes and play with the confidence that befits their national title contender status.
2. Nebraska: It’s no surprise the Cornhuskers are playing for the Big 12 title. But they have overcome their share of adversity as they make their first championship game appearance since 2006. Bo Pelini's team has a puncher’s chance Saturday night against Texas mainly because of a determined defensive front and a special teams unit that has dictated field position all season long. Punter/kicker Alex Henery has been among the most valuable Cornhuskers all season and will need a big game against Texas on Saturday.
3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys ran into a buzz saw Saturday at Oklahoma as they struggled offensively throughout the game against a determined and challenged Oklahoma defensive unit that whipped them in the trenches. With their BCS at-large hopes dead, Mike Gundy's team remains the likely choice for the Cotton Bowl and the opportunity to finish with 10 victories for the first time since 1988. But it wasn't a good sign for them that Donald Booker likely will miss a bowl game and Zac Robinson was hobbling with a sprained ankle.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders dodged a bullet in a struggling offensive performance against Baylor before Taylor Potts piloted them to a second-half comeback against the plucky Bears. But the biggest story in that game and all season was a strong defensive effort down the stretch. Mike Leach has Tech pointed upward through what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Considering all of the quarterback injuries, the Red Raiders have accomplished more than what was expected in an 8-4 season.
5. Missouri: Battling out of an early hole, the Tigers showed some gumption in their comeback against Kansas. Danario Alexander again showed why he deserves to be a Biletnikoff Award finalist after producing his third 200-yard effort in the past four games. In Missouri football history, there had been three previous 200-yard receiving games before Alexander. Blaine Gabbert finished strongly, avoiding an interception over his last 161 attempts of the season. The defense struggled against Kansas, but provided a key stop at the end of the game, and Carl Gettis' two fumble recoveries helped spark the comeback.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners came up with their defensive performance of the season, limiting Oklahoma State to 109 yards and denying them from converting on all 14 third-down plays. Ryan Broyles made a huge difference in the return game and the Sooners overcame a patchwork offensive line to play consistently. Bob Stoops punctuated his most disappointing regular season with an impressive triumph. Now, he'll attack those pesky bowl-game struggles that have dogged him the past few seasons.
7. Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson started his 2010 Heisman candidacy early with a career game against Texas as he accounted for 439 total yards and four touchdown passes. The Aggies had the offense to stick with Texas, but critical errors on defense and special teams were too great in the end to overcome. The upcoming bowl practice will be invaluable for a young team aiming to improve and become a potential surprise in the South Division next season.
8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder can take a lot of pride in the job that he did to take them within a game of the Big 12 championship game. Mike Gundy’s loss at Oklahoma opens up discussion for Snyder as the Big 12’s coach of the year. Considering the way Snyder built his team’s offense around quarterback Grant Gregory and running back Daniel Thomas -- both of whom arrived on campus shortly before fall practice -- provides evidence that he merits serious consideration for the honor.
9. Iowa State: Kansas’ loss assures the Cyclones a bowl berth and a chance to have some critical bowl practice for a young team that will grow immensely from the experience. Paul Rhoads will get his share of coach of the year votes for his four-game win/loss turnaround from last season. And how about a chance for the Cyclones to finish this season with bowl trip to Shreveport and a shot at Gene Chizik and Auburn? But ISU won't be picky about any bowl trip.
10. Kansas: For 57 minutes Saturday, Mark Mangino was providing a clinic on why he should return as the Jayhawks’ coach. But his clock management and play-calling decisions down the stretch left him open to huge questioning as Missouri charged back for the comeback victory. It still remains amazing that a team that started 5-0 and appeared ready to challenge for the Big 12 North title would fall apart like the Jayhawks did during a seven-game losing streak to finish the season. And their late performance Saturday against Missouri provides critics with ample ammunition why a coaching change is necessary.
11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins’ job was saved and he’ll enjoy the benefit of coaching a team that should be more experienced after this season’s struggles. This time around, don’t expect Hawkins to make any wild pronouncements or predictions for next season at the team’s season-ending banquet like last season. The Buffaloes showed hope for the future by gashing Nebraska for 403 yards -- the most allowed by the Cornhuskers this season. Hawkins' first task will be to work on the team’s fundamentals after the Buffaloes committed 107 penalties this season.
12. Baylor: Blake Szymanski’s return to the starting lineup looked like a masterstroke before Texas Tech charged back for the comeback victory. The Bears’ bowl hopes were in trouble as soon as Robert Griffin was out with a season-ending injury. But Art Briles' team still played tough and showed a lot of moxie as the season progressed without its standout quarterback. The Bears learned lessons from the struggles but will have to rebuild a defense that will be stripped of key playmakers like Jordan Lake and Joe Pawelek. Briles must find replacements if the Bears have any hopes of snapping their conference-worst bowl drought that dates to 1993.