Big 12: Ali Villanueva
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As expected, the Big 12 isn't facing many challenges in the early evening games.
Iowa State appears to be in the toughest battle against Army.
Alexander Robinson has picked up where he left off last week, rushing for nearly 100 yards in the first half to key the Cyclones' 17-10 lead. Robinson has accounted for both early scores with a 68-yard TD run and a 2-yard TD grab from Austen Arnaud.
The Cyclones' defense has been very impressive as it forced three straight Army three and outs midway through the first half. But Army pulled within 17-10 when quarterback Chip Bowden utilized 6-foot-10 wide receiver Ali Villanueva on three straight plays before a 5-yard TD reception. That's not surprising considering the four starters in Iowa State's secondary average 5-foot-9.
Oklahoma State has picked up its defensive effort knowing that Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant both are missing tonight against Grambling State to race to a 35-3 halftime lead.
The Tigers have been limited to four first downs and have failed on all seven third-down plays of the first half.
Keith Toston, who I think is one of the best backup tailbacks in the league, has already scored three times to key OSU's efforts.
Nebraska has put Louisiana-Lafayette away with an early blitz with four straight scoring possessions to start the half. Zac Lee's injured left thumb hasn't bothered him as he completed 11 of 14 passes for 191 yards.
Baylor charged back after being stopped on downs to score on four straight possessions en route to 28-10 lead late in the first half. Robert Griffin appears to have rebounded from his recent slump, and redshirt freshman Jarred Salubi has already topped 100 rushing yards.
And Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson has put on the biggest offensive display of the evening games by producing four touchdowns as the Aggies have claimed an early 28-6 lead over UAB late in the first half.
Johnson has run for three TDs and passed for another one as the Aggies' defense has played much better than expected.
After being toasted for 30 points by Utah State last week, the Aggies have limited the Blazers to a pair of field goals as they allow UAB 24 total yards in their first six possessions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Are you ready for a long but satisfying game-day experience today across the Big 12?
Brace yourself, because we should have football from noon ET until well past midnight.
I can't wait.
Here are some links to get you primed.
- Former Southwest Conference rivals Texas Tech and Houston hook up tonight in Houston for the first time since the proud old conference disbanded, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams reports.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls is having trouble coming up with a catchy nickname for Texas’ defense. Any suggestions?
- The Lawrence Journal-World’s Dugan Arnett writes about Kansas’ preparations to get ready for Southern Mississippi’s “Eagle” rushing offense.
- Baylor players want to blot away bad memories from last week by jumping on Northwestern State quickly, according to John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald.
- Iowa State’s secondary is bracing for the tall order of stopping 6-foot-10 Army wide receiver Ali Villanueva, Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register reports.
- The Kansas City Star’s Kellis Robinette writes that Kansas State is determined to finish off scoring drives after repeatedly sputtering in their opponents’ territory in the first three games.
- The connection between Bob Devaney and Bo Pelini is analyzed by the Lincoln Journal Star’s Steve Sipple as Nebraska celebrates its 300th consecutive sellout today.
- Oklahoma State will take a depleted roster into tonight’s game against Grambling State without Kendall Hunter and likely without Dez Bryant, John Helsey of the Oklahoma reports.
- The Columbia Tribune’s Sam Walljasper reports that Missouri stayed focused for its 31-21 victory over Nevada despite a huge motorcycle convention taking place all across Reno -– including the team hotel.
- The Bryan Eagle’s Robert Cessna wonders if we’ll see any defense tonight at Kyle Field as high-powered attacks from Texas A&M and UAB square off.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here’s a spectator’s guide for this weekend’s games. A ranking of four stars indicates must-see football. Three-star games are definitely worth an extensive investment in time. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates, but little more. And one-star games mean you might be better off watching your kids’ soccer games or taking care of some yardwork than hunkering down in front of the television.
Check out this list and plan your Saturday schedules accordingly. All times are for Saturday games unless otherwise noted.
Texas Tech at Houston (ESPN2, 9:15 p.m. ET): Stay up late for this offensive battle between underrated Case Keenum of Houston and Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts, who showed much moxie last week in his national coming-out party against Texas. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring and rank fourth in passing. Texas Tech leads the nation in passing.
Southern Mississippi at Kansas (noon): The streaking Jayhawks will be tested against Southern Mississippi, whose eight-game winning streak is tied with Mississippi behind only Florida’s 13-game streak. The Golden Eagles bring a lot of firepower with Damion Fletcher (11th nationally in rushing) and 6-foot-6 wide receiver DeAndre Brown, who Kansas coach Mark Mangino says will be the toughest receiver his team will face this season. Kansas will hope to continue building with a balanced offense that is the only team nationally to rank among the top 16 in rushing, scoring, passing offense and total offense.
Missouri at Nevada (ESPN, 9 p.m. Friday): The Tigers will face their first road challenge of the season against the 0-2 Wolf Pack, who have been an early disappointment after losing at Notre Dame and Colorado State. Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency, but will be challenged to match multitalented Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nevada will try to dictate tempo with Vai Taua, who is tied for 21st nationally in rushing.
UTEP at Texas (3:30 p.m.): Emerging Longhorns should receive a break this week against the Miners, who lost twice at home before winning last week at New Mexico State. Texas should dictate the game against a UTEP offense that ranks 97th or worst in scoring offense, total offense and rushing and tied for 101st in sacks allowed. The Longhorns have won all three previous games in the series by a combined 92-13 margin.
Army at Iowa State (7 p.m.): Iowa State’s confidence will be tested by Army’s option-based ground attack which ranks seventh nationally with an average of 257.7 rushing yards per game. Iowa State will counter with Alexander Robinson, who ranks 15th nationally and has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games. One item to watch will be Iowa State’s short defensive backs against 6-foot-10, 285-pound Army wide receiver Ali Villanueva, who is tied for his team's lead in receiving.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska (7 p.m.): This will be a celebration of all things Nebraska football as the Cornhuskers’ program celebrates its 300th consecutive sellout in a streak that dates to 1962. The Cornhuskers will wear throwback uniforms as they hope to rebound from last week’s disappointing loss at Virginia Tech. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be gunning for their second victory over a Big 12 school in three weeks with an offense that has not allowed a sack this season.
UAB at Texas A&M (7 p.m.): The Aggies should have another breather after easy victories over New Mexico and Utah State. Aggie linebacker Von Miller leads the nation in sacks and Jerrod Johnson is third in total offense. The Aggies shouldn’t be challenged by a Blazers team that has lost two straight and ranks 110th in total defense and 118th in pass defense.
Tennessee Tech at Kansas State (1 p.m.): Kansas State hopes to stem a two-game losing streak against the Golden Eagles, coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. Tennessee Tech created three turnovers and blocked a kick last week against Eastern Kentucky. But they’ll be challenged by the Wildcats, who will be facing their second FCS challenge after beating Massachusetts in the opener. Kansas State ranks among the bottom five teams nationally in sacks (118th) and tackles for losses (116th).
Northwestern State at Baylor (7 p.m.): Coach Art Briles’ team was shaken after the upset home loss against Connecticut last week. Robert Griffin is coming off his worst college game after producing a career-low 139 total yards against Connecticut. Northwestern State has lost its first three games, including a home loss to North Dakota last week. The Demons have struggled defensively, allowing 40 points per game. And Quentin Castille, formerly of Nebraska, is averaging 51.3 yards rushing per game.
Grambling State at Oklahoma State (7 p.m.): Oklahoma State hopes for more continuity in its final nonconference game. Their struggling pass defense (108th nationally) will be challenged by Grambling State quarterback Greg Dillon. Grambling has won two straight games but will be facing its only FBS challenge of the season in this game.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is concerned about defensing massive 6-foot-10, 283-pound Army wide receiver Ali Villanueva.
Villanueva, who started all 12 games at tackle last year for Army, is the largest player at his position in the country. And he's already caught the attention of Rhoads, who will be combatting him with a starting secondary with three players who are 5-9 and another who is 5-10. The Cyclones have no players in the secondary taller than 6 feet in their two-deep roster.
“I don’t know if I have ever gone up against any football player who is that big in stature," Rhoads said. "They certainly do present a lot of challenges for us by what they do offensively and defensively. His physical stature is definitely one of them." Rhoads said.
The Black Knights are a run-heavy team who rank seventh nationally in rushing. They are last nationally in passing, although Villanueva leads the team with two touchdown grabs and 114 receiving yards and is tied for the team lead with six receptions.
"They utilize his size by doing what they do the best and that’s run the football," Rhoads said. "His size as a blocker and the ability to get into the red-zone and throw him up a pass, I don’t know if you can even call it a jump ball situation when you are going up against a guy that big."
The Cyclones will try to contain Villanueva on the flanks with 5-foot-9, 191-pound senior cornerback Kennard Banks and 5-foot-10, 189-pound sophomore Leonard Johnson.
"Giving up more than a foot puts us at a distinct disadvantage in trying to defend that," Rhoads said. "The goal would be to keep them out of the red zone if we can.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.
Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:
1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami
The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.
2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia
Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.
3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada
The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.
4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette
No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.
5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling
Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.
6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State
The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.
7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi
The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.
8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.
9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico
Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.
10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida
The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.
11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army
Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.
12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech
The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.