Big 12: Andy Christensen
Neither program has approached the levels of those earlier days. But tonight’s winner-take-all battle between the Cornhuskers and Wildcats still will settle who will be playing in Arlington on Dec. 5.
Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder have had their moments over the years. Pelini angrily accosted Snyder after the Wildcats’ 38-9 victory in Lincoln in 2003 when he was the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator when he felt the Wildcats tried to tack on a late touchdown against a young Nebraska defense.
Both have made their amends since then. But their first matchup as rival head coaches will be an interesting one with huge stakes.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching:
Follow Legate in the I-formation: Nebraska has seen much recent success when redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Legate was inserted into the lineup. His blocking has helped open holes that have sparked Roy Helu Jr. to back-to-back 100-yard rushing games as the Cornhuskers have run off three consecutive victories. I look for them to utilize a similar offensive strategy – particularly early in the game as they dare KSU to stop them.
Senior Day for the Cornhuskers: It will be an emotional game tonight for key Nebraska players like Suh, center Jacob Hickman, guard Andy Christensen, linebacker Phillip Dillard, safety Matt O’Hanlon and defensive end Barry Turner who will be concluding their home careers at tonight’s game. This group was here to start their careers with Bill Callahan before finishing up with the first two seasons of Pelini’s coaching tenure. They’ve seen the Cornhuskers return to the cusp of another title. Will they be able to get them back there tonight?
Will Cody Green get a call for Nebraska: If starting quarterback Zac Lee struggles early, it will be interesting to see if Pelini and Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson make a change -- even for a couple of series -- to freshman Cody Green. He’s had his moments earlier this season, but lost his job after struggling against Oklahoma. Lee has played with much confidence in the last couple of weeks, so I wouldn’t expect the Nebraska coaches to have a quick hook tonight.
Bo’s money ball: If the Cornhuskers can win tonight, it would be worth an extra $150,000 to Bo Pelini for qualifying for the Big 12 title game. He also stands to make an extra $100,000 by taking the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 title and another $100,000 bonus by leading the Cornhuskers into a bowl game.
Protect inside: There will be much pressure against KSU guard Zach Kendall and Kenneth Mayfield and center Wade Weibert to account for Nebraska’s talented tandem of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. The middle of the Kansas State defense must do a good job in keeping them away from starting quarterback Grant Gregory.
Thomas the Train: Bullish 227-pound tailback Daniel Thomas expected to challenge for the starting job at quarterback when he arrived at Kansas State. Instead, he’s become the focal point of the Wildcats’ offense in another way. Thomas has accounted for about 35 percent of the Wildcats’ offense, leading the team with 1,166 yards. Expect the same kind of use tonight as the Wildcats will try to lengthen their possession with multi-play drives keeping the ball away from the Cornhuskers.
Tackle with abandon: The Wildcats have been very turnover-productive this season, ranking second in the conference and 19th nationally with a plus-eight turnover ratio. Nebraska has been susceptible to turnovers throughout the season, committing eight against Iowa State. The KSU defense will similarly need a couple of big plays, to take the loud sellout crowd of the game.
Get a cheap touchdown -- or two: Brandon Banks needs one more kickoff return to tie the NCAA career record for kickoff returns. With Nebraska’s defense likely to be extremely difficult to dent, a special-teams score would be huge. Even if Banks just dictates field position with his returns, it would be important for a KSU team that figures to struggle to producing consistent yardage against the Cornhuskers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Today is a reminder of rebirth and renewal.
Lawrence, Kan., was burned to the ground by pro-slavery forces 153 years ago today on May 21, 1856.
On that date, a pro-slavery posse led by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones burned the Free-State Hotel, destroyed the printing equipment of two anti-slavery newspapers and also looted several businesses in what has come to be known as the sacking of Lawrence. One man was killed in the ransacking of the city when he was struck dead by a stone falling from the burning hotel.
From those horrific events, one of America's most beautiful college towns has emerged.
I always think of the story of "Bleeding Kansas" every time I visit Lawrence. It puts all my thoughts about athletics into perspective.
Today, we have a large collection of Big 12 links for your reading pleasure.
- Former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons has decided to transfer to Colorado, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
- Jeffrey Martin of the Kansas City Star/Wichita Eagle writes of the extensive work that new KSU athletic director John Currie will have in rebuilding trust at his new job in the wake of the "secret deal" between former athletic director Bob Krause and former KSU football coach Ron Prince. And the Wichita Eagle's Bob Lutz writes how the deal besmirches outgoing KSU president Jon Wefald's once-proud legacy at the school.
- The Williams and Hyatt Sports Blog can't believe that Mike Leach is only the seventh mouthiest coach in college football.
- Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera writes of the loneliness of covering the Big 12 meetings.
- Former Iowa State All-American offensive lineman Ben Bruns is working as the project manager on the $12 million renovation of the east side of Jack Trice Stadium, the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse reports.
- The Independence Bowl landed a new title sponsorship with AdvoCare International, Roy Lang III of the Shreveport Times reports. The bowl has been linked with the Big 12 since 1998, although it didn't have access to a team from the conference last season.
- Nebraska guard Andy Christensen has been officially granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA, Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald reports.
- After being arrested twice in the last week, the Houston Texans released former Oklahoma Sooners offensive lineman Brandon Walker before his first training camp, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
- The Omaha World-Herald profiles new Iowa State strength coach Yancy McKnight, who it terms might be the key for respectability for the Cyclones' football program.
- Dustin Eskew of China Springs, Texas, tells Chad Conine of the Waco Tribune-Herald he's excited about his chances of sticking at Texas Tech as a preferred walk-on quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things to watch for in Big 12 games on Saturday:
1. Oklahoma's chance to move to No. 1 -- With USC's loss at Oregon State on Thursday night, the Sooners are situated to fill the top spot in the polls by beating TCU. That hasn't been easy for them during the Horned Frogs' recent trips through Norman. Can the Sooners snap history and move to the top of the polls for the first time since 2003?
2. Colorado's backfield combination against Florida State's defense -- Heralded TB Darrell Scott has been hampered recently with a knee injury. His backup Rodney Stewart took advantage of his absence to rush for 166 yards against West Virginia last week. With Scott returning to health, I'm curious how coach Dan Hawkins divvies up the carries. It will be interesting to see an improving Colorado offensive line work against a Florida State defense that will be returning four more veteran defenders back from suspension and has allowed only one touchdown this season.
3. Can Kansas State DE Ian Campbell bounce back? -- Coming into the season, the senior was counted as one of the Big 12's top pass-rushing threats and a potential All-American player. But so far this season, Campbell has been missing in action with only three tackles and no sacks. For a reeling Kansas State defense that was forced to run as punishment when it got home from Louisville last week, Campbell's return against Louisiana-Lafayette would be huge.
4. Bo Pelini's step into the national spotlight -- The new Nebraska coach will be facing his most difficult test of his brief coaching tenure as the Cornhuskers host their first BCS foe in Virginia Tech. The Cornhuskers have barely had to battle into the fourth quarter against any of their first three foes. The Hokies are offensively challenged but still should provide a good indication of how far Pelini's rebuilding job has come along.
5. Zac Robinson's progress -- It will be interesting to judge the Oklahoma State quarterback's progress this season against Troy and to compare it to his performance last season against the Trojans. Robinson made his first career start in a nationally televised game and struggled mightily in a 41-23 loss. His chance for revenge could boost the Cowboys to their first 4-0 start under Mike Gundy and a likely return to the national Top 25 with a victory.
6. Texas' tight end options -- Blaine Irby was emerging as a blocking and receiving threat for the Longhorns before suffering a season-ending dislocated kneecap last week against Rice. Texas now is scrambling for a replacement and will use Peter Ullman and Greg Smith as his replacements Saturday against Arkansas. It will hard to match Irby's receiving contributions. Mack Brown has hinted his loss might force the Longhorns to use more four- and five-receiver threats.
7. Texas A&M's uncertainty at quarterback -- Jerrod Johnson had an uneven first start last week against Miami, throwing for three touchdowns but also making several critical mistakes. But he sustained a sprained shoulder and missed practice this week along with Stephen McGee, who is already nursing a similar injury. Which way will coach Mike Sherman turn for his starter Saturday against Army? McGee likely represents his best immediate choice, while starting Johnson would start Sherman's rebuilding project. Sherman desperately needs a victory as he attempts to break the first two-game home losing streak to start the season for the Aggies since 1972.
8. Oklahoma's offense matched against the challenge of TCU's defense -- The Sooners have been one of the nation's most potent offenses, leading the nation in scoring, ranking fourth in total offense and seventh in passing. It will be interesting to see if Sam Bradford can continue that success against a typically feisty TCU defense that leads the nation in rushing and total defense and ranks second in turnover margin. It will be the Sooners most serious offensive test of the season.
9. Colorado's adaptability to the hot sticky climate in Jacksonville -- The Buffaloes played their best football down the stretch in a comeback victory over Eastern Washington and in overtime last week against West Virginia. Can those late rallies continue in the expected heat and humidity Saturday against Florida State? Coach Dan Hawkins and the Colorado training staff has had them drinking green Gatorade throughout the week to get ready. Will those preparations keep them from wearing down against the Seminoles?
10. Nebraska's running game against Virginia Tech -- The Cornhuskers rushed for 330 yards in their most recent game against New Mexico State but will be challenged mightily by a Virginia Tech team that likes to stack the box and force teams to beat them by passing. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has emerged as more of a running threat in recent weeks, but will likely have his chances to beat the Hokies by the air. And will Pelini turn to OL Andy Christensen, a projected starter who is finally available to play after a six-month suspension that included the first three games of the season? His eventual return could give the Cornhuskers' running game a boost.