Big 12: Chase Clements
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits we gleaned after watching the Big 12 this week.
1. The only team that can stop Missouri is Missouri. The Tigers slogged through a sloppy 42-21 victory over Buffalo despite some immense individual heroics by QB Chase Daniel. Despite a record-breaking single-game performance by Daniel, the Bulls stayed close because of three Missouri fumbles, some costly penalties and even the first kickoff return for a touchdown that has been allowed in Gary Pinkel's Missouri coaching tenure. The Tigers can make those mistakes and still beat Buffalo. Doing it against Big 12 power teams will be a different story.
2. Texas A&M FB Jorvorskie Lane is the biggest 285-pound decoy in the conference. It's clear that the Aggies have little confidence in their short-yardage running abilities, despite the presence of Lane, who used to gobble up first downs like he would munch on postgame cheeseburgers. The main reason is a green offensive line with four new starters who got little push in a 41-23 loss against Miami -- or against anybody else earlier this season. The Aggies failed on a critical third-and-1 early in the third quarter against Miami when the game was still close, using Lane as a struggling lead blocker on the play. And later in the game, they opted to throw on a third-and-1 from the goal line rather than drive the ball like the old days.
3. Mark Mangino should be worried about Kansas' sputtering running attack. Despite playing against an FCS opponent in Sam Houston State that the Jayhawks should have dominated, Kansas produced only 161 yards and a 3.4 yard-per-carry average. Mangino hinted after the game that changes in the offensive line might be forthcoming. Something needs to be done, because the lack of consistency is run blocking is causing QB Todd Reesing to force plays. That can't continue when conference play begins.
4. Don't look now, but Texas is quietly developing some defensive confidence. The Longhorns made Rice QB Chase Clement miserable with seven sacks and five pass deflections. They even held the Owls scoreless after 11 chances after a first-and-goal from the Texas 2 on a drive that was extended twice by pass interference penalties. The Longhorns have allowed one second-half score in their first three games. That's a good sign from what was perceived to be the Longhorns' biggest weakness coming into the season.
5. Colorado is good now, but wait until next season. The Buffaloes had an impressive victory against West Virginia and could have a shot at another one against Florida State on Saturday. But I still worry about their pass defense, and that will be exposed once Big 12 begins. Their better hopes will come next season -- when Chase Daniel and Joe Ganz will be gone and Josh Freeman might have opted for a shot at some big bucks in the NFL draft. Colorado should have the North's most experienced collection of talent in place by then.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 items to watch for across the Big 12 this weekend.
1. Chase Daniel's offensive surge: Missouri has scored on its last 13 possessions over the last two games with Daniel directing the offense. They should have another easy game Saturday against Buffalo, but can Daniel keep his amazing offensive production going? His Heisman candidacy is improving with each performance.
2. Texas A&M's starting quarterback: Stephen McGee's streak of 29 straight starts as Texas A&M's quarterback is in jeopardy after he sustained a sprained right shoulder in the Aggies' most recent game at New Mexico. Will he be ready to go Saturday against Miami? Or will Coach Mike Sherman instead opt for talented backup Jerrod Johnson, who passed for three touchdowns to direct the Aggies' first victory of the season after McGee's injury?
3. Texas' young secondary against Rice's sophisticated passing offense: Freshman safeties Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon made it through unscathed against UTEP. But they'll be taking a big step forward when facing Rice QB Chase Clement and the Owls' talented and underrated receivers James Casey and Jarrett Dillard.
4. Any lingering reaction from Miami's beat-down over Texas A&M last season: Dennis Franchione's program is gone for the Aggies. The Aggies will have a chance Saturday to blot away memories from one of the recent humiliations in school history stemming from last season's disappointing loss at the Orange Bowl. And new A&M coach Mike Sherman can regain some of his lost luster after his season-opening loss against Arkansas State with an upset on Saturday.
5. How will Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree react to the pointed criticism of Mike Leach? Harrell passed for 418 yards and five touchdowns and Crabtree won AT&T national Player of the Week honors after grabbing eight receptions for 164 yards and three TDs last week after a 43-7 victory over SMU. And Leach still wasn't happy. What will they do for an encore against a leaky Massachusetts defense that has allowed an average of 47 points per game in its last two games?
6. Iowa State's Vegas vacation: Gene Chizik says the Cyclones will bunk far away from the Strip in preparation for Saturday's game against UNLV. Will staying away from the bright lights of the casinos help them snap a 12-game road losing streak, including the last six games with Chizik?
7. Robert Griffin's encore: After breaking the Big 12 single-game rushing-average record last week against Washington State in only his second career start, the freshman Baylor quarterback now steps up in class against an underrated Connecticut defense in a national television contest. A big effort could be huge statement for Art Briles' rebuilding efforts.
8. Rhett Bomar's return to the Big 12: The former Oklahoma quarterback transferred to Sam Houston State after washing out with the Sooners. Bomar led the Sooners to a 19-3 victory over Kansas in his last game against them in 2005. Will he be as productive against a much improved Jayhawks team -- with a much diminished team in terms of talent around him?
9. Texas' running game: The Longhorns have struggled at times running the ball. But the emergence of Fozzy Whittaker might have given them a breakaway threat. He should have a lot of opportunities against Rice, which has been gashed for an average of 317.4 rushing yards per game in its seven games against Mack Brown's Texas teams.
10. Missouri's retooled secondary: Starting FS William Moore isn't expected to play Saturday against Buffalo after reinjuring his right foot last week. Converted CB Del Howard will start in his place. Howard will be challenged by Buffalo WR Naaman Roosevelt, who made headlines last week with his game-winning, final-play TD catch against Temple.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas' young defense will receive a good test Saturday night from Rice, which could have just enough offense to make things sticky for the Longhorns.
Rice's aerial attack will be of particular concern. Quarterback Chase Clement ranks sixth nationally in total offense and throws to two of the top 15 receivers in the country in James Casey and Jarett Dillard. Casey is tied for the national lead with an average of 9.7 receptions per game and Dillard averages 7.3 catches per game. The Owls rank 19th nationally in passing, 25th in scoring and 37th in total offense.
"They've got a good offense and it was good to get a chance to rest up and watch some more film," Texas CB Ryan Palmer said. "They've gotten better. They played Vanderbilt and have a couple of good receivers back. It's going to be a good challenge playing against them."
Coach Mack Brown is concerned about the Longhorns' susceptibility to big plays, their lack of a pass rush and low turnover production. The Longhorns have forced only three turnovers in the first two games and are tied for 84th nationally in sacks (1 per game) and 98th in pass defense (261 yards per game).
"We've got to cut down on the explosive plays. And we're not forcing turnovers that we need to," Brown said. "That's been a huge emphasis for us. We're not getting as many sacks because of the rule and the quarterbacks can get rid of the ball."