Big 12: Jorvorskie Lane
The Aggies claimed the Big 12 championship in 1998 after qualifying for the title game in 1997. A&M capped off an emotion-packed 1999 season by beating eventual Big 12 South champion Texas in the "Bonfire Game" to end the regular season.
But the program regressed as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown built their programs throughout the aughts. R.C. Slocum was let go after the 2002 season and Dennis Franchione was similarly jettisoned after the 2007 season.
Mike Sherman is in place now. The program faces a huge battle to get itself back to the level where the Aggies were at only 10 seasons ago.
Here's a look at some of the top players and moments of the Aggies' last decade.
QB: Jerrod Johnson
RB: Courtney Lewis
RB: Jorvorskie Lane
WR: Robert Ferguson
WR: Terrence Murphy
TE: Martellus Bennett
OL: Cody Wallace
OL: Taylor Whitley
OL: Lee Grimes
OL: Kirk Elder
C: Seth McKinney
DL: Mike Montgomery
DL: Rocky Bernard
DL: Ty Warren
DL: Von Miller
LB: Jason Glenn
LB: Justin Warren
LB: Mark Dodge
DB: Sammy Davis
DB: Melvin Bullitt
DB: Terrence Kiel
DB: Jaxson Appel
P: Justin Brantly
K: Todd Pegram
Ret: Cyrus Gray
Offensive player of the decade: QB Jerrod Johnson. It was a tough choice over quarterbacks like Stephen McGee and Reggie McNeal who played for the Aggies earlier in their careers. But Johnson's abilities to develop the most potent passing offense in A&M history -- setting school records for touchdown passes, total offense and passing yards in 2009 -- make him the choice. And he could be poised for even more in his senior season.
Defensive player of the decade: DE/LB Von Miller. The Aggies' proud reputation for tough defenses became forgotten over the decade as spread passing offenses proliferated across the conference. But Miller was decidedly a throwback in a 2009 season where he led the nation with 17 sacks and became the most dominant A&M defensive player since Dat Nguyen. Miller thrived in the hybrid "Jack" position created by former defensive coordinator Joe Kines. He wisely chose to return to college for his senior season next year where he can continue with a new coordinator in place.
Coach of the decade: R.C. Slocum. It was difficult for A&M fans to see the demise of Slocum, perhaps the most popular coach in school history. The Aggies never had a losing record under Slocum and made bowl trips in two of the three seasons he coached them this decade, including the 2001 Galleryfurniture.com Bowl that remains their most recent bowl victory.
Moment of the decade: Stephen McGee's dramatic game-winning drive in a 2006 victory at Texas. Despite vomiting in the huddle throughout the game-winning drive, McGee directed the Aggies on a 16-play, 88-yard drive capped by his own 8-yard touchdown run en route to a 12-7 victory over the Longhorns in Austin. McGee converted five third-down plays on the drive as A&M snapped a six-game losing streak to their most bitter rivals.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There's his new body, rippled with muscles and more than 20 pounds heavier than last season.
A year of dedicated work with the Aggies' strength staff has emboldened Cyrus Gray's confidence.
But as much as anything else, the Texas A&M sophomore running back said the total makeover of his running style came after he took a critical look at his freshman season and determined specific areas that needed to be enhanced.
"I really made a major effort this summer to change my running style," Gray said. "I watched a lot of film and after last season I saw how I wasn't decisive on my cuts. I've changed and I want to run downhill on every play. It's been a mindset I've had at every practice this season."
That new bruising attitude has made him one of the biggest surprises in Texas A&M's preseason practice so far. Gray has emerged as a definite challenger for a starting position for the Aggies' Sept. 5 opener against New Mexico.
Gray, who played at 182 pounds last season, was more of a scatback who tried to avoid defenders because of his lack of bulk as a freshman.
But as he now weighs more than 200 pounds, Gray has developed confidence that he can attack tacklers and blast through holes and tacklers rather than around them.
"Cyrus is a totally different runner this year than last year," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He was a little bit hesitant and maybe didn't read his holes as well. This year he has not made a bad read or cut any time he has touched the ball."
"I keep waiting for that first time he makes a bad read so I can coach him, but I haven't been able to say anything to him yet. I guess the good ones are the ones you don't have to coach much."
Gray rushed for 363 yards on 75 carries and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a freshman. He was one of the few bright spots of the Aggies' rushing game that was expected to be a team strength with the return of proven ball-carriers like Jorvorskie Lane and Michael Goodson.
But instead, the Aggies sputtered with their experienced backs and a struggling offensive line. They finished 114th nationally in rushing, last in the Big 12 and ahead of only five other teams nationally.
Gray was one of the few bright spots late in the season, sparking late victories over Iowa State and Colorado by running for team-high totals in both victories - A&M's final triumphs of the 2008 season.
The Aggies have vowed to be more physical this season, not only in the backfield but also across the offensive front. That growth will be critical as the Aggies attempt to avoid the pitfalls of last season's 4-8 team that finished tied for last place in the Big 12 South with Baylor.
"In order for us to have any kind of success, we're going to have to run the ball much better than we did last season," Sherman told the San Antonio Express-News earlier in training camp.
Gray has been involved in a continuing battle for playing time with heralded freshman running back Christine Michael and sophomore Bradley Stephens, who have both shown flashes as potential contenders for playing time in the Aggies' backfield.
That competition has helped spur Gray's recent dramatic surge.
"Our running back corps wants to challenge everybody every day in practice," Gray said. "There's competition and it makes us all better."
That growth is a big reason why Gray believes the Aggies will be better than the naysayers who are predicting they are doomed to finish in the South cellar again this season.
"We're going to shock some people," Gray said. "There's no doubt in my mind about that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.
Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.
Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.
Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.
Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.
Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.
Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.
Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.
Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.
Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.
Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackle Aaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.
Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.
Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Despite struggling through a disappointing 4-8 season in 2008, Texas A&M's incoming recruiting class never wavered.
Most of the key players were added last spring and summer long before coach Mike Sherman's first season as the Aggies' head coach. But the arriving Aggie recruits remained resolute despite struggles that included losses to all five South Division foes for the first time in school history.
"We didn't have a defection that I can recall during the course of the season," Sherman said. "Obviously as a coach, you worry about everything and that certainly crossed my mind a number of times. I would call these kids on Mondays and Tuesdays and they'd be picking me up. 'Hey coach, we'll be okay. Just hang in there.' They were giving me a pep talk."
Texas A&M's key recruit will be running back Christine Michael of Beaumont (Texas) West Brook, who was ranked as the nation's fourth-best running back by Scouts Inc. and the No. 35 prospect on the ESPNU 150.
"I expect no more from him than anybody else, but he is someone that has tremendous talent," Sherman said. "I think he's a player that we'll accelerate the learning curve for him and get him on the field."
The Aggies lost Michael Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane after last season, providing an immediate chance for Michael to see action.
"As evident during last season, we need more explosive plays," Sherman said. "And I think that player [Michael] can get those for us."
Other specific needs addressed in the 28-man recruiting class included help along the offensive line and at linebacker.
Sherman said he expects several players from his recruiting class to immediately challenge for playing time. And he's already braced players currently on the Aggies' roster to expect some stiff battles for starting positions once the freshman class arrives.
"With the influx of this group of young men, there will be a lot of competition," Sherman said. "We had seven or eight freshmen starters last year. There's a good chance we'll have an equal number this year. If anything else, the thing that excites me is that competition. You can only get better if someone is breathing down your neck and trying to take your job."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As the Super Bowl approaches on Sunday, it's interesting to remember who almost became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals the last time the job came open.
The two finalists in 2007 when the job last opened were Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Sherman. Whisenhunt was the hot offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers with no previous NFL head coaching experience. Sherman was the offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans after an earlier head coaching stint with Green Bay, where he led the Packers to four playoff berths in six seasons before he was fired after his only losing season in 2005.
Both were called back for second interviews.
Whisenhunt got the job and faced a massive rebuilding project with the Cardinals, which had one winning season and one playoff appearance in the previous 22 seasons.
Sherman got his chance to become a head coach again 10 months later when he was hired at Texas A&M. It was a place he was familiar with after ably serving as an assistant coach under R.C. Slocum for seven seasons in two coaching stints.
At the time, it could be argued that Sherman looked to have the easier job. The Aggies had been to 17 bowl games in the previous 23 years. Players like Stephen McGee, Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson were coming back.
Compared with the Cardinals, the Aggies' job appeared to be a piece of cake.
Fast forward to January 2009. Whisenhunt has the Cardinals in the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Arizona appears to be the class of the NFC West for the next several seasons with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald poised to become one of the game's transcendent players.
And Sherman's job now has never looked tougher. The Aggies were 4-8 last season, with an unprecedented 0-5 record against South Division foes.
Texas and Oklahoma look to be capable of contending for BCS berths for the immediate future. Texas Tech is coming off the most celebrated season in school history, with the recruiting bump to match. Oklahoma State is a fashionable pick to crack the top 10 in many preseason polls. Baylor has more excitement than in recent memory with coach Art Briles' offense orchestrated by Robert Griffin.
Sherman has lured A&M's most impressive recruiting class in several years this season. But his rebuilding task appears formidable -- to say the least.
Most coaches don't look backwards very often.
But I'm wondering if Sherman is thinking this week about how close he got to the Cardinals' job?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through a disappointing 4-8 season that was Texas A&M's worst since 2003, coach Mike Sherman has redoubled efforts in his first full recruiting season with the Aggies.
Sherman has seen some strong results with increased athleticism from several top early commitments, most notably breakaway running back Christine Michael from Beaumont, Texas -- the program's first five-star recruit at the position in the past decade.
Michael's arrival is important as the Aggies lose Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson opted to declare for the NFL draft as a junior. The Aggies have little experience at the position as sophomores-to-be Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens and Keondra Smith will likely be battling Michael for immediate playing time. Any improvement would be noticeable after the Aggies ranked 114th nationally in rushing last season.
The Aggies' passing game looks in good shape with the return of quarterback Jerrod Johnson, freshman receiver Jeff Fuller and redshirt freshman receiver Ryan Tannehill. There's a need for an upgrade in the offensive line considering last season's struggles and the fact that starting tackle Michael Shumard, starting guard Lee Grimes and starting center Kevin Matthews all will be seniors in 2009.
The defensive line will take a hit as starting defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cyril Obizor and top substitute Amos Gbunblee all were seniors last season. But the development of freshman tackles Eddie Brown and Tony Jerod-Eddie will make the need less immediate inside.
An upgrade is also needed in the secondary after the Aggies lost starting cornerback Arkeith Brown and rover Devin Gregg and the top two substitutes at the position as seniors. And it behooves the Aggies to develop some young players quickly with starting cornerback Jordan Pugh and starting free safety Jordan Peterson both entering their senior seasons in 2009.
The Aggies ranked no better than 108th in any of the four major defensive statistical categories as they finished with losses to all of their South Division rivals for the first time in school history. So an immediate upgrade of defensive talent is mandatory after those struggles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska running back Marlon Lucky showed something to pro scouts with a big performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in Houston.
Lucky, who finished the season as the Cornhuskers' No. 3 I-back behind Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille, rushed for a game-high 68 yards and a touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors in the East's 24-19 victory over the West on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a big one for me," Lucky told the Associated Press. "I didn't have a strong year and to just come out and play my game and show what I can do, I seized the opportunity. Now it's back to training."
Some Big 12 players had better outings than others. Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee passed for 128 yards, including a 35-yard TD strike to Rice wide receiver Jarett Dillard, and rushed for four yards on three carries.
Mammoth 295-pound Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane, who set a school record with 49 rushing touchdowns, was stopped three times inside the East's 5-yard on unsuccessful attempts to score. Lane produced six yards on four carries and added three receptions for 13 yards.
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel struggled through a difficult performance for the East, completing 2 of 9 passes for 1 yards, with a long pass of 4 yards.
And Ray Guy award winner Matt Fodge of Oklahoma State had an inconsistent game, averaging 32.8 yards per kick on four punts. Fodge's longest punt was 67 yards, but he also shanked kicks of 28 and 5 yards.
Here's a look at some of the numbers for other Big 12 players in Saturday's game.
- Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak (East): Three tackles (one solo), one pass deflection, .5 of a tackle for a loss.
- Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller (West): Tied for team-high honors with six tackles and four solo stops. Also added a team-high tackle for a loss.
- Oklahoma defensive back Lendy Holmes (West): One solo tackle, three total tackles.
- Texas cornerback Ryan Palmer (West): Two tackles.
- Texas A&M defensive end Michael Bennett (West): One assist, one quarterback hurry.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All right, admit it. You are going through college football withdrawal after seven days without a game.
If you are really missing college football, check out the Shrine East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 from Houston's Robertson Stadium.
The Big 12 will be heavily represented. Below is a list of players and their uniform numbers if you want to give them a look on Saturday. You can find the rest of the roster on the Shrine Game web site.
East: Missouri QB Chase Daniel (No. 10), Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky (No. 20), Missouri DE Stryker Sulak (No. 38), Nebraska OL Matt Slauson (No. 75), Nebraska LS T.J. O'Leary (No. 82),
West: Oklahoma WR Manuel Johnson (No. 1), Texas DB Ryan Palmer (No. 2), Texas Tech DB Darcel McBath (No. 3), Texas A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane (No. 11), Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee (No. 12), Oklahoma State P Matt Fodge (No. 17), Oklahoma DB Lendy Holmes (No. 22), Oklahoma C Jon Cooper (No. 50), Texas Tech OL Louis Vasquez (No. 66), Baylor OL Dan Gay (No. 71), Texas OL Cedric Dockery (No. 73), Texas A&M DE Michael Bennett (No. 92), Texas DT Roy Miller (No. 98),
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The East-West Shrine Game will take place Saturday in Houston. Several Big 12 players have emerged during practices this week.
Here are some of the highlights, according to Houston Chronicle blogger Lance Zierlein's extensive notes from the workouts on his daily "Z Report."
- Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has struggled with inconsistency at times. Zierlein reports that Daniel looks short compared to the other quarterbacks, but has lost seven pounds since the end of the season and appears in good shape.
- Nebraska guard Matt Slauson has appeared stiff in some of his pass protection drills, but looked good against Canadian defensive tackle Etienne Legare.
- Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson has looked good in catching drills and has been fearless in catching passes over the middle.
- Texas A&M fullback Jorvorskie Lane weighed in at 295 pounds for the start of practices this week. That weight will be a major liability in terms of his draftability, although Lane has been a productive receiver with several scintillating one-handed catches throughout the week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Kicking problems for the power elite. I'm baffled at the kicking woes that have befallen the Big 12's top three teams. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all have struggled in recent weeks with reliable field-goal kicking. Usually sure Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence shanked kicks of 44 and 20 yards before he was removed for Ryan Bailey. Oklahoma kicker Jimmy Stevens missed from 30 yards and was involved in a sideline argument with 297-pound defensive tackle Cordero Moore. Despite his size disadvantage television replays showed the kicker grab the bigger player's facemask. And Texas Tech's prolonged slump with Donnie Carona makes that facet perhaps the Red Raiders' biggest question mark.
Of course, the three teams rank second (Oklahoma), third (Texas Tech) and fifth (Texas) in scoring in the national statistics through games of this week. What it's meant are that coaches for those three power squads have been more than willing to go for touchdowns rather than settle for field goals most of the season. But somewhere down the line, all will likely have to depend on a clutch kick. And I'm not sure that any of the coaches would feel certain about their chances today if they had to line up for a game-winning 45-yard kick to decide a BCS bowl trip.
2. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson might be the conference's most underrated play caller. Watson cooked up a little bit of everything for Kansas on Saturday. Direct snaps to Marlon Lucky in the "Joker" package resulted in a touchdown pass thrown by the senior I-back. A pass to 300-pound defensive tackle-turned-fullback Ndamukong Suh produced another score. Another strong effort by Joe Ganz, the conference's most consistently underrated quarterback. It's not your father's Cornhuskers, but they looked pretty impressive on Saturday in stretching their home winning streak to 20 games against Kansas. It's likely pushed the Cornhuskers into a likely trip to the Sun Bowl and invaluable extra practice with the upcoming bowl trip.
3. Where were the Aggies? Texas A&M former students like to talk about the tradition and honor that the school has. But where were all the fans when two senior players who had played huge roles in the program in their career -- quarterback Stephen McGee and tailback Jorvorskie Lane - when Lane scored a late touchdown in garbage time against Oklahoma. Watching on television, I saw a lot of Aggies disguised as empty seats at Kyle Field at the end of the game.
4. Texas Tech's offensive line is the most underrated strength of the team. I stirred up a hornet's nest in my hot and not section Friday afternoon when I mentioned that the Red Raiders' line was not hot because it had allowed four sacks in the last two weeks. Relatively speaking, they were struggling because they had only allowed one sack all season before those two games against Kansas and Texas.
Maybe that inspired them, but the Red Raiders were in prime form in the trenches Saturday night against Oklahoma State as the major reason why Tech erupted for 629 yards -- Tech's fourth 600-yard performance of the season. Graham Harrell was barely touched en route to a 456-yard, six-TD pass performance. And Tech also rushed for 113 yards, its 10th straight 100-yard rushing performance.
5. Sunday dinner at the Hawkins' household in Boulder likely will be more pleasant today, I bet. The dramatic comeback orchestrated by Cody Hawkins took a lot of heat off his dad. The Buffaloes showed offensive flashes in their best half of the season against Iowa State. The big comeback likely will have the younger Hawkins in the starting lineup for the Buffaloes' final two games, making Misti Hawkins' meat loaf and broccoli casserole taste much better for all of those who are partaking at their table today.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 things I'll be watching for around the Big 12 on Saturday.
1. The matchup between Oklahoma State's offensive line and Texas' defensive front -- The Cowboys have the most underrated offensive line in the conference, keying the most multi-faceted offense in the Big 12. But OSU's talented front will be tested by Texas' surging line led by defensive end Brian Orakpo and defensive tackle Roy Miller -- two likely all-Big 12 performers if the vote was taken today. Oklahoma State must be balanced in order to give Zac Robinson a chance to take advantage of Texas' youth in the secondary with play-action passes -- something that Chase Daniel wasn't able to do last week until it was too late.
2. Texas Tech's sputtering special teams -- After benching kickers Donnie Carona and Cory Fowler in back-to-back weeks, the Red Raiders could turn to walk-on Matt Williams as their primary kicker against Kansas. Could Williams, a former winner of an in-game kicking promotion at a Tech game earlier this season, really provide a key field conversion or field goal that would extend the Red Raiders' BCS hopes? And could quirky Tech coach Mike Leach really follow through with his intention of possibly going for two points after every touchdown because of his kicking woes? We'll see.
3. Robert Griffin's interception streak -- The Baylor freshman has thrown 155 passes without an interception to set an NCAA record for freshmen at the start of his career. Can Griffin keep it going against a Nebraska defense that has produced only five interceptions this season -- a figure way below expectations when Bo Pelini took over as head coach.
4. The Oklahoma running game against the weak Kansas State run defense -- The Sooners failed to produce 50 rushing yards in two of their last three games before erupting for 206 yards last week against Kansas. The Sooners will be facing a struggling Kansas State defensive front that has allowed an average of 229.2 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in its last five games.
5. Missouri's response to its recent two-game losing streak -- Losses to South powers Oklahoma State and Texas have shown that Missouri might have been a paper tiger and virtually crushed Chase Daniel's Heisman hopes. A start for the Tigers against Colorado would be grabbing a lead, something they haven't done in the last two games. During the first five games of the season, the Tigers trailed for a total of 13 seconds. In the last two games, Missouri has trailed for a period of 92 minutes, 14 seconds.
6. Texas A&M's struggling running game -- With the return of players like Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane back from last season's offense that ranked 13th nationally in rushing, the Aggies were expected to be able to consistently run the ball. But they floundered again last week, producing 20 yards against Texas Tech -- the lowest for any A&M team in nearly nine seasons. A&M's rushing offense ranks 100th nationally. Can it be resuscitated against an Iowa State run defense that ranks 95th in the country?
7. Will Oklahoma State finally break down the door against Texas? The Cowboys have blown huge leads in three of the last four seasons against the Longhorns, including a 21-point advantage early in the fourth quarter last season against them in Stillwater. OSU obviously has confidence it can make big plays and have success against the Longhorns. But can the Cowboys hold a lead if they get one Saturday in Austin with that mental baggage still around them?
8. The matchup between Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe -- Crabtree and Briscoe were almost college teammates as Crabtree considered attending Kansas before opting to go to Tech. Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award last season and is poised for a big game against Kansas' leaky secondary. And Briscoe is coming off a school record-breaking 12-reception, 269-yard game last week against Oklahoma. The Big 12 record for single-game receiving yards is 300 yards set by Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman against Kansas in 2006. It might be challenged by either Crabtree or Briscoe on Saturday.
9. Colorado's quarterback rotation -- Coach Dan Hawkins navigated the ticklish situation of benching his son, Cody, for freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen last week. The combination helped lead the Buffaloes to a gritty victory over Kansas State. How will Hawkins handle juggling his quarterbacks against Missouri in a virtual North Division title elimination game for the loser?
10. Josh Freeman's slump -- The Kansas State quarterback has struggled recently and has not thrown a touchdown pass since the opening possession against Texas Tech on Oct. 4. Since then, Freeman has gone 92 passes without a touchdown pass during a span that has stretched for nearly three games. He'll be facing an Oklahoma pass defense that has struggled recently before storming back to force five straight punts down the stretch to seal the victory against Kansas last week. Freeman must find his groove if the Wildcats have any hopes of notching the upset over the Sooners.
Texas Tech is streaking through its most memorable season in Big 12 history. Texas A&M is floundering through its worst Big 12 start.
But even with that dichotomy in success, fans from the two old rivals remain bitter.
Tech cornerback Jamar Wall is very familiar with the feelings of Tech fans about the Aggies. It's not unusual to find an A&M logo adorning urinals at Lubbock nightclubs.
"Most people (at Tech) don't like A&M," Wall said. "But they are just another team to us."
And A&M coach Mike Sherman learned quickly of the depth of the rivalry among Aggie fans soon after taking the job.
"It's definitely is a sore spot with all Aggies and it's pretty evident traveling around this state," Sherman said. "One of the war cries is always, 'Beat Tech! Beat Tech!' That's something that is important to the people here and has been for quite some time.
"I grew up in Boston and the evil empire there was always the (New York) Yankees. It's kind of like that out there in Lubbock."
A&M leads the series, 34-31-1, but the Red Raiders have dominated recently, claiming 10 of the last 13 games in the series. And since the two schools became conference rivals in 1960, Tech has a 26-21-1 edge.
And after losing his first game to A&M in 2000, Tech coach Mike Leach has beaten the Aggies six of the last seven games.
The traditional rivalry has had its bitter moments over the years. There was the nasty altercation in 2001 in Lubbock when Tech fans carried a goalpost into a section where Texas A&M fans were sitting. An angry brawl ensued and Dr. Mike McKinney, father of former A&M football players Seth McKinney, was struck in the face by "some kid in a red shirt," he said after the game. It turned out it was another A&M fan.
And Leach brought some levity when he talked about A&M's cadets when he saw them at a game in Lubbock several years later.
"How come they get to pretend they are soldiers?" Leach said in a New York Times interview. "The thing is, they aren't actually in the military. I ought to have Mike's Pirate School. The freshmen, all they get is the bandana. When you're a senior, you get the sword and skull and crossbones. For homework, we'll work pirate maneuvers and stuff like that."
After beating the Aggies in a 2006 game in College Station, Leach made a famous comment after the Red Raiders escaped with a 31-27 victory.
"Once in awhile, a pirate can beat a soldier," Leach said.
The game had some sizzle last season. Jorvorskie Lane predicted victory before the game in Lubbock. And Von Miller leveled Graham Harrell with a tackle shortly before halftime that the Tech quarterback later said was a cheap shot. Tech claimed a 35-7 triumph.
Lane and other seniors didn't even show up for A&M media availability this week. About the closest to any retorts from the Aggie side was when A&M freshman receiver Ryan Tannehill told reporters he wasn't proud that he grew up a Tech fan during his youth in Big Spring -- even down to having a Red Raider football uniform as a little boy.
Some of Tannehill's early Tech infatuation was understandable. His father, Tim, was a Tech wide receiver. And his son grew up wanting to follow in his father's footsteps as the Kliff Kingsbury or Sonny Cumbie.
"Those are guys I always dreamed of because they were good quarterbacks," Tannehill told reporters earlier this week. "But now, I just want to take them down."
The rivalry could provide some fireworks, even as the Red Raiders attempt to defend their No. 5 ranking in the coaches' poll and a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Aggies are off to a 2-4 start, including two conference losses for their worst conference start since 1984.
A&M's struggling defense, which ranks 100th in turnover margin and 106th in scoring defense, will face a potent Tech offense that's averaging 46.3 points per game.
Sherman, in his first season as A&M's coach, is feeling that pressure to conjure up an upset that could turn around the season. The Aggies have allowed 100 combined points in their last two games.
"Our backs are so far against the wall we have splinters up our [bottoms]," he said.
Despite A&M's struggles, Tech players are excited about their chance to play at Kyle Field. In eight of Tech's last nine trips there, the game has been decided by seven points or less.
"We always enjoy playing them," Tech wide receiver Eric Morris said. "It will be fun playing in that atmosphere. We understand that people from here and there don't really get along that well. And us coming into town and having the success we have, they will be ready to play. I'm sure we'll have a bull's-eye on our back."
Morris said he enjoys Kyle Field and Nebraska's Memorial Stadium as his two favorite stops in the Big 12.
"There is great atmosphere at both places where they have great and loyal fans," Morris said. "I remembered they cheered us at Nebraska after our game out there. But they might not be as welcoming at Kyle Field as the Nebraska fans are."
And despite A&M's struggles so far this season, Morris expects that A&M fans will be ready for Tech's visit on Saturday.
"It's more of a rivalry and there's no love lost between the two schools," he said, chuckling. "They're good fans, but not that good of fans."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some trends I'll be watching for across the Big 12 on Saturday:
1. How Texas and Oklahoma handle the emotional cauldron that is the Red River Rivalry. Saturday's game appears to be one of the most intriguing matchups in the storied series in years. Quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates. The battle between Texas' defensive front and Oklahoma's collection of hugely talented offensive linemen is dotted with future NFL standouts on both sides. Bob Stoops and Mack Brown are both headed for the College Football Hall of Fame one day. But I'm most interested in watching how these two teams -- both potential national title contenders -- overcome the challenges presented by their biggest rival on the Big 12's biggest annual stage. And the fried Twinkies and Fletcher's Corny Dogs are a bonus.
2. The battle of offenses at Faurot Field. Missouri and Oklahoma State both rank among the nation's top three offenses in scoring. Both teams have enough defensive questions to make it entirely possible that we might see them combine for more than 100 points and more than 1,000 yards when the two teams hook up Saturday night. It might resemble an Arena Football League game, but it should be fun watching it.
3. Kansas State's struggling rush defense against against Texas A&M's running attack. The Wildcats have been gashed for more than 300 yards twice in the last three weeks. Even Texas Tech looked good running the ball against KSU. The Wildcats will be tested to keep Mike Goodson, Brad Stephens, Cyrus Gray and even Jorvorskie Lane in check behind an improving Aggie offensive line that showed some flashes of life last week against Oklahoma State.
4. The Austen Arnaud/Robert Griffin battle. Sure, there are bigger games across the Big 12 this week but the matchup between Baylor and Iowa State will feature two of college football's most underrated quarterbacks. Arnaud has pumped some life into the Cyclones offense, nearly sparking an upset over Kansas and UNLV in the last two games. Griffin is the shining hope for better days in the Baylor program, along with being the nation's only quarterback with more than 100 pass attempts this season with no interceptions.
5. Colorado's makeshift offensive line. The Buffaloes are down to taking reinforcements from the defense after defensive tackle Eugene Goree was moved to guard this week. They must get some kind of running game going to reduce some of the pressure facing beleaguered quarterback Cody Hawkins. Kansas will present some challenges, but not nearly those that were seen last week against Texas. This might provide Colorado a chance to run the ball - as it has done when it's been most successful this season.
6. What gives in the battle of losing streaks at Waco? Somebody's futility has to end Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor comes in with a 13-game conference losing streak that is the second longest among FBS schools behind only Idaho's 15-game conference losing streak. And the Cyclones' 13-game losing streak is for the nation's second-longest (with SMU) behind UAB's 17-game road losing streak.
7. Jake Sharp. After being relegated to the bench as what coach Mark Mangino considered a situational player, Sharp flourished in the second half last week against Iowa State. His continued use came when he was able to play long enough to gain rhythm with the Kansas offense. The result was an offensive eruption that enabled the Jayhawks to overcome a 20-0 halftime deficit and escape with a comeback win. Will that performance enable him to get more carries and prolonged use Saturday against Colorado?
8. Can Texas protect Colt McCoy? The Longhorns are counting on McCoy not only for his passing, but also to be their primary rushing threat. He'll have to do that against a ferocious Oklahoma defense that has knocked out a rival starting quarterback for at least a series in every game but one this season. Will McCoy be able to withstand the pounding in the pocket, but also as a ball carrier against a Sooner defense honing for kill shots when it gets an opportunity?
9. Nebraska's response to its embarrassing home loss against Missouri last week. The Cornhuskers were humbled by a trip to the woodshed against the Tigers, leading coach Bo Pelini to apologize to practically the entire state of Nebraska after the loss. A similarly talented team in Texas Tech is upcoming. On the Cornhuskers' last trip to Lubbock, they allowed 70 points. This Red Raider is much better than that 2004 squad. And the jury is still out about this Nebraska team and particularly its offense. So, it could get ugly at Jones AT&T Stadium.
10. Will Missouri overlook Oklahoma State with the huge game against Texas looming next week? After an emotional victory last week at Nebraska and an even bigger one at Texas approaching, it might be understandable if Missouri was looking past its game against the Cowboys. But that attitude isn't one that a national title contender can afford. And I don't think that Chase Daniel will let his team play that way, either.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma 31, Texas 24 -- I'm expecting one of the best Red River Rivalry matchups in a long time. Both 5-0 teams could win Saturday with the right breaks. Texas needs to dominate in the trenches, particularly with their defensive front against Oklahoma's star-studded offensive line. If they can get to Sam Bradford consistently, they'll keep a young, untested secondary from being hung out to dry. The Sooners also have been susceptible to big plays on special teams, another area where the Longhorns appear to have an edge. Colt McCoy is playing like one of the best players in the country, but Oklahoma simply has too many weapons for the Longhorns. Look for the Sooners to win this one late, maybe on another dramatic Bradford-led fourth-quarter drive, perhaps? Anybody for a Corny Dog on the midway later?
Texas Tech 52, Nebraska 20 -- The Cornhuskers are finally playing a road game and this one isn't coming at a good time. Coming off their worst home loss in more than 50 seasons, they have to face a sizzling offense that hung 70 points on them during the last trip to Lubbock four seasons ago. It won't be that one-sided this season, but things could get out of hand early. Nebraska must play more disciplined and try to pressure Graham Harrell for any hope of winning. Tech's huge offensive line will make that difficult to happen.
Kansas 42, Colorado 27 -- Todd Reesing and Co. were lucky to escape Ames last week with a victory, but I bet they learned their lesson. The running game showed some resiliency after Jake Sharp was inserted into the lineup. And the defense showed some fire after going into a blitzing frenzy in the second half. The Jayhawks should have a favorable matchup against a makeshift Colorado line that will be called to protect struggling Buffaloes quarterback Cody Hawkins. Look for the Jayhawks to claim their 13th straight home victory, pushing them into a big game at Oklahoma next week.
Missouri 51, Oklahoma State 38 -- Two interesting offensive philosophies will clash here. Oklahoma State prefers controlling the ball while Missouri's quick-strike, no-huddle attack ranks next-to-last nationally in time of possession. Oklahoma State has to find some kind of pass rush to keep Chase Daniel honest. The Cowboys have notched only five sacks this season, so it could be a difficult proposition. The difference in this one will be defense, as Missouri safety William Moore will be rounding into shape and ready to provide a couple of key plays. And Oklahoma State's defense doesn't have enough playmakers to keep up with Missouri's array of offensive weapons.
Texas A&M 27, Kansas State 24 -- What a difference 10 years has made. In 1998, this game was for the Big 12 championship and produced one of the greatest games in conference history. Now, it won't even be televised. The Aggies should have enough offense to pull a mild home upset, taking advantage of a rushing game that showed flashes last week. Kansas State's run defense still is struggling and the Aggies won't be a good team for them to play. Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane will mean the difference, although Josh Freeman and Brandon Banks will have their moments against a sputtering A&M secondary.
Baylor 31, Iowa State 28 -- Despite the expected last-place finishes for both teams, the matchup between Baylor's Robert Griffin and Iowa State's Austen Arnaud should be an entertaining battle of play-making quarterbacks. The Cyclones have been making a habit of forcing turnovers, even as they struggle to match up with most opponents. It could be even worse if starting free safety James Smith isn't ready to play. Look for Baylor's running game, keyed by Griffin and Jay Finley, to batter an Iowa State defense that ranks 93rd nationally against the run.
My predictions last week -- 6-0 (100 percent)
My predictions for the season -- 50-4 (92.6 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling with injuries and trying to keep his weight in check, many wondered if massive Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane would ever get back in the good graces of new coach Mike Sherman.
After the Aggies' 21-17 triumph over Army last week, it appears that Lane is back. After shedding more than 20 pounds from his preseason weight of 307, Lane salted the Aggies' victory away with six carries to finish the game.
Lane talked about his return with Dallas Morning News reporter Kate Hairopoulos and how excited he is to be back running the football. Lane needs only one more touchdown to tie the school record of 45 touchdowns set by Rodney Thomas and Darren Lewis.
"It felt good," Lane said. "That's what I'm going to do when I'm called upon to carry the ball. I'm going to put my team on my back and win."
Those words can't be good news to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who is well aware of what Lane has been able to do in recent seasons against the Cowboys.
Lane has feasted -- pardon the bad pun -- on the Cowboys over the years, scoring eight touchdowns in his previous three games against them.
As a freshman in 2005, he rushed for a career-best 139 yards and three touchdowns to spark the Aggies' 62-23 thumping of the Cowboys.
He made another huge play against the Cowboys State the following season, in addition to scoring two short TD plunges. With the Aggies trailing by seven points and facing a critical fourth-and-13 play with 1:33 remaining, Lane made a circus one-handed catch on a pass from Stephen McGee to keep the game-tying drive alive. The Aggies escaped with a 34-33 victory, winning the game in overtime on a missed extra point.
Lane saved his best for last season, scoring all three touchdowns that sparked A&M's 24-23 comeback victory.
The massive tailback ran for a pair of touchdowns and also added a 10-yard TD grab from McGee that ended up being the winning touchdown. He had earlier completed a 49-yard option pass to Kerry Franks that went to the OSU 1, setting up his own TD plunge on the next play.
"I thought (Lane) would have a Ph.D by now. He's been there forever," Gundy told the Tulsa World. "He's obviously a guy that can make some plays."
And has always left his mark on the Cowboys over the years.