Big 12: Rex Burkhead

ESPN.com's Preseason All-Big 12 team

July, 8, 2011
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The Big 12 asked for preseason All-Big 12 ballots this week in preparation for the team announcement, and here's what mine looked like.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Chuck Cook/US PresswireOklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden earned the first-team All-Big 12 nod over Oklahoma's Landry Jones on David Ubben's preseason ballot.
The full team will probably be released some time before Big 12 media days on July 25-26 in Dallas.

OFFENSE

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Christine Michael, Texas A&M WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

Selections by team: Oklahoma State (7), Texas A&M (6), Oklahoma (5), Missouri (4), Texas (2), Iowa State (2)

And a few thoughts:

  • Before we get into this, let's talk philosophy for a bit. There's no concrete rubric for filling this ballot out, but my approach might be in the minority. This is not a prediction. I'm not a believer in that. That's what the postseason ballot is for, i.e., what actually happened. I'm not predicting anything. My ballot is a reflection of who I see as the best at the position entering the season. This comes into play at the very top of my ballot. Do I think Landry Jones will have a better 2011 than Brandon Weeden? Well yes, yes I do. But coming into the season, I thought Weeden was more impressive than Jones in 2010, if only just barely. For more explanation on this, head over here. I've discussed it at length several times. Check the Weeden or Jones player tags on the blog for even more discussion.
  • Tallying up the team counts, I feel bad that only six teams are represented on my ballot, but I'm not trying to achieve balance. I'm trying to achieve a ballot with the best player at each position heading into the season. That's just how it shook out. I'm surprised no one from Baylor cracked my ballot, and Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech went without any first-teamers on my ballot.
  • That said, a few guys who came close: Kansas running back James Sims, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens, safety Cody Davis and Kansas State cornerback David Garrett. I nearly had Davis on my ballot, but narrowly went with Trent Hunter.
  • On that subject, the biggest observation I had filling this out: The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for Sims, Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team! Unbelievable. Rex Burkhead and Rodney Stewart...where are you? If NU and CU were still in the Big 12, I'd probably put Stewart in that spot.
  • They're not, though. So, I went with Christine Michael. Why? Well, before Cyrus Gray went nuts last season, Michael was significantly better than Gray was. It was obvious. Then Michael broke his leg. Now, based on what I saw this spring and hear from summer workouts, he's back to full strength and even better. Can any other running back in the league say they were better than Cyrus Gray at any point? Much less last season? Absolutely not. So, I went with Michael. Heading into the season, he's the second-best back in the Big 12 when he's healthy. Consider, also: None of those other candidates have topped Michael's 844 yards in 2009 in any of their seasons, and Michael was probably on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year with 631 yards in just over seven games before the injury. So, not only is he what I believe to be the next-best back, he also has had the most impressive career.
  • I wasn't a big fan of putting three tackles and one guard on my ballot, but I did it. Deal with it. Originally, I had Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M on my ballot, but switched him out with the experienced Elvis Fisher, whose career to this point has been more impressive to me. I think Joeckel will be better eventually, but Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune chimed in on Twitter and reminded me of Joeckel's early season struggles, and I recalled just how dominant Fisher was against some of the best defensive ends around, specifically Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Oklahoma's Frank Alexander. I'm a bit embarrassed I even considered Joeckel over Fisher, to be honest.
  • I feel pretty good about my ability to evaluate tackles, but interior linemen? Not so much. There's a lot of other things to watch during live games. So when it comes to guards and centers, I tend to rely more on coaches' evaluations, guys who spend hours in the film room evaluating. Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline isn't one to blow smoke, and he's one of the most respected position coaches in the league. He's also been incredulous this offseason that Grant Garner is criminally underrated at the conference level. So at a position that isn't very strong in the Big 12, I gave Garner the nod.
  • Some of the Big 12's strongest positions? Linebacker and receiver, clearly, where there were big snubs. (i.e., Jeff Fuller, Shaun Lewis and Emmanuel Acho). Some of the weakest positions? Defensive line, where I had some trouble finding four guys I really felt deserved a spot.
  • As for my newcomer of the year, Arthur Brown? Speed kills. K-State didn't have it last year. Brown does. He'll be great.
  • A few minor beefs with no real solution: I'd like to see the Big 12's ballot more reflect the style of play in the league. Not many teams are running two-receiver sets and not many teams are putting three true linebackers on the field. I'd like to see an option for a third receiver on the ballot, either in a WR/TE flex slot or by eliminating one of the running back spots. Big 12 teams aren't putting two backs on the field too often. I'd also like to see a space for a nickel back. Do I think Tony Jefferson or Ahmad Dixon are one of the best linebackers or safeties in the league? No. But at their position, they probably will be by season's end. However, they might get left off all-conference teams because of the ballot's set up.

Mailbag: Defending my top 25 players

March, 22, 2011
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I asked. You delivered. Here's where you thought I got it wrong with my top 25 players of the 2010 season. I'm on the road again today, so no chat, but here's your chance to be heard on the blog.

Before we get to the questions, here's a disclaimer: First, you can take a look at the criteria I used to make the list.

Secondly, making any list like this is extremely difficult. I feel 100 percent confident in my ranking of the players in order of their positions, but when it comes to importance relative to another position? Well, that's certainly up for debate. It's tough to say with any certainty that X safety is more valuable than Y offensive lineman, but I felt pretty good about the list. In hindsight, I'd maybe make a few revisions, but the only big change I would have made is maybe bumping DeMarco Murray up a few spots. His rushing and receiving totals aren't eye-popping on their own, but combined, I think I underestimated how his total yardage from scrimmage stacked up against the rest of the league's backs. I'd probably put him somewhere around 14 or 15.

Finally, here's my list of players who deserved honorable mention.

So, here we go:

Will in College Station asks: How is Ryan Tannehill not on the list? If Robert Griffin can make it on a 7-6 Baylor squad, how is Tannehill, who went 6-1 as a starter, not near, or ahead of Griffin, on this list? Tannehill was also a solid receiver for the Aggies at the start of the season. If you're talking total utility players, Tannehill has to be up there.

Mark in College Station asks: You crazy, son. What was A&M's record before Tannehill? What was their record after?... and his stats weren't half bad either.Point made. No one from Tech should have made this list -- Tannehill should at LEAST be number 25.

David Ubben: These are all oversimplifications. For one, Griffin is markedly more important to his team than Tannehill. Teams have seen him play. They game plan for him, and he beats them. The big fish got by Baylor last year, but they won a lot of games they should have won last year. That's new for Baylor. Both in a) winning games they're supposed to win and b) having so many games they're supposed to win.

The record is a ridiculous measure of Tannehill's play. He was a big part of A&M's rise. There's no disputing that. But there were a ton of other factors, too. Cyrus Gray was perhaps the biggest, along with the offensive line maturing with two freshman starters on the front line. Additionally, a defense that played pretty well early in the season played inspired against Oklahoma and Nebraska, giving the Aggies their two biggest games of the year. He played OK in all three games, and was a big reason why, but the Aggies didn't beat the Sooners, Huskers and Longhorns only because of Tannehill.

Citing his record doesn't work as the sole reason to put him on the list. There's too many other factors. And look at his numbers over that seven game stretch. He's not even close to Griffin, Weeden or Jones. They're close to Gabbert, but I made it clear in his post that the numbers don't tell the whole story with him.

I'm not wholly discounting what Tannehill did. I still think he's the fourth best quarterback coming back for the 2011 season, but in 2010, he wasn't on the level of the four quarterbacks on the list. And that's without even mentioning that he only played seven games.

Von Miller in Right Behind You asked: Why wasn't I #1? I will sack you.

DU: Let me step up into the pocket on this one.

It breaks down to this: Miller had a great year, one of the best in the nation. Blackmon had a historic year, one of the best of any player to ever play the game. As well as Miller played in conference play, Blackmon did that -- and maybe more -- for the entire season. Giving him the No. 1 spot over Miller wasn't a difficult decision. His production throughout the year was staggering, and as shown in the Kansas State game, it paced the Cowboys offense. Early in the year, their offense devolved into a "drop back and chuck it" at times. Guess why they felt comfortable doing that?

Aaron in Edwardsville, Ill., asked: I think you got Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden's rankings wrong, they should have been flip flopped. You aren't the only one who doesn't see this though, as every major publication had Weeden over Jones which makes zero sense. Jones had more yards, more touchdowns, less interceptions, played a much tougher schedule, beat Weeden's team on his homefield and won a BCS bowl game. There is no way Weeden should be above Jones in any ranking. That is all, rest of the list looks solid.

DU: Nope. It's close, but you can't simplify it to numbers for Jones. He threw the ball 106 more times than Weeden, but a lot of those were swing passes to Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray, which definitely inflated his yardage total without requiring a massive amount of skill. Considering that, their interception numbers (13 for Weeden, 12 for Jones) are pretty much a wash. But like I wrote before, Jones is much, much more apt for the big mistakes (INTs against Missouri in the red zone and fourth quarter, pick sixes against Oklahoma State and Connecticut) and for that reason, I give Weeden a slight edge.

Dalton Gibson in Norman, Okla., asked: I didn't see my name anywhere on the list. What gives? I thought I cheered pretty hard this year.

DU: Maybe next year, Dalton. Maybe next year. Keep the dream alive.

Jason in Dallas asked: Are you kidding me? Where is Cyrus Gray? He was the best running back in the Big 12 in the second half of the season!

DU: If he wasn't the best, he was close. You could make that argument for sure. But how do you explain his numbers early in the year? The win over Florida International aside, he averaged less than four yards a carry while getting double-digit touches against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech. But what about when the Aggies hit their three-game winning streak?

Gray accounted for a whopping 7 yards on 11 carries without a touchdown.

Here's the bottom line: There's no question that Gray was one of the league's best the second half of the year, but there's a reason he wasn't getting the touches early in the season: Christine Michael was better. Over that first six-game stretch, Michael had 558 yards to Gray's 195. When Michael went down with the broken leg, and Gray's workload increased significantly, he exceeded everyone's expectations.

However, you can't ignore half the season. That's entirely unfair to everyone else in the league. He still finished just seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards. The whole first half of the year, he wasn't a big factor. Accounting for the full picture of the season, that's about right. He was close to being in my top 25 again, but re-read my criteria.

"If I'm drafting players from the Big 12 to replay the 2010 season and I'm guaranteed that each player duplicates his 2010 performance, this is the order I would take them."

To just gloss over those first six games isn't fair. That said, Gray reached another level late in the year, and Aggies have a lot of reasons to get excited with him and Michael back on the field next year.

Andrew in St. Louis asked: On your Big 12 top 25 players list, you didn't even include linebacker Andrew Gachkar of Missouri on your honorable mention list. He finished the year with 84 tackles, 8.5 TFL, a sack, a couple picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 pass breakups. He was a senior leader and arguably the most important force on the conference's top defense. I think he makes a strong case for the top 25 over linebacker Travis Lewis.

DU: Yeah, that was my mistake. I think he was a bit of an oversight on my part. That's partially because he a) came out of nowhere and b) played so well late in the year. I started with a big list of guys, but Gachkar wasn't on it to start. He should have been, and he'd probably have been pretty close to cracking the top 25. He wouldn't have been on it, but he wouldn't have been far off.

Rob in Stillwater, Okla., asked: So... Why wasn't Justin Blackmon higher on your list? I feel like he exceed expectations and performed far better than anyone on the list. You could have at least left #2 empty in his honor.

DU: In my defense, I did exactly that on my list of the Big 12's most improved players in 2010.

Derek in St. Louis, Mo., asked: Where was Aldon Smith? The guy is gonna be a first-round pick, but he's not one of the top 25 players in the Big 12? Come on, Ubbs!

DU: It was in my criteria: Each player's draft stock wasn't considered at all. Smith's talent is through the roof, but his production wasn't there this year. The broken leg he suffered against San Diego State was a big part of that, and when he returned, he wasn't quite the same, but look at his numbers:
  • 4.5 sacks -- third on his own team, down from 11 as a freshman. Those also ranked 18th in the Big 12. (Note: I ranked him No. 18 on the preseason list)
  • 48 tackles
  • 10 tackles for loss (11th in the Big 12)
  • one forced fumble

I think Smith will have a good pro career, or he probably would have come back to the Big 12 and had a great junior year in 2011. But last year, perhaps through little to no fault of his own, the production didn't warrant inclusion on the list.

Brennan Huff asked: Dave, i'm a little concerned about your rankings of running backs, or rather, the lack thereof. Seems to me like you just dont give much love to the running backs across the conference on what has become a fairly consistent basis.

DU: I'd disagree with that. On my preseason list, I had five running backs, the most of any position. This year, there weren't very many guys in the league that defenses had to truly fear. Guys like Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu Jr. Cyrus Gray, Jay Finley and Rex Burkhead weren't far off the list, but they weren't quite good enough to deserve inclusion.

Tallying the Big 12 North's returning starters

January, 27, 2011
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God bless you, Phil Steele.

I wasn't planning to tally up the returning starters across the Big 12 until next week, but the college football guru put together a ranking of every team's total returning starters.

For better or worse, this number has quite a bit of impact on people's perceptions of teams entering 2011, so there's no doubt that each team's bottom line has a big influence heading into next year.

We'll kick if off with the Big 12 North. A star signifies that the team's starting quarterback will return.

1. Colorado - 17 starters* (9 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist)

Top returners: RB Rodney Stewart, QB Tyler Hansen, LB Jon Major, DB Terrel Smith

1. Missouri - 17 starters (9 offense, 6 defense, 2 specialists)

Top returners: WR T.J. Moe, TE Michael Egnew, LB Will Ebner, S Kenji Jackson

3. Kansas - 14 starters* (8 offense, 6 defense, 0 specialists)

Top returners: RB James Sims, WR Daymond Patterson, LB Steven Johnson, DB Isiah Barfield

3. Iowa State - 14 starters (5 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists)

Top returners: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, DB Leonard Johnson, DB Jeremy Reeves

5. Nebraska - 12 starters* (5 offense, 7 defense, 0 specialists)

Top returners: QB Taylor Martinez, LB Lavonte David, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Jared Crick

5. Kansas State - 12 starters (5 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist)

Top returners: DB David Garrett, DB Tysyn Hartman, DB Ty Zimmerman, WR/PR Tramaine Thompson

Are those numbers deceiving for any team on the list?

Any team have a high number of starters that could be overrated entering 2011?

Holiday Bowl: Three keys for Nebraska

December, 29, 2010
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1. Make life easy for Taylor Martinez. Martinez has completed just 58 percent of his passes in 2010 and struggled to complete passes and get comfortable in the pocket, especially against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. If the Huskers can get him some easy completions early on three-step-drop slants to a sure-handed guy such as the underutilized Mike McNeill or on screens to running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr., they can help get Martinez comfortable. The loss to Oklahoma made it clear that Nebraska will struggle if the passing game consists of Martinez dropping back deep and relying on receivers such as Brandon Kinnie to get open and make big plays down the field. If the Huskers can manage an early lead and be afforded the luxury of passing only when they want to -- see the early season Huskers -- this gets a lot simpler.

2. Inflict déjà vu on Jake Locker. Hit him early with a variety of blitzes. Force him into mistakes. I'd be shocked if Locker has another unthinkable 4-for-20 day like he did in September, but the only quarterback who had what could be considered legitimate success against Nebraska's secondary was Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill all had below-average outings at best, and all three should be among the Big 12's best passers in 2011.

3. Stuff the run, especially early. Washington actually ran the ball pretty effectively against Nebraska, especially early in that game, and if Nebraska's front seven can slow that down and make the Huskies a one-dimensional offense, forcing Locker into a bad day will be quite a bit easier. The game got lopsided quickly in the second half and prevented Washington from sticking to the running game. Washington still managed 175 yards on 39 carries for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and the Huskies will try to recreate what worked against a tough defense that has, at times, been susceptible to the run. If Washington does that, the Huskies could make a game of it. If not, expect another Nebraska blowout.
No, Washington isn't joining the Big Ten or Big 12. It just seems a bit like it to the Huskers. Nebraska will play its second of three meetings with the Huskies in a 12-month span on Wednesday night. The Huskers made the trek to Seattle in September and beat the Huskies 56-21 behind a 383-yard rushing day that saw Roy Helu Jr., Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead all top 100 yards. Good luck finding a team who loses with those kind of numbers. Nebraska didn't come close. So what about this time?

WHO TO WATCH: Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Locker's descent down the 2011 draft board began with nothing less than a nightmare outing against Nebraska's secondary, which finished the season as one of the nation's most fearsome. Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard are both certified lockdown defenders, and Locker managed to complete just 4-of-20 passes against the Huskers. After 13 games, they're one of just three defenses in the country who prevented opposing quarterbacks from completing more than 50 percent of their passes. Along the way, they ruined an impressive number of impressive passers' days. So what happens this time? There isn't a lot of reason to believe a banged-up Locker will do much better, but you never know. If he has a day like he did back in Seattle in September, this one will be over early. If he learns from those experiences and looks like the prototype NFL quarterback most pegged him to be, it might be closer than the two-touchdown line set on the rematch.

WHAT TO WATCH: Martinez's mobility. The freshman quarterback began the season as one of college football's most electric talents, but since a career-high 241-yard, four-touchdown rushing night in a lopsided road win against Kansas State on Oct. 7, Martinez hasn't reached the end zone and has run for more than 100 yards just once. He suffered an ankle injury against Missouri and never looked as fast or elusive as he did during nonconference play or against Kansas State. He should, in theory, be near 100 percent when the Huskers take the field, but there's no guarantee. His play against Washington will establish plenty of momentum -- good or bad -- heading into 2011.

WHY WATCH: The snide comments are a little too easy with this one. "We've already seen this episode. Late December is when reruns air, right? etc, etc." September's rout aside, these are two different teams than the ones that met back in Seattle. Martinez didn't quite make the progress as a passer as coaches hoped he would, but he could have another special performance in store with a month to prepare. The same goes for Locker, who'll get his second swing at the Blackshirts. Nebraska played pretty average football down the stretch after playing the part of national title contender early in the year. The Huskers lost two of their three final games and struggled on offense against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, both losses and Martinez's last two starts. After being blown out by three ranked teams in the middle of the season, the Huskies closed with three wins, including two on the road in conference play.

PREDICTION: Nebraska 34, Washington 13. Locker does well with an early set of scripted plays via coach and playcaller Steve Sarkisian, but the Blackshirts take over once the game hits a more natural flow.

Nebraska's offense needs a spark

December, 4, 2010
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nebraska hasn't scored in the second half, and has just over 60 yards of offense since halftime. The Huskers don't need a lot, but they'll have to find something to knock off the Sooners.

Rex Burkhead looks like the most likely source. He has run hard the entire night and has been getting more snaps in the Wildcat package after Taylor Martinez has struggled through the air for most of the night.

It's been a physical second half, but if the Huskers can't find a big play somewhere, it'll be another championship game heartbreak, considering they led 17-0 early on in tonight's game.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ryan Broyles thought he made Oklahoma's biggest play of the game, but Nebraska safety Courtney Osborne's knee disagreed.

Osborne hauled in an easy interception and returned it to the 11-yard line, but Broyles stripped it and recovered possession as both players went to the ground. Officials ruled he had possession, but the call was reversed after a review.

That gave way to Rex Burkhead, who threw his third touchdown pass in two weeks -- this one to Kyler Reed -- that had the Huskers on top big early in the second quarter.

Oklahoma answered with a touchdown on its next drive, though, and trails 17-7.

The pass from Burkhead was much-needed for Nebraska, whose quarterback, Taylor Martinez, had yet to complete a pass in four tries through the first quarter.

The Huskers' early lead should shift the entire game. Oklahoma won't abandon its run game, but it will look to pass a bit more than it did in the first quarter. Against the best secondary in the Big 12 -- and possibly the country -- that could be a dangerous proposition.

Not so much for the Sooners, who answered with a 49-yard bomb down the middle of the field to Kenny Stills. That's definitely a good sign for the Sooners, but a rare big play given up by the Blackshirts.

I'd be surprised if the Sooners hit another big play like that without breaking a tackle or benefiting from a miscommunication from the Huskers' secondary.

Helu puts Huskers on top early

December, 4, 2010
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nebraska fans had to feel a little uneasy when they saw running back Roy Helu Jr. limp off the field on the Huskers first possession. He wasn't down long, but it gave cause for concern.

Or not.

After stopping Oklahoma on a fourth down try, Helu took the first play of the Huskers' next drive 66 yards for a touchdown to put them ahead 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

It was reminiscent of the opening play against Missouri earlier this year, when Helu finished with 307 yards rushing and had three long touchdown runs. He won't hit 300 yards today, but that run was as important as any this year, establishing the early momentum in favor of the Huskers.

Helu is as important as any third of the Huskers' running attack, but he might have had the fewest headlines heading into today's game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez's injury has been of particular concern, and Rex Burkhead's performance last week with 101 yards, a rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns earned plenty of attention.

Win or lose for the Huskers, that won't be the case after this one.

Lunch links: Gundy weighs in on title game

December, 2, 2010
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Jukebox! I'm gonna put seven dollars worth of Hoobastank in it, and I'm coming back to hang with you bros.

What to watch in the Big 12 Championship

December, 2, 2010
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1. Nebraska's quarterback, but not necessarily its starter. Taylor Martinez didn't play last week, suffering through a sprained right ankle and turf toe on his right foot. Cody Green played well against Colorado, which has two of the most talented corners in the Big 12, but there's no doubt Martinez gives Nebraska an offensive edge. Martinez had the Huskers on a record pace earlier in the year. Expect Bo Pelini to ride his hot hand if Martinez is healthy, but there's nothing saying either of the quarterbacks will get hot. In that case, look for lots of Wildcat with Rex Burkhead taking the snaps.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Taylor Martinez
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWill Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez be on the field for the Big 12 title game or watching from the sideline?
2. Turnover margin. You've read about Landry Jones rough night in Lincoln last year, and from time to time, he's been susceptible to turning the ball over this year, too. If Oklahoma's going to win, it can't turn the ball over. This should be a tight, low-scoring game just like last year, and turnovers are never more crucial than in games like that. The same goes for Nebraska and its fumbles. The Huskers have 37 fumbles, more than any team in college football, though they've lost just 12 of them.

3. The postgame scene: If Oklahoma wins, this point is moot (although maybe not). If Nebraska wins, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe will hand the Huskers the Big 12 Championship trophy and Nebraska will wave goodbye on its way to the Big Ten. If Beebe takes the microphone, however briefly, expect boos from the Nebraska fans.

4. The penalty distribution. There's no avoiding this one. If it's slanted, it's going to be a story, for better or worse. To be clear, I don't think any shenanigans are going on, but you can bet you'll be hearing about it for a long time if the gap between Oklahoma's flags and Nebraska's is wide, or key calls late in the game go against the Huskers.

5. Extracurricular activities. Last week, after nearly every Nebraska penalty, cameras flipped to a shot of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. Unlike against Texas A&M, he was on his best behavior, making good on his word that he wouldn't be as animated as he was against the Aggies. Nebraska was firmly in control of that one, but this week against Oklahoma should be noticeably more intense. Warranted or not, cameras will be on Pelini once again this week.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 13

November, 28, 2010
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Nebraska can get it done on offense even without Taylor Martinez. Lost in all the discussion about trophies and e-mails was a really good performance from Nebraska’s offense. There wasn’t much finesse to it, but Nebraska racked up 407 yards of offense and converted 11 of 17 third downs. Cody Green did what he had to, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead got it done on the ground. That’s a good sign for the Huskers, who will have to score a decent amount of points to win the Big 12 title next week. It may have only come against Colorado, but those 45 points are 14 more than the Huskers have scored in five games, and they did it without Martinez. That’s nothing but encouraging.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Brandon Kinnie and Roy Helu Jr.
Bruce Thorson/US PRESSWIRENebraska will need the offensive talents of Brandon Kinnie, left, and Roy Helu Jr. against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
The Big 12 might get two BCS bids after all. Thanks to Boise State’s loss, a second BCS bid is definitely in play. Missouri, at 10-2, might sneak into the Orange Bowl, but we'll see how the rest of the country shakes out in the weeks to come. That will decide plenty. Getting two teams in looked like a long shot for the past few weeks, but sometimes we forget how drastically things can shift with one loss to a team at the top of the polls.

Turnover on Texas’ staff is a near certainty. Mack Brown has been forthcoming about his displeasure with his coaching staff all season, and he’ll begin his evaluation period on Monday. This was a historically bad season for the Longhorns for a handful of reasons, and when Brown figures out which of those reasons can be fixed with new coaches, expect him to make a move.

Oklahoma really can win on the road. That was the same Oklahoma offense that’s been patrolling Norman the past two years, but the Sooners were finally able to unleash it on the road when they needed it. After getting some practice at Baylor last week, the Sooners shut plenty of folks up in the process — myself included. “To silence all the doubters, ooooh, I’m gonna have to enjoy this one for a day and a half, maybe. That’s the longest I’ll ever enjoy a victory,” said linebacker Travis Lewis. “It’s sweet to silence the doubters, play like we’re capable of playing … Their fans are some of the biggest mess-talkers I know, and I’m one of the biggest mess-talkers I know. And they outdid me by 10. Coming into this environment and getting a win, it’s huge.”

It’s time to get ready for a Big 12 title game unlike any other. As much as Nebraska wanted to beat Texas this year, it wants to win the Big 12 title even more. The Huskers and their fans will be dreaming of watching commissioner Dan Beebe hand over the Big 12 Championship trophy, and they’ll no doubt show up to Dallas in force, hoping to do anything they can on Saturday to help. Cowboys Stadium is going to get loud. With a few exceptions, perhaps, Oklahoma will probably have most of the remaining Big 12 fan bases behind them, but this should be a memorable game and atmosphere, preceded by plenty of nostalgia.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 28, 2010
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Here are five helmet stickers for a job well done this week. All outstanding performances. It wasn't too difficult to pick this week. They all are extremely deserving.

Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: Gray broke two of the biggest plays in Texas A&M’s season, scoring on runs of 84 and 48 yards as part of a 223-yard day on the ground. No Aggies running back has ever run for more on the Longhorns, and Texas A&M’s 24-17 win guaranteed a losing record for the rival Longhorns for the first time since 1997.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska: Burkhead took his share of snaps at quarterback, but usually his role is a runner in that situation. Not against Colorado. Burkhead tossed a pair of touchdown passes for a quarterback rating of 556, and also ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in Nebraska’s 45-17 win over Colorado.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State: Who cares if it was against North Texas? Only one player (Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. versus Missouri) has had a better rushing day this season than Thomas, who pounded a huge stamp on the Wildcats regular-season finale with a 270-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 49-41 win over the Mean Green.

Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech: In his last game at Jones AT&T Stadium, Potts had one of his best performances in a 35-20 win over Houston. He completed 32 of 46 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns. His big day pushed him over 3,000 yards for the year too. That gave the Red Raiders a 3,000-yard passer for the 11th consecutive season.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones hit a pair of long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to give Oklahoma a 47-41 win over Oklahoma State, and passed for 468 yards and four touchdowns on 37-of-62 passing. Those attempts seem high until Oklahoma's 107 plays from scrimmage are also considered. Here's how Jones and the Sooners did it. Those 468 yards also tied Sam Bradford for a school record.

Huskers put the Big 12 North on ice

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
5:37
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Brandon Kinnie caught his second touchdown pass of the day, this one from Cody Green, and the Huskers added another on the next possession to put Nebraska up 31-3 early in the third quarter.

Rex Burkhead, a running back, threw his second touchdown pass of the day to take the four-touchdown lead.

That means the Buffaloes won't be able to lean heavily on running back Rodney Stewart, their best offensive weapon.

He'll still get plenty of touches, but quarterback Cody Hawkins is going to have to bring back the Buffs. The chances of that happening: slim.

Hawkins is 1-of-11 today, and his only completion came on a 26-yard pass on a pitch-and-passback trick play that spurred Colorado's only scoring drive.

That's no surprise against a Nebraska pass defense that entered today's game ranked No. 2. DeJon Gomes picked off Hawkins second pass of the third quarter, and Eric Hagg picked off another on his first of the next drive.

Good luck finding a team that wins a game--or is even in a game--while completing more passes to the opposing secondary than their own team.

Also notable: Colorado senior receiver Scotty McKnight has caught a pass in every game of his career, a streak of 48 consecutive games. He has been held without a catch so far today.

Nebraska fans, it's probably safe to stop worrying about having to cancel your hotel rooms in Dallas. Instead, tune into Bedlam (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) on Saturday night to learn who you'll see in Cowboys Stadium next week.

Rex Burkhead doing it all for Huskers

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
5:00
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Rex Burkhead was already nearing 100 yards rushing in the final minute of the first half. On a first down, the Huskers figured they'd have the former high school quarterback try his hand and throw a pass.

The faith paid off, and after catching a pitch from quarterback Cody Green, Burkhead hit receiver Brandon Kinnie on a pretty pass down the right sideline for a 26-yard touchdown to put Nebraska up 17-3 late in the first half. That has Nebraska looking like it's on its way to a second consecutive Big 12 title game appearance.

"We're making plays, they're making plays, but this game is not over," Colorado coach Brian Cabral told ESPN's Jeannine Edwards on his way to the locker room for halftime.

Colorado managed just 82 total yards against the Blackshirts, compared to Nebraska's 219.

Nebraska also controls the time of possession by more than 10 minutes, with 14 first downs to Colorado's four.

Former Husker Ndamukong Suh, now an NFL rookie after the Detroit Lions selected him with the No. 2 pick in April's NFL Draft, is in Lincoln to see his No. 93 jersey retired at halftime of today's game.

Burkhead carrying the Huskers

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
4:20
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Nebraska's game plan on its first touchdown drive seemed pretty simple: When in doubt (or not in doubt), get the ball to Rex Burkhead.

The Huskers running back finished off the drive with a two-yard run up the middle to put Nebraska up 10-0.

Nobody deserved it more. The drive went 72 yards in nine plays. Burkhead accounted for 37 of those yards on six runs and a catch for no gain that finished with a 15-yard face mask penalty that was loudly applauded by the fans at Memorial Stadium.

Before the drive began, Burkhead called for fair catch on a punt return before being tackled after fielding the punt, but no flag was thrown.

The Huskers' early lead means they can settle in and keep pounding it with Burkhead, complimented by runs by Roy Helu Jr. and Cody Green, and I'd expect them to do exactly that.

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