Big 12: South Division

Big 12 spectators guide, Week 6

October, 7, 2009
10/07/09
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here’s a quick spectator’s guide for this weekend’s games. A ranking of four stars indicates absolutely, positively must-see football. Three-star games are definitely worth an extensive investment in time, although you can be forgiven if you turn the station during commercial breaks or make a queso break for a few minutes. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates, but little more. And one-star games mean you might be better off taking care of some honey-dos around the house.

Check out this list and plan your Saturday schedule accordingly. All times are for Saturday games unless otherwise noted.

Four-star game

Nebraska at Missouri (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET Thursday): This one should be an intriguing matchup between two teams that will be in the hunt for the North Division's championship at the end of the season. We'll have the matchup between young quarterbacks Zac Lee of Nebraska and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri, who almost attended Nebraska before opting to stay in his home state. Two aggressive defenses will be on display with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon able to show their stuff to a national audience. This one could hinge on expected nasty weather, which might give the Cornhuskers an edge because of their ground game keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Roy Helu Jr. Oh, and one other thing: These two teams don't like each other -- particularly after Missouri's recent 93-23 margin of victory the past two seasons.

Three-star game

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M (noon): I know, I know. This one doesn't seem to be that attractive, does it? I think it does if you look closely for a couple of key reasons. If Oklahoma State is really, truly a South Division contender, the Cowboys need to take care of business in hostile road games like this one at Kyle Field. OSU is untested on the road after playing its first four games at home. It needs a good showing in this game to prove the early hype is legitimate. OSU has shown at times it deserves it -- like during the Georgia game. But the loss to Houston exhibited many of the questions that have dogged the program in the past. This game will be interesting for the Aggies because they assuredly can't play as badly as they did last week against Arkansas, can they? After a strong 10-minute spurt to start the game, the Aggies collapsed under the Razorbacks' avalanche of points. A&M's collection of offensive talent could prove troublesome to Oklahoma State, particularly if injuries continue to dog the Cowboys and they can get Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael going in the running game. This game might turn out being more entertaining than we think, particularly if the Aggies can take advantage of the crowd to build some early momentum and confidence.

Two-star games

Iowa State at Kansas (12:30 p.m.): This matchup last season turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of the season as Iowa State jumped to a 20-0 halftime lead before Kansas stormed back for a wild 35-33 victory. I wouldn't expect this one to be nearly as close as the Jayhawks are intent on proving they are legitimate North Division challengers. Their opening Big 12 test won't be nearly as daunting as either Nebraska or Missouri will face this week, but it will be interesting to see how Kansas plays coming off a bye. Its defense struggled early against Southern Mississippi before sealing the comeback with a strong fourth-quarter outing. It'll need to continue that defensive momentum against Austen Arnaud and Co. Both teams' top rushing threats -- Iowa State's Alexander Robinson and Kansas' Jake Sharp -- have been dinged up. Both likely will play in what should be an interesting matchup.

Baylor at Oklahoma (ABC, 3:30 p.m.): This game could hinge on the play of backup quarterbacks as Baylor will start third-stringer Nick Florence or second-stringer Blake Szymanski in place of Robert Griffin. The Sooners might end up playing Landry Jones, although Sam Bradford was making noise about playing early in the week. If Bradford plays, it boosts interest in this game immeasurably. The Sooners have won all 17 previous games in this series and desperately need a victory on Saturday to boost confidence going into the game against Texas next week. They need to build some confidence in their running game and also look for some productive receivers who can stretch defenses. Baylor played well under Florence last week, but will be challenged by an Oklahoma defense still stinging from late collapses in a pair of one-point losses to BYU and Miami. In the Sooners' last 10 losses, on four occasions they've dropped the game by one point. I wouldn't expect that to be a concern Saturday afternoon.

Kansas State at Texas Tech (7 p.m.): Mike Leach could start his first backup quarterback in his history with the program if Taylor Potts is idled after last week's concussion. If he can't play, Steven "Sticks" Sheffield will return to lead the Red Raiders, who also will have starting guard Brandon Carter back in the lineup. The Tech line draws much confidence from Carter's presence and really missed him last week, as seen by the five sacks allowed. They will be facing an underrated Kansas State defense that ranks among the top 40 in all four major defensive statistical categories -- rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. For good measure, the Wildcats rank No. 7 nationally in pass defense and will test whoever starts at quarterback for the Red Raiders. The Wildcats will dictate the tempo of the game with starting quarterback Grant Gregory. KSU ranks third nationally in time of possession, averaging 35 minutes, 29 seconds per game. Look for wily KSU coach Bill Snyder to try to keep the ball away from Tech's offense. It will be his best chance at an upset.

Colorado at Texas (ESPN, 7:15 p.m.): This one could get ugly quickly as the Longhorns look for a final tune-up before the Oklahoma game next week. They run into a struggling Colorado program that ranks 102nd or lower in six national statistical categories, including total defense, pass efficiency defense, rushing defense and rushing. After a week off, Colt McCoy will be intent on a quicker start than in his first four games this season. Texas' surging offense should roll up some huge numbers considering it leads the nation in scoring, ranks fourth in total offense and ninth in passing. Mack Brown hasn't forgotten about losing the 2001 Big 12 title game to Gary Barnett and the Buffaloes. Since then, the Longhorns have won all four games in the series by an average margin of 35 points, rolling up 31, 42, 70 and 38 points.

Big 12 lunch links: Stoops says that Wilson doesn't deserve blame

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
12:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


There are a bunch of coaches' press conferences coming up in a few minutes. I'm expecting -- like always -- for some news to break.

But before then, here are some of the Big 12's best lunchtime links. It seems that the blame game was a huge topic this morning.
  • The Oklahoman’s Jake Trotter reports that Bob Stoops jumped in front of the bus for embattled offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
  • The Bryan Eagle’s Robert Cessna writes that Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson shouldn’t be blamed for the Aggies’ loss against Arkansas last week.
  • Standout offensive lineman Brandon Carter will be back in Texas Tech’s lineup Saturday, but quarterback Taylor Potts is questionable, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams.
  • The Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten writes about Mike Gundy’s most challenging season as a coach.
  • The Boulder Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo calculates that the cost of getting rid of embattled Colorado coach Dan Hawkins would be at least $3 million -- plus the cost of hiring his replacement.
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Chris Dufresne ranks Oklahoma State among his five most overrated teams. And College Football News’ Pete Fiutak calls the Cowboys one of the six biggest disappointments of the season.
  • Want a sign of Todd Reesing’s growing respect among Kansas fans? The Lawrence Journal-World’s Mark Fagan reports that one family has named their newborn daughter Reesing in the senior quarterback’s honor.
  • The Omaha World-Herald’s Lee Barfknecht opines about the early scheduling sizzle and late fizzle for the Big 12.
  • Missouri players are happy to be the underdog in Thursday’s pivotal game against Nebraska, the Columbia Tribune’s Dave Matter reports.
  • Texas players have refocused heading into their October scheduling gauntlet, San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle beat writer Mike Finger writes.

Few Big 12 backup QBs have much experience

October, 2, 2009
10/02/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Backup quarterbacks already played a big part in Big 12 play before October arrived.

Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was idled with a sprained shoulder, paving the way for Landry Jones to take over for the Sooners for the last two games. And a season-ending knee injury for Baylor’s Robert Griffin last week has 2007 Baylor starter Blake Szymanski inserted back in the lineup – if he can overcome his own shoulder injury sustained in the same game in which Griffin went down.

Here’s a look at the backup quarterback situations around the Big 12 heading into this week’s games.

Ready to roll:

Kansas State: Behind starter Carson Coffman, the Wildcats have Grant Gregory, a fifth-year senior transfer from South Florida who has seen action in three games for KSU so far this season, rushing for 92 yards and passing for 21 yards. Gregory battled Matt Grothe for the starting job at South Florida and played in 21 games earlier in his career for the Bulls.

Has the hype:

Kansas: If Todd Reesing were sidelined, Kansas coach Mark Mangino finally feels comfortable enough to turn to redshirt freshman Kale Pick, who was Kansas’ offensive scout team player of the year last season. Pick is an adept runner who rushed for 47 yards against Northern Colorado, 87 yards against UTEP and an 18-yard scamper against Duke already this season. And Mangino could always turn to Kerry Meier, although he’s much more valuable now playing every down as a wide receiver.

Nebraska: Cody Green came into the Nebraska program with hype that he could see sizable playing time this season as a freshman. He graduated from high school early and arrived in the spring, but a hip injury set him back. But finally healthy, he’s shown flashes of brilliance early in his career. Green broke a 49-yard run on his first college carry and a 24-yard touchdown run last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s also showing maturity as a passer after completing 12 of 17 passes in mop-up time in three games for the Cornhuskers.

Texas: Garrett Gilbert was the most heralded quarterback prospect in the nation after he was selected as the Gatorade and Parade national player of the year last season in high school. Mack Brown has wasted little time getting him game action as Gilbert has completed 11 of 14 passes for 110 yards in three games this season. And his confidence in the offense has grown in each game he’s played.

Texas A&M: Ryan Tannehill is listed as Jerrod Johnson’s backup and would likely be installed if Johnson was sidelined for a long period of time. But Tannehill’s first focus in the Aggies’ offense now is as a wide receiver where he’s produced 11 catches for a team-leading 201 receiving yards. But Tannehill aspires to play quarterback and got the first snaps at the position in the blowout victory over UAB last week when Johnson left the game. He waged a closer battle than expected this spring before Johnson claimed the starting job.

Who knows?

Baylor: With Griffin’s injury, Szymanski takes over. He’s more tested than most backups, considering he threw for a school-record 2,844 passing yards during his season as a starter in 2007 and accounted for 27 career touchdown passes in 22 college games. But behind him is freshman Nick Florence, whose experience consists of one college game -- last week against Northwestern State. If Szymanski isn’t ready to go Saturday night against Kent State, Florence would be entrusted with the starting job.

Colorado: Behind starter Cody Hawkins, the Buffaloes currently have rangy freshman Seth Lobato listed as his backup. They might be in better shape if Tyler Hansen chose to be available. But Hansen, who orchestrated a victory over Kansas State last season as a freshman, has stated he wants to redshirt this season unless there’s a season-ending injury for Hawkins.

Iowa State: Austen Arnaud is one of the most durable starters in the league. But behind him, Paul Rhoads has gotten freshman backup Jerome Tiller playing time in the first three 2009 games. Tiller showed flashes in spring practice, but still would be an inexperienced alternative.

Missouri: Blaine Gabbert is entrenched as the starter. Jimmy Costello has assumed the backup position and has played in two games this season with scant action in garbage time. Coaches like his live arm and feel for the Missouri offense, despite his lack of game experience.

Oklahoma: After Bradford’s injury, Jones was immediately thrust into the lineup and he’s played well, including a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. Freshman Drew Allen is the backup behind him, but coach Bob Stoops has avoided playing him yet with hopes of preserving a redshirt season if Bradford can return to the starting lineup quickly.

Oklahoma State: Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden staged a tight battle to back up Zac Robinson throughout preseason practice. Cate, a redshirt junior, won the No. 2 job but struggled in brief early playing time this season. He was outplayed last week by Weeden, a 26-year-old former minor-league baseball pitcher who rifled a pair of garbage-time touchdown passes against Grambling last week. But neither has much actual game experience with Cate playing in six career games and Weeden in two games.

Texas Tech: Behind Taylor Potts, the Red Raiders have junior Steven Sheffield, who passed for 52 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Rice in the only live action for a Tech backup quarterback this season. Sheffield would be an inexperienced alternative if Potts can’t play.

Who's hot and who's not across the Big 12

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
5:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look at some of the curious streaks heading into this weekend's Big 12 games.

Who's hot:

Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway: He notched three touchdowns among his seven carries against Northwestern State.

Who's not:

Missouri's running game: Take away a 42-yard run by Derrick Washington and the Tigers produced 36 rushing yards on 33 carries against a Nevada defense that came into the game ranked 99th nationally in rush defense. The Tigers are averaging 3.8 yards per carry this season -- down from 5.3 yards per carry last season.

Who's hot:

Kansas WR Kerry Meier: He produced a career-high 141 receiving yards last week against Southern Mississippi. It marked the fourth time in his last six games that Meier has produced at least 100 receiving yards.

Who's not:

Kansas WR Kerry Meier: His incompletion on a gadget play last week snapped his string of 14 consecutive completions that stretched since the Baylor game in 2007.

Who's hot:

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers can claim the mythical championship of the Sun Belt Conference after going 3-0 against opponents from there earlier this season. The Cornhuskers outscored FAU, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette by a combined margin of 142-12, allowing only one touchdown in those three games.

Who's not:

Kansas State: The Wildcats have been a different team against FBS and FCS opposition. In victories over FCS teams Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech, the Wildcats outscored opponents 70-24. But against FBS teams UCLA and Louisiana-Lafayette were outscored 40-24 in two losses.

Who's hot:

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert: He's thrown 11 touchdowns against no interceptions to lead the Tigers to a 4-0 start. Gabbert has gone his first 144 passing attempts without an interception, including 131 this season.

Who's not:

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy: He's thrown interceptions in four straight games and has been picked off five times in his first 145 attempts this season. That compares with eight interceptions in 433 attempts last season.

Who's hot:

Oklahoma State K Quinn Sharp: Of his 18 kickoffs this season, 16 have resulted in touchbacks. Last season, the Cowboys produced 13 touchbacks on 95 kickoffs that were attempted.

Who's not:

Texas A&M's special teams: The Aggies misplayed an onside kick on the opening kickoff and also fumbled a punt return last week against UAB. The Aggies can't afford to do that against Arkansas and expect to win on Saturday.

Who's absolutely sizzling:

Texas run defense: Texas' defense has allowed just three yards rushing on their opponents last 43 carries over the past two games.

Who's cold, cold, cold:

Texas Tech's late running game: Against Houston, the Red Raiders produced 148 yards on 16 carries in the second and third quarters -- an average of 9.3 yards per carry. In the pivotal fourth quarter against the Cougars, the Red Raiders were plundered after rushing for 21 yards on six carries -- an average of 3.5 yards per carry.

What to watch in the Big 12, Week 5

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
7:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are 10 things to watch for in Big 12 games this weekend:

1. Will Sam Bradford play or not? Oklahoma didn’t look like it needed Bradford in back-to-back victories over Idaho State and Tulsa. A trip to Land Shark Stadium Saturday night against Miami might be different. The Sooners offense hummed when Landry Jones threw for a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. It might be in for a more challenging game against Miami, which will be looking to bounce back after the its struggles last week at Virginia Tech.

2. Oklahoma’s defensive dominance: The Sooners enter the game with a scoreless streak of 123 minutes, 3 seconds after posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. The unit is still haunted by the late touchdown it allowed in the opener against BYU that ended up being the difference in that loss. Since then, the Sooners have forced nearly as many punts (19) as first downs allowed (22), and allowed opponents a scant 2.39 yards per snap. Miami, however, will be a different challenge with Jacory Harris, Graig Cooper, Javarris James and Leonard Hankerson all ready.

3. Texas A&M’s first big test: The Aggies have emerged as one of the nation’s biggest statistical surprises as they rank among the top seven teams nationally in rushing, passing, total yards and scoring and lead the nation in sacks. Those feats have all been accomplished against a tissue-soft schedule that hasn’t provided a true test yet. That will all change Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium as Arkansas and massive quarterback Ryan Mallett will challenge A&M in ways it hasn't seen yet this season.

4. Jerrod Johnson: The Aggies’ junior quarterback has shown vast growth since last season as he ranks third in the nation in total offense and is coming off a record game where he accounted for six touchdowns against UAB. Johnson has rushed for four touchdowns, passed for nine touchdowns and yet to be intercepted in 111 attempts this season. Arkansas will be his first BCS conference opponent of the season, but the Razorbacks have struggled against the pass. It could be more of the same for them against Johnson, too.

5. Alexander Robinson’s amazing recent rushing streak: Robinson’s cutback running has been a key to Iowa State’s 3-1 start as he’s rushed for 100 yards in his last three games -- the first Iowa State player to accomplish that feat since Ennis Haywood rushed for at least 100 yards in his first four games of the 2000 season. Robinson has provided some nice balance to what was expected to be a pass-heavy attack. His production will be pivotal as the Cyclones attempt to take a big step toward getting closer to bowl eligibility against Kansas State on Saturday.

6. Paul Rhoads vs. Bill Snyder: The conference’s two new coaches this season have a wide difference in coaching game experience as Kansas State’s Bill Snyder will be directing the Wildcats in his 209th career game and Paul Rhoads will be coaching Iowa State in his fourth. There’s some history between these two as Snyder used to recruit the high schools where Rhoads’ father, Cecil, worked during Rhoads' Hall of Fame career as a high school coach in Iowa. It will be interesting to see if Snyder’s experience provides him an edge in this matchup.

7. “The Dysfunctional Bowl:” Which coach has faced more off-the-field headlines this weekend? Is it Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team that dropped a disappointing loss at Houston, soon followed by the indefinite suspension of team captain Brandon Carter and Leach's banning of his team’s tweeting privileges after several uncomplimentary remarks became widely known. Or is it New Mexico’s Mike Locksley, who has received verbal and written reprimands from his superiors at New Mexico after splitting the upper lip of receivers coach J.B. Gerald after an altercation where a police report was filed. And that’s on top of an 0-4 start for the Lobos. It’s obvious that playing the game will be a relief for both coaches.

8. Texas Tech’s emerging running game: The Red Raiders appeared to have taken control of the game against Houston behind a bruising running game, keyed by a career night by Baron Batch, who rushed for a career-best 114 yards last week. Tech inexplicably got away from running the ball late in the Houston game and that switch might have cost them the game after the Red Raiders appeared to have dictated tempo during the middle of the game. They will have another chance Saturday against New Mexico, which ranks 111th in rushing defense and allowed 245 rushing yards to Texas A&M and 298 to Air Force earlier this season. The Red Raiders won’t run for that much, but they should be able to control the trenches against the Lobos, leading to a big game rushing if they want it.

9. Can Colorado build on its first 2009 victory? The Buffaloes are coming off a bye week after their triumph over Wyoming that turned some of Dan Hawkins’ self-described “conflama” that had dogged his program after two losses to start the season. His team will be facing a tough Thursday night challenge against West Virginia, which blew a fourth-quarter lead in the turnover-marred loss at Auburn. Colorado is a huge underdog in this game and will need a big effort to keep the game from getting away like earlier nationally televised losses to Colorado State and Toledo.

10. Baylor’s injury-plagued quarterbacks: Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury last week against Northwestern State. His backup, Blake Szymanski, bruised his shoulder later in the game and is listed as day to day. Szymanski will try to keep Baylor’s momentum going against Kent State, if he’s healthy. But if he can’t play, freshman Nick Florence will make the first start of his career against the Golden Flashes. Baylor’s bowl hopes -- so bright after their upset victory over Wake Forest to start the season -- have never looked more evanescent since Griffin’s injury.

Big 12 internal affairs: Buffs changing to more athletic secondary

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
6:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look at some of the under-the-radar topics that people are talking about across the Big 12:
  • Colorado coaches are hopeful the insertion of cornerback Ben Burney into the lineup at strong safety with cornerbacks Cha'pelle Brown and Jimmy Smith will provide the Buffaloes with a more athletic secondary that will be more productive as it prepares for the Big 12’s high-powered passing attacks. The retooled group will get its first big test Thursday night when it challenges West Virginia’s talented pitch-and-catch tandem of quarterback Jarrett Brown and receiver Jock Sanders.
  • The versatility of Texas’ offense was shown against UTEP when the Longhorns produced 300 rushing and passing yards for only the second time in school history. The only other time came against Houston in 1990. It showed the versatility and depth of Texas’ running and passing offense. The Longhorns’ ability to effectively do both was what UTEP coach Mike Price was raving about after the game -- shortly after he called Texas the best team in the country.
  • It might be time for Harris Interactive Poll voters to take a sobriety test after their first poll results were released this week. Is it my imagination, or could you think of a less-likely team to receive votes in a national poll than Kansas State, which is tied for 42nd in the most recent Harris poll with two points? Yes, that would be the same Kansas State that has yet to beat an FBS opponent this season with its only victories over FCS teams Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.
  • Concern for Kansas’ offensive line remains the Jayhawks’ most worrisome problem during their week off. The Jayhawks allowed five sacks of Todd Reesing against Southern Mississippi. Considering Reesing’s slight size, his health could be in risk unless the Jayhawks improve their pass-blocking tendencies pronto. But the return of Jake Sharp to the starting lineup could improve some of the blitz pickups by Kansas’ running backs.
  • Nebraska’s pass-rushing packages are rounding into shape after they notched two sacks against Louisiana-Lafayette -- the first sacks against quarterback Chris Masson this season. After being shut out in the season opener, the Cornhuskers have rebounded to notch 10 sacks over the last three weeks. Most impressively, nine different players have shared in that largesse of sacks.
  • The loss of top Iowa State pass rusher Rashawn Parker with a season-ending knee injury could have some serious consequences for the Cyclones. Parker had provided the most consistent pass-rushing threat and will be missed during the rest of the season. His replacement will be sophomore Patrick Neal, a converted tight end who snagged a touchdown grab last season against Missouri.
  • Oklahoma State’s offensive line showed some continuity against Grambling, playing with the same group as it had last week. It marked the first time this season that the Cowboys have started the same five players along the offensive front in back-to-back weeks.
  • One underrated impressive trend for Texas A&M in their blowout victory over UAB was that the Aggies were penalized only three times. That effort came after the Aggies came into the game leading the nation with 30 penalties in their first two games. A&M coaches made a special efforts in game preparations last week to limit mental mistakes. The results were seen in the Aggies’ clean performance over the Blazers.

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