Big 12: Tyrod Taylor
1. Do you think the people away from home will be pretty cool? Texas and Nebraska didn't need great play from their quarterbacks to win their first two games. They might need it on Saturday, from first-year starters Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Martinez making their first starts on the road.
2. The next piece of the Jigsaw Jayhawks. Kansas visited its best and worst selves through two games this year, losing to North Dakota State before beating the defending ACC champs, Georgia Tech. What will we see from them in their first road game, a nationally televised game against Southern Miss on Friday night?
3. Yes, as of right now, TCU is the highest ranked team in Texas. Baylor will be making their first road trip this weekend, too, but they're big underdogs to in-state rivals up I-35, TCU. An upset or a close loss might make a few more people pay attention to the Bears, who have a great chance to qualify for a bowl game this year.
4. Gettis and Rutland Islands prepare for future visitors. Missouri's secondary has been one of the conference's best so far this year after being one of its worst last year, even if it has come against a first-year starter at Illinois and an FCS team. Can they keep it up, especially corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who have thus far shown plenty of improvement? They'll face tougher offenses later, but San Diego State has shown they can move the ball through the air effectively, with two 300-yard games from Ryan Lindley in blowout wins to begin the season.
5. Rumblin', bumblin', stumblin' D-Train rolls into KC. Iowa State hasn't been able to stop anybody from running the ball yet this season, ranking outside the top 100 nationally. They also have yet to face a running back as good as Daniel Thomas. Will he roll over them like he has the first two defenses he's faced, or can the Cyclones contain him?
6. You take the dive, I've got the pitch, you take the QB. Where's the ball? After a poor showing in Week 1, the spotlight was pretty firmly on Oklahoma's secondary against Florida State. Now, it's the front seven, which turned in a great performance against the Seminoles, too. This time, the task is containing a dangerous Air Force option attack. Do the Sooners dominate like last week, eke out a close win or go down? The last team to beat the Sooners in Norman was TCU, another Mountain West team.
7. Bounce back needed in Boulder. Kansas did it last week. Can Colorado repeat the feat? It got embarrassed in Berkeley with a 52-7 loss to Cal in front of the Pac-10 commissioner, and host a Hawaii team capable of scoring another 52 points and beating them in Boulder on Saturday. A loss would almost certainly squash most of the remaining optimism from the fan base.
8. Cleanup on aisle T (Boone). Oklahoma State turned the ball over five times in a 41-38 win over Troy last week. This week, Tulsa comes to down with another dynamic playmaker on offense, Damaris Johnson. The Golden Hurricane's only loss came on a Hail Mary in Week 1 against East Carolina, and if the Cowboys don't take care of the ball, they may be in trouble.
9. Speaking of squeaky clean. Texas A&M fumbled the ball four times on special teams last week, while also mixing in a punt return for a touchdown and downing a punt at the 1-yard line. Those kinds of mistakes won't cost them a win against Florida International, but if they don't eliminate them, they will eventually.
10. Jake who? You mean, like a cabinet-type thing? The Blackshirts shut down a whole lot of good quarterbacks last year. Blaine Gabbert, Colt McCoy, Tyrod Taylor and Landry Jones among them. If they want to live up to lofty expectations set by the Brothers Pelini this offseason, adding Washington's Jake Locker to the list of players who struggled against them would be a good start.
From Feldman's post today:
@pleasehammer am I crazy or are the Nebraska Cornhuskers way overranked? Terrible offense. Lost best DE in ages. Pretty good rest of defense does not equal top 15, right?
Crazy? Nah. A little off? Yeah, I'll go with that. They're going to be very good up front on D even without Ndamukong Suh. DT Jared Crick is a stud and they also have two very good corners. Also, I wouldn't call their offense terrible by any stretch. They're going to be very strong on the O-line with four starters back and they have some capable RBs led by Roy Helu Jr., who is coming off a season where he ran for 1,147 yards. I'm not sold on the QB play being good enough to be a top-five team, but we'll see. They do also return their top three returning receivers.
I hear complaints from opposing fans like "pleasehammer" all the time about the Huskers, and to follow up on what Bruce wrote, I also point doubters to Nebraska's schedule last season. There's no excusing the 31-10 loss to Texas Tech in Lincoln. That was a bona fide butt-kicking.
But the Huskers were a few more plays away from finishing 13-1.
- There's the disputed second against Texas in the Big 12 Championship (which, by the way, was the right call by officials) and Longhorns kicker Hunter Lawrence sneaking a game-winning, 46-yard field goal inside the upright for a 13-12 win as time expired.
- Virginia Tech (which finished the 2009 season ranked No. 10 in both polls) beat the Huskers in Blacksburg 16-15 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor with 21 seconds to play.
- And the legendary 9-7 home loss to Iowa State in which the Huskers had more turnovers (8) than points. Iowa State didn't turn the ball over once. That's obviously a terrible performance by the Huskers, but four of those eight turnovers were fumbles inside the Iowa State 5-yard line. Take one away and that's a win.
- Meanwhile, none of the 10 wins they did get were big-time nail-biters. They dominated Oklahoma's offense for 60 minutes, and Colorado -- the next-closest opponent, cut the margin to eight points only after a touchdown at the gun. The Huskers' offense struggled for three quarters at Missouri, but anytime the offense and defense combine for 27 points in the fourth quarter, you deserve to win.
Yeah, coulda, woulda, shoulda. I get that.
But Nebraska easily could have won more than 10 games last season, especially the pair over very good teams. Replacing the lost starters on the nation's best defense won't be a given, but the Huskers coaches feel confident in the players who are stepping in. It might not be as good, but like Bruce writes, if the offense is better than it was last year -- and it should be -- the defense won't need to keep offenses in the single digits as often as they did a season ago.
I've tried to do something similar for the Big 12 -- boiling down the conference's 2009 campaign into the 25 most significant moments of the regular season.
Here are my choices. Let me know if you think I've forgotten any. A bunch of good moments were left out, let me assure you.
Unfortunately for the conference, the most significant moments were off-the-field items like injuries and suspensions.
They aren't ranked in any order, although some assuredly are more important than others.
- Sam Bradford’s injury: Oklahoma’s hopes of claiming the BCS championship were abruptly detoured in the first half of the Sooners’ first game. Bradford was hit by BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson shortly before halftime, knocking him out of the Cougars' 14-13 season-opening victory. The legal hit caused a sprained AC joint in Bradford's right shoulder that kept him out for the next three games.
- Bradford’s injury – part two: After successfully returning form injury, and leading the Sooners to a victory over Baylor in their conference opener, Bradford started strongly against Texas the following week. He directed a 77-yard scoring drive on the Sooners’ first possession for a 3-0 lead. On the next Oklahoma offensive play, the Sooners' hopes of a fourth straight Big 12 title were dealt a cruel ending. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams knocked Bradford out of the game with a devastating sack. Bradford landed on his shoulder and didn’t play the rest of the season, undergoing surgery several weeks later.
- “I’m so proud to be your coach”: Without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and top rusher Alexander Robinson, and with a sapping flu bug, first-year Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was overcome with his emotion in the locker room following his team's 9-7 upset of Nebraska. His heartfelt reaction captured by an ISU film crew became an immediate YouTube sensation. But something tells me that Bo Pelini will show it to his Nebraska team often before the Cornhuskers’ rematch in Ames next season.
- Robert Griffin’s injury: Baylor’s worst fears were realized in the Bears’ 68-13 victory over Northwestern State when their stellar sophomore quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury. It killed their hopes of snapping the conference’s longest bowl drought.
- Todd Reesing is pulled late from Texas Tech game: Kansas appeared on the verge of a breakthrough road win at Texas Tech that would have qualified them for a bowl game. But the Jayhawks squandered a 21-14 lead entering the fourth quarter after two drives ended with fumbles by senior quarterback Todd Reesing. Coach Mark Mangino pulled Reesing for Kale Pick, saying he thought his quarterback was battered from the constant Tech pressure. Removing Kansas’ most decorated player foreshadowed the Kansas collapse the rest of the season. The Jayhawks lost the game 42-21 and the remaining four games on their schedule.
- Blocked kick saves the Wildcats: Iowa State had pulled within a point of Kanas State with 23 seconds left, but Emmanuel Lamur blocked the ensuing conversion, preserving a 24-23 victory that catapulted the Wildcats into the North Division lead for much of the season.
- Banks’ kickoff returns: Brandon Banks provided kickoff returns of 91 and 92 yards in less than 3 minutes to boost Kansas State past Tennessee Tech.
- Colt McCoy's "too early" Heisman moment: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was presumed to have locked up his Heisman with a 65-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Texas A&M defense, helping spark a 49-39 victory over the Aggies. It punctuated an effort in which McCoy accounted for 479 yards and five touchdowns against A&M. That was, until …
- "Big Suh" dominates Texas: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided a dominating performance, and almost single-handedly pushed his team to the Big 12 title before losing 13-12 against Texas. Suh had a Big 12 title game record 4.5 sacks, and the Cornhuskers harassed McCoy into three interceptions and sacked him nine times. Goodbye Heisman for McCoy in a performance that undoubtedly sparked Suh's trip to the Heisman presentation at the same time.
- Nebraska’s comeback in the rain against Missouri: The Tigers had dominated the first three quarters en route to a 12-0 lead. But Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee torched Missouri’s secondary for three touchdowns in a span of 202 seconds to spark a 27-12 victory. Lee had completed 9 of 27 passes heading into the fourth quarter.
- Danario’s late-season explosion: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander progressed into the nation’s most explosive receiver during the final half of the season. He nearly became the first player in college football history to notch back-to-back-to-back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He finished with 214 yards against Baylor, 200 against Kansas State, 173 yards against Iowa State and 233 yards against Kansas in his final four games.
- Virginia Tech’s late rally against Nebraska: The Cornhuskers appeared poised to steal a victory at Virginia Tech despite an offensive attack that consisted of five Alex Henery field goals. But with less than 90 seconds remaining, Danny Coale got behind Matt O’Hanlon for an 81-yard reception from Tyrod Taylor. The Cornhuskers’ collapsed three plays later when Taylor hooked up with Dyrell Roberts on an 11-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left to cap the Hokies' 16-15 victory.
- Nebraska’s fumble-fest against Iowa State: The Cornhuskers’ sputtering offense bottomed out in a 9-7 loss at Iowa State. The Cornhuskers started the day on offense with a fumble and finished with a Zac Lee interception on their final play. In between, there were six turnovers that doomed the Cornhuskers’ hopes, leading to the Cyclones’ first victory in Lincoln since 1977.
- Broyles slices through the Cowboys: Oklahoma wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Broyles punctuated a 209-yard punt return effort with an 87-yard scoring return to lead the Sooners’ 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, ending the Cowboys’ hopes of making a trip to a BCS game. His 316 all-purpose yards were the third-best effort in school history.
- Tyler Hansen's redshirt season abruptly ends: After seeing a 14-10 halftime lead over Texas dissipate into a 24-14 deficit in one quarter, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins inserted quarterback Tyler Hansen into the lineup for the first time, ending thoughts that he would redshirt. The Buffaloes beat Kansas in their next game and Hansen remained in the starting lineup much of the rest of the season in front of Hawkins’ son, Cody.
- Dez Bryant’s dismissal: Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant rebounded from nagging early-season injuries and appeared ready to help the Cowboys challenge for their first South Division title. He produced five touchdowns in OSU’s first three games. But he was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season on October 7 for violating an NCAA bylaw. Bryant failed to fully disclose his interactions with former NFL standout Deion Sanders to the NCAA.
- The emergence of "Sticks" Sheffield: A 2-2 Texas Tech team looked in trouble when starting quarterback Taylor Potts suffered a concussion shortly before the half against New Mexico. Backup Steven “Sticks” Sheffield responded by completing his first three passes and punctuated that possession with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Alex Torres as time expired in the first half to boost Tech to a 14-7 lead. That sparked a run of four straight drives capped by touchdowns and a 48-28 victory. Tech won its next three games with Sheffield as a starter.
- They can play defense at Tech: The offensive-minded Red Raiders led the conference with 34 sacks. Their defensive emergence was best typified in a late-stand against Baylor that preserved a 20-13 victory.
- Florence’s comeback: Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence rallied the Bears from an 11-point halftime against Missouri to an eventual 40-32 victory. In their only conference victory, Florence passed for a school-record 427 yards and three touchdowns, overcoming a 468-yard passing effort by Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
- Cha'pelle's clutch pass defense: Colorado cornerback Cha’pelle Brown’s defense in the end zone preserved the Buffaloes’ 34-30 victory over Kansas. It was the loss that started the Jayhawks’ seven-game losing streak, costing them a bowl berth and ultimately Mark Mangino’s job.
- Mangino's coaching gaffe: Nursing a three-point lead with 2:59 left, Mangino curiously went for three straight passes from his end zone against Missouri. On the final play, Reesing was sacked for a safety by Brian Coulter and Aldon Smith, setting up Grant Ressel’s 27-yard field goal on the last play to give Missouri a 41-39 victory.
- Matt O’Hanlon’s trio of picks: Former walk-on safety O’Hanlon provided three interceptions, including the game-sealing one with 27 seconds left, to preserve Nebraska’s 10-3 victory over Oklahoma.
- It’s just not only Suh, too: Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick was overshadowed most of the season playing next to Ndamukong Suh --except during Crick's record-breaking five-sack performance during a 20-10 win over Baylor. Crick tied the school record with seven tackles for losses and provided a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory.
- Marquise Goodwin's clutch kickoff return: Texas A&M had just pulled within 42-39 of Texas, and had Kyle Field roaring after a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jerrod Johnson to Jeff Fuller. But freshman Marquise Goodwin, returning kickoffs only because of D.J. Monroe's suspension, silenced the crowd with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that iced the Longhorns' victory.
And how could we forget …
- Hunter Lawrence’s field goal: After it appeared Texas had mismanaged its way to losing the Big 12 title game, one second was put back on the clock. Hunter Lawrence took advantage with a 46-yard field goal that gave the Lonhorns a 13-12 victory over Nebraska and a berth in the BCS title game. It was the first time in Lawrence’s career – dating back to pee-wee football – that he had ever attempted a game-winning kick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
In the estimation of Nebraska defensive ends coach John Papuchis, the Nebraska defense played well on all but three of its 75 snaps against Virginia Tech.
Breakdowns on those three plays ultimately was the difference in Nebraska's disappointing 16-15 loss to the Hokies.
Papuchis told a group of Cornhusker fans at the weekly Big Red breakfast in Omaha, Neb., that the plays that haunted him included: a third-and-20 passing conversion on the opening series that led to a touchdown, the 46-yard run late in the second quarter that led to a field goal and Tyrod Taylor's miraculous 81-yard pass with 1:11 remaining that led to Virginia Tech’s game-winning touchdown.
"This was a great illustration for us,” he told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “It’s not what they did to us. It’s what we didn’t execute or did for ourselves.
“It’d be nice if I didn’t have to say, ‘Minus this play, minus that play.’”Papuchis said the disappointment was evident after the game, but the Cornhuskers have rebounded with renewed purpose for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"There was a look of hurt and anger, and that’s the way it should be,” Papuchis said. “You want it to hurt because that means they understand the investment they’re putting in is worthwhile.
“I thought that part was awesome.”Not many Cornhusker fans share that description for what happened in the final minutes against the Hokies.
“Our players were hurt by the loss and came back,” said Papuchis, noting Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices were the best he’s seen at Nebraska since his arrival.
“That’s not coach talk. That’s an honest observation.”
The Louisiana-Lafayette game will celebrate the Cornhuskers' tradition as the school notches its 300th consecutive sellout. But it will be just as interesting to see how the team puts aside that heartbreaking loss to get ready for the upcoming North Division race.
Papuchis also coaches the Cornhuskers' special teams and had an interesting description of why he has chosen junior Alex Henery as his punter over freshman Brett Maher.
The major reason is because the Cornhuskers employ freshman P.J. Mangieri as their long-snapper.
“I’ve got mouths to feed at home,” Papuchis said. “That’s a scary deal.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska came within a couple of plays of escaping Virginia Tech with a breakthrough victory that would have signaled that the Cornhuskers’ program is moving back among the national powers.
Instead, Nebraska was torched by two late passing plays by Tyrod Taylor that led to a dramatic 16-15 victory for Virginia Tech that took a long time for Pelini to put aside.
“That was as hard a loss as I’ve ever encountered in football,” coach Bo Pelini said. “I’ve had some hard ones, but that was difficult.”
But after watching game films and dabbing at his team’s collective psyche, Pelini thinks the defeat will help them grow.
“Situations like this will help define me and our football team,” Pelini said. “To face a disappointment like that is a challenge. But I look forward to getting this thing fixed.”
The Cornhuskers won’t linger on the loss too long, Pelini said. Louisiana-Lafayette arrives Saturday night in a game that will honor the 300th straight sellout in Nebraska history dating back to 1962.
And for a program built on the tradition of storied fan support and winning championships, Pelini vows his team will quickly forget about its loss.
“We’ll come out Saturday and you’ll see guys who will play with passion,” Pelini said. “Nobody will be crying about what happened. We’re going to play our tails off.”
One area of immediate concern is the health of quarterback Zac Lee, who didn’t practice Monday and appeared at Tuesday’s press conference with a small cast on his left thumb.
Lee described his injury Tuesday as “a little thumb thing.”
Pelini called it a “splinter fracture in the top joint.”
For his part, Lee said his missing practice was nothing out of the ordinary and he expects to play Saturday. He missed Monday’s workouts, he said, after taking an anti-inflammatory medication.
“I just took a day of rest yesterday,” Lee said about the injury, which occurred early in the second quarter of the Tech game.
The injury helped account for Lee’s worst day as a starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers. He completed only 11 of 30 passes for 126 yards with two interceptions. The Cornhuskers’ offense produced only five Alex Henery field goals despite cracking the Virginia Tech 25-yard line on six different occasions and three times at or inside the Tech 10.
“You always think back after a loss like this and wonder about the what-ifs,” Lee said. “But you just have to learn from it and go on. You need a short memory and to get right back out there.”
That sputtering offense still almost provided the victory until two late plays in the final 90 seconds of the game turned the game around. Taylor hooked up with Danny Coale on a miraculous 81-yard pass. And two plays later, Taylor evaded Nebraska’s pass rush for 12 seconds before finally hooking up with Dyrell Roberts for the game-winning touchdown with 21 seconds left.
Pelini said that his team played strong defense except for the late coverage busts. He doesn’t expect those mistakes to have any carryover for his players.
“I’ve been there before and you just recover,” Pelini said. “You just get it corrected. There were a couple of breakdowns.”
The Cornhuskers will face a Ragin’ Cajun team that has already beaten one Big 12 team this season with a home triumph over Kansas State two weeks ago. That was only Louisiana-Lafayette’s second victory over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference in the school’s modern football history.
Despite the angst from the Virginia Tech loss, Pelini doesn’t expect his team’s nightmarish finish in Blacksburg to linger with them.
“It’s not something that concerns me,” Pelini said. “I like the way the guys have come out the practice and put last week to rest. It’s a part of the past and it’s time for us to move on.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska's crushing collapse at Virginia Tech reverberated across the Big 12 Saturday afternoon as it played out.
In a nutshell, the Cornhuskers' tight loss represents how the first three weeks of the season have transpired for the Big 12. There was some early excitement before a deflating loss at the end.
Nebraska outplayed Virginia Tech for most of the game until a miraculous 81-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor gave the Hokies one last chance. And then a wild 12-second scramble by Taylor before hitting Dyrell Roberts with the game-winning TD pass with 21 seconds left sent the Cornhuskers crashing to a disappointing loss.
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|Mike Gundy's Cowboys dropped in the national polls after falling to Houston.|
It was bigger for the Big 12 than merely one defeat. A Nebraska victory could have given the Big 12 a much-needed shot of credibility on a day that also included Baylor’s home loss to Big East middle-feeder Connecticut and Kansas State losing at UCLA.
It continued a string of recent squandered chances at missed opportunities that could have given the conference a legitimate chance to earn status as one of the nation’s best.
But the way to do that is to win a couple of attention-grabbing matchups against other BCS conference schools and stay away from upsets.
The Big 12 did that with early victories by Oklahoma State over Georgia, Missouri over Illinois and Baylor over Wake Forest during the first week of the season. But they haven’t notched many of those triumphs that make the pundits take note over the past two weeks.
The Big 12’s early record against other BCS conferences is 4-4. The biggest disappointment for the conference collectively has been five losses to teams from non-BCS conferences.
Nearly all of the expected Big 12 title challengers have shown blemishes.
Oklahoma was toppled in the opening week of the season by BYU. The defeat was devastating enough, but the loss of Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for the next few weeks has been even worse for the Sooners.
Oklahoma State was the fashionable choice to contend with Texas and Oklahoma in the South Division and even soared as high as No. 5 in the AP poll after beating Georgia in the first week. But the Cowboys stumbled against Houston in another big loss to a non-BCS team.
Even Texas hasn’t been immune from those struggles. The Longhorns dozed through the first half of recent games against Wyoming and Texas Tech before having strong second-half finishes to punctuate both triumphs.
Colorado lost at home to Colorado State and was humiliated on national television five nights later at Toledo. And Kansas State dropped a game at Louisiana-Lafayette on a game that turned on special-teams miscues. The Wildcats became only the second school from a BCS-affiliated conference in the modern history of the Louisiana-Lafayette program to lose to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Those losses were embarrassing. But the final two weeks will determine how the conference’s public perception is formed for this season.
There are a couple of more potentially troublesome games against non-BCS opponents this week as Texas Tech visits Houston, Missouri travels to Nevada and Southern Mississippi meets Kansas.
The conference’s team will all likely be underdogs when Oklahoma visits Miami, Colorado travels to West Virginia and Texas A&M and Arkansas meet at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The A&M-Arkansas game will be particularly big. If the Aggies could win that game, it would give the Big 12 a 2-0 edge in the regular-season series this season with the Southeastern Conference. And it would squelch much of the SEC’s crowing after two significant bowl victories over Big 12 teams last season when Mississippi beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl and Florida toppled Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game.
The Big 12’s perception still is a work in progress. The final two weeks of nonconference games will ultimately determine how it turns out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here’s a look at my Big 12 power rankings after the games on Saturday.
1. Texas: The Longhorns slumbered through the first half again, but had enough left to put away pesky Texas Tech. The defense made stops when it needed to, forcing two critical fourth-quarter turnovers. And Jordan Shipley had his way with the Red Raiders’ special teams for the second straight season.
2. Oklahoma: Now who was that Bradford guy? Landry Jones set a school record with six TD passes and he’s made Ryan Broyles the nation’s most explosive receiver over the past two weeks. The Sooners notched six quarterback sacks against Tulsa as they have posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. And they have a week off to get Sam Bradford healthy to get ready for the huge game at Miami.
3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys put aside the disappointment of their Houston loss with a strong offensive effort against Rice -- even without Kendall Hunter. Zac Robinson played better than he has all season with more consistency in running the offense. But the offensive line’s play -- an expected team strength -- remains a concern.
4. Kansas: Is it a sign of the times for the Jayhawks? They beat Duke by 28 points, gained nearly 500 yards, committed no turnovers, notched five sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown and still weren’t overly impressed with their effort. They’ll face their toughest effort to date against Southern Mississippi, and they might have to do it without top running back Jake Sharp.
5. Missouri: No hangover after the closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green as the Tigers thrashed Furman, giving the Paladins their worst loss to a BCS team in 14 seasons. Gary Pinkel gave opponents a couple of gadget plays to keep them occupied in game preparations for the rest of the season. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert got the offense back on track by scoring on six straight possessions. But the Nevada game appears to be similar to the road games that the Tigers used to struggle with before Chase Daniel arrived. Will they revert to their old ways on national television against the Wolf Pack?
6. Nebraska: Losing like the Cornhuskers did at Virginia Tech has to be devastating for Bo Pelini, whose abiding interest has always been defense. Having Tyrod Taylor -- a quarterback that Pelini wanted to force him to beat him with his arm -- defeat him with two clutch passes has to be especially galling. Roy Helu Jr. ran like the Big 12’s best back, but the Cornhuskers lost this game because of mistakes and their inability to convert in the red zone.
7. Texas Tech: Taylor Potts showed some moxie as he kept the Red Raiders close, but penalties and two critical fourth-quarter turnovers were the reason why Tech lost at Texas. It was a tough first conference game and the Red Raiders can’t linger on the loss as they face a hungry and nationally ranked Houston team on national television Saturday night. It won’t be easy.
8. Texas A&M: Four touchdowns on four touches turned Uzoma “EZ” Nwachukwu into a fantasy dream player and a key addition for the Aggies -- particularly with Jeff Fuller’s leg injury likely to keep him out for several weeks. That loss likely means that Ryan Tannehill will be a receiver rather than a quarterback for the foreseeable future. Von Miller produced three more sacks, but the Aggies need a lot of help on defense after being gashed for 30 points by Utah State. UAB will be an even bigger challenge this week, and high-powered Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett looms the following week.
9. Baylor: Maybe the Bears started believing their press clippings, or Connecticut just beat them across both lines. The Huskies did a nice job of neutralizing Robert Griffin, holding Baylor to 88 yards in the first half. And they beat the Bears up inside, producing 235 rushing yards as they dominated in the trenches. This game might haunt Baylor once the bowl season rolls around.
10. Iowa State: Breaking the nation’s longest road losing streak was particularly sweet for Paul Rhoads, as he accomplished something that Gene Chizik could never do for the Cyclones on his first try at a road win. Austen Arnaud bounced back strongly from his struggles against Iowa, and Alexander Robinson remains the Big 12’s most underrated running back. The Cyclones got a boost against an injury-ravaged Kent State’s offense, but the Cyclones still allowed them to convert only one of 12 third-down plays. Suddenly, a 4-1 start seems possible with winnable games approaching against Army and Kansas State.
11. Colorado: A players’ only meeting apparently unified the Buffaloes and got them to forget about their miserable start. The Buffaloes’ maligned defense finally stepped up, forcing five consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and limiting Wyoming to 230 yards in an emphatic 24-0 victory. The offense proved there’s more than Darrell Scott as Rodney "Speedy" Stewart emerged to rush for 127 yards to spark the Buffaloes’ first win.
12. Kansas State: The Wildcats had a chance to challenge against UCLA, but were again done in by special-teams errors and a sputtering offense that couldn’t get Daniel Thomas untracked and allowed six sacks. Kansas State had six drives inside UCLA territory but produced only nine points. Even more worrisome was the Wildcats’ struggles containing UCLA’s rushing game -- not a good sign heading into conference play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are five lessons we learned in the Big 12 this week:
1. Baylor's rush defense better improve. For all of the talk about Baylor’s offensive weapons, the Bears were beaten Saturday by a recipe that could prove worrisome once Big 12 play begins. Being gashed for 235 rushing yards by a Big East middle-feeder like Connecticut doesn’t sound good considering the Bears will have to stop backs like DeMarco Murray, Roy Helu Jr., Kendall Hunter, Derrick Washington and Alexander Robinson -- all in their first five conference games. Suddenly, all that talk about a bowl berth doesn’t sound quite so promising if the Bears can’t fix their rush defense.
2. Nebraska's killer lost opportunity. Bo Pelini will be kicking himself every time he watches the 12-second scramble by Tyrod Taylor on Virginia Tech’s game-winning play. But upon close examination, he’ll look back on a drive late in the third quarter that turned the game around. An apparent Nebraska touchdown pass from Zac Lee to Mike McNeill was wiped out by a Nebraska penalty. Two more penalties and a dropped pass led to a punt on a drive that should have finished with a makeable field goal attempt at worst. It was a possession the Cornhuskers couldn’t overcome in the end.
3. Landry Jones might be more ready for a Hurricane warning than we think. If you would have asked me late last Thursday night if Landry Jones could lead Oklahoma to a victory over Miami at Land Shark Stadium in two weeks, I would have been extremely dubious. Miami and Jacory Harris looked that good to me against Georgia Tech. But after watching Jones torch a good Tulsa team for six touchdown passes, I’m thinking he might be able to surprise people when the Sooners visit Miami -- particularly as Brandon Caleb develops into a productive No. 2 receiving threat behind Ryan Broyles.
4. Colorado's simpler defense pays off. There's a message in how Colorado played defense Saturday against Wyoming. After the game, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said that the Buffaloes made things easier by running fewer personnel groups and fewer specialized situations. The result was Colorado’s first shutout in two years, punctuated by only five Wyoming plays of 10 yards or more. Sometimes limiting defensive demands works out better.
5. Texas A&M's receiving depth will have to carry the Aggies the next several games. Jeff Fuller’s cracked fibula will likely rob Texas A&M of its primary receiving playmaker for the next four to six weeks. But the Aggies have other options -- starting with Ryan Tannehill, who transitioned back to receiver and grabbed a team-high five receptions, including a big fourth-quarter TD grab against Utah State. And Uzoma Nwachukwu scored four touchdowns the four times he touched the ball. Fuller is the most talented and explosive of the Aggies’ receivers, but Tannehill and Nwachukwu provide them with pass-catching threats to get through Fuller's absence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The show of emotion I just caught from Nebraska coach Bo Pelini probably encapsulated his day at Blacksburg, Va.
An 80-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Danny Coale that fellow blogger Heather Dinich termed "miraculous" set up the game-winning 11-yard TD play from Taylor to Dyrell Roberts that led to a tough 16-15 loss to the Hokies.
The ABC-TV camera crew caught a great show of emotion from Pelini after the game-winning play. After he realized that Roberts' touchdown has put his team behind, Pelini took a step backwards and hurled his headset away from his bench.
It could have been a statement-making victory for the Cornhuskers. Instead, it was perhaps Pelini's most bitter defeat.
Nebraska didn't have enough offense to win that game in the end. Five Alex Henery field goals ultimately weren't enough to hold up against Virginia Tech's late onslaught.
And Pelini, a defensive coach first and foremost, will be mumbling about that late bust on Coale's big catch for a long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through one of my worst weeks in recent history, I'm hoping for a turnaround in these picks.
Here they are.
Kansas 41, Duke 17: The Jayhawks have too many offensive weapons and an improved defense with a knack of making big plays. Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum provide an emerging 1-2 weapon at running back and Dezmon Briscoe will juice production in the passing game with Todd Reesing as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. Duke coach David Cutcliffe will likely alternate Sean Renfree and Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback. Both will likely struggle against an emerging Kansas defensive front that has produced nine sacks in its first two games.
Missouri 45, Furman 6: Look for the Tigers to jump on their FCS opponent quickly, hoping to make amends after last week’s closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green. Blaine Gabbert regressed in his second start, but should be ready to show improvement this week. If they can find the edge exhibited against Illinois, this one won’t be close for very long.
Colorado 24, Wyoming 21: It can’t get any worse for Dan Hawkins and the Buffaloes, can it? If they lose this one, it will. Despite the struggles stopping big plays and operating the offense in losses against Colorado State and Toledo, the Buffaloes will rebound. Even though the Cowboys turned the heat up on Texas last week and Dave Christensen had his way against the Buffaloes when he was offensive coordinator at Missouri -- he outscored Colorado by a combined 113-10 margin last season -- it won’t be that easy this time. The Buffaloes will rebound and win a gritty game that won’t be very spectator friendly.
Oklahoma 38, Tulsa 17: Landry Jones makes his second career start against Tulsa, an underrated program under Todd Graham that will be itching to earn some national revenge against their “big brothers” from across the state. This should be a good matchup between the Golden Hurricane, who led the nation in total offense each of the past two seasons, and the salty Oklahoma defense. Sooners coaches are familiar with Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, who they tried to recruit as a linebacker. Even without Sam Bradford, the Sooners still should have enough offense to win.
Virginia Tech 28, Nebraska 21: Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee will be looking to stop the Hokies’ 31-game home nonconference winning streak in his first career road start. There might be tougher first-game assignments in college football, but I don’t know of many. Lee leads the conference in pass efficiency, but will be stepping up in class when he faces the active Virginia Tech defense. Ryan Williams and fellow freshman David Wilson both rushed for more than 160 yards last week and the Hokies will be looking to set the tempo by using them. Still, the Cornhuskers might make this one closer than expected with a strong pass rush against Tyrod Taylor and if they can stay away from special-teams mistakes.
Baylor 31, Connecticut 21: The Bears will be gunning for their second straight conquest over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference against Connecticut, which beat them in Storrs last season. But this is a different Baylor team, which has had a bye week to settle down after an upset victory over Wake Forest in its opener. Backup quarterback Cody Endres steps in as Connecticut’s starter after Zach Frazer was hurt last week against North Carolina. One item to watch will be how Baylor’s young Canadian tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake will handle Lindsay Witten, who leads the Big East in sacks.
Kent State 24, Iowa State 21: Paul Rhoads will try to halt the Cyclones’ nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud will be trying to rebound after throwing four interceptions in the Cyclones’ 35-3 loss last week to Iowa. Freshman quarterback Spencer Keith will make his first career start for the Golden Flashes, who ranked 96th or worse in each of the four major offensive statistical categories. In the end, this one might be settled by which of two of the nation’s worst turnover margin teams -- Kent State is 94th and Iowa State is 108th -- does the better job of protecting the ball.
Texas A&M 38, Utah State 10: Texas A&M hopes to build on a strong opening-game performance against New Mexico where the offense and defense were both productive in a 41-6 victory. Jerrod Johnson looked more comfortable starting his second season as quarterback and the Aggies showed strong skill players. The defense, while still not at the “Wrecking Crew” standards of the past, had a strong effort with five sacks keyed by three from Von Miller. Utah State was challenging for Utah, but likely doesn’t have the firepower to stay close to the rejuvenated A&M attack for long in this game.
Oklahoma State 45, Rice 17: The Cowboys are intent on rebounding after last week’s disappointing home loss to Houston. They likely will play without Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter, but backups Beau Johnson and Keith Toston averaged nearly 8 yards per carry against Houston. The Cowboys gave up more yardage in the first half last week than against Georgia in the previous week. They shouldn’t face much of a challenge from Rice, which is rebuilding from last season’s 10-win team. Coach David Bailiff alternated among three quarterbacks last week and could do the same against an Oklahoma State defense that will be intent on improvement this week.
Texas 54, Texas Tech 31: Even though they claim otherwise, rest assured the Longhorns have been awaiting this rematch ever since their 39-33 loss in Lubbock last season. They should have the upper hand in this one because their secondary is a year more experienced and this will be Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts’ first road game as a starter. The Longhorns looked lethargic in the first half last week at Wyoming, but blew the game by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half. It won’t be that easy this week against Potts and the Red Raiders, but look for the Longhorns’ offense to produce similar late success.
UCLA 21, Kansas State 10: This one figures to be a low scoring game as the Wildcats have sputtered offensively and UCLA will be playing without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who sustained a broken jaw late in the Bruins’ victory at Tennessee. Look for both teams to try to take control on the ground with UCLA employing Johnathan Franklin and Kansas State countering with Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas. The Wildcats have also struggled mightily with special teams in their first two games and must improve for any upset hopes. But the UCLA defense is too formidable, winning this one as they pick up the slack for an offense missing Prince.
Last week: 7-3 (70 percent)
For the season: 16-6 (72.7 percent)
College Football News published an interesting list of the top 200 players in college football a couple of weeks ago.
We earlier listed the Big 12 teams and their selections.
But here's a way to introduce you to some of the better players from the nonconference teams that Big 12 teams will be facing this season.
First, the Big 12 North Division and its nonconference opponents.
And don't say we didn't warn you about some of these players.
Florida Atlantic (Sept. 5): QB Rusty Smith (No. 89)Arkansas State (Sept. 12): DE Alex Carrington (No. 97), RB Reggie Arnold (No. 124), QB Corey Leonard (No. 129)at Virginia Tech (Sept. 19): QB Tyrod Taylor (No. 93), G Sergio Render (No. 98), CB Stephan Virgil (No. 147)Louisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 26): None
Northern Colorado (Sept. 5): Noneat UTEP (Sept. 12): QB Trevor Vittatoe (No. 163)Duke (Sept. 19): DT Vince Oghobaase (No. 102)Southern Mississippi (Sept. 26): RB Damion Fletcher (No. 67)
Illinois (at St. Louis, Sept. 5): WR Arrelious Been (No. 25), QB Juice Williams (No. 41), LB Martez Wilson (No. 174)Bowling Green (Sept. 12): NoneFurman (Sept. 19): Noneat Nevada (Sept. 25): QB Colin Kaepernick (No. 34), DE Kevin Basped (No. 149), DE Dontay Moch (No. 167), RB Vai Taua (No. 200)
Colorado State (Sept. 6): Noneat Toledo (Sept. 11): SS Barry Church (No. 128)Wyoming (Sept. 19): DT John Fletcher (No. 161)at West Virginia (Oct. 1): RB Noel Devine (No. 75), LB Reed Williams (No. 96), DT Scooter Berry (No. 125), QB Jarrett Brown (No. 140)
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Massachusetts (Sept. 5): NoneLouisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 12): NoneUCLA (Sept. 19): DT Brian Price (No. 21), CB Alterraun Verner (No. 83), LB Reggie Carter (No. 107)Tennessee Tech (Sept. 26): None.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES
North Dakota State (Sept. 3): NoneIowa (Sept. 12): T Bryan Bulaga (No. 80), LB Pat Angerer (No. 177)at Kent State (Sept. 19): RB Eugene Jarvis (No. 94)Army (Sept. 26): None
Coming Thursday: The South Division and its nonconference opponents.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I feel badly I wasn't able to get to these last Friday. But duty called and I was scrambling at Oklahoma to finish my interviews, hammer out a few posts and still make it to the airport in time to get back home that night.
It made for an eventful day, and the e-nails did pile up. Here are the best of the questions I received over the last several days to try to clear the decks.
Nathan Winslow of Austin writes: What new information was revealed to the NCAA after the 2008 season in Oklahoma linebacker Mike Balogun's case that was not presented in his first review?
Tim Griffin: The question at case was Balogun's age when he played for the Prince George Jets, a winter semipro team, and the Maryland Marauders of the semipro North American Football League.
Under NCAA rules, any participation during each 12-month period after a player's 21st birthday would result in a corresponding loss of a season of collegiate eligibility. Balogun signed with the Sooners at the age of 24 after two seasons at Lackawanna College last season.
The NCAA now is in the process of determining if Balogun played in any semipro games after his 21st birthday, and if so, for how many 12-month periods after turning 21.
Different newspapers have different accounts of how long Balogun played semipro ball. The New York Times reported that Balogun played only a year and a half before starting at Lackawanna in 2006 and 2007. But a Maryland paper reported that Balogun played for the Jets, in the fall of 2005.
The matter was thought to be resolved before last season when Balogun was certified for the 2008 season by the NCAA. Also scrambling enforcement of the penalty is the fact the Jets no longer exist, according to the Tulsa World.
Balogun was certified by the NCAA to play two seasons at Oklahoma. But if it turns out that Balogun turned 21 and then participated on a semipro team during a 12-month period, he would be eligible to play in only one season - which would turn out to be last season.
That matter will be determined between now and Wednesday. Balogun remains working out with the Sooners until his decision is announced.
It obviously would hurt Oklahoma's depth at linebacker, although Ryan Reynolds has come back healthy after knee surgery and Oklahoma coaches have been raving about the play of freshman Tom Wort in the middle. If Balogun can't play, it would hurt the Sooners' depth but wouldn't be a catastrophic loss.
Charles Mitchell from Las Vegas, N.M., writes: Tim, an educated guess, please. Will Georgia make more money playing OSU in Stillwater or playing the Citadel in Athens?
Tim Griffin: Just a guess on my account, but I'm guessing with a 92,746-seat capacity at home at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs would be in line for a multi-million dollar payout at home for almost any game. Even with television payments they might get for the Oklahoma State game, I'd be doubtful to think they can come close to those numbers for any road game.
Dusty McAfee from McKinney, Texas, writes: Tim, I've always enjoyed reading your columns, always believed you to be objective, and frankly, better than most others in your profession.
That being said, I have to question why Brandon Carter, a consensus All-American in 2008, was noticeably absent from your preseason All-Big 12 team. It's assumed that a returning consensus All-American would be expected to earn all-conference honors; however, I'm sure you had a reason for why he didn't make the team. Why, I'm wondering did you leave him off?
Tim Griffin: Dusty, first, thanks for the kind words. I'm not taking anything away from Carter, who I think is one of best offensive linemen in the conference. But I keep remembering his struggles - like all of Texas Tech - at the end of the Cotton Bowl against Mississippi. I don't think any of the Red Raiders' offensive line had a particularly good game protecting Graham Harrell in that game and that is the freshest memory for me.
Maybe that game stuck with me, but that's what I kept remembering and why I elevated my choices in front of Carter.
Obviously, my team is merely a guess at this time of year and solely my choice. Carter can play his way onto my final first-team squad if he has a big season.
It might behoove him to keep the films of that second half of the Mississippi game handy for some ready inspiration.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska's hopes of sneaking into Virginia Tech and getting an upset victory over the Hokies improved markedly with the announcement that leading rusher Darren Evans will miss the season for the Hokies after he tore a ligament in his left knee during practice.
Virginia Tech relied on heavily Evans, who rushed for 1,265 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season despite starting only eight games. I still can see him churning through Maryland in a Thursday night game last season when he set the school record with 253 rushing yards. He also picked up MVP honors in the Orange Bowl after gaining 153 yards.
The Cornhuskers remember Evans well, too. He gashed them for a pair of touchdowns in Virginia Tech's 35-30 victory in Lincoln last season.
But this Virginia Tech team might not be quite as salty offensively without Evans. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor's run-pass option abilities are lessened without his major offensive weapon.
Considering that only Josh Oglesby among Evans' replacements has carried the ball gives Nebraska a much better chance of winning one of the Big 12's biggest road tests during the nonconference part of the schedule.
Just a guess here, but I bet that Bo Pelini's camp grumpiness brightened for a few minutes Tuesday afternoon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The number crunchers at Docsports.com have come up with the common statistical traits that the BCS national championship winners have shared.
1. Be a member of a "Big Six" conference or Notre Dame:
Teams still fitting the profile: 67.
2. Have at least eight wins in the previous season. Of the 11 BCS title winners nine teams (and the past six consecutive) have had at least eight wins the season prior to winning the championship. All have had at least seven.
Teams still fitting the profile: 37
3. Have a winning regular-season record in November-December games in the previous season. Winning games late in the season usually ensures a strong finish. Only LSU in 2002 -- with a 2-2 record in November and December -- claimed a BCS national championship without a winning record in those two months in the year before.
Teams still fitting the profile: 25.
Among those still standing are: Alabama (4-0), Boston College (4-1), California (3-2), Cincinnati (5-0), Florida (5-0), Georgia Tech (3-1), Iowa (3-1), Michigan State (3-1), Mississippi (4-0), Missouri (3-1), Nebraska (3-1), Northwestern (3-1), Ohio State (3-0), Oklahoma (4-0), Oregon (3-1), Oregon State (4-1), Penn State (3-1), Pittsburgh (4-1), Rutgers (4-0), Texas (3-1), Texas Tech (3-1), USC (5-0), Wake Forest (3-2), West Virginia (3-2) and Virginia Tech (3-1).
4. Have a junior or senior quarterback with some playing experience. All 11 teams that have won BCS national titles have had a junior or senior playing. All but Tee Martin of Tennessee had starting experience entering the season.
Teams still fitting the profile: 17.
Among those still alive are: California (Kevin Riley), Cincinnati (Tony Pike), Florida (Tim Tebow), Georgia Tech (Josh Nesbitt), Iowa (Richard Stanzi), Mississippi (Jevan Snead), Northwestern (Mike Kafka), Oklahoma (Sam Bradford), Oregon (Jeremiah Masoli), Oregon State (Lyle Moevao), Penn State (Daryll Clark), Pittsburgh (Bill Stull), Texas (Colt McCoy), USC (Mitch Mustain), Wake Forest (Riley Skinner), West Virginia (Jarrett Brown) and Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor).
5. Have six returning defensive starters from a unit that ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense in the previous season. Eight of the past nine teams to have won the BCS title have had a defense in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense the previous season (Florida was 46th in 2007) and all but one team (1998 Tennessee) returned at least six starters from their previous season's defense.
Teams still fitting the profile: 6.
Those teams that are eligible include Florida (fourth in scoring defense, 11 returning starters), Iowa (fifth in scoring defense, eight returning starters), Mississippi (20th in scoring defense, eight starters), Texas (18th in scoring defense, seven starters), West Virginia (11th in scoring defense, eight starters) and Virginia Tech (ninth in scoring defense, seven starters).
The formula has been accurate over the years. Of the seven teams that fit the profile coming into last season -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Rutgers, USC, and Wake Forest -- all won at least eight games and Florida won the national championship. The team the Gators beat for the national title, Oklahoma, was not included among those on the list.
So keep these trends in mind this season. It might be the reason why we end up seeing Texas and Florida playing for the national championship, if not Iowa, Mississippi, West Virginia or Virginia Tech at the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.
Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:
1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami
The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.
2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia
Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.
3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada
The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.
4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette
No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.
5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling
Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.
6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State
The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.
7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi
The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.
8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.
9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico
Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.
10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida
The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.
11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army
Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.
12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech
The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.