Big 12: What to watch for 0813
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There are only two games in the Big 12 on Saturday, the lightest scheduling day of the season. But there's still plenty to watch for, highlighted by this week's "Game of the Century" involving Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Here are some items I'll be watching tomorrow.
1. The performance of Oklahoma's banged-up defense: The Sooners will be playing without top pass-rusher Auston English (sprained knee), starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds (season-ending torn ACL) and defensive end Alan Davis (sprained knee.) The Sooners have struggled with those personnel losses, allowing at least 28 points in the last five games for the first time in the 114-season history of the program. And they should be supremely challenged by Tech's explosive offense, which leads the nation in passing.
Even with those dire circumstances, the Sooners have been effective in other ways since the Texas loss. Oklahoma has forced 15 turnovers over the last four games which is the most in the nation over that span, even including a bye week. And in their last game, the Sooners caused four turnovers as they shackled Texas A&M, limiting the Aggies to 278 yards.
2. Oklahoma's much-maligned special teams: The Sooners have struggled covering kicks all season, ranking 108th among teams in kickoff coverage and allowing three touchdowns. Bob Stoops has worked on improving his unit during the team's week off and believes it will be ready. But can the unit come up with enough big plays that will keep the Red Raiders bottled up in poor field position?
3. Michael Crabtree's health: Tech's top receiver has been hobbled with a sprained ankle during the last several weeks and has been noticeably slowed since he was hurt returning a kickoff against Texas A&M. He's told reporters this week that the extra week of rest has rejuvenated him and he'll be ready to go at kickoff. He blistered the Sooners for 12 catches and 154 yards last season. The Red Raiders will need another big game from him on Saturday.
4. Sam Bradford's shot at retribution: Last year's loss to Tech is a blur for Bradford, who sustained a concussion and missed most of the game after throwing only three passes. His departure paved the way for Tech's 34-27 victory, which ended the Sooners' BCS title game hopes. That disappointment has sparked Bradford to a huge sophomore season, as he's leading the nation with 38 touchdown passes coming into Saturday's game. Those struggles last season have left him with extra determination to play well in Saturday's game.
5. Huge stakes for the Red Raiders: The Red Raiders are the nation's hottest team with a nation-best 12-game winning streak and are 10-0 for the first time since 1938. But most importantly, they can wrap up their first Big 12 title-game appearance and a chance to meet Missouri in the conference championship game with a victory over the Sooners on Saturday.
6. Heisman ramifications: Ballots were sent out to 926 voters earlier this week. Bradford, Crabtree and Tech quarterback Graham Harrell all are among the favorites. Whoever has the biggest game Saturday night in the nationally televised game will go a long way toward perhaps hoisting the trophy when it's presented in New York City on Dec. 13.
7. Senior night for Oklahoma's seniors: Saturday will be the final game for Oklahoma's senior class, which lost its first game back in 2005 and hasn't lost at home since -- a nation-best winning streak of 23 games that is the longest among all FBS teams. The Sooners haven't lost a home conference game since falling in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State on Nov. 24, 2001. Bob Stoops is 59-2 at home in his coaching tenure with the Sooners.
8. Mike Leach squares off with his mentor: Leach worked with Bob Stoops during the 1999 season -- Stoops' first coaching the Sooners -- before assuming the Tech job the following season. Since then, he's never won at Owen, going 0-4 in those games. But he has turned the rivalry around a little, winning two of the last three games in the series. Tech is 1-6 in previous games at Owen Field, notching its only win there in 1996. And Stoops needs a big win to regain some of his luster. "Big Game Bob" started his career with an 8-1 record against top 10 opponents, but is only 3-7 against top 10 foes since then.
9. Ron Prince's finale: Kansas State's coach finishes his career with the Wildcats against Iowa State. A victory would keep Kansas State out of a tie for the Big 12 North Division cellar with the Cyclones. Something has to give in Saturday's game between two teams already eliminated from bowl eligibility. The Wildcats have lost five-straight games -- longest since Bill Snyder's final season in 2005 -- and Iowa State enters the game with a 16-game road losing streak that is the longest in the nation after UAB's win at Tulane last week.
10. Austen Arnaud's strong finish: The sophomore Iowa State quarterback is coming off a big game after passing for 326 yards and setting the school's single-game record with 36 completions last week against Missouri. He'll be playing against a struggling Kansas State defense that ranks 114th in total defense, has been singed for at least 30 points in eight of its last nine games and has allowed an average of 51.8 points in its last four games. A big effort could provide Arnaud with confidence heading into next season.