What to watch for in Big 12/SEC: Week 9
Here's what I've got my eye on this week across the Big 12:
1. How much fight do the Irish have in the red zone? This is the best matchup of the season. Oklahoma's been stopped in the red zone one time all season, its offense mostly highlighted by the power running package less-than-affectionately known by Big 12 defenses as the Belldozer. Notre Dame, meanwhile, hasn't given up a rushing touchdown all season. Something's got to give.
3. A chance for a little touch-up. Iowa State's offense made Oklahoma State's defense look pretty good last week, preventing the Cyclones from scoring on nine consecutive possessions. The Cyclones burned TCU, though, and the problem is consistency. Can Baylor's defense show some fight this week? The Bears have been awful defensively for most of the season.
4. Since you're asking, they prefer cherry. Did the dam finally burst for Oklahoma State's defense when it comes to turnovers? The Cowboys had just four in their first five games, but forced a pair last week against Iowa State. This week, TCU brings in a redshirt freshman quarterback who's more talented than Iowa State's quarterback duo, but not as experienced. Can the Cowboys keep it rolling? Their six takeaways are still four fewer than any team in the Big 12.
5. He's Cummings, not going. Last week is not a very fair gauge of what Michael Cummings can do as Kansas' new quarterback. On the road against Oklahoma, the Big 12's best defense? Texas has the athletes, but the defense is struggling. Can Cummings look a little better this week after officially replacing Dayne Crist?
6. Focus pocus. Kansas State isn't a team that shows signs of a possible letdown, but this week's opponent will be even tougher than last week's, when the Wildcats rolled a struggling West Virginia squad. If Kansas State plays up to its potential, it wins this game. If not, Texas Tech can take advantage. Last year in Lubbock, even a five-win Tech team looked better than Kansas State for most of the game before a fourth-quarter rally by the Wildcats.
7. Another week, another shuffle. Iowa State is holding another open competition for quarterback after a rough outing at Oklahoma State last week. In that game, Jared Barnett was replaced by Steele Jantz. Who takes over this week against Baylor? Whoever it is has to produce, or the Cyclones will get rolled against a powerful Bears offense.
8. Tackle the guy with the ball. Kansas runs the ball better than you'd think, and should provide a tougher test for Texas' defense than many expect. The Longhorns have missed more tackles than anybody in the Big 12 this season, and if that continues this week, it could be a tight game. Is Texas up to the task of slowing Kansas' running game?
9. That's your Boykin. Still improving? TCU's fan base has embraced freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin, who keeps looking better and better, despite a tough loss last week against Texas Tech. He'll go on the road against a questionable Oklahoma State defense, but he's coming off a pair of games with four touchdown passes. Can he keep it rolling? He's looking more mature and more refined every week.
10. Stay on the balance beam. Notre Dame has one of the nation's best rushing defenses, but Oklahoma has really established a fantastic balance these past couple weeks. Do the Sooners roll with Damien Williams and try to run at linebacker Manti Te'o and the Irish, or look to take more advantage of speed on the outside and spread the ball a little more than they would against Big 12 defenses accustomed to covering that type of scheme?
Johnny Football's rebound: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel found second-half struggles in the loss to LSU, but he'll have the chance to really rebound this weekend against Auburn's floundering defense. The Tigers are giving up more than 400 yards a game, and Manziel has the ability to gash this defense through the air and on the ground. Manziel was getting some Heisman love before the LSU game, but his hopes haven't been destroyed. He can still make a run, and good outings against tough defenses in November will help. -- Edward Aschoff
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