The Big 12’s final weekend of the regular season will feature several key games over a three-day period that will have serious national championship and BCS ramifications.
And we might be seeing two coaches riding off into the sunset.
Here are 10 things to look for in the Big 12’s games this week.
Can Texas' tackling problems be resolved? Will Muschamp was very angry with Texas’ missed tackles against Kansas as the Longhorns allowed 97 extra yards on nine whiffs against the Jayhawks. Some of it was because of the athleticism of Kansas players like Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. But the Longhorns will be facing a stronger unit in the Aggies with skill-position players like Christine Michael, Cyrus Gray, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller. Muschamp has had his unit working before daylight this week intent on improving their tackling and swarming techniques. It will be an important exercise to get them ready for the better teams they will face during the rest of the season.
Will the Kyle Field jinx bite Texas again? The Aggies will be excited about their chance at springing an upset to ruin the Longhorns’ national title hopes. Kyle Field has been a difficult place for the Longhorns in the past as the Aggies have won eight of the last 12 games there since 1985. But after losing his first game there in the Bonfire game in 1999, Mack Brown won his next three games in College Station before losing there in 2007 in Dennis Franchione’s last game. Texas players say that the incessant noise from Aggie fans makes it difficult to run their offense. Can Colt McCoy do things differently in his second start there after his loss earlier in his career?
How Nebraska reacts to winning the Big 12 North title last week: Bo Pelini started preaching about Colorado soon after the victory over KSU pushed his team into the title game. He’s emphasized that beating the Buffaloes is the final goal his team needs to accomplish before it starts preparing for Texas and the Big 12 title game next week. Despite the coach’s pleading, it would be understandable if the Cornhuskers didn’t approach the road game on a short road week with unbridled intensity. But a veteran defense keyed by Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante should have the Cornhuskers focused against the sputtering Buffaloes.
Dan Hawkins' possible last game in Boulder: The embattled Colorado coach’s job has been in question since a slow start after he boldly predicting his team would challenge for the Big 12 North title. Instead, the Buffaloes were the first team in the conference eliminated from bowl consideration. The Buffaloes showed some promise in last week’s narrow loss at Oklahoma State, although they repeatedly made critical mistakes and penalties that kept them from winning. Will the Colorado coach be able to circle the wagons and get his team to play one final strong performance? Or is it already too late for him to save his job after a disappointing 16-32 career record?
Will Oklahoma State turn the tables on Oklahoma? Throughout the years, the Sooners have been the team playing for championship and BCS bowl opportunities while their cross-state rivals were playing for bowl positioning and winning seasons. The roles have been reversed this season as the Cowboys play their biggest game since the start of the Big 12 in Bedlam this year. If OSU can win this game, they likely will qualify for a BCS at-large berth with a strong shot at the Fiesta Bowl. Whether the experienced Cowboys can snap the Sooners’ nation-best 29-game winning streak remains to be seen. But Mike Gundy’s chances of winning at Owen Field have never looked stronger -- even with quarterback Zac Robinson's uncertain status.
The Oklahoma defense can’t possibly be as bad as the one that showed at Texas Tech, can it? The Sooners suffered through a humbling performance in Lubbock last week, allowing their most points, yards, rushing yards and passing yards of the season. They will be challenged by a determined Oklahoma State team on the verge of its biggest team accomplishment in years. Bob Stoops and Brent Venables will appeal to the pride of their defense, the backbone of the team this season. It will be interesting to see if the Sooners respond “in a big way,” as Stoops likes to say.
Baron Batch versus the weak Baylor rush defense: The junior Texas Tech running back is coming off his best performance of his career after ripping Oklahoma for 136 yards last week. He should find an inviting opponent against Baylor, which ranks 100th nationally in rush defense and ranks last in the conference allowing an average of 185.91 yards per game. He’ll be important in dictating the Red Raiders’ offense as they play for better bowl positioning with a victory.
Baylor’s determined defensive duo plays its last game: Middle linebacker Joe Pawelek and free safety Jordan Lake will never make a bowl trip with Baylor, but both will go down in history among the greatest players in school history at their positions. It will be an emotional game at Cowboys Stadium for both senior leaders. And both will be challenged by Texas Tech’s sizzling offense in a competitive final game in college football.
Danario Alexander’s big-play exploits: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander has been the most explosive receiver in the Big 12 this season, ranking third nationally in receptions and average yards receiving. Alexander has two games remaining -- the regular-season finale against Kansas and a bowl game -- to reach the school career record as he needs 297 receiving yards over those two games. Considering his recent surge in Missouri last six games, he’s got a great shot after averaging 160.7 yards per game with 57 receptions for 964 yards (a 16.9 avg. per catch) and eight touchdowns during that period. And he’ll be playing a struggling Kansas secondary that ranks 88th in pass defense and was blistered for season-worst totals of 396 passing yards and four touchdown passes last week against Texas.
Is this the end for Mark Mangino? Embattled Kansas coach Mark Mangino is a victim of a “witch hunt,” according to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. But the internal investigation into the program appears to have developed enough dirt that likely will have enough substance to cost Mangino his job. The howling became louder when the Jayhawks have lost their last six games after starting the season 5-0. They can still rebound and qualify for a bowl berth by beating Missouri in Kansas City. Mangino has won four of his last six games against Missouri. And none would be sweeter than Saturday’s game if he could pull it off with his team on the mat and claim an upset over his school's biggest rival.