Thursday, October 29, 2009
10 things to watch in the Big 12
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 things I’m looking forward to watching in Saturday’s games across the Big 12.
1. Can Mack Brown continue his remarkable winning streak against Oklahoma State? Since coming to Texas, Brown has won 11 straight games against Oklahoma State. For whatever reason, the Longhorns always seem to make the play they need to make to beat the Cowboys. Will this winning streak continue again this season, or are the Cowboys finally due to spring an upset that would turn the South Division race and the BCS on its ear?
2. How will Oklahoma State’s offensive replacements fare against Texas? Keith Toston and Hubert Anyiam have emerged as key contributors for Oklahoma State since Dez Bryant was lost to an NCAA suspension and Kendall Hunter to an ankle injury. Can that group continue its strong recent performance against a Texas defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in the four major statistical categories -- rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense? And will we see Hunter, who is rounding back into shape after missing the last five games.
3. Can surprising Kansas State continue its strong recent surge at Oklahoma? Despite stinging criticism from coach Bill Snyder for their struggles in the second half in last week’s win against Colorado, Kansas State unexpectedly sits alone in first place in the North Division. Will Grant Gregory, Brandon Banks and Daniel Thomas shake off that lethargy and produce some big plays against an Oklahoma defense that still is one of the best in the country?
4. DeMarco Murray’s return for Oklahoma. After missing last week’s victory over Kansas with a bum ankle, Oklahoma’s most explosive runner and receiver is expected to be back for the Sooners' game against Kansas State. The Sooners looked like they didn’t miss him last week against Kansas. But assuredly, Murray could fill a vital role for them against an underrated KSU defense.
5. Will Seth Doege get his first career start at quarterback for Texas Tech? Reports seem to be pointing that the third-string freshman will start Saturday against Kansas. The Red Raiders are intent on boosting offensive production after losing to Texas A&M last week. Doege, or whoever starts, will be facing a Kansas defense that has struggled this season, ranking 100th in pass defense after allowing eight TD passes in the last four games.
6. How will the Texas Tech defense react to the pointed criticism from Mike Leach? After being gashed for 321 rushing yards by Texas A&M last week -- more than they had allowed in their previous three games combined -- the Red Raiders were called out in unflattering terms by their coach. The Red Raiders shouldn’t face nearly the test in the trenches from Kansas, but Todd Reesing and his fine group of receivers still could make this a long day at Jones AT&T Stadium for Tech’s secondary if the Red Raiders' pass rush can't get more push this week.
7. Iowa State’s bid for another stunning road upset. The Cyclones made history last week by winning at Nebraska as they forced a record eight turnovers in their first victory there since 1977. The excitement of their postgame celebration has already become a YouTube staple across the cyberspace. Now, they travel to Texas A&M where they will meet an A&M team that had a similarly stunning upset last week when it won at Texas Tech. The Cyclones can qualify for their first bowl game since 2005 by winning, but will be tested by A&M’s emerging group of offensive weapons.
8. Can Texas A&M keep up its stunning rushing success? Only a week after producing minus-13 rushing yards at Kansas State, the Aggies exploded for 321 rushing yards and six touchdowns against Texas Tech. Can Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael continue that success against an opportunistic Cyclone defense that bends but does not break and ranks tied for 14th in turnover margin?
9. How will Colorado and Missouri react to the expected mushy conditions on Saturday? With more than two feet of snow expected to pile up on the front range the next couple of days, which team will be favored on the sloppy track? Will it be Missouri’s pass-heavy attack or Colorado’s rushing game that has proved to be a little plodding against Big 12 teams on drier turf?
10. Will Bo Pelini’s recent attention to his offense result in more production for the Cornhuskers? Pelini told reporters earlier this week that he’s offering more advice on offense. It comes after Nebraska has produced only six touchdowns in the last 16 quarters, with four of those coming in a 15-minute span at Missouri. The Cornhuskers have a chance to build some confidence against a struggling Baylor team and a victory would boost them right back into the North title race. The upcoming game might be the best chance for Nebraska to get quarterbacks Zac Lee and Cody Green some playing time.