Thursday, November 19, 2009
What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 12
By Tim Griffin
Here are some items of interest heading into this week's Big 12 games:
Will Zac Robinson play tonight for Oklahoma State? Robinson has made 34 consecutive starts for the Cowboys and is their unquestioned team leader. He’s developed into more of a running threat in recent weeks, reverting to the form that he showed earlier in his career. But his condition is iffy after a brutal head-to-head collision with Texas Tech cornerback Jamar Wall at the end of last week’s game. Robinson’s return to the lineup will be critical as the Cowboys try to win their way into the BCS this season. And if he can’t go tonight, junior Alex Cate would get the first start of his career against Colorado in a huge game in the national spotlight for the Cowboys.
Colorado responds to its role as a spoiler: The Buffaloes are the only Big 12 team without any bowl hopes heading into this week's games. Dan Hawkins predicted before the season that his team would “win 10 games with no excuses.” That dream has long been dashed, but can the Buffaloes ruin Oklahoma State’s BCS at-large hopes before a national television audience? In order to do so, they will have to play their best game of the season.
Big 12 title game or bust for Kansas State: It’s all or nothing for the Wildcats heading into their winner-take-all showdown with Nebraska for the North Division championship Saturday in Lincoln. If the Wildcats can notch an upset, they will qualify for their first championship game berth since 2003 and would qualify for a bowl. If they lose, they are through for the season. KSU coach Bill Snyder said he’s never had a team in these circumstances in his 41-season career as a coach. The Wildcats have won only once at Nebraska since 1968 and will be battling huge odds to extend their season.
Can Roy Helu Jr. continue his recent running binge? Helu has bounced back from an earlier shoulder injury to become the Cornhuskers' most consistent offensive threat, averaging 147 rushing yards per game in his last two games. His strong effort last week seemed to perk up the Cornhuskers’ entire offense in a 31-17 triumph over Kansas. Another big game will be important as the Cornhuskers attempt to claim their first championship game berth since 2006.
Colt McCoy’s last home game: It will be an emotional game Saturday in Austin when McCoy concludes his home career at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium against Kansas with the rest of his senior class. McCoy also can notch his 43rd career victory, giving him the NCAA record over David Greene. And the Longhorns can clinch a title game appearance this week with either an Oklahoma State loss or their own victory over the reeling Jayhawks.
Kansas responds to all of the off-the-field dramatics around the program this week: Coach Mark Mangino’s job appears to be in serious jeopardy after reports surfaced of an internal investigation by the school of Mangino’s coaching methods. The slumping Jayhawks have dropped their last five games after starting the season 5-0 and soaring as high as No. 16 in the national polls. A victory would qualify the team for its third straight bowl appearance under Mangino -- a feat that has never occurred in the 120-season history of the program. But a loss would mean Kansas would have to qualify for a bowl game next week with a victory over Missouri, or stay home from the bowls entirely.
Can Oklahoma halt its road woes? The Sooners are 1-4 away from Owen Field this season and have seen their scoring average plunge from 49.8 points at home to 16.8 points in games away from home. They need a big effort and a more consistent running game in order to beat Texas Tech in Lubbock for the first time since 2003. Bob Stoops will try to avoid his first three-game losing streak in any conference facility. Stoops has lost three consecutive games in the Orange Bowl, but has never endured a streak like that inside any rival Big 12 home stadium.
Who starts at quarterback for Texas Tech? Mike Leach admitted earlier this week that he made a mistake by taking Taylor Potts out of the game last week when he removed him for Steven Sheffield midway through the Red Raiders’ loss at Oklahoma State. Sheffield was game, but showed the effects of foot surgery he underwent only a month earlier. Will Leach start Potts against the talented Oklahoma defense and will he show more patience in sticking with him after an early mistake or two? Or will he prefer a lift from Sheffield, who seems to provide his team with a boost with his running abilities when he enters the game?
The Battle of the Brazos -- with legitimate bowl ramifications for a change: It’s been a long time since both Baylor and Texas A&M both had bowl hopes in a game between the two old rivals late in the season. The Aggies can wrap up their first bowl berth since 2007 with a victory. And the Bears can grab an improbable bowl berth -- thought to be an impossibility after the earlier season-ending injury to Robert Griffin -- by winning against the Aggies and beating Texas Tech next week in Arlington. Baylor will be facing some long odds as it attempts to beat A&M at Kyle Field for the first time since 1984. A victory here would clearly be Art Briles' biggest triumph since his arrival at Baylor.
Can Danario Alexander do it again? Missouri's talented senior wide receiver has developed into the league’s biggest offensive weapon in recent weeks after posting back-to-back 200-yard receiving games against Baylor and Kansas State. He will be gunning for a third straight 200-yard game -- a feat that would tie him with Tulsa’s Howard Twilley and Nevada’s Trevor Insley for an NCAA record. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be leaning on Alexander a little more with the injury to starting wide receiver Jared Perry. But the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Alexander’s hopes should be boosted by the fact he will be playing against an undersized Iowa State starting secondary that averages only 5-foot-9.