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Friday, October 31, 2008
What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some trends I'll be following across the Big 12 in Saturday's games.

1. Can Texas keep running the top-12 gauntlet? -- The Longhorns have already subdued No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in successive weeks and is now set to face No. 7 (BCS) Texas Tech on Saturday. With a win, the Longhorns will become only the second team in college football history to beat a top-12 squad four weeks in a row. Notre Dame did it in 1943. Easier said than done -- especially in its first true road test during the streak.

2. Nebraska's emerging ball-control attack -- Joe Ganz and the Cornhuskers have used a safe and effective strategy that has enabled them to control the ball, running off 101 more offensive plays than its first four Big 12 opponents. Can they employ a similar strategy on Saturday to keep the ball away from explosive Oklahoma? They might need to, considering that Nebraska ranks second in total defense in conference games (362.8 yards per game) but last in average yards per play allowed (6.8 ypp).

3. Missouri's Mac attack -- Missouri wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin needs only 98 yards to set the school record for all-purpose yards that was set by former quarterback Brad Smith in 2005. The way Maclin has been involved in the Tigers' offense the record might be broken in the first quarter of Saturday's game against Baylor.

4. Oklahoma State's response to its first loss -- The Cowboys played well but still lost last week at Texas. OSU can keep alive its slim hopes for its first South Division title and first BCS appearance by beating Iowa State. A key will be the performance of the Cowboys' defense, which has limited its last three opponents (Missouri, Baylor and Texas) to season-low totals in points. To do that against the Cyclones will be a challenge, considering the Cyclones scored only five points against UNLV earlier this season.

5. How much will Texas A&M's defense improve simply by playing Colorado? -- The Aggies' young defense has been gashed for an average of 567.5 yards in their last two games, including a season-worst total of 574 last week by Iowa State. How will the Aggies respond to facing a less-than-imposing Colorado offense unit that ranks 11th in the conference in rushing and last in passing, total offense and scoring?

6. Todd Reesing's response after his worst game of the season -- The diminutive Kansas quarterback passed for a season-worst 154 yards and was picked off three times during a five-play nightmare stretch last week against Texas Tech. A strong rebound will be key if the Jayhawks hope to stay alive in the Big 12 North title hunt with a victory over Kansas State. Reesing has a chance to break the school passing record of 6,410 set by Frank Seurer with 245 passing yards on Saturday.

7. Texas Tech's defense on third-down plays -- The biggest struggles during Tech's two most recent losses have been stopping Texas' offense on critical plays. Texas clicked on 17 of 27 third-down plays and was 5 for 5 on fourth-down plays against the Red Raiders in those two games. Tech's improving defense has to do a better job Saturday night in order to spark an upset performance.

8. Oklahoma's struggling defense -- The Sooners defense has been rudderless since losing middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds against Texas, sparking a collapse that has seen them allow 111 points in their last three games -- the most since the 1997 season coached by John Blake. If the Sooners allow 30 points or more Saturday against Nebraska, it will be the first time in program history they've allowed 30-plus points in four straight games.

9. Which team emerges this week in the North Division -- Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska all are tied for first place heading into Saturday. The Tigers appear to have the easiest route to the title and already have a tiebreaker in place over Nebraska. Can the Tigers continue their domination against the North Division after struggling with Big 12 South power teams? And how will Kansas and Nebraska fare Saturday in tougher games than the Tigers appear to be facing?

10. Kansas' reaction to the 'Sunflower Showdown' smack -- Kansas State might have provided some inspiration to its cross-state rival with its lively pregame discussion. Such talk was a little bold for a team that has lost three of its last four games and allowed at least 500 yards in five of its last six games. Maybe it was for inspiration, but it also likely served as a wake-up call for a Jayhawks team that has allowed 108 points in its last two games.