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Friday, November 14, 2008
What to watch in the Big 12, Week 12


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some of the things I'll be watching for in Big 12 games tomorrow.

1. Kansas State fans' reaction to Ron Prince: The lame-duck Kansas State coach -- whose tenure will end up as the second-shortest in Big 12 history behind only Baylor's Dave Roberts -- will make his first home appearance since his dismissal last week. KSU fans seemed to have little excitement for the program during blowout home losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma earlier this year. Will that attitude change against Nebraska, a traditionally bitter rivalry that once was the prime North Division battle? It would be hard to tell this season, considering there are still seats available for Saturday's game.

2. Kansas' beleaguered offensive line against Texas' athletic defensive front: The Jayhawks allowed five sacks against Nebraska last week and 13 in the last four weeks. Texas pass-rushing specialist Brian Orakpo is back to create havoc for starting Kansas freshman tackles Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes. But a bigger worry might be Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller against Kansas senior guard Chet Hartley, who struggled mightily against Nebraska bull-rushing nose tackle Ndamukong Suh last week. More of the same might be waiting him again this week against Miller.

3. Todd Reesing challenging his childhood favorites: The Kansas quarterback was reared in central Austin only a couple of long touchdown passes away from Royal Memorial Stadium. He grew up watching Texas games with his father, a Texas alumnus. Like most Big 12 schools, the Longhorns didn't recruit Reesing heavily in high school because of his size. He's left the state to flourish as Kansas' career passing leader. And a bigger career achievement for him personally might be knocking the Longhorns out of the BCS race.

4. Baylor in a rare position as favorite in a Big 12 favorite: The Bears will be coming into Saturday's game against Texas A&M as a favorite for only the fourth time since 2002, according to football guru Phil Steele. Their pregame point spread is also the highest for the Bears in a Big 12 game since a 1996 game against Missouri. The Bears shouldn't assume anything just because Vegas expects them to win, considering they are 1-20-1 in the last 22 games against the Aggies.

5. Missouri's trip to a traditional snake pit, Iowa State: The Tigers could have a shot to wrap up the Big 12 North if Texas beats Kansas earlier in the day. But Missouri has traditionally struggled against Iowa State, losing three of its last four games there, including a 2006 game that was the Tigers' most recent loss to a Big 12 North foe. But this matchup appears to decidedly favor the Tigers, particularly if Chase Daniel is on. A struggling Iowa State pass defense that has been blistered for an average of 358 passing yards and given up 13 touchdown passes in its last three games. The Cyclones will be supremely challenged by all of Missouri's offensive weapons.

6. Texas playing without starting center Chris Hall: The Kansas defensive front has not been a particular challenge for most teams this season. But the Longhorns' depth will be lessened after Hall suffered a knee injury in practice earlier this week that will keep him out of Saturday's game. The Longhorns' depth at the position already is depleted after Buck Burnette was kicked off the team last week for posting an inflammatory comment about President-elect Barack Obama on his personal Web page. It means freshman center David Snow will make his first career start with starting tight end Greg Smith serving as his backup. It's not the best of situations, especially if Texas has to rely on shotgun exchanges in a tight ballgame.

7. Oklahoma State's reaction to the crushing Texas Tech loss last week: The Cowboys' blowout loss in Lubbock snuffed out their BCS hopes. But they still have an opportunity for a New Year's Day bowl appearance with a strong finish. On Saturday, they must beat resurgent Colorado, which still has bowl hopes, too. It will be important for the Cowboys to use the same balanced offense that has typified their season. And it wouldn't hurt to get playmaking wide receiver Dez Bryant off to a quick start after his early struggles last week.

8. Jerrod Johnson vs. Robert Griffin: Two of the Big 12's most spectacular young players will spice up "The Battle of the Brazos" between Texas A&M and Baylor. We could be seeing this personal battle continue for the next several seasons. It will be interesting for both players on Saturday as they try to rebound from ugly performances last week.

9. The Colorado quarterback rotation: Cody Hawkins is expected to get the start Saturday night against Oklahoma State after his second-half rally helped the Buffaloes storm past Iowa State last week. Freshman Tyler Hansen is still expected to get some snaps as a change of pace against an Oklahoma State defense that has had trouble pressuring opposing passers throughout the season.

10. Nebraska's defense after receiving its Blackshirts: Coach Bo Pelini finally presented those coveted trinkets to his defense after it racked up five sacks against Kansas last week. The Cornhuskers might be in for a stiffer challenge than expected against quarterback Josh Freeman, a one-time Nebraska commitment who spurned the team to attend Kansas State. The Cornhuskers will be limited defensively without starting linebackers Cody Glenn (suspension for a violation of team rules) and Phillip Dillard (ankle). The backups need to pick up the slack against an underrated Kansas State offense that ranks 17th nationally in passing, 20th in scoring and 28th in total offense.