Monday, October 12, 2009
Big 12 power rankings: Surging Cornhuskers move to No. 2 in poll
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Texas: It wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado was a good lesson as they prepare for the Red River Shootout. The running game struggled mightily, producing a season-low 46 yards as top backs Vondrell McGee and Tre’ Newton both were dinged up. Those absences only paved the way for a career night for Jordan Shipley, who is becoming one of the nation’s top receiving/return threats. And the Longhorns are playing some stringent defense after limiting their last three opponents to an average of 15 yards rushing per game. Colorado produced only 127 yards, giving the Longhorns two efforts of holding opponents to less than 130 yards this season for the first time since 1952.
2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ defense played at a dominating level against Missouri as it gradually wore down the Tigers before their 27-12 triumph. Ndamukong Suh had a huge game to key a brutal pass rush that won the game for the Cornhuskers. Zac Lee was streaky, but still came up big during a stretch of 3 minutes, 32 seconds early in the fourth quarter when the Cornhuskers took the lead against the fading Tigers. It won’t get any easier for Nebraska this week as Texas Tech’s explosive offense comes to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers rank second nationally in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense, 14th in pass defense and 15th in turnover margin. But Tech has won the last three games of the series, scoring 70, 37 and 34 points against Nebraska.
3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a gritty effort against Texas A&M, claiming a 36-31 victory despite not having Dez Bryant (suspension) and Kendall Hunter (ankle). Keith Toston filled in for Hunter with 204 total yards, and a group of receivers stepped up to replace Bryant in the comeback victory. Improved quarterback pressure helped Oklahoma State notch four sacks in a big step forward after its first conference game. A tough game with Missouri is up next as the Cowboys need to continue their recent balanced offensive success.
4. Kansas: A huge aerial effort by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe powered the Jayhawks to a 41-36 victory over Iowa State. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win. In coach Mark Mangino’s own words, the Jayhawks were exposed by Iowa State’s underrated offense. Kansas had enough offense to win the game and escape with a share of first place in the Big 12 North. Can the Jayhawks do the same against the better offenses they will be facing in the future?
5. Oklahoma: Sam Bradford is back and the Sooners appear to have things on an uptick heading into the Texas game. Bradford was outstanding in his first game back, passing for 389 yards despite having 11 passes dropped by his receivers, including three in the end zone. The Sooners allowed Baylor third-string quarterback Nick Florence to carve them up for 262 yards, so their defense is a concern heading into the Texas game. They must show more consistency in the red zone and play better defensively if they have any hopes of claiming the upset Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
6. Missouri: What happened to the Tigers in that driving rain in Columbia last Thursday night? After dominating play for three quarters, the Tigers fell apart late as they allowed the Cornhuskers to roll up 27 points in the final quarter to steal the victory. Blaine Gabbert threw two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter and the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently enough to take pressure off Gabbert. The defense played well until collapsing after all of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. And it won’t get any easier as the Tigers visit Oklahoma State.
7. Texas Tech: A big effort by Texas Tech’s first backup quarterback to start for Mike Leach should help contribute to Leach’s first QB controversy. The offense sizzled with Steven Sheffield in charge, scoring nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions to blow open a 66-14 victory over Kansas State. The Red Raiders did a nice job of neutralizing leading KSU rusher Daniel Thomas, who was limited to a season-low 49 yards on 11 carries -- with only 15 of those yards coming after the Wildcats’ first offensive series. Leach was playing coy on who his starting quarterback will be, but the Red Raiders will face a huge challenge in Nebraska with whoever is chosen as the starter.
8. Baylor: The Bears moved the ball well in Florence’s second start, but were done in by their inability to score against Oklahoma’s stingy defense in the second half. Baylor produced only two first downs with five three-and-outs and two turnovers. The defense wasn’t bad as it limited Oklahoma to four field goals on red zone possessions to start the second half until Bradford’s late touchdown. The Sooners wore down the Bears before producing 592 yards to extend their winning streak over Baylor to 19 straight games. It was a definite step back after all of the excitement for the Bears during their 3-1 nonconference performance, showing them how much more competitive Big 12 play will be.
9. Texas A&M: After a promising 3-0 start, the Aggies have fallen apart with disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State. The struggling trends in those losses make bowl aspirations seem like a fleeting hope. The Aggies struggled protecting Jerrod Johnson against Oklahoma State, allowing four sacks. And the Aggies' defense couldn’t make a play down the stretch to get the Cowboys off the field as they ran the clock on their final possession to wrap up a 36-31 victory. Mike Sherman can only hope these games will help build experience for his young team that featured seven freshman starters on Saturday.
10. Iowa State: Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any more excruciating for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones, a game like Saturday’s loss to Kansas happened. After losing the previous week against Kansas State by a missed extra point, few expected the Cyclones would match up with No. 16 Kansas. The Cyclones gave the Jayhawks everything they wanted and came within an overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks at the end of escaping with an upset victory. Alexander Robinson’s return helped rejuvenate the offense after he rushed for a career-best 152 yards, despite recovering from a strained groin muscle. The kicking game must improve after Grant Mahoney missed two extra points, and a 26-yard field goal never was kicked because of a low snap. The Cyclones can’t afford those kicking-game errors in close games.
11. Kansas State: The Cyclones took a huge step backward after getting blown out in a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech -- the most points ever allowed by a team coached by Bill Snyder. The KSU defense came into the game ranked seventh against the pass, but allowed eight TD passes -- most ever against a team in the school’s history. Grant Gregory started, but the broken plays that he turned into touchdowns last week against Iowa State resulted in sacks against Texas Tech. Carson Coffman may have won his starting quarterback job back, but that determination will be made in practice this week. The huge loss has made a bowl trip a virtual impossibility unless the Wildcats claim home victories in the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Colorado.
12. Colorado: It was one of the Buffaloes’ best performances this season, but still not good enough against Texas, who ran them out of the stadium late in a 38-14 victory. The Buffaloes were undone by critical mistakes on special teams and turnovers. Perhaps the most interesting development was when coach Dan Hawkins decided to play backup quarterback Tyler Hansen, effectively ending his chance to redshirt this season. Hawkins said he’s settled on Hansen as his starter. It will be interesting to see if that move settles Colorado’s offense.