NCF Nation: Blake Szymanski

WACO, Texas -- After almost six months away from the practice field, Robert Griffin returned when Baylor opened its spring practice.

“It’s gonna be a good day,” Griffin said before strapping on his helmet and jogging onto the field inside the Allison Indoor Practice Facility on a rainy Tuesday.

Most of Waco likely agreed.

[+] EnlargeGriffin
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin is excited about returning to work with his teammates.
Griffin didn’t look hobbled while working full-speed through Baylor’s various option attacks or throwing passes that still had his signature high velocity. He did practice with a bulky protective brace on his right knee underneath his white tights.

“I feel normal,” Griffin said. “I know it’s going to be a process before I’ll be back to where I was, but other than that, it’s not necessarily hard to run and cut.”

Griffin won’t take part in any full-contact drills, but coach Art Briles said any “controlled” drills would feature the 2008 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

As a freshman, Griffin ran for 846 yards and 13 touchdowns and also threw for 2,091 yards, 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

“We won’t put him through any live contact or team activities where there is a chance that something could happen that we’re not ready for,” he said.

Baylor certainly wasn’t ready for Griffin’s torn ACL in just the third game of one of the Bears' most hyped seasons in recent history.

Before the injury, Griffin had improved on his freshman completion percentage by six points, and matched a career-high three touchdown passes against Northwestern State, coming back to play later in the game after the injury.

But the torn ACL discovered days later derailed Baylor’s season, and what began with a win over Wake Forest and hopes of ending a 14-year bowl drought ended with one conference win and more cries of “Wait ‘til next year.”

“It took a couple days to pick us back up,” said receiver Kendall Wright, who also added that Griffin now looks like he never suffered the injury. “It was my first time really catching from anybody else.”

Backup quarterback Blake Szymanski injured his shoulder later in the game, thrusting freshman Nick Florence into extensive action in seven games.

Until now, all Griffin could do was watch.

“It let me see things that I couldn’t see while I was playing,” Griffin said of the injury. “I actually got to sit out for a year, which I didn’t get to do when I first got here like most quarterbacks do. I think mentally in the game I’ll be further ahead than I was.”

Added Briles: “I certainly think it’s going to benefit him from now onto his career.”

Though Griffin won’t be on full display this spring, his goal now is simple: Inch as close as possible to his 2008 form, in hopes of surpassing it by fall.

“The longer out of surgery, the better you feel,” he said. “And that’s definitely working for me.”

Texas, Nebraska top Big 12 weekly rankings

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
9:00
AM ET
Here's how I rank them heading into the Big 12's championship game week.

1. Texas: The Longhorns are cruising to the BCS title game, although they showed some unexpected defensive struggles against Texas A&M. Fortunately for them, Colt McCoy was ready with the kind of performance that subdued their old rivalry and gave him some big Heisman Trophy traction. Their challenge beating Nebraska this week will be to stay away from mistakes and play with the confidence that befits their national title contender status.

2. Nebraska: It’s no surprise the Cornhuskers are playing for the Big 12 title. But they have overcome their share of adversity as they make their first championship game appearance since 2006. Bo Pelini's team has a puncher’s chance Saturday night against Texas mainly because of a determined defensive front and a special teams unit that has dictated field position all season long. Punter/kicker Alex Henery has been among the most valuable Cornhuskers all season and will need a big game against Texas on Saturday.

3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys ran into a buzz saw Saturday at Oklahoma as they struggled offensively throughout the game against a determined and challenged Oklahoma defensive unit that whipped them in the trenches. With their BCS at-large hopes dead, Mike Gundy's team remains the likely choice for the Cotton Bowl and the opportunity to finish with 10 victories for the first time since 1988. But it wasn't a good sign for them that Donald Booker likely will miss a bowl game and Zac Robinson was hobbling with a sprained ankle.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders dodged a bullet in a struggling offensive performance against Baylor before Taylor Potts piloted them to a second-half comeback against the plucky Bears. But the biggest story in that game and all season was a strong defensive effort down the stretch. Mike Leach has Tech pointed upward through what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Considering all of the quarterback injuries, the Red Raiders have accomplished more than what was expected in an 8-4 season.

5. Missouri: Battling out of an early hole, the Tigers showed some gumption in their comeback against Kansas. Danario Alexander again showed why he deserves to be a Biletnikoff Award finalist after producing his third 200-yard effort in the past four games. In Missouri football history, there had been three previous 200-yard receiving games before Alexander. Blaine Gabbert finished strongly, avoiding an interception over his last 161 attempts of the season. The defense struggled against Kansas, but provided a key stop at the end of the game, and Carl Gettis' two fumble recoveries helped spark the comeback.

6. Oklahoma: The Sooners came up with their defensive performance of the season, limiting Oklahoma State to 109 yards and denying them from converting on all 14 third-down plays. Ryan Broyles made a huge difference in the return game and the Sooners overcame a patchwork offensive line to play consistently. Bob Stoops punctuated his most disappointing regular season with an impressive triumph. Now, he'll attack those pesky bowl-game struggles that have dogged him the past few seasons.

7. Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson started his 2010 Heisman candidacy early with a career game against Texas as he accounted for 439 total yards and four touchdown passes. The Aggies had the offense to stick with Texas, but critical errors on defense and special teams were too great in the end to overcome. The upcoming bowl practice will be invaluable for a young team aiming to improve and become a potential surprise in the South Division next season.

8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder can take a lot of pride in the job that he did to take them within a game of the Big 12 championship game. Mike Gundy’s loss at Oklahoma opens up discussion for Snyder as the Big 12’s coach of the year. Considering the way Snyder built his team’s offense around quarterback Grant Gregory and running back Daniel Thomas -- both of whom arrived on campus shortly before fall practice -- provides evidence that he merits serious consideration for the honor.

9. Iowa State: Kansas’ loss assures the Cyclones a bowl berth and a chance to have some critical bowl practice for a young team that will grow immensely from the experience. Paul Rhoads will get his share of coach of the year votes for his four-game win/loss turnaround from last season. And how about a chance for the Cyclones to finish this season with bowl trip to Shreveport and a shot at Gene Chizik and Auburn? But ISU won't be picky about any bowl trip.

10. Kansas: For 57 minutes Saturday, Mark Mangino was providing a clinic on why he should return as the Jayhawks’ coach. But his clock management and play-calling decisions down the stretch left him open to huge questioning as Missouri charged back for the comeback victory. It still remains amazing that a team that started 5-0 and appeared ready to challenge for the Big 12 North title would fall apart like the Jayhawks did during a seven-game losing streak to finish the season. And their late performance Saturday against Missouri provides critics with ample ammunition why a coaching change is necessary.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins’ job was saved and he’ll enjoy the benefit of coaching a team that should be more experienced after this season’s struggles. This time around, don’t expect Hawkins to make any wild pronouncements or predictions for next season at the team’s season-ending banquet like last season. The Buffaloes showed hope for the future by gashing Nebraska for 403 yards -- the most allowed by the Cornhuskers this season. Hawkins' first task will be to work on the team’s fundamentals after the Buffaloes committed 107 penalties this season.

12. Baylor: Blake Szymanski’s return to the starting lineup looked like a masterstroke before Texas Tech charged back for the comeback victory. The Bears’ bowl hopes were in trouble as soon as Robert Griffin was out with a season-ending injury. But Art Briles' team still played tough and showed a lot of moxie as the season progressed without its standout quarterback. The Bears learned lessons from the struggles but will have to rebuild a defense that will be stripped of key playmakers like Jordan Lake and Joe Pawelek. Briles must find replacements if the Bears have any hopes of snapping their conference-worst bowl drought that dates to 1993.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor stunned the Big 12 with the upset of the season last week, snatching a victory at Missouri to keep the Bears’ bowl hopes alive.

To continue that streak, the 4-5 Bears need to pull the biggest upset in the conference’s history this week as they square off against No. 3 Texas in Waco.

Despite those daunting odds, Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence remains unfazed. That attitude is understandable, considering what he accomplished last week.
 
 Manny Flores/Icon SMI
 Nick Florence is looking forward to facing the Texas defense.


Florence set the Baylor single-game passing record last week, blistering Missouri for 427 yards and three touchdowns passes. Coming into the game, Florence had thrown only two touchdown passes in his previous 147 attempts in his career.

“That game was huge for us,” Florence said. “All along, I knew we were a good football team, but we just had to execute. We had a good week of practice and that work showed on the field.”

Several days later, Florence was just as ebullient when asked what that game did for his team’s confidence, which had been flagging after four early Big 12 losses and producing only 34 points in the Bears' first four conference games. In their previous game against Nebraska, the Bears had failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in the last two seasons.

But despite those earlier struggles, Florence started hot against the Tigers and remained that way throughout the game. He hit 11 of his first 12 passes and didn’t stop until he had blown the game open with four scoring drives during a six-possession span late in the game.

“It’s been awhile for us to have that kind of effort and was just a blast for it to happen like it did,” Florence said. “It just shows we are a good team and we can execute when we have a chance on the field.”

That binge wasn’t a shock to Baylor coach Art Briles, who said he has seen flashes of growth in Florence over the past several weeks.

"I think he played with a lot of poise, a lot of confidence and a lot of belief,” Briles said. “With his increased repetitions, his confidence and anticipation skills have gotten better. It was a good deal that it happened, but was I surprised? I don’t think so.”

Florence began the season as the Bears’ third-string quarterback behind starter Robert Griffin and veteran backup Blake Szymanski. His rise is even more improbable considering that he spent last season at Baylor apart from his team as a “grayshirt.”

While his current teammates competed in the 2008 season, Florence went to the Summer Olympics in Beijing with an evangelical group and made some extra money by working as a window washer around Waco. It gave him the opportunity for another year of maturity before his chance to play arrived this season.

“It was kind of weird for me,” Florence said. “It was the first season I hadn’t played football since I was in about the fourth grade. Not to have a game on Friday or Saturday night was a little strange. But it was fun to watch games and be a fan of football. It gave me the chance of seeing things from a different angle.”

But the Baylor season turned around when Griffin went down with a season-ending knee injury in the victory over Northwestern State on Sept. 26.

Szymanski also was hurt in that game, opening an opportunity for Florence, who started five of the next six games. The only game that Florence hasn’t started since Griffin’s injury was an Oct. 17 loss to Iowa State, which was started by Szymanski.

“We’ve felt pretty good the last couple of weeks about his development and the guys rallying around him,” Briles said. “That’s as critical a factor as anything else. They are really starting to play together.”

That belief will be tested against Texas, which will come into the game with one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. The Longhorns will challenge Baylor with a defense that leads the nation in total defense and rushing defense, and leads the Big 12 in pass defense. The Longhorns are allowing only 230.8 total yards per game.

The opportunity doesn’t intimidate Florence, who said he is excited about playing the Longhorns and keeping the Bears’ postseason hopes alive after his mammoth game last week.

“I don’t even know how to describe this opportunity,” Florence said. “I never would have been able to imagine something like this. It’s kind of surreal. What’s happened in the last eight weeks has been a wild ride. We’ll just play Texas this week and see what we can do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are my helmet stickers for this week. We had to share a couple of them, but they were all richly deserved.

The Nebraska defense: Hard to split this one up among so many producers who held Oklahoma to its lowest point production in the 142-game coaching tenure of Bob Stoops. Matt O’Hanlon provided a team-high 12 tackles and three interceptions, including the clincher with 27 seconds left. Ndamukong Suh was all over the field with a pass deflection, four tackles and a blocked kick. Phillip Dillard had eight tackles, including two tackles for losses, a sack and an interception. The entire defense divvied up five interceptions and 12 pass deflections by 10 different players in a stellar effort that keeps their North Division title hopes alive.

Baylor quarterback Nick Florence: Passed for a school-record 427 yards and three touchdowns and added another running touchdown to spark the Bears’ 40-32 upset victory over Missouri for their first conference victory of the season. Florence completed 11 of his first 12 passes and finished 32 for 43 in passing, breaking the school record of 412 passing yards set by Blake Szymanski in 2007 against Rice.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley: The two roommates shared one of the most memorable efforts in Texas football history to spark the Longhorns’ 35-3 victory over UCF. Shipley snagged 11 passes for a school-record 273 yards, including an 88-yard TD toss from McCoy. The big effort might have catapulted McCoy back into serious Heisman contention as completed 33 of 42 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns, including a 14-yard strike to James Kirkendoll. It was the second-highest passing effort in school history, trailing only Major Applewhite’s 473-yard outing in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.

Oklahoma State running back Keith Toston: Rushed for a career-best 206 yards and three touchdowns to spark the Cowboys’ 34-8 victory over Iowa State. Toston scored on touchdown runs of 2, 17 and 1 yards. Toston punctuated his big day with a 69-yard run in the fourth quarter that marked his career-long rush.

Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas: Rushed for 24 times for a career-high 185 yards and a 5-yard touchdown to spark the Wildcats’ 17-10 victory over Kansas that keeps them in first place in the North Division. Thomas topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season early in the third quarter and finished with 1,087 yards for the season. He now has five 100-yard rushing games this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It hasn't been a good season for starting quarterbacks in the Big 12.

In fact, it could almost be said that it's been "open season" on starting quarterbacks across the conference this season.

Only six teams have had the same starting quarterback in the lineup for all of their games. And it's no coincidence that the conference's best teams -- Texas and Oklahoma State -- have had the same starting quarterback for every game.
 
 AP Photo/David J. Phillip
 Zac Robinson has started every game at quarterback for the Cowboys this season.


Baylor and Oklahoma have already lost Robert Griffin and Sam Bradford, ending the Bears' hopes of a bowl game and likely ending the Sooners' chances of defending their unprecedented three-peat of conference titles.

But no team has been as drastically affected as Texas Tech, which had never had a quarterback miss a start before this season under Mike Leach. The Red Raiders have more than made up for it this season as Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield both have been knocked out of the lineup at different times.

Potts returned to the lineup last week and struggled in the Red Raiders' loss to Texas A&M. It led to a heavy chorus of boos and chants of "No More Potts" after his interception in that game as third-stringer Seth Doege finished the game.

"I ignore that, but I'm going to play whoever I think is the best guy," Leach said of the vociferous fan reaction. "I guess it's free speech."

With Sheffield still a week away as his injured foot heals, Leach could turn to Doege Saturday against Kansas.

But he's not tipping his hand early in the week.

"Game-time decision," he said. "We'll look at practice."

Here's a look at each Big 12 team and their progression of quarterbacks this season.

Baylor: Griffin was idled with a season-ending knee injury against Northwestern State on Sept. 26. Backup Blake Szymanski had struggled with bruised shoulder. Freshman Nick Florence started games against Kent State and Oklahoma. Szymanski started against Iowa State. Florence returned to the starting lineup Saturday against Oklahoma State.

Colorado: Starter Cody Hawkins struggled with on-field performances and was replaced when Tyler Hansen burned his redshirt against Texas on Oct. 10. Hansen started the Buffaloes' games against Kansas and Kansas State, but was replaced by Hawkins against Kansas State on Saturday.

Iowa State: Starter Austen Arnaud bruised his hand during the Cyclones' victory over Baylor on Oct. 17. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Jerome Tiller, who directed the Cyclones' upset victory at Nebraska on Saturday.

Kansas: Todd Reesing has started every game.

Kansas State: Carson Coffman started the first four games, leading the Wildcats to a 2-2 nonconference record. Grant Gregory was inserted into the starting lineup when conference play began, leading KSU to a 3-1 record.

Missouri: Blaine Gabbert has been slowed by a sprained right ankle, but has been the Tigers' starter in every game. Backup Jimmy Costello replaced him late in the Tigers' loss to Texas last week.

Nebraska: Zac Lee has been the starter for every game, but the Cornhuskers have sputtered against top opponents. The Cornhuskers have scored 59 points against opponents from BCS conferences, with 27 of those points coming in one quarter. Coach Bo Pelini has hinted at a change to freshman Cody Green, who despite strong early production, has seen action in only four games this season.

Oklahoma: Bradford was knocked out of the starting lineup late in the first half of the Sooners' season-opening loss to BYU. Backup Landry Jones has played well at times, setting the school's single-game record for touchdowns with six against Tulsa. Jones started three games before he was replaced by Bradford, who started against Baylor and Texas. Bradford was knocked out of the Texas game on the Sooners' second possession, re-injuring his shoulder and forcing season-ending surgery.

Oklahoma State: Despite sustaining a pulled groin muscle in training camp, Zac Robinson has started every game for the Cowboys.

Texas: Colt McCoy has started every game for Texas.

Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson has started every game for Texas A&M.

Texas Tech: Potts was Texas Tech's starting quarterback for the first five games before he was knocked out of the New Mexico game with a concussion. Sheffield rallied the team with a strong performance in that game and then orchestrated victories in the next two games against Kansas State and Nebraska before injuring his foot against the Cornhuskers. Potts returned to the starting lineup but struggled in the Red Raiders' loss to Texas Tech on Saturday. Now, Leach is hinting that he might start Doege against Kansas this week.

Big 12 predictions, Week 8

October, 22, 2009
10/22/09
9:03
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I’m hoping for a little better luck this week after having gotten stung (again) by Texas A&M, losing out on Nebraska and not having the guts to pick Colorado to beat Kansas, even though I had an inclination the game would be closer than the prognosticators thought.

Maybe I’ll have the guts to pick one of those games when it hits me this year.

Here are my picks for this week:

Kansas State 24, Colorado 21: Look for a tight defensive battle in this one as the improving Wildcats hook up against new Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen. The Buffaloes looked transformed under Hansen, who directed them to the upset victory over Kansas last week. He’ll be challenged by a KSU defense that notched six sacks and produced three interceptions last week. The Wildcats have been limited at quarterback with Grant Gregory and Carson Coffman alternating time this season. But look for the Wildcats to win this one because of the Buffaloes’ difficulties on the road and the coaching acumen of Bill Snyder.

Nebraska 35, Iowa State 17: The Cornhuskers need some confidence after last week’s stunning upset loss to Texas Tech. Bo Pelini has hinted at a possible change to Cody Green as his starting quarterback from Zac Lee, who started their first six games this season. The Cyclones played well against Baylor last week, but will be taking a big step up against the Cornhuskers on the road. Whoever plays for the Cornhuskers at quarterback needs to boost an offense that has struggled with its line play and getting its wide receivers involved.

Oklahoma State 33, Baylor 24: The Cowboys need this one to set up a huge showdown next week in Stillwater against Texas. Despite the loss of Dez Bryant (NCAA-mandated suspension) and Kendall Hunter (cracked foot) their offense has played well. And Bill Young’s defense has emerged in the past several weeks as they were showcased in a strong second-half performance against Missouri. Baylor will attempt to test them with backup quarterback Blake Szymanski, who was intercepted three times last week. The Bears produced only 10 points last week against Iowa State and will need a big improvement in order to gain the upset this week.

Oklahoma 31, Kansas 28: It will be interesting to see how the Sooners rebound after last week’s disappointing loss against Texas. Look for Oklahoma to have a bigger than expected day as Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will challenge a Kansas pass defense that has struggled and featured three new starters last week. Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has had success passing all season to Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, but the Jayhawks will be facing their toughest defensive challenge of the season against the Sooners.

Texas Tech 48, Texas A&M 17: This simmering rivalry isn’t getting as much national attention as usual after the Aggies’ three-game losing streak. Backup quarterback Steven Sheffield has engineered a three-game winning streak for the Red Raiders, but isn’t expected to play after sustaining a foot injury against Nebraska last week. Mike Leach has directed the Red Raiders to four straight victories over the Aggies and seven wins in the last eight seasons. Whoever is playing at quarterback for the Red Raiders should find success against an A&M defense that ranks 94th in total defense and 104th in scoring defense. Also, keep a watch for a Tech defense that has played well in recent weeks, allowing Kansas State and Nebraska an average of 12 points in the last two games.

Texas 38, Missouri 24: The Longhorns hope to continue their march to the Big 12 South title against Missouri, who they have beaten 14 times in a 15-game stretch, marred only by a loss in 1997. An improved running game helped spark a second-half comeback for the Longhorns against Oklahoma. Colt McCoy will hope to rebound after a struggling performance against the Sooners. The Longhorns will be facing a Missouri team that lost its first two conference games -- a far cry from its success in title game appearances each of the last two seasons. The biggest reason has been Missouri's difficulty in producing turnovers. The Tigers need to turn that trend around if they have any hope of stunning the Longhorns.

Last week: 3-3, 50 percent.

Season: 46-16, 74.2 percent
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at this week's power rankings.

1. Texas: The offense isn’t playing as well as expected, but the defense is coming up salty when the Longhorns need it to. Will Muschamp’s group produced five turnovers against Oklahoma and has limited opponents to an average of 7.3 yards rushing per game over the last four games. During that span, opponents are averaging 0.3 yards per carry. Colt McCoy needs to rebound and boost some production offensively, but the Longhorns’ defense is the reason they are playing like the Big 12’s best team.

2. Oklahoma State: A nice job by their bench players have done more than just keep the Cowboys afloat. The play of Keith Toston and Herbert Anyiam has made the loss of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter not quite as severe. But the Cowboys beat Missouri because of defensive coordinator Bill Young’s adjustments to Blaine Gabbert. In the second half, Missouri produced only three first downs and 80 net yards. A victory at Baylor on Saturday can boost the Cowboys into the key South showdown against Texas on Halloween night.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders delivered a statement with a 31-10 victory at Nebraska, despite producing only 255 yards -- their lowest output since Mike Leach’s first game in 2000. The Red Raiders won because they limited Nebraska to 285 yards and produced five sacks. Steven Sheffield had a workmanlike game and appears to have claimed the starting job by nailing down his third straight victory. But the biggest reason for the Red Raiders' recent surge has been defensive improvement.

4. Kansas: After concerns about the defense the past several weeks, the unit’s struggles finally bit the Jayhawks in their loss to Colorado -- even after wholesale personnel changes. The Jayhawks fell into a huge early hole, rallied to claim the lead and then excruciatingly lost the game when a last-second pass to Dezmon Briscoe fell incomplete. The Jayhawks must run the ball better after producing minus-8 yards against Colorado. The loss at Colorado interrupted a chance for Kansas to jump into the lead in the North.

5. Oklahoma: With Sam Bradford’s college career likely over, Landry Jones will be the Sooners’ starter at quarterback again. The biggest immediate priority will be to get DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown back after the Sooners produced minus-16 yards rushing against Texas -- the worst total in school history. The Sooners’ defense played well enough to win, but couldn’t overcome late struggles with turnovers. The Sooners are 3-3 with their season on the brink. It will be interesting to see how Bob Stoops gets his team to respond to the rest of the season after its fourth loss to Texas in the past five seasons.

6. Nebraska: What a difference a week makes. We’re not hearing about Nebraska’s offensive comebacks, or Ndamukong Suh’s Heisman Trophy chances after the Cornhuskers’ stunning 31-10 home loss to Texas Tech. Now, we’re hearing about a potential change at quarterback to Cody Green, why the Cornhuskers can’t run the ball and if their offense really can consistently produce against Big 12 defenses. The Cornhuskers’ schedule turns easier with games against Iowa State and Baylor in the next two weeks, but they need to build some continuity before November games that will decide the North title.

7. Missouri: Since a strong performance in the opening game, the Tigers’ offense has been maddeningly inconsistent. Take Saturday night for example. Missouri posted 313 yards and 17 points in the first half against Oklahoma State; 80 yards and no points after intermission. The loss overshadowed another strong performance by wide receiver Danario Alexander, who produced nine catches for 180 yards to key the offense. The Tigers' defense played well in the second half, but were undone by a slew of turnovers. After the Tigers’ 4-0 nonconference start, few thought they would fall into the Big North basement so quickly.

8. Kansas State: How about a round of applause for the North Division’s surprise leaders. The Wildcats exploded for 59 straight points to start the game en route to a 62-14 victory over Texas A&M. Amazingly, it came only a week after the Wildcats endured a 52-point loss at Texas Tech. KSU’s defense had a huge game against Texas A&M, producing six sacks to double its previous season total. The Wildcats also piled up 420 yards of total offense and took advantage of another Brandon Banks kickoff return for a touchdown that gave them a lift in special teams. A bowl bid still will be a tough chore, but after Saturday’s game, they might have a chance.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones snapped an 11-game Big 12 losing streak with their most impressive defensive effort of the season in a 24-10 triumph over Baylor, allowing the Bears’ only touchdown with nine seconds left. Austen Arnaud started and Jerome Tiller took over when Arnaud hurt his hand. It didn’t matter who was playing as the Cyclones rolled up 454 yards of total offense. The Cyclones clicked on 12 of 18 third downs and played one of their best offensive games of the season. Coach Paul Rhoads needs to win two of his next five games to earn ISU’s first bowl eligibility since 2005. It won’t be easy.

10. Colorado: Tyler Hansen pumped some life into the Buffaloes and the result was their impressive 34-30 victory over Kansas, which caused fans to charge the playing field at Folsom Field in celebration after the game. The Buffaloes nearly squandered a 21-point lead late in the first half in the process, but held on for the victory when Todd Reesing’s pass on the final play of the game fell incomplete in the end zone. A key has been Colorado’s rushing defense. The Buffaloes have allowed Texas and Kansas a total of 36 yards rushing on 47 attempts the last two weeks. And amazingly as it seems, the Buffaloes still have their goal of winning the North Division in front of them after their struggling start in nonconference play.

11. Baylor: The Bears’ bowl hopes were dealt a huge blow with their loss at Iowa State. Neither Blake Szymanski nor Nick Florence could get the offense moving for the injury-riddled Bears in their 12th straight Big 12 road loss. Their sputtering offense has struggled in losses at Oklahoma and Iowa State. And the defense has allowed an average of 520 yards in those games as the Bears have been outscored by a combined margin of 57-17. Szymanski was intercepted three times in the second half, which led to his replacement. It matched the number of interceptions thrown by Robert Griffin in his career. Ernest Smith set a career high in receptions and yardage for the second straight week, but it was of the Bears' few bright spots against the Cyclones.

12. Texas A&M: Weren’t the Aggies 3-0 and brimming with confidence just three weeks ago? Since then, A&M has been humbled on defense as opponents have blistered the Aggies for averages of 48.3 points and 435.3 yards per game. And it won’t get any easier this week with traditional nemesis Mike Leach and Texas Tech on tap. Jerrod Johnson stretched his streak of passes without an interception to a conference-record 225 attempts and then threw three in 25 attempts against Kansas State. Some of the problems were caused by a struggling offensive line that allowed a season-worst six sacks and made throwing a harrowing experience for Johnson's protection.

Big 12 predictions, Week 7

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
9:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I’m hoping for some better picks this week after going 5-1 last week.

Texas A&M stung me for the second straight week.

Here are my choices in the Big 12 this week:

Texas 31, Oklahoma 24: The Red River Rivalry will be hopping like usual. The Longhorns are coming off a disappointing offensive performance against Colorado where they did just enough before a blizzard of unconventional touchdowns put the game away. And Oklahoma will be back with Sam Bradford throwing again to a group of receivers who had the dropsies in the Sooners' victory over Baylor last week. The young Sooners receivers have to come through for them to have a chance. And they can’t allow the big special teams plays that marked last season and have given Texas an edge this season with D.J. Monroe and Jordan Shipley.

Nebraska 34, Texas Tech 17: The Red Raiders will bring their quarterback controversy into Lincoln against the resurgent Cornhuskers and their suddenly stout defense. But of greater concern for Bo Pelini is an improved offensive effort after his team’s streaky performance at Missouri. Roy Helu Jr. was banged up at the end of that game and backup Rex Burkhead is out with a foot injury. Steven Sheffield threw seven touchdown passes last week and Taylor Potts threw seven earlier in the season. The Red Raiders’ offense picked up a lift with Sheffield in charge, but will be tremendously challenged by Nebraska’s front four, keyed by emerging Heisman Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh.

Kansas 31, Colorado 28: The Jayhawks showed a leaky defense last week against Iowa State and could get a sterner test from the Buffaloes than you might expect. The Jayhawks have the conference’s foremost pitch-and-catch trio in Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. And their offense could be even more potent and balanced if and when Jake Sharp returns to the lineup. New Colorado starting quarterback Tyler Hansen will try to pump some life into a struggling lineup that was limited to 127 yards last week by Texas. The Buffaloes should find things a little smoother against the Jayhawks, who have allowed an average of 32 points in their last two games.

Iowa State 27, Baylor 24: The winner of this game should see its bowl hopes push ahead. The Cyclones have come close in their last two games, dropping a one-point loss to Kansas State on a blocked extra point and a tight six-point defeat last week to Kansas when a potential game-winning pass slid through the hands of Darius Darks late in the game. This time, the Cyclones will take advantage of their home field against Baylor, which will decide between Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski at quarterback. Something’s got to give as the Cyclones have an 11-game Big 12 losing streak and the Bears have lost 12 straight road games. I think the Cyclones are due to win a game on their home field after their near-misses the last two weeks.

Texas A&M 34, Kansas State 21: The Aggies came close against Oklahoma State, but were undone by key defensive stops and their inability in the red zone. It should be a little easier against Kansas State, which is still reeling after its 52-point loss to Texas Tech last week. Jerrod Johnson and Uzoma Nwachukwu will be a challenge for a Kansas State pass defense that was blistered for eight touchdown passes by Texas Tech quarterbacks last week.

Oklahoma State 34, Missouri 31: The Cowboys can keep their unbeaten Big 12 record going this week, although their offensive firepower again figures to be depleted without Dez Bryant or Kendall Hunter. The Cowboys’ backups played well last week against Texas A&M and could be facing a Missouri team still reeling from its collapse against Nebraska in the rain last week. These games have always been entertaining with three of the last six going to overtime. This one should similarly be close, although I like the home team to win because of quarterback Zac Robinson.

Last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)

Season: 43-13 (76.8 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some of the tidbits that people are talking about across the Big 12 heading into games this week.
  • After his receivers struggled to get acclimated in rainy conditions at Missouri, Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore told his team to ditch the gloves and hand warmers and catch bare-handed. The biggest beneficiary was Niles Paul, who bounced back after two earlier drops to snag a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to key Nebraska’s rally.
  • Iowa State coaches are enthused despite their 0-2 conference start. The biggest reason is the recent play of quarterback Austen Arnaud after the Cyclones have utilized a ground-heavy attack from the spread for most of the season. If Arnaud can continue to boost his passing, don’t be surprised if the Cyclones notch an upset or two that might be considered a surprise now.
  • Robert Griffin’s knee surgery earlier this week ended any hopes he might have had of playing this season. What will be more important will be how Baylor coach Art Briles handles his starting quarterback job during the rest of the season. Blake Szymanski should get the nod as soon as he’s healthy to play. But it will be interesting to see if there’s a point later this season where Briles figures it’s more advantageous to get freshman Nick Florence the majority of the work to build for his future, rather than playing Szymanski, who is a senior.
  • Colorado coaches believe that Tyler Hansen will be a different quarterback this season than the one who briefly claimed the starting position for the Buffaloes late last season. Hansen, they believe, won’t be quite as prone to run after progressing through his checks on offense. That maturity should help the Buffaloes become more productive offensively.
  • The secret to Todd Reesing’s early success this season is the lack of hits he’s taken from opposing defensive linemen. Reesing’s diminutive size always makes that a concern -- particularly when the meat of the Big 12 schedule kicks in. After this week’s game against Colorado, the Jayhawks will play Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas State to start a punishing finish that also will include games against Texas, Nebraska and Missouri. If he can remains well protected and upright during that time, Mark Mangino’s pitch for postseason honors for his senior quarterback won’t be out of line.
  • One reason why Missouri’s ground game has struggled so much this season has been the Tigers' struggles with penalties. It’s been difficult for the Tigers to thrive in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Tigers were penalized for offensive holding four times last week against Nebraska. In 2008, the Tigers were flagged for 10 offensive holding penalties in a 14-game season.
  • The key to success in the Texas-Oklahoma game Saturday -- as it almost always seems to be -- will be running the ball. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the team that rushed for the most yardage has won 11 of the 13 games, including every game but once since 1997. Both teams will struggle against fearsome run defenses, but the team that is the most patient should have the most success.
  • With the injury to starting guard Brian Simmons for the Texas game, look for Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton to go with a player-by-committee rotation to fill in. Don’t be surprised if Tyler Evans, Stephen Good and Tavaris Jefferies all get a shot at snaps at Simmons’ position.
  • Keith Toston’s role as the most valuable backup running back in the conference was re-emphasized with his big game against Texas A&M. He produced 204 yards of total offense and helped take the pressure off a young group of receivers with two critical big gains on screen passes early in the game.
  • The experiment of moving Texas A&M tight end Jamie McCoy into the backfield as a running threat worked well enough that Aggies coaches plan to keep tinkering with the alignment. McCoy showed strong running as he picked up 24 yards on four carries in his first work as a ball carrier since playing briefly in the 2006 season as a quarterback.

Big 12 predictions, Week 6

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
9:01
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are my picks for this week. It’s a bounce-back weekend for yours truly after an embarrassing 3-3 performance last week.

I bought into Texas A&M’s offensive hype and also believed that Iowa State would persevere against Kansas State. Little did I know that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and KSU kick-blocking specialist Emmanuel Lamur would have something to say about both games. And Oklahoma did me no favors against Miami -- particularly after Ryan Broyles went down early in the game.

Here are my picks for this week:

Nebraska 38, Missouri 31: The Cornhuskers have been waiting for their shot at the Tigers for a long time, particularly after losing the last two games to the Tigers by a combined margin of 93-23. That hasn’t gone down smoothly for the Cornhuskers and particularly Bo Pelini, who has never beaten Missouri after also losing to them as Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003. I think that trend changes Thursday night in the slop in Columbia, Mo., where I look for the Cornhuskers to dominate in the trenches. If the weather is nasty, as expected, I think the running of Roy Helu Jr. becomes even more effective. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will have his moments with his talented crew of athletic receivers. But I just don’t think the Missouri offensive line can keep Ndamukong Suh, Barry Turner, Pierre Allen and Jared Crick away for the whole game.

Texas A&M 27, Oklahoma State 24: The wheels come off the Cowboys’ bandwagon Saturday afternoon, playing without Dez Bryant. With many of their primary offensive weapons questionable with injuries, Oklahoma State won’t be able to afford to get into a shootout with the Aggies. A&M is still smarting from last week’s offensive effort when they piled up 28 first downs and outgained Arkansas, 458-434, and still lost 47-19. But if the Aggies can take control early and get the large crowd at Kyle Field involved, they have a great chance of upsetting the Cowboys.

Oklahoma 38, Baylor 14: Even without Sam Bradford, I would like the Sooners' chances with Landry Jones starting his fourth game. But with Bradford’s intention to play, I think it makes Oklahoma that much more inspired -- particularly after last week’s disappointing loss at Miami. The Sooners have to develop more offensive rhythm and find some receiving threats who can fill in for Broyles. Look for Blake Szymanski to start for the Bears. He’s not a novice after starting 13 games for the Bears in 2007. But the Sooners’ pass rush should feast against a young, inexperienced Baylor offensive front that will keep the Bears' quarterback harried throughout the game. Without Robert Griffin, the Bears have little hope of making this game competitive.

Texas Tech 42, Kansas State 28: The Red Raiders could make history Saturday night as Steven Sheffield is poised to become the first backup quarterback to start a game for a Mike Leach-coached team. Taylor Potts is recovering from a concussion and likely won’t be ready to play. But it shouldn’t matter against the Wildcats, who haven’t faced an offense nearly as potent as Tech will provide. Kansas State’s best hope will be to try to dictate the tempo with quarterback Grant Gregory and rely on underrated running back Daniel Thomas. But the Red Raiders are allowing only 3.0 yards per carry and that will be pivotal in trying to keep Gregory in long down-and-distance situations. Tech has too many offensive weapons for Kansas State and should be able to win handily.

Texas 49, Colorado 10: The surging Longhorns will be looking to build momentum for next week’s game against Oklahoma. Standing in their path this week is Colorado, which has struggled in two previous road losses to Toledo and West Virginia and been embarrassed three times on national television this season. The Longhorns will make it four. Texas has the best talent the Buffaloes have faced and should be able to score easily against Dan Hawkins’ team. Look for Texas’ athleticism to allow it to jump ahead early as Colt McCoy and his receivers should have another huge game.

Kansas 38, Iowa State 17: This game was competitive last season in Ames, as Kansas was lucky to escape with a 35-33 victory. The margin won’t be nearly that close this time around for the rested Jayhawks, who are coming off last week’s bye in good physical shape. Iowa State can’t match Kansas’ deep collection of tall, talented receivers, providing another chance for Todd Reesing to torment the Cyclones. Reesing has thrown eight touchdown passes and produced a quarterback rating of 202.44 in helping beat ISU in three previous games. The Jayhawks will be tested by Iowa State’s emerging offense. But I expect Kansas to build on a strong fourth-quarter defensive effort against Southern Mississippi to help it beat the Cyclones.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


1. The battle of young guns at Columbia: Missouri and Nebraska both will be bringing largely untested quarterbacks into Thursday night’s pivotal North Division showdown. Nebraska’s Zac Lee has a small edge because he’s played in a big game before -- losing by one point at Virginia Tech on Sept. 19. Blaine Gabbert will be facing his toughest test to date against the Cornhuskers. Whoever wins this battle likely will win the game.

2. Missouri’s running game: The Tigers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this season -- down significantly from last season’s average of 5.2 yards per carry. Missouri’s line needs some push against the talented Nebraska front, keeping Gabbert out of too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations. If Derrick Washington, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence can be productive and keep the Tigers in productive yardage situations, it will go a long way toward a Missouri victory.

3. Oklahoma State’s reaction to the loss of Dez Bryant: The Cowboys already are facing serious injury woes. But now they’ll have to account -- perhaps for the rest of the season -- for the loss of their top offensive weapon and most explosive player after Bryant's suspension by the NCAA. His abilities as a receiver and punt returner made him a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Without him, the Cowboys won’t be nearly as explosive. It will place more pressure on receivers like Hubert Anyiam, DeMarcus Conner and Josh Cooper. They have a combined career total of 21 receptions.

4. The Aggies respond to a blowout: Texas A&M needs to blot out bad memories from a 47-19 loss to Arkansas last week in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies jumped to a quick 10-0 lead before Arkansas blew their doors off with 30 straight points. But their chances of stunning the Cowboys -- particularly with Bryant not playing -- might be better than you suspect. The first two or three possessions for the Aggies will be critical. A key will be whether the young A&M tackles can block better on the perimeter for Jerrod Johnson. And can they do a better job in sticking with the Oklahoma State offense that won’t be nearly as explosive as it typically is. Kyle Field will be rocking. Will the Aggies feed off that support?

5. Sam Bradford’s playing status: The returning Heisman Trophy winner has hinted he’d like to return to action this week, building confidence before the pivotal game with Texas next week. The Baylor game would give him an ideal game to get his feet wet. But whether he is ready physically remains a question. And also, will Bradford be willing to jump back into battle with an Oklahoma offense stripped of its most potent weapons with the loss of Ryan Broyles and Jermaine Gresham?

6. Who starts for Baylor at quarterback? The Bears have questions of their own as Blake Szymanski attempts to return to action after sustaining a bruised shoulder two weeks ago. Nick Florence had a strong debut last week in directing the victory over Kent State. But beating the Golden Flashes and Sooners is a completely different manner. Baylor coach Art Briles would feel more comfortable with an experienced player like Szymanski calling signals.

7. Will Colt McCoy’s first-half struggles continue? Texas’ Heisman Trophy contender is off to a slow start, having thrown four of his first five interceptions in the first half this season. He shouldn’t be challenged against a Colorado defense that has produced only two interceptions this season, tied for 10th in the conference.

8. Colorado's struggling defense against talented Texas: The Buffaloes have been gashed for 11 gains of 40 yards or more this season. Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins will face a huge challenge trying to curtail Texas’ big-play abilities, especially considering the Longhorns’ across-the-board edge in athleticism.

9. What do Grant Gregory and Steven Sheffield do for an encore? Kansas State backup quarterback Grant Gregory engineered a victory from the start of the game over Iowa State. Texas Tech backup Steven Sheffield directed a Tech triumph over New Mexico after starter Taylor Potts was dinged late in the first half, scoring touchdowns on his first four possessions in charge. With both backups set to likely start again, who will emerge from Saturday’s game in Lubbock better prepared to make it two straight triumphs?

10. Iowa State's attempts to account for Kansas’ playmakers in space. Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warriner does a good job of getting his playmakers outside for big plays, with a talented array of standouts like running backs Toben Opurum and Jake Sharp and wide receivers Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald. Iowa State has been challenged to keep those kind of athletic players in check all season, particularly by an overachieving starting secondary that averages only 5-foot-9 in height. The Cyclones will be challenged to stick with Wilson, Briscoe, Meier (all 6-foot-3) and McDougald (6-foot-2). ISU will face its stiffest defensive test so far this season in terms of containing the Jayhawks' tall, talented and deep receiving crew.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Backup quarterbacks already played a big part in Big 12 play before October arrived.

Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was idled with a sprained shoulder, paving the way for Landry Jones to take over for the Sooners for the last two games. And a season-ending knee injury for Baylor’s Robert Griffin last week has 2007 Baylor starter Blake Szymanski inserted back in the lineup – if he can overcome his own shoulder injury sustained in the same game in which Griffin went down.

Here’s a look at the backup quarterback situations around the Big 12 heading into this week’s games.

Ready to roll:

Kansas State: Behind starter Carson Coffman, the Wildcats have Grant Gregory, a fifth-year senior transfer from South Florida who has seen action in three games for KSU so far this season, rushing for 92 yards and passing for 21 yards. Gregory battled Matt Grothe for the starting job at South Florida and played in 21 games earlier in his career for the Bulls.

Has the hype:

Kansas: If Todd Reesing were sidelined, Kansas coach Mark Mangino finally feels comfortable enough to turn to redshirt freshman Kale Pick, who was Kansas’ offensive scout team player of the year last season. Pick is an adept runner who rushed for 47 yards against Northern Colorado, 87 yards against UTEP and an 18-yard scamper against Duke already this season. And Mangino could always turn to Kerry Meier, although he’s much more valuable now playing every down as a wide receiver.

Nebraska: Cody Green came into the Nebraska program with hype that he could see sizable playing time this season as a freshman. He graduated from high school early and arrived in the spring, but a hip injury set him back. But finally healthy, he’s shown flashes of brilliance early in his career. Green broke a 49-yard run on his first college carry and a 24-yard touchdown run last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s also showing maturity as a passer after completing 12 of 17 passes in mop-up time in three games for the Cornhuskers.

Texas: Garrett Gilbert was the most heralded quarterback prospect in the nation after he was selected as the Gatorade and Parade national player of the year last season in high school. Mack Brown has wasted little time getting him game action as Gilbert has completed 11 of 14 passes for 110 yards in three games this season. And his confidence in the offense has grown in each game he’s played.

Texas A&M: Ryan Tannehill is listed as Jerrod Johnson’s backup and would likely be installed if Johnson was sidelined for a long period of time. But Tannehill’s first focus in the Aggies’ offense now is as a wide receiver where he’s produced 11 catches for a team-leading 201 receiving yards. But Tannehill aspires to play quarterback and got the first snaps at the position in the blowout victory over UAB last week when Johnson left the game. He waged a closer battle than expected this spring before Johnson claimed the starting job.

Who knows?

Baylor: With Griffin’s injury, Szymanski takes over. He’s more tested than most backups, considering he threw for a school-record 2,844 passing yards during his season as a starter in 2007 and accounted for 27 career touchdown passes in 22 college games. But behind him is freshman Nick Florence, whose experience consists of one college game -- last week against Northwestern State. If Szymanski isn’t ready to go Saturday night against Kent State, Florence would be entrusted with the starting job.

Colorado: Behind starter Cody Hawkins, the Buffaloes currently have rangy freshman Seth Lobato listed as his backup. They might be in better shape if Tyler Hansen chose to be available. But Hansen, who orchestrated a victory over Kansas State last season as a freshman, has stated he wants to redshirt this season unless there’s a season-ending injury for Hawkins.

Iowa State: Austen Arnaud is one of the most durable starters in the league. But behind him, Paul Rhoads has gotten freshman backup Jerome Tiller playing time in the first three 2009 games. Tiller showed flashes in spring practice, but still would be an inexperienced alternative.

Missouri: Blaine Gabbert is entrenched as the starter. Jimmy Costello has assumed the backup position and has played in two games this season with scant action in garbage time. Coaches like his live arm and feel for the Missouri offense, despite his lack of game experience.

Oklahoma: After Bradford’s injury, Jones was immediately thrust into the lineup and he’s played well, including a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. Freshman Drew Allen is the backup behind him, but coach Bob Stoops has avoided playing him yet with hopes of preserving a redshirt season if Bradford can return to the starting lineup quickly.

Oklahoma State: Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden staged a tight battle to back up Zac Robinson throughout preseason practice. Cate, a redshirt junior, won the No. 2 job but struggled in brief early playing time this season. He was outplayed last week by Weeden, a 26-year-old former minor-league baseball pitcher who rifled a pair of garbage-time touchdown passes against Grambling last week. But neither has much actual game experience with Cate playing in six career games and Weeden in two games.

Texas Tech: Behind Taylor Potts, the Red Raiders have junior Steven Sheffield, who passed for 52 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Rice in the only live action for a Tech backup quarterback this season. Sheffield would be an inexperienced alternative if Potts can’t play.

Big 12 predictions, Week 5

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
8:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Oh, so close to perfection last week.

I came close to my first perfect week of the season, missing only on Texas Tech’s late collapse at Houston.

I’m hoping for better luck this time around with an abbreviated schedule of six games that will only feature seven Big 12 teams in action.

Here are my picks:

West Virginia 34, Colorado 17: The Mountaineers will be intent on gaining revenge for their loss last season in Boulder, along with bouncing back from their recent loss at Auburn. The Buffaloes should have Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart close to 100 percent, although they should struggle against West Virginia’s imposing run defense. West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown is looking for some retribution after he was knocked out of the Auburn game after earlier contributing five turnovers. Look for the Mountaineers to try to dictate tempo by running Noel Devine (16th nationally in rushing) against a weak Colorado rush defense (103rd nationally). West Virginia has too many weapons to keep this from being very competitive.

Iowa State 27, Kansas State 24: The winner of "Farmageddon" at Arrowhead Stadium will take an early step to staying out of the Big 12 North cellar and perhaps contending for a bowl berth. Austen Arnaud has played better in recent games and Alexander Robinson's cutback style has emerged in Tom Herman’s running attack. The Cyclones will face an underrated Kansas State defense that ranks among the top 26 teams in each of the major statistical categories of rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. In order to be successful, Arnaud will have to make some plays and stay away from turnovers. But in the end, this game will be settled in the special teams. Kansas State needs to get Brandon Banks involved and Iowa State hopes that Mike Brandtner’s directional punting keeps the Wildcats bottled up. I like Iowa State by a small margin because it has better kicking with Grant Mahoney over Josh Cherry.

Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 20: “The Dysfunctional Bowl” will feature two programs that have been featured in the headlines for reasons off the football field. New Mexico coach Mike Locksley scuffled with his assistant J.B. Gerald while Mike Leach banned Twitter usage among his players after some critical comments were made about him by players after their tough loss at Houston last week. The Red Raiders have way too much offense in this one. Taylor Potts and the Tech offense should be able to pile up the points and yards -- particularly if the Red Raiders’ running game emerges again. The weak New Mexico defense ranks 111th on the ground and 107th or worse in the other three major defensive categories. Everything will be peachy for the Red Raiders after a big win in this one.

Baylor 34, Kent State 14: It will be interesting to see how the Bears approach this game after losing quarterback Robert Griffin to a season-ending knee injury and backup Blake Szymanski’s uncertain status with a bruised shoulder. The Bears still have enough offensive weapons to win, particularly against a Kent State defense that allowed 552 yards last week, but produced five turnovers in a 29-19 victory over Miami (Ohio). I’m expecting Baylor to lean on its rushing attack keyed by Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway to dictate the game for the Bears. The loss of Griffin will hurt, but Baylor still has too many weapons to worry in this one.

Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 34: Texas A&M hasn’t faced a top-notch defense and has posted some monster offensive and defensive numbers attributable to its weak competition. That won’t be the case in this one as the Aggies will face a potent Arkansas passing offense keyed by Ryan Mallett and Greg Childs. In the end, Jerrod Johnson, Ryan Tannehill and Uzoma Nwachukwu should be able to exploit a weak Arkansas pass defense that has played better teams, but still ranks 119th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Oklahoma 24, Miami 14: The big question all week is whether we will see Sam Bradford back in the lineup. The Sooners likely don’t need him -- particularly if backup Landry Jones shows the form he employed in his record-breaking start against Tulsa. And he has a playmaking Oklahoma defense that has been responsible for 12 sacks and nine takeaways primed for the challenge. Miami is coming to the end of the nation’s toughest four-game scheduling gauntlet to start the season. Virginia Tech's defense showed some cracks in Miami's offense as Jacory Harris struggled through a miserable game. And it won’t be any easier this week when the Sooners bring one of the nation’s best defenses to Land Shark Stadium.

Last Week: 9-1 (90 percent)

Season: 35-9 (77.3 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are 10 things to watch for in Big 12 games this weekend:

1. Will Sam Bradford play or not? Oklahoma didn’t look like it needed Bradford in back-to-back victories over Idaho State and Tulsa. A trip to Land Shark Stadium Saturday night against Miami might be different. The Sooners offense hummed when Landry Jones threw for a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. It might be in for a more challenging game against Miami, which will be looking to bounce back after the its struggles last week at Virginia Tech.

2. Oklahoma’s defensive dominance: The Sooners enter the game with a scoreless streak of 123 minutes, 3 seconds after posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. The unit is still haunted by the late touchdown it allowed in the opener against BYU that ended up being the difference in that loss. Since then, the Sooners have forced nearly as many punts (19) as first downs allowed (22), and allowed opponents a scant 2.39 yards per snap. Miami, however, will be a different challenge with Jacory Harris, Graig Cooper, Javarris James and Leonard Hankerson all ready.

3. Texas A&M’s first big test: The Aggies have emerged as one of the nation’s biggest statistical surprises as they rank among the top seven teams nationally in rushing, passing, total yards and scoring and lead the nation in sacks. Those feats have all been accomplished against a tissue-soft schedule that hasn’t provided a true test yet. That will all change Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium as Arkansas and massive quarterback Ryan Mallett will challenge A&M in ways it hasn't seen yet this season.

4. Jerrod Johnson: The Aggies’ junior quarterback has shown vast growth since last season as he ranks third in the nation in total offense and is coming off a record game where he accounted for six touchdowns against UAB. Johnson has rushed for four touchdowns, passed for nine touchdowns and yet to be intercepted in 111 attempts this season. Arkansas will be his first BCS conference opponent of the season, but the Razorbacks have struggled against the pass. It could be more of the same for them against Johnson, too.

5. Alexander Robinson’s amazing recent rushing streak: Robinson’s cutback running has been a key to Iowa State’s 3-1 start as he’s rushed for 100 yards in his last three games -- the first Iowa State player to accomplish that feat since Ennis Haywood rushed for at least 100 yards in his first four games of the 2000 season. Robinson has provided some nice balance to what was expected to be a pass-heavy attack. His production will be pivotal as the Cyclones attempt to take a big step toward getting closer to bowl eligibility against Kansas State on Saturday.

6. Paul Rhoads vs. Bill Snyder: The conference’s two new coaches this season have a wide difference in coaching game experience as Kansas State’s Bill Snyder will be directing the Wildcats in his 209th career game and Paul Rhoads will be coaching Iowa State in his fourth. There’s some history between these two as Snyder used to recruit the high schools where Rhoads’ father, Cecil, worked during Rhoads' Hall of Fame career as a high school coach in Iowa. It will be interesting to see if Snyder’s experience provides him an edge in this matchup.

7. “The Dysfunctional Bowl:” Which coach has faced more off-the-field headlines this weekend? Is it Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team that dropped a disappointing loss at Houston, soon followed by the indefinite suspension of team captain Brandon Carter and Leach's banning of his team’s tweeting privileges after several uncomplimentary remarks became widely known. Or is it New Mexico’s Mike Locksley, who has received verbal and written reprimands from his superiors at New Mexico after splitting the upper lip of receivers coach J.B. Gerald after an altercation where a police report was filed. And that’s on top of an 0-4 start for the Lobos. It’s obvious that playing the game will be a relief for both coaches.

8. Texas Tech’s emerging running game: The Red Raiders appeared to have taken control of the game against Houston behind a bruising running game, keyed by a career night by Baron Batch, who rushed for a career-best 114 yards last week. Tech inexplicably got away from running the ball late in the Houston game and that switch might have cost them the game after the Red Raiders appeared to have dictated tempo during the middle of the game. They will have another chance Saturday against New Mexico, which ranks 111th in rushing defense and allowed 245 rushing yards to Texas A&M and 298 to Air Force earlier this season. The Red Raiders won’t run for that much, but they should be able to control the trenches against the Lobos, leading to a big game rushing if they want it.

9. Can Colorado build on its first 2009 victory? The Buffaloes are coming off a bye week after their triumph over Wyoming that turned some of Dan Hawkins’ self-described “conflama” that had dogged his program after two losses to start the season. His team will be facing a tough Thursday night challenge against West Virginia, which blew a fourth-quarter lead in the turnover-marred loss at Auburn. Colorado is a huge underdog in this game and will need a big effort to keep the game from getting away like earlier nationally televised losses to Colorado State and Toledo.

10. Baylor’s injury-plagued quarterbacks: Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury last week against Northwestern State. His backup, Blake Szymanski, bruised his shoulder later in the game and is listed as day to day. Szymanski will try to keep Baylor’s momentum going against Kent State, if he’s healthy. But if he can’t play, freshman Nick Florence will make the first start of his career against the Golden Flashes. Baylor’s bowl hopes -- so bright after their upset victory over Wake Forest to start the season -- have never looked more evanescent since Griffin’s injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Baylor could be preparing to start third-string freshman quarterback Nick Florence Saturday against Kent State, Baylor coach Art Briles said Monday.

Starting quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a season-ending knee injury against Northwestern State that likely will require surgery. And backup Blake Szymanski is not healing as fast as Briles would like from a shoulder injury sustained later in the same game.

“If Blake can’t go then right now, Nick is going to be the guy,” Briles said. “What Nick brings to the table is a lot of intelligence, a lot of youth which a lot of times in these situations aren’t bad, because he just wants to do whatever he can do to help the team win.”

Griffin sustained an isolated tear in his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first quarter of the Bears’ 68-13 victory when he was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-down play early in the game. He returned to action after the injury occurred and finished with 226 passing yards and three touchdown passes before he was taken out at halftime.

Szymanski suffered a contusion on his right shoulder in the third quarter and is listed day to day, Briles said.

“It’s one of those things we’ll have to monitor as the week goes on,” Briles said. “We’re not sure how he will play. We’ll have to wait and see. We’re fortunate it was just bruising and swelling and we’ll see where he is in terms of his range of motion.”

The Bears are already nursing other significant injuries as cornerback Antareis Bryan is out 6-8 weeks with a broken foot and defensive back/kick returner Mikail Baker was lost for the season with multiple torn knee ligaments in the Northwestern State game.

“Physically, we’ll have to change how we approach some things,” Briles said. “We’ll process things through. Emotionally, this is when guys step up and what competitors do. We had a couple of our family members get sidetracked, so now, we have to cover them up and keep moving forward.”

Losing Griffin will be a huge blow for the Bears, who came into the season hoping to be able to snap the conference’s longest bowl drought. Baylor hasn’t played in a bowl game since losing to Washington State in the 1994 Alamo Bowl.

It is the first serious knee injury that Griffin has ever sustained.

“He’s handling it very well,” Briles said. “Robert is a very mature young man. He’s always had a plan and a vision and we’ve already got a plan in place. We’ll grow from it and in a few months, it will be fine. It’s unfortunate it happened, but we’ll deal with it in a positive way.”

Griffin made the freshman All-America team last year, passing for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushing for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Szymanski is one of the Big 12’s more experienced backup quarterbacks. As a sophomore in 2007, Szymanski passed for a school-record 2,844 yards and 22 touchdowns while also throwing 18 interceptions.

“What he brings is a weathered veteran’s mentality,” Briles said. “Blake is a guy who’s been through storms and has survived. He brings a workmanlike mentality to the game and has chance to prove himself. That’s what playing is all about.”

Briles expects the Bears will be ready to pick up the slack for their injured teammates.

“Our guys, they’ll adjust and they’ll fight,” Briles said. “We’re not going to come walking out of the dressing room on Saturday, we’re going to be charging out. We’ll be coming out with an intent to make a statement.”

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