NCF Nation: George Veenker

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some items we learned in the Big 12 in Saturday's games:

1. Mike Sherman hasn’t had a sweeter college victory than the one he had Saturday night against Texas Tech. The Texas A&M coach’s passing game was mocked by Texas Tech coach Mike Leach after the NFL draft earlier this season. Sherman returned the favor by showing Leach something about a new quarterback he couldn't match in Jerrod Johnson. Sherman challenged his team that they would be in a fight and even showed them films of the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" upset in 1974 the night before the game to get them ready. His team came out swinging a night later.

2. Nebraska's game of dropsy Saturday afternoon defied all logic. The Cornhuskers had eight turnovers -- including four fumbles inside the Iowa State 6-yard line in a tough 9-7 loss to the Cyclones. With Nebraska forcing no turnovers, the Cornhuskers’ minus-8 turnover margin was the worst in school history. But more amazingly, where was Cody Green? The ballyhooed freshman quarterback didn’t have to start the game, but his addition into the lineup for a possession or two might have provided a jump-start for the Cornhuskers' sputtering offense. Instead, Nebraska's struggles continued a trend where the Cornhuskers have produced only 20 points in their last 14 quarters against BCS opposition. Bo Pelini and Shawn Watson have their work cut out for them -- pronto.

3. The best coaching job in the country Saturday was turned in by Paul Rhoads. Sure, the Cyclones had a few breaks with all of the turnovers. But the new Iowa State coach directed his team to a 9-7 victory over Nebraska without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and leading rusher Alexander Robinson in the lineup. And the Cyclones did it despite a virus that caused many members of the team to get sick in the locker room during halftime. Rhoads is the first ISU coach to win five games in his first season since George Veenker in 1931. And with one more victory, he’ll have the Cyclones headed to their first bowl game since 2005.

4. Kansas State appears to be for real in the North Division. With every team in the division but the Wildcats having at least two conference losses, why can’t Bill Snyder lead his team to the North title? Despite beating Colorado by two touchdowns Saturday afternoon, Snyder was steamed about his team’s critical penalties in the second half that twice took them out of field goal range. But Snyder can’t be mad at his defense, which limited Colorado to only a touchdown and dominated in the trenches from the opening snap in Saturday's game. KSU has a tough finishing schedule but could make it to a bowl even if it has to win seven games to get there. If the Wildcats play like they did Saturday, and the rest of the North's powers like they did, it won't be a big surprise to see the KSU playing in the championship game.

5. Zac Robinson might be playing like the first all-conference quarterback in the 109-year history of the Oklahoma State program. That’s right. Oklahoma State has never had an all-conference quarterback in its history. But Robinson certainly is filling the bill after his record-setting performance against Baylor. Robinson is keeping the OSU program humming as it has kept winning despite Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter being out of the lineup. He’ll be facing the biggest challenge of the season against Texas ' "Goon Squad" next week, which has knocked out starting quarterbacks in its last three games. But if Robinson can direct the OSU offense in that game like he has so far this season, the Cowboys might have a shot at upsetting the Longhorns.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2009
9/28/09
9:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here’s a look at the Big 12 rankings for this week:

1. Texas: The Longhorns finally put together a complete game, snuffing out UTEP with a huge effort. Their big victory resulted in their largest margin of victory since the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game, taking apart the Miners with their best offensive and defensive effort of the season. Colt McCoy overcame an early interception to help the Longhorns score on eight of their first nine possessions. The offense gained 639 yards with more than 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game for only the second time in school history. And the defense was even better, limiting UTEP without a touchdown and 53 yards on 51 snaps.

2. Oklahoma: The week off gave the Sooners a chance to rest up for the game against Miami, which lost to Virginia Tech. Sam Bradford left to meet with Dr. James Andrews, providing some hope that he will be able to return by Saturday’s game. But if he’s not ready, there’s not the immediate pressure because of Landry Jones’ recent passing binge. The Sooners' defense will remain pivotal for whoever plays at quarterback. Oklahoma’s defense has notched back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987 and hasn’t allowed a score in opponents' last 32 possessions.

3. Oklahoma State: Even without Dez Bryant, Kendall Hunter and Perrish Cox, the Cowboys cruised to a big victory over Grambling State. Zac Robinson orchestrated an offensive explosion that produced 587 yards, despite having the starters play for only a half. Jeremy Smith raced for 160 yards in his first substantial action to set a school first-game freshman rushing record. And the Cowboys only passed 23 times in the game. The defensive starters were nearly as good, keeping Grambling without a first down on its first six possessions and only one first down in their first seven.

4. Kansas: The Jayhawks had their toughest game of the nonconference schedule, but their best building block with the strong late finish that propelled them past Southern Mississippi. The offense overcame some uncharacteristic mistakes to still pile up 35 points. Todd Reesing passed for 331 yards and stretched his touchdown pass streak to a nation-best 22 games. The Jayhawks played without leading rusher Jake Sharp, but backup Toben Opurum provided 109 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Wide receiver Kerry Meier had a career day with 141 yards and two TD grabs. But the defense was the biggest story as it turned away Southern Mississippi without a score on four-straight fourth-quarter possessions to salt away the victory. It’s a defensive performance for the Jayhawks to build on heading into Big 12 play.

5. Nebraska: Bouncing back from their loss at Virginia Tech, the Cornhuskers had no hangover against Louisiana-Lafayette. Nebraska scored 27 points in the first 19 minutes of the game, scoring on their first five possessions. Zac Lee rebounded from last week’s struggles to complete 15 of 18 passes for 238 yards. And the Nebraska defense limited Louisiana-Lafayette to 222 yards, forcing three turnovers and even getting a touchdown on Larry Asante’s 74-yard pass interception return. It was a good victory that should build some momentum heading into their pivotal early-season showdown at Missouri next week.

6. Missouri: The Tigers’ national television performance at Nevada punctuated the Tigers’ record 14th-straight nonconference victory. Blaine Gabbert threw for a career-high 414 passing yards and had five passes of at least 30 yards. Danario Alexander is emerging as one of the Big 12’s top deep threats with a career-high 170 receiving yards. The running game struggled a little, but Gabbert picked them up. And the defense overcame allowing 218 rushing yards to produce two interceptions against Nevada. Still the Tigers have room for much defensive improvement heading into the Nebraska game.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are kicking themselves for losing at Houston. The Red Raiders appeared to have taken control when their running game starting kicking in late in the first half. Baron Batch rushed for a career-best 114 rushing yards as they repeatedly gashed the smaller Houston defense. But they got away from that strategy and inexplicably started throwing the ball when they could have killed the clock on the ground. The defense played well before wearing down in the cauldron of heat and humidity at Robertson Stadium. The best example could be seen by the fact that four Texas Tech defenders had double-figure totals in tackles, and two others had nine and eight stops. That’s the best indication of how tough it was to withstand Houston’s 94-play onslaught.

8. Baylor: It was fun while it lasted. Robert Griffin gave the Bears hope of making their first bowl trip since 1994. But his season-ending knee injury could be too much for Art Briles’ team to overcome. The Bears are coming off a landmark performance in Griffin’s last game this season, rolling for a 68-13 victory over Northwestern State. Jarred Salubi rushed for 137 yards as he started in place of Jay Finley as the Bears had a balanced offensive attack. And the defense played well after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive, yielding only two field goals during the rest of the game as they limited the Demons to 248 yards.

9. Texas A&M: We’ll find out about the Aggies soon enough -- like Saturday in Arlington against Arkansas. The Aggies rank among the top seven teams nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring. For good measure, they also rank in the top 10 nationally in sacks, tackles for loss, net punting and pass efficiency. A&M’s 56-19 beatdown of UAB featured Jerrod Johnson accounting for six touchdowns -- three TD runs and three passes -- as they didn’t seem to miss Jeff Fuller very much. Most impressively, the Aggies converted 14 of 17 third downs as they limited UAB to a season-low 74 passing yards and thoroughly dominated play.

10. Iowa State: Very quietly, Paul Rhoads has boosted his team to a 3-1 start, which might not make a bowl trip such a far-fetched scenario for the Cyclones. It's the best start for an Iowa State coach since George Veenker in 1931, who started 5-1. Alexander Robinson has keyed the recent offensive spurt with three-straight 100-yard rushing games and also added a pair of touchdown grabs against Army. The Cyclones are tied for the national lead after allowing only two sacks in their first four games and also rank fifth in net punting with Mike Brandtner. The defense came up big against Army, limiting the Black Knights to a season-low 186 rushing yards. This week's "Farmageddon" against Kansas State at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City will be huge in determining what team will be able to avoid the Big 12 North cellar.

11. Kansas State: Brandon Banks kick-started the Wildcats' big victory over Tennessee Tech, scoring a pair of touchdowns on kickoff returns. His recent struggles as a deep receiver appear to be over after he averaged 30 yards a catch. Sure, it was an FCS opponent. But rushing for 296 yards -- best for Kansas State since 2005 -- had to build confidence for the running game. Carson Coffman wasn’t asked to do too much and he was fine. And the defense came up big by limiting Tennessee Tech to minus-19 yards rushing and 107 yards of total offense -- the best outing by a KSU defense since 2000. But the Iowa State game will determine how far the Wildcats still have to go.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes got the week off before a tough trip to West Virginia, which still remembers the Mountaineers' tough loss in Boulder last season. Rodney Stewart was the key in that triumph with a career-best 166 yards. He likely will be called on again against a tougher West Virginia run defense that ranks No. 14 nationally. Defensive improvement will be key this week for the Buffaloes as they gear up for a challenging West Virginia team led by multi-purpose quarterback Jarrett Brown and Jock Sanders, who ranks third nationally in receptions per game.

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