NCF Nation: Jake Sharp

Some of you have asked for it, and since it makes sense to do it early on, I’ll be breaking down the Big 12 over the next couple of days. Today, I’ll give my take on the North and South races. Tomorrow, I’ll put them together for my own pre-spring power rankings.

Update: My pre-spring power rankings will go up later this afternoon.

1. Nebraska
The Huskers will do without the services of the House of Spears, but the Pelini brothers’ defense was hardly built around one player. Replacing linebacker Phillip Dillard and safeties Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante won’t be easy, but the Nebraska defense should still be stout.

As for the offense, last season’s home loss to Iowa State in which the Huskers had more turnovers (8) than points (7) would suggest the only way to go is up.

To repeat in the North, the Huskers must defend Memorial Stadium, where they’ll get to face Missouri and Texas.

2. Missouri
Missouri returns 18 starters, including junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.

He’ll need support from still-maturing senior corners Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, who gave up 427 yards passing to Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence (almost 200 more yards than he had in any other game last season) in an ugly home loss to the Bears, negating Gabbert’s career high of 468 yards.

For Missouri, taking back the North will mean surviving a difficult early conference schedule, which opens with Colorado but then forces the Tigers to play at Texas A&M before hosting Oklahoma. The next week, they travel to Lincoln for another showdown with Nebraska that would give the winner the inside track at a North title.

3. Kansas State
The Wildcats busted in their bowl-or-bust game against Nebraska to close out last season, but will try and rebound with a run at the North title. They’ll miss Brandon Banks’ kick returns, but Daniel Thomas (1,265 yards in 2009) wouldn’t mind getting his number called almost 250 times again like he did last season. For Kansas State, the earlier the uncertainty ends at quarterback, the better. Three candidates enter spring with a chance to start.

4. Kansas
The personnel behind Kansas’ missing offensive firepower last season is gone. Kansas standouts QB Todd Reesing, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp won’t return, and new coach Turner Gill will try to patch back together a team that finished last season on a seven-game losing streak after winning its conference opener against Iowa State.

Sophomore running back Toben Opurum provides a nice foundation for Gill’s new offense after playing well when Sharp sat out or was slowed with injuries.

5. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads’ team showed progress in 2009, finishing the season with a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl for the program’s first winning season since 2005. He’ll try to improve on that with only four defensive starters returning this season.

Quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson return, but on the Cyclones’ schedule, so do Oklahoma and Texas. They’ll also face Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois in nonconference games. Returning to a bowl for a second consecutive season won’t be easy.

6. Colorado
The Buffaloes didn’t earn much respect around the conference after giving up 54 points to Toledo in an early-season loss in 2009. They finished with three close losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma State before finishing the season with a home loss to North champ Nebraska.

If Colorado wants to dig itself out of the North basement, it’ll need Tyler Hansen to play like he did in the first half of a win over Kansas in Hansen’s first start, when the Buffaloes charged to a 24-3 second-quarter lead behind two Hansen touchdowns.

What we learned in the Big 12, Week 11

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
12:25
PM ET
Here are some items that struck me while watching Big 12 games on Saturday.

Iowa State’s defensive resiliency has been stunning: Coach Paul Rhoads has helped the Cyclones respond after being gashed for 69 points in back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The Cyclones rebounded to limit Colorado to its season-low in points and put them into bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005. ISU limited the sputtering Buffaloes to three points on three trips inside the 10-yard line. The Cyclones might not have talent to match many Big 12 teams, but they play exceedingly hard. With a team coached by Rhoads, you wouldn’t expect anything else.

Where do the Jayhawks go from here? Todd Reesing talked after the game Saturday about being part of “the transformation of Kansas football.” Hopefully for the Jayhawks, their struggles during his senior season won’t be a step back to the Kansas program before he arrived. But it’s not a good sign. The Jayhawks were a preseason North favorite. Instead, they have dropped five-straight games in a season where the North is clearly down from previous levels. And they have to win against either surging Texas or improving Missouri simply to make a bowl appearance. Mark Mangino will have his work cut out to keep the program moving forward -- particularly after the loss of key players of the transformation like Reesing, Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and Darrell Stuckey after this season.

"Sooner Magic" appears to be turning around. Don't look now but Oklahoma’s blowout home victory over Texas A&M might have provided the Sooners with confidence heading into their final two games and could earn them the conference’s No. 2 bowl bid. With Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield struggling with an obvious foot injury in the second half of the Red Raiders’ loss to Oklahoma State, the Red Raiders don’t look as daunting heading into Saturday’s game in Lubbock. And if Oklahoma can win that game, their chances will improve against Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Game the following week at home with Zac Robinson dinged up with an apparent concussion. Maybe we shouldn’t count Bob Stoops’ team out quickly with a schedule that appears to be providing some good fortune after so much bad luck earlier in the season.

Zac Robinson's health will determine Oklahoma State's BCS hopes: The biggest reason for Oklahoma State’s second-half transformation against Texas Tech was the stellar play of Robinson, who ran without abandon behind a beefy offensive line. It’s what the Cowboys need to be successful and conceivably could catapult them into the first BCS bowl appearance in school history. Losses by teams in front of them like USC, Arizona, Houston, Utah and Miami will provide the Cowboys with a chance to improve in the polls later Sunday. But in order to finish the season strong with hopes for that elusive BCS berth, Robinson has to be recovered from his concussion and productive for the Cowboys’ season-ending games against Colorado and Oklahoma.

Texas’ defense could face bigger-than-expected tests during the next two weeks: Fiery Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was upset about his team allowing two window-dressing touchdowns against Baylor. But the Longhorns played exceptionally well early against the Bears -- particularly considering starting middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy was held out with a knee injury. The Longhorns lead the nation in rushing defense and total defense. They are the nation’s only team to rank in the top seven in total defense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin in the NCAA’s most recent statistics. And they will have a good chance to fine-tune for the Big 12 championship game and beyond when facing Kansas and Texas A&M in the next two weeks.

Remember, the Longhorns were carved up for 420 passing yards and three touchdowns by Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts. They have competed against injury-weakened offenses from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State earlier in the season and have faced backup quarterbacks the last two weeks against UCF and Baylor. Reesing and Jerrod Johnson will provide them with a beneficial challenge in their last two regular-season games.

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


Oklahoma State was expected to have a difficult test today at Kyle Field against Texas A&M.

Kansas was presumed to have a cakewalk at home against Iowa State.

Both favorites are struggling in the Big 12's early games.

Texas A&M has rebounded from some early struggles to claim a 8-7 lead over Oklahoma State.

And Kansas has reclaimed a 13-12 lead over Iowa State.

Kansas desperately needs a victory to keep up with Nebraska in the Big 12 North. And they are doing it without Jake Sharp, who again missed a start with that nagging injury.

Oklahoma State is playing without Dez Bryant, who was left at home after he was indefinitely suspended by the NCAA.

Zac Robinson appears to have missed his top receiver as he's completed only 4 of 11 passes to start off.

Texas A&M produced only 21 yards on its first three possessions. But the Aggies have been more consistent, taking the lead when holder Ryan Tannehill bobbled the snap but still scrambled to make the end zone.

The favored teams need to step up after the tougher-than-expected early challenges.

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


Here's a look at some of the under-the-radar topics that people are talking about across the Big 12:
  • Colorado coaches are hopeful the insertion of cornerback Ben Burney into the lineup at strong safety with cornerbacks Cha'pelle Brown and Jimmy Smith will provide the Buffaloes with a more athletic secondary that will be more productive as it prepares for the Big 12’s high-powered passing attacks. The retooled group will get its first big test Thursday night when it challenges West Virginia’s talented pitch-and-catch tandem of quarterback Jarrett Brown and receiver Jock Sanders.
  • The versatility of Texas’ offense was shown against UTEP when the Longhorns produced 300 rushing and passing yards for only the second time in school history. The only other time came against Houston in 1990. It showed the versatility and depth of Texas’ running and passing offense. The Longhorns’ ability to effectively do both was what UTEP coach Mike Price was raving about after the game -- shortly after he called Texas the best team in the country.
  • It might be time for Harris Interactive Poll voters to take a sobriety test after their first poll results were released this week. Is it my imagination, or could you think of a less-likely team to receive votes in a national poll than Kansas State, which is tied for 42nd in the most recent Harris poll with two points? Yes, that would be the same Kansas State that has yet to beat an FBS opponent this season with its only victories over FCS teams Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.
  • Concern for Kansas’ offensive line remains the Jayhawks’ most worrisome problem during their week off. The Jayhawks allowed five sacks of Todd Reesing against Southern Mississippi. Considering Reesing’s slight size, his health could be in risk unless the Jayhawks improve their pass-blocking tendencies pronto. But the return of Jake Sharp to the starting lineup could improve some of the blitz pickups by Kansas’ running backs.
  • Nebraska’s pass-rushing packages are rounding into shape after they notched two sacks against Louisiana-Lafayette -- the first sacks against quarterback Chris Masson this season. After being shut out in the season opener, the Cornhuskers have rebounded to notch 10 sacks over the last three weeks. Most impressively, nine different players have shared in that largesse of sacks.
  • The loss of top Iowa State pass rusher Rashawn Parker with a season-ending knee injury could have some serious consequences for the Cyclones. Parker had provided the most consistent pass-rushing threat and will be missed during the rest of the season. His replacement will be sophomore Patrick Neal, a converted tight end who snagged a touchdown grab last season against Missouri.
  • Oklahoma State’s offensive line showed some continuity against Grambling, playing with the same group as it had last week. It marked the first time this season that the Cowboys have started the same five players along the offensive front in back-to-back weeks.
  • One underrated impressive trend for Texas A&M in their blowout victory over UAB was that the Aggies were penalized only three times. That effort came after the Aggies came into the game leading the nation with 30 penalties in their first two games. A&M coaches made a special efforts in game preparations last week to limit mental mistakes. The results were seen in the Aggies’ clean performance over the Blazers.

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


With all of the offensive success that has taken place in today's Southern Mississippi-Kansas game, it's amazing to me how important mistakes have been in the Jayhawks' 21-14 halftime lead.

I was shocked at Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora's call shortly before the half when he passed up a field goal attempt and instead tried a poorly executed quarterback sneak by Austin Davis from the Kansas 16-yard line that failed with 20 seconds left.

It was the Golden Eagles' second critical red zone mistake that cost them points. Davis had another critical fumble deep inside Kansas territory that kept the Jayhawks from scoring earlier in the half.

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing had a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes as well. He was flagged for intentional grounding, which took the Jayhawks out of field goal range and killed a possession. And the fiery Reesing also picked up a taunting penalty later in the half when he got in the face of a USM defender.

The Jayhawks didn't have too many other problems as they rolled up 352 yards in the first half. It's even more amazing considering it's happening without leading rusher Jake Sharp who was a late scratch with a lingering calf injury.

Kansas' offense has been sizzling with 14 plays of at least 10 yards so far -- nine passes and five runs.

As expected, Southern Mississippi has given Kansas everything they wanted. If the Golden Eagles can cut down on the mistakes -- particularly on scoring drives -- they've got a great chance to sneak out of Memorial Stadium with an upset.

Big 12 predictions

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I had my best week of the season last week by picking nine out of 11 games correctly, but assuredly I can do better. Hopefully this week's picks will continue my hot streak.

Missouri 38, Nevada 24: The Wolf Pack likely will stack the box and dare Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert to beat them by throwing the ball without much benefit of a running game. If the Tigers can do a good job of containing Nevada defensive ends Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, they should be able to dominate the offensive part of the game. Nevada has lost disappointing road games to Notre Dame and Colorado State, and Chris Ault’s team will be charged about its home debut in a rare national television game. And bet the Wolf Pack will be itching for revenge after last year’s 69-17 loss to the Tigers at Columbia. But Missouri still has too many weapons.

Kansas 31, Southern Mississippi 20: It’s been a trying week for the Fighting Manginos around Lawrence after some players were involved in a nasty brawl with the Kansas basketball team that splashed both programs on the front pages. They will be challenged to stop the Golden Eagles, who come into the game with an eight-game winning streak -- tied with Mississippi behind only Florida on the national list. The streak continued last week when the Golden Eagles rallied from an early 17-point deficit to claim a 37-34 victory over Virginia. The improving Kansas defense will be challenged to contain running backs Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison, who both gashed the Cavaliers for more than 100 yards. Both teams should be able to score points in bunches, but I’m thinking that Kansas has too much firepower with Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe, even with the status of leading rusher Jake Sharp likely to be a game-time decision.

Kansas State 31, Tennessee Tech 7: The Wildcats have started out slowly on offense, scoring the fewest points since Bill Snyder’s first season coaching them in 1989. And they will be playing an underrated Tennessee Tech team coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. The Golden Eagles were competitive against preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Eastern Kentucky last week before falling 17-7. But they’ll be stepping up in class against a Kansas State team hopeful of stopping a recent two-game losing streak. Look for Snyder to try to get tailback Daniel Thomas involved early and try to build some confidence for quarterback Carson Coffman to take into Big 12 play.

Texas 52, UTEP 10: Texas still hasn’t strung together a complete game this season. This might be the Longhorns’ opportunity. Colt McCoy struggled again last week in the first half, battling the vestiges of a flu attack. But he again rebounded in the second half, taking advantage of new offensive weapons in running back Tre’ Newton and flex receiver Dan Buckner. UTEP has been effective running the ball with Donald Buckram, who is averaging almost 7 yards a play. The Miners scored five rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over New Mexico State -- their first victory of the season -- but will be supremely challenged against Texas’ massive defensive front.

Oklahoma State 48, Grambling 17: The Cowboys will be looking to build some momentum in their final nonconference game. Zac Robinson looked closer to his 2008 form last week against Rice, although the Cowboys’ struggling pass defense continues to be a concern. And Oklahoma State might have to play without top playmakers Dez Bryant (calf) and Perrish Cox (shoulder) in this game. Grambling has been plagued with 12 turnovers in its first three games and will be facing an opportunistic Oklahoma State defense intent to boost that total.

Iowa State 33, Army 21: This should be an intriguing battle as two 2-1 teams coming off impressive victories over Mid-American Conference teams will meet. Iowa State will be gunning to beat its 2008 season win total with a victory Saturday night. The Cyclones rebounded from a struggling performance against Iowa with an impressive victory at Kent State that snapped a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Austen Arnaud orchestrated a strong performance as Alexander Robinson rushed for 143 yards for his second straight 100-yard game. The key for the Cyclones will be to contain Army’s option-based attack and force quarterback Trent Steelman into long-yardage passing situations. This one will be won in the trenches, and I like Iowa State’s chances because the Cyclones are more multi-faceted.

Nebraska 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10: All things about Nebraska football will be celebrated in this game as the Cornhuskers toast their 300th straight home sellout. This game will be similar to many of the previous ones during the streak. Look for the Cornhuskers to mash the Ragin’ Cajuns at the point of attack with a potent running attack keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Roy Helu Jr. Quarterback Zac Lee sustained a splinter fracture on his left (non-throwing) thumb last week against Virginia Tech, but should play. More worrisome, the Cornhuskers' defense collapsed in last week’s disappointing loss, but won’t be tested that much by Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Chris Masson. Look for the Cornhuskers to empty the benches early, using youngsters like Cody Green and Rex Burkhead throughout much of the second half.

Texas A&M 38, UAB 24: The surprisingly potent Texas A&M offense will get its toughest challenge to date against UAB. A key for the Aggies will be to continue their explosive passing game that has helped quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who ranks third nationally in total offense and 20th in passing efficiency. Johnson should have a ready target in the UAB pass defense, which ranks 118th nationally and was blistered for 413 yards last week by Troy. The Aggies will have to play without leading receiver Jeff Fuller, but precocious freshman Uzoma Nwachukwu produced four touchdowns on four “touches” last week against Utah State. Texas A&M’s defense needs some improvement after struggling against Utah State’s option-based attack and UAB quarterback Joe Webb will test it. A&M should win this game if it can give Johnson enough time to hit his downfield receivers.

Baylor 48, Northwestern State 7: The Bears will be attempting to rebuild their confidence after a disappointing loss to Connecticut snuffed out much of the momentum after their season-opening triumph over Wake Forest. Quarterback Robert Griffin struggled through a miserable game with a career-low 139 yards of total offense. He needs to get his confidence back, hopefully by throwing the ball downfield to get David Gettis and Kendall White involved early. The Bears’ rush defense has to be a big concern after allowing 235 yards and two touchdowns to Connecticut last week. And they’ll be facing a competent Northwestern State rushing attack that dented Houston for 155 rushing yards in their first game of the season. But I’m expecting the Bears to rebound with a strong performance after last week.

Texas Tech 45, Houston 44: Get out your calculators and prepare to stay up late to watch the end of this one. It should be an entertaining contest between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts and Houston’s Case Keenum. The Red Raiders stuck with Texas last week until deep in the fourth quarter when turnovers and penalties finally caught up with them. But Potts passed for 430 yards in an impressive road debut. He’ll be facing another challenge against Houston, which stunned then-No. 5 Oklahoma State two weeks ago before taking last week off. It will be the first matchup between the two old Southwest Conference rivals since the conference dissolved in 1995. The No. 18 Cougars will be playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1991 -- when David Klingler was their quarterback. The Red Raiders have a better defense than Oklahoma State and are familiar with Houston because they face a variation of the Cougars’ spread offense every day in practice. That should provide them with just enough of an edge to boost them to win a wild victory.

Last week: 9-2 (81.8 percent)

Season: 25-8 (75.8 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here’s a look at my Big 12 power rankings after the games on Saturday.

1. Texas: The Longhorns slumbered through the first half again, but had enough left to put away pesky Texas Tech. The defense made stops when it needed to, forcing two critical fourth-quarter turnovers. And Jordan Shipley had his way with the Red Raiders’ special teams for the second straight season.

2. Oklahoma: Now who was that Bradford guy? Landry Jones set a school record with six TD passes and he’s made Ryan Broyles the nation’s most explosive receiver over the past two weeks. The Sooners notched six quarterback sacks against Tulsa as they have posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. And they have a week off to get Sam Bradford healthy to get ready for the huge game at Miami.

3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys put aside the disappointment of their Houston loss with a strong offensive effort against Rice -- even without Kendall Hunter. Zac Robinson played better than he has all season with more consistency in running the offense. But the offensive line’s play -- an expected team strength -- remains a concern.

4. Kansas: Is it a sign of the times for the Jayhawks? They beat Duke by 28 points, gained nearly 500 yards, committed no turnovers, notched five sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown and still weren’t overly impressed with their effort. They’ll face their toughest effort to date against Southern Mississippi, and they might have to do it without top running back Jake Sharp.

5. Missouri: No hangover after the closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green as the Tigers thrashed Furman, giving the Paladins their worst loss to a BCS team in 14 seasons. Gary Pinkel gave opponents a couple of gadget plays to keep them occupied in game preparations for the rest of the season. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert got the offense back on track by scoring on six straight possessions. But the Nevada game appears to be similar to the road games that the Tigers used to struggle with before Chase Daniel arrived. Will they revert to their old ways on national television against the Wolf Pack?

6. Nebraska: Losing like the Cornhuskers did at Virginia Tech has to be devastating for Bo Pelini, whose abiding interest has always been defense. Having Tyrod Taylor -- a quarterback that Pelini wanted to force him to beat him with his arm -- defeat him with two clutch passes has to be especially galling. Roy Helu Jr. ran like the Big 12’s best back, but the Cornhuskers lost this game because of mistakes and their inability to convert in the red zone.

7. Texas Tech: Taylor Potts showed some moxie as he kept the Red Raiders close, but penalties and two critical fourth-quarter turnovers were the reason why Tech lost at Texas. It was a tough first conference game and the Red Raiders can’t linger on the loss as they face a hungry and nationally ranked Houston team on national television Saturday night. It won’t be easy.

8. Texas A&M: Four touchdowns on four touches turned Uzoma “EZ” Nwachukwu into a fantasy dream player and a key addition for the Aggies -- particularly with Jeff Fuller’s leg injury likely to keep him out for several weeks. That loss likely means that Ryan Tannehill will be a receiver rather than a quarterback for the foreseeable future. Von Miller produced three more sacks, but the Aggies need a lot of help on defense after being gashed for 30 points by Utah State. UAB will be an even bigger challenge this week, and high-powered Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett looms the following week.

9. Baylor: Maybe the Bears started believing their press clippings, or Connecticut just beat them across both lines. The Huskies did a nice job of neutralizing Robert Griffin, holding Baylor to 88 yards in the first half. And they beat the Bears up inside, producing 235 rushing yards as they dominated in the trenches. This game might haunt Baylor once the bowl season rolls around.

10. Iowa State: Breaking the nation’s longest road losing streak was particularly sweet for Paul Rhoads, as he accomplished something that Gene Chizik could never do for the Cyclones on his first try at a road win. Austen Arnaud bounced back strongly from his struggles against Iowa, and Alexander Robinson remains the Big 12’s most underrated running back. The Cyclones got a boost against an injury-ravaged Kent State’s offense, but the Cyclones still allowed them to convert only one of 12 third-down plays. Suddenly, a 4-1 start seems possible with winnable games approaching against Army and Kansas State.

11. Colorado: A players’ only meeting apparently unified the Buffaloes and got them to forget about their miserable start. The Buffaloes’ maligned defense finally stepped up, forcing five consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and limiting Wyoming to 230 yards in an emphatic 24-0 victory. The offense proved there’s more than Darrell Scott as Rodney "Speedy" Stewart emerged to rush for 127 yards to spark the Buffaloes’ first win.

12. Kansas State: The Wildcats had a chance to challenge against UCLA, but were again done in by special-teams errors and a sputtering offense that couldn’t get Daniel Thomas untracked and allowed six sacks. Kansas State had six drives inside UCLA territory but produced only nine points. Even more worrisome was the Wildcats’ struggles containing UCLA’s rushing game -- not a good sign heading into conference play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I'm getting ready for my live chat in a few minutes, but I'm glancing a little bit at Duke and Kansas in the early Big 12 game.

I was surprised by how effective Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis looked on the opening drive. Two plays and 87 yards later, the Blue Devils don't look like they are intimidated by the Jayhawks or their No. 22 ranking as we're playing with a 7-7 deadlock early in the second quarter.

But since that first drive, Kansas has made some nice defensive adjustments -- Duke has produced only 42 yards since then.

Top Kansas runner Jake Sharp had carries on three of the first four plays of the game, but just returned back into the game after missing the rest of the first quarter with an undisclosed injury. The Jayhawks look energized by his return.

I was a little surprised that Duke coach David Cutcliffe pulled Lewis for the last series to insert freshman quarterback Sean Renfree. The new quarterback completed his first four throws, but the offense seemed to be missing a spark when Lewis left.

This game has been surprisingly interesting. I figured Kansas would win it easily, but Duke has been a revelation early.

And another thing. Those Duke road uniforms look exactly like the old Baltimore Colts jerseys from my youth. I'm halfway expecting Lenny Moore and Johnny Unitas any minute.

Big 12 spectators guide, Week 3

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
6:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here’s a look at Big 12 games this week gauged in terms of spectator appeal.

A ranking of four stars indicate must-see football. Three-star games are definitely worth the investment in time. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates, but little more. And one-star games mean you might be better off taking care of your plumbing or visiting your in-laws.

Check out this list and plan your Saturday schedules accordingly.

FOUR-STAR GAMES

Nebraska at Virginia Tech, ABC-TV, 3:30 p.m. ET: The Cornhuskers are looking for their first big statement road victory under Bo Pelini in a tough visit to the Hokies, who have lost at home only 15 times in the last 16 seasons. The Cornhuskers played them tight last season in Lincoln and are improved. We’ll see how much in this game.

Texas Tech at Texas, ABC-TV, 8 p.m.: Mike Leach has lost all four times his teams have played in Austin, allowing 59, 52, 43 and 42 points. Taylor Potts came within one touchdown pass of tying the school record last week, but will be challenged by a stout Longhorn secondary still smarting about squandering the game in Lubbock last season. Look for a shootout with the first team that reaches 40 likely to win.

THREE-STAR GAMES

Tulsa at Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m.: Landry Jones will get his first real test against the Hurricanes, who have won 38 games in the last four seasons including their last two bowl games. The Sooners will be challenged, but the key will be to run the ball and allow the defense to tee off on Tulsa’s passing offense.

Connecticut at Baylor, 5 p.m.: The Bears will gun for two-straight victories to start the season after taking last week off. They are intent on revenge after last season’s loss to Connecticut, which comes into the game with uncertainty at quarterback following their loss to North Carolina last week and the injury to starting quarterback Zach Frazer.

Kansas State at UCLA, 10:15 p.m.: This one might get ugly, considering UCLA is down a quarterback with Kevin Prince’s injury and already ranks 103rd in total offense. Kansas State might have a chance if they can keep up their strong recent defensive work and continue getting a big effort out of Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas.

TWO-STAR GAMES

Duke at Kansas, noon: Too bad this isn’t a basketball game. Instead look for the potent one-two rushing game of Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum to dominate in the trenches against a Duke defense that isn’t nearly as feisty as the one that Coach K’s team plays.

Rice at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.: Zac Robinson’s recent offensive struggles magically will be fixed after playing a Rice defense that ranks last nationally in scoring defense and pass defense and is among the bottom five in total defense and pass efficiency defense.

Iowa State at Kent State, ESPN360, 7 p.m.: This will be Paul Rhoads’ best hope to get a road victory and snap the Cyclones’ nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. This should be an ugly game as two teams ranked 94th or worst in turnover margin will compete to see who can protect the ball the best.

ONE-STAR GAMES

Furman at Missouri, 2 p.m.: This looks like a chance for Blaine Gabbert to be able to rebuild his confidence against the outmatched Furman secondary. I’m just glad I’m not covering this game on deadline where I’d have to worry about typing Furman tailback Tersoo Uhaa's name too many times.

Wyoming at Colorado, 3:30 p.m.: I would expect to be able to find several Colorado fans wearing paper bags over their heads at this game. As it is, new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen will be challenged to claim his team’s first victory at Folsom Field since 1982. But if anybody should know, it might be Christensen. The Missouri teams on which he served as offensive coordinator humbled the Buffaloes in the last two seasons by a combined score of 113-10.

Utah State at Texas A&M, 7 p.m.: The Texas Aggies will probably score a boatload of points in this and we won’t know anymore about them after meeting the Utah version of the Aggies. Utah State hasn’t beaten a school from a conference with an automatic berth in the BCS since upsetting Kansas State in 1992. Bet it won’t happen Saturday night, either.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Opposing teams have accounted for Kansas’ potent passing game early this season. Nickel and dime pass defenses have been the rule as teams have tried to snuff out Todd Reesing’s aerial attack on nearly every down.
Kenny Felt/Icon SMI
Jake Sharp has gained over 100 yards in both of Kansas' games this season.

It’s almost seemed like opposing teams have been willing to dare the Jayhawks to beat them with a ground game and an offensive line that were presumed to be question marks entering the season.

Consider the dare answered after the first two weeks of the season, thanks to the potent one-two rushing attack of senior Jake Sharp and bullish freshman Toben Opurum.

“Teams have realized that we have a great quarterback and receiver combination and have been willing to do what they can to try to stop our passing game,” Sharp said. “They’ve been willing to challenge us. And so far, we’ve been able to capitalize.”

The Jayhawks’ running game has been one of their biggest surprises as they have averaged a Big 12-leading 291.5 yards per game in their impressive 2-0 start.

Kansas started the season by gashing Northern Colorado for 334 yards. It was the Jayhawks’ top rushing performance since 2001. And they followed that with 255 yards against UTEP to spark a 34-7 victory.

“A lot of people have had questions about the offensive line coming in,” Opurum said. “They’ve had a lot of people moving around and some that maybe some people haven’t heard of. But they’ve done a good job of opening holes for me and Jake. They’ve played well, exceeded expectations and can only get better.”

Sharp has built on a fast 2008 finish to rush for 100 yards in both games, becoming only the second player in the Big 12 along with Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas to accomplish that feat this season.

And the muscular 235-pound Opurum has also had a blazing start, inviting comparisons to former Kansas tailback Brandon McAnderson because of his size and tough inside running ability.

Despite the offensive line's lack of experience together, Sharp has been impressed with their work.

“Everything came together with confidence and a better understanding,” Sharp said. “When I’m going to hit the hole, I have confidence it will be there. Our offensive line has done a great job so far.”

And Oburum has quickly shown that same kind of ability, averaging 70.5 rushing yards per game to rank ninth in the conference.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino credits some of Sharp and Opurum’s quick start to the growth of a precocious offensive line.

“Jake Sharp is quicker and faster than he was a year ago. And Toben is a young running back who is learning and has a lot of natural ability and a lot of tools,” Mangino said. “But the other key is our line. We have a bunch of young guys, but they are very talented.”

Mangino switched starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and inserted 285-pound redshirt freshman Tanner Hawkinson, a converted defensive end, into the starting lineup.

“The way I describe our offensive line is that you’d like to have experience, toughness and talent,” Mangino said. “We have the talent and toughness, but what we lack in experience we are making up because of the other two. It’s a combination of those things.”

But the real test for the Jayhawks will be when they start facing conventional defenses that aren’t skewed to the pass.

That trend, Sharp said, would be the biggest indicator that Kansas’ ground game finally has arrived.

“I would like to think they would have to do that before long,” Sharp said. “The spread offense we run is obviously very explosive and they have to account for that. But we take what people give us. We can throw the ball, no question. But we’ve shown we’ve got a balanced attack and can run the ball a little, too.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some items I'm interested in following in the Big 12 games this weekend.

1. Colorado handling adversity after its opening-game debacle: The Buffaloes suffered an embarrassing loss to cross-state rival Colorado State in their opener Sunday night. Coach Dan Hawkins and his team have only five days as they travel halfway across the country to try to blot those painful memories against Toledo. It will be interesting to see how much heralded Colorado tailback Darrell Scott will play against the Rockets -- particularly after his pointed criticism of his lack of playing time earlier this week.

2. Landry Jones’ first career start: Oklahoma’s replacement for Sam Bradford shouldn’t be tested by Idaho State, which was drubbed by Arizona State last week. But it will still be telling to see how much leeway Bob Stoops will give Jones, a redshirt freshman. Coaches say they like his poise and demeanor, but I expect a conservative game plan that will feature heavy use of Oklahoma’s running game that unexpectedly struggled to produce 118 yards last week against BYU.

3. What the Oklahoma State defense does for an encore: The Cowboys punched out an impressive 24-10 victory over Georgia last week. The revelation for the Cowboys was a strong defensive effort that allowed a touchdown on its opening possession and three points during the rest of the game. They showed a physical nature that had been missing in recent seasons -- particularly noticeable because starters Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin were out of the lineup. It will be even tougher this week against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total yards last season and got off to a fast start with four touchdown passes against Northwestern State last week. As good as Georgia was supposed to be offensively, the Cowboys will face a bigger test this week against the Cougars.

4. Can Blaine Gabbert match his opening-game success? One game into his career, some Missouri media members are already anointing Gabbert after his scintillating 319-yard passing effort against Illinois. His big outing earned him the Big 12’s offensive player of the week. He’ll be challenged to duplicate that success against an underrated Bowling Green team that allowed 263 passing yards in a victory over Troy last week, but still notched two interceptions. Gabbert’s continued development is the critical element that can help the Tigers continue as the Big 12’s surprise early power.

5. Nebraska’s front four: The Cornhuskers’ defensive front of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner was expected to be the team’s strength. The group struggled last week against FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, failing to notch a sack. Those struggles were part of the reason Bo Pelini rebuked his defense earlier this week, calling the Blackshirts “soft.” And it won’t be easy for them as they try to harass Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard, who wasn’t sacked last week.

6. Wyoming freshman cornerback Shamiel Gray continue his success against Colt McCoy: Gray had an auspicious start to his college career with three interceptions in the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over Weber State. But he’ll face a huge challenge against McCoy, who has been intercepted only six times in his last 335 attempts dating back to last season. Gray hasn’t faced the athletic collection of receivers he’ll meet from Texas, which will make continuing his turnover spree that much more difficult.

7. How Iowa’s defense will handle Iowa State’s new no-huddle offense: The Hawkeyes and veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker have seen a variety of offenses come and go over the years at Iowa State. But they haven’t faced anything quite like Tom Herman’s no-huddle attack that seemed to work well in the Cyclones’ first game against North Dakota State. The Cyclones likely didn’t show everything and will be ready to try to continue their recent success that has enabled them to win four of their last five games against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium.

8. Ground-bound Jayhawks: After gashing Northern Colorado for 328 yards, Kansas may have similar opportunities against the Miners, who allowed 150 yards in a loss last week to Buffalo and 199 yards per game last season. Mark Mangino has growing confidence in his ball carriers with Jake Sharp, Toben Opurum and quarterback Todd Reesing all rushing for at least 79 yards rushing last week. Dezmon Briscoe will be back with a chance to stretch the UTEP defense, but the Jayhawks have been so successful in the trenches that I look for them to at least start the game with a similar strategy against the Miners.

9. Improvement on Kansas State’s special teams: Blunders in the kicking game led to two easy touchdowns for Massachusetts, making the Wildcats’ 21-17 season-opening victory way too close for comfort. Back in the day, Bill Snyder’s teams were always renowned for their special-teams success and Ron Prince continued that strategy during his tenure. They can’t afford similar mistakes Saturday night, or it could mean a long, nightmarish visit to hot, sticky Cajun Field.

10. Texas Tech’s running game looks for a comeback: After struggling to produce only 40 yards rushing and only two rushes of at least 10 yards against FCS opponent North Dakota, the Red Raiders’ running backs, and particularly Baron Batch, were called out by coach Mike Leach. It will be noteworthy if that lights a fire under them -- especially considering that Rice was gashed for 295 rushing yards last week by UAB.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's the player, school or coach that "done you wrong" once upon a time -- or maybe even repeatedly.

These figures resonate through the years for rival schools, providing an enemy that serves as a unifying element for hatred from fans of a rival school.

Here's a list of Big 12 villains over the years, both historic and present. Take a good look at the grouping and see if you have any recommendations of players or coaches I might have missed.

I'd be curious to see if any coaches or players spark greater antagonism than the ones I've selected.

Baylor Bears

Current villain: Texas coach Mack Brown, who's gone 11-0 against them with no signs of stopping.

All-time villain: Former Baylor coach Kevin Steele. His decision to try to ram in a statement touchdown against UNLV in 1999 blew up in his face like an exploding cigar when Darrell Bush fumbled and Kevin Thomas raced 99 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game. That play snatched a sure victory from the Bears, making Steele and the Bears the laughingstock of college football. His program never recovered from that moment.

Colorado Buffaloes

Current villain: Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, who piled up 106 straight points against the Buffaloes in the last two seasons while offensive coordinator at Missouri, beating them by a combined 113-10 margin. The Buffaloes will have a chance for payback this season when Christensen brings a less-talented Wyoming team to Boulder.

All-time villain: Nebraska coach Tom Osborne directed the Cornhuskers to a career record of 21-3-1 against the Buffaloes during his coaching stint from 1973-97.

Iowa State Cyclones

Current villain: Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has thrown seven career TDs against the Cyclones and beaten them twice, including last season's dramatic 35-33 comeback victory.

All-time villain: Iowa coach Hayden Fry, whose homespun witticisms weren't that funny for Cyclone fans when he was winning 15 straight against them from 1983-97.

Kansas Jayhawks

Current villain: Nebraska DT/FB Ndamukong Suh who beat the Jayhawks with a memorable offensive and defensive performance last season and is back for more in 2009.

All-time villain: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder beat the Jayhawks 12 of his last 13 seasons in his first coaching run, including a nine-season streak where he rolled up 41, 38, 48, 54, 50, 52, 40, 64 and 42 points in consecutive blowout victories.

Kansas State Wildcats

Current villain: Kansas running back Jake Sharp grew up only 61 miles from Manhattan in nearby Salina, but has abused them since arriving at college. He's tormented them with five career touchdowns, including four last season.

All-time villain: Texas A&M running back Sirr Parker, whose dramatic game-winning touchdown in overtime snuffed out the Wildcats' national-title hopes in 1998.

Missouri Tigers

Current villain: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has beaten the Tigers in the Big 12 title game each of the last two seasons, ruining their hopes for a first Big 12 title.

All-time villain: Colorado coach and former Missouri grad and assistant Bill McCartney should have been magnanimous after getting a gift victory over the Tigers en route to a shared 1990 national title. Instead, he sparked hostility among his old friends by ripping Faurot Field's "treacherous" playing field.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Current villain: Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel talked a lot of smack and then backed it up by beating the Cornhuskers in each of the last two seasons. And after orchestrating a 52-17 victory in Lincoln last season, he raised the hackles of Cornhusker fans by complaining about Nebraska players spitting on him. He'll be gone this season, but definitely not forgotten among Cornhusker fans.

All-time villain: Oklahoma. Even though the rivalry was marked by immense respect on both sides -- imagine Barry Switzer doing Nebraska television commercials and endorsing Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne -- the Sooners' domination was a constant source of irritation for the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma claimed 16 straight from 1943-59 and beat Osborne in eight of his first nine games against them.

Oklahoma Sooners

Current villain: Those pesky BCS bowls. The Sooners have lost five-straight BCS games, stripping coach Bob Stoops of much of his national stature that should have been gleaned from an unprecedented three-straight Big 12 titles.

All-time villain: Darrell Royal represented the ultimate turncoat to Sooner fans after starring at the school from 1946-49 as a record-setting quarterback and defensive back. His 12-7-1 career record against the Sooners included eight straight victories and 12 of his 14 games against them that made his old friends despise him.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Current villain: Texas coach Mack Brown, who has run off an 11-0 record against them. Worse, four of those victories were by four points or less, including the last two games.

All-time villain: Oklahoma. The cross-state rivals have turned the "Bedlam Series" into a one-sided affair with a 74-16-7 edge. Since Josh Fields orchestrated back-to-back upsets in 2001-02, Stoops hasn't called off the dogs in six-straight victories, exploding for 52, 38, 42, 27, 49 and 61 points.

Texas Longhorns

Current villain: The Big 12's tiebreaker rules. Texas fans are still lamenting the national-title shot that got away last season, despite beating Big 12 title game participants Oklahoma and Missouri.

All-time villain: Jackie Sherrill. He beat them regularly at Texas A&M and continued his success at Mississippi State. Even worse, he fired up his team before that 1991 victory by castrating a steer and then crowed about it after his Texas-taming success. Even more than Barry Switzer, Longhorn fans hate Sherrill.

Texas A&M Aggies

Current villain: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. He's beaten them seven of nine games, including four straight. And he's gigged them by mocking their traditions, their coaching, their quarterbacks, everything but "The Dixie Chicken."

All-time villain: Texas. All things burnt orange set off Aggie fans -- with good reason. Their team has been dominated by the Longhorns in the school's longest rivalry. And how much of a Texas fixation do the Aggies have? The second verse of the Aggie War Hymn is essentially all about Texas.

Texas Tech

Current villain: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Nobody in the conference does a better job of rolling up points or handcuffing Tech's offense than his Tigers, who have averaged 47 points and won by an average of 26.3 points per game during recent three-game winning streak in the series.

All-time villain: Texas A&M. Aggie fans chap Red Raider followers by claiming the game isn't a rivalry. Mike Leach has made it seem one-sided in recent seasons. But look closely enough and you'll find it's not unusual to see the A&M logo
adorning urinals in several bars in Lubbock. Isn't that the best sign of antipathy there is?

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