NCF Nation: Kendrick Harper
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After making a trip to the Orange Bowl last season as the first BCS appearance in school history, Kansas is back for more in tonight's Insight Bowl against Minnesota. Here's a look at several items to watch in the game.
Who to watch: It's easy to get lost as a quarterback in the Big 12 at times, but Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing quietly broke a slew of his own single-season school records this season with 302 completions, 406 attempts and 3,575 passing yards. When Kansas' young offensive line gives him protection, the diminutive Reesing can carve defenses up. His chances for success Wednesday will be magnified by the return to health of key weapons like wide receiver Kerry Meier and running back Jake Sharp, who both struggled with injuries late in the season. It will be the healthiest that Kansas has been since early in the season, providing the Jayhawks an opportunity against a slumping Minnesota team that lost its last four games after starting 7-1.
What to watch: The play of Kansas' secondary will be critical to the Jayhawks' chances. Starting cornerback Justin Thornton did not make the trip for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Senior Kendrick Harper will start in his place. That retooled unit will try to contain Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, who was hot during the Gophers' fast start but averaged only 144.7 yards and threw more interceptions than touchdowns in Minnesota's last three games. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster fired offensive line coach Phil Meyer and replaced him withTim Davis as the running-game coordinator after the late slump. But the Gophers' ability to pass the ball from the spread offense will determine whether they can sneak out of Sun Devil Stadium with an upset against an erratic Kansas pass defense that ranked 113th nationally and allowed 19 touchdown passes in its last six games.
Why to watch: The Jayhawks already made their mark by making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in the 119-season history of the program. They can crack another barrier Wednesday by winning, which would give them 20 victories in the last two seasons for the first time as well. A big effort against Minnesota also could set the tone heading into next season when the Jayhawks are positioned to be one of the North's preseason favorites.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.
1. A transformed Kansas secondary has been readied for the Jayhawks' late push for the North Division title. Kansas coach Mark Mangino has gradually broken in new cornerbacks Daymond Patterson and Justin Thornton and moved up former backup Darrell Stuckey to the starting job at free safety. Those moves have left early-season starting cornerbacks Kendrick Harper andChris Harris buried in Mangino's playing rotation. The change is being made to boost Kansas' athleticism before huge tests against the horde of playmaking wide receivers the Jayhawks will be facing against Texas and Missouri in upcoming weeks.
2. Oft-injured playmaking Oklahoma defensive end Auston English will be missed during the rest of the regular season, although Sooner coaches privately aren't disappointed that redshirt freshman Frank Alexander will be the player replacing him. Alexander's comeback from an early-season stabbing injury has been strong and he's shown some noticeable instinctive defensive moves. There will be a drop-off from English to Alexander, but not as much as might be expected.
3. One of the major reasons for Texas Tech's recent defensive success has been the simplification of schemes since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator midway through last season. Two players who have particularly thrived up front have been defensive endsBrandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, who have combined for 17 sacks this season. And Tech's starting safeties, Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, merely are playing like the best pair at their position in the conference since the change.
4. Kansas State coach Ron Prince took over the play-calling responsibilities in the second half of the Wildcats' 52-21 loss last week at Kansas, helping spark a late offensive charge after the Wildcats had fallen into an early 31-0 hole at the half. While Prince was careful to say he hasn't lost confidence in offensive coordinator Dave Brock's calls from the press box, he wanted to provide his team immediate feedback from the sideline by taking a more active play-calling role.
5. Missouri tight end Chase Coffman has been listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Kansas State because of a sprained toe. But Coffman has a little extra inspiration to return to the lineup quicker. It's not only his final home game at Missouri, but he'll be playing against the old college team of his father, former NFL tight end Paul Coffman. And his little brother, Carson, is a backup quarterback for the Wildcats. If Chase Coffman can't go, freshman Andrew Jones would get the start, but expect him to at least to try to play early in the game.