NCF Nation: Kerry Meier

The rest of the Big 12's bowl misses

December, 15, 2010
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We took a look at how Texas missed a bowl game earlier today, and here's what happened to the Big 12's other three teams home for the holidays:

Colorado

The Buffaloes started hot, finishing their nonconference season at 3-1 with wins over bowl-bound opponents Georgia and Hawaii, but didn't get it done in conference play. The defense held conference opponents under 30 points just three times, and in one of those games, Colorado was shut out. The offense, despite a solid year from Rodney Stewart, just couldn't keep up. Playing the second half of the season without quarterback Tyler Hansen (spleen) didn't help, either. A meltdown at Kansas (blowing a 28-point lead in the game's final 11 minutes) led to coach Dan Hawkins getting fired, and the Buffaloes rallied to win their only two conference games of the year, but to reach a bowl they needed to beat Nebraska in Lincoln with the Huskers playing for a Big 12 North title. That wasn't going to happen.

Iowa State

Iowa State's schedule ended up not being quite as difficult as it seemed in the preseason, thanks to disappointing years from Texas, Texas Tech and Utah, but the Cyclones got a chance to play for a bowl berth against Missouri in their regular season finale. The problem was they had to do it without three-year starter at quarterback Austen Arnaud, and lost 14-0. Iowa State got a lot closer to a bowl game than most thought, and beat Texas for the first time in school history. Nebraska and Iowa State went to overtime in Ames, and when the Cyclones scored what looked like a game-tying touchdown, they faked the extra point. Tight end Collin Franklin was open, but the pass was intercepted, costing the Cyclones a precious sixth win for the second consecutive season.

Kansas

Kansas lost its three best players, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier and quarterback Todd Reesing, from a 5-7 team in 2009, and 2010 looked like a rebuilding year all along. That's exactly what football fans in Lawrence got. The Jayhawks lost their first three conference games by a combined score of 159-24, but for the most part, they were at least competitive and got a comeback conference win against Colorado. They also found some reliable offensive options in running back James Sims and receiver Daymond Patterson. Expect more uncertainty at quarterback through next season, though.

KU receivers filling big shoes

April, 26, 2010
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas' offense returns eight starters from its 2009 team, and two who left, receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, were drafted over the weekend.

They took with them a combined 444 receptions, 5,549 yards and 49 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Wilson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Jayhawks are counting on Johnathan Wilson to help replace Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe.
So, no pressure, guys.

Senior Johnathan Wilson and sophomore Bradley McDougald racked up over 30 catches each last season, and look to be the most obvious candidates to take over as the primary targets for Kale Pick, currently leading the race to replace quarterback Todd Reesing.

"Early in my years, I just kind of sat back and let the older guys do more of the talking. I took a bigger role now," Wilson said. "I’m a veteran."

Said McDougald: "I can be a go-to player. I want to show coaches that I’m working just like everyone else is. That even though I’m a young guy, I can be counted on in clutch situations."

For him, the spring has meant a move outside, away from the slot where he learned from Meier during his freshman season. He caught 33 passes a year ago for 318 yards but is still waiting for his first score.

"I’m not working against safeties. I’m not working against linebackers," McDougald said. "I’m working on faster corners that are up pressing, so working a lot of new techniques, getting off the line, getting off the jam."

McDougald went without a catch in Saturday's spring game, but the move outside should be simpler than playing both safety and receiver like he did as a freshman.

"I think Bradley can be a really good deep threat for us," Pick said.

He can't do that if he's stuck on the line. It's something new for him, and receivers coach Darrell Wyatt has shown each of the receivers plenty of tape on some of the NFL's best such as Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and Andre Johnson, as well as a handful of receivers he'd coached previously.

"Donald Driver helped me the most, because of how he works," McDougald said.

McDougald and Wilson won't have to do it alone. Chris Omigie caught four passes for 97 yards and a score. Christian Matthews, who began the spring as one of six quarterbacks, caught the game-winning score for his only reception of the day in Saturday's game. But he impressed Pick in the process.

"He only played receiver for a week and beats one of our corners for a touchdown," Pick said.

Kansas won't throw as much as they did under Reesing, at least this season, but without Briscoe and Meier, there should be plenty of catches to go around.

Former K-State QB Dylan Meier dead

April, 20, 2010
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Dylan Meier, who played quarterback at Kansas State from 2002-06, has died in a hiking accident, according to the Topeka Capital Journal.

He was 26.

Meier, a Pittsburg, Kan. native, appeared in 35 games for the Wildcats, including 11 starts at quarterback. He threw for 2,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His older brother, Shad Meier, played tight end at Kansas State from 1997-2000 and went on to a career in the NFL. Younger brother Kerry Meier just exhausted his eligibility at Kansas and is working toward Thursday's NFL Draft.

Pre-spring Big 12 Power Rankings

March, 5, 2010
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1. Texas

Texas has plenty of question marks, namely at receiver. Repeating as Big 12 champs would be a lot easier if one of its talented running backs emerges to flirt with 1,000 yards and takes some of the pressure off first-year starter Garrett Gilbert. Tre’ Newton is the most likely candidate, but Foswhitt Whittaker, or Fozzy Bear as I prefer to refer to the running back, wins if the tiebreaker is best name.

2. Oklahoma

The defense will be fearsome again, even after losing both starting cornerbacks and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. DeMarco Murray looks to take on an expanded role in the run game, but the offensive line will have to improve quickly for his increased touches to translate into increased yardage.

3. Nebraska

Nebraska finally made it back to the Big 12 title game after a two-year run by Missouri representing the North. Even after Ndamukong Suh’s exit, the teeth of the Husker D should be strong, with junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler mucking up the front lines. Both will be on display during the spring. The offense had one of its best performances of the season against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, but enters the spring with plenty to prove.

4. Missouri

Blaine Gabbert will continue to mature along with his young receivers, who lose the lanky Danario Alexander. Gabbert could put up gawdy numbers as a junior, but he’ll need the secondary to improve if the Tigers can challenge for the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies looked like a trainwreck at moments in 2009, (48-point loss to Kansas State? What? 55-point loss to Oklahoma? Ouch.) but their entertaining offense will take a backseat to Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense as the main attraction for spring.

6. Kansas State

The dark horse to win the North in 2010 came within a game of matching up with Texas in Dallas in 2009. Year 2 of the Bill Snyder Reboot could be fun to watch. The Wildcats had the fewest turnovers (18) of any team in the Big 12 last season, but losing Brandon Banks removes some of K-State’s explosiveness on offense.

7. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State hoped they could make a run at the Big 12 South last season, but got embarrassed in losses to Texas and Oklahoma. A South title in 2010 might be a stretch, but the spring could set up another solid season for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.

8. Baylor

Finding replacements for All-Big 12 defenders Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake should be the prime concern for the spring, but it will definitely be good to see Robert Griffin III get back on the field.

9. Texas Tech

What injustice! The Red Raiders below the Bears? Tommy Tuberville is a good coach, but the transition to Tech could be a difficult one. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders prove me wrong, but somebody’s got to finish last in a great South division. There won’t be an easy win for anyone against South teams this season. I mentioned this in Thursday's chat, but I’m interested to see how Tuberville’s second go-around with the spread offense (see: Tony Franklin) goes. Easing up on his trigger finger might be a good idea.

10. Kansas

Turner Gill loses a lot of offense without Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Sophomore running back Toben Opurum could emerge as one of the conference’s young stars this spring.

11. Colorado

Tyler Hansen and Toney Clemons bring some excitement to the Buffaloes spring, but the offensive line is also a concern. Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner returns from injury to help talented lineman Nate Solder protect Hansen and pave the way for running back Rodney Stewart, one of just three scholarship backs who will practice this spring.

12. Iowa State

The Cyclones depleted defense (only four starters return) could make it tough for Austen Arnaud to produce wins no matter how well he plays. Plenty of spots up for grabs there, and linebacker Jake Knott is one to watch as a new starter. Paul Rhoads impressed with a bowl win last season, but what does it say about a team when its best win (Nebraska) came by only two points when it forced eight turnovers and committed none?

Thanks for the support the first week, fans. Enjoy the weekend.
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.

Big 12 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
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Every football fan has a different definition of what makes a game great. Some fans might prefer defensive struggles. Other enjoy torrents of points.

The Big 12 has provided a few of latter -- and more -- over the last decade with some of the most entertaining games in recent college football history.

Here are my favorite 10 games of the past decade. There are 10 to 15 other games that legitimately could have been included on this list.

1. Texas 41, USC 38 (Jan. 1, 2006): The Longhorns claimed the 2005 national title with a dramatic comeback capped by Vince Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left. Michael Huff’s critical fourth-down stop of LenDale White set the stage on the preceding drive. And many observers still think that Pete Carroll could have gone for a game-tying field goal attempt on the final play of the game if he hadn't squandered a timeout before a two-point try after Young's TD run.

2. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 (Nov. 1, 2008): Michael Crabtree’s 28-yard touchdown reception from Graham Harrell with one second remaining capped the wildest victory in Tech history -- made even more improbable after Blake Gideon dropped an interception on the play before Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown.

3. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (Jan. 1, 2007): The Broncos won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by fooling Bob Stoops’ team with three gadget plays: a game-tying hook and ladder play in regulation, an option pass from wide receiver Vinny Perretta to Derek Schouman in overtime to pull within one point and a game-winning two-point conversion by Ian Johnson on a Statue of Liberty play. Johnson proposed to his girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, on the field after the play. After all the excitement, of course, she accepted.

4. Oklahoma State 49, Texas Tech 45 (Sept. 22, 2007): This classic offensive battle produced 62 first downs and 1,328 yards and wasn’t settled until Michael Crabtree dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in the final minute of play. And we all still remember it more for the fireworks in the press conferences with Mike Leach and Mike Gundy than for what happened on the field, don’t we?

5. Oklahoma 35, Texas A&M 31 (Nov. 11, 2000): Torrance Marshall’s game-winning 41-yard interception return with 7:42 left enabled the Sooners to continue their charge to the 2000 national championship. Oklahoma overcame an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter and a 10-point hole with less than 9 minutes remaining. Marshall’s heroics gave the Sooners the lead and the Oklahoma defense did the rest, turning away the Aggies twice deep in Oklahoma territory late in the game.

6. Kansas 40, Missouri 37 (Nov. 29, 2008): Four lead changes in the final 6:52 made this game memorable, even though Missouri had already clinched the North title coming into the game. Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up five times on the game-winning drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left. Missouri had one last hope, but Jeff Wolfert’s 54-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game was partially blocked by Phillip Strozier.

7. Texas 13, Nebraska 12 (Dec. 5, 2009) : In a conference that made its national reputation with wild offensive battles, it was refreshing to see a defensive struggle in the 2009 Big 12 title game. Nebraska, keyed by a ferocious defense that forced three interceptions and sacked Colt McCoy nine times, appeared to have taken control on a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery with 1:44 left. Ndamukong Suh sacked McCoy a championship-game record 4.5 times. But McCoy withstood the rush and drove the Longhorns for the game-winning field goal after a controversial officiating decision put extra time back on the clock after it appeared the Longhorns had squandered their chance to win. Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yard field goal as time expired gave Texas the victory.

8. Texas 56, Oklahoma State 35 (Nov. 6, 2004): The Longhorns were in a 35-7 hole late in the second quarter before Vince Young hooked up on a 4-yard TD pass to Bo Scaife shortly before halftime. That opened the floodgates, as the Longhorns scored touchdowns on six straight drives. Cedric Benson rushed for 141 yards and five touchdowns and Vince Young rushed for 123 yards and completed 12 straight passes at one point en route to a then career-high 278 passing yards. The Longhorns piled up 600 yards of total offense in the wild comeback, outgaining the Cowboys 266-to-minus-5 in the third quarter of the comeback.

9. Nebraska 40, Colorado 31 (Nov. 28, 2008): Alex Henery’s school-record 57-yard field goal with 1:43 left gave the Cornhuskers the lead for good in this classic that Colorado needed to win to qualify for a bowl game. And Ndamukong Suh foreshadowed his monster season to come by icing the victory with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown with 55 seconds left.

10. Baylor 35, Texas A&M 34 (Oct. 30, 2004): The Bears had been waiting for a long time for a chance to beat Texas A&M -- particularly after losing 73-10 to the Aggies in College Station the previous season. So it was understandable that Guy Morriss didn’t hesitate to go for the win after pulling within one point in overtime on Shawn Bell’s pass to Dominique Ziegler. Bell and Ziegler then hooked up again for the two-point conversion, snapping an 18-game winless streak to the Aggies.

Final 2009 Big 12 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
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Here's my final look at the Big 12 power rankings for this season.

1. Texas: Longhorn fans will always remember Colt McCoy’s injury in the national championship game and what could have been. Texas overcame every challenge during the regular season, but came up lacking without its leader in the biggest game of the year. The way the Alabama game played out will always haunt Texas fans. If they could have ever grabbed a touchdown lead or more over Alabama, was there any real indication that Alabama could have won with Greg McElroy and the Crimson Tide’s leaky offensive line? But it went the other way and the Longhorns were ground into submission by Alabama’s potent rushing attack to put a disappointing capper on an otherwise memorable season.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers finished 10-4 and were only five or six plays removed from winning three of those games -- losses to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech. If that had happened, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Cornhuskers could have finished in the top five or six teams nationally. But the convincing victory over Arizona, especially with the unexpected offensive firepower, should build confidence and embolden Bo Pelini and his team for bigger and better things next season.

3. Texas Tech: A roller-coaster season finished with Mike Leach and Ruffin McNeill looking for work despite an impressive 9-4 record where the Red Raiders overachieved to a Top 25 finish. Tommy Tuberville’s arrival will bring changes, but Tech returns with a strong nucleus starting of quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield and running back Baron Batch. If Tuberville can get the Red Raiders up and running quickly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his new team could challenge Texas and Oklahoma next season. But it will be tough as he tries to change the culture of the most memorable era of Tech football.

4. Oklahoma: A fast finish took some of the sting out of Bob Stoops’ most disappointing recent season. The Sooners’ hopes of a Big 12 four-peat were doomed as soon as Sam Bradford was lost for the season. And Jermaine Gresham’s injury before the season changed the way Kevin Wilson’s offense could operate. But at the end of the season, Landry Jones showed enough promise to give him a foothold for the starting position next season. The defense developed some young playmakers like David King and Demontre Hurst who showed promise in the bowl game for future growth. The Sooners will be back challenging for the Big 12 title next season if those players build on their late-season efforts.

5. Oklahoma State: All of the promise at the start of the season unraveled with a disappointing string of injuries and suspensions. And even with all of those struggles, the Cowboys still had a chance to play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they had beaten Oklahoma. Losses in the last two games of the season left a bad taste for what could have been Mike Gundy’s breakout season. The defense played much better than expected under new coordinator Bill Young, but the offense didn’t live up to the promise -- especially when Zac Robinson was hurt and his offensive weapons were stripped away. All things considered, a 9-4 record with everything the Cowboys overcame this season was better than could be expected.

6. Missouri: As well as the Tigers played at times during the season, their season was marked by their fourth-quarter home collapse against Nebraska and their confounding Texas Bowl upset loss to Navy. Truthfully, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co., but some of that was lost after a four-game winning streak to start the season. Blaine Gabbert surpassed expectations and is in line to become the conference’s best quarterback over the next couple of years. And Danario Alexander was the best receiver in the nation over the second half of the season. Defensive woes hurt them, but Gabbert’s return and some young defensive talent should have the Tigers pointed to improvement next season and maybe a challenge at the North title.

7. Iowa State: Was there a better moment in the 2009 Big 12 season than Paul Rhoads’ emotional response to his team’s upset victory over Nebraska which became a YouTube staple? Rhoads’ first season far surpassed expectations with a 7-6 record, the Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and all of the other surprising accomplishments. Alexander Robinson was the most underrated player in the Big 12 and the gritty Iowa State defense played just like you would expect from a Rhoads-coached team. It won’t be easy for them to duplicate next year as they switch to the Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma gauntlet of South Division opponents. But it was a nice first step for Rhoads in building his program.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip because of playing too many creampuffs during the nonconference season, but Bill Snyder’s first season was better than expected. The Wildcats received huge contributions from Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas, who both arrived before summer practice with no real expectations coming into the season. Thomas developed into one of the conference’s best backs and should return for more next season. If Oregon transfer Chris Harper can develop into a playmaker at either quarterback or wide receiver and the defense comes together, the Wildcats might be a threat to make a bowl appearance in 2010.

9. Texas A&M: For all of their offensive weapons, the Aggies’ defense and special teams were the primary culprits in a 6-7 season capped by a disappointing Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. Jerrod Johnson posted the top statistical numbers ever produced by an A&M quarterback and he’s surrounded by a bevy of strong offensive weapons. But Mike Sherman’s new coordinator is going to need to produce more improvement from a young defense if the Aggies have any hopes of contending in the South Division next season and beyond.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks’ leaky defense did it with mirrors against a weak early schedule, but it all caught up with them during a seven-game losing streak to close the season that precipitated Mark Mangino’s resignation. Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe all finished careers that will go down among the top players in Kansas history. But the challenge for new coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will be to rebuild a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of eight conference games.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins popped off about challenging for a Big 12 North title at the end of last season. Instead, his team’s struggling performance ended his hopes of “10 wins and no excuses” before conference play even began. The season started off badly with embarrassing nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia and didn’t get much better once conference play began. The Buffaloes did start Kansas’ losing streak and beat Texas A&M, but sputtered offensively as they ranked in the bottom 10 teams in rushing, passing efficiency and sacks allowed and in the bottom 20 teams in total offense. Tyler Hansen emerged as the quarterback of the future. His development will be critical in Hawkins’ hopes at a contract extension.

12. Baylor: The Bears started the season with a confidence-building upset at Wake Forest, but their season for all intents and purposes ended as soon as Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending injury in the third game. Griffin should be back next season but key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake won’t be. The quarterback's return will be critical in rebuilding offensive confidence that was booming heading into the season. The Bears might have the opportunity to snap the conference's longest bowl drought next season in a more balanced Big 12 South, but the key for the season will be developing a defense that can better challenge the South Division’s powers.

What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 13

November, 24, 2009
11/24/09
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The Big 12’s final weekend of the regular season will feature several key games over a three-day period that will have serious national championship and BCS ramifications.

And we might be seeing two coaches riding off into the sunset.

Here are 10 things to look for in the Big 12’s games this week.

Can Texas' tackling problems be resolved? Will Muschamp was very angry with Texas’ missed tackles against Kansas as the Longhorns allowed 97 extra yards on nine whiffs against the Jayhawks. Some of it was because of the athleticism of Kansas players like Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. But the Longhorns will be facing a stronger unit in the Aggies with skill-position players like Christine Michael, Cyrus Gray, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller. Muschamp has had his unit working before daylight this week intent on improving their tackling and swarming techniques. It will be an important exercise to get them ready for the better teams they will face during the rest of the season.

Will the Kyle Field jinx bite Texas again? The Aggies will be excited about their chance at springing an upset to ruin the Longhorns’ national title hopes. Kyle Field has been a difficult place for the Longhorns in the past as the Aggies have won eight of the last 12 games there since 1985. But after losing his first game there in the Bonfire game in 1999, Mack Brown won his next three games in College Station before losing there in 2007 in Dennis Franchione’s last game. Texas players say that the incessant noise from Aggie fans makes it difficult to run their offense. Can Colt McCoy do things differently in his second start there after his loss earlier in his career?

How Nebraska reacts to winning the Big 12 North title last week: Bo Pelini started preaching about Colorado soon after the victory over KSU pushed his team into the title game. He’s emphasized that beating the Buffaloes is the final goal his team needs to accomplish before it starts preparing for Texas and the Big 12 title game next week. Despite the coach’s pleading, it would be understandable if the Cornhuskers didn’t approach the road game on a short road week with unbridled intensity. But a veteran defense keyed by Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante should have the Cornhuskers focused against the sputtering Buffaloes.

Dan Hawkins' possible last game in Boulder: The embattled Colorado coach’s job has been in question since a slow start after he boldly predicting his team would challenge for the Big 12 North title. Instead, the Buffaloes were the first team in the conference eliminated from bowl consideration. The Buffaloes showed some promise in last week’s narrow loss at Oklahoma State, although they repeatedly made critical mistakes and penalties that kept them from winning. Will the Colorado coach be able to circle the wagons and get his team to play one final strong performance? Or is it already too late for him to save his job after a disappointing 16-32 career record?

Will Oklahoma State turn the tables on Oklahoma? Throughout the years, the Sooners have been the team playing for championship and BCS bowl opportunities while their cross-state rivals were playing for bowl positioning and winning seasons. The roles have been reversed this season as the Cowboys play their biggest game since the start of the Big 12 in Bedlam this year. If OSU can win this game, they likely will qualify for a BCS at-large berth with a strong shot at the Fiesta Bowl. Whether the experienced Cowboys can snap the Sooners’ nation-best 29-game winning streak remains to be seen. But Mike Gundy’s chances of winning at Owen Field have never looked stronger -- even with quarterback Zac Robinson's uncertain status.

The Oklahoma defense can’t possibly be as bad as the one that showed at Texas Tech, can it? The Sooners suffered through a humbling performance in Lubbock last week, allowing their most points, yards, rushing yards and passing yards of the season. They will be challenged by a determined Oklahoma State team on the verge of its biggest team accomplishment in years. Bob Stoops and Brent Venables will appeal to the pride of their defense, the backbone of the team this season. It will be interesting to see if the Sooners respond “in a big way,” as Stoops likes to say.

Baron Batch versus the weak Baylor rush defense: The junior Texas Tech running back is coming off his best performance of his career after ripping Oklahoma for 136 yards last week. He should find an inviting opponent against Baylor, which ranks 100th nationally in rush defense and ranks last in the conference allowing an average of 185.91 yards per game. He’ll be important in dictating the Red Raiders’ offense as they play for better bowl positioning with a victory.

Baylor’s determined defensive duo plays its last game: Middle linebacker Joe Pawelek and free safety Jordan Lake will never make a bowl trip with Baylor, but both will go down in history among the greatest players in school history at their positions. It will be an emotional game at Cowboys Stadium for both senior leaders. And both will be challenged by Texas Tech’s sizzling offense in a competitive final game in college football.

Danario Alexander’s big-play exploits: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander has been the most explosive receiver in the Big 12 this season, ranking third nationally in receptions and average yards receiving. Alexander has two games remaining -- the regular-season finale against Kansas and a bowl game -- to reach the school career record as he needs 297 receiving yards over those two games. Considering his recent surge in Missouri last six games, he’s got a great shot after averaging 160.7 yards per game with 57 receptions for 964 yards (a 16.9 avg. per catch) and eight touchdowns during that period. And he’ll be playing a struggling Kansas secondary that ranks 88th in pass defense and was blistered for season-worst totals of 396 passing yards and four touchdown passes last week against Texas.

Is this the end for Mark Mangino? Embattled Kansas coach Mark Mangino is a victim of a “witch hunt,” according to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. But the internal investigation into the program appears to have developed enough dirt that likely will have enough substance to cost Mangino his job. The howling became louder when the Jayhawks have lost their last six games after starting the season 5-0. They can still rebound and qualify for a bowl berth by beating Missouri in Kansas City. Mangino has won four of his last six games against Missouri. And none would be sweeter than Saturday’s game if he could pull it off with his team on the mat and claim an upset over his school's biggest rival.

What we learned in the Big 12, Week 11

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
12:25
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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 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

After all of the excitement from last season’s memorable South Division race, more of the same was expected this season in the Big 12.

The return of Heisman contenders like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Dez Bryant would make this season perhaps even more exciting than last.

But that outlook hasn’t been fulfilled as the first half of the Big 12 season has been marked largely by what could have been. Instead of action on the field, the infirmary has been filled with Big 12 quarterbacks during a disappointing first half of the season.
 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Ndamukong Suh Cornhuskers leads the Cornhuskers in solo and total tackles.


No injury was bigger that Oklahoma’s loss of Bradford in the opening game of the season with a third-degree sprained shoulder. Bradford made it back for one game and part of another, but reinjured his shoulder and likely will never play college football again.

His injury, along with the season-ending loss before the season of preseason All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham and the loss of breakaway receiver Ryan Broyles for much of the season, has stripped the Sooners of much of their offensive firepower. It’s understandable why the Sooners have started 3-3, losing three games by five points.

But other injuries have also affected the Big 12’s national stature. Robert Griffin’s knee injury has made Baylor’s hopes of making a bowl game iffy. The league's leading rusher from a year ago, Kendall Hunter of Oklahoma State, has missed most of the season with a cracked foot. Bryant has been idled for three games with eligibility issues from his suspension by the NCAA. Texas Tech has lost starting quarterback Taylor Potts and his productive backup Steven Sheffield also appears to have been knocked out of the lineup.

It’s made the first half of the season a battle of attrition. The South appears to be a two-team race between Texas and Oklahoma State. And every North Division team has at least one loss with surprising Kansas State in first place and perhaps headed for an unlikely North title.

The deflation of the Big 12’s image also came because of the conference’s struggles with opponents from other BCS conferences. A disappointing 4-7 record in the nonconference part of the season didn’t turn many heads -- especially with three of those wins coming on the opening weekend. The conference also lost a pair of tough one-point games to non-BCS schools when Texas Tech fell to Houston and BYU beat Oklahoma.

Texas at No. 3 is the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the BCS. Oklahoma State is ranked No.15 and Kansas is 25th. It’s a far cry from last season, when the Big 12 had three teams ranked among the top seven in the BCS’ final standings and four among the top 13 teams.

Here's a quick look at the first half of the season in the Big 12.

Offensive player of the first half: Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley. This multi-talented receiver/returner was the Longhorns’ biggest offensive weapon in the first half of the season with consistent play throughout. Shipley ranks second in the conference with 51 catches for 605 yards. But where he sets himself apart from players like Danario Alexander, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe is with his punt returns, accounting for 16.4 yards per return, including two TDs. Mack Brown advised him earlier in his career to give up because of frequent injuries. Today, Brown is glad that Shipley didn’t listen to him.

Defensive player of the first half: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. After his performance against Missouri, some pundits were hyping Suh for the Heisman Trophy. Some of that blather had died down since the Cornhuskers’ loss last week to Texas Tech, but Suh assuredly is the Big 12’s best defensive player. He leads the Cornhuskers in solo and total tackles, tackles for losses and hurries, and ranks second in sacks. Most amazingly, he paces the team with seven passes broken up, which is tied for second in the conference. NFL scouts are lining up to check him out.

Biggest surprise of the first half: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have struggled with injuries to Potts early and an apparent one to Sheffield last week. But after early growing-pain losses to Texas and Houston, the Red Raiders have rebounded with impressive wins over Kansas State and Nebraska to have them solidly in third place in the South Division. After the suspension of Brandon Carter and the Twitter controversy involving Marlon Williams, it would have been understandable if Tech had cratered. Instead, Mike Leach has kept his team afloat and likely headed to a nice bowl trip.

Biggest disappointment of the first half: Oklahoma. The Sooners came into the season with legitimate national title hopes that were killed by their season-opening loss to BYU along with the loss of Bradford. Another loss at Miami under backup Landry Jones continued the spiral downward. But the biggest capper was last week’s 16-13 loss to Texas in a game where the Sooners defense played well enough to win, but Bradford again was hurt early. Now, the Sooners' hopes of an unprecedented four-peat of conference championships look dim, considering their three losses to ranked opponents and tough upcoming schedule.

Best game: Houston 29, Texas Tech 28. This game had a little bit of everything as the two teams played a memorable game on a hot, sticky night in Houston. The two teams combined for 1,063 yards, 60 first downs and one memorable comeback, capped by Case Keenum’s game-winning 4-yard keeper with 49 seconds left that stamped him as a Heisman contender. Tech had its chances to put the game away earlier in the fourth quarter, but the momentum changed when Potts was stopped on a fourth-and-goal sneak from the 1.

Best coach: Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. The Cowboys were expected to challenge for the Big 12 South Division this season, but Gundy has done a nice job of keeping the Cowboys together despite the loss of top playmakers like Hunter and Bryant. Even after an early loss to Houston that was decided on two plays involving tipped passes, Gundy has the Cowboys pointed to a pivotal Oct. 31 showdown against Texas that likely will decide the Big 12 South title. Honorable mention has to go to Bill Snyder, who surprisingly has Kansas State in first place in the North Division despite a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech earlier this season.

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


1. Texas: It wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado was a good lesson as they prepare for the Red River Shootout. The running game struggled mightily, producing a season-low 46 yards as top backs Vondrell McGee and Tre’ Newton both were dinged up. Those absences only paved the way for a career night for Jordan Shipley, who is becoming one of the nation’s top receiving/return threats. And the Longhorns are playing some stringent defense after limiting their last three opponents to an average of 15 yards rushing per game. Colorado produced only 127 yards, giving the Longhorns two efforts of holding opponents to less than 130 yards this season for the first time since 1952.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ defense played at a dominating level against Missouri as it gradually wore down the Tigers before their 27-12 triumph. Ndamukong Suh had a huge game to key a brutal pass rush that won the game for the Cornhuskers. Zac Lee was streaky, but still came up big during a stretch of 3 minutes, 32 seconds early in the fourth quarter when the Cornhuskers took the lead against the fading Tigers. It won’t get any easier for Nebraska this week as Texas Tech’s explosive offense comes to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers rank second nationally in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense, 14th in pass defense and 15th in turnover margin. But Tech has won the last three games of the series, scoring 70, 37 and 34 points against Nebraska.

3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a gritty effort against Texas A&M, claiming a 36-31 victory despite not having Dez Bryant (suspension) and Kendall Hunter (ankle). Keith Toston filled in for Hunter with 204 total yards, and a group of receivers stepped up to replace Bryant in the comeback victory. Improved quarterback pressure helped Oklahoma State notch four sacks in a big step forward after its first conference game. A tough game with Missouri is up next as the Cowboys need to continue their recent balanced offensive success.

4. Kansas: A huge aerial effort by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe powered the Jayhawks to a 41-36 victory over Iowa State. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win. In coach Mark Mangino’s own words, the Jayhawks were exposed by Iowa State’s underrated offense. Kansas had enough offense to win the game and escape with a share of first place in the Big 12 North. Can the Jayhawks do the same against the better offenses they will be facing in the future?

5. Oklahoma: Sam Bradford is back and the Sooners appear to have things on an uptick heading into the Texas game. Bradford was outstanding in his first game back, passing for 389 yards despite having 11 passes dropped by his receivers, including three in the end zone. The Sooners allowed Baylor third-string quarterback Nick Florence to carve them up for 262 yards, so their defense is a concern heading into the Texas game. They must show more consistency in the red zone and play better defensively if they have any hopes of claiming the upset Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

6. Missouri: What happened to the Tigers in that driving rain in Columbia last Thursday night? After dominating play for three quarters, the Tigers fell apart late as they allowed the Cornhuskers to roll up 27 points in the final quarter to steal the victory. Blaine Gabbert threw two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter and the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently enough to take pressure off Gabbert. The defense played well until collapsing after all of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. And it won’t get any easier as the Tigers visit Oklahoma State.

7. Texas Tech: A big effort by Texas Tech’s first backup quarterback to start for Mike Leach should help contribute to Leach’s first QB controversy. The offense sizzled with Steven Sheffield in charge, scoring nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions to blow open a 66-14 victory over Kansas State. The Red Raiders did a nice job of neutralizing leading KSU rusher Daniel Thomas, who was limited to a season-low 49 yards on 11 carries -- with only 15 of those yards coming after the Wildcats’ first offensive series. Leach was playing coy on who his starting quarterback will be, but the Red Raiders will face a huge challenge in Nebraska with whoever is chosen as the starter.

8. Baylor: The Bears moved the ball well in Florence’s second start, but were done in by their inability to score against Oklahoma’s stingy defense in the second half. Baylor produced only two first downs with five three-and-outs and two turnovers. The defense wasn’t bad as it limited Oklahoma to four field goals on red zone possessions to start the second half until Bradford’s late touchdown. The Sooners wore down the Bears before producing 592 yards to extend their winning streak over Baylor to 19 straight games. It was a definite step back after all of the excitement for the Bears during their 3-1 nonconference performance, showing them how much more competitive Big 12 play will be.

9. Texas A&M: After a promising 3-0 start, the Aggies have fallen apart with disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State. The struggling trends in those losses make bowl aspirations seem like a fleeting hope. The Aggies struggled protecting Jerrod Johnson against Oklahoma State, allowing four sacks. And the Aggies' defense couldn’t make a play down the stretch to get the Cowboys off the field as they ran the clock on their final possession to wrap up a 36-31 victory. Mike Sherman can only hope these games will help build experience for his young team that featured seven freshman starters on Saturday.

10. Iowa State: Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any more excruciating for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones, a game like Saturday’s loss to Kansas happened. After losing the previous week against Kansas State by a missed extra point, few expected the Cyclones would match up with No. 16 Kansas. The Cyclones gave the Jayhawks everything they wanted and came within an overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks at the end of escaping with an upset victory. Alexander Robinson’s return helped rejuvenate the offense after he rushed for a career-best 152 yards, despite recovering from a strained groin muscle. The kicking game must improve after Grant Mahoney missed two extra points, and a 26-yard field goal never was kicked because of a low snap. The Cyclones can’t afford those kicking-game errors in close games.

11. Kansas State: The Cyclones took a huge step backward after getting blown out in a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech -- the most points ever allowed by a team coached by Bill Snyder. The KSU defense came into the game ranked seventh against the pass, but allowed eight TD passes -- most ever against a team in the school’s history. Grant Gregory started, but the broken plays that he turned into touchdowns last week against Iowa State resulted in sacks against Texas Tech. Carson Coffman may have won his starting quarterback job back, but that determination will be made in practice this week. The huge loss has made a bowl trip a virtual impossibility unless the Wildcats claim home victories in the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Colorado.

12. Colorado: It was one of the Buffaloes’ best performances this season, but still not good enough against Texas, who ran them out of the stadium late in a 38-14 victory. The Buffaloes were undone by critical mistakes on special teams and turnovers. Perhaps the most interesting development was when coach Dan Hawkins decided to play backup quarterback Tyler Hansen, effectively ending his chance to redshirt this season. Hawkins said he’s settled on Hansen as his starter. It will be interesting to see if that move settles Colorado’s offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some things we learned around the Big 12 over the past few days:

1. Texas and Oklahoma need to improve their running games -- fast. The Sooners and Longhorns both overcame sputtering starts to win their conference openers. But their key showdown next week at the Cotton Bowl could hinge on a factor that both teams struggled with in their victories on Saturday. The team that runs the ball best likely will win the Red River Rivalry -- as usual. And both teams struggled in that facet of the game Saturday. Oklahoma finished with 203 rushing yards against Baylor, but the Sooners had produced only 52 rushing yards midway through the third quarter. And the Sooners struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals on four second-half drives where they couldn't score touchdowns against the Bears. Texas was even worse, rushing 25 times for 46 yards against a Colorado defense that was allowing 4.9 yards per carry coming into the game as Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton both were idled with injuries. Both teams will have extensive preparation for their ground games as they prepare to play against much better defenses than they struggled against on Saturday.

2. Is Kansas the nation's worst undefeated team? After Saturday, I think so. The Jayhawks  needed all kinds of luck to escape with a gritty 41-36 home victory over Iowa State. A memorable offensive performance keyed by record outings by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe almost was undone by the Jayhawks' defense. Mark Mangino admitted after the game that his team had been exposed defensively. Its margin of victory over the Cyclones was the narrowly overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks that if completed would have likely beaten them. And Mangino's biggest concern has to be that if Iowa State can produce 6.1 yards per snap against the Jayhawks, what will teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech be able to do?

3. It's a season of firsts for Mike Leach. Before Saturday night, the Texas Tech coach had never had a backup quarterback start a game. And after Steven Sheffield singed Kansas State for 490 yards and seven touchdowns, Leach has got something else new on his hands -- a quarterback controversy. Leach had reasons for installing Taylor Potts as his new starter earlier this summer. Potts' performance had been that much better. But Leach might have to at least consider revisiting that choice after Sheffield blistered rival defenses for 10 touchdown passes since Potts sustained a concussion last week. Sheffield said after directing a 66-24 beatdown of Kansas State that he feels he has won the starting job. But he won't be the one making the decision.

4. Shipley and Suh deserve Heisman consideration. After their performances this weekend, the Big 12 has two unconventional players who I think merit consideration for college football's most prestigious award. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is the most dominant defensive player in college football. Suh has to be accounted for on every play, making game-changing statements like his interception return that sparked the Cornhuskers' wild comeback over Missouri. And Jordan Shipley is just as important for Texas, becoming one of the Longhorns' primary forces as a receiver and a returner. Shipley accounted for a career-high 273 all-purpose yards against Colorado, producing 11 catches for 147 yards and a 74-yard punt return that was his second TD return of the season. Most of the media will consider Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen and stop at that. But to this point of the season, it can be argued that Suh and Shipley deserve strong consideration -- and not just from voters who might be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to present the award.

5. Oklahoma State's offensive reinforcements are pretty good. The loss of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter was expected to cripple Oklahoma State's potent offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to a 36-31 victory over Texas A&M: The Cowboys found some productive replacement players on their bench. Keith Toston rushed for a game-high 130 yards and caught two big screen passes that sparked the Cowboys' offense early. Zac Robinson stepped up with a boatload of big offensive plays, including 11 passes of at least 13 yards against a beleaguered Texas A&M secondary. The Cowboys' offensive concerns remain present with a tough conference schedule approaching. But after one game, the Cowboys' replacements at least provided a least a temporary answer to their offensive questions.


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.

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