NCF Nation: Mike Brandtner
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oh, so close to perfection last week.
I came close to my first perfect week of the season, missing only on Texas Tech’s late collapse at Houston.
I’m hoping for better luck this time around with an abbreviated schedule of six games that will only feature seven Big 12 teams in action.
Here are my picks:
West Virginia 34, Colorado 17: The Mountaineers will be intent on gaining revenge for their loss last season in Boulder, along with bouncing back from their recent loss at Auburn. The Buffaloes should have Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart close to 100 percent, although they should struggle against West Virginia’s imposing run defense. West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown is looking for some retribution after he was knocked out of the Auburn game after earlier contributing five turnovers. Look for the Mountaineers to try to dictate tempo by running Noel Devine (16th nationally in rushing) against a weak Colorado rush defense (103rd nationally). West Virginia has too many weapons to keep this from being very competitive.
Iowa State 27, Kansas State 24: The winner of "Farmageddon" at Arrowhead Stadium will take an early step to staying out of the Big 12 North cellar and perhaps contending for a bowl berth. Austen Arnaud has played better in recent games and Alexander Robinson's cutback style has emerged in Tom Herman’s running attack. The Cyclones will face an underrated Kansas State defense that ranks among the top 26 teams in each of the major statistical categories of rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. In order to be successful, Arnaud will have to make some plays and stay away from turnovers. But in the end, this game will be settled in the special teams. Kansas State needs to get Brandon Banks involved and Iowa State hopes that Mike Brandtner’s directional punting keeps the Wildcats bottled up. I like Iowa State by a small margin because it has better kicking with Grant Mahoney over Josh Cherry.
Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 20: “The Dysfunctional Bowl” will feature two programs that have been featured in the headlines for reasons off the football field. New Mexico coach Mike Locksley scuffled with his assistant J.B. Gerald while Mike Leach banned Twitter usage among his players after some critical comments were made about him by players after their tough loss at Houston last week. The Red Raiders have way too much offense in this one. Taylor Potts and the Tech offense should be able to pile up the points and yards -- particularly if the Red Raiders’ running game emerges again. The weak New Mexico defense ranks 111th on the ground and 107th or worse in the other three major defensive categories. Everything will be peachy for the Red Raiders after a big win in this one.
Baylor 34, Kent State 14: It will be interesting to see how the Bears approach this game after losing quarterback Robert Griffin to a season-ending knee injury and backup Blake Szymanski’s uncertain status with a bruised shoulder. The Bears still have enough offensive weapons to win, particularly against a Kent State defense that allowed 552 yards last week, but produced five turnovers in a 29-19 victory over Miami (Ohio). I’m expecting Baylor to lean on its rushing attack keyed by Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway to dictate the game for the Bears. The loss of Griffin will hurt, but Baylor still has too many weapons to worry in this one.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 34: Texas A&M hasn’t faced a top-notch defense and has posted some monster offensive and defensive numbers attributable to its weak competition. That won’t be the case in this one as the Aggies will face a potent Arkansas passing offense keyed by Ryan Mallett and Greg Childs. In the end, Jerrod Johnson, Ryan Tannehill and Uzoma Nwachukwu should be able to exploit a weak Arkansas pass defense that has played better teams, but still ranks 119th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Oklahoma 24, Miami 14: The big question all week is whether we will see Sam Bradford back in the lineup. The Sooners likely don’t need him -- particularly if backup Landry Jones shows the form he employed in his record-breaking start against Tulsa. And he has a playmaking Oklahoma defense that has been responsible for 12 sacks and nine takeaways primed for the challenge. Miami is coming to the end of the nation’s toughest four-game scheduling gauntlet to start the season. Virginia Tech's defense showed some cracks in Miami's offense as Jacory Harris struggled through a miserable game. And it won’t be any easier this week when the Sooners bring one of the nation’s best defenses to Land Shark Stadium.
Last Week: 9-1 (90 percent)
Season: 35-9 (77.3 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here’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
Leave it to Texas to upstage excitement for the biggest Big 12 game of the season with their own announcement. But Will Muschamp's hiring as the coach-in-waiting behind Mack Brown was that big of a story.
Here are some links from around the Big 12 in a busy 24-hour news cycle.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls said that Texas made a wise decision when it hired defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as Mack Brown's eventual replacement. And the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger said the preemptive move to take Muschamp off the coaching market was one that only the wealthiest of schools could afford.
- Bob Stoops has got Oklahoma fans in an uproar with his comments that fans at Owen Field have had little effect in the team's nation-best 23 game winning streak and 59-2 record during his coaching tenure, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
- Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Michael Crabtree built his confidence this summer by holding his own in drills against former All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders and current Dallas cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. "I caught every pass they threw to me; that's all I was worried about," Crabtree told Price. "It was fun, though."
- The Waco Tribune Herald's staff breaks down a variety of subjects in an interesting podcast, including Baylor's big effort against Texas A&M, Joe Pawelek's NFL chances and the upcoming Texas Tech-Oklahoma game.
- Colorado linebacker Nate Vaiomounga was dismissed from the football team on Tuesday after being arrested Monday in connection with the theft of a purse last week on campus, the Boulder Camera's Kyle Ringo reports. Vaiomounga was academically ineligible this season.
- Des Moines Register Andrew Logue opines for Iowa State punter Mike Brandtner as the team's most valuable player. Seriously.