NCF Nation: Patrick Mahnke
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some trends I'm watching for this weekend in Big 12 games:
1. The Big 12 South race -- The tightest Big 12 divisional race in history is playing out as Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma enter the final week of the season tied for first place in the South Division. If all three win, it will send league officials scurrying to the Bowl Championship Series standings to determine who will meet Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game next week. In case of a two-way tie, Texas Tech holds the tiebreaker over Texas, Texas holds the edge over Oklahoma and the Sooners would advance if tied with Texas Tech. It will make the fine art of earning style points very important in all games this weekend for the three South challengers.
2. The Heisman race heats up -- Texas' Colt McCoy, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell are involved in a similarly tight battle for the Heisman. Most voters are expected to hold onto their votes until after next week's championship game, providing an edge for the quarterback that finishes with the biggest late-season performances. All of them have that chance heading into this week's games.
3. Texas' revitalized strength in the trenches -- Texas players were humiliated after they were whipped inside in embarrassing losses to Texas A&M in the last two seasons. It's given them a chip on their shoulders as they prepare for Thursday's game in Austin. Texas coaches pushed the Longhorns through rougher practices leading up to the A&M game, hoping that the harder work would toughen them for an inexperienced Aggie team that doesn't appear to have the interior strength this season as some of former coach Dennis Franchione's previous squads.
4. Stephen McGee's last hurrah -- McGee earned a place in Aggie lore by directing two dramatic victories over the Longhorns in the last two seasons. He's lost his starting place after injuring his shoulder earlier this season, giving way to record-breaking sophomore Jerrod Johnson. Would A&M coach Mike Sherman consider giving McGee a chance to play in a tight game because of his previous success over the Longhorns? It will be interesting if McGee will get to play in what will be the last game of his college career with the Aggies.
5. Can the Sooners play any better? -- Oklahoma produced one of the most complete games of coach Bob Stoops' tenure with an impressive 65-21 drubbing of Texas Tech that resuscitated the Sooners' national title hopes. The Sooners notched an impressive beatdown over Texas Tech, cruising to a 42-7 halftime advantage in a game that was over early. Can they duplicate that emotion in what should be a tough battle against old foe Oklahoma State on the road? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes and chances to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game will be riding on it.
6. Kendall Hunter's gimpy quadriceps muscle -- The Big 12's leading rusher was injured midway through Oklahoma State's victory over Colorado two weeks ago. Coach Mike Gundy expects Hunter to be ready to play Saturday against Oklahoma. If Hunter isn't 100 percent, it will be much more difficult for the Cowboys to spring a home upset. And it would also mean more work for backup Keith Toston and place more demands on other phases of the Cowboys' balanced offensive attack.
7. Any hangover for the Red Raiders? -- Texas Tech's national title hopes were quashed by their humiliating loss, a performance where they allowed more points than in any game in school history. The Red Raiders still have legitimate hopes to rebound and claim their first berth in a Big 12 Championship Game if they can beat Baylor and other variables work in their favor. But they won't have any hopes unless they blot those bad Norman memories very quickly in Harrell's last home game.
8. Art Briles' return to Lubbock -- The Baylor coach is a Texas Tech graduate, was an original member of Mike Leach's staff and still has many friends and family members in the area. Despite that association, Briles would like nothing better than to unleash freshman quarterback Robert Griffin on his old team and hope he ends their Big 12 title game hopes in the process.
9. Not much national buzz at Arrowhead Stadium this time for Missouri-Kansas -- The rest of the country is greeting Kansas-Missouri this season with a collective yawn.
The Tigers have already wrapped up the North Division title. But it won't matter in this blood feud between these two bitter rivals. Chase Daniel will be gunning to make history as he attempts to beat the Jayhawks for the third straight time. Kansas coach Mark Mangino just hopes his defense will show up after being toasted for 209 points in its last five games. Missouri's high-powered offensive attack will provide a huge challenge for the struggling Jayhawks, who are headed for back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history.
10. Bowl hopes in Lincoln -- Surging Nebraska can take a big step to earning a New Year's Day bowl game by beating Colorado. Underrated Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz will be putting the finishing touches on one of the top statistical seasons in school history. He'll be facing an injury-depleted Colorado secondary that likely will be starting freshmen safeties Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke against him. That group needs a big performance as the Buffaloes must win in order to become bowl eligible.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from around the Big 12 heading into this week's games.
1. The Big 12's most stable coaching staff might be set for a shakeup after the season. Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is in the mix for openings at New Mexico and Wyoming, and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is being considered for the vacant head job at Toledo. If either leave, they could become the first assistants from Gary Pinkel's staff to leave for another job. That stability has been an underrated facet in the Tigers' development into the North's strongest current program -- particularly in terms of recruiting two-star and three-star recruits in Texas who have blossomed into key contributors once they arrived in Columbia. A staff change would put Pinkel in the unfamiliar position of having to hire a new assistant for the first time since he arrived at Missouri in 2001.
2. Despite struggles in a disappointing 2-10 season, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik doesn't expect to go through heavy use of junior-college players to restock his program. Chizik said that "a couple" of junior-college players could be brought in to help the Cyclones at specific areas of need, but he doubted he would make a heavy push because those players would be around the program for only two seasons. Chizik still remains committed to using arriving high school talent as the backbone in his rebuilding job with the Cyclones.
3. Expect Oklahoma State to try to emphasize a more balanced approach in Saturday's game against Oklahoma than last season. The Cowboys have been working on play-action passing after throwing for only 104 yards last year against the Sooners -- the lowest in a Big 12 game in Mike Gundy's coaching tenure. The Cowboys hope to get tight end Brandon Pettigrew more involved Saturday after he was held without a catch last season by the Sooners. And the passing game should clearly benefit from the return of running back Kendall Hunter, who should be ready to go after nursing a quadriceps injury that occurred in the Cowboys' last game against Colorado.
4. Colorado's banged-up secondary will be at a big disadvantage Friday against Nebraska with senior starting strong safety D.J. Dykes out and starting free safety Ryan Walters' status still uncertain. It could mean a pair of freshmen will be starting against the high-powered Nebraska passing attack -- Anthony Perkins at strong safety and Patrick Mahnke at free safety. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz has to be salivating, considering he blistered the Buffaloes for 484 passing yards, 521 yards of total offense and four touchdown passes last season when the Buffaloes' secondary was a lot healthier.
5. Texas coaches have been disappointed in the last two seasons because their team wasn't as physical as A&M, losing the game in the trenches both seasons. It's led to a change in Texas' practices leading up to the Texas A&M game for the Longhorns. The Longhorns still should have the edge, considering that Texas A&M's offense isn't nearly as ground-oriented with Jerrod Johnson playing quarterback and with a young offensive line developing as it grows.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
8:00 PM ET 20 Duke 1 Florida State 8:17 PM ET 2 Ohio State 10 Michigan State 4:00 PM ET 5 Missouri 3 Auburn 12:00 PM ET 17 Oklahoma 6 Oklahoma State 7:45 PM ET 7 Stanford 11 Arizona State 3:30 PM ET 25 Texas 9 Baylor 12:00 PM ET 16 UCF Southern Methodist 10:00 PM ET Utah State 23 Fresno State