NCF Nation: What-to-watch-092211

What to watch in the SEC: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
Two matchups between unbeaten teams, one in the Western Division and one in the Eastern Division, highlight Week 4 in the SEC.

Here’s a look at what to watch:

1. Tide stingy at home: Scoring points against Alabama has never been easy, certainly not since Nick Saban arrived. But scoring points against the Crimson Tide at home has been nearly impossible. Beginning with the 2008 season, Saban’s second on the job, Alabama has given up more than 20 points at Bryant-Denny Stadium only once, and that one time came last season when Auburn rallied from a 24-0 deficit and won 28-27. Arkansas has specialized in scoring points under Bobby Petrino, but it’s been tough sledding for the Hogs against the Crimson Tide. In three games under Petrino, they’ve never scored more than 20 points against Alabama and managed only a field goal in the second half last season in a 24-20 loss.

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams has been a weapon as a retun man for Aransas.
2. Downright special: The area of the game that Arkansas has to win Saturday if it’s going to take down No. 3-ranked Alabama is special teams. The good thing for the Hogs is that they’ve been pretty special in most facets of special teams, particularly the return game. Joe Adams is one of the most feared open-field runners in the league and returned two punts for touchdowns in the opener. He’s averaging 19.6 yards a return to lead the SEC, and getting a big return from him would be huge for the Hogs this weekend. They also lead the league in kickoff returns, averaging 33 yards a return. Freshman Marquel Wade took one back 85 yards for a touchdown in the New Mexico game. Petrino hired John L. Smith prior to the 2009 season to upgrade special teams, and the former Michigan State and Louisville head coach has delivered.

3. Third and not so long: It sounds simple enough, but the key to beating Alabama is staying out of third-and-long. And the truth is that it’s anything but simple. Petrino said one of the things the Crimson Tide do better than anybody else is create negative plays on first and second down to force third-and-long situations. That’s when they dial up their pressure. Petrino said it’s imperative that the Hogs are in third-and-5 a lot more than they’re in third-and-10. Arkansas is second in the SEC through three games in third-down conversion (48.6 percent), but has had very little success on third down against Alabama. The Hogs are just 9-of-41 (21.9 percent) against the Tide the last three seasons.

4. Shepard’s return: LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee gets another speedy playmaker to throw to when junior receiver Russell Shepard returns for the Tigers against West Virginia after serving an NCAA-mandated suspension the first three games. One of the things that stuck out to LSU coach Les Miles this past spring and preseason was how much better Shepard became as a true wide receiver. A former quarterback, Shepard improved his route-running and became a more technically sound receiver. He’s electric in the open field, and it will be interesting to see what LSU’s new offensive brain trust (Greg Studrawa and Steve Kragthorpe) has devised to get Shepard the ball. He has to be more consistent in catching the ball, but should be now that he’s had two years of working exclusively at receiver.

5. Flirting with disaster: Is this the week for South Carolina? The Gamecocks have picked up a dangerous habit this season of playing to the level of their competition, and they’ve come a little closer each week to losing the game. You can hear the frustration in Steve Spurrier’s voice, and he understands fully that Vanderbilt’s not a team to mess around with. The Commodores, who’re also 3-0, beat the Gamecocks in 2007 and 2008, and the combined score between these two teams the last four seasons is dead even – 58-58. Both teams have made a ton of big plays on defense this season. South Carolina has three defensive touchdowns, and so does Vanderbilt. The two defenses have combined to force 21 turnovers (12 by Vanderbilt and nine by South Carolina). Something says protecting the ball will be mighty important in this one.

6. Tackling Lattimore: South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore has already carried the ball 87 times this season and leads the country with 534 rushing yards. The 230-pound sophomore is at his best after contact and wears down defenses with his ability to pick up extra yards after the initial hit. Vanderbilt has enough confidence in its cornerbacks that the Commodores will probably free up safety Sean Richardson to act more as a linebacker in this game and walk him up closer to the line of scrimmage. Of course, that invites South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia to throw the ball, and Garcia has not been overly sharp through three games. The Gamecocks would like to get junior receiver Alshon Jeffery more involved, which will probably be their answer if the Commodores do load the box. Jeffery has been held to one touchdown catch in the first three games. He’s due for a big game.

7. Block that kick: Florida was one of the best teams in the business at blocking kicks under Urban Meyer, and it also looks like that’s going to be one of the Gators’ strengths under Will Muschamp. They’ve already blocked two punts this season, one of those by Chris Rainey last week in the Tennessee game. They go up against Kentucky this Saturday, and the Wildcats’ special-teams units are probably having nightmares right now. Counting field goals, Florida has six blocked kicks against Kentucky dating back to the 2006 season -- four blocked punts and two field goals.

8. No more picks: Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee is hoping less is better. He said he’s reduced the playbook by about 30 percent and totally eliminated one pass protection heading into Saturday’s game with Georgia. Quarterback Zack Stoudt had protected the ball well in the first two games, but threw five interceptions last week in the 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt. That five-interception performance continued what’s been a plague for the Rebels. In their past 28 games, which dates back to the start of the 2009 season, they’ve thrown 40 interceptions. A big part of the problem this season is that they haven’t been able to run the ball nearly as well as they thought they would. Ole Miss is 11th in the SEC in rushing offense and averaging just 109 yards per game.

9. Georgia hurting up front: Georgia’s offensive line has been beset with injuries and defections the past couple of years, and there was another one Wednesday in practice when starting right guard Chris Burnette injured his knee. Georgia coach Mark Richt said he didn’t think it was a serious injury. But just having Burnette go down with any degree of injury is a blow. Already, the Bulldogs had been playing without starting left guard Kenarious Gates, who hurt his ankle in the opener against Boise State. Gates was able to make it through practice Wednesday, so Richt is hopeful of having at least one of his starting guards available Saturday against Ole Miss. Senior center Ben Jones could move over to guard, but the Bulldogs would prefer to keep him at center.

10. Going back to basics: Preseason camp ended back in August, but try telling that to the Auburn players. After a brutal defensive performance last week in a 38-24 loss at Clemson, Auburn coach Gene Chizik went back to more of a preseason camp-mentality this week in practice, which meant a lot more hitting and a lot more tackling. The Tigers’ tackling hasn’t been up to par in any of their first three games and was especially bad last week. It’s really been a struggle for Auburn’s secondary, although Auburn didn’t have any sacks or quarterback pressures in the loss to Clemson. So obviously it’s not just one area of the defense that’s not getting it done. The Tigers have simplified some checks on defense, hoping some of the younger players will play faster and more instinctively.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
This week's sorry slate of Big Ten games tested my what-to-watch detective skills. Are there really 10 things to watch around the league on Saturday?

You bet, and here they are.

Brady Hoke
David Dermer/Getty ImagesMichigan coach Brady Hoke will face his former team, San Diego State, in an emotional game this Saturday.
1. The Brady Bowl: Michigan coach Brady Hoke goes up against his former team as San Diego State visits the Big House. There's a lot of familiarity on both sides, and it will be interesting to see the coaches match wits, particularly longtime colleagues Al Borges (Michigan's offensive coordinator) and Rocky Long (San Diego State's head coach). The Aztecs players will be geared up to face Hoke, and the Wolverines much match their intensity.

2. Miller time or Cup 'o Joe: Ohio State coach Luke Fickell was noncommittal Tuesday about his starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Colorado, although he seemed to lean toward true freshman Braxton Miller. Fickell wants more big plays from the offense and Miller can provide them. He also elevates the risk for mistakes, committing two turnovers in the loss to Miami. Miller clearly is Ohio State's future at quarterback, but Fickell needs to win now as his own future is in doubt. It'll be interesting to see what the young coach does with his signal-callers.

3. Illini defense to be tested again: Illinois' defense carried the team to a signature win last week against Arizona State. Vic Koenning's unit faces another test Saturday against Western Michigan and talented quarterback Alex Carder, who ranks 12th nationally in passing efficiency. If the Illini don't tighten up a bit in the secondary or pressure the pocket like they did last week, Carder will capitalize. Illinois also must avoid the letdown factor against a team it lost to in 2008.

4. Blackshirts look for boost: We're still waiting for the Nebraska defense to live up to the lofty expectations placed on the unit -- both inside and outside the program -- entering the season. The Blackshirts have allowed 68 points in their past two games and rank in the middle of the pack nationally in most major defensive statistical categories. The Pelini brothers will look for a more polished performance against 3-0 Wyoming before a much tougher game next week at Wisconsin.

5. The Bison are coming: Most games against FCS opponents are glorified practices, but not for Minnesota. The Gophers lost to South Dakota last year and North Dakota State in 2007, and they barely escaped against South Dakota State in 2009. Jerry Kill might be the perfect coach to prepare Minnesota for a rematch with North Dakota State, as he spent a lot of time at the FCS level and knows how motivated those teams are to face the big boys. The Bison are ranked No. 6 in the latest FCS poll and provide a significant challenge for Kill's Minnesota squad.

6. Hillman vs. Denard: Two of the nation's most dynamic ball carriers will share the field Saturday at the Big House. San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, the nation's second-leading rusher (165.7 ypg), will test Michigan's defensive front seven. Michigan will counter with -- who else -- Denard Robinson, who has been brilliant with his feet despite some ups and downs as a passer in the first three games.

7. The McGloin-Bolden saga: Will Week 4 finally provide some clarity in Penn State's seemingly never-ending quarterback competition? Most Nittany Lions fans certainly hope so. Coach Joe Paterno wants to be fair to both Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin, both of who have had their ups and downs in the first three games. "I don't know what I'm waiting for,'' Paterno said this week. Maybe a touchdown pass. Penn State is one of only three FBS teams not to record a passing touchdown in the first three games.

8. Young lines under the gun: Michigan State and Indiana both will send relatively inexperienced offensive lines onto the field Saturday. Injuries have taken their toll on the Spartans' line, and junior-college transfer Fou Fonoti needs to step up at tackle in place of Skyler Burkland. Despite a flurry of false-start penalties last week, Indiana plans to start several freshmen offensive linemen in its first true road game against winless North Texas.

9. Iowa's green-out: Iowa fans excel at color coordination, but you'll see plenty of green mixed in with black and gold on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The school is encouraging its fans to wear green as a tribute to former safety Brett Greenwood, who remains hospitalized after collapsing Sept. 9 during a workout. It's a great idea and I hope to see plenty of green in the grandstands.

10. Bucky Badger's pushups: Wisconsin scored 70 points or more three times last season, and the Badgers could close in on the plateau Saturday against FCS South Dakota. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring (45 ppg) and total offense (505.7 ypg). Although Bret Bielema likely won't take many chances with his starters a week before Nebraska comes to town, his team should produce plenty of points -- and pushups for its beloved mascot.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.

Pressure Barkley: USC QB Matt Barkley comfortable in the pocket? That's not a good thing for a defense, particularly when he gets to find receiver Robert Woods. USC has allowed just two sacks this year, and Arizona State will be missing its best pass-rusher -- defensive end Junior Onyeali, who's out indefinitely with a knee injury -- so the Sun Devils might need to get creative with blitzes. You know, like they've done with linebacker Vontaze Burfict this year, see four sacks.

[+] EnlargeUSC's Matt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIREMatt Barkley has passed for 892 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception so far this season.
Foles on his own? Arizona QB Nick Foles is a heck of a player but he will not beat Oregon on his own. He needs help from the Pac-12's worst running game, its worst defense and an offensive line that has yielded seven sacks.

Washington D needs to step up: Arizona has the worst defense in terms of yards allowed in the conference, but the Huskies are the worst in terms of points surrendered: 36.7 ppg. And the Huskies are 11th in the conference in yards allowed, too. Coordinator Nick Holt is the conference's best paid defensive coordinator (without the last name "Kiffin," at least), and it was widely believed in the preseason that the Huskies had enough talent to be an A-list defense this fall. The early results have been terrible. A visit from California to start the Pac-12 schedule is a heck of an opportunity for Holt and the UW D to reverse their fortunes.

No slow start in the 'Shoe, Colorado: As pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: "The Buffs have been outscored 40-20 in the first half in the first three games and 14 of the Buffs' 20 first-half points came against [Colorado State]." It wouldn't be a good idea to fall behind early against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. For one, having lost 19 in a row on the road, it likely wouldn't help the Buffaloes' confidence. Second, Ohio State's grind-it-out offense is much better playing from ahead than playing from behind -- see below.

Brehaut takes over: Richard Brehaut has an opportunity to decisively win the UCLA QB job. He just needs to put up numbers in a victory at Oregon State. Most observers have long felt coach Rick Neuheisel has favored Kevin Prince in the Bruins' seemingly endless QB competition, but Neuheisel will favor the guy who gets him a W. Brehaut should have a chance against the Beavers' pass defense, which is the worst in the Pac-12.

Osweiler bounce back: ASU QB Brock Osweiler was lights out at home against Missouri but he struggled at Illinois. Now he's back home facing USC, which has beaten the Sun Devils 11 consecutive times. Osweiler needs to regain his Missouri form -- or at least approximate it -- in order for Arizona State to jump to the front of the Pac-12 South Division pecking order.

Ducks make statement: After losing to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, which inspired many national pundits to write Oregon off, the Ducks quietly rolled up a pair of dominant wins at home against inferior foes. But now Oregon opens the Pac-12 schedule on ESPN2 with a chance to make a statement: "We're still here." If the Ducks can match -- or eclipse -- Stanford's impressive 37-10 win in Tucson last weekend, they likely will hush some of the doubters.

Zach Maynard's first road test: The Cal QB has been solid in the Bears' first three games, but playing at Husky Stadium is not something he's done before, certainly not during his days as the starting QB at Buffalo. While the Huskies' defense has been vulnerable, it's also faced three experienced QBs. Expect the Huskies to throw a lot at Maynard, whose biggest weakness in the early going has been accuracy.

Colorado run D vs. Ohio State: Colorado ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and it will surely gang up on the run at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had only 209 total yards at Miami last weekend, including 35 yards passing. The way to stop the Buckeyes' offense, who completed a dreadful 4 of 18 passes against the Hurricanes, is to force them to throw. Can the Buffs do that?

Mannion the man? While Oregon State redshirt freshman QB Sezan Mannion saw a lot of action in the first two games, this is his first official game as the Beavers' starter. He's going to get some help with receiver James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni returning to action, but it will be up to Mannion to deliver the ball on time and in the right spot against UCLA.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
We have been watching off-the-field developments for nearly a week. How about what to watch on the field in Week 4?

1. Big week for an impression. The Big East has three national games this weekend, its biggest chance yet to get people talking about good performances as opposed to the survival of the league. Cincinnati plays NC State tonight, but Saturday provides the biggest opportunity when Notre Dame travels to Pitt and No. 2 LSU plays at No. 16 West Virginia. The Panthers have had recent success against Notre Dame, but are going to have to find a way to make adjustments in their pass defense against another quick-strike offense. West Virginia played LSU close last year before losing. The Mountaineers were the last Big East team to beat a top 3 opponent, taking down No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

2. LSU D-line vs. WVU O-line. This is my biggest key in the game, and you can see more about it in my Game of the Week video later this afternoon. The Tigers have speed, size and depth along their front and that has allowed them to be one of the top run defenses in the nation. Last week, they forced Mississippi State into 15 negative rushing plays. West Virginia does not have nearly as much depth on its offensive line and has struggled with run blocking. "They have great intensity, good passion for the game all around their defense and they fly to the ball," left tackle Don Barclay said. "We have to match their intensity."

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireGeno Smith will face his stiffest challenge yet against LSU's stingy defense.
3. Geno Smith vs. LSU D. The Tigers are stingy in giving up big plays, while West Virginia wants to hit as many as possible. LSU has only allowed two completions on throws of 15 yards or longer this season, while West Virginia has 14 such completions, including five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What's more, West Virginia already has 17 completions of 20-plus yards in 2011, fifth most in FBS. Last season, West Virginia only had 35 completions of the same distance in 13 games.

4. Pitt defense. The Panthers have been gashed in the fourth quarter in all three games this season, so they have to learn how to finish. They also need better play out of their linebackers in the short, underneath passing game and forcing more turnovers is a must. The Panthers have yet to recover a fumble this season and only have two interceptions.

5. Cincinnati secondary. The last time the Bearcats played a top-level opponent, they gave up over 400 yards passing against Tennessee. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon has the capability of hitting Cincinnati for some big plays. Has the Cincinnati defense made improvements in this area or will it be a problem all season?

6. USF rolling along. The Bulls have played overmatched opponents since their season-opening win over Notre Dame and face yet another one in UTEP. The Miners are 4-47 all-time against teams ranked in the AP poll and 0-20 since 1998 against schools from automatic-qualifying conferences.

7. MAC attack. Two of the top teams in the MAC travel to play Big East teams Saturday, and neither should be taken lightly. Toledo plays at Syracuse and Ohio visits Rutgers. The Rockets nearly upset Ohio State a few weeks ago, but penalties and missed opportunities on special teams cost them. Ohio is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 1970s behind its version of the Pistol offense. There is one more MAC game in the Big East, between UConn and Buffalo.

8. Syracuse secondary vs. Eric Page. The Rockets have one of the best all-purpose players in the nation in Page, who has the potential to hurt Syracuse the way T.Y. Hilton hurt Louisville. Considering the Orange are banged up in the secondary and had problems against the pass last week, this is going to be a key area to watch in the game.

9. Rutgers run game. The Scarlet Knights tinkered with their offensive line and running back rotation during the bye week. Look for true freshman Savon Huggins to get more carries. Will that translate into better play on the ground against Ohio?

10. UConn offense. This has been a storyline every week and will remain a storyline until the Huskies get this fixed. The quarterback situation is shaky, but perhaps most alarming has been the offense's inability to consistently get the ground game going. This is a function of a few factors -- defenses stacking the box and coach Paul Pasqualoni making some changes along the offensive line. The Huskies averaged 2.6 yards a carry last week against Iowa state.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
Here are your top 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order.

1. Florida State’s quarterback. If it’s starter EJ Manuel, how confident and prepared does he look following a week in which his status was in question because of a shoulder injury? If it’s backup Clint Trickett, how does he handle the pressures of a road game against a ranked division opponent? There’s a reason Manuel is the starter, but Trickett performed admirably in a tough situation last weekend against the No. 1-ranked Sooners. Regardless of who it is, Clemson cannot underestimate FSU’s passing game.

2. Florida State’s running game. The Seminoles know it’s an area they must improve if they are going to repeat as Atlantic Division champs, and right now, they rank No. 100 in the nation in rushing offense at 96.33 yards per game. Clemson’s defense, though, has struggled to stop the run this season. The Tigers are taking too long to get off their blocks, and this could be the week FSU has a breakthrough in the running game.

[+] EnlargeTevin Washington
Kevin Liles/US PresswireTevin Washington (13) has gotten off to a nice start this season, throwing seven touchdowns and no INTs.
3. Georgia Tech’s offense against North Carolina’s defense. It’s the storyline and key to the entire game. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in scoring offense, rushing offense and total offense. The Tar Heels have the nation’s No. 16 rushing defense, but last week, Virginia ran for 170 yards against them. UNC won’t stop an offense that averages 60 points and almost 700 total yards a game, but can it slow it down enough to win?

4. Third-down defense in Atlanta. It’s one area coach Paul Johnson would like to see improvement on against UNC, as the Yellow Jackets are No. 104 in the country in third-down conversion defense. Georgia Tech has allowed its opponents to convert 47.92 attempts. The Yellow Jackets, however, lead the country in third-down conversions, completing 70.59 percent of their attempts. UNC’s D will have to make some critical stops.

5. NC State’s secondary against Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in 69 pass attempts, but NC State is third in the nation with seven interceptions and cornerback David Amerson is tied for the national lead in interceptions with three.

6. Maryland’s protection of quarterback Danny O’Brien. The Terps have not allowed one sack in their first two games, and they’ve done it with two new faces in the starting lineup. Maryland hasn’t gone back-to-back games without yielding a sack since 2000. Temple is tied for eighth in the FBS with four sacks per game.

7. BC’s kicking game. It’s been a rough start to the season for BC kicker Nate Freese, whose miss on a 23-yard chip shot in the 20-19 loss to Duke last week was devastating. Freese also was 1-for-3 in the season-opening loss to Northwestern, and he has also missed an extra point this year.

8. Virginia Tech receiver D.J. Coles. He’s the next man up, and after Dyrell Roberts broke his left arm last weekend against Arkansas State, Coles answered the call. He recorded his first collegiate touchdown with a 49-yard touchdown catch in the game. Coles had a career-high 61 yards receiving in the game.

9. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. He threw two interceptions against Ohio State, and coach Al Golden said on Sunday “I expect him to be much improved against Kansas State.” Aside from the turnovers, Golden said Harris managed the game well, made good throws on third down, and played well in the red zone. Eliminating turnovers is the next step.

10. Virginia’s freshman rushing record. Redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks has five rushing touchdowns this season. The school record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a freshman is seven by Howard Petty (1983) and Marcus Wilson (1987). Parks ran for three touchdowns in the season opener against William & Mary. Can he do it again?

What to Watch: Week 4 at Pitt

September, 22, 2011
Here are a few things to keep an eye on Saturday when Notre Dame invades Pitt:

  • An opening-drive score: Notre Dame has been nearly flawless on its opening drives so far. Of course, that one flaw ended up costing the Fighting Irish six points the other way. Regardless, the Irish have been efficient in the early going, scoring opening-drive touchdowns in their past two games and coming a yard shy in their first game before a goal-line fumble. Expect more of the same against a suspect Pitt secondary.
  • A few faces returning punts: We've seen Theo Riddick and John Goodman before, and we will likely see them in some capacity once again. But Brian Kelly said Robby Toma has been seeing action on the punt return team this week, and he even threw out Harrison Smith's name, as well, though it's likely that Smith would be used deep in Irish territory to guard against a fake.
  • Heinz Field packed for something other than the Steelers: Pitt is expecting its sixth sellout since moving into Heinz Field in 2001. Three of the previous five have been against Notre Dame. A building that's lacked some buzz through two Saturdays this season should resemble its rocking Sunday atmosphere a little bit more with the Irish in town.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in this weekend's games.

1. The atmosphere at Kyle Field. The Aggies already have the best atmosphere in the Big 12, and this is the most impactful game of the year in College Station. The Aggie War Hymn will be blasting, the fans will be loud and the action on the field will be outstanding. For all the off-the-field news of the last few weeks, A&M and OSU on the field Saturday afternoon will be everything right about the game. Speed, athletic ability, offensive innovation and strategic game planning between great football minds.

2. Oklahoma State's defensive line. Texas A&M wants to run the ball. It has the ability to run the ball against just about anyone, and the Aggies do it with power. Can OSU stop them? Will its defensive line get a push up front and the linebackers tackle well? OSU's chance to win depends it.

3. Kansas State's speed. Bill Snyder joked that he wished his team could be twice as fast to deal with Miami's speed. Jokes aside, the Wildcats could use it. Nebraska embarrassed the Wildcats last year with its speed. Arthur Brown helps out a lot with that at a key linebacker spot, but does K-State make it clear that it can compete with Miami's speed? If so, it will be able to do so with most Big 12 teams.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezRobert Griffin III has put himself in the Heisman conversation with a hot start to the season.
4. Robert Griffin III. Baylor's quarterback has been unbelievable as Baylor has rolled to wins in its first two games. Rice won't post a realistic challenge, but we'll see how Griffin looks in the third game of his pre-Big 12 season tour.

5. Darrin Moore's production. Moore didn't hit the 200-yard mark in an easy win over New Mexico, but the Texas Tech receiver hauled in three scores in the first half and leads the Big 12 in receiving yards and touchdowns, and ranks second in catches. Will he continue his pace alongside Ryan Broyles and Justin Blackmon, the league's top two receivers?

6. Oklahoma's ability to stop James Franklin. The Sooners let Florida State's EJ Manuel make some big plays with his feet last week. Franklin is much more apt to run, so OU will be keyed in on stopping it, but can Missouri out-execute the Sooners and get Franklin loose? He's much more effective when defenses are forced to account for that.

7. Henry Josey's carries. The 190-pound Missouri running back needed just 14 carries to top 260 yards last week, and he did that in one half. Is he stout enough to handle 20-30 carries against a very, very physical OU defense coming off its best defensive performance in years? We'll find out Saturday, but look for Greg White and 250-pound walk-on Jared Culver to take some heat off the shift back.

8. Roy Finch's contribution. Oklahoma's home-run hitting back has been MIA through two games this year, and the Sooners have relied on Brennan Clay and walk-on Dominique Whaley. Bob Stoops insists Finch isn't in the doghouse, and Clay and Whaley have taken steps forward, rather than Finch taking a step back. Will we see Finch finally make an impact?