October 15, 2009

Big 12 weekend preview and midseason awards

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Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, noon
Texas Tech at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m.
Baylor at Iowa State, 7 p.m.
Texas A&M at Kansas State, 7 p.m.
Kansas at Colorado, 7 p.m.
Missouri at Oklahoma State, 9:15 p.m.
Having a backup plan always is important. In the Big 12, it has been absolutely crucial.

Last season was the "year of the quarterback" in the Big 12; seven of the conference's quarterbacks ranked among the nation's top 23 in passing.

This season has become the "year of the backup quarterback."

At the midway point of the season, five backup quarterbacks have been pressed into service. The latest is Colorado's Tyler Hansen, who took off a redshirt to enter last Saturday after starter Cody Hawkins was intercepted twice in the second half of a 38-14 loss to Texas. Hawkins has thrown nine interceptions this season.

"He's been a trooper and he's so awesome," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, who had to make the difficult decision to bench his son, said of Hansen. "We're going to go with him. He's earned it. He paid his dues last year and he's earned it."

The Buffaloes are hopeful Hansen will prove as effective as other Big 12 backups have been.

Oklahoma looked to Landry Jones when Sam Bradford was injured in the season-opening loss to BYU. In Bradford's stead, Jones passed for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns and led the Sooners to two wins in three games.


Offensive player of the year
Kansas QB Todd Reesing. He is upstaging his peers in the quarterback-rich Big 12. Through five games, Reesing has thrown for 1,579 yards and 13 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He's completing 69.3 percent of his attempts for the unbeaten Jayhawks, who have scored at least 34 points in every game.

Defensive player of the year
Nebraska T Ndamukong Suh. Linebackers and/or safeties typically lead their teams in tackles, which is only one of many reasons that Suh is so dominant. Suh leads the Huskers with 32 tackles, and he also has eight pass breakups, which puts him among the national leaders in that department. Suh, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior, has seven tackles for loss, an interception and has forced a fumble to emerge as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Best game
Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35, Sept. 12. The game featured 946 yards of offense, and there were three lead changes in the fourth quarter. Houston scored twice in the final 6:42 to pull the upset.

Biggest surprise
Texas A&M DE Von Miller. A year ago, Texas A&M produced just 16 sacks, with Miller having three. But through five games, Miller already has nine sacks to lead the Aggies - who have equaled their 2008 output. Miller was moved to the "Jack" position in the offseason; it's a hybrid end/outside linebacker role.

Biggest disappointment
Colorado. The Buffs' motto in August was "10 wins and no excuses." Well, the Buffaloes are 1-4, including losses to Colorado State and (yikes) Toledo.

Biggest unanswered question
Is Oklahoma State a legitimate contender? The Cowboys opened the season ranked ninth and climbed to fifth after their season-opening victory over Georgia. But their defense was torched in that 45-35 loss to Houston. Although they haven't lost since, they also haven't played powerful competition. They allowed 31 points last week to Texas A&M to again raise doubts that their defense is good enough to topple Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Baylor freshman Joey Florence, who had been the No. 3 quarterback, has passed for 436 yards and three touchdowns while completing almost 62 percent of his attempts since starter Robert Griffin endured a season-ending knee injury. This week, backup Blake Szymanski, who has been injured, is expected to play against Iowa State.

Two weeks ago, Kansas State's Grant Gregory replaced Carson Coffman and passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 21-20 victory over Iowa State. Last week, Gregory was replaced by Coffman at halftime of a 66-14 loss to Texas Tech. Also in that game, the Red Raiders started backup Steven Sheffield in place of Taylor Potts - who was out with a concussion. Sheffield passed for 490 yards and seven touchdowns.

"He's among the most coachable guys I've had," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said of Sheffield. "He just continually gets better and always has been a guy that's focused on improving what he does when it comes to detail."

Some coaches have the philosophy that a player doesn't lose a starting job because of injury. Leach figures to have a tough choice on who to start if Potts is ready for Saturday's game against Nebraska.

"It will be a game-day decision," Leach said. "I'm not into the whole injury thing and all the drama and excitement. In our case, it will be a game-time decision."

Colorado isn't similarly torn. The Buffaloes' coaches have made a decision they intend to stand by for the rest of the season.

"We're going to go with Tyler and I don't want to go back and forth," offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. "I want to have our guy and have him run the offense."

But the Buffs can't afford to ignore Cody Hawkins just because he's a backup. They're playing almost as much as Big 12 starters.

Key matchup: Oklahoma offensive line vs. Texas' pass rush. Although Oklahoma has allowed only six sacks, its play was erratic in losses to BYU and Miami. Protection is of utmost importance now that QB Sam Bradford is back from a shoulder injury that knocked him out of 3∏ games. The Sooners' line faces its toughest test Saturday against Texas, which has 14 sacks. The Longhorns sacked Bradford three times in a 45-35 victory last season.

Player on the spot: Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. When the sophomore Gabbert has looked good, Missouri has looked good. Missouri was looking good until the fourth quarter of last week's game against Nebraska. At that point, Missouri led 12-0. But Gabbert went just 2-for-10 for 11 yards and two interceptions in the fourth period. His two picks set up Nebraska touchdowns in a 27-12 Huskers victory. Gabbert needs to come back strong for the Tigers to keep up with Oklahoma State, which averages 38.4 points per game. A loss might eliminate Missouri from the North Division title race, especially if Nebraska defeats Texas Tech.

Numbers game: Kansas and Texas are tied for fourth (with Oregon State) in the nation in red zone efficiency. Both have scored 25 times on 26 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard lines. But Kansas has been more efficient than the Longhorns. The Jayhawks' red zone opportunities have resulted in 161 points. They've scored 12 touchdowns via running, 10 via passing and three times have settled for field goals. By comparison, Texas has scored 17 rushing touchdowns and four passing touchdowns from the red zone and has settled for eight field goals.

What they're saying:

"I'm sure some of it will definitely be the combination of range of motion, mobility, probably combination of pain tolerance and, more than that, the combination of the risk. You put a guy out there that has a chance to have a more severe injury because it's not completely healed yet. You're not going to put any young man in that situation." - Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, to SoonerScoop.com, about the possibility of injured WR Ryan Broyles playing against Texas. Broyles initially was thought to be out at least a month. He has missed one game.

"We couldn't move the ball. They could have scored 500 points if the game would have gone long enough. There wasn't anything we could do to stop them, and that's pretty disappointing." - Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, on the Wildcats' 66-14 loss to Texas Tech.

"We have a lot of young receivers. No one really knows about them. But Dez wasn't Dez until Adarius Bowman went out with a knee injury [Bryant's] freshman year." - Oklahoma State RB Keith Toston, on the Cowboys' replacements for WR Dez Bryant

Etc.: Baylor, which travels to face Iowa State, has lost 12 consecutive road games in Big 12 play. The last time the Bears won a conference game on the road was in 2006, when they beat Colorado 34-31 in triple overtime. ... Texas Tech is in search of its first road victory of the season when it plays at Nebraska on Saturday. Texas Tech has lost at Texas and at Houston this season and lost at Oklahoma in its final regular-season road game of last year. The Red Raiders also lost in the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss. ... Iowa State junior RB Alexander Robinson is coming off a career-high 152-yard rushing performance against Kansas last week. This week he faces Baylor, which ranks 94th in the nation in run defense. ... Kansas is seeking a fourth consecutive win over Colorado, which would mark the first time the Jayhawks have taken four in a row against the Buffaloes. ... Missouri should welcome the road trip to Oklahoma State. The visiting teams have won the past four games in the series. But it won't be easy. Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, six of the seven meetings have been decided by seven or fewer points, and three games have gone into overtime. ... Nebraska's victory over Missouri last week was the Huskers' first win over a ranked team since defeating No. 24 Texas A&M 28-27 in 2006. ... Oklahoma CB Brian Jackson has intercepted a pass in each of the past three games. ... Texas WR Jordan Shipley is the first player in school history to post at least 10 catches in three consecutive games. He ranks second in the nation in receptions per game, seventh in receiving yards per game and fourth in punt return yardage. ... Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson has attempted 228 passes without an interception. He's the only full-time starting quarterback in the nation that hasn't thrown a pick. ... Texas Tech has passed for at least 400 yards in five consecutive games. Last week, Steven Sheffield set a school record with 370 passing yards - and five touchdowns - in the first half. ... Iowa State LB Jesse Smith has posted at least 12 tackles in four games. He has more games with double-digit tackles than any other player in the Big 12. ... Kansas has scored at least four touchdowns in nine of its past 10 games and all five this season.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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