October 29, 2009

Weekend preview of the Big 12

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Nebraska at Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
Missouri at Colorado, 12:30 p.m.
Iowa State at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.
Kansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Kansas State at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.
Texas at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.
The refrigerator in Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson's apartment probably won't shut all the way. And Cowboys coach Mike Gundy may be driving to work with a door ajar.

This week, Texas is on the schedule, so the Cowboys may have difficulty closing. Three times in the past five seasons, Oklahoma State took significant leads on the Longhorns. But the Cowboys never could close out the upset.

"We've been beating the hell out of UT; then it comes to the fourth quarter and something happens and they end up winning the game," Oklahoma State sophomore wide receiver Hubert Anyiam said. "It's just been bad. Last year it happened. If we get up again, we just have to finish the job."

The Cowboys again face a big job against Texas in a clash that could ultimately decide the Big 12 championship and could have national title implications.

No. 3 Texas (7-0) and No. 13 Oklahoma State (6-1) are undefeated in the Big 12 and are the only league teams in the BCS standings. Saturday's winner has the inside track at the South Division title and probably the conference championship, based on what is happening in the lackluster North Division.

With so much at stake, Oklahoma State must overcome a Texas offense that leads the nation in scoring, a defense that is the best in the country against the run and its own history of fading against the Longhorns.

A rundown of the Cowboys' late lapses against Texas:

In 2004, Oklahoma State had a 35-7 lead late in the first half, but Cedric Benson scored four touchdowns in the second half as the Longhorns rallied for 56-35 victory in Austin.

In 2005, the Cowboys led 28-12 at halftime. Then, Vince Young ran for two touchdowns and passed for another in the third quarter as Texas stormed back to prevail 47-28.

In 2007, Oklahoma State took a 35-14 lead into the fourth quarter, only to fall when the Longhorns rallied for 24 consecutive points.

Last season, the Cowboys had the football twice in the fourth quarter trailing 28-24, but couldn't mount a drive for a winning touchdown.

"There's no question it's been frustrating to be in the situation we've been in with them and not finish the deal," Robinson said. "We know we've been really close the last few years and haven't been able to finish it off."

Texas has had its share of near-misses lately, too. The Longhorns have been in the national championship discussion in two of the past three seasons, only to be eliminated by late-season losses.

A victory over Oklahoma State would be a huge boost to the Longhorns' national championship aspirations because their remaining regular-season schedule appears quite advantageous: home games against UCF and Kansas and road trips to Baylor and Texas A&M.

Texas also seems to be getting healthy at the right time. Quarterback Colt McCoy, who was weakened by the flu in a 16-13 victory over Oklahoma two weeks ago, came back to pass for three touchdowns in a rout of Missouri last week. Guard Michael Huey has recovered from an ankle injury and is back in the starting lineup. Running back Fozzy Whittaker, slowed by injuries earlier in the season, is healthy and has given the running game a much-needed push.

On the other hand, there still are doubts about Oklahoma State, which is without suspended All-America wide receiver Dez Bryant and hasn't had running back Kendall Hunter most of the season because of a foot injury.

Still, Texas has learned not to take anything for granted against the Cowboys. Even though the Longhorns have found ways to beat Oklahoma State, those wins haven't come easy.

"We know it's going to be a competitive game every year," McCoy said. "Last year was close at our stadium. The year before that, we had to come from behind in the fourth quarter. I know this one will probably be the most fun of them all. They're a good team, it's at their place and at night. We definitely have to be prepared and ready for the challenge."

KEY MATCHUP: Iowa State rush offense vs. Texas A&M rush defense. Iowa State is one victory away from clinching bowl eligibility, and that victory could come Saturday if the Cyclones can run successfully against Texas A&M. The Aggies rank 11th in the Big 12 against the run. The Cyclones average 204.4 rushing yards per game to lead the Big 12. They also figure to have RB Alexander Robinson back in the lineup. Robinson, who has rushed for 737 yards, missed last week's 9-7 win over Nebraska with a groin injury. The Aggies have allowed at least 30 points in each of the past four games, but are coming off an emotional 52-30 victory over Texas Tech.

PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Kansas offensive line. The Jayhawks have allowed eight sacks in the past two games. That's disconcerting with the Jayhawks going on the road to face Texas Tech, which ranks second in the Big 12 with 24 sacks. Red Raiders DE Brandon Sharpe has eight of them. Kansas has to protect QB Todd Reesing to outscore the Red Raiders, who average 40 points per game. The Jayhawks can ill-afford another loss. They're already two games back in the Big 12 North race, and a road game against Texas looms next month.

NUMBERS GAME: Nebraska's offense is struggling, but its defense is strutting. The Huskers have held each of their past six opponents to fewer than 280 total yards. That's the longest such streak since Nebraska held its final eight regular-season opponents under 300 yards in 1996 - when it won the national title. The Huskers allow 266.4 yards per game to rank eight nationally.


"As coaches, we failed to make our coaching points more compelling than [the players'] fat little girlfriends. Fat little girlfriends have some obvious advantages. For one thing, their fat little girlfriends are telling them what they want to hear, which is how great you are and how easy it's going to be." - Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, on the Red Raiders' 52-30 upset loss to Texas A&M

"When the bullets are firing, it's just kind of like who can stay calm, who can be poised and stuff like that. We didn't do a great job of that Saturday night." - Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon, on the Tigers' loss to Texas

"We would hope that his athletic ability would allow him to contribute to the offense, and I certainly wouldn't think he would come in and get 20 carries in the first game. I would think he'd be an eight- to 10-carry guy, maybe throw him a few passes and take some of the load off of Keith [Toston] and Beau [Johnson]." - Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, on the status of injured RB Kendall Hunter

ETC.: Oklahoma has applied for a medical hardship to get an extra year of eligibility for senior LB Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has had three knee surgeries in his career, including one that forced him to miss half of last season. ... Baylor LB Joe Pawelek will make the 41st consecutive start of his career on Saturday. That's four short of the school record. ... Each of Nebraska's past five opponents have averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per rush. ... Missouri's Weatherspoon has 363 career tackles to rank sixth on the Tigers' career list. This season he's averaging 8.7 tackles per game. At that pace (and assuming the Tigers play in a bowl), he would finish with 415, which would tie for second all-time at Missouri. The Tigers' career leader is James Kinney with 434. Meanwhile, Missouri LB Luke Lambert (dislocated shoulder) and DB Munir Prince (hamstring) are doubtful for Saturday's game. ... Iowa State is expecting starting QB Austen Arnaud to return to the lineup. He sat out last week's win over Nebraska with a bruised hand. ... Texas A&M freshman WR Uzoma Nwachukwu is averaging 21 yards per catch on 22 receptions. That's the second-highest per-catch average in the country. He had a catch that covered 41 yards in last week's win over Texas Tech. ... A&M LB/DE Von Miller has increased his national-leading sack total to 12.5. He needs eight more to break Jacob Green's single-season school record. ... Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is 81-42, remains one victory short of tying Spike Dykes for the most coaching wins in school history. Leach has not announced a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Kansas, but don't be surprised if freshman Seth Doege gets the call. Doege didn't play his junior or senior years of high school because of injuries, but played well in relief of starter Taylor Potts during last week's loss to A&M. ... Kansas State has forced 10 turnovers and recorded 10 sacks in its past two games. Wildcats junior RB Daniel Thomas is coming off a career-high 145-yard rushing performance in last week's win over Colorado. ... Texas QB Colt McCoy has started in 39 career victories to tie Tennessee's Peyton Manning for second on the career victories list. McCoy is three victories shy of equaling Georgia's David Greene for the record. ... The Longhorns have scored an NCAA-leading six touchdowns via special teams, including two on kickoff returns, two on punt returns and two off blocked punts. They also have an interception return for a touchdown for a national-best seven non-offensive touchdowns. ... Oklahoma State's Robinson needs 218 passing yards to break the career record of 7,997, which is owned by Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. ... Colorado WR Scotty McKnight has extended his school-record streak of consecutive games with at least one catch to 32.

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



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