November 4, 2010

Week 10 preview in the Big 12

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THE SCHEDULE
Baylor at Oklahoma State, 12:30 p.m.
Colorado at Kansas, 2 p.m.
Nebraska at Iowa State, 3:30 p.m.
Oklahoma at Texas A&M, 7 p.m.
Texas at Kansas State, 8 p.m.
Missouri at Texas Tech, 8 p.m.

What is the cost of victory? At Texas, it might be $1 million per.

Texas' Mack Brown is the highest-paid coach in college football, with an annual salary of $5.1 million. Yet his Longhorns have managed a mere four victories and are in jeopardy of failing to notch the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility.

Go ahead and project a Texas victory over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 20. That still leaves the Longhorns needing at least one win over frequent nemesis Kansas State, high-scoring Oklahoma State or traditional rival Texas A&M.

None of those games can be taken for granted by a team that has lost at home to UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor.

"I'm not worried about that," Brown said this week. "Obviously, we're not in the Big 12 South race, we're not in the Big 12 race and we're not in the BCS race. We have to get back and play better. We played hard [last] Saturday night against a good Baylor team. We didn't make the plays down the stretch to win.

"We've got a tough road ahead, but I'm not worried about anything except the football team getting better and getting back to where we were. And we will do both."

No one doubts that Texas' struggle won't last long. The main question is why the Longhorns are struggling at all.

Texas, which started the season ranked in the top five, has more resources than perhaps any program in the country. After all, athletic director DeLoss Dodds once dismissed questions that Texas was trying to keep up with the Joneses by countering, "We are the Joneses."

The state of Texas is one of the best - if not the best - areas in the nation for recruiting high-caliber prospects, so Brown annually has elite talent coming into his program. Texas has great fan support and so much money that it can fill its needs - whether truly necessary or not - without a second thought.

The stretch run
Key game the rest of the way
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 27. Although both the Sooners and Cowboys still have to get by Baylor, the annual "Bedlam Game" could have more at stake than usual. The annual in-state rivalry may determine which team represents the South Division in the Big 12 championship game.
Offensive player of the year watch
Perhaps the top candidate is Baylor QB Robert Griffin, who leads the conference in total offense with 2,993 yards and has made the Bears contenders in the South Division. The primary competition will be Oklahoma State teammates Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon and Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles. Hunter leads the Big 12 in rushing with 1,174 yards and has scored 12 touchdowns. Blackmon leads the conference with 1,112 receiving yards on 62 catches and has scored 14 touchdowns. Broyles leads the nation in receptions per game, has had at least eight catches and 100 receiving yards in every game but one and has eight touchdown catches.
Defensive player of the year watch
The top contenders are Iowa State LB A.J. Klein, Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal and Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. Klein has 93 tackles and three interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns. Beal leads the Big 12 with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss while also forcing three fumbles. Amukamara is simply one of the best cover corners in the nation. He has no interceptions but has broken up 10 passes.
Newcomer of the year watch
Nebraska should take the newcomer of the year award. Redshirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez has been a major threat as a dazzling runner and dangerous passer. He leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency and is third in rushing with 886 yards and 12 touchdowns. His main competition may be Huskers LB Lavonte David, a junior college transfer who leads the conference with 10.8 tackles per game.
Need an indoor-practice facility? You got it. Need a plush players' lounge, a state-of-the-art academic center, a swanky locker room, premier training facilities? Done.

Want to add another 10,000 seats to Royal-Memorial Stadium? OK. Pay assistant coaches top dollar? No problem. Head coach needs $5 mil a year? Is that all?

So, considering the advantages Texas has, it boggles the mind that the Longhorns ever would lose to Iowa State, much less be fighting for bowl eligibility.

To be fair, Texas had to replace six players were taken in the NFL draft, including Colt McCoy, who left Austin as college football's all-time winningest starting quarterback.

Of course, Alabama, which faced Texas in last season's BCS national championship game, had to replace seven players selected in the NFL draft. The Crimson Tide has lost once this season.

Brown pointed out several statistical comparisons to last season that show why the Longhorns are struggling.

He said at this time last season, Texas had forced 26 turnovers; this season, it's 11.

A year ago, the Longhorns had scored 24 touchdowns in 38 red zone possessions. This season, it's 15-of-36.

Last season, opponents had scored eight touchdowns on 15 red zone possessions. This season, it's 14-of-22.

In addition, sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert has been disappointing and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

"There is a fine line between playing for the national championship and winning the conference championship eight months ago and where we are now, and [the difference] is usually turnovers," Brown said. "That doesn't change. This thing hasn't changed. It's still about touchdowns and who scores and who doesn't."

Brown asked for patience from Texas' rabid fan base, which, he suggests, may have gotten spoiled by the Longhorns' streak of nine consecutive 10-win seasons. All powerhouse programs slump at some time, and Brown said this is Texas' turn.

"We've had the most successful 10-year stretch in the last 10 years in Texas' gloried football history," Brown said. "So, we've done a lot of great things."

Well, that may depend on how one defines the most successful stretch. True, Texas has won 110 games in the previous 10 seasons, the program's most victories in a 10-year span. In that span, Texas won one national championship and two conference titles.

From 1961-70 under Darrell Royal, Texas posted 89 victories while winning six conference championships and three national titles. Now, which 10-year span was more successful?

Of course, today's fans are rightly more concerned with the trials of the present than the triumphs of the past.

What if the annual Thanksgiving Day game against Texas A&M determined which team would go to a bowl and which one's season would end?

"People panic sometime and worry," Brown said. "I understand that. I'm fully aware of where we are and what's going on, and I'll get it fixed.

"I don't know if it will be this weekend. I hope we'll get it straightened out by the end of the season. If we don't, we'll keep working and go to spring practice and we'll be better next year. Sometimes your darkest days can make you better."

In that case, Texas should expect brighter days ahead. Because when wins are costing nearly $1 million each, the days can't get much darker.

Best matchup: Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller vs. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming. Fuller is making a strong case for all-conference recognition. He has had more than 100 receiving yards in three of the past four games and has at least one touchdown catch in five consecutive games. He's sure to draw coverage from Fleming, who also is making a case for postseason honors. Fleming is tied for the Big 12 lead with 11 pass breakups and also has two interceptions.

Player on the spot: Texas QB Garrett Gilbert. He is ranked 94th in the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed less than 60 percent of his passing attempts in each of the past three games and has led the Longhorns to just three touchdowns in the past two games - both losses. Furthermore, he's thrown four interceptions in those two games. Texas desperately needs Gilbert to avoid mistakes and make plays to finish drives in a crucial game against Kansas State, which has holes in its pass coverage and doesn't have a great pass rush.

Numbers game: Oklahoma senior RB DeMarco Murray needs 32 yards to break Joe Washington's school record for all-purpose yardage. Murray has 5,849 total yards in his career. Washington's record of 5,881 has stood since 1975. Earlier this season, Murray broke the school record for career touchdowns, which was held by Steve Owens.

What they're saying

"These four games are kind of a skid, and all the negativity is going to come out, but we can't let ourselves dig into that. We have to keep positive and looking forward to the next game and moving on." - Colorado LB B.J. Beatty, on the Buffaloes' four-game losing streak

"You complain about double-teams all the time. But right now, I want the double-team, if that makes sense. Shows how far I've come." - Oklahoma DT Adrian Taylor, who sustained a broken ankle in last season's Sun Bowl

Etc.: Oklahoma State and Baylor face off as ranked teams for the first time. ... Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville indicated he wouldn't decide until Friday whether Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield will start at quarterback this week against Missouri. ... Oklahoma State is the only team in the nation with a 1,000-yard rusher (Kendall Hunter) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Blackmon). ... Baylor sophomore QB Robert Griffin has set a school record with 39 career touchdown passes. His 2,993 yards of total offense this season also is a school record. ... Baylor has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games. ... Senior WR Scotty McKnight is the first Colorado player with more than 200 career catches. ... Iowa State starting C Ben Lamaak has returned to practice after spraining an MCL two weeks ago, but his status for Saturday's game against Nebraska is uncertain. ... Kansas coach Turner Gill said he might not know who will start at quarterback until Saturday. Last week, third-stringer Quinn Mecham got the start in a loss to Iowa State. Usual starter Jordan Webb has a bad shoulder and backup Kale Pick was out with a concussion. ... Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez has a sprained right ankle, not a bone bruise as originally thought. He is expected to be available Saturday. ... Texas K Justin Tucker has attempted 22 field goals, the most in the country. He's converted 18. ... Texas A&M junior WR Jeff Fuller has indicated he intends to return for his senior season. And Oklahoma junior WR Ryan Broyles told the Tulsa World he'd like to break Mark Clayton's school career receiving records, which would seem to indicate he'll pass up the NFL draft and return for his senior season. ... Baylor freshman K Aaron Jones has converted 17 field goals and needs one more to equal the school single-season record. ... Colorado's defense has allowed at least 430 yards in three consecutive games. ... Iowa State is tied for first in the Big 12 with 13 interceptions. ... Oklahoma State WRs Justin Blackmon and Tracy Moore, who were suspended from last week's game, will be back in action this week against Baylor. But WR Hubert Anyiam has a sprained ankle and is questionable. ... Ryan Tannehill has taken over for Jerrod Johnson as Texas A&M's starting quarterback, and last week against Texas Tech, he set a school single-game passing record with 449 yards. ... Iowa State is 9-1 under coach Paul Rhoads when allowing less than 150 rushing yards. ... Kansas' pass rush has managed only eight sacks this season, but four have come in the last two games. ... Missouri LB Luke Lambert will miss a third consecutive game with a knee injury. His replacement, Will Ebner, is playing with a broken foot. ... Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard suffered a concussion last week, and his status for this week is uncertain. ... Texas G Michael Huey will miss the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. Freshman Trey Hopkins is listed as the starter at left guard. ... Nebraska RB Roy Helu hopes to build on last week's career-high 307-yard rushing performance against Missouri. Helu rushed for 24 yards against Iowa State last season and has 90 yards against them in his career. ... Oklahoma State has scored on 35 of 36 trips into the red zone (25 touchdowns, 10 field goals). ... Texas Tech WRs Alex Torres (knee) and Jacoby Franks (foot) will miss the rest of the season.

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



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