September 1, 2011

Week 1 preview in the Big 12

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In early August, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops reassured fans that the Sooners were due to win another championship.

"We have high expectations and I don't shy away from them," Stoops said to the Sooner Club in Oklahoma City. "My feeling is it's about time. We need to win one."

THE SCHEDULE
FRIDAY
TCU at Baylor, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Miami of Ohio) at Missouri, noon
Eastern Kentucky at Kansas State, 7 p.m.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
McNeese State at Kansas, 7 p.m.
Northern Iowa at Iowa State, 7 p.m.
Texas State at Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
Tulsa at Oklahoma, 8 p.m.
Rice at Texas, 8 p.m.
SUNDAY
SMU at Texas A&M, 7:30 p.m.
Obviously, Stoops wasn't referring to Big 12 titles. The Sooners collect those in bundles, having captured seven over the past 12 seasons, including three of the past four. But a decade has passed since the Sooners won a national title, and in Oklahoma, that qualifies as a drought of near Dust Bowl proportions.

That drought soon may end. Almost every publication or organization that releases a poll has the Sooners entering the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. But the Sooners have learned all too well that the BCS chase doesn't work like the "Battleship" game: A bunch of near-misses don't necessarily lead to a big hit.

In the decade since Oklahoma upset Florida State to win the 2000 national championship, OU has opened every season among the preseason top 10. No other program in the country has done that.

But the Sooners have fallen short of winning it all again. Indeed, the No. 1 ranking may be a bad omen. USC in 2004 is the only team since the turn of the century to open No. 1 and win the BCS national championship. That season the Trojans destroyed Oklahoma in the championship game.

Trends end, though, and Stoops like this team a lot.

"They're very excited to play," he said. "I've had a great feeling about this team just from the way they've worked through winter and spring."

He may be feeling even better by the end of autumn.

BEST MATCHUP: Baylor's pass offense vs. TCU's pass defense. TCU's defense typically is among the best in the nation. But there is some uncertainty because of four new starters in the Horned Frogs' secondary. Meanwhile, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III is a dangerous running threat and a capable passer. The Bears also have a better-than-you-think group of receivers. If TCU's pass rush can't get to Griffin (or keep him in the pocket), the Bears could give TCU more trouble than some may anticipate.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Texas QB Garrett Gilbert. Although he was the incumbent, Gilbert wasn't announced as the Longhorns' starter over Case McCoy until Monday. Last season, Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and only 10 touchdown passes as the Longhorns finished with a 5-7 record. Coach Mack Brown figures to have a quick hook if Gilbert continues to struggle, especially in the season opener against Rice. Last season, the Owls ranked 119th in the country in pass defense, and their best defensive back - FS Travis Bradshaw - already has sustained a season-ending injury.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Oklahoma DE Ronnell Lewis. He's one of the Sooners' top defensive players, but there's is uncertainty about whether he'll be academically eligible this season. If Lewis is ineligible, the Sooners will start junior David King in his place. King 12 tackles and one sack in his career.

NUMBERS GAME: Oklahoma State All-American WR Justin Blackmon will aim to extend his streak of 12 games with at least 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown catch when the Cowboys open against Louisiana-Lafayette. He hit triple digits in every game in which he played last season (he sat out one). Blackmon's last game without 100 receiving yards was against Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl after the '09 season. He had four catches for 45 yards in that game. In last season's win over ULL, Blackmon had 13 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

KEY INJURIES: Kansas will be without DT Patrick Dorsey (foot). ... Missouri may be missing LB Will Ebner (concussion) and WR Jarrell Jackson (hamstring) and C Travis Ruth (Achilles) is out. ... Texas Tech will be without C Justin Keown (knee).

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"I hope the Aggies don't leave, but if they do it's not the end of the world. They will be replaced by at least one and maybe three excellent teams that ... if we get what we're asking for, it would be a bigger story than the Aggies leaving." - Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance, on Texas A&M

"Whatever we have is who we have. Ronnell [Lewis] is the best defensive end we have. We lost [linebacker] Travis Lewis; the next guy's going to be pretty good, but he's not Travis. When you lose a starter, the next guy usually isn't quite as good. I don't want to take anything away from anyone else, but twos are twos for a reason and ones are ones for a reason. Very, very, very seldom does it ever happen that a two is as good as a one." - Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, on the injury to Travis Lewis and possible ineligibility of Ronnell Lewis

"We got hit in the mouth last year, and basically it's not necessarily what we did last year but how we respond to it." - Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker, on the Longhorns trying to bounce back from last year's 5-7 record

POLL WATCH: Four Big 12 teams were ranked among the AP preseason top 25 (No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 21 Missouri) and none figure to have any problems staying there. Texas topped the list of "Others Receiving Votes" and could break into the poll with an impressive win. Baylor could demand respect and votes if the Bears upset TCU.

ETC.: Perhaps Texas Tech's opener with Texas State should be labeled the "Scrap Iron Bowl." The game matches Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville (formerly coach at Auburn) vs. Texas State's Dennis Franchione (formerly coach at Alabama). ... In its season-opener against No. 14 TCU, Baylor is seeking its first victory over a ranked opponent since upsetting No. 16 Texas A&M 35-34 in double-overtime in 2004. ... Oklahoma State has suspended FS Johnny Thomas and WR Michael Harrison indefinitely for academic issues. ... Iowa State's Steele Jantz is the Cyclones' first junior college transfer to start at QB since Seneca Wallace in 2001. Jantz, freshman C Tom Farniok and freshman LB C.J. Morgan will make their first college starts in the opener against Northern Iowa. ... Oklahoma State fans obviously are excited. Less than 10 years ago the Cowboys' stadium had 12 luxury boxes. Now, T. Boone Pickens Stadium has 99 and 94 have been sold. ... Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is seeking his 150th career victory on Saturday against Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats are 48-5 in September games under Snyder. ... Texas A&M junior walk-on Caleb Russell won the competition to succeed Von Miller at the 'Joker' position. He also was awarded a scholarship. ... Oklahoma will wear a No. 12 decal to honor former teammate Austin Box, who died in May. Players on the defense also may rotate wearing a jersey with Box's No. 12. ... Baylor WR Kendall Wright has caught at least one pass in all 37 games of his college career. Wright has the Baylor career receiving record with 194 catches and needs 311 yards to set the school record for receiving yardage. He enters the season with 2,341 career receiving yards. ... Missouri has a new starting quarterback in sophomore James Franklin, but Mizzou returns every player who caught a pass last season. ... Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills reportedly has been suspended for the opener stemming from a DUI arrest in January, but the team has yet to make an official announcement.

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




 

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