October 1, 2009

Weekend breakdown of the Big 12

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THE SCHEDULE
Thursday
Colorado at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday
Iowa State vs. Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo., 3 p.m.
New Mexico at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Kent State at Baylor, 7 p.m.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, 7:30 p.m.
Oklahoma at Miami, 8 p.m.
The Oklahoma Sooners are rummaging through college football's lost and found.

Hopes for a national championship seemed lost when the Sooners fell to BYU 14-13 in the season opener and lost Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. But a combination of a strong defense, a powder-puff schedule and power outages among several other highly ranked teams means OU has climbed back into the top 10. If the Sooners can post a road victory over Miami, they will find themselves back in the national championship picture just as Bradford may be returning to the lineup.

Bradford passed for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, and his return would figure to enhance the Sooners' chances against Miami (2-1).

OU coach Bob Stoops said he wasn't sure when Bradford's availability would be known. "We just need to feel comfortable that he's healthy and feels good enough to make the throws we need him to make," Stoops said.

Stoops said the Sooners' game plan wouldn't be affected by the uncertainty surrounding Bradford because backup Landry Jones has similar qualities.

"It's not like one's a scrambling, wildcat-type of guy and you have a whole different ballgame for him," Stoops said. "As far as the game plan goes, it's not challenging in that we'll have the same for both of them. Landry is similar as a thrower and his style of game."

Jones has been impressive, passing for 622 yards and nine touchdowns in two games as a starter. But that was accomplished against Idaho State and Tulsa. Idaho State is a winless FCS team that allowed 44 points to Weber State; Tulsa typically has defensive problems.

Oklahoma's defense is among the best in the country and has demonstrated such with back-to-back shutouts, which has enabled the Sooners to move up from No. 13 to No. 8 in the national rankings.

But a rash of upsets that claimed six top-10 teams is even more responsible for OU's climb back into the top 10. One of those teams is Miami, which was ranked No. 9 before falling to Virginia Tech last week.

The Hurricanes figure to be looking for redemption.

"I'm not so sure we wouldn't see a determined team if they were undefeated," Stoops said. "They're a prideful program that's had a lot of success through the years. They have good players and good coaches, and they're going to play determined no matter what."

KEY MATCHUP: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett vs. Texas A&M's pass defense. It's a chicken-or-the-egg question: Is Texas A&M's pass defense improved because the Aggies have played so many struggling passing teams, or are those opponents struggling in the passing game because they played the Aggies? The Aggies rank 53rd nationally in pass defense and have allowed just one touchdown pass. But their opponents so far are New Mexico (108th in pass offense), UAB (109th) and Utah State (26th, but only after lighting up Southern Utah). The answer will be learned when the Aggies face Mallett, who twice has twice passed for more than 300 yards in a game and has thrown seven touchdown passes. Mallett can be contained by a good defense, which Alabama demonstrated a week ago. Does A&M fit that description?

PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Baylor's quarterbacks. They will be in this category for the rest of the season. This appeared to be the season the Bears would make their first bowl appearance since 1995. But that was before QB Robert Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Now, the burden falls to either Blake Szymanski, a senior who set school passing records as a sophomore two years ago, or true freshman Nick Florence. Szymanski has a sore right shoulder and may not be available for Saturday's game against Kent State.

NUMBERS GAME: Colorado, which travels to West Virginia on Thursday night, has been tormented on the road. In four seasons under coach Dan Hawkins, the Buffaloes are just 2-13 on the road. That includes a 54-38 loss at Toledo on Sept. 11. They haven't posted a road win since beating Texas Tech 31-26 in 2007. That doesn't bode well for their trip to West Virginia, which is 15-2 in night home games since 2000.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

"I think that a guy who plays college football gets enough attention. It's a bunch of narcissists that want to sit and type stuff about themselves all the time. We'll put mirrors in some of their lockers if that's necessary, but they don't have to Twitter." - Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, on banning his players from having Twitter and Facebook accounts

"The way we look at it is that we've had a couple of family members that have been side-tracked for a little bit, but what we'll do is rally up, we'll fight and we'll compete because that's what you do as a player, it's what you do as a coach and it's what you do as a program." - Baylor coach Art Briles on injuries to Griffin and kick returner Mikail Baker.

"I think we're in a better position now. The spotlight is off of us. People might forget about us and say, 'They were over-hyped. They're not really that good of a team.' But we know what we're capable of. We'll keep getting better. We're very confident in our abilities." - Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton, to the Tulsa (Okla.) World

Etc.: Colorado WR Scotty McKnight can set a school record by catching a pass against West Virginia. McKnight currently shares the school record of 27 consecutive games with at least one reception. ... Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert has thrown three touchdown passes in three of the Tigers' four games. The Tigers are the least-penalized team in the Big 12. They've been flagged only 20 times, for 182 yards. ... Oklahoma has allowed just 14 points, which is the fewest in the nation. Nebraska ranks third, having allowed just 28. ... Nebraska K Alex Henery has converted 21 consecutive field goals inside 50 yards. ... Texas QB Colt McCoy became the 15th player in NCAA FBS history to exceed 12,000 yards in career total offense. He also has a streak of 21 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Longhorns WR Jordan Shipley has had at least 10 receptions in each of the past two games. He's the first player in school history with 10 catches in back-to-back games. ... Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson is coming off a game in which he threw three touchdown passes and ran for three scores. He's the first Aggie to hit the trifecta in both categories in a single game. A&M freshman RB Christine Michael said out last week's game with a sore knee, but is expected to play against Arkansas. ... Texas Tech junior RB Baron Batch is coming off a career-high 114-yard rushing output against Houston. He also scored two touchdowns in that game. Red Raiders QB Taylor Potts has passed for more than 300 yards in all four games and leads the nation with 1,602 passing yards. Texas Tech starting G Brandon Carter has been suspended indefinitely by Leach. ... Iowa State DE Rashawn Parker is sidelined with an injury to his left knee. ... Kansas senior WR Kerry Meier had a career-high 141 receiving yards last week. Jayhawks QB Todd Reesing has thrown a touchdown pass in 22 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak among FBS quarterbacks. ... Iowa State RB Alexander Robinson is the first Cyclone to reach 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games since Dennis Haywood in 2000. Robinson looks to make it four in a row when the Cyclones face Kansas State ; the Wildcats are 17th in the nation in rushing defense, but allowed 119 yards to UCLA's Johnathan Franklin three weeks ago. ... Two Big 12 players are among the three in the nation who already have returned multiple kickoffs for touchdowns this season. Texas freshman D.J. Monroe scored on returns against ULM and UTEP, and Kansas State senior Brandon Banks returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last week against Tennessee Tech. Monroe is averaging 51.5 yards on returns to rank second in the nation. Banks ranks fourth with a 39.4-yard average. The national leader is Stanford's Chris Osuwu, who averages 59.17 yards per return and has returned three kickoffs for TDs. ... Von Miller, who plays a hybrid end/linebacker position in Texas A&M's defense, has posted at least two sacks in each of the Aggies' three games. He leads the nation with eight sacks, more than twice as many as the 3.5 he managed last season.

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




 

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