Expect Texas To Claim Big 12 Title

  • Saturday, December 5, 2009 8:47 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The Big 12 Championship Game is the capstone to a great day of BCS-busting games. But those expecting a blowout should think twice: Texas is the favorite, but Nebraska's defense is unlikely to let the Longhorns run up the score. Given that Texas should win this game nine times out of 10, here's a quick look at what the Huskers need to do to win:

Run the ball. Stay away from the conservative passing game that's plagued them offensively. They've won two games with time-consuming running drives that moved the ball and led to a touchdown. If they can run the ball well when teams know it's coming, they should be able to get some sort of production while controlling the game clock and limiting quarterback Zac Lee's opportunities for error.

Test the ball deep. They've got to stretch the field, something they've struggled to do in several games. I see Nebraska's offense being successful if it puts together three scoring drives, so most of its offensive work is going to be testing the Longhorns' defense and building toward future drives. It's going to be a frustrating and slow day for Nebraska. But what they're really needing to do is slowly chip away at the Longhorns' defense so that they can unravel it and find the end zone. With their defense, the Huskers don't need to get 30 to win. They could probably do it with less than 20.

Drop seven. Colt McCoy is UT's biggest running threat, but using some heavy zones could isolate him even if he gets outside the pocket and force him to throw into a thick secondary. If he's working too well with just four coming at him, you can always blitz the long side of the field. The idea is that Nebraska's excellent defensive line will be able to win a matchup with Texas' offensive line, letting them get more bodies into the secondary.

And just to play it different this week, here's a score prediction:

17-10, Texas wins.

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Friday Forecast: Texas Clears The Hurdle

  • Friday, October 30, 2009 11:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Texas has been far from exceptional while remaining undefeated this season, producing unimpressive wins that tempt voters to drop the Longhorns in the Associated Press rankings. Part of that can be credited to Colt McCoy, who has battled the flu and nagging injuries that have held him back for much of the season. Even so, this weekend might be the most realistic shot any team has at beating Texas prior to the national championship game. Oklahoma State is down Dez Bryant and won't have a fully healed Kendall Hunter, but it has a defense that can lock down when it commits itself and an offense that's as good as any.

Personal interests aside, there aren't many more compelling matchups in the Big 12 this weekend, unless you believe upstart Kansas State has a shot against Oklahoma. You're quite the optimist, if that's the case.

The picks:

Nebraska at Baylor: If Baylor hadn't lost Robert Griffin to injury, I'd pick Nebraska to lose this game. They're starting Zac Lee again, and Baylor's defense is good enough that if the Huskers continue to play out of sync, they'll get manhandled by the Bears. However, Nebraska also has an exceptional defense that won't give up much to Baylor's offense. Husker fans with high blood pressure should still consider taking the day off.

Missouri at Colorado: Talk about two teams that both need wins. Mizzou is winless in the Big 12, and the Buffs are 2-5 with almost no reason for optimism. But unlike Colorado, we've seen Missouri can play well, despite its record. Its conference schedule this far has been Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas. Expect the Tigers to find Colorado much easier.

Iowa State at Texas A&M: Iowa State's offense looks positioned to improve every week. It's still putting the pieces together. Meanwhile, the defense overachieves on a daily basis. And that win against Nebraska was big, but the Aggies don't have as many offensive problems as the Huskers did. They may get slowed but Jerrod Johnson won't be stopped. I'll pick A&M, but I'm rooting for Iowa State. Did you realize they're one win from bowl eligibility?

Kansas at Texas Tech: Texas Tech clearly needs solidarity at the quarterback position, and it is struggling this season. It's interesting, because Tech so rarely has quarterback problems. It comes down to whether the Red Raiders can be stable behind center. I think they will, and I don't think Kansas will be able to keep up.

Kansas State at Oklahoma: Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder always put on a good show. For that reason, I don't think this will be a blowout. And what a win it would be if the Wildcats could pull it out. It's just too much to ask of this young, confident Kansas State team. They've done well, but Oklahoma is a different beast than they've faced thus far.

Texas at Oklahoma State: This could be McCoy's Heisman performance, and it might have to be. Texas' offense has excelled at doing just enough to win, but it won't be able to hide in this game. Oklahoma State will get its points, and Texas will have to keep up. Expect the Longhorns to do so, but remember that the spotlight's on McCoy, now more than ever. It's his team, and his play will decide who wins.

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Big 12 North Turned Upside Down

  • Monday, October 19, 2009 12:57 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Seven weeks of college football, and who leads the Big 12 North? Kansas State, the team some picked to finish last (I was not far behind, tabbing them 11th). A couple weeks ago it looked like the Big 12 North was split in two, with half the teams rising to the Top 25 and half slumming it in obscurity. Instead, we've got three teams at 1-1 in conference play, another at 1-2, with Kansas State leading and Missouri in the basement.

Unfortunately, parity doesn't earn you respect -- at least not this early in the season, in this division. Maybe the SEC East could get away with a logjam, but the Big 12 North has been the dunce for a few years now. And we've seen too many poor performances to buy stock in the belief that perhaps it's back to being highly competitive. More likely, what we have is a few C-grade teams trying to pull down a few B-grade teams to their level. And so far, so good.

Week 6 record: 2-4, 2-4 Big 12

Overall record: 42-18, 10-4 Big 12

Hits

Oklahoma State 33, Missouri 17: Missouri's had a hard run. Nebraska and Oklahoma State are a hard way to open Big 12 play. Nevertheless, the Tigers are still 0-2, and clearly not a Top 25 team -- for now, at least. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is 2-0 in conference play, but that counts for very little when your wins are over Mizzou and A&M (see below).

Texas 16, Oklahoma 13: Texas was a little less than inspiring. Even against Oklahoma, I expected more than 16 points. On the other side of the ball, I imagine Bob Stoops wants to choke a doctor right about now. Preferably the one that said Sam Bradford ran no risk of re-injuring his shoulder.

Misses

Iowa State 24, Baylor 10: Sure, it's Baylor, but Iowa State is competing well. Paul Rhoads is doing a great job with the Cyclones, who have been in the game for every second of Big 12 play this season.

Colorado 34, Kansas 30: In the preseason, this wouldn't have seemed so unlikely. But that was before the Buffs fell apart. And Kanssa was supposed to have a solid defense. So does this mean Colorado's turned it around? No, not at all. Rather, the Jayhawks are no good this year. Cue the Iowa State footage if you don't believe me. They don't deserve their Top 25 ranking.

Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14: Talk about a flashback to 2003. This has to be the most unlikely line score I've seen this season. Never mind how pitiful Texas A&M is -- Kansas State is supposed to be running on fumes, limping through 2009. Guess what? The Wildcats are 4-3, a bowl game is a possibility, they're recruiting well, and Bill Snyder has a long-term contract. Things are looking sunny in Manhattan.

Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10: A lot went wrong for Nebraska, but the Huskers did their fair share wrong. Like failing to commit to the run. Having an ineffective offensive gameplan. Playing Zac Lee too long. Letting Ndamukong Suh get handled in the second half. The list goes on. But at the end of the day, Nebraska blows it right when it seems on the cusp of reaching the next level.

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Disappointment Plagues Big 12

  • Monday, September 14, 2009 7:13 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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The Big 12 Conference didn't do much to improve its reputation nationally. Far more teams performed well below expectations than those that played like they should have. Three programs lost to teams outside the major BCS conferences, and one had their fledgling national championship hopes all but crushed. Only Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma met expectations (so did Iowa State, though losing by 25 shouldn't be praised.) But the rest of the conference showed why no one should look ahead. It's only week three, and we've seen two of the projected top three teams lose, and one team that expected to be near the top smoldering at the bottom as the conference's only winless team.

Week 2 record: 7-3

Overall record: 14-7

Hits

Kansas 34, UTEP 7: Total rushing yards: Kansas 255, UTEP 4. That's four on 20 attempts. As good as the offense is, the team's defense will be the determinant in its success this season, as it has been in the past. So far, so good.

Oklahoma 64, Idaho State 0: Kind of expected, but Landry Jones did a great job in Sam Bradford's absence. The Sooners are smart enough to know their season is far from over.

Texas Tech 55, Rice 10: I expected more scoring from Rice, but I'm not heartbroken over it. Quarterback Taylor Potts was more comfortable this week than last, throwing for seven touchdowns in typical Red Raiders fashion.

Missouri 27, Bowling Green 20: This doesn't seem like a Missouri win, and I'm sure the Tigers don't feel like it after scrapping to rally and save their season at home, no less. A week after trouncing Illinois, the Tigers nearly botch a sure-win. So we're back to having no clue what kind of a team MU is.

Texas 41, Wyoming 10: After a rough first half and a three-point halftime lead, Texas put together a solid second half to reassert itself as the dominant team. I'd chalk it up to a mix of lack of focus by the Longhorns and a mad crowd in Laramie. But unlike other teams yet to be mentioned, Texas shook off the dust and refocused with plenty of time to spare.

Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9: It would have been a bigger blowout if not for some questionable calls favoring Arkansas State, but the Huskers were never threatened by the Red Wolves. Zac Lee had a solid game to balance Roy Helu Jr.'s relatively quiet one. If he can carry the load against teams of relevance, the Huskers will be in great shape down the road.

Iowa 35, Iowa State 3: Iowa State sure can make people's careers, as it did for the Hawkeyes' Tyler Sash. Sash collected three interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Cyclones. Sad day for Austen Arnaud, who threw for interceptions and got pulled.

Misses

Toledo 54, Colorado 38: Holy Toledo, the Buffs are terrible. Giving up 624 yards to Toledo is inexcusable (and the defense is supposed to be CU's strong suit). Few 0-2 teams rally for a 10-win season, and I guarantee you that team does not believe it can win even close to 10 right now. More on this later in the week.

Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35: In my predictions, I talked about Oklahoma State fans too lost in the smoke standing from the Georgia game to care much about Houston coming to town. Apparently, that went for the Cowboys, too. They got down early, put it together in the third quarter and took the lead, but couldn't lock down on defense in a fourth quarter they lost, 21-0. They've completely erased everything gained from the Georgia win.

Louisiana-Lafayette 17, Kansas State 15: I knew it. Knew it, knew it, knew it. At least I had the foresight to bet against my bet when I picked KSU in this game. His recruiting may be great, but the suggestions Bill Snyder made in the preseason about letting his coaches have lives outside of football -- I admire it, for sure. But it doesn't win football games. I'm not sure this won't be par for the course this year.

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Big 12 Preview | Nebraska No. 4

  • Sunday, August 30, 2009 3:05 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12 Conference, co-Big 12 North champions

2009 projection: 10 wins and division supremacy, but NU will need another season to climb back among the elite.

Reason to get excited: The defense made a huge leap in Coach Bo Pelini's first year, cutting its average yards allowed by more than 125 yards per game, and finished the season on a 6-1 tear.

Reason not to get worked up: The secondary will have to prove it can defend against big arms.

The gist: Nebraska is ranked in most everybody's preseason Top 25 with an unknown, unproven quarterback. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson raves about quarterback Zac Lee's abilities, and he has the arm strength and passing abilities that Joe Ganz lacked last year. He's also got a bulked up Roy Helu Jr., who looks ready to become a star all-purpose back. Fellow running back Quentin Castille's dismissal from the team will put more pressure on Helu, but the impact of his loss on the run game has been exaggerated. The offensive line loses Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha but reloads to form one of the strongest O-lines in the Big 12. The receivers are loaded with talent but a little light on experience. Defensively, Ndamukong Suh is one of the best players in the country. He led or was tied for the team lead in sacks, tackles and interceptions last season, and leads a strong defensive line. The Huskers' secondary and passing game is the point of concern. Even with senior safety Larry Asante and returning cornerback Anthony West, Nebraska might struggle if the passing defense can't get stops -- and picks.

Rallying point: Suh. They're already engraving his name on the Lombardi Award trophy.

Cover your eyes: If Helu's hamstring troubles put him on the bench.

For what it's worth: The only game on Nebraska's schedule that is a highly probable loss is Oklahoma. The division is getting better, but NU is getting better, faster. They've got Texas Tech at home, and the game at Virginia Tech looks much more winnable with Hokie running back Darren Evans out for the season. Watch out on the road at Baylor and Kansas, but if they win every game they should, Nebraska will end the regular season will 10 wins, maybe 11.

Big 12 Preview | Kansas No. 5

  • Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:37 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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2008 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big 12 Conference

2009 projection: With the best quarterback and strongest offense in the Big 12 North, Kansas should be headed for a Top 25 finish.

Reason to get excited: The Jayhawks have star talent at all the offensive playmaker positions.

Reason not to get worked up: Defense will create a lot of shootouts, leaving KU at the wrong end of the winning bullet.

The gist: Quarterback Todd Reesing continues to be underrated in the shadows of Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, but I can't imagine Kansas trading him for either. He threw for 3,888 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. This season, many of his helpers return, including the best wide receivers corp in the Big 12 led by Dezmon Briscoe, who merits All-America consideration, and Kerry Meier. Also back is Jake Sharp, who ran for 860 yards last season. The offensive line is Kansas' greatest weakness on offense. The defense is led by preseason All-Big 12 defensive back Darrell Stuckey and a strong defensive line, but the Jayhawks have lost all their starting linebackers from a season ago and must find replacements.

Rallying point: Reesing. He's among the most exciting players in KU history.

Cover your eyes: If teams can get past KU's D-line. Expect the linebackers to be bad and the secondary outside Stuckey to be mediocre.

For what it's worth: Kansas gets Nebraska at home in what should be the division title-determining game. It's easier to put Kansas over the Huskers when we don't know what NU quarterback Zac Lee will become, but if he's 80 percent of what they say he is, Kansas' defense will be the weakest link in what should be a narrow Nebraska win.