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November 15, 2007

Big 12 contenders can't look ahead


Buchanan's Big 12 picks
This week's games:
Oklahoma State 31, Baylor 14
Kansas 34, Iowa State 20
Missouri 38, Kansas State 24
Oklahoma 41, Texas Tech 27

Overview: Every coach of every team in every conference in every division of college football in America warns about the dangers of looking ahead. That warning is never more serious than this week in the Big 12. Three teams with national-championship hopes can't be caught looking forward to bigger games next week for fear those aspirations will vanish. Kansas and Missouri, who figure to play next week to determine the Big 12 North champion, first must get through dicey matchups. The undefeated Jayhawks face improving Iowa State, which has won its past two games after playing competitively in losses to Missouri and Oklahoma. Missouri travels to Kansas State, which is coming off an embarrassing loss to Nebraska and needs another victory to secure bowl eligibility. Then there's Oklahoma, which can clinch the Big 12 South title by beating Texas Tech. But the Sooners can't be preoccupied with next week's game against state-rival Oklahoma State. Although Texas still has a slight chance to win the crown, one of those three teams will probably win the Big 12 championship and, if everything falls just right, could play in New Orleans for the national championship in January. But with some key games remaining, that's looking way too far into the future.

Best matchup: Texas Tech's pass offense vs. Oklahoma's pass defense. The Sooners can clinch at least a share of the South Division championship and a place in the Big 12 championship with a victory over Texas Tech, which has lost three of its past four. But the Red Raiders are dangerous in big games in Lubbock and lead the nation in passing behind QB Graham Harrell, who has thrown for 4,878 yards and 43 touchdowns. Oklahoma, meanwhile, has been vulnerable against the pass and ranks 60th in the nation in pass defense. In addition, Sooners QB Sam Bradford, who has played brilliantly in Norman, has had some problems on the road. He has passed for an average of 179 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions in three games in opponents' home stadiums. But Tech's defense has trouble stopping the run, and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Allen Patrick have rushed for more than 600 yards each. The last time Oklahoma visited Lubbock, the Sooners suffered a controversial 23-21 loss.

The pressure is on: Kansas State. Three weeks ago, the Wildcats appeared to be cruising toward postseason play. But they've lost consecutive games to Iowa State and Nebraska, which were mired in six- and five-game losing streaks, respectively. The Wildcats (5-5) need one more victory to become bowl-eligible. That requires beating No. 6 Missouri, which has won four in a row, this week or Fresno State on the road in the regular-season finale next week. Fresno State is 4-1 at home. If Kansas State fails to reach a bowl, coach Ron Prince will be feeling some heat entering the 2008 season.

Who's hot: Oklahoma State TB Dantrell Savage has seven consecutive 100-yard games; he has rushed for 900 yards in that span. Kansas WR Marcus Henry has 14 receptions for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has thrown for 915 yards and 11 touchdowns passes in the past two games, including a school-record seven last week against Kansas State. Texas TB Jamaal Charles has rushed for 644 yards and seven touchdowns in the past three games. Missouri has forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games.

Who's not: Kansas State's pass defense, which ranks 94th in the nation, has allowed 747 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games. Texas A&M's defense has allowed 14 touchdown passes in the past six games and at least 259 passing yards in five of them. Also, the Aggies have not managed an interception in that stretch. Baylor has surrendered at least 447 yards in every conference game and at least 500 in three of them, including the past two. Texas Tech's rush offense has managed just 113 total yards in the past four games.

Keep your eye on: With 3,306 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, Missouri QB Chase Daniel has surfaced as a bona-fide Heisman Trophy candidate. He has thrown for 773 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games, and should continue his recent surge against Kansas State's struggling defense.

Numbers game: Kansas continues to rank second in the nation in scoring defense (14.9 points per game) and second in scoring offense (45.9 points per game). The Jayhawks also lead the nation with a plus-20 turnover margin. Jordy Nelson is high on Kansas State's career receiving lists. He ranks second in career yardage with 2,563 yards, second in receptions with 183 and third in touchdown receptions with 18. Nebraska's 702 yards of offense last week against Kansas State were its most since totaling 776 against Iowa State in 1995. Oklahoma LB Curtis Lofton has posted double-digit tackle totals seven times, which ties a school record. OU TB DeMarco Murray has 15 touchdowns to tie the school's freshman record set by Adrian Peterson in 2004. Texas QB Colt McCoy accounted for six touchdowns last week against Texas Tech, which matched the most by any Longhorn since Clyde Littlefield's school-record seven in 1915. For the first time in school history, Texas has three players with at least 40 receptions: Nate Jones (61), Quan Cosby (58) and Jermichael Finley (40). Texas A&M TB Jorvorskie Lane is the Aggies' leading career scorer among non-kickers with 272 points. Lane has tied the school career record with 44 rushing touchdowns and 45 total touchdowns. Texas Tech freshman DT Colby Whitlock had a team-high 10 tackles last week against Texas, including four for losses.

Kansas State3-45-5
Iowa State2-53-8
Oklahoma State3-35-5
Texas A&M3-46-5
Texas Tech3-47-4
Freshmen to watch: Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant had a career-best eight catches for 155 yards and a touchdown in last week's loss to Kansas. He has been an effective second receiver, but now becomes the primary target because of an injury to Adarius Bowman that figures to force him out of at least two games.

Bowl implications: Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas would remain in the national-championship picture with victories, and are in good shape to play in BCS bowl games. If Texas can close out with its 10th win, the Longhorns also could crash the BCS party. The problem is that a conference can have no more than two teams in the BCS, which means there is a chance some deserving team from the Big 12 will be snubbed.

Injury update: Baylor WRs Eddy Newton (shoulder) and Mikail Baker are questionable. Colorado CB Terrence Wheatley (sprained foot) is questionable. Iowa State CB Zac Sandvig (undisclosed) is questionable . Oklahoma DE Auston English (hairline fracture in leg) is probable and DT Steven Coleman (abdominal) is questionable. Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman (knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. Texas OT Tony Hills (fractured fibula) will miss the rest of the season. LBs Jared Norton (shoulder) and Robert Killebrew (arm), SS Drew Kelson (knee) and DE Eddie Jones are questionable. Texas Tech WR Lyle Leong (arm) is questionable.

They said it
"The review system that we have is a sham. What we need is a national pool of reviewers that don't necessarily know the official crew that they're with so that they don't have a bias with them. The officiating in this game was a complete travesty."
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, as part of a diatribe that led to a $10,000 fine from the Big 12 office

"I don't know if I have an understanding of what just transpired at the end. I've been in a lot of bizarre games. This might be close to the top."
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins after last week's 31-28 loss to Iowa State in which two potentially game-tying field goals were waved off

"You know, you could almost compare it to losing a family member."
Kansas State FS Marcus Watts on a 73-31 loss to Nebraska

"I'm a big guy. I've been through this before, so you just have to deal with it and don't let it bother you."
Baylor coach Guy Morriss, who is expected to be fired after Saturday's game against Oklahoma State

Etc.: Oklahoma State sophomore LB Chris Collins was dismissed from the team after pleading guilty to aggravated sexual-assault charges stemming from an incident when he was in high school. Oklahoma State WR Damien Davis got the first catch of his career in last week's loss to Kansas, and now will step into the starting lineup in place of the injured Bowman. With nine victories, Texas becomes the only NCAA Division I-A team to post at least nine wins in each of the past 10 seasons. Six of Iowa State's past seven wins have been decided on the final play. All were at home. ... Baylor QB Blake Szymanski established a Baylor single-season passing record with 2,618 yards. Nebraska CB Cortney Grixby returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week, the Huskers' first score on a kickoff return since the 1998 season-opener against Louisiana Tech. Oklahoma junior WR Manuel Johnson posted career-highs with 126 receiving yards and two touchdowns last week against Baylor.


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

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