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November 26, 2009
Weekend preview of the Big 12
A victory at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night would bring the unbeaten Longhorns one step closer to reaching the BCS national championship game in Pasadena, Calif.
Meanwhile, winning at Oklahoma on Saturday would give Oklahoma State a rare 10-win season and put the Cowboys in position for their first appearance in a BCS bowl. The Fiesta Bowl has a tie-in with the Big 12 and could extend an invitation to Oklahoma State if the Cowboys finish 10-2.
The Cowboys have managed only three 10-win seasons in their history, so hitting double-digit victories doesn't figure to come easily, particularly in Norman, where the Sooners have lost just twice in 11 seasons under coach Bob Stoops.
But this isn't a vintage Oklahoma team. The Sooners have five losses, including a 41-13 debacle at Texas Tech last week.
Well, as confident as a team going to play in Norman can be.
"We feel good about our team," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "I like our attitude. I like their work habits and the effort they give us on Saturday. We expect to have game plans in place, and if they're executed and played with great effort and the coaches make good decisions, we'll have a chance to win.
That's the way we always approach it."
Texas is approaching its second national championship game in five years. But advancing to the title game requires Texas to win on Thanksgiving and against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.
First things first. The Longhorns are aware that facing the Aggies - even when they're struggling - can be treacherous.
Texas' Colt McCoy has posted 43 wins as a starting quarterback - more than anyone else in NCAA history - but he is 1-2 against A&M.
In 2006, the Longhorns could've won the Big 12 South with a win over A&M, but the Aggies prevailed 12-7 in Austin. In '07, A&M had lost four out of five going into the game against Texas, but the Aggies upset the Longhorns 38-30.
Though A&M's defense ranks 100th in the nation and has allowed at least 30 points in seven games, McCoy isn't taking anything for granted.
"That was tough," he said of the previous losses to A&M. "We didn't finish. We had opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. We've learned from those.
"A lot of things are at stake for us. We're excited about this opportunity. A&M has our complete focus. We understand it's going to be a fight."
A big part of the fight will be containing A&M's offense, which has big-play ability. The Longhorns' defense is among the best in the nation but gave up some big plays in last week's 51-20 victory over Kansas.
But this season is going so well for Texas that coach Mack Brown said the plays Kansas made actually benefit the Longhorns.
"That got our coaches' and team's attention," Brown said. "Our defense has been bragged on so much I was glad to see we gave up some things. Still, Kansas just scored 13 points [on offense].
"This is a great defense with a tremendous amount of pride. These guys are really driven. This bunch is excited about going on the road. They want to prove they're the best. This is a good place to do that."
The West Coast would be a better place.
Key matchup: Oklahoma State offensive line vs. Oklahoma defensive line. The line play will be intriguing, especially when the Cowboys are facing obvious passing situations. The Cowboys, led by star OT Russell Okung, have allowed just eight sacks - the fourth-lowest total in the nation. In contrast, OU has 35 sacks - the country's fifth-highest total. Junior E Jeremy Beal has 11 sacks to lead the Sooners.
Player on the spot: Kansas QB Todd Reesing. He threw 13 touchdown passes during a five-game winning streak to open the season. Since then, he has thrown five touchdown passes and six interceptions during a six-game losing streak. The skid can't be pinned on Reesing alone, but he has to play better - especially with so much at stake. The Jayhawks need one more win to gain bowl eligibility, and they're facing archrival Missouri.
Numbers game: In five games since struggling in a 16-13 victory over Oklahoma, Texas QB Colt McCoy is 130-of-169 passing (76.9 percent) for 1,487 yards, with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
What they're saying
"I think I just really relaxed, trusted teammates and coaches and had confidence in myself. Early in the season, it's easy to put pressure on yourself, and I got caught up in that. Things don't work the way you want and you get uptight and frustrated. You just can't let that happen as a quarterback." - Texas QB Colt McCoy, on his improved play over the past five games
"The mean man told some player something he didn't want to hear. Well, there's a mean man in Lubbock who tells players what they don't want to hear. That's just part of it." - Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, on what he described as the "witch hunt" surrounding Kansas coach Mark Mangino
"I haven't had the season I wanted to. I have a lot of things I need to get better at. We'll see." - Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis, a third-year sophomore, on whether he'll enter the NFL draft
"Being in the same state as them, we are always known as the lower person. We don't even get mentioned. When people hear you're in Oklahoma, they think Oklahoma, not Oklahoma State. So, if you beat Oklahoma, you're right up there with them." - Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton
Etc.: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy in which 12 students were killed. During the game against Texas, the Aggies will wear special decals on their helmets to honor those who died. … Tre' Newton has regained his job as Texas' starting tailback. He has been sharing the load with Cody Johnson, but Newton impressed with 66 yards on 12 carries against Kansas last week. … Oklahoma senior G Brian Simmons returned to practice after missing five games with a knee injury. But OU LB Ryan Reynolds is doubtful because of a strained hamstring. … Kansas DE Jake Laptad has been slowed by injury but is expected to play against Missouri. But Jayhawks freshman RB Toben Opurum won't play because of a leg injury. … Kansas WR Dezmon Briscoe needs two receiving yards to reach 3,000 for his career. … Missouri will wear the Nike "Rivalry" uniforms for its game against Kansas. It's a one-time-only game for those uniforms. … Missouri RB Derrick Washington is recovering from a concussion, but he is expected to play against Kansas. … Colorado WR Markques Simas tied a school record with 11 catches last week. He has had at least seven catches in three consecutive games, which also ties a school record. … Texas Tech is bowl eligible for the 16th consecutive season, the longest current streak in the league. … Mike Leach has passed Spike Dykes to become Texas Tech's winningest career coach with an 83-43 record. … Nebraska is allowing just 10.3 points per game, which ranks first in the Big 12 and third in the nation. The last time Nebraska allowed fewer than 15 points per game in a season was 2003. … Baylor LB Joe Pawelek leads the nation with 410 career tackles. He will start his 45th consecutive game Saturday, which will equal a school record. … Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas finished the season with 1,265 yards, which is the fourth-highest total in school history. … Paul Rhoads is the first Iowa State coach to win six games in his first season since Charles Mayser in 1915.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.