September 13, 2007

Huskers face ultimate test in USC

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Buchanan's Big 12 picks
Saturday's Games:
Baylor 41, Texas State 13
Florida State 21, Colorado 14
Iowa 34, Iowa State 21
Kansas 31, Toledo 20
Kansas State 45, Missouri State 14
Missouri 42, Western Michigan 21
USC 34, Nebraska 17
Oklahoma 56, Utah State 3
Oklahoma State 35, Troy 20
Texas 34, UCF 10
Texas A&M 31, La.-Monroe 17
Texas Tech 52, Rice 10
Overview: Facing questions about its strength because of a 17-game losing streak against ranked non-conference opponents, the Big 12 regained a measure of respect last week. Texas ended the skid against ranked opponents by rolling over TCU, while Oklahoma and Nebraska posted victories over highly regarded out-of-conference foes. Among this weekend's opponents are top-ranked USC, Florida State and Iowa, which gives the Big 12 opportunity to further enhance its reputation or take another step backward.

Best matchup: One of just three games on the weekend schedule matching top 25 teams, the clash of No. 1 USC and No. 14 Nebraska in Lincoln is also a rematch of former Pac-10 opponents sort of. Huskers quarterback Sam Keller faced the Trojans in 2005 as Arizona State's starting quarterback and threw for 347 yards. He also threw five interceptions in a 38-28 loss. This time, he has proven receivers in Nate Swift, Terrence Nunn and Maurice Purify, but faces a Trojans team considered among the best in the nation. USC's secondary features cornerback Terrell Thomas and safety Taylor Mays.

The pressure is on: A 0-2 start, which included an 11-point loss to Division I-AA Northern Iowa, was not the way Iowa State boosters envisioned the Gene Chizik era starting. To follow that up with a loss to state rival Iowa this week would make a bad situation much worse. The Cyclones have managed 27 points thus far; Iowa has given up three. "There is a lot of passion for football in this state," said Chizik, who coached in big rivalry games as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas. "I get the magnitude for this game. I've been in some big ones."

Who's hot: Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Bradford leads the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed 83.3 percent of his attempts and has thrown for 568 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions.

Who's not: Although he's completed 62 percent of his passes, Iowa State quarterback Bret Meyer has thrown four interceptions and just one touchdown pass as the Cyclones have opened with losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa.

Freshman to watch: Count on Texas Tech redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree to have another big game. He already has 27 catches and five touchdowns. Now, he faces a Rice pass defense that has allowed 510 yards and seven touchdowns in two games against Division I-AA Nicholls State and Baylor, which was shut out by TCU in its season-opener.

Numbers game: After games against Montana State and Fresno State, Texas A&M is averaging 104 passing yards and ranks just 115th in the nation in passing offense. This week, the Aggies face Louisiana-Monroe, which ranks 107th in pass defense. Oklahoma leads the nation in tackles for losses with an average of 13 per game. Baylor is 12-0 all-time against Division I-AA opponents. The Bears face Division I-AA Texas State on Saturday. Texas Tech will play the 900th game in school history this week. The Red Raiders have allowed just four field goals in the second half thus far this season. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has thrown 234 consecutive passes without an interception. His most recent interception was against Nebraska in the 10th game of last season.

Keep your eye on: Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell ranks second nationally in passing yardage with an average of 451.5 per game. He'll have an excellent chance to take over the lead against Rice on Saturday. The Owls allowed 423 passing yards to Baylor, which had been shut out by TCU the previous week. Also, Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee has a chance to break out this week against Louisiana-Monroe, which ranks 107th in pass defense. McGee has thrown for just 195 yards in two games.

They said it: "We're just trying to manage our football team and focus on our preparation. Anybody who has been in big-time games, they have an understanding of what it takes to prepare to play on an elite level."
- Nebraska coach Bill Callahan on this week's game against No. 1 USC

"We're a work in progress. This team understands we're not where we want to be, not where we can be. We made a big step in the second half against TCU. There was no finger-pointing. That never happens with us."
- Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on the Longhorns' pedestrian start

"I don't think any of us know who belongs where. It's so early in the season. I'm one of the voters in the coaches' poll. You put a little merit on 2-0 right now, but other than that it's not easy to rank anybody right now."
- Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione on the Aggies dropping two places in The Associated Press poll and climbing five spots in the coaches' poll after a triple-overtime victory over Fresno State.

"Last year seeing Sam throw in practice, I saw a lot of similarities in our throwing. It was weird to see that the same touch on the ball, things of that nature. I can see why people are comparing our throwing motion and our accuracy."
- Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White of Oklahoma on OU quarterback Sam Bradford

Kansas State0-01-1
Iowa State0-00-2
Texas A&M0-02-0
Texas Tech0-02-0
Oklahoma State0-01-1
Injury update: Kansas State linebacker Antwon Moore tore his left ACL in last week's win over San Jose State and will miss the remainder of the season. Nebraska safety Tierre Green (shoulder) is day to day. Defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler (strained MCL) also is day to day. Baylor receiver Mikail Baker (broken collarbone) is out three to four weeks. Tackle Jason Smith (strained MCL) and guard Thad Boatner (strained MCL) are out. Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid (twisted ankle) will play. Texas tackle Adam Ulatoski (elbow) is questionable. Texas A&M fullback Chris Alexander (leg) is questionable. Linebacker Mark Dodge (unspecified injury) is also questionable. Colorado running back Hugh Charles (hamstring) and receiver Josh Smith (bruised kidney) are expected to play against Florida State. Texas Tech center Shawn Byrnes (ankle) did not play against UTEP but is expected to play this weekend. Missouri receiver Danario Alexander (fractured wrist) is out at least three weeks. Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo (knee) is out.

Worth noting: Top-ranked USC is the first No. 1 team to play at Nebraska since Oklahoma in 1978. Nebraska won that game 17-14. Baylor quarterback Blake Szymanski set a school record last week against Rice with 412 passing yards and six touchdowns. The 4,000 tickets Iowa State allotted to Iowa for this week's Cy-Hawk game have a $90 face value. It's thought to be the highest price for a ticket in Iowa. Last season's tickets for the game in Iowa City had a $60 face value. Crabtree is the first freshman in Texas Tech history to score multiple touchdowns in the first two games of his career. Kansas' 62-0 victory over Southeastern Louisiana marked the Jayhawks' first shutout since they blanked Southern Illinois in 2000. Kansas State has notched three sacks in both of its games this season. Missouri junior Chase Daniel passed for a career-high 396 yards last week against Ole Miss, which marked the eighth time in nine games he's thrown for at least 309 yards. Nebraska receiver Terrence Nunn has caught at least one pass in 29 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history. Oklahoma's run defense is allowing an average of 33.5 yards per game. Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox had a career-best 67-yard punt return last week. His previous career best covered 63 best. Texas running back Jamaal Charles rushed for 134 yards last week against TCU to end the Horned Frogs' streak of 21 consecutive games without allowing an individual to rush for 100 yards. Longhorns receiver Nate Jones has 17 catches so far, four more than he managed all of last season. Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane equaled a career-high with four touchdowns in last week's triple-overtime victory over Fresno State. It was the first three-OT game in A&M history.

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