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October 28, 2010

Week 9 preview in the Big 12

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

THE SCHEDULE
Saturday
Oklahoma State at Kansas State, noon
Kansas at Iowa State, 2 p.m.
Missouri at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m.
Texas Tech at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.
Baylor at Texas, 7 p.m.
Colorado at Oklahoma, 9:15 p.m
During the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, Baylor's Art Briles was asked what has to be the question of the year.

"Which North Division team would you like to play in the championship?"

Briles chuckled.

"How about that," he said.

Yeah, how about that. After 14 years as a Big 12 punching bag, Baylor now is in on the joke instead of being the butt of it.

In beating Kansas State 47-42 last week, Baylor notched the requisite sixth victory for bowl eligibility and will make a postseason appearance the first time since 1994. This week, the Bears even showed up in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1993.

"Certainly, it was a feeling of accomplishment for our football team and our university," Briles said. "It was rewarding to see a lot of people with smiles on their faces.

"One of our initial goals was to become bowl-eligible. Fortunately, that's turned into a reality. Now we move on to different levels of our goals. That's exactly where we're at in our program. We're in different territory for us, and we're handling everything with a different mindset."

During Baylor's postseason drought, Northwestern won the Big Ten, Wake Forest won the ACC and Stanford won the Pac-10. Could this be a year in which another long-suffering private school could win a conference championship?

Hey, anything is possible, especially for a team with a talented quarterback like Robert Griffin, who is third in the nation in total offense with 2,373 passing yards and 384 rushing yards.

"I think we have an attitude that we're not done yet," Griffin said. "After the game, that's the first thing that was being said. We were all sitting there saying, 'We're not done yet.'

"Our team leaders have done a good job emphasizing that. We're not done yet. Getting bowl-eligible was only our first goal. Our primary objective is down; now we have to keep rising up."

For Baylor, it's been a long climb to gain respect in a conference that never wanted the Bears in the first place. When the Big 12 was created in the mid-1990s, Baylor was included only because of political influence. Baylor alum Ann Richards was the governor of Texas at that time, and the Texas legislature made it clear that if Texas and Texas A&M were merging with the Big Eight, then Baylor (and Texas Tech) had to be included.

This past offseason, reports surfaced that the Pac-10 was expanding and planned to add Colorado and five of the six members of the Big 12's South Division. It's not hard to figure which South Division school was to be left out.

Since the Big 12 began in 1996, Baylor and its followers have endured disappointment and disrespect. There have been constant calls to oust Baylor from the conference and replace it with TCU or Arkansas, though Arkansas never has shown any interest in leaving the lucrative SEC.

A Big 12 athletic director once gave an off-the-record endorsement for including Baylor by saying, "You need to have one team on the schedule you know you can beat."

From 1998-2002, Baylor lost 29 consecutive conference games. The Bears were shut out four times in '02. In 14 Big 12 seasons before this one, Baylor had posted one conference victory or less 10 times. They'd never won more than three conference games in a year.

When other teams weren't beating Baylor, Baylor was beating itself. In a 1999 game, the Bears were inside UNLV's 10 and had a four-point lead in the final seconds of the game. Instead of taking the knee, then-coach Kevin Steele decided to run go for a touchdown. Alas, running back Darrell Bush fumbled and UNLV returned it for a touchdown to win 27-24.

Times have changed. Actually, they started changing three years ago, when Baylor hired Briles from Houston. Briles then coaxed Griffin, who is from nearby Copperas Cove, to head to Waco.

Griffin immediately established himself among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, and suddenly Baylor no longer was a pushover.

Indeed, the Bears might have reached bowl eligibility last season had Griffin not sustained a season-ending knee injury in the third game.

Baylor next takes aim at another dubious streak. The Bears travel down Interstate-35 on Saturday to face Texas; Baylor hasn't beat Texas since 1997, the last season of John Mackovic's coaching tenure with the Longhorns.

Typically, no one would give Baylor a chance to beat Texas. But by gaining bowl eligibility before Halloween, all the jokes and disrespect the Bears have endured is over.

Or is it?

"I don't think it ends all the disrespect," Griffin said. "But it does gain us some respect. We're at the top of the Big 12 South. We're doing good things and becoming a better program.

"But we still have to play with that chip on our shoulders. Some people are still going to doubt us. It's our job to make them become believers."

Best matchup: Missouri at Nebraska. Technically, the Missouri-Nebraska game won't decide the North Division representative in the Big 12 championship game. Realistically, though, it will. The winner will have at least a one-game lead over the other teams in the division and the tie-breaker edge. The game matches a Nebraska offense that ranks 10th in the nation in scoring (38.8 points per game) against a Missouri defense that is fifth in points allowed (13.1). In addition, Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert will test a Nebraska secondary that's considered one of the best in the country -- but one that got torched last week in a 51-41 victory over Oklahoma State.

Players on the spot: Texas A&M OTs Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The two true freshmen started me last week and held up well as the Aggies allowed just two sacks in a 45-10 victory over Kansas. But Kansas has a pop-gun pass rush that has produced just six sacks all season. This week, the Aggies' freshman duo faces a Texas Tech defense that has 18 sacks. Joeckel, in particular, faces a tough challenge. He'll primarily line up against Texas Tech's Brian Duncan, who has six sacks.

Numbers game: In 21 games under coach Paul Rhoads, the Iowa State Cyclones are 10-0 when holding opponents under 24 points. This week's opponent, Kansas, has scored a total of 24 points in the past three games combined. The Jayhawks have been held to fewer than 20 points in five of seven games this season. The Jayhawks have allowed 159 points in the past three games and lost nine turnovers in that span.

What they're saying

"I do think there's some entitlement with this team. They sit around thinking it's just going to happen. ... I can handle a loss if we are playing with passion. I can't if we're not." -- Texas coach Mack Brown, offering a theory for his team's lackluster performance this season

"I intend to be around. I don't think it's my time yet to come out, but only God know what he really wants for me. I plan to stick around at least another year. Maybe two." -- Baylor QB Robert Griffin, on whether he will consider entering the NFL draft after this season

"I hate to say it, but I want to beat Missouri. People give me crap for coming here, so I want to beat Missouri." -- Nebraska offensive lineman Keith Williams, who is from the St. Louis area

"Who knows how poll people look at scores, those kinds of things. I thought it was futile. Had we had a reasonable amount [of time] and been in some kind of field position, or had we shown any signs over the three previous plays, I probably would [have gone for it]. But I didn't see that." -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, explaining why he opted to punt from his 7-yard line with 2 minutes remaining while trailing Missouri by 11 points

"What's the controversy if you have two good quarterbacks?" -- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, on his quarterback situation. He hasn't revealed whether Jerrod Johnson or Ryan Tannehill will start. Both played last week against Kansas

Etc.: Baylor has scored at least 30 points in seven games, which is a single-season school record. ... Colorado starting QB Tyler Hansen will miss the rest of the season because of a ruptured spleen. One-time starter Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, again takes over the offense. In addition, Buffaloes LB Jon Major, their leading tackler, is out with a torn MCL. ... Iowa State DE Jacob Lattimer made the most of his first start. In last week's win over Texas, Lattimer had seven tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. ... Kansas could be down to its third-team quarterback. Jordan Webb sustained a shoulder injury last week against Texas A&M, and backup Kale Pick suffered a concussion. If neither can play against Iowa State, the Jayhawks will go with junior college transfer Quinn Mecham. ... Kansas State has scored 101 points in its past two games. That's the most the Wildcats have scored in back-to-back games since scoring 102 against Kansas and Missouri in 2002. ... Missouri leads the nation in red zone defense. The Tigers have allowed opponents to score on just 52 percent of their chances in the red zone (11 of 21). Last week, Missouri limited Oklahoma to three scores on six red zone opportunities. The three chances in which OU did not score ended with an interception, a fumble and a missed field goal. ... Nebraska hopes to end an opponent's perfect season for the third time in four weeks. On Oct. 7 the Huskers dealt Kansas State its first loss. Last week, they knocked off previously undefeated Oklahoma State. Now, they face Missouri (7-0). ... Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray has surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards for the season. He has reached the four-digit mark all four years of his OU career. He's the only Oklahoma player to have done that. ... Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, the nation's leader in receiving yardage, was arrested on DUI charges early Tuesday in the Dallas area. His status for this week's game against Kansas State is uncertain. ... Cowboys coaches counted 33 missed tackles in last week's loss to Nebraska. ... Texas sophomore WR DeSean Hales has drawn praise for his recent play and figures to have a greater role in the offense. ... Texas QB Garrett Gilbert has more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six). ... Texas A&M G Evan Eike's playing status remains uncertain because of a high ankle sprain. ... Texas Tech redshirt freshman NT Pearlie Graves made his first career start last week and recorded two sacks and a tackle for loss. ... Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter has exceeded 100 rushing yards in four consecutive games, including 201 last week. ... Oklahoma has been outscored 77-30 in the fourth quarter. ... Sooners coach Bob Stoops indicated that Jimmy Stevens would continue to be OU's kicker despite a missing 30-yard attempt against Missouri last week.

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



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