Big 12 looks to get back to winning ways

Nebraska (1-1) at Pittsburgh (1-0)
Saturday, 11 a.m. CDT, ABC Sports
The Daily Line: Nebraska -3.5

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Nebraska player to watch: Quarterback Joe Dailey has shown glimpses of brilliance to date, but he’s also been inconsistent and prone to turnovers. He’s thrown seven interceptions in two games, including three in last week’s 21-17 upset loss to Southern Mississippi. Dailey will have to perform better if the Cornhuskers expect to notch a road win over a quality opponent.
Pittsburgh player to watch: For lack of a better word, quarterback Tyler Palko was brutal in the Panthers’ 24-3 win over Ohio last week. He connected on just 6 of 19 passes for 49 yards and was picked off once. And the Nebraska defense will certainly provide more of a challenge than the Bobcats.
The inside scoop: With Larry Fitzgerald and Rod Rutherford having moved on, Pittsburgh opened its season looking for an offensive identity. After picking up just 217 yards against Ohio, 100 coming from senior running back Raymond Kirkley, it’s safe to say the Panthers are still looking. Nebraska, meanwhile, likely would be undefeated if it could take care of the ball. Look for the Cornhuskers to rely less on Dailey and more on talented running back Cory Ross, who ranks sixth in the nation with 147 yards per game.
Nebraska will win if ... it shuts down the Pittsburgh running game and limits its number of turnovers.
Pittsburgh will win if … it can find some offensive balance and force Dailey to win the game with his arm.
Notes: Pittsburgh has dominated the series, 15-4-3, but the two teams haven’t met since 1958. Nebraska posted a 4-2 record on the road in 2003.
The pick: Nebraska 24, Pittsburgh 20
TCU (2-0) at Texas Tech (1-1)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. CDT
The Daily Line: TCU -3
TCU player to watch: Starting quarterback Tye Gunn, who’s thrown for 492 yards and four scores this season, left in the second quarter of the Horned Frogs’ 44-0 win over SMU with a minor rib injury. He’s expected to play this week, but don’t be surprised to see Brandon Hassell also get some time. He finished off the Mustangs by going 17-for-22 for 264 yards and two TDs.
Texas Tech player to watch: Quarterback Sonny Cumbie has enjoyed finally being the starter in the Red Raiders’ pass-happy offense. He’s thrown for 919 yards in two games, putting the ball up an average of 68 times per contest. Now, Cumbie and the rest of the offense need to do a better job of converting those yards into points. They’ve scored just 51 this season.
The inside scoop: The scoreboard operator better get a good night’s sleep before this one. Don’t be misled by TCU’s shutout last week over lowly SMU. The week before the Horned Frogs gave up 513 passing yards to Northwestern, a number that probably has Cumbie and Texas Tech coach Mike Leach foaming at the mouth. But the Raiders have to play some defense, because TCU can move the ball and find the end zone as well.
TCU will win if .. it can limit its miscues and force Tech into three-and-outs, which will lead to domination in the time-of-possession department.
Texas Tech will win if … it can avoid giving up too many big plays and turn its yardage into points.
Notes: Texas Tech leads the series 27-22-3, winning the last meeting by a 27-6 count in 1995. Gunn is 10-0 in his career as a starter.
The pick: Texas Tech 42, TCU 31
Northern Illinois (1-1) at Iowa State (1-1)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. CDT, FOX Sports
The Daily Line: Iowa State -2.5
Northern Illinois player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Phil Horvath was thrown into the fire when senior Josh Haldi went down with an injured right foot just three plays into the 2004 season. Horvath has been decent, throwing for 367 yards and two scores, but he’ll need a big game to deliver the Huskies a road win in Ames.
Iowa State player to watch: Walk-on kicker Brian Jansen had a rough outing last week, missing three field goals (30, 46 and 31 yards) in a 17-10 loss to nationally ranked Iowa. This game figures to be close and Jansen likely will figure in the outcome.
The inside scoop: The Cyclones haven’t been able to run the ball this year and are averaging just three yards per carry and 307 yards of total offense per game. The Huskies’ defense, however, might give Iowa State a chance to get some things done on the ground. Northern Illinois ranks just 87th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 185 yards per game. The Cyclones, meanwhile, have allowed just 121 yards on the ground in two games, and will try to force Horvath to win the game with his arm.
Northern Illinois will win if ... Horvath has a huge game and the defense can defend the run.
Iowa State will win if … it continues to play well on defense and doesn’t turn the ball over.
Notes: The series is tied 1-1 with Northern Illinois claiming a 24-16 win last season. Iowa State has eight sacks in just two games this season to match its entire total from 2003.
The pick: Iowa State 17, Northern Illinois 13
Oregon (0-1) at No. 2 Oklahoma (2-0)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CDT, ABC Sports
The Daily Line: Oklahoma -28
Oregon player to watch: Junior quarterback Kellen Clemens threw for 317 yards and three TD’s in last week’s upset loss to Indiana, but his three interceptions were costly. He can’t afford to turn it over against the Sooners.
Oklahoma player to watch: Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White garners most of the attention in Norman, but the Sooners could have a future winner of the award in freshman running back Adrian Peterson. He’s big, he’s fast and he’s already averaging 108.5 yards per game.
The inside scoop: Oklahoma once again is among the nation’s most dominant teams. The Sooners can move the ball through the air or on the ground and have speed everywhere on defense. Weaknesses are tough to find. Oregon, meanwhile, self-destructed with seven turnovers in its 30-24 loss to the Hoosiers. But the Ducks dominated the game statistically, outgaining Indiana 495-198, and have the players to make the game interesting if Oklahoma isn’t ready to play.
Oregon will win if ... Never mind. The Ducks aren’t going to win, but they could keep it close with a flawless performance.
Oklahoma will win … Period. If the Sooners come out on a mission, they’ll win impressively.
Notes: Oklahoma has won the previous four meetings, the last coming in 1972, by a combined score of 153-10. Coach Bob Stoops is 57-11 since arriving in Norman.
The pick: Oklahoma 37, Oregon 24
Clemson (1-1) at Texas A&M (1-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m. CDT, TBS
The Daily Line: Clemson -1.5
Clemson player to watch: Charlie Whitehurst was considered by many to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but the 6-foot-4 junior has struggled this season. He’s thrown for 563 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s also been picked off four times and is connecting on just 48 percent of his throws.
Texas A&M player to watch: As Reggie McNeal goes, so go the Aggies. He is second in the Big 12 in passing yards per game (254) and also leads his team in rushing with 128 yards. McNeal will be the focus of the Tigers defense, led by linebacker and All-America candidate LeRoy Hill.
The inside scoop: While it’s not a conference game for either team, it’s a must-win for both. Clemson, which was ranked as high as 15th in the country, is staring at road trips to Florida State and Virginia after this game, while the Aggies can’t afford a home loss as they to try to resurrect the program. The big key will be how the Texas A&M secondary performs. The Tigers and Whitehurst are going to put the ball in the air early and often, and the Aggies rank just 98th in the country in pass defense.
Clemson will win if ... Whitehurst doesn’t turn the ball over and it contains McNeal by not letting him pick up big gains on the ground.
Texas A&M will win if … it can enjoy balance on offense and slow the Tigers’ aerial assault.
Notes: The Aggies have won the previous two meetings, the last coming in a 24-0 victory in 1974. McNeal ranks seventh nationally in total offense with 318 yards per game.
The pick: Clemson 27, Texas A&M 21
Ball State (0-2) at Missouri (1-1)
Saturday, 1 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Missouri -24.5
Ball State player to watch: The Cardinals have been anemic on offense in 2004, but the lone bright spot has been the play of sophomore quarterback Joey Lynch, who has completed 27 of 45 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri player to watch: Quarterback Brad Smith, hyped as a Heisman contender before the season, looked average at best in last week’s upset loss at Troy. He’s averaging 278 yards of offense per game, but that number should be higher. Smith needs to eliminate the turnovers and use his running ability more effectively.
The inside scoop: Big things were expected from the Tigers this season, and it’s hard to view their 24-14 loss at Troy as anything other than an embarrassment, especially after they seized control of the game with a 14-0 lead in the opening minutes. Missouri, however, should have no trouble getting back in the win column against the offensively challenged Cardinals. Ball State has scored just 18 points this season, averages only 204 yards of offense per game and allowed nine sacks.
Ball State will win if ... it plays a perfect game and the Tigers come out suffering from a Troy hangover.
Missouri will win if … it comes out focused and ready to play.
Notes: The Tigers have won the two previous meetings, including last season’s 35-7 victory. Smith needs just 665 yards to break Missouri’s career rushing mark.
The pick: Missouri 37, Ball State 10
Kansas (2-0) vs. Northwestern (0-2)
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. CDT
Daily Line: Northwestern -2.5
Kansas player to watch: Quarterback Adam Barmann torched the Toledo defense last week for more than 300 yards in a 63-14 rout. The sophomore is a pro-style quarterback, the kind who has given the Northwestern secondary fits in two losses this season.
Northwestern player to watch: Quarterback Brett Basanez, who has thrown for 741 yards and four touchdowns this season, has been a steady force for a good Wildcats offense. He is arguably the second best quarterback in the Big 10 conference, but it remains to be seen if he’ll ever get any support from the defense.
The inside scoop … The Kansas defense has been outstanding this season, allowing just 17 points in two wins. But the Jayhawks will face their toughest test of the season. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been horrible against the pass and Barmann probably has been licking his chops watching the Northwestern secondary on film. The defense that has the better afternoon likely will decide the outcome.
Kansas will win if ... it can get another big game out of Barmann and not allow big plays.
Northwestern will win if ... it can play anything resembling defense, while still getting good offensive production.
The pick: Kansas 35, Northwestern 32
Louisiana-Lafayette (1-1) at Kansas State (1-1)
Saturday, 1:10 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Kansas State -31
Louisiana-Lafayette player to watch: Quarterback Jerry Babb has thrown for 503 yards, including 327 in a 24-20 loss to Louisiana Tech last week, and two scores. The pressure will be on him this week, as the Cajuns are a poor running team.
Kansas State player to watch: Darren Sproles’ Heisman hopes may have been derailed with a 37-yard outing in last week’s 45-21 loss to Fresno State. But look for the diminutive back to put up huge numbers this week against a defense that surrendered 304 rushing yards last week.
The inside scoop: The formula is pretty simple for Kansas State to start winning football games. Everyone is going to load up to stop Sproles until the Wildcats show that they can move the ball through the air. Quarterbacks Dylan Meier and Allen Webb are completing just 50 percent of their passes and averaging just 158 yards per game through the air, a figure ranked 88th in the nation. Getting healthy at linebacker wouldn’t hurt the KSU cause either. How bad is the situation? Well, defensive coordinator Bobby Elliott joked that he might need GoPowercat.com publisher Tim Fitzgerald to suit up this week.
Louisiana-Lafayette will win if ... the Wildcats haven’t been able to get over the Fresno loss and come out flat.
Kansas State will win … because it has the superior team.
Notes: Kansas State won the only previous meeting between the two schools by a 34-6 count in 1994. The Wildcats loss to the Bulldogs last Saturday was just their fourth to a non-conference team since 1990.
The pick: Kansas State 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 10
North Texas (0-2) at Colorado (2-0)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
The Daily Line: Colorado -20
North Texas player to watch: Patrick Cobbs led the nation in rushing a year ago with better than 157 yards per game, but he'll be sidelined Saturday due to a knee injury he suffered against Florida Atlantic. In his place steps sophomore Kevin Moore who has struggled during his share of duty this season. Moore has 21 carries, but just 51 yards. He'll have to play inspired ball for North Texas to have a shot against Colorado.
Colorado player to watch: Running back Bobby Purify has averaged 121 yards per game and five yards per carry to open the season. He’ll need to continue to play well as quarterback Joel Klatt struggles to find his form.
The inside scoop: The Buffs are 2-0 on the young season and have seemingly gotten there with smoke and mirrors. Colorado ranks last in the Big 12 in total offense and total defense, however it’s a safe bet that it will move to 3-0 on the season after this game. The Buffs should improve statistically on both sides of the ball as well against North Texas, which gives up 565 yards per game and only averages 205.
North Texas will win if ... Moore can get things going on the ground, and Colorado comes in overconfident and plays as poorly on offense as it did in last week’s win over Washington State.
Colorado will win if … it is focused and ready to take care of business.
Notes: This will be the first meeting between the two teams. Colorado, which has yet to trail this season, is 2-0 for the 52nd time in school history.
The pick: Colorado 30, North Texas 3
SMU (0-2) at Oklahoma State (2-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Oklahoma State -34.5
SMU player to watch: Chris Phillips is a duel threat at quarterback for the Mustangs. He’s passed for 160 yards, splitting time with Tony Eckert, and he’s the team’s leading rusher with 66 yards.
Oklahoma State player to watch: Vernand Morency followed up his big day in Week 1 against UCLA with another strong outing last week in a 38-21 win over Tulsa. He ranks second in the nation with 223 yards per game and averages 7.7 yards per carry.
The inside scoop: Gone are the glory days of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, and the harsh reality is that SMU football is borderline unwatchable these days. You could draw a parallel between James’ playing days and his current TV work, but that’s a story for another day. As bad as the Mustangs have been, the one decent area for their football team this season has been run defense. SMU has allowed just 116 yards per game and 3.2 yards per rush. Those numbers were compiled against the pass-oriented attacks of Texas Tech and TCU, however, and the Cowboys, who rank fourth in the nation in rushing offense, will provide a much greater challenge.
SMU will win if ... Oklahoma State forfeits.
Oklahoma State will win if ... it doesn’t forfeit.
Notes: The Mustangs lead the series 6-3-2, but lost 52-6 last season. Oklahoma State ranks second to last in the country with just 47 passing yards per game.
The pick: Oklahoma State 39, SMU 0