Big 12 Preview: Divisional leads up for grabs

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Kansas State (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) vs. Missouri (4-4, 2-3)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m., CDT, Fox Sports Net
The Daily Line: Missouri -5.5

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Kansas State player to watch: Senior running back Darren Sproles hasn’t had the type of season that many expected with just 936 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games. But don’t look for Missouri to overlook the diminutive tailback, who shredded the Tigers defense last season for 273 yards in a 24-14 victory.
Missouri player to watch: Big things were expected on the gridiron in Columbia this season, but the Tigers haven’t gotten the job done. If a late-season surge is to occur, elusive junior quarterback Brad Smith must provide the spark. He’s accounted for 2,003 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
The inside scoop: The Wildcats and the Tigers have to be considered the two biggest disappointments in the Big 12 and among the most disappointing teams in the nation. Both teams have been pretty good defensively, but the offenses have been inconsistent at best. Opposing teams have targeted Sproles and the running game and Kansas State’s quarterbacks have not been able to take advantage, averaging just 192 yards per game through the air. Missouri, meanwhile, has put the reigns on Smith and tried to make him a pocket passer. It hasn’t worked, and the junior signal caller needs to be turned loose and allowed his to use his athleticism to make big plays on the move. The loser of this game will have the final nail driven into its coffin.
Kansas State will win if ... it takes care of the ball, doesn’t give up big plays and Sproles rushes for at least 150 yards.
Missouri will win if … it plays with a sense of urgency, makes Kansas State one dimensional on offense and Smith is allowed to improvise.
Notes: Missouri leads the series 55-29-5… The Tigers rank first in the Big 12 and ninth nationally in total defense, allowing 277 yards per game … Kansas State averages more than 34 minutes of possession time per game, which leads the Big 12.
The pick: Missouri 27, Kansas State 23
No. 2 Oklahoma (8-0, 5-0) at No. 22 Texas A&M (6-2, 4-1)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CDT, ABC Sports
The Daily Line: Oklahoma -11.5
Oklahoma player to watch: It’s not as if the Sooners needed another weapon to emerge on offense, but that’s exactly what happened last week against Oklahoma State when senior wide receiver Michael Bradley exploded for four catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Entering the game, he had caught just seven passes for 100 yards and one score all season.
Texas A&M player to watch: Junior quarterback Reggie McNeal has been terrific all year, and he’ll need to be tremendous if the Aggies have any shot at upsetting Oklahoma. He’s passed for 1,836 yards, rushed for 636 and accounted for 16 touchdowns.
The inside scoop: This game looked a lot more interesting before the Aggies were stunned by Baylor last week. But Texas A&M has the players to make this game competitive, and those players should be sky-high for this game after getting humiliated by the Sooners last season, 77-0. Oklahoma, meanwhile, survived a scare against Oklahoma State last week and looked especially vulnerable on defense. And the task of containing McNeal should prove to be more difficult than dealing with the Cowboys’ Donovan Woods. The biggest key for the Aggies will be whether or not they can slow OU’s freshman running back Adrian Peterson, who’s rushed for more than 1,200 yards, something no one’s been able to do this season.
Oklahoma will win if … it doesn’t give up big plays in the passing game and Peterson rushes for at least 100 yards.
Texas A&M will win if … it can contain the OU ground game, win the turnover battle and McNeal has a huge day.
Notes: The Sooners lead the series 12-10, but they were ranked No. 1 and lost in their last trip to Kyle Field, 30-26, in 2002 … Oklahoma has allowed just 223 rushing yards in the last three games … McNeal had his Big 12-record streak of 213 passes without an interception snapped last week against Baylor.
The pick: Oklahoma 35, Texas A&M 30
No. 19 Oklahoma State (6-2, 3-2) at No. 6 Texas (7-1, 4-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m. CDT, TBS
The Daily Line: Texas -13
Oklahoma State player to watch: Junior running back Vernand Morency doesn’t get the national attention that other Big 12 backs do, but he’s had an outstanding season, rushing for 1,246 yards and 11 touchdowns. He must have a big game if the Cowboys hope to pull off the upset in Austin.
Texas player to watch: The Longhorns have been solid defensively and the main reason why has been the play of senior linebacker and Butkus Award candidate Derrick Johnson. He has 63 tackles, including 9.5 for losses this season, and has forced six fumbles.
The inside scoop: You don’t need to have spent any time in graduate school to figure out what’s going to happen in this one. These are the two worst passing teams in the Big 12 and two of the top six teams nationally when it comes to running the ball. You do the math. Both teams also play a hard-hitting, aggressive style of defense. The Longhorns have been especially stingy on that side of the ball, allowing just 13.4 points per game, best in the Big 12. The team that can run the ball most effectively will have a decided advantage in winning the game. The play of the quarterbacks, Vince Young for Texas and Donovan Woods for Oklahoma State, will also be a major factor.
Oklahoma State will win if ... it can rush for more than 150 yards and Woods can connect on a few deep balls.
Texas will win if … Benson rushes for at least 135 yards and Young doesn’t turn the ball over.
Notes: Texas has won 16 of the 18 meetings in the series, including a 55-16 victory a year ago … The Cowboys are tied for the Big 12 lead with 20 takeaways this season … The Longhorns have held their last two opponents to a combined minus-14 yards rushing.
The pick: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 30
Colorado (4-4, 1-4) at Kansas (3-5, 1-4)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Kansas -3.5
Colorado player to watch: The Buffs have been unable to compete when they can’t run the ball, as was the case against Texas last week. Senior running back Bobby Purify, who was held to 13 yards on 12 carries against the Longhorns, has to get going this week. He’s rushed for 673 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Kansas player to watch: With starting quarterback Adam Barmann out for the season with an injured right shoulder, junior college transfer Jason Swanson will take over. He’s 18-for-38 for 171 yards and two touchdowns in limited action this season.
The inside scoop: These two teams are hanging on by a thread in hopes of becoming bowl eligible. The Jayhawks have been competitive all season, but they haven’t been able to win the close games, with four of their five losses coming by six points or less. The Buffs, meanwhile, have been mediocre at best all season and as the level of competition has increased, the losses have mounted. Colorado was completely manhandled by Texas last week, allowing 326 yards on the ground while gaining just three. CU quarterback Joel Klatt can’t shoulder the load alone and must get help from the running game, which won’t be easy against the Big 12’s third-ranked rushing defense.
Colorado will win if ... it can enjoy balance on offense, and it forces Swanson into mistakes.
Kansas will win if … it shuts down the Colorado running game and doesn’t turn the ball over.
Notes: Colorado leads the series 39-21-3 and won a 50-47 overtime thriller a year ago … With 142 passing yards last week, Klatt became just the fifth CU quarterback to reach 4,000 career passing yards … Kansas has just 132 first downs this season, the lowest total in the Big 12.
The pick: Kansas 15, Colorado 16
Nebraska (5-3, 3-2) at Iowa State (4-4, 2-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Nebraska -5
Nebraska player to watch: With senior tight end Matt Herian, the team’s leading receiver with 24 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns, lost for the season with a broken leg, the Cornhuskers will turn to senior Dusty Keiser. He’s caught two passes for 22 yards this season and has just four career receptions.
Iowa State player to watch: The Cyclones have made tremendous strides on defense this year and the play of sophomore defensive tackle Brent Curvey has been a huge surprise. He’s returned a fumble for a touchdown in each of the last two games and has 33 tackles on the season.
The inside scoop: After being ripped by Texas Tech, 70-10, on Oct. 9, Nebraska was left for dead by many observers. But the Cornhuskers have rallied to win two of their last three games, including a 24-3 victory over Missouri last week that put them in control of the Big 12 North Division race. They’ll look to stay hot this week against Iowa State, a team that in the past marked a breather on the schedule, but not this year. The Cyclones have won two straight and could tie Nebraska for first in the North with a victory Saturday. Both teams struggle on offense but are formidable on defense, especially Iowa State, which ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 29th nationally in total defense. This should be a low-scoring affair.
Nebraska will win if ... it can establish the running game, and it doesn’t turn the ball over, a nemesis all year.
Iowa State will win if … it connects on some big plays in the passing game, and it holds Nebraska to less than 125 yards rushing.
Notes: Nebraska has dominated the series 81-15-2 and posted a 28-0 victory last season … The Cyclones have forced 11 turnovers in the last three games … Cornhuskers’ linebacker Barrett Ruud has recorded 15 or more tackles in four of the last five games.
The pick: Nebraska 24, Iowa State 17
Baylor (3-5, 1-4) at Texas Tech (5-3, 3-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m. CDT
The Daily Line: Texas Tech -31.5
Baylor player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Shawn Bell got the start last week with Dane King sidelined with a hand injury and finished 32 of 50 for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the Bears’ 36-35 upset win against Texas A&M. Bell has seen action in all but one game this season and is now 58-for-86 for 451 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Texas Tech player to watch: Everyone knows about the Red Raiders’ offensive exploits, but they’ve been solid on defense as well. One of the reasons why has been senior defensive end Adell Duckett, who has 24 tackles, including five for losses, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions.
The inside scoop: The Bears shocked the college football world by beating the Aggies last week. This week, they will try to slow the explosive passing attack of Texas Tech, a job easier said than done. The Red Raiders lead the nation with an average of 412 passing yards per game. Baylor, meanwhile, ranks 11th in the conference in total defense, but it allows less than 200 yards per game through the air, the sixth-best mark in the Big 12. Offensively, the Bears will also look to air it out, with Bell looking for top target Dominique Zeigler, who’s caught 43 passes for 436 yards this season.
Baylor could keep it close if ... it doesn’t give up any big plays and Bell plays like he did a week ago.
Texas Tech will win ... but it better not take the Bears lightly. I’ve been telling you all year that the Bears are getting better.
Notes: The Bears lead the series 32-29-1, but they got drilled last year, 62-14 ... Baylor is last in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-14 ... Texas Tech’s 209 first downs this season leads the conference.
The pick: Texas Tech 38, Baylor 24