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September 30, 2010

Week 5 preview in the Big 12

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

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State, 7:30 p.m.
Kansas at Baylor, noon
Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas, 3:30 p.m.
Georgia at Colorado, 7 p.m.
Texas Tech at Iowa State, 7 p.m.

Kendall Hunter wasn't even born when Earl Campbell won the 1977 Heisman, but he learned a lot about him.

He couldn't help it, really. They're both from Tyler, Texas, and were all-state running backs at John Tyler High School, where Campbell's uniform is displayed in a glass case.

"I heard a lot about him, especially when I was going to John Tyler," Hunter said recently. "The older I got, the more I heard about him. He was one of the best backs ever."

Hunter isn't bad, either. In fact, he has a lot more in common with Campbell than the same hometown and high school.

During a glorious career at Texas, Campbell had an excellent sophomore season, an injury-filled junior campaign, then a tremendous senior season in which he led the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards en route to winning the Heisman.

Hunter seems to be following suit.

He earned All-America recognition by rushing for 1,555 yards as a sophomore, but he was hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games last season. This season, Hunter has come back strong and is third in the nation in rushing at 157.7 yards per game.

"He's running very well," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "He's running with confidence. He's practicing well and his demeanor is pretty good. He's close to where he was [before the injuries]. We're trying to keep him healthy. He's a great asset to us."

Hunter rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns in a 65-17 season-opening victory over Washington State. He had 208 yards in the first half, which marked the first time an Oklahoma State back had hit 200 yards since Barry Sanders (another Heisman recipient) did it in 1988 -- the year in which Hunter was born.

Hunter followed that up with 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-38 victory over Troy. He then gained 59 yards on 11 carries in a blowout victory over Tulsa.

"I want to take advantage of every opportunity," Hunter said. "I feel like I'm bigger and stronger than my sophomore year. I'm just glad I can have fun and help the team out. I'm just happy to get the ball and run."

But how far can he run?

Hunter has yet to face a strong defense. Washington State, Troy and Tulsa rank between 109th and 117th in the NCAA in total defense.

With the Cowboys opening Big 12 play tonight against Texas A&M, they will start facing better defenses. Thus, if Hunter runs well against teams such as Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma, he could emerge as a Heisman candidate.

He's a long shot to join Campbell as a Heisman recipient, but if he has a strong season, maybe the administration at John Tyler High will be compelled to put his high school jersey on display, too.

"That would be nice," Hunter said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Best matchup: Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas. Texas' 34-12 pratfall against UCLA takes some luster off the Red River Rivalry, though it's always an intense, emotional and physical clash. The outcome doesn't always determine the South Division champ in the Big 12 race, but the winner certainly has a tremendous advantage. Indeed, either the Sooners or Longhorns have represented the South in the Big 12 championship game in 12 of the conference's 14 years. Texas's defense was gashed for 264 rushing yards by UCLA last week. Now, it faces explosive OU RB DeMarco Murray. The Longhorns have made lineup changes -- DE Alex Okafor to tackle and Dustin Earnest starting at MLB -- to bolster their run defense. But Oklahoma also is ranked 10th in the nation in passing offense behind QB Landry Jones, who has thrown for 1,221 yards and nine touchdowns. Pass protection has been an issue for OU and could be a major problem, especially in obvious situations against a strong Texas pass rush. On the other side, Oklahoma has had trouble in run defense, but Texas hasn't shown the ability to mount a consistent rushing attack. In addition, QB Garrett Gilbert has been prone to mistakes. An intriguing matchup within the matchup is Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles, one of the most explosive players in the nation, against Texas CB Aaron Williams, one of the best in the country at his position.

Player on the spot: Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson. Although he hasn't received much protection from his offensive line, Johnson has to bounce back from a dreadful showing two weeks ago against Florida International. Johnson was sacked five times and threw four interceptions in that game, in which the Aggies rallied from a 14-point deficit for a 27-20 victory. If the Aggies are going to be legitimate contenders in the Big 12 South, Johnson has to play well. A&M needs Johnson to have a productive performance against Oklahoma State to match the Cowboys' offensive firepower.

Numbers game: Oklahoma has ranked in the NCAA top 25 in rushing defense every season since 2000, including eighth last season. But the Sooners aren't playing up to their usual lofty standards. OU is ranked 93rd against the run, allowing an average of 177.5 yards per game. The Sooners gave up 351 rushing yards to Air Force two weeks ago and 156 to Cincinnati last week. It may not matter this week, though. Texas' anemic running game is averaging just 135.5 yards to rank 76th in the nation.

What they're saying

"We're halfway there, and after this week, we'll have another win towards that goal. That's the No. 1 goal, but once that goal is achieved, the sky's the limit." -- Baylor QB Robert Griffin, seemingly predicting victory over Kansas as the Bears seek six wins required for bowl eligibility.

"Everybody put a standard that was too high on him after the second half of the national championship game. That was unfair to him." -- Texas coach Mack Brown, on sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert.

"We've got to fix ourselves more than anything. It's definitely a wake-up call that we're not this great team that we think we are." -- Nebraska LB Alonzo Whaley, in response to the Huskers' lackluster 17-3 victory over FCS member South Dakota State last week

Etc.: Baylor is 4-0 against Kansas in Waco and has scored at least 30 points in each of those games. Colorado's defense is the nation's leader in combined third- and fourth-down efficiency. Buffs opponents have converted just 8-of-34 third downs and are 0-of-5 on fourth down for a combined 8-of-39 (20.5 percent). The Iowa State-Texas Tech game will be a reunion of sorts. Two years ago, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads served as defensive coordinator at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville, who is now Texas Tech's coach. Despite being bothered by a sore shoulder, Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud is expected to start against Texas Tech. Kansas P Alonso Rojas has had punts of at least 50 yards in every game so far. Kansas State has scored 79 of its 123 points (64 percent) in the second half. The Wildcats have scored 45 points in the fourth quarter. Missouri senior CB Munir Prince's career has prematurely ended because of effects suffered in a training camp. He temporarily lost feelings in his arms and legs after being knocked out in a punt drill. Nebraska LB Lavonte David had 19 tackles against South Dakota State, the most by a Cornhusker since 2004. Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles has seven consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards, and QB Landry Jones has completed 92 passes in the past three games. Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon leads the nation with 143.67 receiving yards per game. He's also the NCAA leader with nine touchdowns in three games. Texas freshman WR Mike Davis' playing status is in question because of a sore left knee. In addition, S Christian Scott may not be available because of turf toe. Texas A&M has allowed just two touchdown passes. Aggies sophomore RB Christine Michael has posted three consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, a feat not accomplished by an A&M player since Dante Hall did it in 1998. Texas Tech CB Jarvis Phillips has had at least one interception in all three games and leads the nation with four picks. A&M WR Jeff Fuller has 19 career touchdown catches and needs one more to become the school's sole record holder. He currently shares the record with Bob Long (1966-68). Colorado will honor its 1990 national championship team during Saturday's game against Georgia. Iowa State LB A.J. Klein has already returned two interceptions for touchdowns. No Cyclone has done that since 1996. Robert Griffin is responsible for 11 of Baylor's 12 touchdowns (eight via pass, three via rush). Kansas has a three-game winning streak in Big 12 Conference openers. The Jayhawks defeated Kansas State in '07 and Iowa State in '08 and '09. Mizzou sophomore WR T.J. Moe has 37 receptions, which is the most ever for a Tigers player after four games. Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray has 53 touchdowns (42 rushing, nine receiving, two on returns) in his career. He needs four more to tie Steve Owens' school record of 57. Murray is currently tied with Billy Sims for second place in school history.

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

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