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October 7, 2010

Week 6 preview in the Big 12

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

Nebraska at Kansas State, 7:30 p.m.
Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette, 9 p.m.
Baylor vs.Texas Tech in Dallas, noon
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, 3:30 p.m.
Colorado at Missouri, 7 p.m.
Utah at Iowa State, 7 p.m.
Numbers can tell a story. They also can tell a lie. And, sometimes, they don't tell anything.

That's the case in the Big 12, where numbers only serve to confuse.

The Big 12 has eight victories over teams from other "power" conferences. There also are five undefeated teams, four that are nationally ranked, but also a number of questions about just how good the league really is.

Of course, such confusion is probably to be expected in a year when Baylor has more victories than Texas as the halfway point of the season approaches.

The Big 12's 8-3 record against opposition from other Big Six conferences is impressive -- that is, until it's considered that most of those opponents are second-tier teams in their conferences.

Even the Big 12's two best teams -- Oklahoma and Nebraska -- admit a need to get much better.

OU coach Bob Stoops said his Sooners can't yet be viewed as serious national championship contenders.

"At this point in the year, we're not," he said. "But the better teams continue to grow and get better through the year. It's true we've played one of the tougher non-conferences schedules in the country ... and we're 5-and-0 with an off week.

"We're still a work in progress. I like that. We'll see how we're able to keep maturing and growing with a lot of young guys that are playing and playing well."

Oklahoma did blow out Florida State and last week toppled archrival Texas 28-20. But they also struggled to defeat 2-3 Utah State and 1-3 Cincinnati. A 27-24 victory over good-but-not-great Air Force was much closer than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Nebraska's perfect start has been forged against four opponents that are a combined 5-12. That includes 0-4 FCS member South Dakota State, which stayed within two touchdowns of the Huskers.

"We're kind of like where we were a year ago," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, referring to last season's team, which finished 10-4. "We've got a lot of areas we need to improve upon. If we keep doing that, we can keep growing like we did last year. We're very similar, maybe a little bit ahead of where we were a year ago. But we still have a long way to go."

The next step for Nebraska is Thursday night against Kansas State, which is also unbeaten. But in K-State's last game, the Wildcats needed a touchdown in the last minute to beat UCF 17-13.

Unbeaten Missouri came from behind to beat Illinois 23-13 in the season-opener and got a 68-yard touchdown reception from T.J. Moe in the final minute to escape San Diego State 27-24 on Sept. 18. A sophomore who had just two catches a year ago, Moe -- who played quarterback in high school -- has 37 for 394 yards this season. He's a major reason for the Tigers' perfect record.

"He has a lot going for him," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He has very, very good hands, speed and quickness, and he's an intelligent kid that works to get open. We saw this guy could be like this. I think he can be a lot better. We expect him to keep improving."

Unbeaten Oklahoma State also has been boosted by a sophomore receiver. Justin Blackmon shares the national lead with nine touchdown receptions, one of which provided the winning points in a 41-38 victory over Troy of the Sun Belt Conference. He also had a touchdown catch in last week's 38-35 victory over previously unbeaten Texas A&M. A&M needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat winless Sun Belt member Florida International 27-20.

Perhaps a sign of Big 12 uncertainty came in the first two weeks of the season. Kansas opened with a loss to FCS team North Dakota State. The following week, the Jayhawks beat Georgia Tech.

So as weird as things have been for the Big 12, it could be worse. It could be the ACC.

Best matchup: Nebraska at Kansas State. Games supposedly are won and lost in the trenches. That may not always be true, but if Kansas State has any chance against Nebraska, its offensive line must get a consistent push against the Huskers' defensive front. Despite having little passing offense, Kansas State's offensive line has cleared the way for RB Daniel Thomas to rush for 628 yards and six touchdowns. The Wildcats average 216 rushing yards per game. Nebraska's defense has shown some vulnerability to the run in the past two games, but the Huskers will have a tremendous advantage if they can force obvious passing situations. The Huskers are seeking a sixth consecutive victory over Kansas State.

Player on the spot: Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson. He is on the verge of getting a permanent place here. Johnson has thrown eight interceptions in the past two games -- as many as he threw all of last season. He also had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in last week's loss to Oklahoma State. Even though Johnson has thrown for 1,274 yards and 12 touchdowns, his recent travails have resulted in calls for backup QB Ryan Tannehill. This week, Johnson must avoid turnovers and be ultra-productive in a potential offensive shoot-out with Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. Last season, Johnson threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas, but the Aggies still lost 47-19. He had two fumbles in that game, including one that was returned 85 yards for a touchdown.

Numbers game: Oklahoma State is the nation's second-highest scoring team and joins Oregon as the only teams to average at least 50 points per game. The Cowboys have scored 209 points in four games for an average of 52.3 per game. Oklahoma State has three players ranked among the nation's top 10 in scoring. WR Justin Blackmon (first) has scored 60 points via 10 touchdowns, RB Kendall Hunter (tied for fourth) has 48 points on eight touchdowns and K Dan Bailey (ninth) has 47 points on 10 field goals and 17 extra points. No other team has more than one player in the top 10.

What they're saying

"Our coach has a saying: 'Two turnovers you're in, four turnovers you win.' So we want to make sure that everything we're doing is geared toward big hits and turnovers." -- Baylor LB Elliot Coffey, on the Bears' No. 15th national ranking in turnover margin.

"Practice. And coach yelling. That's exactly what it was." -- Colorado CB Jimmy Smith, revealing the Buffaloes' secret for reducing their penalties from nine in each of the first three games to just three last week against Georgia.

"It's just really a situation of trying to teach guys how to do things the proper way and be respectful to women and be respectful to everything that we do in our society. It's teaching people all about the things of life." -- Kansas coach Turner Gill, on his rule that players have no contact with women after 10 p.m. on any day.

Etc.: Baylor is seeking back-to-back wins away from Waco for the first time since 1996. ... Colorado has exceeded 200 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time since 2006. ... Texas Tech WR Lyle Leong has 22 touchdown catches to rank fifth on Texas Tech's career list. ... Saturday's Colorado vs. Missouri game marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous "fifth down" game in which officials inadvertently gave Colorado an extra play to score a game-winning touchdown. The Buffaloes then went on to win a share of the national championship. ... Iowa State's Alexander Robinson and Shontrelle Johnson each rushed for more than 100 yards in last week's win over Texas Tech. The last time two Cyclones accomplished that feat in the same game was in 2000. .... Kansas WR Daymond Patterson has at least four catches in every game. ... Kansas State has trailed in the fourth quarter of its past two games and was behind at halftime against UCLA. But the unbeaten Wildcats have outscored opponents 38-18 in the fourth quarter of those three games. ... Missouri DE Aldon Smith remains sidelined with a fractured right fibula. Backup DT Jimmy Burge has been indefinitely suspended and S Jasper Simmons, who was suspended last week, remains out. ... Missouri has eight interceptions, which matches their entire 2009 total. ... Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard has an interception in each of the past three games. ... Oklahoma is ranked third in the nation in turnover margin. The Sooners have forced 14 turnovers (seven fumbles, seven interceptions), while committing just four. ... Texas LB Emmanuel Acho posted a career-high 17 tackles in last week's loss to Oklahoma. That more than doubled his previous best of seven tackles. ... Texas is 3-2 and has fallen out of the AP top 25 to end a streak of 162 weeks of being included. ... Texas A&M has managed just five sacks in four games. LB Von Miller, who led the nation with 17 sacks last season, still is seeking his first this year. ... Colorado junior RB Rodney Stewart has rushed for first downs on all seven third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 situations he's faced this season. For his career, he's converted 18 of 20 of those situations. ... Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray has 55 career touchdowns, which is two behind Steve Owens' school record. ... Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller has set a school record with 21 career touchdown receptions.

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

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