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November 10, 2011

Week 11 preview in the Big 12

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About this time every year, the same questions and criticisms rain down on the Big 12 Conference like an Oklahoma thunderstorm.

Big 12 teams can run up big scores - especially against other Big 12 teams - but does anybody in the league even bother to play defense? Are Big 12 offenses so prolific because the defenses are so pathetic? And don't they know that sound defense is the key to winning national championships?

Texas at Missouri, noon
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, noon
Baylor at Kansas, 2 p.m.
Texas A&M at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m.
They're valid questions.

Eight of the Big 12's 10 teams are ranked between 78th and 120th in the nation in total defense. All allow more than 400 yards per game on average.

Texas, ranked 15th, is the only Big 12 team ranked among the nation's top 40 in defense. Yet, the Longhorns allowed 55 points (some were defensive touchdowns) and 38 in losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, respectively.

The re-questioning of Big 12 defenses is relevant after last weekend.

While LSU was eking out a 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama in a classic SEC defensive struggle, Oklahoma State was holding off Kansas State 52-45 in a typical Big 12 track meet.

"If I was sitting at home watching a game, I would have thought our game was pretty entertaining," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "It was one of those games where you're not sure you want to get up and go to the bathroom or get something to eat."

It was entertaining. But the level of entertainment may depend on one's taste.

Alabama-LSU was like a gang fight; Kansas State-Oklahoma State was like "Dancing with the Stars."

"I'm going to guess most people that live in the Southeast part of the country loved to watch the LSU-Alabama game," Gundy said. "I'm going to guess that most people that live west of the Mississippi, all the way out to the Pacific Ocean, probably like to watch our style of game because they're used to that style."

No doubt, there is a different culture in the Big 12. But the desire to win a national championship transcends cultures and regional boundaries.

And that's why the question is so relevant now.

[Video: Better unbeaten: Oklahoma State or Stanford?]

Oklahoma State, which is ranked 110th in the nation in total defense, is second in the BCS standings. LSU, which is third in total defense, is first in the BCS standings. If they continue winning, those teams - and cultures - will clash in New Orleans for the national championship.

But few would view Oklahoma State as a threat to LSU because they've seen this before.

In '08, Oklahoma set an NCAA scoring record and averaged 51.14 points. Yet the Sooners' offense sputtered in a 24-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game.

In '09, Texas averaged 39.3 points to rank third in the nation in scoring. Yet the Longhorns fell to Alabama 37-21 in the national title game.

Can Oklahoma State, which averages 50.1 points but has allowed at least 24 points in every game except one, be taken seriously as a national championship contender?

The criticism that Oklahoma State doesn't play defense is a sore subject in Stillwater. The Cowboys maintain they play a bend-but-don't-break style. They acknowledge giving up yardage, but point out they make the plays to win.

The Cowboys lead the nation in forced turnovers, with 31. They make stands when needed. They prevented Kansas State from scoring a tying touchdown in the final seconds. Isn't that more important than giving up 507 yards?

[Heisman Watch: Andrew Luck leads the way | Video: Luck's to lose?]

Besides, the Cowboys are confident their defensive issues can be fixed.

"We played man pretty much the whole game, so most of our backs were turned," safety Markelle Martin said. "So, just one guy is not doing his job makes it so the quarterback can get out and scramble against you.

"We'll do better in the long run. That was just a weakness of the defense at that time."

Nine games into the season, Oklahoma State needs to shore up its defense to reach the BCS championship game. The Cowboys still have to face Texas Tech and Oklahoma, both among the nation's top 11 offensive teams.

Then again, perhaps Oklahoma State could just hope to outlast them in wide-open score-fests. That is the Big 12 way.

Best matchup: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden vs. Texas Tech QB Seth Doege. Another week, another showcase of elite passers in the Big 12. Both are ranked in the top five in the nation in passing yards per game (Weeden is fourth, Doege fifth). Weeden is a Heisman candidate who has thrown for at least three touchdowns in each of the past three games and is trying to keep the Cowboys on a path to the BCS championship game. Doege, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in five of the past six games, may already have derailed Oklahoma's national championship hopes. He threw for 441 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners three weeks ago. He'll aim to spoil the Cowboys' title aspirations Saturday.

Player on the spot: Missouri RB Henry Josey. The Big 12's leading rusher with 1,149 yards, Josey has rushed for at least 129 yards in each of the past four games. But he'll face a tough challenge against Texas, which is ninth in the nation in rushing defense. The Longhorns have limited their past two opponents to 28 rushing yards combined and held seven opponents to 141 or fewer rushing yards. Oklahoma State's Jeremy Smith, who had 140 yards, is the only individual to exceed 100 rushing yards against Texas.

Keep an eye on: Kansas State QB Collin Klein. Though a marginal passer, Klein is a tough runner who leads all quarterbacks nationally with 906 rushing yards, Klein has rushed for at least 92 yards in each of the past four games and is coming off a season-high 144-yard performance in last week's 52-45 loss to Oklahoma State. Don't be surprised if he exceeds that total this week against Texas A&M, which allowed 284 rushing yards to Missouri two weeks ago and 99 to Oklahoma's Roy Finch last week. Kansas State is ranked 18th in rushing offense.

Numbers game: Baylor has had 600-plus yards of offense in four games this season - 673 vs. Rice, 603 vs. Iowa State, 622 vs. Oklahoma State and 697 vs. Missouri. That's more than half of the seven 600-yard-plus games Baylor has had in its 109-year football history. The Bears may not be finished, either. This week, they face Kansas, which is last in the nation in total defense and has surrendered at least 600 yards of offense three times this season.

Quotes of the week

"I don't see us playing them in the future. I think the rivalry for Kansas and Missouri would be something that belongs in the Big 12 Conference." - Kansas coach Turner Gill, doubting the Jayhawks would continue to play Missouri, which is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC

"I hate people from Texas. I give people on our team from Texas a hard time because they're from Texas. I just do. I hate Texas. Any other overrated state in football, I pretty much hate. That's how I feel about it. … Overrated. Overrated. Overrated. It's blown out of proportion. It really is. I played against their best recruits… wasn't impressed. At all. Wasn't impressed." - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson, a St. Louis native who has 35 teammates from Texas

"If [BCS rankings were] left up to all the commentators and the analysts, you wouldn't see teams like us get a chance at trying to play for the national championship. The only people who would get a chance would be the prestigious universities." - Oklahoma State DE Richetti Jones, to the Daily Oklahoman

[Week 11 viewer's guide: Best games to watch ]

Poll watch: Oklahoma State has moved up to No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Cowboys will play for the national championship if they win out, but that will require defeating No. 6 Oklahoma in the Bedlam series on Dec. 3. Oklahoma still has outside hopes of reaching the BCS national championship game. Kansas State (No. 14), Texas (No. 16) and Baylor (No. 25) remain in the BCS rankings, too. Baylor, which faces Kansas, should stay in at least another week. Kansas State (vs. Texas A&M) and Texas (at Missouri) will have to work harder to remain in the BCS rankings.

Etc.: Oklahoma senior WR Ryan Broyles will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. He finishes his career with an NCAA-record 349 catches for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns. … Texas A&M has lost leading rusher Christine Michael (torn ACL) for the rest of the season. … With a win over Kansas, Baylor becomes bowl eligible for the second consecutive season. The Bears have not made back-to-back bowl appearances since 1991-92. … Missouri has managed just 30 points in the third quarter. The Tigers have been outscored 43-0 in the third quarter of their four losses. … Iowa State rushed for at least 250 yards in consecutive games against Texas Tech and Kansas. The Cyclones had not accomplished that feat since 2000. … Dropped passes have become a problem for Texas A&M receivers in the past two games, and as a result, QB Ryan Tannehill has completed just 57.8 percent of his attempts, his worst two-game stretch of the season. … Kansas WR D.J. Beshears needs 12 yards to set a single-season school record for kickoff-return yardage. He also needs 243 to set a career record. Beshears has 910 yards on kickoff returns, which is the second-highest total in the nation this season. He also has returned 42 kickoffs, which is also the second-highest total in the country. … K-State junior QB Collin Klein is coming off a performance in which he set career-highs with 22 pass completions and 231 passing yards. He has 19 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the second-most in school history. … Oklahoma State has won at least nine games in four consecutive seasons for the first time in the program's history. … Texas Tech CB Tre Porter (head) and LB Pete Robertson (shoulder) will miss the rest of the season. … Baylor has punted only 18 times - the fewest in the nation. … Kansas State has five non-offensive touchdowns, with four coming in the past four games. … Oklahoma has outscored opponents 118-10 in the third quarter. … QB Brandon Weeden's 502 passing yards vs. Kansas State was Oklahoma State's first 500-yard game in school history. … Texas has gained 400 rushing yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1977, the year Earl Campbell won the Heisman. … Oklahoma OL Stephen Good was arrested last weekend on charges of assault and battery. …Texas was without leading rusher Malcolm Brown and leading receiver Jaxon Shipley in last week's win over Texas Tech, but expect to have both vs. Missouri. ... Mizzou sophomore QB James Franklin is coming off a performance in which he had career-highs of 325 passing yards, 382 yards of total offense and 26 pass completions. …Texas has run the "wildcat" formation with TB Fozzy Whittaker taking the snap 24 times. The Longhorns have gained 164 yards and scored five touchdowns from it.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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