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September 22, 2011

Week 4 preview in the Big 12

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Amid all the prophecies of the Big 12's impending doom and the announcements that Oklahoma's and Texas' presidents have been given authority to seek conference affiliation elsewhere and the speculation of what teams will end up in what league (or court room) have overshadowed one important detail.

The Big 12 is playing high-caliber football.

THE SCHEDULE
Kansas State at Miami, 3:30 p.m.
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.
Nevada at Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
Rice at Baylor, 7 p.m
Missouri at Oklahoma, 8 p.m.
Five league teams are ranked in the most recent coaches' poll and three are in the top eight; the SEC can't match that.

But the preoccupation with speculation about the league's future seems to have drawn attention away from Saturday's Oklahoma State-Texas A&M showdown.

The winner will enhance its national championship hopes and step forward as the primary threat to top-ranked Oklahoma in the conference race.

The matchup marks only the third time in history - and the first since 1975 - that two top-10 teams will clash at Kyle Field, where the Aggies stand, the press box sways and the deceased forerunners of Reveille are buried with an eternal view of the scoreboard. And based on past results in this series, the ghosts of those collies may rise. This game figures to be just too good to miss.

Oklahoma State has a three-game winning streak in the series, but four of the past five matchups have been decided by five or fewer points. Two were decided by one point. One game went into overtime.

"We've had success there and won before," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "Fortunately, we have mature players and I expect them to play well."

Last season in Stillwater, Oklahoma State took advantage of several A&M turnovers to rally from a 14-point deficit to prevail 38-35 on a final-play field goal.

But that was before Ryan Tannehill took over as A&M's starting quarterback. The Aggies are 7-1 since.

"I don't think any of it carries over from one year to the next," A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "Every year is independent from the previous one, and every game is independent from the previous one."

That's true, but this matchup should be just as close and high-scoring as last year. Behind quarterback Brandon Weeden, wide receiver Justin Blackmon and tailback Joseph Randall, Oklahoma State is averaging 52.3 points. Meanwhile, A&M - with RB Cyrus Gray seeking a 10th consecutive 100-yard performance - is averaging 41.5, so the scoreboard figures to light up like a fireworks show.

"Whenever you say that, you always put a whammy on the game," Sherman said. "It'll be a defensive struggle, you watch. The defense will take over whenever you say that. I would say both defenses will rise to the occasion."

In that case, A&M would figure to have an edge. The Aggies have allowed three touchdowns in their two games. Oklahoma State allowed more than that in last week's 59-33 victory over Tulsa, which was without injured starting quarterback G.J. Kinne for about half the game.

A&M is well-aware that Weeden leads the nation with 1,154 passing yards and that it must pressure him.

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"We can't let him get comfortable or he'll kill us," defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie said. "A sack is great, but knocking him down and letting him know we are coming is just as important."

Best matchup: Oklahoma State receivers vs. Texas A&M cornerbacks. The cornerback trio of Coryell Judie, Terrence Frederick and Dustin Harris is a strong point of A&M's defense. So far, they've helped limit opponents to one touchdown pass. They will need to be at their best against Oklahoma State's receivers, especially All-American Justin Blackmon. But the Cowboys have more than just Blackmon. Josh Cooper has 14 catches and Tracy Moore has 13.

Player on the spot: Missouri QB James Franklin. If the Tigers are to beat Oklahoma in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1965 and '66, they will need a terrific performance from their quarterback. They got one in last season's 36-27 victory over the Sooners, when Blaine Gabbert passed for 308 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Franklin struggled in a season-opening victory over Miami of Ohio, but he has posted consecutive strong outings in an overtime loss to Arizona State and a lopsided victory over Western Illinois. He will have to avoid turnovers and make big plays in order for the Tigers to keep up with Oklahoma's offense.

Keep an eye on: Kansas State LB Arthur Brown. The Wildcats travel to face Miami, where Brown began his career. Brown is a former five-star recruit who was a disappointment with the Hurricanes; he never started and managed just 17 total tackles in two seasons. Brown, a native of Wichita, Kan., then transferred to Kansas State and sat out last season. No doubt he'll be psyched up to face his former team. K-State needs a strong performance from Brown. Miami has a solid running game, and last season the Wildcats' defense was one of the weakest in the country against the run.

Numbers game: Baylor QB Robert Griffin has completed 83.7 percent of his passes (41-of-49). He as many touchdown passes (eight) as incompletions and leads the nation in passing efficiency with a 244.52 rating. In addition, in 30 career games, he's had 53 plays that have covered at least 30 yards.

Quotes of the week

"Playing close games really has become the norm around here. We kind of got used to it and probably got the hang on it." - Iowa State WR Darius Darks

"I'd still love to see a result sooner rather than later. I think that it's best for everyone involved if we can reach a conclusion, reach a decision, as soon as possible." - University of Oklahoma president David Boren, on OU possibly leaving the Big 12

"For parents to travel all the way across the country, it's going to put a bigger burden on them. Right now, with regional leagues, parents can go see their kids play, and that's really important because kids are working their guts out year-round for us to have a great show on Saturdays." - Texas coach Mack Brown, on the effects of possible conference realignment

[Related: Week 4 expert picks]

Poll watch: Three Big 12 teams remain ranked in the top eight of the most recent coaches' poll and at least two figure to stay there another week. No. 1 Oklahoma faces Missouri in Norman, where the Sooners have lost just twice in 13 seasons under coach Bob Stoops. Meanwhile, No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Texas A&M square off in only the third matchup of top-10 teams in Kyle Field history. The most recent top-10 clash at Kyle was No. 2 A&M's 20-10 victory over No. 10 Texas in 1975. The winner could rise in the polls, while the loser likely would drop out of the top 10. Meanwhile, No. 19 Baylor will remain in the Top 20 if it can avoid an upset of Rice. No. 18 Texas is off. Missouri, which was 21st two weeks ago, could get back in the rankings with an upset of Oklahoma. The Tigers defeated OU 36-27 last season.

Etc.: Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State's linebacker coach and co-defensive coordinator, has taken an indefinite leave of absence after his wife, Angela, died last Saturday. She had received a heart transplant in February 2010. ... X-rays showed Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis' injured right toe remains cracked, but he played against Florida State with a specially designed small cast inside his shoe for extra protection. He plans to play against Missouri, though he has sat out practices. ... Baylor is seeking its first 3-0 start since 2005. ... Iowa State's three victories have come by a combined eight points. ... Missouri DE Jacquies Smith has recovered from a dislocated elbow sustained in the first game of the season and will play against Oklahoma. The Tigers also will have C Travis Ruth back in the starting lineup, which allows Jayson Palmgren, who has started in Ruth's place, to return to guard. Ruth played 27 snaps last week after coming back from an Achilles tear. ... Fifteen Oklahoma State players have caught passes and 10 have scored. In addition, the Cowboys have completed a pass that covered at least 40 yards in 12 consecutive games. ... Missouri QB James Franklin originally hoped to play at Oklahoma. His father played there and the family dog is named "Boomer" (as in Boomer Sooner). But OU recruited him as an "athlete," while Missouri made it clear he would play quarterback. ... Oklahoma OT Jarvis Jones, who suffered a knee injury in spring drills and hasn't played this season, is expected to be in the lineup against Missouri, though not necessarily as a starter. ... Senior WR Kendall Wright has set Baylor records with 214 career receptions and 2,653 receiving yards. He shares the school record for career touchdown catches with 19. ... Iowa State QB Steele Jantz starts slow, but finishes strong. He is just 6-of-14 for 44 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions in the first quarter. But in the fourth quarter, Jantz is 24-of-42 for 320 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. ... Texas QB Garrett Gilbert had shoulder surgery Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. ... Texas A&M has not allowed a sack, while the Aggies' defense leads the nation with 11 sacks. ... Texas Tech LB Sam Fehoko and DT Pearlie Graves left the team with intentions to transfer. Both were part-time starters in 2010, but had been buried on the depth chart this season. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders' Leon Mackey reportedly is improving from a collapsed lung, but he will not play against Nevada on Saturday. ... Texas backup TE D.J Grant had three touchdown catches against UCLA. Texas threw only two touchdown passes to tight ends all of last season. ... Oklahoma State's defense has not allowed a first-half touchdown. ... Texas Tech is 12-for-12 in red zone scoring opportunities, with 11 touchdowns and a field goal. ... Missouri TB Henry Josey started the season as a backup, but he was forced into a starting role because of numerous injuries at that position. Now, he leads the Big 12 and is sixth nationally with 400 rushing yards. He gained 263 in last week's win over Western Illinois. ... Four Texas players have thrown touchdown passes, including freshmen WRs Jaxon Shipley and John Harris.

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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