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September 11, 2008

Big 12: Kansas ready for first big test

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

Kansas coach Mark Mangino surprised some during the summer when he said his Jayhawks will not have arrived until they can compete with big dogs Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12.

For a guy who had just gone 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, it seemed pretty dismissive of an incredible 2007 season. But to a man, the Jayhawks heard all the doubters who said KU didn't play anyone and didn't deserve a BCS berth over Missouri, which beat the Jayhawks.

Rabbit ears are part of the growing process for a team that is 9-16 all-time against ranked teams and 4-7 under Mangino. Kansas went 1-1 against ranked teams in 2007. But the victory came against Kansas State, which was No. 24 at the time before free-falling to 5-7.

So Kansas sophomore cornerback Chris Harris gets that the doubters are on high alert for the Jayhawks' game Friday night at USF.

"It is a big game for us to go play a ranked team like ourselves and try to go on the road and win like we did last year," Harris said. "Everyone says we always play cupcakes, so this is about respect for us, playing a team that is ranked. We are going to try and prove that we should be ranked higher."

Even after a harrowing overtime win against UCF last Saturday, USF is looking more and more like the team to beat in the Big East. The Bulls have star power at quarterback in Matt Grothe and at defensive end George Selvie.

Call this the first stop on KU's "Validation Tour." Other key stops will include a road trip to Oklahoma (Oct. 18), a home game against Texas Tech (Oct. 25) and a home game against Texas (Nov. 15). None of those teams was on Kansas' schedule last season.

By playing Friday night, everyone will be watching to see if Kansas is in the rankings to stay - or if it is a visitor to the top 25. And the Jayhawks aren't sneaking up on anyone.

"There are not that many other games on Friday nights, so we get a lot of extra exposure," Grothe said. "I'm looking forward to this game probably as much as any other game I've played."

Mangino, like mentor Bob Stoops, looks at everything from a forward point of view and never backs down from a challenge. He said the Friday night exposure "helps recruiting, and that helps with people who make decisions with the rankings. There are a lot of positives about playing a game that will be watched by a national audience."

BIG 12 SCHEDULE
FRIDAY
Kansas at South Florida, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Iowa State at Iowa, noon
Washington State at Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
Nevada at Missouri, 12:30 p.m.
New Mexico State at Nebraska, 7 p.m.
Missouri State at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
SMU at Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
Oklahoma at Washington, 7:45 p.m.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter. Everyone is talking about Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, who had 236 receiving yards and three touchdowns along with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in Oklahoma State's win over Houston last Saturday. But everyone knew Bryant was a special player coming out of high school. The player making defenses respect the Cowboys' running game is the unheralded Hunter, who started fall camp in a battle with Keith Toston and Beau Johnson to replace Dantrell Savage. Hunter ran for 210 yards against Houston. No other back in the Big 12 even reached 100 yards on the ground last week. Hunter, from Tyler, Texas, is the nation's No. 6 rusher. He is averaging 158.5 yards per game, after playing Washington State and Houston.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Texas A&M backup QB Jerrod Johnson threw for three touchdowns and was 10 of 19 passing for 124 yards in relief of injured starter Stephen McGee in a 28-22 victory at New Mexico. But coach Mike Sherman says if McGee is healthy, he will remain the starter. … Missouri's Chase Daniel set the school completion percentage mark by going 16 of 17 (94.1 completion percentage) in a victory over Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon continues to dominate on defense for the Tigers. He added his third interception of the season and second a touchdown against SEMO. … Redshirt freshman WR Ryan Broyles caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns for Oklahoma in a victory over Cincinnati.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • After victories over Division I-AA Eastern Washington and Nevada, Texas Tech's defense is ranked 96th nationally and giving up 426 yards per game. … Red Raiders coach Mike Leach went for it on fourth down twice deep in his own territory – from the 30 and the 29 – and failed twice. Tech's defense held Nevada to field goals both times. … Despite having one of the most electric running backs in the Big 12 in Mike Goodson, Texas A&M is last in the Big 12 in rushing, averaging 112.5 yards per game. The Aggies are also last in scoring (21 points per game). …While Oklahoma State is putting up huge numbers in the running game (276.5 yards per game), the Cowboys are giving up a Big 12-worst 25 points per game.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • • "I thought I gambled stupid. Being in Reno, I guess I got the bug. I was stuck in a hotel where you don't have any clocks, and they were pumping oxygen in there." Texas Tech coach Mike Leach on gambling twice on fourth down from his 30 and 29 and failing in a victory in Reno over Nevada.

    • "We have a lot of fast, athletic players. We have an institutional commitment to playing well in the kicking game. Everybody understands that first contribution is in the kicking game, and then we branch out from there." Kansas State coach Ron Prince, whose team scored on two blocked punts and forced a bad snap in a victory over Montana State to improve to 2-0.

    • "There are so many passionate people for both Iowa and Iowa State. We don't have the NFL or the NBA or things like that in this state, and this becomes the substitute for professional sports. This state will be in a frenzy, and that's what makes it important. It's bragging rights for 365 days." – Iowa State coach Gene Chizik on the importance of the Iowa-Iowa State game. Iowa State has won seven of the past 10 in the rivalry.

    • "It looks like a defense I play against in Madden. It's weird, it's really weird. It's nothing like I've ever seen in football." – Nebraska QB Joe Ganz, on the 3-3-5 defense employed by New Mexico State coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. Nebraska hosts New Mexico State on Saturday.

  • ETC.
  • Baylor freshman QB Robert Griffin was 15 of 19 passing for 294 yards and three TDs. He also ran 10 times for 42 yards and another score in a victory over Northwestern State. In two college games, Griffin is 26 of 38 passing (68.4 percent) for 419 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Baylor is scheduled to play Washington State in Waco at 11:30 a.m. Saturday but is also monitoring Hurricane Ike. … Big 12 schools went 12-0 last weekend, the first time in league history that all 12 teams have won on the same weekend. … Big 12 quarterbacks combined to have a 70 percent completion rate last weekend. Surprisingly, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who completed 71.8 percent of his passes in 2007, brought up the rear by completing just 19 of 46 for 297 yards against Nevada - a 41.3 percent completion rate. … Texas Tech All-American WR Michael Crabtree had seven catches for 158 yards and a touchdown and is 14th nationally in receiving yards per game (115.5) and 10th in receptions (8.0 per game) … Iowa State leads the nation with 10 forced turnovers. ... Iowa State has scored 40 points in each of its first two games, the first time that has happened since 1976. … Nebraska scored on defense and on special teams in its victory over San Jose State, the first time that had happened in the same game since 2002. … Texas blocked a punt against UTEP last week, giving the Longhorns a nation-leading 50 blocked kicks this decade. … Texas A&M's win at New Mexico was the Aggies' first non-conference road victory since 2002.

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

    Chip Brown is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at cbrown@rivals.com.



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