Big 12 Preview 2006 - Top 5s
Posted Aug 9, 2006 2006 Big 12 Preview Top 5s

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 1) The five games that will shape the Big 12 race (in order)

Oct. 7, Texas vs. Oklahoma
After UT's win last year, the rivalry has lost its one-sided flavor. This is where Mack Brown has to start a run over Bob Stoops.
Oct. 21, Texas at Nebraska
This might be a preview of the Big 12 championship. Nebraska gets USC earlier in the season, and here it gets the other 2006 Rose Bowl participant.
Oct. 28, Texas at Texas Tech
If Tech wants to be more than just an also-ran in the South, this is the home game it must have.
Nov. 4, Oklahoma at Texas A&M
This is a dangerous game for the Sooners coming off an equally tough road trip to Missouri. OU plays four road games in five weeks while the Aggies need this win before finishing up with Nebraska and a road trip to Texas.
Nov. 18, Missouri at Iowa State
Iowa State has held its Big 12 North title fate in its hands in each of the last two seasons and blew both shots. Considering how good Nebraska and Colorado should be, the Cyclones likely can't win the North without a regular-season finale victory over Missouri.

2) Five non-conference games that Big 12 teams had better take very, very seriously
1. Missouri at New Mexico, Sept. 16
The Lobos aren't as good as they were in past seasons, but they have just enough on both sides of the ball to pull off an upset if Missouri isn't focused.
2. UNLV at Iowa State, Sept. 9
UNLV got a good influx of talent this off-season from the JUCO ranks. If Mike Sanford's spread offense is humming and if Iowa State is worrying about the following week's game at Iowa, there could be trouble.
3. South Florida at Kansas, Sept. 23
Points will be hard to come by. This is a nasty game for KU to deal with coming off a road trip to Toledo.
4. Texas Tech at UTEP, Sept. 9
Jordan Palmer and the UTEP passing game should be able to hang punch-for-punch with the high-octane Red Raider attack.
5. Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M, Sept. 23
A&M isn't good enough to take anyone lightly. The Big 12 opener against Texas Tech is the following week.

3) Five best Big 12 pro prospects
1. Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, Jr. - 220 carries, 1,104 yards, 5.0 ypc, 14 TD, 9 catches, 50 yards
He's saying it's not a given he'll be off to the big league next year, but it'll be a shock if he sticks around to put another 300+ carries of mileage on. He's already one of the favorites for the Heisman and the accolades won't stop coming all season long, so watch as many try to look for the negatives and the knocks. 
2. Texas OL Justin Blalock, Sr.
He would've likely been a top 15 pick had he come out this season, and now he'll be the anchor of one of the nation's best run blocking lines. He moves well in pass protection and is a steamroller for the ground game.
3. Texas DE Tim Crowder, Sr. - 50 tackles, 3 sacks, 9 TFL, 1 interception, 20 quarterback pressures
One of the nation's premier pass rushers, the 6-4, 270-pound senior has 42 quarterback pressures over the last two seasons and should grow into an All-America caliber player if he can be a bit more consistent. He has the size to be like a third tackle against the run and the speed burst to fly around the corner like a much smaller player.
4. Nebraska DE Adam Carriker, Sr. - 43 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 17 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 19 quarterback hurries
After an average 2004 thanks to an ankle injury, the 6-6, 294-pound Carriker blossomed into an unstoppable pass rushing force. He wasn't just great at getting to the quarterback, he was rock-solid against the run and made play after player when he wasn't double teamed. He's looking stronger and quicker this season and should be in the mix for All-America honors.
5. Texas SS Michael Griffin, Sr. - 124 tackles, 4 interceptions, 8 broken up passes, 5 quarterback pressures, 3 fumble recoveries, 4 blocked kicks
238 career tackles isn't bad for a former running back. Michael Huff won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back last season, but it could be argued that Griffin had the better year. He's one of the nation's best defensive backs with next level playmaking ability and unlimited range. He's a master at blocking punts and is great at forcing turnovers. A sure tackler, he came up with 23 stops against Texas A&M and 14 against Baylor.

4) Five biggest Big 12 shoes to fill 
1. Texas QBs Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead for Vince Young
McCoy and Snead will combine forces to try to keep the offense moving. Neither will be asked to make big plays early on, but at some point, someone will have to come up with the game-changing play that Young was able to pull out of his hat. Obviously, the faster the light goes on for one of these two, the better. 
2. Missouri QB Chase Daniel for Brad Smith
The surprise winner of the backup job last year, Daniel saw meaningful time in place of a dinged up Brad Smith leading the Tigers to a win over Iowa State with an impressive 16 of 23 performance for 185 yards and a touchdown. He's not going to run like Smith did, but he's not a statue with good mobility and speed. He's a tough competitor who should add more of a passing element to the attack over the next few years than Smith was able to.
3. Texas Tech RB Shannon Woods for Taurean Henderson
Woods has some huge shoes to fill replacing Taurean Henderson and his 69 career touchdowns, 3,241 rushing yards, and 2,058 receiving yards. He has 4.4 speed and has been a top kick returner, and now he appears ready to be a do-it-all star like Henderson. Fine, so he's not going to be Henderson and there has to be a bit of a concern after a mediocre spring when he had problems with an ankle injury and has had problems as a receiver and in pass blocking, but he's talented enough to overcome his issues.
4. Kansas LB Joe Mortensen for Nick Reid
A good-sized outside defender, the 245-pound sophomore saw time in every game last season. He has tackling ability making 171 tackles his senior year in high school in Oakland, California. He won't be Reid, but he'll be expected to grow into one of the team's top tacklers.
5. Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee for Reggie McNeal
McGee stepped in when needed last year and did a solid job of keeping the offense moving, and then he came close to stunning Texas by rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the 40-29 loss. He's a fantastic prospect with 4.5 speed and better passing skills than he showed last season. He set the Texas 3A state record for touchdown passes with 101, and has a live arm and terrific size at 6-2 and 207 pounds. Now he has to prove he can lead the team like McNeal did.

5) Five Big 12 breakout players
1. Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell, Soph. - 37-55, 422 yds, 67%, 3 TD
Neck-and-neck with Hodges for the starting job last season, Harrell suffered a broken leg and lost out by default. He was able to return to be the number two passer and get a little bit of playing time making his biggest impact in light duty against Texas A&M. He has a great grasp of the offense for being such a young player and has a nice, accurate arm. He's not going to be a runner like Hodges was.
2. Colorado QB Bernard Jackson, Jr. - 8 carries, 10 yds 
Basically the old coaching staff didn't know what to do with him. Jackson is a very fast, very talented athlete who was kept under wraps and used sparingly as a runner and a receiver. He's not even close to being the most accurate passer in the quarterback derby with Brian White and James Cox, but he's so fast and so explosive that it might be impossible to keep him off the field.
3. Texas A&M RB Mike Goodson, Fr.
Considered be many to be the top running back recruit in Texas this year, the 6-0, 205-pound Goodson is equally good at running and receiver. He has tremendous speed and will eventually be used on kick returns.
4. Oklahoma OT Brandon Walker, Jr.
The superstar JUCO transfer will instantly push for time. He's 318 pounds and can move, so it remains to be seen if he'll step in and push Branndon Braxton for the job on the right side or find a spot on the inside. His emergence should shuffle the rotation.
5. Texas LB Sergio Kindle, Fr.
He did a little of everything for Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas rushing for 5,632 yards and 86 touchdowns and making 411 tackles in his career. He's 6-4 and 225 pounds and fast enough to be a sprinter on his high school track team. After coming to school early, he'll back up Robert Killebrew on the strongside.