Big 12 Week 4 Preview and Predictions

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Athlon previews the Week 4 action in the Big 12.

<p> Big 12 Week 4 Preview and Predictions</p>

Non-conference play highlights the majority of the college football action this Saturday in the Big 12. Two teams take on opponents from the ACC (Virginia vs. TCU and Maryland vs. West Virginia), while Kansas travels to Northern Illinois and Baylor takes on Louisiana-Monroe. The biggest game of the Week 4 slate in the Big 12 is Oklahoma hosting Kansas State.

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Big 12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 4

1. What does Kansas State need to do in order to upset Oklahoma?
Outside of the 2003 Big 12 Championship, the Wildcats haven’t had much success against Oklahoma. Kansas State has lost its last four games by at least 12 points to the Sooners, while its last victory in a regular season matchup came in 1997. Needless to say, the odds aren’t in the Wildcats’ favor for Saturday’s game. For Kansas State to knock off Oklahoma, its secondary has to play its best game of the year, while the offense has to move the ball through the air. Collin Klein is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, but he managed only 150 yards in last season’s meeting against the Sooners. While Klein has carried the team on his back, he needs other players to step up. Running back John Hubert opened the year with back-to-back 100-yard efforts, while receiver/return specialist Tyler Lockett has just nine touches on offense this season. If the Wildcats open up the offense some, they should be able to move the ball on Oklahoma. However, can they stop the Sooners? Kansas State has allowed 251 passing yards per game this year – a bad sign after playing Missouri State, Miami and North Texas.

2. Will Maryland’s defense slow down West Virginia’s offense?
The Mountaineers have been nearly flawless through the first two weeks of the season, averaging 55.5 points and 612 yards per game. Quarterback Geno Smith has thrown only nine incompletions, while tossing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, will Smith and West Virginia’s offense struggle against Maryland this Saturday? The Terrapins rank sixth nationally in pass defense and are allowing only 19 points a game. A deeper look into those numbers suggests the Terrapins have yet to be tested. Temple and Connecticut both attempted less than 20 passes against Maryland, and neither possesses the firepower that the Mountaineers have. Although the Terrapins’ defensive line could create a few issues for Smith, the only thing that could slow down West Virginia’s offense at this point is turnovers and penalties. 

3. Can Oklahoma slow down Collin Klein once again?
In last season’s 58-17 win over Kansas State, Oklahoma limited Klein to just 150 overall yards. There’s no question Klein is the most valuable member of the Wildcats’ offense, so stopping him will be crucial for the Sooners. Oklahoma’s defense features a revamped front seven, which is allowing 134 rushing yards per game through their first two games of 2012. Expect the Sooners to try and make Klein one-dimensional and force Kansas State to win this game through the air. If the Wildcats can establish Klein and running back John Hubert, they should be able to control the clock and hang around this game deep into the fourth quarter.

4. Can Baylor avoid the upset?
Considering what has transpired the first two weeks of the season, the Bears certainly won’t take Louisiana-Monroe lightly. The Warhawks knocked off Arkansas in Week 2 and nearly won at Auburn last Saturday. Baylor is coming off a sluggish performance against Sam Houston State, as it trailed at halftime before rallying for a 48-23 victory. Louisiana-Monroe is a dangerous opponent for the Bears, especially with the confidence it has developed playing SEC teams over the last two weeks. Expect quarterback Kolton Browning to test Baylor’s secondary, especially since it ranks 113th nationally by allowing 323.5 yards per game. The Bears should be able to move the ball against Louisiana-Monroe’s defense, but this is a game where a turnover or key play on special teams could swing the momentum in favor of the underdog.

5. Will TCU’s defense continue to dominate?
With only five returning starters, some expected the Horned Frogs would take a while to find the right pieces on defense. However, this defense has been dominant through the first two games of the season, shutting out Grambling in the season opener and holding Kansas to six points last week. Sophomore linebacker Joel Hasley has been one of the season’s biggest surprises, recording 17 tackles and two sacks, while freshman defensive end Devonte Fields has 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. The competition steps up a notch this Saturday, as Virginia visits Fort Worth. The Cavaliers have scored only 18.5 points a game against BCS teams this season and rank 107th nationally in rushing offense. Virginia has struggled on the offensive line, which is bad news against TCU’s disruptive defensive line.  Although the Cavaliers should present the toughest offense TCU has played against this year, the Horned Frogs still have a decided edge in this matchup.

6. Will Kansas’ defense slow down Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch?
Although the Jayhawks are allowing 433.7 yards per game, they are giving up just 20.7 points each contest. A big reason why the defense has been able to hold opponents out of the end zone has been turnovers and sacks. The defense has generated six sacks and 12 turnovers through the first three games, which is crucial for a unit that lacks depth, speed and talent. Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 last season and will present another tough challenge for the Jayhawks once again. Quarterback Jordan Lynch recorded 467 overall yards in the win over Army and has 10 overall scores through the first three weeks of the season. The Huskies have been struggling to establish a consistent ground attack from its running backs, but Lynch has been a difference marker on the ground and has been hitting a few big plays in the passing game. Kansas will allow some yards to Lynch, but it cannot allow the junior quarterback to run wild on Saturday.

7. Will Lache Seastrunk receive more playing time?
One of the biggest surprises in the Big 12 through the first three weeks of the season has been the lack of playing time for Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk. The Oregon transfer has been productive with his limited opportunities, averaging 13.5 yards per rush on four attempts. Starter Jarred Salubi is averaging 5.8 yards per rush on 30 attempts and is clearly the No. 1 back for Baylor. However, Seastrunk is an important weapon and his big-play ability would be an extra boost to an offense that is already one of the best in the Big 12. Is Friday night the game Seastrunk has a breakout performance?

8. Where does James Sims fit in for Kansas’ offense?
The Jayhawks are averaging 178.3 yards per game on the ground and should get a boost with the return of James Sims this weekend. Sims missed the first three games due to a suspension but led the team with 727 yards and nine rushing scores last year. Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox have been solid, but Sims is the most complete back on the roster. With three capable running backs, Charlie Weis needs to find a way to get plenty of opportunities for each player and get them onto the field at the same time. Sims could reclaim the starting job at some point this year, but Pierson and Cox will likely handle the bulk of the workload in Week 3.

Week 4 Big 12 Predictions

Big 12 Games David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Baylor at ULM ULM 42-35 Baylor 38-24 Baylor 41-31 Baylor 38-24
Maryland at W. Virginia WVU 52-10 WVU 41-21 WVU 45-17 WVU 41-10
Virginia at TCU TCU 21-17 TCU 31-21 TCU 30-13 TCU 27-17
Kansas at Northern Illinois N. Illinois 14-10 N. Illinois 31-28 Kansas 31-27 N. Illinois 31-30
K-State at Oklahoma K-State 21-17 Oklahoma 34-24 Oklahoma 38-27 Oklahoma 36-21
Last Week: 8-0 8-0 8-0 8-0
Season Record:  23-2 22-3 22-3 23-2


by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven


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