Big 12 teams hit the road for non-conference tests

The Big 12 has dominated non-conference play so far this season,
going 14-1 through the first two weeks.

That gaudy mark will be tested this weekend, with four Big 12
schools hitting the road for intriguing matchups against
BCS-affiliated opponents.

Top-ranked Oklahoma (1-0) travels to face No. 5 Florida State on
Saturday in a game that could have a major impact on the BCS
race.

No. 24 Texas (2-0) will play a UCLA team that embarrassed the
Longhorns in Austin a year ago.

Surprising Iowa State (2-0), which knocked off rival Iowa 44-41
in a triple-overtime stunner on Saturday, takes on Connecticut
(1-1) Friday night in a rare national TV appearance for the
Cyclones, and Kansas (2-0) plays at Georgia Tech (2-0).

How these matchups pan out could go a long way in determining
how strong the Big 12 is in 2011 – and the country’s perception of
a league in turmoil with Texas A&M eager to leave and others —
including the Sooners — reportedly being courted to go
elsewhere.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops says his players are just focused on
the Seminoles.

”You can’t help but be a little more excited. Guys just
naturally are. They understand all that’s at stake and the
challenge of going down there and the fact that the whole country
wants to see it. You don’t have to say much,” Stoops said.

Oklahoma routed Florida State 47-17 in Norman a year ago. But
the Seminoles figure to be much tougher this time – especially at
home – and have beaten their first two opponents, Louisiana-Monroe
and Charleston Southern, by a combined score of 96-10.

The Sooners had an extra week to prepare after drubbing Tulsa
47-14 in their opener.

”They’re just much more comfortable and sure of their self and
what they’re doing,” Stoops said of Florida State, now in its
second season under coach Jimbo Fisher. ”That really sticks
out.”

UCLA’s 34-12 blowout of the Longhorns a year ago was the first
sign of trouble in a season that quickly went downhill. Texas (2-0)
has won its first two games in 2011 in relatively unspectacular
fashion, needing a late rally to get past the Cougars in Austin,
17-16, and starting slow in a win over Rice.

Coach Mack Brown said that the key to beating the Bruins will
likely come from his defense.

UCLA (1-1) ran all over Texas last season, controlling the clock
for more than 35 minutes without even bothering to establish its
passing game.

”We need to stop the run. Last year they rushed for 264 yards
against us and were more physical than we were. They forced us into
about eight mistakes during the ball game,” Texas coach Mack Brown
said. ”They outcoached us and they outplayed us, so it’s a real
challenge for us.”

The Cyclones, picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 this season,
could be a lot better than many thought now that they’ve found a
quarterback in junior college transfer Steele Jantz. He was shaky
for much of Iowa State’s 20-19 win over Northern Iowa on Sept. 3,
but was much, much better in Saturday’s thriller over the
Hawkeyes.

Jantz, the Big 12’s offensive player of the week, threw for 279
yards and four touchdowns and kept Iowa State’s hopes alive with
his feet time and time again in the second half and in extra
time.

None of that will mean much, though, if Jantz and the Cyclones
can’t build off that win with a strong showing against the Big
East’s Huskies with one less day to prepare.

”You’ve got to get your minds focused on the next game, and
more specifically on the preparation of the next game,” coach Paul
Rhoads said. ”If we have good preparation we’ll have confidence
going into Friday.”

Kansas has hardly been world beaters through two weeks, ranking
96th in the nation with 33 points allowed per game, but the
Jayhawks have their first winning streak since Turner Gill took
over as coach last season.

Still, Kansas knows beating the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta will
be much tougher then getting past McNeese State and Northern
Illinois in Lawrence.

Georgia Tech (2-0) and its option running attack have been sharp
so far, ranking second nationally with 56 points per game and third
with 339.5 yards rushing. The Jayhawks have shown promise behind
sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb, but they’ll need more out of
their defense moving forward.

”We need to create turnovers,” Gill said. ”That’s the one big
area where we need to see improvement.”

The rest of the Big 12’s teams will be favored to get through
this weekend unscathed. No. 8 Oklahoma State (2-0) plays its first
road game at Tulsa (1-1) and No. 9 Texas A&M (1-0) hosts Idaho.
Texas Tech (1-0) will visit New Mexico (0-2), which got hammered by
Arkansas 52-3 on Saturday. Kansas State (1-0) hosts Kent State,
Missouri (1-1) hosts Western Illinois and No. 19 Baylor (1-0) hosts
Stephen F. Austin.