10 players to watch in Big 12 bowls
Kansas State beat Michigan on Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to put the Big 12 at 1-0 in the postseason, but Baylor is the lone Big 12 team left that will be favored in its bowl game. Reaching .500 is asking a lot, but let’s take a closer look at 10 (or so) players who will decide whether or not the Big 12 makes it happen.
Cedric Reed and Jackson Jeffcoat, DEs, Texas: Marcus Mariota’s knee is healthy and Oregon’s offense gets far more dangerous when the quarterback run game is effective. Reed and Jeffcoat will have to pressure Mariota. Containing him on pass plays and staying home on the zone read to let linebackers make plays on Oregon’s running backs might be even more important. If that doesn’t happen, Texas has no shot to spring an upset of the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl.
Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury’s playing coy on his starting quarterback against Arizona State, but I’m buying on Brewer here, who could stake a claim as the future for Texas Tech at the position in his first career start. Baker Mayfield transferred after the regular season, and Brewer has competed with Davis Webb during bowl practices to start the Holiday Bowl, but a big night from Brewer could push the Red Raiders into an upset. Brewer got substantial action in the fourth quarter of the regular season finale against Texas and looked sharp. His arm strength is impressive, and after finally healing from a back injury and getting first-team reps, he could look like a new player in San Diego on Monday night.
Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: The Bears’ speedster left a big hole in the offense when he suffered a wrist injury against Oklahoma. He’s back, and sounds like he’s fitting back in nicely. "The timing, itâs going to take us three days to get that down. But for the first day back, going at this level of speed, I mean just really, really impressive," coach Art Briles said. "Itâs going to be a big boost for us." Two of Baylor’s three worst offensive outings this season (OSU, TCU) came with Reese on the sidelines. Quarterback Bryce Petty hasn’t had many receivers running free behind the defense over the last month, but that could change against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson, CBs, Oklahoma State: Missouri’s receivers are deep and have a ton of size. Tyler Patmon and Ashton Lampkin will have to play well, too, but Gilbert and Peterson will be tasked with slowing down Dorial Green-Beckham and breakout talent L’Damian Washington. Both had at least 800 yards receiving and 10 scoring grabs this season.
Jordan Wade and Chuka Ndulue, DTs, Oklahoma: Alabama wins games on the line of scrimmage and Oklahoma’s defensive line hasn’t made a ton of noise this season. If the Sooners are going to legitimately shock the world, it can’t get dominated in that matchup. Wade and Ndulue have to hold their own against the Tide’s powerhouse O-line and win battles on first and second down to force the Crimson Tide into some third and longs. Oklahoma won’t have a shot if that doesn’t happen.
Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech: Tech’s defense has given up an average of 294 rushing yards a game during its seven-game losing streak. Arizona State’s leading rusher, Marion Grice, won’t play (lower leg), but the Sun Devils are still a quality rushing offense and the Red Raiders D will be tested. If Hyder can plug up a few holes, it’ll go a long way toward freeing up Will Smith to make plays and allow Tech to slow down Todd Graham’s offense in the Holiday Bowl.
Texas’ offensive line: We saw Stanford do it. Can Texas do the same? The Longhorns have had one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12 this season, and Stanford beat Oregon in part by keeping the Ducks offense off the field with a bruising running game. Texas won’t have Daje Johnson or Johnathan Gray, but Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron can punish defenses and earn tough yards. Texas isn’t going to score 45 points and win a track meet with Oregon, but if it can slow the game down and control possession, the Longhorns could have a shot in the fourth quarter.
Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma: Oklahoma is often only as good as Trevor Knight’s completion percentage. The safe bet is for Knight to reclaim his starting spot, despite Blake Bell’s Bedlam heroics after Knight injured his shoulder. If Saunders can shake Alabama’s secondary and create some big windows for Knight to throw into, that completion percentage will look pretty at the end of the day. Saunders, too, has shown an ability to turn average plays into big plays with the ball in his hand in the open field.
Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor: UCF quarterback Blake Bortles would be one of the Big 12’s best passers this year, and if he has time, he’ll use his abilities to exploit weaknesses in the Bears’ defense. Look for DC Phil Bennett to get aggressive and trust his secondary to not allow big plays over the top. With Bryce Hager sidelined, Lackey may be the linebacker spending the most time in UCF’s backfield. Can he make Bortles uncomfortable and throw off the Knights’ offensive timing?
Josh Stewart, PR/WR, Oklahoma State: OSU and Missouri is pretty close to a tossup, but big plays can change that quickly. Stewart is OSU’s best big-play threat, and he can do it on offense and in the special teams. Two of his 20 punt returns have gone for touchdowns, including a 95-yarder against TCU. I don’t expect this game to be as high-scoring as some do, but if the points do start to rack up, OSU can only keep up if Stewart turns in a few big plays.