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[2023] Big XII Network Week 1 Saturday Evening Preview

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Saturday Evening


:okst: #11/#8 Oklahoma State (0-0) at :zona: Arizona (0-0) (+13)


Oklahoma State opens up in primetime on the road against an Arizona team that last year allowed just 19.4 points per game--and scored even fewer. The Wildcats finished 5-7 in large part due to not having a capable quarterback: Adam Slone finished with 7 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and he lost his job over the offseason to junior college transfer Christian Noonan. Noonan ought to be an improvement over Slone, but he won't fix the Arizona offense overnight. The receiving corps is mostly the same as last year's, and that unit had 10 drops compared to their 7 touchdown catches. Zion Carroll led them all with 439 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns, and he's the top man on the depth chart this year. Last year, the run game had to take precedence over all--and Josiah Smallwood made it work as well as he could with a surprisingly good true freshman campaign. He ran for 1215 yards and 16 touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry, and Oklahoma State will have to be prepared for him. Look for Amir Pryor to take point from the nose tackle spot, with Cael Bruce crashing inward as well and freshman linebacker Jurrell Jordan coming off the edge. But they'll be going head-on against a tough Arizona offensive line, which is perhaps the strongest unit of the whole team. If Oklahoma State overcomes that matchup, the rest of the game will be a cinch. They can probably afford to stack the box and engage the linebackers in the run stop effort, because Sebastian Byrd, Prince Pruitt, and company can probably handle the passing game without a lot of help. I don't expect Arizona's offense to look great in this one, but if their defense were similar to last year's defense then they'd have a fighting shot. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they lost a ton on that side of the ball. Gone are Eric Hall, Shamar Chavis, Tyler Toney, and Darnell Herron: that's 9 interceptions, 11 passes defended, 11.5 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss of production lost. They still have a solid front line with Tyriek Humphrey (8.5 sacks, 4 TFL) and Gabriel Darwin-Turner at defensive end, and last year's top two tacklers in Adam Norman (31 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD, 2 FF) and J.T. Raji (32 tackles, 3 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF) are back to lead the linebacker unit. That will make Amral Brown's life difficult in his opener. But Ian Baldwin could have himself a game against a less inspiring secondary. Samuel Barfield and Jeremy Bridges should both win their matchups on the outside, and if Albert Wenzel, Misael Farias, or tight end Mark Westbrook steps up as a third option then Baldwin will have a field day. I don't expect it to come easy for the Cowboys, but I don't expect them to give Arizona much room to breathe and I think they'll win easily in the desert.


:okst: #11/#8 Oklahoma State 24, :zona: Arizona 10

:nebraska: Nebraska (0-1) at :ttu: Texas Tech (0-0) (-2.5)


Closing out this week's slate will be two teams with as many question marks as anybody else after winning a combined 20 games last season. After graduating Sean Connell and Franklin Riggins, Nebraska welcomed a challenge from defending national champion Auburn, and it couldn't have gone much more poorly than it did. Freshman quarterback Lucas Elizondo threw for 134 yards and 2 interceptions on 15-of-34 passing, Hakeem Nixon had 45 yards on just 11 carries, and Auburn rushed for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 35-3 walkover. Elizondo will get another shot against Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders will try and keep him off-balance and under pressure to coax a similar performance out of him. Curtis Jones can break a tie for the Big XII sack record with even a partial sack, and Zac Huntley will make his debut on the other side of the defensive line. Nebraska will probably try to lean more on Nixon this time around, so the two ends keeping him contained on those edge runs will be crucial. It's then up to Austin Callahan and Shawntez Currie to clean things up on the outside. If Nebraska tries to throw, their receivers have the advantage over the Red Raiders' cornerbacks; Calvin McKay and Alshon Collier are both very talented players. McKay put up 1095 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as Connell's favorite target. But if Elizondo can't find them, it won't matter. For Texas Tech, Hayden Dyer ought to see the most action he's seen in his five-year career. Looking at Nebraska's game against Auburn, the best thing they did was hold Dominick Sherman to 14-of-26 through the air and intercept him once. The secondary may not look good on paper, but Marc Brice had 7 interceptions last year, Kayden Gibbs had 6, and freshman safety Javon Hargrove had a brilliant game against Auburn (1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF, 7 tackles) so it's not something to sleep on. With Grayson Gillette being the first quarterback Texas Tech's relied on as an actual passer since Chase Shapiro in 2019, that's good reason to ease him in slowly. The defensive front couldn't get any push at all against Auburn's line, and they probably won't against Texas Tech's either. Their best players are true freshmen; Damiano Fiorelli was the only Cornhusker with a tackle for loss. Dyer has speed to burn, he's showed flashes of explosiveness as a complementary runningback and as a returner, and Nebraska will have their hands full trying to contain him. I think Nebraska will give the Red Raiders a better fight than they gave Auburn, but it's a very thin team that Texas Tech can and should beat.


:ttu: Texas Tech 28, :nebraska: Nebraska 17


Byes: :kstate: Kansas State (0-0), :wvu: West Virginia (0-1), :baylor: Baylor (1-0), :tcu: #2 TCU (1-0), :texas: Texas (0-0)

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