It's so much more than McCoy vs. Suh
It's nearly time to determine a Big 12 champion. As the case at various times during its inception, the Big 12 championship game carries national ramifications. A Texas victory and the Longhorns are likely headed to the BCS Championship game to play the winner of the Alabama-Florida SEC title game.
What should you expect from the Big 12 title game? Keep an eye on these five keys to the game.
1. Texas' defense vs. Nebraska's run game
Texas' defense struggled as a whole in a 49-39 victory over Texas A&M, giving up season-highs for total yards and points. The biggest area of concern might be the 190 rushing yards allowed. The Texas defense has been at or near the top against the run all season. But A&M found a way to run the football.
Can Nebraska do the same? They have a physical offensive line and hard-nosed runners like Plano's Rex Burkhead, coming off his best game of the season with 100 yards rushing on 18 carries in a win over Colorado. Nebraska didn't generate much offense against Colorado (217 yards), but they did rush the ball for 144 yards and won the battle of time possession. They'll have to do that again to control the tempo of the game. Texas, meanwhile, will be looking for redemption after the Thanksgiving struggles. It should be an interesting matchup.
2. Dallas-area Longhorns on the big stage
Many of the Longhorns' starters are from the Dallas area. Woodrow Wilson's Sergio Kindle leads a group of talented local players that could make an impact. Defensive end Sam Acho and his brother, Emmanuel Acho, a linebacker, are from St. Mark's. Three starting offensive linemen -- Kyle Hix (Aledo), Chris Hall (Irving) and Adam Ulatoski (Southlake) -- hail from the area.
That list also includes: WRs Marquise Goodwin (Rowlett), John Chiles (Mansfield Summit) and Malcolm Williams (Garland), running back Tre' Newton (Southlake) and linebacker Keenan Robinson (Plano East). And those are just the starters. Many more area players should have an impact for Texas.
But the one to watch is Kindle. After a stellar junior season, Kindle returned to campus with high expectations. He's played well, but hasn't put up the kind of numbers many expected. He has three sacks after finishing with 10 in 2008. But he's still disrupting offenses and leading this stout Texas defense.
3. It's not just the Shipley show
At times this season, it's seemed like Colt McCoy-to-Jordan Shipley defined the Texas passing game. But that has not been the case the last few weeks. Other receivers have emerged, and that's helped make the offense even more dangerous.
Malcolm Williams has had consecutive 100-yard games with 15 combined catches and a touchdown. James Kirkendoll had two TDs against Kansas and two more against Texas A&M, to go along with 12 combined catches for 149 yards. Look for John Chiles and Dan Buckner to make some plays too.
Don't misunderstand: Shipley is still the No. 1 target. But McCoy is able to move the football around. And if Nebraska keys on Shipley, other receivers must make plays. The last few weeks, they've certainly done that.
4. McCoy's last chance to impress Heisman voters
Plenty of eyes will be on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on Saturday. In a wide-open Heisman race, it's his final opportunity to show voters that he deserves the title as the best college football player in the country. The last few weeks, he's sure looked like it.
McCoy is going against the best defense he's faced all season. Nebraska is third in the nation in scoring defense (11.1 points per game) and 11th in total defense. They can get pressure on McCoy, something defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh does by himself.
McCoy said this week that the offense has to be aware of where Suh is on every play. But if McCoy can put up solid numbers against this type of defense and lead his team to the Big 12 championship and a spot in the national title game, he's got a great chance to win the Heisman.
5. Field position
One underrated part of Nebraska's success this season is the ability to control field position.
Punter Alex Henery has placed 26 of his 65 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He's managed to pin the other team inside the 3-yard line eight times. It's going to be critical that Nebraska make McCoy go the distance of the field as often as possible. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs for Nebraska, and 40 percent of his kicks are touchbacks, tops in the Big 12.
Still, containing Texas' threats in the return came won't be easy. Shipley has the ability to make a long return on a punt anytime. He has two touchdowns off punts this season. Marquise Goodwin has done a nice job on kickoff returns, with a nearly 25-yard average and a touchdown.
Nebraska must win the field position battle to have a shot at upsetting Texas.
Other quick keys
Richard Durrett covers college sports for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.