Big 12: Arkansas Razorbacks

Position U: Running backs

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.

Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).

3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.

Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).

4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).

4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.

Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).

6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.

Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).

7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).

8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.

Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).

9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).

10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).

10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).

REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt

The Early Offer: Robinson's impact 

August, 28, 2013
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Cameron RobinsonGreg Ostendorf/ESPNFriday's decision by offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the No. 3 prospect in the ESPN 300, between LSU and Alabama could foreshadow the last five months of the 2014 cycle.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Cameron Robinson announces on Friday and his pick could go a long way toward determining who has the No. 1 class, TE DeAndre Goolsby is quickly climbing the charts of many recruiters, and Elijah Hood’s decision could help UNC lure one of nation’s top surprise classes.

Decision day set for Robinson
One of the most significant recruiting battles of the 2014 class will come to close Friday when the nation’s No. 3 overall player Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) announces his decision. Robinson, a five-star prospect, is a franchise offensive tackle that only comes around once every few classes, and the battle between LSU and Alabama is one that could set the tone for the rest of the recruiting season. If LSU lands him, then it could help the Tigers run the table with other high profile in-state recruits like No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette. That type of run could help the Tigers unseat the Tide from the top spot in the class rankings that it’s held for the last two years. If Alabama lands him, then the Tide basically locks up another No. 1 class with more than five months left in the recruiting calendar. Most projections, including RecruitingNation’s Hot Board, have Robinson leaning towards Alabama.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Weekend wrap: Big 12 

August, 19, 2013
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Big 12Even with recruits entrenched in two-a-day practices in advance of the coming season, many still are keeping their recruitment a priority. That includes two players who decided to get their commitments out of the way before the season.

Here’s a look at the players who headline the Big 12's weekend wrap:


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Big 12 recruiting mailbag

August, 9, 2013
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Time to open up the mailbag and answer some questions about recruiting in the Big 12.

From Judd Blevins on Twitter: Possibility of Oklahoma getting 2 more RBs in Joe Mixon and Nathan Starks are…?

William Wilkerson: Surprisingly decent. Not to say OU can’t pull two running backs of this caliber. It most certainly can. It’s just rare for two players as good as they are to end up in the same recruiting class, especially with ESPN 300 RB Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) already on board with Bob Stoops’ program.

It’s long been thought that Mixon would stay on the west coast and play for either USC or UCLA, but that sentiment seems to have shifted and OU is a big reason why. He will officially visit the Sooners on Oct. 4.

As for Starks, it is no secret that he has long admired OU for its ability to recruit out-of-state backs but also make them into NFL talent. He currently has the Sooners in his top three along with Notre Dame and USC.

From James Robinson on Twitter: Are there any high school TEs Texas will pursue in the 2014 or 2015 classes?

WW: There are. Right now, Texas has offered ESPN 300 TE Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, CA/La Mirada) and is trying to get him on campus for a visit. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound TE is the top at his position in the country. So interest is high from everyone but he has expressed the desire to get to Austin at some point.

As for 2015, the Longhorns have offered ESPN Junior 300 TE Jordan Davis (Houston/Clear Lake). But it doesn’t look like that will lead to anything. Davis originally committed to Florida State but has since switched his verbal pledge to Texas A&M.

Texas has gone to the junior college ranks for the second year in a row to pick up a tight end. John Thomas (Trinity Valley CC), who was originally committed to LSU out of high school, gave his verbal pledge in June.

From Gold n Blue Nation on Twitter: Dravon Henry seems to be down to Penn St. and WVU with Pitt running third. What is your prediction?

WW: This could go any way at this point. I think he’ll eventually stay close to home and stick with Penn State. But that could change, especially given that the Nittany Lions already have commitments from two safeties and two cornerbacks in 2014. That’s definitely an angle that I would be selling to Henry if I were WVU’s staff, who only has one defensive back commitment in junior college cornerback Jaylon Myers. Pitt and Aliquippa have a long and prosperous history together so you can’t count out the Panthers. The key here could be where teammate Jaleel Fields lands. Pitt and WVU seem to be the front-runners for him.

From Jason Mitchum on Twitter: Do you see Peyton Newell staying in-state?

WW: I think he’ll end up with Bo Pelini. Mitchum visited the Cornhuskers on June 15 for Big Red Weekend, which really seemed to cement things in the minds of many. For what it’s worth, Kansas and Kansas State are amongst his finalists, which he will choose from at his school on Aug. 30.

From Jacob Ledo on Twitter: Update on Kevin Shorter?

WW: Things are getting really interesting here. It looked like Arkansas and Texas A&M were going to go head-to-head for his commitment, but Texas is squarely in the mix now. He’s visited the Longhorns twice within the last two weeks so there is obvious interest there. The fact that he has pushed his college decision back because he needs more time doesn’t bode well for the two original contenders. The Longhorns need another running back and are selling him on the idea of being that vertical threat out of the backfield. Larry Porter has done an incredible job with getting Texas in the mix.
New Big 12 member TCU announced a series against Minnesota earlier this month. Sign up another Big 12 team for a solid home-and-home against a major conference opponent.

Texas Tech will play Arkansas in 2014 and 2015, hosting the Hogs first before heading to Fayetteville.

From our news story:
Not long ago, this was a conference game in the Southwest Conference. But now the two teams will face off for the first time since 1991, a season before Arkansas left for the SEC. By 1996, the Southwest Conference had folded and the Big 12 was born.

"Texas Tech and Arkansas had many memorable games while conference foes in the Southwest Conference, so this should be very exciting for the fans," Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said in a release. "We feel like we will be placing ourselves in great position as we kickoff the College Football Playoff era in 2014, with a non-conference opponent the caliber of Arkansas and a challenging Big 12 schedule."

Not much to say about this one. Great matchup, great series. With the advent of nine-game conference schedules, games like these could be increasingly rare. Anybody signing up to make them happen should be lauded. It's best for college football and helps us avoid having to sit through beatdowns of FCS teams.

When you make it a series like this with a little bit of hate and history, it's that much better.

Well done, Red Raiders.

The Big 12-SEC dream games

May, 16, 2013
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The SEC and Big 12 announced an annual challenge on the basketball court, but colleague Edward Aschoff wondered what it would look like if that challenge extended to the football field.

There are already two games on the schedule this season -- between TCU and LSU, and Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. What else would I like to see?

Let me start by saying that renewing the Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries are a given. I'm omitting those matchups, but I'd love to see them.

Let's get started:

Oklahoma State vs. Alabama: OSU narrowly missed out on playing for the national title back in 2011, and both are among their conference favorites again in 2013. When the BCS "snubbed" the Pokes after the 2011 regular season, OSU coach Mike Gundy half-jokingly suggested these two play for the right to play LSU in the title game. It would be fun to see this one finally played out on the field.

Baylor vs. LSU: Straight up offense vs. defense. That's the Big 12 vs. SEC debate at its heart. Baylor just might be the Big 12's best offense, and LSU will put together another strong defense. These are the matchups we want to see. The Big 12 has faltered on the big stage, helping the SEC stretch its run of national titles, but seeing Bryce Petty sling it around against an athletic defense would be a lot of fun.

Texas vs. Arkansas: Arkansas' exit from the Southwest Conference helped usher in the birth of the Big 12 after the SWC crumbled. Texas has bigger rivals like Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but these two played some of the greatest games in college football history, and as an Arkansas native, I've seen up close how much Razorbacks fans detest the Longhorns to this day. The result would be a great game and a hyped atmosphere.

TCU vs. Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans take exception to the idea that TCU was an on-field "upgrade" over the Aggies in the Big 12. The Aggies largely struggled in the Big 12 after some early success and a Big 12 title under R.C. Slocum. Since leaving for the SEC, the Aggies have gone nowhere but up, and ended 2012 as the hottest team in college football. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has a Heisman Trophy. Could he shred the Frogs? Want to prove TCU is not an upgrade? Beat TCU on the field.

Kansas State vs. Florida: Kansas State is perpetually underrated and wins with a bunch of junior college guys, and high school players overlooked by major programs. Florida won big under Urban Meyer, but has been largely overrated since Meyer left and was whacked by Louisville to end 2012. The Gators would be suiting up an army of recruiting stars, but could Bill Snyder, the Manhattan Magician, grab a win for the Big 12?

Oklahoma vs. Georgia: Mark Richt and Bob Stoops have one big thing in common: Neither fan base truly appreciates what their coach has accomplished. Consider this an opportunity for both to quiet the hot-seat talk. It's been a lot more intense for Richt, who endured a 6-7 season back in 2010, but he's won the SEC East in each of the past two seasons. Stoops has averaged just over 10 wins a season at Oklahoma, and Richt has averaged just under 10 wins. Call this the "Underappreciated Bowl."
DALLAS -- Kansas coach Charlie Weis spent a season as Florida's offensive coordinator under Will Muschamp in 2011. He joins Iowa State's Paul Rhoads (Auburn defensive coordinator in 2008) as the only Big 12 head coaches with experience in the SEC since its run of seven national titles began at the end of the 2006 season.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has been out of the SEC since his days as Florida's defensive coordinator from 1996-98, but made headlines with some sharp critiques of that conference's current status as college football's kingpin.

"You’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you. You’re more than smart enough to figure it out," Stoops told the Tulsa World. "Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?"

Stoops' comments have ignited something of a debate in the past week, but Weis, who hadn't heard anything of Stoops' comments until I informed him of them Thursday, says the Sooners coach is speaking the truth.

"Do you know the stats? In the SEC, the record of the good guys and the bad guys?" Weis asked ESPN.com in a recent interview.

"The stats" to which Weis is referring have appeared a few times on this blog, and paint the SEC as a league devoid of parity, at least last season. The conference's bottom eight teams went 0-30 against the top six teams in 2012.

"I’m just sayin’, you look at the bottom of our league and the bottom of their league, just going based off the numbers, there’s validity in what he said," Weis said. "I’m just going based off the numbers, I mean, I’m a numbers guy. Just based off the numbers, you’d have to say he’s got a point."

The Big 12 and SEC both sent nine teams to bowl games, but that number meant 90 percent of the Big 12 participated in the postseason, the highest number of any conference in college football history.

"We were the only team in the whole league that didn’t play in a bowl game. It was us. We were the sole member," Weis said. "You talk about bottom-feeders, you think Iowa State was a bottom-feeder?"

Certainly not. The Cyclones have reached bowl games in three of the past four seasons, never finishing the regular season with a record better than more than three Big 12 teams. Iowa State reached a bowl in spectacular fashion in 2011, upsetting BCS No. 2 Oklahoma State and derailing the Cowboys' national title hopes.

The Big 12 hasn't been able to beat the top of the SEC on the field in quite awhile, but Stoops, Weis and I are in agreement on at least one front: The bottom of the Big 12 is anything but a sure victory for any team in the league.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stirred up a healthy debate this week when he took a few shots at the SEC, the same league that's captured the last seven national championships.

"So they've had the best team in college football," Stoops told the Tulsa World. "They haven't had the whole conference. Because, again, half of 'em haven't done much at all. I'm just asking you. You tell me."

Stoops, who recruits players to Oklahoma and as such, the Big 12, has a responsibility to defend the league he coaches in, but he may have gone a little too far.

"So you're listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you," he said. "You're more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?"

What I don't understand about the ensuing uproar is this: People don't want to buy three statements I believe are true and far from being mutually exclusive:
  1. The Big 12 has the strongest bottom half of any conference in football.
  2. The SEC is the nation's best conference on the football field.
  3. Considering its reputation and the way people refer to it, the SEC is far overrated.

I agree with Stoops that the gap isn't as wide as people think, but fresh off a 28-point beatdown to an SEC team in the Cotton Bowl, now is probably not the time to be making that argument.

Fortunately, our colleagues at SportsNation have stepped in and taken Stoops' points to the people. How would you rank a Big 12/SEC 24-team superconference? You can fill out your own ranking here, but here's how I'd slot it:
  1. Alabama
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Georgia
  4. South Carolina
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. Florida
  7. TCU
  8. LSU
  9. Texas
  10. Oklahoma
  11. Baylor
  12. Kansas State
  13. Texas Tech
  14. Vanderbilt
  15. Ole Miss
  16. Mississippi State
  17. Auburn
  18. Missouri
  19. West Virginia
  20. Arkansas
  21. Iowa State
  22. Tennessee
  23. Kentucky
  24. Kansas

Thoughts on my ranking?

Champions Bowl headed to SEC territory

November, 6, 2012
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So much for JerryWorld.

The so-called Champions Bowl will essentially just be the new Sugar Bowl and be played in the Superdome in New Orleans, La, sources told ESPN.com.

From our news story:
New Orleans was chosen over the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Two weeks ago, SEC commissioner Mike Slive told ESPN.com those cities were the two finalists.

Sources said one of the factors why the Sugar Bowl was selected was the SEC's long history in New Orleans. An SEC team played in the inaugural Sugar Bowl in 1935 and SEC teams have been a staple with the bowl game since.

Besides New Orleans and Arlington, the other cities submitting bids for the Champions game were Atlanta, Houston and San Antonio.

The game will take the name of the Sugar Bowl as the Champions Bowl name was a temporary placeholder.

Money is money, and the SEC and Big 12 will share and $80 million payout for the game, the same amount the Pac-12 and Big Ten get for the Rose Bowl.

Still, I'm sure Big 12 coaches are really fired up about having to play SEC teams down on the Bayou.

See more about the game in our news story.

Big 12 falling further behind the SEC

October, 16, 2012
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The Big 12 lost its lead last week, but the SEC gained four full points on the Big 12 in this week's Conference Power Rankings from ESPN Stats and Info.

The Big 12 was hurt most by West Virginia’s loss to unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders," wrote Stats and Info's Sharon Katz. "West Virginia fell from fifth to 17 in the AP Poll and no Big 12 teams was able to regain the points lost by the Mountaineers."

Here's the full rankings:

That's a troubling trend for the Big 12, but Oklahoma will have a big chance to earn the Big 12 some nonconference respect next week when Notre Dame makes a trip to Norman.
The Big 12's held on all season, but the SEC finally passed it for the No. 1 spot in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings.

The Big 12 still has the No. 1 spot in the computer polls, but the Big 12 took a hit in the human polls after just four Big 12 teams showed up in Sunday's AP rankings. The SEC took the lead by a full point after steadily creeping up on the Big 12 since the rankings debuted.


What was the biggest factor for the move? From the Stats & Info Blog:
Losses by Top-5 teams LSU and Georgia did not impact the SEC’s conference ranking because they lost to teams that were also in the Top 10.

On the other hand, losses by TCU and Texas Tech impacted the Big 12 in the rankings since they lost to teams with worse records entering the game.

The computers still favor the Big 12 over the SEC due to the depth of the conference, but the gap has narrowed. The SEC’s dominance in the polls has vaulted the conference into first place for the first time since the final conference power rankings of the 2011 season.

It's going to be a tight race all season, but for now, the SEC's pulled ahead by a nose.
The Big 12 still has a lead over the SEC as ESPN Stats & Info's No. 1 conference, but it continues to grow smaller and smaller.

Last week, by way of grabbing four teams in the top six of the polls, the SEC took the lead over the Big 12 in the human polls.

The Big 12 still has the lead in the computers, but its overall lead is just half a point in this week's update. The Big 12 and SEC, however, are a healthy 12.5 points ahead of the Pac-12 at No. 3.

"The computers favor the Big 12 with nine of its 10 teams ranked in the top 34 out of 124 possible schools," writes the Stats and Info crew. "In comparison, only eight of 14 schools in the SEC rank in the top 34 by the computers."

SEC jumps over Big 12 in human polls

September, 25, 2012
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ESPN Stats & Information has released its latest iteration of the college football conference rankings, and the Big 12 has officially lost its lead over the SEC in the human polls.

The Big 12 still holds the overall lead, but it holds the No. 1 spot by only 0.9 points. Conversely, the Big 12 and SEC are ahead of the Pac-12 by nearly 11 points.

The Big 12 has a 25-3 record in nonconference play, the best of any conference, and two of those losses came by Kansas, the Big 12's 10th-place team.

Still, the SEC grabbed four of the nation's top six spots, and you can see that progress in the new conference rankings.

TCU and West Virginia gave the Big 12 a pair of wins over the ACC.

ESPN Stats & Information College Football Conference Power Rankings

 

Warhawks have Baylor's full attention

September, 21, 2012
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Early Saturday evening, Baylor trotted to the locker room down double digits to a Football Championship Subdivision team. Granted it was the nation's second-best FCS team a year ago, but still, Sam Houston State spends its time in college football's minor leagues.

After the game, the truth came out.

"Going around the locker room, we were saying 'You got to take them seriously,'" Bears defensive back Ahmad Dixon told the Dallas Morning News. "At first when we got a three-and-out, we were saying that this was about to be an easy ballgame. The offense goes out there and gets stopped. They came out and got a field goal, and we got our three points, and we realized that we were in a fight."

[+] EnlargeBrowning
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesQuarterback Kolton Browning helped Louisiana-Monroe beat Arkansas. Can he propel the Warhawks past the visiting Baylor Bears this week?
Baylor is not the first team to underestimate an opponent. It won't be the last. The Bears rallied for a 48-23 win, but if last week's scare wasn't enough, Art Briles' team will get even more help in not overlooking the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks tonight on ESPN at 8 ET.

"You hope your players are always ready regardless of the situation," Briles said. "But with what Louisiana-Monroe was able to do with Arkansas and the national attention they garnered from that, if you didn't have the amount of respect for them you should have, it certainly helped elevate it."

The Warhawks sat onetime Heisman candidate Tyler Wilson down with a concussion and rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat the Hogs in Little Rock in overtime. That earned them media-darling status for a week, and they were a trendy upset pick a week ago when they went on the road to face Auburn. The Warhawks took War Eagle to overtime but came up just short.

"They're just playing with a lot of effort, attitude, and they’ve got a lot of confidence right now," Briles said. "They’ve played two really good football teams on the road and went to overtime with both of them. So that's not a bad way to start it out."

Now Louisiana-Monroe returns home, and Baylor will be waiting for tonight's game. Monroe fans will be celebrating a whiteout as some 30,000 fans will welcome home the Sun Belt Squad That Could ... go toe-to-toe with the SEC West.

"It's going to be a good atmosphere," Briles said. "It's going to be a good chance for us to bond as a team and grow together in a hostile environment and lean on each other."

Warhawks QB Kolton Browning broke loose for the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Arkansas. He has already accounted for eight touchdowns this season, and the junior will be trying to kick off the 2012 home slate in style against the Bears, who showed some vulnerability against Sam Houston State.

"They do a good job. They spread it out, throw it. He's an extender," Briles said of Browning. "Once a play might be dead for some people, but he's able to keep it alive and make plays. He's really just been uncanny the first two weeks, and he’s certainly the catalyst for their football team."

Louisiana-Monroe should be an intriguing challenge, and Briles' job of getting his squad motivated for a team without much name recognition got a little easier these past two weeks. Combine that with Browning and the environment and Briles knows what's at stake tonight.

"It'll help prepare us for later on down the road when we get into Big 12 play," he said.

Big 12, SEC need to square off more

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
9:00
AM ET
Finally, it’s time. College football’s two best conferences will meet on the gridiron, with bragging rights at stake.

The Big 12. The SEC. Head to head. Get excited.

... Wait, what?

It’s Texas and Ole Miss? As in, No. 12 Texas and Ole Miss, who was picked to finish last in the SEC West after winning two games a year ago and firing its coach.

Sigh. Nevermind.

The two leagues’ only 2012 meeting will take place in Oxford on Saturday, but could you draw up a worse representation of the two leagues?

The annual Big 12-SEC debate, at its core, is a simple one: Offense vs. Defense. The SEC swept both meetings in 2011, but both involved the SEC’s top spread attack, Arkansas, and one of those games involved Texas A&M, who’s now an SEC member.

On Saturday, the Big 12’s best defense (and No. 8 offense a year ago) will take on the Rebels, who, well, weren’t good at much of anything a year ago, and finished last in total defense and 11th in total offense.

In each of the past two seasons, the two leagues have scheduled just one regular-season matchup, and played once in the Cotton Bowl.

There’s hope in the future: West Virginia will meet Alabama in Atlanta to open the 2014 season. Oklahoma will play a home-and-home against Tennessee in 2014 and 2015, and the same against LSU in 2018 and 2019. Kansas State is scheduled to host Auburn in 2014. TCU is scheduled for a home-and-home against Arkansas in 2015 and 2016, right after it finishes a home-and-home with LSU in 2013 and 2014.

Next year, Texas hosts Ole Miss as the back half of the home-and-home, and there's a chance Oklahoma State and Mississippi State meet in Houston to kick off the season.

For both leagues, more meetings would be a win-win. The SEC can strengthen the debatable premise that it’s the nation’s best league. Yearly Big 12 beatdowns would assure that.

Head-to-head wins by the Big 12 (along with a national title or two) would boost the league into the SEC’s equal, an idea that’s not as far as it seems even now.

The best piece of news for fans clamoring for more? The Champions Bowl.

The Cotton Bowl provides the biggest stage for the two teams to meet, but the SEC has dominated that rivalry, winning eight of the last nine games. The Big 12’s lone winner — Missouri in 2007 — left for the SEC after 2011.

The Champions Bowl provides a better game, a bigger stage and more money. The details of the game (site, cash payouts, television deal) still have to be ironed out, but when it's done, there's no doubt it will stake a claim as one of the game's best postseason exhibitions.

There’s a natural rivalry between the two leagues fostered on and off the field now, after Texas A&M and Missouri spurned the league they helped found to become the SEC’s 13th and 14th members.

The Big 12 says it’s stronger with TCU and West Virginia as replacements, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that’s the case. The only way to know? Prove it on the field.

Of course, Texas and Kansas hold the key to two more Big 12-SEC matchups, but refuse to make them happen. Texas A&M and Missouri were the other half to two of college football’s oldest rivalries. For now, both are dead. If (and it’s a big if) Texas and Kansas change their minds, the two leagues can add two more annual meetings. Don’t count on that any time soon.

The Big 12’s new nine-game conference schedule helps up the Big 12’s TV money with a better inventory of games to sell TV networks, but further discourages any difficult nonconference games.

The Champions Bowl will help foster more on-field meetings between the leagues. It won’t every be the SEC champion vs. the Big 12 champion as advertised, but it’s guaranteed to be two really good teams from both leagues, followed up by another matchup with between the leagues in the Cotton Bowl.

This weekend’s no reason to get excited about the two leagues colliding.

The Champions Bowl is. It provides a much-needed, high-demand matchup between college football’s best leagues.

In short, it makes college football better. With rampant scandal and realignment threatening to do the opposite, that’s a welcome development.

That game will thrive, and because of it, so will the two leagues who helped make it happen.

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