Tuesday, September 1, 2009
OSU ranks as Big 12's most productive offense
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at how I rank the Big 12 offenses heading into the season.
1. Oklahoma State – The conference’s most balanced offense also features the best rushing/receiving combination in Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant and one of the Big 12's best offensive linemen in Russell Okung. Zac Robinson still has meltdown moments, but he’s gotten much better with experience. The big questions will be finding a No. 2 receiver and a tight end to replace Brandon Pettigrew.
2. Oklahoma: The Sooners have the most productive quarterback in school history in Sam Bradford with the conference’s best backfield combination in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray and college football’s best tight end in Jermaine Gresham. The offensive line, however, isn’t nearly as good as some from the program's past. The line's development will largely determine if the Sooners can claim four-straight Big 12 titles.
3. Texas: Colt McCoy is back for his fourth season as starter and Jordan Shipley seemingly has been around long enough to collect a pension. That’s a great start. Vondrell McGee has emerged as a steady back who might end up earning the majority of carries running behind a deep offensive line. It will be interesting to see if they can find a tight end who will block consistently enough to keep the team from running multiple wide-receiver sets down the stretch. Developing that bruising running game will be the biggest challenge for the Longhorns.
4. Kansas: Todd Reesing might be the nation’s most underrated quarterback and the development of a tandem backfield in Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum will provide balance to the conference’s best receiving corps. It will be interesting to see how much better Kerry Meier can become by concentrating on offense. He adds with top deep threat Dezmon Briscoe, the underrated Jonathan Wilson and freshman addition Bradley McDougald. The Jayhawks’ title hopes will hinge on better pass blocking, particularly from new left tackle Tanner Hawkinson, a converted high school tight end.
5. Texas Tech: There are more questions with the loss of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, although Mike Leach seems very happy with Taylor Potts and his current group. The Red Raiders might be deeper at wide receiver with a collection of players than when Crabtree commandeered most of the catches. Baron Batch’s recovery from an elbow injury will be critical, but the Red Raiders have a big nasty offensive front keyed by All-Big 12 candidate Brandon Carter and the underrated Marlon Winn.
6. Baylor: Robert Griffin makes these guys go and he should be even more comfortable in his second season as a starter. Jay Finley might be one of the least-appreciated backs in the league and a deep collection of wide receivers will help boost production. The biggest concern will be the play of tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake, who will be replacing decorated former starters Jason Smith and Dan Gay.
7. Missouri: This offense will be different from the attack in the Chase Daniel era. Look for new coordinator David Yost to utilize a strong running game keyed by Derrick Washington, who is finally healthy after being hurt most of the second half of 2008. New quarterback Blaine Gabbert obviously doesn’t have the experience in the Tigers’ offense as Daniel, but he might have a better deep arm which will give Yost more chances to attack with long passes. It’s a typically deep collection of receivers with Danario Alexander poised for a breakout season if he can stay healthy.
8. Colorado: Other than the fact that Dan Hawkins can’t decide on a starting quarterback, this unit might be a little underrated and ready to blossom. I really like their collection of running backs with Darrell Scott poised to fulfill his recruiting promise. Rodney Stewart and Demetrius Sumler add different running styles behind a nice line keyed by Ryan Miller, Nate Solder and Mike Iltis. The passing game might sputter early as Markques Simas misses the first two games and Andre Simmons plays his way into the rotation after missing most of fall practice. But it might be surprisingly productive by the time conference play rolls around.
9. Nebraska: Lack of an experienced quarterback and tested running backs behind Roy Helu Jr. cause them to drop a little after Quentin Castille’s dismissal. I’m hearing the Cornhuskers will feature more deep passing with Zac Lee, which might allow receivers Menelik Holt and Niles Paul a chance to go deep. The best part of their offense is their five-headed monster at tight end keyed by Mike McNeill and Dreu Young. Ricky Henry’s emergence at right guard has enabled Jacob Hickman to stay at center where he’ll anchor a developing line.
10. Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson won the starting quarterback job this summer, but I was surprised that Ryan Tannehill will remain behind him as a backup rather than a wide receiver where he was the team’s leading receiver this season. Jeff Fuller might be one of the Big 12’s most underrated wide receivers and Jamie McCoy is a productive, pass-catching tight end. A bigger, stronger Cyrus Gray will get the start at tailback, although heralded freshman Christine Michael will push him for playing time. The biggest question remains an offensive line that struggled with injuries and produced only 89 yards rushing and 39 sacks. If they are healthy, they might be a surprise after last year’s consistent struggles.
11. Iowa State: New coordinator Tom Herman will attempt to retrofit his no-huddle attack that was so successful at Rice for the Cyclones. He has a tough, savvy quarterback in Austen Arnaud and a multi-talented running back in Alexander Robinson. Keep an eye out for Darius Reynolds who has emerged as the team’s slot receiver as Darius Darks overcomes a training-camp injury. The largest offensive line in FBS will be protecting Arnaud, but needs to do a better job of dominating at the point of attack.
12. Kansas State: Carson Coffman and Daniel Thomas were named as starters today by Bill Snyder. Coffman was effective at times last season as Josh Freeman’s backup, but remains a question mark as he takes over the starting job. The position changes of Lamark Brown and Logan Dold opened up the running back job in training camp and the 227-pound Thomas took advantage. Brandon Banks is a strong player who belies his size as a receiver and kick returner. The offensive line remains a question after a season-ending injury to Brock Unruh leaves only Nick Stringer and a cast of unknowns to share playing time.