Big 12: 2010 midseason team reports

Midseason review: Baylor

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
11:30
AM ET
Baylor Bears

Record: 4-2 (1-1 Big 12)

The goal for Baylor is clear: Bowl or bust. Through six games, the Bears are right on track for the former, even with a tough loss to Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. The Bears were dominant in their first three wins and dominated in their first loss to TCU, but crunch time for the Bears is right now. They travel to Colorado on Saturday and host Kansas State next weekend for two very winnable games, two games that would officially give the Bears bowl eligibility. Drop either game, and the Bears would have to steal an upset on a four-game gauntlet of Big 12 South teams (at Texas, at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma), four games which should all feature Baylor in a clear underdog role. The Bears beat Texas A&M solidly in Waco, 41-21, the last time the two teams played and Baylor had Robert Griffin. The Bears have a much-improved defense that ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring defense. To knock off Colorado and Kansas State and relieve some of the pressure down the stretch, they'll have to continue that.

Offensive MVP: QB Robert Griffin – Griffin has returned and been better than ever, and is a dark-horse candidate as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He's set career highs in two consecutive weeks with 380 and 384 passing yards and has shown off an improved deep ball, throwing touchdowns of 34 and 62 yards against Texas Tech. He's also run for 239 yards on 55 carries, including a 30-yard touchdown among his six scores on the ground. Griffin is every bit the franchise player he once was, maturing as a passer and refining his skills through the air, while still possessing the elusiveness and speed that garnered him so much attention as a freshman.

Defensive MVP: DE Tevin Elliott – Baylor has discovered a star in the freshman defensive end, who already has five sacks and seven tackles for loss in his first five games on the field. He has 20 tackles and has also forced a fumble and broken up a pair of passes. Linebacker Antonio Johnson and safety Byron Landor, who's earning a reputation as one of the conference's hardest hitters, also deserve mention as key contributors on a unit that's helped Baylor get off to a hot start early. In the four wins this year, the defense has given up just two touchdowns.

Midseason review: Colorado

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
11:00
AM ET
Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 3-2 (0-1 Big 12)

Colorado has been resilient at home, erasing double-digit deficits to beat Georgia and Hawaii, but has been blown out by 26 and 45 on the road at Missouri and California. The Buffs raced to a 3-1 start, quieting some of the hot-seat talk surrounding coach Dan Hawkins, but the loss to Missouri last week proved that this team still has to get much better to get through conference play and finish as a bowl-eligible team. Quarterback Tyler Hansen was benched during the Missouri shutout in favor of Cody Hawkins, but the move was solely to find a spark and Hawkins maintains his son Cody will remain the backup. The offensive line looks much improved for Colorado after giving up a league-worst 43 sacks last year. They're still in the bottom half of the league, but that number has fallen to 14 through five games this season. The team's yards per carry in 2009 (2.78), also the worst in the Big 12, is up by almost a full yard. They'll need that to remain constant once conference play starts. Touted newcomer Toney Clemons has gotten off to a nice start for the Buffs as well, with 16 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown, both the second-highest marks on the team, behind senior Scotty McKnight.

Offensive MVP: RB Rodney Stewart. It's become very clear so far this season: When Colorado runs the ball well, it's a pretty good team. That starts on the offensive line, but when Speedy gets loose, that means good things for the Buffaloes. He carried the ball 19 times for 149 yards in Colorado's big win over Georgia, and topped 100 yards in the win over Hawaii, helping the team reach 200 yards in the back-to-back wins. His 491 yards rushing and three touchdowns rank sixth in the Big 12.

Defensive MVP: LB B.J. Beatty. Beatty might win this award based solely on the biggest play of Colorado's season, a forced fumble late against Georgia to end a drive in Buffaloes' territory that preserved a two-point win. He poked the ball out of Caleb King's hands and fellow linebacker Jon Major recovered it. Beatty also leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and has 14 total stops. He's also added 2.5 sacks.

Midseason review: Iowa State

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
10:30
AM ET
Iowa State Cyclones

Record: 3-3 (1-1 Big 12)

We heard all about Iowa State's extraordinarily difficult schedule all offseason, and through six games, it's gotten the best of them. Now, it gets really difficult. The Cyclones play at No. 6 Oklahoma and Texas the next two weeks before hosting No. 5 Nebraska on Nov. 6, plus a game against No. 21 Missouri. The Cyclones snatched a victory from Texas Tech in Ames two weeks ago, and nearly beat Kansas State in Kansas City, but at 3-3, Iowa State now has to beat Colorado, Kansas and find a win from one of the aforementioned difficult games on the way to qualify for a bowl game. To do it, they'll have to fix a defense that gave up 38 points to Texas Tech last week and 68 against Utah on Saturday. Quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson have had to play through injuries, but replacements Jerome Tiller and Shontrelle Johnson have filled in well and helped the Cyclones to a 3-3 start.

Offensive MVP: RB Alexander Robinson – Even with some missed time, Robinson has 449 yards rushing on 88 carries, better than five yards a touch. He's scored touchdowns in each of his last three games, and as you'd expect, when Robinson is at his best, so is Iowa State. He amassed 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just 31 carries in the Cyclones' two best wins, Northern Illinois and Texas Tech. Tight end Collin Franklin is also worth mentioning in this space, after catching 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.

Defensive MVP: LB A.J. Klein – A first-year starter, Klein has been the team's most consistent defender and also its biggest playmaker. The sophomore and first-year starter has 62 tackles--most in the Big 12--and has two of the biggest plays of the season for the Cyclones. In consecutive weeks against Kansas State and Northern Iowa, he intercepted passes and returned them for touchdowns, including a 69-yarder against Kansas State. He also had an interception against Texas Tech. He's also made 4.5 tackles for loss and has a fumble recovery.

Midseason review: Kansas

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
10:00
AM ET
Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 2-3 (0-1 Big 12)

The loss to North Dakota State prompted an "Oh, no" reaction from fans, which was quickly replaced by "But wait!" after the Jayhawks upset the defending ACC champions, Georgia Tech, in Lawrence. Those have since been replaced by "Nevermind" after convincing losses to Southern Miss and Baylor -- the Bears won by a school-record in conference play 48 points -- and Georgia Tech's fall out of the top 25. It's going to be a long season in Lawrence, but Turner Gill's rebuilding effort begins here, as the only team in the Big 12 with a losing record. Kansas was in the Orange Bowl and won three years ago. Winning big isn't impossible there. Gill has been decisive, moving top recruits and past contributors like Toben Opurum and Keeston Terry to defense, while handing his offense to a pair of freshmen and a converted cornerback in quarterback Jordan Webb, running back James Sims and receiver Daymond Patterson. The good news for Kansas is that most of its top talent is young, along with players like left tackle Tanner Hawkinson, injured linebacker Huldon Tharp. If Gill can recruit well and surround those guys with more talent, the rebuilding job might get off the ground fast.

Offensive MVP: WR Daymond Patterson – Patterson provided the defining play of Kansas' season, a short pass he turned into a 32-yard touchdown that put Kansas up by 11 in the fourth quarter by breaking a handful of Georgia Tech tackles. He's also provided Kansas with its most consistent target and playmaker in the passing game, recording 28 receptions for 259 yards and a pair of touchdowns. You could make a strong case here for James Sims as well, who topped 100 yards against Georgia Tech and added 115 more with a pair of scores in Kansas' other win against New Mexico State.

Defensive MVP: LB Justin Springer – Springer had his best game of the year in the win over Georgia Tech, making 15 stops with three tackles for loss and a sack, one of just three for the Jayhawks this season. He's second on the team with 38 tackles, but leads with five tackles for loss. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder has helped the Jayhawks with some senior leadership as well.

Midseason review: Kansas State

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
9:30
AM ET
Kansas State Wildcats

Record: 4-1 (1-1 Big 12)

Kansas State a better team than it was a year ago with improved personnel -- led by an influx of new receivers -- and improved returning starters. Despite an embarrassing loss to Nebraska last week, Kansas State is 4-1 and looks well-positioned to qualify for a bowl game, a step up from sitting at home with a 6-6 record and an extra FCS win on its résumé in 2009. The passing game suffered a huge blow with Brodrick Smith's broken leg against the Huskers, and he'll miss the rest of the season, but the Wildcats clearly go as Daniel Thomas goes. Quarterback Carson Coffman has made plays late in games when the team has needed him, and Kansas State has won three games this year that were still in doubt in the final minutes, but Coffman was briefly benched for backup Collin Klein against Nebraska. Coach Bill Snyder says Coffman is still his starter, but the senior will have to be better to avoid being benched for good as he was last year for the more mobile Klein.

Offensive MVP: RB Daniel Thomas – There might not be a player more important to his team's success in the Big 12, with apologies to Baylor's Robert Griffin and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. Thomas has 127 carries so far this year and is third in the Big 12 with 691 yards rushing. Without Thomas, the Kansas State offense would be without a reliable playmaker. Twice already this season, the Wildcats have jumped on Thomas' back and he's carried them to a win. Against UCLA, he ran for a career-high 234 yards on 28 carries and added 181 more on 34 carries against Iowa State. Both were narrow wins by Thomas and Co. Without him, both are losses and the Wildcats would be headed into the thick of conference play at 2-3.

Defensive MVP: DE Brandon Harold – Harold is Kansas State's most talented defensive player, and as a sophomore, he's been among its most productive, too. He's made 27 tackles, including six for loss and a pair of sacks. He's also broken up a pair of passes and forced two fumbles. He'll keep getting better fast, and could blossom into one of the conference's best defensive linemen.

Midseason review: Missouri

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
9:00
AM ET


Missouri Tigers

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big 12)

Missouri has safely secured its fourth 5-0 start in five years under coach Gary Pinkel, but the Tigers' real tests start now. Missouri's offense hasn't replaced the big-play threat it lost in Danario Alexander, but possession receivers Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe have helped pace the offense while racking up 83 receptions, 829 yards and five touchdowns between them. Both players rank in the top-10 nationally in receptions, with bubble screens, underneath routes and sure hands to thank. The longest play of Missouri's young season was also its biggest, a 68-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the final minute against San Diego State. Missouri's offense may lack the explosiveness it's had in the past, but with an improved defense, it hasn't needed to be. The Tigers gave up more than 25 points a game last season and ranked outside the top 100 in pass defense. This year, they're giving up just more than 11 points, tops in the Big 12 and No. 3 nationally. We'll find out just how good the defense is with games against Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the next two weeks, but the Tigers have clearly looked like the only real competition between Nebraska and a second consecutive North title.

Offensive MVP: WR T.J. Moe – This has been the year of emerging offensive stars in the Big 12. Like Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State and Taylor Martinez at Nebraska, Moe has emerged as one of the Big 12's rising stars with five more catches and 129 more yards than Missouri's next-best receiver. Moe's hands are reminiscent of past Missouri star Chase Coffman, and Moe announced his presence loudly with 13 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Illinois. Since, he's had at least seven catches and 79 yards in every game. But Moe will forever be remembered for his game-winning catch against San Diego State, saving Missouri from what could have been an embarrassing early defeat.

Defensive MVP: DC Dave Steckel – Missouri's battled injuries and suspensions all season, but Steckel, who took over as coordinator after the 2008 season, has kept his unit together and better than it's been in a long time. The Tigers have played without star defensive end Aldon Smith (broken fibula), linebacker Will Ebner (suspension), linebacker Luke Lambert (hamstring) and safeties Jarrell Harrison (meniscus) and Jasper Simmons (knee injury, suspension), who are all major contributors. But their replacements have stepped in and helped push the Tigers to a fantastic start defensively. Steckel's crew should be fun to watch if it can ever get back to full strength during conference play.

Midseason review: Nebraska

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
8:30
AM ET
Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big 12)

Nebraska had one of college football's most dominant defenses in 2009, but ranked 99th in total offense. The result: four losses and relegation to the Holiday Bowl following a heartbreaking loss in the Big 12 title game. Enter Taylor Martinez. Suddenly, Nebraska has one of the nation's most dynamic offenses, especially with the run. Part Oregon/Vince Young's Texas zone-read option, part West Coast quick passing (mostly the former), the Huskers rank seventh nationally in total offense, and second in rushing offense, but lead the nation in yards per carry by almost a yard per touch. Nebraska's 41.6 points per game ranks in the national top 10 to go along with a top-15 ranking in total defense. Through five games, Nebraska is undefeated and looks like a national title contender with 35-point blowouts against the two best teams it's faced this year, Washington and Kansas State. Martinez's excellence has overshadowed the Huskers two quality backs, too, in Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.

Offensive MVP: QB Taylor Martinez – He's my pick as the midseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and for good reason. A redshirt freshman playing for the first time, he's injected himself into the Heisman discussion by averaging over 10 yards per carry, a full yard better than the next-best in college football. His 12 rushing touchdowns lead the nation as well, and of the 12, five are longer than 35 yards. The 12 touchdown runs have also averaged 34.9 yards, firmly entrenching Martinez as one of college football's surest big-play threats.

Defensive MVP: LB Lavonte David – Though the strength of the defense as a whole is probably the secondary, David, a junior, is a first-year starter progressing fast and building some buzz as one of the conference's best defenders after a breakout performance against Kansas State. He has 35 tackles in his past two games and averages 12 tackles per contest, most in the Big 12. He also has four tackles for loss, two sacks and four pass break-ups. Look for David to make plenty more plays as the season progresses. Plenty of players on the defense could make a case for this, including DeJon Gomes, Jared Crick and Prince Amukamara, who nobody seems to want to throw toward for some odd reason. But any improvement the Huskers show in defending the run may parallel David's growth as a player.

Midseason review: Oklahoma

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
8:00
AM ET
Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big 12)

Through six games last year, Oklahoma had three losses by a total of five points, all to ranked teams. This year, four of its five wins have come by a total of 20 points. Oklahoma has one of the conference's marquee wins, a 47-17 beatdown of then-No. 17 Florida State, which has only lost to the Sooners. Oklahoma ended a skid to Texas with a 28-20 win in the Cotton Bowl and looks to be headed for a showdown at Oklahoma State to close the season in a game that may decide the South. The injuries that frustrated the team last season gave players like Landry Jones and a handful of offensive linemen valuable experience that's paying off this year. Most importantly for the Sooners, their established stars have been playing like stars. Ranked back in the top 10 after a year away, the Sooners look like the obvious favorite in the South, but to have a chance to meet North favorite in the title game, they'll have to pass road tests against Missouri and Texas A&M, as well as the finale against the rival Cowboys.

Offensive MVP: WR Ryan Broyles – Broyles entered the season as one of college football's best receivers, and he's played like it, ranking in the national top five in receptions, with 46. Until a win over Texas, Broyles had at least nine catches and 100 yards receiving in every game this season. The junior looks likely to exceed 1,000 yards and has been Jones' most reliable target.

Defensive MVP: DE Jeremy Beal – Beal was also my pick for the conference's defensive player of the year in midseason, and he's lived up to his billing as the Big 12's best pure pass rusher, leading the Big 12 with six sacks, fourth most nationally, and forcing three fumbles. His 8.5 tackles for loss are also most in the Big 12.

Midseason review: Oklahoma State

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
7:30
AM ET
Oklahoma State Cowboys

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big 12)

The Cowboys entered the season as one of the Big 12's wildcards, with a new offensive scheme, a new quarterback, four new offensive linemen and former All-American at running back finally healthy. All have exceeded expectations and help land Oklahoma State in the top 20 after a spotless start. Kendall Hunter opened the season with an eye-popping 257-yard debut against Washington State and has topped 100 yards in three of four games since to rank fifth nationally in rushing, with 700 yards. Meanwhile, they've discovered two new stars in receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden. When all three get going, like they did in the second half against Texas A&M, Oklahoma State's offense is one of the nation's best. The Cowboys know the road will get tougher as they hit the bulk of their conference schedule, including games against Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, but outside of a few turnovers against Troy and Texas A&M -- both wins -- it's hard to ask for much of a better start.

Offensive MVP: WR Justin Blackmon – The sophomore had just 20 catches last year, and surpassed his output as a freshman in less than three games this year. Through five games, he's emerged as a legitimate threat to win the Biletnikoff Award, leading the nation in touchdown catches, with 11, and ranking in the top three in yardage and receptions. The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder earned Weeden's trust early in one-on-one situations, and his ability to catch balls over defenders is drawing comparisons to Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Best yet, he's still getting a lot better. He'll take on Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday coming off a career high 13-catch, 190-yard performance in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Defensive MVP: LB Orie Lemon – Lemon missed all of last year with a knee injury, but returned this year as one of the most experienced members of the defense that returned just four starters. He drew rave reviews from defensive coordinator Bill Young in his spring return, and he's lived up to them so far. One of the defense's biggest hitters, Lemon has 45 tackles and also leads the team with 4.5 for loss, with 1.5 sacks.

Midseason review: Texas

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
7:00
AM ET
Texas Longhorns

Record: 3-2 (1-1 Big 12)

After losing Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley -- a.k.a., Texas' offense -- we knew 2010 would be somewhat of a rebuilding year in Austin, but the building blocks looked to be in place to keep the Longhorns streak of nine consecutive 10-win seasons alive. A defense full of experienced impact players returned, and Garrett Gilbert would have what Texas hoped was a productive power running game to give him time to develop. The running game has largely flopped, and though Texas ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense, one bad half against UCLA and a bad first quarter against Oklahoma have added up to two early losses. Now Texas travels to No. 5 Nebraska on Saturday. Texas has the talent and potential to rebound over the second half of the season, but to do it, the offense has to improve and stop relying on the defense to carry them. A revolving door of 3-4 running backs hasn't helped the case, but coach Mack Brown has to play the back who produces. Repeats of the flashes we saw from Garrett Gilbert to bring Texas back to within a possession in the national title game haven't been very frequent in his first year as starter.

Offensive MVP: WR James Kirkendoll – There wasn't much to choose from out of the offensive group, but Kirkendoll has been the team's most productive receiver and had his best game of the season when the Longhorns needed it, a six-catch, 122-yard breakout in a win over Texas Tech in Lubbock. He's played well while Texas has struggled, with 20 catches in his past three games, and a touchdown. The numbers are unimpressive, but there's been fewer passes to go around this year. Through five games, Gilbert has thrown four touchdowns. Here's guessing freshman receiver Mike Davis, who should return this week from a knee injury, occupies this spot at season's end.

Defensive MVP: DT Sam Acho – Despite Texas struggling against UCLA, Brown said Acho played the best game of his career at Texas. He was dominant against Texas Tech as well and turned in another solid performance against Oklahoma. Through five games, he has 3.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and has forced two fumbles.

Midseason review: Texas A&M

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
6:30
AM ET
Texas A&M Aggies

Record: 3-2 (0-1 Big 12)

A historic, dream season? Well, you can probably rule that out, but there's still plenty on the table for Texas A&M as the season hits its second half. The Aggies host a ranked Missouri team on Saturday and don't play Texas, Oklahoma or Nebraska until November. Oklahoma State, Texas A&M's lone conference loss, still has to play all three, too. Is Texas A&M playing championship football right now? No, clearly. But they're still one of the league's most talented teams on both sides of the ball, and if Jerrod Johnson can hone in his downfield passing and limit his turnovers, and the defense keeps doing what it's doing, a late-season run isn't impossible for the Aggies.

Offensive MVP: WR Jeff Fuller – When he isn't turning it over, quarterback Jerrod Johnson has been getting it done. But Johnson is responsible for the loss to Oklahoma State, so the MVP goes to Fuller, who's fulfilling the potential he showed last year before a broken leg derailed his run at a handful of school records. Now, with 503 yards receiving, he's on pace to break Robert Ferguson's record for yards in a season, at 885. He's already the school record holder for career touchdown catches, with 22. He's averaging almost 15 yards per catch, and had two big ones against Arkansas on Saturday.

Defensive MVP: DC Tim DeRuyter – No single player has really stood out, but the Aggie defense is one of the conference's most improved units in DeRuyter's first year as coordinator. Von Miller's new role at Joker has limited his impact in the stat sheet, but not in the backfield. He's harassing quarterbacks and playing in coverage more, impressing his coaches despite being limited early in the season with an ankle injury. Linebackers Michael Hodges, Garrick Williams and Sean Porter are off to good starts and Miller's injury helped the Aggies discover a budding young star in fellow Joker Damontre Moore, who leads the team in sacks with four. He's also forced three fumbles. The unit ranks third in the Big 12 in total defense.

Midseason review: Texas Tech

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
6:00
AM ET
Texas Tech Red Raiders

Record: 3-2 (1-2 Big 12)

The first half of the season hasn't been ideal for the Red Raiders, but outside of a loss at Iowa State, Texas Tech is probably only a game back of where they thought they'd be at this point in the year. The offensive transition from Mike Leach to Neal Brown got off to a shaky start, especially in a loss to Texas when the Red Raiders had just 144 yards of offense. But quarterback Taylor Potts has topped 375 yards passing in his past two games, throwing for nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Meanwhile, the newly aggressive defense has made plenty of big plays but proved prone to giving them up, too. The Red Raiders have forced 11 turnovers and made 15 sacks, but have given up touchdowns of 36, 61, 34 and 62 yards in the past two games.

Offensive MVP: WR Lyle Leong -- Leong has emerged as Potts' top target in one of the conference's deepest pools of receivers. He leads the team in receptions (34) has nearly 200 yards more (461) than the team's second most productive receiver and his nine touchdown receptions are good for No. 2 nationally. He's also averaging 13.56 yards per catch.

Defensive MVP: LB Brian Duncan -- Duncan moved to the outside of James Willis' 3-4 and we knew he'd be rushing the passer more this season. He's made it count, racking up six sacks in five games, including a three-sack performance in the season opener against SMU. He preserved the win in that game with two sacks on the final drive, when the Mustangs had a chance to tie.

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