Big 12: Aaron Crawford
On February 17, Texas Tech became the league's first team to strap on the pads for 15 offseason practices.
The Red Raiders were deep at running back last fall, and Eric Stephens could have been the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ricky Williams in 1998. But his 565-yard 2011 season ended far too soon with a dislocated knee in the Red Raiders' fifth game. His status for 2012 is still in flux.
Senior Aaron Crawford graduated. DeAndre Washington checked out of spring practice with a torn ACL.
"Like coach says, 'It’s my job to lose,'" Williams said.
With Washington and Stephens sidelined, Williams took advantage of the touches he got late in the season. He averaged almost 5 yards a touch on his 14 carries in the season's final two games. Included in that was the first and second touchdowns of his career in a season-ending loss to Baylor at Cowboys Stadium.
"I didn’t start, but I played a lot," he said. "That was pretty wild."
Williams came to Tech as the nation's No. 14 running back in the 2011 class. Even for a player as highly recruited as Williams, Year 1 was a long line of lessons.
"The overall speed of the game, catching on our plays and pass schemes," Williams said. "The whole first year was a learning experience."
Coaches told him they expect him to be the team's most improved player from the end of the season to the spring's start. He's physically gifted, but that only takes a running back so far, especially at pass-happy Texas Tech, which threw the ball more than all but one team in college football in 2012.
Washington and Stephens are hurt, but they can help Williams master the mental and technical side of the position.
"We'll go over blitz schemes. That’s one of our running back coach’s big things," Williams said. "Every running back can run the ball. What’s going to separate you is, can you pick up the blitz?"
He's still learning. But this spring, he's had to start doing and doing it often.
"We kind of feed off each other’s energy when we’re all out here," Williams said of his injured teammates, "but I’ve got to find a way to make my own energy and just pick it up."
Fellow 2011 running back recruiting classmate Bradley Marquez was moved to receiver, but Williams still has to outpace juco transfer SaDale Foster and teammate Ronnie Daniels to win the job officially.
And once Stephens and Washington do return, Williams isn't looking to hand the job over to his older competition.
"I expect to be a starter," he said. "Nothing less. You can’t expect anything less for yourself, right?"
In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies had the two most talented backs, and despite injuries to both, proved it through an otherwise frustrating 2011. Christine Michael suffered a torn ACL, but still managed 899 yards on just 149 carries. Cyrus Gray injured his shoulder late in the season, but secured his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and ranked third in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 198 times. This duo should have easily surpassed 1,000 yards, but even when they were injured, Ben Malena played well in the final two games.
Mizzou dealt with injuries, too, first to Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. Cue Henry Josey. Josey became the best back in the Big 12 this year before suffering a major knee injury that included torn ligaments. He may not be back in 2012. His 1,168 yards were third most in the Big 12, despite carrying the ball just 145 times. Lawrence finished 12th with 566 yards.
3. Oklahoma State
Joseph Randle stole the show this year, rushing for 24 scores and ranking second in the Big 12 with 1,216 yards. Only Collin Klein ran for more touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway was the only player with more yardage. Still, Jeremy Smith had averaged more than 7 yards a carry, and he'd be able to start for anyone else in the league. Herschel Sims showed promise, too, with 242 yards on 31 carries.
Ganaway led the Big 12 in rushing with huge performances late in the season, including a 200-yard, five-touchdown game in his final outing as a college athlete in the Alamo Bowl. He averaged more than 6 yards on his 250 carries and had 330 more yards than any other back in the league. Jarred Salubi added 331 yards, too.
Texas' Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were banged-up late in the season, but Fozzy Whittaker played well until suffering a torn ACL against Missouri, too. Scatback D.J. Monroe was effective in the passing game as well. Four running backs topped 300 yards and Brown led the team with 742 yards, despite missing three games and having his carries limited early in the season.
Oklahoma got great contributions from walk-on Dominique Whaley early on, and he proved to be the team's most effective runner and best runner between the tackles. He fractured his ankle in midseason, and finished with just 627 yards to lead the team. Roy Finch emerged late in the seasons after a quiet first half and added 605 yards.
KU's James Sims led the team in rushing again with 727 yards. Darrian Miller was excellent, too, with 559 yards, though he was dismissed after the season. Freshmen Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon have plenty of promise, both averaging more than 5.5 yards a carry in 2011. The bad news: All their carries were limited by an awful defense that limited KU's chances to run the ball.
8. Kansas State
K-State's rushing attack centered around Klein, but John Hubert, a slippery back from Waco, Texas, had a good year. Hubert was seventh in the Big 12 with 970 yards. Bryce Brown offered basically nothing to K-State, and beyond Klein and Hubert, the Wildcats were pretty thin. Additionally, without Klein, would Hubert have duplicated his success?
9. Texas Tech
An awful knee injury derailed Eric Stephens' likely 1,000-yard season, and the rest of Texas Tech's backfield got banged-up, too. Stephens will probably return in 2012 from his dislocated knee, and finished with 565 yards, 17th in the Big 12. Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington both topped 300 yards.
10. Iowa State
ISU lost Shontrelle Johnson for the season early on, but James White filled in well. He finished with 743 yards, which ranked ninth in the Big 12. Jeff Woody had 380 yards and provided quality carries late, including the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.
Receiver Alex Torres suffered a knee injury, and three other Red Raiders (running back Aaron Crawford, offensive line Lonnie Edwards, running back Deandre Washington) were all carted off the field with injuries.
Despite that, Texas Tech is well-positioned with a 27-17 lead entering the fourth quarter of its winner-goes-bowling contest against Missouri.
Darrin Moore hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-7 to push the Red Raiders ahead.
Quite the performance by Tech today on the road against an emotional Missouri team missing its coach, Gary Pinkel.
Texas Tech lost its top rusher, Eric Stephens, two weeks ago against Texas A&M.
Oklahoma's top back, Dominique Whaley, hasn't played yet with flu-like symptoms.
Their replacements have been outstanding in the first quarter, with the Red Raiders and Sooners locked up in a 7-7 tie.
Tech's Aaron Crawford has broken a handful of tackles and has 42 yards on just four carries.
Oklahoma's Roy Finch broke off a memorable 55-yard run on the opening drive to set up Oklahoma's score. He's got 62 yards on his first four carries.
Both teams are among the deepest at running back in the Big 12. Games like tonight make you prove it. Both sides are doing it.
1. Missouri's offensive mindset. Oklahoma State is going to score at least 30 points. Period. So, how does Missouri combat that? The Tigers have a lot of playmakers, though it lacks a truly fearsome home-run hitter. Does it lean on Henry Josey and try to control possession a bit to keep the ball out of OSU's hands? Or does it come out guns blazing and look to sling it and outscore an underrated but suspect OSU defense?
3. Kansas State's front seven. Kansas' offense is better this year behind Jordan Webb, but the real heart of the offense is its running game. Kansas State has the ability to reduce the offense to one dimension with a strong defensive line and great group of athletic linebackers, headlined by Arthur Brown and Emmanuel Lamur. Does K-State do it and make the rival Jayhawks try to beat them with the pass?
4. Oklahoma State's defense. The raw numbers for OSU's defense aren't encouraging. A closer look shows they're deceiving. Want to prove it? Here's a good chance against a good offense. The Tigers will be tough and Oklahoma State's on the short list of possible upset candidates this weekend. A dominant defensive performance like the Cowboys had against Baylor last year would quickly put a stop to that idea.
5. Changing of the tide? Texas Tech has struggled mightily in Norman. I picked it to lose big to the Sooners. Tech has two quality losses that could have easily gone the other way. With a bowl game looking like no guarantee, does Tech respond? The Red Raiders have had a lot of success against Oklahoma in Lubbock, but can they sneak up on the Sooners in Norman in a game most see as an easy Sooners victory?
6. Iowa State's quarterbacks. Is Jantz's foot the biggest reason Barnett has become a factor in the quarterback race? Or if he starts and makes a few mistakes, is Barnett due for some time? It'll be something to watch in a tough matchup for the Cyclones.
7. Oklahoma's defense. This team has been dominant, but Texas Tech is slinging it as well as any team in the league. Without running back Eric Stephens, look for that to continue. Is the Sooners' secondary up to the task?
8. Progress at Kansas. The Jayhawks took a big step forward against a high-powered offense in Oklahoma last week. This week, they'll face a much more grounded, grinding approach from Kansas State. The Jayhawks have big, physical linebackers led by Steven Johnson. Can they derail K-State's dream season for their first Big 12 win?
The running game hasn't been outstanding, but his replacement, Aaron Crawford, broke through the line for a 51-yard touchdown run to put Texas Tech up 21-20 on Kansas State.
Stephens even took the time to chime in with an encouraging tweet after the run.
Crawford's got 76 yards and a score on 12 carries now.
Stephens has definitely been missed, but for now, the Red Raiders are getting by.
DeAndre Washington also added a 7-yard touchdown and has 17 yards on four carries.
Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.
The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.
The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.
Here's where I have them:
1. Texas A&M
Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.
3. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.
What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.
6. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.
Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.
8. Kansas State
The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.
Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.
10. Iowa State
Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.
Strongest position: Running back
Key returnees: Eric Stephens, Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy, Harrison Jeffers
Key losses: Baron Batch
Analysis: The Red Raiders may not have any big-time gamebreakers at the position, but they are deep, deep, deep. And hey, maybe Stephens' 86-yard touchdown run in the TicketCity Bowl was a sign of things to come, despite having just one run longer than 30 yards the rest of the season.
Texas Tech has a good mix of size and speed with the platoon, and Crawford should get a good share of carries along with Stephens. The offense also added Ronnie Daniels this spring, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound true freshman who became a starter at fullback by the end of the spring. McRoy is a Floridian, 5-foot-9, 160-pound scatback whose elusiveness could earn him a few touches. Jeffers' bowling-ball tendencies at 5-foot-7, 200 pounds could do the same.
Coach Tommy Tuberville plans to use a few more two-back sets, and it's clear that doing so is a good use of the talent he has on the team. Texas Tech should be solid at quarterback, running back and the offensive line, but running back is the team's deepest position heading into 2011.
Weakest position: Secondary
Key returnees: Safeties Cody Davis, D.J. Johnson and Terrance Bullitt, cornerbacks Tre Porter, Jarvis Phillips, Derrick Mays
Key losses: CB LaRon Moore, S Franklin Mitchem
Analysis: Texas Tech has plenty of potential at the position heading into 2011, but there's no doubt it was the biggest weakness for the Red Raiders in 2010. Under the direction of a new defensive coordinator specializing in stingy secondaries, can that change right away? Chad Glasgow brought his 4-2-5 from TCU, and Texas Tech hopes success will follow after ranking last in the Big 12 in pass defense by 18 yards a game. Those 293 yards per game ranked 118th nationally, better than just Rice and Tulsa.
Injuries forced Texas Tech to play young players that weren't quite ready, but that rushed experienced could pay off soon. Porter and Mays started as freshmen last season, and should begin their sophomore years at the top of the depth chart. The Red Raiders trio of safeties need to prove they're fast enough to slow Big 12 offenses. Davis and converted corner Johnson will handle the traditional safety spots, while Bullitt will play more of a nickel back role close to the line of scrimmage to help the pass rush or stop the run. Texas Tech's offense might not be as potent as it was in 2010, but the defense has to be way, way better, or the Red Raiders won't do much better than this past season's eight wins.
More spring superlatives:
Most importantly, there looks like a clear leader in the quarterback race: junior Seth Doege (get used to it: it's pronounced DAY-gee, with a hard "G").
That's no big surprise. Excuse the (very true) cliché, but there's no replacement for experience, and as the oldest player in the race, he clearly has plenty over the competition, sophomore Jacob Karam and a pair of freshmen, Scotty Young and Michael Brewer.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown told reporters after the first practice that Doege led by a decent margin. As long as he keeps doing what he's doing, I'd be surprised if he didn't win the job.
According to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, the Lone Star Showdown may move from its annual date on Thanksgiving to championship weekend, possibly being played alongside the in-state rivalry to the north, Bedlam.
Both sides told the Statesman they're open to the move "if it's critical to the television deal."
If I remember correctly (and usually I do), I suggested this needed to happen months ago when the league first started talking about moving games to championship weekend. The response:
Look: I get that "it's the way it's always been done." The game has been centered around Thanksgiving weekend every year since 1901 and played on Thanksgiving 63 times.
That said, there's no concrete reason it has to be. We're not talking about the Red River Rivalry, which has to be in early October to be part of the State Fair of Texas, which provides the game a uniqueness found nowhere else in college sports.
As long as the Aggies and Longhorns close their regular seasons against each other, I don't see the big deal. As cool as it is to have the game on TV on Thanksgiving night, it's still a bit inconvenient to have an on-campus game during a holiday break.
This move should happen, featuring two of the best rivalries in the Big 12 on championship weekend, giving the league plenty of relevance while the Pac-12 and Big Ten debut their championship games next season.
The Apocalypse hasn't quite arrived, Texas Tech fans. But perhaps it's close.
The shotgun is taking a few steps closer to center. The Pistol could be a bigger piece of the Texas Tech offense this year.
By 2013, Tommy Tuberville will have the triple option installed and he'll have swindled you all!
Or something like that.
Tuberville has made it clear he wants to run the ball, but that's a lot more fun when the run is effective. To do it, Tuberville wants a different kind of running game that isn't so east-west.
"We’ve got to do something a little bit downhill," Tuberville told reporters after spring practice over the weekend. “We did that a little last fall and it worked pretty good. We’re kind of looking at different things in the running game."
The Red Raiders have the backs to establish a downhill run with hard runners like Eric Stephens, Aaron Crawford and Harrison Jeffers, but it won't matter if they can't block it.
With all five starters back on the offensive line, Tech fans have to feel good about running it at least a little better than they did in 2010.
- Redshirt freshman Jacob Karam and sophomore Seth Doege combined for 47-of-68 passing, 530 yards and five touchdowns, playing in place of a pair of quarterbacks expected to compete for the starting job at the beginning of spring, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. Potts had surgery on his hand just days after Sheffield had surgery to repair the same bone in his foot he broke last season. Both are expected to throw again by June.
- Two teams loosely defined as the first and second team played to a 24-24 tie.
- "Several thousand" fans showed up to see the Red Raiders play in cold, wet conditions.
- Texas Tech validated that it's one of the conferences deepest teams at running back. Baron Batch, Harrison Jeffers and Aaron Crawford won't have a ton of carries, but they'll have more to go around than were up for grabs last season. Batch carried the ball just six times for 38 yards. Crawford and Jeffers combined for 108 yards on 31 carries.
- The same goes for the Red Raider receivers. Alex Torres highlighted the day with 10 catches for 115 yards, but once again, they'll have a lot of viable options. Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong and Austin Zouzalik won't be starved for catches. Cornelius Douglas showed some potential to contribute on Saturday, too, with 106 yards receiving, highlighted by a 64-yard score in the second quarter. But caution, it's still only one game and it's April. Douglas enters 2010 with a lot to prove before he finds himself in the same breath as the receivers above him.
- Watching Texas Tech? Playing for Texas Tech? Defending Texas Tech? Buckle up. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown debuted the "NASCAR" offense on Saturday, but clearly both quarterbacks felt comfortable running the no-huddle scheme that operates much faster than last season's version under Mike Leach. The Red Raiders rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball quickly to wear down and confuse opposing defenses. "They line up and just snap it over and over and over again," linebacker Bront Bird told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It gets pretty rough out there."
"Our players have been through a lot the last six months and it was good to see the fans come out and support them."
- Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville
K-State and Baylor fans, welcome back to football season. We missed you. Here's a giant load of links on the competition to get you started:
- Sunday's start of spring practice was a little different under Turner Gill, writes Tully Corcoran of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Nebraska receivers Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie pushed each other during winter workouts and are seeing the benefits this spring, writes Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star.
- Zac Lee isn't practicing this spring, but he's far from absent on the practice field, writes Rich Kaiputs of the Omaha World-Herald.
- Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune takes a close look at the injury that's limited two Tigers in spring practice, a torn labrum.
- Texas Tech running back Aaron Crawford led the Red Raiders in rushing in Saturday's scrimmage, reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, taking advantage of a fresh start with a new coaching staff.
- John Hoover of the Tulsa World breaks down Oklahoma's new Alabama-inspired practice structure.
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman wasn't happy with the Aggies' first practice in pads, writes Robert Cessna of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
- Kansas AD Lew Perkins made $4.4 million in 2009, and was the highest-paid athletic director in college sports, report Michael Mansur and Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star.
- Kheeston Randall could be the key to the Longhorns' defense in 2010, writes Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman.
- Today? Judgment Day for Sam Bradford, writes Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman. Bradford hasn't thrown publicly since the first half of last season's Red River Rivalry.
- Oklahoma State defensive tackle Shane Jarka put on 65 pounds from freshman year to senior year as part of his move to defensive line, writes Brandon Chatmon of The Oklahoman.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It was unusually busy in downtown Columbia for a Monday night after I arrived here. The Field House appeared to be rocking and other clubs and coffee houses were packed with students along Broadway.
But before I got back to my hotel room and started my work for the following day, I had to make one pilgrimage.
I'll be out at Missouri's practice later this afternoon and will deliver a report before I leave, but I wanted to provide a few lunchtime links along the way.
I'm going to enjoy my links mine with a big cold chunk of Shakespeare's finest pizza -- canadian bacon, mushroom and green pepper, thank you very much.
And for all of the Missouri expatriates out there, I'll gladly have a second piece for them, too.
Until then, here are some of today's most notable Big 12 stories.
- Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, has been offered a scholarship by Nebraska and Oklahoma is interested in him, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Carvell reports.
- SI.com's Cory McCartney profiles Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and lists Griffin and Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts among 10 players nationally who are primed for breakout seasons.
- Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register writes that Iowa State wide receiver Darius Darks is hoping for a fresh start with new ISU coach Paul Rhoads and his staff.
- Texas Tech running back Aaron Crawford is poised to challenge for playing time after after missing most of his sophomore season last year, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams writes.
- Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Bo Pelini's new 68 percent salary increase makes him the highest-paid coach in Nebraska history. But Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald opines that Pelini also vigorously campaigned and received hefty salary hikes for his assistants.
- Colorado wide receivers and passing game coordinator Eric Kiseau has been promoted to associate head coach, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports.
- Standout Rock Bridge (Mo.) defensive lineman Chase Rome has selected Oklahoma State over several other Big 12 suitors including Missouri and Oklahoma, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is determined to play his substitutes in scrimmages while keeping key starters out of the action to prevent injuries, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
You sometimes don't miss it until it's gone.
That's what I was thinking when I didn't have wireless access for a couple of hours this afternoon as I waited for a flat tire to be fixed. It kept some of these nuggets from this morning's teleconference from being filed as quickly as I would have liked, but here goes -- late rather than never. And there will be some more filed later this evening, because my car still isn't fixed.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino doesn't expect last season's success to develop any overconfidence in his team. "Last year has no bearing on this year in a lot of ways," Mangino said. "We have a confident team, but we also have smart kids. There are still a lot of areas that we can improve." Converted QB Kerry Meier will return to wide receiver and won't be used as a punter unless Kansas needs him ...Mangino had an interesting description of QB Todd Reesing's strength as a leader. "He's a confident guy, but he's confident because he prepares himself so well. When you prepare yourself well, you have a high level of confidence. The team sees that confidence he has and it helps. It rubs off on everybody."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops expects new Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to have a big impact at his new job, "Bo will do an excellent job," Stoops said. "He has the background on defense and the knowledge to make a difference where maybe they struggled a year ago." Stoops is pleased with the quick return of DE Auston English, the preseason All-Big 12 selection who missed most of training camp after his appendix was removed. "Auston has looked fantastic," Stoops said. "He hasn't missed a beat since he's come back. He makes such a difference." Stoops also said that NT DeMarcus Granger has looked strong at recent practices. "He had minor spasm with his back early, but he's made a really good improvement and has looked good," Stoops said.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said raising a family is one of the biggest challenges for football coaches. "I don't know if we are ever really fair to them," Gundy said. Gundy said an old coach gave his some advice about the demands of his profession. "I heard a guy say you spend your career coaching everybody's son but your own," he said. "I've kind of noticed that to be true." Gundy is pleased with the development of his offensive line, considered one of his team's biggest strengths. "Our line is better this year ... we have a third guard and tackle for the first time and feel like we have some guys who can make plays. Those guys give us firepower. We feel pretty good about where we are on offense."
Kansas State coach Ron Prince is pleased with the development of junior-college transfer Keithen Valentine, a product of Mississippi Delta Community College who earned a starting job in training camp. "We could see in the spring that he could run in a way that's pretty fluid and elusive," said Prince, who compared the 5-foot-8, 197-pound Valentine to former Virginia standout Wali Lundy. "I didn't know he was capable of power running and I hadn't seen that like I have in training camp. Keithen ran with toughness and power and extra yards at the end of runs. And because of that, we were very impressed." Prince chuckled about making Playboy's Top 25 ranking, although he's happy for the notoriety of his team's only national ranking. "It's great when people project and want to be on the front end of a trend ... it's very flattering," Prince said. "But at the same time, we have 12 weeks in front of us. We want to be in a poll at the end."
The growth of junior Kansas State QB Josh Freeman under new KSU quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero has been noticeable to Prince. "I think Josh is our most improved player on offense. I would attribute it to Warren doing a great job. His knowledge of the scheme and the little small things within those really has given our quarterback a boost of confidence," Prince said. But he also knows that Freeman will be judged by his on-field success after struggling late last season in the Wildcats' dismal 5-7 finish. "We all know it's result oriented," Prince said. "Quarterbacks are judged by how many pelts they bring home. We understand that and look forward to it."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said LB Van Alexander (knee) is doubtful for Saturday's game against Illinois and WR Danario Alexander (knee) is out. "Van is really close, but we'll see how it goes. He'll travel and dress and prepare like he's playing," Pinkel said. "Other than that, we're in pretty good shape." Pinkel said that sophomore WR/KR Jeremy Maclin provides him with a threat unlike any he's ever seen. "He's certainly an impact player," Pinkel said. "Very rarely do you have a guy who every time he touches the ball can change a game. I haven't had guy like this in 30 years."
Texas Tech's RB rotation for Shannon Woods, Baron Batch and Aaron Crawford should receive relatively equal playing time against Eastern Washington, coach Mike Leach said. "It might break down one-third, one-third, one-third," Leach said. "They all are bringing things to table. We don't lose anything playing one to the next." ... Leach said that the Big 12 might now be the toughest conference in the country. But he judges it in different ways than having five Big 12 teams among the top 14 teams in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' poll. "One thing that makes a good conference isn't the teams at the top, but those in the middle. That's ultimately what will makes it the toughest." ... Leach has never released injury information and didn't on Monday about CB L.A. Reed, who was seen hobbling with an ankle immobilized in a protective boot last week. "The Red Raiders haven't had any injuries happening," Leach said. "It's been kind of remarkable. To the best of my knowledge, he'll (Reed) play well ... like gangbusters."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I was struck looking at some pictures on the Oklahoman's web site of Bob Stoops and how he has changed as he begins his 10th season coaching the Sooners.
I recalled interviewing Stoops soon after he took over the Sooners' job. His reputation preceded him after a strong run as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida. But I will still struck at how young Stoops appeared to be back then -- barely older it seemed than some of his players.
His career has provided for much of the juice in the Big 12. He led the Sooners to a bowl game his first season and to the national championship the next -- the first time a Big 12 team ever claimed an undisputed football national championship.
Since Stoops started, 13 Big 12 coaches have come and gone and every job in the conference has turned over with the exception of Texas.
All of those coaches were fired except for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who helped give Stoops his start.
Today, three Big 12 coaches -- Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and Nebraska's Bo Pelini -- once worked for Stoops. And another, Baylor coach Art Briles, is a second-generation descendant of the Stoops' coaching tree after earlier working with Leach at Texas Tech.
The beginning of Stoops' 10th season has prompted a week-long series of stories this week in the Oklahoman. The first two days were compelling reads and I'm expecting the rest to be as similarly strong.
Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel started the series Sunday with a definitive analysis of Stoops' place in Oklahoma's storied football history.
Today's group of anecdotes about Stoops gave an interesting picture about him from those who know him best. My favorites included how Stoops demanded a practice field with no more chicken bones; his fastidious nature he inherited from his father: how he once stood up to Spurrier; and how he got his point across to the 2000 championship team to eat their breakfasts before practice. Good stuff.
Stoops' place in Big 12 history is secure. But looking at those pictures sure did make me think about how quickly time slips away.
Here are today's links. I can only hope they can have the staying power of Stoops.
- Texas Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell hasn't set a timetable for settling on a starting tailback. Shannon Woods, Aaron Crawford and Baron Batch are hooked up in a tight battle for the job.
- Bryan-College Station Eagle columnist Robert Cessna liked what he saw from Texas A&M's offense at their most recent scrimmage. TB Mike Goodson looked recovered from a tweaked groin muscle after scoring on an 80-yard screen pass from Stephen McGee.
- Baylor struggled through a turnover-fest at its most recent scrimmage, upsetting new coach Art Briles. "It (the turnovers) just makes you sick to your stomach," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. said. "I'm not sure if we were as mentally prepared as we needed to be ... We've got to perform better, but I'd rather this happen now than on Aug. 28."
- Colorado sophomore TB Demetrius Sumler has emerged as the Buffaloes' likely starter against Colorado State in their season opener with heralded freshman Darrell Scott set for goal-line and short yardage duty.
- Scott and his uncle, Colorado WR/PR Josh Smith, still flashed some big-play potential at the Buffaloes' most recent scrimmage. Scott contributed kickoff returns of 50 and 47 yards, while his uncle, Josh Smith, returned a punt 44 yards for a score and added a 62- yard kickoff return.
- Iowa State coach Gene Chizik has beefed up his secondary with the realization that every Big 12 North opponent will be playing a spread offense this season.
- Sign of the times? Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas' football team will be better than its defending national championship men's basketball team.
- Check out the Kansas City Star's video log of a recent Kansas practice to see how Coach Mark Mangino doesn't like to be crowded during a media scrum. Ah, coach, that's what happens when you start having a winning team.
- Kansas State coach Ron Prince doesn't know what to think about his team's top 25 ranking in Playboy Magazine -- its only top 25 preseason ranking this season. "I'm not even going to try to say anything clever regarding that," Prince told the Topeka Capital-Journal. There are six Big 12 teams ranked in the magazine's preseason issue, or so I've been told. Oklahoma is No. 1, with Missouri fourth, Kansas 10th, Texas Tech 11th and Texas 13th among the top 25 heading into the 2008 campaign.
- No catchy nicknames yet for the package where Texas QB Colt McCoy and QB John Chiles both are in the lineup for the Longhorns. Coaches, for now, are referring to it as the "Q Package."
- So much for all of the talk about open football practices at USC. Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido recently got booted from a Trojan workout at the L.A. Coliseum.
- Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne recently made a trip to the Omaha World-Herald offices to chat up members of the Fourth Estate. Osborne had an interesting comment to World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel. "There are some places where they have a Boone Pickens -- they are always going to be OK," Osborne said. "I think we'll be in good shape, as long as that football stadium stays filled. If that goes south, it could be a problem." Interesting comments from the leader of a school that had a near 100 percent renewal rate in season tickets.
- Andrew Hartsock of the Lawrence Journal-World analyzes Kansas' options in replacing Brandon McAnderson at tailback. Heralded 2007 national junior-college rushing leader Jocques Crawford had an interesting take: "It puts a lot of pressure on me," Crawford said. "You look at the status of the numbers he put up, how he helped the team, I've got big shoes to fill. But everyone's replaceable."
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was perturbed with his team's performance after a sloppy, turnover-filled second scrimmage. I told our football team, 'We've got to get better.' It was sloppy in a lot of ways," Pinkel
told the Kansas City Star. And offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was even madder. "I can understand having some type of those errors with the twos, threes and fours, but it's intolerable with the No. 1 offense," Christensen told the Star.
- Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News has an interesting retrospective of Mack Brown's first 10 years coaching at Texas.
- The defensive effort by Missouri was a little brighter. The Tigers' first-team defense held its opponents out of the end zone for the second-straight scrimmage. And All-Big 12 LB Sean Weatherspoon provided a pair of interceptions, including one to punctuate the scrimmage.
- The Kansas City Star serves up a passel of position ratings. Most interesting findings included Kansas State's Josh Freeman ahead of Texas' Colt McCoy at quarterback and Texas A&M's Stephen McGee ranked 10th, behind Colorado's Cody Hawkins and Nebraska's Joe Ganz.
- Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News analyzes the preponderance of top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
- Oklahoma RB Chris Brown says he's finally healthy after struggling with a right knee injury that requred microfracture surgery after the season.
- The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue suggests that Coach Gene Chizik play both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates in the Cyclones' Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went through a box of Sharpies as he pressed the flesh at the Cornhuskers' annual Fan Day. Attendance was 8,125.
- Logan Dold and Keithen Valentine have emerged as Kansas State's top two running backs for the Wildcats Aug. 30 opener against North Texas.
- Texas coach Mack Brown refuses to get in a war of words with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, who reportedly called the Longhorns soft last week. "I haven't called anybody out in 56 years,'' he said. "And I'm not about to start now." But give Schnellenberger credit for one thing. His team will be earning $900,000 for the Aug. 30 game -- highest guarantee ever paid to a visiting non-conference opponent in Austin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It wasn't that long ago that the bedrock of the Nebraska football program was its imposing offensive and defensive lines. The Cornhuskers' weight-training program was the foundation of a program that claimed a share of three national championships during a four-season period in the 1990s under former coach Tom Osborne.
Lincoln Journal Star columnist Steven Sipple had an interesting point today about why the Cornhusker program has atrophied in recent seasons.
The Cornhuskers haven't had an all-conference offensive lineman since Toniu Fonoti in 2001 and an all-league defensive lineman since Steve Warren in 1999.
Bo Pelini has his work cut out as he tries to rebuild the once-proud Cornhusker program. But here's a suggestion for the new Nebraska coach: Be sure your team gets a heaping dose of Big 12 links every morning. Because like Wonder Bread, they help build strong bodies 12 ways.
Here's a little nourishment this morning for the Cornhuskers -- and for everybody else.
- Texas LB Sergio Kindle is excited about his role in new coordinator Will Muschamp's defense. "I could scream, but I won't do that. I'm excited," Kindle told the San Antonio Express-News' Natalie England. "I love rushing. The quarterback is going to be my prey. I'm the predator."
- The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue answered a variety of Iowa State questions in his weekly Tuesday afternoon chat. Among the notables, Logue gives QB Austin Arnaud a slight edge in the quarterback battle and says finding a kicker will be critical over the next two weeks.
- Wyoming transfer Aric Goodman is in line to earn Colorado's starting kicking job. And he's earned the nickname "Money" from his teammates because of his consistency so far in practice.
- Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said the construction date of the Cowboys' indoor practice facility likely will be pushed back because a hit in Boone Pickens' hedge fund caused by recent fluctuations in oil prices. Work had been scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.
- Ah, the days of summer. Colorado players are set for a trip to Water World Wednesday afternoon after cooling down following Tuesday's practice with a water balloon fight.
- Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray was back at practice Tuesday after missing two days with a sprained ankle.
- New Kansas State offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero has helped QB Josh Freeman become perhaps the most improved Kansas State player compared to last year, KSU coach Ron Prince told Jeffrey Martin of the Wichita Eagle. Yes, the same Freeman who set the school record with 3,353 passing yards last season.
- Missouri TE Chase Coffman is expected back in practice in about a week after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair a broken right pinky finger.
- Special air-cooled vests developed by Nike are helping Oklahoma beat the heat at practice this summer.
- Derrick Washington is poised to emerge as Missouri's top running threat to replace Tony Temple. Washington's value, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter, is boosted by his pass-catching abilities.
- Kansas State coach Ron Prince's new contract gives him the ability to walk away to another job without a buyout, according to the Manhattan Mercury. Prince's new deal also substantially raises his potential bonuses and boosts his budget for assistant coaching salaries by $99,000 per year.
- Heralded Baylor WR David Gettis has never lived up to the recruiting hype. New coach Art Briles is intent on changing that. "God was good to him," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner. "We need to make God smile."
- Missouri QB Chase Daniel thinks that EA Sports did a good job in replicating him in "NCAA Football 09."
- Texas coaches are toying with the use of bullish 255-pound TB Cody Johnson in some speciality situations.
- Texas Tech has broken a school record for season tickets with 41,173, and has sold at least 43,000 tickets for each of its seven 2008 home games.
- Texas Tech TB Aaron Crawford provides something a little different from the Red Raiders' glut of other backs. "The thing I like about him is he gets downhill hard," Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell told Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "He's not going to be a flashy guy, where he's going to make a bunch of jukes and stuff. He runs physical. He runs extremely hard. He makes plays just by being powerful."
- Baylor coach Art Briles told the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte that he might delay his decision on a starting quarterback until just before pregame warm-ups of the Bears' Aug. 28 opener against Wake Forest. "Seriously, I wish I was kidding," Briles said.