Big 12: Alonso Rojas

Lunch links: K. Hunter or D. Murray?

February, 17, 2011
I wore a tank top today because I thought it was summer. No one ever taught me how to read a calendar.

Big 12 collars seven Ray Guy Award nominees

October, 30, 2009
Posted by's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 had seven players who were selected as nominees for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's top punter.

That total was more than any other conference. Conference USA had six nominees and the Big Ten and SEC had five players apiece selected.

Big 12 nominees include: Iowa State's Mike Brandtner, Colorado's Matt DiLallo, Baylor's Derek Epperson, Missouri's Jake Harry, Nebraska's Alex Henery, Kansas' Alonso Rojas and Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp.

The list of nominees will be trimmed to 10 semifinalists on Nov. 13. The award, presented by the Greater Augusta (Ga.) Sports Council, will be awarded during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show airing on ESPN December 10.

Here is a look at the candidates with the Big 12 nominees in bold.

2009 Ray Guy Award Candidates

Delbert Alvarado, South Florida

Bryan Anger, California

Ben Armer, Western Michigan

Jeremy Boone, Penn State

Brent Bowden, VA Tech

Mike Brandtner, Iowa State

Drew Butler, Georgia

Peter Caldwell, Utah State

Desi Cullen, Connecticut

David Defatta, Middle Tennessee

Kyle Delahooke, Navy

Matt DiLallo, Colorado

Matt Dodge, East Carolina

Ryan Donahue, Iowa

Clinton Durst, Auburn

Derek Epperson, Baylor

P.J. Fitzgerald, Alabama

Reid Forrest, Washington State

Will Goggans, Troy

Mickey Groody, Florida Atlantic

Trevor Hankins, Arizona State

Jake Harry, Missouri

Johnny Hekker, Oregon State

Alex Henery, Nebraska

Chas Henry, Florida

Kevin Jones, Duke

Scott Kozlowski, West Virginia

Spencer Lanning, South Carolina

Jeff Locke, UCLA

Rob Long, Syracuse

Kyle Martens, Rice

Zoltan Mesko, Michigan

Brad Nortman, Wisconsin

Matt Reagan, Memphis

Alonso Rojas, Kansas

Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

Brian Stahovich, San Diego State

Michael Such, Tulsa

Chris Summers, Purdue

Matt Szymanski, SMU

Ross Thevenot, Tulane

Kyle Watson, UNLV

The Big 12 has had more Guy Award winners than any other conference with four since the awarded started in 2000. Big 12 winners included Mark Mariscal of Colorado in 2002, Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda in 2004 and 2006 and Matt Fodge of Oklahoma State in 2008.

Ranking the Big 12's special teams

September, 3, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.

Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.

1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.

2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.

3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.

4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.

5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.

6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.

7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.

8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.

9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.

10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.

11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.

Jayhawks cruise to convincing Insight Bowl victory

December, 31, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

 Jon Lemoine/US Presswire
 Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing threw for four scores in a 42-21 thumping of Minnesota.

Kansas' offense was blistering from the opening snap and hardly ever slowed down during an impressive bowl performance.

Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe hooked up on a 60-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage to start an offensive onslaught that helped spark the Jayhawks to a convincing 42-21 victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

The Jayhawks (8-5) scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives to take control, producing the scores on drives of 60, 80, 69 and 86 yards. All of those drives were capped by Reesing's touchdown passes as he rifled four scoring strikes in the first half.

Reesing finished the game with a school bowl-record 312 passing yards, matching the school bowl mark with his four touchdown tosses as he completed a school-record 14 straight passes at one point in the first half.

Kansas' passing game tormented the smaller Minnesota secondary from the start of the game. Briscoe (14 receptions, 201 yard, three touchdowns) and Kerry Meier (10 catches, 113 catches, one touchdown) both repeatedly ran free through a desolate Minnesota secondary that struggled to match the Jayhawks.

Meier, a converted quarterback, reverted to his roots to add a clinching 32-yard touchdown pass to Briscoe -- Kansas' fifth touchdown pass of the game.

The Kansas defense did the rest, providing a fumble recovery, a goal line stand and two sacks in three plays by Kansas senior linebacker James Holt in the second half to punctuate the victory.

After struggling performances by Missouri and Oklahoma State to open the bowl season, some observers were wondering about the Big 12. Those concerns should be alleviated after the Jayhawks' convincing performance -- at least until Nebraska's Gator Bowl game against Clemson on Thursday.

After some early defensive struggles this season, Kansas' defense finally stepped up Wednesday night. They limited Minnesota's supposedly improved rushing game to 80 yards and stymied the Gophers on 10 of 13 third down plays.

Kansas linebacker Mike Rivera was all over the field as he clamped down on Minnesota's offensive attack along with Holt.

And the biggest play of the second half came when Kansas punter Alonso Rojas turned the tide with a running, rugby-style 64-yard punt that went out of bounds inside the Minnesota 1 with 10:56 left in the game.

The victory capped a history-making season for the Jayhawks, who claimed bowl appearances and victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.

Kansas clicked on six of its first seven third-down plays to jump to an early lead and didn't look back as coach Mark Mangino claimed his third-straight bowl victory. It also marked Kansas' fifth bowl victory in its last six bowl games.

The loss was a disappointing conclusion for the Gophers, who lost their last five games after starting the season 7-1. But this was the same team that went 1-11 last season and still accomplished the biggest turnaround in college football this season.

Five pressing questions for Kansas

August, 28, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Kansas' magical 12-1 season was one of the feel-good stories of recent college football history. The Jayhawks were picked to finish toward the bottom of the North Division, but emerged as a legitimate national championship contender before losing to Missouri in their regular-season finale. And they didn't let that defeat ruin their season, bouncing back for an impressive victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that represented their first BCS bowl victory.

Coach Mark Mangino will be hard-pressed for an encore, particularly as he faces a more difficult schedule that will include all three expected South Division contenders -- after facing none last season. And for good measure, the Jayhawks will travel to South Florida on Sept. 12 in one of the nation's top nonconference games this season.

The Jayhawks will be looking to make history, making bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. To get there, here are five pressing questions they need to settle.

1. Will the new offensive tackles perform up to standards?

First-team All-American Anthony Collins and three-year starter Cesar Rodriguez both are gone from last season's team. Their replacements will be a pair of redshirt freshmen. Mangino has been intrigued by the development of left tackle Jeff Spikes, who he calls one of the most accomplished offensive lineman he has coached at that stage of his career. And converted guard Jeremiah Hatch has emerged to beat out Matt Darton and Nathan D'Cunha on the right side in a surprise positional victory. Their play will largely determine how successful Kansas' passing game will be.   

2. Do the Jayhawks have enough depth at running back?

Leading rusher Brandon McAnderson is gone, but the Jayhawks are expected to fill in for him with a combination of leading returning rusher Jake Sharp or bullish junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford. Angus Quigley also has shown flashes in practice, but the loss of potential backups like Donte Bean, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Sean Ransburg earlier in camp makes Kansas' depth questionable -- no matter what Mangino says.

3. Who will be Kansas' kicker?

Mangino still hasn't decided on his kicker heading into Saturday's game against Florida International. Sophomore transfer Grady Fowler and Alonso Rojas, who previously had been listed only as a punter, are still battling heading into the opener.

4. How will the Jayhawks handle their schedule?

A much more stringent schedule awaits the Jayhawks than in 2007. Kansas hosts Texas and Texas Tech and visits Oklahoma. The Jayhawks also have a trip to Nebraska -- a place where they haven't won since 1968. So it's understandable why many observers are expecting the Jayhawks to take a step back this season.

5. Who will emerge at tight end?

Derek Fine was one of the nation's most underrated tight ends last season, providing steady blocking and 46 receptions to set a single-season record for Kansas tight ends. Sophomore Bradley Dedeaux earned a tight victory for the opening-game start over redshirt freshman A.J. Steward. Both should see extensive playing time as the season progresses.

Big 12 morning links: Briles mum on starting QB

August, 19, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

New Baylor coach Art Briles is facing the challenge of his coaching career as he attempts to resuscitate a program that hasn't made a bowl trip since 1994.

The Big 12's South Division will never be a picnic for the Bears, who face the yearly challenge of playing schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

So it's understandable that a relatively problematic quandary like picking his starter for the Aug. 28 opener against Wake Forest isn't that big of a deal for the new Baylor coach.

Briles has a lot of ways to go in deciding whether to start record-breaking QB Blake Szymanski, transfer Kirby Freeman from Miami or heralded freshman Robert Griffin as his starter.

All have shown flashes in training camp.

Waco Tribune-Herald beat writer John Werner thinks Briles' wavering as far as choosing a quarterback is a good idea. It will make Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe prepare in a lot of different ways when he considers whether Szymanski (the better passer), Griffin (most explosive runner) and Freeman (best combination quarterback and most experienced) will get most of the snaps.

I agree with Werner on this. Indecision might be the best decision for the next couple of weeks. And maybe even up to game time against the Demon Deacons.

Hope there's no hesitancy in diving into this steaming pile of hot links. Dig in, because dithering means you miss out.

  • Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman went back to Youngstown,Ohio, to delve into Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' early football background. "He probably would be the ideal symbol of Youngstown," his old coach Don Bucci told Trotter. "I hate to say that, because I'm sure he thinks he was pretty talented. But he was someone with just very average talent, but had a competitiveness and a toughness that nothing was going to stop him from being successful. That's Bobby Stoops, and that would be Youngstown."
  • The Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo addresses the state of the Buffaloes in his weekly chat, with particular attention to uniforms, Darrell Scott and the crowded battle at cornerback.
  • Iowa State struggled mightily last season with its special teams. That's leading coach Gene Chizik to considering using leading 2007 rusher Alexander Robinson as his prime kickoff returner.
  • The Kansas City Star's J. Brady McCullough profiles Kansas WR/backup QB/P Kerry Meier, who might be the conference's most versatile player.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Stu Durando writes about the amazing stability on Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's staff. No assistants have left Pinkel's staff since he took over in 2001.
  • If it's Tuesday it's got to be time for "First downs and second guesses" from the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel. Among the topics are the remembrances of how Tampa Bay All-Star OF Carl Crawford was almost a Cornhusker and the recent collective struggles of formerly dominant programs Miami, Florida State and Nebraska.
  • Missouri offensive linemen were feeling pretty good after Monday's practice. The unit held up reasonably well against the Tigers' No. 1 defensive front and they were treated to popsicles after practice.
  • Oklahoma All-Big 12 DE Auston English returned to practice Monday after missing all of the Sooners' previous work this summer while recovering from an appendectomy.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says he won't decide until the weekend whether he or co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer end up calling plays this year. Former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, now coach at Southern Mississippi, was the Cowboys' playcaller last season.
  • Some things never change -- like hard-nosed fullbacks populating the Nebraska program. Thomas Lawson is No. 1 at the position and sophomore Joseph Mackovicka appears ready to continue his family lineage at the position, following older brothers Jeff and Joel.
  • Healthy WR Adron Tennell could be ready to crack Oklahoma's receiving rotation, according to the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig.
  • Veteran Omaha World-Herald Big 12 reporter Lee Barfknecht picks Missouri to win the national championship.
  • Massive 250-pound converted high school quarterback Orie Lemon has emerged as Oklahoma State's likely starting middle linebacker.
  • Kansas' kicking depth has taken a hit after projected starter Stephen Hoge left the team to concentrate on academics and Jacob Brandstetter's status is iffy because of eligibility issues transferring from the Air Force Academy. That leaves Grady Fowler or P Alonso Rojas as the most likely survivor at the position.
  • Competition remains tight between Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell "The Bulldozer" McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya for the starting tailback job at Texas.
  • Kansas State will likely use a committee of wide receivers to help replace Jordy Nelson's school-record 122 receptions.
  • The Associated Press' Eric Olson has a good story about Cody Glenn's transformation from I-back to linebacker.
  • Kansas lost to Missouri in the showdown for the North Division title last November at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet Kansas still is displaying its co-championship trophy for the division title at its football complex, according to the Kansas City Star's Jeffrey Flanagan.
  • Denver Post beat writer Tom Kensler blogs about the alleged Parade All-America jinx haunting Colorado this season. Watch out Darrell Scott.
  • The Bryan-College Station Eagle's Robert Cessna reported that QB Jerrod Johnson was getting some work as a tight en
    in some formations. And third-string QB Ryan Tannehill made several nifty catches in the team's scrimmage. Sounds to me that Stephen McGee has a hammer lock on the starting QB job.
  • Left-footed K Donnie Carona, who rushed for more than 800 yards last season in high school, is looking forward to concentrating on special teams at Texas Tech. He's in a tight battle with senior Cory Fowler to replace Alex Trlica as the Red Raiders' kicker.