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Big 12 weekend roundup

12/27/2010

Texas Tech has added to the Big 12's coordinator exit parade.

Defensive coordinator James Willis has left to pursue other opportunities. The first-year coordinator's announcement was sudden, but according to a report in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, was mutual.

"The Avalanche-Journal learned Sunday night Willis was talking about a job with the University of Florida and Tech coach Tommy Tuberville found out through third parties. The two came to a mutual agreement Willis should leave Tech."

Testy sounding for sure, but we'll see once more details emerge. Tuberville is expected to address the media in Dallas later Monday.

As for the Red Raiders, they join a long line of Big 12 teams forced to replace coordinators after the season, including two at Texas. Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Colorado have all lost, or made changes, at coordinator since the season began.

Willis brought an SEC sensibility to a school known for its spread offense. Though the Red Raiders struggled (10th in the Big 12 in scoring defense, last in total defense) in 2010, it would have been fun to see how much the Texas Tech image could have changed with Tuberville and Willis. Tuberville was trying to implement a defense that hadn't been in Lubbock under Mike Leach. Look for Tuberville to stretch his wide-ranging SEC contacts to bring another to Lubbock, but Willis looked like one of the most promising young coaches from the conference. Now, after just a year, he's headed back.

Looking further down the road, Tuberville and Willis had secured a commitment from linebacker Derek David for Texas Tech's 2012 class. David is projected as one of the top prospects ready to sign in February of 2012. He is the type of recruit that never would have considered Texas Tech under Mike Leach but was one of the big early pickups for Tuberville. It'll be interesting to see if Willis' departure and whoever Tuberville hires has an effect on that commitment.


Texas Tech lost a coach, but Nebraska had a few big gains over the weekend.

Junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard says he plans on coming back for the 2011 season, and wide receiver Niles Paul returned to practice and is hopeful to play in Thursday's Holiday Bowl against Washington.

"Still don't know if I'm playing yet. Foot feels fine running straight ahead but it hurts to cut so we are taking it day by day," Paul tweeted on Sunday afternoon.

That would be big news for a Nebraska offense that struggled to throw the ball consistently without Paul in games against Colorado and Oklahoma to close the Big 12 season. Cody Green completed 10 of 13 passes against the Buffaloes, but managed just 80 yards. Taylor Martinez completed just 12 of 24 passes against Oklahoma and was sacked seven times.

Dennard was my pick for the All-Big 12 cornerback across from teammate Prince Amukamara. With Dennard's return in 2011 imminent, he looks like a possible All-American candidate. Dennard had to be encouraged by Amukamara's experience. The Huskers other corner returned for his senior season and looks like a sure bet as a top 10 pick or higher in April's NFL Draft. Amukamara was also a finalist for the Thorpe Award.

"I talked to my mom and stuff like that. She just got a new job. Her finances are doing well. Her health is getting better," Dennard told the Lincoln Journal Star. "So there's no need for me to leave now. I got other things to work on now. Just going to spring ball and try to get better next year."

Linebacker Lavonte David says he's also returning to Nebraska. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and junior college transfer told reporters in San Diego on Sunday that his main reason for coming to Nebraska was to receive a degree, and he did not plan on leaving without it.


Oklahoma State, meanwhile, will be without a pair of players when it takes on Arizona in the Alamo Bowl on Wednesday. Punter Quinn Sharp and long snapper Marc Yerry didn't pass the required six hours, according to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

It's not a huge blow, per se, considering Oklahoma State's offense isn't one that plays the field position game to win. But one shanked punt in a key spot or a snap over the head late in the game, and it becomes a fiasco.

Dan Bailey, the All-Big 12 first-team kicker, will replace Sharp on kickoff duties, but the punting replacement for Sharp, picked All-Big 12 first team by the media and coaches, hasn't been decided yet.

Gundy said earlier in the week that Bailey or Michael Richenstein would replace Sharp, who led the Big 12 in punting average at 46.24 yards per punt, which also ranked third nationally. He was one of just three punters to top an average of 46 yards per punt.