Big 12: Aqib Talib

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Lunch links: Dealing with player death

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
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Codes and Keys gets two thumbs up from this blogger. Will have to catch the boys when they come through Dallas. It's still OK to like Death Cab, right? I lose track these days.

Roundup: Kansas trouble, more OU tragedy

May, 31, 2011
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A quick look back at what you missed when Jim Tressel wasn't resigning over the long Memorial Day Weekend:

Former Kansas star indicted

Former Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib was officially indicted in connection with an incident in Garland, Texas in March. That could mean a trial for alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Talib allegedly shot at his sister's boyfriend, and though Talib has adamantly denied his alleged involvement, he'll now have to fight an official accusation.
"The grand jury was not privy to a number of important facts," Talib's attorney, Jay Reisinger, said Friday in a statement. "We are very confident that once we have the opportunity to present all of the facts, this matter will be resolved in Mr. Talib's favor."

Talib's time on the field has been solid, but the recent charges put Talib's future with the Buccaneers in doubt. A first-round pick in 2008, Talib reached a settlement in 2009 after an altercation with a cab driver that resulted in a one-game suspension.

A Dallas native, Talib was a two-time All-Big 12 performer and an All-American in 2007, when he was the MVP of Kansas' win against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Talib remains a Buccanneer, and despite reports, coach Raheem Morris says no decision has been made on his cornerback's future.

Here's guessing the outcome of these latest run-ins with the law has a big influence on that future.

Another rough weekend for the Sooners

If you missed our coverage on Friday, 50 of Austin Box's teammates, as well as the Oklahoma coaching staff, traveled to Enid, Okla., for Box's memorial in his hometown north of Oklahoma City.

Coach Bob Stoops and Brent Venables, the Sooners' defensive coordinator who was also Box's position coach, eulogized him eloquently with moving, meaningful words.
"He was always my left-hand man in the meeting room and he still will be. No one will be in that seat but Austin's spirit," Venables said.

Stoops shared a story about Box taking Venables to the ground during a practice, resulting in laughter from the linebackers that turned heads across the football field.

"He always brought his teammates joy," Stoops said.

"It hurts to think of what could have been, but we can focus on what he gave us, and he gave us a lot."


But on Saturday, Oklahoma got even more bad news on the heels of Box's death and the death of Venables' brother last Friday. Former Sooners' All-American defensive back Brandon Everage, who was a part of Stoops' national title team in 2000, died while swimming in a river with friends.

Everage went under water and didn't resurface, prompting a search on Friday night to find him.

Saturday morning, a dive team recovered his body.

"Brandon was a favorite in the locker room and a favorite among the coaches. He played football with tremendous passion and had a special spark that inspired everyone," Stoops said in a statement. "We will always have fond memories of him. For now, though, we are deeply saddened for Brandon’s family."

The Big 12 and NFL draft history

April, 27, 2011
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For just the second time ever, the first round of the NFL draft will be the only part of the draft's first day, set for primetime on Thursday night.

This year, the Big 12 could have as many as five first-round picks, and five players from the league are in New York for the draft.

So, let's take a look back. Since the first NFL draft of the Big 12 era, who has the most first-rounders?

Texas: 16
Oklahoma: 12
Oklahoma State: 6
Missouri: 4
Kansas State: 3
Texas A&M: 2
  • 2003: DT Ty Warren, 13th overall, New England Patriots
  • 2003: DB Sammy Davis, 30th overall, San Diego Chargers
Texas Tech: 1
Kansas: 1
  • 2008: CB Aqib Talib, 20th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baylor: 1
Iowa State: none since 1973 (George Amundson)

A few thoughts and observations:
  • I doubt many would be surprised that this list is also a reasonably accurate reflection of overall success since the Big 12's inception in 1996. Obviously, Texas and Oklahoma have dominated. Since 2000, Texas has the nation's fourth-most first-rounders. Oklahoma is No. 6. Their success has paralleled that, along with recruiting rankings.
  • In that same breath, it's impossible to look at this list and not once again be impressed with what Mike Leach did. He obviously has the reputation as an overachiever, but looking big picture, he was able to do it with one first-round pick. Nobody beat Texas and Oklahoma more and Leach helped put together what is still the Big 12's longest bowl streak.
  • Texas' consistency sticks out, too. Since just 2001, Texas has had two first-rounders in six different seasons. If you've got two first-rounders on your team, you're probably going to be pretty good. The Longhorns, if you haven't noticed, have been. Those two first-rounders in six seasons are more or as many as half the league has in the history of the Big 12. What else you should note? Texas is unlikely to have a first rounder this year, and after Aaron Williams is drafted, Sam Acho probably will be the next to go, which won't be until the third or fourth round.
  • Oklahoma State and Missouri's rise over the past three seasons has paid off in the NFL draft. Missouri had three first-rounders in the last two seasons and figures to add two more this year after having just one in the 12-year history of the league before 2009. That's quite a streak, and even more proof of what Gary Pinkel has built at Missouri. One more piece of evidence? Despite losing those two first-rounders, Missouri should be back in the preseason polls next year after losing two of its top players. That's definitely something new in Columbia. The Cowboys figure to add more soon with Justin Blackmon at least. As long as Pinkel and Gundy are at the helm for their respective programs, expect them to continue to rise.
  • Don't be surprised by Texas A&M's swoon following R.C. Slocum's departure. From 1990-1998, the Aggies won nine games every season but one. From 1990-96, the Aggies had eight first-round picks. Since 1998? Two seasons with at least nine wins and just two first-round picks.
  • More evidence you can't underestimate the importance of having first-round picks? None for Baylor in the history of the Big 12 before Art Briles. In just three years, Briles may have three if the Bears add two more this year with Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins. Taylor and Watkins both came from unlikely sources. Taylor was a Penn State transfer and Watkins a juco transfer that formerly worked as a fireman in Canada.

Lunch links: Greg Davis appears in Florida

March, 29, 2011
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You're all watching the CBI, right?

'05 Texas team was best Big 12 team of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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The Big 12 had two national championship teams and five others that played in the BCS title game in the decade.

The two championship teams were the best of the conference's last 10 years. Some of the other BCS title participants were good, but not necessarily among the very best teams during the conference's recent history.

Here's how I rank the Big 12's top 10 teams over the last decade.

1. 2005 Texas: A star-studded team paced by All-Americans Michael Huff, Jonathan Scott, Rodrique Wright and Vince Young ran off 13 straight victories, capping the season with a BCS title-game victory over USC. The team averaged 50.2 points per game en route to a then-NCAA record 652 total points, earning Texas’ first undisputed national championship since 1969. It was the greatest team that Mack Brown ever coached and arguably the best team in the rich football history of Texas.

2. 2000 Oklahoma: Bob Stoops claimed a national championship in his second season coaching the Trojans behind Josh Heupel, who finished second in the Heisman race that season. All-Americans Heupel, linebacker Rocky Calmus and J.T. Thatcher helped the Sooners notch the first undefeated season and national championship in Big 12 history. After winning three of their final four regular-season games by less than five points, the Sooners dominated Florida State in a 13-2 triumph in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

3. 2008 Oklahoma: Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy with this team, which overcame a midseason loss to Texas and still claimed the Big 12 title in a 12-2 season that was marred by a 24-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game. The Sooners rolled-up a record 702 points as Bradford passed for 50 touchdowns, Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray each rushed for 1,000 yards and Juaquin Iglesias topped 1,000 yards receiving. The Sooners scored 35 points in each regular-season game and finished the regular season with five straight games of at least 60 points before the BCS title-game loss.

4. 2004 Oklahoma: The Sooners charged to 12 straight victories before a dropping a 55-19 decision to USC in the Orange Bowl for the national title. Freshman running back Adrian Peterson rushed for an NCAA freshman record 1,925 yards to finish second in the Heisman. Jason White claimed the Heisman the previous season and his numbers were down with Peterson's arrival, but he still passed for 3,205 yards and 35 touchdowns. This group had strength in the trenches with All-Americans like Vince Carter, Dan Cody, Jammal Brown and Mark Clayton as it claimed Bob Stoops’ third Big 12 title.

5. 2009 Texas: After streaking to a school-record 13-0 mark through the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns dropped a 37-21 decision to Alabama in the national title game in a contest that changed when Colt McCoy was hurt on the fifth play of the game. McCoy became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history during this season, repeatedly hooking up with favorite target Jordan Shipley, who snagged a school-record 116 receptions, 1,485 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Longhorns led the nation in rush defense, and All-American safety Earl Thomas tied a school record with eight interceptions. Lamarr Houston and Sergio Kindle also added playmaking abilities to the defense.

6. 2004 Texas: The Longhorns overcame a midseason 12-0 loss to Oklahoma to finish the season with seven straight victories in a season capped by a dramatic 38-37 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Longhorns ranked second nationally in rushing offense and seventh in total offense as Young gradually found his confidence as a passer late in the season. Cedric Benson rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Young chipped in with 1,079 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. This team showed a knack for comebacks, overcoming an early 35-7 deficit against Oklahoma State and also coming from behind in an early-season victory at Arkansas.

7. 2007 Oklahoma: Bradford led the first of two consecutive Big 12 championships on a team that enabled the Sooners to become the first Big 12 school to win back-to-back titles. The Sooners dropped road games to Colorado and Texas Tech but still overcame Missouri in the Big 12 title game behind a huge defensive effort keyed by Big 12 defensive player of the year Rufus Alexander. Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency, but the Sooners' bowl struggles continued in an embarrassing 48-28 loss to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

8. 2003 Kansas State: Don’t let the Wildcats’ 11-4 record fool you. After an early three-game losing streak to Marshall, Texas and Oklahoma State (by a combined margin of 15 points), Bill Snyder’s team won its final seven regular-season games by a combined margin of 271-66. That streak was culminated by a stunning 35-7 upset victory over Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game -- the last victory by a North Division team in the title game. The Wildcats ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing, scoring, total defense, scoring defense and pass defense as Darren Sproles rushed for 1,986 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Wildcats dropped a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in a game they fell into an early 21-0 deficit and had a chance to tie on the final play of the game after a frantic comeback directed by Ell Roberson.

9. 2007 Missouri: Chase Daniel led Missouri into the Big 12 title game for the first time in school history, taking the team to No. 1 nationally heading into the conference championship game. The Tigers lost twice to Oklahoma during a 12-2 season that was capped by 38-7 beatdown over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Tony Temple made that game memorable by rushing for a record 281 yards and four TDs that pushed Missouri to No. 4 nationally at the end of the season. A star-studded collection of talent including Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker and Sean Weatherspoon helped the Tigers rank among the top-10 teams nationally in passing, total offense and scoring and 11th in turnover margin.

10. 2007 Kansas: The Jayhawks earned Mark Mangino the national coach of the year award by running to an 11-0 start before losing to Missouri in the regular-season finale. The Jayhawks rebounded for a 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in their first BCS bowl appearance in school history, finishing a 12-1 season that set a school record for victories. Todd Reesing passed for 33 touchdowns to highlight a high-powered offense that scored 76 points against Nebraska and scored at least 43 points in eight games. The Jayhawks were a balanced team that ranked second nationally in scoring offense, fourth in scoring defense and in the top 10 nationally in eight different team statistics. Anthony Collins and Aqib Talib earned consensus All-America honors.

Kansas' all-decade team

January, 19, 2010
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It was an eventful decade for Kansas, which celebrated its first BCS bowl and first back-to-back bowl appearances in school history.

The demise of Mark Mangino's coaching tenure can't take away from what he accomplished earlier in his career as he made the Kansas program relevant for the first time in the school's Big 12 history.

Here's a look at the players who shaped Kansas' football history during the past decade.

OFFENSE

QB: Todd Reesing

RB: Brandon McAnderson

RB: Jon Cornish

WR: Dezmon Briscoe

WR: Kerry Meier

WR: Mark Simmons

OL: Anthony Collins

OL: Justin Hartwig

OL: Joe Vaughn

OL : Ryan Cantrell

C: Joe Vaughn

DEFENSE

DL: James McClinton

DL: Nate Dwyer

DL: David McMillan

DL: Charlton Keith

LB: Nick Reid

LB: Joe Mortensen

LB: James Holt

DB: Aqib Talib

DB: Charles Gordon

DB: Darrell Stuckey

DB: Carl Nesmith

P: Kyle Tucker

K: Scott Webb

KR: Marcus Hereford

Offensive player of the decade: QB Todd Reesing. He wasn't the most imposing physically, but Reesing was ideally suited to direct the Jayhawks as a starter for three seasons as the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history.

Defensive player of the decade: DB Aqib Talib. While dabbling as a two-way player, Talib's biggest talents came as a lockdown cornerback. He earned All-American honors as a junior after leading the nation in passes broken up as a sophomore and claiming All-Big 12 honors in both seasons.

Coach of the decade: Mark Mangino. Despite the controversy when he left the Kansas program, Mangino made the Jayhawks a challenger for the Big 12 North title and took them to a BCS bowl game for the first time. In the process he directed Kansas to three straight bowl victories and earned national coach of the year honors in 2007.

Moment of the decade: An opportunistic defense forced three turnovers to pace the Jayhawks to a 24-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl. Aqib Talib's 60-yard interception return for a touchdown started the scoring and earned him game Most Valuable Player honors. It capped a 12-1 season where the Jayhawks notched a school record for victories.

Who's hot and not around the Big 12

November, 6, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some of the hottest and coldest trends involving Big 12 teams going into Saturday's games.

Hot: Texas A&M, who have outscored opponents 87-40 in their last two games.

Not: Colorado’s offensive line, which yielded eight sacks and produced minus-14 yards rushing last week against Missouri -- only two yards removed from the lowest production in school history.

Hot: Texas Tech running back Baron Batch, who had four touchdowns in 17 carries last week against Kansas. He had scored six touchdowns in his previous 76 carries earlier this season.

Not: Iowa State’s defense, which missed 20 tackles last week against Texas A&M last week.

Hot: Kansas wide receiver/defensive back Bradley McDougald, who became the first Jayhawk with a reception and interception in the same game since Aqib Talib in 2007.

Not: Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier, who had three catches last week. He had 10 straight games with four or more catches before that game.

Hot: Nebraska’s secondary, which has allowed only three touchdown passes all season.

Not: Nebraska at home. The Cornhuskers will be attempting to avoid its first three-game home losing streak since 1968 by beating Oklahoma on Saturday.

Hot: Kansas State wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Banks, who is averaging 17.9 yards every time he touches the ball.

Not: Kansas State kicker Josh Cherry, who had two PATs blocked and delivered a kickoff out of bounds last week against Oklahoma.

Hot: Texas Tech’s pass rush, which produced six sacks against Kansas and has 30 for the season. The Red Raiders produced 34 sacks last season.

Not: Texas’ pass rush. The Longhorns produced no sacks against Oklahoma State -- only the third time the Longhorns have been held without a sack during Will Muschamp’s coaching tenure with the Longhorns.

Hot: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who has been Big 12 player of the week twice in his five starts.

Not: Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, who has contributed seven turnovers in the last three games leading to five touchdowns. The Jayhawks lost all three games.

Hot: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who enters Saturday’s game with a 13-4 record against Kansas, including 12 victories in the last 13 games.

Not: Baylor. The Bears have lost 13 straight conference road games and are 2-52 in road games in Big 12 history.

Who’s sizzling: Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray, who has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games, producing 250 yards in his last two games.

Who’s frigid: Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr., who has produced 48 yards on 12 carries in his last two games.

Record-breaking nine bowl teams predicted for Big 12

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's been a long time between bowl trips for Baylor.

The Bears' last bowl trip came in 1994 when they were defeated by Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Current Baylor starting quarterback Robert Griffin was 4 years old when that game was played.

But excitement is rampant along the Brazos River and the Bears are ready to snap a bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest in schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Considering that Grant Teaff was coaching Baylor then and Steve Spurrier was directing the Blue Devils, it has been an extensive drought for both schools.

The Bears have their best hope this season and I'm thinking they squeak in. It will be critical for them to win at least one of their first two games against Wake Forest and Connecticut. They also need victories over Northwestern State and Kent State to enter Big 12 play at 3-1.

If Baylor does make that remarkable step, it will likely mean the Big 12 will be able to fill its full complement of bowls. It was unable to fill two bowls at the bottom of its list of partners. But that likely won't be the case this season if the Bears live up to their preseason hype.

Here's a look at how I predict the Big 12's bowl slots will be filled this season with a record nine teams making trips. The last two or three might be 6-6 teams, but there won't be much complaining from any of them.

Baylor Bears

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Robert Griffin electrifies the nation with stunning victories over Wake Forest and Connecticut to start the season and the Bears are already at six victories by mid-October. It makes them the feel-good story of the conference, places Art Briles in prime consideration for a couple of top jobs and pushes the Bears into the Alamo Bowl where they last went bowling in 1994.

Worst case: Offensive tackle Danny Watkins can't protect Griffin's blind side and the Bears stumble early with two-straight losses. Those pass-protection problems fester all season as the Bears revert to their losing ways and miss a bowl for another season.

Prediction: Texas Bowl.

Colorado Buffaloes

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: In a nod to soothsayers everywhere, the Buffaloes indeed live up to Dan Hawkins' preseason "prediction" and win 10 games, claiming a surprise Big 12 title game and ending up in the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Buffaloes don't settle on either quarterback and tumble out of bowl contention for the third time in the last four seasons under Hawkins, making his seat extremely toasty this winter.

Prediction: Independence Bowl.

Iowa State Cyclones:

Best case: The Cyclones become the surprise story of the conference as Austen Arnaud immediately blossoms in Tom Herman's new offense. The defense shows steady improvement under Wally Burnham, providing a surprise trip to the casinos and crawfish boils at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Worst case: Paul Rhoads is a willing worker, but his new team just never jells with his philosophy. More road woes continue against Kent State as the Cyclones see their nation-worst road losing streak stretch to 22 games as they stay home from a bowl for a fourth-straight season.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Kansas Jayhawks

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The Jayhawks find a couple of defensive reincarnations of Aqib Talib to help them spring a couple of upsets over South Division powers. Confidence gleaned from those games helps them surprise the South Divison champion in the Big 12 title game and send Mark Mangino and his team skipping into their second BCS bowl in three seasons -- this time to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: Todd Reesing struggles behind a retooled offensive line and the Jayhawks' offense isn't nearly as potent as expected. Without a high-powered scoring team, the Kansas defense is exposed as posers, falling to the Insight.com Bowl for the second-straight season.

Prediction: Sun Bowl.

Kansas State Wildcats

Best case: Bill Snyder brings the magic back to Manhattan, picking up a couple of upset victories to restore some pride in the Kansas State program from early in the season. The Wildcats ride that momentum for a surprise trip to the Insight.com Bowl.

Worst case: A quarterback never emerges and a struggling pass defense regresses into a horrific unit against the Big 12's high-powered aerial attacks. Those defeats make Snyder wonder why he ever left retirement as the Wildcats finish out of a bowl trip for the fifth time in six seasons.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Missouri Tigers

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Blaine Gabbert provides steady leadership as Derrick Washington becomes the most versatile back in the Big 12. The retooled defense emerges as the Tigers claim a surprise Big 12 North title and end up at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: The loss of Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and both coordinators cause the wheels to fall off the Missouri program and they miss a bowl trip for the first time since 2004.

Prediction: Insight.com Bowl

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: Zac Lee is a revelation at quarterback and the defense emerges in Bo Pelini's second season to push the Cornhuskers to a upset victory in the Big 12 title game and into the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The hype for Lee is just that. The new quarterback struggles and the Cornhuskers' defense backslides all the way t
o the Texas Bowl.

Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The young offensive line jells and the defense plays better than expected as the Sooners earn another chance to play in the BCS title game -- restoring order in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17 along the way.

Worst case: The offensive front struggles to protect Sam Bradford and the defense isn't as good as expected, dropping the Sooners to their first visit to the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The offensive triplets exceed expectations as Bill Young cobbles together enough defense to enable the Cowboys to outduel Texas and Oklahoma for their first Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The defense still can't match up with Oklahoma and Texas -- and some of the other teams in the South Division either. Those struggles send the Cowboys skidding all the way to the Insight.com Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they play second-fiddle to the Sooners who are playing up the road in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

Texas Longhorns

Bowl bound: Count on it

Best case: The Longhorns find a featured running back and enough push from the defensive front to make all of the BCS rankings meaningless en route back to another shot at the national title in Pasadena.

Worst case: Colt McCoy gets hurt, the running game struggles and the Longhorns keep playing dropsy with key turnovers chances for another season. Instead, Texas players fumble their way to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego where they munch fish tacos and feed the whales at Sea World for the fourth time in the last 10 years.

Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

Texas A&M Aggies

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Jerrod Johnson plays so well at quarterback that Ryan Tannehill moves back to wide receiver full time. The Aggies respond to defensive coordinator Joe Kines' defense with vast improvement through the season, stunning Texas in the regular-season finale to push them into the Alamo Bowl.

Worst case: A leaky offensive line can't open holes or pass block and the Aggies' defense struggles against all Big 12 quarterbacks in another season that finishes without a bowl.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Bowl bid: Count on it.

Best case: Taylor Potts exceeds all expectations and the Red Raiders defense plays so well that some start accusing the school of being a "defense-first" program. The Red Raiders don't win the Big 12 South, but they revisit the location of Mike Leach's biggest bowl victory at the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Red Raiders miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree more than expected and skid out of bowl contention for the first time under Leach.

Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

Some other great Big 12 moments that almost made my list

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I received more e-mails and correspondence this summer from fans about my Big 12 most memorable moments series than I have in a long time. This letter was typical of the missives.

Robert Godfrey from Olathe, Kan., writes: Tim, I really enjoyed the recent series on the Big 12's most memorable plays. How hard was it to settle on those 25 plays, and what are some others that almost made your final cut? Thanks again for the stories. They really got me excited about the coming season and how great this conference has been during its brief history.

Robert, you wouldn't believe the number of selections that I considered before I settled on my 25 most memorable Big 12 moments. It was one of the toughest assignments I've had in a long time, trying to cull those memories into a coherent list.

The only ramifications I had were that the moments had to make me go "wow" and every team had to be represented at least once. I think I was able to carry those out.

But there were about 25 more memories I wished I could have included, but just couldn't because of the list number. Here are the ones that just missed my cut, in no specific order.

(Read full post)

Kansas' Mount Rushmore

February, 12, 2009
2/12/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It would be fitting if the Mount Rushmore of Kansas had a wheat field nearby for inspiration. I can almost hear "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" in the background as I try to winnow my choices.

Here are my final four destined for the side of the Jayhawk football Mount Rushmore:

  • Gale Sayers -- Two-time All-American was the most notable and dramatic player in school history, leading the Jayhawks in rushing in three straight seasons and in receiving in two seasons.
  • John Hadl -- Made All-American as halfback and quarterback and had a knack for making big plays in his career -- a 98-yard interception return, a 97-yard kickoff return and a 94-yard punt.
  • Ray Evans -- Only player in history to lead the nation in passing and interceptions in the same season (1942). He also led the Jayhawks to the 1947 Orange Bowl, earning All-American honors in football and basketball during his college career.
  • Mark Mangino -- There's got to be a place for Mangino on this mountain. He's made history by leading the Jayhawks to their first BCS bowl victory in school history and back-to-back bowl trips for the first time ever in the last two seasons.

If Todd Reesing takes the Jayhawks to a Big 12 title, he might have some argument for a place. And so could past titans like Nolan Cromwell, Mike McCormack, John Riggins, Aqib Talib and Bobby Douglass.

Any glaring omissions on my list?

Most memorable recruiting stories in Big 12 history

January, 30, 2009
1/30/09
11:25
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 has been dotted by several intriguing recruiting stories during its brief history. Here are some of my personal favorites.

1. Oklahoma's Jamar Mozee spurns Kansas State: Mozee, a bruising running back from Blue Springs, Mo., was an apparently solid commitment for Kansas State until late in the 1999 recruiting period. But as signing day approached, Mozee followed several of the Kansas State assistants who had been recruiting him as they joined Bob Stoops' fledgling program at Oklahoma. The late switch earned the wrath of Wildcat fans everywhere, but also provided Stoops one of his top early recruits. Mozee never materialized for the Sooners like expected, but his recruitment fueled an intense early rivalry between the two schools.

2. Kansas' underrated class of 2004: Unheralded prospects like Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins were barely recruited by most powers, but developed into All-Americans while working with coach Mark Mangino's staff by the time they left college. Defensive starters Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and Charlton Keith also didn't catch much recruiting attention, but also became key starters for the Jayhawks' team that made history by claiming the 2008 Orange Bowl and making back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. It also made some recruiting analysts blush, considering they missed so badly with this group.

3. Ryan Perrilloux heads for home: Perrilloux committed to Texas before his senior season and was presumed to be the natural successor for Vince Young after recording a slew of records in his senior season at East St. John's High School in Reserve, La. Throughout the recruiting process, Perrilloux remained committed to Texas. But he made a late switch, signing with the first recruiting class of LSU coach Les Miles. Perrilloux's career never materialized and he was kicked off the LSU team for violating team rules after several earlier legal skirmishes. And his departure opened a place on Texas' roster for Colt McCoy, who developed into a Heisman Trophy runner-up with the opportunity.

4. Darrell Scott picks family and the Buffaloes: The nation's top running back recruit waited until the last minute before choosing Colorado and Texas, following his uncle Josh Smith, a wide receiver/kick returner who already was on the Buffaloes' roster. Scott apparently had given the Longhorns a private commitment which changed when running backs coach Ken Rucker became the team's director of high school relations and player development and was replaced by Major Applewhite. His announcement was carried live on ESPNU, where he became Colorado's highest-ranking recruit since Marcus Houston in the 2000 recruiting class.

5. Travis Lewis chooses Oklahoma: Not all of the most heated battles take place over five-star recruits. Lewis had played little linebacker in Lee High School in San Antonio and had barely even played defense. But several schools saw promise in his unique combination of speed and size, leading to a spirited recruiting battle that intensified as the 2007 signing day approached. Lewis eventually decided on Oklahoma from a fervent group of suitors that also included Oklahoma State and fast-closing Nebraska. After a redshirt season, Lewis developed into an All-Big 12 linebacker and the conference's freshman defensive player of the year in 2008.

Midseason report: Kansas

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
6:09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas (5-1, 2-0): The Jayhawks have quietly crept into first place in the North Division, thanks mainly to the sterling early play of quarterback Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier's receiving and the re-emergence of tailback Jake Sharp. Kansas' only loss came after fritting away an early 17-point lead against South Florida in a game where Reesing later rallied to nearly win it. They also showed resilience by charging back to beat Iowa State. And the defense is showing promise as it gains confidence under new coordinator Clint Bowen.

Offensive MVP, Todd Reesing: He might not be getting the publicity of a lot of quarterbacks in his conference, but statistically he ranks with them. Reesing ranks third nationally in completions (28.5 cpg), fifth in total offense (346.8 ypg) and passing yards (330 ypg), 12th in pass efficiency and 13th in points responsible. He's had to do a lot in the first half of the season and the recent surge by Sharp might help lessen what is asked of him.

Defensive MVP, Darrell Stuckey: For a unit that was supposed to struggle without Aqib Talib, he's led a very productive set of defensive backs, notching at least four tackles in every game. He leads the secondary in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions. The Jayhawks rank in the top 35 in each of the four major statistical categories, including 20th in pass efficiency defense, and Stuckey is a big reason.

What's next: Sharp's return to form promises big things to help balance Kansas' offense. Mark Mangino has been fretting about his struggling special teams play and will have that as his major concern for the rest of the season. The Jayhawks have a huge two-game swing with games at Oklahoma and against Texas Tech that could determine if they are legitimate North Division title contenders. If they can get a split, there's a great chance they might be playing for the North Division title Nov. 29 against Missouri.

Big 12 links: Longhorns face brutal scheduling gauntlet

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
7:12
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin 

Here are some of the stories that are making news after Hurricane Ike drastically affected this weekend's Big 12 schedule.

Big 12 links: Will ground attack return to Nebraska?

August, 26, 2008
8/26/08
10:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska's punishing ground attack historically has been as big a part of the Cornhuskers' storied program as Herbie Husker, sellout crowds at Memorial Stadium and Academic All-Americans.

Consider that between 1977 and 2003, Nebraska ranked at least seventh or higher every season in the national rushing rankings. That's right: seventh or better. And in 13 of those seasons the Cornhuskers led the nation in rushing.

That's why the rankings during the four seasons of Bill Callahan's tenure -- 34th, 107th, 23rd and 66th -- were so disappointing. Two of the four teams even threw the ball more than it ran. How un-Nebraskalike, even in this age of spread passing offenses.

Most observers are expecting Nebraska to more effectively run the ball this season. Some are even predicting a smash-mouth running attack keyed by an experienced offensive line and four strong I-backs led by Big 12 returning rushing leader Marlon Lucky.

Running the ball would also provide a way for new coach Bo Pelini to keep his defense off the field, dominating time of possession and lessening the time his defensive unit will have to make plays.

Senior Nebraska offensive guard Matt Slauson told the Omaha World-Herald it would be noticeable compared to his previous seasons.

"We're going to line up and smash guys, and if it works, we're going to keep doing it," Slauson told the newspaper.

Which tells me one thing. Simple dives and off-tackle smashes won't be nearly as unpopular among Nebraska fans as they might be at other places across the Big 12 this season.

And speaking of traditional, hearty fare, how about this lip-smacking collection of links this morning? It's good for what ails you.

  • Former Penn State DT Phil Taylor has enrolled at Baylor and begun practicing with the team. Taylor was dismissed from the Nittany Lions after his involvement in an on-campus fight last season. Freshman K Ben Parks has won the starting job for the Bears' opener Thursday night against Wake Forest.
  • Boulder Daily Camera coulumnist Neill Woelk said Colorado fans are providing a form of corporate welfare to Colorado State, buying tickets this week that weren't scarfed up by the Rams' fans.
  • Colorado TE Riar Geer avoided jail Monday after his friends and family members pleaded to a judge that his role in an off-campus fight was out of character. But he'll miss the first two games of the season as he recovers from knee surgery.
  • Heralded Colorado freshman TB Darrell Scott is trying to keep up with the other demands than just playing.
  • Iowa State will have 27 freshmen in its two-deep roster Thursday night against South Dakota State. But Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler writes that Iowa State coach Gene Chizik needs to choose a starting quarterback soon and stick with him. 
  • Kansas State list four newcomers on its starting lineup for Saturday's game against North Texas. Three are from junior colleges -- RB Keithen Valentine, CB Blair Irvin and LB Ulla Pomele - and LB Olu Hall is arrives from Virginia.
  • Jeff Martin of the Kansas City Star/Wichita Eagle provides a few nuggets from Kansas State's press conference, including Coach Ron Prince uttering the word "confirmed" 14 times during a 30-minute stint at the podium.
  • Kansas State officials learned that top returning receiver and punt returner Deon Murphy has an extra year of eligibility. He will be considered a junior in the upcoming season.
  • Kansas has 10 freshmen and 15 sophomores in its two-deep roster, including PR Daymond Patterson as a starter.
  • The Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait writes about Kansas rebuilding its secondary without All-American CB Aqib Talib.
  • Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal World wonders who would be the bigger chick magnet in downtown Lawrence -- Michael Phelps or Todd Reesing?
  • Manhattan Mercury beat writer Mark Janssen breaks down the ABC's of Kansas State football.
  • Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune's Big 12 notebook leads with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger's comments about Texas.
  • Kansas City Star college columnist Blair Kerkhoff has Oklahoma ranked No. 5 in his top 25 countdown. Kerkhoff also expects faster play and shorter games with the new clock rules.
  • Missouri WR Jared Perry gave Dave Matter the quote of the day about how he hopes to impress the Illinois defense after struggling with injuries. "It's a big motivation," Perry said, "because people are just sleeping on me. So, I have to wake them up."
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says he's not any more excited about Saturday's game against Western Michigan than any other. "My level of excitement really isn't any different than it was last year," said Pelini, who spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisiana State. "I treat them all the same. I think we'll be prepared come Saturday and let it all hang out. It'll be a fun time, but at the same time I've got to keep my emotions in check, as does the team."
  • Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald says that Kansas State QB Josh Freeman has provided the best quotes of the preseason -- particularly those that threw Kansas State's seniors last seasons under the bus for their lack of leadership. Barfknecht also gives his preseason Big 12 rankings.
  • Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel wonders if ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit really likes Nebraska as much as he's saying - or if he's only try to throw a bone to his old Ohio State teammate and current Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
  • The Lincoln Journal-Star's Curt McKeever doesn't expect any suprise teams from the Big 12 because of the conference's depth at the top.
  • Pelini met with the media for about two minutes Monday after an intense practice on the first day of classes. Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan never practiced his team on the first day of classes.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will be back calling plays for the Cowboys this season after delegating that job to assistants in recent years.
  • Oklahoman columnist John Rohde is expecting Saturday's Oklahoma State-Washington State game to be fun on Saturday.
  • Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman writes that Oklahoma's non-conference schedule shouldn't be a liability to their national title hopes - even as the Sooners start the season Saturday against Chattanooga, a 2-9 team last season.
  • Oklahoma State WR Damian Davis has been suspended for the Cowboys' opener against Washington State for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
  • Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter has set a goal of rushing for 1,000 yards this season according to Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.
  • Tulsa World columnist John Klein said that Mike Gundy should have more talent at his disposal this season than any previous season when he was Oklahoma State's head coach.
  • Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World writes about Texas A&M's water balloon fight in his weekly Big 12 notepad, also providing a quotepad and his rankings.
  • Eleven positions remain up for grabs on Texas' depth chart, heading into Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic.
  • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman writes of Texas' new slogan worn on their orange wristbands: "Consistently good to be great."
  • Depth at tailback could produce Texas A&M's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2003, according to Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman.
  • Freshman WR Jeff Fuller is listed as a starter for Texas A&M's opener. And QB Stephen McGee told the San Antonio Express-News that backup QBs Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill are "two of our four top guys" at receiver.
  • Texas Tech CB Darcel McBath is determined that Eastern Washington won't sneak up on his team on Saturday night - particularly as Coach Mike Leach has repeatedly talked about Michigan's upset losos to Appalachian State last season. "I definitely don't want to make Sports Center for that," McBath told the Lubbock Avalanche-ournal. "We can't let that happen."

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