Big 12: Arizona Wildcats

Instant analysis: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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It was billed as a potentially high-scoring, exciting Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. Baylor got the memo. UCLA didn't. The Bears dominated, making an early statement for the Big 12 in the battle with the Pac-12 for the title of "second best conference."

UCLA was gifted a TD at the end they didn't actually score. The final score should have been 49-19.

It was over when: It was 35-10 at halftime, so there wasn't much tension at any point. Baylor dominated in every way from gun-to-gun, on both sides of the ball. That the Bears' offense was explosive wasn't a surprise. That the Bears' defense crushed UCLA, well, that was.

Turning point: UCLA wanted to blitz and pressure Baylor's offense. It seemed like a good idea. But in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from the Baylor 45, the Bruins blitzed Bears QB Nick Florence, and he connected on a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch. It made the score 21-zip, and it firmly established the direction of this game.

Baylor game ball goes to: Coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor defense. There was this guy who kept calling Baylor's defense "horrible" and "terrible" and "awful." He doesn't feel very smart at this moment. Of course, that was the take on Baylor's defense just about all season from everyone. Still, just as Baylor transformed after a 3-4 start, the defense posted its best game in its final outing of 2012.

UCLA game ball goes to: Let's hear it for the special teams! Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 2-for-2 on field goals, and punter Jeff Locke was his usual outstanding self. Shaquelle Evans had a 43-yard punt return, and Steven Manfro had a 51-yard kick return.

Unsung hero: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy before the game, had a nice performance with 16 carries for 138 yards. But backup running back Glasco Martin had 98 yards and three TDs.

Stat of the game: UCLA was 1-of-17 on third down. That's just horrible. The Bruins were also 3-of-8 on fourth down. Credit to Baylor. Discredit to UCLA.

Stat of the game II: Baylor outrushed UCLA 306 yards to 33. One word: dominant.

What it means: This was the first of three bowl games putting Big 12 and Pac-12 teams. Those conferences are competing for the mythical title of Second Best Conference. This was a decisive win for the Big 12, as a team that went 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play whipped a Pac-12 team that went 9-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play. While it's probably silly to read too much into one bowl game, which can be fluid and surprising, the pressure certainly is now on Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas and Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

Late game, great game. Arizona upset No. 18 Oklahoma State, 59-38, in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday night. Here's how it happened:

It was over when: Arizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight picked off a pass from OSU quarterback Wes Lunt and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats blitzed the true freshman and it paid off as Lunt threw off his back foot across the field, making it easy for McKnight to intercept the pass and cruise untouched into the endzone. OSU never recovered.

Game ball goes to: Matt Scott. The Wildcats senior quarterback was poised and efficient. He completed 28 of 41 pass attempts for 320 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He added 55 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

Stat of the Game: 15 OSU penalties for 167 yards. Those numbers defined the game for the Cowboys who made mental mistakes and dropped passes throughout the game. It's possible some Cowboy players will have to walk back to Stillwater.

Unsung hero: With 14 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovered, Jake Fischer put his stamp on the game. The Wildcats junior linebacker was all over the field and relentless in his pursuit of OSU running backs and receivers.

Unsung hero, Part II: Once Scott softened up the Cowboys' defense through the air, running back Ka'Deem Carey exploited them on the ground. The sophomore finished with 26 carries for 125 yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats. He added four catches for 28 yards and another score to account for four touchdowns on the night.

What it means: The Big 12 Conference's BCS profile takes a hit. A ranked Big 12 squad suffered a double-digit loss to an unranked Pac-12 foe, simple as that. For Arizona, it gives Rich Rodriguez a signature win early in his tenure. For OSU, it will be a long plane ride home as the Cowboys know they got in their own way on Saturday night.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mike Stoops played Oklahoma State twice in just over a year while he was Arizona's coach. The Cowboys thumped the Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl at the end of a 2010 season that started fast and finished terribly. And they thumped Stoops at the beginning of a 2011 season that started terribly and got him fired.

So Oklahoma State is a part of the reason Rich Rodriguez took over in Tucson. And he can make a statement about why he's the right guy to turn the program around by at least improving upon a pair of blowout defeats tonight in Arizona Stadium.

Heck, maybe he can even notch an upset?

The Cowboys, though ranked 18th, don't appear to be as good as the crew that rolled over the two previous versions of the Wildcats. They've lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon and welcome back just 12 starters. Their new QB is freshman Wes Lunt, who is making his first road start and probably didn't learn much about college football in the opener against woeful Savannah State.

Arizona opened with an overtime victory over Toledo. The Wildcats piled up 624 total yards, senior QB Matt Scott played well and the dubious defense was slightly better than many feared. General sloppiness made the game close.

The Wildcats will have to clean things up to have any shot tonight.

The key for the Wildcats will be stopping the run. If the Cowboys can run -- and running back Joseph Randle is very good -- that will make things easy on Lunt. Arizona wants to force Oklahoma State to pass and hope Lunt makes rookie mistakes.

The odds, of course, are not good for the Wildcats. Arizona has lost 6 consecutive games against top-20 teams. Its last victory against a top-20 opponent came Sept. 18, 2010, against ninth-ranked Iowa. This team has plenty of talent issues, particularly its front seven on defense. And Oklahoma State is closing in on becoming one of those programs that reloads instead of rebuilds.

But Rodriguez could quickly establish why he's been brought aboard if the Wildcats post a strong performance.

What's coming up: Part 2

September, 8, 2012
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Tonight’s games are highlighted by the first true test for Oklahoma State true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt as the Cowboys head to Tucson to battle Arizona. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

Grambling State at No. 20 TCU (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net): The Horned Frogs finally hit the field after watching the remainder of the Big 12 open their seasons last weekend. TCU looks to make Gary Patterson the all-time winningest coach in school history in the first meeting between the two teams.

Texas Tech at Texas State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN): Any thoughts of overlooking Texas State left Lubbock when the Bobcats defeated Houston, 30-13, to start the season. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, any concerns about the healthy return of running back Eric Stephens were lessened with his two-touchdown performance against Northwestern State (La.) in the season opener, the fifth multi-touchdown game of his career. A healthy Stephens will make the Red Raiders offense more explosive in their first road test.

Florida A&M at No. 5 Oklahoma (7 p.m. ET, pay-per-view): All eyes will be on quarterback Landry Jones and the Sooners offense after the Big 12's preseason favorite stumbled to a 24-7 season-opening victory over UTEP on Sept. 1. OU needs to find its offensive rhythm against FAMU or Sooners fans will not be happy. And OU’s upcoming bye week becomes that much longer.

New Mexico at No. 17 Texas (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network): UNM better tighten up those chinstraps. And not just because of the new helmet rule. Longhorns running backs Malcolm Brown(105) and Joe Bergeron (110) each rushed for over 100 yards in the 37-17 victory over Wyoming as UT averaged 5.96 yards per carry.

No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona (10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): The first major test for Lunt as he looks to lead his team to a road win. While Lunt is in the spotlight, don’t be surprised if OSU puts the game on the shoulders of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, one of the Big 12’s top tailback duos, to carry the offense in Tucson.

Big 12 Week 2 primer

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
8:00
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You may be asking yourself, who is this guy? Or maybe not.

Either way, my name is Brandon Chatmon. I'll be helping out on the Big 12 blog today with our main man David Ubben in Manhattan, Kan., for the Wildcats' battle with The U. Follow me on Twitter @bchatmon and I'll have plenty of Big 12 updates throughout the day.

Enough about me, let's jump straight into football.

TV SCHEDULE
  • Miami (Fla.) at No. 21 Kansas State, noon ET, FX
  • Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
  • Rice at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
  • Grambling State at No. 20 TCU, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
  • Texas Tech at Texas State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN
  • Florida A&M at No. 5 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. ET, PPV
  • New Mexico at No. 17 Texas, 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network
  • No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
WEATHER
  • Manhattan, Kan. -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 67 degrees, north and northwest winds at 5 mph
  • Iowa City, Iowa -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 72 degrees, northwest winds at 11 mph
  • Lawrence, Kan. -- Sunny skies, game-time temperature of 76 degrees, north and northwest winds at 8 mph
  • Fort Worth, Texas -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 84 degrees, north winds at 16 mph
  • San Marcos, Texas -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 83 degrees, north and northeast winds at 13 mph
  • Norman, Okla. -- Partly sunny skies, game-time temperature of 78 degrees, north winds at 10 mph
  • Austin, Texas -- Partly cloudy skies, game-time temperature of 78 degress, north and northeast winds at 10 mph.
  • Tucson, Ariz. -- Cloudy skies, game-time temperature of 83 degrees, southeast winds at 9 mph.

 

In case you missed it, Ubben's coverage this week should have you primed and ready for kickoff:
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Fiesta Bowl tones down the party

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
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VIP strip club outings, illegal campaign contributions, expense claims that qualified as only slightly less than stealing: The Fiesta Bowl organization sounded like it was inspired by "The Sopranos" in a series of stories written by the Arizona Republic from 2009-10. When the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI and IRS began investigations, the resemblance was even more striking.

Former Fiesta Bowl COO Natalie Wisneski was indicted in Arizona federal court on nine criminal counts on Nov. 16, and among the seven felony counts were conspiracy and filing false tax records. More indictments could follow, including for former bowl CEO John Junker, who was forced out in March. Junker, according reports on the investigations, piled up nearly $5 million in expenses on the company's credit card over a 10-year period. Along the way, he allegedly paid for a $1,200 strip club visit and held a $33,000 birthday party for himself at Pebble Beach.

Bowl games already were catching heat in the media, and not just because of fans wanting a playoff instead of the BCS. More than a few news reports had questioned the bowl games' tax-exempt status. Tales of the lavish ways of the Fiesta Bowl certainly didn't help the public perception.

[+] EnlargeRobert Shelton
AP Photo/Darryl WebbRobert Shelton was hired to help repair the Fiesta Bowl's image.
Fiesta, indeed.

Into this swirling mess stepped Robert Shelton: an academic, a physicist, a former president of the University of Arizona. But his taking over the top spot at the Fiesta Bowl wasn't a moment for relativity. The bowl organization's issues were philosophic as much as anything. And Shelton's focus after taking over were existential. A branding group from Dallas was brought aboard to study the simple idea of why the Fiesta Bowl existed and what it should aspire to be.

"If we disappeared tomorrow, what would be better or what would be worse in the world?" Shelton said. "The answer is pretty simple in the end. The answer isn't bowl games. We exist to bring economic value to the state of Arizona, to be a window to the state of Arizona, a source of pride. That people outside the state of Arizona will come to see Arizona. We exist for philanthropic purposes. So that's why we are here."

And then he added: "If we keep that in mind, then we can say, 'How do we do this?'"

If the Fiesta Bowl -- the game itself -- isn't the end, but the means to an end, then the Fiesta Bowl's prime directive is to serve its community, though probably not at the local strip clubs and through backdoor routes to political coffers.

There have been changes, starting with a turnover of about one third of the bowl's 35 full-time employees. Even before Shelton arrived, the bowl adopted a new set of bylaws that included a far stricter set of checks and balances on how money is spent. There's a new "authorization matrix," which lists who can approve what expenditures at what levels and what kind of sign-offs you must have for purchases. Large expenditures require multiple sign-offs. The bowl now uses bowl-owned purchasing cards, instead of allowing employees to use their own credit cards for expenses, expecting reimbursement, which helps the bowl get a concrete idea of expenses. Further, all employees and volunteers undergo background checks, and all employees and board members sign a code of conduct.

And the old, infamous "Fiesta Bowl Frolic," which was basically a big party for college administrators, is now the "Fiesta Bowl Summit." It will include panels on important subjects, such as concussions in college football.

The Fiesta Bowl's problems were about the corrupt actions of individuals, but they also were about the bowl's culture. Both had to change.

"There were a handful of individuals alleged to have misbehaved," Shelton said. "But they were enabled by an atmosphere that was created over many, many years. Not through any evil intent but an atmosphere that wasn't cautious and reviewing or as informed as it should be."

Shelton was hired in June, but the months before he came aboard were precarious. Existential thoughts? The Fiesta Bowl, first played in 1971, was facing potential extermination. It could have been kicked out of the BCS, for one. And it could have lost its bowl licenses from the NCAA, which includes its oversight of the Insight Bowl. In the end, the BCS fined the bowl $1 million but retained the Fiesta Bowl, and the NCAA Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee put the bowl on one-year probation.

Shelton believes the bowl game is back on firm ground, though he said it wasn't yet time for the bowl to be "sanguine."

"I think there is a sense we've done the right things, and the BCS and NCAA value what we bring to the bowls and postseason play," he said.

The bowl's mission as a charitable organization also has been reviewed. When asked how much the bowl gave to charity in past years, Shelton admitted it was "relatively low in the past."

That $1 million fine from the BCS has been paid out to charity, and the Fiesta Bowl has decided to give out another $400,000 to charitable causes. It's also adopted a more systematic fashion of giving, holding publicized general calls for charitable requests.

Of course, there's another apparent conflict of interest that Shelton must face leading up to this year's Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State on Jan. 2.

Shelton is a Stanford graduate.

"I am completely neutral," he said. "I shall be dressed in neutral colors. I can't talk for my wife or kids who are also Stanford alumni."

It's a great matchup, arguably even better than the national title game between LSU and Alabama, considering that is a rematch. But while both teams have sold out their ticket allotments, the bowl is not yet a sellout.

It's possible that in a sagging local economy, the locals won't immediately re-embrace a bowl game that let its community down.

But Shelton is hoping, after an existential crisis, that the bowl finds a mythic ending.

"We could use the Fiesta Bowl's tragic events to come out even better," he said. "That's the nature of the word 'Phoenix.'"

Bowl debate: Big 12 vs. Pac-12

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
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The Pac-10 and Big 12 nearly got married last year, but only Colorado ended up eloping with the now-Pac-12.

You know: The conference that can count!

But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.

Joy to the world.

So it seemed like a good time for the Pac-12 and Big 12 bloggers -- Ted Miller and David Ubben -- to say howdy and discuss all the coming fun.

Ted Miller: Ah, David, the bowl season. Pure bliss. Unless you’re the Pac-12, which is expected to get a whipping from your conference over the holidays. We have three Pac-12-Big 12 bowl games with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, the Valero Alamo with Baylor and Washington, and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday matching California and Texas. And the Big 12 is favored in all three!

Poor ole West Coast teams. What are we to do? It’s almost like the Big 12 is the SEC or something. Speaking of which, how are things with your Cowboys? Are they over not getting a shot at LSU for the national title? Are they excited about getting a shot at Andrew Luck and Stanford? We might as well start with that outstanding matchup in Glendale.

David Ubben: You know, I was actually a little surprised. I stuck around Stillwater for the BCS bowl selection show announcement, and the players took the news pretty well. They found out an hour before, but there wasn't a ton of down-in-the-dumpiness from the Pokes. When you've never been to this point before, it's a bit difficult to develop a sense of entitlement. If Oklahoma had OSU's record and was passed over by Alabama and sent to the Fiesta Bowl for the 17th time in the past six years, you might have had a different reaction.

But Oklahoma State's first trip to the BCS and first Big 12 title aren't being overlooked. These players are looking forward to this game. There's no doubt about that.

I know the Big 12 seems like the SEC, but I have a confession, Ted. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody, but I can't hold it in anymore. When the Big 12 began back in 1996 ... wow, I'm really going to do this ... then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer graciously allowed the league to keep two of his teams. The league made a similar arrangement with the Big Eight a century ago, and the Southwest Conference around the same time. Missouri and Texas A&M are really wolves in sheep's clothing: SEC teams just pretending to be in other leagues. So, that might explain the Big 12's recent dominance.

These should all be fun games, though. I ranked two of the matchups among the top three in my bowl rankings.

As for the big one, they say you learn more by losing than by winning. Stanford got its first BCS win. How do you think that experience plays into this year's game? I hate to ruin the surprise, but Oklahoma State's a bit better than the Virginia Tech team Stanford beat last season. OSU's loss to Iowa State this season is bad, but it's nothing like the Hokies' loss to James Madison last season.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeQuarterback Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its second consecutive BCS bowl, this season against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Miller: Not only is Oklahoma State better than Virginia Tech, it's still questionable whether this Stanford team is better than last year's. Since we're going all crazy and whispering about the SEC, there was a feeling out West that by the end of the 2010 season the Cardinal might not only be the best team in the Pac-12 but also in the nation. They were big and physical and quarterback Luck actually had a solid receiving corps with which to work. After a loss to Oregon in the fifth game, they didn't lose again until playing, er, Oregon in this year's 10th game. If we could go back in time and have the Cardinal play Auburn, I think Stanford would have won the national title.

But that's 2010. The difference this year is the season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who was an All-American candidate, a slight step back on the offensive line and a lack of top-flight receivers. But if Oklahoma State fans are looking for something to worry about it is this: Stanford's running game.

The Pokes are bad against the run, and they haven't faced a team that is as physical and creative in the running game as Stanford. As much as folks talk about Luck's passing, it's his run checks that often ruin a defense's evening.

The Fiesta Bowl matchup looks like a great one, perhaps the best of the bowl season. But I’m excited to see Mr. Excitement Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl against Washington. Of course, I’m not sure that the Huskies, their fans and embattled Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt are as thrilled. First, tell us about what Washington should be most worried about with Griffin. Then tell us about Baylor in general. Such as: Can the Bears stop anyone?

David Ubben: Nope. Not really.

Oklahoma State's defense unfairly gets a bad rap. Baylor's bad rap is earned. This is the same team that won five consecutive games late in the season -- but became the first team ever to win four consecutive in a single season while giving up 30 points in each.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireBaylor's Robert Griffin III will try to make it three straight bowl victories by Heisman Trophy winners.
Which, if you ask me, says plenty about both the defense and the power of RG3. They've got a lot of athletes on the defense, but when four of your top five tacklers are defensive backs, well, you need a guy like RG3 to go 9-3.

The man is a nightmare. Top to bottom, he's the most accurate passer in a quarterback-driven league. Then, you add in his athleticism, which he doesn't even really need to be extremely productive. It sets him apart, though, and forces defenses to account for it, and it buys him time in the pocket. How many guys break a 20-plus yard run before hitting a receiver for a game-winning 39-yard score to beat a team like Oklahoma for the first time?

How do you think Washington will try to slow him down? What has to happen for them to have some success?

Ted Miller: This game matches the 99th (Washington) and 109th (Baylor) scoring defenses. It has a 78-point over-under, the biggest of any bowl game. The offenses are going to score plenty, at least that's the conventional wisdom.

How does Washington stop RGIII? His name is Chris Polk. He's a running back. Baylor gives up 199 yards rushing per game. Polk right, left and up the middle is a good way to contain Griffin. The Huskies' best hope is to reduce Griffin's touches with ball control. It also needs to convert touchdowns, not field goals, in the redzone. The Huskies are pretty good at that, scoring 36 TDs in 45 visits to the red zone.

The Huskies also have a pretty good quarterback in Keith Price, who set a school record with 29 touchdown passes this year. He and a solid crew of receivers have prevented teams from ganging up against Polk. But Polk is the guy who burns the clock.

Should be a fun game. As should, by the way, the Holiday Bowl. David, Cal fans are still mad at Texas coach Mack Brown and his politicking the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl in 2004. Every team wants to win its bowl game, but the Old Blues really want to beat Brown.

Of course, neither team is what it was in 2004. Cal has an excuse. It's not a college football superpower. Sure you've been asked this before, but give me the CliffsNotes version of why the Longhorns have fallen so hard since playing for the national title in 2009.

David Ubben: Cal fans are still mad? Really? I'd suggest they get over themselves. What's anybody on that Cal team ever done anyway? It's not like the best player in the NFL missed out on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Now, if that were the case, we might have a problem. But honestly, I don't think Tim Tebow cares all that much about the Rose Bowl.

As for Texas' struggles?

The easy answer is quarterback play. Texas relied on Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley more than anyone realized. When they were gone, Texas couldn't run the ball, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never made it happen. Two seasons later, the Longhorns still don't have a quarterback.

The other big answer last season was turnover margin. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and the Longhorns were minus-12 in turnovers, which ranked 115th nationally.

They were still only 90th this year, and without solid quarterback play in a Big 12 dominated by passers, they scored five, 13 and 17 points in three of their five losses. Texas keeps people from moving the ball and runs the ball better this year, but without a solid passing game and a defense that changes games, it's tough to rack up wins in the Big 12.

It's been awhile since Cal was in the mix for the BCS, even as USC has fallen. Oregon answered the call and rose, but what has prevented Cal from winning the Pac-10 and Super Pac-10 since the Trojans' swoon?

Ted Miller: You mention quarterback play. Cal fans ... any thoughts? You mention Aaron Rodgers. Cal fans? Oh, well, that's not very nice during this festive time of the year.

Cal has become a solid defensive team, but it's lost its offensive mojo, and that can be traced to a drop in quarterback play since Rodgers departed. The latest Bears quarterback, Zach Maynard, started fairly well, stumbled, but then seemed to catch on late in the season. It's reasonable to believe the team that gets better quarterback play -- mistake-free quarterback play -- is going to win this game.

Nice to cover a conference where quarterback play matters, eh David?

Speaking of quarterback play and winning, let's wind it up. Our specific predictions aren't coming on these games until after Christmas. But we can handicap the Big 12-Pac-12 side of things. We have a three-game series this bowl seasons.

I say the Pac-12, underdogs in all three games, goes 1-2. What say you?

David Ubben: And to think, before the season, all I heard was the Pac-12 had surpassed the Big 12 in quarterback play. Did somebody petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jake Locker and/or clone Matt Barkley? You West Coast folk are geniuses; I figured you'd find a way. We can't all be Stanford alums ...

Clearing out all the tumbleweeds here in middle America, I'll go out on a limb for the Big 12 in this one. Every matchup is a good one, and I don't think Cal has seen a defense like Texas' and Washington hasn't seen an offense like Baylor's. People forget that, yeah, RG3 is outstanding, but the Bears also have the league's leading receiver and leading rusher.

Stanford-OSU is a toss-up, but I'll go with a perfect sweep for the Big 12. The Cowboys haven't played poorly on the big stage yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this one, and they clean up for the Big 12 against what was almost its new conference this fall.

Oh, what could have been. Ubben and Miller on the same blog? Divided ultimately by a little thing we call the Rockies.

Oklahoma State rolls in Arizona rematch

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- New year, same result.

Or close, at least.

No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys took a to a 21-point lead into halftime and was never seriously threatened in a 37-14 win over the Arizona Wildcats at Boone Pickens Stadium in front of a crowd of 54,654.

Brandon Weeden completed 22 of his first 23 passes and finished with 397 yards on 42-of-53 passing.

Justin Blackmon stretched his streak of 100-yard games to 14 with 128 yards and two touchdowns on 12 catches.

We'll have lots more later, so stay tuned.

Getting to know Colorado

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
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Colorado is new to the Pac-12 but old to the Big 12, so it makes sense to check in with Big 12 blogger David Ubben to get his take on the state of the Buffaloes as they welcome new coach Jon Embree.

Just who are these Buffaloes? What are their strengths and weaknesses and how will they fit into the Pac-12, specifically the Pac-12 South?

We went looking for insights and Ubben obliged.

Ted Miller: Well, David you -- and the Big 12 -- have to say goodbye to Colorado, with the Buffaloes looking to their future out West in the Pac-12. First of all, give Pac-12 fans a CliffsNotes description of the state of the program. Things haven’t gone so well in Boulder lately. Why?

David Ubben: Colorado is certainly in rebuilding mode as they kick off a new start under coach Jon Embree after firing Dan Hawkins in the middle of the 2010 season. They bring back two stars in quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart. But fitting those guys into Embree's new system and greatly improving from their 5-7 record seems like asking a lot.

Hawkins came to Boulder promising big things but never delivered. As for why it didn't go well? Any number of reasons. One that angered fans is Hawkins' tendency to play less talented players who knew the system well over more talented players that maybe didn't have as solid of a grasp of what they wanted to do on the field. Embree has said he'll do essentially the opposite, so I guess that's a start in the eyes of fans.

TM: OK, let’s look forward then. Tell Pac-12 folks about Embree, his new staff and the talent the Buffaloes have returning. What are strengths and what are question marks heading into the 2011 season?

DU: He's stocked his coaching staff with quite a few Buffaloes, but most of the names would be more recognizable as players. The biggest name is his offensive coordinator, former Buffs great Eric Bieniemy, who spent the past few years coaching Adrian Peterson as the running backs coach at the Minnesota Vikings. They also swiped Bobby Kennedy, a Boulder native, from Texas to coach receivers.

Last year, they ran the ball pretty well, and Stewart is back. He's a small, shifty back that seems way, way underrated. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards last year, and the only Big 12 backs who had more were Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter, who should be drafted this year. They lose tackle Nate Solder, another first-round pick, but Ryan Miller is back, and he's an all-conference level guard.

The big question for them next season will be if their defense can stop the pass -- which my sources tell me, is pretty important in the Pac-12. Maybe not as important as in the Big 12, but still necessary for big success. Both corners from last year, Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, should be drafted. They weren't great at stopping the pass last year (9th in the Big 12) so it's hard to see them being better at it next year.

TM: OK. Good stuff. Let’s wind it up. How would you have projected them in the Big 12 next fall? And do you have any feeling for how they might do in the new Pac-12 South?

DU: They definitely looked like a team in the bottom third of the Big 12 next year, and it seems like it'll be tough for them to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 South in 2011.

Right now, it's just about being competitive and maybe stealing a game or two that people didn't think they'd win. If that happens enough, a bowl game isn't out of the question. We don't have any idea what to expect out of an Embree-coached team, and that could be a good or a bad thing. We won't know for sure until next year, but if Embree can bottle up whatever Colorado had inside of them the way they played down the stretch last season after Hawkins was fired, it could be a real surprise 2011 for the Buffs.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
11:34
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Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Oklahoma State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Although the Cowboys’ defense made big improvements late in the season, there's no question: Oklahoma State got here with offense. Under new coordinator Dana Holgorsen, the Cowboys have a Biletnikoff Award finalist in receiver Justin Blackmon and a pair of All-Big 12 first-teamers in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Kendall Hunter. All three have been tough to stop every time they've taken the field this season.

Oklahoma State's season came down to one game against rival Oklahoma, but a loss to the Sooners kept the Cowboys out of the Big 12 Championship. The bright side: The Cowboys beat out Nebraska and Missouri in the bowl pecking order.

The Cowboys' already historic season -- Mike Gundy's team won 10 regular season games for the first time -- has a great chance to finish on a high note against Arizona. And hey, if the Cowboys can't beat one Stoops, they've got a chance at another in San Antonio. Bob Stoops has bested the Cowboys every year since 2002, but his brother, Mike Stoops, coaches the Wildcats.


Arizona take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Arizona played two seasons in 2010. In the first one, they rolled to a 7-1 record, high national ranking and looked like a Pac-10 contender. In the second one, they lost their final four games.

Most of that was a quirk of the schedule. The final four games were at Stanford, USC, at Oregon and Arizona State. Still, the Wildcats wanted to take another step in the building of a program. They fell short of that goal because they weren't consistent on either side of the ball.

The Wildcats jumped out of the gate quickly and recorded what seemed at the time a marquee victory over Iowa on Sept. 18. That win included a clutch offensive drive led by quarterback Nick Foles and a dominating effort by the defense. But the Wildcats seemed to be lacking that same fire three weeks later in a home loss to Oregon State.

The Wildcats then reeled off three consecutive wins, including two with Matt Scott at quarterback after Foles injured his knee. But that surge proved illusory when the schedule toughened up.

The running game -- the inability to consistently run the ball and stop the run -- has been a problem for Arizona this year, particularly late in the season. It's what prevented the Wildcats from taking the next step.

Big 12 lunch links: Texas wasn't interested in Seantrel Henderson

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
1:45
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Here are some tasty lunchtime links from across the conference.

Enjoy them.

Cornhuskers nab second big commitment of day with S Corey Cooper

February, 3, 2010
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Bo Pelini nabbed his second big recruiting commitment of the morning when touted four-star safety Corey Cooper of Maywood, Ill., accepted Nebraska's scholarship offer.

Cooper chose the Cornhuskers over Notre Dame, Arizona and Illinois.

Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, played wide receiver as well as defensive back in high school, but he is committed to playing defense for the Cornhuskers.

“When I visited there and talked with the coaches, I just felt comfortable,” Cooper told the Lincoln Journal Star. "I feel I can go in there and contribute."

With the loss of starters Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon, the Cornhuskers need safeties. Cooper might be good enough to contribute immediately.

His decision came on the heels of Brion Carnes' commitment to the Cornhuskers earlier on Wednesday.

It's been a good day for the Cornhuskers with an announcement set early this afternoon with Owamagbe Odighizuwa. If they can get him it would be an unprecedented late recruiting hat trick by Pelini and his staff.

Big 12 mailbag: Would Texas ever move to the Big Ten?

February, 2, 2010
2/02/10
8:06
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Happy day before National Signing Day.

I couldn’t jump into the recruiting hubbub, however, without taking care of some Tuesday afternoon correspondence.

Here goes.

Richard Sylvester from Houston writes: Tim, love your blog. Thanks for all of the diligent hard work you’re cranking out day after day. I read it every morning and throughout the day.

My question is whether you’ve been reading an excellent set of posts from Frank the Tank’s Slant about a potential move by Texas to the Big Ten. It lays out several well-researched reasons why the ultimate big fish out there – bigger than Missouri, bigger than Syracuse and way bigger than Notre Dame – is Texas.

Could you envision a scenario where the Longhorns would ever leave the Big 12 behind and jump to the Big Ten?

Tim Griffin; I have been reading Frank’s interesting posts on the subject. And he raises some interesting points about how much money the Longhorns could ultimately make by joining the Big Ten in one of his most recent missives.

Obviously, the Big Ten is one of the most tradition-rich conferences in the nation, if not the most. Adding Texas would give them, like Frank writes the ultimate free agent in terms of college sports.

Texas matches the research qualities that members of the Big Ten’s academia would demand when a new conference partner would be added.

And it would deliver a huge potential market for the fledgling Big Ten cable television network if the state of Texas would be added. Some estimates are that the population for the states in the Big 12 would account for more than 90 million people if Texas was added to the Big Ten.

It would also conservatively mean the Longhorns would make at least $10 million in new athletic revenue because of the new revenue sources the Big Ten’s whopping television network provides, compared with the Big 12's current deal.

But whether they would leave the traditional rivals from the Southwest Conference and the new ones from the Big 12 is debatable. The travel costs would be huge in all sports and the Longhorns would be jumping into a cauldron of potential new opponents like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa among others.

Texas would have to agree to a revenue sharing deal in place in the Big Ten that is different from the Big 12’s where the teams that appear in the most television games and make the most NCAA basketball tournament appearances earn more money.

And remember how the Texas Legislature became involved with news leaked that Texas was leaving for the Big 12 Conference. It basically paved the way for Baylor and Texas Tech to tag along with Texas and Texas A&M. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Texas announced it wanted to go to the Big Ten by itself.

The Big 12 has been good for Texas. Virtually every sports program is at a level where the Longhorns can legitimately contend for a national championship. It has an intriguing mix of local and regional rivals.

It makes for some fanciful thinking and has a lot of interesting points to think about Texas leaving the Big 12. But I just don’t see it happening – at least at this time -- because of so many obstacles that would exist in the move.

Meni of Manchester, N.H., writes: In regards to the link you had yesterday about the Oklahoma players who were likely first-round selections in the Class of 2011, the guy in College Football News listed Travis Lewis, DeMarco Murray, Quinton Carter and Dominique Franks on his list. I thought Franks declared for the NFL draft, didn’t he?

Tim Griffin: Meni, you are correct. Franks declared for the draft shortly before the deadline. Most draft analysts have him going in the third or fourth round. He’s a very determined player and I think his speed should help him make an NFL squad as a special-teams player, making him an intriguing sleeper pick.

Steve Sutton from Ozona, Texas, writes: Tim: Interesting story about players who exceeded recruiting expectations, showing how uncertain the recruiting process is. I was wondering if you might elaborate on some of the more celebrated misses during the time of your survey.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I hope I was able to showcase how inexact recruiting can actually be. But I think the player in the most celebrated Big 12 player in recent seasons who has failed to live up to expectations was Colorado running back Darrell Scott, who was the No. 2 running back in the nation in 2008 and had an 89 ranking by ESPNU. He played with the Buffaloes during his freshman season before leaving the team midway through the season in 2009. His next playing situation is unknown at this time.

Of course, the player ranked ahead of him at running back has been a bust as well. Jermie Calhoun of Oklahoma was the No. 1 running back in the 2008 class, but redshirted and then gained only 220 yards and scored a touchdown in his redshirt season. Calhoun had trouble getting a chance at playing time behind Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray last season. It will be interesting if he develops and gets more of a chance for a playing time in 2010 after Brown’s graduation.

Another player who hasn’t lived up to expectations has been Texas defensive end Eddie Jones, who had an 88 ranking and was the No. 2 defensive end in the nation in the 2006 class. He hasn’t started a game at Texas in his first three seasons, although he showed some flashes as a situational pass rusher with five sacks and seven tackles for losses in 2009.

Pete from Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, great blog, I love reading every day. I noticed that ESPN Sports Nation did a poll that asked if recruiting or game planning was more important for a coach to succeed. The vote showed that most fans think recruiting is more important.

But I disagree.

Bill Callahan and Charlie Weis were great recruiters, but did they ultimately succeed? What about John Blake? Nope. Game planning is what wins. Take Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. All of them are good recruiters, but they never attract top-five classes. Yet they have their programs at a consistent level. What’s your take on the issue?

Tim Griffin: Pete, you raise an interesting question. I think you ultimately have to have a combination of both, but I would lean to game planning as being just as important as recruiting in developing a contending program.

Like you mentioned, coaches like Pelini and Ferentz get good players, but they take them to high competitive levels thanks to their teaching and game planning.

The old recruiting adage has always described college football as “not being about the Xs and Os, but about the Jimmys and the Joes.”

But I think that’s changing as there’s more parity across the nation. When good coaches get good players, that’s when programs the foundations for really good programs start being built.

Cecil Wilson of Plano, Texas, writes: With recruiting coming to an end, I just noticed that Texas did not get a commitment from a tight end. Looking at the Longhorns’ roster, they have several, but I have not seen or heard of any of them, except for Blaine Irby. What do you think the Horns will do about this position in the upcoming season? With a new quarterback, either Garrett Gilbert or Case McCoy, they are going to need all the options they can have. Thank you for all your hard work. Hook 'Em.

Tim Griffin: The tight end hasn’t been a position of much relevancy for the Longhorns since Jermichael Finley left after the 2007 season. Irby was injured early in the 2008 season and didn’t play last season.

That left the Longhorns utilizing four-receiver sets in many occasions for many occasions. Greg Smith, a 260-pounder was the primary blocking tight end for most of the season. He was backed up by Ahmard Howard. Wide receiver Dan Buckner emerged at the flex tight end spot early in the season, but struggled getting the ball late in the season and has elected to transfer to Arizona.

The status of Irby is unknown at this time as he recovers from his injury. I look for D.J. Grant to have the best shot of emerging during spring practice. Grant was declared academically ineligible at the start of the season, but should be ready to go.

The tight end position will be of vital importance as Gilbert uses it for checkdown receptions. The question will be who will ultimately be catching passes from that position.

Thanks again for all of the good questions this week. I’ll check back again on Friday.

Could Big 12 play a part in filling Arizona position?

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
10:55
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Most of the major coaching jobs across the country have been filled in the last couple of weeks.

One of the most intriguing remains open. Arizona coach Mike Stoops is still looking for an offensive coordinator to replace Sonny Dykes, who recently was hired as the new coach at Louisiana Tech.

The Arizona job is an attractive one for coordinators. The lifestyle in Tucson is appealing and Stoops has been able to command a nice salary for his coaches with the Arizona program, which has made back-to-back bowl trips in the last two seasons for the first since 1997-98.

The most intriguing hire with the most splash likely won't happen. That would be if Stoops could reach out to Mike Leach, who he is familiar with after coaching with him on his brother Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma in 1999.

Leach is out of work now after his recent dismissal at Texas Tech. He brings unquestioned knowledge of the passing game and would work well with Nick Foles, who ranked 19th nationally after throwing for 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.

But it's unlikely that Leach would return to college football as a coordinator. Although he is familiar with Stoops and would be running the same offense as the one he made famous at Texas Tech, I can't see Leach giving up a chance to be a head coach. A more likely scenario will be for him to sit out for a year and attempt to get in the mix for coaching vacancies next season.

A more likely scenario would be for Stoops to perhaps raid his brother's staff for an assistant. Former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel has thrived as the Sooners' quarterbacks coach and might be ready for a jump up in responsibility as a coordinator.

Heupel is only 31 and has never been an offensive coordinator before. But he has shown remarkable aptitude in the passing offense so far and might be ready for the jump in responsibility.

Arizona insiders have hinted that the most likely replacement for Dykes is already on Mike Stoops' staff. Former Texas Tech and current Arizona offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and outside receivers coach Dave Nichol could assume the role in a co-coordinator capacity.

But the chance to move the Wildcats forward has Stoops considering making this a major move. And adding Heupel or Leach would certainly qualify as one.

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