Big 12: Barry Turner

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
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2009 overall record: 10-4

2009 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (8) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Roy Helu Jr., DT Jared Crick, CB Prince Amukamara, QB Zac Lee, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Niles Paul, OL Keith Williams, P/K Alex Henery

Key losses: DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, LB Phillip Dillard, S Matt O’Hanlon, DE Barry Turner, C Jacob Hickman

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr.* (1,147 yards)

Passing: Zac Lee* (2,143 yards)

Receiving: Niles Paul* (796 yards)

Tackles: Ndamukong Suh (85)

Sacks: Ndamukong Suh (12)

Interceptions: Matt O’Hanlon (6)

Three spring answers

1. Defensive identity. The word “Peso” took on a whole new meaning in Nebraska this spring. Though not as revolutionary as some figured it to be, the five defensive back set helped the Huskers finish strong in 2009 and inspired the Mexican currency-inspired moniker in spring 2010. The lynchpin of the Peso is defensive back Eric Hagg, who plays the safety/linebacker hybrid position.

2. Taylor Martinez emerges. Tales of his speed leaked out during spring practices, and Martinez put on a show in the spring game, running for 60 yards and throwing for 79. The redshirt freshman injected himself into the quarterback race this spring, further muddying a logjam at the top for the Huskers.

3. Second target found. Mike McNeill moved from tight end to receiver this spring, but will still play some tight end in a hybrid role, and Nebraska needed to find a second option opposite Niles Paul. Brandon Kinnie looks like the answer. He’s been competitive with Paul in the spring and caught a 36-yard score in which the 230-pounder dragged the pile 10 yards into the end zone. Will Henry caught a 72-yard score in the game, and should be a factor in the passing game as well.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the QB? Last year’s starter, Zac Lee, sat out the spring after undergoing offseason surgery on his throwing arm. Sophomore Cody Green played in spots last season, and had a good spring. But Martinez has some fan support after his spring and will likely play at least some role in the offense. Nebraska needs its quarterback play to improve if it wants to make the jump to national title contender this year, but who gets the task hasn’t been determined.

2. Is the defense going to sustain? The Pelini brothers aren’t fretting about their defense, despite losing five members of the Blackshirts to the NFL, saying the defense will be “five times better” than it was last season. An improvement is a possibility in the fall, but the defense allowed a nation-best 10.4 points a game in 2009, a tough number to duplicate for a second season without players like Ndamukong Suh, Larry Asante and Phillip Dillard.

3. Burkhead vs. Helu. Rex Burkhead returned from a stress fracture in his foot and received more carries than Roy Helu Jr., who finished the season with 1,147 yards. Burkhead, a former high school quarterback, allows Nebraska’s Wildcat formation to be more versatile, and is shiftier than Helu, but Helu is more experienced, and runs with a slashing style. They’ll enter the fall likely receiving near equal carries, but that balance could shift as the season progresses.

Notable undrafted Big 12ers finding homes

April, 27, 2010
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Nine players from the Big 12 were drafted in the first round, but not everybody can make millions. Here's where a few notable Big 12ers ended up after going undrafted:

Baylor

Four-time All-Big 12er will try to fit in with new coach Pete Carroll.

Everyone respects Lake as a hitter, but a lack of speed will likely keep the Thorpe Award candidate from succeeding at the pro level.

Kansas

Might end up in Canada after struggling to show scouts he could compensate for his lack of height.

Kansas State

Banks ran a 4.43 at the combine, the fifth-fastest time recorded by a receiver, but his size will keep him from playing receiver at the next level. Some team will give him a shot as a return man eventually. What he does with it is up to him.

Missouri

NFL teams are waiting on Alexander to pass a physical after undergoing his fourth knee surgery in just over a year. The nation's receiving leader can't seem to catch a break.

Baston and Gregory were second-team All-Big 12ers and Carolina began contacting Gregory during the sixth round, expressing its interest in signing him.

Nebraska

Turner and O'Hanlon make five Blackshirts who ended up on NFL rosters after leaving Nebraska. DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante and LB Phillip Dillard were drafted.

Oklahoma

An ankle injury ended English's season early and any chance the defensive end, who was named to the All-Big 12 first team as a freshman, had of being drafted.

  • DT DeMarcus Granger - Seattle
Former blue-chip recruit never recovered from offseason back surgery before last season and didn't play until the bowl game.

Solid runner led the Sooners in rushing the past two seasons. Might be able to slip into Josh McDaniels' uncertain situation at running back. Lesser accomplished backs have done it in Denver in the past, but that was under Mike Shanahan, who's now in Washington.

Oklahoma State

Toston stepped in after Kendall Hunter was injured and ran for over 1,000 yards.

Lewis began the season on the cover of SI, and Bond came to Oklahoma State after playing eight-man football. Both are now on current NFL rosters.

Texas

The most accurate kicker in Texas history, Lawrence doesn't seem likely to beat out the solid Connor Barth, who took over the job midseason last year, for the starting job. But impress during minicamp, or stay on the roster through training camp, and other teams could take notice.

Ulatoski has the size (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) to succeed in the NFL, he just has to prove it with the Texans. Tanner and Ulatoski have a handful of All-Big 12 honors heading into the next level.

Texas A&M

McCoy caught 35 passes for 367 yards and two scores and made the All-Big 12 second team.

Texas Tech

Sharpe finished second in the Big 12 with 15 sacks.

Carter, most known for his hair and makeup, turned an All-Big 12 first-team effort in 2009 into a free-agent deal with the world champs.

Nebraska recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Nebraska Cornhuskers

Total class: 21

ESPN 150: 1

By position: DT 3, DE 3, ATH 2, QB 2, OT 2, CB 2, S 2, RB 1, WR 1, TE 1, OLB 1, G 1

By state: Texas 5, Nebaska 4, Florida 2, Colorado 2, California 2, Missouri 1, Illinois 1, Ohio 1, Minnesota 1, Louisiana 1, Mississippi 1.

Already enrolled in school: 3.

The big ones: Massive 298-pound guard Andrew Rodriguez, the nation's seventh ranked player at his position and the Cornhuskers’ only player on the ESPNU 150, looks like he could develop into a dominant player in the trenches. Safety Corey Cooper, a late decommittment from Illinois and the nation's No. 20 rated safety, arrives at Nebraska’s biggest defensive position of need.

Sleeper: WR/KR/DB Ken Bell, son of former Denver Broncos player Ken Bell, struggled with injuries during his senior season in high school. But he has played well at a variety of positions and has been clocked at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash.

Needs met: With the loss of Ndamukong Suh and Barry Turner to graduation and Pierre Allen entering his senior season, the Cornhuskers filled a gap with six defensive linemen. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson should fill the biggest defensive need at safety. But the Cornhuskers still are looking for offensive firepower and added only one wide receiver.

Analysis: The Cornhuskers added a couple of late additions when Cooper and QB Brion Carnes joined on Wednesday. But they missed on the really big recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa decided to go to UCLA. Coach Bo Pelini doesn’t agree with the perception that this class is lacking on offensive playmakers. But there's no debate that he addressed most of the Cornhuskers' most pressing needs with a typically wide-ranging class with players attracted from 11 states.

What Bo Pelini said: On recruiting ratings: "I don't pay that much attention to it, other then when I'm down and I really want to get a good laugh." On not attracting Owamagbe Odighizuwa: “It’s his mistake. Honestly, I don’t get all caught up in all that. I don’t get all stressed out about whether they’re going to come. I thought he was a pretty good player. But in my mind, the kids that don’t choose to come here I don’t believe do themselves a service because I believe we’ll develop them better than the other guy. That’s just the confidence I have.”

Scouts Inc. grade/rankings: C-plus, seventh in Big 12.

Cornhuskers lose Odighizuwa to UCLA

February, 3, 2010
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Nebraska missed out on its biggest potential recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa picked UCLA over the Cornhuskers and Oregon State.

In a nationally televised announcement on ESPNU Wednesday afternoon, Odighizuwa chose the Bruins after Nebraska was thought to have a strong chance at the prospect from David Douglas High School in Portland, Ore.

Odighizuwa would have given the Cornhuskers an immediate threat at defensive end as they lose senior Barry Turner and will lose Pierre Allen after next season.

His final choice was a difficult one and something he said he didn't take lightly.

"This decision will affect the next 40 years for me and not four," Odighizuwa said. "It's something I have to be proud about."

And in the end, he said that UCLA was the best place for him to play college football.

"UCLA is the right fit because I felt real comfortable with the coaching staff," Odighizuwa said. "The academics are good. Their football program is on the rise. At the end of the day I felt most comfortable at the school."

Odighizuwa's choice takes a little of the luster from Nebraska's strong start today that included earlier commitments from safety Corey Cooper and quarterback Brion Carnes.

But Odighizuwa would have been the Cornhuskers' biggest recruit. And not getting him hurts Bo Pelini and his program.

Big 12 North recruiting needs

January, 21, 2010
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Signing day is just around the corner, and each Big 12 team is doing what it can to keep together its class while adding a late upgrade in talent.

Here's a look at what immediate recruiting needs each North Division team must address first.

Colorado

Running back: With the departure of Darrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler, Dan Hawkins needs to find some talent at running back. With only three scholarship backs on the roster, an immediate talent infusion is needed. Tony Jones is the only commitment and the Buffaloes could use size from a bigger back.

Tight end/H-back: All of the positions are important in Kent Riddle’s offense, and six players graduated from those positions in December. The only player who will return with experience includes junior tight end Ryan Deehan, so Hawkins needs players at the position who can help immediately.

Quarterback: With Tyler Hansen set at quarterback and Cody Hawkins set to graduate after next season, the Buffaloes still would like to add some depth at the position. Nick Hirschman has enrolled early to get a head start on his development, and Josh Moten appears ready to enroll after failing to make his grades before last season.

Iowa State

Across the board talent infusion: The Cyclones already have added 24 commitments for the upcoming season. Junior college players like massive offensive lineman Jon Caspers, defensive end Rony Nelson, wide receiver Anthony Young and tight end Ricky Howard should provide an immediate lift. And look for coach Paul Rhoads to add a couple of more to capitalize on the late momentum from the Insight Bowl victory.

Running back: Preparing for the future will be important as Alexander Robinson will be entering his senior season. Freshmen Beau Blankenship still has some developing to do and Jeremiah Schwartz has left the program. The Cyclones have added depth with the addition of Duran Hollis and Shontrelle Johnson. Don’t be surprised if Hollis moves positions once he comes to college if Johnson develops as expected.

Wide receiver: The Cyclones had trouble making big plays and could use a talent boost at the position. Leading 2009 receiver Marquis Hamilton has graduated and Jake Williams will be a senior next season. Recruits Jarvis West and Chris Young appear to have addressed those needs.

Kansas

Defensive end: The Jayhawks could use a talent upgrade here with occasional starters Jeff Wheeler and Maxwell Onyegbule graduated, and Jake Laptad and Quintin Woods entering their senior seasons in 2010. It became more of a need after Oklahoma beat out the Jayhawks for top defensive end prospect Geneo Grissom earlier this week.

Quarterback: With unproven Kale Pick set to take over for Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks have added junior college transfer Quinn Mecham of Snow Junior College to immediately contend for playing time. Meacham threw for 3,091 yards and 40 touchdowns last season and has already captured the attention of new offensive coordinator Chuck Long because of his experience in the spread offense.

Secondary: New coach Turner Gill also needs help in the secondary where starters Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton were seniors and Philip Strozier, Chris Harris and Calvin Rubles will be seniors next season.

Kansas State

Adjust time-held notions to recruiting: Bill Snyder said recruiting seemed “out of kilter” in his first season back because of how teams now are in a hurry to link up with rising juniors. This strategy has caused Snyder to change his recruiting strategy, looking into signing more players earlier than in his previous coaching strategy.

Junior-college additions again will be critical in the trenches: Snyder has attacked the junior colleges with his traditional fervor as he attempts to unearth a couple of under-recruited gems in the offensive line and defensive lines -- the Wildcats’ two primary needs. Also, the Wildcats need some immediate help from the junior colleges after a recruiting imbalance during the last two seasons under Ron Prince that has left them with a need for immediate contributors. Snyder has estimated that up to 13 players will enroll at the semester break to contend immediately for playing time.

Quarterback: Even with a crowded group of potential contenders at the position, Snyder is still considering another quarterback. Carson Coffman, Sammuel Lamur, Collin Klein and Oregon transfer Chris Harper all are in the mix at the position heading into spring practice.

Missouri

Wide receiver: The Tigers have a lot of talent returning, but still will lose leading 2009 receiver Danario Alexander and Jared Perry. The opportunity for eventual playing time will be there for new arrivals, although Jerrell Jackson, Brandon Gerau, T.J. Moe and Wes Kemp will be back.

Nose tackle: The graduation of Jaron Baston and Bart Coslet’s senior-to-be status opens up a position for a contribution in the trenches for the Tigers.

Secondary: All four of Missouri’s projected starters next season -- cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland and safety Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons -- will be seniors. The Tigers need to restock depth at the position and perhaps move it forward from this class.

Nebraska

Defensive end: The Cornhuskers could use an additional player with Barry Turner graduating and Pierre Allen set to enter his senior season in 2010. They are in the hunt with Oregon for Owamagbe Odighizuwa, a heralded speed rusher from Portland, Ore., who would be the crown jewel in the Cornhuskers’ incoming class if he commits.

Wide receivers: Many players are back, although the Cornhuskers could use an infusion of speed at the position. Niles Paul will be a senior and more talent is needed to make the Cornhuskers competitive with the athletic teams in the South Division like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Safety: Starters Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante both will be graduating and Eric Hagg will be a senior in 2010. The Cornhuskers will need some help to join with youngsters Courtney Osborne, Austin Cassidy and P.J. Smith at the position.

Big 12 mailbag: Will Blackshirts be good in 2010 again?

January, 19, 2010
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I received a slew of comments about some of my early choices for my All-Decade teams across the conference. Hopefully, that will prove as popular during the rest of the week for the rest of the Big 12 teams as they are released.

Here's a representative example of some of the other missives I've received over the last few days.

Mike Heuertz of Iowa writes: Tim, even with Ndamukong Suh leaving Nebraska, as well as a couple other key defensive players, do you think the Blackshirts will be better next season? And what do you think Nebraska's record will be?

Tim Griffin: I talked with several Nebraska fans during my swing through the state last week who seemed almost giddy about the Cornhuskers’ chances next season.

That being said, the loss of Suh will be huge. I think he can be considered the arguably greatest defensive player in the history of the program. The Cornhuskers also will lose Barry Turner, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and the heart, grit and talent provided by Matt O’Hanlon.

Now I can see players like Prince Amukamara, Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Jared Crick getting a lot better gaining experience playing Bo Pelini’s defense. But it might be a little wishful thinking to hope for much improvement from this season -- considering the Cornhuskers’ big defensive personnel losses.

As far as their record, I would expect them to be one of the powers of the Big 12. They have a tricky game at Washington which will earn them a lot of national notoriety if they can win. Texas will be coming to Lincoln, as will Colorado and Missouri. A road game at Oklahoma State doesn’t look as daunting as it could be with the Cowboys breaking in a new quarterback. But an underrated challenge for the Cornhuskers might wait at Texas A&M with Jerrod Johnson and all of A&M’s strong returning offensive weapons back for next season.

Looking at that schedule, I’ll pick the Cornhuskers to go 10-2 and finish as the Big 12 North champion. Considering their returning talent and their schedule, I think that’s a relatively conservative pick.

But as far as next year's team being better than the 2009 version of the Blackshirts, that might be wishing for a little bit much -- even for the Pelinis.


Chris Henson from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: Tim, a quick addition to the Texas A&M-Oklahoma State tidbit. The Red, White, and Blue Out in 2001 was organized by a group of students first and foremost as a fundraiser for the victims of 9/11. I appreciate you noting this event as it really shows what Texas A&M is all about.

Tim Griffin: Chris, thanks for the clarification. Like you wrote, it was truly an emotional event. There’s a picture of the stadium that is still hung in the press box at Kyle Field of the stadium bedecked for that game. It still gives me goose bumps when I see it.


Travis from Seattle writes: Tim, the players of the decade category has created quite a stir, with many saying, "...well how could X player be off the list." For the most part I agree with your list if you look at it being, who were great players, AND who did the most to influence their team's success, (thus why Graham Harrell is off, being a plug-and-play quarterback in that system although he did do a fine job).

But I propose a different category. Who were the best ATHLETES of the decade? And how about the best competitors, the ones who did everything to try to win. What are your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: You raise a good point about my list earlier being an all-around grouping of all qualities. As far as the best athletes of the decade in the Big 12 from the last decade, in no specific order I would include Ndamukong Suh, Eric Crouch, Robert Griffin, Chris Brown, Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Darren Sproles, Danario Alexander (before and after his injury), Brad Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Adrian Peterson, Brian Orakpo, Michael Huff, Earl Thomas, Reggie McNeal, Robert Ferguson, Sammy Davis and Michael Crabtree.

And among the top competitors I’ve seen include Stephen McGee, Crabtree, Colt McCoy, Roy Miller, Joe Pawelek, Jordan Lake, George Hypolite, Todd Reesing, Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Matt O’Hanlon, Suh, Josh Fields, Brian Iwuh, Darrell Stuckey, Steven Sheffield, Wes Welker and Kliff Kingsbury. There are many others, but those are just some of the names that come to me off the top of my head. And the fact that Suh and Crabtree made both of those lists is pretty indicative of how exceptional they really were.


Fred Dodge of Annapolis, Md., writes: Tim, in reference to your top 10 jobs in college football. You have a good list, BUT the one caveat that I think goes with this list or any list is context. Most of these are still the "right-guy-for-the-right-place" jobs -- as are coaches. Being a Husker, I lean toward Bo Pelini and Nebraska as my first examples. Bo would not be a good fit for many of these jobs...I just can't see Bo fitting at USC or Florida for example; but I also can't see Lane Kiffin or Pete Carroll being successful in Lincoln. And in my opinion there are only a few guys who can shape a program around their personality. Nick Saban could coach anywhere, Urban Meyer probably could, and Jim Tressel could in most places. But I have a difficult time seeing Mack Brown outside the southeast or southwest and Bo Pelini outside the midwest. All of these guys could still coach, but I think they would struggle in fan support -- and so they would also in recruiting.

Tim Griffin: You make an interesting point, although I think that Pelini would work in more places than you might suspect. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool football coach and would succeed at most traditional powers, although I think his style best suits him at Nebraska. But I could see him being successful in the Southeastern Conference, in the Big Ten or even at Notre Dame. Anywhere they have a deep appreciation for football, I can see Pelini working out.

I think coaches like Bob Stoops, Saban, Meyer and Tressel would work most places. I also think you might include some underrated coaches out there like Mike Riley of Oregon State, Gary Patterson of TCU, Jeff Tedford of California and Chris Peterson of Boise State would be adaptable at almost any job in the country. But it does seem that the smart coaches are the ones who pick places where they are comfortable and have the best chance for success.


Kyle Zander of Fort Hood, Texas, writes: Will Chris Whaley and Desean Hales get playing time for Texas in 2010? I played against Hales in high school and the kid is the real deal, Texas needs to get him involved as soon as possible. And Whaley could help, too.

Tim Griffin: Texas needs to find some help for its running game. Whaley was hurt when he reported to practice last summer and never regained his form. If he’s willing to rededicate himself, there likely is a chance for him to earn some playing time this spring. He needs to have a big spring to get there.

Sales is in a similar situation. The Longhorns have wide receiving talent in players like senior-to-be John Chiles and James Kirkendoll. Malcolm Williams is a big strong receiver who will emerge in coming seasons and should be the team’s featured receiver in 2010. But there are catches – plenty of them -- available for Hales if he can force himself into the mix.


Brett Stamm from Keller, Texas, writes: Tim, love the blog! Keep up the good work! Has Mike Sherman, or will Mike Sherman, or why will Mike Sherman not, consider Dat Nguyen for defensive coordinator? Talk about a guy who has done an outstanding job in his current position and would bring some instant credibility with players and recruits in a program that has pretty much let a proud defensive tradition die with questionable and mediocre hires. This is a guy who was the face of and exemplified the "Wrecking Crew" tradition for four years! Your thoughts?

Tim Griffin: Brett, Dat Nguyen has been a key member of Wade Phillips’ staff as an assistant linebacker coach and defensive quality control assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. But I would suspect that Sherman probably would like for Nguyen to have a little more seasoning and experience calling defenses before he would give him the responsibility of serving as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator.

In a way, Nguyen reminds me a little of Major Applewhite as they develop in their coaching careers. It won’t surprise me if both become successful coordinators and eventually outstanding head coaches. But they need more experience to get there.

Nguyen seems like a natural to join the A&M coaching staff in the future. But I think it might be a stretch to see him as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator at this stage of his career.

That’s all the time I have for today. Thanks again for all of the good questions and keep the letters and e-mails coming. I’ll check back again on Friday.

Holiday Bowl instant analysis: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

December, 31, 2009
12/31/09
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Nebraska's 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was much easier than anyone would have ever expected. It pushed the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory in a season for the first time since 2003.

Here’s how the Cornhuskers were able to produce their impressive victory.

How the game was won: Nebraska’s defense dominated the game from the opening snap. But the real reason the Cornhuskers cruised to an unexpectedly easy triumph over Arizona was the return of their offense. Nebraska scored on seven of its first eight possessions as they charged to their most one-sided bowl victory since the 2000 Alamo Bowl whipping of Northwestern.

Turning point: On the third play from scrimmage, Matt O’Hanlon stepped in front of a pass from Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and returned it 37 yards to the Arizona 5. Zac Lee scored two plays later and the Nebraska rout was on.

Stat of the game: Nebraska’s shutout was the first ever posted by a Big 12 team in the 94-game bowl history of the conference since it started play in 1996.

Player of the game: Ndamukong Suh was playing until the end of the Cornhuskers’ victory -- long after the game’s result was settled. But considering the relentless drive and determination that Suh has always shown, it wasn’t surprising he was out with the Blackshirts until the final defensive stop. He produced only three tackles, but was a force on nearly every play for Nebraska.

Best call: Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was determined to juice production in the offense after its struggles against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He had a few wrinkles Wednesday night, like having I-back Rex Burkhead get direct snaps in Wildcat formations. On one of the first Wildcat plays, Burkhead charged in for a 5-yard touchdown run. It helped spark him to a game-high 92 rushing yards on 17 carries.

What it means: Nebraska likely has staked a top-10 position in preseason polls next season. And that’s even without Suh, safeties O’Hanlon and Larry Asante, center Jacob Hickman and defensive end Barry Turner. But the Cornhuskers return 10 offensive starters, six on defense and kicker/punter extraordinaire Alex Henery. Bo Pelini should be loaded for a run at the Big 12 title next season.

Worth remembering: “Nebraska is back and we’re here to stay,” Pelini’s comments when he accepted the winning trophy after the Holiday Bowl.

Why I voted McCoy for the Heisman

December, 10, 2009
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The Heisman Trophy balloting was tougher than I can ever remember it being.

I labored long and pondered my vote for several days before I finally made it late Monday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColt McCoy didn't play his best in the Big 12 championship, but he did enough to win.
Voting for Colt McCoy isn’t an easy decision and after reading countless e-mails and letters this week assuredly wasn’t a popular one. But I think it’s the right one for a lot of good reasons.

Like an electorate that is swayed by the last thing they hear at a debate, I fear that some of my fellow voters and most fans across the country put too much importance on what happened in the most recent game. I don't think they considered the body of work for a season.

McCoy was intercepted three times in a tight 13-12 victory over Nebraska. One of the picks was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Another one was snatched by DeJon Gomes on an outstanding athletic play were he ripped it away from a Texas receiver.

I don’t think it was McCoy’s fault that he was sacked nine times against Nebraska. Instead, it was most indicative of playing behind the weakest offensive line he's had during his career.

But in the end, McCoy persevered to take his team to the conference championship and advance to the national championship game. Detractors talk about how he disappeared in that Nebraska game. I actually look at the toughness he showed to engineer his team to its biggest victory during the time he has been Texas’ quarterback -- despite the fierce pounding he took.

And other Heisman finalists struggled through bad games this season as well.

Mark Ingram produced 30 yards against Auburn -- a defense that was ranked 80th nationally in rush defense. Earlier in the season, he rushed for 50 yards against Arkansas's defense, which finished 68th in rush defense.

I also hear from some of my friends that cover the Southeastern Conference that other backs on Alabama’s team could have done the same thing as Ingram if they had gotten the opportunity.

People talk about the Heisman not being a career award and how previous years shouldn’t matter.

But I think Colt McCoy did enough this season to take his team to the brink of the national championship. On top of becoming the winningest quarterback in FBS history with a 45-7 career won-loss record.

That statistic resonates in a year where one candidate doesn’t stand out to me.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had phenomenal individual numbers. But I still can’t get away from the biggest statistic in my mind: 9-4. As in Nebraska’s won-loss record.

Suh also had a few clunkers thrown in as well. There was the game against Texas Tech when he had four tackles and no sacks in a 21-point loss to the Red Raiders. He had four tackles and no sacks against Oklahoma. And three tackles and no sacks against Kansas.

It’s also likely that Suh played as a part of one of the great defensive lines in Big 12 history. Jared Crick set a school record for sacks against Baylor. Barry Turner was an underrated defensive end who repeatedly beat Adam Ulatoski last week. Pierre Allen had his moments as well.

The argument could be made that those opponents schemed to take him away from the game. But shouldn’t a Heisman Award candidate be able to overcome those offense plans, particularly playing with as strong a defensive front as the Cornhuskers had this season?

The top individual statistics belong to Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. But his numbers were swollen by playing six teams with rushing defenses ranked 60th or worst, including a 205-yard season-ending effort against a Notre Dame defense that ranked 90th in rush defense this season.

But Gerhart rushed for 82 yards in a loss against a Wake Forest team that was 5-7 and ranked 82nd in run defense. He also rushed for 96 yards in a loss against Oregon State. The Cardinal were 8-4.

I’m not here to belittle the other candidates, but merely to show that all of them had their failings over the course of the season. They all struggled through games that weren’t as good as their best.

And in the end, there’s something to be said about a quarterback who took his undefeated team to the national championship game while completing 70 percent of his passes. He had the biggest single rushing game and the longest rushing play of the season for a team that had no backs that rushed for more than 520 yards.

McCoy had one consistent receiver and an offensive line -- at least if Saturday night’s performance is an indicator --that left a lot to be desired.

One Heisman moment for him came on that 65-yard touchdown sprint through the Texas A&M defense.

But another one came six games earlier after one of his biggest disappointments.

After McCoy had thrown a fourth-quarter interception in the red zone, he made a crunching form tackle that saved many yards on a return and likely saved the Longhorns’ 16-13 victory over the Sooners.

A play like that showed me more than any mere statistic could have.

I voted McCoy for first place, Suh at second place and Gerhart at third.

I think it’s the right vote.

But because of the late interest, I’m more interested in this Heisman balloting than any I can remember in a long time.

It ought to be fun Saturday night.

Nebraska season review

December, 9, 2009
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A determined defense helped Nebraska charge to its first Big 12 North title under Bo Pelini.

But any semblance of an offense could have catapulted the Cornhuskers to so much more.

The Cornhuskers came close in their 13-12 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game. In defeats to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech, the Nebraska offense produced one touchdown and nine field goals.

Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh was the biggest force for the Blackshirts, who allowed only one opponent to score more than 21 points during the season. Nebraska ranked second nationally in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense and sacks and ninth in total defense. Considering the defense that Pelini inherited less than two years ago, it was a remarkable transformation.

The offense was a different story. Quarterback Zac Lee started strongly against a weak nonconference schedule and then struggled with the rest of the offense against early Big 12 opposition. After a one-game benching, he returned to direct an offense that was reined in for the rest of the season. It almost beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game, although a controversial finish denied the Cornhuskers their first Big 12 title since 1999.

Offensive MVP: I-back Roy Helu Jr.

The Cornhuskers got much of their gritty offensive identity from Helu, who started fast with two 100-yard games in his first three, including a 169-yard effort against Virginia Tech. After he was injured in the Missouri game, he struggled to return to form before charging for 138 yards against Oklahoma and 156 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas that helped Nebraska win the North.

Defensive MVP: DT Ndamukong Suh

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Suh the most dominant one-season player in Big 12 history. He led Nebraska with 82 tackles, including 23 stops for losses during the season. Suh had also produced team-leading totals of 12 sacks, 24 quarterback hurries and three blocked kicks and ranked second in passes broken up with 10. He became the first Big 12 defensive player in history to be invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation.

Turning point: Nov. 7 vs. Oklahoma

The Cornhuskers desperately needed a win after struggling offensively against Baylor. Cody Green started the game and produced five consecutive three-and-outs. But Prince Amukamara’s interception return to the Oklahoma 1 set up the only touchdown after Zac Lee had been inserted in the lineup. That triumph was the biggest during a five-game winning streak that catapulted the Cornhuskers to the Big 12 North title.

What’s next?

A tough Holiday Bowl date against Arizona will provide Pelini a shot at his second consecutive bowl triumph. The Cornhuskers’ sputtering offense loses only one starter, but a quarterback challenge might be expected over the spring as Green becomes more comfortable in the offense. The defense will lose many of its most productive players (Suh, Barry Turner, safeties Matt O’Hanlon and Larry Asante and linebacker Phillip Dillard). But Jared Crick might be ready to emerge as Pelini’s next dominant defensive lineman.

Pre-game ponderables from Lincoln

November, 21, 2009
11/21/09
6:38
PM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska and Kansas State used to be the Big 12 North’s two Tiffany programs as they combined for every championship game appearance from the division in the first five years of the conference’s history.

Neither program has approached the levels of those earlier days. But tonight’s winner-take-all battle between the Cornhuskers and Wildcats still will settle who will be playing in Arlington on Dec. 5.

Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder have had their moments over the years. Pelini angrily accosted Snyder after the Wildcats’ 38-9 victory in Lincoln in 2003 when he was the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator when he felt the Wildcats tried to tack on a late touchdown against a young Nebraska defense.

Both have made their amends since then. But their first matchup as rival head coaches will be an interesting one with huge stakes.

Here are some of the things I’ll be watching:

For Nebraska:

Follow Legate in the I-formation: Nebraska has seen much recent success when redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Legate was inserted into the lineup. His blocking has helped open holes that have sparked Roy Helu Jr. to back-to-back 100-yard rushing games as the Cornhuskers have run off three consecutive victories. I look for them to utilize a similar offensive strategy – particularly early in the game as they dare KSU to stop them.

Senior Day for the Cornhuskers: It will be an emotional game tonight for key Nebraska players like Suh, center Jacob Hickman, guard Andy Christensen, linebacker Phillip Dillard, safety Matt O’Hanlon and defensive end Barry Turner who will be concluding their home careers at tonight’s game. This group was here to start their careers with Bill Callahan before finishing up with the first two seasons of Pelini’s coaching tenure. They’ve seen the Cornhuskers return to the cusp of another title. Will they be able to get them back there tonight?

Will Cody Green get a call for Nebraska: If starting quarterback Zac Lee struggles early, it will be interesting to see if Pelini and Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson make a change -- even for a couple of series -- to freshman Cody Green. He’s had his moments earlier this season, but lost his job after struggling against Oklahoma. Lee has played with much confidence in the last couple of weeks, so I wouldn’t expect the Nebraska coaches to have a quick hook tonight.

Bo’s money ball: If the Cornhuskers can win tonight, it would be worth an extra $150,000 to Bo Pelini for qualifying for the Big 12 title game. He also stands to make an extra $100,000 by taking the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 title and another $100,000 bonus by leading the Cornhuskers into a bowl game.

For KSU:

Protect inside: There will be much pressure against KSU guard Zach Kendall and Kenneth Mayfield and center Wade Weibert to account for Nebraska’s talented tandem of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. The middle of the Kansas State defense must do a good job in keeping them away from starting quarterback Grant Gregory.

Thomas the Train: Bullish 227-pound tailback Daniel Thomas expected to challenge for the starting job at quarterback when he arrived at Kansas State. Instead, he’s become the focal point of the Wildcats’ offense in another way. Thomas has accounted for about 35 percent of the Wildcats’ offense, leading the team with 1,166 yards. Expect the same kind of use tonight as the Wildcats will try to lengthen their possession with multi-play drives keeping the ball away from the Cornhuskers.

Tackle with abandon: The Wildcats have been very turnover-productive this season, ranking second in the conference and 19th nationally with a plus-eight turnover ratio. Nebraska has been susceptible to turnovers throughout the season, committing eight against Iowa State. The KSU defense will similarly need a couple of big plays, to take the loud sellout crowd of the game.

Get a cheap touchdown -- or two: Brandon Banks needs one more kickoff return to tie the NCAA career record for kickoff returns. With Nebraska’s defense likely to be extremely difficult to dent, a special-teams score would be huge. Even if Banks just dictates field position with his returns, it would be important for a KSU team that figures to struggle to producing consistent yardage against the Cornhuskers.

Three keys for Oklahoma, Nebraska

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
12:41
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at what Oklahoma and Nebraska need to do for success in tonight's pivotal game in Lincoln.

Three keys for Oklahoma

Establish the running game: The Sooners need to get Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray involved early to take some of the steam out of the pass rush keyed by Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. If they can get in some manageable down-and-distance situations, it will reduce the pressure quarterback Landry Jones will face.

Get the blitz going: Oklahoma should have a favorable situation against inexperienced Nebraska quarterback Cody Green. The Sooners will be aiming to confuse him from the start of the game, keeping him discombobulated with different blitz combinations throughout the game. It’s a formula that has made Brent Venables’ group one of the nation’s best for most of this decade.

Play strong on special teams: It’s been a mixed bag all season for the Sooners with occasional success but just as many struggles on special teams. They can’t make mistakes tonight and expect to win. That means better coverage on kickoffs, making field goals and not fumbling.

Three keys for Nebraska

Start fast: Green needs some early confidence to get the Cornhuskers off on the right foot. Their struggling offense has produced only three touchdowns since that 27-point offensive explosion in the fourth quarter against Missouri. They need some early success to get the crowd into the game early.

Emphasize their defensive line advantage: Suh has been playing at an Outland Trophy level all season. Crick trumped that last week with a five-sack performance against Baylor that tied the school single-game record. And Barry Turner and Pierre Allen combine to give strong pressure from the flanks. It combines to make the Nebraska defensive front one of the best in the nation. They will have their chances against an inexperienced Oklahoma offensive front that has allowed only eight sacks this season, but still hasn’t faced a challenge like the Blackshirts.

Run the ball effectively: With Roy Helu Jr. hobbling, the Cornhuskers have struggled moving the ball on the ground. That’s where Green will be important. And freshman I-back Dontrayevous Robinson has been steadily getting more confidence in the offense. It might be asking a lot for the Cornhuskers to produce a lot of yards against a Sooner defense that ranks third nationally against the run and eighth in scoring defense. But Nebraska needs some kind of ground presence to give Green a chance.

Suh, defensive front spark Cornhuskers' comeback

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
2:17
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Ndamukong Suh knew he wanted to return for another college season.
Related Coverage
• Recap: Nebraska wins in the rain
• Griffin: Suh, D-line spark rally
• Griffin: Cornhuskers in the driver's seat
• Big 12 blog: Complete game coverage
• Virtual Pressbox | Section 140


He just didn’t realize the reason would be revealed to him on a wet, clammy night that tested his competitive will. The miserable conditions got worse as little went right for his team until the very end.

Nebraska’s 27-12 victory over Missouri wasn’t an artistic masterpiece. But being a part of the gritty performance was why Suh was beaming about giving up a chance at NFL millions to come back for his senior season.

“A game like tonight was a huge reason why I came back,” Suh said. “I knew I had great teammates and we would have games like this. We just had to wait a little while for it to happen.”

But the cumulative effect of Suh and his teammates along the defensive front helped keep the Cornhuskers close enough until a fourth-quarter offensive spark. And when it kicked in, Nebraska streaked to the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
 
 John Rieger/US Presswire
 Ndamukong Suh and the Nebraska defensive line made life miserable for Blaine Gabbert.


Suh helped change the momentum of the game with a fourth-quarter interception during a flurry of 20 Nebraska points in 3 minutes, 22 seconds that enabled the Cornhuskers to claim the lead for good. Earlier in the game, he also forced a fumble, notched a sack and broke up a pass.

“Suh played his you-know-what off,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.

But another big play came in the first quarter when he rudely slung Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the turf while recording a sack. It left the Missouri signal-caller limping, and his abilities regressed as the game went on.

It was reminiscent of a heavyweight fight. The body shots early in the fight didn’t deck Gabbert, but paved the way for his demise as the game progressed.

Gabbert had thrown his first 164 passes of the season without an interception before Suh’s acrobatic play, which was amazing in itself. And considering Suh weighs near 300 pounds, it made the play even more remarkable.

“I sat at the line of scrimmage and read his eyes and he just threw it to me,” Suh said.

That played helped spark a feeding frenzy that eventually smashed the Tigers’ competitive drive.

It represented a huge change from last season, when Pelini didn’t think he had enough defensive talent to match Missouri’s strength up front. Instead, he played with a wrinkle, having one of his lineman play as a stand-up defender rather than relying on the unit’s growing pass-rushing strength.

But this season, with an inexperienced quarterback in Gabbert and more confidence in his defensive front, Pelini turned his defense loose. For much of the game, the Cornhuskers played a 4-2-5 defense where they rarely relied on blitzes and depended almost entirely on the pressure from the front.

“Suh played great,” Pelini said. “But those other guys -- Barry Turner, Cameron Meredith, Pierre Allen, Baker Steinkuhler -- all had big games. They played hard and well, which you can say about everybody who lined up on defense for us. They played pretty good defense against a good football team.”

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What Nebraska and Missouri need to do to win

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
11:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are three things that Nebraska and Missouri need to tonight in order to win tonight at Faurot Field.

Three things Nebraska needs to do to win:

1. Dominate in the trenches. Nebraska’s front four has to dominate the Missouri offensive line and get to Blaine Gabbert often. Nebraska doesn’t necessarily need sacks, but they do need to knock him around. Ndamukong Suh, Barry Turner and Co. can’t let the sophomore get into a comfort zone or it could be a long night. Interestingly, Bo Pelini didn’t think his defensive line was good enough last season so he came up with a wrinkle of a stand-up lineman he thought would fool Missouri. Instead, it paved the way for a 52-17 Missouri win. The Cornhuskers are better and more experienced this season. No gimmicks needed. Just beat them with straight four-man pressure.

2. Have strong, mistake-free games from their cornerbacks. Missouri loves to spread its wide receivers, trying to get matchup advantages. Starting Nebraska cornerbacks Anthony West and Prince Amukamara often are on an island. They can’t get beat by the Tigers’ athletic bunch of receivers.

3. Run the ball effectively. If the Cornhuskers can climb onto Roy Helu Jr.’s back, they likely have a good shot of winning. That would enable them to keep Missouri’s high-powered team off the field and dominate the game. But remember, Nebraska averaged only 2.3 yards per carry against Missouri last season. It has to do a better job to win.

Three things Missouri needs to do to win

1. Early success by Gabbert. The sophomore has played as well as any Big 12 quarterback in the first month of the season, but he hasn’t played a defense anywhere like Nebraska’s. The Tigers like to beat opponents with short passes. Look for Nebraska to play Missouri’s receivers tight and challenge Gabbert to beat them deep.

2. Run the ball better than earlier this season. The Tigers during their Big 12 title seasons ran the ball effectively. But they’ve struggled this season, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. Derrick Washington, who rushed for 1,000 yards last season, hasn’t played as well this season. He needs a big night against the Cornhuskers. The Tigers seem to have closed ranks this season from the wide splits that marked the Chase Daniel era. Maybe they need to go back to that strategy to provide some running lanes for Washington, Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore.

3. Play with the defensive intensity of the Illinois game. As predicted before the season opener, Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon indeed “squeezed the pulp” out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. The Tigers haven’t played as well since, barely escaping against Bowling Green, allowing Furman to pass for 305 yards and Nevada to run for 218 yards. In order to beat Nebraska, the Nebraska front seven needs to turn up its intensity of that first game as it tries to contain Helu. If Missouri can control the ground game defensively and force Zac Lee to beat the Cornhuskers, it has a good shot at winning.

Big 12 predictions, Week 6

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are my picks for this week. It’s a bounce-back weekend for yours truly after an embarrassing 3-3 performance last week.

I bought into Texas A&M’s offensive hype and also believed that Iowa State would persevere against Kansas State. Little did I know that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and KSU kick-blocking specialist Emmanuel Lamur would have something to say about both games. And Oklahoma did me no favors against Miami -- particularly after Ryan Broyles went down early in the game.

Here are my picks for this week:

Nebraska 38, Missouri 31: The Cornhuskers have been waiting for their shot at the Tigers for a long time, particularly after losing the last two games to the Tigers by a combined margin of 93-23. That hasn’t gone down smoothly for the Cornhuskers and particularly Bo Pelini, who has never beaten Missouri after also losing to them as Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003. I think that trend changes Thursday night in the slop in Columbia, Mo., where I look for the Cornhuskers to dominate in the trenches. If the weather is nasty, as expected, I think the running of Roy Helu Jr. becomes even more effective. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will have his moments with his talented crew of athletic receivers. But I just don’t think the Missouri offensive line can keep Ndamukong Suh, Barry Turner, Pierre Allen and Jared Crick away for the whole game.

Texas A&M 27, Oklahoma State 24: The wheels come off the Cowboys’ bandwagon Saturday afternoon, playing without Dez Bryant. With many of their primary offensive weapons questionable with injuries, Oklahoma State won’t be able to afford to get into a shootout with the Aggies. A&M is still smarting from last week’s offensive effort when they piled up 28 first downs and outgained Arkansas, 458-434, and still lost 47-19. But if the Aggies can take control early and get the large crowd at Kyle Field involved, they have a great chance of upsetting the Cowboys.

Oklahoma 38, Baylor 14: Even without Sam Bradford, I would like the Sooners' chances with Landry Jones starting his fourth game. But with Bradford’s intention to play, I think it makes Oklahoma that much more inspired -- particularly after last week’s disappointing loss at Miami. The Sooners have to develop more offensive rhythm and find some receiving threats who can fill in for Broyles. Look for Blake Szymanski to start for the Bears. He’s not a novice after starting 13 games for the Bears in 2007. But the Sooners’ pass rush should feast against a young, inexperienced Baylor offensive front that will keep the Bears' quarterback harried throughout the game. Without Robert Griffin, the Bears have little hope of making this game competitive.

Texas Tech 42, Kansas State 28: The Red Raiders could make history Saturday night as Steven Sheffield is poised to become the first backup quarterback to start a game for a Mike Leach-coached team. Taylor Potts is recovering from a concussion and likely won’t be ready to play. But it shouldn’t matter against the Wildcats, who haven’t faced an offense nearly as potent as Tech will provide. Kansas State’s best hope will be to try to dictate the tempo with quarterback Grant Gregory and rely on underrated running back Daniel Thomas. But the Red Raiders are allowing only 3.0 yards per carry and that will be pivotal in trying to keep Gregory in long down-and-distance situations. Tech has too many offensive weapons for Kansas State and should be able to win handily.

Texas 49, Colorado 10: The surging Longhorns will be looking to build momentum for next week’s game against Oklahoma. Standing in their path this week is Colorado, which has struggled in two previous road losses to Toledo and West Virginia and been embarrassed three times on national television this season. The Longhorns will make it four. Texas has the best talent the Buffaloes have faced and should be able to score easily against Dan Hawkins’ team. Look for Texas’ athleticism to allow it to jump ahead early as Colt McCoy and his receivers should have another huge game.

Kansas 38, Iowa State 17: This game was competitive last season in Ames, as Kansas was lucky to escape with a 35-33 victory. The margin won’t be nearly that close this time around for the rested Jayhawks, who are coming off last week’s bye in good physical shape. Iowa State can’t match Kansas’ deep collection of tall, talented receivers, providing another chance for Todd Reesing to torment the Cyclones. Reesing has thrown eight touchdown passes and produced a quarterback rating of 202.44 in helping beat ISU in three previous games. The Jayhawks will be tested by Iowa State’s emerging offense. But I expect Kansas to build on a strong fourth-quarter defensive effort against Southern Mississippi to help it beat the Cyclones.

What to watch for in the Big 12 this weekend

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some items I'm interested in following in the Big 12 games this weekend.

1. Colorado handling adversity after its opening-game debacle: The Buffaloes suffered an embarrassing loss to cross-state rival Colorado State in their opener Sunday night. Coach Dan Hawkins and his team have only five days as they travel halfway across the country to try to blot those painful memories against Toledo. It will be interesting to see how much heralded Colorado tailback Darrell Scott will play against the Rockets -- particularly after his pointed criticism of his lack of playing time earlier this week.

2. Landry Jones’ first career start: Oklahoma’s replacement for Sam Bradford shouldn’t be tested by Idaho State, which was drubbed by Arizona State last week. But it will still be telling to see how much leeway Bob Stoops will give Jones, a redshirt freshman. Coaches say they like his poise and demeanor, but I expect a conservative game plan that will feature heavy use of Oklahoma’s running game that unexpectedly struggled to produce 118 yards last week against BYU.

3. What the Oklahoma State defense does for an encore: The Cowboys punched out an impressive 24-10 victory over Georgia last week. The revelation for the Cowboys was a strong defensive effort that allowed a touchdown on its opening possession and three points during the rest of the game. They showed a physical nature that had been missing in recent seasons -- particularly noticeable because starters Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin were out of the lineup. It will be even tougher this week against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total yards last season and got off to a fast start with four touchdown passes against Northwestern State last week. As good as Georgia was supposed to be offensively, the Cowboys will face a bigger test this week against the Cougars.

4. Can Blaine Gabbert match his opening-game success? One game into his career, some Missouri media members are already anointing Gabbert after his scintillating 319-yard passing effort against Illinois. His big outing earned him the Big 12’s offensive player of the week. He’ll be challenged to duplicate that success against an underrated Bowling Green team that allowed 263 passing yards in a victory over Troy last week, but still notched two interceptions. Gabbert’s continued development is the critical element that can help the Tigers continue as the Big 12’s surprise early power.

5. Nebraska’s front four: The Cornhuskers’ defensive front of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner was expected to be the team’s strength. The group struggled last week against FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, failing to notch a sack. Those struggles were part of the reason Bo Pelini rebuked his defense earlier this week, calling the Blackshirts “soft.” And it won’t be easy for them as they try to harass Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard, who wasn’t sacked last week.

6. Wyoming freshman cornerback Shamiel Gray continue his success against Colt McCoy: Gray had an auspicious start to his college career with three interceptions in the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over Weber State. But he’ll face a huge challenge against McCoy, who has been intercepted only six times in his last 335 attempts dating back to last season. Gray hasn’t faced the athletic collection of receivers he’ll meet from Texas, which will make continuing his turnover spree that much more difficult.

7. How Iowa’s defense will handle Iowa State’s new no-huddle offense: The Hawkeyes and veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker have seen a variety of offenses come and go over the years at Iowa State. But they haven’t faced anything quite like Tom Herman’s no-huddle attack that seemed to work well in the Cyclones’ first game against North Dakota State. The Cyclones likely didn’t show everything and will be ready to try to continue their recent success that has enabled them to win four of their last five games against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium.

8. Ground-bound Jayhawks: After gashing Northern Colorado for 328 yards, Kansas may have similar opportunities against the Miners, who allowed 150 yards in a loss last week to Buffalo and 199 yards per game last season. Mark Mangino has growing confidence in his ball carriers with Jake Sharp, Toben Opurum and quarterback Todd Reesing all rushing for at least 79 yards rushing last week. Dezmon Briscoe will be back with a chance to stretch the UTEP defense, but the Jayhawks have been so successful in the trenches that I look for them to at least start the game with a similar strategy against the Miners.

9. Improvement on Kansas State’s special teams: Blunders in the kicking game led to two easy touchdowns for Massachusetts, making the Wildcats’ 21-17 season-opening victory way too close for comfort. Back in the day, Bill Snyder’s teams were always renowned for their special-teams success and Ron Prince continued that strategy during his tenure. They can’t afford similar mistakes Saturday night, or it could mean a long, nightmarish visit to hot, sticky Cajun Field.

10. Texas Tech’s running game looks for a comeback: After struggling to produce only 40 yards rushing and only two rushes of at least 10 yards against FCS opponent North Dakota, the Red Raiders’ running backs, and particularly Baron Batch, were called out by coach Mike Leach. It will be noteworthy if that lights a fire under them -- especially considering that Rice was gashed for 295 rushing yards last week by UAB.

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