Big 12: Big 12 South

Ten good minutes with Texas safety Earl Thomas

October, 16, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Earl Thomas is quickly developing into Texas’ most productive player in the secondary. The sophomore strong safety leads the Big 12 with four interceptions, including a 92-yard return for a touchdown last week that helped turn around the game against Colorado.

 Brian Bahr/Getty Images
 Earl Thomas has already collected four interceptions this season.
We talked with Thomas earlier this week about the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry, his recent success as a playmaker and what the Longhorns need to do to contain Sam Bradford and the Sooners Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

Do you have any explanation for why you had two interceptions all of last season and already have four this year?

Earl Thomas: I don’t know. It’s just happening for me. I’m just trying to read the offense the best I can and try to make plays for my defense.

You had a memorable game last season against Oklahoma with two interceptions, two passes broken up and a forced fumble that helped lead to Texas’ comeback victory. What was it like to have that success specifically in that game?

ET: On my first interception, I was just playing a high safety and I got a good jump on the ball. And on the last play in the end zone, I just tried to plead my case a little to see if they would give it to me.

You needed those interceptions, didn’t you?

ET: Yeah [chuckling], that’s all I had.

How disappointed were you with how everything happened last year, most notably your victory over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, but still not going to the Big 12 championship game?

ET: It hurt because we were a little short in the computer rankings. Hopefully this year, it will work out for us.

Do you think much on how it all played out last season?

ET: I guess it’s the way it goes in college football. They finished strong and we lost late. You can’t do that.

Is there any explanation why you and your teammates are playing so much better this year than last year on defense?

ET: We are just taking the games one at a time, not looking ahead or past anything. We plan every play and we try to finish every play. We’re playing everything like it’s our last.

Is some of it because you guys are obviously more experienced?

ET: Yeah. Last year, it seemed like we just filled it out by roaming around. This year, we know we are doing a little better as far as our scheme and knowing our defense.

What do you think has been the biggest reason for your individual success this season?

ET: It’s just studying more film, knowing what to do and reading the offenses better.

Did the Texas coaches do anything this week that was meant to make your team more excited to play on Saturday?

ET: Just the motivation by itself is OU, the Red River Rivalry. It will be Texas on one side and Oklahoma on the other. What more do you need?

So the coaches haven’t done anything unusual or funny as far as their motivation?

ET: No, it’s just like another week.

What’s your perception when you go to the Texas-Oklahoma game and see that stadium, split down the middle with Texas fans on one side and Oklahoma fans on the other? What is that like to play in that atmosphere?

ET: It was crazy. You would think it’s like 5 p.m., but the game is played in the morning. Everybody is out there rowdy. It’s a great experience.

Sam Bradford blistered you guys for five touchdown passes last season. How do you plan to confound him this season?

ET: He’s a good quarterback and he’s going to try to do what he is coached to do. We’re going to try to keep him from doing anything out of the ordinary. We’re just going to go out and play ball and see what happens.

What do you remember about last year’s game and why the secondary played well?

ET: Our defensive line played really well for us and they had a lot of heart. They were getting back there and putting pressure on the quarterback. That helped us.

This game could be a really good defensive battle. What would that be like to have a big-time defensive battle in this series with everybody scoring points around the country?

ET: I think it will be a shootout, a really good game. Both defenses are real good and they create a lot of turnovers. Hopefully, we can stand out and do our best.

Oklahoma’s young receivers dropped 11 passes last week. What can you do as a safety to see if you can keep those streaks happening?

ET: I’m expecting the receivers will do a good job catching the ball. We’re just going to defend them.

Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles is questionable in the lineup because of his fractured scapula. How are the Sooners different when Broyles is in the lineup than when he’s not playing?

ET: Broyles is a great receiver and is a speedy guy. He poses the best threat vertically down the field they have. He’s a good receiver and a good kid down the field. He’s also a threat on punt returns. We’re going to try to bracket him and get after him a little bit.

Cowboys' Robinson pressing on without Bryant, Hunter

October, 15, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

You might not recognize their names -- yet.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Zac Robinson threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score against A&M.

But Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson said his group of runners and receivers who have taken over in the absences of Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter has played well so far.

The Cowboys’ makeshift rotation came up big in their 36-31 victory at Texas A&M last week. And they likely will use them again this week as Hunter shows no signs of immediate recovery from his foot injury and Bryant remains ensnared in his NCAA suspension.

“We have some other players and everybody is doing a little bit more,” Robinson said. “And the guys who are going out there are just getting a little bit better.”

Keith Toston emerged at running back, producing a game-high 130 rushing yards and adding two receptions for 74 yards. And a rotation of receivers headed by Hubert Anyiam, Dameron Fooks, Tracy Moore, Justin Blackmon and Wilson Youman combined for nine catches for 192 yards as they capably filled in for Bryant.

“Look around the league and there’s always something that’s going on,” Robinson said. “Coach Gundy always stressed that the next guy has to make the most of his opportunity to make plays. Our guys have embraced that and have the ability to step up. They feel good about where they are at and their opportunities.”

It was a traumatic week for Robinson and his family, even discounting the Cowboys’ football injury woes. His grandfather, Frank Robinson, passed away last week after being diagnosed with a brain tumor two months earlier. His grandson told him goodbye for the last time earlier in the week when he visited him at an Oklahoma City hospital.

Robinson paid tribute to him by wearing the words “Press On” written on his eye black strips at the A&M game.

“That was always a saying he had for my family,” Robinson said. “Every time I saw him, he would tell us to ‘Press on.’ That was my tribute to him.”

And much like their quarterback, the Cowboys are doing the same as they try to keep winning with the substitute skill-position players around him.

“That game was huge for us,” Robinson said. “Texas A&M is always a huge game for us and under the circumstances with his death and all of the injuries; it was good for us to get a big win. Our offense play well and we were excited to get the win. A lot of guys got more confidence. We feel good where we are at.”

Despite the heavy emotion, Robinson threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in his personal tribute to his late grandfather.

"Believe it or not,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told reporters after OSU’s victory, “there are a few more things more important than college football. Family is one of them.”

The Cowboys will attempt to build on that victory Saturday night against Missouri. An OSU win would keep the Cowboys undefeated in South Division play and keep the tam on pace with the Texas-Oklahoma winner as the divisional favorite.

Last season, Oklahoma State gained national credibility when they stunned then-No 3 Missouri in Columbia in a 28-23 upset.

That triumph helped catapult the Cowboys on a 7-0 start that saw them raise as high as No. 7 in the national polls.

“The Missouri game was huge for us,” Robinson said. “It jump-started our season and put us on the map of where we are now. Going up and winning that game was a huge confidence booster for the team. And it’s helped us out ever since.”

Pelini won't let Cornhuskers bask in Missouri win

October, 15, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Calling Nebraska’s victory over Missouri stunning simply doesn’t do it justice.

The Cornhuskers’ 27-point fourth-quarter eruption was one of the most memorable comebacks in school history. It grabbed them much national attention and pushing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh high on many Heisman lists.

An encore of that performance might be just as difficult.

Nebraska will attempt to follow up what arguably is Bo Pelini’s greatest victory at the school since taking over as coach with another one against Texas Tech –- a team that has beaten Nebraska three consecutive times coming into Saturday’s game.

Pelini understands how important it is to maintain the momentum from last week’s victory, which boosted the Cornhuskers into a share of the early North Division lead and into the No. 15 spot in the Associated Press poll.

“It’s all about having that consistent approach and that’s something that we always do,” Pelini said. “Our guys understand that. We’re not talking about Missouri. Missouri is over. We put that to rest a long time ago and it’s time to get into the next thing.”

Suh’s breakout game notwithstanding, the massive defensive tackle is intent on returning back to action rather than basking in the national spotlight.

“It’s all good and gravy, but like Coach Pelini has said, it’s still early in the season,” Suh said. “We’ve just got to continue to stay focused and move on and get ready for this Texas Tech team.”

The Red Raiders arrive as a little bit of a mystery team after beating New Mexico and Kansas State after close, tough losses to Texas and Houston.

But their 66-14 beatdown over Kansas State has infused them with confidence for this week’s game.

“That’s something we’ve been wait on for a long time,” Tech tackle Marlon Winn said. “We experienced it for one game and I think everybody liked the way it felt. When we go out in confidence, we’ll have a little more boost of confidence to go out there and handle our business.”

Nebraska did a good job of keeping the ball away from Tech in last season’s game in Lubbock, controlling the ball for more than 40 minutes as they maintained a 78-48 edge in plays. But Tech made just enough plays to escape with a wild 37-31 overtime victory that wasn’t sealed until Jamar Wall’s interception on Nebraska’s second play from scrimmage in the extra period.

And despite Tech playing a spread offense like the one that Missouri plays, Pelini said there’s little similarity between the two offenses.

“It’s a totally different offense,” Pelini said. “Everybody wants to loop these spread offenses into one category. It’s not even close. They’re all unique in their own ways.”

Tech’s offense also could be scrambled depending on who starts at quarterback. Steven Sheffield blistered Kansas State for seven touchdowns. He’s more of a scrambler when compared with Taylor Potts, who has missed the last 1.5 games because of a concussion.

Tech coach Mike Leach has been coy about his starter and isn’t expected to make a determination until shortly before game time.

Pelini said that both Tech quarterbacks are alike in many ways, but doesn’t expect much change depending on the starter.

“I think they are pretty similar guys,” Pelini said. “I think the second guy who’s come in (Sheffield) might be a little more mobile, but they both can move their feet. They’re both similar players. They both have good arms. They both run the system well. There’s really not much of a difference.”

And he expects their presence to make Tech a difficult test after the victory over Missouri.

“This is going to be a unique challenge,” Pelini said. “They are a good football team. They were right there with Texas until the very end. That speaks for itself.”

Texas' Shipley making up for lost time

October, 14, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Shipley initially didn’t have much go right during his college career.

His first two years at Texas were marked by a horrifying series of setbacks that included a season-ending knee injury as a freshman and a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his sophomore season. It seemed like his career with the Longhorns was cursed before it even started.
 Brian Bahr/Getty Images
 Jordan Shipley has recorded at least 10 receptions in three of Texas’ five games this season.

“I didn’t have any idea what would happen,” Shipley said. “But I had faith that if I would work hard and handle myself the right way, that hopefully things would work out the way I wanted them to.”

After an excruciatingly long wait, Shipley is making up for lost time, developing into the Big 12’s most explosive player so far this season.

And he wouldn’t trade any of his travails to get to the point he is at today.

“If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change anything,” Shipley said. “The injuries just made me stronger.”

Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Shipley leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards and ranks second in receiving yards per game. Additionally, he leads the Big 12 with an average of 18.9 yards per punt return and is tied for the national lead with two punt returns for touchdowns.

Combating Shipley already has caught the attention of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

"It's always a challenge," Stoops said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”

Last year’s Oklahoma game represented his coming-out party. Because the Longhorns lacked a true tight end, he was moved inside to a flex end position where he produced 11 catches for 112 yards to spark Texas’ offensive attack. And his dramatic Red River Rivalry record 96-yard kickoff return pulled the Longhorns from an early deficit, helping to spark Texas’ 45-35 comeback victory.

Shipley played that slot position for most of the rest of the season, producing 89 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But with the graduation of Quan Cosby, Shipley has moved outside and has flourished this season at the new position.

He produced 11 catches for 147 yards -- his school-record third straight double-digit reception performance -- to spark the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado. And for good measure, he also produced a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that help blow open the closer-than-expected game with the Buffaloes.

“That was one of the greatest games in the history of the school,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

If Shipley continues at his current pace, he would smash every single-season receiving record in school history.

His multiplicity of talents was first showcased in high school in Burnet, Texas, where he was the prime receiver on a team quarterbacked by former Texas A&M star Stephen McGee. Shipley produced the second-most receiving yards in national high school history (5,424), notched 23 interceptions as a defensive back, returned 18 kicks for touchdowns and was his team’s kicker.

His knack for making big plays was apparent early in his career. As a freshman at Class A Rotan, Shipley produced 459 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns on punt returns in his first high school game.

That was only a start. He's continued in college, developing into the Longhorns’ prime receiver, punt returner and holder for kicks.

Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman voting last season and is Shipley’s roommate, believes that Shipley deserves a trip to the Heisman presentation.

“Sure,'' McCoy said. "In our offense, Jordan will get the ball. He's playing the position that Quan played last year, and the thing that sets him up is that he can return kicks and punts.”

The move outside has come with some changes in coverage for Shipley. He’s facing more direct man-to-man coverage than when he played in the slot and was mostly matched with slower linebackers and safeties.

The new position and his recent notoriety also are changing how opponents try to combat him. More defenses are relying on press coverage as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.

That’s a little more difficult for the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster to overcome. But he’s making the most of his opportunities when they come despite the change.

“It’s different being on the outside,” Shipley said. “You’ve got to be really physical to get off the press. I don’t know if it’s harder, but it has a different feel.”

His big season almost didn’t come about. He earned a sixth season of eligibility only after petitioning the NCAA following last season because of the earlier injuries.

Shipley will turn 24 in December, causing his teammates to kid him about his advanced age. When he arrived at Texas in 2004, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson were still on the team’s roster, and Vince Young was in his first full season as the Longhorns’ starter.

But Shipley can't imagine being any place but playing for the Longhorns.

“It’s such a rush to be back here,” Shipley said. “I’m just thrilled to be back at Texas for one more year and having fun every week.”

Sooners accounting for big losses at TE, WR

October, 14, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

As Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford surveyed his available offensive weapons last week , it was impossible for him to miss his large former target in sweats along the bench, propped up by a pair of crutches.

The loss of preseason All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham has altered how the Sooners have played and explain some of their offensive shortcomings during a disappointing 3-2 start.

Gresham was expected to be Bradford’s go-to target and the player who will help bridge the gap as a young but talented group of wide receivers developed confidence in the offense as the season progressed.
 J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
 The Oklahoma offense hasn’t been the same without tight end Jermaine Gresham.

But Gresham’s preseason knee injury has ended all of that. It’s made the Sooners’ lack of productive receivers and tight ends their biggest liability as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Texas.

“Obviously, this is a different team,” Bradford said. “With Jermaine not in the lineup, it is a little bit of a different offense from last year.”

At this time last season, Oklahoma had scored 26 touchdowns on 27 trips inside the red zone. One of the biggest reasons was Gresham, a tall, productive receiver with the knack for getting into the end zone.

In Oklahoma’s first five games this season, the Sooners have converted only 15 touchdowns on 25 red zone trips. The Sooners' scoring average is down from a nation-leading 51.1 points last season to 35 points per game this season.

“Not having Jermaine impacts everything,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You’re talking about somebody who arguably is one of the top 10 to 15 players in the country. He’s a special player who was very important in the red zone. It’s tough because he’s a special player.”

And with Gresham gone, tight end has almost become a forgotten part of the Sooners’ offensive arsenal. The Sooners’ tight ends have combined for seven catches so far this season. Gresham had eight or more catches in each of his final three games of the 2008 season.

It’s caused the Sooners to look to their young group of wide receivers for production. And Ryan Broyles was one of the nation’s best early in the season before he sustained a fractured scapula early in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami.

That led to one of the youngest receiving corps in Stoops’ tenure playing last week against Baylor.

Brandon Caleb was Bradford’s primary target against the Bears, grabbing seven catches for 139 yards. And sophomore Dejuan Miller (five catches, 67 yards) and freshman Jaz Reynolds (three catches, 39 yards) both had their best games against Baylor.

“We’re getting better with more confidence,” Caleb said. “We’re getting a chance to play more and it’s coming a little easier for all of us.”

But the young receivers also had their struggles, combining for 11 dropped passes, including three in the Baylor end zone.

"I was disappointed in the drops, but again, I think a lot of that is just inexperience," Stoops said. "We've got all kinds of yardage and big plays if we'd just catch the ball better. I'm hopeful and I believe that the ability is there. It's just time, time on the field for those guys to make improvement and make those plays when they're there to make."

Broyles, who is tied for the national lead with seven TD grabs despite missing nearly two games, has returned to practice. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Broyles' shoulder blade has improved enough that there isn't a concern he could do more damage by playing Saturday against the Longhorns.

"I know there's not a sense that they feel like he's going to injure it worse," Wilson said. "It's range of motion and pain tolerance, how productive can he play."

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is preparing like Broyles will be back for Saturday’s game.

“He’s an electric player who is really special with the ball in his hands,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy you have to account for when he’s on the field.”

His return is crucial, considering he is one of only two wide receivers, along with Caleb, with substantial experience in previous Texas-Oklahoma games.

But the young Sooners receivers say they are more comfortable after working with Bradford for another week.

“We’re just trying to get better,” Caleb said. “This is the kind of situation where guys are going to have to step up. One play builds on the next. It’s something we’re all going to try to do.”

McCoy, Bradford renew their rivalry Saturday

October, 13, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford's personal relationship goes beyond football.

But Saturday's game will decide their storied rivalry that stands at a game apiece after the last two seasons. Bradford won the Heisman Trophy last season with McCoy finishing second.

 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy became friends while attending awards banquets last season.
McCoy will make history Saturday as one of the few Texas quarterbacks to start four games in the Texas-Oklahoma series.

“The first one seems like it was a long time ago,” McCoy said, thinking back to his first start in the series in 2006. “But the last one I played in seems like it was forever ago, too. We’ve both changed since then.”

The annual rivalry is something that both quarterbacks relish.

Bradford remembers watching games with his father, Kent, a former Oklahoma offensive lineman. Roy Williams’ leap in 2001 that saved the Sooners’ 14-3 victory remains one of Bradford's most vivid memories of the series. He’s had even more fun playing in the games.

McCoy said that participating in the series is one of his most treasured college memories.

“These four games over the last four years are some of the most fun games I’ve played in,” McCoy said. “They are the games you remember because of the tradition, the rivalry and just how big a conference game it is.”

The duo developed a friendship while attending awards banquets last season. They had some fun during an ESPN shoot at the Cotton Bowl earlier this summer.

And after Bradford sustained a third-degree sprained shoulder earlier this year, McCoy immediately contacted him.

“Colt is a great guy,” Bradford said. “Him sending me a text message after I got hurt telling me he was praying for me and to keep my head up shows a lot about him. For him to keep encouraging me, it says a lot about him.”

Both have talked about maintaining their relationship after their college careers end.

"In the end, we’re both football players,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we are both trying to beat each other, but at the same time we can help each other in a lot of different ways. We play a lot of the same teams this year. Our offenses are fairly similar. Helping each other out, we can do that.”

Here’s a look at Bradford and McCoy’s statistics in previous Red River Rivalry games.

Colt McCoy vs. Oklahoma
Year Comp Att Yds TD Int QB rtg W-L
2006 11 18 108 2 0 148.18 W
2007 19 26 324 2 1 195.45 L
2008 28 35 277 1 0 155.91 W
Totals 58 79 709 5 1 167.16 2-1

Sam Bradford vs. Texas
Year Comp Att Yds TD Int QB rtg W-L
2007 21 32 244 3 0 160.61 W
2008 28 39 387 5 2 187.20 L
Totals 49 71 631 8 2 175.22 1-1

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It will be a typical trip to Fair Park Saturday morning for Bob Stoops.

  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners have a lot riding on their tangle with Texas this Saturday.
He’ll board the team bus and cruise through traffic en route to the Cotton Bowl. When he arrives at the fairgrounds, Texas fans will be yelling and taunting him just like usual. Some might even pound on the team bus in a quaint but familiar way of greeting them to the yearly festivities.

Stoops is familiar with these mid-October encounters with Mack Brown and Texas. Saturday’s will be his 11th -- six victories and four defeats over the years. It’s the longest continuous rivalry between two coaches in the nation.

The old familiar foes have staged some great battles over the years. And it can be argued that the upcoming Red River Rivalry is the biggest for Stoops in a long time.

After a 3-2 start, the Sooners are in need of a restorative boost that an upset victory over the No. 3 Longhorns would provide. A win on Saturday would put the Sooners in the driver’s seat for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.

But a loss might send them spinning to some potentially ominous events that are unfamiliar in Stoops’ program. With tough upcoming road games against Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech the Sooners could skid to a four- or five-loss season that has occurred just twice since his arrival in 1999.

Stoops isn’t called “Big Game Bob” as much as he used to be when he claimed a national championship in his second season in 2000 and marked the early rivalry with five-straight victories over Brown and Texas from 2000-04.

The rivalry has turned a little bit in recent seasons as Brown has claimed three of the last four games in the series including last season's 45-35 comeback victory. Stoops’ recent BCS struggles have hurt as well as the Sooners BCS title game loss to Florida was his fifth BCS bowl game loss since 2004.

But his domination remains just as strong in the Big 12, where the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry has defined the recent history of the league. In his own playground, Stoops’ coaching record has made him the most significant figure in the Big 12’s history.

Since Stoops arrived in 1999, either Oklahoma or Texas has won the Big 12 South Division championship every year. In the Big 12 title game, the Sooners have won six to the Longhorns one during the 10-year period. During that same period, every Big 12 North team has claimed at least a share of the title. No other coach has won more than one Big 12 title.

That success is what Stoops focuses on rather than vagaries of what has been a streaky series with the Longhorns over the years.

Stoops discounts any “mojo” that Brown has over him because of the Longhorns’ recent success against the Sooners.

“To me, everybody makes a big deal of this game, but in the end, the objective is the championship,” Stoops said. “That’s what matters. If we win this game and don’t win the Big 12 title, nobody is patting us on the back. And I’m sure it’s the same way for them.”

Stoops prefers a larger view than merely one game and he has point.

“It’s part of it, but the rest of it matters more than just one game like this one,” Stoops said. “And that’s what the focus will be on as long as I’m here.”

It's not quite like it used to be for Stoops in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma radio talk shows have pointedly ripped the Sooners for a predictable run-oriented offensive attack. And despite the return of Sam Bradford, the Sooners’ struggles inside the red zone are a big concern. The Sooners were forced to rely on four field goals after their receivers dropped 11 passes against Baylor, including three in the end zone.

The defense has needed to make two critical stops that would have marked the season. Instead, the Sooners allowed a 16-play game-winning scoring drive to BYU. And the Sooners allowed Miami to kill the clock when they couldn’t get the ball away from the Hurricanes in a game where they were gashed for 140 yards rushing.

Because of those struggles, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wants a close game on Saturday with the challenge on the Sooners’ defense at the end of the game to preserve the victory.

“If we had given the ball back to our offense, I think we would have been able to win,” McCoy said. “Our defense has a lot to prove after those games.”

That entire attitude infuses the Oklahoma program heading into the game.

In reality, the Sooners are only a pair of one-point losses removed from the national title race. Most observers agree that the presence of Bradford at full strength likely would have made a difference in both games.

But the Sooners have to pick up the pieces to finish the season strongly.

And the most important step in that rebound will come Saturday amongst the Ferris Wheels and corny dogs in a game that will be as important as any recent Red River Rivalry games.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 11, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It was a little easier to pick out the coveted helmet stickers this week, despite a bunch of strong performances around the conferences.

Here are my choices for helmet stickers, even though I had to divide one into three pieces.

Texas wide receiver/punt returner Jordan Shipley: The nation’s most underrated playmaker produced 11 receptions for 147 yards and a 39-yard touchdown and also added a 74-yard punt return for another score leading Texas to a 38-14 victory over Colorado. Shipley now has double-figure receiving games in a school-record three-straight games. And he also produced a career-high 273 all-purpose yards against the Buffaloes, averaging 17.1 yards every time he touched the ball.

Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield: Worries about him making his first start disappeared quickly for the former walk-on player, who singed Kansas State for 490 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Red Raiders to a 66-14 victory over the Wildcats. It was the second time a Texas Tech quarterback has thrown for seven touchdowns in a game this season after Taylor Potts blistered Rice for seven earlier this season. Mike Leach might have a quarterback controversy on his hands.

Oklahoma State running back Keith Toston: Produced team-high totals of 130 rushing yards and 74 receiving yards to spark the Cowboys’ 36-31 triumph at Texas A&M. For an offense struggling to find a playmaker without Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter in the lineup, Toston took care of yardage on the ground and in the air. Toston had receptions on screen passes of 40 and 34 yards.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: Produced six tackles (five solo, one assist), forced a fumble, notched a sack, produced a pass deflection and produced a huge interception to spark Nebraska’s 27-12 victory over Missouri. It was a performance that Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini called the best he had ever seen a defensive lineman have.

Kansas’ aerial circus: Quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier all had outstanding games in the Jayhawks’ wild 41-36 victory over Iowa State. Meier set a school single-game record with 16 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He also has the school’s career reception with 151 catches. Reesing tied a school record with 37 completions en route to a career-high 442 yards and four touchdowns. And Briscoe produced 12 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns including a clutch, diving 46-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that gave the Jayhawks the lead for good.

Bradford withstands another late hit

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- It looks like just the presence of Sam Bradford has helped juice production in the Sooners' offense.

Chris Brown added a 4-yard touchdown with 3:48 left in the second quarter to boost Oklahoma's lead to 14-0.

The Sooners had struggled in losses against BYU and Miami, scoring three touchdowns in those two games.

Bradford's 49-yard pass to Brandon Caleb was the key play in that 80-yard scoring drive.

Also of note was a roughing-the-passer penalty by Joe Pawelek on Bradford that gave the Sooners a first down on the play before the touchdown.

Bradford appears to be playing pain free. His right knee, which was tweaked early in the game, appears to no longer be anything but a nuisance.

The Sooners even tried their no-huddle offense several times and appeared proficient in that favored rhythm. If they can get that formation working, it will be something that Big 12 foes will have to be concerned about.

And Bradford even withstood a sack by Trey Bryant early on the drive. Baylor previously had not notched any sacks against Oklahoma in the last three games.

Bradford has passed for 177 yards so far. And of his seven incompletions, four have been dropped by his receivers.

A few surprises brewing around the Big 12

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State was expected to have a difficult test today at Kyle Field against Texas A&M.

Kansas was presumed to have a cakewalk at home against Iowa State.

Both favorites are struggling in the Big 12's early games.

Texas A&M has rebounded from some early struggles to claim a 8-7 lead over Oklahoma State.

And Kansas has reclaimed a 13-12 lead over Iowa State.

Kansas desperately needs a victory to keep up with Nebraska in the Big 12 North. And they are doing it without Jake Sharp, who again missed a start with that nagging injury.

Oklahoma State is playing without Dez Bryant, who was left at home after he was indefinitely suspended by the NCAA.

Zac Robinson appears to have missed his top receiver as he's completed only 4 of 11 passes to start off.

Texas A&M produced only 21 yards on its first three possessions. But the Aggies have been more consistent, taking the lead when holder Ryan Tannehill bobbled the snap but still scrambled to make the end zone.

The favored teams need to step up after the tougher-than-expected early challenges.

Bradford's return to OU's lineup not a surprise

October, 9, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Sam Bradford's return to Oklahoma's starting lineup tomorrow against Baylor is the best indication that the Sooners' real season starts tomorrow.

 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Sam Bradford will see his first game action since the season opener.
Forget about their 2-2 start that included a pair of one-point losses to BYU and Miami while the Heisman Trophy winner was out.

The Sooners have lost their chance to play for the national championship, but are redirecting their priorities to winning an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.

Bradford's return could be the adrenaline shot the Sooners need to turn around their season.

Obviously, the most important game for the Sooners is next Saturday at the Cotton Bowl when they meet up with old nemesis Texas. The winner of that game has the clearest path to the South Division title.

It would have been hard to imagine that Bradford would have been able to go into that game "cold" without experiencing any previous game action.

That's why the game against Baylor plays out so well for Oklahoma.

I look for Bradford to maybe work in the Baylor game almost like an NFL starting quarterback would tune up for the regular season in a late exhibition game. It wouldn't surprise me to see him play three or four possessions just to get his feet wet and see how his shoulder might hold up while making some throws and some game contact.

Bradford returns with a team that bears little resemblance to the record-setting unit that broke scoring records last season. Preseason All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham will miss the season with a knee injury. Top receivers Manny Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias are gone to the NFL. Top 2009 receiver Ryan Broyles is out with a fractured scapula. A retooled offensive line with four new starters has struggled both in pass protection and staying away from penalties.

It will be interesting to see what Bradford's return will mean for the Sooners.

But it certainly can't hurt.

And a Sooners season that looked moribund after the disappointing loss to Miami last week still has a little sizzle left.

Starting tomorrow with Bradford's return to the starting lineup.


Big 12 lunch links: Did Snyder celebrate his 70th birthday?

October, 8, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Can it get any better than two North Division power teams playing on a national television before what should be a typically raucous crowd at Faurot Field when Nebraska and Missouri meet?

Well, it can for me, such as making a stop at Arthur Bryant's legendary restaurant in a few minutes for me to munch on my way to the stadium.

Here are some links to get me ready for some delicious burnt ends.

I can't wait.

What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 6

October, 8, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

1. The battle of young guns at Columbia: Missouri and Nebraska both will be bringing largely untested quarterbacks into Thursday night’s pivotal North Division showdown. Nebraska’s Zac Lee has a small edge because he’s played in a big game before -- losing by one point at Virginia Tech on Sept. 19. Blaine Gabbert will be facing his toughest test to date against the Cornhuskers. Whoever wins this battle likely will win the game.

2. Missouri’s running game: The Tigers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this season -- down significantly from last season’s average of 5.2 yards per carry. Missouri’s line needs some push against the talented Nebraska front, keeping Gabbert out of too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations. If Derrick Washington, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence can be productive and keep the Tigers in productive yardage situations, it will go a long way toward a Missouri victory.

3. Oklahoma State’s reaction to the loss of Dez Bryant: The Cowboys already are facing serious injury woes. But now they’ll have to account -- perhaps for the rest of the season -- for the loss of their top offensive weapon and most explosive player after Bryant's suspension by the NCAA. His abilities as a receiver and punt returner made him a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Without him, the Cowboys won’t be nearly as explosive. It will place more pressure on receivers like Hubert Anyiam, DeMarcus Conner and Josh Cooper. They have a combined career total of 21 receptions.

4. The Aggies respond to a blowout: Texas A&M needs to blot out bad memories from a 47-19 loss to Arkansas last week in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies jumped to a quick 10-0 lead before Arkansas blew their doors off with 30 straight points. But their chances of stunning the Cowboys -- particularly with Bryant not playing -- might be better than you suspect. The first two or three possessions for the Aggies will be critical. A key will be whether the young A&M tackles can block better on the perimeter for Jerrod Johnson. And can they do a better job in sticking with the Oklahoma State offense that won’t be nearly as explosive as it typically is. Kyle Field will be rocking. Will the Aggies feed off that support?

5. Sam Bradford’s playing status: The returning Heisman Trophy winner has hinted he’d like to return to action this week, building confidence before the pivotal game with Texas next week. The Baylor game would give him an ideal game to get his feet wet. But whether he is ready physically remains a question. And also, will Bradford be willing to jump back into battle with an Oklahoma offense stripped of its most potent weapons with the loss of Ryan Broyles and Jermaine Gresham?

6. Who starts for Baylor at quarterback? The Bears have questions of their own as Blake Szymanski attempts to return to action after sustaining a bruised shoulder two weeks ago. Nick Florence had a strong debut last week in directing the victory over Kent State. But beating the Golden Flashes and Sooners is a completely different manner. Baylor coach Art Briles would feel more comfortable with an experienced player like Szymanski calling signals.

7. Will Colt McCoy’s first-half struggles continue? Texas’ Heisman Trophy contender is off to a slow start, having thrown four of his first five interceptions in the first half this season. He shouldn’t be challenged against a Colorado defense that has produced only two interceptions this season, tied for 10th in the conference.

8. Colorado's struggling defense against talented Texas: The Buffaloes have been gashed for 11 gains of 40 yards or more this season. Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins will face a huge challenge trying to curtail Texas’ big-play abilities, especially considering the Longhorns’ across-the-board edge in athleticism.

9. What do Grant Gregory and Steven Sheffield do for an encore? Kansas State backup quarterback Grant Gregory engineered a victory from the start of the game over Iowa State. Texas Tech backup Steven Sheffield directed a Tech triumph over New Mexico after starter Taylor Potts was dinged late in the first half, scoring touchdowns on his first four possessions in charge. With both backups set to likely start again, who will emerge from Saturday’s game in Lubbock better prepared to make it two straight triumphs?

10. Iowa State's attempts to account for Kansas’ playmakers in space. Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warriner does a good job of getting his playmakers outside for big plays, with a talented array of standouts like running backs Toben Opurum and Jake Sharp and wide receivers Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald. Iowa State has been challenged to keep those kind of athletic players in check all season, particularly by an overachieving starting secondary that averages only 5-foot-9 in height. The Cyclones will be challenged to stick with Wilson, Briscoe, Meier (all 6-foot-3) and McDougald (6-foot-2). ISU will face its stiffest defensive test so far this season in terms of containing the Jayhawks' tall, talented and deep receiving crew.

Loss of Bryant dooms OSU's South Division title hopes

October, 7, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State’s breakthrough season has suddenly become a nightmare.

The school’s announcement that All-Big 12 receiver Dez Bryant has been ruled ineligible because of failure to disclose his interaction with a former NFL player has rocked the No. 15 Cowboys.
  AP Photo/Brody Schmidt
  Losing superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant is another huge blow to the Cowboys.

It continues a string of misfortune that has dogged Mike Gundy’s program since it started the season with a 24-10 victory over Georgia and briefly soared to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll the week after.

The Cowboys fell in their next game and lost Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter in the process. Bryant struggled with cramps in that game and wasn’t a presence after briefly boosting OSU back into the contest on a scintillating 82-yard punt return.

That play is precisely why Bryant was the most explosive player in the Big 12. His presence was something that opponents had to account for on every play. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was capable of scoring every time he touched the ball.

Truthfully, Bryant’s junior season has been a little bit of a disappointment. He’s produced 17 receptions for 323 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. He was arguably -- along with Michael Crabtree -- the Big 12’s best receiver last season as a sophomore when he caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns and also averaged 17.9 yards per punt return with two TDs.

His departure, along with injuries to players like Hunter and cornerback/punt returner Perrish Cox, robs the Cowboys of much of their explosiveness. And without Bryant, it’s hard to believe they can legitimately challenge for their first Big 12 South Division title.

It continues a season-long spiral of bad luck for the Big 12, which was expected to reenact the exciting South Division title race with most of the key players back this season.

But since the start of the season, an incredible string of misfortune has befallen the conference that has robbed it of much of that early promise and starpower.

Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham sustained a season-ending knee injury before the year started. Returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford injured his shoulder against BYU in the first half of the Sooners’ season opener and has missed all of the season since then. Those losses have helped account for Oklahoma losing a pair of one-point decisions against BYU and Miami that likely dropped them out of national title contention.

Additionally, Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury that places Baylor’s hopes of snapping a 14-season bowl streak in extreme jeopardy. Kansas’ football team was involved in a nasty rumble with the school’s basketball team that played out over a couple of days. Colorado has become a national punchline after three embarrassing nationally televised losses. And the Big 12 was 4-7 against opponents from BCS conferences, including an 0-3 finish against BCS opponents last week that concluded nonconference play with a thud.

If Bryant is out for an extended period of time, or the season, the biggest benefactors would appear to be the Texas Longhorns.

Mack Brown’s team has risen to No. 2 with four impressive triumphs to start the season. With Bradford’s uncertain condition, the Longhorns’ most difficult game left in the season appeared to be their Oct. 31 visit to Stillwater against the Cowboys.

Brown has tormented the Cowboys since arriving at Texas in 1998, winning all 11 games in the series.

And with Bryant’s status uncertain for the upcoming game, Texas’ chances of running the table in the Big 12 South looks that much brighter.

Tech teammates eager for Brandon Carter's return

October, 7, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Brandon Carter's teammates missed him last week.

The Texas Tech offensive line wasn't the same without the 6-foot-7, 344-pound Carter to play his prominent role at guard after he was indefinitely suspended following the Red Raiders' loss at Houston two weeks ago.

The season-high five sacks the Red Raiders allowed against New Mexico, including one that knocked quarterback Taylor Potts out of the game, were a testament to Carter's importance on the team.

Carter has switched between left and right guard all season. He started his last three games at right guard next to tackle Marlon Winn, who said he's relieved that Carter will be back for the Red Raiders' lineup Saturday against Kansas State.

“I missed him more than anybody else ‘cause I’m used to playing next to him,” Winn said during Tech’s weekly news conference Monday. “I’ve played next to him for two years straight. It was a little different working out chemistry with (Tech guard Chris) Olson next to me. But we’re glad to have him back this week, and we’re just excited to get back to what we were doing.”

Carter painted his face and wore his typical spiked, multi-colored Mohawk hairstyle while he sat with other classmates in the stands last week. And for good measure, he dusted off a new nose ring especially for the occasion, along with face paint to reflect tears streaming out of his eyes.

The preseason All-American selection returned to practice on Sunday night and has been working his teammates this week.

Sophomore Mickey Okafor started at right guard against New Mexico. Olson started at left guard.

Tech coach Mike Leach has not included Carter in the Red Raiders' most recent two-deep roster, but is ready for his return.

“I think he is a solid player," Leach said."Brandon has played well here in the past and I am sure he will play well this week.”