Big 12: Big 12 team outlook 102109

Second-half outlook: Texas Tech

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
5:18
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Record: 5-2

Remaining schedule: Texas A&M, Kansas, at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor (at Arlington).

Texas Tech could have come apart several times this season. But coach Mike Leach kept the Red Raiders together, even after a two-game losing streak that prompted players to air their gripes on Twitter and the one-game suspension for Brandon Carter. Leach has guided the Red Raiders through difficulties as starting quarterback Taylor Potts went down with a concussion, replacing him with untested Steven Sheffield -- the first quarterback controversy of his coaching tenure. Now, he likely will start Potts in Sheffield’s place after he sustained a foot injury last week against Nebraska. No matter who starts, the Red Raiders have been a surprise in how they have played, especially since the losing streak. The offense is customary for Tech -- second nationally in passing and scoring, third in total offense and 118th rushing. But the biggest revelation has been the play of a defense that was thought to be a liability before the season. Ruffin McNeill’s group ranks eighth in sacks, 24th in total defense and 34th in scoring defense. The play of Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard has been unexpectedly strong and provided a consistently strong pass rush. The Red Raiders have a manageable schedule with only one true road game remaining. It should be shaping up for a strong finish and a nice bowl trip if they can keep winning -- which they should be able to do.

Best-case scenario: The Red Raiders sweep the rest of their games, beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma convincingly enough to start some late buzz as an at-large BCS team. It's not out of the question if they play like they have the last few weeks and other teams around the country start getting nicked. It could mean a better bowl than might be expected.

Worst-case scenario: Their schedule looks manageable, but still tricky -- particularly if their quarterback woes aren’t sorted out. A couple of difficult games remain like the Kansas and Oklahoma home contests or the trip to Oklahoma State. Lose all three of them and the Red Raiders will be looking at a low-level bowl game.

My prediction: The Red Raiders could struggle and lose a game to Oklahoma State to finish at 9-3. That might be enough to sending them skidding to the Sun Bowl, especially if Oklahoma finishes strong and gets picked by the Holiday Bowl. It wouldn’t be the most attractive finish for the conference or the schools, but Oklahoma would be more attractive in San Diego than Texas Tech -- particularly because the new bowl contract won’t give the Holiday Bowl many more options at the Sooners in the future. No matter how it turns out, the Red Raiders will have played better than they anticipated and should have a chance at back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time in school history if they can win the bowl.

Second-half outlook: Texas A&M

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
4:05
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas A&M Aggies

Record: 3-3

The Aggies have fallen apart with three losses to their BCS opponents so far -- understandable because their travel roster last week against Kansas State was dotted with 17 freshmen. And it won’t get any easier for them when the meat of the Big 12 schedule kicks in, providing a difficult platform for the young players to learn. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson started fast with 14 touchdowns before he threw his first interception. But when the struggles came, he threw three of them against along with being sacked six times in a 62-14 loss to Kansas State last week. That stretched A&M’s losing streak to five straight Big 12 games, allowing 50.8 points during that span and twice allowing 60. Coach Mike Sherman needs a quick turnaround in his defense as they face Texas Tech this week and with the rest of the remaining opponents. Even with the Red Raiders’ uncertain quarterbacking, it will still pose a huge problem for an A&M defense that ranks 94th in total defense and 104th in scoring defense and has struggled getting off the field during recent weeks. Sherman desperately needs a turnaround and this group might be too young to give him the kind of lift he would need to save his job.

Best-case scenario: The Aggies find a way to cobble three wins during the rest of the season and qualify for their first bowl since 2007. Their most likely triumphs would include Baylor, Iowa State and a road game against Colorado. The remaining games look daunting and probably outside the capability of this young group this season.

Worst-case scenario: Another blowout loss at Texas Tech is followed by unexpected losses to Iowa State and Colorado. That six-game losing streak would make the season fall apart with a loss at Oklahoma the following week ending their hopes for bowl eligibility.

My prediction: No bowl. The Aggies will have their bowl hopes alive until the final game of the season. Home wins against Iowa State and Baylor will give them a shot in the final game against Texas. But the Longhorns’ national title hopes will trump that to end A&M’s bowl dreams in their final regular season game.

Second-half outlook: Texas

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
3:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Longhorns

Record: 6-0

Remaining schedule: at Missouri, at Oklahoma State, UCF, at Baylor, Kansas, at Texas A&M

The Longhorns have started the season about as well as they could have asked. They’ve already taken care of Oklahoma and appear to have smooth sailing towards their first Big 12 title since 2005. The biggest reason for the success is the defense's improvement in its second season under Will Muschamp. It appears its the best defensive group around the Forty Acres since the 2005 national title team. The Longhorns lead the nation in rushing defense and are sixth in total defense with a solid rotation of veteran players. Earl Thomas is playing like the best safety in the Big 12. And Sergio Kindle doesn’t have the flashy statistics some might have expected, but he still has provided an important role in a solid pass rush. Jordan Shipley has helped keep the Longhorns’ passing game afloat, even through some uncharacteristic struggles with interceptions by Colt McCoy. And the running game is starting to show some championship flashes, particularly in the second half of the Oklahoma game with the emergence of Fozzy Whittaker. If the Longhorns can beat Oklahoma State in two weeks, they should have a clear path to the title game in Arlington, Texas. The last time a Big 12 title game was played in an NFL stadium in Texas, the Longhorns won and headed to the national championship. The same could happen again this season.

Best-case scenario: The Longhorns beat Oklahoma State and build confidence during the last month of the season with resounding victories capped by a win over Texas A&M at Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. The biggest hope has to be that either Alabama or Florida emerges as the convincing SEC championship without the other team having any serious national title claims. If that occurs, the Longhorns should be in good shape for a title run.

Worst-case scenario: The Longhorns stumble at Oklahoma State on Halloween night while the Cowboys win the rest of their games to win the Big 12 South title. Texas likely would still go to a BCS bowl, but after the trauma of last season BCS woes, another late-season loss knocking them out of the national title picture would be a kick in the stomach to the Longhorns.

My prediction: BCS title game. With so much hanging on the Oklahoma State game, Mack Brown will have the Longhorns ready. While it would seem like the Cowboys are due for an upset after 11 straight losses to Brown, the Longhorns’ superior defensive talent will win this game. That victory will boost them into a relatively easy November. A convincing victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game should have them pointed for Pasadena and a shot at their first national championship since 2005.

Second-half outlook: Oklahoma State

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
3:04
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Record: 5-1

Remaining schedule: at Baylor, Texas, at Iowa State, Texas Tech, Colorado, at Oklahoma

It’s been an eventful year for Mike Gundy. He’s had to overcome the loss of two of his three major offensive weapons in Kendall Hunter’s recurring foot injury and Dez Bryant being ruled ineligible after lying to the NCAA about his association with Deion Sanders. The Cowboys have rebounded from those blows thanks to a strong first half from quarterback Zac Robinson, who has directed an offense that still ranks eighth in scoring, 15th in passing efficiency and is tied for 33rd in rushing. Veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young's unit has made some strides, particularly in the second half of victories over Texas A&M and Missouri. The Cowboys need to build on those strong performances and hope for some NCAA mercy that maybe Bryant can return to the lineup to provide an offensive lift down the stretch. The Cowboys are exactly where they wanted to be heading into the season with the Texas game approaching in two weeks. They have the Longhorns at home. Even with the injuries and absences, they still have a shot at pulling off an upset that would give them the inside track to their first Big 12 title. All they have to do is keep winning.

Best-case scenario: After losing to Texas and Mack Brown 11 straight times, the 12th turns into a charm for the Cowboys. The upset provides momentum where they conclude with a victory over Texas Tech at home before heading to Owen Field. Oklahoma State claims its first victory there over the Sooners since 2001 to finish off its South Division title.

Worst-case scenario: Not only do the Cowboys lose to Texas and Oklahoma, but also another game as well to finish 8-4. It’s a respectable record and will send them on a nice bowl trip, but it isn’t what Gundy was expecting after the way his team started despite missing so much key personnel.

My prediction: Mid-level bowl. The Cowboys look like they'll be heading to the Alamo Bowl with Gundy in charge. The last time OSU visited San Antonio, coach Les Miles bolted for LSU only a couple of days later. With the new additions at Boone Pickens Stadium and Gundy’s presence, that shouldn’t be an issue this time. But it would still be a little disappointing considering the Cowboys' fast start this season and strong perseverance through the early setbacks.

Second-half outlook: Oklahoma

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
2:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 3-3

Remaining schedule: at Kansas, Kansas State, at Nebraska, Texas A&M, at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State.

The Sooners will have to pick up the pieces of the rest of the season almost assuredly led by backup quarterback Landry Jones after Sam Bradford injury against Texas. Bob Stoops has been able to conjure up comeback magic after falling to Texas before, claiming Big 12 titles in 2006 and 2008 after losing to the Longhorns. That might be asking a lot this time around, but the Sooners do have the ability to charge on a late spurt. Ryan Broyles' strong return against Texas shows the Sooners’ top receiving weapon appears back. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown both need to emerge as running threats to balance what is being asked of Jones and the passing offense. The Sooners' defense has played well enough to keep them in every game this season, ranking 16th or better in all of the four major defensive categories. But it still hasn’t been good enough and they’ll have to raise their production even more to account for the injury-riddle offense. Oklahoma's unprecedented streak of three-straight Big 12 titles will end unless they receive some major help from an unexpected source. It just doesn't seem like it will happen.

Best-case scenario: Jones shows the form that allowed him to blister Tulsa for seven TD passes earlier this season and Broyles returns to deliver a monster receiving season after his return. The Sooners steer through their run of difficult upcoming road games with an 8-4 record that boosts them into a bowl game with momentum they can build on for next season.

Worst-case scenario: The struggles that Oklahoma’s offense have shows in their three losses continues during the rest of the season. Those problems cause the Sooners to drop all three remaining road games, finishing the season with a 6-6 record that is Stoops’ worst as a head coach. Those struggles start the understandable murmurs about staff changes soon after the regular season ends.

My prediction: Mid-level bowl. The Sooners will rebound by beating Kansas this week, but tough games at Nebraska and Texas Tech are a different story. The Sooners will lose both to finish at 7-5, but gain momentum from a resounding victory over Oklahoma State in their regular season finale to jump into the Holiday Bowl against Oregon. It's not nearly what Stoops or Sooner fans expected when they giddily learned earlier this season that Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams would be returning. But it's still a bowl game.

Second-half outlook: Nebraska

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
1:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 4-2

Remaining schedule: Iowa State, at Baylor, Oklahoma, at Kansas, Kansas State, at Colorado

The Cornhuskers appeared to be one of the North Division’s favorites after a fast start that included a near-miss at Virginia Tech and a stunning fourth-quarter comeback victory at Missouri. But that momentum has been short-circuited after a stunning 31-10 home loss to Texas Tech last week that prompted more questions around the Cornhusker program than any in the conference. Only a day after Bo Pelini gave his defense its cherished Blackshirts, the Cornhuskers allowed the Red Raiders to come into their stadium and beat them by three touchdowns. The biggest question is on offense where Zac Lee is struggling at quarterback. Pelini has openly hinted at a change to freshman Cody Green that would pump some life back into the passing and zone-read option attack. They’ve also been hampered by injuries at running back where Roy Helu Jr. has had trouble maintaining his form and Rex Burkhead is likely out for the season with a foot injury. Even with the offensive struggles, the Cornhuskers have the division’s strongest defense and most dominant player in Ndamukong Suh. His presence should elevate them to the role of favorites, even after their stumble last week.

Best-case scenario: A quarterback emerges over the next two weeks in building-block victories over Iowa State and Baylor. That builds confidence for a tradition-steeped victory over Oklahoma the following week and into a key game at Kansas. The defense comes alive down the stretch and a quarterback emerges to help boost the Cornhuskers into their first Big 12 title game since 2006.

Worst-case scenario: The offense regresses as Helu struggles with injuries and a quarterback doesn’t materialize on the roster. It leads to a loss at Baylor, followed by understandable struggles against Oklahoma and Kansas and a season-ending road loss at Colorado. A season that once looked so promising unravels into a 6-6 funk that pushes them into an unhappy bowl trip and questions about the direction of the offense.

My prediction: Big 12 championship game appearance. The Cornhuskers have too much talent on defense, specifically along their line, to fall too far. Look for Green to get more playing time and become more comfortable with the offense each week. His growth is the key for this team’s title-game hopes. It also wouldn’t hurt to get Helu healthier and for the wide receivers to get back to their productive levels of earlier in the season. Any team with Suh has an advantage. That will help the Cornhuskers get through their mid-season struggles.

Second-half outlook: Missouri

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
1:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri Tigers

Record: 4-2

Remaining schedule: Texas, at Colorado, Baylor, at Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas (at Kansas City).

After early storming through the nonconference part of their schedule with four resounding triumphs, the Tigers have fallen back down to earth with losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma State that have dropped them into the early North cellar. The Tigers’ offense has struggled with Blaine Gabbert’s ankle injury dragging them down. And their offense has been unbalanced as they’ve produced 91 rushing yards or fewer in each of their past three games. Gabbert has looked less-than-ordinary in conference play, passing for one touchdown with five interceptions in his past two games. That compares to a 12-0 touchdown-to-interception ration in his first four games. The Tigers have played well in several defensive categories, ranking fifth in points allowed, fourth in yards per game and third in pass defense. But they rank last in takeaways, sacks and interceptions. If they can start making those big plays, they can get back into contention in a Big 12 North race that should be relatively equal. Getting back into the title hunt isn't out of the question, even after the two early losses.

Best-case scenario: The Tigers suddenly find the turnover magic and start wreaking havoc on Big 12 offenses. They navigate a manageable four-game stretch -- at Colorado, Baylor, at Kansas State and Iowa State -- and finish with a resounding victory over Kansas that sends them storming on a good bowl trip.

Worst-case scenario: Gabbert’s foot doesn’t get any better during the rest of the season, resulting in worsening performances. The defense not only can’t make turnovers but starts giving up chunks of yards. The Tigers claim only two victories the rest of the season and slink into a low-level bowl. It’s a huge comedown from back-to-back championship game appearances in the Chase Daniel/Jeremy Maclin era.

My prediction: Low-level bowl trip. The Tigers will beat the teams they should down the stretch and also get some revenge from Kansas in their annual end-of-season battle. It will give them a 7-5 record. It might not be what Gary Pinkel wanted, but still an accomplishment considering the massive turnover from last season’s team.

Second-half outlook: Kansas State

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
12:44
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State Wildcats

Record: 4-3

Remaining schedule: Colorado, at Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, at Nebraska

The Wildcats have been the surprise of the Big 12 North so far, claiming first place after a roller-coaster first three weeks. How can it get any weirder than beating Iowa State on a blocked conversion, losing by 52 to Texas Tech and beating Texas A&M by 48 the following week? The way the Wildcats responded shows the coaching ability of Bill Snyder, who turned this team around after its earlier embarrassments to point them back to the top. This team does the little things right, ranking seventh nationally in kickoff returns, 17th in turnover margin and 26th in rushing defense. If Brandon Banks can continue his recent kick-returning tear and take some of those big plays over to the offense, the Wildcats could have an offensive weapon who could carry them to a surprise or two. Quarterbacks Grant Gregory and Carson Coffman need to play steadily in the remaining weeks, not making the mistakes that hurt them in the earlier losses. And if the defense can continue its recent run after producing six sacks against Texas A&M, the Wildcats could sneak their way into a bowl. That trip will be more difficult because the Wildcats have to win seven games to qualify this season as they can count only one of their earlier victories over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech for bowl purposes.

Best-case scenario: Snyder gets his underrated team playing, leading them to upset victories over Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, claiming a bowl berth and setting up a chance for the championship game in their final contest if Nebraska obliges with a loss or two down the stretch. It would be the most deserving coach of the year honors of Snyder's career.

Worst-case scenario: The season turns again as the Wildcats start believing their press clippings and lose to Colorado this week. A tough, physical game follows in Oklahoma followed by three more losses to finish out the season.

My prediction: No bowl, but only because of KSU's schedule. Snyder still has some magic with this team. The Wildcats will notch victories over Colorado and Missouri to finish 6-6. In a normal year, that would get them to a bowl game. But the two FCS opponents keep them away, teaching Snyder a lesson about consuming too many early-season scheduling cream puffs.

Second-half outlook: Kansas

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
12:22
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Record: 5-1

Remaining schedule: Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, at Kansas State, Nebraska, at Texas, Missouri (at Kansas City)

The Jayhawks looked to be the top challenger in the North before recent defensive struggles. They barely escaped against Iowa State and fell at Colorado when turnovers and sacks caught up with them on offense. Getting running back Jake Sharp will help a struggling running game that produced minus-8 yards against Colorado and is averaging 50.5 yards per game in Big 12 play. Some kind of running game will be important to balance the productions of Todd Reesing and his deep receiving corps. Maybe it was the level of competition, but their defensive struggles really didn’t manifest themselves until they started playing conference opponents. And if that defense was challenged by Iowa State and Colorado, it doesn't bode well for when the Jayhawks will meet high-powered offensive teams like Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas over the next few weeks. Mark Mangino changed out three of his starters in the secondary last week and needs the new players to produce immediately. The key to the Jayhawks will be getting a chance at their first Big 12 title game appearance will be getting an upset or two over those North teams and beating Nebraska on Nov. 14.

Best-case scenario: The Jayhawks jump on an Oklahoma team that is still moping after its Texas loss and win the following week at Texas Tech as the Red Raiders struggle with a quarterback question. They then beat Kansas State and Nebraska and play Texas competitively in Austin, setting up a game at Arrowhead Stadium against Missouri where they can wrap up their first undisputed Big 12 title.

Worst-case scenario: The defensive problems that were apparent in the Jayhawks’ last two games continue dogging them throughout the rest of the season in a difficult finish. The Jayhawks could conceivably lose all six remaining games if those problems stretch out and the turnover bug that popped up against Colorado continues.

My prediction: Mid-level bowl. The Jayhawks will win two of their six remaining games, beating Kansas State and Nebraska. It will be enough to get them to a bowl game, but that wasn’t what Mangino was expecting after his team’s 5-0 start.

Second-half outlook: Iowa State

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
11:25
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Iowa State Cyclones

Record: 4-3

Remaining schedule: at Nebraska, at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Colorado, at Missouri.

Nagging injuries to quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson could determine how the rest of the season plays out for the Cyclones. The conference’s best rushing attack should enable them to stay in games by running the clock and being patient. That attitude has helped the Cyclones earn four victories already as one of the Big 12's most underrated teams. They can’t get into many shootouts with other Big 12 teams with their current offensive talent and expect to win. But if coach Paul Rhoads’ team plays to those standards, they might have a couple of more surprises left.

Best-case scenario: Arnaud and Robinson give the Cyclones the ability to stay close in most games down the stretch. They jump on struggling Texas A&M -- again -- for their second straight victory at Kyle Field. And then with the excitement of playing for a bowl game mounting throughout Iowa, the Cyclones topple Colorado to earn their first bowl berth since 2005.

Worst-case scenario: Both Arnaud and Robinson struggle with injuries and their departure builds on Iowa State’s already small margin of error. With backups playing, the Cyclones bottom out with five straight losses to finish a 4-8 season that shows how far Rhoads still has to go to make his program competitive in the North Division.

My prediction: The Cyclones will be competitive in every game they play in, but have the offensive talent to win only one of their remaining games as they beat Colorado in their home finale. Their 5-7 finish with two conference wins represents an improvement for Rhoads to sell to recruits. It might not match neighboring Iowa's run to a BCS berth. But it's a start.

Second-half outlook: Colorado

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
11:04
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 2-4

Remaining schedule: at Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, Nebraska.

Tyler Hansen’s move into the starting lineup has immediately boosted the Buffaloes’ offensive production. The Buffaloes featured a balanced offensive attack in an impressive 34-30 victory over Kansas that puts them only a half-game behind North Division leader Kansas State. And they get a chance to topple the Wildcats on Saturday. A key in Colorado's second half will be getting more production from the passing game and continuing the momentum through three difficult North Division road opponents. The defense needs to build on its recent strong play against Kansas, where it notched a season-best five sacks and produced three turnovers and finally started playing like many had hoped this season. Struggles in the first half have led the Buffaloes to rank last in the offense in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency, so the hope is that Hansen will continue his first-game success in turning things around. Running back Rodney Stewart will be important down the stretch and a return from heralded running back Darrell Scott could do wonders for Colorado’s flagging big-play ability.

Best-case scenario: The Buffaloes sneak a victory at Manhattan and ride the wave of that excitement to home victories over Missouri and Texas A&M to earn a share of the Big 12 lead. They then split their road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma State, leading to a showdown against Nebraska for the North title. Dan Hawkins’ season wasn’t pretty, but his team still got to the championship game one way or another.

Worst-case scenario: The Buffaloes lose on Saturday in Manhattan and struggle to beat only one of two teams when Missouri and Texas A&M visit Boulder. They are then beaten by Iowa State and Oklahoma State and Nebraska to finish at 3-9 -- far away from Hawkins’ lofty preseason prediction.

My prediction: No bowl. Colorado will win two of its remaining home games and lose its three games on the road. Hawkins will need a big performance against Nebraska, not only to keep the Cornhuskers out of the championship game but maybe to protect his job. The perception among many pundits is that Colorado can't afford the cost of a coaching change. If the Buffaloes bottom out in the second half, the program might not be able not to afford making that change.

Second-half outlook: Baylor

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
10:34
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor Bears

Record: 3-3

Remaining schedule: Oklahoma State, Nebraska, at Missouri, Texas, at Texas A&M, Texas Tech

Robert Griffin’s injury has doomed the Bears’ hopes of making a bowl trip and snapping the conference’s longest bowl drought. The Bears still have some good players and will be competitive, but it will take all of Art Briles’ coaching acumen to keep from having his team's confidence collapse as the most difficult part of its schedule kicks in. The offense has scored 17 points combined in two Big 12 games and will have difficulty producing much offense against the tougher opponents. The defense has really struggled in conference play and ranks last against the run and tackles for losses. This might be a good time for Briles to turn to freshman Nick Florence rather than Blake Szymanski in order to build for the future.

Best-case scenario: One of the quarterbacks gets hot and leads the Bears to an upset home victory over either Oklahoma State or Nebraska. Then, the Bears defeat a wounded Texas A&M team at Kyle Field for the first time since 1984. That sets up a game against Texas Tech in the regular-season finale at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for a shot at a bowl game.

Worst-case scenario: The quarterbacks struggle and the defense collapses against the faster, more powerful teams the Bears will be facing. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Baylor could lose the rest of its games and skid to 3-9, snuffing out much of the momentum generated by last season’s charge.

Prediction: No bowl. Baylor will lose all of its remaining games, leaving the dream season of Griffin, linebacker Joe Pawelek, safety Jordan Lake and defensive tackle Phil Taylor under the category of “what might have been.” The Bears’ struggles this season without him prove that Griffin is the most indispensable player in the conference.

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