Big 12: Big 12 team overview 102009

Midseason analysis: Texas Tech

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
7:11
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Record: 5-2, 2-1

It was expected to be a rebuilding season for Texas Tech after the loss of Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Brandon Williams and several other key players from the Red Raiders’ Big 12 South tri-champions last season. Despite a nasty near-mutiny after disappointing losses to Texas and Houston earlier this season, the ol’ Pirate Mike Leach has got his ship back on track with a three-game winning streak. Taylor Potts started strongly with 13 touchdown passes before he sustained a concussion in the New Mexico game. Backup Steven Sheffield immediately picked up the slack as he fired 12 touchdown passes and provided a running element at the position that was missing with Potts. Sheffield was injured in the Nebraska game and reportedly won’t play Saturday against Texas A&M. And Ruffin McNeill's fiery defense has been surging as the Red Raiders have limited opponents to 97 rushing yards per game in their last three games and notched 12 sacks and 18 tackles for losses during that period. The Red Raiders appear to be a certainty for a bowl and a possibility for second place in the Big 12 South if they can continue their high streak.

Offensive MVP, QB Steven Sheffield: When Sheffield inherited the team after Taylor Potts’ concussion, the Red Raiders were 2-2 and in a tight game with New Mexico. He immediately blew the game open with a run of four straight scoring drives and then pushed the Red Raiders to two more victories. The former invited walk-on completed 76 of 102 passes for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns and added two touchdown runs. His quarterback rating of 192.91 would be more than 22 points ahead of national leader Kellen Moore of Boise State. Even with his recent foot injury, Sheffield turned the Red Raiders’ season around when it needed a lift.

Defensive MVP, DE Brandon Sharpe: The key to Tech’s recent staunch pass rush has been Sharpe, who has notched seven of his eight sacks this season in the last two games and earns a slight edge over linebackers Brian Duncan and Marlon Williams and cornerback Jamar Wall. Sharpe produced four sacks to spark the win against Nebraska last week. He’s been a key producer in a retooled defensive front that features five new players among a nine-player rotation. And his recent surge only gives a hint of what more could be coming down the stretch for the Red Raiders if he builds on his two recent big games.

Midseason analysis: Texas A&M

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
6:24
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas A&M Aggies

Record: 3-3, 0-2 in Big 12 play

The Aggies sparked some early excitement after a 3-0 start against New Mexico, Utah State and UAB. But it all caught up with them during a recent three-game losing streak to Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, when the Aggies have been blistered for averages of 48.3 points and 435.3 total yards per game. The recent collapse has reignited the firestorm about Mike Sherman’s job security -- particularly with a run of tough Big 12 South opponents waiting. Most recently, an Aggie team with 17 freshmen was humiliated in their first true road game by Kansas State, 62-14. Interestingly, the blowout loss came only three days after A&M athletic director Bill Byrne responded to fans about the progress of the team under Sherman. “I’ve heard from many of you that see improvement every week,” Byrne wrote in his weekly column on the school’s Web site. “Thanks, that is true, but now I’d like to win a few.” It will be a big challenge with the current group facing the upcoming schedule to fulfill Byrne’s wishes.

Offensive MVP, QB Jerrod Johnson: During A&M’s 3-0 start, Johnson was the biggest reason, accounting for 13 touchdowns in those games, including a school-record six against UAB. He’s slowed down a little bit during the recent losing streak with 1,893 passing yards and 16 touchdowns for the season. Improved confidence in Nolan Cromwell’s offense had him limiting mistakes until a disastrous game against Kansas State where he was intercepted three times and sacked six times. It was the first time he had been intercepted this season, after setting a Big 12 streak of 225 passes to start a season.

Defensive MVP, DE/LB Von Miller: A&M coaches hoped that Miller’s speed would pay dividends by playing the hybrid “Jack” position which combines the responsibility of a defensive end and linebacker. Miller thrived during the Aggies’ winning streak, producing eight sacks in the Aggies’ first three games. He’s only had two in the last three games, but his total of 10.5 sacks still leads the country. Miller has been the Aggies' most active defender, producing 28.5 tackles and 21 solo stops. How he holds up against South Division teams familiar with Joe Kines' defensive concepts will determine if he can continue his strong start and finish strongly.

Midseason analysis: Texas

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
5:52
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Longhorns

Record: 6-0, 3-0 in Big 12 play

The Longhorns have looked impressive, particularly defensively as they make their bid for the BCS title game. The Texas defense has built on Will Muschamp’s concepts in a second season, developing a lethal rush defense that leads the nation and has limited opponents to 29 net yards of rushing over the last four games. Colt McCoy is hitting 70 percent of his passes but has struggled with interceptions, already tossing as many as he threw last season up to the Longhorns’ bowl game. The rushing game appeared showing signs of percolating in the second half against Oklahoma as Fozzy Whittaker emerged as a consistent threat. Mack Brown’s team is in the same position as last season with a 6-0 start. Two potentially troublesome games against Missouri and Oklahoma State loom in the next two weeks that will be their biggest remaining challenges of the season.

Offensive MVP, WR-PR Jordan Shipley: After injuries nearly ended his career after his first two seasons, Shipley has emerged as the top offensive weapon for the Longhorns. Not only is he their most productive receiver with team-best totals of 51 receptions and 605 yards -- including a school-record string of three straight double-digit catches -- but he’s also been a productive special-teams player with two punt returns for touchdowns. While some of the talk about a Heisman has subsided after his four-catch, 22-yard effort against Oklahoma last week, a Biletnikoff Award still could be his with a fast finish.

Defensive MVP, S Earl Thomas: He’s the poster child of Texas’ transformation into a nasty defensive unit in its second season of work with Will Muschamp. Thomas has already produced five interceptions over the last four games, earning a share of the national lead. The Longhorns as a team had six interceptions in 13 games last season. Thomas also has produced 27 tackles (19 solo) and sparked a rally with a 92-yard pass interception return for a touchdown against Colorado. His late interception against Oklahoma last week nailed down the victory. He also has nine passes broken up, giving him 14 passes defensed for the season -- a total that leads the nation.

Midseason analysis: Oklahoma State

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
5:26
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Oklahoma State Cowboys

Record: 5-1, 2-0 in Big 12 play

The Cowboys started the season with an impressive victory over Georgia that appeared to prove the preseason hype in them was deserved. Then, after rising to No. 5 in the national polls after that victory, they dropped a disappointing 45-35 loss to Houston the following week that turned on two tipped passes. Even worse, Big 12 2008 rushing leader Kendall Hunter was hurt in that game. And after the next game, preseason All-America wide receiver/punt returner Dez Bryant was held out of the last three games after news surfaced that he lied to the NCAA about an offseason meeting with former NFL player Deion Sanders. Many teams would have cratered, but OSU quarterback Zac Robinson has kept the Cowboys focused with a “press on” attitude. Running back Keith Toston and a squadron of wide receivers have filled in for the key missing players. And Bill Young’s defense is showing signs of strong development after shutting out Missouri in the second half to wrap up their most recent victory. OSU is pointed to remain the only legitimate challenger for Texas in the Big 12 South. If they keep playing like in recent weeks, they have a puncher’s chance at an upset Halloween Night in Stillwater.

Offensive MVP, RB Keith Toston: After Hunter’s injury, Toston has stepped up to become the Cowboys’ most consistent offensive threat. Since assuming the starting job, he produced a career game against Texas A&M (130 yards rushing, 74 yards receiving on two catches) and followed that up with a solid effort with 87 yards and 54 receiving yards on seven carries in the victory over Missouri. Toston originally had the starting job in front of Hunter before fumbling woes brought about a switch. The time on the bench apparently has been a good teacher for Toston.

Defensive MVP, Perrish Cox: With the departure of Bryant, Cox has assumed the Cowboys’ kick return duties as well as serving as the key member of the secondary. He leads the Big 12 with an average of 1.8 passes broken up per game and has chipped in with 17 tackles and an interception. Bryant’s absence has enabled Cox to add to his Big 12 career record with 2,496 kick-return yards, providing a key 74-yard return that helped jump-start the victory over Georgia.

Midseason analysis: Oklahoma

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
4:09
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 3-3, 1-1 in Big 12 play

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was positively giddy earlier this season when he learned that Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams all would return to college for another season. The four players said they returned to have a chance to turn around the Sooners’ recent BCS problems and blot away bad feelings about last season’s BCS title game. Unfortunately for Stoops and his team, the quartet never got to play together this season. Gresham was lost with a season-ending knee injury before the first game and Bradford was felled by a shoulder injury in the first game. Those absences help explain a 3-3 record that includes losses to Texas, Miami and BYU by a combined five points. Oklahoma's national title hopes are gone, and their chances at an unprecedented four consecutive Big 12 titles now are a long shot. The Sooners will have to pick up the pieces with Landry Jones at quarterback, Bradford's heir apparent at the position. They desperately need more production from an offensive line that struggled against Texas, producing the lowest rushing total in more than seven years.

Offensive MVP, WR Ryan Broyles: Before he was injured against Miami, Broyles was the most explosive player in Oklahoma’s battered offensive arsenal. In his first game back after fracturing his scapula against Miami, he produced a 35-yard TD catch against Texas. Broyles leads the Sooners with 25 receptions and eight touchdown grabs, despite missing the Baylor game and most of the Miami game with his injury. His performance against Texas is a testament to how important he is to the Sooners’ offense.

Defensive MVP, DE Jeremy Beal: The Sooners' defense has remained stout throughout the injury woes, and the biggest reason has been Beal. He has produced 6.5 sacks and nine tackles for losses. His biggest game came last week against Texas, where he produced a career-high 12 tackles, including 11 solo stops. He’s been involved in 30 tackles, which leads all Sooner linemen. And his production has gotten better as the season has continued.

Midseason analysis: Nebraska

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
3:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 4-2, 1-1

It’s been a season of wild mood swings and highs and lows for the Cornhuskers. They lost on a last-second pass-defense bust at Virginia Tech and came back to celebrate their 300th sellout with a 55-0 blowout over Louisiana-Lafayette the following week. They assumed the role of Big 12 North favorites after a dramatic comeback at Missouri. But they followed that with a crushing 31-10 home loss to Texas Tech last week that left Bo Pelini considering changes in the offense and a possible quarterback switch from Zac Lee to freshman Cody Green. The Cornhuskers are banged up in the backfield with Roy Helu hobbling and Rex Burkhead out for several weeks with a broken foot. And the strong defense, keyed by Ndamukong Suh, was blistered for 31 points by the Red Raiders after giving up only 40 in the first five games of the season. It came only a day after Pelini had awarded the unit Blackshirts for earlier achievement in the season. With a couple of weeks to build confidence before a tough finish, the Cornhuskers have their opportunity for a fast finish. But to do so, they have to improve their efficiency on offense and get their mojo back on defense.

Offensive MVP, I-back Roy Helu Jr.: Despite struggling with a chronic shoulder injury, Helu has emerged as the Cornhuskers’ most versatile offensive weapon. Helu leads the team with 620 yards rushing with a high of 169 yards against Virginia Tech. His recent production has suffered and he’s averaging 83 yards per game over the last three games after producing an average of 127 yards in the first three games. Helu has also added 12 catches for 118 yards to lead Nebraska in receiving. He needs to get healthy to take pressure off of whoever is playing quarterback for the Cornhuskers.

Defensive MVP, DT Ndamukong Suh: The massive 305-pounder had a chance to turn pro after last season, but decided to return to Nebraska for one more season. The result has been a fast start that has some considering him as a Heisman Trophy candidate before his team’s big loss last week against Texas Tech. Suh does things that most defensive tackles don’t do like lead his team in tackles and passes broken up, along with customary statistical categories like sacks and tackles for losses. His pivotal interception against Missouri helped set up that late comeback. Suh is definitely in line for a lot of awards after the season. And if he returns to his form of the Missouri game, he will finish off what could be one of the greatest seasons by a Nebraska defensive player in history.

Midseason analysis: Missouri

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
2:25
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri Tigers

Record: 4-0, 0-2

The Tigers were an early surprise as they streaked to victories over Illinois, Bowling Green, Furman and Nevada to crack the Top 25 in September. The fast start by sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert had some pundits comparing him to John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger after only a few games. But some of those early praises look a tad premature after a blown fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska and his sputters against Oklahoma State in back-to-back losses to start conference play. The Tigers had three turnovers in each of the losses and the defense struggled producing any turnovers, much to the chagrin of Gary Pinkel and his new coordinators, David Yost and Dave Steckel. The result is a skid into the North cellar as the only team in the division without a conference victory. The running game has also struggled most of the season, making this a marked contrast from Missouri's ’ back-to-back teams that advanced to the Big 12 title game. And it won’t get any easier with a game against a Texas team on Saturday that is intent on proving its BCS mettle.

Offensive MVP, WR Danario Alexander: After struggling with injuries most of his career, Alexander has fulfilled the promise when he arrived at the school. He produced nine catches for a career-high 180 yards last week at Oklahoma State, filling the featured role that formerly was filled by Jeremy Maclin. The tall, angular Alexander ranks second in the conference and ninth in the country with an average of 104.5 yards per game and fourth in the conference with an average of 7.3 catches per game. And he’s already surpassed his previous career season high for receptions and yards only seven games into the season.

Defensive MVP, LB Sean Weatherspoon: Even as the Tigers have struggled during their two-game slump to start conference play, Weatherspoon has been a constant as a defensive leader and producer. The Lombardi Award semifinalist ranks sixth in the conference with an average of 8.33 tackles per game. He’s notched at least nine tackles in three games this season and is only 83 tackles from breaking the school record. He can get it with a fast finish and a bowl game -- much like his strong closing last season. And after the Tigers' slow start, they could certainly use a boost from Weatherspoon, too.

Midseason analysis: Kansas State

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
12:54
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State Wildcats

Record: 4-3, 2-1

It’s not a misprint, I promise. The Kansas State Wildcats are sitting in first place in the Big 12’s North Division midway through the season. After earlier losses at Louisiana-Lafayette and UCLA and a 66-14 blowout loss to Texas Tech, that was a far-fetched notion. But KSU coach Bill Snyder has developed a resilient, over-achieving team that is in position to make a surprising charge at the Big 12 North title if they can maintain their start. Snyder has juggled quarterbacks Grant Gregory and Carson Coffman and relied on the running of Daniel Thomas and the playmaking skills of Brandon Banks. The defense came on in the victory against Texas A&M to produce six sacks after producing five combined sacks earlier in the season. Because two of their victories were over FCS opponents, the Wildcats effectively need seven victories to make a bowl trip. That might be hard considering their upcoming schedule, but their early start gives them hope they can at least keep confounding the skeptics.

Most valuable offensive player, TB Daniel Thomas: The converted former quarterback from Northwest Mississippi Junior College has thrived as the Wildcats’ leading rusher. Thomas leads the Wildcats with 669 yards and eight touchdowns, including a four-TD burst in the game against A&M last week despite playing only in the first half. He leads the conference with 145 carries and started his career with the Wildcats with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Massachusetts and Louisiana-Lafayette -- the first time in 43 years that a Wildcat had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to start a career. He’s had three 100-yard games and two more of at least 90 yards to become the Wildcats’ most consistent offensive threat.

Most valuable defensive player, DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald: In his first season with the Wildcats after transferring from Virginia, Fitzgerald has developed into their top producer along the defensive front. Fitzgerald has produced a team-leading totals of seven tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks -- including two against Texas A&M last week. He’s also notched a 17-yard pass interception return for a touchdown against Texas Tech.

Midseason analysis: Kansas

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
12:06
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 5-1, 1-1

The Jayhawks were expected to challenge for their first championship game berth and looked good during the non-conference part of their schedule, although they were tested only by Southern Mississippi. The high-powered passing trio of quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe might be the conference’s best. The defense is another story as the Jayhawks nearly lost against Iowa State before falling at Colorado because of their defensive liabilities. Coach Mark Mangino promised wholesale changes after the ISU game and the retooled unit struggled against Colorado. Of a bigger concern was the struggles by an offense line that produced minus-8 yards rushing and allowed five sacks against the Buffaloes. That's not a good sign considering the tough teams that the Jayhawks must beat down the stretch to fulfill their championship dreams.

Most valuable offensive player, WR Dezmon Briscoe: An argument could be made for either Reesing or Meier, but Briscoe’s play-making abilities gives him a slight nod over the rest of Kansas’ version of Lethal Weapon III. Briscoe leads the nation with an average of 134.2 yards per game and the Big 12 in all-purpose yards (182.0 ypg). Briscoe has produced at least 100 yards in eight of the last nine games.

Most valuable defensive player, SS Darrell Stuckey: Despite playing through a painful arm injury, Stuckey is second on the team with 50 tackles. The productive Stuckey has notched at least 10 tackles in three of his last four games, including 14 stops against Iowa State and 12 against Colorado. The secondary seems to take an identity from his leadership. That growth will be important as the Jayhawks are challenging by the tougher offenses they will see during the rest of the season.

Midseason review: Iowa State

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:49
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Iowa State Cyclones

Record: 4-3, 1-2

The Cyclones were picked to challenge for the North Division cellar under new coach Paul Rhoads. But the plucky team started the season 3-1, giving Rhoads the fastest start by any first-season ISU coach since George Veenker in 1931. His team has gravitated behind a formidable ground attack with new coordinator Tom Herman’s spread offense. Tailback Alexander Robinson has become one of the most valuable players in the league as the Cyclones have surprisingly developed more of a running attack than a passing philosophy so far. Veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has had his mark on his unit, which ranks 42nd in scoring defense and has limited opponents to 17 points or less four times this season. The Cyclones face a punishing finish, but can qualify for a bowl berth by winning two of their last five games. If they can do that, Rhoads would deserve some strong support for coach of the year honors -- if he doesn't already.

Most valuable offensive player, TB Alexander Robinson: Allen Iverson was right about practice. Robinson has been limited in his practice during the past month after tweaking his groin muscle in the Army game on Sept. 26. But he still leads the conference with 737 rushing yards, including four 100-yard games. He’s also been strong as a pass protector in the Cyclones’ spread offense and a versatile performer all season long.

Most valuable defensive player, LB Jesse Smith: The senior linebacker – like most of his teammates – is an undersized defender who won’t fill out the NFL scout’s prototypes for many draftees. But all he does is make plays with 75 tackles, 29 more stops than any teammate. He’s also notched three quarterback hurries, broken up two passes and produced an interception as he’s thrived in Burnham’s defense.

Midseason review: Colorado

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:26
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 2-4, 1-1 in Big 12

So much for Coach Dan Hawkins’ grandiose self-imposed benchmark of 10 wins and no excuses. The Buffaloes disqualified themselves from that goal before the first month of the season was over, placing Hawkins on one of the hottest seats in the nation. Nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo, West Virginia and Texas showed the Buffaloes struggling against athletic opponents -- not boding well for the rest of the season against the Big 12. But things seemingly changed when Hawkins benched his son, quarterback Cody Hawkins. Backup Tyler Hansen engineered an impressive victory over Kansas last week that was clearly Colorado’s top offensive performance of the season. The Buffaloes still rank 100th or worse in eight statistical categories including total offense, scoring defense, net punting, rushing and passing efficiency. They won’t win their predicted 10 games, but a favorable schedule should keep them in the North Division title hunt longer than most would have expected earlier this season.

Most valuable offensive player, RB Rodney Stewart: The undersized Stewart has been compared to Darren Sproles because of his shifty running style. He’s been the most consistent offense weapon for the Buffaloes, rushing for 418 yards and five touchdowns. Since missing the Toledo game, he has responded by rushing for 100 yards or more in three of his next four games to give a spark to Colorado’s flagging ground game.

Most valuable defensive player, LB Jeff Smart: The heady Smart has been the Buffaloes leading tackler, producing 58 stops in six games. He’s also notched five third-down stops, broken up three passes and notched a sack as the most consistent producer on the Buffaloes’ defense. Smart will need some help if Colorado has any hopes of contending for a Big 12 title.

Midseason review: Baylor

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
10:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor Bears

Record: 3-3, 0-2 in Big 12

The Bears were expected to challenge for a bowl game with Robert Griffin leading a talented offensive attack and an impressive defensive unit expected to show improvement. Baylor started the season with an upset victory at Wake Forest, but lost that momentum in the Bears’ next game when they fell to Connecticut. But it got worse the following week when Griffin was lost for the season against Northwestern State, likely ending any legitimate bowl hopes the Bears had. Coach Art Briles has his most talented collection of talent surrounding him this season with linebacker Joe Pawelek, safety Jordan Lake and defensive tackle Phil Taylor among the standouts. But replacing Griffin with freshman Nick Florence or senior Blake Szymanski is too steep of a drop in talent for the Bears to think about playing in December and beyond this season.

Most valuable offensive player, QB Robert Griffin: Even though he played in only three games, it’s hard not to give this award to the sophomore quarterback. His presence made the Bears think they could challenge for a bowl trip. With him gone, it will be another long year of waiting. One bright spot will be that Baylor plans to petition for a medical redshirt, giving him three years of eligibility after his rehabilitation.

Most valuable defensive player, LB Joe Pawelek: As usual, Pawelek has been the key for the Bears’ defense, leading the team with 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks, including a career-best 21 stops against Connecticut. He’ll be making his 41st straight start this week against Oklahoma State and appears headed to breaking Maurice Lane’s school record of 45 straight starts if he can stay healthy through the rest of the season. He will go down in Baylor annals as one of the school's top defensive players.

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