Big 12: Bill Callahan
Colorado 31, Hawaii 13: A good win for Colorado on Saturday, and a much-needed one. Like I mentioned earlier, it's a good sign that the Buffaloes eliminated the big mistakes that led to them getting romped in California, but two other big things pop out: Negative momentum has caused the Buffaloes plenty of pain in the past two seasons, but they fell behind 10-0 early in this one. They rebounded to outscore the Warriors 31-3. We haven't seen that from Colorado in awhile. Also, Toney Clemons showed off some of the talent that made him the Preseason Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12, catching a 73-yard score from Tyler Hansen, who didn't have an interception after throwing three last week. Clemons' first touchdown was a big one. All good things for the Buffaloes -- who now get two weeks to prepare for Georgia -- to build on.
Oklahoma 27, Air Force 24: Is this how it's going to be for Oklahoma? Air Force is a good team and a unique defensive challenge, so who knows exactly what to take away from this, but Oklahoma let Air Force into the game late with two sustained drives. Landry Jones looked very pedestrian against a better defense (26-of-42, 254 yards, TD), but he played well enough to win. If Oklahoma bounces back like they did after nearly losing to Utah State, look out Cincinnati. The Bearcats host Oklahoma next week after getting beaten soundly by NC State on Thursday night. Ryan Broyles continues to be quietly outstanding, catching 10 balls for 116 yards, but was held without a touchdown.
TCU 45, Baylor 10: Clearly the Bears have a long way to go. I still like their chances for a bowl, but they can expect more blowouts like this if they play to a similar level against Oklahoma, Texas or other teams in the Big 12 South. TCU completely dominated this game, and there's not many positives to take away for the Bears. They let Ed Wesley run all over them for over 160 yards and Andy Dalton took anything he wanted from the secondary, completing 21 of 23 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Not a good showing, and maybe that 21-point line Vegas set for the game really was crazy. Just not like I thought.
I couldn’t jump into the recruiting hubbub, however, without taking care of some Tuesday afternoon correspondence.
Richard Sylvester from Houston writes: Tim, love your blog. Thanks for all of the diligent hard work you’re cranking out day after day. I read it every morning and throughout the day.
My question is whether you’ve been reading an excellent set of posts from Frank the Tank’s Slant about a potential move by Texas to the Big Ten. It lays out several well-researched reasons why the ultimate big fish out there – bigger than Missouri, bigger than Syracuse and way bigger than Notre Dame – is Texas.
Could you envision a scenario where the Longhorns would ever leave the Big 12 behind and jump to the Big Ten?
Tim Griffin; I have been reading Frank’s interesting posts on the subject. And he raises some interesting points about how much money the Longhorns could ultimately make by joining the Big Ten in one of his most recent missives.
Obviously, the Big Ten is one of the most tradition-rich conferences in the nation, if not the most. Adding Texas would give them, like Frank writes the ultimate free agent in terms of college sports.
Texas matches the research qualities that members of the Big Ten’s academia would demand when a new conference partner would be added.
And it would deliver a huge potential market for the fledgling Big Ten cable television network if the state of Texas would be added. Some estimates are that the population for the states in the Big 12 would account for more than 90 million people if Texas was added to the Big Ten.
It would also conservatively mean the Longhorns would make at least $10 million in new athletic revenue because of the new revenue sources the Big Ten’s whopping television network provides, compared with the Big 12's current deal.
But whether they would leave the traditional rivals from the Southwest Conference and the new ones from the Big 12 is debatable. The travel costs would be huge in all sports and the Longhorns would be jumping into a cauldron of potential new opponents like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa among others.
Texas would have to agree to a revenue sharing deal in place in the Big Ten that is different from the Big 12’s where the teams that appear in the most television games and make the most NCAA basketball tournament appearances earn more money.
And remember how the Texas Legislature became involved with news leaked that Texas was leaving for the Big 12 Conference. It basically paved the way for Baylor and Texas Tech to tag along with Texas and Texas A&M. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Texas announced it wanted to go to the Big Ten by itself.
The Big 12 has been good for Texas. Virtually every sports program is at a level where the Longhorns can legitimately contend for a national championship. It has an intriguing mix of local and regional rivals.
It makes for some fanciful thinking and has a lot of interesting points to think about Texas leaving the Big 12. But I just don’t see it happening – at least at this time -- because of so many obstacles that would exist in the move.
Meni of Manchester, N.H., writes: In regards to the link you had yesterday about the Oklahoma players who were likely first-round selections in the Class of 2011, the guy in College Football News listed Travis Lewis, DeMarco Murray, Quinton Carter and Dominique Franks on his list. I thought Franks declared for the NFL draft, didn’t he?
Tim Griffin: Meni, you are correct. Franks declared for the draft shortly before the deadline. Most draft analysts have him going in the third or fourth round. He’s a very determined player and I think his speed should help him make an NFL squad as a special-teams player, making him an intriguing sleeper pick.
Steve Sutton from Ozona, Texas, writes: Tim: Interesting story about players who exceeded recruiting expectations, showing how uncertain the recruiting process is. I was wondering if you might elaborate on some of the more celebrated misses during the time of your survey.
Tim Griffin: Steve, I hope I was able to showcase how inexact recruiting can actually be. But I think the player in the most celebrated Big 12 player in recent seasons who has failed to live up to expectations was Colorado running back Darrell Scott, who was the No. 2 running back in the nation in 2008 and had an 89 ranking by ESPNU. He played with the Buffaloes during his freshman season before leaving the team midway through the season in 2009. His next playing situation is unknown at this time.
Of course, the player ranked ahead of him at running back has been a bust as well. Jermie Calhoun of Oklahoma was the No. 1 running back in the 2008 class, but redshirted and then gained only 220 yards and scored a touchdown in his redshirt season. Calhoun had trouble getting a chance at playing time behind Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray last season. It will be interesting if he develops and gets more of a chance for a playing time in 2010 after Brown’s graduation.
Another player who hasn’t lived up to expectations has been Texas defensive end Eddie Jones, who had an 88 ranking and was the No. 2 defensive end in the nation in the 2006 class. He hasn’t started a game at Texas in his first three seasons, although he showed some flashes as a situational pass rusher with five sacks and seven tackles for losses in 2009.
Pete from Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, great blog, I love reading every day. I noticed that ESPN Sports Nation did a poll that asked if recruiting or game planning was more important for a coach to succeed. The vote showed that most fans think recruiting is more important.
But I disagree.
Bill Callahan and Charlie Weis were great recruiters, but did they ultimately succeed? What about John Blake? Nope. Game planning is what wins. Take Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. All of them are good recruiters, but they never attract top-five classes. Yet they have their programs at a consistent level. What’s your take on the issue?
Tim Griffin: Pete, you raise an interesting question. I think you ultimately have to have a combination of both, but I would lean to game planning as being just as important as recruiting in developing a contending program.
Like you mentioned, coaches like Pelini and Ferentz get good players, but they take them to high competitive levels thanks to their teaching and game planning.
The old recruiting adage has always described college football as “not being about the Xs and Os, but about the Jimmys and the Joes.”
But I think that’s changing as there’s more parity across the nation. When good coaches get good players, that’s when programs the foundations for really good programs start being built.
Cecil Wilson of Plano, Texas, writes: With recruiting coming to an end, I just noticed that Texas did not get a commitment from a tight end. Looking at the Longhorns’ roster, they have several, but I have not seen or heard of any of them, except for Blaine Irby. What do you think the Horns will do about this position in the upcoming season? With a new quarterback, either Garrett Gilbert or Case McCoy, they are going to need all the options they can have. Thank you for all your hard work. Hook 'Em.
Tim Griffin: The tight end hasn’t been a position of much relevancy for the Longhorns since Jermichael Finley left after the 2007 season. Irby was injured early in the 2008 season and didn’t play last season.
That left the Longhorns utilizing four-receiver sets in many occasions for many occasions. Greg Smith, a 260-pounder was the primary blocking tight end for most of the season. He was backed up by Ahmard Howard. Wide receiver Dan Buckner emerged at the flex tight end spot early in the season, but struggled getting the ball late in the season and has elected to transfer to Arizona.
The status of Irby is unknown at this time as he recovers from his injury. I look for D.J. Grant to have the best shot of emerging during spring practice. Grant was declared academically ineligible at the start of the season, but should be ready to go.
The tight end position will be of vital importance as Gilbert uses it for checkdown receptions. The question will be who will ultimately be catching passes from that position.
Thanks again for all of the good questions this week. I’ll check back again on Friday.
All of the Cornhuskers’ coaches experienced success in their own way over the decade. With Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini, Nebraska was the only Big 12 school to make championship game appearances in the 2000’s with different coaches. And Frank Solich, the Cornhuskers’ first coach of the decade, took them to a national championship game in 2001.
In 2001 Eric Crouch claimed the first of the Big 12’s three Heisman trophies in the decade. And Ndamukong Suh had a great case for one in 2009.
Pelini has the Cornhuskers pointed in the right direction after only two seasons. But here are my choices for the Cornhuskers' best players and brightest moments.
QB: Eric Crouch
RB: Correll Buckhalter
RB: Cory Ross
WR: Nate Swift
WR: Maurice Purify
TE: Tracey Wistrom
OL: Russ Hochstein
OL: Toniu Fonoti
OL: Richie Incognito
OL: Matt Slauson
C: Dominic Raiola
DL: Adam Carriker
DL: Ndamukong Suh
DL: Jared Crick
DL: Kyle Vanden Bosch
LB: Carlos Polk
LB: Demorrio Williams
LB: Barrett Ruud
DB: Keyuo Craver
DB: Josh Bullocks
DB: Prince Amukamara
DB: Daniel Bullocks
P: Kyle Larson
K: Alex Henery
Ret: DeJuan Groce
Offensive player of the decade: QB Eric Crouch. Received playing time early in his career as a receiver, but eventually became the most athletic quarterback to win the Heisman this decade. He finished as Nebraska’s career leader in total offense and total offense touchdowns.
Defensive player of the decade: DT Ndamukong Suh. His unique blend of athleticism gave him a skill set unlike those for many defensive tackles. Before his career was finished, Suh left with a legitimate claim as the greatest Blackshirt in history.
Coach of the decade: Bo Pelini. All three Nebraska coaches experienced success in different ways. Pelini gets the nod for his 20-8 record as a head coach and three bowl victories, including one as interim coach in 2003.
Moment of the decade: Eric Crouch’s throwback pass reception in 2001. Not only did Mike Stuntz’ 63-yard touchdown pass to Crouch wrap up a huge 20-10 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, but it also provided a highlight that helped catapult Crouch to the Heisman Trophy.
Two national championships and five other trips to the BCS title game proved that the conference had earned its rightful position among the nation’s best in its first full decade of play.
How its teams did it was most interesting. The conference was transformed from its run-heavy roots from the Big Eight and Southwest conference beginnings into a cutting-edge passing league where high-powered aerial attacks captured the nation’s attention.
Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach deserves much of the credit for transforming the Big 12 from a ground-based conference to one where passing predominated. Leach helped convert Oklahoma when he arrived in 1999 as Bob Stoops’ offensive coordinator into the upcoming decade. After a season there, Leach continued his offensive mastery at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to a bowl game in every season of the decade before he was fired after the 2009 regular season.
That cost him a chance to become a coach who made it through his job during the entire decade. Only Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown remained at their jobs during the aughts -- understandable because of the enviable national programs both developed during the decade.
Stoops claimed six Big 12 titles and Brown won two championships to help account for a title tilt to the South Division as the decade progressed. In the first eight seasons of the conference, the Big 12 alternated between the South and North Division in titles. But since 2004, the Big 12’s title has been won by the South Division champion in every season.
The South has dominated in cross-division games, notching a 13-5 record in the most recent regular season. That continued a trend that has seen the South win the seasonal series against the North in seven of the last eight seasons.
Some of that has been because of the turnover at North programs. Nebraska went from playing for a national championship in 2001 under Frank Solich to seeing the former Cornhusker legend fired less than two seasons later. The Bill Callahan era represented a step backward from that, but Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers pointed back to national prominence after only two seasons.
Colorado claimed four North titles in a five-season span, but let Gary Barnett go after the last of those championship-game losses. The Buffaloes haven’t been back to the title game since.
And Bill Snyder, the last North coach to win a Big 12 championship, returned to prowl the sideline at Kansas State last season, restarting his career after a three-season sabbatical.
The conference’s star power was best shown in 2008 when Sam Bradford claimed the Heisman Trophy and the conference produced an unprecedented four of the top five Heisman finishers that season. Bradford was one of three Big 12 Heisman winners during the decade joining Eric Crouch in 2001 and Jason White in 2003.
The Big 12’s transition to an offensive juggernaut has helped capture the attention of the NFL. The conference notched a record seven first-round picks in the 2009 draft and likely will produce even more in the upcoming draft.
Kevin Weiberg resigned in 2007 to assume a position helping start the Big Ten’s cable television network. He was replaced by assistant Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who immediately inherited the challenge of trying to unify a conference where an uneven revenue sharing plan has been a point of controversy since the conference began. It remains the conference’s biggest trigger point -- as it has since the creation of the conference.
The conference has fallen behind the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten in its national exposure, lagging behind those conferences as they have settled their immediate television concerns.
That proposition will be Beebe’s biggest upcoming challenge into the current decade. A quick and equitable resolution will be a key factor in the Big 12’s potential for growth in upcoming years.
It came earlier this week when Nebraska recruit Tyler Gabbert told Nebraska coaches he no longer considered himself a Cornhusker recruit.
Gabbert's decision came several days before a scheduled visit to Missouri, where his older brother, Blaine, is the starting quarterback for the Tigers.
It sounds to me that Tyler Gabbert was watching very closely in the Cornhuskers' 13-12 loss to Texas -- especially taking note of the lack of a downfield passing game in that tight defeat that cost the Cornhuskers the Big 12 title.
Gabbert, who played high school football at Ballwin Park, Mo., informed Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson of his decision earlier this week.
“It definitely was a mutual decision,” Gabbert told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I told him that I didn’t see myself playing at Nebraska in five years, and told him I wanted to look around a little bit. He was like, ‘Yeah, we understand that. I’m not going to make you come. You have to follow your heart. But if you’re looking around, we have to go our separate direction and look after our best interest as well.’”The Cornhuskers' mid-season change in offensive philosophy sounds like it played a part in Gabbert's decision.
Although Watson has repeatedly said he favors an offense that "slings the ball around the lot," the Cornhuskers won the Big 12 North with a heavy ground-based philosophy. Nebraska ran the ball 58 percent of its snaps this season, including 69 percent after the Baylor game when Zac Lee reclaimed the starting position.
Nebraska ran the ball on about 53 percent of its snaps last season with Joe Ganz as its starting quarterback.
Gabbert told the Journal-Star that Nebraska's transformation into a heavy I-formation team "definitely" impacted his decision.
“I know they’re doing what they have to do to win,” Gabbert told the Journal-Star. “But I did some research of the past recruiting classes. I haven’t seen the receivers or athletes coming in as opposed to all the linemen and running backs coming in. So it just kind of makes you wonder what the intentions are for the offense. And I imagine myself throwing the ball 40 times a game. … So in terms of running the power-I, that’s just not the case in that style of offense.”Recruiting analysts like Tyler Gabbert's savvy, but he's not considered the recruit that his older brother was. He's listed by his high school at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. And according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, his senior statistics were pedestrian -- 1,148 passing yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 188 rushing yards on 78 carries with two rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are down significantly from his junior season, when he passed for 18 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel got a lot of publicity in the Nebraska and Missouri media when he made a point to drop in on Tyler Gabbert's game the week before the Nebraska game via helicopter.
Gabbert and his family haven't won any friends in Nebraska after this decision. His older brother was an early Nebraska commitment before changing his mind during the fall of 2007 when Bill Callahan was coaching the Cornhuskers.
And another decision made by his little brother only stokes the emerging Nebraska-Missouri rivalry a little bit more.
The Kansas City Star is reporting that Mississippi coach Houston Nutt has met with Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins about the job.
Nutt, 52, would provide a splash if he was hired by Kansas. In 12 seasons as a head coach -- 10 at Arkansas and two at Mississippi -- Nutt has posted a 92-56 record and been a three-time SEC coach of the year. He makes $2.5 million per season, which would put his contract slightly ahead of Mangino's $2.3 million contract.
Nutt was offered the Nebraska job after the 2003 season while coaching at Arkansas before the Cornhuskers opted for Bill Callahan.
Several media outlets have reported that Perkins will meet with Buffalo coach Turner Gill sometime in the next several days.
The Nebraska coach was harping on the Cornhuskers' upcoming game against Colorado in the locker room after beating Kansas State for the division title.
And he's continued to talk about his team keeping its focus ever since.
Pelini said Monday that he won't be talking about the Cornhuskers' Dec. 5 Big 12 title game Texas until after the Colorado game on Friday.
"Texas means nothing to me right now,” Pelini said. “I told the people in the office and the coaches that I don’t want to hear about travel plans, tickets, nothing. That time will come.”
Some of Pelini's concern might be because of the Cornhuskers' sporadic effort against Kansas State. Nebraska had a workmanlike performance against the Wildcats, claiming a 17-3 victory to nail down their first division title since 2006.
Pelini immediately turned the Cornhuskers' focus to 3-8 Colorado, a struggling team that has lost five of seven conference games.
"I still think our best football is out there for us to play, but we have to keep working to get better," Pelini said. "It's an accomplishment to win the Big 12 North, but we want to make sure we turn our focus now to Colorado."
The Colorado-Nebraska rivalry marked the latter stages of the Big Eight Conference, when the schools were dominant programs. And Nebraska nosed past the Buffaloes for the most trips to the Big 12 title game after claiming their fifth title-game berth with the triumph over KSU.
Nebraska has won six of its past eight trips to Boulder, although it did lose a 65-51 game in its last trip there in 2007 in Bill Callahan's last game as coach.
“I know this is a special game to our fans and to Colorado fans,” Pelini said. "The two states are close together and this game is important to our fans in western Nebraska, and they want to have bragging rights. They make a lot of sacrifices driving a long way to see us play, and we’ve got to have their back this week.”
Pelini is concerned with his team's short week of preparation. Colorado dropped a 31-28 game at Oklahoma State last Thursay, and will benefit from a typical work week. The Cornhuskers will have their preparation time trimmed by a day.
Because of that, Pelini wants to guard against any feelings of complacency or thoughts about Texas as the Cornhuskers prepare for Colorado.
"We try to make this a day-to-day process," Pelini said. "I know that distractions are out there and people are already talking about travel and tickets. It's important that we keep our focus heading into the game. I know Colorado will be ready to play in this game."
A strong performance Friday is critical as the Cornhuskers move forward to the championship game, senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said.
"We're definitely happy with the situation and what we've accomplished. Our main goal was getting to (the title game)," Suh said. "But we have to close it out at Colorado. We want to dominate the Big 12 North, and the only way to do that is to go to Boulder and finish it out."
Here are some stories to get you ready for a Thanksgiving week cornucopia of Big 12 football starting on Thursday night:
- The Lincoln Journal-Star’s Steve Sipple explains why he thinks that Mack Brown in the Big 12’s coach of the year.
- The Austin American-Statesman’s Kirk Bohls opines about Mike Leach’s rationale for a move to Louisville and why returning Dan McCarney to the Big 12 would be a wise move for Kansas, among other topics in his weekly nine things and one crazy prediction about college football.
- Members of the 1999 Texas A&M team tell the Austin American-Statesman’s Randy Riggs some of their memories about the “Bonfire game” that season against Texas.
- The Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten discusses Oklahoma State’s BCS at-large possibilities.
- Bob Stoops tells John Hoover of the Tulsa World that backup quarterback Drew Allen's redshirt won’t be removed, despite the recent struggles of Landry Jones.
- The Associated Press' Ralph Russo explains why Stoops might consider moving to Notre Dame and why Texas is the most likely of the "Big Three" to lose this weekend.
- The Boulder Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo compares Dan Hawkins' current coaching situation to that of Bill Callahan heading into the Colorado-Nebraska game two years ago.
- The Lawrence Journal-World’s Tom Keegan writes of the curious timing of the Kansas athletic department’s probe into Mark Mangino's coaching style.
- Bill Snyder provides some perspective to the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Austin Meek about his return to coaching at Kansas State.
- The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams analyzes Texas Tech’s bowl possibilities.
Neither program has approached the levels of those earlier days. But tonight’s winner-take-all battle between the Cornhuskers and Wildcats still will settle who will be playing in Arlington on Dec. 5.
Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder have had their moments over the years. Pelini angrily accosted Snyder after the Wildcats’ 38-9 victory in Lincoln in 2003 when he was the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator when he felt the Wildcats tried to tack on a late touchdown against a young Nebraska defense.
Both have made their amends since then. But their first matchup as rival head coaches will be an interesting one with huge stakes.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching:
Follow Legate in the I-formation: Nebraska has seen much recent success when redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Legate was inserted into the lineup. His blocking has helped open holes that have sparked Roy Helu Jr. to back-to-back 100-yard rushing games as the Cornhuskers have run off three consecutive victories. I look for them to utilize a similar offensive strategy – particularly early in the game as they dare KSU to stop them.
Senior Day for the Cornhuskers: It will be an emotional game tonight for key Nebraska players like Suh, center Jacob Hickman, guard Andy Christensen, linebacker Phillip Dillard, safety Matt O’Hanlon and defensive end Barry Turner who will be concluding their home careers at tonight’s game. This group was here to start their careers with Bill Callahan before finishing up with the first two seasons of Pelini’s coaching tenure. They’ve seen the Cornhuskers return to the cusp of another title. Will they be able to get them back there tonight?
Will Cody Green get a call for Nebraska: If starting quarterback Zac Lee struggles early, it will be interesting to see if Pelini and Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson make a change -- even for a couple of series -- to freshman Cody Green. He’s had his moments earlier this season, but lost his job after struggling against Oklahoma. Lee has played with much confidence in the last couple of weeks, so I wouldn’t expect the Nebraska coaches to have a quick hook tonight.
Bo’s money ball: If the Cornhuskers can win tonight, it would be worth an extra $150,000 to Bo Pelini for qualifying for the Big 12 title game. He also stands to make an extra $100,000 by taking the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 title and another $100,000 bonus by leading the Cornhuskers into a bowl game.
Protect inside: There will be much pressure against KSU guard Zach Kendall and Kenneth Mayfield and center Wade Weibert to account for Nebraska’s talented tandem of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. The middle of the Kansas State defense must do a good job in keeping them away from starting quarterback Grant Gregory.
Thomas the Train: Bullish 227-pound tailback Daniel Thomas expected to challenge for the starting job at quarterback when he arrived at Kansas State. Instead, he’s become the focal point of the Wildcats’ offense in another way. Thomas has accounted for about 35 percent of the Wildcats’ offense, leading the team with 1,166 yards. Expect the same kind of use tonight as the Wildcats will try to lengthen their possession with multi-play drives keeping the ball away from the Cornhuskers.
Tackle with abandon: The Wildcats have been very turnover-productive this season, ranking second in the conference and 19th nationally with a plus-eight turnover ratio. Nebraska has been susceptible to turnovers throughout the season, committing eight against Iowa State. The KSU defense will similarly need a couple of big plays, to take the loud sellout crowd of the game.
Get a cheap touchdown -- or two: Brandon Banks needs one more kickoff return to tie the NCAA career record for kickoff returns. With Nebraska’s defense likely to be extremely difficult to dent, a special-teams score would be huge. Even if Banks just dictates field position with his returns, it would be important for a KSU team that figures to struggle to producing consistent yardage against the Cornhuskers.
Sometimes even a pinch can’t convince Nebraska safety Matt O’Hanlon how far he’s come in the past five seasons.
|AP Photo/Dave Weaver|
|Matt O’Hanlon notched 12 tackles and three interceptions against Oklahoma.|
That’s what makes his performance last week in the Cornhuskers’ gritty 10-3 triumph over Oklahoma so memorable. O’Hanlon had the game of his career, producing 12 tackles and tying the school record with three interceptions as he earned national defensive player of the week honors from the Football Writers Association of America.
That game has highlighted a senior season where he has rebounded from adversity to become a key producer in the Cornhuskers’ emerging defensive unit. Still, it makes the 24-year-old O’Hanlon wonder when his dream might end.
“I ask myself that every day,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s amazing I’ve come this far, but there’s still more to go.”
O’Hanlon is a throwback player to Nebraska’s storied tradition as a haven for walk-on players. Like many young Nebraska boys, he grew up idolizing the Cornhuskers and hoping for the day he could play at Memorial Stadium.
That call didn't come after a high school career in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue, where he played running back and quarterback and was a state championship power-lifter. He instead chose Division II South Dakota, which was the only school to offer him a scholarship.
But after a stint of only a few weeks with the Coyotes program, O'Hanlon decided he had to come back home and play with the Cornhuskers.
“Just going up there and knowing what Nebraska's tradition was like, it was just something I didn't necessarily want at the time," O'Hanlon said. "I wanted to come to Nebraska and be a part of this tradition and be a part of games like Nebraska and Oklahoma."
After a semester at Nebraska outside the program, O’Hanlon responded to the call of an open tryout for the team organized by former coach Bill Callahan. His numbers in a combine-like workout were strong enough to get him invited back for spring practice -- the only player among the 60 or so attendees to get a call back.
From there, O'Hanlon spent three years in the program patiently awaiting his chance to play.
That opportunity finally materialized with the arrival of Bo Pelini as the Cornhuskers’ coach.
Pelini and his brother, Carl, the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator, liked O’Hanlon’s spirit and hitting abilities. But they knew it would be a long transformation in getting him into a trusted defensive player.
“When these coaches first got here I didn't know how to play defense," O'Hanlon said. "That first spring especially was a big learning year for me and how I learned to play defense."
His development was strong enough to earn him the starting job at the beginning of last season, making starts in the first nine games. He shared the job with Ricky Thenarse the rest of the year, but punctuated it with a key third-down pass deflection in the Gator Bowl that helped seal that victory over Clemson.
And because he had never attended a class at South Dakota in 2004, the NCAA granted him an additional season of eligibility this year.
Like earlier in his career, his senior season has been marked by perseverance. His breakdown in deep passing coverage allowed a long late pass that helped set up Virginia Tech’s game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes.
“That was the low point of my career,” O’Hanlon said. “It was hard to not have that play replaying in my head every day. But to have a good game like I did last week helps out.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t erase the memory but substitutes it with something else.”
The Cornhuskers have shown a similar durability. After losing back-to-back home games to Texas Tech and Iowa State, Nebraska has rebounded to win its last two games over Baylor and Oklahoma. That’s placed the Cornhuskers in the driver’s seat for the North Division title if they can win out their remaining three games.
If they do, a big reason will be O’Hanlon, who is nicknamed “Old Hanlon” by his younger teammates.
“You hear about guys with something to prove," Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "Matty is that guy. I couldn’t be prouder of what he’s done."
O’Hanlon may never play football again after the completion of this season. But he’s content with what he’s accomplished as his plans on a special-education teacher in his hometown are moving forward. His wife, Amy, is a registered nurse and their lives will be content whether he plays football again or not.
“To have gone through all the things I’ve gone through has been a roller-coaster ride for sure,” O’Hanlon said. “But it makes it even more worthwhile.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Coming into the season, the Big 12’s cast of returning quarterbacks matched any in the nation.
With Heisman winner Sam Bradford and Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy back, along with Todd Reesing, Zac Robinson and Robert Griffin, the conference had a stellar collection.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Blaine Gabbert has gotten off to a scorching start, throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.|
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert has been the key player in the Tigers’ 4-0 start, leading the conference in pass efficiency as he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.
“I really never thought it wouldn’t be like this,” Gabbert said. “We haven’t done anything that I didn’t expect we would be able to do. All of us worked hard and prepared to get ready for the season. What we’ve done is a result of all of that.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is just as enthralled with Gabbert’s mental makeup as he is with his prototypical 6-foot-5, 240-pound stature, his loping 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash and his big passing arm that has NFL scouts drooling.
“One important thing for quarterbacks is to stay in a place where you can function, where you don't get caught up in the hype or the negative of what's going on and you kind of stay in the zone. Whether you get sacked, or throw a touchdown or an interception, you come right back in this zone,” Pinkel said. “I've been impressed with him, he's doing a good job of staying in that area.”
Gabbert will get a chance to renew his acquaintance with his old friends at Nebraska -- a school he almost attended -- when he visits Faurot Field Thursday night in a huge early North Division showdown.
“I’m looking forward to playing them like all of my games,” Gabbert said. “But the fact it’s Nebraska doesn’t make it any bigger or more important for me.”
The commitment with the Cornhuskers came after Gabbert’s family had forged a close relationship with former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. But several weeks before Callahan was fired, Gabbert reneged on his commitment and instead picked Missouri.
In the process he became the first five-star quarterback to choose Missouri, bringing Pinkel’s staff a playmaker to build a program around.
“I made my original commitment about what I thought was right for me,” Gabbert said. “After I decided to come to Missouri, I never had any second thoughts or focused on that. We’re focusing on the present.”
It’s easy to understand why after Gabbert’s scintillating debut.
In his first college start, Gabbert completed 25 of 33 passes for 319 yards, three passing touchdowns and another rushing TD to key the Tigers’ 37-9 upset victory over Illinois in the season opener. That start had pundits tripping over themselves, comparing him to John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger after his first college game.
He built on that in his most recent game, a 31-21 win over Nevada. Gabbert threw for a career-best 414 yards, on 25-of-40 passing, with three more touchdowns.
The Gabbert family still has an association with Bo Pelini and his staff at Nebraska. His younger brother, Tyler, is currently a Cornhusker commitment.
But Blaine Gabbert has caught Pelini's attention during his preparation for Thursday’s game.
“He was recruited highly because he's a good player," Pelini said. "We have a lot of respect for him and their offense. He's a good player. And it's like anything else. If he plays good or doesn't play good it doesn't change anything.
"If he has a good game or he's mediocre or however people perceive him to be, this is only his fifth start too. It's not going to change it. Regardless of what happens, he's still a good player. And Blaine is just going to keep getting better with the more experience he gets."
Gabbert’s abilities have transformed the Missouri offense, according to his teammates. His deep passing touch -- his arm has a range up to 79 yards -- has provided this Missouri team with a noticeable vertical element.
“Just by him coming out and playing like he’s done has helped us,” wide receiver Danario Alexander said. “Obviously, we had a lot of success when Chase [Daniel] was our quarterback. But now, we are a totally different team.
“Blaine is a bigger, more physical player. He can run the ball and stretch the field. Chase is a great quarterback and helped us do a lot of stuff when he was here. But having Blaine as our quarterback has really opened our playbook up.”
Alexander said that Gabbert’s performance wasn’t a question for his teammates. As such, his quick start hasn’t been a surprise.
“Everybody was looking to see what kind of quarterback he would be for us,” Alexander said. “It’s pretty simple. He’s played well for us.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
If it's a Friday, it must be time to open some e-mails from my mailbag.Shane Riley from Arapahoe, Neb., writes: I know the Big 12 hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet, but what is up with college teams wanting to play games in major league baseball stadiums? Why does Army want to play at Yankee Stadium so bad and why are Illinois and Northwestern looking to play at Wrigley Field? And if the Big `12 did jump on the bandwagon what teams would want to play at a Big 12 area baseball venue?
Tim Griffin: Shane, that has been an interesting trend in recent weeks. I've heard through the grapevine that Dodger Stadium would be interested in staging some college games there. Those baseball stadiums are looking for new revenue sources and they are trying to attract college games as another way to fill seats and sell more concessions.
I'm a football traditionalist and the idea of football returning to Yankee Stadium would be cool. I've heard all of the great stories about games there in the 1940s and 1950s. The New York Giants really got their fans turned on when they started playing there.
But even with the "wow factor," I would doubt if any Big 12 teams really would seriously consider any upcoming games in baseball stadiums. And the reason is because in every city with a major league franchise in the Big 12's geographic footprint, there is also a new football stadium with all of the bells and whistles that is significantly bigger than the baseball stadium in the city.
For example, I don't think that any college team would give up the chance for 25,000 extra seats by moving a game from Reliant Stadium in Houston to Minute Maid Park. I certainly don't think that will be the case in Arlington, Texas, where the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium has every accoutrement known to mankind and is much bigger than the nearby baseball stadium. And I don't see it happening in St. Louis, Denver or Kansas City, either.
The football stadiums are simply too big and it would hard to visualize any college giving up a shot for extra tickets to play in a baseball stadium that wasn't constructed to allow football in the first place.
It would be neat to see the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis lined up for a football game, but I'm not expecting it. The chance to play at the Edward Jones Dome at America's Center just provides too many more seats in a climate-controlled setting to boot.
Willis from Raleigh, N.C., writes: OK, I'm a traditionalist and love the old rivalries that college football has every year. When most conferences started to expand (SEC, Big 8 to Big 12, ACC), they kept the traditional games playing every year (Georgia-Auburn, Tennessee-Alabama, OU-Texas, Florida State-Miami, etc) and other conferences kept their "big" games (Michigan-Ohio State, USC-UCLA, etc). I mean, what is college football without Ohio State playing Michigan every year? That said, what was the Big 12 thinking when it got rid of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game every year? I grew up watching that game in the 70's, 80's, and 90's and it was one of the greatest rivalries in college football. It's a shame that they play each other every four or five years like Bonow.
Tim Griffin: I've heard that the lack of a yearly Oklahoma-Nebraska game bemoaned since the first conference schedules were generated for the Big 12.
The rivalry was a great one, although truth be told, it had slipped a lot in the 1990s in the Big Eight as Nebraska turned the conference into a cakewalk shortly before the Big 12 started.
One way around it could be making that game a designated rivalry game each season, although it would put those Nebraska and Oklahoma at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the teams in their divisions because they would be facing one of the powers of the other division every season.
I'm betting that Bo Pelini and Bob Stoops wouldn't like that idea nearly as much as some of the traditionalists.
And actually, the gap between games isn't as bad as you wrote. With the Big 12's sliding schedule, the two old rivals meet twice every four seasons.
I know it's not like the days when Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne were roaming the sidelines, but it's the best we can do for now.
Jim Perry from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: About Bill Callahan, I liked a lot of things about his offense. It was one of the few that sent Michigan wondering what happened. Callahan had a lot of answers but still needed a hard-nosed defense. I liked that he had class when it came to dealing with unruly players. I still think Callahan could still do it at the collegiate level and I wish him the best.
Tim Griffin: I also wonder about some of the contentiousness that some hard-core Nebraska fans hold for the Callahan era. Sure, he tried to dismantle a lot of the tradition on which that storied program is steeped. But at the same time, he helped the Cornhuskers win a Big 12 North title as recently as 2006.
If Callahan had played more to the Nebraska tradition, it definitely would have helped him out -- along with maybe a choice of a different defensive coordinator than Kevin Cosgrove. If Callahan had embraced the image of Nebraska and played to it like Mack Brown did at Texas or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, it might have helped him weather some of the storms that he eventually faced. Not all of them, but it might have bought him an extra season or two.
I think the majority of Cornhusker fans are more excited about the future now than they've been since early in the Frank Solich era. And it should only get brighter as Pelini starts getting better players.
Charles Seibert of Albuquerque, N.M. writes: A couple of weeks ago you had an e-mail in the mailbag basically saying "Mack Brown only has one conference championship? What do Longhorns fans see in him?" Your answer focused on Stoops' domination in that department. Here's the rest of the answer.
The Longhorn fans would love to have more Big 12 crowns, but we judge UT's football program on many criteria. The 'Horns under Mack have a national championship, a stellar win-loss record (having passed Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame among others on the all-time lists), regular finishes in the top five and top 10 (and ahead of the hated Sooners), near-automatic bowl wins (including 3-0 in BCS bowls) and solid records against their traditional rivals. With all of that, who wouldn't be proud to have Mack Brown coaching their team?
Tim Griffin: Charles, I agree with you. Mack Brown has the Texas program going as well as any in the country. And like you listed, he has many accomplishments and has his program pointed to claim a few more before he hangs up his whistle.
But with all of those facts in place, Stoops still has claimed six Big 12 titles and Brown has one. I hear from Texas fans all the time about their three victories in the last four seasons over the Sooners, but they also privately grumble they are disappointed that the Longhorns still have made only one trip to the Big 12 title game during that span compared to three for the Sooners.
That shows the strength of the South Division and the struggles that winning a division championship provides in each season. And for all of the accomplishments you listed, I still bet Mack Brown wishes he had more than one Big 12 title to show for it.
Steve Rodriguez of Sisson, Texas, writes: Tim, in reading your blog on a daily basis, I love your numbers and charts you come up with. I know of no other place I can find to get that kind of information with your spin on it. I wish you would share a weekly stat or tidbit in your mailbag or perhaps as a regular post that delv
es deeply into the numbers in the conference.
Tim Griffin: Steve, sounds like a great idea. And here's my tidbit for today. Or maybe I can "borrow" a term from the Tim Horton doughnut shops in Canada - thanks to my old CFL coverage I know about them - and provide a weekly "Timbit."
How about this one? During the course of the 13-season history of the Big 12 Conference, Bob Stoops has claimed six championship game victories. The most amazing fact is that no other coach has claimed more than one Big 12 title during that span.
Here's a list of coaches and their titles
Bob Stoops -- 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008
John Mackovic -- 1996
Tom Osborne -- 1997
R.C. Slocum -- 1998
Frank Solich -- 1999
Gary Barnett -- 2001
Bill Snyder -- 2003
Mack Brown -- 2005
That list speaks about as well to Stoops' domination of the Big 12 as any I could find.
Wally Gonzales of San Antonio writes: Hey Tim, I was wondering if you had any information on the new linebacker group at KU. I am interested in Justin Springer, who is from my hometown of Los Fresnos, Texas. Also when Kansas plays UTEP, it will be the first time that Springer will play against his twin brother, Jeremy. It also gets even more interesting when Justin goes up against his best friend Eloy Atkinson who is also from Los Fresnos and is the center for UTEP. I'd love to hear some inside information about this game.
Tim Griffin: Wally, Justin Springer has a chance to step up at linebacker, which appears to be the biggest weakness for the Jayhawks coming into the season. But Springer was hobbled by a knee injury that he sustained last season against Kansas State that caused him to miss the Jayhawks' final four games last season.
Springer has prototypical size for football of the 1990s when you consider he's 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds. But Coach Mark Mangino has placed a premium on speed with his defense and will want his linebackers to move well in space. That has to be a concern for Springer, considering he's coming off knee surgery.
Mangino also has hinted he plans to go to a 4-2-5 defense this season as his base. And he mentioned earlier this week that Arist Wright and Angus Quigley have really looked good so far in spring practices.
Springer wasn't able to practice during the spring, but Mangino has said he expects him to be ready for preseason camp. His recovery will be one of the interesting stories to follow next month for the Jayhawks.
And I think the UTEP game might be more difficult for the Jayhawks then some might expect. If they can't get much pass rush against underrated UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, it might be a long evening in the Sun Bowl for the Jayhawks. Along with the potential matchup between the Springer brothers from Los Fresnos.
Chris Leonard from Minneapolis, Minn., writes: Tim, I read your summary of the Sporting News' all-time top coaches list. I was glad to see Tom Osborne on there, but 34th? And ninth among the college football coaches mentioned? I couldn't believe it.
Some writers have said that he didn't belong among the top 10 college head coaches and others have written that he wasn't a sexy enough coach to put on a top-10 list because of his perceived lack of flamboyance and personality.
What's with all the disrespect for the guy with the second-highest winning percentage in the modern era of college football? No one's ever reached 250 wins faster!
Tim Griffin: I agree with you that Tom Osborne was one of the greatest coaches in football history. He might not have been as verbose as Bobby Bowden or have the longevity of Joe Paterno, but his teams were always ready and he did a great job at making Nebraska a consistent national power.
I think the most significant facts about Osborne are that he won a share of the national championship three times in his final four seasons of coaching and nearly had another one in the previous season. And he finished the final five seasons of his career with a 60-3 record. Those are flashy numbers, in anybody's book.
Thanks for all of the good questions and I'll be checking in again next week.
Have a good weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's the end of a long grueling week for me after the media days. I'm still having flashbacks about too many coaching clichés and too much Dr Pepper after I finally got home last night.
But there were a nice collection of links across the blogosphere today to finish my week.
There is one that I bet will provide a little fodder for my friends in Nebraska.
Enjoy the weekend.
- The pundits at the Sporting Blog detail their list of worst coaches in history. And, yes, Bill Callahan is mentioned rather prominently.
- More than 2,500 mourners -- including former coach Barry Switzer and teammate Brian Bosworth -- attended Rick Bryan's funeral in Coweta, Okla., John Hoover of the Tulsa World reports. Bryan, a former two-time All-American at Oklahoma, died Sunday at the age of 47.
- The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon writes about speculation that the Atlantic Coast, Pac-10 and Big 12 conferences are working on a collective television network for their schools.
- Mike Finger of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News provides a primer on the five most-predictable questions he repeatedly heard during the recent Big 12 media days.
- Good story by Samuel McKewon of the Nebraska State Paper. He analyzes the role of walk-on players in Nebraska's football program.
- Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder told the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten that the school has already sold a record number of season tickets for the upcoming season and should finish by selling at least 42,000.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel was frozen by Bill Snyder's conversational curveball at the Big 12 media days.
- Playmaking defensive back Lavocheya Cooper of Arp, Texas, committed to Oklahoma State, the Oklahoman's Brandon Chatman reports. Cooper chose the Cowboys over Iowa, Missouri, Utah, TCU, Houston and Baylor.
- The Austin American-Statesman's Randy Riggs profiles multi-tattooed Texas Tech offensive lineman Brandon Carter.
- Kansas City Star Big 12 beat writer Blair Kerkhoff compares Bill Snyder before and after his coaching sabbatical.
- USA Today's Brent Foster provides an extensive team-by-team breakdown of the Big 12.
- Mammoth 6-foot-9, 305-pound Colorado tackle Nate Solder still appears to be growing, the Denver Post's Jim Armstrong reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I always got the idea that Tom Osborne was always kind of miscast as a politician.
That's why his announcement today that he'll remain as Nebraska's athletic director isn't a surprise.
Because he has thrived in that job just like most thought he always would.
Osborne and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman announced today that the legendary former football coach will stay past his original targeted departure of June 2010. It means that Osborne will now review the position on an annual basis.
When Osborne left as Nebraska's head coach after the 1997 season, Bill Byrne was the athletic director at Nebraska -- and a very powerful one, to boot.
So there wasn't a real way that Osborne could have bumped Byrne from his job. In fact, insiders say their relationship was rocky at times and it would have been difficult to have imagined Osborne working for him.
But before Byrne decided to leave for Texas A&M, Osborne embarked on his career as a politician. If the opportunity to slide into the athletic director's job had been in place when he left football, I don't necessarily think Osborne would have decided to go into politics.
Osborne was elected for three terms to the U.S. House of Representatives, but was upset in the 2006 Republican primary when he ran against Gov. Dave Heineman. The election turned on two gubernatorial vetoes that Heineman espoused that boosted him to a comeback victory.
Athletics, rather than the political world where he was a novice, appealed to Osborne.
After that, friends say that Osborne pined for the opportunity to return to athletic administration. And as the Nebraska program's public support crumbled under Bill Callahan and former athletic director Steve Pederson, Osborne was viewed as a "white knight" who could help bring the program back to its exalted former status.
And when he returned, he helped to boost the Cornhuskers program quickly back towards the top in football. His hiring of Bo Pelini -- which he negotiated for a below-market salary -- has been a master stroke. Pelini might be one of the best young coaches in the country.
The way he smoothly negotiated a contract extension with Pelini earlier this season was a marked contrast from the way many of those negotiations have been handled.
I was amazed at how invigorated Osborne appeared when I last saw him. I think he clearly likes to be around Pelini and his coaching staff. On several occasions last season, Pelini told of conferring with Osborne before he made a big coaching decision.
The association seems to have benefited Osborne and Nebraska. He'll turn 72 next February, meaning I'll expect to see him working for the school for several more years.
The key will be when Osborne knows when it's time to walk away. But the way he transitioned himself from coaching makes me think he'll know exactly when to leave the athletic director's job, too.
And I expect that the Nebraska program will be at a better place when that day comes when compared to when he originally took the job.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
How about a little competition among the Gabbert brothers in the Big 12 North in the next few years?
Tyler Gabbert told the Lincoln Journal Star he wants to play for Nebraska, committing to the Cornhuskers after a visit that concluded on Thursday.
His older brother, Blaine, is the No. 1 quarterback at Missouri.
"It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Gabbert told the Journal Star. "I had Nebraska at the top before the visit, so this was almost a reassurance thing. I'm just glad everything worked out the way it did."
Interestingly, his older brother once committed to the Cornhuskers when Bill Callahan was still coaching there. He de-committed after Callahan was fired after the 2007 season with a 5-7 record.
His younger brother asked his brother for input before deciding to come to Nebraska.
"Sometimes I would bounce stuff off of him, but he wanted what was best for me," Tyler Gabbert said. "If I was going to do something completely wrong, he'd say something. If I wanted to talk to him I could, but he left it up to me."
Tyler Gabbert isn't as big as his older brother at 6-foot and 190 pounds, but is still a heralded recruit. He threw for 18 touchdowns and 1,850 yards as a junior last season at Ballwin (Mo.) Parkway West.
But he is significantly smaller than his older brother, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds.
"We're a lot different," Tyler said. "He says it all the time, too. We're both pretty competitive, that's one similar thing we have. ... But in our games, he's taller than me. I guess people get caught up in size too much. You see a lot of short guys doing big things."
The announcement by Gabbert sets up an intriguing battle for playing time next season. Zac Lee has apparently earned the No. 1 job heading into summer practice after strong work in spring practice.
But he'll be joined b converted linebacker LaTravis Washington, heralded incoming freshman Cody Green, Kody Spano, walk-on Ron Kellogg Jr. and perhaps Taylor Martinez.
It will make for some interesting competition for Nebraska coordinator Shawn Watson to sort through over the next several years.
And here's a guess, but an educated one. I'd be very surprised to see all those quarterbacks are on Nebraska's roster this time two years from now.