Big 12: Brandon James

Pregame ponderables from the BCS title game

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
7:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

MIAMI -- We're less than 45 minutes away from kickoff and I'm excited about the start. Both teams have left the field after their pregame warm-ups. The bands for both teams will be taking the field. As Keith Jackson used to say, the color and pageantry of college football is apparent here tonight.

Here are a few trends to watch to provide an idea of how the game will turn out:

1. Will Oklahoma be able to keep Florida's speedy pass rush away from Sam Bradford? The Sooners struggled against the only true speed pass-rush teams they faced in TCU and Texas. Those teams accounted for seven of the 11 sacks notched against Oklahoma this season.

2. How will Florida be able to use its situational defensive substitutions against Oklahoma's no-huddle offense? The fast pace makes it difficult for opponents to alter personnel very much against the Sooners. I'm sure the more players that Charlie Strong can get into the lineup, the better he will feel.

3. How will Oklahoma's kick-coverage unit stand up against Brandon James? Oklahoma has one of the worst units against kickoffs in the country, allowing four TD returns this season. It's been aggravated because the Sooners haven't played for 33 days, leaving the unit rusty. This will bear careful scrutiny, especially on Florida's first kickoff return.

4. What attitude will Oklahoma's defense bring to the game? After being called out by Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes as "a joke," how will the Sooners react? They couldn't have asked for any more pregame inspiration.

5. How will Oklahoma operate without DeMarco Murray? After Murray injured his hamstring against Missouri in the Big 12 championship game, Chris Brown and Mossis Madu both picked up the slack. But they will be playing against a faster unit that will challenge them on every play. The absence of Murray will be particularly noticeable on kickoff returns, where Murray was Oklahoma's primary returner. Brown and Juaquin Iglesias will inherit that role in tonight's game.

Prediction: Gators will beat Sooners with speed

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
7:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here's how I think Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game will play out.

Florida 35, Oklahoma 31 -- The biggest question remains how Oklahoma's defense responds after being repeatedly dissed by the Gators. After being trashed for the last week by several mouthy Florida players, Oklahoma should be suitably inspired.

But it still won't be enough. Both teams' offenses will have their moments and this matchup between Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford will be more noteworthy than the forgettable Jason White-Matt Leinart game in 2005.

The biggest edges for Florida are their special teams and their speed along the defensive front. Only one team has been able to pressure Oklahoma all season. If the Gators follow the model that Texas speed-rushers Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle provided for them, they should be able to make Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket.

Also, look for Florida to exploit Oklahoma's undisciplined kick coverage team for a big return by Brandon James. And if the game is close, Florida has an edge in the kicking game between senior Jonathan Phillips over redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens for the Sooners. The Gators should be able to use those advantages to wear down Oklahoma in the second half and cruise to the victory.

And in case you might be asking, this pick might be the kiss of death for the Gators, considering I'm picking them. My record for the bowls hasn't been very good as I've been a rather pedestrian 3-3 so far. And I'll take my lumps after picking Oklahoma State, Clemson and Texas Tech to win their games. I've been right on Texas, Kansas and Missouri.

Here are my records for the season:

Record for last week: 1-2 (33.3 percent)

Record for the season: 87-16 (84.5 percent) 

Sooners leaky kickoff coverage unit up for Florida challenge

January, 6, 2009
1/06/09
9:43
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There's been a disconnect all season long in Oklahoma's kickoff coverage.

The Sooners seemingly have the same kind of athletic ability and speed that has always marked coach Bob Stoops' teams.

 
 Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 Lendy Holmes and the Sooners know they have to be wary of Florida's return game.

But they haven't tackled very well in space, providing opposing teams with good field position all season long on their kickoff returns. It's made Oklahoma's kickoff coverage unit perhaps its most vulnerable weakness heading into Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game against Florida.

"We just haven't been disciplined all the time," Oklahoma safety Lendy Holmes said. "It seems like we couldn't get off our blocks or just run the wrong gap. It's been a problem, but hopefully it'll get better in this game. It better be."

Oklahoma has struggled with poor coverage all season, allowing opponents to average 24.1 yards per kickoff return to rank 105th nationally. It's their third-worst performance in covering kickoffs since the program began compiling statistics, topped only by two seasons in the Sooners' John Blake era in 1996 and 1998.

Oklahoma has allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season to lead the nation. And on several other opportunities, it has been blistered on plays that nearly went all the way.

And the weirdest part of the equation is that Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who handles the Gators' kickoff return unit among his many duties, has a solid scouting report for the Sooners after studying his opponents.

"I think they've got a good kickoff team," Addazio said. "That's from what I've seen on tape. They've got a lot of speed and it's as fast of a coverage as I've seen."

(Read full post)

Big 12 conference players of the week selected

October, 6, 2008
10/06/08
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Oklahoma linebacker Keenan Clayton, Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller and Oklahoma State wide receiver/kick returner Dez Bryant were selected as the Big 12's Conference players of the week by a media panel. Bryant was chosen for the second time this season, Harrell for the third time in his career and Clayton and Miller for the first times.

Here's a look at the individual accomplishments of each player.

Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell, Sr., Ennis, Texas

Completed 38-of-51 passes for 454 yards and six touchdowns at Kansas State, and added a seventh TD on the ground. Harrell set the Big 12 and Texas Tech record in career passing yards with 12,709, passing Kliff Kingsbury's former mark of 12,429 yards. Harrell has not thrown an interception in his last 144 pass attempts. He leads the country with 405.4 passing yards per game and has thrown 18 TD passes and rushed for two others. Harrell is in seventh place on the NCAA career passing yardage list and ranks sixth with 107 career touchdown passes, 24 away from the all-time record.

Big 12 Co-Defensive Players of the Week

Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton, Oklahoma, Jr., Sulphur Springs, Texas

Logged a career-high 14 tackles, 11 unassisted in the Sooners' win over Baylor. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. Oklahoma held Baylor 17 points under its scoring average and 160 yards below its total offense average.

Texas DT Roy Miller, Sr., Killeen, Texas

Posted eight tackles, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery in Texas' win at Colorado. In addition, Miller had two passes batted down and three quarterback pressures. Prior to the Buffs' last drive, UT's defense allowed just 177 yards of offense, including 13 yards rushing.

Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week

Oklahoma State WR-KR Dez Bryant, So., Lufkin, Texas

Produced a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Cowboys' win over Texas A&M. It was the 11th-longest punt return in OSU history and was designated as ESPN's SportsCenter play of the day. Bryant also had a 23-yard kickoff return. Bryant is the nation's fourth-leading punt returner and is one of two players, along with Brandon James of Florida with two punt returns for touchdowns this season. Bryant amassed 216 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns against the Aggies, including three receiving scores.

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