Big 12: Brandon McAnderson
No big surprise, Texas Tech leads the way by a long, long time.
Florida State has the nation's longest 1,000-yard rusher drought (Warrick Dunn, 1996), but Tech is only two years behind.
The Big 12 had just three 1,000-yard rushers last year among teams that return for 2012, but every other team in the Big 12 has had at least one 1,000-yard rusher since 2007.
The last team to have two 1,000-yard rushers? Oklahoma's record-setting offense in 2008, which scored more points than anyone in college football history. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown both topped quadruple digits.
The Big 12 is known for its passing acumen, and perhaps no one is synonymous with that than Texas Tech. Last year, Eric Stephens was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season before dislocating his knee, among other damage.
Here's how long each team's drought has been:
- Baylor: Terrance Ganaway, 2011: 1,547 yards
- Oklahoma State: Joseph Randle, 2011: 1,216 yards
- Kansas State: Collin Klein, 2011: 1,141 yards
- Oklahoma: DeMarco Murray, 2010: 1,224 yards
- TCU: Ed Wesley, 2010: 1,078 yards
- West Virginia: Noel Devine, 2009: 1,465 yards
- Iowa State: Alexander Robinson, 2009: 1,193 yards
- Texas: Jamaal Charles, 2007: 1,619 yards
- Kansas: Brandon McAnderson, 2007: 1,135 yards
- Texas Tech: Ricky Williams, 1998: 1,582 yards
The demise of Mark Mangino's coaching tenure can't take away from what he accomplished earlier in his career as he made the Kansas program relevant for the first time in the school's Big 12 history.
Here's a look at the players who shaped Kansas' football history during the past decade.
QB: Todd Reesing
RB: Brandon McAnderson
RB: Jon Cornish
WR: Dezmon Briscoe
WR: Kerry Meier
WR: Mark Simmons
OL: Anthony Collins
OL: Justin Hartwig
OL: Joe Vaughn
OL : Ryan Cantrell
C: Joe Vaughn
DL: James McClinton
DL: Nate Dwyer
DL: David McMillan
DL: Charlton Keith
LB: Nick Reid
LB: Joe Mortensen
LB: James Holt
DB: Aqib Talib
DB: Charles Gordon
DB: Darrell Stuckey
DB: Carl Nesmith
P: Kyle Tucker
K: Scott Webb
KR: Marcus Hereford
Offensive player of the decade: QB Todd Reesing. He wasn't the most imposing physically, but Reesing was ideally suited to direct the Jayhawks as a starter for three seasons as the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history.
Defensive player of the decade: DB Aqib Talib. While dabbling as a two-way player, Talib's biggest talents came as a lockdown cornerback. He earned All-American honors as a junior after leading the nation in passes broken up as a sophomore and claiming All-Big 12 honors in both seasons.
Coach of the decade: Mark Mangino. Despite the controversy when he left the Kansas program, Mangino made the Jayhawks a challenger for the Big 12 North title and took them to a BCS bowl game for the first time. In the process he directed Kansas to three straight bowl victories and earned national coach of the year honors in 2007.
Moment of the decade: An opportunistic defense forced three turnovers to pace the Jayhawks to a 24-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl. Aqib Talib's 60-yard interception return for a touchdown started the scoring and earned him game Most Valuable Player honors. It capped a 12-1 season where the Jayhawks notched a school record for victories.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Opposing teams have accounted for Kansas’ potent passing game early this season. Nickel and dime pass defenses have been the rule as teams have tried to snuff out Todd Reesing’s aerial attack on nearly every down.
|Kenny Felt/Icon SMI|
|Jake Sharp has gained over 100 yards in both of Kansas' games this season.|
It’s almost seemed like opposing teams have been willing to dare the Jayhawks to beat them with a ground game and an offensive line that were presumed to be question marks entering the season.
Consider the dare answered after the first two weeks of the season, thanks to the potent one-two rushing attack of senior Jake Sharp and bullish freshman Toben Opurum.
“Teams have realized that we have a great quarterback and receiver combination and have been willing to do what they can to try to stop our passing game,” Sharp said. “They’ve been willing to challenge us. And so far, we’ve been able to capitalize.”
The Jayhawks’ running game has been one of their biggest surprises as they have averaged a Big 12-leading 291.5 yards per game in their impressive 2-0 start.
Kansas started the season by gashing Northern Colorado for 334 yards. It was the Jayhawks’ top rushing performance since 2001. And they followed that with 255 yards against UTEP to spark a 34-7 victory.
“A lot of people have had questions about the offensive line coming in,” Opurum said. “They’ve had a lot of people moving around and some that maybe some people haven’t heard of. But they’ve done a good job of opening holes for me and Jake. They’ve played well, exceeded expectations and can only get better.”
Sharp has built on a fast 2008 finish to rush for 100 yards in both games, becoming only the second player in the Big 12 along with Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas to accomplish that feat this season.
And the muscular 235-pound Opurum has also had a blazing start, inviting comparisons to former Kansas tailback Brandon McAnderson because of his size and tough inside running ability.
Despite the offensive line's lack of experience together, Sharp has been impressed with their work.
“Everything came together with confidence and a better understanding,” Sharp said. “When I’m going to hit the hole, I have confidence it will be there. Our offensive line has done a great job so far.”
And Oburum has quickly shown that same kind of ability, averaging 70.5 rushing yards per game to rank ninth in the conference.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino credits some of Sharp and Opurum’s quick start to the growth of a precocious offensive line.
“Jake Sharp is quicker and faster than he was a year ago. And Toben is a young running back who is learning and has a lot of natural ability and a lot of tools,” Mangino said. “But the other key is our line. We have a bunch of young guys, but they are very talented.”
Mangino switched starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and inserted 285-pound redshirt freshman Tanner Hawkinson, a converted defensive end, into the starting lineup.
“The way I describe our offensive line is that you’d like to have experience, toughness and talent,” Mangino said. “We have the talent and toughness, but what we lack in experience we are making up because of the other two. It’s a combination of those things.”
But the real test for the Jayhawks will be when they start facing conventional defenses that aren’t skewed to the pass.
That trend, Sharp said, would be the biggest indicator that Kansas’ ground game finally has arrived.
“I would like to think they would have to do that before long,” Sharp said. “The spread offense we run is obviously very explosive and they have to account for that. But we take what people give us. We can throw the ball, no question. But we’ve shown we’ve got a balanced attack and can run the ball a little, too.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Freshman running back Toben Opurum and freshman wide receiver Bradley McDougald have both cracked the Kansas two-deep roster after their first training camp.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino expects big contributions from both Opurum and McDougald when the Jayhawks start their season Saturday night against Northern Colorado.
Opurum, a bruising 235-pounder, is listed as a co-No. 2 back behind starter Jake Sharp along Rell Lewis. He has been favorably compared to former Kansas running back Brandon McAnderson because of his tough inside running ability.
"Toben is coming along," Mangino said. "He's a big, strong kid who runs really well. He has a lot to learn, but he's very talented, and he is a guy that I think, as we go along, is going to get better and better every week as he gets comfortable with what we're doing and realizes that things are a little faster-paced here than they are in high school. He has had a really good training camp."
And McDougald, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, is listed as backup at a wide receiver slot behind Kerry Meier. The native of Dublin, Ohio, was a late addition to the Jayhawks' recruiting class after mainly working as a running back last season in high school. He produced only eight receptions for 135 yards last season after working mainly as a running back, defensive back and kick returner.
But Mangino has been pleased with his learning of Kansas' offense and believes he will be an immediate target in the Jayhawks' passing game.
"Bradley McDougald has done very well in training camp," Mangino said. "He is a very talented young man -- kind of a mature guy for his age. He has very good football aptitude. He understands what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it and how we're trying to do it against various defensive looks that he gets. He will be in the mix in the rotation and will play a significant amount for us this season."
It's interesting that both running back and wide receiver were thought to be talented positions for the Jayhawks coming into the season before the freshmen arrived. The addition of the contributions from both of them should only boost both positions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas tailback Jocques Crawford will leave the Jayhawk program to transfer to a lower division of college football.
"Jocques was looking for an opportunity to get more playing time," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "We support his decision and wish him well."
Crawford led all junior-college rushers in 2007 with 1,935 yards and 19 touchdowns while playing at Cisco (Texas) Junior College. He was named the National Junior College Athletic Association national offensive player of the year during that season.
Before beginning play for the Jayhawks last season, Crawford predicted he would rush for 2,000 yards. He fell far short of that total with 232 yards on 62 carries last season and four touchdowns. Jake Sharp eventually won the starting job as the 2008 season went on as Crawford accounted for only 11 carries in the Jayhawks' final five games.
Crawford was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules midway through spring practice. He was kept out of the Jayhawks' spring game on April 11 and was never reinstated during spring practice.
His loss could pose potential depth problems for Kansas. Sharp led the team with 186 carries, but accounted for only 42 percent of the Jayhawks' 440 total carries last season. Sharp averaged 14.3 carries per game.
Because of his size, it would be hard to expect Sharp to go much higher than 17-18 carries per game. That will provide players like Rell Lewis, Toben Opurum, Deshaun Sands and junior college transfer Daniel Porter.
Lewis, a converted wide receiver, was the most impressive running back for the Jayhawks in spring practice. Lewis rushed for a game-high 66 yards in the spring game.
And Opurum, freshman from Plano, Texas, has been one of the revelations of informal team preseason practices. He has been favorably compared to former Kansas running back Brandon McAnderson, a bullish back who rushed for 1,125 yards on the Kansas team that won the 2008 Orange Bowl.
And DeShaun Sands' family is well known to Kansas fans, considering his father, Tony, ranks second in the school's history in rushing yards.
As mentioned here earlier this week, the featured running back is vanishing across the Big 12. It means there will be ample chance for playing time for somebody in Kansas' backfield -- particularly after Crawford's departure.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
And now, for your lunchtime dining pleasure, a few tasty morsels from across the Big 12.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel predicts that Oklahoma's defense can be great at every position this season.
- Veteran Kansas City Star reporter Mike DeArmond writes that those predicting Nebraska will win the Big 12 North are "abso-tooting-lutely nuts."
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy talked up the Cowboys during a two-day trip to the ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman was blunt in his assessment of what his program needs to do to keep up with other national contending teams at his school, according to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle.
- Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins is almost as confident as his father about his team's chances heading into the upcoming season, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
- Baylor coach Art Briles tells the Temple Daily Telegram's Craig Meister that Robert Griffin will be much improved by concentrating on football this spring rather than running track.
- Former Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway and a female companion were arrested on shoplifting charges at a large discount store in McAlester, Okla., the Tulsa World's John Hoover reports.
- The Topeka Capital-Journal's Rick Dean provides the definitive story about Bill Snyder's return to coaching at Kansas State.
- Lawrence Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan writes that incoming Kansas freshman running back Toben Opurum looks and sounds a lot like former Jayhawk standout Brandon McAnderson.
- Massive 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive tackle Anthony Gatti from Parkway North High School in the St. Louis area has committed to Missouri over offers from Mississippi and Wisconsin, the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter reports. Gatti is the Tigers' 10th commitment in the 2010 recruiting class.
- Lincoln Journal-Star staffers Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson break down the storylines for next week's Big 12 media days.
- Former Georgia coach and Oklahoma assistant Jim Donnan talks to the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler about the unrealistic expectations of Oklahoma fans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There's negative history.
And then there's really, really negative history.
Like the last seven Kansas coaches before him, Mark Mangino will be attempting to halt a long-standing streak Saturday when his Jayhawks visit Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
Don Fambrough (during two different tenures), Bud Moore, Mike Gottfried, Bob Valesente, Glen Mason and Terry Allen all were unsuccessful in trying to win on Nebraska's home field.
The last Kansas coach to beat the Cornhuskers in Lincoln was Pepper Rodgers when the Jayhawks notched a 23-13 victory on Oct. 12, 1968.
Mangino then was a middle-schooler back home in New Castle, Pa. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was only nine months old.
Even with those daunting odds from the past, Mangino is excited about his team's chances to break the streak and maintain a share of first place in the Big 12 North with co-leader Missouri.
"Our kids will go there and play well and not be intimidated," Mangino said. "We respect the Nebraska fans and the Nebraska program, but we've played pretty well the last couple of times we've gone there."
They have. Their 14-8 loss in 2004 and a 39-32 overtime loss were two of only four times during the streak that the Jayhawks have played the Cornhuskers within a touchdown in Lincoln. Nebraska's victory margins earlier in the 19-game streak have included five times in the fifties, four times in the forties and three times in the thirties to reflect the truly lopsided nature of the series.
Kansas might be coming in with some swagger of their own after notching a landmark 76-39 victory over the Cornhuskers last season in Lawrence, Kan. Kansas set a record for a Nebraska opponent for single-game scoring as Todd Reesing blistered a beleaguered Nebraska secondary for six touchdowns and Brandon McAnderson ran for four more TDs.
"We dropped 76 on them on our homecoming last year, so that was a great accomplishment," Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe said. "But we can't look back on that. Their coaching staff and players know what happened last year and they don't want it to happen again."
Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz made his first career start in the game. He said last year's game won't inspire any extra effort or inspirtation from him -- especially after their 62-28 loss last week at Oklahoma.
"I don't think we need any more motivation than we already have. It was just an embarrassing loss," Ganz said. "If we're looking back to last year for motivation then we have some problems if we can't get motivated to play this game at home coming off a big loss. I don't think it is weighing too much on people's minds, but we know it's there and we want to rectify it."
Saturday's game is critical for the Big 12 title hopes of Kansas, which needs a win to begin a difficult three-game closing stretch that later includes closing games against Texas and Missouri.
And the Cornhuskers can become bowl-eligible for the first time since winning the 2006 North title with a victory on Saturday.
"That would really help us, obviously," Pelini said. "Getting to a bowl game gives you a number of extra practices. You'd hope, if we take care of business that we'll have some more time in bowl preparation. But you have to earn that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The bumps and bruises that Jake Sharp has experienced the last two Sunday mornings haven't been frustrating.
Even as he's stumbled out of bed, the junior Kansas tailback has almost reveled in his soreness. It was a sign he was back in the lineup, finally contributing to his team.
"I haven't minded it too much," Sharp said. "It feels like I'm back playing football again."
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|Mark Mangino has implemented more sweeps and option-based plays to take advantage of Jake Sharp's speed.|
After being relegated to the bench for most of the early part of the season, Sharp has emerged as the Jayhawks' primary rushing threat heading into Saturday's key game at No. 4 Oklahoma.
The 190-pound Sharp rushed for 118 yards on a career-high 31 carries -- the first Kansas back to top 100 yards this season -- to help power the Jayhawks' victory over Colorado last week. In the process, he appears to have won the job as the featured back in the Jayhawks' offense.
After rushing for 821 yards last season as a backup behind Brandon McAnderson, Sharp was expected to challenge for a starting position this year.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino initially didn't think that Sharp could be an every-down back, preferring to use him as a spot player depending on game situations.
"He was the kind of guy we thought could be a complimentary back," Mangino said. "Maybe use him for 10 carries a game, a couple of receptions, that kind of stuff."
It's understandable why Mangino wavered before finding his starter where he always was. The 230-pouund Crawford arrived heavy on hype and fueled expectations when he talked about rushing for 2,000 yards before the season started. He remains 1,885 yards away from that goal halfway through the season.
The 222-pound Quigley was intriguing to Mangino because he was a tough inside rusher just like previous Kansas standouts Jon Cornish and McAnderson. After Quigley led the team in rushing in each of the first four games, he was thought to be the best choice.
Sharp rushed for only 62 yards on 21 carries in the first three games. And his only appearance in the Jayhawks' fourth game against Sam Houston State came on the final possession of the game when backups were present to run out the clock.
But after the Jayhawks fell into a 20-0 halftime hole against Iowa State, Mangino turned to Sharp almost in desperation. The Jayhawks had produced only 34 yards rushing as a team in the first half.
"Me and Jake talk a lot," Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier told the Kansas City Star. "He just kept telling me he wanted a shot. Just one little shot."
And when that opportunity came, Sharp made the most out of it.
Sharp rebounded to rush for 70 yards in the second half and produced all of his 107 receiving yards -- the most in history by a Kansas back in one game -- to key a dramatic 35-33 comeback victory over the Cyclones.
"We realized we couldn't play any worse," Sharp said. "Our coaches have trained us to fight through adversity. Nobody freaked out. We just made adjustments and started to play. We showed that when everybody is on the same page, we're a pretty hard team to beat."
Sharp built on that strong outing by producing his game last week. Those two strong performances have helped the 5-1 Jayhawks into undisputed possession of first place in the North Division heading into their game Saturday against the Sooners.
Some of Sharp's success is because he is more comfortable after having several carries to get used to the flow of the game. Before, he had little time to become acclimated before he was back on the bench.
"I'm a guy who's like a jitterbug when I got out there," Sharp said. "Before I had more adrenalin than what I knew what to do with. But as the more carries I get, the more the game slows down for me."
And Mangino has tweaked his running philosophy to accommodate Sharp's talents that helped him score 63 touchdowns as a senior at Salina (Kan.) High School.
Instead of a move-the-pile strategy heavily predicated on inside runs, Mangino has implemented a strategy more suited to Sharp. There now are more sweeps and option-based opportunities to use Sharp's best attribute, his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.
"I'm just trying to run with more maturity," Sharp said. "I've started waiting on blocks and trying to be more patient when I'm out there."
The development hasn't been surprising to Mangino, who has been pleased with Sharp's return.
"We've always thought he could help us," Mangino said. "We would like him to be a complimentary back. But I think that Jake has more than proven he can carry the load.
"He's confident and we feel like he's showing no signs of wearing down. He was strong and running hard and blocking and carrying the ball at the end of the game. We have faith he'll do whatever we ask of him."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Marc Serota/Getty Images|
|Kansas QB Todd Reesing is second in the nation in total offense.|
During its last trip to Florida, Kansas grabbed a chunk of national credibility with an impressive victory in the Orange Bowl.
Less than nine months later, the Jayhawks are back in the Sunshine State looking for more.
The Jayhawks will be facing South Florida in an early battle of top 20 teams. It will be a litmus test for both programs, but especially for a Kansas team that has received unprecedented publicity earlier this season.
"I think this is a good measuring stick, to some degree," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "But I don't think it's a game where, if we win, we feel like we're going to win all the rest, and if we lose, we're going to have a bad season."
This year's game is a huge transformation from the first game of the series in 2006. Kansas eked out a narrow 13-7 victory that featured little pregame acclaim.
"I remember playing them two years ago and it meant nothing to the mass media," Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey said. "I was hearing from fans thinking that we should beat those guys because they hadn't heard much about them. They were a very good team then and they've grown a lot since then. Now, they are a phenomenal team."
After last season, the perception of both programs has been transformed. Both teams were briefly ranked No. 2 in the nation last season. The Jayhawks won their bowl game, beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl for the first program's first victory in a BCS bowl game. USF started 6-0 before losing three straight games that knocked them out of the Big East title hunt.
"It's matchup of a couple of similar programs," Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. "They popped up on the scene much like we did last year. They got high in the ratings and made a lot of headway with some guys that weren't highly recruited. It's something that's been the same for both of us."
Despite outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 69-10 in its first two games, the Jayhawks will enter Friday's game with several lingering questions. Kansas has struggled running the ball so far, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. It's down more than a yard per carry from last year's average.
Some of the problems have been caused by breaking in new starting tackles Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch into the lineup after losing All-American Anthony Collins and four-year starter Cesar Rodriguez from last season.
And the Jayhawks have been slow to fill the contribution of running back Brandon McAnderson, who rushed for 1,125 yards last season. The biggest disappointment has been the play of junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford, who brashly predicted before the season that he would like to run for 2,000 yards. After the first two games, Crawford is still 1,951 yards from his stated goal.
Third-stringer Angus Quigley has emerged as the most consistent Kansas running threat, piling up 131 yards. Crawford and Jake Sharp, the most experienced Kansas back, have both been inconsistent as the Jayhawks rank 10th in the Big 12 with an average of 127 rushing yards per game.
Despite the running game struggles, Mangino has been pleased in how Reesing has moved the Jayhawks through the air. He leads the nation in pass completions, is second in total offense, seventh passing yards and is eighth in passing efficiency after the first two games of the season.
"Sure, we haven't run the ball as effectively as I'd like for us to," Mangino said. "But on the other hand, we've been throwing the ball so well. We're facing a situation where it's 'Are we being patient enough for the running game?' And the second question is, 'Do we need to be patient enough for the run game?' As long as the run game can complement the passing game a little bit, we feel good about it."
Some are still questioning the Jayhawks and their national credentials. The South Florida game starts a punishing stretch of their schedule which will also include games with South Division powers Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Kansas played none of those teams during last season's 12-1 campaign.
"This game will be an opportunity for us to establish ourselves in the national mindset," Stuckey said. "This will define us as a team and show that we weren't a one-year wonder. It's an opportunity to show we really deserve to be considered as a strong contender."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are five things we learned about Big 12 teams on Saturday.
1. Texas A&M's 18-14 loss to Arkansas State was the worst possible start for new A&M coach Mike Sherman. The debacle was even more galling than merely the program's first home opening-game loss in 21 years -- particularly to a Sun Belt team that finished 5-7 last season and had never beaten a Big 12 team in 15 tries. The Aggies missed two field goals, allowed four sacks, committed four turnovers and the defense was gashed for 280 yards rushing. Even worse, A&M turtle-backed in the second half, squandering a 14-3 lead by failing to score on its final eight possessions.
2. Gary Pinkel is no doubt happy this morning that he played Illinois sooner than later. The thought of playing a tough team without injured WR/PR Jeremy Maclin might have been too much for the Missouri coach to think about. The Tigers have three cakewalks approaching before their Oct. 4 conference opener against Nebraska. Look for Pinkel to show extreme care in how Maclin returns. Their national title hopes could be riding on it.
3. Kansas might miss leading 2007 rusher Brandon McAnderson more than coach Mark Mangino ever thought. The heralded replacement tandem of Jocques Crawford and Jake Sharp managed a mere 61 yards on 20 carries -- an average of barely 3 yards a carry.
4. All the ballyhoo about new Texas Tech coordinator Ruffin McNeill's transformation of the Red Raiders defense over the offseason might have been a tad overstated. After falling into an early hole, the unheralded Football Championship Series-affiliated Eastern Washington Eagles played the Red Raiders closely over the final three quarters in Tech's unappealing 49-24 triumph. Tech allowed 355 passing yards. And the Red Raiders' school-record 18 penalties in the game is clearly a matter of concern as well.
5. Bo Pelini still has his work cut out in fixing Nebraska's defense. The Cornhuskers had their moments early, but late breakdowns allowed Western Michigan two plays of at least 50 yards and three 80-yard drives that will have Pelini hopping when he watches the game film of his team's 47-24 victory. But he will be happier about his defense's big-play production -- especially four sacks and two turnovers that were in such short supply last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas' magical 12-1 season was one of the feel-good stories of recent college football history. The Jayhawks were picked to finish toward the bottom of the North Division, but emerged as a legitimate national championship contender before losing to Missouri in their regular-season finale. And they didn't let that defeat ruin their season, bouncing back for an impressive victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that represented their first BCS bowl victory.
Coach Mark Mangino will be hard-pressed for an encore, particularly as he faces a more difficult schedule that will include all three expected South Division contenders -- after facing none last season. And for good measure, the Jayhawks will travel to South Florida on Sept. 12 in one of the nation's top nonconference games this season.
The Jayhawks will be looking to make history, making bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. To get there, here are five pressing questions they need to settle.
1. Will the new offensive tackles perform up to standards?
First-team All-American Anthony Collins and three-year starter Cesar Rodriguez both are gone from last season's team. Their replacements will be a pair of redshirt freshmen. Mangino has been intrigued by the development of left tackle Jeff Spikes, who he calls one of the most accomplished offensive lineman he has coached at that stage of his career. And converted guard Jeremiah Hatch has emerged to beat out Matt Darton and Nathan D'Cunha on the right side in a surprise positional victory. Their play will largely determine how successful Kansas' passing game will be.
2. Do the Jayhawks have enough depth at running back?
Leading rusher Brandon McAnderson is gone, but the Jayhawks are expected to fill in for him with a combination of leading returning rusher Jake Sharp or bullish junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford. Angus Quigley also has shown flashes in practice, but the loss of potential backups like Donte Bean, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Sean Ransburg earlier in camp makes Kansas' depth questionable -- no matter what Mangino says.
3. Who will be Kansas' kicker?
Mangino still hasn't decided on his kicker heading into Saturday's game against Florida International. Sophomore transfer Grady Fowler and Alonso Rojas, who previously had been listed only as a punter, are still battling heading into the opener.
4. How will the Jayhawks handle their schedule?
A much more stringent schedule awaits the Jayhawks than in 2007. Kansas hosts Texas and Texas Tech and visits Oklahoma. The Jayhawks also have a trip to Nebraska -- a place where they haven't won since 1968. So it's understandable why many observers are expecting the Jayhawks to take a step back this season.
5. Who will emerge at tight end?
Derek Fine was one of the nation's most underrated tight ends last season, providing steady blocking and 46 receptions to set a single-season record for Kansas tight ends. Sophomore Bradley Dedeaux earned a tight victory for the opening-game start over redshirt freshman A.J. Steward. Both should see extensive playing time as the season progresses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
And people thought it was known just for its jazz history and barbecue.
Kansas City is undoubtedly the northern hub of the Big 12. It was always the center for the old Big Eight Conference and some of the locals still haven't forgotten the interlopers from Texas who pushed the Big 12's offices to Dallas when the conference opened.
But "The City of Fountains" is bigger than just a few fax machines and file cabinets. And it will be proved again today when Iowa State and Kansas State announce they are coming soon.
Multiple newspapers reported this morning that the Cyclones and Wildcats will move 2009 and 2010 games to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Sources told the Topeka Capital-Journal the two teams will receive payments of at least $1.8 million per game. KSU nets about $1 million from a normal game in Manhattan, according to the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle.
Kansas City is on a roll attracting Big 12 events. Arrowhead Stadium will be the site for the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 6. The breathtaking new Sprint Center was the host for the Big 12's men's basketball championships in March and will be solidly in the rotation for future tournament events. And the venerable Municipal Auditorium, with its stately art-deco ambience, is the best arena around for the women's title.
It's surprising that more regular-season Big 12 games don't end up in facilities like Arrowhead Stadium. The Missouri-Kansas game last season was one of the most ballyhooed sports events I've ever seen and the atmosphere lived up to the hype.
That game was bigger than any Texas-Oklahoma game I had ever attended because it had significant championship ramifications penned solely on that game. Now if we could get those Kansas City engineers to figure out how to get traffic moving a little faster, the next time might be easier.
The Kansas City Chiefs' organization appears more than willing to shell out big guarantees for games that it feels will be successful. I'm surprised that Nebraska hasn't convinced an opponent to move a home game to Arrowhead for those kind of windfall profits after a successful game there in 1998 against Oklahoma State.
So don't be surprised to see more Big 12 events end up at "The Paris of the Plains" in the future.
Just save a few extra cinnamon rolls for me at the legendary Stroud's Restaurant when you get there.
Until then, here are some tasty Big 12 links. They are almost as habit-forming and not nearly as gooey on your fingers.
- Club Med in cleats? Colorado prepared for its opener against Colorado State earlier this week by playing dodge ball, having a diving/belly flop contest, a 3-point basketball shooting competition and playing video games at a Boulder-area restaurant. "I just really believe there is so much magic in the world and so much magic in people, and sometimes we let life trample that down," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Boulder Daily Camera.
- Missouri TE Chase Coffman was back catching passes for the first time Wednesday as he recovers from a broken right pinkie finger. Coffman scored touchdowns on consecutive red-zone plays.
- After watching Usain Bolt perform in the Olympics, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach believes that Jamaica could be a recruiting and vacation paradise. (Tip to the Dallas Morning News)
- Heralded Nebraska WR prospect Khiry Cooper talks about his early practices in a video interview with huskers.com.
- The Oklahoman's Jake Trotter details how important Bob Stoops has been in turning the Oklahoma program solidly in the black financially. "We can tie everything back to Bob Stoops," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told the newspaper. "The success of our football program has been like the high tide in the harbor that has raised all of the boats."
- Billionaire financier T. Boone Pickens is pumping up support for Oklahoma State across Nebraska.
- The Tulsa World's Guerin Emig writes about Oklahoma backup QB Joey Halzle, who earned his teammates' respect with a strong relief performance last season against Texas Tech.
- The dog days of training camp brought a water balloon fight to Texas A&M on Wednesday. "Humor is one of the greatest components of having great chemistry when you can laugh at things together," A&M coach Mike Sherman told the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
- Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger expanded on his comments about his team's opener with Texas with the San Antonio Express-News' Natalie England. "I was trying to explain to the kids on campus here that the University of Texas has a long tradition of winning," Schnellenberger said. "They have such great players. There's no way we're going to match up with as good as players as they have, but we're coming down there to try and win the game."
- Massive 305-pound T Rylan Reed is back healthy for Texas Tech after suffering a serious ankle injury in last year's Gator Bowl.
- Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are set as Texas' top receivers. But after that the Longhorns' receiving rotation is a jumble, Austin American-Statesman's Alan Trubow reports.
- Colorado and Colorado State appear to have different ideas where they want future games in the series to be played, according to B.G. Brooks of the Rocky Mountain News. The Buffaloes want games played at Boulder to provide a six-game home package of games, starting next season. The Rams are interested in continuing the series in Denver.
- WR Howard Morrow's return from an injury could settle one of Texas A&M's biggest questions, San Antonio Express-News reporter Brent Zwerneman writes.
- Brent Nickerson and LaRon Moore are emerging as likely replacements for injured starting Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed, whose condition remains undetermined.
- Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told the Lincoln Journal-Star he's energized after spending last season as a volunteer assistant coach at Ames (Iowa) High School. "As hard as it was getting fired," said Cotton, who previously was an offensive coordinator three years at Iowa State, "it was also a blessing in disguise, because it kind of gave me a chance to re-energize myself and refocus on why I was a coach."
- Nebraska QB Joe Ganz tells the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel that he grew up in suburban Chicago wanting to be Tommie Frazier.
- NFL scouts are telling Kansas State coach Ron Prince that QB Josh Freeman could be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. "That's what NFL people tell me," Prince told the Manhattan Mercury.
- Iowa State freshman DE Cleyon Laing, a Canadian native, is adjusting to American football before the new culture. "I haven't really had time to get culture shock yet," Laing told the Ames Daily Tribune. "It's just practice, sleep, meetings, sleep, and repeat. It's football 24/7."
- Baylor coach Art Briles is intent on boosting production from a running game that ranked 113th nationally last season and last in the nation in 2006.
- Heralded freshman TB back Darrell Scott sprained his left thumb at Colorado's morning practice, but returned for the Buffaloes' afternoon work.
- Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas still will have a productive running game this season, despite the loss of two starting offensive tackles and leading rusher Brandon McAnderson.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel expects his younger players will receive most of the snaps Thursday at his team's final training-camp scrimmage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I was struck looking at some pictures on the Oklahoman's web site of Bob Stoops and how he has changed as he begins his 10th season coaching the Sooners.
I recalled interviewing Stoops soon after he took over the Sooners' job. His reputation preceded him after a strong run as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida. But I will still struck at how young Stoops appeared to be back then -- barely older it seemed than some of his players.
His career has provided for much of the juice in the Big 12. He led the Sooners to a bowl game his first season and to the national championship the next -- the first time a Big 12 team ever claimed an undisputed football national championship.
Since Stoops started, 13 Big 12 coaches have come and gone and every job in the conference has turned over with the exception of Texas.
All of those coaches were fired except for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who helped give Stoops his start.
Today, three Big 12 coaches -- Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and Nebraska's Bo Pelini -- once worked for Stoops. And another, Baylor coach Art Briles, is a second-generation descendant of the Stoops' coaching tree after earlier working with Leach at Texas Tech.
The beginning of Stoops' 10th season has prompted a week-long series of stories this week in the Oklahoman. The first two days were compelling reads and I'm expecting the rest to be as similarly strong.
Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel started the series Sunday with a definitive analysis of Stoops' place in Oklahoma's storied football history.
Today's group of anecdotes about Stoops gave an interesting picture about him from those who know him best. My favorites included how Stoops demanded a practice field with no more chicken bones; his fastidious nature he inherited from his father: how he once stood up to Spurrier; and how he got his point across to the 2000 championship team to eat their breakfasts before practice. Good stuff.
Stoops' place in Big 12 history is secure. But looking at those pictures sure did make me think about how quickly time slips away.
Here are today's links. I can only hope they can have the staying power of Stoops.
- Texas Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell hasn't set a timetable for settling on a starting tailback. Shannon Woods, Aaron Crawford and Baron Batch are hooked up in a tight battle for the job.
- Bryan-College Station Eagle columnist Robert Cessna liked what he saw from Texas A&M's offense at their most recent scrimmage. TB Mike Goodson looked recovered from a tweaked groin muscle after scoring on an 80-yard screen pass from Stephen McGee.
- Baylor struggled through a turnover-fest at its most recent scrimmage, upsetting new coach Art Briles. "It (the turnovers) just makes you sick to your stomach," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. said. "I'm not sure if we were as mentally prepared as we needed to be ... We've got to perform better, but I'd rather this happen now than on Aug. 28."
- Colorado sophomore TB Demetrius Sumler has emerged as the Buffaloes' likely starter against Colorado State in their season opener with heralded freshman Darrell Scott set for goal-line and short yardage duty.
- Scott and his uncle, Colorado WR/PR Josh Smith, still flashed some big-play potential at the Buffaloes' most recent scrimmage. Scott contributed kickoff returns of 50 and 47 yards, while his uncle, Josh Smith, returned a punt 44 yards for a score and added a 62- yard kickoff return.
- Iowa State coach Gene Chizik has beefed up his secondary with the realization that every Big 12 North opponent will be playing a spread offense this season.
- Sign of the times? Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas' football team will be better than its defending national championship men's basketball team.
- Check out the Kansas City Star's video log of a recent Kansas practice to see how Coach Mark Mangino doesn't like to be crowded during a media scrum. Ah, coach, that's what happens when you start having a winning team.
- Kansas State coach Ron Prince doesn't know what to think about his team's top 25 ranking in Playboy Magazine -- its only top 25 preseason ranking this season. "I'm not even going to try to say anything clever regarding that," Prince told the Topeka Capital-Journal. There are six Big 12 teams ranked in the magazine's preseason issue, or so I've been told. Oklahoma is No. 1, with Missouri fourth, Kansas 10th, Texas Tech 11th and Texas 13th among the top 25 heading into the 2008 campaign.
- No catchy nicknames yet for the package where Texas QB Colt McCoy and QB John Chiles both are in the lineup for the Longhorns. Coaches, for now, are referring to it as the "Q Package."
- So much for all of the talk about open football practices at USC. Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido recently got booted from a Trojan workout at the L.A. Coliseum.
- Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne recently made a trip to the Omaha World-Herald offices to chat up members of the Fourth Estate. Osborne had an interesting comment to World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel. "There are some places where they have a Boone Pickens -- they are always going to be OK," Osborne said. "I think we'll be in good shape, as long as that football stadium stays filled. If that goes south, it could be a problem." Interesting comments from the leader of a school that had a near 100 percent renewal rate in season tickets.
- Andrew Hartsock of the Lawrence Journal-World analyzes Kansas' options in replacing Brandon McAnderson at tailback. Heralded 2007 national junior-college rushing leader Jocques Crawford had an interesting take: "It puts a lot of pressure on me," Crawford said. "You look at the status of the numbers he put up, how he helped the team, I've got big shoes to fill. But everyone's replaceable."
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was perturbed with his team's performance after a sloppy, turnover-filled second scrimmage. I told our football team, 'We've got to get better.' It was sloppy in a lot of ways," Pinkel
told the Kansas City Star. And offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was even madder. "I can understand having some type of those errors with the twos, threes and fours, but it's intolerable with the No. 1 offense," Christensen told the Star.
- Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News has an interesting retrospective of Mack Brown's first 10 years coaching at Texas.
- The defensive effort by Missouri was a little brighter. The Tigers' first-team defense held its opponents out of the end zone for the second-straight scrimmage. And All-Big 12 LB Sean Weatherspoon provided a pair of interceptions, including one to punctuate the scrimmage.
- The Kansas City Star serves up a passel of position ratings. Most interesting findings included Kansas State's Josh Freeman ahead of Texas' Colt McCoy at quarterback and Texas A&M's Stephen McGee ranked 10th, behind Colorado's Cody Hawkins and Nebraska's Joe Ganz.
- Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News analyzes the preponderance of top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
- Oklahoma RB Chris Brown says he's finally healthy after struggling with a right knee injury that requred microfracture surgery after the season.
- The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue suggests that Coach Gene Chizik play both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates in the Cyclones' Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went through a box of Sharpies as he pressed the flesh at the Cornhuskers' annual Fan Day. Attendance was 8,125.
- Logan Dold and Keithen Valentine have emerged as Kansas State's top two running backs for the Wildcats Aug. 30 opener against North Texas.
- Texas coach Mack Brown refuses to get in a war of words with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, who reportedly called the Longhorns soft last week. "I haven't called anybody out in 56 years,'' he said. "And I'm not about to start now." But give Schnellenberger credit for one thing. His team will be earning $900,000 for the Aug. 30 game -- highest guarantee ever paid to a visiting non-conference opponent in Austin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As mentioned earlier Tuesday in my morning links, Kansas is facing a big loss after sophomore TB Donte Bean decided to move for a better playing opportunity at another school.
His departure has left what was thought to be one of the Jayhawks' biggest offensive strengths before the season into a potential question mark. Three weeks ago, the Jayhawks had seven scholarship running backs. Now they have four.
Mark Mangino's backfield woes started a week before his team reported for training camp when freshman Sean Ransburg was informed he did not pass through the NCAA clearinghouse and would be ineligible this season. And on Sunday, sophomore Carmon Boyd-Anderson told Kansas coaches he was leaving the team for personal reasons.
Bean and Boyd-Anderson were both heralded recruits -- the kind that Kansas had rarely attracted in recent seasons. Both said their limited use at practice was their primary reason for leaving.
The Jayhawks are stacked with options at the top with Jake Sharp, who rushed for 821 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season in relief of Brandon McAnderson. The arrival of heralded junior college transfer Jocques Crawford from Cisco Junior College brings another potential featured back into the mix. And Kansas coaches rave about the occasional production of Angus Quigley, a 222-pound bull who hasn't always been motivated earlier in his career.
In case of an emergency, Kansas is working to switch redshirt freshman Rell Lewis back to running back from wide receiver.
Sharp had a quick start last season, rushing for 100 yards in three of his first six games. But he seemed to slow down as McAnderson came on late in the season. That's where Crawford, who led all junior colleges with 1,935 rushing yards last season, might fit as he learns the Kansas playbook.
Kansas coaches have Sharp pegged as the Jayhawks No. 1 back coming into the season. It wouldn't surprise me to see Crawford make a similar late charge after he becomes comfortable in the offense.
The loss of Bean and Boyd-Anderson and Ransburg's ineligibility has clearly stripped the Jayhawks of much of their depth. They still have several options at the top of their backfield depth chart, but can ill afford an injury to one of their top players as the season progresses.
The Jayhawks will already be playing a significantly more difficult schedule this season as they pick up Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma from the Big 12 South and face a tough early season road game at South Florida. Mangino's incredibly shrinking backfield is just another item for him to worry about as he prepares for his Aug. 30 opener against Florida International.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Jocques Crawford came to Kansas intent on earning a starting job in the Jayhawks' backfield.
His challenge with Jake Sharp to replace Brandon McAnderson as Kansas' top rushing threat has been one of the most intriguing early personnel battles during training camp.
After five practices, Sharp is firmly in front. Crawford, who was the national junior college player of the year last season at Cisco (Texas) Junior College, has failed to practice with the Kansas starting unit so far in practice.
"Jocques is a talented and he can do a lot of things," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said "He's a little rusty and his footwork needs work, but you can tell he has the ability to accelerate to the hole. He's just making the transition from junior college football to the Big 12.
"You can see he's far from a finished product, but he's coming along. He's shown signs of being a very talented guy."
Sharp, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, is the second-leading returning rusher among Big 12 running backs after producing 821 yards and seven touchdowns while spelling McAnderson in 2007.
And he's proving something along the way. He was a lightly-regarded national prospect despite setting the Kansas state record with 6,524 career rushing yards at Central High School in Salina, Kan. Some doubted his abilities because of the lack of competition he faced before college.
"A Kansas kid is equally as talented as those from Texas or Florida, but he's not going to have the hype," Sharp said. "You know all those (high recruits) who can do all that stuff. But the thing I wanted to show Kansas kids if you work hard you can play for KU. You can go win Orange Bowls."
Crawford would have fit into that similar category after leading all junior college backs with 1,935 yards last season. He chose to come to Kansas over offers from TCU, Arizona and Alabama.
"It's been kind of tough coming from a junior college. The workouts have been kind
of difficult," Crawford said. "Right now I'm on the right track as far as getting stronger and learning the playbook."
Crawford and Sharp would appear to be an ideal complimentary pair of backs, with differing strengths. Sharp is the more elusive ball carrier and a better pass receiver. And the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Crawford is a bruising between-the-tackles battering ram who can wear down defenses with repeated use.
But he's learning that he might have to wait before he can crack Kansas' playing rotation.
"It's been very hard having to take the back door to Division I," Crawford said. "If you want to become that star player, you have to do what you have to do to get on the field. You have to be patient."