Big 12: Brian Norwood

Norwoods took leap of faith to Baylor

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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Thirteen years ago, Levi Norwood was the 8-year-old kid running around at Texas Tech football practice, the one hanging out with the other coaches’ kids.

His father, Brian Norwood, was the first-year defensive backs coach on Mike Leach’s first staff in Lubbock. Norwood had moved his family down to Texas after five years of coaching at Navy.

And Art Briles, well, he was the cool guy.

"All the kids loved Coach Briles because he had all the current music and he listened to a lot of R&B," Brian Norwood said. "He just got in his big truck and would blast R&B. The old-school stuff, Motown, a little bit of everything."

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood has six receiving touchdowns in his last five games for the Bears.
Levi was too young to remember much about Briles back then. All he knows is he's glad he plays for him today, as the breakout slot receiver in Baylor's No. 1 ranked offense.

He wouldn't be here today, a key cog in the Bears' dream 11-1 season, Big 12 championship and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl berth, if not for the bond his father formed with Briles back in 2000.

It took a serious leap of faith, too, to get the Norwoods to Waco, Texas.

Brian and his family had found plenty of happiness in Happy Valley. They spent seven years at Penn State after that one season at Texas Tech. They loved the community. He loved working for Joe Paterno. And his older son, Jordan Norwood, was one of the Nittany Lions' leading receivers. All in all, the Norwoods were thriving.

So why in the world would they give it up to go to Baylor? Why, in 2008, would Brian give up a good thing to join a program that hadn't surpassed five wins since 1995?

"When you talk about faith, it was literally what I call a God move," Brian said. "At Baylor, Coach Briles had given me this opportunity to be defensive coordinator and we really sat down and talked about teaming up and building something. That was really exciting."

Added Levi: "It was a leap of faith for anyone coming here. But if you know my dad, he's going to put all his faith into what he's doing. I don't think it was a very hard decision for him."

Mostly, Brian Norwood believed in Briles. They forged a strong bond in Lubbock, both on the practice field and the recruiting trail. And especially in the weight room, where they often lifted together.

"It was sort of competitive, because Briles is competitive at everything," Brian said. "I mean, I never did power cleans since I probably finished college. Art is doing all these other lifts and I’m thinking, 'What in the world?'"

When Briles was head coach at Houston, he tried to hire Norwood. The timing didn’t work out. He tried again when he arrived in Waco, landing his old friend to serve as defensive coordinator for three years before bringing in Phil Bennett.

Briles sold Norwood on his vision. Briles earnestly and honestly believed he could bring a winning mentality to the Bears. He was passionate about the opportunity to change a woebegone program into a winner. Norwood bought in.

"It ended up being a great move for me and my family," Brian said. "We did have challenges with it, but definitely a good move."

And Levi eventually bought in, too. He wasn't thrilled about moving to Waco and originally signed with Penn State out of high school in 2010. He changed his mind three months later and went to Baylor.

After starting seven games for Baylor as a sophomore, Norwood has enjoyed his big break this season. He has accounted for 1,134 all-purpose yards as a receiver and returner, is No. 2 on the team in receptions with 43 for 670 yards and has scored nine touchdowns, including two on punt returns.

When speedster Tevin Reese went down, Norwood stepped up and kept the Bears' offense rolling. Norwood is proud of that, but more proud of the milestones this program achieved.

"It's awesome to see the change that's happening from where it was, even from last year," he said. "It's all exciting and really gets you motivated."

He's looking forward to visiting Penn State again and already has a trip planned for after the bowl game. He still calls the college town home. But he's glad his family found a new home in Waco.

"It was a huge blessing," he said. "I wasn't looking forward to it really at all. Looking back at where I am today, it's definitely been a blessing and a decision I appreciate."

Baylor finds breakout weapon in Norwood

November, 19, 2013
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WACO, Texas -- While Levi Norwood outran Texas Tech defenders on Saturday, his proud father sat back and, when he wasn’t busy doing his job, made sure to savor the scene.

Brian Norwood watched from the coaches’ box at AT&T Stadium. The night was all too perfect for the Baylor associate head coach, like one of those sunsets from back home.

“It’s like you’re looking at the ocean in Hawaii,” he said. “Sometimes, you just sit back and take it all in.”

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Levi Norwood has always made big plays as a punt returner, but now he's also making them as a wide receiver for the Bears.
The message he delivered to his son after Baylor’s 63-34 win over the Red Raiders was simple as usual: “Good job. Good game. That was a lot of fun.”

For Levi, the fun might be just beginning. The fourth-year junior receiver and returner has quietly emerged as one of the Bears’ biggest weapons. And like his punt returns, Norwood’s journey to that big night against Tech has had twists and turns. You get used to that as a coach's kid.

He grew up in a household of wall-to-wall competition, and his older brothers held Levi to a high standard from the start. Gabe Norwood was on George Mason’s 2005-06 Final Four team and plays pro basketball in the Philippines. Jordan Norwood finished as the No. 3 receiver in Penn State history and played in the NFL. Levi always wanted to beat them.

“Oh yeah, goodness yeah, it was always a little brother thing,” Brian Norwood said.

And now Levi is making a name for himself for No. 4 Baylor, in an offense that needed someone to step up after losing Tevin Reese for the season. He had a career day against Texas Tech, with seven catches for 156 yards, touchdowns of 40 and 58 yards and a 48-yard punt return for a score that swung the game early.

"It feels really good," Levi said. "For the receivers, really we wanted to all step up and be able to do something special for Tevin."

In the locker room, his father reminded him to call his nana and granddaddy, the relatives and everyone else they consider family. They’re spread out over Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and plenty other places.

Growing up, Levi got used to moving. Brian, a native of Honolulu, had coaching stints at Arizona, Richmond, Navy and Texas Tech before spending seven years at Penn State. His son wasn’t caught by surprise when, after the 2007 season, Brian agreed to become Baylor’s defensive coordinator and reunite with Art Briles, whom he’d coached with at Tech and trusted.

Levi wasn’t thrilled about uprooting and leaving his high school in State College, but he does remember being excited about the opportunity at first. Then he arrived in Waco.

“I got down here and the food was different, the people were different, the weather was different, the landscape -- there’s no mountains or hills here,” he said. “Everything was different. It took a couple years for me to adjust.”

He didn’t particularly want to stay. Norwood signed with Penn State in Feb. 2010 after his senior season at Waco Midway. Three months later, he had a change of heart. Penn State agreed to release Norwood from his scholarship so he could stay home and attend Baylor.

“I really just had a peace about staying here,” he said. “The chaplain here, Wes Yeary, he didn’t ever really say much but he had an influence on me, just talking to him and knowing how I could grow my faith here at Baylor. That was bigger than football, bigger than family. That was more important to me than going up to Penn State.”

Levi is slippery. Extremely slippery. Its fun watching him because he can do so many things after he gets the ball.

-- Baylor QB Bryce Petty
If that meant sitting behind future NFL receivers Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Reese, so be it. Norwood did catch 40 passes in 2012, but he’s known more for the niche he carved out returning kicks.

“I think his versatility is the key word, without question,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Here’s a guy who returns kicks and punts, and returning punts is one of the hardest jobs on the field. It takes a special person to be able to do that on a consistent level.”

Until this season, though, he’d never returned one for a score. He’s done so twice as a junior, against Iowa State and Tech, and both runbacks have been eerily similar. Norwood gets trapped by oncoming defenders, stops, makes one miss, finds his crease and he’s off to the races.

“Levi is slippery. Extremely slippery,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “It’s fun watching him because he can do so many things after he gets the ball.”

And after he gets to the end zone, Norwood likes to throw up a jump shot with the football. That’s a tribute to the 2010-11 season he spent as a reserve on the Bears’ basketball team. Basketball was always his first love.

As a coach and as a father, Brian Norwood loved every minute of his son’s big game on Saturday, and he admits he did a fist pump or two in the box before shifting his focus back to the safeties he oversees. In fact, at one point he lost count of how many times Levi had scored. He was too caught up in the game.

In the days since, Brian has watched the 48-yard punt return touchdown more than few times. His son can't explain what made that run look so easy.

“I guess it’s just instinct," Levi Norwood said. "I don’t know how or why I’m good at doing that."

After years of playing a supporting role for Baylor, Norwood's experience with changing directions is finally paying off.

Another Baylor assistant leaving Waco?

December, 19, 2011
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Baylor already lost one assistant coach to a head-coaching job this offseason.

The Bears may lose another.

Associate head coach Brian Norwood is a candidate for both the Penn State and Hawaii jobs, a source told colleague Joe Schad.

Earlier this offseason, receivers coach Dino Babers took the head-coaching job at Eastern Illinois.

Norwood also serves as safeties coach for the Bears after coordinating the defense from 2008-10. Norwood's role shifted before the 2011 season when Baylor hired new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.

Norwood played defensive back at Hawaii from 1983-87 and coached safeties at Penn State from 2001-07 before coming to Baylor.

Penn State continues to deal with the allegations of sexual abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the fallout that removed Joe Paterno from his 46-year post as coach of the Nittany Lions in November.

Norwood certainly would have preferred to earn his first head-coaching job under a different circumstance, but reviving that program would be a unique challenge, arguably one of the most difficult in recent history.
Spring football is in full swing. Three teams from the Big 12 (Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas) are already done, and the last team in the Big 12 to start (Kansas State) kicked off on Wednesday.

That leaves seven teams in the Big 12 on the field, but who's coaching them? We've had plenty of teams shift coordinators this season, so here's a quick refresher if you've been busy following basketball since the season ended and the coaching carousel began spinning.

BAYLOR

Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett. He replaces Brian Norwood, who moved to associate head coach and secondary coach. Bennett was previously the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he coordinated the nation's No. 8 defense.

KANSAS

Offensive coordinator: David Beaty. He spent a year at Rice, but returned to Kansas to coach receivers and serve as co-offensive coordinator alongside Chuck Long. He replaces Darrell Wyatt, who left to coach receivers at Texas. Long retained play-calling duties.

OKLAHOMA

Offensive coordinator: Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. They'll share offensive coordinator duties, with Heupel calling the plays. He did so during the Sooners' 48-20 win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl. They'll replace Kevin Wilson, who left to become the head coach at Indiana. Heupel will continue to coach quarterbacks as he has since 2006. Norvell will continue to coach receivers as he has since 2008.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Offensive coordinator: Todd Monken. He'll replace Dana Holgorsen, who took over as offensive coordinator at West Virginia and is scheduled to replace Bill Stewart as the head coach in 2012. Monken previously coached receivers for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

TEXAS

Offensive coordinator: Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite. Harsin spent a decade at Boise State and five years as offensive coordinator, and will replace Greg Davis, the longtime coordinator under Mack Brown who resigned after the 2010 season. Applewhite is the co-coordinator after coaching running backs since 2008, but Harsin will call plays.

Defensive coordinator: Manny Diaz. Another young coach, Diaz was at Middle Tennessee State in 2009 and coordinated the defense at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen last season. He replaces Will Muschamp, who left to become head coach at Florida.

TEXAS TECH

Defensive coordinator: Chad Glasgow. Previously the secondary coach at TCU, Glasgow helped the Horned Frogs win the Rose Bowl last year and parlayed his recent excellence into a coordinator gig in Lubbock, where he'll replace James Willis, who left the program in December, before the Red Raiders beat Northwestern in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl.

Baylor brings in new defensive coordinator

January, 7, 2011
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Baylor has hired Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, the school announced on Friday.

Bennett currently serves as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator, and will finish the year with the Panthers' season finale in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.

"He brings a proven track record to Baylor, and enjoys tremendous respect nationally for his work on the defensive side of the ball," Bears coach Art Briles said in a release. "But aside from that, Phil is a great man, a great professional and is very loyal to the people and the profession."

A 32-year coaching veteran, Bennett has also made stops at Big 12 schools Texas A&M, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Kansas State, filling a variety of roles.

Baylor's defensive coordinator from 2008-2010, Brian Norwood, has been reassigned to associate head coach and will help coach defense as well. Baylor ranked 10th in the Big 12 in total defense (104th nationally) in 2010 and ninth in the Big 12 (89th nationally) in scoring defense.

"This is a great opportunity, and I feel like I can help," Bennett said. "Art loves his family and is loyal to his coaches, and those things go along way with me and show just what kind of man he is."

Big 12 predictions, Week 11

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The upset bug cropped up around the Big 12 last week with four underdogs claiming victories.

I was able to pick one of them with Kansas State beating Kansas -- a game I predicted on a lot of talk shows during the summer. And that was long before anybody thought the second version of Bill Snyder’s "Manhattan Miracle" could come to fruition this season.

I wasn’t as fortunate with victories by Colorado, Nebraska and Baylor. I was close to picking both Nebraska and Colorado but just wasn't comfortable enough to go out on the ledge with either of them.

Maybe I'll learn as the season continues.

Here are my picks.

Texas 45, Baylor 7: The Longhorns are cruising to the Big 12 title game and their trip north along Interstate 35 should be little more than a speed bump to get there. Mack Brown is 11-0 against the Bears and his teams have scored 62, 49, 56, 62 and 31 points in his five previous games at Floyd Casey Stadium. Look for Colt McCoy to have another big game against Baylor’s secondary, which was blistered for 468 yards by Blaine Gabbert last week. Texas has much better talent than Missouri and will make for a long day for Baylor defensive coordinator Brian Norwood.

Kansas State 24, Missouri 17: Bill Snyder has claimed 13 victories in a row against Missouri and needs another one on Saturday to keep his Big 12 North hopes alive. The Wildcats will try to wrap up a perfect home record as they look to control the game with a bruising running attack keyed by Daniel Thomas. Missouri has been more susceptible to the pass this season, but look for KSU to try to mash the Tigers inside. Special teams could be a difference in the game and KSU has the best weapon on the field in Brandon Banks. That should be enough to subdue the fading Tigers.

Iowa State 24, Colorado 21: The Cyclones are playing for a bowl berth and Colorado is trying to keep its flickering bowl hopes and North title aspirations alive. ISU’s key will be to get its running game going and let Austen Arnaud have some success throwing play-action passes. The home team has claimed the victory in this series in each of the past five seasons. I’m looking for that streak to hit six.

Nebraska 21, Kansas 16: Back in the summer, this was one of the most highly anticipated games of the conference for this season. Kansas’ recent four-game losing streak has diminished that excitement, but the Cornhuskers still need to win to keep their title hopes alive. Nebraska struggled offensively against Oklahoma, but likely won’t be tested as much in this game. Todd Reesing’s recent turnover binge has been the primary culprit in the Jayhawks’ recent skid, and they’ll be facing perhaps their toughest defensive challenge of that gauntlet when the Cornhuskers visit.

Oklahoma 34, Texas A&M 17: The battered psyche of Bob Stoops’ program will get a pick-me-up when the Aggies visit. Von Miller and A&M's pass rush will pressure Landry Jones and his patchwork offensive line, but look for the Sooners to run the ball consistently and to hit quick passes to exploit the weak A&M secondary. The Sooners’ defense should be able to dominate in the trenches and provide enough pressure to keep Jerrod Johnson out of rhythm.

Oklahoma State 41, Texas Tech 38: These two teams have staged some memorable games over the past few years, capped by the battle of the dueling sound bites in the memorable last matchup between Mike Gundy and Mike Leach in 2007. Look for more offensive fireworks in this game. Oklahoma State should have an edge at quarterback with Zac Robinson against whoever Leach picks. The key will be for OSU’s massive offensive line to keep pressure from Tech’s underrated front seven manageable. The Red Raiders are coming off a bye and have won four of their last five games, but the challenge of winning at Boone Pickens Stadium will be a little too much for them on Saturday night.

Last week: 3-3 (50 percent)

Season total: 59-21 (73.8 percent)

Big 12 power rankings scrambled after wild week of upsets

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are this week's Big 12 power rankings after four upsets scrambled both divisions.

1. Texas: The Longhorns sputtered coming out of the gate, but still rebounded for an impressive victory over UCF. Colt McCoy stoked his Heisman Trophy credentials with a monster game, and Jordan Shipley had the best receiving game in school history. The defense also kept up with its steady play. Amazingly, the Horns had one of their strongest games of the season and still fell from second to third in the BCS.

2. Oklahoma State: No Dez Bryant. No Kendall Hunter. No worries for this group. The key for the Cowboys’ recent surge has been Bill Young’s defense, which limited an Iowa State team that was leading the conference in rushing to only 54 yards. It’s helped the Cowboys win seven games in four consecutive seasons for the first time in the 109-season history of the program.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders were off last week, but had more time to get their quarterback situation untracked as Steven Sheffield recovered from his foot surgery. The Red Raiders will face a huge challenge in the final three games as they meet Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Win out and they could be headed for the Cotton Bowl. But they haven’t claimed a sweep of those three teams in the same season since 1996.

4. Kansas State: Bill Snyder’s team isn’t very pretty, but it just keeps winning. The Wildcats beat Kansas because Daniel Thomas rushed for a career-best 185 yards, and an opportunistic defense that is plus-11 in turnover margin this season flummoxed the Jayhawks and Todd Reesing. The Wildcats can wrap up their first title since 2003 with a victory and two Nebraska losses. And can we give Snyder the Big 12’s Coach of the Year award by acclimation right now?

5. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have the most favorable schedule of any of the North challengers, so they now are in the favorite’s role for the title. But their 10-3 victory over Oklahoma was set up because the game’s only touchdown capped a 1-yard scoring drive after an interception. The quarterback situation remains scrambled, but Roy Helu Jr. came up big for the Cornhuskers when they really needed him to. But as well as the defense played, how much confidence can Bo Pelini have in an offense that had more punts (11) than points (10) or first downs (7)?

6. Oklahoma: In doing these weekly ratings since the conference began, I can’t remember the Sooners being ranked as low during the Bob Stoops coaching era. The Sooners’ offense had the lowest point production in Stoops’ tenure against Nebraska and it was painful to watch. Oklahoma had field position all night as 11 of 16 drives ended up in Nebraska territory and it still couldn’t produce a touchdown for the first time in the Stoops era. Sooners coaches have to hope that the five-interception effort by redshirt freshman Landry Jones -- a school record -- doesn’t stunt his growth as a starter.

7. Kansas: Reesing’s stature as the most productive quarterback in school history is being sullied by his mystifying turnover slump late in his senior season. The Jayhawks are skidding out of control with four straight losses after five victories to start the season. The upcoming games appear tough, and a sixth victory that would ensure bowl eligibility will be a difficult accomplishment. Remember when many thought this team was the North Division’s best?

8. Colorado: Don’t look now, but the Buffaloes are sitting in third place in the North Division after their comeback victory over Texas A&M. Tyler Hansen had a resilient game as he rebounded from eight sacks to spark a surprisingly effective offense. The Buffaloes still are only a game away from being eliminated from bowl contention, but they have a better shot at the North title than Kansas and Missouri teams that were picked in front of them.

9. Texas A&M: The Aggies squandered a chance to become bowl eligible and their schedule gets tougher in the next several games. Their defense picked up eight sacks against Colorado, but they let too many receivers get free for big gains and it cost them the game. I’m still wondering why a field goal looks so good in the fourth quarter on the road, when the same situation was in place in the first quarter and didn’t call for the gamble. The Aggies had good field position and strong special-teams play and still couldn’t escape with a victory.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones have two shots at bowl eligibility remaining and their best chance will be this week when Colorado visits. Paul Rhoads has done a masterful job with this team’s confidence, but it has struggled offensively in the past three games. Over the last 13 quarters, the Cyclones have produced three touchdowns. Their bowl hopes depend on juicing production -- quickly.

11. Baylor: Great coaching job by Art Briles to keep the Bears engaged this season after the Robert Griffin injury. And his confidence paid off with the upset victory at Missouri where Nick Florence sliced through the Missouri defense for a school-record 427 passing yards. Brian Norwood’s defense made some masterful adjustments after Blaine Gabbert blistered the Bears in the first half. It helped snap Baylor’s 13-game conference road losing streak and ranked as the Big 12 upset of the season so far.

12. Missouri: The loss to Baylor has to rank as one of the worst of Gary Pinkel’s coaching era. Nick Florence singed the Missouri defense and stretched their home losing streak to three games for the first time since 2004. The Tigers have been outscored 80-11 in the second half of five Big 12 games with the points coming from three field goals and a safety. But they still remain only one victory from bowl eligibility as a difficult challenge at North Division leader Kansas State approaches this week.

Ranking the Big 12's defenses

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Big 12 defenses are nearly as proficient as their offensive counterparts. But the best teams in terms of defense will likely end up as the conference’s best teams because stopping the high-powered offenses in the conference is so rare.

Here’s a look at how I rank them:


1. Oklahoma:
The Sooners return nine starters and are among the nation’s very best defenses. It starts with three-deep talent along the defensive line keyed by Gerald McCoy and Auston English, who was the conference’s preseason player of the year last season before spraining his knee. They might be a little lacking in depth at middle linebacker behind Ryan Reynolds with the injury to freshman standout Tom Wort and Mike Balogun’s iffy status. The only new starters are strong safety Sam Proctor and free safety Quinton Carter, who have both been impressive in fall camp. The Sooners’ substitutes might be better collectively than most Big 12 units.


2. Texas:
The Longhorns have arguably the conference’s best back seven, particularly a developing secondary led by Earl Thomas and corners Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams. Sergio Kindle and Alex Okafor are poised to become the primary pass-rushing specialists. Lamarr Houston has developed into an anchor at defensive tackle, but the Longhorns need to find another player at the other defensive tackle position to juice production for their biggest defensive weakness. Will Muschamp’s unit must do a better job after producing only 16 turnovers last season to rank tied for 104th nationally.


3. Nebraska:
It all starts with the defensive line, which is among the best in the nation with Outland Candidate Ndamukong Suh and defensive ends Pierre Allen and Barry Turner. The Cornhuskers are young at linebacker where they might start two linebackers, although coaches really like 6-foot-6, 230-pound buck linebacker Sean Fisher and Will Compton. Coaches say the secondary is playing with more confidence, but the group produced only 12 interceptions last season. Boosting that turnover production will be critical in the Cornhuskers’ division title hopes.


4. Texas Tech:
This is where the big drop-off starts from the top three teams. The Red Raiders will miss pass-rushing threats McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams from last season, but have an experienced unit back. Rajon Henley and Brandon Sharpe are set to fill in as the pass-rushing threats and Colby Whitlock can be a terror at times -- particularly against Texas. Brian Duncan is a producer and the team’s leading tackler at middle linebacker. Jamar Wall is one of the better cover corners in the league. But the unit will depend on the improvement of two projected starters: redshirt freshman free safety Cody Davis and strong safety Franklin Mitchem.


5. Oklahoma State:
The development by veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young will determine whether this unit has the goods to lead the Cowboys to their first South title and a potential maiden BCS bowl appearance. The biggest key will be producing more sacks from a defensive front that notched only 15 last season. Young has been concentrating on push from his defensive tackles and thinks he has an underrated pair in seniors Swanson Miller and Derek Burton. The loss of Orie Lemon at middle linebacker will hurt, although Donald Booker has been a producer in limited playing time. The secondary will be playing new starters with only Perrish Cox returning. But keep an eye out for senior free safety Lucien “The Punisher” Antoine who was turning heads last season before blowing out his ACL in the second game last season.


6. Colorado:
The Buffaloes are faster this season and that should help them cope with the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. The linebackers are deep with Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart as the prime producers. And I really like the secondary, with Jimmy Smith and Cha’pelle Brown among the best pair of cornerbacks in the conference. The biggest concern is along the defensive line, particularly after the injury of heralded freshman Nick Kasa that may idle him for the season. One area to note will be at right defensive end, where sophomore Lagrone Shields and freshman Forrest West are in the two-deep. Shields has played four snaps in his career.


7. Kansas:
The Jayhawks need defensive improvement if they are going to fulfill their hopes of making their first championship game. The Jayhawks were crippled last season without a consistent pass rush. They hope junior-college transfer Quintin Woods, Caleb Blakesley and 304-pound Jamal Greene up front along with sack leader Jake Laptad. After losing three starting linebackers from last season, the Jayhawks will retool. I look for them to play two linebackers and a nickel look in many cases. Look for freshman Huldon Tharp to become a producer at linebacker. The secondary is the strength of the defense with All-Big 12 candidate Darrell Stuckey at strong safety and Phillip Strozier poised to continue his late-season development.


8. Baylor:
Up the middle, the Bears might be among the strongest defenses in the conference with heralded transfer defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Joe Pawelek and hard-hitting safety Jordan Lake. Baylor coordinator Brian Norwood knows he needs more production from a defensive line that collected only 21 sacks and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of passes for 3,063 yards. Antonio Jones and Antonio Johnson sometimes get overshadowed by Pawelek at linebacker. Junior cornerbacks Tim Atchison, Clifton Odom and Antareis Bryan need to improve or it could be a long season for the secondary.


9. Missouri:
Any defense that starts with All-American candidate Sean Weatherspoon won’t be too bad. The Tigers could be a surprise considering that Gary Pinkel has been raving about the speed his unit possesses -- particularly at defensive end and at cornerback. Look for a three-man rotation at defensive end with Brian Coulter, Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith to boost production in the pass rush. The secondary was a huge liability last season ranking 118th in pass defense. Kevin Rutland has shown a physical style at cornerback and Kenji Jackson and Hardy Ricks might be ready to help at safety.


10. Kansas State:
New coordinators Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning plan to run a 4-2-5 defense. Their first concern is developing a rush with 2008 first-team freshman All-America pick Brandon Harold out with an injury. While he’s gone, the Wildcats need Eric Childs and Jeffrey Fitzgerald to emerge up front. John Houlik and Alex Hrebec apparently have earned the starting jobs at linebacker. Three junior college players -- David Garrett, Troy Butler and Emmanuel Lamur -- have apparently earned starting jobs for a secondary that desperately needs to improve after ranking 106th nationally in pass defense. The defense ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 117th in total defense, so the new coordinators better boost improvement or it will be another long season.


11. Texas A&M:
Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew defenses from the past? The best indication of the concern that Mike Sherman has for his defensive unit came when he transferred projected starting left tackle Lucas Patterson move back to defensive tackle late in preseason practice to boost production inside. Von Miller was impressive at the “jack” position, but he’ll need some good fortune to hold up consistently rushing against the huge offensive lines in the conference. The Aggies need to improve after yielding 461 yards and 37 points per game and earning the ignominy of being one of three FBS teams to allow opponents to average 200 yards rushing and passing last season. Coaches say the unit is faster and more athletic, but they have to play much better to get the Aggies back into bowl contention.


12. Iowa State:
Veteran defensive Wally Burnham has a great reputation and most recently flummoxed the spread defenses of the Big East while at South Florida. The Big 12, however, will be a different story. The Cyclones ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 112th in total defense. Coach Paul Rhoads says he’s been frustrated by his team’s lack of tackling techniques. They have a building block in cornerback Leonard Johnson. Burnham and Rhoads know what they are talking about defensively as both were coordinators for top 30 defenses last year. But it will take a lot of patience to help rebuild this unit that needs so much improvement.

Player commitments shaping up for Big 12 media days

July, 20, 2009
7/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 announced most of the players who will be attending the conference's annual media days, beginning next Monday in Arlington, Texas.

One interesting trend this season is that several coaches are planning to bring assistant coaches with them. Baylor coach Art Briles will be joined by defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins will be assisted at the proceedings by veteran linebackers coach Brian Cabral and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will be joined by cornerbacks coach Jason Jones.

Here's a look at the daily breakdown of teams and who will be attending to represent each school.

Monday July 27

  • Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini, RB Roy Helu Jr., C Jacob Hickman, DT Ndamukong Suh.
  • Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones, QB Zac Robinson, LB Andre Sexton, WR Dez Bryant.
  • Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads; QB Austen Arnaud, G Reggie Stephens, NG Nate Frere.
  • Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman, players to be announced.

Tuesday July 28

  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel, LB Sean Weatherspoon, NT Jaron Baston, G Kurtis Gregory.
  • Baylor: Coach Art Briles, defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, QB Robert Griffin, S Jordan Lake, LB Joe Pawelek, C J.D. Walton.
  • Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino, QB Todd Reesing, WR Kerry Meier, DE Max Onyegbule.
  • Oklahoma: Coach Bob Stoops, QB Sam Bradford; DT Gerald McCoy, TE Jermaine Gresham.

Wednesday July 29

  • Kansas State: Coach Bill Snyder, players to be announced.
  • Texas Tech: Coach Mike Leach, T Brandon Carter, CB Jamar Wall, DT Colby Whitlock.
  • Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins, linebackers coach Brian Cabral, TE Riar Geer, LB Marcus Burton, LB Jeff Smart.
  • Texas: Coach Mack Brown, players to be announced.

It looks like we were able to get most of the players with compelling story lines. I expect Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson both to make appearances for their respective schools, as well.

Just curious if any of you have any specific questions you'd like me to ask the players.

Baylor, OU, UT top Big 12 teams in returning tackles

May, 28, 2009
5/28/09
11:26
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The twitching you may see the next couple of weeks from the most devoted college football fans might be attributable to Phil Steele's soon-to-be-available preseason football guide. Look for the indispensable annual compendium of all things about college football at newsstands early next month.

Until then, Steele keeps packing his blog with interesting tidbits. Earlier this week, he ascertained the percent of tackles that will be returning for each defense across the country.

Defending national champion Florida ranks No. 1 nationally with an incredible 98.9 percent of its total tackles back from last season's defense. That statistic doesn't sound promising for the other 119 schools hoping to unseat the Gators from their national title perch.

Here's a look at how the Big 12 ranked:

  • Baylor 80.8 percent                 (ninth nationally)
  • Oklahoma 79.8 percent            (15th nationally)
  • Texas 75.6 percent                  (24th nationally)
  • Kansas State 70.4 percent        (35th nationally)
  • Iowa State 69.6 percent           (42nd nationally)
  • Texas Tech 68.9 percent           (47th nationally)
  • Oklahoma State 68.1 percent    (52nd nationally)
  • Nebraska 61.5 percent             (75th nationally)
  • Kansas 60.4 percent                 (81st nationally)
  • Colorado 58.2 percent               (87th nationally)
  • Texas A&M 58.0 percent            (89th nationally)
  • Missouri 56.5 percent                (95th nationally)

Baylor ranks ninth nationally and third among schools in FBS-affiliated conferences behind only Florida and Alabama in the percent of returning tackles.

That Baylor group struggled last season, ranking 85th in total defense, 84th in sacks, 87th in scoring defense, 90th in pass efficiency defense, 103rd in pass defense and 109th in tackles for losses.

But Brian Norwood's unit also ranked fourth nationally in turnover margin and will add massive transfer tackle Phil Taylor to the lineup along with another year of playing together. So it will be interesting to see how much that experience will enable the group to improve those numbers -- particularly against the potent offenses in the Big 12 South.

Next are Oklahoma and Texas, which both return a lot of experience but also many stellar players. Oklahoma's front seven is arguably the best in the country. Texas' secondary is in the same category. It's one of the major reasons I elevate both teams above the rest of the Big 12.

I also think it's interesting that the four so-called power teams in the North -- Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and two-time consecutive title-game participant Missouri -- all rank no better than 75th nationally and among the bottom five teams in the conference in returning tackles.

Will that cause the division of powers between the North and South to expand?

We'll see as the season plays out.

Super-sized Taylor hungry for second chance at Baylor

March, 30, 2009
3/30/09
7:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- On a hot, sticky March afternoon in Central Texas, many players might be wondering about the drudgeries of another blistering spring practice.

Even after enduring the excruciating work in another one-on-one drill and a few skips and hops around tackling dummies to build his footwork, massive Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor still is enjoying being back in the trenches. A year on the scout team convinced him how much he missed everything associated with playing on Saturdays.

 
  John Albright/Icon SMI
  A mammoth defensive tackle like Phil Taylor is just what Baylor's defense needed.

"It feels really good to get back out there and play again," Taylor said. "Getting the cobwebs out after waiting so long -- it's just good to get back again."

Taylor's football future was tenuous after he was kicked off the Penn State team several weeks before the start of the 2008 season for his role in an on-campus brawl at the school's student union. Taylor pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges, but got the boot from no-nonsense Penn State coach Joe Paterno after the Nittany Lions' program endured a rash of off-field problems.

And after pondering his future for a few days, the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Taylor ended up at Baylor where he has received a clean slate for his final two years of his college career.

Taylor is reticent to discuss what happened at Penn State. He was kicked off the team a few days after a report on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on legal problems surrounding Paterno's program.

"I don't really want to talk about it too much," Taylor said. " I feel that I wasn't treated fairly because there were a lot of others in the same situation for similar things there."

He is already struck by the difference in the leadership styles of Baylor coach Art Briles and Paterno.

"I've been around a lot of teams, but here, it's more loose," Taylor said. "The coach lets us have fun. We still work very hard and do the things that we are supposed to do. But it's not quite as regimented as it was there -- do this, don't do that.

The feeling around the program is different, too, Taylor said.

"Here, they treat us more like adults," he said.

Briles has a quick rapport with Taylor, who refers to his super-sized defensive tackle as "Cousin Phil" for a reason, he said.

"If I've got a cousin, I'd like him to be big and strong like Phil," Briles said, chuckling.

Taylor had opportunities to play at Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Maryland after he left school. But he decided that Baylor -- 1,247 miles away from his home in Clinton, Md. -- was his best opportunity.

In a sense, the Bears represented an ideal landing place, despite the distance. He was reunited with Bears defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, who coached defensive backs at Penn State when he arrived there.

Norwood had been a friend of the Taylor family for many years after playing on a team in youth YMCA football that was coached by Taylor's uncle. And Norwood's son, Jordan, was a member of the Penn State football team with Taylor.

The switch to Baylor has brought out a different attitude in Taylor that has been noticeable from his arrival.

"Phil was always a hard-working, strong, very impressive athletic defensive tackle," Norwood said. "And this spring he's working to get better and play at a high tempo consistently in everything we're doing."

His footwork shows a freakish athleticism for somebody who is as big as he is.

"I still look at him in the huddle and I'm amazed how big he is," Baylor safety Jordan Lake said. "I remember at a practice last year watching him move from sideline-to-sideline. It's so cool to see a guy who was 360 pounds move like he can."   

Norwood saw Taylor become a strong player late in his sophomore season at Penn State. And he's hopeful that he can return to that form with the Bears.

"The sky is the limit for him, but Phil is still chopping wood and getting ready to play," Norwood said. "His potential is off the charts. But at the same time, he's doing the little things we've asked him to do and that's made me excited."

The Bears need a run-stuffing defender in the worst way. In 2008, their defense ranked 85th in total defense, 87th in scoring defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses.

"Phil is a rare blend of size and quick-twitch muscles," Briles said. "I'll be disappointed if he's not first-team All-Big 12 because he physically possesses that type of ability. That doesn't mean he'll do it, but physically, he has that type of ability."

If he approaches those lofty platitudes, Taylor could be mentioned in the same breath as other Big 12 defensive linemen like Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.

"What he brings us is a legitimate big-time defensive player who is a threat on the defensive side of the ball," Briles said. "He'll allow other guys to be more productive because he'll require more attention. If you've got men up front you have a chance to have a great football team. Especially at defensive tackle. They can make everybody else."

Taylor is rounding into shape and showing something every day at practice. His weight is down from the 380 pounds he weighed when he arrived at Baylor last August.

But he's most excited about his second chance at restarting his college career.

"When I came down here, it was like a new beginning for me," Taylor said. "I've got my head on straight and there are no more problems hovering around me. I'm ready to play."

Baylor S Jordan Lake is Big 12's No. 35 best player

March, 29, 2009
3/29/09
2:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

We don't skip Sundays around here as we count down the Big 12's best players this spring.

Lake
Today's selection is Jordan Lake, a Baylor safety who has piled up big tackling numbers throughout his career for the Bears.

Player: Jordan Lake

Team: Baylor

Position: Safety

Vitals: 6-foot-1, 210 pounds; Sr.; Houston (Memorial)

Why he was picked: Always a consistent and stabilizing force, Lake has been a productive starter for the Bears and one of the most active tacklers in the league. He led all Big 12 defensive backs with 97 tackles and paced the Bears with two forced fumbles in 2008. He also notched three interceptions and broke up seven passes.

What 2009 will hold: Lake said he finally felt comfortable in Brian Norwood's defensive scheme at the end of the year after some early struggles. The Bears hope he won't have to be involved in so many tackles as they learn Norwood's defense for a second season. It likely will mean more success if some of Lake's teammates up front take care of the more of the work rather than leaving Lake with clean-up duty several yards down the field.


The countdown:

35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

10 minutes with Baylor defensive coordinator Brian Norwood

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
8:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- Brian Norwood has one of the most difficult challenges in college football.

Baylor's defensive coordinator competes on a yearly basis with historically potent offenses at Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the Big 12's South Division. And Texas A&M hasn't been too shabby over the years, either.

But Norwood, who arrived last season after seven seasons at Penn State, has a growing confidence after his defense's development last season.

We sat down to talk with him about a variety of topics. Norwood discussed the Bears' recent defensive growth, what he learned from Joe Paterno, Joe Pawelek's development as a ball-hawking defensive standout and whether he likes Peachy Paterno or Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla better as an ice cream of choice.

What has it been like getting started at Baylor after all the time you spent at Penn State?

Brian Norwood: It's actually been good because the players and the university are hungry for a change. With coach [Art] Briles, it's been fun. He's a great coach and a good person first of all, and a fun guy to be around who really has a passion for the game and a passion for young people. We share a lot of the same visions in regards to football and how it impacts life. It's actually been very good.

I've taken a lot of things from great coaches I've worked with and played for from little league to college and now have the opportunity to pour those things into a great program with a great upside here at Baylor. And so far, it's been good. I've enjoyed the job and the people and the players have really responded -- they are very hungry.

With your nucleus of nine starters back, how much more prepared do you think your team will be in the second year working with you?

BN: I thought they did a great job last year. The seniors this past year stepped in and they had to make the biggest change because they were used to doing things a certain way and we were really trying to change mindsets and thoughts. They did a good job setting the stage for the young guys and this spring we're going past the things we've done already.

I think there's a comfort level there that has us working and getting ready as we work towards a viewable difference on the football field. I think we have a chance to do some good things, I really do. And the guys are working very hard. I'm excited to take another step.

Was the transition from the Big Ten to the Big 12 more difficult than you would have initially imagined?

BN: It was a bigger transition because of the style of play and because of the different offenses and systems. All of them have a wealth of talent built around it. You line up and play Oklahoma one week, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Missouri and all those teams have solid talent and great guys running in their system. A team like Texas is that way, too. They've been established in their offense.

Then, there's that part of it being a new guy and doing something new. Some of the stuff we do defensively is a little different, which helps. Not a lot, but it's different. But it definitely caught my attention, all the points being put on the board and the offensive approaches and everything was a lot different than the Big Ten.

The Big Ten is a great conference in itself. There's no difference in them both having great athletes. But some of the coaches are a little different -- they've been successful in both conferences. It was different approach. We didn't get a ton of two-back teams that are successful here in the Big 12. It's a little more spread out with talent in what we faced.

Senior linebacker Joe Pawelek has really become a productive player since he started playing with your defense. What specifically have you done that has brought that out in him?

BN: Joe is an intelligent player. He's a good football player but his football IQ is probably off the charts. He puts himself into position to make a lot of plays. He's a team leader and guys respect him for what he does. He came into this system and linebackers have to be solid in what we are trying to do.

I feel we were fortunate to come in here myself to have this defense where we had a guy like that already in place. There are a lot of players who were in place and bought in to what we're doing, probably have bought into what [Baylor strength coach] Kaz Kazadi and strength program have done. They've changed a lot of guys.

Joe has been fine and he likes what we do. When you have guys who like that who are ready to go really from the start, it really helps you out.

(Read full post)

Lake confident Baylor's defense can lead bowl charge

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
5:39
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- The Big 12 South is a tough place to play defense.

That fact was re-emphasized to Baylor senior safety Jordan Lake when he watched the postseason college award shows and saw a lot of familiar faces receiving hardware.

"It was amazing watching all the postseason awards shows," Lake said. "For the John Mackey Award all three players were from the Big 12. Same thing with the Biletnikoff Award. The Maxwell, all three were from the South Division."

 
  Bruce Thorson/US Presswire
  Baylor safety Jordan Lake is more comfortable in the defense this season.
Such an array of talented opponents sometimes made it difficult for the Bears, who struggled at times facing the cream of Big 12 offenses in their first season operating new coordinator Brian Norwood's philosophy.

"It made it tough, especially with us working with a new defense, but it's just part of playing in the Big 12," Lake said. "You know in the Big 12, you're always going to end up playing against the best people. And that was the case last year."

That difficult baptism of fire has helped the Bears coming into the upcoming season. Baylor returns nine defensive starters from last season's 4-8 record, including all of its starting linebackers and defensive backs.

The second season working with Norwood's philosophy is also proving to be easier to Lake and his Baylor teammates. That fact is clear at each spring practice where Lake's unit looks more comfortable in its operation of the defense.

"The biggest thing for us this year is that we're not learning the defense, but we're just kind of fine-tuning it," Lake said. "There's a lot more precision stuff and getting ready for the upcoming season. It's not new to use anymore. We're just learning how we operate in our defense and it makes it very exciting as we get ready for the season."

Lake developed last season in the defense without the benefit of spring practice as he recovered from shoulder surgery. He returned ready for the regular season, leading the defense with 66 solo tackles and two forced fumbles and leading the Baylor defensive backs with three interceptions.

The transition came with some growing pains along the way. Lake said he didn't feel comfortable playing in the defense until late last season because of the different responsibilities from his previous defenses with the Bears.

"In the past, I was 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, flat-foot sliding for the run," Lake said. "Now my first four steps are headed back in the deep middle. It was a big adjustment for me. The first four or five games, I was just kind of feeling the defense out."

Despite learning against the best of the Big 12's potent offenses, Lake said the last several games finally convinced them he was learning his new responsibilities.

"By the end, I felt like I was finally getting the defense and settling into it. Everybody else feels that way too. Now, we're just fine-tuning it and getting it better than it ever was."

That improvement was noticeable to Lake as he watched game films from late last season compared to early in the year. 

The Bears' hopes will improve with the arrival of massive 340-pound defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a transfer from Penn State who has immediately boosted Baylor's moribund pass rush. Baylor ranked 84th nationally with 19 sacks.

The growth from last season and the new arrivals have boosted Lake's belief heading into the upcoming season.

"The team we stepped on the field with against Wake Forest was completely different than the team we had against Texas Tech (for the season finale)," Lake said. "That improvement was light years from the beginning. And the excitement we have is we don't lose many players from that final product and we're building on it and making it better."

Because of that, Lake is confident that this team has a strong chance of snapping Baylor's 14-season bowl drought -- longest in the Big 12 and one of the longest in the nation.

"Making a bowl game would mean the world to me," Lake said. "And we're going to do that this year. To be the senior class to make a bowl trip would be unbelievable and something you could hold onto for the rest of your life."

Tim's mailbag: ISU will be better, but not bowl-ready

March, 20, 2009
3/20/09
5:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It wouldn't be a Friday without some letters from the readers. Here are some I got this week.

Brandon from Ames, Iowa, writes: Tim, I'll be a Cyclone fan until I die no matter how bad we get, but is there going to be any hope for a good season this year? Rhoads is making us hopeful, but what should we consider a successful season given our current condition?

Tim Griffin: Brandon, I've been impressed during the times I've talked with Paul Rhoads since he's taken the job. He seems very positive and upbeat and realizes how daunting the job will be. I see a lot of similarities between him and his coaching mentor, Dan McCarney, who hired Rhoads at Iowa State earlier in his coaching career.

I was also impressed by his two hires for coordinators. Both Tom Herman and Wally Burnham are both very respected in the business and will help him tremendously.

But the Cyclones' talent is at the bottom of the North Division and it will be a big challenge for them to escape the cellar in Rhoads' first season. I think a more realistic goal would be for them to win a game or two more than last season's 2-10 record that ended with 10 straight losses. Anything more than that, in my opinion, will be extremely difficult to accomplish.


Austin from Houston writes: Tim, I noticed in your March 13 mailbag that you mentioned Oklahoma hasn't lost at home since 2001. Did you forget that they lost to the mighty TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 on September 3, 2005? I know that all of the Sooner fans as well as Bob Stoops remember that day. On a different note, although we are roughly seven months away from the game, who is your "way too early" pick for the Texas/OU game?

Tim Griffin: Austin, thanks for the catch. I meant to say the Sooners hadn't lost a conference game since 2001. I do remember the TCU game -- I was there that day. The Horned Frogs were able to dominate the Sooners at Owen Field. I had never seen that happen before with Bob Stoops coaching. And I haven't seen it since, either.

As far as my Red River Rivalry pick, if you asked me today, I would have to go with the Longhorns, but just barely. I'll reserve the right to make my final pick the week before the game.

Texas obviously will be smarting after failing to make the Big 12 championship game despite beating the Sooners last season in the celebrated three-way tie for the South Division championship. They couldn't ask for more inspiration coming into the game than that whole scenario.

But one thing that struck me when talking with Oklahoma players last week in Norman was the defense's confidence. The Sooners have nine starters back on their defensive unit, missing only safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. The Sooners seem comfortable that their defense will be much improved from last season. I thought the Sooners had a great defensive effort against Missouri in the Big 12 game and a good one in the loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oklahoma's defense wasn't to blame for the Sooners losing that game.

So I think the Sooners' defense will be a little better than most people think this season. It should make for a great matchup at the Cotton Bowl.

Can we play tomorrow?


Robert Holmes from Norman, Okla., writes: Tim, if you were starting a Big 12 team of all the players who are coming back for the 2009 season, who would you pick first?

Tim Griffin: Great question and one that bears a more detailed answer. I'm going to start a daily post on Tuesday where I will count down the 40 most valuable players in the Big 12. I'll have a player a day culminating on May 2, which also coincidentally is the day of the Kansas State spring game -- the last one in the conference.

So start watching for that next week.

And I won't give you my final answer, but it would be safe to expect that a South Division quarterback, like maybe Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford. Keep watching to check who I've picked.


Brandon from Poteet, Texas, writes: Tim, I saw where you were at Baylor yesterday. How do you gauge the Bears' mindset coming into the upcoming season? Is a bowl berth a real possibility? And where did you end up eating on your way home? I would have advised George's if I was you.

Tim Griffin: The Bears seem to be a confident bunch. From interviews with new defensive tackle Phil Taylor to safety Jordan Lake and defensive coordinator Brian Norwood and coach Art Briles, to newcomers like offensive tackle Danny Watkins, I could detect a different attitude from previous seasons. Those players and coaches flatly tell you they will be playing in a bowl game. And it appears that it will be a shock for them if they aren't bowling somewhere in December.

That being the case, the Bears will face a typically difficult South Division schedule. They absolutely must win three games in the nonconference schedule. And a key swing game at Texas A&M on Nov. 21 will be huge for them.

Baylor's 41-21 victory over the Aggies last season in Waco was a convincing one. But remember that the Bears have produced 10 losses and a tie in their last 11 trips to Kyle Field. The last time Baylor won in College Station was on Oct. 20, 1984, when Grant Teaff's team claimed a 20-16 triumph. As of today, that's a string of 8,917 days and counting.

That's a huge gap and won't be easily snapped.

And as far as my meal in Waco, I didn't really have much time after spending a couple of hours finishing my work and getting a late start back home. I hopped right in the car and made it back home in time to eat one of my wife's delicious leftover pulled-pork sandwiches while I switched between President Obama's appearance on Jay Leno and the final minutes of the Illinois-Western Kentucky game late last week.

Maybe next time for George's.


Steve Woodson from Garden City, Kan., writes: Hey Tim. Great blog. I wouldn't think of starting my day without reading it. I've got a quick question for you. Which team would you anticipate to be the "surprise team" in the Big 12 this season? And which team do you expect will take the biggest step backwards from last season.

Tim Griffin: Steve, thanks for the compliments. I think that Colorado is nicely situated with some diminished expectations outside the program after last season's struggles.

I know that coach Dan Hawkins predicted his team would go 10-2 this season, which would be a surprise to almost anybody outside the Colorado program. But I do think if the Buffaloes can stay healthy and have a quarterback to emerge that they've got a great shot to make it back to a bowl game and might even be able to climb into North Division title contention with a few breaks along the way.

And as far as the program I expect to take the biggest step back, I would nominate Texas Tech. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be missed, obviously. But so will players like Brandon Williams, Louis Vasquez, Daniel Charbonnet, Darcel McBath, Shannon Woods and Rylan Reed. That's a big chunk of talent that had a huge p
art in the Red Raiders' South Division tri-championship team last season to replace at one time.

I still expect the Red Raiders to contend for a bowl appearance as I would peg them about fourth in the Big 12 South behind Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I think seven or eight wins is a more likely victory total for them this season rather than last year's 11-2 mark.


Jackson from Telluride, Colo., writes: Which off-season coaching moves to do you think will prove to be the most important in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually nominate three. Obviously, the hiring of Bill Young as Oklahoma State's new defensive coordinator has huge ramifications. Mike Gundy is counting on him to be able to fashion together enough improvement to push the Cowboys into contention. That will be a tall order for him, even with all of his past success at previous stops.

I'm also very curious how the new staff of Bill Snyder works together at Kansas State. I think the hiring of Vic Koenning was a huge get for Snyder. I'm also intrigued to see how Dana Dimel and Del Miller will work together again as co-offensive coordinators. Both have worked with Snyder before. Are there any changes in their coaching since they lasted coached there? We'll see.

And I'm also very interested to see the work of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Both have been with Gary Pinkel since the beginning at Missouri. But both also represent changes that have come to the program after former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left for the head coaching job at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left to become the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach.

Pinkel had never had a change in his coaching staff in the first eight years at Missouri. I'm curious to see how the recent switches will alter the Tigers and Pinkel's schematics, if any.

That's all for this week. Check back next week for more correspondence and keep the questions and answers coming. I appreciate it.

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