Big 12: Chris Masson

Big 12 internal affairs: Buffs changing to more athletic secondary

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
6:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look at some of the under-the-radar topics that people are talking about across the Big 12:
  • Colorado coaches are hopeful the insertion of cornerback Ben Burney into the lineup at strong safety with cornerbacks Cha'pelle Brown and Jimmy Smith will provide the Buffaloes with a more athletic secondary that will be more productive as it prepares for the Big 12’s high-powered passing attacks. The retooled group will get its first big test Thursday night when it challenges West Virginia’s talented pitch-and-catch tandem of quarterback Jarrett Brown and receiver Jock Sanders.
  • The versatility of Texas’ offense was shown against UTEP when the Longhorns produced 300 rushing and passing yards for only the second time in school history. The only other time came against Houston in 1990. It showed the versatility and depth of Texas’ running and passing offense. The Longhorns’ ability to effectively do both was what UTEP coach Mike Price was raving about after the game -- shortly after he called Texas the best team in the country.
  • It might be time for Harris Interactive Poll voters to take a sobriety test after their first poll results were released this week. Is it my imagination, or could you think of a less-likely team to receive votes in a national poll than Kansas State, which is tied for 42nd in the most recent Harris poll with two points? Yes, that would be the same Kansas State that has yet to beat an FBS opponent this season with its only victories over FCS teams Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.
  • Concern for Kansas’ offensive line remains the Jayhawks’ most worrisome problem during their week off. The Jayhawks allowed five sacks of Todd Reesing against Southern Mississippi. Considering Reesing’s slight size, his health could be in risk unless the Jayhawks improve their pass-blocking tendencies pronto. But the return of Jake Sharp to the starting lineup could improve some of the blitz pickups by Kansas’ running backs.
  • Nebraska’s pass-rushing packages are rounding into shape after they notched two sacks against Louisiana-Lafayette -- the first sacks against quarterback Chris Masson this season. After being shut out in the season opener, the Cornhuskers have rebounded to notch 10 sacks over the last three weeks. Most impressively, nine different players have shared in that largesse of sacks.
  • The loss of top Iowa State pass rusher Rashawn Parker with a season-ending knee injury could have some serious consequences for the Cyclones. Parker had provided the most consistent pass-rushing threat and will be missed during the rest of the season. His replacement will be sophomore Patrick Neal, a converted tight end who snagged a touchdown grab last season against Missouri.
  • Oklahoma State’s offensive line showed some continuity against Grambling, playing with the same group as it had last week. It marked the first time this season that the Cowboys have started the same five players along the offensive front in back-to-back weeks.
  • One underrated impressive trend for Texas A&M in their blowout victory over UAB was that the Aggies were penalized only three times. That effort came after the Aggies came into the game leading the nation with 30 penalties in their first two games. A&M coaches made a special efforts in game preparations last week to limit mental mistakes. The results were seen in the Aggies’ clean performance over the Blazers.

Big 12 predictions, Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I had my best week of the season last week by picking nine out of 11 games correctly, but assuredly I can do better. Hopefully this week's picks will continue my hot streak.

Missouri 38, Nevada 24: The Wolf Pack likely will stack the box and dare Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert to beat them by throwing the ball without much benefit of a running game. If the Tigers can do a good job of containing Nevada defensive ends Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, they should be able to dominate the offensive part of the game. Nevada has lost disappointing road games to Notre Dame and Colorado State, and Chris Ault’s team will be charged about its home debut in a rare national television game. And bet the Wolf Pack will be itching for revenge after last year’s 69-17 loss to the Tigers at Columbia. But Missouri still has too many weapons.

Kansas 31, Southern Mississippi 20: It’s been a trying week for the Fighting Manginos around Lawrence after some players were involved in a nasty brawl with the Kansas basketball team that splashed both programs on the front pages. They will be challenged to stop the Golden Eagles, who come into the game with an eight-game winning streak -- tied with Mississippi behind only Florida on the national list. The streak continued last week when the Golden Eagles rallied from an early 17-point deficit to claim a 37-34 victory over Virginia. The improving Kansas defense will be challenged to contain running backs Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison, who both gashed the Cavaliers for more than 100 yards. Both teams should be able to score points in bunches, but I’m thinking that Kansas has too much firepower with Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe, even with the status of leading rusher Jake Sharp likely to be a game-time decision.

Kansas State 31, Tennessee Tech 7: The Wildcats have started out slowly on offense, scoring the fewest points since Bill Snyder’s first season coaching them in 1989. And they will be playing an underrated Tennessee Tech team coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. The Golden Eagles were competitive against preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Eastern Kentucky last week before falling 17-7. But they’ll be stepping up in class against a Kansas State team hopeful of stopping a recent two-game losing streak. Look for Snyder to try to get tailback Daniel Thomas involved early and try to build some confidence for quarterback Carson Coffman to take into Big 12 play.

Texas 52, UTEP 10: Texas still hasn’t strung together a complete game this season. This might be the Longhorns’ opportunity. Colt McCoy struggled again last week in the first half, battling the vestiges of a flu attack. But he again rebounded in the second half, taking advantage of new offensive weapons in running back Tre’ Newton and flex receiver Dan Buckner. UTEP has been effective running the ball with Donald Buckram, who is averaging almost 7 yards a play. The Miners scored five rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over New Mexico State -- their first victory of the season -- but will be supremely challenged against Texas’ massive defensive front.

Oklahoma State 48, Grambling 17: The Cowboys will be looking to build some momentum in their final nonconference game. Zac Robinson looked closer to his 2008 form last week against Rice, although the Cowboys’ struggling pass defense continues to be a concern. And Oklahoma State might have to play without top playmakers Dez Bryant (calf) and Perrish Cox (shoulder) in this game. Grambling has been plagued with 12 turnovers in its first three games and will be facing an opportunistic Oklahoma State defense intent to boost that total.

Iowa State 33, Army 21: This should be an intriguing battle as two 2-1 teams coming off impressive victories over Mid-American Conference teams will meet. Iowa State will be gunning to beat its 2008 season win total with a victory Saturday night. The Cyclones rebounded from a struggling performance against Iowa with an impressive victory at Kent State that snapped a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Austen Arnaud orchestrated a strong performance as Alexander Robinson rushed for 143 yards for his second straight 100-yard game. The key for the Cyclones will be to contain Army’s option-based attack and force quarterback Trent Steelman into long-yardage passing situations. This one will be won in the trenches, and I like Iowa State’s chances because the Cyclones are more multi-faceted.

Nebraska 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10: All things about Nebraska football will be celebrated in this game as the Cornhuskers toast their 300th straight home sellout. This game will be similar to many of the previous ones during the streak. Look for the Cornhuskers to mash the Ragin’ Cajuns at the point of attack with a potent running attack keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Roy Helu Jr. Quarterback Zac Lee sustained a splinter fracture on his left (non-throwing) thumb last week against Virginia Tech, but should play. More worrisome, the Cornhuskers' defense collapsed in last week’s disappointing loss, but won’t be tested that much by Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Chris Masson. Look for the Cornhuskers to empty the benches early, using youngsters like Cody Green and Rex Burkhead throughout much of the second half.

Texas A&M 38, UAB 24: The surprisingly potent Texas A&M offense will get its toughest challenge to date against UAB. A key for the Aggies will be to continue their explosive passing game that has helped quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who ranks third nationally in total offense and 20th in passing efficiency. Johnson should have a ready target in the UAB pass defense, which ranks 118th nationally and was blistered for 413 yards last week by Troy. The Aggies will have to play without leading receiver Jeff Fuller, but precocious freshman Uzoma Nwachukwu produced four touchdowns on four “touches” last week against Utah State. Texas A&M’s defense needs some improvement after struggling against Utah State’s option-based attack and UAB quarterback Joe Webb will test it. A&M should win this game if it can give Johnson enough time to hit his downfield receivers.

Baylor 48, Northwestern State 7: The Bears will be attempting to rebuild their confidence after a disappointing loss to Connecticut snuffed out much of the momentum after their season-opening triumph over Wake Forest. Quarterback Robert Griffin struggled through a miserable game with a career-low 139 yards of total offense. He needs to get his confidence back, hopefully by throwing the ball downfield to get David Gettis and Kendall White involved early. The Bears’ rush defense has to be a big concern after allowing 235 yards and two touchdowns to Connecticut last week. And they’ll be facing a competent Northwestern State rushing attack that dented Houston for 155 rushing yards in their first game of the season. But I’m expecting the Bears to rebound with a strong performance after last week.

Texas Tech 45, Houston 44: Get out your calculators and prepare to stay up late to watch the end of this one. It should be an entertaining contest between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts and Houston’s Case Keenum. The Red Raiders stuck with Texas last week until deep in the fourth quarter when turnovers and penalties finally caught up with them. But Potts passed for 430 yards in an impressive road debut. He’ll be facing another challenge against Houston, which stunned then-No. 5 Oklahoma State two weeks ago before taking last week off. It will be the first matchup between the two old Southwest Conference rivals since the conference dissolved in 1995. The No. 18 Cougars will be playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1991 -- when David Klingler was their quarterback. The Red Raiders have a better defense than Oklahoma State and are familiar with Houston because they face a variation of the Cougars’ spread offense every day in practice. That should provide them with just enough of an edge to boost them to win a wild victory.

Last week: 9-2 (81.8 percent)

Season: 25-8 (75.8 percent)

Big 12 predictions for Week 2

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:05
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are my Big 12 picks for this weekend.

Colorado 21, Toledo 20: This might be the biggest game of Dan Hawkins’ career after his team’s opening-game debacle against Colorado State. The Buffaloes need to get a ground game going -- remember that guy on the bench is Darrell Scott -- and do a better job of limiting big plays on defense. Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt threw 67 passes in last week’s loss at Purdue, but will find it much tougher this week against the Buffaloes’ underrated secondary keyed by cornerback Jimmy Smith. I’m looking for the Buffaloes to do just enough to escape the Glass Bowl with a victory-- but it’s not going to be easy or pretty.

Iowa 21, Iowa State 17: The Cyclones have had much recent success against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium, where they have won four of the last five in the series since 1999. The Hawkeyes struggled last week against Northern Iowa and were lucky to escape with a victory only after blocking field goals on the last two plays of the game. I look for replacement running back Adam Robinson to run with a little more confidence this week for the Hawkeyes. Don't be surprised if wily Iowa coordinator Norm Parker cooks up a defensive scheme that will handcuff the Cyclones’ emerging no-huddle offense. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cyclones were able to make this one close and maybe even eke out an upset victory.

Nebraska 41, Arkansas State 14: The Cornhuskers ran off a 49-3 victory over FAU and Bo Pelini wasn’t happy about his team’s defensive efforts. They’ll be facing another challenger from the Sun Belt in Arkansas State, who shouldn’t pose too many problems. I’ll be interested to see the continued development of future Cornhuskers like Rex Burkhead and Cody Green and see how the defense reacts after the scalding criticism of their coach. If Pelini gets mad after giving up three points, what's he going to do if they give up seven or 10 or 14 points this week?

Oklahoma State 45, Houston 34: Oklahoma State had a strong opening performance, including a salty defensive showing that stopped Georgia cold after the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their opening possession. It will be interesting to see if that huge victory left the Cowboys with a hangover. It’s something they can’t afford, considering Houston’s high-powered offense keyed by Case Keenum. The Cougars had Oklahoma State on the ropes last season before the Cowboys blew the game open in the second half. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar kind of game on Saturday.

Texas 45, Wyoming 7: The Longhorns’ toughest nonconference road game shouldn’t pose too many problems, even with injuries on the offensive line and other personnel losses in the secondary. I’ll be interested to see how alternating Wyoming quarterbacks Robert Benjamin and Austyn Carta-Samuels attack a Texas defense that allowed more points in an opening game last week in 10 years. It will also be noteworthy to watch Texas’ running backs and see if Vondrell McGee still is the featured back after his fumble problems last week. Despite playing at high elevation, the Longhorns should have no worries.

Kansas 44, UTEP 35: Kansas ran the ball strongly last week against Northern Colorado and should be able to do the same against the Miners. But it wouldn’t surprise me if UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe and some underrated offensive weapons make the Jayhawks sweat their way through their visit to the Sun Bowl. In the end, Dezmon Briscoe will make enough plays as a receiver and maybe as a kick returner to extend the Miners’ 16-game losing streak against Big 12 teams.

Missouri 34, Bowling Green 14: What can Blaine Gabbert do for an encore? His auspicious start has been the talk of the “Show-Me” State this week after a breakthrough performance against Illinois. I was just as impressed by the Tigers’ “Scorpion” defensive front which made Illinois quarterback Juice Williams miserable. The Missouri defense will be tested by Bowling Green’s talented pass-and-catch duo of Tyler Sheehan and Freddie Barnes. The Falcons beat Missouri in each of Gary Pinkel’s first two seasons at Missouri, including his first game there in 2001. But that’s a long time ago.

Oklahoma 34, Idaho State 0: Landry Jones gets his first start at quarterback as he replaces Sam Bradford. I look for Bob Stoops to have a conservative approach this week designed to build confidence for Jones over the next several games. There won’t be anything fancy as the Sooners will lean on a running game that needs to help restore assurance in an offensive line that struggled last week. Idaho State dropped a 50-3 outing at Arizona State last week in a game where Bengal quarterbacks threw four interceptions. It might be more of the same as the Sooners’ defense will be charged to pick up its performance with all of the lingering questions on offense.

Texas Tech 41, Rice 17: Taylor Potts didn’t have the best of college career starts, throwing three interceptions last week against North Dakota. I look for improvement from him and the Tech running attack as they meet rebuilding Rice. Owls coach David Bailiff is still struggling to find a quarterback and I expect both John Shepherd and Nick Fanuzzi to get an opportunity to play. But it won’t nearly be enough as the Red Raiders should cruise into the Texas game with a better performance than their first game.

Kansas State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 24: Carson Coffman should have a better performance in his second game and the Kansas State special teams will be improved in a tougher-than-expected battle at Cajun Field. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a couple of nice offensive weapons in quarterback Chris Masson and running back Undrea Sails. If they get rolling, it could be a long night in the bayou for the Wildcats. I’m also a little concerned about how Kansas State’s lack of depth affects them at both offensive line and defensive line during what should be a hot, humid night. But in the end, Kansas State running backs Daniel Thomas and Keithen Valentine will provide enough offense for the Wildcats to escape Louisiana with a tough victory.

Last week: 9-3 (75.0 percent)

Season: 9-3 (75.0 percent)

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