Big 12: Cincinnati Bearcats

Big 12 lunch links: A strong collection of recruiting stories

February, 3, 2010
Happy Signing Day.

In between all of the signing announcements and the analysis throughout the day, how about some stories from across the Big 12 to keep you occupied throughout your lunch hour and before the news conferences later this afternoon?

Enjoy them.

The numbers say UT could win the BCS title and OU won't

July, 7, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

The number crunchers at have come up with the common statistical traits that the BCS national championship winners have shared.

1. Be a member of a "Big Six" conference or Notre Dame:

Teams still fitting the profile: 67.

2. Have at least eight wins in the previous season. Of the 11 BCS title winners nine teams (and the past six consecutive) have had at least eight wins the season prior to winning the championship. All have had at least seven.

Teams still fitting the profile: 37

3. Have a winning regular-season record in November-December games in the previous season. Winning games late in the season usually ensures a strong finish. Only LSU in 2002 -- with a 2-2 record in November and December -- claimed a BCS national championship without a winning record in those two months in the year before.

Teams still fitting the profile: 25.

Among those still standing are: Alabama (4-0), Boston College (4-1), California (3-2), Cincinnati (5-0), Florida (5-0), Georgia Tech (3-1), Iowa (3-1), Michigan State (3-1), Mississippi (4-0), Missouri (3-1), Nebraska (3-1), Northwestern (3-1), Ohio State (3-0), Oklahoma (4-0), Oregon (3-1), Oregon State (4-1), Penn State (3-1), Pittsburgh (4-1), Rutgers (4-0), Texas (3-1), Texas Tech (3-1), USC (5-0), Wake Forest (3-2), West Virginia (3-2) and Virginia Tech (3-1).

4. Have a junior or senior quarterback with some playing experience. All 11 teams that have won BCS national titles have had a junior or senior playing. All but Tee Martin of Tennessee had starting experience entering the season.

Teams still fitting the profile: 17.

Among those still alive are: California (Kevin Riley), Cincinnati (Tony Pike), Florida (Tim Tebow), Georgia Tech (Josh Nesbitt), Iowa (Richard Stanzi), Mississippi (Jevan Snead), Northwestern (Mike Kafka), Oklahoma (Sam Bradford), Oregon (Jeremiah Masoli), Oregon State (Lyle Moevao), Penn State (Daryll Clark), Pittsburgh (Bill Stull), Texas (Colt McCoy), USC (Mitch Mustain), Wake Forest (Riley Skinner), West Virginia (Jarrett Brown) and Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor).

5. Have six returning defensive starters from a unit that ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense in the previous season. Eight of the past nine teams to have won the BCS title have had a defense in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense the previous season (Florida was 46th in 2007) and all but one team (1998 Tennessee) returned at least six starters from their previous season's defense.

Teams still fitting the profile: 6.

Those teams that are eligible include Florida (fourth in scoring defense, 11 returning starters), Iowa (fifth in scoring defense, eight returning starters), Mississippi (20th in scoring defense, eight starters), Texas (18th in scoring defense, seven starters), West Virginia (11th in scoring defense, eight starters) and Virginia Tech (ninth in scoring defense, seven starters).

The formula has been accurate over the years. Of the seven teams that fit the profile coming into last season -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Rutgers, USC, and Wake Forest -- all won at least eight games and Florida won the national championship. The team the Gators beat for the national title, Oklahoma, was not included among those on the list.

So keep these trends in mind this season. It might be the reason why we end up seeing Texas and Florida playing for the national championship, if not Iowa, Mississippi, West Virginia or Virginia Tech at the Rose Bowl.

Big 12 ranks third nationally in attendance

April, 16, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Statistics compiled by the NCAA indicated the Big 12 is coming off a record season in attendance as well as the largest growth of any BCS-affiliated conference.

The Big 12 attracted an average of 62,956 fans per game last season -- one of only five FBS conferences to show growth last season. A struggling economy helped explain why only the SEC and Big 12 showed attendance growth during 2008 for home games.

Here's a look at how the Big 12 ranked with the other FBS conferences

Average Attendance
Conference 2007 2008 Growth
Southeastern 75,139 76,844 +2.27%
Big Ten 71,158 70,125 -1.45%
Big 12 60,941 62,956 +3.31%
Pac-10 57,956 57,350 -1.05%
Atlantic Coast 53,787 52,737 -1.95%
Independents 51,778 50,802 -1.88%
Big East 41,456 43,145 +4.08%
Mountain West 33,937 32,021 -5.65%
Conference-USA 27,666 27,118 -1.98%
Western Athletic 23,014 24,475 +6.35%
Sun Belt 16,374 18,584 +13.50%
Mid-American 17,334 16,727 -3.50%
Source: ESPN Stats & Analysis, NCAA

A more telling examination can be found how individual schools rank in attendance. The Big 12 had one school ranked among the top 10 schools in home attendace, four in the top 14 and five among the top 26 schools.

Here's a list of each Big 12's average attendance and where it ranks among FBS schools, and also among the 65 schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

School 2008 home att. National BCS conf.
Texas 98,046 5 5
Oklahoma 85,075 12 12
Nebraska 85,071 13 13
Texas A&M 82,193 14 14
Missouri 64,520 26 25
Texas Tech 53,625 38 36
Kansas 50,907 41 39
Colorado 49,476 43 41
Oklahoma St. 48,761 46 44
Iowa St. 47,429 49 47
Kansas St. 45,190 52 49
Baylor 34,124 68 58
Source: ESPN Stats & Analysis, NCAA

It's interesting to note that all Big 12 schools played to 90 percent home capacity with the exception of Baylor, which played to less than 70 percent capacity at Floyd Casey Stadium.

And for you trivia connoisseurs out there, the four teams that ranked in front of Texas were Big Ten powers Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State and Tennessee from the SEC.

The 10 non-BCS affiliated schools that ranked higher than Baylor in average attendance were Notre Dame (16th), BYU (27th), Utah (51st), East Carolina (56th), Hawaii (58th), Navy (59th), UCF (61st), Air Force (64th), Fresno State (65th) and UTEP (66st).

And the seven BCS-affiliated schools that ranked lower in Baylor than average attendance last season were Syracuse (69th), Cincinnati (71st), Indiana (72nd), Wake Forest (73rd), Washington State (74th), Duke (78th) and Northwestern (79th).


KSU looking to get out of upcoming Miami series

March, 20, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Bill Snyder's nonconference scheduling views earned a lot of notoriety during his first tenure as Kansas State's head coach.

Snyder's strategy of lining up an array of tasty nonconference cupcakes didn't win the Wildcats many scheduling style points over the years. However, the veteran coach always figured the strength of the Big Eight or Big 12 would make up for any weak sisters played early in the season.

It appears that Snyder is at it again. The Miami Herald reports that the Wildcats have asked Miami if they could back out of a two-game series scheduled for 2011 and 2012. The Hurricanes already have nonconference games scheduled in 2011 against Ohio State and South Florida and in 2012 against South Florida and Cincinnati. So it's understandable they won't mind seeing the Wildcats leave.

Playing a home-and-home series with the Hurricanes would be a great way for Snyder to build some national credibility for his program.

That is, unless he doesn't believe the Wildcats are ready for the challenge.

Texas intent on boosting turnover margin during spring

March, 5, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Texas fans think they've seen Will Muschamp at his most bombastic.

Sure, "Coach Boom" had some combustible moments last season along the sideline after sacks and big third-down stops. But Muschamp kept some of his emotion under wraps at times because his defense didn't do a good job of forcing turnovers during his first season.

The Longhorns came only a couple of seconds away from challenging for the BCS championship. Their performance was amazing considering they were only plus-2 in turnover margin to rank 49th nationally.

Top-25 turnover margin
Team Record Turnover margin
1. Florida 13-1 +22
2. Utah 13-0 +13
3. USC 12-1 +7
4. Texas 12-1 +2
5. Oklahoma 12-2 +23
6. Alabama 12-2 +6
7. TCU 11-2 +13
8. Penn State 11-2 +7
9. Ohio State 10-3 +16
10. Oregon 10-3 +5
11. Boise State 12-1 +7
12. Texas Tech 11-2 +8
13. Georgia 10-3 -3
14. Mississippi 9-4 -2
15. Virginia Tech 10-4 +14
16. Oklahoma State 9-4 +5
17. Cincinnati 11-3 -8
18. Oregon State 9-4 +1
19. Missouri 10-4 -4
20. Iowa 9-4 +8
21. Florida State 9-4 Even
22. Georgia Tech 9-4 +2
23. West Virginia 9-4 +12
24. Michigan State 9-4 +2
25. BYU 10-3 +2

It might be the most curious statistic of all last season, considering the Longhorns had the best pass rush in the nation with a nation-leading 47 sacks and led the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense.

Even with those factors, the Longho
rns struggled with an inability to make big defensive plays all season. Texas ranked 104th nationally and worst in the Big 12 with only 16 turnovers forced last season.

The most critical play of the season was safety Blake Gideon's drop of an interception in the final seconds against Texas Tech. On the following play after the reprieve, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree hooked up on the game-winning 28-yard touchdown that led to Texas' only loss.

"We had double-digit opportunities for more turnovers last year that we just missed," Muschamp said. "We've got to do a better job this season."

Texas players are learning strip techniques and punching the ball from their first workouts this spring as they attempt to improve their turnover-producing skills.

"That's something that's new this year," senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. "Coach Muschamp is trying to coach that. He felt that it was a mistake last year that he didn't coach trying to force turnovers. We're starting now, and hopefully it will turn over for us once we go into the season."

Muschamp's stated goal is to force three turnovers per game this season. The extra attention has already gotten into the heads of returning players who remain embarrassed at last year.

"We had about 30 that we let get away from us," junior cornerback Chykie Brown said. "I know myself that I let about four go. And (sophomore safety) Earl (Thomas) had about six."

Turnover margin usually is a pretty good determinant of overall team success. BCS title game participants Oklahoma and Florida were 1-2 nationally in turnover margin at plus-23 and plus-22. Texas had the second-lowest turnover ratio of the 10 teams that made BCS bowls, ahead of only Cincinnati at minus-8.

"For us to be plus-2 in turnover ratio as a team, and you have teams like Oklahoma that were plus-23 and Florida that was plus-22, it was amazing we did as well as we did," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "The defense is motivated by those numbers to come up with more turnovers, and we want to continue to take care of the ball on offense."

Muschamp has also made highlight films to show the plays that each defensive player made and those he didn't. And each workout this spring is designed to bolster competitiveness and game readiness.

"We had a lot of opportunities to get turnovers that we didn't capitalize on last season," Texas senior defensive end-linebacker Sergio Kindle said. "We've just got to make it happen when it comes this season."

For his part, Muschamp isn't over-analyzing the performance of other teams as a way to increase Texas' ability to create turnovers.

"I've been a part of defenses that have led the nation in turnovers," Muschamp said. "I know that it comes and there are times the ball bounces your way and times when it doesn't. You've just got to keep playing, keep swinging and eventually the ball is going to bounce our way.

"We've just got to do a better job of emphasizing turnovers and making the kids more cognizant of situations to punch the ball loose and finish plays."

But Kindle said the Longhorns should be held accountable for their struggles last season as they try to improve for the upcoming season.

"I wouldn't say it's luck. We just didn't get it done," Kindle said. "When the ball hits you in the hands, there's no reason to drop it, or if you are picking up a fumble and miss it. We've got to get better.

"I'm hoping we can force them better and then get the other team hesitant about doing things where they start making mistakes on their own. Those are things that we really need to capitalize on if and when we get the chance."

Big 12 lunch links: Max Tuioti-Mariner injured again

March, 4, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It's March and college football is blooming across the southern reaches of the Big 12.

The germination will eventually spread north.

Trust me.

Until then, here are a few lunchtime links to keep you stoked for the eventual blooming.

  • Hard-luck Colorado offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner will miss spring practice after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports. It will be require his third knee surgery in the past two years.
  • Oklahoma offensive linemen say they understand why their group received a harsh assessment from coach Bob Stoops before their first spring practice, Norman Transcript beat writer John Shinn reports.
  • Nebraska senior safety Major Culbert has been kicked off the Cornhuskers' roster, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Culbertson reports. Culbert has played 29 games in his Nebraska career at linebacker, defensive back and running back.
  • Big 12 coaches can relax. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt finally filled his defensive coordinator position, hiring former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, Tampa Tribune beat writer Brett McMurphy reports. Leavitt interviewed coaches from three Big 12 staffs who turned him down along the way.
  • Several Kansas coaches were in Reno Tuesday to study Nevada coach Chris Ault's Pistol offense, Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports.
  • Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star reads the fine print to explain why Ndamukong Suh was left off the Lombardi Award's preseason watch list.

Ekeler's chances at USF job still alive

February, 25, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It appears that Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler's chance to become defensive coordinator at South Florida could still be alive.

Presumed favorite Dan Disch, the co-defensive coordinator at Illinois, has notified USF coach Jim Leavitt that he will remain at his old school, Greg Auman of the St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday afternoon.

That decision could mean that Ekeler has a chance to rejoin Leavitt, whom he played under at Kansas State.

Leavitt also interviewed former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. But Disch was the first person to whom the job was offered.

Whoever fills the position will replace veteran coordinator Wally Burnham, who resigned last week to serve as defensive coordinator under Paul Rhoads at Iowa State.

Could Texas' non-league slate be a national-title albatross?

January, 16, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman had an interesting story earlier this week about Texas considering some major late changes in its nonconference schedule for the 2009 season and beyond.

Bohls reported that Texas and Wisconsin were in serious talks about a 2009 game in Austin. But that discussion finally bogged down when the two schools couldn't arrange for a return game to Wisconsin until at least 2013. Texas officials had even agreed to shift its Sept. 19 game against Central Florida to a future season, but still couldn't agree to a potential deal with the Badgers.

Texas senior assistant athletic director Butch Worley also told Bohls that the Longhorns are considering trying to get Notre Dame back on their schedule for the first time since 1996. That game makes sense because the Irish are desperate to have upcoming games in the talent-rich recruiting area of Texas.

Such discussion from Texas officials is interesting after the Longhorns were barely nosed out by Oklahoma for the Big 12 South Division title game berth after the Sooners and Longhorns finished in a three-way tie for the division crown with Texas Tech.

Texas' four-game 2008 nonconference schedule featured games against Florida Atlantic, Rice, Arkansas and UTEP, while Oklahoma's was marked by games against No. 7 TCU and No. 17 Cincinnati along with Tennessee-Chattanooga and Washington.

It's clear that the Sooners got a boost from the stronger nonconference schedule. And it undoubtedly helped the Sooners nose out the Longhorns in the final BCS standings despite Texas' 45-35 head-to-head victory over Oklahoma earlier in the season.

The Longhorns again could be facing a similarly weak nonconference schedule dilemma compared to the South Division's other projected powers. Here's how the top projected teams in the conference measure up for 2009.

Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), at Miami, Tulsa, one game to be determined.

Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, Central Florida, UTEP, at Wyoming.

Oklahoma State: Georgia, Rice, Grambling, Houston.

It's understandable why the Longhorns are beating the bushes trying to beef up their nonconference schedule. Because as it stands now, they are definitely behind both the Sooners and the Cowboys in terms of strength of nonconference schedules.

Sooners leaky kickoff coverage unit up for Florida challenge

January, 6, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

Here's how the Sooners jumped the Longhorns

November, 30, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

OK, so the BCS standings have determined Oklahoma as the Big 12 South's title representative at the end of the closest conference race in history.

What does it all mean?

The Sooners are headed for Kansas City with hopes of claiming their history-making third consecutive Big 12 title. But in order to get there, they needed a late blitz in the computer polls that pushed them into the title game past Texas.

The Longhorns defeated the Sooners, 45-35, Oct. 11 in Dallas. While the human elements of the BCS standings seemingly placed greater emphasis on that triumph, the computer rankings were the difference.

Texas and Oklahoma neatly split the USA Today Coaches' poll and the Harris Interactive Poll. The Longhorns made headway in both polls this week from the previous week.

In the Harris polls, Texas jumped ahead of the Sooners this week after trailing them last week. Texas turned around a 21-point edge in the polls and claimed a six-point advantage over the Sooners in this week's Harris poll. Oklahoma was third in the Harris poll last week and Texas was fourth. This week, Texas was third and Oklahoma was fourth.

The Longhorns nearly jumped past the Sooners in the coaches' poll. Oklahoma was second in the coaches' poll last week and Texas was fourth, with a margin of 42 points between them. In this week's poll, Oklahoma was second and Texas was third, with the Sooners ahead by only a point in the coaches' poll.

But the difference came in the six computer rankings that make up the standings. Here's a look at how the two teams were ranked in the polls last week and this week.

(Read full post)

Sooners state case for berth in Big 12 title game

November, 30, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma center Jon Cooper had a few choice words for reporters as he trudged up the walkway after his team's impressive performance to end the regular season.

"If 61 points isn't enough, I don't know what will be," Cooper said.

The Sooners made an eloquent case for their BCS worthiness down the stretch in their 61-41 victory over Oklahoma State. Oklahoma scored on its last eight possessions and even added a 28-yard touchdown run by Chris Brown with 25 seconds left to punctuate the scoring binge.

BCS style points?

Perhaps, although they did come at the end of a 557-yard effort in which the Sooners averaged 6.8 yards per snap.

That triumph pushed them into a three-way tie at 7-1 with Texas Tech and Texas in the Big 12 South Division. Oklahoma lost to Texas, which lost to Texas Tech, which lost to Oklahoma.

That conundrum will mean that the Big 12 will have to go to the fifth tiebreaker to determine which team will advance to Kansas City to play the championship game against Missouri next week.

The fate of the Big 12 now belongs to 114 voters, 64 coaches and six computers.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he expects to be preparing for Missouri in the championship game starting on Sunday.

"I think we have a really good chance," Stoops said. "We played the No. 2 team in the country and won by 44. We played the No. 12 team here tonight where nobody had beat them. Usually it's what you are doing at the end of the year. And we finished up pretty strong."

Some Texas fans wanted to remind Oklahoma fans of their earlier victory over the Sooners Oct. 11 in Dallas by flying over the stadium before and during the game with a banner that read "45-35 settled on a neutral field" prominently displayed.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford noticed and wondered if the whole BCS process hasn't gotten to be too political.

"To me, that's a little ridiculous," Bradford said. "If it comes to that and doesn't happen on what happened on the football [field], maybe we might need to start looking into another direction."

In the most recent BCS standings, Texas is second behind Alabama and is only .0084 of a point ahead of the fourth-place Sooners.

It will now mean the voters will have to decide Sunday whether the Sooners' 20-point victory against their cross-state rivals -- their largest in Stillwater since 1994 -- was impressive enough to jump the Longhorns.

Texas can claim the earlier victory, but Oklahoma can respond with some convincing arguments since that game.

The Sooners are playing their best football of the season, scoring 60 points for the fourth straight game. They were the first team to beat No. 12 Oklahoma State in Stillwater all season.

Oklahoma appears to have the best nonconference victories with triumphs over Cincinnati -- which will make a BCS bowl game -- and TCU. Texas has the best cross-division victory with a convincing home thrashing of Missouri. And Texas Tech has the only victory over Texas, a last-second comeback triumph in Lubbock.

But Texas struggled against Oklahoma State at home last month, winning only after an interception on the last play of the game. And even though Texas provided a strong 49-9 victory over Texas A&M on Thursday night, the Sooners appear to be playing better over the final month of the season.

"All we can do is hope that all we've done over the last couple of weeks has been enough," Bradford said. "If those people looked at how we've done on the road, it does nothing but help our case we should be in Kansas City. It's out of our hands and all we can do is hope it's enough to get us there."

It did not take long for spin doctors from Texas and Texas Tech to send e-mails stating their case for why their team belongs in the BCS.

Texas coach Mack Brown took to the airwaves during the television broadcast to plead his case while the Sooners were playing in the second half.

And Stoops also took the bully pulpit to plead his team's case as well.

But the uncertainty of the voters and computers left Brown with an uneasy feeling as he prepared for what will be a long, restless wait until the results are announced Sunday afternoon.

"Our plans are to be playing in Kansas City, but it's left up to the guys behind the computers," Brown said. "We'll pray that the right thing happens."

Big 12 lunchtime links: Who knew Leach liked Rio Bravo?

November, 11, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Let's get linked up over an early lunch. Lots of good stories across the conference today.

  • Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle does a nice job on a story about the perils of personal web pages for athletes. Best factoid in the piece is that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has a MySpace page where you learn under his personal profile that his favorite movie is Rio Bravo and his interests include pirate history, football and throwing stuff.
  • No more charges about being a "system quarterback." John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald writes that Graham Harrell deserves all of his Heisman Trophy mention he's receiving.
  • Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera writes that Ron Prince didn't receive a fair shake when he was dismissed after less than three seasons at Kansas State. But, Ringo writes, at least Prince gets to move back to civilization after he leaves Manhattan, Kan., for his next job.
  • Forget about the South Division having the Big 12's only potential train wreck that could rely on BCS standings to determine a championship-game participant. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star writes that the North could get thrown into similar turmoil if Kansas upsets Texas and Missouri.
  • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Stateman wonders how Texas can be ranked below Oklahoma, considering the Longhorns' head-to-head victory over the Sooners. One major reason for the Longhorns' erosion in the computer polls might be their weak nonconference schedule, compared to Oklahoma that has beaten two potential conference champions in Cincinnati and TCU -- both who are currently in the BCS top 25.
  • Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald credits defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill's work turning around Texas Tech's defense as an underrated component in the Red Raiders' 10-0 start.

OU must make adjustments to spark turnaround

October, 16, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It's not unprecedented that Oklahoma could come back from a loss to Texas and still win the Big 12 South title and maybe a factor in the national title chase.

But it's going to be very hard.

The Sooners are left with this predicament after suffering a 45-35 loss to the Longhorns last week, twice blowing double-digit leads against their resilient archrivals who are now in the driver's seat for the South Division title.

If Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has any legitimate shot at earning a three-peat of Big 12 titles, he'll need to fix several nagging concerns quickly as the Sooners head into Saturday's pivotal game in Norman against North Division leader Kansas.

The Sooners' biggest concern is replacing playmaking middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds, who was lost for the season after blowing out his right knee early in the third quarter last Saturday.

After Reynolds' departure, the Longhorns took over running the ball, producing 164 rushing yards in the second half. Texas was limited to minus-3 yards rushing in the first half.

Before Reynolds' injury, the Longhorns produced 4.6 yards per snap. After he left the lineup, Texas gashed the Sooners for 8.3 yards per play and outscored the Sooners 25-7 to claim the comeback victory.

Brandon Crow struggled as Reynolds' replacement in the Texas game against both the run and the pass. It is unlikely he'll get the chance to start against Kansas.

Stoops mentioned starting weakside linebacker Travis Lewis as a possible replacement in the middle, but after the redshirt freshman produced 19 tackles against Texas, it is unlikely that he would move. A more plausible solution would be moving his backup, redshirt freshman Austin Box, or junior-college transfers J.R. Bryant and Mike Balogun.

The hole is the middle is present because 2007 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Curtis Lofton left school a year early to declare for the NFL Draft. And heralded 2007 junior-college prospect Mike Reed left school earlier this year, robbing the position of additional depth.

"These other guys are going to have to step up," Stoops said.

Another huge concern has been the Sooners' struggles covering kicks. The Sooners rank 109th nationally, allowing an average of 25.33 yards per kick. They've been burned for touchdowns by Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati and Jordan Shipley of Texas and nearly gave up a touchdown to Aaron Brown of TCU.

The memory of Shipley's return still stings because it enabled the Longhorns to stay in the game when it appeared the Sooners were on the verge of a knockout after going ahead 14-3 early in the game.

"We just haven't been able to get it done," Stoops said.

The Sooners also rank ninth or worse in the Big 12 in punt return average and net punting. It's a very rare problem for a Stoops-coached team to have.

The Oklahoma coach was a pioneer among modern coaches of putting starting players on his special teams. Key contributors like Teddy Lehman, Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams and Trent Smith all had their time on those special-teams units.

But the Sooners have gotten away from that in recent years. Stoops hinted earlier this week that that attitude could change after playing only four starters on the kick coverage unit last week against Texas.

"We aren't doing anything differently, it's just people," Stoops said. "We have got to get the right guys in there who can recognize and be where they need to be. Sometimes, we've been where we needed to be and we just didn't make the play."

The Sooners also need to be more balanced offensively after struggling to run the ball against both Texas and TCU in their last three games. Oklahoma produced 48 yards against the Longhorns after netting 25 against TCU.

"We know that it hasn't been as good as it has been since the beginning of the season," Oklahoma tailback Chris Brown said. "We have to take responsibility for what is going on in the running game. It's not just the offensive line. It's the backs and the complete offense. This is a week where we have to establish our running game and get it back like normal."

Tailback DeMarco Murray is clearly not the same back he was last season before dislocating his kneecap in a late-season loss at Texas Tech. Murray has had only one gain of more than 20 yards this season and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season after averaging 6.0 yards last season.

"We need to be a better run team because we're not trying to be a finesse team," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "If the run game is not going, I have to make it work and give us a chance to win."

Those adjustments will be critical for the Sooners to make immediately. Their Big 12 title hopes will be riding on them.

But the Sooners like their place in the national title hunt midway through the season -- even after the loss to Texas.

"There's still a lot of football left," Lewis said. "There's a lot of football still to be played."

Don't read too much into Big East-Big 12 challenge

September, 18, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I'm able to sit in my office in San Antonio and access radio stations across the Big 12. It's been interesting for me to listen to the "Chicken Little" mentality about the Big 12's slow start against the Big East in the first two games of an unofficial challenge series between the two conferences over the past few days.

Yes, the Big East has jumped to a 2-0 lead. But it also has had a couple of advantages that keep me from worrying too much about the Big 12.

First, we aren't seeing the best Big 12 teams play in this. No Oklahoma. No Missouri. No Texas Tech. No Texas.

Kansas, which was judged to be the fifth-best team in the Big 12, was the highest-ranked team to play when these games started. Colorado was the third or fourth best team in the North Division. And Kansas State and Baylor are expected to struggle to make bowl games.

The Big East's two best teams in the preseason were West Virginia and South Florida. Connecticut was a middle-of-the-pack team. And Louisville was down toward the bottom.

Let's also discount that the Big 12 team was the road team in the first two games and in three of the four games in the series. Or that Oklahoma absolutely throttled Cincinnati in the second week of the season before the "unofficial series" of these games even started.

I was impressed with the performance by both Big East teams so far. Both deserved to win, although if Todd Reesing's pass against South Florida goes to a slightly different location, the Jayhawks win that game.

But no matter. I love it when conferences measure themselves against each other. I'd love to see the Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC and ACC get involved in this as well.

Because it would result in better nonconference football. And with some of the mismatches we all are subjected to at this time of year, better games definitely make for more entertaining Saturdays.

Can Colorado sustain another FCS stunner?

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Colorado is struggling against a Football Championship Series opponent as Eastern Washington has raced to a 21-14 lead over the Buffaloes late in the third quarter.

Eastern Washington QB Matt Nichols and an opportunistic defense has proved troublesome for Colorado. Nichols has passed for 193 yards and J.C. Sherritt added a 48-yard interception return that extended the Eagles' lead to 14 points at the half.

Colorado suffered a similarly demoralizing loss to a FCS school in their last game when the Buffaloes lost to Montana State in Dan Hawkins' first game in 2006.

Texas A&M utilized a couple of big plays to jump to a quick 14-7 lead over New Mexico, despite losing QB Stephen McGee to an apparent shoulder injury. Backup Jerrod Johnson hooked up on a 21-yard scoring pass to freshman Jeff Fuller in his first pass to account for A&M's second TD.

And Oklahoma is facing a tougher-than-expected battle in Norman with a 21-13 lead over Cincinnati.

I'm headed for Mackay Stadium, so this will be the last report for awhile. Talk to you guys later.