Big 12: Clint Bowen

In the spring of 2012, Clint Bowen was just beginning his second stint as a defensive assistant coach at Kansas, yet he already could sense the Jayhawks had a player to build their defense around.

Linebacker Ben Heeney hadn’t been a major contributor during his true freshman season the year before but Bowen knew, almost immediately, Heeney was going to become a major contributor as a sophomore. As the Jayhawks defensive coordinator and linebackers coach watched Heeney separate himself from his teammates during spring drills, he saw the future of KU's defense.

“He ran harder, he ran faster, he hit harder,” Bowen said. “He has an intensity level that is hard for some guys to step up to. It’s just his makeup, he’s an intense guy that plays hard. Even though he hadn’t played linebacker in games yet, early in spring ball it was like, ‘Wow, that guy is moving to the ball with bad intentions.’”

[+] EnlargeHeeney
John Albright/Icon SMIFrom just about Day 1, Kansas coaches say LB Ben Henney has been "moving to the ball with bad intentions."
It was a far cry from the Ben Heeney who stepped on campus as a true freshman.

“I was really nervous when I got here,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the best guy right away. Coming to college was definitely a reality check. Getting comfortable and knowing I could play with these guys made me comfortable.”

The comfort turned into confidence, and the confidence combined with determination to catch the eye of Bowen and the rest of the defensive coaching staff that spring. Two years later Heeney enters spring football preparing to continue his role as the centerpiece of KU’s defense for the third straight season. He recorded 199 tackles in 22 games during his sophomore and junior seasons, earning All-Big 12 second-team honors both seasons.

“His role will be the center of everything on our defense and take control of the situation and make plays,” Bowen said. “He’s our most accomplished guy on the defensive side of the ball as far as production and honors and he’s probably the main leader. When things aren’t going good he’s not afraid to speak up. When you talk leader by example he’s the one you can point to, your best player is the guy who is running the hardest.”

Coming off a season which saw Heeney finish fourth in the Big 12 at 8.7 tackles per game and fifth with 1.15 tackles for loss per game, the senior has clear goals as KU’s spring practices begin today.

“I’m trying to be more consistent in everything I do, be a guy everyone can depend on and be the best leader I can be,” Heeney said. “And I want to focus on trying to force fumbles more. I haven’t really forced many fumbles since I’ve been here, it’s something I want to focus on this spring and continue into next year.”

With individual success already in hand, Heeney hopes his final season in Lawrence, Kan., is full of team success culminating in a NFL dream come true.

“As coaches we hunt for perfection, there’s always things you can improve on,” Bowen said. “He knows fundamentally there are always things he can fix. Who can say 100 tackles doesn’t turn into 115 if you do those little things better? He wants to be the best he can be for our team and for himself.”

Heeney said he has always dreamed of playing in the NFL, and Bowen believes his NFL dream can become a reality. Linebacker Mike Rivera and cornerback Aqib Talib, former Jayhawks who were teammates on the New England Patriots last season, are two players who immediately come to mind when Bowen thinks of former players he has coached who share traits with his current defensive standout.

“His awareness and intensity are like Aqib, his toughness and competitiveness like Rivera,” Bowen said. “If [Heeney] stays healthy he’s on that path [to play in the NFL], he’s that type of guy.”

Breaking down spring camp: Kansas

March, 5, 2013
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Kansas will be the next Big 12 team to take the field for spring practice later today. Time for a closer look.

Schedule: The first of KU's 15 NCAA-allowed practices will be today, leading up to a spring game in Lawrence on April 13.

What's new: Kansas made some minor shifts in its coaching staff, but the real attraction in Lawrence this spring is the influx of junior college talent. We'll get to that a bit later. The biggest staff change is Clint Bowen stepping up to coach the linebackers, replacing DeMontie Cross, who left for TCU this offseason.

New faces: This list is about to get serious, so buckle up. That's what you have to expect when about three-fourths of your class is junior college transfers. Kansas is bringing in 11 players early this spring.
  • CB Colin Spencer
  • DT Marquel Combs
  • OT Zach Fondal
  • OG Ngalu Fusimalohi
  • DT Tedarian Johnson
  • DE Chris Martin
  • CB Dexter McDonald
  • DT Ty McKinney
  • P/KOS Trevor Pardula
  • CB Cassius Sendish
  • OL Mike Smithburg

That's obviously a big haul, and KU's focusing on grabbing an immediate talent upgrade. Whether they have one in reality will show up this spring.

All eyes on: Quarterback Jake Heaps. KU seemed like it was set at the position after Heaps and Dayne Crist transferred from major programs following Charlie Weis' hire. Last year's campaign with Crist went poorly and he was benched midway through the season. Heaps would like better results and has already entrenched himself as a leader like Crist did. Will it lead to better results on the field? We may get a feel for that this spring.

Question marks: Kansas needs receiver help and needs it badly. But I like the defense's chances to make some further strides after some improvements last season under Dave Campo. The receiving unit having no touchdown catches last season is inexcusable, though. It just has to be better. Juco transfer Rodriguez Coleman won't be there in the spring, but guys like Chris Omigie, Tre Parmalee and Andrew Turzilli need to show progress this spring and fill in for the losses of Daymond Patterson and Kale Pick.

Breaking out: Defensive tackle Jordan Tavai. There will be a lot of attention paid to Marquel Combs this spring, but Tavai showed up midway through fall camp last season and earned a starting spot by season's end. After going through the offseason program and having a season under his belt, he could be a new man next fall for the Jayhawks. The senior juco transfer could show off some of that progress this spring.
Here are some lunch links to send you into the afternoon on a cold, blustery day across the Midlands.

Call it my own version of "Chicken Soup for the Big 12 Fan's Soul."

Enjoy them.

Former KU defensive coordinator Bowen interviews with KSU

December, 21, 2009
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It seems hard to fathom the thought of Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen strolling the sideline for Kansas State.

But Bowen, who was ousted along with most of the previous members of Mark Mangino's staff with the arrival of Turner Gill, apparently has talked with Bill Snyder about the vacant defensive coordinator position at KSU.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Bowen interviewed with Snyder last week -- only a couple of days after Gill arrived as the Jayhawks' new coach.

The Wildcats have a vacancy at their defensive coordinator position after Vic Koenning accepted a similar position on Illinois coach Ron Zook's staff last week. The Journal-World reported that Bowen discussed a co-coordinator position for KSU's defense along with a position coaching the Wildcats' defensive backs.

Bowen became the Jayhawks' coordinator in 2008, helping lead them to an 8-5 finish and a victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl despite retooling the secondary midway through the season.

The Kansas defense struggled this season, ranking 74th in total defense, 85th in scoring defense and tied for 95th nationally in pass defense. The Jayhawks allowed at least 31 points in all but one conference game as they collapsed with a seven-game losing streak after starting the season 5-0.

Except for a one season as a player at Butler Community College and a one-season stint as a graduate assistant at Minnesota, most of Bowen's college and coaching career has been spent at Kansas. He was a hard-hitting safety for the Jayhawks during his playing career and has earned the reputation as one of the better recruiters in the state of Kansas.

While at Kansas he had served as a coach of tight ends, running backs, safeties and was special-teams coordinator and co-defensive coordinator after becoming a full-time coach in 2001.

It would be hard to imagine seeing Bowen wear purple-and-white attire along the sideline after so much of his playing and coaching career with the Jayhawks.

But coaching makes f0r some interesting bedfellows.

What we learned in the Big 12, Week 4

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

  • Texas A&M's defense is improved, but still untested. It would be hard to imagine a more valuable player for them than hybrid linebacker/defensive end Von Miller, who has produced a nation-leading eight sacks after three games. The Aggies lead the nation with 14 sacks after producing 16 in 12 games last season. Despite that strong early start, the A&M defense will get a heavy dose of reality Saturday when they face Ryan Mallett and Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, their toughest challenge to date.
  • Mike Leach's inexplicable gamble. It was obvious that the hot, humid conditions at Robertson Stadium contributed greatly to the problem with cramping for both Houston and Texas Tech Saturday night. But those sticky conditions still can’t explain the brain cramp that Leach suffered when he passed on a field goal that would have given his team an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. That decision went against all conventional wisdom because it would have forced the Cougars to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to merely tie the game. Leach’s red-zone hubris ended up costing the Red Raiders the game.
  • Oklahoma State has the Big 12's deepest collection of backs. The development of Oklahoma State freshman running back Jeremy Smith underscores that Cowboys might have the best collection of productive players at that position in the conference. With 2008 leading rusher Kendall Hunter hobbling, Keith Toston rushed for 84 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. And then Smith produced a school freshman record total of 160 rushing yards in the second half. Throw in Beau Johnson and you have a collection of talent that most other schools will be challenged to match once Hunter is healthy.
  • Kansas' defense made a statement with its late stand: For all of the talk about Kansas’ explosive offense, the Jayhawks needed a big defensive effort against Southern Mississippi. And despite some early struggles, the Jayhawks' defense came up big as it turned the Golden Eagles away without scoring on four-straight possessions to salt away the victory. Southern Mississippi was limited to 32 yards on 22 offensive plays in the fourth quarter as the Jayhawks produced three-and-outs in two of the final three drives and allowed one first down on the other drive. The late stand is something for co-coordinators Clint Bowen and Bill Miller to build confidence as they head into conference play.
  • "The Sea of Red" remains constant. How about a shout-out to the Nebraska fans, who packed Memorial Stadium for their 300th consecutive sellout Saturday night? The streak has stretched from Kennedy to Obama, withstanding recessions and even the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan era. The record crowd that jammed the old stadium Saturday night witnessed a vintage performance by the Blackshirts in a 55-0 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. If the Cornhuskers can keep playing like that, the legions of Nebraska fans could be treated to their second championship-game trip of this decade after making three visits in the first four seasons of the Big 12. And that kind of throwback would be a lot more enjoyable to them than any 1960s vintage uniform the Nebraska athletic department might be selling.

Three Big 12 assistants listed among nation's top recruiters

September, 9, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


JC Shurburtt of Scouts Inc. lists the nation's top 25 recruiters among assistant coaches. The Big 12 has three selections on his list, far behind the nine selections from the SEC and six from the ACC.

The Big 12 selections were Texas wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, Oklahoma defensive line coach Jackie Shipp and Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline.

All deserve their selections, but I think a solid case could be made for about 10 others from across the conference.

Other ace recruiters in the Big 12 who could have merited mention include Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, Missouri receivers coach Andy Hill, Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost, Nebraska running backs coach Tim Beck, Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Kansas State defensive ends coach Joe Bob Clements, Oklahoma State special teams coach/associate head coach Joe DeForest, Texas offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and Texas A&M defensive backs coach Van Malone.

And I'm sure I'm missing some other deserving nominees, too.

Kansas will need defense for Big 12 success

June, 4, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas checks in at No. 22 in the preseason rankings compiled by my colleague Mark Schlabach.

The Jayhawks are ranked that high because of a potent offense keyed by quarterback Todd Reesing and a strong cast of offensive weapons around him.

The biggest concern about the Jayhawks has been their defense and specifically the loss of starting linebackers James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season.

Any time you have to replace consistent producers like them, it's a big worry. But it might not necessarily be as troublesome for Kansas as you might expect.

First, Coach Mark Mangino is tinkering with a 4-2-5 defense that he expects he will use in most base situations. It's a good idea because of the heavy aerial attacks in the Big 12, but also because the four players he started in the final six games of the season all return. That group is keyed by a potential big-time producer in strong safety Darrell Stuckey, free safety Phillip Strozier and starting cornerbacks Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson.

But the biggest reason I expect the Jayhawks to improve will be their depth up front along the defensive line. I really like Jake Laptad at defensive end who is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. And I expect junior college transfer Quinton Woods to be an immediate force on the other side.

The Jayhawks also have a nice set of experienced tackles returning in Jamal Greene and Caleb Blakesley. Their experience will help them immeasurably in their second season together as starters.

It will be interesting to see how much the Jayhawks' statistics are altered with the losses at linebacker. Needless to say there's a lot of pressure on returnees like Dakota Lewis and Arist Wright. And I'm intrigued how much playing time that converted running back Angus Quigley will receive.

Another factor that will be interesting in the team's development will be what the addition of veteran co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller means to the group. Bill Young had all kinds of success with the defense and got much of the acclaim for the team that won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago.

When Young left, it was left to first-year coordinator Clint Bowen to start his program. There were some rocky parts along the way, considering they allowed at least 33 points in seven of their final 11 games.

Development in the defense will be the biggest key in the Jayhawks fulfilling their high preseason ranking and determining whether they will be able to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 championship game.

It won't necessarily be a surprise because Kansas' defense might not be as depleted as some might presume.

Kansas season review

December, 15, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

On the heels of last season's Orange Bowl appearance, there was curiosity how much a tougher schedule of South Division opponents would affect Kansas.

After losses to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech by a combined 143-59 margin, it would appear that the tougher schedule had an effect on the 7-5 Jayhawks' season.

That tougher schedule killed their hopes of winning the North Division after a 5-1 start. The Jayhawks fell out of title contention after losing to Nebraska.

The loss of veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young proved critical. New coordinator Clint Bowen's group struggled against better opponents, ranking 87th in scoring defense, 94th in total defense and 113th in pass defense.

Todd Reesing led a potent offense that kept the Jayhawks competitive in most games and sparked a wild comeback victory over Missouri to finish the regular season.

It enabled the Jayhawks to earn a berth in the Insight Bowl against Minnesota. That might not seem like much in the grand scheme of football, but it did enable the Jayhawks to make history.

Coach Mark Mangino's team became the first in Kansas' 119-season football history to make back-to-back bowl appearances. And considering the tougher schedule, that achievement assuredly is an accomplishment.

Offensive player of the year: QB Todd Reesing. Sometimes overshadowed by the other quarterbacks in the league, Reesing broke his own school records for completions (302), attempts (406) and passing yards (3,575) as he threw 28 touchdown passes. He capped his season with a gutsy four-TD effort against Missouri which should resonate through the offseason.

Defensive player of the year: LB James Holt. The most consistent player on an inconsistent defense, Holt was involved in every facet of Kansas' defense. Holt shared the Big 12 lead with 15.5 tackles for loss and six fumbles forced. He was the Jayhawks' best blitzer with seven sacks and led the team with 97 tackles.

Turning point: The Jayhawks rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat Iowa State after Mangino inserted Jake Sharp in the lineup after he had seldom played in the season's first four games. Sharp emerged as a consistent rusher, finishing as the Big 12's third-leading rusher in conference games with 710 yards over the final eight games.

What's next: A victory over slumping Minnesota in the bowl game would help build confidence heading into the offseason. And with the return of key players like Reesing, Sharp, Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier, a run at the Big 12 North title wouldn't be out of the question next season -- even with a tough slate of Big 12 South opponents again next season.

Big 12 internal affairs: Nebraska borrowed Suh's TD play from Texas

November, 12, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few tidbits from around the league as teams prepare for games on Saturday:

1. Imitation is apparently the sincerest form of flattery. Or at least from Nebraska it is. The Cornhuskers picked up the idea of throwing to massive 300-pound defensive tackle/blocking back Ndamukong Suh in a short-yardage situation from watching how Texas had used Roy Miller in a similar role against Oklahoma earlier this season. "We stole it from them," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. The result was a pivotal 2-yard TD pass that help spark the Cornhuskers' fourth-quarter offensive eruption against Kansas last week.

2. With an extra week to prepare for their huge game against Texas Tech next week, Oklahoma is desperately trying to improve its kickoff coverage. The Sooners were blistered for a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week by Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M -- an NCAA-worst third touchdown on a kickoff return allowed by the Sooners this season. Texas Tech's return game is one of the least potent parts of the Red Raiders' surging attack, but Bob Stoops and other Sooner coaches will be up late this week scheming to improve that part of their special teams.

3. Even with Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins' big second-half comeback against Iowa State last week, look for freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen to still get playing time this week against Oklahoma State. As strong as Hawkins looked in directing Colorado's passing game, Hansen's running skills are still considered a plus that gives the Buffaloes a change of pace. And that balance will be huge as the Buffaloes try to become bowl eligible by winning one of their final two games of the season.

4. Kansas coach Mark Mangino isn't concerned about whether new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen's scheme is working. The Jayhawks' recent defensive problems are more basic than that. Mangino has been harping on the team's basic tackling skills -- both in the box and in the open field. And that's a bad problem against the athletes that Jayhawks will be facing from Texas and Missouri in their final two games of the season.

5. So much for sportsmanship. Consider this exchange at the end of the Missouri-Kansas State game between Gary Pinkel and Kansas State coach Ron Prince. After Missouri went for it with a safe run on a fourth-and-12 from the KSU 13 with a 41-10 lead rather than kick an easy field goal, the Wildcats quickly scored against Missouri's backups and then tried an onside kick to regain possession on the next play.

Pinkel said on his radio show this week that he would have kicked the field goal if he had known that Prince would later try the onside kick. "I was trying to be a nice guy, but I guess I learned it doesn't pay to be nice," Pinkel said in comments reported in the Columbia Tribune. "I'm done being nice."

Pinkel proved that on the next play after regaining possession. He reinserted backup quarterback Chase Patton, who tried to throw a deep pass on the first play from scrimmage that went incomplete. But it was his answer to Prince's onside kick.

Halftime update: Tech 35, KU 14

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The biggest question coming into the game was how Texas Tech's defense would play against a good offense.

After 30 minutes, defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill's unit has answered that question with ringing authority.

The Red Raiders have contributed three third-down stops and a critical fumble recovery to provide the difference in Tech's convincing 35-14 halftime advantage over sputtering Kansas.

Tech's defensive front has been able to pressure Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing with a four-man rush, contributing three third-down stops and a sack that turned into a fumble that was turned into the Red Raiders' final touchdown drive.

The Red Raiders have played offense with cold-blooded efficiency, scoring five touchdowns on their first five possessions in the half before failing on their final possession at the end of the half.

Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has barely been pressured. He's taken advantage of his pass blocking to complete 22 of 26 passes for 274 yards for four touchdowns, involving seven receivers in his mix.

And Tech's underrated running game has provided a lift with 87 rushing yards and 7.9 yards per carry to keep the Kansas defense off balance and keep Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen harried for an answer.

For good measure, Harrell even contributed a season-best 13-yard scramble that helped extend a scoring drive early in the second quarter.

Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams is quickly becoming a footnote -- literally and figuratively. His only action has been on five extra points and he's converted all of them without a problem.

Midseason report: Kansas

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas (5-1, 2-0): The Jayhawks have quietly crept into first place in the North Division, thanks mainly to the sterling early play of quarterback Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier's receiving and the re-emergence of tailback Jake Sharp. Kansas' only loss came after fritting away an early 17-point lead against South Florida in a game where Reesing later rallied to nearly win it. They also showed resilience by charging back to beat Iowa State. And the defense is showing promise as it gains confidence under new coordinator Clint Bowen.

Offensive MVP, Todd Reesing: He might not be getting the publicity of a lot of quarterbacks in his conference, but statistically he ranks with them. Reesing ranks third nationally in completions (28.5 cpg), fifth in total offense (346.8 ypg) and passing yards (330 ypg), 12th in pass efficiency and 13th in points responsible. He's had to do a lot in the first half of the season and the recent surge by Sharp might help lessen what is asked of him.

Defensive MVP, Darrell Stuckey: For a unit that was supposed to struggle without Aqib Talib, he's led a very productive set of defensive backs, notching at least four tackles in every game. He leads the secondary in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions. The Jayhawks rank in the top 35 in each of the four major statistical categories, including 20th in pass efficiency defense, and Stuckey is a big reason.

What's next: Sharp's return to form promises big things to help balance Kansas' offense. Mark Mangino has been fretting about his struggling special teams play and will have that as his major concern for the rest of the season. The Jayhawks have a huge two-game swing with games at Oklahoma and against Texas Tech that could determine if they are legitimate North Division title contenders. If they can get a split, there's a great chance they might be playing for the North Division title Nov. 29 against Missouri.

Big 12 internal affairs: Geer's return bolsters CU

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few items to watch for around the Big 12 this week

1. Expect a more balanced Colorado offensive attack against West Virginia with the return of TE Riar Geer, who missed the last two games with a sprained knee. His return will give the Buffaloes an intermediate receiving threat important against West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense. Don't be surprised if it also boosts the confidence of QB Cody Hawkins, who will have his favorite target from last season returning.

2. Despite being overshadowed by linebacking mates Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera, Kansas LB James Holt is being used as the team's top blitzer in new coordinator Clint Bowen's schemes. Holt responded with a game-high 13 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles while thriving in his new role against South Florida.

3. Junior-college transfer RB Keithen Valentine will get the majority of playing time against Louisville and not just because of his rushing abilities. Kansas State coaches think the 5-foot-8, 197-pound Valentine is the best antidote they have for Louisville's blitz tendencies.

4. Don't be surprised if Missouri opts to bench S William Moore for this week's game against Buffalo. Moore, the Tigers' inspirational leader and best defensive back, tweaked his injured ankle against Nevada. The Tigers would like to have him as near to 100 percent as possible for the start of conference play Oct. 4 at Nebraska.

5. Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud got all the snaps except for three series against Iowa. Despite that imbalance, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik remains committed to a two-quarterback system where Phillip Bates will see some playing time in every game. Chizik likes to use his quarterbacks depending on feel. He expects to use both this week against UNLV.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The quote of the day comes from Scott Wright of the Oklahoman, who caught up with Troy coach Larry Blakeney and asked him about Oklahoma State's aim for revenge after losing at Troy last season. "They might have a bonfire and burn some of T. Boone's money to get ready for the game," Blakeney said, referring to the megabuck Oklahoma State booster.

Meanwhile, new Baylor coach Art Briles has shucked a traditional playbook in favor of his new team learning his philosophies by seeing and doing rather than reading. It's targeted to a younger generation that doesn't have the attention span to sit and learn by reading a book.

"It does require a lot of film study, because you've got to know what to do in live action in case anything happens," junior receiver Ernest Smith told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "If there's a check or an audible, you've got to be able to react fast. I've watched a lot of U of H film ... just getting familiar with it all."

Briles was successful with his new-age strategy, at least if four bowl appearances in the last five seasons at Houston is any indication. We'll see how it works at Baylor this season.

And for those readers out there who are too impatient to wade through 20 newspapers that cover the Big 12, I've take something from Briles' approach. Here's a condensed version of what's happening around the conference in about 20 quick links.

  • Kansas sophomore RB Carmon Boyd-Anderson has opted to transfer from the program for "personal reasons," the Kansas City Star reported.
  • A massive offensive line has prompted a new word around the Colorado team to describe them: "gifreakinnormous."
  • Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler has to cover Iowa State and Iowa relatively equally. That's why he listed his top 23 ranking for a combination of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences on his blog. Hope that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't see this. He might get an idea for some kind of "gifreakinnormous" super-conference.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran unearthed an interesting nugget buried deeply in Ron Prince's new contract.
  • Colorado DE Drew Hudgins will miss the season with a knee injury. Hudgins told the Denver Post he plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.
  • Massive Texas A&M FB Jorvorskie Lane tells the Houston Chronicle's Terrance Harris that he's come to terms with his lessened role in the Aggies' backfield.
  • New Texas director of high school relations and player development Ken Rucker is credited for the Longhorns' lack of off-the-field incidents this summer, according to Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls.
  • Mike Leach's European vacation is fodder for the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger's report on Texas Tech. Leach earlier described the trip as something like the Griswolds might have made.

(Read full post)

Big 12 links: A cleaner Folsom Field

August, 6, 2008
8/06/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's always struck me how different Colorado seems from the rest of the Big 12 every trip I make to Boulder.

The scenery for Folsom Field is breathtaking, making it one of the jewels of college football. And school officials and fans seem intent to keep it that way, too.

Colorado school officials announced Tuesday that they are pledging "zero waste" at home games, hoping to recycle 90 percent of the 10 tons of trash generated at each home game this season. They are even offering valet parking for those fans who arrive at games on bicycles.

Such environmental recognition is refreshing -- particularly considering some of the mounds of empty nacho cartons and liquor bottles I've had to wade through heading out of stadiums over the years. It's commendable, but I'm thinking that only in Boulder can you valet-park your bicycle close to a stadium.

Hopefully, these morning links won't prove to be quite as disposable to my readers. Sorry the links are a little light today. The hamsters powering the wireless at the beautiful Fairfield Inn in Topeka, Kan., must have been tired this morning. Some of the more involved Web sites -- yeah, I'm talking about you guys at the Oklahoman -- were difficult to access.

  • Only three Big 12 coaches grace the cover of their team's media guides this season, according to Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star. They are Kansas' Mark Mangino, Baylor's Art Briles and Iowa State's Gene Chizik. It's particularly hard to believe that Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't found on the cover of the Cornhuskers' guide. At least until he plays his first game, Bo is bigger than the program there.
  • This isn't a misprint. Baylor's offensive line might be a team strength this season for a change, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.
  • Take a number and wait your turn. Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is sorting through reps for six quarterbacks this summer.
  • Like most college freshmen, TB Darrell Scott's introduction to college football is coming with some growing pains, the Denver Post's Tom Kensler writes. Superman has to learn to crawl before he can fly, I guess.
  • Converted WR L.A. Reed is working with Texas Tech's first-team defense at cornerback. Reed has been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders. If he can bring that same desire to covering wide receivers, Big 12 wide receivers better beware.
  • New Texas defensive coordinator Will "Mr. Boom" Muschamp wants to turn up the defensive pressure this season -- even if he doesn't always see many sacks against the Big 12's spread offenses.
  • The Oklahoman's Scott Wright says in a video chat that Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew might be the state's top NFL prospect this season.
  • Oklahoma backup QB Landry Jones isn't flinching, despite the likelihood that he'll be watching a lot of Sam Bradford for the immediate future.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown talked about why playing two quarterbacks will be important this season on "Jim Rome Is Burning." The neatest part of the interview could be seen in the background with the new additions at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium highlighted.
  • Bo Pelini's early emphasis has been on producing turnovers. His Cornhuskers have a long way to go, however, considering they had one forced turnover over the final seven games in 2007. "It's embarrassing," CB Armando Murillo told the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Rosenthal. "I'm not going to lie. It is."
  • Maybe those national title expectations are a pretty good inspiration. Missouri LB Van Alexander returned to practice several weeks ahead of schedule after off-season knee surgery.
  • New Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is a tried and true Jayhawk, according to the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff. Bowen used to sell soft drinks at Memorial Stadium as a kid, hustling to get rid of his first tray and then knocking off to watch the game. Bowen told me an even better story yesterday about how he and his brothers "know every crack" in the stadium from sneaking into the facility at other games.
  • Kansas RB Jocques Crawford admitted to some mixed feelings watching Kansas beat Memphis, his father's old alma mater, for the national basketball championship earlier this year.
  • Anybody in the Sunflower State with a little extra room in their attic? The city of Wichita is threatening to evict the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame from its city-owned home within 30 days, the Wichita Eagle reports. Who knows, you might get a Wilt Chamberlain warm-up suit or a jersey worn by Veryl Switzer in the deal?
  • Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has backtracked a little, saying that Marlon Lucky is still his team's No. 1 I-back. But Watson added that Roy Helu Jr. will also get reps with the No. 1 offense.

State of Big 12 looks stronger than ever

August, 4, 2008
8/04/08
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas coach Mack Brown has been around college football long enough to know about how a conference's national perception can be shaped even before a season begins.

Brown has taken the bully pulpit all summer that the Big 12 is at its strongest level that he's ever seen heading into his 11th season coaching the Longhorns.

"This will be the best balanced league since I've been here," said Brown, the league's current dean of coaches.

Coaches voting in the USA Today poll released last week appear to agree with Brown. Five Big 12 teams are ranked among the top 14 teams in the country. That concentration at the top is more than any other conference in the country. It's also the most Big 12 teams ranked that highly in the history of the conference.

A boatload of returning quarterbacks has made most observers think the Big 12 again will be an offensive league. That will come after conference teams averaged a record 31.2 points and 428.7 total yards per game in conference play last season.

Because of that, a serious case could be made that any of five returning starters -- Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas' Colt McCoy, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Kansas' Todd Reesing -- could have a legitimate chance for a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City in December. That is, if they can combine a big statistical season with luck and team success.

But Brown says the Big 12 will be better for other reasons.

"Everybody is better," Brown said. "And it's not only because of the quarterbacks, but also because all of the coaches have done such a great job. Everybody in this league has got a good football team now. And because of that, you can no longer just plan on winning a game in this league. You're going to have to earn the right to win it."

The offensive swing should continue as 10 teams return starting quarterbacks from last season. Only Iowa State and Nebraska are looking for a new starter. And although Nebraska lost Sam Keller, all backup Joe Ganz did was pass for 1,399 yards and 15 touchdowns in his final three starts last season.

That offensive firepower and the lack of defensive depth across the conference should result in a lot of shootouts again this season.

The Sooners made history last season by claiming the league's first back-to-back championship. It marked Coach Bob Stoops' fifth Big 12 championship in the last eight seasons. But another stumble in a BCS bowl -- the Sooners' fourth-straight BCS bowl-game loss -- has diminished some of Stoops' luster and made the Sooners hungry for redemption on a larger scale.

Missouri is picked to be the Sooners' biggest challenger for the title, despite losing twice to them last season. Daniel and most of his offense is back. The Tigers also won't have to potentially face the Sooners this season until the championship game - which will be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Texas Tech, Kansas and Missouri all have the highest expectations in more than 30 years as each looks for its first Big 12 championship. All will be looking for their first Big 12 title as they try to break up the Oklahoma-Texas logjam that has resulted in six of the conference's eight last championships.

Another trend to watch will be seen as three of the conference's top five contenders will be breaking in new defensive coordinators. Fiery Will Muschamp arrives at Texas from Auburn. Wily veteran Bill Young left Kansas for Miami, paving the ascension for his protégé Clint Bowen as his replacement. And Ruffin McNeill was hired as Texas Tech's permanent defensive coordinator after serving as the Red Raiders' interim defensive coordinator most of last season.

With all of the league's elite seemingly so strong on offense, defense will likely determine the conference winner. Oklahoma and Missouri appear to have the best defensive units from those five power teams heading into the season.

Whether that strength will enable the Big 12 to make a forceful assertion as the nation's strongest conference will be determined as the season plays out. LSU was able to make its claim for a shot at the national championship with two regular-season losses and a couple of narrow escapes in 2007.

A Big 12 team has never been able to lose that many games and still be in the national title hunt. It will be interesting if Brown's early spinning and similar comments from other league coaches sell that notion to enough balloters that it could become a reality in December.

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