Big 12: Cordero Moore
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Some Big 12 position groups are clearly above others as far as raw talent and athleticism. Here's a look at some of the most dominant in the conference.
Oklahoma's front seven: The Sooners go two-deep in talent in the defensive line and linebackers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy anchors the defensive front and is an Outland Trophy candidate. Adrian Taylor and Cordero Moore also are capable players. The Sooners have the best collection of defensive ends in college football with Frank Alexander, Jeremy Beal, R.J. Washington and Auston English. Travis Lewis could develop into one of the finest linebackers in Oklahoma history and Mike Balogun, Brandon Crow and Keenan Clayton all are expected to contribute. If heady team leader Ryan Reynolds comes back from his knee injury, this group could rival any in the country -- if it doesn't already.
Texas' secondary: After producing only six interceptions last season, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp ratcheted up competition among defensive backs. The results were seen in the spring, when the group was the best defensive backfield group I saw in the conference. Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown have emerged as starters at the corners with Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley providing backup. Safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott both are emerging, but the key player might be sophomore safety Earl Thomas, who played the nickel position with tenacity and abandon. It's not a stretch to say that two Thorpe Award winners could emerge out of this group in the next several years.
Colorado's running backs: The Buffaloes seemingly have a back for every situation with the deepest backfield in the conference. Darrell Scott appears intent on making a comeback after a disappointing freshman season. Rodney Stewart looks recovered from a broken leg sustained last season that kept him from rushing for 1,000 yards. Sophomore Brian Lockridge appears to be the fastest back and 215-pound Demetrius Sumler is the biggest back with the best inside running ability among the group. This group will serve as the backbone for the Buffaloes' hopes of returning to a bowl game and perhaps their dark horse challenge for the Big 12 North title.
Kansas' wide receivers: Dezmon Briscoe missed all of spring practice for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but is back to serve as one of the nation's most explosive deep talents. Coach Mark Mangino hopes to be able to permanently switch Kerry Meier to receiver for his senior season after a breakout season in 2008. Meier and Briscoe were two of the nation's top-15 receivers last season when they combined for 189 catches, 2,452 yards and 23 touchdown grabs. And Wilson emerged as quarterback Todd Reesing's go-to receiver in the spring when Briscoe was gone, notching six catches in the spring game. Add Rod Harris, Tertavian Ingram and Raimond Pendleton and it might be among the most potent pass-catching groups in the nation.
Nebraska's running backs: With unproven Zac Lee starting at quarterback, look for Shawn Watson to lean heavily on a pair of talented returning backs. Quentin Castille trimmed about 20 pounds to get into better shape and leading returning rusher Roy Helu Jr. boosted his weight by 24 pounds to become a more powerful rusher between the tackles. Together, it wouldn't be a stretch that the two backs could combine for 2,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns if both can stay healthy.
Iowa State's running backs: With new offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over with a spread offensive attack, a talented array of running backs still will have frequent opportunities to contribute. Leading returning rusher Alexander Robinson could be poised to become one of the most underrated rusher/receiver combination backs in the conference. But Robinson will have to fight for playing time with a stacked group that also includes bruising redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz and heralded University of Florida transfer Bo Williams. Herman will be able to utilize all three backs in a variety of roles.
Missouri's defensive ends: The Tigers appeared loaded before spring practice with Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith back, but redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has developed into an immediate contributor. Converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt Marcus Marlbrough also had strong springs, leading Gary Pinkel to say it was his best group of defensive ends he's ever had at Missouri.
Texas Tech's wide receivers: Even after losing two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and Eric Morris, the Red Raiders developed several potential playmakers during the spring. Edward Britton appeared to have crawled out of Mike Leach's doghouse with strong late production. New quarterback Taylor Potts should have many productive targets including Detron Lewis, Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, walk-on flanker Adam Torres, 6-foot-7 Adrian Reese and redshirt freshmen Austin Zouzalik and Eric Ward. The Red Raiders won't have two players grab the majority of balls like Crabtree and Morris did in recent seasons. Instead, they will feature a more balanced attack featuring eight to 10 receivers capable of thriving in a tag-team approach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
An extra week of work provided Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops with ample time to tweak his offense and defense as he prepares for Saturday's game against Texas Tech.
But his biggest area of concern has been a facet of the game that has caused him to break out in a cold sweat the last few weeks as he analyzes their struggles.
Oklahoma has a marvelous offensive machine and a potent defensive unit that has a knack for making big plays.
But the Sooners can't cover kicks, among other special teams maladies. There's no way to sugarcoat those facts as Stoops struggles with what collectively might be his most unproductive special teams unit in his coaching tenure.
"There are no magic words," Stoops told reporters last week. "You can't work it anymore than we have."
During the off week, the Sooners looked better in kick coverage. But Stoops can't be sure how his group will play until it takes the field for Saturday's showdown against Texas Tech.
The biggest concern has been kickoff coverage. Oklahoma allowed Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard to return a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the second game of the season. Jordan Shipley's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown kick-started the Longhorns' 45-35 comeback victory. And Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown in the Sooners' most recent game. Gray totaled a school-record 261 kickoff return yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Kicking problems for the power elite. I'm baffled at the kicking woes that have befallen the Big 12's top three teams. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all have struggled in recent weeks with reliable field-goal kicking. Usually sure Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence shanked kicks of 44 and 20 yards before he was removed for Ryan Bailey. Oklahoma kicker Jimmy Stevens missed from 30 yards and was involved in a sideline argument with 297-pound defensive tackle Cordero Moore. Despite his size disadvantage television replays showed the kicker grab the bigger player's facemask. And Texas Tech's prolonged slump with Donnie Carona makes that facet perhaps the Red Raiders' biggest question mark.
Of course, the three teams rank second (Oklahoma), third (Texas Tech) and fifth (Texas) in scoring in the national statistics through games of this week. What it's meant are that coaches for those three power squads have been more than willing to go for touchdowns rather than settle for field goals most of the season. But somewhere down the line, all will likely have to depend on a clutch kick. And I'm not sure that any of the coaches would feel certain about their chances today if they had to line up for a game-winning 45-yard kick to decide a BCS bowl trip.
2. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson might be the conference's most underrated play caller. Watson cooked up a little bit of everything for Kansas on Saturday. Direct snaps to Marlon Lucky in the "Joker" package resulted in a touchdown pass thrown by the senior I-back. A pass to 300-pound defensive tackle-turned-fullback Ndamukong Suh produced another score. Another strong effort by Joe Ganz, the conference's most consistently underrated quarterback. It's not your father's Cornhuskers, but they looked pretty impressive on Saturday in stretching their home winning streak to 20 games against Kansas. It's likely pushed the Cornhuskers into a likely trip to the Sun Bowl and invaluable extra practice with the upcoming bowl trip.
3. Where were the Aggies? Texas A&M former students like to talk about the tradition and honor that the school has. But where were all the fans when two senior players who had played huge roles in the program in their career -- quarterback Stephen McGee and tailback Jorvorskie Lane - when Lane scored a late touchdown in garbage time against Oklahoma. Watching on television, I saw a lot of Aggies disguised as empty seats at Kyle Field at the end of the game.
4. Texas Tech's offensive line is the most underrated strength of the team. I stirred up a hornet's nest in my hot and not section Friday afternoon when I mentioned that the Red Raiders' line was not hot because it had allowed four sacks in the last two weeks. Relatively speaking, they were struggling because they had only allowed one sack all season before those two games against Kansas and Texas.
Maybe that inspired them, but the Red Raiders were in prime form in the trenches Saturday night against Oklahoma State as the major reason why Tech erupted for 629 yards -- Tech's fourth 600-yard performance of the season. Graham Harrell was barely touched en route to a 456-yard, six-TD pass performance. And Tech also rushed for 113 yards, its 10th straight 100-yard rushing performance.
5. Sunday dinner at the Hawkins' household in Boulder likely will be more pleasant today, I bet. The dramatic comeback orchestrated by Cody Hawkins took a lot of heat off his dad. The Buffaloes showed offensive flashes in their best half of the season against Iowa State. The big comeback likely will have the younger Hawkins in the starting lineup for the Buffaloes' final two games, making Misti Hawkins' meat loaf and broccoli casserole taste much better for all of those who are partaking at their table today.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Greetings from Owen Field, where TCU will attempt to keep up its surprising recent winning ways over the Sooners.
The Horned Frogs don't figure to be intimidated by any kind of aura about playing at Owen Field. They've won four of their last five games in Norman, including the shocking opener from the 2005 season. Several key Oklahoma players are still around from that game.
Oklahoma has much to play for tonight. Their performance will be judged against the winner of the Georgia/Alabama game to determine the No. 1 position when the polls are released.
The Sooners haven't been No. 1 since Mike Stoops left the program to become the head coach at Arizona. It's been fashionable in many circles to say that Bob Stoops has never been able to return the program to that level since then, particularly from national sources who don't realize the domination the Sooners have had in the Big 12. So it would be an important accomplishment for Bob Stoops if his team could rise to that level.
But TCU would be able to show something to the country with an upset. The Horned Frogs cracked the Top 25 and could continue a march to the first BCS bowl berth in school history with a win tonight.
TCU is a much better program than in 2005, at least in terms of personnel, because TCU coach Gary Patterson has been attracting better athletes into his program. The best example of that is along the defensive front. Many teams would have taken a step back after losing key producers like Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz. So what has Patterson done? Just plug in guys like 2008 starters Jerry Hughes and Matt Panfil.
A hot night is expected with temperatures expected to be around 90 degrees at kickoff. Here are some things I'm interesting in watching from the (thankfully) air-conditioned press box tonight.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma's defensive depth will be tested with the loss of defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, although the Sooners likely have players who can fill in for the injured player.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters on Wednesday that team doctors haven't decided what will be the next step of Granger's rehabilitation from the injury, which Stoops told the Oklahoman newspaper is a detached tendon in his foot.
Doctors could opt for extended rest or surgery. Rest would mean he would likely miss three or four games. Surgery would end his season.
Granger's injury occurred when he was manhandled by three Washington players late in the second quarter of the Sooners' 55-14 victory last week. Television replays showed that one of the players punched Granger while he was pinned on his back.
On the previous play, Granger had shoved Washington G Casey Bulyca to the turf after a false start penalty on the Huskies. Granger was flagged 15 yards for a personal foul on the play, starting a shoving match between the two teams.
The 6-foot-2, 302-pound Granger was a heralded recruit who made 11 starts for the Sooners last season. He came on late in the season with big games against Oklahoma State and Missouri in the Big 12 championship, earning All-Big 12 second team honors by the coaches and honorable mention by the Associated Press.
But he landed firmly in Stoops' doghouse when he was arrested for shoplifting before the Fiesta Bowl and sent home by bus.
Granger was slowed with preseason back and conditioning programs but had worked his way back into Oklahoma's regular rotation. But he had lost his starting position to sophomore Adrian Taylor in the first three games of the season. Granger had notched six tackles, 1.5 tackles for losses and a fumble recovery so far this season.
Gerald McCoy and Taylor will remain as the starters at the position with senior Cory Bennett providing depth at both positions. Junior Cordero Moore replaced Granger in the rotation against Washington. And if Granger is out for the rest of the season, the Sooners might consider bringing freshmen Casey Walker or Stacy McGee out of their redshirts for the rest of the season.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State