Big 12: Craig Ochs
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.
Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.
Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?
Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.
Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.
But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.
Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.
As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.
But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.
The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.
It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.
Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?
Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.
Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.
If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.
I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.
Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.
Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.
Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.
But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.
But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.
David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."
But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?
I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b
e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.
Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.
It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.
It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.
I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.
I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
A Buffalo stampede: Brown's six-touchdown binge boosts CU into its first championship game
Date: Nov. 23, 2001
Place: Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo.
Score: Colorado 62, Nebraska 36
Colorado came into the 2001 regular-season finale with a marked lack of success against old nemesis Nebraska. The Buffaloes had lost their last nine games in the series against the Cornhuskers coming into that game.
But Gary Barnett's team turned the tables by pulverizing the Cornhuskers' "Blackshirt" defense for 380 rushing yards and 582 total yards in a dramatic upset that was punctuated by delirious Colorado fans ripping a goalpost down in exultation.
The best way to shake those previous disappointments would be to get out to a fast start. But Colorado outdid itself by jumping to three early touchdowns in less than six minutes at the start of the game en route to a 28-3 lead after one quarter.
Bobby Purify started the avalanche with a 39-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game.
After Nebraska's Dahrann Diedrick fumbled on the Cornhuskers' next possession, Colorado wasted little time. Quarterback Bobby Pesavento hooked up with tight end Daniel Graham on a 21-yard touchdown only 20 seconds after the first score for a 14-0 lead.
Colorado forced a change of possession and another long pass from Pesavento to Graham set up Pesavento's 1-yard keeper and a 21-0 lead.
Bullish Colorado tailback Chris Brown then got involved in a big way. Brown added touchdown runs of 12, 1 and 36 yards before halftime to extend Colorado's lead to 42-23 by the break.
The Cornhuskers looked poised to re-enter the game after Eric Crouch's 6-yard touchdown run pulled them within 42-30 early in the third quarter.
But Brown added Colorado's knockout punch by scoring three-straight touchdowns to put the game away during a period of only 189 seconds early in the fourth quarter.
His 1-yard plunge capped a 93-yard drive to extend Colorado's lead to 49-30.
Safety Michael Lewis intercepted Crouch several plays later, leading to a 13-yard touchdown gallop by Brown.
And after another interception by Colorado linebacker Joey Johnson, Brown added his school-record sixth rushing touchdown of the game on an 8-yard scoring run with 9:41 left in the game.
Crouch produced a 7-yard touchdown run with 7:14 to finish the scoring but it was too late. The Buffaloes claimed the victory that catapulted them into the Big 12 title game for the first time in school history.
Factoids to note: Brown rushed for 198 yards on 24 carries and Purify added 154 rushing yards. Pesavento chipped in with 202 passing yards on only nine completions ... At the time, it was the most points ever scored against Nebraska, topping their previous total of 61 scored by Minnesota in 1945 ... The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Cornhuskers coming into the game. Nebraska had been the No. 1 team in the BCS poll for the previous four weeks ... Crouch rushed for 168 yards and passed for 198 yards to set Nebraska's total offense record, but was victimized by two critical fourth-quarter interceptions ... Pesavento was starting for the Buffaloes only because starter Craig Ochs had been injured earlier in the season ... Colorado produced 223 rushing and 415 total yards in the first half. ... Colorado had lost the previous five games in the Nebraska series before the 2001 blowout by a combined 15 points ... The two teams combined for 1134 yards -- 582 by Colorado and 552 for Nebraska.
They said it, part I: "With the way the offensive line and Dan Graham were blocking, it was easy. The holes were huge. We weren't getting touched until we were 10 yards down the field," Colorado's Chris Brown on the way he was able to rip through the Nebraska defense.
They said it, part II: "You never think it will go like this, obviously. But once in a while, it all works. Sixty-two points is almost too overwhelming for me. It's going to take a while to sink in," Colorado coach Gary Barnett on the underdog Buffaloes' blowout victory.
They said it, part III: "We really had a big dream. But those are over with now. This is going to be a tough one to swallow," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch on a loss that seemingly ended the Cornhuskers' national title hopes. But more on that later.
The upshot: The Buffaloes wild victory pushed them into the Big 12 title game the following week in Irving, Texas, where they notched another upset victory over Texas to claim the first and only Big 12 football title in Colorado school history.
Colorado's 39-37 conquest knocked Texas out of the national title hunt and catapulted Nebraska back into the national title game. The Cornhuskers then were hammered by Miami, 37-14, to finish an 11-2 season that left them No. 8 in the final Associated Press media poll.
The Colorado loss was thought to have diminished Crouch's Heisman chances, but a loss by Florida's Rex Grossman against Tennessee the following week resuscitated them. Crouch then won the Heisman in a close 62-vote margin over Grossman, who finished second.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl wasn't as fortunate. The late losses by big scores in 2001 and a defensive collapse the following season led to his ouster at the end of the 2002 regular season.
It can also be argued that Nebraska coach Frank Solich never recovered from the Colorado loss and resulting loss in the national title game at the end of the 2001 season. He was fired after Nebraska won its regular-season finale in 2003.
Colorado made its only BCS bowl appearance after that 2001 triumph over Nebraska. But the Buffaloes' late-season success unraveled in a 38-16 loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, concluding a 10-3 season that saw them finish the season No. 9 in the final AP poll.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a passing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the
rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I haven't had a mailbag in a couple of weeks because of some outstanding assignments. The letters have kept coming in, including some questions that were interesting. I thought this thought-provoking query from a reader in Nebraska merited its own answer in a separate post, along with a chart that explains my answer.
So here's the bonus question and watch Friday for a usual mailbag coming. It will have a lot of topical questions and answers about Big 12 football.
Jack Nelson from Lincoln, Neb.: Hey Tim, love your blog. But I've got one question after reading your post about Colorado the other day. How can you discount Nebraska's returning talent when you compare them against the Buffaloes or anybody else in the North. Any reasons that you think the Buffaloes stack up better than the Cornhuskers?
Griffin: Jack, thanks for the compliment and also know that I thought only that Colorado could be competitive in the North because of an experienced, deep running game, along with a strong returning offensive line.
But the major reason I might discount the Cornhuskers is because of the lack of experience at quarterback. In the history of the Big 12, only one championship quarterback has been able to win a championship in the same season he made his first collegiate start.
That would be Sam Bradford of Oklahoma in 2007. And Bradford had a pretty strong supporting case around him on that 2007 team -- certainly better than any team in the Big 12 North this season.
My experienced quarterback theory will be tested this season as three of the five teams that shared part of the division championships last season -- Missouri, Nebraska and Texas Tech - all will be starting quarterbacks with no previous experience as a collegian.
All are untested. And the North Division particularly could be an area where a team with an experienced quarterback could have an edge with either Todd Reesing at Kansas or Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins at Colorado all having an experience edge with previous starts coming into the season.
I just think that previous starting experience is critical in college football. And it will take a special kind of quarterback to be able to win a title without previous college starting experience at the position.
Here's a look at the Big 12 championship teams over the years, who they had playing quarterback and their previous starting experience.
- 1996 Texas: James Brown had more than a year of starting experience coming into the season.
- 1997 Nebraska: Scott Frost had a year of starting experience coming into the season.
- 1998 Texas A&M: Both Branndon Stewart and Randy McCown had started games in previous seasons before their championship year.
- 1999 Nebraska: Eric Crouch had started most of the games in the previous season before his championship year.
- 2000 Oklahoma: Josh Heupel had started a complete season of games the previous year.
- 2001 Colorado: Both Craig Ochs and Bobby Pesavento had started games in previous seasons before their championship year.
- 2002 Oklahoma: Nate Hybl had started games in the previous season before his championship year.
- 2003 Kansas State: Ell Roberson had started games in the previous season before his championship year.
- 2004 Oklahoma: Jason White had started more than a year's worth of games before his championship season.
- 2005 Texas: Vince Young had started nearly two previous seasons before his championship season.
- 2006 Oklahoma: Paul Thompson had started one previous game during his previous year at quarterback and several more at wide receiver.
- 2007 Oklahoma: Sam Bradford had never started a college game before his championship season.
- 2008 Oklahoma: Sam Bradford had started one previous season before his championship season.
Those trends make the odds daunting that the Cornhuskers, Tigers, Red Raiders or Kansas State will be able to claim the Big 12 title this season.
It's even more likely that the championship team could come from a group of three teams with the most experience at quarterback -- Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The news bounced through Nebraska with the stunning shock of some kind of a natural disaster.
The surprise announcement that Patrick Witt was leaving the Nebraska program came on a couple of levels.
First, Witt was the Cornhuskers' backup in their final game last season, playing after Joe Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl against Clemson.
So the presumption was that Witt would get the first shot -- or at least a good one -- when the Nebraska starting quarterback job was contested at spring practice and beyond.
But his decision has ratcheted up competition and opened a three-way battle involving Zac Lee, Kody Spano and freshman Cody Green. It's left the Cornhuskers with as little depth and experience at the position as any Big 12 team.
Lee is perceived by most to be the most immediately ready, although coaches hope he will work on managing a game better in their offensive philosophy.
Spano is a long shot to earn the starting job, but does have his moments as a runner and thrower.
Green likely has the best athletic tools. It might not be a surprise to see coach Bo Pelini utilize him like Ohio State did with Terrelle Pryor last season. Green would receive work early in the season to build confidence in hopes he could be a major contributor by the end of the season.
Any thoughts that Nebraska could afford to redshirt Green likely left when Witt made his announcement. Pelini's insurance plan has suddenly gone kaput.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a representative sample from the group of letters that came this week.
Chris from Lawrence, Kan., writes: Tim, from what I'm hearing, Kansas State actually has a good shot at landing Bryce Brown. What kind of impact would you expect him to make next year if he does suit up for Coach Bill Snyder?
Tim Griffin: Obviously, Brown immediately would immediately become Kansas State's top back if he arrived in Manhattan as well as the most publicized recruit in Snyder's coaching tenure. He would give Snyder's team the kind of rushing threat it had with Darren Sproles when it was most successful in its championship season back in 2003.
But I'm still thinking it might be tough to keep him from linking up with his brother at Miami. It will be interesting to see where the younger Brown ends up, although I'm hearing it won't be until well after National Signing Day when we find out where he will be playing.
Steve from Reston, Va., writes: Is there any chance Oklahoma will be adding another wide receiver in this year's recruiting class? I think the recent addition of the junior college of junior college wide receiver Cameron Kenney will help. What do you think?
Tim Griffin: Obviously, I believe that Bob Stoops could find room for Rueben Randle if the heralded receiver from Bastrop, La., would choose the Sooners over LSU among others. Randle is visiting Gene Chizik and Auburn this weekend. And the Sooners probably will still need to add another receiver or two to help Sam Bradford, considering the loss of key targets like Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney from this year's team.
There figures to be a lot of passes for somebody to catch for the Sooners next season.
Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: You reported earlier this year that Bo Pelini was one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the Big 12. Have you heard any rumors about when he might get offered a raise after going 9-4?
Tim Griffin: Coaches are like anybody else, with ego driving their salary demands.
But that being said, I think Pelini earned every penny of his $1.1 million salary last season, which now ranks as tied for the lowest in the league along with Paul Rhoads of Iowa State and Bill Snyder of Kansas State, according to the web site coacheshotseat.com. The league's formerly lowest paid coach, Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, got a big raise back in December.
I'm thinking Pelini would be deserving of a renegotiation, considering the way that salaries are spiraling upwards in college football. But the decision will ultimately be made by Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne.
David Correa from Dallas writes: Tim, Any truth to the rumors that Baylor and Wake Forest are looking to drop each other from the upcoming 2009 schedule?
Tim Griffin: I haven't heard any rumblings from either side about canceling that game. But I know after covering the game in Waco back in August that Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe saying that he wasn't looking forward to the rematch in Winston-Salem in 2009. And that was before Robert Griffin started really showing what he could do as a versatile run-pass option.
And with Baylor looking to qualify for its first bowl game since 1994, I could see why they wouldn't necessarily be looking forward to facing the Demon Deacons on their home field, either.
It will be interesting to see if the game comes together. Because there still is a contract for a return date in place, the last I checked.
Steve Johnson from Wichita, Kan., writes: Tim, how could you forget about the infamous story about how Josh Freeman got out of his Nebraska commitment and left for Kansas State on your list of memorable recruiting stories this morning.
Tim Griffin: Sorry, Steve, that one slipped my mind. It was a good one. Namely, the urban legend is that Freeman informed then-Nebraska coach Bill Callahan he wouldn't be attending Nebraska by a text message.
Understandably, the announcement didn't make Callahan very happy. He responded with the legendary line where he called out Freeman, although he didn't call him by name. Callahan said about Freeman's de-commitment: "If you're a prima donna, if you're a drama queen, there's no room for you at Nebraska. You can go to Kansas State."
Ryan Carrell of Round Rock, Texas, writes: Tim, you said that former Miami quarterback Robert Marve "blistered Texas A&M for 212 passing yards and two touchdowns to orchestrate a 41-23 victory over the Aggies in College Station last season." Would you like to take a mulligan on the word "blistered?" Especially in the context of the A&M squad. Blistered might have been 400+ yards, but a little more than 200 is barely enough to get a rug burn.
Tim Griffin: Except when it concerns Robert Marve. It was his career high, so I think the term "blistered" is used in the right context for him. And Marve could have thrown for many more yards if the game had been closer, but Miami ran the ball for much of the second half in the easy victory.
So putting everything into context, I think that Marve blistered the Aggies. Or at least that's what I remembered A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines saying after the game.
Tom Krier writes: Tim, I read your comments on Nebraska winning the North if they can find a "serviceable quarterback." You might point out that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson seems to be a master of doing just that. The success he had at Colorado with backup quarterbacks (Bobby Pesavanto, for example) was impressive.
Tim Griffin: Tom, I agree with you. The work that Watson did with Joel Klatt, Robert Hodge and Craig Ochs wasn't too shabby, either, during his time at Colorado. And I doubt many Nebraska fans could have projected Joe Ganz's record-breaking season last season if you had asked him if those numbers were possible back in August.
It's why I think that Watson is one of the most underrated offensive coordinators in the nation. I expect him to be a head coach somewhere pretty soon. While I'm writing checks for Osborne, I might considering bumping up Watson, too.
That's all for this week. Keep the letters and e-mails coming and I'll check back again next week.