Big 12: Curtis Lofton

Offensive players dominated the list of top individual seasons at Big 12 schools in ESPN.com’s The Season, with Texas’ Vince Young and Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders advancing to Wednesday's semifinal round.

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib is the lone Big 12-era defender who landed on the list as an honorable mention for the Jayhawks. Talib earned consensus All-American honors while helping the Jayhawks go 11-1, including a 24-21 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2007.

Several Big 12 defenders have had stellar seasons since the conference was born in 1996. Here’s a look at other exceptional individual seasons for defenders during the Big 12 era.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Patrick Green/Icon SMIVon Miller was too much to handle in 2009, posting 17 sacks.
Lawrence Flugence, Texas Tech linebacker, 2002: The sheer numbers land Flugence a spot on this list. He had 193 total tackles, including 124 solo stops in 14 games during the 2002 season. The Mike Leach-led Red Raiders finished 9-5 with Flugence anchoring the defense and Kliff Kingsbury triggering the offense.

Derrick Johnson, Texas linebacker, 2004: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus Award winner, Johnson made plays from sideline to sideline for the Longhorns during the 2004 season. He finished with 130 tackles (70 solo stops), including 19 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, nine forced fumbles and two sacks.

Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma linebacker, 2007: Lofton was exceptional during the 2007 season, earning All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He had 157 tackles including 10.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions in 14 games for the Sooners. He was the anchor of a defense that allowed 20.3 points per game and 4.98 yards per play as OU finished 11-2 with a Big 12 championship.

Von Miller, Texas A&M defensive end, 2009: The future NFL Pro Bowler was relentless and dominant during the 2007 season. He finished with 17 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 13 games. He accounted for 47.2 percent of the Aggies’ sack total (36) during a 6-7 season. His 17 sacks remain the highest single season total in the Big 12 era.

Terence Newman, Kansas State cornerback, 2002: Newman was a nightmare for opponents during the 2002 season, locking down receivers on defense and putting fear into the hearts of defenders on special teams and offense. He won the Thorpe Award and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Even as offenses avoided him, Newman finished with 44 tackles, 14 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Shaun Rogers, Texas defensive tackle, 1999: The junior was a disruptive force in the middle for the Longhorns, finishing with 27 tackles for loss, the highest total from any Big 12 defender since the conference was born in 1996. He joined teammate Casey Hampton to give UT the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo that season.

Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska defensive tackle, 2009: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Suh’s 2009 season was second to none during the Big 12 era. Offenses focused on keeping Suh from dominating games yet he still dominated on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, Lombardi Award and a lengthy list of individual accolades. He finished with 85 tackles including 24 for loss and 12 sacks.

Earl Thomas, Texas safety, 2009: Thomas proved he was NFL ready with a incredible redshirt sophomore campaign. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while earning all-american honors with 77 tackles, five tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups and eight interceptions. He helped UT finish No. 1 nationally in interceptions (35) and forced turnovers (37).

Roy Williams, Oklahoma defensive back, 2001: The Jim Thorpe Award winner, Williams left a lasting legacy with his “Superman” play against Texas in the Red River Rivalry, forcing a Chris Simms’ fumble that sealed an OU win. He finished with 107 tackles including 14 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Grant Wistrom, Nebraska defensive end, 1997: He had a stellar 1996 season but his 1997 campaign should be considered even better. As the returning Big 12 defensive player of the year, Wistrom had 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hurries on his way to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. He also earned the Lombardi Trophy in 1997.

Oklahoma's all-decade team

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
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Oklahoma was the dominant program of the last decade in the Big 12, leading the conference with six titles, seven conference title-game appearances and four BCS title-game appearances.

All of those accomplishments are a testament to Bob Stoops, one of two conference coaches to direct his team throughout the decade.

Setting the Sooners’ all-decade team was difficult. The choice at wide receiver next to Mark Clayton was extremely difficult. Malcolm Kelly, Juaquin Iglesias or Ryan Broyles all would have been good choices. I went with Broyles because of his proficiency despite constant double-team defenses this season when he produced 89 receptions.

And at quarterback, I went with Sam Bradford over Jason White in a tough positional choice between two Heisman Trophy winners.

Here’s my choice for Oklahoma’s all-decade team.

OFFENSE

QB: Sam Bradford

RB: Adrian Peterson

RB: Quentin Griffin

WR: Mark Clayton

WR: Ryan Broyles

TE: Jermaine Gresham

OL: Jammal Brown

OL: Trent Williams

OL: Davin Joseph

OL: Phil Loadholt

C: Vince Carter

DEFENSE

DL: Dan Cody

DL: Tommie Harris

DL: Gerald McCoy

DL: Jeremy Beal

LB: Teddy Lehman

LB: Rocky Calmus

LB: Curtis Lofton

DB: Derrick Strait

DB: Roy Williams

DB: Andre Woolfolk

DB: Brandon Everage

K: Garrett Hartley

P: Jeff Ferguson

Ret: Ryan Broyles

Offensive player of the decade: QB Sam Bradford. He became the first quarterback in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back titles, capping his sophomore season by throwing for 50 touchdowns and earning the Heisman Trophy. His final season in college didn’t go as expected, but he still leaves school as a player who will be immortalized with a statue at Owen Field in the not-too-distant future.

Defensive player of the decade: S Roy Williams. He was such a natural that Bob Stoops created a position “the Roy” especially for his talents. He set the standard as a physical run-stuffing safety and sealed his legacy with the hit on Chris Simms that sealed the 2001 victory over Texas.

Coach of the decade: Bob Stoops. The only coach of the decade for the Sooners had more unprecedented early success than any coach in Big 12 history, winning the national championship in his second season and claiming a record six conference championships. They aren’t calling him “Big Game Bob” as much as before, but Stoops still ranks among the most pivotal figures in Big 12 history.

Most memorable moment of the decade: On a misty night at Pro Player Stadium, the Sooners’ defense turned in a masterful performance to claim the 2001 Orange Bowl and bring home the 2000 national championship. Josh Heupel managed to direct the offense despite a sore elbow and the Oklahoma defense would have pitched a shutout in a 13-2 triumph over Florida State except for a special-teams safety in the final minute of play.

Lewis overcomes inexperience to blossom as LB

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
2:57
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Earlier this season, Travis Lewis didn't know if he would ever learn the intricacies of Oklahoma's defense.

Understand that Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables' concepts are sometimes difficult to comprehend for even the most seasoned of veteran players. So some growing pains were to be expected for a redshirt freshman like Lewis who had seldom played the position before coming to college.

 
 Jerry Lai/US Presswire
 Travis Lewis (28) is looking forward to trying to slow down Florida's offense Thursday night.

But when injuries and the struggles of others contributed to Lewis moving forward on the depth chart, he still burned with fury because he thought he hadn't won the starting job because of his play.

"Things contributed to me starting ... it wasn't me being the best option," Lewis said. "But I wouldn't have it any other way. Going through that taught me how to play with a chip on my shoulder.

"I still treat every day like I'm third on the depth chart. I think about it every day when I wake up and every day before I go to practice."

That rage has fueled a remarkable debut season for Lewis, who has developed into the most productive freshman linebacker in Oklahoma history despite his lack of playing experience at the position.

"He came from out of nowhere," Venables said. "Travis has been able to overcome his lack of experience and technique and fundamentals because he plays so incredibly hard. He's been able to cover up his mistakes because of that."

The Sooners' program has been dotted by playmaking linebackers during the era that Venables has served as the Sooners' linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. Playmakers like Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman, Curtis Lofton and Rufus Alexander all have turned the position into one of the biggest strengths throughout the Bob Stoops era.

But none of them has had as quick a start as Lewis, who was a consensus All-Big 12 player and was named defensive newcomer of the year by the Associated Press and the league's coaches.

(Read full post)

How could I have possibly been so wrong about Missouri?

December, 11, 2008
12/11/08
7:21
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All right, I can take the egg on my face just like the other Big 12 bloggers. All we have to do is look back at our preseason predictions and how they turned out.

Mine came on Aug. 25. Here are original picks, and what I think of them today.

"Offensive Player of the Year -- Missouri QB Chase Daniel. After leading the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl last season, Daniel is hungry for much more. Look for him to take them to the Bowl Championship Series if he can stay healthy."

My comment today -- OK, I didn't realize that everybody else in the South Division would usurp Daniel's passing numbers and his team's victories.  

"Defensive Player of the Year -- Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy. He won't pile up the impressive statistics of teammate Auston English, but know that every offensive coordinator in the Big 12 knows he has to account for McCoy's presence on every play."

My comment today -- McCoy had a nice solid season and was an anchor on the conference's championship defense. But I didn't realize that Brian Orakpo would morph into the second coming of Ed "Too Tall" Jones. Heck, I didn't even think he could make it through the season, expecting his injuries would make his recovery problematic.  

"Newcomer of the Year -- Colorado TB Darrell Scott. Sure, he's listed as a third-stringer heading into the Buffaloes' regular-season opener. But look for him to emerge as their most consistent offensive weapon, particularly as he runs behind what should be an improved offensive line."

My comment today -- I didn't know that Scott would spend most of the season in the training room. He showed some flashes, but nearly what I -- or most other preseason predictions -- expected from him.

"Coach of the Year -- Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Why not give him the award if the Tigers win their first Big 12 title? It's amazing how far he's come in the last 18 months. His job was in question before then, but he's mellowed over time and has his team positioned for another history-making run."

My comment today -- Like I said before, I had higher expectations for a Missouri defense that returned 10 starters. I didn't think they would finish the season by yielding 102 points in their last two games.

"North Division winner -- Missouri. A deep collection of offensive players and nearly every major defensive player is back, making Tigers the clear team to beat in the North. And they still have that guy named Daniel around, too."

My comment today -- A blind pig finds an acorn occasionally, right? I thought Missouri had the best talent before the season and still think so. But if they had played Nebraska late in the season, it might have made the results different.

"South Division winner -- Oklahoma. The Sooners look loaded again, too. The best collection of offensive talent should enable them to outscore most opponents. And while several key players are gone from last season's championship team on defense, Bob Stoops will figure out a way to win with these guys. He always seems to -- except in bowl games."

My comment today -- I look like Nostradamus today on this pick. But of course, I needed some BCS help to make sure it came true. I expected it all the way.

"Big 12 championship game winner -- Missouri. I know that Oklahoma is a back-to-back Big 12 champion and beat Missouri twice last season. But Curtis Lofton, Reggie Smith and Malcolm Kelly all are gone. Missouri won't meet Oklahoma until the end of the season. The game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium -- a virtual homefield advantage for the Tigers. And I'm giving them a slim edge -- maybe a Jeff Wolfert field goal -- because of better special teams."

My comment today -- I should have forseen all those lasers that Sam Bradford blistered the Tigers' secondary with last week, or the way that Brent Venables' defense would play against them Missouri. The Sooners have won 19 of their last 20 against the Tigers and there's nothing to suggest that the Tigers can end that streak anytime soon.

I should have known.

Coaches' disdain for Big 12 title game is wrong

December, 5, 2008
12/05/08
9:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We're here for the 13th edition of the Big 12 championship game, something most coaches still aren't exactly excited to be playing in the first place.

Coaches went on record before the conference was even formed that they weren't crazy about the addition of an extra game after the regular season ended. The vote was 11-0, with then-Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum unable to attend. He's said he would have voted against it as well if he had gotten the chance.

Most have remained adamant about not wanting the game, but it's done little good. The extra money provided to cash-strapped athletic departments has become an expected revenue source. For better or worse, the title game has become a part of the Big 12's landscape.

That's not to say we haven't had some memorable moments over the years. Take a look at some of stunning upsets in which teams in AP's top 3 have lost in the Big 12 title game.

  • 1996 -- A gutsy fourth-down pass from deep in his own territory helped John Mackovic and Texas claim a 37-27 stunner over No. 3 Nebraska.
  • 1998 -- Texas A&M's wild 36-33 double-overtime victory over No. 2 Kansas State denied the Wildcats a chance to play in the national championship game.
  • 2001 -- Colorado took advantage of a rash of early mistakes by Chris Simms and withstood a furious late comeback rally by Major Applewhite to dash the No. 3 Longhorns' BCS hopes in a 39-37 victory.
  • 2003 -- Many were calling No. 1 Oklahoma one of the best teams of all time before they ran into Darren Sproles and Kansas State. Sproles gashed them for 235 yards to key a 35-7 upset that remains Bob Stoops' only Big 12 title game loss.
  • 2007 -- Curtis Lofton keyed a second-half run with a pivotal interception, sparking Oklahoma's 38-17 upset over No. 1 Missouri.

And games like those are precisely why the title game is such a good idea. It focuses national attention on the conference and has sparked some intriguing games over the years.

Sure, the games has become one-sided since that Kansas State victory in 2003. Big 12 South teams have won the last four games by a combined core of 171-30 and have trailed for a grand total of 3 minutes, 22 seconds during that 240-minute span.

But who knows what could happen Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium? Maybe Derrick Washington morphs into a version of Sproles on a similarly icy field.

Or Jeremy Maclin erupts for a huge game, slicing through Oklahoma's much-maligned special teams like so many other kick returners have done this season.

Or Sam Bradford leads the Sooners to a convincing victory to put an exclamation mark on his Heisman Trophy bid.

I'm just glad the coaches got outvoted way back when. The Big 12 has benefitted from having the title game.

Tim's mailbag: '45-35' and why Kansas is better than Nebraska

December, 2, 2008
12/02/08
8:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are among some of this week's letters. It seems that more readers are concerned about Nebraska and Kansas in my rankings than the Texas-Oklahoma controversy in the BCS. But more about that later.

On to the letters ...

Hector Moreno writes: Tim, is there any way that Texas could finish No. 1 in the AP poll and become the champion of the AP like USC did when the Trojans shared the title with LSU? This could happen if they finish third in the BCS and then really beat their bowl opponent, and Alabama and Oklahoma would fight it out in an ugly BCS title game.

Tim Griffin: I think you've laid out a framework for some hope for Longhorn fans. I think the Longhorns will enter the bowl game as kind of a sentimental choice from many college football fans who feel that they were wrong in the BCS -- kind of like USC in 2003. So a strong performance by them in a bowl assuredly would cause many of my media colleagues voting in the AP poll to take a fresh look at the final rankings. And if Alabama and Oklahoma play in an ugly game, that might turn out to be the result.

And I'm guessing that if we get a split national championship, it will still show up on the fancy facade at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium, just as it would at Owen Field.


Ed Wayner from Friendswood, Texas, writes: The whole situation with Texas and Oklahoma raises a serious question. Why isn't Oklahoma in the North Division? I think most people can live with Oklahoma going to the championship game, but really, a three-loss Missouri team ahead of Texas or Texas Tech. How can that be?

Tim Griffin: A good question. There have been all kinds of talk about realignment in recent months and I don't know if this weekend's controversy will cause anything to change. I do know that the concentration of power in the South is greater than in any division in college football. I don't think that will change anytime soon. But I do believe there are too many engrained rivalries to split up the conference's current alignment. Some might wonder about throwing everybody in one giant division. I don't see that happening because of scheduling difficulties.

My best guess is that we're going to see the current six-team North and South alignments for the foreseeable future.


Kevin from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Mr. Griffin, did you really mean to rank Kansas ahead of Nebraska? The same Kansas team that was bruised and beaten after leaving Lincoln? Yes, their victory over Missouri was impressive, but so was the Cornhuskers' five wins in their last six games.

Tim Griffin: Actually, I'm using Kevin's missive because it's doesn't have some of the more colorful language words that many Nebraska fans chose to pepper my rankings with this week.

Let me explain what went into my pick. I was serious about it. Remember, these are the way I judge these teams at the current time -- not three or four weeks ago.

And while Nebraska did beat Kansas on its home field, the Cornhuskers were fortunate -- to put it mildly -- to escape Memorial Stadium with a victory over Colorado last week. I watched the entire game and I was mystified by some of the play calling that I saw from Bo Pelini.

The following day, I watched Kansas play its best game of the season in beating Missouri. It really impressed me about the moxie of the Jayhawks. I then started thinking if that Kansas team really could be better than the Nebraska team I saw slog through its game the previous day.

I still wasn't convinced until I started looking at the national polls and the most telling was the Legends Poll that Sporting News produced every week. It's a collection of 17 former coaches who know more about college football than most bloggers or football fans.

I noticed that Kansas was ranked ahead of Nebraska on five of their polls. Nebraska was ranked higher on two of them - which I may add are the only two votes the Cornhuskers got among the 17 voters for the top 25.

So maybe those esteemed leaders of coaching saw the same thing that I saw over the weekend? Namely, that we all believe that Kansas played better this weekend than Nebraska and was deserving of the higher ranking.

But again the difference between sixth and seven in the poll to me was very close. And I can understand the fervor which Nebraska fans reacted when they wrote to me.


Jason from Lincoln, Neb. writes: Both Texas and Oklahoma have excellent arguments not only for the Big 12 title but for the national championship. If I were a Texas fan, I would not be rooting for Missouri, but instead would be rooting for Florida to beat Alabama in an ugly game. If you take a close look at the BCS standings, you will find that Florida is already ahead of Texas in the Harris poll and will not likely extend that margin by a lot with a win this weekend. Also, the USA today poll is fairly close and no one-loss team is going to dominate that poll...so it comes down to computer rankings. With the SEC in somewhat of a slump this year (LSU with five losses, Georgia with three losses, and Florida losing to a four-loss team), I don't expect Florida's computer ranking to come anywhere near what Texas has accomplished this season. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Jason, I agree with you. I think the Longhorns' best chance at playing in the BCS title game would be if Florida does win out in an ugly game over Alabama, which I think the Crimson Tide's strong defense and kicking game could be able to force. So it will certainly be interesting to watch.

(Read full post)

Ex-construction worker to start for Sooners

December, 2, 2008
12/02/08
6:29
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's a long way from the dusty football fields of Lackawanna College to Arrowhead Stadium.

 
 AP Photo
 Linebacker Mike Balogun will get his first start for Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Oklahoma middle linebacker Mike Balogun will be remembering all those steps along the way this week as he prepares for the Big 12 Championship Game Saturday night against Missouri.

Balogun has been thrust into the Sooners' starting lineup after Austin Box sustained a sprained knee last week against Oklahoma State. It means that Balogun, a 25-year-old junior, will make the first start of his Oklahoma career on Saturday.

"There's really no pressure on me," Balogun said. "I've been playing football all my life and I've approached every week like I would be playing. I just want to stay focused and prepare for my chance."

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Balogun has played only 20 snaps this season, with half of them coming in the Oklahoma State game. During that stint, he provided three key stops to help spur a late defensive charge that limited the Cowboys to no points on their final three possessions.

"He played well for us," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "Mike was in for some plays and really stoned a guy like he was mad and had been working through some anger. I'm excited to see him back there."

Balogun's arrival in the starting lineup is an unlikely finish to an improbable story over the past few months.

At this time last season, the aggressively determined Balogun was playing for Lackawanna College after earning his opportunity through a combine tryout. He didn't play football during his junior and senior seasons of high school because he had to support his family as a construction worker.

But the departure of Curtis Lofton to the NFL Draft after his junior season left a gaping hole in the Sooners' starting lineup. Heralded junior college transfer Mike Reed left school during the spring, leaving the Sooners scrambling for depth at the position.

Venables consulted several Internet recruiting services to glean some immediate depth after those unexpected losses. Balogun was ready to join Arkansas or Michigan State before he got the late recruiting blitz from the Sooners.

"I got a late call on a Wednesday when coach Venables told me they needed a linebacker quickly," Balogun said. "After I talked to him, I was here on Saturday. They told me what they needed and I was glad to get the chance."

His athleticism helped him become one of the most surprising players of fall camp. He was ticketed for a starting position before a late charge in the final week before the season by redshirt freshman Travis Lewis, who was given the starting job at outside linebacker.

Balogun went back to work and hoped he would receive his chance sometime later in the season. But mostly he sat on the bench and awaited his opportunity.

"It was a learning process for me, going through training camp and the early work," Balogun said. "Going through practice started with some simple stuff and got progressively more complex. I wasn't na´ve enough to think I would come in here and be the man right off the bat. It was a course of preparing week in and out. I've been putting in the time willing to show that I'm learning as the season went on."

Oklahoma's depth at the position worsened as the season continued. Starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament in the Texas game. Box played well during the last several weeks before suffering his own injury. Balogun's insertion will mean another new starter at the position.

Venables also is working with some schemes that will move Lewis to the middle and insert safety Nic Harris at outside linebacker to provide a framework of depth.

"From a year ago at this time, we've got a fifth-team linebacker playing for us," Venables said. "We're running out of guys by the minute. But we've got to keep working some guys and find ways to get some depth in case something else happens during the course of the game so we don't have to look around and have to play with 10 guys."

Balogun's lack of experience has hampered his growth, but Venables is pleased with his enthusiasm as he prepares for Saturday's big challenge.

"Mike has got pop, explosion, an ability to cover and is a good blitzer," Venables said. "He works really hard and has done a lot of work on his own to get ready."

Despite his lack of experience and Missouri's potent offense, Balogun is eager for his opportunity in the Sooners' biggest game of the season.

"I'm definitely excited," Balogun said. "It's everybody's dream to go out and have a chance like this. I'm looking forward to it."

Daniel 'feeling good' for the Sooners this time around

December, 1, 2008
12/01/08
6:24
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said Monday he's healthy and ready to play against Oklahoma in Saturday's championship game in Kansas City, Mo.

That good health is a marked contrast from last season, when Daniel struggled with a cold during much of the week leading up to the championship game against the Sooners in San Antonio.

"I feel great," Daniel said. "I honestly feel the best I have at this time of the season. I was deathly ill last season in the week leading up to the game and I got multiple IVs. I'm excited about playing them in good health last year."

Daniel and the Tigers struggled in the second half against Oklahoma in last year's title game as did the rest of his team after a 14-14 halftime deadlock. Daniel passed for only 96 yards, was sacked twice and threw a critical interception to Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton in the second half, turning around momentum around in Oklahoma's 38-17 victory.

"I'm feeling great right now," Daniel said. "I'm definitely feeling good to go compared to last year."

OU must make adjustments to spark turnaround

October, 16, 2008
10/16/08
5:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com'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."

Five pressing questions for the Sooners

August, 29, 2008
8/29/08
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma enters the season intent on redeeming itself for some recent bowl-game embarrassments that have stripped some of the national prestige from Bob Stoops' program.

After a 48-28 loss to West Virginia last season in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners have lost their last four BCS bowl games. Those struggles have left this team hungry to make amends.

The Sooners have developed into a Big 12 dynasty under Stoops with unprecedented back-to-back championships. But to make history again with a three-peat, here are some questions that the Sooners must answer heading into Saturday's game against Chattanooga.


1. Are their enough linebackers to play defense like Stoops expects? MLB Ryan Reynolds has never played a full season without getting hurt. WLB Austin Box will miss the start of the season with a knee injury. Replacement Mike Balogun was a construction worker in high school while most top athletes were getting scholarship offers. And Keenan Clayton, a converted safety, will be starting on the other side. No wonder that defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the position made have to be played by rotation.

2. Where will the defensive playmakers emerge from? Curtis Lofton and Reggie Smith were consistent multi-year starters who dominated offenses better than almost any player in recent Stoops defenses. While the Sooners have plenty of defensive talent, somebody else needs to step up

3. How will the Sooners operate in the "no-huddle" offense? While Chattanooga should barely provide competition for the Sooners Saturday night, one thing to watch will be how the Sooners and QB Sam Bradford have grasped the nuances of the philosophy after preseason practice. Questions remained after the Sooners struggled through a turnover-marred outing in the spring game. And they only intensified because of the lack of public scrutiny of the Sooners' recent scrimmages.

4. How does K Jimmy Stevens fit in? Garrett Hartley was an underrated part of the Sooners' recent success, converting 32 of his last 35 attempts and becoming a Groza Award finalist. Stevens struggled in the spring but has been kicking solidly in camp, Stoops said.

5. Will Sam Bradford struggle through a sophomore slump? On first glance, the Sooners should have all the elements of one of the nation's most productive offenses. But what would happen if Bradford stumbled after tossing an NCAA-freshman record 36 touchdown passes? Defenses sometimes pick up tendencies and play quarterbacks with more success the second time around. Just ask Texas QB Colt McCoy.

Big 12 predictions favor Tigers, Sooners

August, 25, 2008
8/25/08
9:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 has received more notoriety this summer than in any recent memory for its collection of talent at the top. It should result in one of the most intriguing seasons in history.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the conference this season. I purposely waited until this late to check on the developments from training camp across the Big 12.

North Division winner -- Missouri. A deep collection of offensive players and nearly every major defensive player is back, making Tigers the clear team to beat in the North. And they still have that guy named Daniel around, too.

South Division winner -- Oklahoma. The Sooners look loaded again, too. The best collection of offensive talent should enable them to outscore most opponents. And while several key players are gone from last season's championship team on defense, Bob Stoops will figure out a way to win with these guys. He always seems to -- except in bowl games.

Big 12 championship game winner -- Missouri. I know that Oklahoma is a back-to-back Big 12 champion and beat Missouri twice last season. But Curtis Lofton, Reggie Smith and Malcolm Kelly all are gone. Missouri won't meet Oklahoma until the end of the season. The game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium -- a virtual homefield advantage for the Tigers. And I'm giving them a slim edge -- maybe a Jeff Wolfert field goal -- because of better special teams.

Offensive Player of the Year -- Missouri QB Chase Daniel. After leading the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl last season, Daniel is hungry for much more. Look for him to take them to the Bowl Championship Series if he can stay healthy.

Defensive Player of the Year -- Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy. He won't pile up the impressive statistics of teammate Auston English, but know that every offensive coordinator in the Big 12 knows he has to account for McCoy's presence on every play.

Newcomer of the Year -- Colorado TB Darrell Scott. Sure, he's listed as a third-stringer heading into the Buffaloes' regular-season opener. But look for him to emerge as their most consistent offensive weapon, particularly as he runs behind what should be an improved offensive line.

Coach of the Year -- Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Why not give him the award if the Tigers win their first Big 12 title? It's amazing how far he's come in the last 18 months. His job was in question before then, but he's mellowed over time and has his team positioned for another history-making run.

Tim's mailbag: Here's why I picked Baylor over KSU

August, 23, 2008
8/23/08
3:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

My recent lists were meant as more than mere filler serving up a little anticipation before the season begins. Readers take these things pretty seriously, so I figured I might give some of my rationale behind a few of my more controversial recent blog posts.

Here goes in another mailbag:

Rock from Olathe, Kan. writes: Tim, are you smoking something? How in the wide, wide world of football could you ever imagine that Baylor is a better job than Kansas State. I'm interested to hear your answer.

Tim Griffin: I've been pilloried across the Sunflower State for my recent post ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs. Again, as I clearly stated early in my missive, it was strictly my opinion. Remember, the thesis of my piece was what job would be attractive for me as a young coach starting my career.

I think, and still believe, that recruiting is the biggest facet in college football. I hate to sound like some of those coaches I've heard over the years, but haven't you heard "It's not about the Xs and the Os as much as the Jimmys and the Joes"?

Baylor is located in one of the fertile areas of the nation, even with its many recent struggles. Kansas State must go out of state or depend on junior-college additions. I think that's the biggest factor that boosts the Baylor job over Kansas State to me.

Also, I think the Baylor facilities are a tad better than those at Kansas State. The facilities that will open later this year at Waco are state-of-the-art. Kansas State's are a little older. The two stadiums are comparable.

It's also been shown in recent years that Baylor's financial commitment to football is stronger than Kansas State's. Art Briles got a contract of more than $1.8 million per year to take the job at Baylor. Ron Prince needed two years before he got past $1 million. And Kansas State has previously struggled keeping up with other Big 12 teams in terms of keeping assistant coaches because of salaries. I've heard that is supposed to change. But we'll see.

Obviously, past success provides a huge advantage for Kansas State. But the days that Bill Snyder first starting turning around the program are more than 15 years ago. And it will be tough for Kansas State to climb back into contention in the North Division.

If I was a young coach, it might be more attractive for me to turn around a downtrodden program than one that's had previous success. That's probably why there's a statue of Grant Teaff outside of Floyd Casey Stadium and he never took his team to a bowl higher than the Cotton Bowl. And he's very much alive to enjoy the notoriety, too.

Here's another way to judge the difference in the programs and the perceptions they have among coaches. The last two coaches to be hired at Baylor were a head coach from the nation's strongest conference (Guy Morriss, Kentucky) and another head coach who had developed one of the nation's top non-BCS programs (Art Briles, Houston). Kansas State hired an offensive coordinator from an ACC school (Ron Prince, Virginia). It looks like head coaches in the business might see some appeal in Baylor -- or at least those two -- for many of the same reasons I've mentioned.

But again, it was the difference between 10th and 11th in the conference. And in my opinion, it was very slim. But I had to pick one and I chose Baylor.


Lindsay from Oklahoma writes: Everyone is talking about the Sooner offense...what do you think about the Sooner D?

Tim Griffin: For a team that doesn't have many, I think the Sooners defense remains the biggest question for me. DE Auston English is back after having his appendix removed and I expect him to round into shape as the season progresses. A bigger loss could be LB Austin Box, who is out with a knee injury for several weeks. MLB Ryan Reynolds hasn't shown he can make it through a season without getting hurt. And I still think the Sooners will miss Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton as the season progresses. Oklahoma still is the best team in the South and might be in the Big 12 as well. But in order to play up to their lofty BCS expectations  -- and actually win a bowl game for a change -- the defense is going to have to gel.


Baby Tate writes: Thank you for posting my article of the 12 Surprise Whippings of College Football from the Bleacher Report. But I want to clarify why the Colorado-Nebraska game wasn't listed. My time period was 1965-2000. I'm pretty much an old timer and I prefer to write about periods with which I'm most familiar. My next article could be "How The JFK Tragedy Affected The Choice Of The Air Force Over The More Deserving Memphis State Tigers of Spook Murphy in 1963". 

Tim Griffin: Sorry for the confusion on that, Baby. And I know a lot of my fellow Memphians have never gotten over that Spook couldn't take his Tigers to a bowl game after that 9-0-1 season in 1963. And the closest we ever got to bowling when I was in college was on those Thursday fraternity nights down at the local 10-pin lanes.


Rob from Nacogdoches, Texas writes: Tim, I've seen the Howard Schnellenberger video that you posted a couple of days ago. What's the one thing that sticks out most to you after watching it?

Tim Griffin: It's not the confidence that the veteran Florida Atlantic University coach obviously has for his team, his suspenders or the way he repeatedly flashes his Super Bowl and national championship rings at the camera as he rubs his hands. I'm thinking more about how well that comfortable orange chair he was sitting in would go in my study.


Caleb from El Reno writes: I recently read your ranking of the Big 12 quaterbacks. How do you put Daniel over Bradford? Bradford holds the advantage in size and athletic ability, not to mention Bradford handed Daniel his only two losses last year. It just doesn't make any sense to put one quarterback over another quarterback who beat him heads-up twice.

Tim Griffin: Except maybe if one of those quarterbacks had Curtis Lofton playing on his team and the other one didn't, it does.


Orlando writes: Bradford, give me a break. He's another ESPN creation. Passing efficiency is another way to hide the fact he gets his butt kicked away from Norman.

Tim Griffin: It's hard to argue with a record number of touchdown passes he threw last season as a freshman, isn't it? And although Bradford has one of the best offenses in the country surrounding him -- think Colt McCoy of Texas in 2006 -- he still is a pretty tough customer. I've seen him withstand some withering hits during his short career.


Gary in Pleasanton, Calif writes: Tim, It was nice hearing Kirk (ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit) mention something about Nebraska. There are a couple of coaches that are from the #1 and #2 teams last year that now with Nebraska. Could you maybe shed some light on why Nebraska never gets any press whether they are ranked or not?

Tim Griffin: Gary, I'm going to differ with you on that. I think Nebraska got a lot of publicity nationally when it was on its national title binge in the 1990s. And I think that it gets its share in the Big 12 as well. Maybe not to the levels of USC, Florida, Oklahoma or Texas, but the Cornhuskers haven't been to that BCS-level in recent years, either.

If Bo Pelini turns things around for the Cornhuskers, I can guarantee you'll hear a lot from national commentators. And it just won't be coming from his old college teammates like Herbstreit.


Adam writes: Tim, Love your blog! My question though: you ranked the top 10 big 12 offensive lineman, leaving out Oklahoma State. Are you aware OSU led the l
eauge in rushing, and gave up very few sacks (not sure where the lack of sacks ranks in the league). Last year our best lineman, Russ Okung, shut down the country's top defensive end (in terms of sacks) in the Independence Bowl. How can a unit, arguably strongest in the league, and a top linemen like Okung be missing from your listing? What is the criteria for your choices?

Tim Griffin: Looking back, I might have included Okung on the list and I gave careful consideration to David Washington, who missed my list because he was hurt most of last season. But I think the Oklahoma State line might be the collection of its parts without one or two standouts. I talked to some NFL scouts that I trust and also to others who follow the Big 12 closely. While not infallible, I think my choices were pretty close.


Jason writes: Tim I'd like to know how Travis Schneider of A&M has been looking. He switched from left to right tackle this year and you don't hear much about him, so what are you hearing?

Tim Griffin: I was impressed with Schneider on several plays I saw last week at Texas A&M's open practice -- amazing what a concept that is, isn't it? Schneider will be counted to help a green offensive line develop. He'll be the most important player in the unit because of his experience.

But one tip I have for him about notoriety -- he'll develop more of it with his blocks than his locks. Schneider has one of the most notable hairstyles I've seen this year. He needs to be a more aggressive player on the field this season.


Sean Arnold of Kearney, Neb., writes: Tim I'm surprised that none of the Nebraska kickers made your list of best special teams players in the conference. I understand that not every team could be represented but I thought at least our punter Dan Titchener would make it with his ability to drop the ball inside the 20 yard line. Oh well, still love your stuff. Go Big Red

Tim Griffin: Sean, I agree about Nebraska's total talent on special teams. But I couldn't see putting one of them in my top 10. Titchener is probably about the third best punter in the league, just below the two that I picked.

Guys, thanks for all of the letters and keep them coming. Game day is only five days away. I can't wait.

Injuries prompt questions about Oklahoma's D

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
12:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English is just one of several Sooners on the mend.

Coaches try to get through training camp without many distractions, hoping to prepare their teams with a relatively stable roster heading into the upcoming season.

But it's not always easy. Ask Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team has been dinged a couple of times in recent weeks to create a few questions about the Sooners' defense.

The misfortune started before training camp when returning All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English was idled after his appendix was removed. Although he's expected to return before the season begins, his conditioning will suffer because of the injury. It's anybody's guess how long it will take him to return to peak shape as the Sooners' top pass-rushing threat.

The Sooners suffered another hit when weakside linebacker Austin Box suffered a knee injury in practice and underwent arthroscopic surgery that will keep him out of action for at least the first game and perhaps longer.

His departure has opened a position for 25-year-old Mike Balogun, a converted construction worker who spent his junior and senior seasons in high school working to help his family make ends meet. After blossoming at junior college, he's now running as the Sooners' first-string linebacker with Box out of the lineup.

Balogun's story is a good one. But it doesn't necessarily promise better production for a Sooner linebacking corps that already was disappointing Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables before Box's injury.

How much you might ask? When asked what he thought about his linebackers' development, Venables had a graphic answer: "I'm not ready to puke yet."

If Venables was sick about that, you can imagine how he feels about the decline of defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who once was thought to be one of the most talented Oklahoma players.

Granger was caught shoplifting at last year's Fiesta Bowl, suspended and then sent home on a bus before the game. Scouts have raved about his talent, but griped about his conditioning and lack of consistency.

Granger got in the Sooner coaches' doghouse at the start of training camp when he reported overweight. He's been stuck on the second team ever since.

The loss or decline of any of these players wouldn't be catastrophic. But collectively, they might start triggering some questions about an Oklahoma defense that already lost key playmakers such as Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton from last year.

Is it enough to let a team like Missouri, Texas Tech or Texas come closer to challenging the Sooners' hopes for a record-breaking three-peat of Big 12 titles?

We don't know yet. But it isn't a good sign for Bob Stoops during the dog days of August.

Tim's mailbag: Why Missouri is ranked ahead of Oklahoma

August, 9, 2008
8/09/08
3:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The mailbag was heavy this week with comment from readers, particularly about my ranking for coaches earlier this week. Here are some answers from your missives.

Bryan from Oklahoma City writes: I've never understood the concept of a power poll. OU dominated Missouri in the Big 12 Championship game last year based mostly on its utter dominance in the trenches in the second half. Every starter from those lines returns for the Sooners, along with most of the skill players on offense, and you put Missouri ahead of OU in your "power poll." What kind of power is this poll measuring exactly?

Tim Griffin: You're right, but that was last year. It seems to me that Curtis Lofton had a lot to do in that game and he's not around anymore is he? Also, I'm thinking that the attitude I saw from Chase Daniel and the Missouri players I've seen over the last several weeks tell me they are still pretty angry about that game. I've always said that my margin between Oklahoma and Missouri is very slight -- maybe the difference between Missouri K Jeff Wolfert and Oklahoma K Jimmy Stevens. That, and the fact that any game between the two teams would be played late in the season in Kansas City are the reasons why I give them the slimmest of margins. Because I don't think my bosses would have wanted me to rate them 1A and 1B.


Andy from Wichita writes: Hey, Tim. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Your blog has become the first place I go to in the morning to catch up on sports. Honestly, I tell all my friends about your articles. Keep it up!

Tim Griffin: Thanks, Andy, for the kind words. And don't just tell them about the blog items -- tell them to click on their computer and read them on their own. I need the page hits!


Mike D from Lubbock writes: What do you think Texas Tech's chances are of actually pulling off a win against Texas at home this year, and against Oklahoma away? Then, can the Red Raiders win the Big 12 and then a national title BCS bid? Everyone has been saying we are going to lose to an unexpected team again this year, I can't see it happening at all. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Mike, I think you're just a tad optimistic in your assessment of the Red Raiders, although I think they can beat Texas in Lubbock. Of course, they've only been able to do that once under Mike Leach and it will be a big chore for them this year.

I know that Tech has beaten Oklahoma two of the last three years, but both of those games were in Lubbock. I don't like their chances in Norman in 2008. And Bob Stoops is still known as "Big Game Bob" in Big 12 games, isn't he?

I don't see them losing any of the nonconference games this year, but keep your eye on the game at Kansas. Mark Mangino has very quietly developed a pretty nice homefield advantage in Lawrence. That game is one that could be a stumble. And I really don't think it necessarily would be an upset -- if the teams played today, I think Kansas would be a favorite.


Sean from Boulder, Colo., writes: Hey Tim! So CU landed big-time recruit in Darrell Scott, how will the Buffs do this upcoming season?

Tim Griffin: Sean, I think the Buffaloes might be a surprise team in the North Division. They have to find somebody to replace Jordon Dizon and find a couple of capable defensive backs. But if Scott is as good as DT George Hypolite says he is -- or even comes close -- he could develop into one of the top three or four backs in the league by the end of the season.

That should be able to get them to a bowl game, although I still don't think they are good enough to match up with Missouri. I think the Tigers are in a class by themselves in the North Division.


Houston writes: Will Texas A&M ever rise above the ranks of Texas, and be a national power house or will they be in UT's shadow forever?

Tim Griffin: Good question that we need to go back and look at history to consider. It's funny that in this rivalry, both teams are rarely good enough to challenge for the national championship at the same time. It's tended to be that one team is up while the other is down, and vice versa.

I think it will be tough for A&M to ever regain control in this rivalry as long as Mack Brown is coaching in Austin. And yes, Aggie fans, I know A&M has won the last two games in the series. What did that do for Dennis Franchione? Did he get a sweeter radio deal or contract settlement on his way out of College Station?

Mike Sherman has a different way of thinking than Franchione. It's more like the program was under R.C. Slocum, an old-school approach heavy on fundamentals and respect. I think a lot of recruits will gravitate to that, but I'm wondering how many truly great players will.

That remains to be seen. But I think Texas still is considered to be one of the top five programs in the country. Texas A&M would be considered in the top 30.


DiRaimo from Dallas writes: When Graham Harrell breaks all of Colt Brennan's career passing records what kind of legacy will be left behind?

Tim Griffin: Harrell will go down as one of the greatest statistical quarterbacks in history. But he's got to win some big games to really cement his legacy. And he better hope he doesn't play Georgia in a bowl game. I bet Colt Brennnan still has some "Dawg bites" from that one.


Eric from Houston writes: What do you think the chances are for Robert Griffin of Baylor to developing into a big-time QB?

Tim Griffin: I've seen some film of Griffin in action in high school and I was very impressed. Obviously, a lot of things can happen in college football. But I think he went to good place to work under Art Briles. It will be interesting to see how things work out for him. He's also one of the fastest players in the Big 12.


Matt from Omaha writes: I know the Big 12 is stacked this year, but I cannot understand why everybody is so down on the Huskers. Bill Callahan's recruiting classes were always ranked pretty high. With a better coaching philosophy in place, shouldn't they be capable of winning 7-9 games this year?

Tim Griffin: Matt, you can't necessarily depend on recruiting rankings to necessarily be a predictor of football success. They are good judgments, but not absolute. I think the players are present that Bo Pelini can win six or seven games, including an upset or two along the way this season. But the Cornhuskers' defense was atrocious last season. I know Bo is going to "coach them up" to use my favorite bit of coach-speak. But I don't know if that much improvement can be made.


Duane from Kalmazoo, Mich writes: I just read your coach rankings and I don't understand your logic. For instance, Art Briles is ranked No. 6 because he is a great offensive mind. Yet, Bo Pelini, who is known as a great defensive mind, is ranked 12th despite being the only coach who has won 100 percent of his games. Please be consistent and put all the new coaches down at the bottom if you wish, but this makes no sense.

Tim Griffin: Duane, I'm going to respectfully disagree with you. Art Briles did a great job in turning a downtrodden Houston program into a consistent bowl winner and even a conference championship winning team in his previous job. The Cougars made four bowl trips in the last five seasons. And I don't think he necessarily had many breaks to accomplish that turnaround. Turning Houston and making them what he did counts for more to me than Pelini's one-game bowl victory against a Michigan State team that didn't look like it wanted to play in that Alamo Bo
wl. I know, because I covered the game and was around the Spartans that week before the game.

But as I've explained on a couple of radio shows this week, these coaching rankings are very fluid. Nobody would have had Bob Stoops that highly ranked as a head coach coming into the 1999 season. He was a promising assistant, but nobody knew what he could do when he was running his own program. He got Oklahoma humming early, taking them to the Independence Bowl in his first season. And then he won a national championship his second season. Presto, rock-star status in two seasons.

Can it happen that fast for Pelini? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. He still got to coach a few more games before anybody is ready to put him up on the coaching version of Mount Rushmore.


Robert Gohlke writes: What are the possible bowl games Oklahoma State could go to this year?

Tim Griffin: I think the Cowboys are a solid bowl pick, if they can keep QB Zac Robinson healthy and improve their defensive production. That being said, I could see them maybe topping off at the Alamo Bowl, but more likely at the Independence, Sun or Houston bowls. I don't see them going back to the Insight.com Bowl after playing in Tempe, Ariz., last season.

Thanks again for all of the letters. Please keep them coming.

Big 12 links: Sooner paranoia closing Oklahoma's practices

August, 9, 2008
8/09/08
12:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Times are changing around Oklahoma, where Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has opened up some practices this summer while Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has thrown up a "Crimson and Cream" curtain around his preseason work this fall.

Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler has as good of a handle on the inner workings of the Sooner program as anybody around. He said that some Oklahoma insiders are telling him that Stoops is closing his practices because he's still miffed from 2005.

It seems that Stoops believes that some "friends of the TCU program" tipped off the Horned Frogs with secrets they had learned by watching the Sooners' open scrimmages. The result was a 17-10 upset victory for TCU.

Sittler also said that former Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones, now a radio talk show in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, was turned down to watch the Oklahoma scrimmage because he's now considered a member of the media.

I'm sure the Sooners would be pretty vanilla in those scrimmages if they knew that we prying minds -- or even fans -- were watching.

Because you never know what those "friends" might be saying to your upcoming opponents.

Particularly when Oklahoma's first game will be against that vaunted defense of the Chattanooga Moccasins, which ranked 102nd in rushing defense, 75th in pass efficiency defense, 84th in total defense and 93rd in scoring defense in the Football Championship Subdivision last year.

Until then, we'll have to wait to hear what the players and coaches have to say after their scrimmage today at Owen Field. Because Stoops has made sure that nobody else will be watching.

And if Oklahoma-area fans really have to watch football today, they can drive up to watch Oklahoma State's open scrimmage this afternoon.

Sure, Gundy might scream at reporters when's he not happy. But he still knows that he needs us to help sell a bunch of seats for the Cowboys' home opener on Sept. 6 against Houston.

Until then, here a few other links to whet your appetite this weekend.

  • It appears that Texas Tech DE McKinner Dixon still might be eligible after all, according to Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
  • The Lincoln Journal-Star will be conducting a contest for the best Nebraska fan video this season. But Larry the Cable Guy can't participate, can he?
  • Nebraska DT Jared Crick emerged as a potential starter this week. His development will be important after Kevin Dixon's dismissal and Ty Steinkuhler battling through a back injury.
  • Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden predicts that Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whittaker will eventually emerge as Texas' primary running backs.
  • New Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is in no hurry to name a starting quarterback as Jerrod Johnson and Stephen McGee battle for the No. 1 position. "Why close the door on competition," Sherman told Robert Cessna of the Bryan-College Station Eagle. "That's not me. I want to keep them competing."
  • Ron Prince's new contract amounts to a one-year extension, according to the Wichita Eagle's Bob Lutz. But for Prince, it's still one more season -- at a big salary hike to boot.
  • Colorado LB Lynn Katoa is trying to find the right path back into the program's good graces. Katoa, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge and received a deferred sentence, is practicing with the team this season with hopes of returning to the team in 2009.
  • The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerhoff writes about Missouri's underrated defense. I still think the Tigers' defensive improvement will be the key to their Big 12 title hopes.
  • Iowa State football recruiting coordinator Scott Fountain joined the cacophony of Cyclone coaches who blasted the NCAA's ban on text messaging in a story in the Ames Tribune.
  • Sittler reports flames are licking at the backsides of former Oklahoma assistants Chuck Long and Mike Stoops at their new jobs as head coaches.
  • Chad Conine of the Waco Tribune-Herald said that increased depth inside will mean Baylor defensive tackles won't be playing nearly as much as last season. I'm guessing that Baylor's starting defensive tackles played as much as any in the Big 12 last season.
  • The development of oft-injured Oklahoma MLB Ryan Reynolds, replacement for Curtis Lofton, will be critical for the Sooners' Big 12 three-peat hopes.

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