Big 12: Darius Darks

Big 12 recruiting needs in 2012

January, 24, 2012
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Signing day is coming fast. Next Wednesday, the next round of players will sign up for their respective programs and start what could be storied careers.

Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.

BAYLOR

Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.

Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.

Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.

Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.

Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.

KANSAS

Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.

Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.

Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.

KANSAS STATE

Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.

Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.

Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.

OKLAHOMA

Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.

Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.

Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.

Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.

Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.

TEXAS

Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.

Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.

Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.

TCU

Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.

Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.

Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.

TEXAS TECH

Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.

Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.

Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.

Farmageddon played tight? No way

December, 3, 2011
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Two physical teams that love to run and weather conducive to making it happen?

Who cares.

Kansas State and Iowa State are letting it fly early on. Iowa State scored on a 30-yard pass from Jared Barnett to Darius Darks after Jeff Woody flipped it back to Barnett on a flea flicker.

K-State's Collin Klein answered on the first play of the next drive, hitting Tramaine Thompson over the top of the defense for a perfect 68-yard score, coincidentally his first completion of the day.

Iowa State only needed five plays to score again before K-State blocked the extra point to keep the lead at 13-7 with seconds to play in the first quarter.

Raphael Guidry, who blocked two kicks against Texas Tech earlier this season, broke through to get another after the score.

For the majority of the first quarter, this game was exactly what we expected: Two physical teams running the ball and not offering up opportunities to make mistakes.

In two plays, that's all changed. It's been pretty fun to watch. That 68-yard score was the longest play of K-State's season, too.

Here's hoping both teams keep the playbooks open for the rest of this one, even as the rain continues to fall.

Another game-changing Jantz drive

September, 10, 2011
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Last week, Steele Jantz twice led Iowa State's offense to go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdowns in a win against Northern Iowa.

He's tied this week's game against Iowa at 24 with just over a minute left by making a handful of huge plays.

The first-year starter, a junior college transfer, is growing up fast and making Iowa State fans swoon.

He scrambled to throw a 45-yard touchdown pass to a wide open receiver, but it was called back for holding.

No problem, he hit Darius Reynolds for a 40-yard gain on the next play. He also converted a fourth-and-inches on a quarterback draw. Last week he scored the game-winning touchdown against Northern Iowa on a sneak at the goal line.

Facing third-and-goal, a called jump-pass failed, but Jantz ad-libbed, slipped out of a tackle and rolled right for an four-yard touchdown pass to Darius Darks that tied the game.

It's been a heck of a game, and just like Missouri last night, we're headed for bonus football.

Missouri's James Franklin, another first-year starter, showed major progress in last night's game. Jantz has done the same so far. He's proved his ability as a playmaker against a good Iowa team.

Jantz is 21-of-31 for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
A week from today, college football will feel oh-so-close. The Big 12 will kick off its media days, slimmed down to two days with its new 10-team configuration, instead of 12 teams over three days like it's been in the past.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireBaylor's Robert Griffin III will be attending Big 12 media days after missing last year's event.
I'll be there for every second of the action, with plenty of stories and videos, just like last year. Here's a look at what we had for you every day at media days last year.

You can expect more of that, and here's who we'll be dealing with here in Dallas.

Monday, July 25

Baylor
Oklahoma State
Missouri

  • Jacquies Smith, DE
  • Kenji Jackson, S
  • Elvis Fisher, OL
  • T.J. Moe, WR
Texas

  • Emmanuel Acho, LB
  • Keenan Robinson, LB
  • Blake Gideon, S
  • Fozzy Whittaker, RB
Texas A&M
Tuesday, July 26

Kansas

  • Steven Johnson, LB
  • Tim Biere, TE
  • Jeremiah Hatch, OL
Iowa State
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Texas Tech

I've got a lot of thoughts about this lineup:

  • Texas' quarterbacks haven't spoken to the media since the Thanksgiving Day loss to Texas A&M, and that streak won't end next week. Not that it necessarily should, at least not at this event. For better or worse, bringing a quarterback to media days implies a certain amount of confidence in said player, and every indication we got during the spring is that this race is wide open. Last year, Texas Tech brought both Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts, and Mack Brown raised eyebrows when he brought his first-year starter, Garrett Gilbert, to media days before fall camp and before his first-ever start. He won't be making a return trip in 2011.
  • Kansas State's contingent is rather telling. If Bill Snyder was trying to temper the hype surrounding Arthur Brown, he wouldn't bring the transfer who has never played a game for Kansas State to Dallas. But Brown is coming, and his brother, running back Bryce Brown, isn't. That's plenty telling. As is Collin Klein's presence. It's not like Kansas State is starved for marketable talents. Cornerback David Garrett would fit in nicely, but he won't be coming. It's not explicit, but Klein will enter fall camp with the lead in the quarterback race, but Snyder has to feel good about him at this point. Bryce Brown's role on this team is still a bit unclear with Robert Rose and John Hubert still competing with him for carries, but I'm still feeling very good about making Arthur Brown my pick for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Except for Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, he's the only player in the entire league to come to Big 12 Media Days without at least a season of starting experience, and Doege at least has one start on his resume.
  • Serious, serious star power in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's crews. Some of the biggest names in college football will be heading down to Dallas from just up north across the state line. Landry Jones will be making his first trip this year, as will Justin Blackmon. Weeden, Lewis and Broyles all attended in 2010. Another good bunch from A&M this year, too.
  • Glad to see Iowa State bring Kelechi Osemele to Dallas. He's a quiet star in this league who's been one of its best linemen for a couple seasons now. He'll finally get a bit more exposure in his first trip to media days. I'm a little surprised to see ISU bring Darius Darks, though, instead of Darius Reynolds, who Paul Rhoads went out of his way to praise this spring. That said, Darks is a solid choice as a co-captain and a contributor for three seasons heading into 2011, vs. Reynolds, a high-profile juco transfer who only emerged as a major contributor in 2010 after a quiet 2009.
  • Baylor's Robert Griffin III is back on Baylor's wagon after sitting out last year's media days to give the cameras and notepads a chance to get to know his teammates (and avoid about 4,000 questions about his knee, which was clearly fine last season).
The Big 12 might be weak at the top of the running back heap, but it's definitely not at receiver. The conference has at least three of the top five receivers in the country, and the top two. They highlight a very strong group of receivers across the league, and I continue our position rankings with receivers today.

Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.

Other position rankings: 1. Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIRyan Broyles finished the 2010 season with 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Sooners have the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ryan Broyles, but found a handful of others to surround him in 2010 and should have a couple more in 2011. Sophomore Kenny Stills broke Broyles' freshman receiving record and looks like a budding star. Dejuan Miller came on strong before a season-ending knee injury, but he's back. The Sooners lose Cameron Kenney, but Trey Franks had a strong freshman campaign, and freshmen Justin McCay (redshirt) and Trey Metoyer could provide even more playmakers.

2. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.

4. Baylor

Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.

5. Missouri

Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.

6. Texas Tech

Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.

7. Texas

Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.

8. Kansas State

Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.

9. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.

10. Kansas

Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.

Spring superlatives: Iowa State

March, 30, 2011
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Today: The second in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12.

Strongest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Jake Knott, A.J. Klein, Matt Tau'fo'ou, Matt Morton

Key losses: None.

Analysis: Knott is already one of the Big 12's best linebackers after starting just one year for the Cyclones, and he's flanked by Klein and Tau'fo'ou. Knott and Klein combined for a staggering 241 tackles, more than any other pair of teammates in the Big 12. Tau'fo'ou will likely return to start at middle linebacker after missing the second half of the season with a broken leg. Knott and Klein should be a solid duo at outside linebacker once again as they return for their junior years, and though they were excellent in year one, the future is even brighter for both. They were the only sophomores in the Big 12 to rank in the top 18 in tackles.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

Key returnees: Darius Darks, Darius Reynolds, Josh Lenz

Key losses: Jake Williams

Analysis: In the offense-minded Big 12, it's never a good sign if a tight end is a team's leading receiver, with 19 more catches and 126 more yards than the team's best receiver. For Iowa State, though, that was exactly the case in 2010. The Cyclones unit lacked big-play ability and as a result, the offense suffered. Darks, the team's top returning receiver, ranked 38th in the Big 12 in receiving last year. Reynolds was 45th. Only Kansas was a worse passing offense, and the Cyclones completed just under 57 percent of their passes last year, the lowest number in the Big 12. The Cyclones had just 20 pass plays longer than 20 yards, the fewest in the Big 12 and 114th nationally. They were also the only team in the Big 12 without a pass play longer than 40 yards all season. Iowa State will be breaking in a new quarterback next year, and Darks, Reynolds or Lenz simply have to be better if those numbers are going to get any better in 2011. Paul Rhoads also signed three receivers in the 2011 class, highlighted by three-star recruit Tad Ecby, a Texas native. New quarterback Steele Jantz is competing to win the quarterback job, and if he wins, he'll have at least one familiar receiver. Junior college teammate Aaron Horne enrolled early at Iowa State alongside Jantz in hopes of boosting the receiving corps.

Opening spring camp: Iowa State

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
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Schedule: Iowa State opens spring practice today and will close with its spring game on April 16.

What’s new: For one, the quarterback. Starter Austen Arnaud has been the face of the program for the last three seasons, but he's gone, taking with him an impressive legacy. His 6,777 career passing yards are second most in school history and he completed a higher percentage of his passes than any passer in school history.

On the mend: Linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed most of the season with a broken leg suffered against Iowa, but he's back this spring and debuted at the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker. The senior, 5-foot-11, 243-pounder is pretty stout in the middle of the defense.

New faces: Quarterback Steele Jantz, a juco transfer, is in practice this spring. More on him in a second.

Key battle: It's pretty simple: Quarterback. Somebody has to fill Arnaud's shoes, and there should be a great competition in the spring to do it. Jerome Tiller has the most experience, so he'll start the spring atop the depth chart, but Jantz has earned plenty of buzz prior to spring practice. If he can make good on it, he'll win the competition that coach Paul Rhoads says is wide open. Jantz will start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart, right ahead of James Capello and Jared Barnett.

Breaking out: Running back Shontrelle Johnson. Playing behind Alexander Robinson last year, Johnson showed quite a bit of burst and finished with 318 yards on his 35 carries. That included a 61-yard touchdown run against Texas Tech.

Don’t forget about: The secondary. The Cyclones struggled to stop the run, which perhaps prompted teams to run more than throw, but they finished sixth in the league in pass defense. Iowa State brings back both corners, Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson, and safety Ter'Ran Benton. They should be good again, and sophomore Jacques Washington will begin the spring as the starter at free safety.

All eyes on: The skill positions. You can't win in the Big 12 without great play at quarterback, running back and receiver, and the Cyclones have big, big questions marks at all three positions. Johnson is the least of these, but he's still very low on experience. Jantz has never played major college football and in spot duty last year, Tiller struggled, especially late in the year against a stingy Missouri defense that beat the Cyclones 14-0 in Ames. The receivers, Darius Reynolds, Darius Darks and Josh Lenz, were underwhelming last year with neither cracking the Big 12's top 30 in receptions or yardage. The team's top two receivers, tight end Collin Franklin and receiver Jake Williams, are gone, and somebody has to emerge and ease the new quarterback's transition.

What to watch in the Big 12 this spring

February, 16, 2011
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Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Colby Whitlock, Corey Nelson, Ahmad Dixon, Brennan Clay, Jacob Karam, Darius Reynolds, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Kyle Mangan, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Turner Gill, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, James Capello, Connor Wood, Shane Jarka, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Byron Landor, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Toben Opurum, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Kevin Rutland, Carrington Byndom, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Huldon Tharp, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Jarvis Phillips, Garrett Gilbert, Tyler Gabbert, Jordan Webb, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Tim Atchison, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Ugo Chinasa, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, David Garrett, Justin McCay, James Franklin, Corbin Berkstresser, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Scott Smith, Tre Porter, Shontrelle Johnson, Prince Kent, Damontre Moore, Michael Brewer, A.J. White, Brock Berglund, Ashton Glaser, Michael Hodges, Brandon Wegher, Steele Jantz, Jonathan Miller, Justin Tuggle, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson

Cyclones new quarterback making plays early

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
7:31
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Missouri and Iowa State are still scoreless in Ames, but the sophomore quarterback Jerome Tiller, making just his third career start, is playing well in place of Austen Arnaud early.

On the Cyclones' opening drive, he ran for a first down on an 11-yard gain, and converted a 3rd-and-15 with a 23-yard pass to Darius Darks.

On their second drive, he converted a 3rd-and-8 with a 12-yard completion to Darius Reynolds.

That's definitely a good sign for the Cyclones, who need a win to qualify for a bowl game, without the help of their third-year starting quarterback.

If Tiller is feeling the effects of the pressure, it hasn't shown up in his play here on the Cyclones' first couple of drives.
For most of Thursday night's 27-10 win over Northern Illinois, Austen Arnaud looked like a different player than the one who struggled in 2009. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said his quarterback was the most improved player of any on his entire team, and Arnaud proved Rhoads right most of the time. He completed 17 of 22 passes in the first half, and finished with a solid 27-of-36, 265-yard stat line.

[+] EnlargeAusten Arnaud
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallAusten Arnaud had some brilliant moments against Northern Illinois but also threw two interceptions.
On four separate occasions, he completed high-pressure passes on third down to extend drives. Once, on an 11-yard checkdown to Alexander Robinson -- who finished with 97 yards including a 63-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. Another -- on the same drive -- featured a strike to Darius Darks for a 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-14. The next drive saw Collin Franklin catch a 16-yard pass on the sideline to convert a 3rd-and-7. Jake Williams caught another 16-yard pass on 3rd-and-15.

When Arnaud was good, he was very good. He succeeded in plenty of tight spots that might have been turnovers last year.

But troubling for Arnaud's night were a pair of interceptions -- something Cyclones fans might have expected from the 2009 edition of their quarterback. Arnaud threw 13 picks last season, more than all but one passer in the conference.

The first was a forced pass through the middle of a defense that could have been intercepted by two defenders. The mistake was inconsequential, after Northern Illinois failed to convert on three separate field goal attempts from 33 yards. The Huskies got three tries, courtesy of a pair of icing attempts by Rhoads in the form of late timeouts.

The second would have been a wise, comfortable checkdown to put the Cyclones in the red zone -- if Arnaud's intended target was Northern Illinois' Tyrone Clark. Arnaud dumped a pass to no one in particular and turned it over, robbing his team of a chance to to go up 24-3 in the third quarter.

On an otherwise sterling night that also featured 14 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown -- not counting a 53-yard touchdown run called back for an illegal formation -- Arnaud will likely most closely scrutinize those interceptions in the film room.

Iowa State can beat plenty of teams on its brutal schedule. They'll have a shot at beating Utah during nonconference play and only four games -- at Iowa, at Oklahoma, at Texas and Nebraska -- look like reaches for the Cyclones. A bowl game is definitely possible for a team that looked like the Big 12 North's third-best on Thursday night.

But the Cyclones won't get there if Arnaud can't prevent those bad decisions that resulted in turnovers. They'll need an Arnaud who calmly led his team and converted again and again on third down during their win against Northern Illinois.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
10:30
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2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (4) P/K (1)

Top returners: RB Alexander Robinson, QB Austen Arnaud, DB David Sims, DB Leonard Johnson, WR Darius Darks, WR Darius Reynolds

Key losses: OL Reggie Stephens, LB Jesse Smith, DB James Smith, LB Fred Garrin, DE Christopher Lyle, WR Marquis Hamilton

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Alexander Robinson* (1,193 yards)

Passing: Austen Arnaud* (2,017 yards)

Receiving: Marquis Hamilton (606 yards)

Tackles: Jesse Smith (135)

Sacks: Christopher Lyle (5)

Interceptions: David Sims (5)

Three spring answers

1. All about the linebackers. Iowa State lost five linebackers to graduation from last year’s team. A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and juco transfer Matt Tau’fo’ou are the likely replacements. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says they’re still thinking and playing short of full speed, but their development pleased him in the spring.

2. Arnaud takes hold. Quarterback Austen Arnaud struggled for much of 2009, but Rhoads says the senior was the most improved player on the team in the spring. Sophomore Jerome Tiller played well enough in spot duty last season to push for playing time this season, but Arnaud’s performance in the spring likely postponed Tiller’s chances until next year.

3. Year Two. Last spring, Iowa State was on its third coach in four years. This year, the team has been able to more firmly grasp the concepts of Rhoads’ systems and try to build on the team’s 7-6 finish last season.

Three fall questions

1. Scheduled for a rough landing? Iowa State has one of the conference’s toughest schedules, and Rhoads believes his 2010 team could be better than last year’s and finish with a worse record. The Cyclones play Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah in the non-conference, and have to play at Texas and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks later in the season.

2. Who’s catching the ball? The Cyclones lost Marquis Hamilton to graduation, and have a talented group of receivers, but how they’ll shake out remains to be seen. Darius Reynolds got off to a hot start in 2009, but a broken leg ended his season. Jake Williams, Darius Darks and Sedrick Johnson will also be options for Arnaud.

3. Sustainable defense? Iowa State ranked in the top half of the conference in scoring defense in 2009, but lost seven starters from the bowl-winning team. Iowa State could be improved in the passing game, but it won’t matter much if the defense can’t be at least almost as good as they were last season.

Iowa State season review

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
4:30
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It’s the kind of moment that marks careers and serves as an inspiration to young coaches everywhere.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' emotion-laced locker room reaction to his team’s upset over Nebraska has been a YouTube staple with more than 224,000 hits as of Wednesday afternoon.

For fans of college football, Rhoads’ show of emotion was refreshing -- a throwback to the good ol’ days when coaches were worried more about bonding with their teams than their next television appearance or tee time.

Rhoads’ show of emotion was genuine. And in much the same way, the overachieving Cyclones and their bowl appearance in his first season was the feel-good story of the Big 12 this season.

When he arrived at the school last spring, Rhoads was so appalled by the team’s techniques that he ordered a compulsory lesson in tackling fundamentals for all team members.

The Cyclones employed a tough running game keyed by Alexander Robinson to serve as most of their offense. The defense struggled stopping opponents who passed and didn’t notch many sacks, but most certainly knew how to tackle. ISU ranked 27th nationally in turnover margin.

ISU’s 6-6 season record, in a way, was done with mirrors. The Cyclones beat only one team with a winning record and that Nebraska victory was fueled by eight turnovers. The six teams that ISU beat this season have a combined win-loss record of 29-42.

But considering the Cyclones haven’t gone bowling since 2005, not many Cyclone fans are complaining about their trip to the Insight Bowl later this month.

Offensive MVP: RB Alexander Robinson

Thought that new offensive coordinator Tom Herman would turn the Cyclones into a wild passing team were dispelled because of the emergence of Robinson, who ran for 1,058 yards and six touchdowns to rank third in rushing in the Big 12. Robinson’s numbers are even more impressive considering his missed nearly two full games because of injuries.

Defensive MVP: LB Jesse Smith

No player better epitomized the overachieving nature of the Cyclones’ plucky defense than the 6-foot, 234-pound senior who led the Big 12 in tackles (10.8 per game) and notched nine double-digit games this season. Smith’s performance against Nebraska -- 12 tackles, two tackles for losses, a forced fumble and the game-clinching interception -- earned him the Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors.

Turning point: Oct 24 at Nebraska

The Cyclones’ 9-7 victory at Nebraska ultimately earned them a bowl appearance. And it the process, the Cyclones forced eight turnovers to win in Lincoln for the first time since 1977. Iowa State showed grit by playing the game without Alexander Robinson and starting quarterback Austen Arnaud, breaking a 14-game road Big 12 losing streak. It showed that the Cyclones can compete with the Big 12 North Division’s best and overcome much adversity along the way.

What’s next?

The Cyclones will revel in their bowl trip to Tempe where they will hook up with old rival Minnesota. A win would be huge to enable the Cyclones to finish with a winning record. Robinson, Arnaud, Darius Darks all will be back for next season. But the defense loses seven starters including key producers Nate Frere, Jesse Smith and James Smith. And the schedule will get much tougher with nonconference games against Utah and Northern Illinois and a switch in Big 12 opponents to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It might be wise for the Cyclones and their fans to savor the bowl trip while they can.

Mangino's old-school methods have gotten him in trouble

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
12:00
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An internal investigation about the discipline methods of Kansas coach Mark Mangino signal the end could be near for his tenure at the school.

Allegations have surfaced that Mangino poked senior linebacker Arist Wright in the chest during a walkthrough practice earlier this season. Several parents have complained to Kansas officials about his treatment of players. And the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that a group of parents of players have organized to air their grievances about Mangino's coaching methods.

Earlier this week, Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins met with the Kansas football team to discuss some of the allegations of Mangino’s treatment of student-athletes in the past. It appears that Perkins is trying to document reasons to get rid of his current coach.

Mangino’s combustible temper has bubbled over during the years. There was the incident when he was verbally abusive to high-school game officials in 2002 when he thought the opposing team was roughing up his son, Tommy.

Or the time when he thought Texas got the benefit of some favorable officiating to help its BCS cause after a tight 2004 loss. Those complaints got Mangino fined $10,000 by the Big 12.

Or when Raimond Pendleton’s theatrics after a punt return for a touchdown resulted in a profanity-laced tirade from Mangino which has more than 500,000 hits on YouTube.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to the recent allegations. But the history is there.

Mangino is the product of a different coaching era than many of his colleagues. He drove ambulances by night and attended school by day at Youngstown State to get his start. That hard-scrabble existence taught him grit and determination. But it also made him thoroughly convinced in his methods.

It’s true that Mangino and Perkins have clashed in the past. As most athletic directors would be, Perkins probably would feel more allegiance to a football coach he had actually hired than one he inherited.

But it still seems hard to believe the Kansas program has floundered so quickly.

The Jayhawks started the season 5-0 and appeared to have a good shot for their first conference title-game appearance. They were ranked No. 16 nationally and second in the nation in offense. Mangino even made a point to pitch Todd Reesing as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

In the process, they appeared to have overcome some nasty allegations about a turf war with the basketball team. Sellout crowds were the norm for their games. Plans for a new $34 million addition of luxury boxes were announced. Interest and support for the program had never appeared more intense.

But the early on-the-field success appears now to be an apparition. The Jayhawks’ defense struggled mightily in the first conference game against Iowa State. If Austen Arnaud didn’t overthrow Darius Darks late in that game, the Jayhawks might be winless in conference play today.

The Jayhawks haven’t been able to run the ball consistently in Big 12 play. Reesing has had some uncharacteristic turnover problems and the Jayhawks have become one of the Big 12’s worst teams.

Still, it seemed a little strange when Reesing was benched at Texas Tech late in the game. Reesing remains the most productive quarterback in school history and one of the major reasons for Kansas' remarkable 12-1 season in 2007 that resulted in its only BCS bowl appearance.

Most coaches would have felt some allegiance to the player who was largely responsible for their success. Mangino instead had a quick hook.

At 50-46, Mangino is within two victories of becoming the winningest coach in Kansas history. Only A.R. Kennedy, who went 52-9-4 from 1904-10 has more wins.

After losing the 2003 Tangerine Bowl in his first postseason trip, Mangino’s teams have won three straight bowl games. The 2007 Orange Bowl upset over Virginia Tech might arguably be the biggest victory in school history.

That strong season enabled him to win consensus coach of the year honors, honors he was able to parlay into a contract extension through 2012 for $2.3 million per year.

Mangino has feasted on nonconference scheduling over the years and is only 23-39 in Big 12 play. His only winning record was in 2007 during the Orange Bowl season when the Jayhawks went 7-1.

Other than that, the Jayhawks are 16-38 in Big 12 play under Mangino, including nine losses in their last 12 conference games since the middle of last season. Those struggles have also come at a time when the North Division has never appeared more winnable.

Mangino is a good coach. But his story is a cautionary tale for all in his profession.

In today’s world, coaches can’t berate players like they used to. Physical contact is an absolute no-no.

Mangino appears to have trouble adapting to those societal changes. His career is in serious jeopardy because of it.video

Big 12 predictions, Week 7

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I’m hoping for some better picks this week after going 5-1 last week.

Texas A&M stung me for the second straight week.

Here are my choices in the Big 12 this week:

Texas 31, Oklahoma 24: The Red River Rivalry will be hopping like usual. The Longhorns are coming off a disappointing offensive performance against Colorado where they did just enough before a blizzard of unconventional touchdowns put the game away. And Oklahoma will be back with Sam Bradford throwing again to a group of receivers who had the dropsies in the Sooners' victory over Baylor last week. The young Sooners receivers have to come through for them to have a chance. And they can’t allow the big special teams plays that marked last season and have given Texas an edge this season with D.J. Monroe and Jordan Shipley.

Nebraska 34, Texas Tech 17: The Red Raiders will bring their quarterback controversy into Lincoln against the resurgent Cornhuskers and their suddenly stout defense. But of greater concern for Bo Pelini is an improved offensive effort after his team’s streaky performance at Missouri. Roy Helu Jr. was banged up at the end of that game and backup Rex Burkhead is out with a foot injury. Steven Sheffield threw seven touchdown passes last week and Taylor Potts threw seven earlier in the season. The Red Raiders’ offense picked up a lift with Sheffield in charge, but will be tremendously challenged by Nebraska’s front four, keyed by emerging Heisman Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh.

Kansas 31, Colorado 28: The Jayhawks showed a leaky defense last week against Iowa State and could get a sterner test from the Buffaloes than you might expect. The Jayhawks have the conference’s foremost pitch-and-catch trio in Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. And their offense could be even more potent and balanced if and when Jake Sharp returns to the lineup. New Colorado starting quarterback Tyler Hansen will try to pump some life into a struggling lineup that was limited to 127 yards last week by Texas. The Buffaloes should find things a little smoother against the Jayhawks, who have allowed an average of 32 points in their last two games.

Iowa State 27, Baylor 24: The winner of this game should see its bowl hopes push ahead. The Cyclones have come close in their last two games, dropping a one-point loss to Kansas State on a blocked extra point and a tight six-point defeat last week to Kansas when a potential game-winning pass slid through the hands of Darius Darks late in the game. This time, the Cyclones will take advantage of their home field against Baylor, which will decide between Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski at quarterback. Something’s got to give as the Cyclones have an 11-game Big 12 losing streak and the Bears have lost 12 straight road games. I think the Cyclones are due to win a game on their home field after their near-misses the last two weeks.

Texas A&M 34, Kansas State 21: The Aggies came close against Oklahoma State, but were undone by key defensive stops and their inability in the red zone. It should be a little easier against Kansas State, which is still reeling after its 52-point loss to Texas Tech last week. Jerrod Johnson and Uzoma Nwachukwu will be a challenge for a Kansas State pass defense that was blistered for eight touchdown passes by Texas Tech quarterbacks last week.

Oklahoma State 34, Missouri 31: The Cowboys can keep their unbeaten Big 12 record going this week, although their offensive firepower again figures to be depleted without Dez Bryant or Kendall Hunter. The Cowboys’ backups played well last week against Texas A&M and could be facing a Missouri team still reeling from its collapse against Nebraska in the rain last week. These games have always been entertaining with three of the last six going to overtime. This one should similarly be close, although I like the home team to win because of quarterback Zac Robinson.

Last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)

Season: 43-13 (76.8 percent)

Big 12 power rankings: Surging Cornhuskers move to No. 2 in poll

October, 12, 2009
10/12/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


1. Texas: It wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado was a good lesson as they prepare for the Red River Shootout. The running game struggled mightily, producing a season-low 46 yards as top backs Vondrell McGee and Tre’ Newton both were dinged up. Those absences only paved the way for a career night for Jordan Shipley, who is becoming one of the nation’s top receiving/return threats. And the Longhorns are playing some stringent defense after limiting their last three opponents to an average of 15 yards rushing per game. Colorado produced only 127 yards, giving the Longhorns two efforts of holding opponents to less than 130 yards this season for the first time since 1952.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ defense played at a dominating level against Missouri as it gradually wore down the Tigers before their 27-12 triumph. Ndamukong Suh had a huge game to key a brutal pass rush that won the game for the Cornhuskers. Zac Lee was streaky, but still came up big during a stretch of 3 minutes, 32 seconds early in the fourth quarter when the Cornhuskers took the lead against the fading Tigers. It won’t get any easier for Nebraska this week as Texas Tech’s explosive offense comes to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers rank second nationally in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense, 14th in pass defense and 15th in turnover margin. But Tech has won the last three games of the series, scoring 70, 37 and 34 points against Nebraska.

3. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had a gritty effort against Texas A&M, claiming a 36-31 victory despite not having Dez Bryant (suspension) and Kendall Hunter (ankle). Keith Toston filled in for Hunter with 204 total yards, and a group of receivers stepped up to replace Bryant in the comeback victory. Improved quarterback pressure helped Oklahoma State notch four sacks in a big step forward after its first conference game. A tough game with Missouri is up next as the Cowboys need to continue their recent balanced offensive success.

4. Kansas: A huge aerial effort by Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe powered the Jayhawks to a 41-36 victory over Iowa State. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win. In coach Mark Mangino’s own words, the Jayhawks were exposed by Iowa State’s underrated offense. Kansas had enough offense to win the game and escape with a share of first place in the Big 12 North. Can the Jayhawks do the same against the better offenses they will be facing in the future?

5. Oklahoma: Sam Bradford is back and the Sooners appear to have things on an uptick heading into the Texas game. Bradford was outstanding in his first game back, passing for 389 yards despite having 11 passes dropped by his receivers, including three in the end zone. The Sooners allowed Baylor third-string quarterback Nick Florence to carve them up for 262 yards, so their defense is a concern heading into the Texas game. They must show more consistency in the red zone and play better defensively if they have any hopes of claiming the upset Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

6. Missouri: What happened to the Tigers in that driving rain in Columbia last Thursday night? After dominating play for three quarters, the Tigers fell apart late as they allowed the Cornhuskers to roll up 27 points in the final quarter to steal the victory. Blaine Gabbert threw two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter and the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently enough to take pressure off Gabbert. The defense played well until collapsing after all of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. And it won’t get any easier as the Tigers visit Oklahoma State.

7. Texas Tech: A big effort by Texas Tech’s first backup quarterback to start for Mike Leach should help contribute to Leach’s first QB controversy. The offense sizzled with Steven Sheffield in charge, scoring nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions to blow open a 66-14 victory over Kansas State. The Red Raiders did a nice job of neutralizing leading KSU rusher Daniel Thomas, who was limited to a season-low 49 yards on 11 carries -- with only 15 of those yards coming after the Wildcats’ first offensive series. Leach was playing coy on who his starting quarterback will be, but the Red Raiders will face a huge challenge in Nebraska with whoever is chosen as the starter.

8. Baylor: The Bears moved the ball well in Florence’s second start, but were done in by their inability to score against Oklahoma’s stingy defense in the second half. Baylor produced only two first downs with five three-and-outs and two turnovers. The defense wasn’t bad as it limited Oklahoma to four field goals on red zone possessions to start the second half until Bradford’s late touchdown. The Sooners wore down the Bears before producing 592 yards to extend their winning streak over Baylor to 19 straight games. It was a definite step back after all of the excitement for the Bears during their 3-1 nonconference performance, showing them how much more competitive Big 12 play will be.

9. Texas A&M: After a promising 3-0 start, the Aggies have fallen apart with disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State. The struggling trends in those losses make bowl aspirations seem like a fleeting hope. The Aggies struggled protecting Jerrod Johnson against Oklahoma State, allowing four sacks. And the Aggies' defense couldn’t make a play down the stretch to get the Cowboys off the field as they ran the clock on their final possession to wrap up a 36-31 victory. Mike Sherman can only hope these games will help build experience for his young team that featured seven freshman starters on Saturday.

10. Iowa State: Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any more excruciating for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones, a game like Saturday’s loss to Kansas happened. After losing the previous week against Kansas State by a missed extra point, few expected the Cyclones would match up with No. 16 Kansas. The Cyclones gave the Jayhawks everything they wanted and came within an overthrown pass from Austen Arnaud to Darius Darks at the end of escaping with an upset victory. Alexander Robinson’s return helped rejuvenate the offense after he rushed for a career-best 152 yards, despite recovering from a strained groin muscle. The kicking game must improve after Grant Mahoney missed two extra points, and a 26-yard field goal never was kicked because of a low snap. The Cyclones can’t afford those kicking-game errors in close games.

11. Kansas State: The Cyclones took a huge step backward after getting blown out in a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech -- the most points ever allowed by a team coached by Bill Snyder. The KSU defense came into the game ranked seventh against the pass, but allowed eight TD passes -- most ever against a team in the school’s history. Grant Gregory started, but the broken plays that he turned into touchdowns last week against Iowa State resulted in sacks against Texas Tech. Carson Coffman may have won his starting quarterback job back, but that determination will be made in practice this week. The huge loss has made a bowl trip a virtual impossibility unless the Wildcats claim home victories in the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Colorado.

12. Colorado: It was one of the Buffaloes’ best performances this season, but still not good enough against Texas, who ran them out of the stadium late in a 38-14 victory. The Buffaloes were undone by critical mistakes on special teams and turnovers. Perhaps the most interesting development was when coach Dan Hawkins decided to play backup quarterback Tyler Hansen, effectively ending his chance to redshirt this season. Hawkins said he’s settled on Hansen as his starter. It will be interesting to see if that move settles Colorado’s offense.

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