Big 12: Darren Evans
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini plans to start two young defensive players in their first road game when the Cornhuskers travel Saturday to Virginia Tech for a game against the No. 13 Hokies.
Included among Nebraska's defensive starters for that game will be redshirt freshman middle linebacker Will Compton and redshirt freshman starting Buck linebacker Sean Fisher.
Both players have started both games for the Cornhuskers so far this season. And both have eight tackles in their early work.
Despite their relative youth, Pelini doesn't expect to prepare either player differently than their work earlier in the season to prepare for the Hokies.
"Nothing,’’ Pelini said on the Big 12 teleconference. "We’ll be ready to play.’’
Virginia Tech will counter the Cornhuskers' defensive youth with some of their own. Top returning rusher Darren Evans was lost for the season in training camp after a knee injury.
But the Hokies had two freshmen running backs -- David Wilson and Ryan Williams -- who rushed for more than 160 yards in their 52-10 route over Marshall on Saturdy.
The presence of the talented tailback will challenge a Nebraska defense that allowed Arkansas State to have 18 plays of eight yards or more last week.
"They're really good football players," Pelini said about Williams and Wilson. "We'll have our hands full, we certainly know that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Losses by Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State and a near defeat by Missouri stamped this as a disappointing weekend for the Big 12.
Despite those unseemingly blemishes in the national spotlight, here are some items that we can take away from the games we just witnessed.
1. The Big 12 could arguably be considered the nation’s most overrated conference after the first two weeks of the season -- at least at the supposed strength at the top. Texas slumbered through the first half of game against Wyoming, a team predicted to finish last in the Mountain West Conference. Oklahoma lost last week to Mountain West Conference team BYU. Oklahoma State lost to the Conference USA’s Houston. You can argue all you want, but the conference’s expected three power teams should have played better to live up to the conference’s immense preseason hype.
2. The best example of the importance of returning Oklahoma’s Brody Eldridge to tight end could be seen with the re-emergence of DeMarco Murray against Idaho State. Murray had trouble getting free outside last week against BYU. But with Eldridge leading the blocking on the flanks, the Sooners’ outside running game was rejuvenated Saturday night against Idaho State.
3. For all of the excitement about Taylor Potts’ seven touchdown passes, I was even more impressed by the effort by Texas Tech’s defense in the Red Raiders’ blowout victory over Rice. The Red Raiders forced their first two turnovers of the season and racked up six sacks -- from six different players -- and notched eight other tackles for losses. Tech will be stepping up in class next week against Texas, but the Red Raiders’ defense should be brimming with confidence as it prepares to face the Longhorns.
4. Something seems to be amiss with Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson after two games. Both coach Mike Gundy and Robinson termed his performance in the loss against Houston as “average.” The Cowboys aren’t going to be able to compete against the South Division powers elite unless their senior quarterback plays much better than that.
5. Nebraska’s defense has allowed only 12 points in the first two games of the season. But one statistic that has to be worrisome for Bo Pelini was that the Blackshirts surrendered 18 plays of 8 yards or more in their victory over Arkansas State. The thought here is that if the Cornhuskers are allowing those plays to Sun Belt Conference offenses, it won’t be a good sign when the Cornhuskers starting playing teams like Virginia Tech next week. And for those of you who may have missed it, a Virginia Tech running game that was expected to wither away after the preseason loss of Darren Evans produced 444 rushing yards in the Hokies’ victory Saturday against Marshall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I feel badly I wasn't able to get to these last Friday. But duty called and I was scrambling at Oklahoma to finish my interviews, hammer out a few posts and still make it to the airport in time to get back home that night.
It made for an eventful day, and the e-nails did pile up. Here are the best of the questions I received over the last several days to try to clear the decks.
Nathan Winslow of Austin writes: What new information was revealed to the NCAA after the 2008 season in Oklahoma linebacker Mike Balogun's case that was not presented in his first review?
Tim Griffin: The question at case was Balogun's age when he played for the Prince George Jets, a winter semipro team, and the Maryland Marauders of the semipro North American Football League.
Under NCAA rules, any participation during each 12-month period after a player's 21st birthday would result in a corresponding loss of a season of collegiate eligibility. Balogun signed with the Sooners at the age of 24 after two seasons at Lackawanna College last season.
The NCAA now is in the process of determining if Balogun played in any semipro games after his 21st birthday, and if so, for how many 12-month periods after turning 21.
Different newspapers have different accounts of how long Balogun played semipro ball. The New York Times reported that Balogun played only a year and a half before starting at Lackawanna in 2006 and 2007. But a Maryland paper reported that Balogun played for the Jets, in the fall of 2005.
The matter was thought to be resolved before last season when Balogun was certified for the 2008 season by the NCAA. Also scrambling enforcement of the penalty is the fact the Jets no longer exist, according to the Tulsa World.
Balogun was certified by the NCAA to play two seasons at Oklahoma. But if it turns out that Balogun turned 21 and then participated on a semipro team during a 12-month period, he would be eligible to play in only one season - which would turn out to be last season.
That matter will be determined between now and Wednesday. Balogun remains working out with the Sooners until his decision is announced.
It obviously would hurt Oklahoma's depth at linebacker, although Ryan Reynolds has come back healthy after knee surgery and Oklahoma coaches have been raving about the play of freshman Tom Wort in the middle. If Balogun can't play, it would hurt the Sooners' depth but wouldn't be a catastrophic loss.
Charles Mitchell from Las Vegas, N.M., writes: Tim, an educated guess, please. Will Georgia make more money playing OSU in Stillwater or playing the Citadel in Athens?
Tim Griffin: Just a guess on my account, but I'm guessing with a 92,746-seat capacity at home at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs would be in line for a multi-million dollar payout at home for almost any game. Even with television payments they might get for the Oklahoma State game, I'd be doubtful to think they can come close to those numbers for any road game.
Dusty McAfee from McKinney, Texas, writes: Tim, I've always enjoyed reading your columns, always believed you to be objective, and frankly, better than most others in your profession.
That being said, I have to question why Brandon Carter, a consensus All-American in 2008, was noticeably absent from your preseason All-Big 12 team. It's assumed that a returning consensus All-American would be expected to earn all-conference honors; however, I'm sure you had a reason for why he didn't make the team. Why, I'm wondering did you leave him off?
Tim Griffin: Dusty, first, thanks for the kind words. I'm not taking anything away from Carter, who I think is one of best offensive linemen in the conference. But I keep remembering his struggles - like all of Texas Tech - at the end of the Cotton Bowl against Mississippi. I don't think any of the Red Raiders' offensive line had a particularly good game protecting Graham Harrell in that game and that is the freshest memory for me.
Maybe that game stuck with me, but that's what I kept remembering and why I elevated my choices in front of Carter.
Obviously, my team is merely a guess at this time of year and solely my choice. Carter can play his way onto my final first-team squad if he has a big season.
It might behoove him to keep the films of that second half of the Mississippi game handy for some ready inspiration.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska's hopes of sneaking into Virginia Tech and getting an upset victory over the Hokies improved markedly with the announcement that leading rusher Darren Evans will miss the season for the Hokies after he tore a ligament in his left knee during practice.
Virginia Tech relied on heavily Evans, who rushed for 1,265 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season despite starting only eight games. I still can see him churning through Maryland in a Thursday night game last season when he set the school record with 253 rushing yards. He also picked up MVP honors in the Orange Bowl after gaining 153 yards.
The Cornhuskers remember Evans well, too. He gashed them for a pair of touchdowns in Virginia Tech's 35-30 victory in Lincoln last season.
But this Virginia Tech team might not be quite as salty offensively without Evans. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor's run-pass option abilities are lessened without his major offensive weapon.
Considering that only Josh Oglesby among Evans' replacements has carried the ball gives Nebraska a much better chance of winning one of the Big 12's biggest road tests during the nonconference part of the schedule.
Just a guess here, but I bet that Bo Pelini's camp grumpiness brightened for a few minutes Tuesday afternoon.