Big 12: Guy Morriss

Hey, I see you Big 12 fans with your recency bias.

"Kansas! Turner Gill's team last season was the worst in the history of the Big 12!"

Yes, those Jayhawks were one of only six teams in Big 12 history to go winless in conference play, and this year's Jayhawks have a chance to make it seven if they don't beat West Virginia on Saturday.

The 2011 team lost six games by at least 30 points and the historically bad defense gave up at least 59 points on four separate occasions. However, those same Jayhawks led a 10-win Baylor team led by Heisman winner Robert Griffin III by 21 points early in the fourth quarter and ran up a 20-point lead on Texas Tech early in the season. They also lost to Iowa State by only three points and beat the MAC champion, Northern Illinois.

Still, I hate to break it to you. Do the research, and you'll find that KU team was probably the best winless team in Big 12 history. Not exactly an accomplishment that will do much except get the coach fired, but on ESPN.com today, we're taking a look at some of the worst teams in the history of the game. Here's how I'd rank the worst teams in the history of the Big 12:

1. 1999 Baylor (1-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Kevin Steele
Win: 23-10 vs. North Texas
Lowlights: The Bears were in Year 1 of Steele's four-year tenure that peaked with a three-win campaign in 2002. I give these Bears my seal of approval as the worst team in Big 12 history. They lost to Boston College and UNLV in nonconference, and the closest they got to any Big 12 team all season was 20 points, and even that game was in the season finale against Oklahoma State. Along the way, they suffered losses of 62-0 (Texas), 37-0 (Colorado) and 48-7 (Nebraska).

2. 2003 Iowa State (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Wins: Northern Iowa, Ohio
Lowlights: This was an oddly awful season sandwiched between four seven-win seasons for McCarney, the best coach in Iowa State history before Paul Rhoads arrived in 2009. ISU lost to Northern Illinois out of conference and had by far the worst finish of any team on this list. In its final five games, it scored seven points twice in blowout losses to KU and Mizzou, and was shut out by Nebraska and K-State. It did score 10 points in a 34-point loss to Colorado, though! ISU came within 21 points of only one Big 12 team that season, losing 40-19 to Texas.

3. 1997 Iowa State (1-10, 1-7 Big 12)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Win: 24-17 vs. Baylor
Lowlights: These Cyclones are the only team on this list with a conference win, but they're a team that deserved special consideration. They went winless in nonconference play with losses to Wyoming (46 points!!), Minnesota (34 points) and Iowa (43 points). They came within seven points in the season opener against Oklahoma State, but suffered a handful of humiliating losses, including a 77-14 beatdown against Nebraska. Missouri (24 points), Texas A&M (39 points) and Kansas State (25 points) all continued the parade.

4. 2002 Kansas (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Mark Mangino
Wins: Southwest Missouri State, Tulsa
Lowlights: This was the first season on the road to an eventual BCS bowl for Mangino. The former OU offensive coordinator had a tough start, getting blasted by Iowa State by 42 points to kick off the season. They also suffered losses to UNLV and Bowling Green. The Jayhawks came within three points of Baylor, but no other Big 12 game was decided by fewer than 24 points. They also suffered a 64-0 loss to K-State and a 45-7 loss to Nebraska.

5. 2007 Baylor (3-9, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Guy Morriss
Wins: Rice, Texas State, Buffalo
Lowlights: This was the final season for Morriss at Baylor, and the Bears didn't come within 20 points of winning a Big 12 game. BU kicked off the season with a 27-0 loss to TCU but suffered 31-point losses to Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma to close the year and the Morriss era, ushering in the Art Briles era in Waco. The Bears lost to BCS-bound KU by 48 points that year and suffered a 38-point loss to a Ron Prince-coached Kansas State team.

6. 2008 Iowa State (2-10, 0-8 Big 12)
Coach: Gene Chizik
Wins: South Dakota State, Kent State
Lowlights: Chizik parlayed his 5-19 career record into a head job at Auburn and a national title before being fired earlier this week after a winless season in SEC play. The Cyclones were bad, but far from hopeless. ISU lost its final 10 games, including a loss to UNLV, but also had three Big 12 losses decided by a single possession. It did lose games by 42 (Oklahoma State), 32 (Mizzou) and 28 (Nebraska and Baylor).
Nick FlorenceRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesNick Florence had three TDs in last season's win over Texas Tech -- but lost his redshirt in the process.


WACO, Texas -- Nick Florence didn't have to come to Baylor. He didn't have to stay.

If football has been his only reason for coming to Waco, it'd be easy to see why he might've gone elsewhere.

But Florence did.

He stepped in as a freshman when future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III tore his ACL, then stepped off the stage for the next two seasons while Griffin wrote his legacy.

Plenty of quarterbacks would have waved goodbye.

Florence didn't.

Here's why.

--

Florence didn't lose a game as a freshman at South Garland (Texas) High School. A year later, he took over the varsity squad in midseason and carried the team to a third-round loss in the state playoffs to Lufkin, led by Dez Bryant, now a receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.

"The QB that started the year as the starter, every opportunity Nick had, he would encourage him," said Mickey Moss, Florence's high school coach who now heads up a program in Rockwall, Texas. Throughout his career, Moss has put about 50 players into Division I programs like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri.

"When Nick took over, he'd lead the senior linemen and just encourage them and give them confidence and praise. I was like, 'I’ve never seen a kid like this who had such confidence and maturity.'"

Florence earned a reputation on and off the field. Before school began, he and teammates would walk through the school's hallways while praying for classmates who would congregate there during the school year, which began in a few weeks. When school began, he'd join his twin brother, Luke, and others to often pray for classmates before class during the week.

"That’s just who he was and he believed in making a difference in the lives of other people," Moss said. "His leadership? He’s just got it."

His youth pastor at Lake Highlands Church in Dallas eventually took a job at Antioch Community Church in Waco, and Florence wanted to join him.

Florence pestered Moss to make a few calls down to Baylor. Moss did so and asked coaches if they'd seen Florence on film.

Minutes later, he got a call back.

Baylor offered Florence his first major scholarship offer, and Florence made it his only one.

"Nick just felt like this was where God wanted him to be, and that’s Nick," Moss said. "He does so much based on faith."

The problem? The coach who called back with that offer was Guy Morriss, who was fired after the 2007 season. Enter Art Briles and a kid from Copperas Cove whom nobody thought could play quarterback.

Briles, then at Houston, brought Cougars commit Robert Griffin III to Baylor with him, the two having faith of their own that they could win in Waco, which hadn't seen a winning football season since 1995.

Briles had his man, but honored Morriss' offer to Florence, whose playing time looked like it would be sparse.

"If God wanted you to be here and that’s what you believe, he doesn’t change his mind," Moss says he remembers telling Florence. "Knowing Robert Griffin was going to be the quarterback didn’t faze him."

Along the way, Florence kept working. He earned the respect of teammates. In the meantime, he got his business degree, worked closely with his church and married his wife, Rachel, last May. The two plan to enter the ministry whenever Florence's football career is over.

"His pastor told me, in all the locker rooms he’s been in, he’s never let his eyes view another naked woman in his life in print on TV or anywhere else until his wedding day. That says a lot about who he is, but also how others respect him," Moss said. "He doesn’t throw his faith in your face. Not at all. He has a genuine care, concern and love for people, and he’s always looking to make a difference. ... He’s going to compete, but the biggest thing I always believed he was going to do was make an impact in the locker room with his character and integrity."

Florence had been on campus a couple of years but RG3 was proving his mettle as the man at Baylor. Briles met with Moss and gushed about his backup.

"That kid is a winner," Moss recalls Briles saying.

He's done it since he was a freshman in high school, and now that the starting job at Baylor is nearly Florence's officially, he doesn't plan on that changing.

[+] EnlargeNick Florence
Jerome Miron/US PresswireNick Florence is now tasked with replacing Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, right, at Baylor.
"You watch him play and it’s like, what’s special about him?" Moss said. "He wins. He leads. He makes plays. His throwing motion wasn’t the greatest. His speed wasn’t the greatest. His strength wasn’t the greatest. But the kid won, and then he influenced everyone around him."

When Griffin's knee injury meant Florence had to step in as a wide-eyed freshman, it also meant winning wasn't going to happen. It didn't. Baylor fell to 4-8 and won just one conference game, at Missouri when Florence set the school record for passing yards.

"He’s a different guy, just like I am since 2009 and like everybody. As you grow you mature, you learn to get better in everything you see act or do," Briles said. "He’s a guy that was thrown into a fire as a true freshman. Now, he’s had a chance to sit back and learn the system, understand what his strengths are, how to use them and what he needs to do to help this team grow."

Said Florence: "I'm not that 180-pound freshman anymore."

Baylor got a preview of its 205-pound senior in November when a concussion sidelined Griffin at Cowboys Stadium, near Florence's hometown.

Florence hopped off the bench just before halftime and completed 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to help Baylor keep its winning streak alive with a 66-42 victory over Texas Tech. That streak reached six games by season's end, the longest current string among AQ schools in college football.

Florence logged a memorable moment, but he also logged enough playing time to burn his redshirt and leave him with just one year of eligibility remaining entering 2012.

"He’s a guy who’ll do whatever and whatever happens in life, he’ll deal with it. If that means he has one year left to play, that means that’s what God’s will is. He’s obedient," Moss said. "If the team needed him to come in there and help win that game and burn his redshirt and then not play again the rest of the year, that’s OK with him."

Baylor needed Florence to come in and win that game. He did it. Now it's time to take over the full-time job of being the man who follows the man who did the unthinkable: winning a Heisman Trophy at Baylor.

"We don’t talk in terms of replacing. It’s just, what do we need to do now to do what we need to do at the end of July?" Briles said. "That’s the most important thing. We may not be able to do some of the same things we were able to do prior, so we’ve got to figure out different ways to do things and still have success."

Florence is no hurdler. He can't run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds and doesn't have an arm that will have NFL scouts drooling. For the time being, though, he does have the keys to Baylor's offense.

"It’s a great opportunity not everybody gets. I want to make the most of it and take advantage," Florence said.

That offense is going to look a little different now. Briles says time will show just how different it'll be.

"That’s the exciting part about it," Briles said. "We’ve got to expand and become better in all other areas scheme-wise, coaching-wise, player/individual technique-wise, and so that to me is the very exciting part, because we have to become a better football team."

Florence wants his chance to show he's the man to make Baylor a better team. Florence has proved his intangibles since high school, and as he's gotten older, they've only become more ingrained. Now is his chance to show them off to everyone outside of Baylor's practice field.

"When guys come in the huddle they have great confidence and respect in him. They know who he is. They know there’s not a selfish bone in his body, but at the same time, they know he’s a heck of a competitor," Moss said. "I’ve never been around a kid like Nick Florence, and I imagine I never will again."

Lunch links: Former Baylor coach apologizes

March, 9, 2010
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Lunch links: Former Baylor coach makes light of paper caper

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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Former Baylor and current Texas A&M-Commerce coach Guy Morriss caused a spat with the student newspaper at Commerce after saying he was "proud" of his players for allegedly stealing copies of the paper.

Texas coach Mack Brown speaks out about the recent death of his mother, ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel reports.

Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen says he hopes for an interception-less spring, Tom Kensler of The Denver Post reports.

This could be a historic NFL draft for the Big 12, writes Suzanne Halliburton in the Austin American-Statesman

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne weighs in on expansion talk.

If you want to read Colorado coach Dan Hawkins use the term "eternal axiom," this Q&A on CU's Web site is for you. No, really.

Big 12 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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Every football fan has a different definition of what makes a game great. Some fans might prefer defensive struggles. Other enjoy torrents of points.

The Big 12 has provided a few of latter -- and more -- over the last decade with some of the most entertaining games in recent college football history.

Here are my favorite 10 games of the past decade. There are 10 to 15 other games that legitimately could have been included on this list.

1. Texas 41, USC 38 (Jan. 1, 2006): The Longhorns claimed the 2005 national title with a dramatic comeback capped by Vince Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left. Michael Huff’s critical fourth-down stop of LenDale White set the stage on the preceding drive. And many observers still think that Pete Carroll could have gone for a game-tying field goal attempt on the final play of the game if he hadn't squandered a timeout before a two-point try after Young's TD run.

2. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 (Nov. 1, 2008): Michael Crabtree’s 28-yard touchdown reception from Graham Harrell with one second remaining capped the wildest victory in Tech history -- made even more improbable after Blake Gideon dropped an interception on the play before Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown.

3. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (Jan. 1, 2007): The Broncos won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by fooling Bob Stoops’ team with three gadget plays: a game-tying hook and ladder play in regulation, an option pass from wide receiver Vinny Perretta to Derek Schouman in overtime to pull within one point and a game-winning two-point conversion by Ian Johnson on a Statue of Liberty play. Johnson proposed to his girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, on the field after the play. After all the excitement, of course, she accepted.

4. Oklahoma State 49, Texas Tech 45 (Sept. 22, 2007): This classic offensive battle produced 62 first downs and 1,328 yards and wasn’t settled until Michael Crabtree dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in the final minute of play. And we all still remember it more for the fireworks in the press conferences with Mike Leach and Mike Gundy than for what happened on the field, don’t we?

5. Oklahoma 35, Texas A&M 31 (Nov. 11, 2000): Torrance Marshall’s game-winning 41-yard interception return with 7:42 left enabled the Sooners to continue their charge to the 2000 national championship. Oklahoma overcame an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter and a 10-point hole with less than 9 minutes remaining. Marshall’s heroics gave the Sooners the lead and the Oklahoma defense did the rest, turning away the Aggies twice deep in Oklahoma territory late in the game.

6. Kansas 40, Missouri 37 (Nov. 29, 2008): Four lead changes in the final 6:52 made this game memorable, even though Missouri had already clinched the North title coming into the game. Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier hooked up five times on the game-winning drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left. Missouri had one last hope, but Jeff Wolfert’s 54-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game was partially blocked by Phillip Strozier.

7. Texas 13, Nebraska 12 (Dec. 5, 2009) : In a conference that made its national reputation with wild offensive battles, it was refreshing to see a defensive struggle in the 2009 Big 12 title game. Nebraska, keyed by a ferocious defense that forced three interceptions and sacked Colt McCoy nine times, appeared to have taken control on a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery with 1:44 left. Ndamukong Suh sacked McCoy a championship-game record 4.5 times. But McCoy withstood the rush and drove the Longhorns for the game-winning field goal after a controversial officiating decision put extra time back on the clock after it appeared the Longhorns had squandered their chance to win. Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yard field goal as time expired gave Texas the victory.

8. Texas 56, Oklahoma State 35 (Nov. 6, 2004): The Longhorns were in a 35-7 hole late in the second quarter before Vince Young hooked up on a 4-yard TD pass to Bo Scaife shortly before halftime. That opened the floodgates, as the Longhorns scored touchdowns on six straight drives. Cedric Benson rushed for 141 yards and five touchdowns and Vince Young rushed for 123 yards and completed 12 straight passes at one point en route to a then career-high 278 passing yards. The Longhorns piled up 600 yards of total offense in the wild comeback, outgaining the Cowboys 266-to-minus-5 in the third quarter of the comeback.

9. Nebraska 40, Colorado 31 (Nov. 28, 2008): Alex Henery’s school-record 57-yard field goal with 1:43 left gave the Cornhuskers the lead for good in this classic that Colorado needed to win to qualify for a bowl game. And Ndamukong Suh foreshadowed his monster season to come by icing the victory with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown with 55 seconds left.

10. Baylor 35, Texas A&M 34 (Oct. 30, 2004): The Bears had been waiting for a long time for a chance to beat Texas A&M -- particularly after losing 73-10 to the Aggies in College Station the previous season. So it was understandable that Guy Morriss didn’t hesitate to go for the win after pulling within one point in overtime on Shawn Bell’s pass to Dominique Ziegler. Bell and Ziegler then hooked up again for the two-point conversion, snapping an 18-game winless streak to the Aggies.

Battle of Brazos has rare bowl implications this season

November, 17, 2009
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The two schools are separated by only 84 miles as the crow flies along Texas State Highway 6.

Baylor and Texas A&M have been longtime rivals, playing a 99-game series that predated their memberships in the Southwest Conference. Both joined the Big 12 together in the continuation of a bitter rivalry that has been played yearly since 1945.

It may not seem as heated now as in the past when Grant Teaff squared off with Jackie Sherrill or later, R.C. Slocum. Even the Guy Morriss-Dennis Franchione rivalry developed into a good one with some barbs thrown from both sides on both sides.

AP Photo/Dave EinselTexas A&M head coach Mike Sherman Aggie's can gain bowl eligibility with a win over Baylor.

Saturday’s game will have some meaning unlike many recent Baylor-A&M games because both teams still have legitimate bowl hopes.

Baylor senior safety Jordan Lake grew up in a family where his father was a former Baylor student. Like all Baylor students, they reveled in the Bears’ 41-20 victory last season in Waco that ranked as their biggest triumph in the series since 1980. And they also delighted in the Bears' wild 35-34 overtime triumph in 2004 after A&M had thumped them in College Station by 63 points the year before.

“My dad always had a dislike for A&M,” Lake said. “From the beginning, I knew there was a rivalry tension there. And the way we’ve played the last couple of years has helped it rise to where it was back in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Mike Sherman and Art Briles appear to have a respectful relationship heading into Saturday’s game that will be played for some big stakes at Kyle Field.

Both teams have simmering postseason hopes heading into the game, although both have fallen dramatically in recent weeks.

Baylor (4-6) started the season strongly with an opening-game victory at Wake Forest. But the Bears lost their home opener to Connecticut and Robert Griffin went down with a season-ending knee injury the following week as the Bears have tailed off since then.

Their 47-14 loss to Texas last was their fifth in the last six games and actually seems closer than it really was. The Longhorns jumped to a 40-0 lead before Baylor scored two late touchdowns on the Texas backup defensive unit.

A&M (5-5) has faced similar recent struggles and bottomed out in their blowout 65-10 loss at Oklahoma.

The Aggies had enough problems against the Sooners in simply cleanly fielding punts or kicks. A&M fumbled or muffed five kicks to spark Oklahoma’s 42-10 halftime lead. That run of struggles enabled the Sooners to run off 51 straight points en route to the wide margin of victory.

It marked the second time this season that an opponent has hung at least 60 points on the Aggies and the third time that they have lost by at least four touchdowns.


AP Photo/L.G. PattersonBaylor head coach Art Briles needs to beat Texas A&M to have a chance to go bowling.
Those blowout losses haven’t undermined the progress of a young team that features 27 freshmen and sophomores in its two-deep roster.

“We’re fine,” senior safety Jordan Pugh said. “We just look at it as something that we’ve got to fix. We looked forward and moved on."

A victory would push the Aggies into their first bowl game under Sherman. But A&M players have simpler thoughts about Saturday’s game.

“It’s just important for us to win, period,” Pugh said. “Getting a bowl game would be fun, but winning is our major focus now.”

To gain bowl eligibility, the Bears would have to win their first game at Kyle Field since 1984 and then defeat Texas Tech next week at the new Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Playing meaningful games in late November is new for a Baylor program that hasn’t gone bowling since 1994. But the Bears are excited about the challenges that will be facing them -- even if they are perceived to be a long shot to accomplish those goals.

“A lot of people outside this locker room have written us off for awhile. When Griff went down, so did Baylor, they thought,” Baylor senior middle linebacker Joe Pawelek said. “We still have a shot to make this a special season. It starts with A&M this week. And we’re just looking to extend the season for one more week.”

The Aggies can make a bowl trip by winning one of their last two games. And obviously, the game against Baylor looks much more winnable than their remaining game against No. 3 Texas on Thanksgiving night.

“They all know that,” Sherman said about his team's bowl hopes. “I usually don’t make a big deal about the obvious. I think they know how important these games are.”

Why it's critical for Baylor to start the season fast

August, 18, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I know some of you are wondering why I've made it a point of emphasis that Baylor needs a quick start to make its first bowl trip since 1994.

The major reason is that past history has not been kind to Big 12 teams that struggle in the nonconference portion of their schedules.

And with Baylor facing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big 12, it will be critical for them to start fast. Baylor is facing a most daunting schedule in terms of being the only Big 12 team with two opponents from BCS conferences with its opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 5 and a home game on Sept. 19 against Connecticut.

I went back and did some figuring.

Of the 92 bowl teams in the 13-season history of the Big 12, only 10 of them had two nonconference regular-season losses. Only three teams with two nonconference losses have qualified for bowl games among the 46 teams making bowl trips since 2003.

Here's another nugget that might act as an incentive to Art Briles or anybody else in the conference. Of the 43 Big 12 teams that have started the season with a 4-0 record -- occasionally with a conference game thrown in -- all made bowl trips that season.

So that should bode well for the Bears if they are able to run the table in an opening start with nonconference games at Wake Forest and home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.

Here's a look at the Big 12's bowl teams over the years and how they did in nonconference play during the regular season. The two-loss teams are indicated in bold facing.

1996: No losses, Kansas State; one loss, Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska; two losses, Texas.

1997: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; one loss, Missouri.

1998: No losses, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Nebraska; one loss, Missouri, Texas A&M; two losses, Texas.

1999: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M; one loss, Oklahoma, Texas; two losses, Colorado.

2000: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas, Texas A&M.

2001: No losses, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado.

2002: No losses, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas; one loss, Nebraska; two losses, Colorado, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.

2003: No losses: Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State; one loss, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2004: No losses, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas; one loss, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech.

2005: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado, Missouri; two losses, Oklahoma.

2006: No losses, Missouri, Texas A&M; one loss, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2007: No losses, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas A&M; two losses, Colorado, Oklahoma State.

2008: No losses, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Kansas, Nebraska.

Additionally, Baylor has never started a season since joining the Big 12 with four straight victories. The Bears started 3-0 in 1996 under Chuck Reedy, finishing 4-7. And they started 3-0 under Guy Morriss in 2005, finishing 5-6.

Baylor's Finley aims to continue late-season burst

June, 17, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A fast finish made Baylor running back Jay Finley wish that the 2008 season could have lasted a few weeks longer.

Finley capped 2008 with 100-yard rushing efforts in the Bears' final two games, finally showing the potential he had longed to meet since arriving at college.

 
  Karl Anderson/Icon SMI
  Jay Finley averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season and rushed for seven touchdowns.

The closing spurt started with 116 rushing yards in the Bears' impressive victory over Texas A&M and was followed with 105 yards in Baylor's season finale against Texas Tech.

"I have confidence that I can keep doing it and going into the offseason, those games have made me work extra hard," Finley said. "We were rolling and I hated to see the season end."

Finley's late charge came after he made a conscious decision to relax in the backfield, waiting on his blocks rather than attempting to blast through holes that weren't there.

"To tell you the truth, it was just the case of trying to be more patient and letting my blocks come to me," said Finley, who finished with a team-high 865 rushing yards to finish fifth in the conference. "It's made me work hard in everything I'm doing. I'll keep working hard. My personal goal is that I want to be a 1,000-yard back this season."

That aim appears doable as Finley enters his junior season as the Bears' featured back. But his supporting cast will be much stronger with the arrival of transfer Terrance Ganaway, who rushed for 550 yards and scored six touchdowns in 2007 at Houston in Art Briles' final season coaching there.

Briles' arrival at Baylor has transformed the Bears' attitude into a more blue-collar rushing team, emphasizing the run after several seasons of neglect.

Finley and other Bears chafed at the lack of rushing production in 2007 under former coach Guy Morriss. It made Finley, a 5-foot-11, 205-pounder from Corsicana, Texas, feel like he was being used as much as a receiver and pass-blocker as a rushing threat. The Bears ranked 113th nationally in rushing that season, averaging a paltry 3.13 yards per carry.

That philosophy was transformed last season as Briles emphasized a physical nature in the trenches. The result was that the Bears finished the season with an average of 195.8 yards per game, good for 21st nationally.

In the process, the Bears improved their yards per carry by 1.75 yards per tote from 2007 last season. And Baylor's rushing improvement of 117.9 yards per game rushing from 2007 to last season ranked as the nation's second-biggest jump behind only Army's 154.0 yards-per-game rushing improvement.

"I think it will be more of the same this year," Finley said. "We were able to grind it out when we needed to, but still have our receivers and a passing game when we needed them, too."

Any improvement will come despite the loss of former starting tackles Jason Smith and Dan Gay, who both are on NFL rosters.

"Our line will be physical and we'll be able to do everything we did last season," Finley said. "It's going to be hard to replace guys like Jason and Gay, but I'm confident in the new guys that we have. During the spring, it doesn't look like we've missed a step."

Some of the confidence comes because of the return and continued development of sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin, who rushed for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns and passed for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

Despite a promising career in track and field, Griffin has concentrated on football this spring in hopes of leading his team to a bowl for the first time since 1994.

Finley can see a difference in Griffin's approach and in his command of the Baylor offense after concentrating on football this spring.

"Robert already works harder than anybody," Finley said. "And he's just doing what he did last season, only better."

After working together during the spring, Finley said that the Baylor offense is more productive and confident.

"Our rhythm is faster and we're moving faster," Finley said. "You can tell a difference in what we're doing."

Finley and the rest of the Bears have been conducting informal workouts with preparations for the start of training camp in early August.

That early work hasn't been any vacation for Finley or his teammates over the past several days, he said.

"It must be about 120 degrees out there," Finley said after another blistering practice earlier this week. "It's really hard to stay focused because of the heat and the conditions. It's hot out there."

Those blast-furnace conditions have only intensified Finley's determination to lead his team. He exhibits that attitude with a quick needling for his teammates during their work.

"You've got to keep people motivated," Finley said. "I've always found you forget you're tired if you're laughing. That's what we're trying to do to get better is come out and work hard to get ready for the season."

Judging Big 12 coaches by conference records

May, 6, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Who was it that said necessity is the mother of invention?

They must have had a pretty good handle on football statistics, because I wracked my brain twice in the last week looking for a specific set of figures that I thought any upstanding conference would compile as part of a basic statistical package.

Surprise for me, I guess.

I wanted to find out the overall conference records of every coach in the history of the Big 12. These records are a strong tool to comparatively analyze coaches, I think.

All of the games are against Division I teams (unlike overall records). And the games are typically between coaches who typically get a chance to coach against each other on more than one occasion, providing a chance to make adjustments over the years as they learn more about their opponents' tendencies.

That's why I found these statistics -- compiled by me during the second half of a boring Cleveland-Atlanta basketball game last night -- to be so fascinating.

Here are my Big 12 conference won-loss figures. Records are for conference games, conference championship games and overall conference records.

Records of all coaches in Big 12 history
Name/School Conf. game W-L Pct. Conf. title game W-L Pct. Overall conf. W-L Pct.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma 67-13 .838 6-1 .857 73-14 .839
Mack Brown, Texas 72-16 .818 1-2 .333 73-18 .802
Bill Snyder, Kansas State 53-27 .663 1-2 .333 54-29 .651
Mike Leach, Texas Tech 42-30 .583 0-0 .000 42-30 .583
R.C. Slocum, Texas A&M 34-22 .607 1-1 .500 35-23 .603
Gary Barnett, Colorado 34-22 .607 1-3 .250 35-25 .583
Frank Solich, Nebraska 33-15 .688 1-0 1.000 34-15 .694
Gary Pinkel, Missouri 32-32 .500 0-2 .000 32-34 .485
Dan McCarney, Iowa State 26-62 .295 0-0 .000 26-62 .295
Mark Mangino, Kansas 22-34 .393 0-0 .000 22-34 .393
Spike Dykes, Texas Tech 19-13 .594 0-0 .000 19-13 .594
Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M 19-21 .475 0-0 .000 19-21 .475
Tom Osborne, Nebraska 16-0 1.000 1-1 .500 17-1 .944
Les Miles, Oklahoma State 16-16 .500 0-0 .000 16-16 .500
Larry Smith, Missouri 16-24 .400 0-0 .000 16-24 .400
Bill Callahan, Nebraska 15-17 .469 0-1 .000 15-18 .455
Rick Neuheisel, Colorado 14-10 .583 0-0 .000 14-10 .583
Bob Simmons, Oklahoma State 14-26 .350 0-0 .000 14-26 .350
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State 13-19 .406 0-0 .000 13-19 .406
Terry Allen, Kansas 10-30 .250 0-0 .000 10-30 .250
John Mackovic, Texas 8-8 .500 1-0 1.000 9-8 .529
Ron Prince, Kansas State 9-15 .375 0-0 .000 9-15 .375
Dan Hawkins, Colorado 8-16 .333 0-0 .000 8-16 .333
John Blake, Oklahoma 8-16 .333 0-0 .000 8-16 .333
Guy Morriss, Baylor 7-33 .175 0-0 .000 7-33 .175
Bo Pelini, Nebraska 5-3 .625 0-0 .000 5-3 .625
Art Briles, Baylor 2-6 .250 0-0 .000 2-6 .250
Glen Mason, Kansas 2-6 .250 0-0 .000 2-6 .250
Mike Sherman, Texas A&M 2-6 .250 0-0 .000 2-6 .250
Gene Chizik, Iowa State 2-14 .125 0-0 .000 2-14 .125
Dave Roberts, Baylor 2-14 .125 0-0 .000 2-14 .125
Chuck Reedy, Baylor 1-7 .125 0-0 .000 1-7 .125
Kevin Steele, Baylor 1-31 .031 0-0 .000 1-31 .031

Note: Active coaches are in yellow. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads will be in his first season as a head coach in the conference.

The numbers provide some interesting factoids.

  • I think these figures indicate that the two most underrated coaches in Big 12 coaching history are R.C. Slocum and Frank Solich.

Texas A&M has never had a Big 12 coach with a career winning percentage above .500 other than Slocum, who remains the only A&M coach to take his team to a Big 12 title game and win a conference football championship.

Solich ranks fourth in career conference winning percentage, trailing only Hall of Famer Tom Osborne and future Hall of Famers Bob Stoops and Mack Brown.

  • Here's a strike against the Bill Callahan era at Nebraska. Callahan is the only Nebraska coach since the start of the Big 12 era to have a below .500 career conference record.
  • Another underrated figure from the early days of the conference was Texas Tech's Spike Dykes, who compiled an impressive 19-13 conference record in the first four seasons in the conference. The Red Raiders have had one below .500 record during the 13-season history of the conference.
  • Want an indication of the Baylor program over the years? The three coaches who directed Baylor before Art Briles piloted the Bears to a combined 11-85 conference record, for a winning percentage of .115. That's an average of less than a victory per season.

Briles was 2-6 in his first season with Baylor last season -- more than doubling the school's average in conference victories during its previous history.

  • Bo Pelini's fast 5-3 start last season makes him one of only seven Big 12 coaches with a career winning percentage in conference games of more than .600.
  • Mack Brown leads the Big 12 with 91 conference games -- 88 regular-season games and three titles. Dan McCarney of Iowa State is second with 88 regular-season Big 12 games.   

Guy Morriss returning to a head coaching job

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
7:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Several Texas media outlets are reporting that former Baylor coach Guy Morriss will return to the state as the head football coach at Texas A&M-Commerce.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Morriss is excited about his chance to coach at the Division II school in Commerce, Texas.

Morriss was the head coach at Baylor from 2003-07. After he was fired by Baylor, he was the offensive line coach at Kentucky State. His record at Baylor was 18-40.

The new job will provide Morriss with a chance to be close to family members in the state.

"The quality of football is good and as a coach, you really appreciate that," Morriss told the News. "And it afforded me a chance to be the head coach. I think this can be a heck of a program."

I've known Guy Morriss for nearly 20 years -- back to his playing days with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. He was a line coach on a Canadian Football League team that I covered in San Antonio where we had the opportunity to talk on almost a daily basis. 

And the one thing that always impressed me about Morriss was his passion for the game. I remember him telling me about the few months he spent as a head coach of the Washington franchise in a the Professional Spring Football League. He told of sleeping in the locker room to cut expenses as he helped prepare that fledgling franchise for a season that never got off the ground.

That being the case, I don't think Morriss will have any culture shock about coaching in the Lone Star Conference, which has the reputation of being among the very best in Division II.

I just think that Morriss will be happy to be back as a head coach again, in a place where he might be able to grab some chicken-fried steak with cream gravy for lunch. Having the chance to ride his Harley through some picturesque Texas highways will only be a plus.

So I'm betting he'll be very happy with his new position.

Texas A&M-Commerce was 5-5 last season under former coach Scotty Conley, who was let go at the end of the season.

Big-game feel on the Brazos

August, 28, 2008
8/28/08
6:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- There's actually a big-game feel for a change at Floyd Casey Stadium as the Art Briles era kicks off at Baylor.

The Bears host No. 23 Wake Forest in a game that's about 90 minutes away from kickoff. It looks like most of Waco has decided to take a busman's holiday so they could arrive near the stadium early.

Even the nearby H-E-B Grocery closest to the stadium had a big-city bustle that is rarely seen in this city. And also some of the tastiest free hot links I've had in a long time.

Briles is hoping to turn around Baylor's recent struggles against ranked foes. The Bears have lost 12 straight games against ranked foes since beating No. 16 Texas A&M on Oct. 30, 2004. That 35-34 victory was settled on a gutsy two-point gamble by former coach Guy Morriss.

The Bears have also lost 38 of their last 40 games against ranked foes. The other victory came in Baylor's last game against an Atlantic Coast Conference foe, a 33-30 victory over North Carolina State on Sept. 19, 1998.

Wake Forest will be fighting a little negative karma as it approaches the game, too. The Demon Deacons are 0-11 in school history in games in Texas, including their most recent loss at Rice in 1990 (33-17). But maybe change could be present tonight. The Demon Deacons enter the game ranked at the start of the season for the first time in school history.

No announcement has been made about Baylor's starter, but there might be a sign in this little nugget. Baylor QB Kirby Freeman was the first player to start warmups on the field a few minutes ago.

Oh, and I'm also wondering if we might have a Tim Duncan appearance at the stadium, tonight. I didn't pass the former Wake Forest standout when I was driving up from San Antonio. I think I would have probably noticed his car if he was driving.  

Big 12 links: Bottom-feeders kick off 2008 season tonight

August, 28, 2008
8/28/08
8:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The season finally arrives tonight in the Big 12 and not a moment too soon.

A rare chance in the spotlight will be provided tonight for South Division basement dweller Baylor and their counterparts from the North, Iowa State.

Baylor will kick off the season with a difficult matchup against No. 23 Wake Forest tonight in Waco. The game is interesting for a several reasons. Art Briles will start his coaching career at Baylor after leading Houston to four bowl appearances in the last five seasons. Both schools are Baptist-affiliated. And Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe was a finalist for the Baylor job when the Bears hired Guy Morriss back in 2002.

The Demon Deacons have shown that football transformations are possible, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference two seasons ago and making another bowl trip last season for the first back-to-back postseason appearances in school history. Baylor is only dreaming about that kind of success.

And Iowa State will start the season against Division I-AA South Dakota State in a game where coach Gene Chizik will play with 27 freshmen and sophomores in his two-deep roster. Included among those are sophomore quarterbacks Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates, who both will receive snaps tonight against the Jackrabbits.   

I can't wait for the start of the season -- even if it means a three-hour drive to Waco this afternoon to get to Floyd Casey Stadium. But I actually think the journey along Interstate 35 will go by quickly because of my anticipation and the new Jimmy Buffett CD that my wife got me for our anniversary.    

So until then, here are some morning links to satisfy your hunger pangs before kickoff.

  • Briles is looking to become the first football coach since 1993 to win his first game at the school. Chuck Reedy was the last Baylor coach to win his first game, stunning No. 25 Fresno State, 42-39.
  • Former Miami QB Kirby Freeman has seen the transformation in the Wake Forest program after notching a 47-17 victory over the Demon Deacons as a freshman in 2005. "They've come a long way since then," Freeman told the Waco Tribune-Herald.  "I saw some of those guys three years ago and now they're seniors. They're a mature football team and won't be rattled."
  • Iowa State coaches are bracing for a big change as they try to keep up with the new 40-second clock in the Cyclones' opener tonight against South Dakota State. "You've got to stay a play ahead," Iowa State defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt told the Des Moines Register. "It's going to be interesting to see what happens. It's a different game."
  • Revelers at Kansas' Memorial Stadium will pay $20 per car this season for a parking space in a tailgate-friendly area that had been free last season, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star reporter Brian Christopherson writes about the career gamble that Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini took five years ago to transition from being a successful high school coach into one who now is working in college football.
  • Former Nebraska standout WR Irving Fryar will be on the sidelines for Western Michigan's game with his old school. But Fryar will be on the opposing sideline, watching his son, CB Londen Fryar play with the Broncos. "I took a DVD [of Londen playing high school football] and put it in the hand of Coach [Bill] Callahan," Irving told the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette. "I never got a call. ... I was very disappointed with the way Coach Callahan handled that."
  • The Dallas Morning News releases its innovative college football preview, complete with a picture of Dallas-area standouts Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. The picture must have been taken early, because Harrell still shows the remnants of his early-summer Mohawk.
  • The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jimmy Burch writes about what to expect and not expect around the Big 12 this season.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown got to practice on his 57th birthday Wednesday -- and the chance to visit with media members again.
  • Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News writes that the NFL could be in Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee's future.
  • Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman writes about the transformation of Oklahoma LB Mike Balogun from a construction worker who didn't play his junior or senior years in high school to a college football player. Interesting story indeed.
  • Tom Shatel of the Omaha World Herald has an interesting take on Bo Pelini's emerging legendary status at Nebraska -- even before starting his first full season directing the Cornhuskers.
  • Take a look at the Omaha World Herald's video version of "Big Red Today" with analysis by their army of reporters who cover the Cornhuskers. It's the best video production by a newspaper I've seen.
  • Missouri's experienced defense is giving them a chance to attack offenses with a combination of line shifts, zone blitzes and innovative coverage schemes, Columbia Daily Tribune beat writer Dave Matter writes.
  • Colorado WR Josh Smith has some big plans -- hoping for his own clothing line "Josh Fly" and shoe line "PF Fly's" and a record deal. But his biggest immediate aim is to score his first touchdown for the Buffaloes.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel writes about Oklahoma State's intention to live up to its "Finish" slogan after struggling in several fourth-quarter meltdowns last season.
  • Kansas State's defense has made its primary focus attacking the spread offense with speed, Wichita Eagle/Kansas City Star reporter Jeffrey Martin writes.

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.

Sanders, Sims emerge as surprises in Baylor backfield

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
7:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- Surprising performances from converted quarterback Jeremy Sanders and converted defensive back Ray Sims has help boost competition for playing time at running back for Baylor during the dog days of training camp.

With the graduation of leading 2007 rusher Brandon Whitaker, depth was lagging coming into the season. Jay Finley, the team's leading returning rusher after producing 207 yards as a redshirt freshman, was expected to get most of the carries coming into the summer.

Sanders and Sims both have made strong showings for playing time during training camp despite of their lack of experience at running back.

"Nobody knows what we can do," Sims said. "When we play, it will be a big surprise. I love this role. We're going to shock a lot of teams with our speed and our aggression."

Sanders passed for 2,252 yards in a two-year career as a starting quarterback at Navarro Junior College and was expected to challenge for playing time at the position for the Bears.

His churning inside running style has brought a physical style that compliments the bullish charges of 224-pound senior tailback Jacoby Jones.

"It's different, because as a quarterback, you drop back in the spread and you won't take much of a pounding," Sanders said about his position transition. "But when I get the ball as a running back, I run with a lot of power and speed. One miss and I can take it all the way to the house."

Baylor's glut of quarterbacks made it doubtful that Sanders would receive any playing time at the position. He decided to ask about a position switch after talking with Baylor coach Art Briles earlier in camp.

"I looked at the big picture," Sanders said. "And as far as me helping the team right away, I decided to ask him to get me on the field as quickly as possible. Running back gave me that opportunity."

Briles has incorporated a variety of roles for Sanders in his new offense as a rusher and a receiver. He's also incorporated a "slash package" where Sanders worked under center at times on direct snaps.

His emergence has been almost as big a surprise as that of Sims, a 210-pounder who played outside safety last year as a junior after transferring from Navarro College.

Sims has little experience at running back, seeing action there only for a few games as a senior at Corsicana High School. After that, he was primarily a defensive back and a player on special teams until this spring.

Running behind an experienced offensive line, Sims said that Baylor will feature more running than in previous seasons. The Bears averaged only 77.8 yards rushing per game last season -- 113th nationally and 11th in the Big 12 -- while utilizing Guy Morriss' spread offense last season.

"I think the offense has changed. We get a lot of carries and our offense is pretty balanced. A lot of people think we are just going to throw it, but it's going to be a surprise to people how much we run," Sims said.

All four backs are expected to see action next week against Wake Forest, Briles said.

"You've got to have more than one guy in Division I-A ball and we'll use all four of them," Briles said. "We like to have a lot of depth and these guys can play. They're good football players. Ray Sims is a good athlete and Jeremy Sanders is a good athlete. We've got to find ways to help them help our team."

Will new coaches change play-calling ratios?

August, 8, 2008
8/08/08
10:12
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

My fascination with football numbers got me in the middle of the night in a tiny hotel room in Topeka, Kan. I had to grab my calculator and do some figuring.

The Big 12 is being transformed into a passing league with the assimilation of spread offenses across the country. It made me wonder how complete passing offenses had become.

So I looked at the number of plays that each team ran last season and figured out a run/pass ratio. And here's what I came up with.

TeamRunPassTotal% Run% Pass
Baylor29856185934.765.3
Colorado48547696150.549.5
Iowa State47342389652.847.2
Kansas51247698851.848.2
Kansas State35151086140.859.2
Missouri530582111247.752.3
Nebraska41748189846.453.6
Oklahoma57446197558.941.1
Oklahoma State59238697860.539.5
Texas53943697555.344.7
Texas A&M57637695260.539.5
Texas Tech246763100924.475.6
Totals559358711146448.851.2

Six of the conference's eight bowl teams all ran the ball last season more than they threw it, which is an obvious tendency because of how most coaches scheme their games when they were ahead. Only Missouri and Texas Tech threw the ball more than they ran it among bowl teams.

But passing offenses are taking over the conference in general, with an average of 51.2 percent of plays in the conference as passing attempts last season.

After looking at these charts, it got me to thinking what the changes by the conference's three new coaches will mean for their programs.

Baylor -- The Bears had the second-most pass-heavy offense last season with Guy Morriss. But with an improving offensive line and Art Briles' history at Houston, I look for the Bears to try to run the ball more often -- particularly early in the season as they try to build some confidence. Whether that transformation holds through Big 12 play will be interesting to see.

Nebraska -- Bo Pelini's arrival has brought much excitement about his defensive philosophy. I think his offensive attitude will be interesting as well. I look for the Cornhuskers to shuck some elements of the West Coast passing attack and move back a little with more running plays. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would like to emphasize a deep stable of I-backs. And playing with more running plays would enable the Cornhuskers to eat the clock and keep their defense off the field.

Texas A&M -- I expect A&M to emphasize passing a little more under new coach Mike Sherman. The Aggies repeatedly ran the zone read under Dennis Franchione. They will feature more of a pro-style offensive attack with their new coaching staff. And while I still think that A&M will be a ground-oriented team, it won't be as tilted as heavily to the run as in the past.

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