Big 12: Hayden Fry
Rising: Kansas' ballhawking skills
The Jayhawks forced a grand total of 18 turnovers last season, the lowest amount in the entire Big 12. That total ranked 91st nationally, too. This year? Kansas is just 1-1, but they've seen big improvement in that category. KU has already forced eight turnovers through just two games. That ranks second nationally, and the only team ahead of the Jayhawks is SMU, who forced zero turnovers against Baylor in Week 1, but forced 10 (!!) last week against Stephen F. Austin.
Falling: Oklahoma State's ballhawking skills
The Cowboys led the nation with 44 takeaways last year, but in last week's 59-38 loss to Arizona, the Cowboys were held without a single takeaway, something that hadn't happened at Oklahoma State since a win at Kansas back in 2010. That gives Oklahoma State just two takeaways through two games. The one silver lining for the Pokes: They had just three turnovers at this time last year.
Rising: Texas QB David Ash's accuracy
Ash completed just 56.6 percent of his passes as a true freshman last season, including eight interceptions to just four touchdown passes. That ranked ninth in the Big 12. This year, it's been a different story for the sophomore. He's completed 73.5 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions, adding a 49-yard touchdown run last week. Among QBs with at least 15 attempts, only West Virginia's Geno Smith has completed a higher percentage of passes, and Ash is one of just three Big 12 starting QBs without an interception.
Falling: Wins records for coaches
Last week, Gary Patterson notched his 110th career win, passing Dutch Meyer's half-century old record as the school's all-time wins leader. This week, it's time to make more history. If Texas knocks off Ole Miss in Oxford, Mack Brown will pass Ohio State's Jim Tressel for 13th all-time among coaches, with 230 wins. With three more wins, he'll pass Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder's mentor, Hayden Fry, on the all-time list. If Texas finishes with 11 wins this year, Brown will be tied with another Ohio State legend who made another less than sanctimonious exit: Woody Hayes.
Rising: Big 12 offenses ... again.
Two of them have played just one game, but the Big 12 enters Week 3 with three of the nation's top four offenses. Oklahoma State leads the nation with 659 yards a game, and West Virginia is right behind the Cowboys, with 655 total yards. Sitting in fourth: Baylor, who racked up 59 points and 613 yards in a win over SMU.
Meanwhile, when it comes to scoring offenses, the Big 12 has seven teams in the top 11. The entire league average is nearly 50 points a game, but West Virginia (69), Oklahoma State (61), Baylor (59), TCU (56), Kansas State (51.5), Texas Tech (51) and Oklahoma (46.5) are all among the nation's highest-scoring offenses.
Falling: Oklahoma's pass protection
The Sooners gave up just 11 sacks last season, good for seventh-fewest nationally and tied with Stanford. Only Texas A&M gave up fewer in the Big 12. This year, though? Oklahoma's already given up six sacks through two games. Part of it is the offensive line, and Jones has hung onto the ball a little too long at times, too. Still, that number has to be a bit alarming for the crimson and cream. It's going to get tougher in the Big 12.
On to your mail ...
Aaron in Plain City, Ohio, writes: In my mind I see Oklahoma as the clear favorite for the Big 12. But is there really a clear second place team in the Big 12? For that matter, is there really a favorite? I was just curious about your thoughts for the Big 12 this season. Thanks
David Ubben: I definitely think Oklahoma's the clear favorite, but by "clear" I only mean it's clear Oklahoma's the best team to start the season. Last year, it looked like the gap between the Sooners and A&M/Oklahoma State was pretty wide. Injuries and OSU being better than most everyone thought (and I thought they were a 10-win team) changed that up.
OU's the favorite, but not by much. Nobody in the Big 12 is going undefeated next year, but there's definitely no clear second-place team.
West Virginia is probably the second-best team on paper, but will they handle the transition? There are many variables to the transition with no way to figure out the values until the season starts in the fall. The same is true for the Horned Frogs, who I think will have a tougher time with the transition in the immediate future, and also aren't quite as good as WVU on paper. Those defensive losses, mostly Tanner Brock and Devin Johnson, are huge. You need lots of depth and lots of playmakers on defense to win in the Big 12.
As for Kansas State? You saw it last year. They get it done, but they don't do it in impressive fashion. I've mentioned it a couple times, but will K-State get better and still win games when they're close? Part of me says no.
The other half says this is a Bill Snyder-coached team we're talking about and one that returns just about everybody from last year's 10-win team. Pressure me for a guess? I think K-State could be a better team than last year and still only win nine games in a Big 12 that's absolutely loaded in the top half, with some pretty good teams in the bottom half too, like Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
So yeah, Oklahoma's the best team in the league. That doesn't mean they'll win it, and the race for No. 2 heading into the season could go one of three ways.
Curtis in Boone, Iowa, writes: I tweeted you, but i figured id take another approach as well. Do you agree with me that Brandon Weeden is the No. 3 QB in the draft, NOT tannehill? and what are the chances that Cleveland takes both Justin Blackmon AND Weeden with the 4th and 22nd picks, respectively. Colt Mccoy isn't the answer in cleveland, and Weeden could step right in and produce, especially with a top talent like Blackmon.
DU: I do, but I also understand why a) Tannehill has surged and b) teams are unwilling to spend first-round money on Weeden.
For the record, I think they're both early second-rounders. Tannehill is a big risk, and you're asking for trouble if you're a struggling team with a top 5-10 pick that needs a lot of other things to be successful. Tannehill could be good in the league, but I don't think I buy him as an immediate franchise guy you can build around.
Weeden will be more successful in the immediate future, but I also understand that he's an 8-10-year guy vs. a 14-16-year guy like most normal rookies. That's a whole lot of games. Putting Blackmon and Weeden on the same team? Oh man, that would be all kinds of fun.
It'd also be pretty humorous to see Oklahoma's best QB ever throwing to Oklahoma State's best receiver ever out in St. Louis.
Cyclones in Ames writes: Hey Ubben, just thought that I would bring it up to your attention but of the 10 coaches next year in the big 12 there will be 4 coaches with connections to the state of Iowa. Mack Brown was an OC at ISU, Dana Holgorsen was born and raised in Iowa along with Paul Rhoads, and Bob Stoops played football at the University of Iowa. A lot of connections to the state of Iowa in the conference.
DU: You're right about that, Mr. Cyclones, but those are far from the only ones. What about the man some consider the greatest coach of them all: Bill Snyder? He spent almost a decade as the offensive coordinator under Hayden Fry at Iowa.
For what it's worth, two different Iowa State coaches served as defensive coordinator under Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville. Gene Chizik (sorry for the mention, Iowa State) and Paul Rhoads both got valuable experience under Tuberville at Auburn before moving to Ames.
Iowa doesn't have the greatest reputation when it comes to football culture, but that's a staggering amount of connections for a state with just two major programs within its borders.
Jason in Charleston, W. Va., writes: Dave, I just have to ask... what were your expectations before coming to WV versus what you actually found when you got here?
DU: Honestly, it was pretty much exactly what I expected. The actual stuff in the town was a little more expansive than I thought it would be, in terms of restaurants and nightlife, etc. In terms of having a fun weekend, Morgantown will be right in the middle in the Big 12. Folks will enjoy the trip out, and it'll be a new experience for everyone.
The scenery and rolling hills basically looked the exact same as they do in photos, but it was kind of hard to get around. I like hitting open roads with the windows down, and that's pretty tough to do in West Virginia because of all the hills and winding roads. Alas, you could find a much stiffer criticism of a city.
I like Morgantown a lot.
His plans were simple: head to Sun Devil Stadium for the Insight Bowl, where he'll cheer on his alma mater Iowa, when it takes on Missouri in nearby Tempe later tonight.
"I got my Hawkeye gear ready to go," Stoops said. "Sorry, I know Missouri's in the Big 12, but I'm a Hawkeye, so I gotta go cheer for my Hawks. We walk around all Saturday in the fall yelling, 'Go Hawks!' at home. My wife gets the kids yelling it, so we get to say it for real tonight and mean it."
Stoops, known for his trademark visor, doesn't have a black and gold version with the Hawkeye logo, but he's got a pullover ready for the Iowa season finale.
The whole Stoops family planned to be in attendance, but Stoops wasn't sure if he'd be in the stands or in a suite come kickoff.
"I'm going to get out early before the traffic, but we'll stay for a good part of it," he said.
Stoops was a defensive back at Iowa from 1979-82 before becoming a graduate assistant under famed coach Hayden Fry.
"I was there 10 years, all my brothers went there," he said. "Nobody can blame me for [rooting for the Hawkeyes]. Surely, Gary Pinkel will understand. He won't care, actually."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.
Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.
Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?
Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.
Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.
But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.
Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.
As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.
But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.
The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.
It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.
Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?
Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.
Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.
If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.
I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.
Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.
Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.
Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.
But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.
But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.
David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."
But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?
I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b
e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.
Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.
It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.
It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.
I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.
I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's the player, school or coach that "done you wrong" once upon a time -- or maybe even repeatedly.
These figures resonate through the years for rival schools, providing an enemy that serves as a unifying element for hatred from fans of a rival school.
Here's a list of Big 12 villains over the years, both historic and present. Take a good look at the grouping and see if you have any recommendations of players or coaches I might have missed.
I'd be curious to see if any coaches or players spark greater antagonism than the ones I've selected.
Current villain: Texas coach Mack Brown, who's gone 11-0 against them with no signs of stopping.
All-time villain: Former Baylor coach Kevin Steele. His decision to try to ram in a statement touchdown against UNLV in 1999 blew up in his face like an exploding cigar when Darrell Bush fumbled and Kevin Thomas raced 99 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game. That play snatched a sure victory from the Bears, making Steele and the Bears the laughingstock of college football. His program never recovered from that moment.
Current villain: Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, who piled up 106 straight points against the Buffaloes in the last two seasons while offensive coordinator at Missouri, beating them by a combined 113-10 margin. The Buffaloes will have a chance for payback this season when Christensen brings a less-talented Wyoming team to Boulder.
All-time villain: Nebraska coach Tom Osborne directed the Cornhuskers to a career record of 21-3-1 against the Buffaloes during his coaching stint from 1973-97.
Iowa State Cyclones
Current villain: Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has thrown seven career TDs against the Cyclones and beaten them twice, including last season's dramatic 35-33 comeback victory.
All-time villain: Iowa coach Hayden Fry, whose homespun witticisms weren't that funny for Cyclone fans when he was winning 15 straight against them from 1983-97.
Current villain: Nebraska DT/FB Ndamukong Suh who beat the Jayhawks with a memorable offensive and defensive performance last season and is back for more in 2009.
All-time villain: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder beat the Jayhawks 12 of his last 13 seasons in his first coaching run, including a nine-season streak where he rolled up 41, 38, 48, 54, 50, 52, 40, 64 and 42 points in consecutive blowout victories.
Kansas State Wildcats
Current villain: Kansas running back Jake Sharp grew up only 61 miles from Manhattan in nearby Salina, but has abused them since arriving at college. He's tormented them with five career touchdowns, including four last season.
All-time villain: Texas A&M running back Sirr Parker, whose dramatic game-winning touchdown in overtime snuffed out the Wildcats' national-title hopes in 1998.
Current villain: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has beaten the Tigers in the Big 12 title game each of the last two seasons, ruining their hopes for a first Big 12 title.
All-time villain: Colorado coach and former Missouri grad and assistant Bill McCartney should have been magnanimous after getting a gift victory over the Tigers en route to a shared 1990 national title. Instead, he sparked hostility among his old friends by ripping Faurot Field's "treacherous" playing field.
Current villain: Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel talked a lot of smack and then backed it up by beating the Cornhuskers in each of the last two seasons. And after orchestrating a 52-17 victory in Lincoln last season, he raised the hackles of Cornhusker fans by complaining about Nebraska players spitting on him. He'll be gone this season, but definitely not forgotten among Cornhusker fans.
All-time villain: Oklahoma. Even though the rivalry was marked by immense respect on both sides -- imagine Barry Switzer doing Nebraska television commercials and endorsing Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne -- the Sooners' domination was a constant source of irritation for the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma claimed 16 straight from 1943-59 and beat Osborne in eight of his first nine games against them.
Current villain: Those pesky BCS bowls. The Sooners have lost five-straight BCS games, stripping coach Bob Stoops of much of his national stature that should have been gleaned from an unprecedented three-straight Big 12 titles.
All-time villain: Darrell Royal represented the ultimate turncoat to Sooner fans after starring at the school from 1946-49 as a record-setting quarterback and defensive back. His 12-7-1 career record against the Sooners included eight straight victories and 12 of his 14 games against them that made his old friends despise him.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Current villain: Texas coach Mack Brown, who has run off an 11-0 record against them. Worse, four of those victories were by four points or less, including the last two games.
All-time villain: Oklahoma. The cross-state rivals have turned the "Bedlam Series" into a one-sided affair with a 74-16-7 edge. Since Josh Fields orchestrated back-to-back upsets in 2001-02, Stoops hasn't called off the dogs in six-straight victories, exploding for 52, 38, 42, 27, 49 and 61 points.
Current villain: The Big 12's tiebreaker rules. Texas fans are still lamenting the national-title shot that got away last season, despite beating Big 12 title game participants Oklahoma and Missouri.
All-time villain: Jackie Sherrill. He beat them regularly at Texas A&M and continued his success at Mississippi State. Even worse, he fired up his team before that 1991 victory by castrating a bull and then crowed about it after his Texas-taming success. Even more than Barry Switzer, Longhorn fans hate Sherrill.
Texas A&M Aggies
Current villain: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. He's beaten them seven of nine games, including four straight. And he's gigged them by mocking their traditions, their coaching, their quarterbacks, everything but "The Dixie Chicken."
All-time villain: Texas. All things burnt orange set off Aggie fans -- with good reason. Their team has been dominated by the Longhorns in the school's longest rivalry. And how much of a Texas fixation do the Aggies have? The second verse of the Aggie War Hymn is essentially all about Texas.
Current villain: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Nobody in the conference does a better job of rolling up points or handcuffing Tech's offense than his Tigers, who have averaged 47 points and won by an average of 26.3 points per game during recent three-game winning streak in the series.
All-time villain: Texas A&M. Aggie fans chap Red Raider followers by claiming the game isn't a rivalry. Mike Leach has made it seem one-sided in recent seasons. But look closely enough and you'll find it's not unusual to see the A&M logo a
dorning urinals in several bars in Lubbock. Isn't that the best sign of antipathy there is?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I've seen colleges emblazon their names on windbreakers and Snuggies, toilet seats and ice cream.
Heck, once at a party I was stunned when I wandered into an empty room and saw a friend had a lifelike 6-foot cutout figure of former Iowa coach Hayden Fry. He looked like he was about ready to roar at an official.
But unquestionably the weirdest sponsorship deal I've ever seen has been the introduction of Masik Fragrances for school-specific perfume products for Penn State, North Carolina and LSU.
The company also plans to introduce products for Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn later this year. A percentage of each bottle sold will go to the university's scholarship and athletic fund.
The development of a school-specific scent is a lot more complicated than I would have thought.
After campus visits, discussion with students and alumni and additional research, a school perfume is developed, the company reports. Among the characteristics considered include school colors, mascot spirit, traditions and history, landmarks and architectural style, campus trees and flowers, mission statements, college town character and themes in the school's alma mater and fight songs.
The Big 12 is missing out with this as each school and stadium has a specific scent that I could pick out if I closed my eyes and tried to imagine them.
Nothing, of course, matches the distinctive odor of a Texas-Oklahoma football game at the Cotton Bowl. The mixture of spilled beer, farm animals from the nearby State Fair of Texas and grease from the corny dog fryers waft to me as soon as I leave my car. It's hard to categorize, but something I instantly recognize each year.
Which Big 12 school will be the first to have its own fragrance?
I can't wait to see which one joins up first. I'd love to take a blind "smell test" to describe what the scent reminds me of.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Even today, it remains as one of the most vivid memories in Big 12 history for me.
It happened in 1998, only three years into the conference's short on-the-field history.
As Missouri was in the process of thumping Oklahoma, 20-6, I still can remember a photograph of delirious Missouri fans celebrating their triumph over the Sooners in the stands at Faurot Field.
I still can't shake the memory of seven bare-chested Missouri male students who had spelled out a message to new Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who had previously worked as Missouri's athletic director.
It read simply: "Hey Joe, you left us for that?"
Castiglione must have been sharing similar thoughts at the time. He was dealing with a messy transformation of an Oklahoma athletic department that was beset with much more debt than he would have imagined upon his arrival. The Sooners' once-proud football program was in tatters with John Blake running the ship. And those Missouri fans probably had a point as Castiglione headed back to his new job and contemplated all of the work that would be needed to change the Sooners' athletic program.
Fast forward a little more than 10 years and things have changed remarkably for Castiglione, who is now running one of the nation's most productive athletic departments at Oklahoma. He was honored last month in New York City when he was named the athletic director of the year at the Sports Business Awards.
Obviously, Castiglione has received a couple of huge breaks along the way.
The biggest might have been when Iowa was looking for a replacement for Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes' search committee dawdled just long enough to enable Castiglione to convince Bob Stoops to come to Norman. That opening has proven to be the key move that has enabled the Sooners to return to their previous status as one of the nation's elite football programs.
Castiglione took a chance on little-known Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel when his popular predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, left for Indiana. Capel now is judged as one of the brightest stars in college coaching.
And he helped nurture women's basketball coach Sherri Coale, a former high school coach who had produced a 13-41 record in her two previous seasons before Castiglione's arrival. Since then, Coale has produced 11 straight winning seasons, including 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
Veteran Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler remembers where Oklahoma was when Castiglione arrived. In his column this morning, Sittler remembers asking Castiglione several months after his hiring if he wondered what he had gotten himself into after taking the Sooners' job.
Castiglione more than doubled his salary when he arrived at Oklahoma. But it was more than just money.
His boss, Oklahoma president David Boren, realizes that athletics truly serves as a front porch for a university and might be the most effective public relations tool to help sell a university.
"I spent a great deal of time [talking] with president [David] Boren," Castiglione told Sittler 11 years ago. "He's a visionary. And a lot of his vision is similar to mine in the basic fundamental aspects."
Sittler reports that Castiglione has been tempted over the years when schools like Tennessee, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan have talked with him about their athletic director's jobs.
But his words in that interview with Sittler still resonate when I think if he would ever leave Norman.
"I will be strong enough to stay the course [at OU]," Castiglione said back then. "And I will do everything within my power to get it done the right way."
He has, making those Missouri students eat the words they had emblazoned on their chests so long ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Getting a head-coaching job is sometimes as much about timing as coaching skills or any other factor.
An intriguing story by Randy Peterson in Sunday's Des Moines Register reminded me of that when it mentioned several coaches with Big 12 backgrounds who likely were interested when the Iowa job opened up after the 1998 season following the retirement of legendary head coach Hayden Fry.
Former Iowa defensive back Bob Stoops may have been one of the most attractive potential candidates. His connection with Fry ran deeply from his career as a player and graduate assistant coach there before he became the nation's hottest assistant coach while working under Steve Spurrier at Florida.
Terry Allen was another coach whom Iowa might have been intrigued with when Fry left, despite his lack of personal history with the program. His father, Robert, was well-known in the program. Robert Allen was a champion swimmer with the Hawkeyes who later become an assistant football coach and head swimming coach at the school. His son had developed into a hot commodity after leading Northern Iowa to a 75-26 record as a head coach.
But the hottest candidate of them all might have been Bobby Elliott, a former Iowa player who had chosen to remain at his alma mater to work with Fry through the years as a trusted member of his staff. His father, Pete, had been a Iowa athletic director.
At the age of 45, Bobby Elliott was on the cusp of earning his shot as the Hawkeyes' head coach when an illness cost him a shot at the job.
When then-Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby was sorting through his candidates, Elliott informed him he couldn't take the job because he had been taking daily doses of chemotherapy to control a blood disorder called polycythemia vera. Bowlsby instead turned to then-NFL assistant Kirk Ferentz to fill the job.
Stoops decided to take a sure offer at Oklahoma, where John Blake had recruited the framework of a strong but underachieving team. With the addition of Stoops' coaching acumen, the Sooners claimed a national championship in less than two seasons.
Allen decided to take the Kansas job, which proved more daunting for him than expected. He was let go after posting a 20-33 record after five seasons.
After Elliott was cured, he became a respected defensive coordinator who ably served under Dan McCarney at Iowa State and Bill Snyder at Kansas State. He most recently served as a defensive coordinator under Chuck Long at San Diego State -- a staff that was let go after last season.
Peterson's masterful story relates Elliott's thoughts about coaching and how his illness profoundly shaped so many lives during another relapse of the serious blood disorder in 2001. The poignancy became even more significant as Elliott related his thoughts about facing death with his wife and two children.
Peterson received unmatched access to Elliott during that season. It was an arrangement that McCarney didn't know about.
He updated the story with a masterful lead, describing how Elliott arranged to have a rose bush delivered to his wife, Joey, on Mother's Day in 1999 as he was being treated for a bone marrow transplant on that day.
"It was the first thing I saw when I walked outdoors that morning," Joey Elliott recalled in the story. "He knows how much I love gardening, but not knowing what was going to transpire, he had a Mother's Day present arranged."
The story provided a lot of insight into the battling nature of Elliott as he dealt with a life-threatening illness and beat it twice. Even more interesting was how he dealt with knowing the illness denied him a shot at his dream job.
It made me wonder what might have been -- for Elliott, for Stoops, for Allen, for Ferentz, for Iowa State and for Kansas State.
And it also made me think about so many other coaches who aren't blessed with the right timing when they finally get their chance to be a college head coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12's annual coaches meeting begins Wednesday in Phoenix along with the annual Fiesta Frolic.
It will provide the group with the opportunity to meet in a relaxed setting -- likely on a golf course with a few cold beverages thrown in for good measure -- as they discuss how competitive the conference has become and should be again this season.
They'll talk about a recommendation on the Big 12's tiebreaker rule, although Mack Brown isn't expected to lead the talk.
One item that will be interesting will be the return of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to another league meeting. He'll be able to renew acquaintances with several coaches who have a direct link to his storied coaching tenure.
Six of the 11 other Big 12 coaches can count their link to Snyder in their respective careers. Here's a look at them.
- Baylor coach Art Briles -- A third-degree descendant on Snyder's coaching tree. Briles worked for Mike Leach, who worked for Bob Stoops, who worked for Snyder.
- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads -- While not directly linked to Snyder, he still has a close association with him through his coaching mentor Dan McCarney. Snyder and McCarney were staff members on Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa for many years before Snyder took the Kansas State job.
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino -- Worked as an assistant for Snyder from 1991-98.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini -- Although their meeting after KSU's blowout victory over Nebraska in 2003 remains celebrated in Pelini's development as a coach, the two share an association. Pelini worked for one season as an assistant under Stoops, who worked under Snyder.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- Worked on Snyder's staff as an assistant from 1989-95, including 1991-95 as a co-defensive coordinator. Earlier, Stoops and Snyder worked as assistants on Fry's staff from 1983-87.
- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach -- A second-degree descendant on Snyder's coaching tree after working under Stoops, who worked under Snyder.
Stoops is confident that Snyder's methods still will work as he resumes his coaching career after a three-season sabbatical.
"I was with coach Snyder a long time at Iowa and at Kansas State," Stoops said. "And, of course, he has proven methods in how he does things. I feel strongly he'll continue to make strides and improve and do well there.
"He always has."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Before becoming a head coach in 1999, Bob Stoops worked under a varied group of coaches. Each helped shape his career.
While working at Iowa after playing for the Hawkeyes, Stoops worked on a staff that included legendary members like Hayden Fry, Barry Alvarez, Dan McCarney and Bill Brazier. At Kansas State he worked with Jim Leavitt as a co-coordinator under Bill Snyder. And at Florida, he was defensive coordinator on a national championship team in 1996 that was coached by Steve Spurrier.
Stoops credits all his mentors with molding his coaching career that has included three national title game appearances heading into Thursday's game against Florida.
"I've been with some great head coaches, but also some great assistant coaches, too," Stoops said. "I've just been around a lot of just quality coaches that I've learned from."
Fry, whom Stoops played for during his career at Iowa, still holds special prominence.
"Coach Fry I thought was a great leader and did a great job with his assistant coaches," Stoops said.
His career began as a defensive backs coach with Snyder in 1989. He remained at Kansas State for seven seasons.
"Coach Snyder was just a determined guy," Stoops said. "I was at the ground floor at Kansas State. I learned a lot from that experience."
But working with Spurrier gave him his best training for becoming a head coach.
"Coach Spurrier was just an amazing competitor," Stoops said. "I felt I learned to really love the competition of it all from watching him and being around him. All his assistant coaches were great recruiters, very professional in how they handled their business. So as a young guy, I got to see that all the time."
His Florida association led to an interesting exchange at Wednesday's press conference. Former Florida sports information director John Humenik, who now works as the executive director for the College Sports Information Directors of America, referred to Stoops as "Bobby" when he left the podium.
"I haven't been called that since I left Florida," Stoops said, chuckling.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney has leaned a little bit on familiarity this week as he prepares for an old but friendly nemesis.
McCarney knows all about Oklahoma after a career serving as the head coach at Iowa State from 1995 to 2006, when he set the school record for games and victories and directed the Cyclones to five bowl games. He is also close with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops after coaching him during Stoops' playing career at Iowa and later serving with him on Hayden Fry's staff with the Hawkeyes during Stoops' formative stages of coaching.
Even with that knowledge, McCarney still faces a difficult challenge that might be even more pronounced than when he lost all six games against the Sooners during his career at ISU.
His young defensive line will be trying to attack Oklahoma's offensive line, which is dotted with NFL prospects like Outland finalists Duke Robinson at guard, Phil Loadholt at tackle and Jon Cooper at center.
"They are a little different than the dominant Nebraska teams I saw when I was coaching in the Big 12," McCarney said. "But you see the incredible numbers these guys from Oklahoma are putting up. When you consider that they are averaging 54 points a game for 13 games, are you kidding me?"
The Sooners' line has allowed only 11 sacks and has served as the backbone of the nation's most explosive offense, a group that has scored a school-record 702 points, keyed by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
McCarney called Oklahoma's group the best offensive line he has faced this season. He said it was better than the Alabama unit anchored by Andre Smith that the Gators beat in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"It will be a major challenge," McCarney said. "We won't match them and won't put anybody on the field with that kind of size. But we're as ready as we can be and we've see a lot of good lines in the SEC."
A key trend in Thursday's game will be the pressure that Florida is able to generate on Bradford. Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham said that the best way to determine Florida's success will be to look at the grass stains on Bradford's pants. If there are many, the Gators likely will be successful.
"There are games when you break down their season where they look like it's seven-on-seven drills when they are throwing the ball around because nobody ever touches their quarterback," McCarney said. "That goes back to the protection up front. We've got to bring our A-plus game on Thursday or we'll be in trouble."
McCarney has been credited with turning a weakness into one of the Gators' biggest improvements this season after arriving on Urban Meyer's staff after coaching one season at South Florida.
Florida have increased their sacks, ranking tied for 30th nationally with 32. The Gators fell apart late last season, notching 11 sacks in their final six games and allowing 524 yards in a 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.
This season, Florida has played progressively better down the stretch. The Gators have allowed an average of only 13 points per game over their final nine games since losing to Mississippi on Sept. 27.
McCarney's young defensive line, which features eight freshmen and sophomores among its primary nine-man rotation, has been a big reason for the late surge.
"When Urban came to me in February, he told me that he needed a couple of my best years in coaching because there were some issues on and off the field with the defensive line. They had gotten kicked all over the field against Michigan and they needed to get it straightened out," McCarney said.
And his group should only get better next season.
"I'm proud of my bunch," McCarney said. "They've made a lot of strides. And whatever we do, we need to build on it because we should have a heck of group next spring."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I was always surprised that Bill Snyder left football in the first place when he retired in 2005. I have never seen any coach more consumed in the process of building a program than Snyder was.
And when I saw him a couple of times in recent seasons, he always seemed kind of sad because he wasn't coaching anymore. So it's not a surprise that he's coming back to Kansas State after Ron Prince was dismissed after three seasons as the Wildcats' coach.
Apparently, the rejuvenated Snyder believes that he can pull the Wildcats back into Big 12 relevancy after three years with Ron Prince, including no bowl trips in back-to-back seasons.
Snyder was the architect of modern football's most stunning reclamation project. He took KSU on a magical ride during his earlier career, directing them to 11 straight bowl games and the cusp of the BCS championship game in 1998.
But it was how he did it that was so memorable. I've never seen anybody who managed the details quite like Snyder did.
There were the stories about how Snyder made his team sleep on one side of the airplane during a trip to the Coca-Cola Bowl in Japan so they wouldn't be facing the sun. He demanded his butter whipped rather than in pats at pregame meals because it was easily digestible. And he was legendary because he waited to eat his one meal of the day at 1 a.m. when he returned back home because he was working so late at his offices.
Snyder could coach a little bit, too. He made the Wildcats meaningful first in the Big Eight and then in the Big 12. And it hasn't been that way since he left.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's not exactly like those interesting comparisons that Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy shared that historians have mulled over for years.
But Omaha World-Herald beat writer Mitch Sherman has come up with some intriguing similarities between the first season for Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Nebraska's Bo Pelini.
The new Nebraska coach is 4-3 in his first season after winning his first three games. Stoops had exactly the same early winning pattern with the Sooners in 1999.
Stoops' first career loss came against Notre Dame by a 34-30 score. Pelini's first career defeat was to Virginia Tech, 35-30.
Sherman notes that several other comparisons between the two defensive-minded coaches are striking. Stoops served as defensive coordinator on a national championship team in the Southeastern Conference (Florida). Pelini similarly served as a defensive coordinator on a national championship team in the Southeastern Conference (LSU).
Both coaches took over after disappointing five-win seasons at once-mighty programs that were downtrodden when they took their jobs. Stoops coached his first game at Oklahoma two days after he turned 40. Pelini was hired at Nebraska 11 days before his 40th birthday.
Both immediately hired their brothers to fill the role of defensive coordinator. And both grew up about five miles apart in Youngstown, Ohio, after both were star players at the same high school, Cardinal Mooney. They both started in coaching as graduate assistants under Hayden Fry at Iowa. And both were starting defensive backs for Big Ten teams during their college career -- Stoops at Iowa and Pelini at Ohio State.
Pelini only hopes he can duplicate Stoops' success. Oklahoma claimed a national championship in Stoops' second season and is 99-20 after his opening seven-game start. The Sooners have claimed 11 or more games in seven of the last eight seasons, claiming back-to-back Big 12 titles in the last two seasons and five Big 12 championships overall.
Those comparisons and others will be a prime story line next week when the Sooners and Cornhuskers renew their proud rivalry. But it's interesting how closely the two coaches' early careers have mirrored each other so far.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Mack Brown has been repeating the same mantra to his team and the media ever since his team was installed as No. 1 after Saturday's victory over Oklahoma.
"The fact that we're sitting around here as No. 1 means absolutely nothing except we've played well enough in the first six weeks of the season that people have acknowledged us by letting us be in that top group," Brown said." I'm not even sure there is a No. 1 team. Nobody this time last year remembers who No. 1 was. Nobody remembers and nobody really cares."
That might be the case, but it still doesn't stop an enterprising reporter from analyzing that trend.
Gaylon Krizak of the San Antonio Express-News got out the record book and worked the Internet to develop a comprehensive list of the previous 72 seasons of the Associated Press poll to find out who was No. 1 the week immediately after the Texas-Oklahoma game. He also plotted where the eventual champion was at this point of the season.
Interestingly, the leader at this point of the season has claimed the national title 18 times in 70 possible seasons. In the 1936 and 1937 seasons, the first poll didn't come out until nine days after the Texas-Oklahoma game.
Take a long look. It might make things easier to swallow when the Big 12 has an abundance of 10-2 and 9-3 teams in late November after the regular season finishes.
Here are some other links from around the league.
- Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle writes about the angel on Mike Leach's shoulder that advises him on fourth-down decisions.
- Despite a 3-3 record that is its worst six-game record to start the season since 1961, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini brought some unexpected levity to his weekly news conference.
- Kansas State coach Ron Prince has fostered the term "wefense" for offensive and defensive players joining on the special teams. It's worked as the Wildcats lead the nation with four blocked punts -- all of which have been returned for touchdowns.
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino still is embraced in Oklahoma because of his earlier association with the program.