Big 12: internal affairs
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at some tidbits from around the league that are transpiring as teams get ready for games this week.
1. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have added more playmakers to their special teams after recent struggles for both teams covering and returning kickoffs. Bob Stoops plans to add four new members to his kick coverage team that has been blistered for two TD returns, including a pivotal 96-yard return by Texas' Jordan Shipley last week that turned the game around. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino has talked about placing starters like James Holt and Joe Mortensen on his special teams as the Jayhawks rank last in the nation in kick returns. The Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff -- almost three yards per return less than the next-lowest team, Kent State at 118th.
2. Iowa State has inserted freshman Jerome Tiller as its backup quarterback after Phillip Bates left school. Coach Gene Chizik hopes that he can still make it through the season using only Austen Arnaud as the quarterback and keeping the redshirts intact for Tiller and fellow freshman Bret Bueker. Early word is that Bates likely won't resurface at another Big 12 school because it would cost him an additional season in the transfer. A more likely location would be a FCS school where he could play immediately or an FBS school like Ohio University, where his family already has a strong association with coach Frank Solich. Bates' father, Phillip Bates Sr., was a running back at Nebraska who played there when Solich was his position coach under Tom Osborne.
3. Texas ditched using a tight end in favor of a four-wide receiver look as its base offensive formation against Oklahoma. And the unit's success -- 438 total yards and 20 combined catches from Quan Cosby and Shipley -- make it likely to be used more during the rest of the season. Starting tight end Blaine Irby's season-ending injury robbed the Longhorns of their top receiving threat at the position. The four-receiver sets have made the Longhorns lethal in terms of big-play capabilities, but a little weaker trying to consistently run the ball.
4. Considering the recent injury to Lamark Brown, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Josh Freeman emerged as a key rushing threat in the Wildcats' victory last week over Texas A&M. Freeman produced career-high totals of 18 carries, 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. In the philosophy of Kansas State quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero and offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the quarterback is used as more of a rushing weapon. Freeman has gained positive rushing yards in each of his six starts this season. Before this season, Freeman had netted positive yards in only eight of his 20 previous career starts.
5. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is doing what he can to instill discipline on his team, even if it affects its performance in the short term. Key players Michael Bennett and Mike Goodson weren't in the starting lineup last week against Kansas State after discipline issues, paving the way for the Wildcats to jump to an early 27-3 lead over Sherman's beleaguered team. Sherman is hoping that his struggles bottom out as he tries to make the Aggies know they've got a firm leader running the program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from around the Big 12 as teams prepare for their upcoming games this weekend.
- Missouri S William Moore is back and practicing without a red jersey this week, meaning he'll likely be ready for Nebraska. His absence the last couple of weeks has been the biggest reason for the drop-off in production from the Tigers' defense. Those struggles remain the Tigers' biggest question heading into conference play.
- The return of WR Dexton Fields will not only provide Kansas with its best deep receiving threat, but the Jayhawks also have missed Fields' downfield blocking, which has hurt the breakaway abilities of their pedestrian running game.
- After missing last week's game for what coach Bob Stoops termed as "a discipline problem," Oklahoma G Duke Robinson should be back in the starting lineup this week for the Sooners. Robinson's absence was one of many reasons why the Sooners rushed for only 25 yards last week against TCU -- lowest total in an Oklahoma victory since beating Alabama in 2002.
- Josh Smith's recent fumbling struggles has Colorado coaches considering changes in his use on the special teams. Smith had never played special teams before college and coaches worry he's trying to do too much. Jason Espinoza's return from a broken collarbone could give them another return option, although he's not expected to be back until next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some intriguing tidbits around the Big 12 heading into Saturday's games.
1. Texas A&M K Richie Bean misfired on two easy field goals of 32 yards and 25 yards in a loss to Arkansas State, but had even bigger worries. His family had just rebuilt their home in the New Orleans area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Gustav was on a direct path during the game. Bean's recent slump has reopened the kicking competition before this week's game with New Mexico with freshman Randy Bullock, who A&M coach Mike Sherman said he would have used late in the first game after Bean's earlier misses.
2. Kansas fans are concerned after the Jayhawks rushed for 128 yards and averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry in a blowout victory over Florida International. One of the biggest reasons was the absence of T Jeremiah Hatch, who didn't play for undisclosed reasons. Coach Mark Mangino said that Hatch is practicing with the team and could be available for Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech. His return would immediately boost Kansas' ground game.
3. Baylor QB Robert Griffin has another reason to get excited about his first college start against Northwestern State. His older sister, Dejon, a junior who competes in the hammer, discus and shot put for the Demons' track team, says she'll support her little brother over her own school at Saturday's game in Waco.
4. Texas coach Mack Brown will consult with DE Henry Melton and LB Sergio Kindle before he decides how many games DT Lamarr Houston will be suspended for after his weekend arrest. He was charged with driving while intoxicated. Melton and Kindle both were suspended three games last season after they were arrested for similar charges last summer.
Houston's absence Saturday night from the Longhorns' pass rush against UTEP adds a little more pressure for Texas redshirt freshmen S Blake Gideon and S Earl Thomas, who will be starting their first road games at the raucous Sun Bowl.
5. Kansas State coach Ron Prince has repeatedly said that QB Josh Freeman was his most improved player since the spring. Freeman played like it in the Wildcats' season-opening 45-6 victory over North Texas, accounting for five touchdowns. But the most noticeable change for Freeman in his third season as a starter appears to be his patience at hitting second and third receivers. He also looked more comfortable as a running threat, which wasn't always the case in his previous two seasons as a starter.
6. Colorado coaches worried about finding a defensive playmaker to replace Jordon Dizon. If the Buffaloes' first game is any indication, they don't have any worries. Rangy LB Brad Jones was all over the field with seven tackles and a sack in their victory over Colorado State. But most impressive was his play on Colorado State TE Kory Sperry, who was neutralized with only two catches after blistering the Buffaloes for eight catches and three TD grabs last season.