Big 12: Jake Matthews



ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.

Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.

"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Tony Jefferson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel sprints away from Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson during a second-half run.
"He's not a Heisman winner for no reason," said Oklahoma safety Javon Harris, who scooped up an interception off Manziel when receiver Malcome Kennedy bobbled what likely should have been Manziel's fifth touchdown of the night. "You saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into."

Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.

"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."

Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.

More like Johnny B. Great.

"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.

He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.

A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."

That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?

"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."

Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 41, OU 13

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Another Cotton Bowl, another bad loss for the Big 12. Excluding current SEC member Missouri's win back in 2008, the Big 12 has lost the Cotton Bowl to an SEC opponent in eight consecutive seasons. Johnny Football put on a show after a month away and showed zero signs of rust and a zillion signs of being an endless source of frustration for Oklahoma's defense.

The Big 12 finished 4-5 in its nine bowl games, and the SEC improved to 4-3 in its bowl games. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for Texas A&M's 41-13 blowout win over the Sooners.

It was over when: Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter, Manziel hit Ryan Swope over the middle on a short slant. Swope shed a tackler and raced 33 yards to put the Aggies up, 34-13. That capped a run of three Oklahoma three-and-outs to begin the second half and spelled doom for the Sooners.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. I mean, who else? He broke the Cotton Bowl record for total yards with 516 and accounted for four touchdowns. It could have even been five, too, if not for Malcome Kennedy's bobbling a pass in the end zone that was eventually intercepted by Oklahoma's Javon Harris.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards per play. Texas A&M averaged 9.6 yards per play. It was really that simple in this one. Johnny Football made the Aggies dangerous on what seemed like every snap. Oklahoma's offense played well in the first half, but it rarely looked easy, and Texas A&M prevented the Sooners from breaking big plays. It also clamped down in the red zone.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Get a good, long look at Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews serving as bookends on this line. They might be gone soon, cashing big-time checks as NFL first-round picks. Mike Sherman had well-chronicled struggles, but the offensive line guru left some big beef for Manziel and the Aggies offense to operate behind. It showed tonight. Oklahoma rarely blitzed, for fear of Manziel running loose in the second level, but he had all day to throw and little pressure on most snaps.

What Texas A&M learned: Heisman jinx, December distractions, coaching changes, whatever. It all seemed pretty irrelevant in this game. Johnny Football looked like his usual self, if not better. He broke loose for 47 rushing yards on Texas A&M's opening drive and didn't slow down from there. Kliff Kingsbury checked out as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, but Clarence McKinney had a solid performance in his debut as play-caller. Manziel insisted he wasn't distracted and that the whirlwind of awards and television appearances after winning the Heisman hadn't changed him. His performance validated those claims.

What Oklahoma learned: Just like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the Sooners were incapable of beating the elite teams in college football this year. A 10-3 season isn't bad, but it's not good enough at Oklahoma. The Sooners might not have even been happy going 1-2 in those losses, but 0-3 will leave a very bitter taste in their mouths thinking back on a season that was very average by the Sooners' sky-high standards. Any notion that it had a formula for stopping or even slowing down the Johnny Football train went out the window. He had his way with the Sooner defense, which tackled poorly, too.

Game prediction: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
2:30
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Kickoff is only a few hours away, and I'll be there in person shortly, but here's who I'm taking in the Big 12's season finale in Cowboys Stadium.

My pick: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 37

I really just don't buy that Oklahoma's defense can slow Johnny Manziel enough to win this. I do think there are a ton of outside factors that might influence how well he plays or doesn't play. He's a young guy, and who knows how he truly handled the time away on the awards circuit? The coaches have had only good things to say, but will he look rusty, and will Mike Stoops have a solid plan to slow him down and keep him contained?

Additionally, how will the loss of Kliff Kingsbury affect him? I do think this game comes down to exactly how "Johnny Football" plays, but I like his chances to overcome that stuff and play well. Oklahoma's defense plays well, too. The Sooners lock down on Sean Porter and Damontre Moore and keep them out of Landry Jones' face, and Jones plays well in his final start, just not quite well enough to win.

Texas A&M's backs, Ben Malena and Christine Michael, are criminally underrated and overshadowed by Manziel, and they'll be the X factors in this one and help the Aggies control the game down the stretch. This offensive line is battle-tested in an SEC full of defensive lines much tougher than the Sooners'. Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will prove why they're both projected to be NFL draft first-rounders and will ultimately win this game for the Aggies with a bruising running game in the final quarter.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group is subject to more change during the season than perhaps any other position. You never quite know how chemistry will develop, and in these rankings, you really have to rely heavily on experience, similar to quarterbacks. It's not the only factor, but you have to acknowledge that it's a major one.

So, here's how I rank them:

[+] EnlargeLevy Adcock
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma State's Levy Adcock, 73, is among the Big 12's best returning offensive linemen.
1. Oklahoma State: This is a no-brainer. The Cowboys broke in four new starters last season, but became a big reason why OSU's offense was one of college football's best. Despite throwing 532 passes, third-most in the Big 12, the group surrendered just 10 sacks. All five starters return, too. Running back Kendall Hunter also rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Right tackle Levy Adcock headlines the unit as the league's best overall lineman.

2. Baylor: The Bears might be a bit of a surprise here, but Baylor's strong skill-position talents wouldn't look nearly as good without this group, which lost a first-round pick at left tackle in Danny Watkins. However, Philip Blake is one of the league's best centers and four starters return from a line that helped Baylor finish second in the Big 12 last season in yards per carry, just behind Nebraska but nearly a half-yard more than Oklahoma State, the third-place team.

3. Missouri: The Tigers suffered a big loss in center Tim Barnes, a three-year starter and the offensive line's leader, but they return four starters from last season line and have the most career starts on the line of any team in the Big 12, with 105, which ranks 11th nationally.

4. Texas A&M: A&M's rising sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, had to learn on the go last season, but their development should be fun to watch this season on an offensive line blocking for the Big 12's best overall collection of skill-position talents. The line returns four starters, replacing only center Matt Allen.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners' goal-line problems last season cost them a game at Texas A&M, but this line was very solid the rest of the season and has plenty of upside. Likely starter Jarvis Jones won't be available until perhaps October, so the Sooners will turn to touted redshirt freshman Daryl Williams at right tackle in the interim. Center Ben Habern and tackle Tyler Evans add a lot of experience.

6. Texas Tech: Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best guards in Lonnie Edwards, but don't be surprised if Mickey Okafor grabs the Big 12's first-team spot at right tackle by season's end. The Red Raiders return all five starters, and will have to play well to support new faces at every skill position on offense.

7. Kansas: Four of the Jayhawks' starters are juniors and another is a senior, and for all of KU's struggles last season, it did have some success running the ball in spots, even though its 1,615 total rush yards were the fewest in the Big 12. James Sims (742 yards, 9 TDs) returns and KU adds a possible home-run threat in Darrian Miller, but the offensive line returns 97 total starts, 15th-most in college football and second-most in the Big 12. That has to pay off eventually, if not this season.

8. Iowa State: The Cyclones boast the league's best left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, but center Ben Lamaak is gone and ISU might turn to redshirt freshman Tom Farniok as his replacement. Brayden Burris is solid at right tackle, but sophomore Ethan Tuftee, who has very little experience (just five appearances total), enters fall camp as the starter at right guard.

9. Texas: No, I don't know how this happens. But it's hard to deny. Run blocking has been a struggle for Texas, and new position coach Stacy Searels will have to change that for the Longhorns, who have kept quiet about any real depth-chart developments throughout the spring and into fall camp. Tray Allen's health is a concern, but Mason Walters played well in 2010 and David Snow has a lot of experience at center with 19 starts and 39 appearances. If this group can't ascend in these rankings during the season, Texas' turnaround from last season 5-7 campaign will not happen. Texas, though, has the fewest career starts in the Big 12, with 36, which ranks 105th nationally.

10. Kansas State: Kansas State has had the Big 12's leading rusher the past two seasons, but he's gone and so are three offensive linemen, including the unit's best blocker, guard Zach Kendall. Center Wade Weibert and guard Kenneth Mayfield also are gone, leaving gaps in the interior. Senior Zach Hanson joins Manese Foketi and Clyde Aufner on a unit that returns just 42 career starts, second-fewest in the Big 12 and 97th-most in college football.
Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorites: Oklahoma

Today, we take a look at my No. 2: Texas A&M.

Why the Aggies will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Rod AydelotteQuarterback Ryan Tannehill will be crucial to Texas A&M's success in 2011.
1. They've got the most complete offense.

Center Matt Allen is the only offensive starter not returning, but the Aggies have a solid line, headlined by a maturing, but already talented pair of bookends with big potential, tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. At the skill positions, you won't find anything close to a weakness. Texas A&M returns the best running back corps in the league and maybe the best 1-2 punch in the nation with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. All of the team's top five receivers return, and Jeff Fuller, who chose to return for his senior season, is arguably one of the five best in the country. Ryan Tannehill doesn't have a ton of starts (six) under his belt, but he was great in a tight spot last year, and led the team in receptions his first two years on the field.

2. They're especially strong in great places on defense.

Those places: Secondary and pass-rushers. That's huge in the Big 12. New joker Damontre Moore, defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebacker Sean Porter should combine for more than 15 sacks this year and tons of quarterback pressures that could result in some big plays for another defensive strength: the secondary. All four starters return, and Terrence Frederick, Coryell Judie are experienced seniors at corner, while Trent Hunter and Steven Campbell hold down the safety spots.

3. They made it hard to win nine games last year.

Texas A&M already won a share of the Big 12 South last year, despite ranking 10th in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-5. Its 30 turnovers (15 INTs, 15 fumbles lost) were the most in the Big 12 and 111th most in the nation. You'd have to think that number will drop this year with Tannehill at quarterback. He struggled in the loss to LSU, throwing three interceptions, but he had just three in his six previous games at quarterback, compared to 11 touchdowns. Five of those 30 turnovers came from Jerrod Johnson in a loss to Oklahoma State, and if the Aggies take care of the ball then, or this time around, they're likely Big 12 champions.

Why the Aggies won't win the Big 12

1. The defensive losses will be too much.

Damontre Moore should slide in and replace Von Miller. I'd expect him to do well, but what about middle linebacker? Michael Hodges was the heart of the defense in 2010 and its leading tackler. When a knee injury forced him out of the Cotton Bowl against LSU, the Tigers gashed the Aggies' defense, which for the few weeks to end the season, looked like one of the Big 12's best and topped the league in rush defense. Hodges is gone for good now, and the Aggies left spring without a solid replacement. For now, it looks like Jonathan Stewart will slide in, but it could end up being true freshman Donnie Baggs. Either way, A&M won't be as strong there, and teams that can run the ball (i.e., OSU, OU) may take advantage. Lucas Patterson is the only other loss on the defensive side of the ball, but my money is on Hodges being missed the most on the field, even though Miller was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

2. They have to travel to Norman.

Texas A&M has been outscored 107-24 in its last two trips to Norman, and Les Miles at Oklahoma State in 2001 is the only Big 12 coach to ever beat Bob Stoops at Owen Field. The odds are definitely against Mike Sherman becoming the second. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma in College Station last year, but did it largely on the strength of the linebackers, and Hodges and Miller, who helped orchestrate those three goal-line stops to beat the Sooners, are gone.

3. Hype and the Aggies are not happy bedfellows.

Texas A&M looked like a possible Big 12 South contender last year, but the Aggies lost all three of their first real tests, and nearly lost to Florida International in College Station, erasing a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to avoid embarrassment. After being written off by most, they rallied for a share of the Big 12 South, but this year, the attention is back on the Aggies, who will likely be toting a top-15 ranking into the preseason. How will the team handle big games early in the season against Oklahoma State and an early trip to Lubbock before the showdown in Norman? Their recent history suggests "not well."

Finding a Big 12 All-Future Team

June, 8, 2011
6/08/11
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I've mentioned this in the past, but a few Mailbag questions warrant a post all its own. This is one of those posts.

We'll have a Mailbag later today, by the way, so if you'd like to get your two cents in, here's your chance.

David in Austin, Texas asked: Let's say you were the head coach of Ubbeniversity, which sophmores and incoming freshmen would you "recruit" to each position based on the spring games, hype, and single seasons? Bonus: Without taking more 3 players from a single school.

Now, let's not get confused. I named my Big 12 All-Freshman team last year, but those were players who had accomplished something on the field after one season. This team is predicting the future. There are plenty of incoming freshmen who could prove better than their older competition, and other freshmen who have the skill and hype, but lack the opportunity that others got.

So, here we go.

Getting those bonus points might prove difficult, but here's who I'd take:

OFFENSE

QB: James Franklin, Missouri
RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Tevin Reese, Baylor
WR: Mike Davis, Texas
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
OL: Nick Demien, Missouri
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Trey Hopkins, Texas
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Tevin Elliot, Baylor
DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB: Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
LB: Corey Nelson, Oklahoma
LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
CB: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
S: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

Well, I couldn't get those bonus points, despite my best efforts, but here's a few thoughts:
  • Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas Tech weren't represented in this group, but Kansas State's Ty Zimmerman nearly made it at safety, and Kansas running back James Sims was on my All-Freshman team last year. Additionally, I nearly added a tight end spot, and probably would have put Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro in it, but I went with a fullback spot, and Trey Millard's value to the Sooners won't be understated any time Bob Stoops talks about him. He touted Millard's perhaps more than any other freshman on his team, and his play made it pretty obvious why.
  • Though this year's crop of Big 12 running backs looks weak, I was surprised to realize just how many good young running backs nearly made this list. Very, very soon, I think the Big 12 could be loaded at the position. Oklahoma's Brandon Williams and Roy Finch just missed the list, as well as Kansas' Darrian Miller and James Sims, Iowa State's Shontrelle Johnson and Texas Tech's Ronnie Daniels. That's a lot of good running backs.
  • Not a good group of young quarterbacks in the league. Franklin leads what is a pretty questionable group. Granted, young quarterbacks who haven't gotten real playing time are always a risk, but anyone have a pick to throw him off? Blake Bell? Case McCoy? Jameill Showers? J.W. Walsh? Scotty Young? Michael Brewer?
  • The biggest unknowns on my team: Ealy, Hopkins, Demien and Diggs.

What is the ESPNU 150's impact?

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
10:30
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Wednesday marks the release of the 2011 ESPNU 150, naming the nation's top 150 recruits. This year, we took a look back at the players who made the past five years of this list and signed with Big 12 teams, but it's time to direct our focus to the players who made last year's list.

Biggest impact players:

[+] EnlargeTony Jefferson
Brett Davis/US PresswireOklahoma's Tony Jefferson shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season.
No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma -- Jefferson was one of seven ESPNU 150 signees for Oklahoma in 2010, and shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. The 5-foot-10, 199-pounder has drawn comparisons to Oklahoma legend Roy Williams for his work at the nickelback spot, and could be a dark horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year next season.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State -- Lewis was the Cowboys' lone ESPNU 150 signee, but he paid off in a big way. He shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors with Jefferson, and made two of the biggest plays of the season in 2010, picking off Jerrod Johnson to set up a game-winning field goal, and picking off Landry Jones for a touchdown in the regular-season finale.

Nos. 83 and 90: Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M -- The pair could be game-changing bookends for the offensive line. They were two of the Aggies' three ESPNU 150 signees. Joeckel took over as the starter at left tackle in his first spring and Matthews joined him midway through last season. Both are likely All-Big 12 performers as sophomores.

Ready to break out:

No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas -- Jeffcoat, one of the Longhorns' 14 ESPNU 150 signees, showed big promise early, but an ankle injury slowed his development as a freshman. He showed tons of raw talent, and if he stays healthy, could prove himself as one of the league's best pass-rushers.

No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas -- Hicks missed the spring with a broken foot after making 21 tackles last season, including 11 in a win against Nebraska. An Ohio native, Hicks could be headed for a big season once he's back to full strength.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas -- Davis was already second on the team with 47 receptions, 478 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Mack Brown was raving about his receiver this spring, saying he'd be the go-to guy in his new offense if the season began this spring.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor -- With experienced safeties on the roster last season, Dixon had a modest impact (16 tackles, one forced fumble). However, he's moved into a likely starting role at nickelback in Phil Bennett's new defense this spring. The Bears' only ESPNU 150 signee, Dixon offers a combination of size and speed not often seen on a Baylor defense.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma -- Nelson had just 21 tackles last season, but blocked a punt against Texas A&M, the team he spurned for the Sooners on signing day. This spring, coach Bob Stoops called him the best player on the defense. Stoops should find a way to make sure Nelson is on the field this fall.

Redshirted last season, but look out:

No. 142: Justin McCay, WR, Oklahoma -- McCay, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, was rated by some recruiting services as one of the Sooners' top recruits. He suffered a knee injury this spring and missed the spring game, but could add more depth to the Oklahoma receiving corps as a big target in 2011.

Texas A&M spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
6:30
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TEXAS A&M

2010 overall record: 9-4

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense (8) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, QB Ryan Tannehill, CB/KR Coryell Judie, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LB Damontre Moore, LT Luke Joeckel

Key losses: LB Von Miller, DE Lucas Patterson, LB Michael Hodges, C Matt Allen

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Cyrus Gray* (1,133 yards)

Passing: Jerrod Johnson (1,947 yards)

Receiving: Jeff Fuller* (1,066 yards)

Tackles: Michael Hodges (115)

Sacks: Von Milller (10.5)

Interceptions: Dustin Harris*, Coryell Judie* (4)

Three spring answers

1. Gray’s running mate is back on track. Cyrus Gray handled the duties well after Christine Michael went down with a broken leg. Gray finished the season with seven consecutive 100-yard games, but Michael is back and looked good this spring. The Aggies have one of the best running back duos in the country, and it should be better than ever this year.

2. Linebackers looking good. Texas A&M is losing Von Miller and Michael Hodges, but linebackers Sean Porter and Garrick Williams look ready to step into roles as the leaders on the defense. Damontre Moore is likely to replace Miller, while Hodges spot in the middle is up for grabs, with true freshman Donnie Baggs competing to win it alongside Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan. It’s a question mark on a team without many, but the spring had to be encouraging.

3. Offensive line coming together. Texas A&M returns four starters on the line, and loses center Matt Allen. Brian Thomas is likely to replace him and worked most of the spring as the first-team center. On the outside, the Aggies pair of sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel on the left side and Jake Matthews on the right continue to mature and could be two of the Big 12’s best.

Three fall questions

1. Can the Aggies handle the pressure? There was tons of buzz about the Aggies last year, despite coming off a 6-7 season. After six games, though, Texas A&M was 3-3. Once plenty of folks had written them off, they ripped off an impressive six-game win streak and shared the Big 12 South title. This year, the hype is back, but the Aggies won’t be able to weather a three-game losing streak this time around and still have a shot at the Big 12 title.

2. Will Ryan Tannehill continue his tear? Tannehill replaced the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, Jerrod Johnson, midway through the season last year, and helped pace the Aggies during their impressive streak. This time around, with defenses more sure of what to expect from him, can he become a bona fide star? Not to mention that lingering Aggie senior QB curse…

3. How good is Damontre Moore? Von Miller is gone, and Moore looks likely to replace him at the Joker position this year. The Aggies want to see him slide in and re-establish the dominance he showed early in the season when Miller was slowed by an ankle injury, but Miller was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime player. Moore may be good, but just how good? We’ll find out next year.

Talking 2011, new QBs, surprise team

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
5:00
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Fun chat today that got a little chippy toward the end. That's always entertaining. Read the full transcript.

Also, whoever "Texas fan from Texas" was, you get all-time chat MVP. Every single question was golden. Hilarious. Finally, we may have an impressive new contender for the new league name: The Big 12ish.

That's what I call a productive chat.

Some highlights:

Devin (College Station, TX): David, how do you think the offensive line for A&M is going to be this year? I know we had Joeckle as a freshman and his false starts seemed to have come often and at bad times.

David Ubben: Should be great. Mental mistakes like that can be fixed, and as a young player, that's not out of character. They're only losing center Matt Allen, but Luke Joeckel and fellow freshman Jake Matthews at right guard are pretty exciting players.

Jackson in Iowa asks: Jerome Tiller or Steele Jantz? There is already a lot of speculation around Iowa that Steele Jantz will get the gig. A lot of people down on Jerome Tiller after the Mizzou game.

DU: Understandable. Tiller didn't really progress much this year, at least from the times people got to see him (i.e., Colorado, Kansas State and Missouri.) I have yet to see anything but highlights of Jantz, so we'll see. The door is definitely open.

Larry in Dallas asked: Any news on how Damontre Moore is looking at A&M? I'm hoping for the next Von Miller...

DU: I talked to Tim DeRuyter about him a couple weeks ago, actually. He's not necessarily going to just slide into the Joker position. They think he's still going to mature physically, and that may necessitate a position change. If he starts to fill out, he may move down to a more traditional DE, but still have his tremendous speed. They're excited to see him this spring and see what he looks like when he comes back for fall camp.

Moody in CS, TX asked: Hey Ubbs any waaay too early big 12 projections for next year just based on what you've seen and heard so far?

DU: I think the Big 12 has separated into tiers heading into next season, a bit like it did at times this year. Oklahoma is somewhat in a league of its own, a noticeable notch about OSU and Texas A&M. Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas are a notch below those three. All four of those teams have a great chance for some movement up the rankings come season. I'm not expecting much out of Iowa State, Kansas or Kansas State this year.

Michael in eb asked: your surprise big 12 team next year is? assuming oklahoma is your favorite?

DU: My surprise team is probably Missouri. They're under the radar a bit after losing Blaine Gabbert, but they're so good in so many places. If their secondary is solid and they get good quarterback play, they'll be in the thick of the title hunt after maybe not even starting the season in the top 25.

Thomas in OKC asked: Nicest press box/media section in the big 12?

DU: Used to be Nebraska. Now, it's probably Texas Tech or Oklahoma State.

Reese in Lubbock, Texas asked: what are your thoughts on tech putting the pistol in their offense?

DU: Good idea. It's a versatile formation that not every defense has figured out how to deal with just yet. Ask Texas. UCLA's offense was terrible and they had the Horns on their heels. Also, I hate east-west running games. Fast defenses, which usually means the best defenses, usually eat them up.

Texas fan in Texas asked: Already bought my tickets to the National Title game. Who do you think throws the most touchdowns for us. McCoy, Gilbert or whoever else we throw back there?

DU: This guy is on fire. Save your hate mail. Satire!
ESPN The Magazine had a fascinating feature looking back at the past 25 No. 1 high school recruits Insider, where they are now and what the ranking meant to them. With apologies to Vince Young, there aren't a ton of Big 12 talents on the list, but there have been plenty of great recruits to come through the Big 12. We took a look on Thursday at how the All-Big 12 team stacked up as recruits, and you saw quite a mixed bag.

Well, it's the same for the recruits who came to campus with high rankings and high profiles. Going back to 2006, here's how every Big 12 commit from the ESPNU 150 turned out. We'll eventually get to the current class in 2011, around signing day, but here's how the 2010 class breaks down. This class is only a year into their careers, so while some have shown more potential than others, it's ridiculous to be too discouraged by anyone on this list, or make any truly meaningful judgments. No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas. Got off to fast start in 2010 before being sidelined and slowed by ankle injury. Finished with 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. Only three tackles after season's first four games.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas freshman wide receiver Mike Davis finished with 47 receptions this past season.
No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas. Ohio prospect chose the Longhorns over in-state power Buckeyes. Played in 11 games, including seven at linebacker. Finished with 21 tackles in first year, including 11 in a win against Nebraska.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas. No catches in the season opener, and missed the Red River Rivalry with an ankle injury, but ranked second on the team with 47 catches for 478 yards and two touchdown catches, tied for most on the team.

No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas. Redshirted.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor. Waco native forced a fumble and had 16 tackles.

No. 18: DeMarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas. Played special teams in 10 games, and appeared at defensive back in one game. Made four tackles.

No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas. Played in seven games at wide receiver and one at special teams. Caught one pass for five yards against Florida Atlantic.

No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma. Won the starting nickelback job, finishing the season with 65 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. Named co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas. Played in seven games, made one tackle.

No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma. Appeared in 11 games, mostly on special teams. Made three tackles.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma. Switched to the Sooners from Texas A&M on Signing Day 2010. Appeared in all 14 games, making 21 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. Blocked a punt vs. A&M.

No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas. Played in 10 games. Made five tackles.

No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas. Redshirted.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State. Became a starter and made 58 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Intercepted three passes, including two against Oklahoma, returning one for a touchdown. Named co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 83: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. Enrolled early and was the Aggies' starting left tackle by the spring game. Earned All-Big 12 honorable mention.

No. 86: Tevin Jackson, OLB, Texas. Kept off the field by eligibility issues and appeal is still pending.

No. 90: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. Became Aggies' starting right tackle midway through the season.

No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas. Redshirted. Cousin of former Longhorn Cedric Benson.

No. 122: Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas. Played in 10 games at defensive back and special teams. Made 11 tackles, all solo.

No. 125: Toney Hurd Jr., CB, Texas A&M. Appeared in 12 games and made nine tackles.

No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma. Carted off field as a precaution in win against Florida State and missed next two games. Finished with 127 yards on 36 carries.

No. 134: Adrian Phillips, ATH, Texas. Played in 10 games, including five at defensive back. Made eight tackles.

No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas. Played in 11 games and made three starts at left guard.

No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 147: Andrew Rodriguez, OG, Nebraska. Appeared in five games as a backup left guard, becoming the first true freshman Nebraska lineman to play since 2006.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas A&M's defense has already made one big play, intercepting a pass deep in its own territory to end an LSU threat.

But it gave up a big play, too, allowing a 42-yard deep ball over the middle from Jordan Jefferson to Terrence Toliver that cut the Aggies lead to 10-7.

Tolliver beat his man, and it cost the Aggies, but two other mistakes could have cost them further. Fortunately for Texas A&M, neither did.

Texas A&M's Coryell Judie intercepted a pass on the opening drive, but only after the Aggies extended LSU's drive with a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt, though the punter did bobble the snap.

On the Aggies last drive, which ended in a missed field goal, Tyrann Mathieu blitzed and hit Ryan Tannehill without being blocked, forcing a fumble. Right tackle Jake Matthews whiffed on the block, but recovered the fumble, allowing the Aggies to keep possession.

The Aggies have looked like the better team after the first quarter, but more mistakes like those could catch up to them. Eliminate them and prevent another big play like the Tigers' pass, and the Aggies, who have run the ball well early, should be in good position to spring the mild upset.

A&M freshman bookends learned quickly

January, 7, 2011
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IRVING, Texas -- Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were supposed to be good, of course. That's what their recruiting rankings told us. They were the nation's No. 6 and No. 7 offensive tackle prospects in the 2010 class, which is helpful for fans and coaches to get an idea of what they're getting.

For Joeckel and Matthews? Those rankings didn't do much more than force both to tow additional pressure and expectations behind them when they arrived in College Station.

That pressure hasn't kept them from exceeding expectations.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Jacke Joeckel
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRETexas A&M freshman Luke Joeckel has been impressive from the start, earning the team's starting left tackle position following the spring game.
"It’s crazy to see because it’s so rare that this happens," said senior center Matt Allen. "To come straight out of high school and be so physically and mentally prepared for that is very rare to see."

Joeckel arrived from Arlington, Texas, in the spring and awed coach Mike Sherman enough to be named the team's starting left tackle by the end of the spring game for a team needing to replace three starters on the offensive line.

Matthews followed in the fall from Missouri City, Texas, and took over as the team's starting right tackle midway through the season because of an injury.

"Two young guys starting off a season, you know it’s been tough just adjusting to the speed of the game and the size of guys they’re going against," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose move from receiver to quarterback has been a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the season.

"It’s an adjustment, and we knew that going into the season, but they adjusted well. They’re very athletic guys who can move well, are strong and are smart football players."

Allen remembers well the first time he saw both step on the field.

"They were physically ready but it was all about maturity and getting used to the college speed of the game," he said. "Once they settled down and got comfortable with the speed, then they really matured and you know, started figuring out how to work."

Early in the season, that young offensive line was a liability, and the hyped Aggies sat at a disappointing 3-3. Late in the season, it became a strength, as Tannehill took over and running back Cyrus Gray racked up six games with at least 100 yards rushing.

"They’ve really blossomed into the players they are now," Allen said. "It’s night and day difference."

Both prided themselves on technique not often seen on players with as little experience. After a season under offensive line coach Jim Turner, they've added a knowledge of the system and some more size and strength.

"They really matured throughout the season," Allen said. "I tried to help them as much as a I possibly can. Being the oldest guy there, they come with a lot of questions and they rely on the older guys a ton. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they performed during the season."

What was their biggest liability earlier in the season, though, is now one of their most attractive features.

"They’ve got three more years of playing," Allen said, "and they’re already playing as well as probably any tackle in the Big 12. It’s going to be great for the program."

ESPN.com's Big 12 All-Freshman team

December, 10, 2010
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You saw my picks for the All-Big 12 team earlier this week.

Now, here's who I'm taking for the All-Freshman team. And no worries, the party is for everybody. True freshmen and redshirts are invited. (Blackshirts not allowed, but only because they play almost no freshmen, with apologies to Ciante Evans and his stellar performance against Missouri.)

OFFENSE

QB: Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
RB: James Sims, Kansas
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Paul Richardson, Colorado
WR: Mike Davis, Texas
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
OL: Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: David Bakhtiari, Colorado
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Tevin Elliott, Baylor
DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB: Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
LB: Tom Wort, Oklahoma
LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
CB: Tre' Porter, Texas Tech
CB: Jarvis Phillips, Texas Tech
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
S: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

P: Kirby Van Der Kamp, Iowa State
K: Aaron Jones, Baylor
KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
PR: Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State

Selections by team: Oklahoma (4), Oklahoma State (3), Texas (3), Texas A&M (3), Baylor (3), Colorado (2), Nebraska (2), Texas Tech (2), Kansas State (2), Iowa State (1), Kansas (1), Missouri (1)

With freshmen, putting together these teams is a little tougher, but I feel pretty good about this group. We'll get to see plenty of these guys in the future.

Who got snubbed, and who doesn't belong?

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 24, Texas 17

November, 25, 2010
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I'd say that's about what most expected, no? Texas A&M finished off a red-hot stretch with a 24-17 victory to end its regular season, and is now in great position for a big-time bowl game.

Here's some instant analysis:

How the game was won: Texas A&M (9-3) shook off a slow start offensively, and rode Cyrus Gray to a win for a second consecutive week. The Longhorns (5-7) had a final chance late, but Von Miller intercepted a tipped ball from Garrett Gilbert to seal the game. Texas recovered a muffed punt and blocked another to produce 10 second-half points, but it wasn't enough to overcome Gray's career-best night.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas A&M running back Cyrus Gray rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Texas.
Player of the game: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. Gray finished with a career-high 223 yards on 27 carries and scored on runs of 84 and 48 yards. The first tied the game at seven in the second quarter, and the second run gave the Aggies a 24-14 lead on the first play of the possession after Texas got within three in the third quarter.

Stat of the game: Yards per carry. Texas' time of possession advantage of nearly eight minutes doesn't count for much. A big reason for that advantage was Cyrus Gray's big runs. Texas A&M runners averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Texas averaged 3.7.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Gray played well, but he wasn't exactly bowling over multiple defenders on his touchdown runs. Texas' defensive line features big talents in Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall, but the Aggies' improving offensive line, featuring two freshman tackles in Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, dominated them up front and gave Gray big holes to burst through.

What it means for Texas: Texas will most likely be home for the holidays for the first time since 1997. There are 64 bowl-eligible teams in America, and 70 slots for bowl teams. Eleven more teams will play over the weekend to achieve bowl eligibility. Want to keep an eye on your fate, Longhorns? Here are the remaining teams playing for bowl eligibility this week: Colorado, Louisville, Houston, Western Michigan, Oregon State, California, Tennessee, Georgia, Troy, Florida International and Louisiana-Monroe. Six of those teams must win to keep a 5-7 team from playing in a bowl.

What it means for Texas A&M: Texas A&M finishes their regular season on a six-game winning streak in Big 12 play that featured two road wins and two wins over top 10 teams. If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Aggies will be in a three-way tie for first in the Big 12 South. Here's more on how that tiebreaker will be settled. The Aggies aren't completely eliminated, but in all likelihood, the winner of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on Thursday will advance to the Big 12 title game next Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Record performance: Cyrus Gray was the first Texas A&M player to top 200 yards rushing since Leeland McElroy in 1995. That's the fifth-best performance in Texas A&M history.

Impact freshmen for 2010

August, 31, 2010
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Get to know these names well, Big 12 fans. A year ago, they were gearing up for their last season of high school football. Now, they'll all have a say in how the Big 12 shakes out by season's end.

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

Stills enrolled early this spring and immediately established himself as a force in the receiving corps. He returned this summer and didn't disappoint, earning a starting spot heading into the Sooners' season opener against Utah State on Saturday. Heads up for defensive freshmen Aaron Colvin, a cornerback, and Tony Jefferson, a safety who may start as the Sooners nickel back.

Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M

Joeckel also enrolled early and became the Aggies starter at left tackle before the spring game. Matthews is no guarantee to start, but he'll definitely be on the field, likely at right tackle. Both were among the best at their position in the 2010 national recruiting class, but they'll need to show why to keep the Aggies big time offense rolling.

Mike Davis, WR, Texas

Texas needs receivers. Davis may fill that void, but he'll definitely play. James Kirkendoll looks to have emerged as the No. 1 target heading into the season, but don't be surprised if Davis, one of three top receivers hauled in by Mack Brown this February, makes a run at that distinction by season's end. Look out for defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, a freshman who joined one of Texas' deepest and most talented positions.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Gilbert's speed has become legend, but fans will get a chance to see it for the first time when he takes his spot as the Cowboys' punt returner this weekend. He'll also begin the season behind Brodrick Brown as one of Bill Young's cornerbacks.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

Richardson was headed to UCLA before a run-in with the law over the summer. Now, he'll be one several newcomers to Colorado's receiving corps, giving Tyler Hansen a much-needed option alongside last year's top receiver, Scotty McKnight.

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