Big 12: James Casey

Ranking the best and worst of Big 12 nonconference schedules

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
12:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.

Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:

1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami

The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.

2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia

Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.

3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada

The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.

4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette

No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.

5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling

Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.

6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State

The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.

7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi

The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.

8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.

9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico

Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.

10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida

The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.

11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army

Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.

12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech

The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.

Tags:

Barry Switzer, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Miami Hurricanes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Jarrett Brown, Max Hull, BYU Cougars, Toledo Rockets, Harvey Unga, Colorado State Rams, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, James Casey, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Tim Benford, Bill Snyder, Jordan Sorrells, Kent State Golden Flashes, Bradley Dale Peveto, Ali Villanueva, Baylor Bears, Wyoming Cowboys, Massachusetts Minutemen, Texas Longhorns, Doug Martin, Joe Cox, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, Connecticut Huskies, Juice Williams, Central Florida Knights, Utah Utes, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Missouri Tigers, Rich Ellerson, Colorado Buffaloes, Bowling Green Falcons, Todd Reesing, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, Utah State Aggies, Chip Bowden, Dan Hawkins, Mike Leach, Robert Griffin, Duke Blue Demons, Kansas State Wildcats, Grambling Tigers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Rice Owls, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, Furman Paladins, Northwestern State Demons, LSU Tigers, Watson Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Paul Rhoads, Kansas Jayhawks, Damion Fletcher, Idaho State Vandals, Florida Atlantic Owls, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, West Virginia Mountaineers, Tyrod Taylor, Army Black Knights, North Dakota State Bison, Jerrod Johnson, Shonn Greene, Case Keenum, Lee Sweeney, Alabama Crimson Tide, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Trevor Vittatoe, Mack Brown, Schedule rank 061009, UCLA Bruins, Dezmon Briscoe, UTEP Miners, Bo Pelini, Bobby Petrino, Northern Colorado Bears, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, Houston Cougars, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Jimmy Johnson, Eugene Jarvis, Virginia Tech Hokies, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Ohio State Buckeyes, Jarrett Dillard, Tyler Sheehan, UAB Blazers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Howard Schnellenberger, Chase Clement, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Herman to be tested in ISU turnaround

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
11:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I've always wondered about those people who like to trump the fact they are Mensa members.

 
  Icon SMI
  Austen Arnaud is a cornerstone that Tom Herman can build the offense around.

New Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman seemed a little sheepish about his membership in the group when he was interviewed recently by Des Moines Register beat writer Randy Peterson.

"That and a quarter will get you ... no, you better make that a dollar because of the economy ... that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee," Herman said. "Mensa -- I guess that means mom and dad raised me right."

Peterson found out that a conversation with a key family member steered Herman to the Mensa test.

"My mom thought it would look good on my résumé," he said. "But that's obviously before I decided to go into football coaching."

Herman joked to Peterson that he zips through the USA Today crossword puzzle every morning and regularly beats the contestants on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

But an even bigger test of his intellect begins Tuesday in Ames when he tries to turn around the moribund Iowa State offense as the Cyclones begin spring practice.

The team ranked 67th in rushing, 31st in passing and 59th in scoring offense. All of those figures were improvements on the previous season, but Iowa State still has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the Big 12's powerful offenses.

Herman's hiring by new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads represents a start. His offense at Rice, keyed by quarterback Chase Clement, wide receiver Jarett Dillard and tight end James Casey, ranked fifth in passing, 10th in total offense and eighth in scoring offense. It helped lead the Owls to their first bowl victory in 54 seasons with a triumph over Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl.

He arrives with a nice collection of returning talent, keyed by quarterback Austen Arnaud. That's a beginning for Herman to build on.

"The fact that we've got a QB who played every snap last season and still two years of eligibility is a big plus for us," Rhoads said. "Austen is an exciting and talented player who is smart and has a lot of savvy. We want to put him in the situations where he can have comfort and confidence. And for him to be here as we start gives us a pretty good launching spot."

But turning the culture around and making them relevant will be a bigger challenge for Herman than any Mensa test he has ever completed.

Tim's mailbag: Why doesn't Notre Dame play Big 12 teams?

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
6:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike from Livonia, Mich., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a diehard follower of the blog here. I was looking at Notre Dame's 2009 schedule and notice that four of the six major BCS conferences are represented - but not the Big 12. That led me to remember any past games the Irish had against Big 12 foes. Wasn't the last one when Nebraska and Eric Crouch played them?

My question is how come Big 12 teams don't play Notre Dame more often. They are playing Washington State in San Antonio this season and have plans to play Arizona State in the Cowboys' new stadium. Why not Nebraska or Texas A&M or Colorado, who they have had a rich bowl history with?

Tim Griffin: Interesting question Mike and there's a reason why Notre Dame has rarely hooked up with Big 12 teams. And also why the Irish are opting to bring some unconventional opponents for their upcoming "home" games at Texas stadiums.

The Big 12's two major television partners, ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Network, have exclusivity for all games played in their seven-state geographical footprint.

That has kept any Big 12 team from playing neutral-site games during the Irish's recent run of "barnstorming" games where they have become the designated home team for games played outside of South Bend.

Those games, like all of Notre Dame's games, are the exclusive broadcasting property of NBC. And because of the Big 12's deals, it keeps a Big 12 team from playing a game inside its footprint that isn't carried by a Big 12 television partner.

For example, Baylor and Notre Dame originally wanted to play at the Cowboys' stadium in 2012. But Baylor couldn't be involved because of the conference's exclusivity, leading Arizona State to replace them in the game in Arlington in 2013. Notre Dame instead took its 2012 "home" game with Baylor in New Orleans.

So the only way imaginable for Big 12 teams to play Notre Dame would be in a home-and-home series. And the Irish do have a home-and-home series against Oklahoma, with games in Norman (broadcast on the Big 12 television partners) in 2012 and in South Bend (broadcast by NBC) in 2013.

The last time that Notre Dame played a Big 12 opponent was in 2001, when Nebraska beat the Irish, 27-10, in Lincoln, Neb.


Michael from Huntsville, Ala., writes: Here's something from your recent article about Mike Leach in regards to their victory over Texas last season. You described it as what "might have been the biggest play in Big 12 history." Way to sensationalize the story. Did you exaggerate much?

Tim Griffin: Actually, I don't think that's overstating the importance of that game. It kept Texas from playing for the national championship -- the Longhorns' only loss of the season settled on a play with one second left.

The only other plays I would rank with that one was the tipped ball by Nebraska's Matt Davison in the 1997 Missouri game and Vince Young's game-winning TD run against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. But both of those plays had plays after them, lessening the sense of finality in setting those plays as the ultimate winning play. So I'll stick with the Crabtree catch, which I still think is the biggest, most exciting play in Big 12 history.

As Tech chancellor Kent Hance said yesterday, he's already seen that play more than any he can remember in highlights, rivaling only Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary" pass in 1984. I bet the Crabtree catch will have that kind of staying power, too.


Michael Byrd writes: In your Baylor outlook, did you know that Baylor has Phil Taylor to play defensive tackle next season? He was one of the top recruits two years ago for Penn State before he transferred to Penn State. The Baylor coaches have been quoted in the Waco newspaper as saying that Taylor was a monster during his redshirt season in practice. Heard of him?

Tim Griffin: Yes I have and I think he'll be a big contributor. But I'll wait until he plays in a college game before I rush too quickly to praise him. It will be interesting to see if he lives up to the advance billing that has preceded him.


Nathan from Kansas City, Mo.: Tim, you might want to do your homework a little better. Missouri beat Kansas State in Manhattan in 2007 by a score of 49-32, so they haven't won in Manhattan since 2007 and not 1989 as you wrote.

Tim Griffin: To the Missouri fans, I apologize for the gaffe. I need to watch Truman on You Tube as punishment for absolution.


Carroll from Ames, Iowa, writes: What do you think of new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' coordinator hires - Rice's Tom Herman and South Florida's Wally Burnham?

Tim Griffin: I'm really impressed. Herman did a fine job at Rice, directing a controlling passing attack that included players like Chase Clement, Jarett Dillard and James Casey and ranked in the top-10 nationally in passing, scoring and total yards last season. I think his arrival will help Austen Arnaud's development greatly. And the veteran Burnham is the addition for Rhoads' defense.

Rhoads was a little deliberate on his choices, but now I can see why. He made two very good hires for those positions.


Little Stevie from Lenexa, Kan., writes: Tim, how in God's green earth can you have Kansas State ranked over Missouri and Kansas. Remember, Kansas State fired their coach last season.

Tim Griffin: Stevie, maybe I'm buying too much into Bill Snyder's arrival, but I think he should be good for a couple of extra wins. And considering their schedule to Kansas and Missouri, I think they will be very competitive. I think the North will be wide open.

Remember that Kansas loses all three starting linebackers and still plays that same South Division gauntlet in Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. And besides losing Chase Coffman, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and others, Missouri also will likely have new offensive and defensive coordinators. And that's after having no staffing changes in eight seasons. I think it might be a little tougher for the Tigers than some Tiger fans might be expecting.


David Lasseter writes: Hey, Tim. You need to put down the crack pipe. You must be on something to predict a 5-7 record for Baylor. I will give you eight wins. They will go 4-0 by beating all their non-conference games. And they will go 4-4 in conference play. No way Nebraska beats them breaking in a new starter or Texas Tech breaking in a new quarterback with a suspect defense. Also, we're beating Iowa State and Texas A&M on the road. And we might get Oklahoma State and Missouri, too. I bet you dinner they go 8-4 and I will pay you if you lose.

Tim Griffin: David, I'm not supposed to bet my readers. But remember that Baylor does play in the South Division. All I can say is let's catch up before the start of the season. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts then.


Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, I'm wondering about the wisdom of Coach Dan Hawkins' remarks. The 10-2 prediction, was it necessary? Was it wise? What happens if he does/doesn't achieve the goal?

Tim Griffin: Hawkins has definitely told the world he thinks his team will be a lot better in 2009 than 2008. A lot better.

I don't know if I would have made the comments in a public setting like Hawkins did. But he obviously is very confident his team will be much better. Hence, his pronouncement.

But he has put a lot of pressure squarely on him and his team.


Cecil Wilson writes: Hey Tim, how come no lunchtime links a couple of days earlier this week. I need my daily fix of Big 12 football. Still 7 1/2 months till kick off.

Tim Griffin: Sorry, Cecil. For a couple of days earlier this week my family and I went on a short vacation to New Mexico. I had to introduce my 4-year-old son to snow. He didn't like it.

But I can assure you the lunchtime links are back to stay. Thanks for planning your day around them -- and please keep reading them.


David from New York City writes: You are spot on about the Texas Longhorns having a chip on their shoulders about last season. I believe they are as talented as Oklahoma, but are so hungry and angry about the way OU got to the title game last season, they're taking it to the title game. What do you think?

Tim Griffin: I've got Texas as my favorite over the Sooners at this point heading into spring ball. My major reasons are Oklahoma's rebuilding offensive line and new safeties and Texas' hunger after how last season played out. I think these are the major contributing factors that make me rank them a little ahead of the Sooners.

Readers, as always thanks for all of the questions this week. I'll check back with you again next week.

DCTF announces 2008 All-Texas teams

January, 22, 2009
1/22/09
1:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Fans who live in Texas like I do know what a special day it is for football fans each June when Dave Campbell's Texas Football finally hits magazine stands and bookstores. And for the past two years, the publishers of DCTF have also produced a neat winter wrap-up of the previous season that is hitting newsstands today across the Southwest.

With several big stories in Texas football at the end of the season, the magazine's staff had many choices for inclusion on its annual postseason All-Texas team. Here's a look at their award winners and selected players, with Big 12 players highlighted in bold.

Dave Campbell Texas Football 2008 First-Team Offense

First-team defense

  • DL - Phillip Hunt, Houston
  • DL - Jerry Hughes, TCU
  • DL - Brian Orakpo, Texas
  • DL - Brandon Williams, Texas Tech
  • LB - Joe Pawelek, Baylor
  • LB - Jason Phillips, TCU
  • LB - Sergio Kindle, Texas
  • DB - Darcel McBath, Texas Tech
  • DB - Jordan Lake, Baylor
  • DB - Kenneth Fontenette, Houston
  • DB - Stephen Hodge, TCU

First-team specialists

  • K - Jose Martinez, UTEP
  • P - Justin Brantly, Texas A&M
  • RET - Jordan Shipley, Texas

Second-team offense

Second-team defense

  • DL - Youri Yenga, SMU
  • DL - Roy Miller, Texas
  • DL - McKinner Dixon, Texas Tech
  • DL - Cody Moore, TCU
  • LB - Adam Vincent, UTEP
  • LB - Robert Henson, TCU
  • LB - Brian Duncan, Texas Tech
  • DB - Daniel Charbonnet, Texas Tech
  • DB - Andrew Sendejo, Rice
  • DB - Steven Coleman, TCU
  • DB - Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, UTEP

Second-team specialists

  • K - Thomas Morstead, SMU
  • P - Thurman Spencer, North Texas
  • RET - Jeremy Kerley, TCU

Speciality 2008 winners

  • Player of the Year - Colt McCoy, Texas
  • Defensive Player of the Year - Brian Orakpo, Texas
  • Best passer - Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
  • Best runner - Bryce Beall, Houston
  • Best lineman - Jason Smith, Baylor
  • Best receiver - Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
  • Best lineman - Jerry Hughes, TCU
  • Best linebacker - Joe Pawelek, Baylor
  • Best defensive back - Darcel McBath, Texas Tech

What to look for this week in the Big 12

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
10:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 items to watch for across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Chase Daniel's offensive surge: Missouri has scored on its last 13 possessions over the last two games with Daniel directing the offense. They should have another easy game Saturday against Buffalo, but can Daniel keep his amazing offensive production going? His Heisman candidacy is improving with each performance.

2. Texas A&M's starting quarterback: Stephen McGee's streak of 29 straight starts as Texas A&M's quarterback is in jeopardy after he sustained a sprained right shoulder in the Aggies' most recent game at New Mexico. Will he be ready to go Saturday against Miami? Or will Coach Mike Sherman instead opt for talented backup Jerrod Johnson, who passed for three touchdowns to direct the Aggies' first victory of the season after McGee's injury?

3. Texas' young secondary against Rice's sophisticated passing offense: Freshman safeties Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon made it through unscathed against UTEP. But they'll be taking a big step forward when facing Rice QB Chase Clement and the Owls' talented and underrated receivers James Casey and Jarrett Dillard.

4. Any lingering reaction from Miami's beat-down over Texas A&M last season: Dennis Franchione's program is gone for the Aggies. The Aggies will have a chance Saturday to blot away memories from one of the recent humiliations in school history stemming from last season's disappointing loss at the Orange Bowl. And new A&M coach Mike Sherman can regain some of his lost luster after his season-opening loss against Arkansas State with an upset on Saturday.

5. How will Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree react to the pointed criticism of Mike Leach? Harrell passed for 418 yards and five touchdowns and Crabtree won AT&T national Player of the Week honors after grabbing eight receptions for 164 yards and three TDs last week after a 43-7 victory over SMU. And Leach still wasn't happy. What will they do for an encore against a leaky Massachusetts defense that has allowed an average of 47 points per game in its last two games?

6. Iowa State's Vegas vacation: Gene Chizik says the Cyclones will bunk far away from the Strip in preparation for Saturday's game against UNLV. Will staying away from the bright lights of the casinos help them snap a 12-game road losing streak, including the last six games with Chizik?

7. Robert Griffin's encore: After breaking the Big 12 single-game rushing-average record last week against Washington State in only his second career start, the freshman Baylor quarterback now steps up in class against an underrated Connecticut defense in a national television contest. A big effort could be huge statement for Art Briles' rebuilding efforts.

8. Rhett Bomar's return to the Big 12: The former Oklahoma quarterback transferred to Sam Houston State after washing out with the Sooners. Bomar led the Sooners to a 19-3 victory over Kansas in his last game against them in 2005. Will he be as productive against a much improved Jayhawks team -- with a much diminished team in terms of talent around him?

9. Texas' running game: The Longhorns have struggled at times running the ball. But the emergence of Fozzy Whittaker might have given them a breakaway threat. He should have a lot of opportunities against Rice, which has been gashed for an average of 317.4 rushing yards per game in its seven games against Mack Brown's Texas teams.

10. Missouri's retooled secondary: Starting FS William Moore isn't expected to play Saturday against Buffalo after reinjuring his right foot last week. Converted CB Del Howard will start in his place. Howard will be challenged by Buffalo WR Naaman Roosevelt, who made headlines last week with his game-winning, final-play TD catch against Temple.

Longhorns prepare for Rice's explosive aerial attack

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
3:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas' young defense will receive a good test Saturday night from Rice, which could have just enough offense to make things sticky for the Longhorns.

Rice's aerial attack will be of particular concern. Quarterback Chase Clement ranks sixth nationally in total offense and throws to two of the top 15 receivers in the country in James Casey and Jarett Dillard. Casey is tied for the national lead with an average of 9.7 receptions per game and Dillard averages 7.3 catches per game. The Owls rank 19th nationally in passing, 25th in scoring and 37th in total offense.

"They've got a good offense and it was good to get a chance to rest up and watch some more film," Texas CB Ryan Palmer said. "They've gotten better. They played Vanderbilt and have a couple of good receivers back. It's going to be a good challenge playing against them."

Coach Mack Brown is concerned about the Longhorns' susceptibility to big plays, their lack of a pass rush and low turnover production. The Longhorns have forced only three turnovers in the first two games and are tied for 84th nationally in sacks (1 per game) and 98th in pass defense (261 yards per game).

"We've got to cut down on the explosive plays. And we're not forcing turnovers that we need to," Brown said. "That's been a huge emphasis for us. We're not getting as many sacks because of the rule and the quarterbacks can get rid of the ball."

Big 12 picks: Look for more struggles vs. Big East

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
10:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 will be on display the next two nights as underdogs against two powerful Big East foes. After losing two games in six days to the Big East, the conference is looking for a quick turnaround.

Here are my picks:

West Virginia 33, Colorado 28: The Mountaineers have too much offensive firepower in this one, even with Colorado fans planning a "Blackout" and West Virginia offensive linemen worrying about Boulder's altitude in game preparation this week. The Buffaloes are still a little young to prevail, but will pick up some important lessons that could help them later in Big 12 play.

Connecticut 42, Baylor 17: The quick development of Baylor freshman QB Robert Griffin has given this game a little bit more sizzle than it might have had a couple of weeks ago. Baylor will be looking for its first road victory at a BCS opponent since 1996. But look for the Huskies to dominate inside because of the tough running of Donald Brown, cruising to their ninth-straight victory and second straight 4-0 start.

Missouri 57, Buffalo 20: The Bulls will be looking for their first 3-1 start since 1996. It won't happen here, however, because Missouri's potent offense is cruising, even if Gary Pinkel is claiming he can't find the off switch. The Tigers lead the nation with an average of 57.7 points per game and 10 yards per snap. It might just be a moral victory for Buffalo to keep Missouri from scoring every time they get the ball, considering that QB Chase Daniel has led Missouri on 13 straight scoring possessions over the last two games.

Miami 17, Texas A&M 7: Both teams have unsettled quarterback situations. Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have been alternating snaps for the Hurricanes. And the Aggies' starter is in flux as Stephen McGee is coming off a sprained shoulder after Jerrod Johnson's impressive relief work against New Mexico. Both teams have been offensively challenged, so look for points to be hard to come by. Even though A&M president and Miami native Elsa Murano has made beating "The U" a priority, the Aggies don't have enough firepower to do it.

Texas 48, Rice 17: The Longhorns will be looking for their 10th straight victory and 37th in the last 38 games against Rice since 1966. Look for the Longhorns to try and emphasize their running attack and their physical advantage in the trenches. Rice QB Chase Clement and WR James Casey, who is tied for first nationally in per-game receptions, could give the young Texas secondary some problems. But not that many.

Texas Tech 61, Massachusetts 10: Tech coach Mike Leach called out his quarterbacks and receivers this week -- and by inference QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree -- for lack of production after beating SMU last week. Look for an inspired offense from the Red Raiders with a lot of points and yardage against the FCS Minutemen. Massachusetts QB Liam Coen has thrown 75 career touchdown passes, but will be challenged by a Tech defense that picked off five passes last week.

Kansas 45, Sam Houston State 10: After a disappointing defeat last week at South Florida, the Jayhawks are hoping to rebound and rebuild confidence in their running game at the same time. Sam Houston State hasn't played since beating East Central, 58-14, on Aug. 28. The Jayhawks will be looking for defensive improvement after failing to produce a turnover and allowing 31 straight points at one juncture last week. And they'll be challenged by Sam Houston State QB Rhett Bomar, who formerly played at Oklahoma and beat the Jayhawks while playing there.

UNLV 24, Iowa State 22: The Rebels enter this game brimming with confidence after their stunning overtime victory at Arizona State last week. It's helped them post a winning record for the first time since 2003 after failing to win more than two games in any of the last four seasons. The Cyclones are trying to bounce back after failing to score a touchdown in a loss at archrival Iowa. Iowa State remains the Big 12's most opportunistic team, but will need some big plays to win in the desert and snap Gene Chizik's 12-game road losing streak.

My pick last night: 0-1 (0 percent)

My picks for the season: 31-2 (93.9 percent)

Converted QB Meier shares national lead in receptions

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
5:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier's transformation into one of the nation's top pass receivers has been nothing short of remarkable.

The converted quarterback is tied with Rice's James Casey for the national lead in receptions with an average of 9.67 grabs per game. Interestingly, both players were recruited to their colleges as quarterbacks.

Meier's quick start is even more remarkable considering that he spends much of his practice time still with the quarterbacks. He is considered as the Jayhawks' No. 2 quarterback behind Todd Reesing.

"I can't say that I could have made that kind of prediction, but I could have told you he was talented," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "We knew Kerry was intelligent and a good athlete. He had good size, strength and speed. And I felt like he was a guy who could transition into the position.

"But the most amazing thing is that he spends 50 percent of his practice time as a backup quarterback. And the only time he meets with the wide receivers is when they meet with the quarterbacks."

Meier produced a career-best 11 receptions for 120 yards in the Jayhawks' 37-34 loss to South Florida Friday night. And despite his big numbers offensively, Meier wasn't exempt from admonishment from Mangino along with the rest of Kansas' receivers for their struggling with downfield blocking in the loss.

"We had running backs out in the open, but they didn't get any help from the receivers," Mangino said. "We've always had good blockers at wide receiver. The guys we have like to catch the ball, but they won't play that long if they don't block. They will block, or else we'll put guys out there who will."

Kansas produced 61 yards rushing against South Florida. It was the Jayhawks' lowest rushing total since netting 42 yards against Missouri late last season.

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