Big 12: Jeff Smart

Colorado spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
11:00
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2009 overall record: 3-9

2009 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (7) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Tyler Hansen, WR Scotty McKnight, RB Rodney Stewart, OT Nate Solder, DB Anthony Perkins, WR Markques Simas, DB Jalil Brown

Key losses: TE Riar Geer, RB Darrell Scott (transfer), DB Cha’pelle Brown, LB Jeff Smart, DB Benjamin Burney, LB Marcus Burton

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rodney Stewart* (804 yards)

Passing: Tyler Hansen* (1,440)

Receiving: Scotty McKnight* (893 yards)

Tackles: Anthony Perkins*, Jeff Smart (77)

Sacks: Marquez Herrod* (6.5)

Interceptions: Benjamin Burney (2)

Three spring answers

1. Get to know Toney Clemons. The Michigan transfer made a big splash this spring, impressing his team enough to be the top pick in the draft when the Buffaloes split for the spring game. Clemons has size and speed, but 2010 will be about turning that into on-field production.

2. Stars staying strong. Colorado’s two most consistent players a year ago, offensive tackle Nate Solder and running back Rodney Stewart, both had good springs. Stewart was protected from contact often with dwindling numbers at running back, but Solder caught a touchdown pass in the spring game after being drafted with the No. 2 pick before the game.

3. Hawkins’ future not a distraction. Dan Hawkins will sit on maybe the hottest seat in the Big 12 this season, but he didn’t address it much during the spring as his team went about its business.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the quarterback? After taking over for Cody Hawkins last season and finishing the year as the starter, most figured the job was all but Tyler Hansen’s entering spring. But Hawkins insists there’s a competition and that Hawkins and Hansen remain thinly separated. Colorado fans won’t be happy initially if Hawkins starts, but if he produces and the Buffs win a few games, few will be complaining. Some think the team would be better suited by naming a starter now and allowing him to embrace a leadership role over the summer. Hawkins wants competition.

2. Who’s catching the ball? Clemons will be a factor, but Colorado could end up having one of the conference’s most underrated corps of receivers in Clemons, along with last year’s leading receiver Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas. Kyle Cefalo could also be a player that emerges this fall after catching 12 balls for 144 yards in the spring game.

3. Can the Buffaloes defense improve? Colorado had the second-worst defense in the Big 12 last season, and with an underwhelming offense, it’s no surprise they won only three games. Defensive back Cha’Pelle Brown was the only Colorado player to make the All-Big 12 top two teams, and he graduated. Outside of Anthony Perkins, Colorado is replacing its top four tacklers and needs playmakers to emerge to improve on its 2009 season.

Big 12 pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
11:00
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With spring practice set to begin soon -- Texas opens its camp on March 2 -- here’s a quick look at how I have the teams ranked heading into spring practice. In formulating my rankings, I took into account returning players, transfers, arriving freshmen and a teams’ schedules.

1. Texas (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Garrett Gilbert got a head start on replacing Colt McCoy with his considerable playing time in the national title game, an invaluable learning experience for a young player. The Longhorns return most of the defense that improved in its second season under Will Muschamp. The biggest chores will be for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has to boost running game production and find a replacement for record-breaking wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

2. Nebraska (18 starters back: 8 offensive, 8 defensive, 2 special teams). Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers positioned for a potential top-10 preseason ranking. Most of the offensive weapons will be back from a unit that sputtered down the stretch before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl victory. Quarterback Zac Lee will miss some of spring practice as he recovers from postseason surgery. Cody Green and Kody Spano will get most of the work until Lee returns. Nebraska coaches think the defense can be better this season, even without the up-the-middle strength of Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon.

3. Oklahoma (15 starters back: 9 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Sooners overcame a debilitating run of injuries last season to finish with a flourish, knocking Oklahoma State out of a BCS game and winning the Sun Bowl in their final two games. Landry Jones will be infinitely better in his second season as a starter and Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray may be the best one-two receiving/running back combination in the conference. Bob Stoops will be facing a big renovation on defense where key players like Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks left early for the NFL draft. Look for Travis Lewis to be the key to a defense that will need to improve by the time Big 12 play begins if the Sooners are to have any hope of claiming a seventh Big 12 title this season.

4. Missouri (19 starters back: 9 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 special teams). The Tigers will miss Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who were arguably the best players at their positions in the conference last season. But Blaine Gabbert is back for a second season as starting quarterback and some talented recruits are expected to emerge on defense. A key for the Tigers’ success will be a more productive running game and consistency from the offensive line. Improvement on both will be critical for coordinator David Yost during the spring.

5. Texas Tech (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Tommy Tuberville immediately will have to sort through a potentially difficult decision at quarterback between Taylor Potts and fan favorite Steven Sheffield. New coordinator James Willis hopes to install a 3-4 defense that should be a haven for athletic linebackers. But the group’s success will hinge on replacing Jamar Wall at cornerback and finding some pass-rushing threats to replace Brandon Sharpe, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard along the front.

6. Texas A&M (19 starters back: 8 offensive, 9 defensive, 2 special teams). With Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Christine Michael back, the Aggies shouldn’t have trouble scoring points, although the line needs to do a better job of protecting Johnson. But the Aggies’ success will depend on the returning starters quickly taking to new coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s teachings. The group was blistered for at least 35 points in seven games last season and allowed at least 30 points in two other games. So needless to say that even with nine starters back, DeRuyter has his work cut out.

7. Kansas (16 starters back: 7 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Turner Gill inherits an uncertain quarterback situation, but has the framework for a strong running attack with all of his starting linemen back, along with Toben Opurum and heralded back Brandon Bourbon as running threats. The Jayhawks will need to fill in for the loss of Darrell Stuckey in the secondary, but new coordinator Carl Torbush should find the elements for a blitzing, attacking defense among the returnees. But the biggest reason the Jayhawks might be bound for a bowl game in Gill’s first season is swapping Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor in their cross-divisional schedule.

8. Iowa State (13 starters back: 8 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams). Paul Rhoads returns most of the offensive weapons that led the Cyclones to the Insight Bowl, most notably quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. But the team loses all of its starting linebackers; veteran coordinator Wally Burnham will be challenged to cobble together a serviceable unit. The Cyclones could actually be a better team in 2010 but post a worse record. A tougher schedule featuring nonconference games against Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois and the addition of South Division powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will make last season’s bowl trip much tougher to duplicate.

9. Oklahoma State (10 starters back: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Cowboys must find replacements for key players like Zac Robinson, Keith Tosten, four offensive linemen (including Outland finalist Russell Okung) and six of their back seven on defense. New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen finds an uncertain quarterback situation but will lean heavily on a healthy Kendall Hunter. A manageable nonconference schedule should have them in bowl contention, but this should be a step back from Mike Gundy’s last two teams.

10. Kansas State (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip last season only because they scheduled two FCS teams, but they surprisingly challenged for the Big 12 North title up to their last game of the season. It might be tougher to do that this season, although Daniel Thomas will provide the foundation on offense. Carson Coffman has the inside track at quarterback, but keep an eye out for Oregon transfer Chris Harper at either that position or wide receiver. Players like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and John Houlik will be missed on defense, but all four starters are back in the secondary.

11. Colorado (16 starters back: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Dan Hawkins’ seat is the hottest in the Big 12 and arguably in college football after missing a bowl for a second straight season last year. Tyler Hansen returns as the starting quarterback, but the Buffaloes need to find some help in the backfield with only three scholarship backs in spring practice. The defense was young last season and should be improved, but will miss the leadership provided by Jeff Smart and Cha’pelle Brown. A bowl trip likely will be necessary to save Hawkins’ job and a tough nonconference schedule featuring games at California and against Hawaii and Georgia will prove troublesome even before Big 12 play begins.

12. Baylor (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Bears’ hopes of stopping the conference’s longest bowl drought will hinge largely on the health of Robert Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2009 season. New offensive lineman “Big” Robert Griffin will have to protect his quarterback if coach Art Briles has any hope of making a bowl trip. Jay Finley and Kendall Wright are underrated offensive threats, but the Bears will miss key defensive leaders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake who were stalwarts for several years.

Colorado's all-decade team

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
1:10
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Colorado started the decade as one of the North Division's dominant teams, earning bowl berths in five of the first six seasons of the decade.

The Buffaloes have fallen on hard times recently, but they still have provided many outstanding players during the decade.

Here are my choices for Colorado's all-decade team.

OFFENSE

QB: Joel Klatt

RB: Chris Brown

RB: Bobby Purify

WR: Scotty McKnight

WR: Derek McCoy

TE: Daniel Graham

OL: Brian Daniels

OL: Andre Gurode

OL: Victor Rogers

OL: Justin Bates

C: Wayne Lucier

DEFENSE

DL: Abraham Wright

DL: Tyler Brayton

DL: George Hypolite

DL: Justin Bannan

LB: Jordon Dizon

LB: Sean Tufts

LB: Jeff Smart

DB: Michael Lewis

DB: Terrence Wheatley

DB: Jimmy Smith

DB: Donald Strickland

P: Mark Mariscal

K: Mason Crosby

KR: Jeremy Bloom

Offensive player of the decade: Chris Brown. He was the key player on Colorado’s Big 12 championship team in 2001 and was even better the following season before injuries derailed his Heisman hopes.

Defensive player of the decade: Jordon Dizon. Colorado’s only consensus All-American defensive player of the decade also was the Big 12’s defensive player of the year in 2007 after a four-year career as a starter for the Buffaloes.

Coach of the decade: Gary Barnett. Even with his unseemly departure, Barnett still coached Colorado to its only Big 12 championship and took the Buffaloes to four Big 12 title games in a five-season period. They haven't been back since.

Moment of the decade: Colorado stuns Texas for 2001 Big 12 title. The Buffaloes’ 39-37 victory was sparked by 182 yards rushing and three touchdowns by Brown, pushing them to their only Big 12 football championship and lone BCS bowl appearance of this decade.

Colorado season review

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
5:15
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Dan Hawkins got a reprieve a day before his last game and was invited back for another season as head coach.

Hawkins told reporters he was “fortunate” to be coming back after the struggles of a 3-9 season. It marked the third time in four seasons the Buffaloes failed to make a bowl trip and dropped his career record there to 16-33.

After Hawkins brashly predicted -- or “strongly suggested” as he’s framed it after the fact -- that the Buffaloes could win 10 games with no excuses this season, Colorado fell off the track. Those hopes were effectively gone by the time conference play began after nonconference defeats to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia.

They rebounded to mount comeback victories over Kansas and Texas A&M during conference play, but struggled against the conference’s better teams.

The Buffaloes ranked among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing, sacks allowed, net punt and punt returns. They struggled with penalties all season long. And the offense seemed to turn the corner only after quarterback Tyler Hansen grew with his comfort operating the unit.

Markques Simas emerged as a potential playmaker at wide receiver late in the season. Combining him with Scotty McKnight could give the Buffaloes a strong combination at wide receiver.

Heralded tailback Darrell Scott left the program, but Rodney “Speedy” Stewart already had beaten him out for most of the carries by that point.

Hawkins has a collection of athletes, but will be challenged to work them together into a team. He likely won’t get another mulligan next season if his team struggles again.

Offensive MVP WR Scotty McKnight

McKnight emerged as Colorado’s top playmaker with 76 receptions for 893 yards. His reception total was good for the second-most in school history. He needs only three receptions to break Michael Westbrook’s school record. He produced at least seven receptions this season in six games including each of the last three games.

Defensive MVP CB Jimmy Smith

Smith produced 70 tackles, broke up 10 passes and tied for the team lead with two interceptions to serve as the Buffaloes’ top defender in the secondary and a key lockdown cornerback in their pass defense.

Turning point Sept. 11 at Toledo

Some of the sting of a season-opening loss to Colorado State could be blotted away because it’s a rivalry game. But the way the Buffaloes were torched defensively against Toledo was indicative of the defensive struggles they would face as the season unfolded. Toledo rushed and passed for more than 300 yards in the game as they gashed the Buffaloes for nine plays from scrimmage of at least 27 yards. The 54-38 loss helped foreshadow the struggles in Big 12 play when the Colorado athletes had trouble matching those from a Mid-American Conference opponent.

What’s next?

No bowl means the Buffaloes have all winter to refocus before starting spring practice. Hansen will have the starting job from the first day as most of his offensive weapons return with McKnight, Simas and Stewart back. The defense loses only four starters but two of them are key producers in cornerback Cha’pelle Brown and linebacker Jeff Smart. The Buffaloes desperately need to work on fundamentals. Hawkins’ job will be riding on it.

Midseason review: Colorado

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:26
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 2-4, 1-1 in Big 12

So much for Coach Dan Hawkins’ grandiose self-imposed benchmark of 10 wins and no excuses. The Buffaloes disqualified themselves from that goal before the first month of the season was over, placing Hawkins on one of the hottest seats in the nation. Nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo, West Virginia and Texas showed the Buffaloes struggling against athletic opponents -- not boding well for the rest of the season against the Big 12. But things seemingly changed when Hawkins benched his son, quarterback Cody Hawkins. Backup Tyler Hansen engineered an impressive victory over Kansas last week that was clearly Colorado’s top offensive performance of the season. The Buffaloes still rank 100th or worse in eight statistical categories including total offense, scoring defense, net punting, rushing and passing efficiency. They won’t win their predicted 10 games, but a favorable schedule should keep them in the North Division title hunt longer than most would have expected earlier this season.

Most valuable offensive player, RB Rodney Stewart: The undersized Stewart has been compared to Darren Sproles because of his shifty running style. He’s been the most consistent offense weapon for the Buffaloes, rushing for 418 yards and five touchdowns. Since missing the Toledo game, he has responded by rushing for 100 yards or more in three of his next four games to give a spark to Colorado’s flagging ground game.

Most valuable defensive player, LB Jeff Smart: The heady Smart has been the Buffaloes leading tackler, producing 58 stops in six games. He’s also notched five third-down stops, broken up three passes and notched a sack as the most consistent producer on the Buffaloes’ defense. Smart will need some help if Colorado has any hopes of contending for a Big 12 title.

Big 12 links: KU tries 'sports mortgage'

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
12:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look around the Big 12 with some of the more interesting stories across the conference today.

Ranking the Big 12's defenses

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Big 12 defenses are nearly as proficient as their offensive counterparts. But the best teams in terms of defense will likely end up as the conference’s best teams because stopping the high-powered offenses in the conference is so rare.

Here’s a look at how I rank them:


1. Oklahoma:
The Sooners return nine starters and are among the nation’s very best defenses. It starts with three-deep talent along the defensive line keyed by Gerald McCoy and Auston English, who was the conference’s preseason player of the year last season before spraining his knee. They might be a little lacking in depth at middle linebacker behind Ryan Reynolds with the injury to freshman standout Tom Wort and Mike Balogun’s iffy status. The only new starters are strong safety Sam Proctor and free safety Quinton Carter, who have both been impressive in fall camp. The Sooners’ substitutes might be better collectively than most Big 12 units.


2. Texas:
The Longhorns have arguably the conference’s best back seven, particularly a developing secondary led by Earl Thomas and corners Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams. Sergio Kindle and Alex Okafor are poised to become the primary pass-rushing specialists. Lamarr Houston has developed into an anchor at defensive tackle, but the Longhorns need to find another player at the other defensive tackle position to juice production for their biggest defensive weakness. Will Muschamp’s unit must do a better job after producing only 16 turnovers last season to rank tied for 104th nationally.


3. Nebraska:
It all starts with the defensive line, which is among the best in the nation with Outland Candidate Ndamukong Suh and defensive ends Pierre Allen and Barry Turner. The Cornhuskers are young at linebacker where they might start two linebackers, although coaches really like 6-foot-6, 230-pound buck linebacker Sean Fisher and Will Compton. Coaches say the secondary is playing with more confidence, but the group produced only 12 interceptions last season. Boosting that turnover production will be critical in the Cornhuskers’ division title hopes.


4. Texas Tech:
This is where the big drop-off starts from the top three teams. The Red Raiders will miss pass-rushing threats McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams from last season, but have an experienced unit back. Rajon Henley and Brandon Sharpe are set to fill in as the pass-rushing threats and Colby Whitlock can be a terror at times -- particularly against Texas. Brian Duncan is a producer and the team’s leading tackler at middle linebacker. Jamar Wall is one of the better cover corners in the league. But the unit will depend on the improvement of two projected starters: redshirt freshman free safety Cody Davis and strong safety Franklin Mitchem.


5. Oklahoma State:
The development by veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young will determine whether this unit has the goods to lead the Cowboys to their first South title and a potential maiden BCS bowl appearance. The biggest key will be producing more sacks from a defensive front that notched only 15 last season. Young has been concentrating on push from his defensive tackles and thinks he has an underrated pair in seniors Swanson Miller and Derek Burton. The loss of Orie Lemon at middle linebacker will hurt, although Donald Booker has been a producer in limited playing time. The secondary will be playing new starters with only Perrish Cox returning. But keep an eye out for senior free safety Lucien “The Punisher” Antoine who was turning heads last season before blowing out his ACL in the second game last season.


6. Colorado:
The Buffaloes are faster this season and that should help them cope with the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. The linebackers are deep with Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart as the prime producers. And I really like the secondary, with Jimmy Smith and Cha’pelle Brown among the best pair of cornerbacks in the conference. The biggest concern is along the defensive line, particularly after the injury of heralded freshman Nick Kasa that may idle him for the season. One area to note will be at right defensive end, where sophomore Lagrone Shields and freshman Forrest West are in the two-deep. Shields has played four snaps in his career.


7. Kansas:
The Jayhawks need defensive improvement if they are going to fulfill their hopes of making their first championship game. The Jayhawks were crippled last season without a consistent pass rush. They hope junior-college transfer Quintin Woods, Caleb Blakesley and 304-pound Jamal Greene up front along with sack leader Jake Laptad. After losing three starting linebackers from last season, the Jayhawks will retool. I look for them to play two linebackers and a nickel look in many cases. Look for freshman Huldon Tharp to become a producer at linebacker. The secondary is the strength of the defense with All-Big 12 candidate Darrell Stuckey at strong safety and Phillip Strozier poised to continue his late-season development.


8. Baylor:
Up the middle, the Bears might be among the strongest defenses in the conference with heralded transfer defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Joe Pawelek and hard-hitting safety Jordan Lake. Baylor coordinator Brian Norwood knows he needs more production from a defensive line that collected only 21 sacks and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of passes for 3,063 yards. Antonio Jones and Antonio Johnson sometimes get overshadowed by Pawelek at linebacker. Junior cornerbacks Tim Atchison, Clifton Odom and Antareis Bryan need to improve or it could be a long season for the secondary.


9. Missouri:
Any defense that starts with All-American candidate Sean Weatherspoon won’t be too bad. The Tigers could be a surprise considering that Gary Pinkel has been raving about the speed his unit possesses -- particularly at defensive end and at cornerback. Look for a three-man rotation at defensive end with Brian Coulter, Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith to boost production in the pass rush. The secondary was a huge liability last season ranking 118th in pass defense. Kevin Rutland has shown a physical style at cornerback and Kenji Jackson and Hardy Ricks might be ready to help at safety.


10. Kansas State:
New coordinators Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning plan to run a 4-2-5 defense. Their first concern is developing a rush with 2008 first-team freshman All-America pick Brandon Harold out with an injury. While he’s gone, the Wildcats need Eric Childs and Jeffrey Fitzgerald to emerge up front. John Houlik and Alex Hrebec apparently have earned the starting jobs at linebacker. Three junior college players -- David Garrett, Troy Butler and Emmanuel Lamur -- have apparently earned starting jobs for a secondary that desperately needs to improve after ranking 106th nationally in pass defense. The defense ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 117th in total defense, so the new coordinators better boost improvement or it will be another long season.


11. Texas A&M:
Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew defenses from the past? The best indication of the concern that Mike Sherman has for his defensive unit came when he transferred projected starting left tackle Lucas Patterson move back to defensive tackle late in preseason practice to boost production inside. Von Miller was impressive at the “jack” position, but he’ll need some good fortune to hold up consistently rushing against the huge offensive lines in the conference. The Aggies need to improve after yielding 461 yards and 37 points per game and earning the ignominy of being one of three FBS teams to allow opponents to average 200 yards rushing and passing last season. Coaches say the unit is faster and more athletic, but they have to play much better to get the Aggies back into bowl contention.


12. Iowa State:
Veteran defensive Wally Burnham has a great reputation and most recently flummoxed the spread defenses of the Big East while at South Florida. The Big 12, however, will be a different story. The Cyclones ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 112th in total defense. Coach Paul Rhoads says he’s been frustrated by his team’s lack of tackling techniques. They have a building block in cornerback Leonard Johnson. Burnham and Rhoads know what they are talking about defensively as both were coordinators for top 30 defenses last year. But it will take a lot of patience to help rebuild this unit that needs so much improvement.

Hawkins insists he didn't predict 10-win season

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
4:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- Colorado coach Dan Hawkins claimed Wednesday during his appearance at the Big 12 media days that he never made his celebrated "10 wins and no excuses" promise for the upcoming season.

Instead, he said he merely used the statement to challenge his players to achieve that number when he said "10 wins and no excuses" at the Buffaloes' team banquet last December.

"I always love good Internet rumors out there that everybody kind of jumps on as fact," Hawkins said. "But here's the deal with that. It's like when we brought our football players to the stadium [the Dallas Cowboys' stadium] yesterday. I think the goal is always excellence.

"I'm never going to sell our guys short. I'm a big believer in your expectations, your vision and what your standard is. It's not really about the wins. But I didn't guarantee or promise anything. I didn't threaten anything. That was never a part of it."

But no matter how Hawkins spins it, there's no doubt he's expecting vast improvement from last season's disappointing 5-7 season -- the second time in three seasons the Buffaloes have failed to make a bowl trip under Hawkins. Colorado is 8-16 is conference play in Hawkins' coaching tenure there.

"The statement is about what your expectations and your level of excellence are," Hawkins said. "What do you expect to have happen? That's the concept of it. I told the guys it's not about having eight, nine, 10, 11 or 12 games. It's about the bar of excellence and what they expect.

"If you don't expect to get an A, how are you going to get it? I know that great things can happen and we're only a stone's turn from having it happen. Every place I've ever been at, we've won championships. It's a part of our expectations."

Colorado players say that Hawkins' proclamation enthused them as soon as they heard it. And whether it was meant to be a prediction or not, they said it was a stimulus for them that helped spur strong off-season work in the preparations for the upcoming season.

"I think it's purely motivation," Colorado senior linebacker Jeff Smart said. "It motivates us to hear that the coach thinks we can win 10 games. It just makes us want to work harder knowing if we do everything we're capable of, we have a shot of winning 10 games."

These are the players that Big 12 teams can't afford to lose

July, 23, 2009
7/23/09
7:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's impossible to overstate the value of the Big 12's most valuable players. The loss of a key player like Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford could spell catastrophic results for their teams if they miss a large part of their season.

But some teams are better suited for the loss of key players because of strong backups at those positions.

With those ideas in mind, here are the most indispensable players on each Big 12 team and a reason why I feel their loss would be so grievous for their teams.


Baylor: QB Robert Griffin. They don't call him "The Franchise" around Waco without reason. Even with Blake Szymanski behind him, the Bears would have little hope of even thinking about a bowl berth without Griffin in place.

Colorado: LB Jeff Smart. The Buffaloes could withstand the loss of a quarterback like Cody Hawkins or a running back like Darrell Scott because of the depth at those positions. But the Buffaloes would be hard-pressed to replace Smart, considering their lack of senior leadership on the defense.

Iowa State: QB Austen Arnaud. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller showed flashes in the spring, but that was against the Iowa State defense. Arnaud's abilities as a runner and thrower and his experience would be a difficult hole for the Cyclones to fill.

Kansas: WR Dezmon Briscoe. Quarterback Todd Reesing would be a huge loss, but the Jayhawks could always slide Kerry Meier back to quarterback if they needed to. Briscoe would be a different matter. He's the Jayhawks' top big-play threat and could be even more valuable this season if he develops into a kick returner.

Kansas State: WR Brandon Banks. The Wildcats have several quarterbacks they could turn to. They might have trouble replacing top pass-rushing threat Brandon Harold, but Banks would be the biggest loss. He's KSU's best multi-purpose threat as a runner and a receiver and a strong kick and punt returner to boot. And he might be even more valuable this season if Coach Bill Snyder follows through with plans to use him in a "Wildcat" role.

Missouri: LB Sean Weatherspoon. Top rushing threat Derrick Washington would be a big loss, but the Tigers' defense gets a lot of its swagger from Weatherspoon. He's their spiritual leader after leading the team in tackles and sharing the team lead in interceptions last season. His loss would have catastrophic consequences for the Tigers.

Nebraska: DT Ndamukong Suh. Losing "Big Suh" would have big drawbacks for the Cornhuskers. He will key the Big 12 North's best defensive line and could be an Outland Trophy candidate with a productive senior season.

Oklahoma: QB Sam Bradford. With only Landry Jones, John Nimmo and Ben Sherrard behind him, the loss of the Heisman Trophy winner would be a huge loss for the Sooners. The offense would sputter significantly without Bradford.

Oklahoma State: WR Dez Bryant. Remember the second half of the Holiday Bowl? Mike Gundy and the Cowboys do. Oklahoma State became one-dimensional when Bryant was hurt and missed most of the second half against Oregon. An extended loss of Bryant would strip the Cowboys of their best deep threat and top punt return threat.

Texas: QB Colt McCoy. Garrett Gilbert will be a fine quarterback one day, but he's not ready right now. Mack Brown could turn to Sherrod Harris or John Chiles in a pinch if McCoy went down, but it wouldn't be the same. The Longhorns' hopes of claiming their first Big 12 title since 2005 depend on keeping McCoy healthy.

Texas A&M: WR Jeff Fuller. If quarterback Jerrod Johnson went down with an injury, Coach Mike Sherman could always turn to Ryan Tannehill. He doesn't have those options behind Fuller, the Aggies' top deep threat. If Fuller plays like he did during the spring, he could develop into one of the league's best receivers. If he was to get hurt, the Aggies would have little hope of escaping the South Division cellar.

Texas Tech: QB Taylor Potts. Tech's new quarterback has never started a game before, but he's earned the starting job before camp ever began - a rarity in the Mike Leach era. With  Seth Doege, Steven Sheffield and Garrett Riley behind him, there would be a huge drop if Potts misses significant action.

Player commitments shaping up for Big 12 media days

July, 20, 2009
7/20/09
9:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 announced most of the players who will be attending the conference's annual media days, beginning next Monday in Arlington, Texas.

One interesting trend this season is that several coaches are planning to bring assistant coaches with them. Baylor coach Art Briles will be joined by defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins will be assisted at the proceedings by veteran linebackers coach Brian Cabral and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will be joined by cornerbacks coach Jason Jones.

Here's a look at the daily breakdown of teams and who will be attending to represent each school.

Monday July 27

  • Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini, RB Roy Helu Jr., C Jacob Hickman, DT Ndamukong Suh.
  • Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones, QB Zac Robinson, LB Andre Sexton, WR Dez Bryant.
  • Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads; QB Austen Arnaud, G Reggie Stephens, NG Nate Frere.
  • Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman, players to be announced.

Tuesday July 28

  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel, LB Sean Weatherspoon, NT Jaron Baston, G Kurtis Gregory.
  • Baylor: Coach Art Briles, defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, QB Robert Griffin, S Jordan Lake, LB Joe Pawelek, C J.D. Walton.
  • Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino, QB Todd Reesing, WR Kerry Meier, DE Max Onyegbule.
  • Oklahoma: Coach Bob Stoops, QB Sam Bradford; DT Gerald McCoy, TE Jermaine Gresham.

Wednesday July 29

  • Kansas State: Coach Bill Snyder, players to be announced.
  • Texas Tech: Coach Mike Leach, T Brandon Carter, CB Jamar Wall, DT Colby Whitlock.
  • Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins, linebackers coach Brian Cabral, TE Riar Geer, LB Marcus Burton, LB Jeff Smart.
  • Texas: Coach Mack Brown, players to be announced.

It looks like we were able to get most of the players with compelling story lines. I expect Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson both to make appearances for their respective schools, as well.

Just curious if any of you have any specific questions you'd like me to ask the players.

Tim's mailbag: Can Hawkins really lead CU to 10 wins in 2009?

July, 17, 2009
7/17/09
2:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm just coming off vacation, but I couldn't make it without a mailbag before we get back for the weekend. I can say I've never answered your missives from a speeding Amtrak train heading from New York City to Baltimore, Md.

Here are some of the better questions I've received this week.

Brandon Brown of Minneapolis writes: Tim, I'm a Colorado fan who is wondering if it's fair to expect a strong showing from the Buffaloes this season? With Dan Hawkins in place long enough to have "his players" in place, it seems to be reasonable to expect 8-9 wins. Do you think this is realistic?

Tim Griffin: Brandon, it seems that Hawkins has high expectations after last season and expects to win "10 games with no excuses" this season. In Hawkins' defense, he didn't say whether he was including a bowl game and a championship game into the final win total. But it's clear that Hawkins must have some confidence in his team if he expects them to play that well.

The Buffaloes do have one of the conference's best running games and a deep offensive line that should be able to move the ball consistently. I don't know about their quarterbacking combination with Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen and I think they'll miss the big-play capabilities that Josh Smith gave them. I also think they need some help on the defense front breaking in a new starting rotation, but I really like Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart at linebacker and Jimmy Smith at cornerback.

That being said, I expect the Buffaloes to be competitive in the Big 12 North. The fact that all of their major North Division rivals -- Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas -- all will be home games should help them.

When all of that is considered, I think the Buffaloes have a got shot to win eight games and return to a bowl game this season. And with a break or two, it wouldn't shock me to see them barge into North Division title contention -- and maybe even live up to Hawkins' bold prediction.


Josh Patterson from Katy, Texas, writes: I just went back and looked up Coach Dan McCarney's team fushing stats against Texas when he was at Iowa State. Here's how many rushing yards that Iowa State allowed each time they played Texas: 1998, 334 yards; 1999, 129 yards; 2002, 245 yards; 2003, 235 yards; 2006, 193 yards. By my count that's 1136 yards in five games. Do you think this guy really scares the Texas coaches?

Tim Griffin: Josh, you are commenting about my proposed Texas-Florida game in No. 1 matchups between the Southeastern Conference.

And let's put it this way. McCartney would enjoy equality in talent this time around, compared to when he played Texas previous when he coaching at Iowa State. I think the Gators might be a lot closer to Texas in terms of overall talent in the trenches than they were when he was coaching at Iowa State -- if not even ahead of the Longhorns.

The same could be said about Oklahoma and the Sooners' ability to run the game in previous games against McCarney over the years.

The Sooners and Bob Stoops produced 301, 199, 199 and 185 yards against McCartney's defense in the four times they met before McCartney left after the 2006 season. That's an average of 221 yards per game.

But when McCarney had similar talent to the Sooners, his team came up with a big effort in the BCS title game, limiting the Sooners to 107 rushing yards. Their critical play deep inside the red zone help turn away the Sooners without points on two critical drives late in the first half in the BCS title game that was one of the biggest reasons why Florida won.

Could a similar occurrence happen if Florida and Texas met up? I don't know, but I do think the Sooners' collection of running backs is superior to Texas and we saw what the Gators were able to do against Oklahoma last season.


Bryan Benabe of Frisco, Texas, writes: Tim, I attend Oklahoma State and heard that the Big 12 media day will be held in Dallas, where I live. I was wondering where I could purchase tickets and also if fans are allowed to go. Keep up the good work and Go Pokes!

Tim Griffin: Bryan, sorry to have to inform you, but the public doesn't attend these affairs. No tickets are sold and it will just be use media folks who are there.

But the next best thing to being there will be my blog reports from the festivities. Check back often when things kick off July 27. I'll do my best to try to make it like you are actually there with us.


Patrick Ledbetter from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, you're missing the point on the BCS and Orrin Hatch. Forget the money for a minute. Without a playoff system, you'll never know who really was the best in any given year. Relying on computer rankings and top 25 polls from AP sports writers instead of letting the teams play it out on the field is wrong. And here's how I'd do it. Take the final 16 teams at the end of the year and start pairing them off, exactly like the NCAA basketball tournament does. Each game where the teams play each other would be considered a "bowl" game. Start the process in early December with the current smaller bowls and keep going. The bigger of the current bowls would always be reserved for playing the last of the playoff games and they could rotate for who gets to host the actual championship game each year. The NCAA basketball system would work perfectly for college football.

Tim Griffin: Patrick, I don't know if I necessarily agree with you. First, I don't think many bowls that don't have a chance for a national championship game or a high playoff would be interested in signing off on something like this. These games are important for their home cities and provide a reason for fans to travel to watch their teams play. Do you really think that many fans will have the time and inclination to travel over three straight weeks -- with the expensive plane tickets bought on short notice to boot -- to really make consecutive trips like that?

Another item I find problematic would be taking 16 teams for a playoff. If that's the case, won't the 17th or 18th best team claim it had just as viable a chance as those at the end of the playoff?

I'm not necessarily sure I agree the playoff is the best idea. The major reason why is because the regular season acts as a de facto playoff system. I think college football has the best regular season in all of sports. It begins with excitement in the first week of the season and only gets better as the season continues. I would hate to see that diminshed in any way.

But if I was forced to go along with a playoff system, how about a four-game playoff after the major bowl games? That would allow the major bowls to have a viable part in the playoff system. I think this idea makes the most sense to continue what we currently have.


Todd Lamerton of Birmingham, Ala., writes: Hey Tim, it amazes me the love that Texas receives from you sportswriters. If you asked the average college football fan how many Big Twelve titles that Mack Brown has won, most people would guess a few. He's actually won one. People talk about Bob Stoops choking in big games, but he's won six Big 12 titles and three in a row. Texas hasn't even been able to win its own division most years with Brown.

Tim Griffin: Todd, the numbers you are relating are correct. The Longhorns have been dominated by Oklahoma in terms of conference championships during the Mack Brown/Bob Stoops era. I've always maintained that Stoops doesn't ge
t the national love he deserves for claiming three-straight conference championships.

Want an idea of how hard that feat is in recent college football?

Since Stoops arrived at Oklahoma in 1999, only two other programs have claimed three consecutive conference championships in BCS conferences: 2003-05 USC and 2000-02 Miami. And in conferences that determine their titlist with a championship game, only two have been able to top what Stoops has done in college football history. Marshall claimed four-straight conference championship games in the Mid-American Conference from 1997-2000 and Florida in the Southeastern Conference from 1993-96. So it's a difficult accomplishment to achieve.

The "Big Game Bob" moniker might have worn off nationally, but it still fits in the Big 12 as Stoops has made the Big 12 his own playground during his coaching tenure with the Sooners.

I don't think many fans inside the Big 12's footprint are discounting what Stoops has been able to accomplish. I think he's the pivotal figure in Big 12 history at this point.


John L. Romano of Washington, D.C., writes: Much respect for all the original material you've provided us during this down time. So I figured I'd sneak in a recruiting question before things start heating up for the upcoming season.

Being in San Antonio, I was wondering what your feeling is on 2011 running back product Aaron Green and what your gut is telling you about where he might end up?. I ask because his older brother just signed with Nebraska and he should be in a good position to compete for playing time as a freshman at NU after Roy Helu leaves. Do the Cornhuskers have a shot?

Tim Griffin: The recruiting battle for Green will be interesting. Like you wrote, older brother Andrew is a freshman defensive back at Nebraska. I don't know if he will follow him to Nebraska, although the opportunity for immediate playing time definitely would be there. I hear Texas is very interested in him. And there's also a family tie at Baylor, where his father, Tony, and his uncle, Gary, both played for the Bears.

But if I was guessing with my gut, which received all kinds of sustenance with black and white cookies and matzo ball soup during the last week while in "The Big Apple," I would think the Longhorns will definitely be in the hunt at the end. And Mack Brown has a pretty good track record of getting the players whom he wants from Texas high schools.

And with Cody Green at quarterback, it could make for some confusing times for Greg Sharpe as he broadcasts Nebraska's games. But I bet he wouldn't complain if all of them were there together.

That's all for this week. Check back with me again next Friday for another set of letters. And keep the e-mails coming, please.

Colorado spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Cody Hawkins, RB Darrell Scott, WR-KR Josh Smith, DE Marquez Herrod, LB Jeff Smart, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Benjamin Burney.

Key losses

WR Patrick Williams, C Daniel Sanders, DT George Hypolite, NT Brandon Nicolas, LB Brad Jones.

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Rodney Stewart* (622 yards)
Passing: Cody Hawkins* (1,892 yards)
Receiving: Scotty McKnight* (519 yards)
Tackles: Jeff Smart * (118)
Sacks: Brad Jones (7)
Interceptions: Ryan Walters, Shaun Mohler *, Cha'pelle Brown* (2)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Colorado State
Sept. 11 at Toledo
Sept. 19 Wyoming
Oct. 1 at West Virginia
Oct. 10 at Texas
Oct. 17 Kansas
Oct. 24 at Kansas State
Oct. 31 Missouri
Nov. 7 Texas A&M
Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Nov. 19 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 27 Nebraska

1. Running backs: Darrell Scott struggled with injuries all season long in a disappointing freshman season. Rodney Stewart picked up the slack before he sustained a broken leg late in the season. Both looked strong during the spring along with Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge -- a group that helped the Buffaloes produce 270 rushing yards in the spring game.

2. Growth in the secondary: The Buffaloes had to find three new starters this spring. Jimmy Smith showed flashes of being a lockdown cornerback, and safeties Patrick Mahnke and Anthony Perkins look ready to immediately battle for starting positions in fall practice.

3. Offensive line finally healthy: Call this one of the team's most underrated strengths after the strong spring development of tackles Nate Solder and Bryce Givens, guard Ryan Miller and center Mike Iltis. This group could potentially be the North Division's best if it can remain healthy.

Fall questions

1. Who will play quarterback? Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen finished the spring in a virtual dead heat. The development of Hansen will be set back after he underwent surgery after breaking his thumb in the spring. And the position is further scrambled after the departure of coordinator Mark Helfrich for Oregon after the spring. Eric Kiesau was hired quickly to replace him, but a new coach is involved with an uncertain mix of players. Not a good sign.

2. Find some receivers: Scotty McKnight's spring injury gave the backups a chance to play. Markques Simas showed some flashes of cracking the rotation, and arriving players like Andre Simmons, Terdema Ussery and Jarrod Darden will have plenty of chances to crack the rotation when fall practice starts. Or, it could be a couple of walk-on receivers jumping into their place.

3. Unsettled defensive front: The Buffaloes will really miss the contributions of players like George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas in the trenches. Coaches spent most of the spring tinkering with a 3-4 front, but aren't sure if it will fit their current personnel. Colorado will need big contributions from sophomore nose tackle Eugene Goree, senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor and junior defensive end Marquez Herrod to help fill the gaps.

Colorado recruiting needs

January, 21, 2009
1/21/09
8:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins is brimming with his confidence about his team for next season.

Despite the Buffaloes' 2008 struggles that resulted in a 5-7 season and four losses in their final five games, Hawkins didn't hesitate to predict his team would win "10 games with no excuses" in the upcoming season at the team's post-season banquet.

To get there, Hawkins will have to make a late recruiting charge much like last season, when he beat Texas for running back Darrell Scott as the most heralded recruit of his tenure.

An increase in finding depth and talent will be important after the Buffaloes suffered 10 season-ending injuries, lost three players to academic ineligibility and fielded the conference's youngest team in 2008. The team's final two-deep roster featured 27 freshmen or sophomores.

Hawkins' most pressing concern will be retooling a defensive front that loses starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, defensive tackle George Hypolite and nose tackle Brandon Nicolas. Behind them are three freshmen and a sophomore in the two-deep roster that is talented but lacks experience.

Starting outside linebacker Brad Jones and free safety Ryan Walters are Colorado's only personnel losses among the starting back seven. But additional depth at the position is needed as projected starting linebackers Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler, who both will seniors in 2009.

The Buffaloes desperately need depth in their offensive line. Many of their offensive problems last season stemmed from early season-ending injuries that required surgery for tackle Ryan Miller and guards Mike Iltis and Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner. Their losses helped explain why the Buffaloes ranked 86th nationally in rushing, 100th in scoring in 102nd in sacks allowed.

After burning the redshirt of freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen late in the season, the Buffaloes should have healthy competition for the starting job with Cody Hawkins. An offensive is mandatory after Colorado produced just one 200-yard rushing game and was the only Big 12 team without a 300-yard passing game last season.

Considering the other personnel losses across the North Division, the Buffaloes could bounce back into title contention like their coach has predicted if they can find some more players and stay healthy.

But that could be a big if.

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