Big 12: Jeremiah Price
In some quarters, his image remains framed by his celebrated postgame outburst more than two years ago.
|Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE|
|Mike Gundy has the Cowboys at 6-1 despite being forced to replace some of his top playmakers.|
His Oklahoma State team entered the season with more expectations than at any time in the program’s recent history. Those hopes only grew after the team's victory over Georgia in the season opener boosted them to No. 5 in the nation.
But even after a loss to Houston in the following game that turned on two tipped passes, Gundy has persevered over a unique set of challenges unlike any he has ever faced during his coaching tenure.
The Cowboys have overcome the loss of Kendall Hunter, the 2008 Big 12 leading rusher who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of an ankle injury.
Dez Bryant, the program’s preseason All-American candidate at wide receiver and punt returner, played in only three games before he was ruled ineligible over his dalliance with former NFL standout Deion Sanders.
The Cowboys learned Tuesday that Bryant won’t return this season, just adding another obstacle to challenging for their first Big 12 South title.
The Cowboys have done just that since the loss of Bryant and Hunter, two of their top three playmakers.
Keith Toston has emerged as a consistent producer in Hunter's featured back role, producing 606 rushing yards to rank fourth in the conference.
Bryant caught a higher percentage of his team's completions than any receiver in the conference last season. But in his absence Hubert Anyiam has become the featured receiver, leading the team with 25 receptions. Seven other players have caught at least eight passes this season as the Cowboys have become more balanced without Bryant.
Quarterback Zac Robinson has been the constant, keeping the team together despite all of the turmoil and personnel losses.
But Robinson admits that the notion of playing so well without Bryant and Hunter would have been a little stunning to him if he had considered it before the season started.
“I would have thought you were crazy,” Robinson said. “With some of the guys who are stepping up and producing for us, some started as third-string players. It’s been great to see them step up. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought they would have done this? But it’s a tribute to their hard work.”
Those personnel losses are only a start. Gundy kicked off wide receiver Damian Davis and Jeremy Broadway for breaking team rules. He also suspended fellow wide receiver Bo Bowling indefinitely this spring while he faces charges of possessing marijuana and anabolic steroids.
Projected starting tight end Jamal Mosley left the team just before the start of the season amid a police investigation that has yet to produce any results.
And Gundy’s defense has been wracked with injuries. Cornerback Perrish Cox and defensive end Jeremiah Price both have missed substantial time this season.
"At some point, you’d like to not talk about adversity and talk about the future, but that’s become a topic,” Gundy said.
Gundy's perseverance has caught the attention of Texas coach Mack Brown.
"I really admire Mike and their staff for what they've done," Brown said. "They just move forward. They don't talk about it. Anyiam has got 19 receptions the last two games, so he has stepped in for Dez.
"Keith Toston was an alternating back anyway, and he's done a great job for Kendall Hunter. I think Mike and that staff have done one of the great coaching jobs this year in the country."
The Cowboys are now 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big 12 South, a half-game behind the Longhorns. They are 14th in the latest BCS poll and have all of their goals still in front of them.
Gundy credits his team for its resiliency.
“When you have as many off-the-field distractions and injuries or things come up that we have this year, you have to have leaders other than the coaches,” Gundy said. “That’s just the chemistry of your team and they enjoy being around each other and enjoy practicing. So no matter what happens, they’ll buy in and go play hard.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
If it’s Tuesday, it must be another day for letters from my faithful readers.
Thanks again for all of the contributions. I’ll try to get to as many as I can each week.
Roddy from Hickory, N.C., writes: Tim, who is key for the Cornhuskers' D vs. Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander on Thursday?
Tim Griffin: Roddy, I have to think the key for Nebraska will be pressuring Gabbert. As such, Ndamukong Suh’s pass-rush ability will be huge for Missouri in order to rattle the sophomore quarterback. If Suh can spend most of the game in Missouri’s backfield pressuring Blaine Gabbert, it’s going to be difficult for the Tigers to win that game.
I think if the Blackshirts can get three or more sacks, they’ve got a great chance of winning that game. And if they can maintain consistent pressure, I’m thinking it could really get into Gabbert’s head, even if he’s playing at home. It’s something he really hasn’t faced that much this season.
John from Shreveport, La., writes: Tim, I saw one of your articles on Saturday night in which you claimed that Arkansas' victory over Texas A&M further proves that the SEC is better than the Big 12. Why weren't you saying the Big 12 was better than the SEC when Oklahoma St. beat Georgia? That game was two of the better teams in their conference... A more even match-up than a middle of the pack SEC team and a terrible Big 12 team.
Tim Griffin: John, I think the Big 12 needs any opportunity where it can prove its teams are better than the SEC. A victory by Texas A&M over Arkansas would have proven that, adding to the earlier victory by Oklahoma State over Georgia. But since a strong showing the first week of the season, the Big 12 has struggled against teams from other BCS conferences. The sum total is that the Big 12 finished with a 4-7 record against teams from BCS conferences this year.
Those struggles also are on top of Big 12 teams losing twice to Houston (Oklahoma State and Texas Tech), a disappointing loss to the ACC’s Virginia Tech by Nebraska and three losses to teams in BCS conferences last week when Colorado was defeated by West Virginia, Oklahoma lost to Miami and Texas A&M was soundly thrashed by Arkansas.
Any opportunity at a victory is important. The fact the Big 12 went 0-3 last week against foes from BCS conferences was extremely significant. And a victory by A&M over Arkansas would have given the Big 12 a chance to crow about a 2-0 record over the SEC.
Instead, the loss makes it 1-1 and really doesn’t give the conference the chance to blot away bowl losses last season by Texas Tech to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma to Florida in the BCS championship game. It was a lost opportunity -- something that the Big 12 repeatedly struggled with in the first month of the season in nonconference play.
Jack Belch from Ankeny, Iowa, writes: Tim, I’m a big Cyclone fan and I’m wondering about something. In hindsight, do you think that Iowa State and Kansas State got a little greedy when they sold their game last week and another one next season to the Kansas City Chiefs’ organization to stage it at Arrowhead Stadium.
My son and I traveled over for the game. The traffic was a mess. We both thought it made a lot more sense to play that game on college campus where it belonged rather than in some NFL stadium where nobody has a homefield advantage and it didn’t even feel like a college game.
Tim Griffin: I’ve received other similar complaints from fans with both schools about the game last week at Kansas City. I’ve got to believe that if Iowa State would have kept it as a home game a near-sellout or sellout crowd would have attended the game at Jack Trice Stadium. I’m also thinking the Cyclones probably would have won the game, rather than losing by one point on the neutral field.
Kansas State will get the same advantage next season when the game originally scheduled for Manhattan, Kan., will be moved back to Kansas City for the second year of the contract.
But I was a little surprised by the small turnout. A crowd of 40,851 wasn’t what I expected at “Farmageddon.” I think a larger crowd would have been attracted at either home stadium if the game had been played there.
Wayne from St. Louis, Mo., writes: Hey Tim, on Sept. 24, you clearly stated that your criteria for helmet stickers are to recognize individuals whose teams also win (barring a surreal individual effort). You used this reasoning in denying individual recognition for Roy Helu Jr. (202 all-purpose yards), Alex Henery (5/5 FGs) and Ndamukong Suh (8 tackles, 4 pass breakups) who, despite having career days, were part of a one-point loss.
Yet on Saturday, Jeremy Beal was recognized with no mention that he was on a platoon that lost by, wait for it, one-point. I think the young man had an excellent game, but was hoping for some justification to avoid the appearance of a double-standard. Thank you for your coverage of the Big 12.
Tim Griffin: I’ve gotten this question in some form or fashion on several occasions in the last couple of weeks. Let me say that all three Nebraska players had nice games in a loss. But remember it was a loss. And there’s another extenuating circumstance to consider as well.
On the day of the Cornhuskers’ loss, there were 11 Big 12 games where the conference notched eight victories. I thought there were some candidates as deserving -- if not more so -- than the Cornhusker trio that went back to Lincoln with the loss. Those winning players got the nod to get a coveted helmet sticker.
In last week’s games, I had a far smaller group of teams to choose from with only six games. One game was between Kansas State and Iowa State. The Big 12 was 2-3 in the other games. I couldn’t justify not giving a game ball to Beal, who was a consistent force as a pass rusher against the Hurricanes considering I didn’t have as many victorious candidates to start to work with.
And if it’s consolation, I did notice that the Big 12 media panel agreed with me this week. They also selected Beal as their defensive player of the week, too.
Thanks again for all of the good questions. We’ll check back again Friday night.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Texas: The Longhorns took the weekend off to prepare for Colorado. The break almost came at a bad time for Texas, considering their performance against UTEP last week. And after the Miners’ stunning upset over Houston Saturday night, how good does Texas’ beatdown victory over the Miners look now?
2. Oklahoma State: After a week off, the Cowboys will travel to Texas A&M this weekend. The break was good for Mike Gundy’s team as it gave key players like Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, Kendall Hunter and Jeremiah Price a week to heal. But the Cowboys might have received another injury concern when learning emerging freshman running back Jeremy Smith could be undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
3. Kansas: Maybe the Jayhawks’ victory over Southern Mississippi doesn’t look as attractive today, after the Golden Eagles’ loss at UAB. But Kansas still heads into Big 12 play heavy with momentum after the week off. The Cyclones have a score to settle with Iowa State after the Cyclones’ near-upset last season at Ames. Figure that Kansas will be focused for this one back home.
4. Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini begins Big 12 play with one of his toughest Big 12 games first as the Cornhuskers travel to Missouri on Thursday to start conference play -- a place where they haven’t won since 2001. The Cornhuskers’ defense has been emerging in recent weeks and will be the key for their effort on Thursday night. And, yes, the Cornhuskers might have a score to settle with new Missouri quarterback -- and former Nebraska commit -- Blaine Gabbert.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners dropped their second one-point decision of the season, struggling without much offensive firepower when Ryan Broyles joined Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford on the sideline. And that lack of productivity finally bit them when the Sooner defense finally wore down late against Miami, allowing the Hurricanes to kill the clock. Bob Stoops has always excelled when his back was against wall and facing big challenges. He might be facing the biggest test of his 11-season coaching career with the Sooners in the next few weeks.
6. Missouri: The Tigers have been the biggest early surprise in the conference and take a big step forward into North title contention with a victory over Nebraska. A win would continue their recent mastery over the Cornhuskers and prove their 4-0 start was no fluke. One particular key will be running the ball against the Cornhuskers, keeping Gabbert out of long-yardage situations against Nebraska’s fearsome pass rush.
7. Texas Tech: Mike Leach might be facing a rarity as Taylor Potts attempts to overcome a concussion that idled him for much of Saturday’s victory over New Mexico. Steven Sheffield immediately juiced the Red Raider offense, scoring on his first four possessions. But as the Red Raiders get ready for Kansas State, Leach has to be concerned about Tech’s five turnovers vs. New Mexico and the five sacks allowed after yielding only six in the first three games. Tech’s defense has some improvement as well after allowing New Mexico to produce its season-high in passing and total yards last week.
8. Baylor: Impressive relief performances by Nick Florence and Jarred Salubi enabled the Bears to finish off a 3-1 nonconference record. It won’t get any easier as Baylor travels to wounded Oklahoma for its conference opener. The defense remains a concern after Kent State rolled up season-best totals of 424 total yards and 259 passing yards. But Baylor’s special teams came up big with three blocked kicks -- two by Jason Lamb and one by Phil Taylor.
9. Kansas State: Bill Snyder had a trick up his sleeve and pulled it by using transfer Grant Gregory as his starter. Gregory responded with a strong night (206 passing yards, two TD passes, one TD run) to direct a comeback that produced the tight victory over Iowa State. The triumph helps Kansas State claim its first conference game for only the second time in the past nine seasons. And KSU’s victory was preserved by a blocked extra point with 36 seconds left by Emmanuel Lamur -- Kansas State’s 36th blocked kick since 2002.
10. Iowa State: The Cyclones had their chances before a disappointing loss to Kansas State that was settled on a blocked extra point in the last minute. The Cyclones played well at times without leading offensive threat Alexander Robinson, but were done in by too many defensive mistakes in critical situations and a lack of offensive rhythm. Three fourth-quarter three-and-outs on offense and two fumbles were simply too much for the Cyclones to overcome.
11. Texas A&M: After a fast start, the Aggies were exposed down the stretch by a faster and more talented Arkansas team to provide for their first loss of the season. It looked like 2008 all over again as the Aggies struggled to protect Jerrod Johnson. And after dominating early against Arkansas, Von Miller and the Aggies’ pass rush disappeared for most of the game. Those struggles mean that Mike Sherman has his work cut out as he starts facing even stronger teams in the Big 12 South.
12. Colorado: It won’t get any easier for Colorado as the Buffaloes face Texas and Kansas the next two weeks after their disappointing 1-3 record in nonconference play. They showed flashes at West Virginia, but were undone by the same problems that have vexed them all season. Their lack of productivity and defensive struggles are best indicated in this statistic: Colorado has produced only two plays of 40 or more yards in the first four games of the season, compared to allowing 11 plays of 40 yards or more on defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Happy Friday. Here are some of the better letters that were sent to me earlier this week.
Aaron from Dallas, Texas, writes: Tim, what exactly do Texas A&M fans need to do to get our quarterback Jerrod Johnson to show up on the leader board for the Heisman Trophy vote. He’s had a great season to this point. Why isn’t he getting more national attention?
Tim Griffin: Johnson has a chance to sway a lot of opinions Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, when he plays Arkansas. Johnson has posted some really big numbers so far, ranking third nationally in total offense and 11th in passing efficiency. He’s also got a striking 9-to-0 ratio in touchdowns to interceptions and has accounted for at least 351 yards of total offense in each of his three starts this season.
But I think most Heisman voters are holding back until they see what he does against Big 12 opposition. Johnson hasn’t exactly played an imposing schedule with victories over New Mexico, Utah State and UAB.
If he can keep up a similar statistical binge once Big 12 play begins, I think Johnson will start popping up on those Heisman lists. But he’s got to start doing it against better opposition before people start taking him and his team more seriously.
Robert Johnson of Artesia, N.M., writes: Tim, which team needed the break the most of the Big 12 teams that are not playing this week? And which team might see its momentum altered by not playing this week.
Tim Griffin: I think Oklahoma State could use the week off more than any other team, considering the Cowboys’ injuries to Kendall Hunter, Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox and Jeremiah Price. And the team that probably wishes it was playing this week – at least if last week’s performance was any indication – might be Texas. The Longhorns had their most complete victory in several seasons when they walloped UTEP last week. A game this week could have given the Longhorns a chance to build on their momentum. But it shouldn’t matter as they prepare for their conference opener next week against Colorado.
Rodney Maxim of Bogata, Columbia writes: Do you think that the Sooners' and Longhorns' defenses this year are comparable to the SEC defenses of last year?
Tim Griffin: Rodney, yes, I would consider the Oklahoma and Texas defenses on par with what we saw from teams like Florida and Mississippi last season. The Sooners really appear to be in a groove with their back-to-back shutouts. If the Sooners can make it three-straight tomorrow against Miami, it would be the first time they’ve accomplished that feat since 1962.
The key for both teams is the strong work of their defensive lines. Gerald McCoy and Lamarr Houston provide similar work inside as the bulwark of their respective front fours. I like Oklahoma’s depth having multiple pass rushers, although Sergio Kindle can really be a force when he’s really on. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, he can be streaky at times.
I like the Sooners’ linebackers better, particularly the heady leadership provided by Ryan Reynolds and Travis Lewis’ playmaking abilities. Texas probably has a better secondary, particularly with the way the Longhorns have produced interceptions this season. The Longhorns have already notched six interceptions so far this season in four games to match the total they produced in the entire 2008 season.
But both defenses are very good and are among the best defenses I can remember in the Big 12 in several years and definitely comparable to those SEC groups.
Patrick Rowley from Omaha, Neb. writes: Tim, I love your blog and read it daily. From what I have read, Robert Griffin sustained his season-ending injury on Baylor's first drive in the first quarter. However, he continued to play, and well I might add, until the end of the first half. Did Baylor’s staff miss something in regards to that injury, and by leaving him in for the remainder of the half did that cause more damage to his injury?
Tim Griffin: Patrick thanks for the compliment. As far as Robert Griffin, I don’t know if the Baylor trainers knew how badly his injury was until it was diagnosed with an MRI after the game. I know that Griffin wanted to go back in and was determined to play. His performance shows Griffin’s athletic ability if he could pass for 226 yards and three touchdowns on basically one good leg. I know Griffin has said he still has slim hope to be playing later this season. I would hope that he would be very careful about this and consider his future before he makes his decision. I look forward to him not only playing on Sundays one day, but perhaps even representing his country in a future Olympics. I would hope those dreams aren’t short-circuited by returning to the lineup too quickly and not letting his injury heal properly.
Jason from Grand Island, Neb., writes: Tim, I've heard it said that one must have a short memory to play sports to forget mistakes and such. Apparently, the college football voters fall into the same category. I've seen Virginia Tech in so many of the "experts" top five rankings, it makes me sick. Following the Hokies’ ranking everybody always talks about how "good they look". And yet, Nebraska, a team that outplayed them for four quarters, but fell short barely hangs in the top 25. What is wrong with this picture, why are voters so quick to praise a team for exposing an overrated team (Miami), but failing to notice the rest of their games? And how high do you think Nebraska would have been ranked if the Cornhuskers had beaten Virginia Tech?
Tim Griffin: For whatever anybody might think about how good that Nebraska played at Virginia Tech, the fact remains they couldn’t make the plays to win the game. I think most pollsters are looking at that as the most overriding factor. And the fact the Hokies came back to hammer Miami in the slop last week only made both victories look that attractive to voters.
The Cornhuskers in the end couldn’t score a touchdown against the Hokies, struggled with red-zone problems and had two critical pass- coverage busts that caused them to lose the game. If Nebraska had won that game, I think they likely would be ranked among the top 10-12 teams, considering all the teams in the top 25 that have lost earlier this season. But the loss, coupled with the three Sun Belt Conference teams that Nebraska have defeated in a less-than-imposing opening schedule, makes them a little undervalued in the national polls in my opinion.
Bo Pelini’s team will have an opportunity to prove its mettle in the next several weeks, starting with the huge conference opener next week against Missouri. I can’t wait.
That’s all the time I have for questions this week. Keep them coming and we’ll check back again next week.
Steve Johnson from Oklahoma City writes: Tim, what has happened to the Oklahoma State defense? Everybody was talking about them like they were the second coming of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” after their effort against Georgia in the opener. And then, it’s like they’ve forgotten how to cover passes and make tackles. What do you make of this and do you think that the importance of Bill Young was overrated coming into the season?
Tim Griffin: I’ve been kind of wondering what happened to Oklahoma State’s pass defense the last two weeks, too. The Cowboys played so well in that first game that I expected some carryover.
Despite that strong debut, they then were blistered by Houston’s Case Keenum and Rice had some passing success against them too. Part of that was caused by Perrish Cox’s injury and the fact that safeties Johnny Thomas and Victor Johnson were out.
One of Young’s biggest aims was boosting Oklahoma State’s pass rush. The Cowboys produced two sacks against Georgia, but have only produced two sacks in the last two games combined.
A key for their pass defense will be getting an effective pass rush. That should improve as defensive end Richetti Jones gets healthy and defensive end Jeremiah Price returns to the lineup from his hand injury.
The Cowboys shouldn’t be tested by Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon on Saturday. And then Oklahoma State has a week off before starting Big 12 play.
Getting the pass defense fixed will be Young’s first concern, considering the Cowboys’ early Big 12 schedule. They will face big challenges in their first top four games as they face Texas A&M (sixth in passing), Missouri (19th nationally), Baylor (with the multi-talented but struggling Robert Griffin) and Texas (13th nationally). Their performance in those four games will determine if all of the hype about the Cowboys coming into the season was deserved or not.
And no, I don’t think that importance of Young’s hiring for the Cowboys was overrated. I think we’ll see why over the next several weeks.
Tommy from Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, there was a lot of controversy about the Big 12 Conference being overrated after the first couple of weeks of the season after Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska lost and Colorado couldn’t beat anybody. But with Florida's struggles against Tennessee, Mississippi's loss to unranked South Carolina, and Georgia's loss to Oklahoma St., doesn't that seemingly suggest that maybe the SEC is not exactly up to par either? Or do you think that college football is just getting more competitive? When you look around the country and see USC, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma losing games in the first few weeks of the season it would seem that it’s not just the Big 12 that is struggling. What do you make of it?
Tim Griffin: I agree with your point. Almost every conference has had several key losses during the non-conference part of their schedule. The SEC hasn’t shown in some nationally televised games. But that seems to be symptomatic in college football these days.
Other than Florida, Texas and Alabama, I haven’t seen many teams that have knocked my socks off. I might throw Miami and Houston in as other teams that have really impressed me. But I think that speaks to the parity of college football. More teams are capable of winning games and making the supposedly better team look bad.
Some might think that isn't good for the sport. But I just believe it will make for a more competitive season with a lot of interesting upsets throughout the year.
Corey from Liberty, Mo., writes:How are you going to sit there and say that Zac Lee isn’t hot? Blacksburg is a tough place to play and everybody else on the Cornhuskers played bad anyway. One game doesn’t define a player.
Tim Griffin:Corey, I was just making a statistical judgment from what Lee produced in that game. And the fact that he passed for 136 yards, which led to the lowest passing production for the Cornhuskers in 20 games, I thought qualified him as struggling.
Of course, he can turn things around and have a big game against Louisiana-Lafayette. That could get him just as easily on the hot list next week.
Ron Sestak from St. Louis, Mo., writes: Tim, quick couple of questions for you. Who have been your biggest surprise as a player so far this season and who has been your biggest disappointment?
Tim Griffin:It’s hard to narrow that to only player, so I’ll give you a couple. As far as the biggest surprise, I’ll pick Kansas defensive end Maxwell Onyegbule, who has morphed into the second coming of Julius Peppers despite never starting a game before this season. Another big surprise for me is Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who I thought would be productive but not nearly as much as he’s shown over the first three games. One of my biggest early disappointments start has been Robert Griffin of Baylor. He started with a victory over Wake Forest where his most notable play was a quick kick. And then he struggled through the worst game of his career last week against Connecticut. The Bears’ bowl hopes are toast unless he picks things up. And I’ll also add Darrell Scott of Colorado, who I thought was ready for a breakthrough season. I know he was injured last week. But he still has accounted for nearly four times as many kickoff return yards as he has rushing yards. That’s not a good sign for Dan Hawkins’ future job security.
Jack Sturgis from Lenexa, Kan., writes:Tim, I saw where you mentioned Brandon Banks’ early struggles this season for Kansas State. He hasn’t been the deep threat that me and all of the other Catbackers hoped he would be. Do you have any reason for this? Is he injured and we don’t know about it?
Tim Griffin: I, too, have been a little surprised with Banks’ slow start. I’ve only had a chance to watch a little bit of one of their games this season, but I know that it seemed like UCLA was paying a lot of attention to him in its pass defense.
Banks’ numbers of receptions are high, but his yard-per-catch average is down from 15.7 last season to 8.3 this season.
I think the biggest reason for his decline might be in the comparison of the quarterbacks throwing to him from last season to this season. Josh Freeman had a big arm and the Wildcats favored a more vertical passing game than this season with Carson Coffman throwing. That may be the major reason for his supposed struggles so far.
Let’s look at the numbers he produces tomorrow against Tennessee Tech. A big game might indicate that the first three games are just a statistical aberration. But if he struggles again against the Golden Eagles, it might be indicative of a bigger problem.
Thomas Knobloch from Dallas, Texas, writes: Tim, I’m not sure your effectiveness rankings are very meaningful. Your formula treats all possessions equally while that assumption couldn't be further from the truth. I do like the point you are trying to get to though. Maybe adding a starting field position component to the equation would help. For conference games, you could also add a component that accounted for quality of opponent. A scoring drive against ISU at home isn't as meaningful as a scoring drive against OU in Norman. This type of analysis seems relatively meaningless week-by-week due to the small sample size, but over the course of a season, it could prove valid.
Tim Griffin: Thomas, I appreciate your observations. But remember, I’m not trying to develop a cure for the common cold or world hunger here. I just wanted a simple, relatively meaningful gauge of offensive and defensive effectiveness. And my point is this: Isn’t an offense’s goal every time it takes the field to ultimately try and score points? And isn’t a defense’s goal to stop them from scoring? That’s what I feel this measurement gauges, even if you are playing USC or Slippery Rock. I think the figures will be more meaningful over the course of a season. And I also think we’ll be able to get a pretty good picture of effectiveness of Big 12 teams once we use just the figures from conference games, which I’m planning to do.
Thanks again for all of the good questions again this week. We’ll catch up again next Tuesday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State leading rusher Kendall Hunter won't return today after suffering an injury earlier in the second quarter.
The Oklahoma State radio network reported that Hunter is expected to return to the sideline wearing a protective boot for either an injured right leg or ankle. He just appeared along the Oklahoma State sidelines wearing a warm-up suit.
The Cowboys just got another defensive stop to turn the Cougars away at the OSU 35. But they got more bad news when senior defensive end Jeremiah Price was helped to the sideline.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State (6-0, 2-0) -- The Cowboys have been one of the biggest surprises in college football after streaking to their fastest start since 1997. The biggest reasons for that success have been the Big 12's most balanced offense, the conference's best special teams unit and a rapidly improving defense that that thoroughly flummoxed Chase Daniel in OSU's upset victory over Missouri last week. The Cowboys are second nationally in scoring and have rolled up at least 400 yards in five straight games. It's tough to stop these guys.
Offensive MVP, Dez Bryant -- It's hard to settle on just one player as a strong case could be made for quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter or tight end Brandon Pettigrew. But Bryant gets the nod because of his receiving (34 catches for 597 yards and nine touchdowns) and his special-teams success (nation-leading average of 22.1 yards per punt return and two punt-return TDs).
Defensive MVP, Andre Sexton -- Another tough decision is swayed to Sexton because of his playmaking abilities. He leads the Cowboys with 49 tackles, ranks second with three sacks and is also tied for the team's lead in quarterback hurries with three and fumbles forced with two. But a strong case could also be made for linebacker Orie Lemon and defensive end Jeremiah Price, both of whom have been key's for the defense's rebirth.
What's next? -- It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can continue the momentum from the first half of the season. Looming are tough road trips to Texas Tech, Texas and Colorado. The offense has been fine, but Gundy will be looking for more production from a defense that ranks among the bottom 15 teams nationally in sacks and tackles for losses and 88th in pass defense. Those figures must improve if the Cowboys have any hopes of claiming their first South Division title.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Most observers are expecting a lot of points Saturday night at Faurot Field -- a game that could resemble an Arena Football League shootout considering the explosive offenses of Missouri and Oklahoma State.
It's understandable why, considering some of the numbers coming into the game. The Tigers rank second in scoring and the Cowboys are third. Missouri's defense is 83rd overall in total defense and 114th in pass defense. Oklahoma State's is 114th in sacks and 116th in tackles for losses.
Even with those daunting indicators, OSU linebacker Patrick Lavine says he doesn't care what dire defensive predictions are floating around days before the game.
"That doesn't bother us. The defense is going to go out there and play as hard as we can regardless of what is being said," Lavine said. "We've progressed so much from day 1 to where we are now. We're building some confidence and I think we'll show it when we get our chance."
The Cowboys' improved defensive work has been one of the biggest surprises in OSU's 5-0 start that's its best since 2004.
The OSU defense went into a feeding frenzy in its 56-28 victory over Texas A&M, providing five first-half turnovers and three three-and-outs to spark the early knockout.
"Our staff has really done a good job in the last nine months of building on the success we had in the bowl game and bringing the team together and really making [sure] they understood what we were trying to accomplish Xs and Os wise," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "The players have rallied together in running to the football."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki|
|The biggest challenge for the Cowboys? Keeping QB Zac Robinson healthy.|
Coach Mike Gundy's 2007 season was marked by a celebrated rant that came after one of his team's biggest victories over Texas Tech.
A more sedate Gundy returns this season facing some big challenges in order to improve on his team's 7-6 record. The Cowboys finished with a victory in the Insight.com Bowl -- their second-straight bowl triumph in as many years -- and will be challenged to match that production.
Talented QB Zac Robinson is one of the nation's most underrated players. And the Cowboys should improve defensively with the addition of six junior-college players. But it remains to be seen how much of a step forward can be made in the rugged Big 12 South Division.
Heading into the season, here are five pressing questions that are facing the Cowboys as they prepare for their Aug. 30 opener in Seattle against Washington State.
1. Can Robinson remain healthy? This will be the major concern for Gundy all season. It remains to be seen if the Cowboys will be able to protect their quarterback, which will be no easy task considering his sometimes reckless running abilities. If backups Brandon Weeden or Alex Cate are counted on to take extended snaps, it will be a long season for the Cowboys.
2. Who will emerge at running back? Dantrell Savage led the Big 12 in rushing in conference games and his contributions can't be dismissed. But the Cowboys might not drop off as much as expected with a three-pronged rotation involving Beau Johnson, Kendall "Spud" Hunter and Keith Toston.
3. How will the offense develop without Larry Fedora? The Cowboys were one of the nation's most balanced and productive attacks under Fedora, the Cowboys' former coordinator who left for the head-coaching job at Southern Mississippi. Gundy and new coordinator Gunter Brewer will be challenged to do the same.
4. Will the junior-college arrivals really boost defensive production? Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman has six junior-college players he hopes can crack the two-deep roster: tackles Swanson Miller and Chris Donaldson, end Jeremiah Price, defensive backs Lucien Antoine and Maurice Gray and linebacker Donald Booker. Their development will be one of the biggest factors shaping Oklahoma State's season.
5. Can the Cowboys improve their special teams? Oklahoma State has traditionally been one of the nation's strongest teams under special-teams coach Joe DeForest, although a couple of disturbing trends were seen last season that demand immediate attention. Sophomore walk-on Dan Bailey beat back the challenge of heralded freshman Quinn Sharp for the starting kicker position. Whoever plays has to do better than OSU did last season (1 for 8 in attempts longer than 30 yards). And Oklahoma State will be challenged for better production from its punt-return and punt-coverage teams after a minus 6.1 yard-per-return difference in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State will be the first team to begin fall practice as the Cowboys start work late this afternoon to improve on last season's 7-6 record.
Last season was highlighted by Mike Gundy's rant at an Oklahoma City newspaper columnist as much as anything the Cowboys achieved on the field. Even after finishing with an impressive 49-33 victory over Indiana in the Insight.com Bowl, the season was marked as much with close divisional losses against Texas and Texas A&M that ultimately kept them out of title contention.
Gundy has his work cut out this summer. Here are some of questions as the Cowboys start work.
1. How will the new combination of offensive coordinators replace Larry Fedora?
The Cowboys' former offensive coordinator left for the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi after last season. He will be replaced by Gunter Brewer and Trooper Taylor. Gundy promises no major changes in offensive philosophy. It will be interesting if the Cowboys can maintain their proficiency that enabled them to average 200 yards rushing and passing in each of the last two seasons.
2. Who will emerge as the featured running threat?
Dantrell Savage is gone, but Kendall Hunter is back as the leading returning rusher. Will Savage be able to withstand a charge from heralded junior-college transfer Beau Johnson for the starting job?
3. Can a backup quarterback be found? - Zac Robinson is one of the nation's most productive players, one of only tthree players along with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour to pass for more than 2,800 yards and rush for 800 yards last season. But the Cowboys are sunk if Robinson is injured, unless either Alex Cate or Brandon Weeden really emeges during training camp.
4. Can playmakers be found to replace Adarius Bowman and Savage? - The Cowboys will be missing their top rushing and receiving threats. It will be important for Dez Bryant to emerge as a go-to receiving threat without Bowman. And whoever emerges at running back will struggle to replace Savage, who led the Big 12 in rushing in conference games and finished with 1,272 rushing yards last season.
5. Will six junior-college transfers really make a difference on defense? DE Jeremiah Price, DT Swanson Miller, DT Chris Donaldson, LB Daniel Booker, FS Lucien Antoine and CB Maurice Gray are counted to crack the two-deep roster. All but Booker participated in spring drills. If some step up it will vindicate the gamble that Gundy made in the heavy infusion of junior-college players.