Big 12: Jesse Smith

Lunch links: Beebe gets contract extension

November, 5, 2010
11/05/10
12:00
PM ET
Ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them in order to stay alive. Haven't you ever read my throw pillow?

Big 12 Stock Watch: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
10:15
AM ET
Rising: Iowa State linebackers

The Cyclones Jesse Smith led the Big 12 in tackles last season. You might want to count on a player from Iowa State duplicating the feat this year. The Big 12's top two tacklers are both on the second line of the Iowa State defense. A.J. Klein (52 tackles) is the conference leader and the only player in the Big 12 over 50 stops. Jake Knott made 13 tackles against Texas Tech to assume second place, with 48. Granted, for Iowa State's run defense, coach Paul Rhoads might want to have the defensive line snatch a few of those tackles. The Cyclones have allowed 970 rushing yards through five games, more than any team in the Big 12.

Falling: Kansas State penalties

You know all that garbage about Bill Snyder-coached teams being well-disciplined and not prone to mistakes? What a crock that is. Kansas State has committed fewer penalties than any team in the Big 12 so far in Snyder's second-year return to Kansas State. The Wildcats ranked fifth last season after a fourth-place finish in 2008, but in 2007, they were the Big 12's most penalized team.

So far, Kansas State has just 19 penalties, an average of 4.8 per game. The next-best team in the conference, Texas A&M, averages six per game. Kansas State's penalties have accounted for just 41 yards per game, almost a full five yards fewer than the second-place team.

[+] EnlargeLyle Leong
AP Photo/Steve PopeTexas Tech's Lyle Leong is tied for the NCAA lead with nine touchdown receptions this season.
Rising: Big 12 South receivers not named Ryan Broyles

Texas Tech's Lyle Leong had his second three-touchdown game of the season against Iowa State and tied Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon for the national lead in touchdown catches, with nine. Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller has the next-most touchdowns, with five, including two against Oklahoma State last Thursday.

But nationally, behind Blackmon, Leong and Hawaii's Kealoha Pilares, no receiver has more than six touchdowns through five weeks.

Falling: Ryan Broyles' streaks

Credit Texas' secondary. Broyles had 100 yards receiving in seven consecutive games and had caught at least nine passes in his past six games. Texas held him to just five catches and 36 yards, with no touchdowns. Despite Saturday's game, Broyles still has the national lead in receptions, with 46, but Missouri's T.J. Moe leads the nation in receptions per game, with 9.3.

Rising: Texas A&M rush defense

The Aggies ranked 91st nationally in rush defense last year, giving up 4.6 yards per carry and allowing opponents to score 29 touchdowns on the ground, which ranked 106th.

No such case this year. Texas A&M, even after giving up 101 yards and two touchdowns to Kendall Hunter on Thursday, ranks third nationally in rush defense, and is giving up just 2.25 yards per carry. The 274 total rushing yards allowed by Tim DeRuyter's defense is second nationally only to Kent State.

Falling: Texas' first downs

Texas' offense was rolling last year, collecting 330 first downs, less than only Texas A&M and Texas Tech in the Big 12 and fifth-most nationally. The loss of Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley hurt, but Texas has fallen off the map in the stat, ranking dead last in the Big 12 in first downs per game, with just over 18. That's five fewer per game than they averaged in 2009. Texas now ranks 86th nationally in first downs.

Five first downs may not sound like a lot, but add five more per game, and the Longhorns would rank in the national top 25.

Fresh Faces: Iowa State

August, 3, 2010
8/03/10
2:45
PM ET
Here are four Cyclones who Iowa State fans might know, but have low profiles throughout the conference. You'll be hearing from them in 2010.

Brayden Burris, RT

Burris started just one game (Texas A&M) a season ago, but left the spring as the Cyclones' starter at right tackle. Iowa State has lots of talent at the skill positions, specifically at quarterback in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson at running back. The 6-foot-6, 276-pound sophomore will be responsible for making sure that talent gets a chance to showcase itself. He'll start opposite left tackle Kelechi Osemele, one of the Big 12's best linemen, so the bar for success on the offense's front line will be high.

Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, LBs

Iowa State's starting 22 features just three sophomores, including special teams. Knott and Klein join Burris as the other two. Just four starters return on defense, but hopes are high that Knott and Klein will be reasons that the drop-off from Jesse Smith, who led the Big 12 with 135 stops a season ago, won't be too dramatic. The two combined for 40 tackles as freshmen, and still have plenty to learn, but they'll do it as starting outside linebackers likely flanking fellow first-year starter and juco transfer Matt Tau'fo'ou in the middle.

Darius Reynolds, WR

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound juco transfer looked like a strong candidate for Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2009, catching 13 passes in his first two games as a Cyclone. But Reynolds, who'll be a junior in 2010, suffered a knee injury that ended his season and hurt Iowa State's depth at receiver. He's back this season and will try to recapture some of the excitement he gave fans in his debut.

More Fresh Faces:

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
10:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (4) P/K (1)

Top returners: RB Alexander Robinson, QB Austen Arnaud, DB David Sims, DB Leonard Johnson, WR Darius Darks, WR Darius Reynolds

Key losses: OL Reggie Stephens, LB Jesse Smith, DB James Smith, LB Fred Garrin, DE Christopher Lyle, WR Marquis Hamilton

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Alexander Robinson* (1,193 yards)

Passing: Austen Arnaud* (2,017 yards)

Receiving: Marquis Hamilton (606 yards)

Tackles: Jesse Smith (135)

Sacks: Christopher Lyle (5)

Interceptions: David Sims (5)

Three spring answers

1. All about the linebackers. Iowa State lost five linebackers to graduation from last year’s team. A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and juco transfer Matt Tau’fo’ou are the likely replacements. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says they’re still thinking and playing short of full speed, but their development pleased him in the spring.

2. Arnaud takes hold. Quarterback Austen Arnaud struggled for much of 2009, but Rhoads says the senior was the most improved player on the team in the spring. Sophomore Jerome Tiller played well enough in spot duty last season to push for playing time this season, but Arnaud’s performance in the spring likely postponed Tiller’s chances until next year.

3. Year Two. Last spring, Iowa State was on its third coach in four years. This year, the team has been able to more firmly grasp the concepts of Rhoads’ systems and try to build on the team’s 7-6 finish last season.

Three fall questions

1. Scheduled for a rough landing? Iowa State has one of the conference’s toughest schedules, and Rhoads believes his 2010 team could be better than last year’s and finish with a worse record. The Cyclones play Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah in the non-conference, and have to play at Texas and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks later in the season.

2. Who’s catching the ball? The Cyclones lost Marquis Hamilton to graduation, and have a talented group of receivers, but how they’ll shake out remains to be seen. Darius Reynolds got off to a hot start in 2009, but a broken leg ended his season. Jake Williams, Darius Darks and Sedrick Johnson will also be options for Arnaud.

3. Sustainable defense? Iowa State ranked in the top half of the conference in scoring defense in 2009, but lost seven starters from the bowl-winning team. Iowa State could be improved in the passing game, but it won’t matter much if the defense can’t be at least almost as good as they were last season.

The Revolving Door: Iowa State

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
8:30
AM ET
Here, we'll take a look at a couple of key players going, staying and coming for each team in the Big 12.

Going:

Jesse Smith, LB

Smith leaves after leading the Big 12 in tackles in 2009 with 135 stops. Smith was one of three linebackers the Cyclones lost entering 2010. A.J. Klein, Matt Tau'fo'ou and Jake Knott will be among those to step in as new linebackers.

Christopher Lyle, DE

Lyle had a team-high five sacks in 2009 and 13 tackles for loss. He was also fourth on the team with 88 total tackles, just four less than James Smith, the Cyclones' No. 2 tackler.
The Cyclones also lose Marquis Hamilton, their leading receiver, who caught 50 passes for 606 yards and four touchdowns.


Staying:

Alexander Robinson, RB

Robinson was an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer in 2009 with 1,195 yards rushing, third most in the Big 12. Entering 2010, coach Paul Rhoads will certainly look to get Robinson the ball often once again this season. Robinson had 232 carries last season and averaged almost 99.6 yards per game. He topped the 100-yard mark in six games as a junior.

Austen Arnaud, QB

Arnaud's numbers slipped in 2009, and he'll be ready to improve on those as a senior. Last season, his completion percentage slipped below 60 percent and he threw 13 interceptions, but Arnaud accounted for 22 touchdowns.


Coming:

Jeremiah George, LB

George ranked as the No. 53 outside linebacker in the country and could try to compete for time in a linebacking corps without a lot of experience. A Clearwater, Fla., native, George is a stout 200 pounds and stands at 5-foot-11.

Chris Young, WR

Young is just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but comes to Ames as one of the top JUCO receivers in the country. If Young can help add some game-breaking ability to the Cyclone' offense, he could see the field immediately.

Weak & Strong: Iowa State

March, 11, 2010
3/11/10
8:30
AM ET
Here, we’ll take a look at one area where each team in the Big 12 can expect to succeed, and another that needs improvement.

Iowa State

Weak: Linebacker

All three starters from 2009 are gone. Josh Raven and Fred Garrin were seniors alongside the Big 12’s leading tackler, Jesse Smith. A.J. Klein and Jake Knott (40 combined tackles in 2009) could be solid replacements, but restoring the departed trio’s experience immediately will be difficult.

Strong: Running back

Senior running back Alexander Robinson might be the most underrated back in the conference. He quietly amassed 1,195 yards as a junior, good for third most in the Big 12. Robinson was a big reason the Cyclones took a big step forward in Year 1 of the Paul Rhoads era, closing the season with a bowl win over Minnesota to push their record to 7-6. Robinson never posted eye-popping numbers (his biggest output was 152 yards in a loss at Kansas), and sat out Iowa State’s benchmark victory in 2009, a 9-7 win over Nebraska in Lincoln.

But when he did play, he was consistent. He topped 100 yards five times, and dipped below 50 yards just once, and those 47 yards came in a loss to Kansas State when he touched the ball just four times after suffering an injury on a 37-yard run. Further progress in 2010 for the Cyclones will likely be a result of Robinson’s play.

More Weak & Strong:
Coach Paul Rhoads will have plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball to evaluate this spring, but they’ll all be new starters on his defense’s second line.

He’ll be replacing all three starting linebackers, including Jesse Smith, who anchored the second level of the defense with a Big 12-most 135 tackles.

Junior Jacob Lattimer and sophomores A.J. Klein and Jake Knott should enter the spring as the three to watch.

Knott appeared in all 13 games for the Cyclones last season, and leads the new trio with 23 tackles. Klein added 17.

It’s the older Lattimer who might have the biggest learning curve. He played in just five games as a sophomore, and made three tackles. Iowa State gave up over 165 yards on the ground last season (10th in the Big 12), so maybe some new faces in the linebacking corps might not be such a bad thing.

But it’s never easy to replace 135 tackles.

All-Big 12 teams show recruiting hits and misses

February, 2, 2010
2/02/10
1:00
PM ET
As we all pore over the recruiting ratings of each school for the next few days, it's wise to take all of these rankings and ratings with a healthy grain of salt.

Recruiting is, always has been and always will be an inexact science. For every can't miss product, there are others who emerge out of nowhere to become standout players.

This trend was shown after I analyzed the first- and second-team All-Big 12 teams from the 2009 season and went back to check their original ESPNU grades. On some, the service hit. But on many others, it missed like Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander.

Both had scores of 40 when they came out in their recruiting class. Weatherspoon weighed 195 pounds. Alexander was projected as a safety. And both put aside their dubious recruiting marks to develop into two of the best players in the country at their position over the course of their college career. I thought it was interesting to go back and look at the best players in the conference and see where they were ranked coming into college.

The ESPNU ratings database goes back only to 2006. That does not allow us to get ratings for players who took a redshirt year during their college careers. But it gives a pretty accurate picture about the crap shoot that college recruiting really is.

Here's a look at the Big 12's coaches' first and second teams for 2009. The positional rankings, typically listed second for most players, are national rankings.

FIRST TEAM OFFENSE

QB: Colt McCoy, Texas: Class of 2005, no information available.

RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: Junior college class of 2009.

RB: Keith Toston, Oklahoma State: 77 rating; ranked 44th among all safeties; ranked 73rd in state.

FB: Bryant Ward, Oklahoma State: Walk-on.

WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas: Class of 2004, no information available.

WR: Danario Alexander, Missouri: 40 rating (as safety), ranked 229th in state.

WR: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas: 40 rating, ranked 363rd in state.

TE: Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State: 40 rating, ranked 13th in state.

OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State: 73 rating, ranked 61st among all tackles, 138th in state.

OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma: 76 rating, ranked 22nd among all guards, 78th in state.

OL: Nick Stringer, Kansas State: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Brandon Carter, Texas Tech: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Nate Solder, Colorado: 40 rating (as tight end), ranked 48th in state.

PK: Grant Ressel, Missouri: Walk-on.

KR/PR: Brandon Banks, Kansas State: Junior college class of 2008.


FIRST TEAM DEFENSE

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska: Class of 2005, no information available.

DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma: 89 rating, ranked 2nd among all defensive tackle, ranked first in state, ranked 21st in nation.

DL:Von Miller, Texas A&M: 77 rating, ranked 37th among all defensive ends, ranked 52nd in state.

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech: Junior-college class of 2007.

DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska: 73 rating, ranked 86th among all defensive ends, ranked seventh in state.

LB: Jesse Smith, Iowa State: Class of 2005, no information available.

LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri: 40 rating, ranked 294th in state.

LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma: 75 rating, ranked 86th among all running backs, ranked 96th in state.

DB: Earl Thomas, Texas: 71 rating, ranked 75th among all cornerbacks, ranked 170th in state.

DB: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State: 77 rating, ranked 25th among all cornerbacks, ranked 57th in state.

DB: Dominique Franks, Oklahoma: 74 rating, ranked 53rd among all cornerbacks, ranked 15th in state.

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska: 78 rating, ranked 31st among all running backs, ranked fifth in state.

DB: Larry Asante, Nebraska: Junior college class of 2007.

P: Derek Epperson, Baylor: 76 rating, ranked 15th among all kickers, ranked 87th in state.


SECOND TEAM OFFENSE

QB: Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M: 79 rating, ranked first among all athletes, ranked 29th in state.

RB Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska: 73 rating, ranked 113th among all running backs, ranked 97th in state.

RB: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma: 92 rating, ranked first among all running backs, ranked first in state, ranked sixth in nation.

FB: Jamie McCoy, Texas A&M: Class of 2005, no information available.

WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: 77 rating, ranked 58th among all wide receivers, ranked fourth in state.

WR: Kerry Meier, Kansas: Class of 2005 , no information available.

WR: Brandon Banks, Kansas State: Junior college class of 2008.

TE: Riar Geer, Colorado: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: J.D. Walton, Baylor: Class of 2005, no information available (transfer from Arizona State).

OL: Chris Hall, Texas: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Kurtis Gregory, Missouri: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Adam Ulatoski, Texas: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma: Class of 2005, no information available.

OL: Lee Grimes, Texas A&M: Class of 2005, no information available.

PK: Alex Henery, Nebraska: Walk-on.

KR/PR: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State: 77 rating, ranked 25th among all cornerbacks, ranked 57th in state.


SECOND TEAM DEFENSE

DL: Sergio Kindle, Texas: 92 rating, ranked first among all outside linebackers, ranked second in state, ranked seventh in nation.

DL: Lamarr Houston, Texas: 78 rating, ranked seventh among all fullbacks, ranked fourth in state.

DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma: 80 rating, ranked 11th among all defensive ends, ranked 17th in state, ranked 137th nationally.

DL: Jaron Baston, Missouri: Class of 2005, no information available.

DL: Daniel Howard, Texas Tech: Junior college class of 2007

LB: Joe Pawelek, Baylor: Class of 2005, no information available.

LB: Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas: Class of 2005, no information available.

LB: Phillip Dillard, Nebraska: Class of 2005, no information available.

DB: Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: 72 rating, ranked 79th among all safeties, ranked 142nd in state.

DB: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma: 77 rating, ranked 39th among all safeties, ranked third in state.

DB: Brian Jackson, Oklahoma: Class of 2005, no information available.

DB: Jordan Lake, Baylor: Class of 2005, no information available.

DB: Cha’pelle Brown, Colorado: 40 rating, ranked 287th in state.

DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M: 68 rating, ranked 90th among all cornerbacks, ranked 250th in state.

P: Tress Way, Oklahoma: 78 rating, ranked sixth among all kickers, ranked sixth in state.

It's interesting to note that only four members of the two teams were ESPNU top 150 selections: Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, DeMarco Murray and Jeremy Beal and Texas' Sergio Kindle.

Iowa State's team of the decade

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
4:44
PM ET
Iowa State struggled after Dan McCarney was let go and before Paul Rhoads took the team to a bowl victory this season.

McCarney led the Cyclones to five bowl trips in the first six seasons of the decade. That record was as good as any team's in the North Division to that point.

Things didn't go as swimmingly for the Cyclones for the second half of the decade, although Rhoads' gutty underachievers were one of the biggest surprises in college football in 2009.

Here's a look at my all-decade team for Iowa State.

OFFENSE

QB: Seneca Wallace

RB: Alexander Robinson

RB: Ennis Haywood

WR: Todd Blythe

WR: Lane Danielson

TE: Mike Banks

OL: Reggie Stephens

OL: Cale Stubbe

OL: Bob Montgomery

OL: Aaron Brant

C: Ben Bruns

DEFENSE

DL: Nick Leaders

DL: Brent Curvey

DL: Jordan Carstens

DL: Reggie Haywood

LB: Alvin Bowen

LB: Tim Dobbins

LB: Jesse Smith

DB: LaMarcus Hicks

DB: Ellis Hobbs

DB: JaMaine Billups

DB: Leonard Johnson

P: Tony Yelk

K: Adam Benike

KR: J.J.Moses

Offensive player of the decade: QB Seneca Wallace. Fans remember his serpentine touchdown run against Texas Tech in 2002, but he also led the Cyclones to back-to-back bowl trips while setting the single-season school records for passing and total offense.

Defensive player of the decade: LB Alvin Bowen. A two-time team most valuable player, Bowen produced 155 tackles as a senior in 2006 to become All-Big 12 linebacker and one of the most productive players in ISU history.

Coach of the decade: Dan McCarney. When he was fired after the 2006 season, he had more wins, more bowl trips and more bowl victories than any coach in the school's history. And if he had a more consistent field goal kicker, McCarney might have won that elusive North Division championship that the Cyclones are still looking for.

Moment of the decade: Iowa State’s 37-29 victory over Pittsburgh in the 2000 Insight.com Bowl. Sage Rosenfels passed for 308 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cyclones to their first bowl victory in school history. It capped a 9-3 season that was the most victories by a Cyclone team since 1906.

Here's a look at 15 under-the-radar Big 12 players for 2009

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
12:44
PM ET
One of the neat things about following college football each season is watching players provide unexpected contributions to their teams.

The Big 12 was full of these contributors in 2009, with some emerging to become some of the best players in the country.

Here's a look at 15 of those under-the-radar players, in no particular order, who achieved much more than their coaches ever would have expected coming into the season.

Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander: Beset by injuries much of his career, Alexander never fulfilled much of the promise expected for him. The departure of Jeremy Maclin provided a chance for him to become Missouri’s featured receiver and Alexander took advantage. In the process, he produced conference-best totals of 107 receptions, 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns. Alexander finished with a flourish with three 200-yard receiving games in his final four contests.

Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara: Amukamara was a nickel back for the Cornhuskers last season who notched 34 tackles, but only five in his final four games. From those struggles, he emerged as a prime playmaker in 2009, tying for the team lead with five interceptions and leading the Blackshirts with 11 pass deflections.

Oklahoma State linebacker Donald Booker: A season-ending knee injury sustained by Orie Lemon a week before the season started was expected to ground the Cowboys’ defense. Booker took advantage of the opportunity by leading the team with 86 tackles, eight tackles for losses and five sacks.

Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick: After producing only two tackles in nine games as a freshman in 2008, Crick won the starting job next to Ndamukong Suh in fall camp. Crick responded by setting the school record with five sacks and seven tackles for losses against Baylor en route to a season with 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 70 tackles.

Nebraska linebacker Phillip Dillard: After struggling with injuries last season, Dillard was as low as No. 4 on Nebraska’s depth chart during spring practice. The senior earned a starting position early this season and nabbed 76 tackles to tie for second on the team.

Colorado tight end Riar Geer: His earlier career had been marked by injuries and legal woes. But Geer rebounded to lead all Big 12 tight ends with 37 receptions and 426 yards.

Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson: During a streaky sophomore season, Johnson struggled with his consistency in running the Aggies offense. But Johnson took advantage of the offseason, leading the conference and setting a school record with 28 touchdown passes. He also smashed school records with 3,217 passing yards, 3,672 yards of total offense and five 300-yard passing games.

Colorado wide receiver Scotty McKnight: Josh Smith’s abrupt departure this spring left the Buffaloes needing a breakaway receiver. McKnight had led the team in receiving in each of the last two seasons, but responded with a huge season of 76 receptions to tie for second-most in school history for 893 yards.

Texas A&M defensive end/linebacker Von Miller: Defensive coordinator Joe Kines knew that Miller could develop into a prime playmaker if he could find a spot for him. Kines developed the hybrid “jack” position that combined elements of linebacker and defensive end. Miller took advantage by leading the nation with 17 sacks and ranking fifth nationally with 21 tackles for losses.

Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Sharpe: The former Fresno City College player posted only four tackles last season. But he blossomed this season into the top pass-rushing threat in the league’s top sack-producing defense with 15 sacks, ranking second nationally.

Iowa State linebacker Jesse Smith: The former walk-on linebacker was a strong producer last season, but wasn’t expected to have the monster season he had in 2009. The undersized Smith had a conference-leading 128 tackles, becoming the only Big 12 player to average more than 10 tackles (10.67) this season.

Iowa State center Reggie Stephens: Even after enduring a mid-season appendectomy, Stephens emerged as the foundation of an offensive line that allowed only 14 sacks to rank tied for 21st nationally. He earned All-Big 12 honors by the Associated Press and had a string of 36 consecutive starts before he missed the Texas A&M game.

Kansas State tailback Daniel Thomas: When he was recruited from Northwest Mississippi Junior College, Thomas was expected to contend at quarterback. Instead, he developed as the Wildcats’ top offensive threat at tailback, rushing for a league-best 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Texas Tech wide receiver Alex Torres: The transfer from the Air Force Academy returned home to El Paso where he worked as a server at Red Lobster as he awaited another opportunity. Texas Tech provided it to him and he produced team-leading totals of 65 receptions and 791 yards in his first season.

Oklahoma State running back Keith Toston, Oklahoma State: His early career had been marked by struggles as he labored in the shadows of Kendall Hunter. But after the 2008 Big 12 rushing leader went down with a foot injury, Toston rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns to serve as the Cowboys’ top offensive threat.

Iowa State season review

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
4:30
PM ET
It’s the kind of moment that marks careers and serves as an inspiration to young coaches everywhere.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' emotion-laced locker room reaction to his team’s upset over Nebraska has been a YouTube staple with more than 224,000 hits as of Wednesday afternoon.

For fans of college football, Rhoads’ show of emotion was refreshing -- a throwback to the good ol’ days when coaches were worried more about bonding with their teams than their next television appearance or tee time.

Rhoads’ show of emotion was genuine. And in much the same way, the overachieving Cyclones and their bowl appearance in his first season was the feel-good story of the Big 12 this season.

When he arrived at the school last spring, Rhoads was so appalled by the team’s techniques that he ordered a compulsory lesson in tackling fundamentals for all team members.

The Cyclones employed a tough running game keyed by Alexander Robinson to serve as most of their offense. The defense struggled stopping opponents who passed and didn’t notch many sacks, but most certainly knew how to tackle. ISU ranked 27th nationally in turnover margin.

ISU’s 6-6 season record, in a way, was done with mirrors. The Cyclones beat only one team with a winning record and that Nebraska victory was fueled by eight turnovers. The six teams that ISU beat this season have a combined win-loss record of 29-42.

But considering the Cyclones haven’t gone bowling since 2005, not many Cyclone fans are complaining about their trip to the Insight Bowl later this month.

Offensive MVP: RB Alexander Robinson

Thought that new offensive coordinator Tom Herman would turn the Cyclones into a wild passing team were dispelled because of the emergence of Robinson, who ran for 1,058 yards and six touchdowns to rank third in rushing in the Big 12. Robinson’s numbers are even more impressive considering his missed nearly two full games because of injuries.

Defensive MVP: LB Jesse Smith

No player better epitomized the overachieving nature of the Cyclones’ plucky defense than the 6-foot, 234-pound senior who led the Big 12 in tackles (10.8 per game) and notched nine double-digit games this season. Smith’s performance against Nebraska -- 12 tackles, two tackles for losses, a forced fumble and the game-clinching interception -- earned him the Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors.

Turning point: Oct 24 at Nebraska

The Cyclones’ 9-7 victory at Nebraska ultimately earned them a bowl appearance. And it the process, the Cyclones forced eight turnovers to win in Lincoln for the first time since 1977. Iowa State showed grit by playing the game without Alexander Robinson and starting quarterback Austen Arnaud, breaking a 14-game road Big 12 losing streak. It showed that the Cyclones can compete with the Big 12 North Division’s best and overcome much adversity along the way.

What’s next?

The Cyclones will revel in their bowl trip to Tempe where they will hook up with old rival Minnesota. A win would be huge to enable the Cyclones to finish with a winning record. Robinson, Arnaud, Darius Darks all will be back for next season. But the defense loses seven starters including key producers Nate Frere, Jesse Smith and James Smith. And the schedule will get much tougher with nonconference games against Utah and Northern Illinois and a switch in Big 12 opponents to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It might be wise for the Cyclones and their fans to savor the bowl trip while they can.

Brown, McCoy, Suh are major award winners

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
4:13
PM ET
Texas coach Mack Brown, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh were announced today as the Big 12's coach of the year, offensive player of the year and defensive player of the year.

McCoy and Suh also were the only two unanimous first-team selections to the All-Big 12 team picked by coaches.

McCoy becomes the fourth Texas player to be selected as offensive player and the third Longhorn quarterback. Previous Texas selections included Ricky Williams (1997 and 1998), Major Applewhite (1999) and Vince Young (2005).

Suh becomes the second Nebraska defensive player to be honored, joining Grant Wistrom (1996 and 1997).

And Brown earns his second coach of the year honors after winning it in 2005.

One interesting note that shows the balance in the conference this season is that every team in the league was represented by at least one player on the first-team squad.

Coaches also announced their All-Big 12 teams. They were forbidden from voting for their own players.

Here's a list of the award winners, as selected by the league's coaches

Coach of the Year: Mack Brown, Texas

Offensive Lineman of the Year: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

Defensive Lineman of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Freshman of the Year: Christine Michael, Texas A&M

Defensive Freshman of the Year: Aldon Smith, Missouri

Special Teams Player of the Year: Brandon Banks, Kansas State

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: David Sims, Iowa State

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

Defensive Player of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

Offensive Player of the Year: Colt McCoy, Texas

And here's a look at who the coaches chose for their first-team offensive and defensive units.

OFFENSE:

QB: Colt McCoy, Texas

RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

RB: Keith Toston, Oklahoma State

FB: Bryant Ward, Oklahoma State

WR: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas

WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas

WR: Danario Alexander, Missouri

TE: Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State

OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State *

OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma *

OL: Nick Stringer, Kansas State

OL: Brandon Carter, Texas Tech

OL: Nate Solder, Colorado

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri

KR/PR: Brandon Banks, Kansas State

DEFENSE

DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma *

DL: Von Miller, Texas A&M

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Texas Tech

DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska

LB: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri *

LB: Jesse Smith, Iowa State

LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

DB: Earl Thomas, Texas

DB: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

DB: Larry Asante, Nebraska

DB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

DB: Dominique Franks, Oklahoma

P: Derek Epperson, Baylor

Note: Bold notations are unanimous selections. Those selections with an asterisk are repeat choices from last season.

I was a little disappointed that the coaches can make a decision to pick a fullback as a specific positional choice and then not designate one of the picks specifically for a center. Every team in the league has a center. Not every team in the Big 12 has a true fullback that plays the majority of his snaps.

Also, it's an age-old pet peeve of mine that they don't break down the defensive choices into specific positions like ends, tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.

Here's a link to the Big 12's web site for a complete listing of the first-team, second-team and honorable mention choices.

ISU's gritty defense paves way to bowl eligibility

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
11:06
AM ET
The transformation of Iowa State’s defense has been startling over the last several months.

All ISU coach Paul Rhoads has to do is think back to his first few workouts this spring to remember how much improvement the Cyclones have made this season.

“We’ve come a long ways,” Rhoads said. “We had our first practice in pads during spring ball and our tackling was so bad and our desire to tackle was so far off it left us scared. There were a lot of ghosts in that practice.”

From that point to now, the change is dramatic. The Cyclones finished off a 17-10 victory over Colorado last week where the defense allowed only three points on three possessions inside the Cyclones’ 10-yard line.

That stinginess has helped the Cyclones post a surprising 6-5 record. The turnaround has made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2005 heading into Saturday’s game at Missouri.

“It’s really a great feeling to be part of that kind of turnaround,” senior nose guard Nate Frere said.

If he needs any reminders, Frere just has to go back earlier in spring practice.

Rhoads and his staff were so stunned by the Cyclones’ shoddy fundamentals that they broke down defensive football to its bare essentials.

The first lesson was teaching the team proper form, tackling techniques and how not to shirk from contact.

“They taught us to bend your knees and not being afraid to go out and make a play,” senior linebacker Jesse Smith said. “We went to the basics, but the coaches did a good job of teaching us to learn those fundamentals all over again.”

Some teams might have embarrassed from that kind of remedial attention. But the Cyclones’ defense bonded from that work and was intent on improving from that point forward under veteran coordinator Wally Burnham.

“I think a lot of guys kind of thought we learned that stuff when we were playing in pee-wee leagues,” Frere said. “But when we saw what they were trying to teach us and then bought into it, we learned we weren’t doing some of those small things right. There was a little bit of resistance at the beginning but we grew from there.”

The work obviously has helped, particularly as the unit grew more comfortable after playing several games together.

They have held three Big 12 opponents to 10 points or fewer, including a breakthrough victory at Nebraska. The Cyclones forced eight turnovers en route to a gritty 9-7 victory that snapped a 15-game losing streak at Lincoln.

The Cyclones are allowing 403 yards per game to rank 92nd nationally in total defense and 106th in sacks. But they have a knack of getting stronger playing closer to their end zone that has grown during conference play as head into their .

“I think we're 11th in the conference in total defense, and that's nothing to wave the flag about,” Rhoads said. “But when you turn the ball over in the red zone and you can keep people out of your end zone, you've got a chance to play and win in any football game.”

The Colorado victory added to that. The Buffaloes gashed them for 390 yards, but the Cyclones kept making big plays deep in their own territory to limit Colorado’s scoring.

The defense had a fourth-and-goal stop on the Iowa State 1-yard line, two sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery to spark the victory.

“I think that game speaks to their growth,” Rhoads said. “They have done a fantastic job. We don’t intimidate or scare anybody, but we’ve done a great job of keeping points off the board.”

The Cyclones have reveled in that mentality throughout the season. Smith, a 6-foot, 234-pounder has developed into the Big 12’s leading tackler with an average of 10.6 stops per game.

“If you size up against a bunch of other teams, we might not have the height or speed, but we definitely have the football sense and the heart to play college football,” Smith said. “That’s more important than speed or size and it’s what this team has a lot of.”

The Big 12's scariest players

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
11:06
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With Halloween approaching tomorrow and all those goblins bound to be out across the country tomorrow night, I came up with a list of who I consider as the 12 scariest players in the Big 12.

These are the guys it would be best to avoid if they have an issue with you.

Hopefully, I’m on the good side of all of them.
  • Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh
  • Texas Tech guard Brandon Carter
  • Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy
  • Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor
  • Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston
  • Texas defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle
  • Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter
  • Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams
  • Kansas State defensive end James Fitzgerald
  • Iowa State linebacker Jesse Smith
  • Kansas running back Toben Opurum
  • Oklahoma State linebacker Donald Booker

Any other deserving candidates I might have missed?

McCoy, Smith, Brandtner named Big 12 Players of the Week

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
8:40
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Iowa State linebacker Jessie Smith and Iowa State punter Mike Brandtner were named as the Big 12's offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week. It was the fifth time that McCoy has been honored and the first time for Smith and Brandtner.

Here's a look at the efforts that won each player his award:

Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week

Texas QB Colt McCoy, Sr., Tuscola, Texas (Jim Ned H.S.)

McCoy completed 26 of 31 passes for269 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Longhorns' 41-7 triumph over Missouri. McCoy completed his first 11 passes, connecting with eight different receivers. The Longhorns' offense was proficient as it scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives in Texas' first conference road game.

Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week

Iowa State LB Jesse Smith, Sr., Altoona, Iowa (Southeast Polk H.S.)

Smith was the standout in the Cyclones' strong defensive effort in a 9-7 victory over Nebraska. He contributed 12 tackles, including two tackles for losses, recovered a fumble and provided the game-sealing interception with 1:53 left to preserve the Cyclones' victory. The big effort enabled the Cyclones to win for the first time at Nebraska since 1977 and the first Big 12 road triumph since a 2005 victory at Texas A&M. The Cyclones' defense has permitted 17 points in its last two conference games -- victories over Baylor and Nebraska.

Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week

Iowa State P Mike Brandtner, Sr. Bettendorf, Iowa (Davenport Assumption H.S.)

Brandtner set up the Cyclones' only touchdown with a 20-yard run on a fake punt. The Cyclones scored on the next play on a 47-yard TD pass from Jerome Tiller to Jake Williams. Brandtner averaged 40 yards on his nine punts, including efforts of 60, 58 and 50 yards. He also produced five kicks inside the Nebraska 20.

SPONSORED HEADLINES