Big 12: Joe Ganz

Scouts, Inc. has released its list of the top 150 NFL prospects Insider for the 2011 draft, and it's got plenty of Big 12 talent from top to bottom. You'll need an Insider account to see the whole list, but here's a bit of how it relates to the Big 12. Three Big 12 teams were among the nation's top 10 in possessing the most players on the list. Here's where they stood: T-3. Nebraska. (6) T-3. Oklahoma (6) T-10. Texas (4) North Carolina and Ohio State topped the list, with seven total prospects in the top 150. But let's take a closer look. Here's a few notes/thoughts.

  • [+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
    AP Photo/Nati HarnikPrince Amukamara (21) is the Big 12's top NFL prospect -- and No. 3 overall -- according to Scouts, Inc.
    The Big 12's top overall prospect? Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is the No. 1 cornerback. That echoes what NFL scouts have been saying for the past few months, and it'll be interesting to see the battle between him and Aaron Williams (No. 6 cornerback) as the season moves on. They'll both see plenty of good offenses.
  • For all the talk about Nebraska's offensive struggles, they placed three players in the top 150, including Mike McNeill, who is ranked as the No. 6 tight end, despite moving to receiver in the spring. Running back Roy Helu Jr. and receiver Niles Paul both rank in the top 150, at No. 12 for their respective positions. That should prove just how important Nebraska's quarterback situation is this year. Clearly, they've got some individual talent at the skill positions and a great offensive line, but without good quarterback play, they might not be much better than they were in 2009. If Zac Lee pulls a Joe Ganz and has a nice senior year, the Huskers are almost assured a finish in the top half of the Big 12 in scoring offense.
  • Everyone wants to talk about Texas' defense, the list is a reflection of why. The Longhorns have three cornerbacks (Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown) in the top 150 and Williams and Brown are in the top 10 in their position. Sam Acho rounds out Texas' group as the No. 133 best overall prospect and No. 14 defensive end. That ranks as the best DE in the Big 12.
  • Surprising that Oklahoma's Quinton Carter is rated as the No. 2 safety and a better projected pro than teammates Jeremy Beal, Ryan Broyles, Adrian Taylor and DeMarco Murray, all in the top 10 at their positions. No other safeties in the Big 12 rank in the top 10, but the next best is Nebraska's Eric Hagg.
  • You can see how every prospect at your school is rated by Scouts, Inc. if you have Insider, but here's how the rest of the Big 12 ranked in players who made the top 150. If your school doesn't have a player in the top 150, here's a list of the top prospects for each team in the Big 12 from Mel Kiper.
4. Colorado - 2 (Nate Solder, No. 8; Jimmy Smith, No. 74) 5. Texas A&M - 1 (Von Miller, No. 20) 5. Baylor - 1 (Phil Taylor, No. 94) 6. Missouri - 1 (Blaine Gabbert, No. 39) 6. Kansas State - 1 (Daniel Thomas, No. 47) 7. Oklahoma State - 1 (Kendall Hunter, No. 147) 8. Iowa State - none 8. Kansas - none 8. Texas Tech - none

Big 12 led nation in scoring, but stats were down

January, 27, 2010
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All season long, I heard offensive coordinators across the Big 12 talk about how much more difficult it was to move the ball in the conference last season than it was in 2008.

[+] EnlargeBradford
Tim Heitman/US PresswireInjuries to key playmakers, such as Sam Bradford, hurt the Big 12's offensive output.
The conference still leads the nation in scoring when compared to other conferences with a per-game, per-team average of 28.39 points per game.

But the Big 12's average in yards per play was down to 5.47 yards per snap. That figure ranks ninth among the 12 FBS conferences and worst among the conferences that receive automatic berths in the Bowl Championship Series.

As shown on Tuesday, most every team in the Big 12 saw a noticeable reduction in offensive production and scoring last season compared to the previous year.

That trend didn't necessarily correlate across the rest of the country, when individual conferences are analyzed.

The number of plays remained the same from 2008 to 2009, but total yards and yards per play increased across the nation. Rushing yardage and passing yardage was up a little bit across the board as well. Scoring did drop, but not by the 20.3 percent reduction that we saw in the Big 12 in 2009.

Obviously, the graduation of top players like Michael Crabtree, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Graham Harrell, Quan Cosby, Josh Freeman and Joe Ganz had something to do with it. The conference also struggled with injuries to many of its top stars as Jermaine Gresham missed the entire season, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter all were gone for most of the season. Even Colt McCoy's injury came at a critical time to limit his team's offensive efficiency when it really could have used him.

Most importantly, the Big 12 had a wealth of top defensive players last season. We'll see that in the NFL draft when Ndamukong Suh is the likely first pick of the draft. Gerald McCoy should follow soon thereafter -- perhaps as quickly as the next pick. It wouldn't surprise me to see Earl Thomas and Sean Weatherspoon both as high first-round picks as well.

For a closer examination, I looked at every conference and compared offensive numbers from 2008 to 2009. The Big 12's figures were noteworthy, when compared to the rest of the nation.


It's interesting to note that the Big 12's per-team averages were down in yards per game, yards per play and scoring from 2008. The only other conferences where this trend occurred were in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.

And contrasting with this trend, the Southeastern Conference's figures in all three categories went up in 2009.

These figures are cyclical. But with the departure of so many dominant defensive players in 2010, along with the return of eight of 12 starting quarterbacks next season, we might see an increase from the numbers of this year.

If that happens, maybe we won't hear as much whining from the offensive coordinators, either.

Big 12 offensive production dipped in '09

January, 26, 2010
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Much was made during the past season about the Big 12 defenses had finally started catching up to the offenses across the conference.

Obviously, numbers would be expected to plummet with players like Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Joe Ganz and Josh Freeman gone from last season. Toss in injuries to Sam Bradford, Kendall Hunter, Jermaine Gresham and Robert Griffin and offenses would be expected to be weaker.

But an underrated factor in the offensive decline across the Big 12 was the hard work of defensive coordinators across the conference.

Defensive coaches and players got tired of being humiliated on a weekly basis last season. It led them to come back determined to stop the offensive growth in the conference. The numbers bear out that they did a much better job in 2009 than the previous season.

Big 12 lunch links: Tech hopes to have new coach by end of week

January, 5, 2010
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We've got coaching searches going on around the Big 12 and also that game coming up on Thursday.

Here are some links from around the conference to keep you informed.

Huskers' offensive meltdown may have cost them Gabbert

December, 10, 2009
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The ramifications of Nebraska's putrid offensive effort in the Big 12 championship game have reverberated through the recruiting trails.

It came earlier this week when Nebraska recruit Tyler Gabbert told Nebraska coaches he no longer considered himself a Cornhusker recruit.

Gabbert's decision came several days before a scheduled visit to Missouri, where his older brother, Blaine, is the starting quarterback for the Tigers.

It sounds to me that Tyler Gabbert was watching very closely in the Cornhuskers' 13-12 loss to Texas -- especially taking note of the lack of a downfield passing game in that tight defeat that cost the Cornhuskers the Big 12 title.

Gabbert, who played high school football at Ballwin Park, Mo., informed Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson of his decision earlier this week.

“It definitely was a mutual decision,” Gabbert told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I told him that I didn’t see myself playing at Nebraska in five years, and told him I wanted to look around a little bit. He was like, ‘Yeah, we understand that. I’m not going to make you come. You have to follow your heart. But if you’re looking around, we have to go our separate direction and look after our best interest as well.’”

The Cornhuskers' mid-season change in offensive philosophy sounds like it played a part in Gabbert's decision.

Although Watson has repeatedly said he favors an offense that "slings the ball around the lot," the Cornhuskers won the Big 12 North with a heavy ground-based philosophy. Nebraska ran the ball 58 percent of its snaps this season, including 69 percent after the Baylor game when Zac Lee reclaimed the starting position.

Nebraska ran the ball on about 53 percent of its snaps last season with Joe Ganz as its starting quarterback.

Gabbert told the Journal-Star that Nebraska's transformation into a heavy I-formation team "definitely" impacted his decision.

“I know they’re doing what they have to do to win,” Gabbert told the Journal-Star. “But I did some research of the past recruiting classes. I haven’t seen the receivers or athletes coming in as opposed to all the linemen and running backs coming in. So it just kind of makes you wonder what the intentions are for the offense. And I imagine myself throwing the ball 40 times a game. … So in terms of running the power-I, that’s just not the case in that style of offense.”

Recruiting analysts like Tyler Gabbert's savvy, but he's not considered the recruit that his older brother was. He's listed by his high school at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. And according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, his senior statistics were pedestrian -- 1,148 passing yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 188 rushing yards on 78 carries with two rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are down significantly from his junior season, when he passed for 18 touchdowns with five interceptions.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel got a lot of publicity in the Nebraska and Missouri media when he made a point to drop in on Tyler Gabbert's game the week before the Nebraska game via helicopter.

Gabbert and his family haven't won any friends in Nebraska after this decision. His older brother was an early Nebraska commitment before changing his mind during the fall of 2007 when Bill Callahan was coaching the Cornhuskers.

And another decision made by his little brother only stokes the emerging Nebraska-Missouri rivalry a little bit more.

What to watch in the Big 12 this week

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some things I'm watching across the Big 12 this week, starting with Iowa State's season opener against North Dakota State tonight in Ames, Iowa.

1. Can Oklahoma State prove it belongs among the national powers? Oklahoma State started 8-1 before collapsing with four losses in its final six games in 2008, including struggling defensive performances against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Cowboys will be depleted without MLB Orie Lemon and will be facing a Georgia team that shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bulldogs are 30-4 on the road since Mark Richt took over in 2001 -- a better winning percentage than for their home games. Georgia is 10-2 on the road against ranked teams on the road under Richt, including 3-1 against top-10 foes. So it will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to counter those trends, particularly with a roster that has been dotted with defections this week.

2. Oklahoma’s retooled offensive line: The Sooners’ offensive line has been the team’s biggest question coming into the season as they try for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. Four offensive line starters are gone from last season’s team, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams back to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Sooners’ line was called out before spring practice because of their lack of dedication by coach Bob Stoops, but has received recent praise after working with the Sooners’ monstrous defensive line in recent weeks. The Sooners shouldn’t be tested very much by a BYU defense that ranked 60th in rushing defense and 59th in total defense last season.

3. Does Baylor deserve its early hype? The Bears started last season with a 28-point home loss to Wake Forest. This season, they are a slight underdog on the road against the Demon Deacons. Can Robert Griffin continue his mercurial development and lead the Bears to an upset against the Demon Deacons, who have qualified for three straight bowl games? The Bears have lost 13 of their last 14 road games and have never won away from Waco with Art Briles coaching them. Does an improved, senior-laden team have what it takes to win -- especially with two new tackles protecting Griffin’s flanks?

4. Blaine Gabbert’s first career start for Missouri: All the sophomore quarterback has to do is pick up the reins from Chase Daniel, who piloted the Tigers to back-to-back trips to the Big 12 title game and arguably was the best quarterback in school history. Gabbert was a higher regarded prospect coming into school than Daniel and will be able to prove those ratings, but he’ll be facing the challenge of playing in his home area against arch-rival Illinois.

5. Vondrell McGee’s chance as Texas’ featured running back: McGee took advantage of an injury to Fozzy Whittaker to claim the starting position and an opportunity to work as Texas’ featured running back in the Longhorns’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe. McGee should be able to play on most downs when the Longhorns’ starting team is in the game. How will he hold up -- particularly considering he’s had double-figure carries in only five games in his career and never rushed for more than 80 yards in any game? The opportunity to claim the role is there against a Louisiana-Monroe team that ranked 109th nationally against the run.

6. Colorado’s starting quarterback: Will Dan Hawkins opt for a quiet dinner table at home by starting backup Tyler Hansen or stick with his family ties by giving his son Cody the nod in the Buffaloes’ Sunday night opener against Colorado State? Both should play, although the Colorado coach remains adamant he’s not making the call until shortly before kickoff Sunday night.

7. Bill Snyder’s emotional return to the sideline: Is the Kansas State coach bigger than his program? Snyder will travel to the stadium Saturday on a highway named in his honor before arriving at a stadium named for him and his family as he ends a three-year sabbatical to return to coaching Saturday night against Massachusetts. The moment should be even more poignant for him and the program as the largest athletic reunion in the school’s history will coincide with the game.

8. Nebraska’s new-look offense: Bo Pelini starts his second season with the Cornhuskers facing a massive turnover as he looks for a new quarterback, two new wide receivers and help in his running game. The Cornhuskers must try to build on last season’s 9-4 record with new quarterback Zac Lee, new featured receivers and a heavy reliance on Roy Helu Jr. after Quentin Castille’s dismissal late in training camp. Nebraska players say that Lee will provide more of a vertical passing game than was featured last year with Joe Ganz. He shouldn’t face much of a challenge against a Florida Atlantic University team that ranked 81st or lower in every major team statistic, tied for 112th in sacks and returns only three defensive starters.

9. Will Kansas show much mercy against outmanned Northern Colorado? The Bears come into Lawrence coached by former Nebraska assistant Scott Downing. It will be interesting to see how much that association causes Mark Mangino to step off the accelerator if the Jayhawks jump ahead early against an opponent that was 1-10 last season and ranked among the bottom 20 FCS teams in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. I’m looking for extended target practice for Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and the rest of the Jayhawks’ talented pass-and-catch combo against the outclassed Bears.

10. The tackling of Iowa State’s defense: The Cyclones have had a total makeover defensively by new coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have been critical of the Cyclones’ tackling techniques they inherited from the staff of former coach Gene Chizik. Rhoads even admitted that the lack of technique “frustrated” him. Iowa State shouldn’t face too many challenges tonight against North Dakota State, although the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS teams. Rhoads and his new program can’t afford such a slow start.

Big 12: Keys for the 2009 season

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a look at the key factor for each Big 12 team this season:


Baylor:
The Bears need production from a retooled offensive line and particularly new starting tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake. Their work will be critical to keep Robert Griffin protected and continue the strong running game that enabled Baylor to produce 200 or more rushing yards in four of the last five games in 2008.


Colorado:
Somebody needs to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. Continually shuffling between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins will rob the offense of its continuity and make both quarterbacks worry too much about their individual mistakes. Dan Hawkins should settle on one, and the quicker the better.


Iowa State:
The Cyclones’ tackling techniques have been frustrating for an old-school defensive coach like Paul Rhoads. He’s broken them down to the basics to hope that they will learn his way. If they can use these fundamentals to start playing better defense, it’s the start of a massive rebuilding job.


Kansas:
The Jayhawks lost three productive linebackers and will retool their defense by using more nickel coverages, seemingly conducive to shackling Big 12 aerial attacks. Will this new unit still be able be able to support a developing secondary and underrated defensive front?


Kansas State:
The Wildcats’ offense won’t look anything like the explosive units that Bill Snyder was familiar with earlier in his coaching tenure. This group doesn’t have a lot of productivity or depth. A rash of injuries would be a crippler for this team and likely make Snyder wonder why ever re-entered coaching.


Missouri:
Can new quarterback Blaine Gabbert help a rebuilding offense still be productive, despite the loss of several key producers who were the backbone of the Tigers' back-to-back division title teams?


Nebraska:
How well will Zac Lee direct the offense? The Cornhuskers talk about his arm giving them the opportunity for more vertical strikes than when Joe Ganz was playing. Bo Pelini would just be satisfied with the same kind of consistent production that marked Ganz’s season-plus as starter.


Oklahoma:
The offensive line has received some praise from Bob Stoops in the last few days because of its conditioning and versatility. The question remains if the four new starters are accomplished enough to keep the Sooners’ record-breaking offense humming, and more importantly, Sam Bradford safe from harm.


Oklahoma State:
Bill Young has made a career out of cobbling together overachieving defenses. If he can get increased production from this unit that wore out late last season, he’ll cement his own legacy at his alma mater, as well as providing the Cowboys a chance for their first South title.


Texas:
Vondrell McGee will get the first shot, but will somebody emerge as a featured ball carrier to help take some of the pressure from Colt McCoy? It’s asking a lot of McCoy to be his team’s leading rusher in two straight seasons.


Texas A&M:
Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew? The Aggies can’t afford the struggles that marked their defense last season. Joe Kines' unit must show immediate improvement, particularly in the trenches and in the secondary.


Texas Tech:
How will the pass defense recover from the loss of key pass-rushers McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and starting safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet? In the Big 12 South, that rebuilding job in those areas could come with some lethal consequences.

Big 12 mailbag: OSU playing 8 home games?

August, 21, 2009
8/21/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Let's throw open the mailbag on a Friday afternoon and see what you the readers are thinking and asking me about.

W. Dawson of Dallas writes: Tim, have you looked at Oklahoma State's schedule yet? How can they get away with having eight home games? I can't believe the Big 12 allowed this to happen, much less their competition. This is an incredible advantage, especially given the narrow margins that separate various Big 12 foes. Talk about running downhill before anyone else has snapped the ball.

Tim Griffin: Obviously, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy can do anything they want with their schedule. And it's a good home schedule with the four Big 12 games and home non-conference games against Georgia, Houston, Grambling and Rice. I guess the risk/reward is this. Most coaches want their team to face a non-conference challenge of some kind before they head into conference play. It doesn't have to be especially taxing - Texas going to Wyoming, Kansas to UTEP -- but most coaches believe that kind of experience is good before they head into conference play.

Obviously, Gundy doesn't think like that. The Cowboys will get a huge boost after playing four home games, but he won't know much about how ready his team will be to play on the road for their first trip to Texas A&M on Oct. 10. If I was coaching, I'd like a little more piece of mind before that first conference road game. And I bet Gundy will be thinking that way the week before the game.


Ocean from Kemah, Texas, writes: Tim, I'm very interested to hear if there has been any shift of momentum due to freshman Chris Whaley's arrival this summer. Also an update on the other Big 12's other freshman prospects would be greatly appreciated.

Tim Griffin: Whaley has struggled keeping up with the other Texas backs after reporting to training camp with an ankle injury that was aggravated playing basketball before he ever arrived. It set him back in his battle for playing time in a crowded Longhorn backfield.

From what I'm hearing, Fozzy Whittaker will be the leading candidate to have more of the carries in the Texas backfield. But he's got to remain healthy, which is something he hasn't been able to do so far. Then, look for veteran Vondrell McGee to have the next shot. Cody Johnson will also be there along with Tre' Newton and Whaley. I look for Whaley to get more playing time as he shows coaches he is more comfortable with his role in the offense and particularly in pass-protection schemes. We'll see that later, rather than sooner for the Longhorns.

And also, look for a post early next week where I'll break down the conference's leading freshman producers so far in training camps.


Mark M. from Arlington, Texas, writes: I know Baylor is pegged as your eighth team in the conference, but I think even that might be overrated! Why is no one talking about how incredible of a job Jason Smith did protecting Robert Griffin last year? Without his protection, combined with a very challenging non-conference schedule, I think Griffin takes a lot more hits and goes through a sophomore slump. I think they finish last in the Big 12 South as a result. Am I wrong?

Tim Griffin: Your scenario could very easily happen, although I do have the Bears winning six games and making a bowl trip. But I think that watching the Bears' left tackle position will be one of the most interesting positions in the conference.

Obviously, Smith was the best lineman in the conference last season, as evidenced by his No. 2 selection in the NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. I've heard some great things about his replacement, muscular 6-foot-4, 315 pound former Canadian fireman Danny Watkins. But we won't know anything until he starts hooking up with players like Jeremy Beal, Sergio Kindle and all of the others.  

Watkins' inexperience will be one of Baylor's biggest question marks. And one missed blitz assignment could end the Bears' season in a hurty. Coach Art Briles has to hope that Watkins is ready for the challenge.

But we'll see how he does. It might be the major factor if the Bears are able to go 6-6 and make that elusive bowl trip, or end up in the Big 12 cellar and you hint. The margin between the two is very slim - particularly with the balance in the Big 12.


Ross Jackman from Sioux Falls, S.D., writes: Tim, I saw the story you linked earlier this week about the conference's most underrated and overrated coaches from that guy in Lincoln. Who is your selection, as the most underrated head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in the Big 12?

Tim Griffin: Ross, good question. For a head coach, I'll take Kansas' Mark Mangino, who quietly has taken the Jayhawks on their most successful, consistent run in school history. The Jayhawks made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history the last two years and are poised for much more this season.

For my offensive coordinator, I'll take Nebraska's Shawn Watson. The work he did with Joe Ganz the last two seasons was simply phenomenal. Earlier work at Colorado with Gary Barnett's team was outstanding as well. Watson's past history is one of the reasons I think Zac Lee might be better than a lot of people expect for the Cornhuskers. I know he'll be ready, considering Watson's track record.

And for my most underrated defensive coordinator, I'll choose Texas Tech's Ruffin McNeill. The work he did with the Red Raiders to help develop their defense was a big reason the Red Raiders were able to forge a three-way tie for the South Division title last season. He'll have his work cut out trying to replace pass-rushing specialists like McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams and safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, but I expect McNeill will have another strong unit again this season.


Mitch Nelson from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Tim, the Big 12 has four high-profile quarterbacks this year in Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson and Todd Reesing who will probably finish their college careers after this season. Can you break down who their possible replacements will be and which team has the best chance to not miss a step with a new quarterback next year?

Tim Griffin: I really am hesitant to pick which team has the best quarterback situation in the future because so many of these players don't have any game action. I'd like to reserve my decisions until I get to see some of the young kids play in a little bit of game action. But here's how I see those four schools in the future.

Oklahoma: The leader as far as experience would appear to be redshirt freshman Landry Jones, along with junior John Nimmo and Ben Sherrard. I've heard some good things about Drew Allen, a tall 6-foot-6 thrower from San Antonio Alamo Heights High School. But especially keep an eye out for Blake Bell of Wichita, Kan., a dual-threat thrower/runner who is one of the prizes of the Sooners' 2010 recruiting class. He will be the most heralded quarterback to enter the Oklahoma program since Rhett Bomar.

Texas: As far as promise goes, the Longhorns would appear to have it with Garrett Gilbert who I expect to play as a freshman and beat out Sherrod Harris for the backup role this season. And they also have two more quarterbacks coming in the 2010 recruiting class - Connor Wood of Second Baptist High School in Houston and Case McCoy, the 6-foot-2, 169-pound little brother of Colt McCoy.

Oklahoma State: I know that Gundy actually wasn't that disappointed with Zac Robinson's injury last week because it forced the action in the backu quarterback battle
between junior Alex Case and sophomore Brandon Weeden. Gundy told me he was a little angry that one of the two players hadn't jumped out and taken the backup role. Whoever wins that would appear to be in line to replace Robinson.

Weeden has a little bit more maturity because of his five-season career in minor-league baseball. But Cate has more game experience and comfort in the OSU offense. And the Cowboys also have a commitment from 2010 recruit Johnny Deaton of Sand Spring, Okla., who might be their long-term answer.

Kansas: I think the fact that redshirt freshman Kale Pick has won the backup job is significant here. First, it will enable Kerry Meier to move to wide receiver full time. It will also get Pick more snaps in practice and have him ready in the spring when the opportunity to replace Reesing will materialize for him.

Mangino is also high on a couple of freshmen quarterbacks he has in Christian Matthews, a taller, skinner thrower and Jordan Webb, who kind of looks like Reesing and followed his route by graduating early and reporting to college a semester early to boost his early assimilation into Ed Warinner's offense.

That's all the questions I have time for this week.

Thanks again and have a great weekend.

It's just 'Ducky' for Suh from his teammates

July, 27, 2009
7/27/09
8:17
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh might be one of the biggest and strongest players on the Cornhuskers' roster.

But it still hasn't kept him from earning a nickname from his teammates that isn't exactly flattering.

Suh is known as "Ducky" because of his resemblance to a character in the 1988 cartoon movie "Land Before Time."

"He looks like Ducky that little dinosaur they have on there," Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. said. "We call him Ducky. Ndamukong is very interesting and a little outspoken."

Former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz was responsible for dubbing Suh with the nickname.

"It was all fun and games," Suh said. "We have this thing that's been there what people look like it. It was hilarious that Joe brought it out to the media last year."

Suh hasn't been called the nickname recently by his teammates but he's bracing for its return when the Cornhuskers return to fall practice.

"It hasn't been brought up lately," Suh said, laughing. "But I bet it will come back up."

Even if they are kidding Suh, the Cornhuskers are happy he returned for his senior season despite some projections he could have been a first-round pick if he had declared for the NFL Draft after last season.

Suh led the Cornhuskers with 76 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks and 11 1/2 tackles for losses. He also shared the team lead with two interceptions -- both of which he returned for touchdowns.

"I was so excited when he decided to come back," Helu said. "He's an anchor and everything. He's a leader and has done a great job in doing what we need."

Even if he does look like a cartoon character to his teammates.

Wild Nebraska 2008 comeback is No. 18 in Big 12 moments

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
5:39
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
  AP Photo/Dave Weaver
  Ndamukong Suh's interception return for a touchdown sealed Nebraska's victory.

Henery and Suh make Colorado blue

No. 18
Date:
Nov. 28, 2008
Place: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Score: Nebraska 40, Colorado 31

Nebraska was playing merely to better its bowl position. Colorado wanted to earn a bowl trip. Although the Big 12 North championship game berth wasn't being settled, it still didn't diminish the excitement of last year's game between the two traditional rivals.

Colorado came into the game as an 18-point underdog, but you couldn't tell from the way the Buffaloes scrapped. The Buffaloes produced a couple of big plays  -- a 68-yard touchdown pass from Cody Hawkins to Riar Geer and a 36-yard touchdown run by Demetrius Sumler -- in the first five minutes to jump to a quick 14-0 lead.

The Buffaloes' defense allowed the Cornhuskers to advance inside the Colorado 50 on every possession in the game. But a botched fake field goal led to a 24-24 halftime tie when Colorado's Jimmy Smith snatched an errant blind pitch from Jake Wesch and ran 58 yards for a touchdown.

The Buffaloes' defense kept the game within reach in the second half as Nebraska drove inside the Buffaloes' 33-yard line on each of its four possessions but came away with only nine points. Colorado went ahead 31-27 when Sumler knocked in a 4-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Colorado's defense made that stand for most of the rest of the game. Nebraska pulled within 31-30 when Alex Henery nailed a 37-yard field goal with 8:09 left.

After Nebraska got the ball back, the Cornhuskers were poised to score again after Roy Helu Jr. rambled 25 yards to the Colorado 25 with less than two minutes remaining. But Colorado safety Patrick Mahnke sacked Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz for a 15-yard loss and Ganz threw incomplete on third down, setting up an improbable 57-yard field goal attempt by Henery.

Henery, with a 5 mph wind to his back, blasted the ball through the goal posts with 1:43 left to set the school record and provide Nebraska with a 33-31 lead.

But the Cornhuskers were only getting started. After picking up a first down on the Colorado 33, Hawkins' second-down pass was tipped by Zach Potter and intercepted by massive 305-pound defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

En route to the end zone, Suh eluded a diving Hawkins and scampered 30 yards for the clinching touchdown. It was Suh's second interception return for a touchdown on the season and his third touchdown overall.

The numbers: Nebraska ran 29 more plays than Colorado and the Cornhuskers' 63 snaps in Colorado territory were 15 more than Colorado ran in the entire game. Colorado went more than 10 minutes of game time in the second and third quarters without running an offensive play. Helu rushed for 166 yards and Ganz passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the top single-season passer in Nebraska history.

They said it, part I: "I love games like this. The crazier the better. I just wish we had ended it a little bit earlier," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, reflecting on the wild finish with reporters after the game.

They said it, part II: "I don't remember watching it go through at all. I was pretty sure I made it. It was on target. I don't remember much after hitting it." Henery's thoughts after the game-winning kick to reporters after the game.

They said it, part III: "It doesn't surprise me. That guy's a stud," Pelini on Henery's kick.

They said it, part IV: ""He thinks he's Walter Payton." Pelini's comments to the Nebraska State Paper about Suh's game-clinching touchdown return.

The upshot: The victory, combined with Kansas' upset of Missouri the following day, gave the Cornhuskers a share of the Big 12 North title. The Tigers advanced to the championship game after a head-to-head triumph over the Cornhuskers earlier in the season.

But it really didn't matter after the Cornhuskers earned a Gator Bowl berth. They went on to upset Clemson to finish 9-4 for the season. After losing four of six games midway through the season, Nebraska finished with three straight victories to prime enthusiasm after Pelini's first season.

The loss cost Colorado a shot at making a bowl trip. The Buffaloes finished at 5-7, missing a bowl trip for the second time in three seasons under coach Dan Hawkins.

The countdown:

19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.

Tim's mailbag: Why Banks is Big 12's most underrated player

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
5:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some questions to get you ready for the weekend. They are representative of some of the best e-mails I received over the last week or so.

John Stinson of Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Tim, love your blog. Keep it coming during the off-season. I know of no better daily source of Big 12 information anywhere.
My question for you is this. Who is the most underrated player in the Big 12? Is there a player, or players, who are sometimes overlooked with all of the great talent like Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy in the conference.

Tim Griffin: John, thanks for the kind words. My appreciation for Oklahoma fullback Matt Clapp is well-known. He does a lot of dirty work as far as blocking, but is one of the best in the nation in what the Sooners ask of him. I think Alexander Robinson is overlooked sometimes at Iowa State. And Baron Batch doesn't receive the due he deserves because Texas Tech's offense is stacked so heavily to the pass. But I think the most underrated player in the conference is multipurpose Kansas State player Brandon Banks, who is a valuable receiver and return threat. He's a threat to score or break a big gainer every time he touches the ball. The plan is to use him as a quarterback in some "Wildcat" formations to get the ball in his hands more often next season. I think I would pick Banks first, followed closely by Batch and Clapp.


Jacob Traxler from Champaign, Ill., writes: Hey Tim. I've got a quick bone to pick with you in one of your items this week. You mentioned that Colorado had the best backfield in the Big 12. Have you ever heard of Oklahoma?

Tim Griffin: Jacob, I didn't say that Colorado had the best backfield, but merely the deepest with their collection of players like Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge. While the Buffaloes don't have the upper talent to match DeMarco Murray or Chris Brown on Oklahoma, I think they have a deeper collection of proven talent. An indication can be seen in the Sooners' struggles running the ball without Murray in the BCS title game against Florida. I wouldn't necessarily say the Buffaloes are better than the Sooners in running the ball, but they have a few more potential runners so there isn't quite the drop-off that Oklahoma would face if they had to withstand another injury to either Murray or Brown.


Steve Johnson from Tampa, Fla., writes: Tim, always enjoy reading your blog. You have a good handle on news in the Big 12 area. It's something I miss living in this part of the country.

My question is do you see any interest in the Big 12 returning to the old association the Big Eight used to have with the Orange Bowl to send its champion down here. I sure would like to have an occasional chance to see Big 12 teams in my area and that might be the opportunity.
What do you think?

Tim Griffin: Steve, while many old-time Big Eight fans would share your sentiments, I think the Big 12 is very happy with its current association with the Fiesta Bowl to keep sending its champions there when it isn't playing for a national championship. It would surprise me to see the Big 12 push for an association with the Orange Bowl.

And Steve, don't fret. You can occasionally see Big 12 teams end up at the Gator Bowl. And Oklahoma will renew its tradition-steeped rivalry at Miami at the newly named Land Shark Stadium on Oct. 3. You might consider driving down there and checking it out.


Jake from Horseshoe Bay, Texas, wrote: Tim, thanks so much for your blog. Your daily information is getting me through the down season until camps start later this summer.
Quick question for you. Who do you consider to be the best coach in terms of developing talent in the Big 12?

Tim Griffin: Jake, thanks for your compliment. I think the best way to judge your question is to look at who gets the most from players who aren't necessarily the four- and five-star recruits. Obviously, coaches like Mark Mangino of Kansas and Gary Pinkel of Missouri have done a nice job in turning their programs in recent seasons with those players. But the coach who consistently gets the most from less-heralded incoming talent is Mike Leach of Texas Tech. His coaching is one of the biggest reasons why the Red Raiders have been the only program to be bowl-eligible every season of Big 12 history.

Leach has developed a national reputation for his off-beat, quirky way of doing things. But don't ever underestimate his ability to develop players. He's among the best in the business.


Andy from San Diego, Calif., writes: I wonder if you could analyze Blaine Gabbert vs. Zac Lee vs. Carson Coffman. Which of the new Big 12 North QBs do you like at this point in time to have the best year? The stats will more than likely lean to Gabbert by the end of the season, but that isn't the best way to do look at it due to different systems. What do you see these three quarterbacks doing this season?

Tim Griffin: It wouldn't surprise me if all three end up leading their teams to bowl games before the season ends. Coffman still has to nail down the starting job and will be facing a big challenge this summer when Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas arrive in the Kansas State program. Coffman has the edge now, but it wouldn't surprise me if one of the other two players gets substantial playing time.

I think Zac Lee has already nailed down the starting job at Nebraska, as has Gabbert at Missouri. I expect the Tigers to run the ball more this season, but Gabbert will still provide better passing statistics than the other two. Lee won't match the numbers posted last year by Joe Ganz, but I look for the Cornhuskers to feature a tough running game keyed by Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille. Lee doesn't need to post big numbers, but he should serve as a strong manager of his team's offense.

I would expect Gabbert to have better passing numbers, Lee's team to have the best record and Coffman to occasionally struggle to keep his job. But I still think the Wildcats could sneak into a bowl game -- mainly because of the coaching acumen of Bill Snyder and an underrated defense.


Justin from Kansas City writes: Great blog, Tim. I read it every day. It was a week or two ago when you were blogging about how many similarities there for this year compa
red to the year Texas won the National Championship (USC and Florida being the power houses and winning the Championship the year before, this year it will be in the Rose Bowl, etc ). To add onto that deja vu, Texas is now seeded No. 1 in the NCAA baseball tournament and also won the championship that season. That same year Texas football won it all, so did baseball. Let's hope the trend continues and we find Texas defeating Florida for the National Title like we did USC. Any thoughts?

Tim Griffin: You're correct in the fact that Texas claimed the baseball championship in the spring of 2005 and followed it up with a national championship in football in the fall. Before we start jumping too far in front of ourselves, let's remember that no Big 12 football or baseball team has won a national championship since that run. As a matter of fact, the last five baseball teams to win the national championship were not among the national seeds coming into the championship, including Fresno State, which was a No. 4 regional seed last season. And no Big 12 baseball team has even made it to Omaha since the Longhorns' last trip. That's on top of no Big 12 football championships during that span, although Oklahoma made the BCS title game last year. So it will be interesting to see how things play out.


Lance Cogburn of Tulsa, Okla., writes: Hey Tim, what are your thoughts on Zac Robinson's evolving into a pocket passer for Oklahoma State? His sophomore year was incredible and he kept defenses guessing with his running and passing. Last season, his rushing stats really fell off from the previous year. Now I hear that he's trying to put on more weight. I would think that would make him even less of a threat to run. What kind of impact do you think this will have on Oklahoma State's offensive production this season, if any?

Tim Griffin: I can sense Robinson gaining more comfortable in Mike Gundy and Gunter Brewer's offense. Because of that, he's less compelled to make things happen with his feet. That growing confidence in the offense has been bolstered by the developed of Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, the best running/receiving combination in the conference and maybe in college football.

Like you mentioned, Robinson is bigger and stronger than he ever has been. I think that will change him even more into a pocket passer. If he can stay healthy, I look for him to have the best passing numbers of his career, although his rushing statistics might drop again.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. I'll catch some more again next week.

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:25
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

I-back Roy Helu Jr., I-back Quentin Castille, G Jacob Hickman, TE Mike McNeill, DE Pierre Allen, DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, K Alex Henery.

Key losses

QB Joe Ganz, I-back Marlon Lucky, WR Todd Peterson, WR Nate Swift, G Matt Slauson, DT Ty Steinkuhler, CB Armando Murillo

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr. * (803 yards)
Passing: Joe Ganz (3,568 yards)
Receiving: Nate Swift (941 yards)
Tackles: Ndamukong Suh* (76)
Sacks: Ndamukong Suh* (7.5)
Interceptions: Ndamukong Suh*, Zach Potter, Anthony West* (2)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 12 Arkansas State
Sept. 19 at Virginia Tech
Sept. 26 Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 8 at Missouri
Oct. 17 Texas Tech
Oct. 24 Iowa State
Oct. 31 at Baylor
Nov. 7 Oklahoma
Nov. 14 at Kansas
Nov. 21 Kansas State
Nov. 27 at Colorado

1. Zac Lee: There were some serious doubts before spring practice at quarterback, but Lee appeared to dispel most of those fears as he replaced Joe Ganz. Lee looked comfortable in his role as starter, passing for 214 yards and three TDs in the spring game. His development over the spring has clearly stamped him as the most likely starter for the Cornhuskers in August when heralded freshman Cody Green will be more comfortable in the offense.

2. Tight ends: Mike McNeill already was one of the conference's most underrated players after breaking the school record for catches at the position last season. But the Cornhuskers will have outstanding depth at the position after strong springs by junior Dreu Young, sophomore Ryan Hill and freshmen Kyle Reed and Ben Cotton. Their growth at the position might lessen some of the worries at wide receiver. Don't be surprised if the Cornhuskers regularly feature two-tight end sets as part of their basic offensive strategy.

3. Antonio Bell: The suspension of Niles Paul was supposed to aggravate the Cornhuskers' iffy depth at wide receiver. But Bell developed into a strong playmaker at the position and even showed some flashes as a kick returner at the spring game. He'll be in the mix for playing time at the start of the season.

Fall questions

1. Wide receiver: The loss of leading 2008 receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift robbed the Cornhuskers of much of their big-play capabilities at the position as well as a duo which contributed 125 combined catches last season. It will remain the biggest offensive liability of the Cornhuskers. Players like Menelik Holt and Paul will need to add production. Injury-prone Chris Brooks produced five catches in the spring game and much is expected from heralded junior-college standout Brandon Kinnie. And Marcus Mendoza looks to have adjusted after moving to wide receiver from I-back.

2. Right side of the offensive line: The loss of Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha robbed the Cornhuskers of solid producers familiar with playing together. Marcel Jones appears to have claimed the starting job at right tackle. And the development of center Mike Caputo allowed Nebraska line coach Barney Cotton to
experiment with moving starting center Jacob Hickman to right guard. But a bigger question will be replacing the veteran leadership they received with Murtha and Slauson over the last several years.

3. Linebackers: The Cornhuskers are talented but very young at linebacker. Colton Koehler and Matthew May both look to have earned starting positions during the spring. Redshirt freshmen Alonzo Whaley, Micah Kreikemeier, Sean Fisher and Will Compton all had their moments. But a key player in fall practice will be Blake Lawrence, who started quickly but suffered a concussion late in the spring.

Mailbag: Why isn't Tommie Frazier in Hall of Fame?

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
6:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Happy Friday afternoon.

As usual here are some of the best questions I received this week from readers.

D.J. from San Diego, Calif., writes: Hey, Tim. Can you explain to me why Tommie Frazier is not in the College Football Hall of Fame? Do you believe he belongs there and how long does it usually take for a super quarterback like him to get in?

Tim Griffin: D.J., I'm similarly mystified why Frazier hasn't made the Hall. When I see lesser quarterbacks like Don McPherson and Major Harris get into the Hall before him, I wonder what the electors are thinking.

Remember, Frazier came within a missed field goal at the end of the 1994 Orange Bowl of leading his team to three-straight national championships. His play really defined those great Nebraska teams of the mid-1990s. And he was the focal point of the 1995 Nebraska team - which in my opinion is one of the three or four greatest teams in college football history.

Frazier didn't pile up the statistics that a lot of his contemporaries did. But he won games and championships. And I think that should be one of the primary determiners for Hall of Fame inclusion.

It sometimes takes too much time for players to get inducted. Tim Brown just made it this season and he even had the appeal of a Heisman Trophy and the fact he played for Notre Dame working for him.

But there are several players who merit inclusion out there. We can only hope that the Hall's selectors can find some room for Frazier and Pat Tillman in the near future.

Because both definitely deserve inclusion.


James Coulter from Corpus Christi, Texas, writes: I'm surprised after seeing your chart earlier this week that you don't have Baylor finishing in a bowl game. They were only one win away last year, and had three losses that could have gone either way. This year their luck in those games should change, so why don't you think Baylor will be bowl-eligible?

Tim Griffin: Actually, James, the Bears were two games away from bowl eligibility last season with a 4-8 record. But I don't like a couple of factors for the Bears that I think will keep them away from a bowl this season.

First is their non-conference schedule. A building program shouldn't be playing teams like Connecticut and Wake Forest in their formative stages. With all of the challenges that the Bears will face in the Big 12 South, it would be understandable if they cut back on the ambitiousness of their non-conference scheduling a bit.

I think Robert Griffin is one of the top young players in college football, but remember the Bears lost two veteran tackles in NFL No. 2 pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay. I think those personnel losses are going to be huge -- both literally and figuratively -- in pass protection, leadership  and in run-blocking.

The Bears also didn't do themselves any favors in their Big 12 scheduling. Their three home games will be against Oklahoma State, Texas and Nebraska. I think it would be an upset if the Bears can win any of those games.

And their other designated Big 12 home game will be the Texas Tech game that will be moved to Arlington, Texas. I would like Baylor's chances of beating the Red Raiders a lot more in Waco than there.

I think an absolutely pivotal game for their bowl hopes will be the road game at Texas A&M. The Aggies appear to be struggling and are picked by most to finish last in the Big 12 South. But Baylor hasn't won at Kyle Field since 1984 and it will be a long streak of bad karma in one place to overcome.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Bears were significantly better than last season, but only have a 5-7 record to show for it.


Bob from Sioux Falls, S.D. writes: Tim, great blog. I enjoy reading it every day. You provide some of the best mainstream coverage of the conference that I can find anywhere.

Quick question for you. Do the NFL scouts have something against the Big 12 quarterbacks? If anybody had seen last season in the Big 12 and determined that the best draft-eligible quarterbacks were Josh Freeman and Stephen McGee, somebody would have laughed them out of their "scouting rooms."

What gives?

Tim Griffin: I agree with some points that you make. I think NFL scouts and teams get caught up on a "profile" of a quarterback that if he isn't the right size or has the necessary they won't consider them.

But I think the biggest quality that NFL scouts sometimes don't consider is previous production. Guys like Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel aren't the biggest or fastest quarterbacks, but I think it says something that both were wildly productive players in winning programs.

If you had ranked Big 12 quarterback last season, Freeman and McGee both would have been behind Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Todd Reesing, Harrell, Daniel and Zac Robinson. I think Robert Griffin's playmaking ability makes him a better college player than Freeman or McGee. And Joe Ganz, despite his NFL detractors, was a capable leader who turned Nebraska into a solid bowl team last season.

It will be interesting to see if the so-called bias against the spread offense will affect the draftability of some of the current Big 12 quarterbacks.

I don't think it will matter with Bradford. I think Griffin's raw athleticism will make him an intriguing NFL quarterback if he can stay healthy. But I will be really curious about McCoy, who has played in a spread offense for much of his college career. Will that hurt his draft status? I guess we'll see next year.


Brad from Denver writes: Tim, Your article about APR ratings in the Big 12 left the door open for people to criticize Colorado. The Buffaloes' rating is in peril primarily because of recent attrition of players that were ineligible because of academics, an area that Colorado is more stringent on than just about any other school. Players don't study, they don't play; they don't play, they leave. All schools are created equally, and it is more difficult to achieve a 2.6 GPA at some schools than others.

Accordingly, I do not find it a coincidence that Baylor and Colorado, arguably the two Big 12 schools with the most rigorous academic standards, are at the bottom of the list.

Tim Griffin: I agree with your point about grades at some schools than others. But to steal a line from Tony Soprano, Colorado's APR score is what it is. It's close to falling below the level where punitive penalties start kicking in. If Coach Dan Hawkins is having trouble keeping players eligible and then they transfer, he might consider attracting players who would be more likely to stay.

The APR is the first piece of academic reform that actually has some teeth in it. The NCAA does a lot of things wrong. But I think this piece of legislation that is good for college athletics.


Ivan Martinez from Waco, Texas, writes: Since you talked about throwback uniforms and helmets, Baylor is actually bringing back the white helmet with the green interlocking BU for the first game against Wake Forest, along with an all white uniform like Oregon. They made some other uniform changes that are more "contemporary," according to athletic director Ian McCaw, which actually discourages me a little bit.

Tim Griffin: Ivan, like I said in my post, I love the idea of throwback uniforms on a limited basis. Texas and Oklahoma both have worn those uniforms for select games in recent seasons. I'd like to see every Big 12 team wear them on a specific weekend that could be designated by the conference office. I think that would be something really cool that would differentiate the conference from all else in college football that weekend.

And they don't have to wear single-bar facemasks, either.


Jason Lewis from Kansas City writes: Tim, I love your blog, but you missed one of the biggest surprises of spring ball in the Big XII. That was Patrick Witt transferring from Nebraska. After all, he was considered the favorite to take over at quarterback for the Huskers. How could you miss that?

Tim Griffin: I didn't consider Witt's transfer because it happened before spring practice started. And I don't know much of an edge that Witt really had over Zac Lee or Latravis Washington or Cody Green or any of Nebraska's quarterbacks after the 2008 season.

Sure, Witt was the player who Bo Pelini turned to when Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl. But Witt's struggling performance probably didn't do much to set him apart from the rest. It might have even brought him back to the rest of the other players. And if he was the favorite after the end of last season, it was by a very slight margin.


Rick from Boulder, Colo., writes: It stung a little that you didn't see any Buffs make your top 40 in the Big 12. Would you say a couple might have made the list if it were a top 50 instead? I think Colorado has some talent just about to have a breakout season.

Tim Griffin: I included Darrell Scott on my list of 10 players who nearly made the list. If Markques Simas plays up to his ability, I think he can develop into a solid Big 12 player. Josh Smith is a versatile player who does a lot of things well. Jimmy Smith looks like he might develop into a lockdown cornerback. And I like their offensive line collectively, although one player doesn't stand out for me.

And I think a big performance this season might enable them to have several players on the 2010 list.


Roger Smithson from Wichita, Kan., writes: Tim, who do you think is the best special teams player in the league? By that, if you could have one player to start your special teams, who would it be?

Tim Griffin: I might consider Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant or Perrish Cox or Colorado's Josh Smith. But for my money, the most valuable special-teams player in the conference might be Alex Henery of Nebraska. He was the best long-distance kicker in the conference late last season. He's working as a punter and showed some flashes in the spring of being able to do both. I'm curious to see if he can do both consistently.

Thanks for all of the great questions. I'll check back again next week.  

Mailbag: How good are OSU's offensive triplets?

May, 1, 2009
5/01/09
5:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Happy Friday afternoon. Here are some of the more interesting letters I received during the past week.

Adam: Would you care to make any comparisons between Oklahoma State's ultra-talented trio of Zac Robinson/Dez Bryant/Kendall Hunter to other OSU trio greats of Mike Gundy/Barry Sanders/Hart Lee Dykes and Josh Fields/Rashaun Woods/Tatum Bell?

Tim Griffin: Adam, I think it terms of total firepower, the Gundy/Sanders/Dykes grouping was the best, followed by the current group of Robinson/Bryant/Hunter with Fields/Bell/Woods ranking last.

The reason I give the 80s group the edge is because of Sanders. Earlier this week, a national web site said that Sanders was the second-greatest living Heisman winner behind only two-time winner Archie Griffin. His rushing numbers are still mind-boggling.

And it would be interesting to see how much better Hart Lee Dykes would have done if he played in today's era where passing is such an important part. Dykes was by far the second offensive option on those teams and he still had 60, 61 and 74 catches in his three seasons as a starter.

That being said, I think that Zac Robinson could go down in history as the greatest quarterback in OSU history and Dez Bryant's numbers will end up being as good as anybody. But as good as Hunter is, he's still no Sanders.

Chance from Memphis, Tenn., writes: Thanks for the heads up regarding the possible Minnesota home-and-home addition for Texas. Didn't Texas have Utah and Arkansas on the 2009 schedule at one time, and both opted out?

TG: Chance, yes they did. Texas had a planned series with Utah for 2008 and 2009 called off fby the Utes. And after beating the Razorbacks in 2008, Arkansas officials decided they didn't want to play Texas in 2009. Instead, the Razorbacks have asked that game to be pushed back until 2014 as they start a 10-year contract for games against Texas A&M at the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas.

All of this doesn't do Mack Brown much good for this season. He might have to answer for his non-conference schedule which is packed with gooey treats like Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida.

If there's a close race in the BCS standings, something tells me that Brown will be doing a lot of spinning about his schedule during November.


Adam Nettina from Baltimore writes: Tim, Why the heck is Logan Dold moving the safety when he showed such promise as a running back? He was the second all-time leading rusher in Kansas high school history, was K-state's leading rusher in terms of yards per carry among regulars a year and runs the 100 in 10.9 seconds.

Yet, he's being replaced a senior who only ran for 3.8 yards per carry in limited duty a year ago and a redshirt freshmen with basically no on-field experience. So why make the move with Dold and not somebody else?

TG: Adam, I agree that I was a little surprised by the move of Dold, particularly considering his production last season. But I also know that Bill Snyder traditionally has favored small, quick backs like Darren Sproles. I'm wondering if he thinks that Keithen Valentine better suits his philosophy. And I also know that Jarell Childs has been a big surprise during spring practice.


Seth from New Haven, Conn., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a Yale student who just saw that Nebraska's Patrick Witt intends to transfer to New Haven. What should we expect to see from him?

TG: I get the feeling that Witt transferred to Yale more for academic reasons that for a chance to play. He had the opportunity to play at places like Duke and South Carolina and also considered UCLA. But I think his style will suit him at Yale, playing for Coach Jack Siedlecki.

Witt is a big, strong quarterback who has a strong arm for deep throws. Remember, he was the player who Bo Pelini turned to when Joe Ganz was injured for a few plays against Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

I'm not thinking that Witt will be heading to the Bulldogs with any sense of entitlement. And I'm also expecting he will be excited about continuing his career. So I wouldn't be surprised if he really thrived with his opportunity.


Preston Nix from Austin, Texas, writes: Tim, what keeps the Big 12 from trading Iowa State, Colorado, and/or Baylor for Utah, Boise State or other schools that could broaden the Big 12 market and make it a national powerhouse like the SEC seems to be?

TG: Mainly, it's tradition and the relationships that all of the schools have made with the others over the years. Iowa State was in the Big Eight with many of those other schools since 1928. Colorado was a member of the Big Eight from 1948. That's a lot of years for relationships.

And if Baylor hadn't come along with the other three schools from Texas when the Big 12 was formed, it's likely that none of them would because of the Bears' strong political power in the state legislature in Austin. Also, the complete sports programs of those schools - both in men's and women's sports - will be a factor in keeping them together.

I don't look for the Big 12 to break up any time soon. From everything I'm hearing, I think there's greater cohesiveness among the 12 partners who make up the league than ever before.


Joseph Hauss from College Station writes: Tim, I love your blog and read it every day. The 2009 season can't get here quickly enough. I just was wondering what your thoughts were about Mike Leach's comments about Stephen McGee? An A&M student I should be all against Tech. Unlike, many of my colleagues I find Mike Leach to be my kind of guy because he speaks his mind and isn't scared to. That being said, I believe he was actually complimenting McGee on his accomplishment but was inferring that he would have been using McGee's skills in the passing game since he stepped foot on campus in 2005.

TG: I think that Leach's compliment was a backhanded swipe at McGee's previous and current coaching staff. And I've got to think there's a tad of envy for Leach in the fact that McGee, who started two games last season, was drafted in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, Graham Harrell, the prototypical quarterback for Leach's offense went undrafted despite setting a FBS career record for most career touchdown passes.

I've got to wonder if there might be a fear for Leach and the Red Raiders that Harrell's failure to be drafted might hurt the school in returning at a later time. But it seems like top quarterbacks always end up playing for the Red Raiders. It's just that the elite ones might have been more willing to make that move if Harrell had been a higher draft selection.


R.W. Dobbins of Oklahoma City writes: Jermaine Gresham as the best tight end in Oklahoma history? Well considering Keith Jackson was the best tight end in the history of any school, you might be a little off.

TG: I appreciate your response, but remember, I said that if Gresham had a huge year he could be remembered as Oklahoma's greatest tight end. I still think that is the case.

Jackson was a great athlete who averaged 23.7 yards per reception. But he also benefited from defenses which were stacked to stop the Sooners' wishbone offense when he was playing. And also remember that Jackson had 62 catches in his career. Gresham had 66 catches and 14 touchdowns last season.

I realize that football is different today than when Jackson was playing. But Gresham can be just as valuable and could earn All-America status with a big season this year. And he probably deserved it last season.


Benson from Washington, D.C., writes: Tim, I loved following the draft and I noticed that Missouri had more players picked than any team from the Big 12. Has that ever happened before? Also, was their total the most ever picked in one draft for a Big 12 team and was it the most ever for Missouri in one draft?

TG: Benson, you're right. Missouri had the most players picked in the Big 12 with six draftees. But it wasn't the most in school history. That came in 1981 and 1943 when the Tigers had seven players selected. And both of those drafts were significantly bigger than today's current seven-round draft. The NFL went 12 rounds deep in 1981 and 32 rounds in 1943.

The Tigers' haul last weekend still didn't match Oklahoma's Big 12 record of 11 players that were picked in 2005.

Thanks again for all of the letters. Enjoy your weekend and I'll be checking back again next week.

Witt leaving Nebraska for Yale

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
10:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Former Nebraska backup quarterback Patrick Witt has announced he will be leaving his former school to attend Yale.

Witt told the Omaha World-Herald that by leaving for the FCS school, he will be eligible to play next fall as a third-year sophomore.

Witt said he decided on Yale after earlier visiting Duke and South Carolina and considering UCLA.

He said his transfer had more to do with academics than football. Witt is carrying a 4.0 grade point average.

"It was something that I had started to think about a while ago," Witt told the World-Herald. "To be fair to (Pelini) and fair to the team, I didn't want this to happen after we finished spring practice."

Witt played in five games last season for the Cornhuskers. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 48 yards and rushed for a touchdown. Witt replaced injured starting quarterback Joe Ganz in the Gator Bowl for one play and appeared to commit a key turnover, but a replay overturned his fumble in the fourth quarter of Nebraska's 26-21 triumph over Clemson.

Witt praised Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after making his decision.

"Obviously, he wanted me to stay and tried to talk me out of it," Witt said, "but at the same time he understood. I can't say enough about him. He's been great through the whole thing."

Witt denied some reports that he made demands to Pelini about playing time or requested that the coaching staff name a starting quarterback in the spring.

"It was hard for me to sit by and listen to things that were made up," Witt said. "It was all conspiracy theories, things that just were not true."

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