Big 12: Jon Cooper

Mailbag: Sooners on the brain

January, 7, 2011
I'll be making my way out to Arlington in a bit for tonight's Cotton Bowl between Texas A&M and LSU at Cowboys Stadium, but if you've missed it this week, here's a look at just about everything we've written about the game this week.

As for this week's mailbag, I was pretty surprised when I started digging in, even with the news of Broyles' return on Thursday evening: Most everyone wanted to talk/ask about the Sooners. you go.

Mike in Dallas, Texas writes: All the media could talk about was Oklahoma's 5 straight BCS bowl losses. Now they win one against an obviously outmatched UConn team and I still read that "some" media members claiming "Well this one really doesn't count" (I'm paraphrasing). You're in the media loop. What do you feel is the media's perspective on this win?

David Ubben: Well, I don't know that anyone is outspokenly claiming, "This one doesn't count!," but certainly, beating UConn wasn't all that impressive. But more than getting a win, Oklahoma's BCS troubles were more about just not playing well in a big game, which is why you saw and heard so much criticism surrounding Bob Stoops during the streak. Last time, it was the goal-line failures against Florida with an offensive line that had four NFL talents: Trent Williams, Jon Cooper, Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt.

Before that, there was the no-show against West Virginia when the Sooners got run off the field. Before that, the Boise State debacle in which, regardless of how much the Sooners said they respected an experienced, senior-filled Broncos team, they didn't play like it.

After 2004, you had a 12-0 Oklahoma team get completely embarrassed by USC, 55-19. Before that was the national championship loss to LSU, which wasn't all that bad, 21-14, but the Sooners also got embarrassed by big underdog Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship weeks earlier, and a two-game losing streak to end a year (even if those losses are in Big 12 and national title games) will leave a bad taste in fans' mouths.

So, circling back to my original point, Oklahoma's BCS streak was more about the Sooners just playing terrible with a month between games than winning or losing.

And when OU beat Connecticut, it did it convincingly and played well. That's obviously a good sign. So while Oklahoma could have earned some additional street cred if it had beaten a more legitimate opponent, the way the Sooners played has to be encouraging and something to build on for next year.

(Side note: Both Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck missed last year's Sun Bowl with injuries, and though Luck is staying, is that the only game in college football history with two future No. 1 picks watching from the sideline? College football historians, get on this one.)

Matt in Stafford, Va. asks: DU, with no Big XII Championship what are the chances of a team that runs the table making it to the BCS Championship? Who has the best shot and why?

DU: You're seeing teams who want to compete for national titles beef up their nonconference schedules, most notably Texas and Oklahoma. Having a ninth conference game might keep fringe teams from making bowl games eventually, but it definitely helps strength of schedule. It's possible in the future that an undefeated team from the Big 12 gets left out, but with Oklahoma playing games against Florida State and Texas scheduling a future series with USC, they're doing their part to make sure they don't get left out.

Even still, three teams from BCS conferences going undefeated has only happened once, so I wouldn't lose too much sleep about it if I were you.

Tommy B in Austin, Texas writes: Could Ryan Broyles' decision to stay another year affect Justin Blackmon's decision whether to stay or go?

DU: Maybe. Blackmon is projected as a mid-first round pick and has the size Broyles doesn't, so unlike Luck's decision helping Blaine Gabbert's stock, that doesn't have much effect on Blackmon. What it might affect is this: If Broyles and Lewis had gone, there'd still be a bit of doubt on top of the Big 12. Not anymore. Heading into next season, Oklahoma might be a close-to-unanimous pick to win the Big 12. Those two coming back significantly lowers the chances of Oklahoma State getting the Big 12 title that narrowly eluded it this year; Oklahoma should be a lot better in 2011 than it was in 2010. So maybe that has an effect on Blackmon's decision. Maybe he sees it as a challenge and tells Brandon Weeden, "Let's come back and go after them again."

Neither of them have had a lot to say since the season ended.

Every player has to make an independent decision when it comes to their future, and I'm not sure Broyles' decision has a ton of effect on Blackmon's, but that's really the only way it would.

Terence in New York asks: David, Happy New year. With Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis returning, as well as all those freshman that played so well, you have to figure OU is the front runner in the conference again. With 7 Conf championships over the past 11 years, and the team they have returning, why is Texas automatically a better job? Clearly you are able to win at the highest level at OU and have been a better overall program this decade.

DU: Well, it's close, but really, it comes down to resources. Oklahoma has done just fine for itself, but it's a bit easier for UT to recruit Texas than it is for Oklahoma. Again, not a huge gap there, but it takes a little less effort for Texas to get that top-tier talent in Austin than it does for Oklahoma.

Additionally, don't ever underestimate the dollar. Texas has more money than any other program in the country, and they're not afraid to use it. More than anything else, that's what separates them. Texas was paying Will Muschamp almost $1 million to be its defensive coordinator last year, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis was making just under $500,000. Being able to keep assistants happy helps a lot, too. Muschamp was making almost $150,000 more than any other assistant in the country.

Granted, in the Big 12, Oklahoma's coordinators were Nos. 3 and 4 on the pay scale, so it's not like they're slacking, but when it comes to paychecks, life as a Longhorn is good.

It's not like the Texas job is completely on a different level than Oklahoma. They're really pretty close. But when you start trying to go down the list and compare, you have to give the edge to Austin.

Shawn in Afghanistan asks: With the news of Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles coming back for another season, what do you think of Oklahoma's chances of making a National Title run next year?

DU: The Sooners should be on that level, but they're helped by a tough, but not brutal nonconference schedule. They'll play at Florida State (minus Christian Ponder, remember), a difficult but very winnable game, and then have Ball State and Tulsa. Then it just comes down to getting it done in Big 12 play. It won't be easy, and there's plenty of teams capable of knocking the Sooners off their stoop. All it takes is playing badly on one Saturday.

Habern eager to help young OU line develop

July, 1, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Being in the middle of Oklahoma's biggest question mark isn't something that Ben Habern shies away from.

In fact, the Sooners' freshman center is excited about the opportunity to prove something to the doubters who are wondering about Oklahoma's young offensive line heading into the upcoming season with four new starters.

  J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
  Oklahoma's Ben Habern has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Jon Cooper at center.

It's made Habern wish his team's Sept. 5 opener against BYU was only a couple of weeks away.

"There are a lot of people who don't think we have enough talent to make it through the Big 12 or to a big bowl game," Habern said. "But a lot of people aren't here during our practices. We've seen how athletic we are."

Some of the doubt started earlier when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called out the unit before spring practice even began. Stoops was disappointed in the group's lack of dedication during preseason conditioning drills and didn't hesitate to make his comments known.

The words stung, particularly for a group that was looking to build some confidence before heading into practice. But Stoops' point got across and helped the group coalesce.

"We lost a lot of senior leadership and have a lot of guys to replace," Habern said. "It was a big step and a challenge to get everything settled. But I feel like we handled it pretty well."

One of the biggest reasons for the group's fast growth has been the development of Habern, who has claimed the starting job after strong work during the spring to replace Jon Cooper.

Jason Hannan, who was once considered the nation's No. 1 center prospect and Cooper's eventual replacement, couldn't beat out Habern for the job, leading Hannan to transfer earlier this spring.

"Habern has been doing a wonderful job," Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He's got a chance to be a really good one. Jon was a great leader and Ben" is from "that same kind of mold."

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Update on the Big 12's undrafted free agents

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

I've gotten a couple of messages today wondering where all of the Big 12's free agents have ended up.

The most complete and accurate listing I've found is on the fine website (Hat tip to The Ralphie Here's what they have as of late Monday afternoon.

Big potential free-agent pool among Big 12 players

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

I'll be back later today with a complete breakdown of the Big 12's draft.

But here's something to watch as Monday plays out.

There are still some pretty good players available from Big 12 schools who were not drafted.

Most notably are three quarterbacks who set records and took their teams to bowl games this past season.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz all went undrafted.

Look for teams to be dickering with them for free-agent contracts throughout the day.

Here's a list of some of the more notable Big 12 players who went undrafted.

There are some pretty good players on that list. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of them make an NFL roster if given the opportunity.

O-lineman Hannan set to transfer from OU program

April, 3, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Jason Hannan, the top national recruit at center in the 2007 recruiting class, will leave Oklahoma with hopes of transferring to another school.

Hannan came into the spring as the likely replacement for three-year starter Jon Cooper for the Sooners after playing seven games last season.

But he has been beaten out for the position by redshirt freshman Ben Habern, who now is listed as the Sooners' No. 1 player at the position.

"He's transferring -- he's leaving," senior guard Brian Simmons told the Tulsa World after Thursday's practice. "I don't know the details, but he's no longer with us any more."

Habern now is backed up at the position by former Colorado State transfer Brian Lepak.

"He was a scholarship player at Colorado State. He is a walk-on player, but I look at him as a scholarship player," Simmons told the World concerning Lepak. "He has tremendous technique. You know he's smart. He knows what he's doing."

But Hannan's departure further scrambles the turnover on the offensive line, which was expected to be one of the biggest weaknesses for the three-time defending Big 12 champions.

The Sooners will be replacing four starters along the offensive line with only Trent Williams returning from last season.

That group will be charged to protect Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, who helped lead the Sooners' record-breaking offense last season. The Sooners led the nation in scoring, averaging 51.1 points per game, as they scored 60 points in five straight games late in the season.

The Big 12's greenest units

March, 17, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.

Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.

Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.

Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.

Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.

Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.

Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.

Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.

Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackle Aaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.

Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.

Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.

Sooners' pro day features prospective NFL players

March, 10, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Former Oklahoma center Jon Cooper joked that he's been eating like Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps the last few weeks as he tries to bulk up for the NFL draft.

Cooper was among 19 former Sooners who showed their stuff for NFL scouts as they gauged their pro potential.

His recent calorie binge is understandable, considering that Cooper was stricken with strep throat late in the season, diminishing his weight to 255 before the Texas A&M game on Nov. 8.

"I had to push the calories quite a bit because the combine was only a few weeks after the Shrine Game," said Cooper, who is now back at his regular playing weight of 290. "I worried about it a little bit, but I ran at that weight for two years. I think I felt pretty good at it."

It helped Cooper to clock a 5.1 and 5.09 in two 40-yard dashes, giving him presentable times for prospective centers.

The fastest Sooner was wide receiver Quentin Chaney, who clocked a 4.59 and a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash times. Defensive back Brett Bowers ran a 4.62 and 4.63. Lendy Holmes ran a pair of 4.65s and former Oklahoma running back Jacob Gutierrez ran a 4.69. No other player who was tested ran faster than a 4.7.

Safety Nic Harris, who was measured at a shade over 6-2 and 232 pounds, was clocked at 4.84 on both of his 40-yard dashes. Those times and his side are making scouts consider him universally as a linebacker after a one-game stint at the position in college.

"I'm always up for a challenge and I'm trying to learn extremely quick," Harris said. "I think I'm doing well."

Harris said he doesn't make much of those who discount him because of his perceived lack of speed for those at his position.

"At the end of a day, I'm a football player," Harris said. "Last I checked I've never seen a guy with a stop watch on Sundays trying to see how fast a guy can get to the ball."

Stoops calls out young offensive line

March, 3, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops left little doubt about the area of his offense that needs the most improvement as the Sooners prepare for the spring practice.

Stoops singled out an inexperienced offensive line that returns only tackle Trent Williams from last season as his biggest concern.

Unlike many coaches in spring news conference settings, Stoops didn't sugarcoat his feelings about the rebuilt offensive line.

"Losing four of our five starters, that's where another major issue will be. And we'll see," Stoops said. "Those guys at this point -- whether their work ethic or attitude -- those are the things that need to improve."

Stoops ripped into the group after they have fallen behind other parts of the team in early conditioning drills.

"They haven't had the winter that everybody else has had," Stoops said. "Right now, they are the weak link of our team. We'll see if they can respond and can have the kind of spring and summer to help us become a team that can contend for a title. They will be a big part whether we will or will not, depending on their attitude and work habits."

The Sooners' offensive line was a key part of a record-breaking offense that scored at least 58 points in its final six Big 12 Conference games last season. The Sooners led the nation in scoring and ranked third in total offense, passing offense and sacks allowed.

But the loss of starters like tackle Phil Loadholt, guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker and center Jon Cooper -- a group that combined for 149 career college starts -- makes it an entirely different proposition for the new offensive group this season.

The Sooners' rebuilt offensive line began working at spring practice Tuesday trying to reach their coach's exacting standards.

Williams is expected to move to left tackle where he can protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford. Heralded transfer Jarvis Jones from LSU and returning junior Cory Brandon will battle for the starting job at right tackle.

Sophomore Stephen Good is expected to have the nod at left guard with Brian Simmons starting the spring No. 1 at right guard. Sophomore Alex Williams will be the primary reserve at both positions. Jason Hannan and redshirt freshman Ben Habern are hooked up in a tight battle at center.

Stoops put all of them on notice that he's expecting immediate improvement throughout the spring.

"They have been very inconsistent in how they work," Stoops said. "We'll just see if they can develop that toughness and attitude to get it done."

Don't always believe those heights and weights

February, 24, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

When I was a little kid, one element among my favorites of going to a football game was collecting a game program. I loved nothing better than to scan rosters and check the heights and weights of players as I looked at them through my father's binoculars.

It led me to collecting many programs that probably still are around my parents' house somewhere. I guess I just wanted to add to the clutter of my bedroom.

If I had known then what I know now, I might not have been so diligent about all of the effort. Little boys don't know those heights and weights for their football heroes aren't always correct.

The best way to analyze the discrepancy is by comparing the heights and weights of some of the Big 12 players who attended the recent NFL combine and compare them with what they were listed at during their college careers.

The before is their listed height and weight during last season. The after is what they were measured over the weekend by the NFL.

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Several big shoes to fill around Big 12

February, 23, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

One of the most interesting parts of spring practice will be watching potential replacements emerge in key situations across the Big 12.

Here are some of the key departures from around the conference and some of the players who will compete to try to fill those vacancies.

  Getty Images
  Brian Orakpo's pass-rushing skills will be missed by Texas.
  • Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree -- The Red Raiders will miss the two-time Biletnikoff winner. Lyle Leong will get the first shot and should be challenged by Jacoby Franks and 6-foot-4 Rashad Hawk. Top returning receivers Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall will remain inside as slot receivers, meaning that other players will have to emerge at Crabtree's old featured slot.
  • Texas' pass-rushing specialist replacing Brian Orakpo -- Texas coaches are hoping that Sergio Kindle will ratchet up his play to Orakpo-like levels as he moves to a near permanent status as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Sam Acho will get most of the work on the other side during the spring with Eddie Jones battling back from shoulder and ankle surgery, meaning the spotlight will be on Kindle this spring.
  • Jeremy Maclin's talents at Missouri -- It likely will take several players to cover what the multi-purpose Maclin provided as a receiver, rusher and kick return threat. Among the players who will get a look at a variety of roles include Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Gahn McGaffie and Rolandis Woodland.
  • Oklahoma fills a depleted offensive line -- Only tackle Trent Williams will be back as a starter for the Sooners' unit, which will lose key producers like guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker, center Jon Cooper and mammoth tackle Phil Loadholt. The four departing starters combined for 149 starts during their college careers. Replacements like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Alex Williams and Brian Simmons and center Jason Hannan are presumed to be talented, but are still very inexperienced. That's not a comforting thought for returning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- at least until spring practice begins.
  • Kansas State replaces Ron Prince -- Sure, the Wildcats made only one bowl trip in Prince's three-season tenure before he was fired. But it will still be a huge test for legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to match the success he produced earlier in his career after his sabbatical during the Prince years. It will especially be challenging this season with the loss of quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who went packing late last week for a similar position at California after only six weeks at Kansas State. Junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas and Carson Coffman will compete to replace Freeman. And it's anybody's guess whom Snyder will find to replace Ludwig with the start of spring practice approaching on April 6.

Forty-one Big 12 players invited to NFL Combine

February, 2, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here's the official list of 41 Big 12 players who have been invited to the NFL combine Feb. 18 through Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.

Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams with eight players invited to the combine, followed by Texas, Missouri and Nebraska with six players each and Texas Tech with five players.

All Big 12 schools were represented with the exception of Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.

All players are expected to attend with the exception of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who was granted an extra season of eligibility and will remain in college. Shipley recently underwent shoulder surgery and will not be able to participate when spring practice begins for the Longhorns later this week.

NFL officials have calculated that players invited to the NFL combine typically are drafted 64 percent of the time. So these players would appear to have the best chance of being picked among eligible players from the Big 12.

Here's a list of invited players listed by their schools.

Baylor: T Dan Gay, T Jason Smith.

Colorado: None.

Iowa State: None.

Kansas: None.

Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.

Missouri: TE Chase Coffman, QB Chase Daniel, DT Ziggy Hood, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, S William Moore, DE Stryker Sulak.

Nebraska: LB Cody Glenn, RB Marlon Lucky, T Lydon Murtha, DE Zach Potter, G Matt Slauson, WR Nathan Swift.

Oklahoma: C Jon Cooper, S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes, WR Juaquan Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, G Brandon Walker.

Oklahoma State: P Matt Fodge, TE Brandon Pettigrew.

Texas: WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DE Brian Orakpo, CB Ryan Palmer, WR Jordan Shipley.*

Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, S Darcel McBath, G Louis Vasquez, DE Brandon Williams.

*  Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.

Big 12 players will be big part of Shrine East-West game

January, 16, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

All right, admit it. You are going through college football withdrawal after seven days without a game.

If you are really missing college football, check out the Shrine East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 from Houston's Robertson Stadium.

The Big 12 will be heavily represented. Below is a list of players and their uniform numbers if you want to give them a look on Saturday. You can find the rest of the roster on the Shrine Game web site.

East: Missouri QB Chase Daniel (No. 10), Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky (No. 20), Missouri DE Stryker Sulak (No. 38), Nebraska OL Matt Slauson (No. 75), Nebraska LS T.J. O'Leary (No. 82),

West: Oklahoma WR Manuel Johnson (No. 1), Texas DB Ryan Palmer (No. 2), Texas Tech DB Darcel McBath (No. 3), Texas A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane (No. 11), Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee (No. 12), Oklahoma State P Matt Fodge (No. 17), Oklahoma DB Lendy Holmes (No. 22), Oklahoma C Jon Cooper (No. 50), Texas Tech OL Louis Vasquez (No. 66), Baylor OL Dan Gay (No. 71), Texas OL Cedric Dockery (No. 73), Texas A&M DE Michael Bennett (No. 92), Texas DT Roy Miller (No. 98),

Day-after Big 12 analysis

January, 9, 2009
  AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
  Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners lost again in a BCS title game Thursday night and are drawing comparisons to the Buffalo Bills.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Maybe it all came too quickly for Bob Stoops.

The national championship in his second season as a coach back in 2000 and all of those early victories against top-ranked teams made Stoops appear bulletproof.

That image took another hit Thursday night with another BCS title-game loss. That's five BCS losses and counting, including three BCS title-game disappointments.

When Stoops looks back at Thursday's 24-14 loss to Florida with some perspective, he'll see that the better team won. The Sooners couldn't afford all of the red-zone problems as they left too many points on the field in the first half.

The maligned Oklahoma defense actually played pretty well before wearing down from the pressure of trying to contain Tim Tebow and all of Florida's speedy skill-position threats.

Now, the Sooners' struggles in big games are making them kind of like the Buffalo Bills of college football. And those kind of struggles could detract from the Big 12's season after the bowls finished.

Oklahoma will be underdogs next season in the South Division. The rivalry against Texas has never been more heated. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners fare in that position as they attempt to go for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.

But I bet Stoops burns for a chance at another BCS game.

Here are some other quick thoughts that came to me this morning as I was packing up after a week in Florida.

  • There's no doubt that Sam Bradford is ready for the NFL draft, but I still think it would help his future prospects by returning for another season in college. Another year of maturity and a chance to excel against pressure defenses would make him an even more marketable product next season. But he's clearly a first-round talent now.
  • Perhaps the most telling point of Oklahoma's loss in the BCS title game came when Chris Brown was stuffed on two-straight running plays in the second quarter from the Florida 1-yard line. What surprised me most was the quick snap play that offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson opted to try on fourth down. I would have figured that the Sooners could have gained a yard running behind their vaunted left side of the offensive line. But they failed on both plays in a momentum-turning play as heralded blockers Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper were whipped at the point of attack.
  • So much for those thoughts about Oklahoma's defense being "a joke." Brent Venables came up with a productive scheme that featured a couple of unexpected big plays against Tim Tebow before wearing down late in the game. The Sooners didn't lose Thursday night because of their defense.
  • I couldn't be happier for anybody winning a national championship than for Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney. The Gators got a huge lift from McCarney's defensive line Thursday night.
  • What little boost in national perception the Big 12 received after a pedestrian 4-3 bowl season came from the North Division, which was was maligned all season after a 3-15 record against South teams and another championship game blowout loss.
  • A funny thing happened in the bowls. Nebraska and Missouri showed a lot of pluck in comeback bowl victories and Kansas might have played better in its bowl game than any other Big 12 team. The South was a different story. Texas earned a dramatic victory over Ohio State, but had enough struggles against the Buckeyes to be lucky to have won the Fiesta Bowl. Texas Tech looked ill-prepared and played like it in its loss to Mississippi. Oklahoma State collapsed when Dez Bryant was injured and Oklahoma lost in the national title game. The conference's best teams are in the South, even if they didn't play like it in the bowls.
  • I was a little surprised, but not shocked, that Nebraska didn't crack either the AP media top 25 or the USA Today coaches' poll. I don't think most of the country realizes the turnaround that Bo Pelini was able to accomplish late in the season with the Cornhuskers. At the end of the season and the bowls, they were playing as well as any team in the Big 12.

Here's my quick picks heading out of the season if all of the teams would return their expected players. I'll reserve my right to change these picks after the NFL draft declaration day passes next week.

But right now, here's how I have the Big 12 set for 2009:

North: 1. Nebraska; 2. Kansas; 3. Colorado; 4. Missouri; 5. Kansas State; 6. Iowa State
South: 1. Texas; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Texas Tech; 5. Texas A&M; 6. Baylor.

Big 12 championship game: Texas over Nebraska.

Bowl teams: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Missouri.

McCarney facing familiar foe in BCS title game

January, 7, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney has leaned a little bit on familiarity this week as he prepares for an old but friendly nemesis.

McCarney knows all about Oklahoma after a career serving as the head coach at Iowa State from 1995 to 2006, when he set the school record for games and victories and directed the Cyclones to five bowl games. He is also close with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops after coaching him during Stoops' playing career at Iowa and later serving with him on Hayden Fry's staff with the Hawkeyes during Stoops' formative stages of coaching.

Even with that knowledge, McCarney still faces a difficult challenge that might be even more pronounced than when he lost all six games against the Sooners during his career at ISU.

His young defensive line will be trying to attack Oklahoma's offensive line, which is dotted with NFL prospects like Outland finalists Duke Robinson at guard, Phil Loadholt at tackle and Jon Cooper at center.

"They are a little different than the dominant Nebraska teams I saw when I was coaching in the Big 12," McCarney said. "But you see the incredible numbers these guys from Oklahoma are putting up. When you consider that they are averaging 54 points a game for 13 games, are you kidding me?"

The Sooners' line has allowed only 11 sacks and has served as the backbone of the nation's most explosive offense, a group that has scored a school-record 702 points, keyed by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.

McCarney called Oklahoma's group the best offensive line he has faced this season. He said it was better than the Alabama unit anchored by Andre Smith that the Gators beat in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"It will be a major challenge," McCarney said. "We won't match them and won't put anybody on the field with that kind of size. But we're as ready as we can be and we've see a lot of good lines in the SEC."

A key trend in Thursday's game will be the pressure that Florida is able to generate on Bradford. Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham said that the best way to determine Florida's success will be to look at the grass stains on Bradford's pants. If there are many, the Gators likely will be successful.

"There are games when you break down their season where they look like it's seven-on-seven drills when they are throwing the ball around because nobody ever touches their quarterback," McCarney said. "That goes back to the protection up front. We've got to bring our A-plus game on Thursday or we'll be in trouble."

McCarney has been credited with turning a weakness into one of the Gators' biggest improvements this season after arriving on Urban Meyer's staff after coaching one season at South Florida.

Florida have increased their sacks, ranking tied for 30th nationally with 32. The Gators fell apart late last season, notching 11 sacks in their final six games and allowing 524 yards in a 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.

This season, Florida has played progressively better down the stretch. The Gators have allowed an average of only 13 points per game over their final nine games since losing to Mississippi on Sept. 27.

McCarney's young defensive line, which features eight freshmen and sophomores among its primary nine-man rotation, has been a big reason for the late surge.

"When Urban came to me in February, he told me that he needed a couple of my best years in coaching because there were some issues on and off the field with the defensive line. They had gotten kicked all over the field against Michigan and they needed to get it straightened out," McCarney said.

And his group should only get better next season.

"I'm proud of my bunch," McCarney said. "They've made a lot of strides. And whatever we do, we need to build on it because we should have a heck of group next spring."

No Murray, no worries for Oklahoma rushing attack

January, 4, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Oklahoma running back Chris Brown might never been confused with DeMarco Murray as an elusive breakaway threat.

 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Chris Brown leads the Sooners in rushing with 1,110 yards .

But the steadiness of the underrated Oklahoma rushing leader is the main reason why Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson expects the Sooners to overcome playing without Murray in the FedEx Bowl Championship Series National Championship without many troubles.

"The one guy [Murray] has flash and the other guy [Brown] is just a pit bulldog," Wilson said. "He's just a grinder who comes to work every single day. What you see is what you get, and from him it's pretty good."

Brown led the Sooners in rushing with 1,110 yards and ranked sixth nationally with 20 touchdowns. He will be counted on, along with backup Mossis Madu, to replace the loss of Murray, who ruptured a tendon in his left hamstring on the opening kickoff of the Big 12 championship game and will miss Thursday's game.

The loss of Murray, who rushed for 1,002 yards during the regular season, might be expected to cripple the Sooners with the loss of their top long-distance threat.

Instead, it has only inspired Brown of the opportunity he has playing against the Gators.

Brown compares his running style and Murray's with the vaunted USC rushing game of the 2004 national championship team.

"I don't really like to compare me and DeMarco because we're good friends," Brown said. "But we're two different players. You see him making flashy cuts a little bit like Reggie Bush. I'll take that I'm like LenDale White. DeMarco can make something small into a big play. But I feel I'm more patient and willing to waiting on things to develop. You could call me the conservative runner on our team. "

The ability of Brown and Madu was best shown in the Big 12 title game after Murray went down. Brown rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns and Madu chipped with a career-best 114 yards on 15 carries and three more scores to spark a 62-21 blowout over Missouri.

 Jesse Beals/Icon SMI
 Mossis Madu (17) will be needed to step up after the loss of DeMarco Murray to an injury.

Center Jon Cooper said that both remaining backs have the ability to be prime producers against the Gators, who ranked 16th nationally against the rush.

"DeMarco was a little flashier and he would try to make people miss where Chris just runs through them," Cooper said. "And Mossis is a combination of both. He hits the hole about as hard as anybody we've got. I don't know how fast he is, but he's pretty fast. And he's got the balance of Chris and the flashiness of DeMarco."

Florida players have noticed the strength and depth of the Sooners' running game. It makes them concerned about stopping Oklahoma's potent attack even with Murray out of the lineup.

"I don't think not having Murray will slow them down at all," Florida safety Ahmad Black said. "They have another one who comes off the bench who's almost as good. They rotate all of them out there. I don't think they'll take a step back at all. It will be a challenge to stop them."

Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford knows that balance will be important for his team's hopes to claim its first national championship since the 2001 Orange Bowl. Along with Tulsa, Oklahoma is the only team to rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring.

And Bradford is convinced the Sooners still can consistently move the ball against Florida with their remaining players -- even without Murray.

"Obviously, DeMarco is a big part of our offense and we're going to miss him," Bradford said. "But I think that Mossis and Chris both are very good running backs and we're not going to lose much with them being in there.

"Running the ball like we did in the Big 12 championship game gives us a lot of confidence in what they can do. We see it from Mossis every day in practice and the Big 12 championship was just the first opportunity for him to show everybody else how good he is. It didn't surprise us how he played. And we expect him and Chris to come out and play well again."