Big 12: Jonathan Nelson

Sooners gain a CB, lose a big question mark

July, 8, 2011
Looking to lose games in the Big 12?

The inability to stop the pass is a good place to start. Oklahoma coaches felt confident about Gabe Lynn's talent and performance this spring, but Jamell Fleming's absence was obvious.

Now, Fleming is back on the team after academic problems forced him out of spring practice during the winter semester.

Heading into 2011, especially with Nebraska gone, he was the Big 12's top returning corner. And Oklahoma, which enters the season with legitimate national title aspirations, had been forced to rely on Lynn, a sophomore with very little actual experience.

Fleming is a senior with two strong years of special teams experience and a year starting at cornerback. He'd played in 40 career games in three seasons to Lynn's seven in two seasons.

Experience, much less Fleming's currently superior talent, can't be underestimated. For now, Fleming will have to unseat Lynn in fall camp and earn his way back onto the field, but if he plays like he did late in the season in 2010, that shouldn't be a problem.

Oklahoma must replace both safeties, NFL draft picks Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson. Having two cornerbacks with a year of solid experience, will smooth that transition. With Fleming back in the fold, that's exactly what the Sooners have.

One bad game could spell disaster for Oklahoma in a conference full of top-flight quarterbacks, including the two teams gunning to knock the Sooners off the top of the Big 12 heap, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Fleming, who will likely join Demontre Hurst as the two starting cornerbacks in front of safeties Aaron Colvin and Javon Harris, should help make sure that one of the Sooners' biggest question marks in 2011, an inexperienced secondary, becomes a much less troubling question.

Assessing the contenders: Oklahoma

June, 29, 2011
Today, we'll start a new series.

Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list is no surprise. We'll begin with the favorites: Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

1. They've been there before. Don't underestimate the importance of experience on the big stage. Look back at Oklahoma's four biggest stages of 2010. All came away from home, and Oklahoma answered the bell all four times to win the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl. The Sooners jumped on Texas early and held on to win. Facing a third-and-long with a charging OSU team in Stillwater, Oklahoma threw a 76-yard touchdown pass. OSU answered by returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but Oklahoma iced the game with an 82-yard score. The Sooners erased a 17-0 deficit in the Big 12 title game against Nebraska to win. And against UConn, Oklahoma didn't play down to its opponent. Sure, the Sooners tripped up against A&M and Missouri on the road, but neither cost them the Big 12. I won't make this an entire point, but the truth is simple, too: Oklahoma is the best team in the Big 12 entering the season.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Mark Zerof/US PresswireBob Stoops' Sooners look like the most likely team to come out of the Big 12 undefeated.
2. They can afford to lose a game. If anyone in the Big 12 gets through this year undefeated, it's going to be Oklahoma. Oklahoma hosts Texas A&M, and goes to Oklahoma State (who hasn't beaten the Sooners since 2002, despite being ranked five times since then, and ranked at home against OU three times) for a rematch of last year's classic. It's hard not to like Oklahoma's chances of holding a tiebreaker against fellow contenders OSU and A&M, which would allow for a possible stumble into a Big 12 road loss.

3. It cured its biggest weakness late in 2010. The problem with Oklahoma on the road in 2009 and the better part of 2010 wasn't so much "losing" on the road. It was playing way, way below its usual self on the road. That's why the dominant win over Baylor that preceded Bedlam was such a welcome sign for Sooner fans. Improving to 20-0 all-time against Baylor was no accomplishment, but beating it 53-24 was. It meant Oklahoma had found a way to take its top game on the road, which it did the following week at Oklahoma State and again against Nebraska, and once more in the Fiesta Bowl against UConn. I'd expect that to carry over into this year, and the Sooners will get a chance to prove it against Florida State in Tallahassee in its second game.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. The secondary is young and unproven. Both safeties, Jonathan Nelson and All-American Quinton Carter, were NFL draft picks. Javon Harris slides in and will be joined by Aaron Colvin, a converted corner. Both earned rave reviews during the spring, but the fact remains: both have almost no experience at the position and will have to learn a lot as first-time starters. Harris played well against Oklahoma State in relief of an injured Nelson, and Colvin got a start at corner against Texas, but neither has shouldered the kind of weight they will face in the Big 12 this year. With the kind of passers they'll see in the Big 12, this possible weakness could be a problem. Demontre Hurst is solid at corner, but the status of All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming, arguably the Big 12's best returner at the position, is in doubt. If he's not back, Gabe Lynn, a sophomore with almost no experience, will start.

2. The pool of contenders is deep. Oklahoma may hold a tiebreaker against A&M and OSU, but what about the rest of the league? Despite what some believed after the Big 12 lost Nebraska, the entire league won't hinge on the Red River Rivalry -- at least not in 2011. There are a handful of other games that will have a heavy influence on the league. Oklahoma's won seven Big 12 titles in 11 years, but just beating Texas or Texas A&M or Oklahoma State won't be enough. Oklahoma's going to have to show up every week.

3. Special teams is uncertain. Oklahoma's punter Tress Way is one of the Big 12's best, but the Sooners could encounter problems elsewhere. Placekicker Jimmy Stevens was solid last year (19-of-23), but Oklahoma tended not to attempt deep kicks. The Sooners attempted just four kicks from beyond 40 yards last year, and none from beyond 50 yards. Stevens was 3-of-4 from 40 yards or longer, but his long was just 41 yards. Additionally, Oklahoma gave up key kickoff returns for touchdowns in losses against Texas A&M and Missouri and another in the fourth quarter that kept Oklahoma State alive. Sooner fans were clamoring for a special teams coordinator hire this offseason, but coach Bob Stoops didn't make one.

Lunch links: Recruiting class rewind

May, 12, 2011
Can you Photoshop your life with better decisions, Jerry?

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 6, 2011

2010 overall record: 12-2

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (7) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles, LB Travis Lewis, S Tony Jefferson, WR Kenny Stills

Key losses: RB DeMarco Murray, DE Jeremy Beal, S Quinton Carter, S Jonathan Nelson, OL Eric Mensik, WR Cameron Kenney

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: DeMarco Murray (1,224 yards)

Passing: Landry Jones* (4,718 yards)

Receiving: Ryan Broyles* (1,622 yards)

Tackles: Travis Lewis* (109)

Sacks: Jeremy Beal (8.5)

Interceptions: Jamell Fleming (5)

Three spring answers

1. Replacing Fleming. Jamell Fleming, the team’s top corner from a year ago, isn’t enrolled. Gabe Lynn slid in his starting spot opposite Demontre Hurst and did well, while the Sooners moved former corner Aaron Colvin to safety. Fleming’s status is still very much in flux, but Stoops played it coy when asked about the position in the future. He’s “confident” the Sooners will be OK. We’ll see if that means faith in Lynn or faith that Fleming gets reinstated.

2. Sooners shake off a major injury. Oklahoma’s starting right tackle, Jarvis Jones, went down with a knee injury early in spring camp and may miss a few games next year, but the Sooners may have found a solid replacement in converted tight end Lane Johnson. That’s a big help for an offensive line that struggled to get a push up front at times last season.

3. Future star in the making. Linebacker Corey Nelson turned heads throughout the spring for his play, prompting coach Bob Stoops to call him the best player on the defense. For now, he’s stuck behind three-year starter Travis Lewis, but Stoops vowed to find a way to get the sophomore on the field somehow.

Three fall questions

1. Road woes officially over? Oklahoma finished strong last season, winning four huge games away from Owen Field, including wins over top 25 foes Oklahoma State and Nebraska to win the Big 12 South and Big 12, respectively. Will that maturity carry over to 2011? We’ll find out quick. The Sooners travel to Florida State, a likely top 10 opponent, in the season’s first month.

2. Running back by committee? DeMarco Murray was the featured back in 2010 after spending much of his career splitting carries. This year, though, a committee approach could return for the Sooners. Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and incoming freshman Brandon Williams are likely to split duties, but will any other back crash the party? And how will those carries be distributed?

3. What to expect from the safeties? Jonathan Nelson and Quinton Carter were outstanding, but both safeties are gone. Aaron Colvin showed big potential as a new starter this spring, and Javon Harris looks likely to slide into the opposite safety spot. Nickel back Tony Jefferson is also working at a traditional safety spot periodically. How will they look in the thick of conference play?

Wrapping up the Big 12's draft

May, 2, 2011
The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)

Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.

Breaking down the defensive draft boards

April, 28, 2011
We took a look at the offensive draft boards on Wednesday, and on the day of the draft we'll turn to the defense.

Analyst Todd McShay broke down the skill sets of each draftable player on the board and ranked them by those skill sets, divided up by position.

Here's what he had to say.

Defensive line
  • Missouri's Aldon Smith was No. 3 on his versatility list, ranking defensive ends by their athleticism and ability to change direction and play in space.
  • Baylor's Phil Taylor ranks No. 3 among defensive tackles as run-stoppers.
  • Smith is No. 7 among overall defensive line prospects.
  • Taylor is No. 11 overall at the position.
  • Texas' Sam Acho is the No. 24 defensive line prospect.
  • Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal is No. 25 on the list.
  • Oklahoma State's Ugo Chinasa is No. 44.
  • Oklahoma State's Orie Lemon is No. 3 on the strength/toughness list among inside linebackers.
  • Texas A&M's Von Miller is No. 2 among outside linebackers in range against the run.
  • Miller is the No. 1 surest tackler among outside linebackers.
  • Miller is the No. 1 overall linebacker prospect.
  • Lemon is the No. 22 linebacker prospect.
Defensive backs

Spring superlatives: Oklahoma

April, 14, 2011
Today: The fifth in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Oklahoma Sooners.

Strongest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Travis Lewis, Tom Wort, Austin Box, Corey Nelson, Jaydan Bird

Key losses: None

Analysis: Lewis is the headliner, but make no mistake: This group is pretty stout. It's by far the best group of linebackers in the Big 12. Lewis has topped 100 tackles in each of his three seasons on the outside, and should do it once again in 2011.

Behind him is a highly recruited player that wasn't able to really contribute as a freshman, but is pressing hard for playing time this spring. Last year, Lewis said Nelson would eventually be even better than he was.

"Corey Nelson lit it up in the scrimmage the other day,” coach Bob Stoops told reporters this week. "He broke the record for the way the we tally up points. He had three or four sacks, pressures, I don't know how many tackles. He had a huge day.

"He looks like the best player out there on defense right now. In fact it's not even close."

Stoops doesn't say that about just anyone. Austin Box will start at middle linebacker, and though various health issues have sidelined him plenty over his career, sophomore Tom Wort looked more than capable of filling in last year. His mistakes (i.e. late hits) should be cut down significantly with more experience this year.

Jaydan Bird had 11 tackles last season and should also contribute. Oklahoma plays a hybrid nickel back as its third linebacker, where Tony Jefferson played last year ahead of upperclassman Joe Ibiloye and won Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. He's worked some at a traditional safety this spot, but he's clearly a rising star.

For anyone looking to poke holes in a team likely to open the season at No. 1, linebacker won't be the place to do it.

Weakest position: Secondary

Key returnees: Sam Proctor, Demontre Hurst, Javon Harris

Key losses: Quinton Carter, Jonathan Nelson

Analysis: More than anything, this is a question mark, rather than a true weakness. Oklahoma has a lot of guys with potential, but you can't ignore the absence of All-Big 12 cornerback Jamell Fleming, who is not enrolled at Oklahoma. He may be back this fall, but no definitive update on his status will likely be available until late this summer.

In his place, the unproven but talented Gabe Lynn is slated as a starter across from Demontre Hurst, who was solid as a first-year starter in 2010.

The Sooners, though, lose both starting safeties in All-American Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson. Former starter Sam Proctor returns, but undersized former backup corner Aaron Colvin is currently the starter at strong safety across from Javon Harris, who filled in for an injured Nelson against Oklahoma State last year and played well, impressing in spot duty as well.

This unit could be solid next season, but it's definitely a question mark. In a passers' league like the Big 12, that could be a very costly question mark.

More spring superlatives:
ESPN the Magazine had a fascinating feature looking back at the past 25 No. 1 high school recruits, where they are now and what the ranking meant to them. With apologies to Vince Young, there aren't a ton of Big 12 talents on the list, but there have been plenty of great recruits to come through the Big 12. We took a look on Thursday at how the All-Big 12 team stacked up as recruits, and you saw quite a mixed bag.

Well, it's the same for the recruits who came to campus with high rankings and high profiles. Going back to 2006, here's how every Big 12 commit from the ESPNU 150 turned out. We'll look at 2006 in this post before eventually reaching 2010 and the current class, 2011, by signing day.


No. 6: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma. Murray set the school records for touchdowns (64) and all-purpose yards (6,498) as a Sooner. He's projected to be drafted on the first day of this year's NFL Draft.

No. 7: Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas. Kindle was a finalist for the Butkus and Hendricks Awards and was a two-time All-Big 12 performer with 176 career tackles. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round last year's NFL Draft, but missed his rookie season after fracturing his skull in a fall on the stairs at his home.

No. 13: Jevan Snead, QB, Texas. Lost a quarterback battle to Colt McCoy following the 2005 season. Played sparingly as a freshman before transferring to Ole Miss. Went undrafted in 2010. Now plays for Arena League's Tampa Bay Storm.

No. 21: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma. McCoy was a Lombardi finalist, a three-time All-Big 12 performer, a two-time All-American who left Oklahoma after his junior season and was selected No. 3 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

No. 22: Eddie Jones, DE, Texas. Jones just finished his career at Texas with an All-Big 12 honorable mention year in 2010. Finished his career with 111 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

No. 34: J'Marcus Webb, OT, Texas. Webb played one year at Texas before transferring to Navarro College and eventually West Texas A&M. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and spent the season with the Chicago Bears.

No. 36: Adron Tennell, WR, Oklahoma. Tennell finished his four-year career at Oklahoma with 40 catches, 505 yards and five touchdowns.

No. 42: Dustin Earnest, LB, Texas. Earnest finished his career in 2010 with 84 tackles and a sack for the Longhorns.

No. 45: Mike Goodson, RB, Texas A&M. Goodson was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2006 with his career high 847 yards. He finished with 1,966 yards and 13 TDs in three seasons before being drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers.

No. 67: Phillip Payne, WR, Texas. Caught his first career pass in 2009, his third year at UT, before transferring after the season.

No. 75: Derek Burton, DE, Oklahoma State. Started 15 games in four years for the Cowboys, recording 67 career tackles.

No. 82: Ben Alexander, DT, Texas. Made four career starts, with 51 tackles and half a sack in 38 career appearances.

No. 104: Terrance Anderson, CB, Oklahoma State. Made 96 tackles in four years with the Cowboys. Had four career interceptions.

No. 110: Jonathan Nelson, CB, Oklahoma. Started all 14 games in 2010 for the Sooners after earning All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior in 2009. Finished career with 155 tackles and five interceptions.

No. 111: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma. Caught 111 passes for 1,629 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons, including an All-American season in 2008. Missed all of 2009 with knee injury. Drafted No. 21 overall in the 2010 draft by Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 137: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma. Had 224 tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, and 29 sacks in four seasons, including three All-Big 12 seasons, an All-American season and was a Hendricks Award finalist in 2009. Projects as middle-round pick in 2011 NFL Draft.

No. 141: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State. Threw for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in 35 career games. Also ran for 404 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. Drafted No. 17 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Recruiting needs: Big 12 South

January, 26, 2011
Signing day is exactly a week from Wednesday, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these needs with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

Here's our look at the South, after running down the Big 12 North earlier this morning.


Defensive tackle: The Bears are loaded on offense and have a ton coming back, but anyone who watched Baylor in 2010 knows the big problems are on defense, starting with the front four. Phil Taylor is headed to the NFL and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste will be a senior next year. Reserve Chris Buford is gone, too. The Bears need to fill out some depth up front to avoid a repeat of their Texas Bowl debacle defending the run against Illinois.

Punter: Derek Epperson was rock solid as a four-year starter for the Bears, averaging near 44 yards a punt for his past three seasons. He's gone now, and the Bears will need a replacement. The good news is Baylor's offense with Robert Griffin III doesn't make the position nearly as important as it used to be.


Receiver: Ryan Broyles, a senior, and Kenny Stills look ready for big years in 2011, but senior Cameron Kenney is gone. Trey Franks, Dejuan Miller and Joe Powell could contribute in 2011, but beyond that, another big-time threat across from Stills would certainly help. One of the Sooners' top 2011 commits, Trey Metoyer, could become that player.

Safety: Both starters, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, have graduated, and the Sooners will try to replace them with Sam Proctor, who has started plenty of games, and Javon Harris. The Sooners are pretty well-stocked about everywhere, but more depth in the secondary is always welcome.


Defensive line: Three of the Cowboys' four starters are gone, and it's always necessary to fill in some depth behind them. Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson and Ugo Chinasa all had good years in 2010.

Offensive line: Oklahoma State brings back all five starters for 2011, but four will be seniors. That means replacing them in 2012, which will be a lot easier if those replacements don't end up being true freshmen. Oklahoma State kept offensive line coach Joe Wickline, a candidate for the same job at Texas, and his development of the line last year with four new starters was a big reason for the Cowboys' success. He'll need to do it again in 2012.


Running back: Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson will both be seniors in 2011, and Tre Newton's career is over because of issues with concussions. Texas would be well-served if its top 2011 commit, Malcolm Brown, can come in and be effective immediately as a true freshman.

Cornerback: Aaron Williams left early. Curtis and Chykie Brown graduated. Texas needs help at corner and will have big problems in the near future if they don't get it.

Linebacker: Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson will be seniors in 2011, and Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton already graduated. New talent behind them will help prevent a drop-off in 2012 after Acho and Robinson split.


Kicker: Randy Bullock will be a senior in 2011, but Texas A&M is already hoping his spot is filled by incoming freshman Taylor Bertolet, the nation's No. 2 kicker who won the Under Armour All-American game with a last-second field goal earlier this month.

Linebacker: Michael Hodges and Von Miller have graduated, and Garrick Williams will follow them in 2011. The Wrecking Crew was pretty stout for most of 2010, but filling those holes in a four-linebacker front will be key in ensuring things stay that way.


Secondary: LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, so Texas Tech will be breaking in some new blood in the secondary for new coordinator Chad Glasgow and cornerbacks coach Otis Mounds. Freshmen cornerbacks Jarvis Phillips and Tre Porter made plays in 2010, but they also allowed offenses to make a few of their own. Stopping that will be a big step in Texas Tech getting things rolling under Tommy Tuberville.

Receiver: Texas Tech already needs to replace Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and Tramain Swindall and Jacoby Franks will follow suit after 2011. Alex Torres was hampered by a back injury all year, but the Red Raiders will need some depth around him at receiver to keep the offense humming.

Oklahoma Sooners season recap

December, 7, 2010
Now, that's more like it.

Oklahoma is back in familiar territory: On top of the Big 12.

It's the Sooners seventh Big 12 title this decade, and it's not entirely unexpected. Along with Nebraska and Texas, Oklahoma was one of the favorites to win the league, and they knocked off the Huskers in the title game to do it.

After a 2009 filled with an unprecedented string of injuries that had fans groaning and coaches working overtime, Oklahoma's disappointing 8-5 season last year is officially in the rear-view mirror.

All those injuries helped the Sooners put together a solid 2010, and perhaps no one was helped more than Landry Jones. The sophomore amassed 10 starts last year, and came back this year looking like a brand-new player -- most of the time, anyway.

Oklahoma's defense proved its worth with solid performances against Oklahoma State and Nebraska, and its secondary, with a pair of first-year starters at cornerback, is extremely underrated. Ryan Broyles did what everyone expected him to do: be consistently productive and grab hold of eight of Oklahoma's nine major receiving records.

Add it all up, and the Sooners finish at 10-2 with a pair of road losses to good teams.

Offensive MVP: Landry Jones, QB. Broyles deserves a look here, but the pick is Jones. His 568 pass attempts were more than any quarterback in college football, and he turned them into 4,289 yards and 35 touchdowns, which both rank second nationally. He also cut down his interceptions. He threw 14 in 449 attempts last year. This year, he had just 11.

Defensive MVP: Jeremy Beal, DE. Beal won the media's Defensive Player of the Year award, and it was well-deserved. He finished with 8.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 65 tackles. No pass rusher in the Big 12 this year was more disruptive more consistently over the course of the season.

Turning point: The first three quarters at Baylor. Oklahoma was a good team, but didn't look like a team that could even win the South with a trip to Oklahoma State looming. That was until it proved it could take its best game on the road, leading Baylor 53-10 after three quarters and producing two more great performances away from home in wins over Oklahoma State and Nebraska to win the Big 12.

What's next: Probably more of the same. Jones will be back. I'd expect Broyles to leave for the NFL and running back DeMarco Murray's eligibility runs out this year after roughly nine seasons in the Big 12. As great programs do, the Sooners have plenty of talent waiting for its chance. Running back Roy Finch looks like a future star, and receiver Kenny Stills broke Broyles freshman record for receiving yardage this year. Defensively, the Sooners will lose Beal and safeties Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson. Travis Lewis might leave for the NFL Draft. But get ready for another generation of Oklahoma defensive stars to make names for themselves next year. Tony Jefferson, Ronnell Lewis, Tom Wort, Jamell Fleming and Corey Nelson could all be household names this time next year.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 26, 2010
[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
AP Photo/Eric GayGarrett Gilbert and the Longhorns managed only one touchdown in their loss to UCLA.
1. Horns cannot live on defense alone. Texas' offense was bad for 60 minutes, and the defense looked ordinary for the final 30. It all added up to a 22-point home loss to a 16-point underdog in UCLA -- a Bruins team that was shut out at home to weeks ago by Stanford. Texas failed to run the ball effectively, never put together a drive through the air and looked inexperienced after UCLA scored on its opening possession of the second half to take a 20-3 lead. Nebraska's poor offense tried to rely on a world-class defense last year and finished with four losses. Texas might face the same fate this year, or worse, if the defense plays like it did in the second half. A 13-10 loss to UCLA because of an inept Texas offense wouldn't have surprised me. But the defense looked ordinary in the second half and if the unit doesn't return to form quickly, we may have to reconsider whether the Longhorns are actually any good.

2. It's good to have a zero in the loss column. Take deep breaths and don't worry about style points, you unblemished Midwestern squads. For now, that's Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Texas proved everyone is vulnerable with one bad day, but so far this season Nebraska (SDSU), Missouri (the other SDSU), Texas A&M (FIU), Oklahoma (USU) and Oklahoma State (Troy) survived their bad days. Quality of opponent certainly had a lot to do with that, but if any of those other five teams struggled against a better team, they'd be carrying a loss into conference play, too.

3. Hold the phone on January hotel reservations in Phoenix, Nebraska fans. The defense looked vulnerable to the running game for the third week in four outings so far this season and Taylor Martinez morphed into a mistake-prone redshirt freshman. Nebraska's a great team with the potential to make a title run, but everybody would agree that another day like Saturday for the Cornhuskers will mean a loss in conference play. With a young front seven and the ball so often in the hands of a freshman, it's a real possibility for Nebraska. Everyone saw the best version of the team last week in Seattle. Based on coach Bo Pelini's comments after the win over South Dakota State, we saw the worst version on Saturday. (Side note: After what happened to Kansas, do the Dakota states have some sort of vendetta against the Big 12?)

4. Oklahoma's defense might get better, but it's not very consistent. Utah State torched them through the air. Then the Sooners effectively ended Christian Ponder's Heisman candidacy. A week later, Air Force rolled up 351 rushing yards. On Saturday, a struggling Cincinnati offense had running back Isaiah Pead rush for 169 yards and Zach Collaros threw for more than 300 yards. Timely turnovers meant a win for the Sooners. But without DT Gerald McCoy and having to break in two new corners and linebackers, this is not the Oklahoma defense that ranked in the national top 10 in total defense in 2009.

5. Kansas State has guts. I swear, there may not be a more boring team to watch in college football, especially when teams bottle up Daniel Thomas, who still is making a strong case as college football's best running back. (Note to Mark Ingram, Kendall Hunter, John Clay, DeMarco Murray, Noel Devine and Jacquizz Rodgers: Look at what is around you. Look at what is around Daniel Thomas. Then look at his numbers. Then look at yours.) But twice this season, Kansas State has needed big plays. Both times, it's gotten them. No team has been in tighter games more constantly than the Wildcats, and for as underwhelming as its win over UCLA looked after the Bruins lost to Stanford, check out how it looks now. I already christened the game-winner on Saturday as the "Drive of the Year" in the conference, and the confidence Carson Coffman gained from it might mean it'll happen again. Pair that up with Nebraska's vulnerability to the run, and I'll say it: On October 7, Huskers beware.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 26, 2010
Time to pass out a few helmet stickers to put a cap on a set of games that proved to be interesting. Plenty of this week's "What to watch" came into play all day on Saturday.

Iowa State defense: No sense in picking out one player on a defense that pitched a shutout against Northern Iowa in a 27-0 win. The defense scored two touchdowns to the offense's one, and forced five turnovers. This one was never in doubt, and the defense was the reason why. Jeremy Reeves (94 yards) and A.J. Klein (25 yards) returned interceptions for scores. Any more credit goes to coordinator Wally Burnham.

Carson Coffman, QB, Kansas State: If you're the difference in a close win, you're going to earn a helmet sticker. Carson Coffman, that means you. The maligned senior quarterback spearheaded a lengthy 13-play, 67-yard drive capped by his go-ahead, 7-yard rushing touchdown in the final minute of Kansas State's 17-13 win over Central Florida. Coffman completed a pair of third-down passes, including an 18-yarder on 3rd-and-10 to keep the drive alive. The win means the Wildcats are 4-0 for the first time since 2003.

Jonathan Nelson, DB, Oklahoma: Did you think I was kidding? Oklahoma managed a tight road win, and Nelson was the difference. He chased down Cincinnati receiver D.J. Woods on a 73-yard catch-and-run, and poked the ball out and into the end zone, where the Sooners recovered for a touchback in the second quarter of their 31-29 win over Cincinnati. Later in the second quarter, he intercepted a pass in the end zone for another touchback. A missed extra point kept the Bearcats from being able to go for the tie in the fourth quarter, but without Nelson's plays, the Sooners would be 3-1 right now.

Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor: Griffin wanted plenty of his throws back from last week's loss to TCU, but he took advantage of the ones he got against Rice. Griffin tossed two touchdowns longer than 40 yards and added another short one in Baylor's 30-13 win over Rice. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 268 yards and ran for 50 yards on 11 carries.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska: Bo Pelini wasn't exactly singing his praises ("He has a lot to fix. It goes well beyond statistics.") after the game, and David downplayed his effort, saying it "doesn't feel like it," but the first-year starter racked up 19 tackles against South Dakota State in Nebraska's 17-3 win. That's the most of any Nebraska linebacker since Barrett Ruud in 2004. David also broke up two passes.

Honorable mention: Kansas' D.J. Beshears, who scored three touchdowns, including a 96-yard kick return in Kansas' 42-16 win over New Mexico State.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops watched his new corners, Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst, make plays all spring and fall. He saw it when they played in spot duty last season, too. The same goes for his safeties, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, who played extensively in 2009.

Last week, he watched them give up 341 yards through the air and beat Utah State by just a touchdown, a team the Sooners beat 54-3 in 2007. Media poll voters were unimpressed enough to drop the Sooners three spots to No. 10, despite holding a 1-0 record.

He's made it clear which was a better representation of his secondary's abilities.

"As much as anything, it’s guys just playing the ball, and I’ve seen these guys do that a good number of times," Stoops said. "So I’ve got a lot of confidence they’ll be able to do that."

They'll have to with Florida State's Christian Ponder coming to Norman. Oklahoma's secondary gave up 300 yards passing just twice last season. The Sooners lost both games, against Max Hall and BYU, and Taylor Potts and Texas Tech.

In last week's season opener, Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel joined the 300 Club, but Oklahoma held on for a win. The result might be different if Ponder burns Oklahoma's secondary like Borel. But the Sooners' corners went back to work all week.

"A lot of practice and pointing out and recognizing areas and ways we could have made plays. It’s really not that difficult," Stoops said. "They just misplayed a few balls. That happens from time to time."

For all the Sooners' early struggles, Utah State got the ball four times, including three times in the fourth quarter, down 31-24. The Sooners defense held them scoreless on each drive, including a game-sealing interception by Fleming on the final drive with just over four minutes to play.

Saturday will show which Sooners secondary shows: the one that gave up two third-quarter touchdowns to let the Aggies back into the game after jumping out to a 21-0 lead, or the defense that firmed up with the game in doubt to pitch a fourth-quarter shutout and secure the win.

"Next time, we’ll be able to play it," Stoops said. "I've seen them do it in games last year as well, so anyway, it’s something I’ve seen happen over and over, and I’m fairly certain I’ll see them play it again."

Sooners missing both corners badly

September, 4, 2010
Oklahoma lost both starting cornerbacks, Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson, from last year's team. Their replacements, Jonathan Nelson and Jamell Fleming, played in spots last year -- and safety Jonathan Nelson played extensively at safety late in the season.

Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel is taking advantage of both. Borel beat Hurst for a 31-yard score to Xavier Martin that brought the Aggies to within 31-24 late in the third quarter, putting Oklahoma squarely back on upset watch.

On the Aggies' previous drive, Borel toasted Nelson for a 42-yard strike to Dontel Watkins. You figured there would be some early struggles for Oklahoma's secondary, even though it returns both safeties from last year's team.

Few figured those struggles would be this bad. If the big plays don't stop, Oklahoma might be in trouble.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops released his latest depth chart on Monday, and likely inspired some double takes from some. Of the 44 spots on the offensive and defensive two-deep, seven are occupied by true freshmen, signees from the 2010 class who arrived on campus just this summer.

Two have established themselves as starters just weeks into their first fall camps.

Kenny Stills, a freshman receiver from San Diego, has earned a starting spot over senior Brandon Caleb at one of the three receiver positions. Elsewhere, Trey Millard, a freshman fullback who played tight end back home in Columbia, Mo., has taken the starting spot away from 241-pound redshirt freshman Marshall Musil, who rumbled for 92 yards in the spring game.

Stills is hardly a surprise. He was one of the spring standouts for a receiving corps that struggled outside of Ryan Broyles in 2009, and Stills finished with six catches for 84 yards in the spring game.

Elsewhere, two more freshmen cracked the two deep on offense.

Joe Powell will back up Ryan Broyles at the SL receiver position and Bronson Irwin, who joined Stills as an early enrollee this spring, will step in behind Tyler Evans at right guard.

Three showed up on defense.

Safety Tony Jefferson, a 5-foot-11, 198-pounder who is competing to start as the Sooners' situational hybrid safety/linebacker spot, is listed as a co-No. 2 behind Jonathan Nelson at strong safety.

Nelson's move from cornerback to safety -- a formality for some time -- freed up a spot for Aaron Colvin behind Demontre Hurst at one of Oklahoma's two cornerback spots.

And Corey Nelson -- the nation's No. 3 linebacker and No. 62 on the ESPNU 150 -- who Oklahoma ripped from Texas A&M shortly before signing day, is behind one of the conference's best linebackers in Travis Lewis, who told local reporters last week that Nelson would eventually become better than him.

That's significantly more freshmen than you'd usually find on Oklahoma's depth chart this time of year. If any of the backups are forced to play, Oklahoma would surely deal with the inconsistencies that come with relying on freshmen, but Stoops also has to be encouraged by the potential his young talent has shown early in camp.

Each freshman should see at least some spot duty in relief of the starters, and any experience should make the future look even brighter than it already does for Oklahoma, who also currently has the No. 3 recruiting class for 2011, based on current commitments.