Big 12: Josh Smith
Try not to get fired today, everyone.
- Dinner etiquette is on the menu for Texas this spring.
- Oklahoma is auctioning off two packages to experience the spring game in a whole new way.
- Former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is scheduled to visit both the Rams and Bills next month.
- Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune says less is more for running back Derrick Washington.
- Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman has a Q&A with Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton on his blog.
- Hutchinson (KS) running back Josh Smith is headed to Kansas as a late addition to Turner Gill's first recruiting class.
It always seemed to be a star-crossed combination.
Former Colorado tailback Darrell Scott chose the Buffaloes over a group of other suitors, including Texas, Florida, USC, Michigan and Penn State. But he never reached his expectations in an association that ended up as a disappointment for him and the school.
Scott's career has been racked with injuries throughout his time with the Buffaloes. He had not seen action in the last two games as he recovered from arthroscopic surgery. He played in his previous three games where he was a kickoff returner and a backup for Rodney "Speedy" Stewart. Scott produced 9 yards in 10 carries in his last three games with Colorado, an average of 0.9 yards per carry.
I was always impressed with Scott's earnestness to fit in. After talking with him before the season, it seemed likely that he would be the key offensive player for a Colorado team that presumably could challenge in a watered-down North Division.
Instead, he was injured in a season-opening loss against Colorado State. He rebounded to rush for a career-best 85 yards and account for 204 kick return yards in a loss at Toledo in the next game, but he sustained a knee injury that hampered him the rest of the season.
Unfortunately for Scott and the Buffaloes, he was never able to match performances like that.
His freshman season featured similar disappointments. He arrived on campus out of shape in a season that was continually limited by injuries, including a severely sprained ankle. The media's preseason pick for Big 12 newcomer of the year produced only 343 yards rushing.
Scott told several Colorado newspapers he is hopeful of catching on at UCLA, where his uncle, Josh Smith, transferred earlier this spring.
It would give him a chance to be reunited and to spend time together with his family.
He will go down in history as Coach Dan Hawkins' top national recruit.
And his disappointments with the Buffaloes could be perhaps the biggest reason why Hawkins' program never achieved his aspirations after arriving from Boise State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
If the Big 12 could have avoided those pesky teams from the Mountain West Conference, this could have been a memorable week.
As it is, the seat for Colorado coach Dan Hawkins just got a lot hotter.
Colorado State came into Folsom Field and beat Hawkins' Buffaloes in the trenches to claim a huge 23-17 victory over the Buffaloes.
Big 12 teams were 10-2 this weekend, and both losses came against Mountain West teams -- Colorado State's victory over Colorado and BYU's conquest of Oklahoma.
The Rams set the tone by scoring on four of their first six possessions in the first half and cruised from there as they withstood a furious second-half rally by the Buffaloes.
It was a great coaching effort by Pat Meyer, Colorado State's running game coordinator. The Rams have the most experienced offensive line in the nation and it played like, setting the tone early by mashing the Buffaloes at the line of scrimmage.
But the biggest surprise was the play of the Colorado State defense, which ranked last in the nation with only nine sacks last season. It notched four sacks against the Buffaloes Sunday night and repeatedly harassed beleaguered Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins.
Colorado State dictated the game from the opening kickoff. And by jumping to an early lead, it effectively made the Buffaloes one dimensional.
The Buffaloes were limited to only 29 yards on 21 carries -- mainly because they had to pass the ball on every snap for virtually the entire second half.
And with Josh Smith gone to UCLA and Markques Simas out of the lineup because of a team-mandated suspension for the first two games of the season, the Buffaloes receivers looked slow against Colorado State. It forced them to go with short and intermediate routs and kept them from exploiting the Rams downfield.
Colorado's offense never got into rhythm as it repeatedly had trouble beating the 40-second clock and was forced to burn some timeouts early in the second half. Those plays were big when the Buffaloes couldn't stop the clock late in the game.
Colorado converted only 3 of 14 third-down plays. And all of them came on its final drive.
The win was Colorado State's first in Boulder since beating the Buffaloes there on Sept. 6, 1986.
And with the series headed to Denver for the next 10 seasons, the Rams' victory Sunday night at Folsom Field will resonate for a long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.
Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.
1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.
2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.
3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.
4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.
5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.
6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.
7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.
8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.
9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.
10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.
11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.
Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.
Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?
Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.
Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.
But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.
Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.
As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.
But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.
The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.
It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.
Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?
Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.
Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.
If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.
I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.
Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.
Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.
Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.
But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.
But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.
David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."
But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?
I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b
e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.
Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.
It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.
It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.
I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.
I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.
Colorado's depleted wide receiving corps received a huge boost Tuesday when heralded junior college transfer Andre Simmons was back at practice with his new team.
Simmons was unable to take part in practice drills with his new team as school officials conducted a final review of his academic records and the process leading up to his enrollment.
Colorado coaches hope that Simmons will be able to work with his new teammates as soon as Wednesday to provide additional firepower for a wide receiving corps that will be depleted for the start of the season because of a player transfer and suspension.
Simmons reported with the rest of the Buffaloes on Aug. 6 but has not been able to work out with the team because of an eligibility issue.
On Tuesday, the transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College appeared without pads and talked with his teammates and coaches throughout the Buffaloes' practice as they prepare for their Sept. 6 opener against Colorado State.
He's exactly what the Buffaloes need to fill their biggest positional void. The Buffaloes have already lost prime playmaker Josh Smith, who transferred to UCLA earlier this summer. And sophomore Markques Simas has been suspended for Colorado's first two games of the upcoming season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Simmons is counted as the kind of athletic, speedy receiver who will provide a deep threat for a Colorado offense that ranked 81st nationally and 11th among Big 12 teams in passing last season. Colorado returns only one starting wide receiver -- junior Scotty McKnight.
Simmons, a native of Blackville, S.C., was the lone junior college transfer among Colorado's signees after producing 91 receptions during his two seasons at Independence.
"He'll give an instant boost to the wide receiver position, and not to take anything away from the current guys, but he's going to have that vertical speed," Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau told cubuffs.com.His talents as a kick returner should immediately help fill the absence for Smith, who set a school record with 1,568 return yards last season.
While it's doubtful that Simmons will be able to have much of an immediate contribution, he should be ingrained in the Buffaloes' offense by the time conference play begins.
He and Simas will provide some balance to an offense that figures initially to be heavily ground-based with Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart and Demetrius Sumler.
That balance will be the key if Colorado hopes to be a dark horse contender in a North Division race that figures to be extremely wide open.
The Buffaloes have a favorable schedule with home games against divisional challengers Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
And the arrival of Simmons definitely won't hurt their chances.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Even though practice is just starting, the lunchtime links are already in mid-season form.
Check out a few links from across the conference:
- The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls wonders if the new NCAA ejection rule may cause defenses to become more tentative.
- Baylor hopes to boost its pass rush with a young group of defensive ends after posting only 21 sacks last season, John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.
- Former Kansas State coach Ron Prince is seeking $3 million in punitive damages in addition to his $3.2 million contract buyout negotiated after he left the school, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek reports.
- The Oklahoman's John Helsley writes about Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant's potential as a Heisman Trophy candidate and his recovery from a disappointing Holiday Bowl loss that turned on his knee injury.
- Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports that finding a replacement for Josh Smith on kick returns is only one of the questions facing Colorado special teams coach Kent Riddle.
- Even after contentious contract renegotiations, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is back for more high-powered passing and hijinks, the Denver Post's John Henderson writes.
- Lawrence Journal-World blogger Johann Ross wonders if Bill Self and Mark Mangino is the best coaching combination for a major basketball/football program.
- Gary Pinkel tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Gerry Fraley that his team this season will be the fastest he's coached at Missouri.
- Nebraska I-back Quentin Castille tells the Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple that he's rejuvenated after returning home for several weeks during his team's summer workouts.
- Ryan Tannehill hopes to win Texas A&M's starting quarterback job, but he tells the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman he wants to move back to receiver if he doesn't beat out Jerrod Johnson.
- Oklahoma middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds is 10 pounds lighter as he attempts a comeback from a devastating knee injury sustained last season, the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig reports.
- The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson has an interesting chat on Iowa State football, including Paul Rhoads' troubles in picking out ripe melons and whether the Cyclones can stick with Iowa on Sept. 12.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
IRVING, Texas -- The late departure by former Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to Oregon resulted in a hole in Dan Hawkins' staff that he decided would be better settled with his own personal interest.
Hawkins inserted former Colorado receivers coach Eric Kiesau as his coordinator and will handle coaching wide receivers himself when the Buffaloes report for their first practice of preseason camp on Aug. 7.
"I'm really excited," Hawkins said. "I love coaching and I love teaching. I coached the tight ends when I was the head coach at Boise State. It's always great to be in the trenches. I think every five years, every head coach ought to go back and be an assistant."
Hawkins hopes the new duties will help invigorate his coaching skills as well as provide him with a more hands-on feel for his team.
"Every head coach will tell you that as you go along in this profession, sometimes you wake up and you're not doing as much coaching as I want to," Hawkins said. "In terms of the position, I really like those guys a lot."
Hawkins is expected to have a challenge boosting production at the position, particularly after the departure of Josh Smith. The Buffaloes' top deep threat left the program after spring practice and will transfer to UCLA.
But Hawkins said the Buffaloes could get better production than expected, particularly if junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight blossoms in his role as Colorado's top receiver.
"Obviously, Scotty is a guy who's been around and been battle-tested for us, and we'll rely a lot on him," Hawkins said. "But I do think the young guys have a chance to make some plays for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Former Colorado wide receiver Josh Smith could be fulfilling a promise to return closer to his Moorpark, Calif., home to continue his college football career.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports that Smith appears headed to UCLA, if several academic issues can be resolved.
Smith decided earlier this spring to leave Colorado in order to pursue his dreams of a musical career.
The two schools that originally were thought to have the best chance to attract Smith were Arizona State and USC. Smith began making rap demos and CDs during high school and is interested in pursuing that career after he leaves college.
Smith, a junior, finished the 2008 season with 1,987 all-purpose yards. He set Colorado school records with 1,568 return yards and 50 kickoff returns, including a touchdown return that helped propel the Buffaloes to a season-opening victory over Colorado State.
Smith also gained 387 yards receiving on 29 catches and added 32 rushing yards last season. He caught 23 passes for 451 yards as a freshman in 2007.
The California lifestyle has always appealed to Smith, who moved in with his older sister, Alexis Scott, while in high school.
His arrival could mean a player with potential game-breaking ability for Rick Neuheisel. And it means that hopes that Smith would remain with the Buffaloes where he could play with his nephew, Darrell Scott, apparently are over.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Midlands are being held hostage. Six days and counting to the Big 12's media days.
Here are some stories from across the conference to peruse while we all wait.
- Colorado running backs coach Darian Hagan tells Tom Kensler of the Denver Post that he was never concerned that Darrell Scott would follow his disgruntled uncle, Josh Smith, out of the Buffaloes' program.
- Mike Gundy plans to call plays again this season for Oklahoma State, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright writes.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple profiles "Walk Ons: Huskers' Edge," a new Nebraska Educational Telecommunications documentary that details the mystique of Nebraska's storied walk-on program.
- Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is bracing for a stiff challenge from Ryan Tannehill for the Aggies' starting job once practice begins, Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News reports. And Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman tells the Austin American-Statesman's Randy Riggs that Tannehill likely won't play as much wide receiver this season as he works more at quarterback.
- Colt McCoy came back to college football for a variety of reasons, most notably a chance to win the national championship, USA Today's Steve Wieberg reports.
- Kevin Wilson's adaptability as an offensive coordinator is examined by the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter.
- The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter ranks his all-time Missouri interview team and starts his national top 25 countdown.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel answers his e-mails, which includes whether a team has ever been able to sweep Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma in the same season. Here's a hint: it's never been done in Big 12 history.
- Oklahoma could have turned to Jim Donnan in 2002 if Bob Stoops had taken the Florida job when Steve Spurrier left, the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig reports.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel writes that he'd rather see college coaches than college administrators being grilled by congressmen about the BCS.
- Kansas State has added three commitments to the Wildcats' 2010 recruiting class, the Manhattan Mercury reports. The players include linebacker Laton Dowling of Dodge City, Kan., and defensive end Adam Davis and cornerback Matthew Pearson, both of Hutchinson Community College.
- Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn told the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo that his program still needs to sell 3,000 season tickets to reach last season's level.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Former Oklahoma quarterback and Kansas coach Jack Mitchell was one of the pivotal figures in the athletic programs in the history of both schools.
Mitchell was the first All-American quarterback at Oklahoma in 1948 under Bud Wilkinson. He still holds the NCAA career record for punt return average more than 60 years after he stopped playing.
He then went on to a successful coaching career at the University of Wichita (now Wichita State), Arkansas and Kansas. Only Glen Mason coached the Jayhawks longer than Mitchell's nine-season tenure there.
Mitchell's death Sunday at the age of 85 in Sun City, Ariz., sparked several interesting stories that provided much context to his rich life. The Lawrence Journal-World's Dugan Arnett delves into his coaching career at Kansas, where he attracted Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and John Hadl.
The Topeka Capital-Journal's Kevin Haskin detailed some of Mitchell's endearing qualities as a player, coach and businessman. And the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel provides a look at his memorable playing career at Oklahoma and why he might have been the ultimate dashing Sooner quarterback.
Good stories indeed. They don't make 'em like Mitchell anymore.
Here are some other missives from across the conference this afternoon.
- Native son Mike Leach returned to Cody, Wyo., over the holiday weekend to introduce his family to his old stomping grounds, Richard Reeder of the Cody Enterprise reports.
- Nebraska wide receiver Niles Paul plans to enter a plea Tuesday in connection with his DUI stop on April 12, attorney Eric Whitney told Lori Pilger of the Lincoln Journal-Star.
- Former Texas wide receiver Sloan Thomas is helping UTSA build its football program from the ground up, Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden writes.
- The Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo analyzes the major questions facing Colorado before the start of preseason practice. And he also answers questions about Tyler Hansen's recovery, Josh Smith's transfer and other topics in his weekly chat.
- Dave Matter details the win-loss records of Big 12 coordinators and provides his plan for a playoff incorporating the current bowl structure in his "Case of the Mondays" blog.
- Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told Lane Grindle of Nebraska Sports Nightly on Monday that the Cornhuskers still plan to use Jacob Hickman at both center and guard when they begin preseason drills on Aug. 8, Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Apparently, the mythical Big 12-SEC challenge I'll be playing off the next couple of weeks isn't the only summer determination of which conference is really the best.
The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton had an interesting story over the weekend about how the Big 12 could be poised to overtake the Southeastern Conference this season.
Texas coach Mack Brown and Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne both told Carlton that the Big 12 is comparable and might be even better than the SEC this season.
"The difference is that the entire league is better," Brown said. "Everybody talks about the SEC. You can actually lose to anybody in this league. That wasn't the case 12 years or probably not even four years ago."
And Orsborne agreed that 2009 could be the year when the Big 12 is catapulted into the nation's top slot in terms of football conferences -- mainly because of continued strong offenses.
"We could be there," Osborne said. "The offensive firepower and the quarterback capability in the last three years have been tremendous. It seemed like every team had a great quarterback and really moved the ball."
But the Nebraska State Paper's Sam McKewon said that similar assertions were made last season until struggles in bowl games exposed some of the Big 12's claims of superiority.
I'm sure we can keep debating this topic for the next couple of weeks. Keep checking my posts for the matchups.
Until then, here are a few Big 12 lunch links for your noontime pleasure.
- The Kansas City Star's Bill Reiter writes that the return of Bill Snyder has energized Kansas State's fans -- despite the inclusion of the veteran coach's name in the recent audit of the university's finances.
- Colorado has extended the schools where Josh Smith can transfer, adding UCLA to the list, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Camera reports.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson has another great story in his "Deep Red" series, this time about the 1910 season when the Cornhuskers outscored Haskell and Kearney State in a two-game period by a combined margin of 236-0.
- The Oklahoman's Scott Wright checks in with quarterback Johnny Deaton of Sand Springs, Okla., Oklahoma State's first commitment of the 2010 recruiting class.
- Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World lists 10 Kansas players to watch during preseason practice. Not surprisingly, wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe tops his list.
- The Tulsa World's Dave Sittler reports that Bob Stoops, Mark Mangino and Bo Pelini all were in Youngstown, Ohio, over the weekend for the annual Golden Cardinal Bocce Social benefiting Cardinal Mooney High School.
- New Iowa State defensive line coach Shane Burham tells the Ames Tribune's Bobby LaGesse about giving up his life as a pharmaceutical sales career to become a coach.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel ranks Florida's Tim Tebow as his preseason Heisman favorite over defending Heisman winner Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Colorado wide receiver Josh Smith now appears headed for USC after a Colorado transfer committee upheld a decision made by Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn and coach Dan Hawkins to grant Smith's release only to the Trojans.
Smith had appealed the school's decision to a three-member panel of Colorado faculty members to allow him to attend other schools from a group of eight to 10 potential transfer locations. But that group upheld the athletic department's decision, the Boulder Daily Camera reported.
"That would be final," Colorado assistant athletic director Julie Manning told the Camera of the panel's decision. "There is no other recourse for the student-athlete."
Smith's options now are limited to transferring to USC, paying his own way to transfer to another school or remaining at Colorado.
With the Buffaloes, Smith had emerged as the Buffaloes' top breakaway threats, where he set single-season school records last season with 50 kickoff returns for 1,286 yards as a sophomore. He also snagged 52 receptions for 838 yards in two seasons with the Buffaloes.
Smith had told Hawkins that he wants to leave Colorado because the school does not offer the music major he hopes to pursue. Those academic aims can be fulfilled by attending USC, Smith has said.
Playing time for the Trojans might be a different matter. Smith would have to sit out the 2009 season with hopes of joining the team next year. Seven of USC's eight receivers are either juniors or underclassmen, making his chances of getting much playing time problematic at best. It would also be closer to his Moorpark, Calif., home.
But kick returns might be a different matter. Smith's talents in the kicking game clearly would be attractive to any program.
Among the other schools where Smith has talked about attending is Arizona State, where he is a close friend with Sun Devils quarterback Samson Szakacsy. They spent time in the Phoenix area after the 2008 season recording tracks. Smith has announced he wants to pursue a musical career after producing rap demos and CDs since high school.
But if Smith wants to attend ASU with his friend, he would have to pay his own way to the school. Smith's cousin, heralded tailback Darrell Scott, has tried to talk him into remaining with the Buffaloes.
His chances of now staying with the Buffaloes might be more difficult because Hawkins is handling coaching the wide receiver position on his reconfigured coaching staff. And he made it clear in some comments to Denver radio station KKFN last week that he wants a commitment from players who are remaining on his roster.
"You can't lower your standards," Hawkins told the radio station. "At the end of the day, you need to be all-in or all-out."
Hawkins also lamented to the radio station an attitudinal change in athletes today compared to his own generation.
"Back when I played it wasn't the same type of environment," Hawkins told the radio station. "Nowadays you see a lot of guys transferring.
"If it's not always working out exactly like a guy wants, they go. The grass is always greener."
It will be interesting to see where Smith surfaces. His easiest option would be to remain at Colorado, but it will take bending on both sides to make that happen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The departure of speedy wide receiver/kick returner Josh Smith from the Colorado program hasn't exactly upset Colorado coach Dan Hawkins.
Hawkins told Denver radio station KKFN that there's been a change of attitude among players since his own playing career.
"Back when I played it wasn't the same type of environment," Hawkins told the radio station in comments reported by the Boulder Daily Camera. "Nowadays you see a lot of guys transferring.
"If it's not always working out exactly like a guy wants, they go. The grass is always greener."
Colorado announced earlier this month that Smith would not be returning for his junior season. Smith set single-season school records with 50 kickoff returns for 1,286 yards in 2008 and also grabbed 52 receptions for 838 yards in two seasons with the Buffaloes.
Smith has stated that he asked for his release because Colorado does not offer the music major or program he wants to study to help his career goal of becoming a rap music producer. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn has granted Smith a release only to USC because that school offers the music program that Smith wants.
Hawkins told the station that he's satisfied with the foundation in his program, which finished 5-7 last season.
"You can't lower your standards," Hawkins said. "At the end of the day, you need to be all-in or all-out."
There was some thought that Smith could return to the Colorado program after several weeks without him deciding which school he would attend. But Hawkins' comments make his return seem doubtful -- even with the presence of his nephew, Colorado tailback Darrell Scott on the Buffaloes' roster.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the more interesting letters I received from readers this week. Thanks for the good questions and keep them coming. I'll try to answer as many as I can each Friday afternoon.
Trent from Denver writes: Tim, I love your blog and read it daily. Great coverage of the best conference in college football! I've particularly enjoyed yours and the other ESPN college football writers' recent posts about the decline in marquee non-conference scheduling over the past 30 years.
With the strength of the major BCS conferences (especially the Big 12), a team can, and likely will, play for a national championship this season despite scheduling a bunch of non-conference patsies (See, e.g., Longhorns, Texas), which provides little to no incentive for scheduling a tough non-conference game. I don't think teams necessarily need to schedule two or three tough non-conference games each season, but I wish more teams would follow my Cornhuskers' approach and at least schedule one good non-conference game each season. Why don't more teams do this?
Tim Griffin: First of all, thanks for the compliments. I think you bring up a valid point, although it seems like some coaches have decided to completely blow off the nonconference part of the schedule. Some coaches obviously believe they can make up for any deficiencies in their nonconference schedules by the strength of their conference schedule.
Maybe playing in the South Division provides Mack Brown and Texas that kind of confidence. I don't know and I can't answer that for him.
But I do think it will be very interesting to gauge Brown's thoughts about his nonconference schedule on Nov. 7. That's the day the Longhorns host Central Florida. On the same day, Oklahoma will be traveling to Nebraska, Ohio State will visit Penn State, LSU travels to Alabama and USC visits Arizona State. Which team will be getting the least BCS bounce on that date?
Jim Jzar from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim: Isn't it pretty chicken of Colorado to restrict Josh Smith's transfer to only USC? He also listed Arizona State as a school that offered the program he wanted. This isn't like a coach commiting to a school then accepting another job: this is a young man who chose a school, then did better than he had expected in his vocation/hobby (rap music) and decided he should try to develop that. It's a big loss for Colorado, sure, but why should they prevent him from doing the best for himself, his family and his changing life circumstance?
Tim Griffin: I don't know why Mike Bohn and the Colorado program have limited Smith only to USC rather than Arizona State. Obviously, it would be more difficult for Smith to crack the rotation with the Trojans than the Sun Devils. But I still think that Smith's abilities in special teams would make him an attractive addition wherever he might end up.
I'm also a big believer in taking the high road if a player should decide to transfer for whatever reason. Because there's always going to be a bunch of players who watch your actions in how you react to somebody leaving. Taking the high road, I believe, makes a program more attractive to the next group of players who come along.
Andrew from Dallas writes: Hey, Tim, in regards to that story by John P. Lopez you posted from Texags.com. Texas A&M's problems are not due to its academic majors. This is the classic Notre Dame excuse. Their problem is: Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Nick Saban/Les Miles, Mike Leach, Gary Patterson, Les Miles/Mike Gundy, Houston Nutt/Bobby Petrino, Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, and soon to be June Jones > Dennis Franchione/Mike Sherman It is that simple.
Tim Griffin: You raise an interesting point. I do think that all of the across-the-board construction projects that Bill Byrne has implemented for many of the other sports than football has been a major reason why the Aggies have enjoyed all of the recent success in many other sports.
But I also think that many A&M fans discount all of that success because the Aggies have been struggling in football. It's been particularly pyrrhic success as the Aggies' rivals all around them -- Texas, Oklahoma, LSU and now even Baylor and Texas Tech -- have appeared to lap them in football.
And the biggest reason for success in a college football program is coaching. I'm not saying that Mike Sherman is lacking in any coaching acumen. But he better get things turned around in the right direction, considering all of the success that the rest of the South Division has enjoyed.
Ryan Jones from Stillwater, Okla., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a student at Oklahoma State and I was wondering what you think about the Cowboys' home opener against Georgia this next season getting College Game Day? It is no doubt one if not the biggest games of the opening weekend of the football season and it is also the grand re-opening of Boone Pickens Stadium, it's going to be a huge night. Both teams are going to be in top 15. Is that enough to bring Herby and Corso back to Eskimo Joes?
Tim Griffin: Ryan, I think the OSU-Georgia game ranks among the two best games of the opening weekend along with the Virginia Tech-Alabama game in Atlanta.
Both games will be intriguing. I think the Georgia-OSU game might have more national star power because it should involve higher-ranked teams. But the Virginia Tech-Alabama gets a little extra boost after the Crimson Tide's NCAA penalties earlier this week. So it might be the more attractive game.
I'm just glad I don't have to make the decision on where they go. Because I think both games should be attractive.
James D. from Houston writes: Hey, Tim. Thanks for making this football waiting period less painful. Anyway, I saw a previous question about matching up Texas' D-line vs. OU's O-line and was wondering if you could switch it and share you thoughts on Texas' O-line vs. OU's D-line. Both seem like they're going to be very strong and wanted to get your take.
Tim Griffin: James, I don't think the Texas' offensive line vs. Oklahoma defensive line will be nearly as important as the other side of the ball because of the team's weaknesses in that area.
The Texas offense vs. Oklahoma defense will be a battle of strength vs. strength. And for that reason, I think the team that has the most success on the other side of the ball will end up winning the game.
Special teams could be critical, too. You could argue that Texas won the game last year on special teams because of the return by Jordan Shipley that pumped life into a sagging Texas team after the Longhorns had fallen behind early. But I think the Texas offensive line will be tested by Oklahoma's depth along the defensive line. Arguably, the depth of Oklahoma's front seven might be the biggest strength on the Sooners' team.
Marcus Geiger writes: I just read where Coach Dan Hawkins is going to have 3,200 football campers this summer. It's the largest in history, while keeping a reasonable 10-1 coach to player ratio. How does that compare with other schools in the Big12 and can you tell us how these camps effect recruiting?
Tim Griffin: Several stories have been written in the last several days about similar booming business in the camp business at places like Missouri and Baylor. I don't think I've seen anybody match the Buffaloes' total
Obviously, the more campers who are attracted to camp provide schools with a way to sell the their school. So getting the word out to as many potential players as possible is a big positive for a school and program. Even if only a handful of players materialize from those camps, the public relations benefits for a school are immense.
Jack Bates from Oklahoma City writes: Tim, absolutely love the blog. I know you know football and have been traveling across the Big 12 area for a long time. Quick question for you. If you had one last meal anywhere in the Big 12 area, which restaurant would you choose?
Tim Griffin: Bill, you raise a good question and I'm going to hesitate to answer with just one of my favorites. Instead, I'll limit it to my favorite few places. I'll go with Misty's in Lincoln for a juicy steak; George's in Waco for chicken-fried chicken, veggies and hot rolls; Hut's in Austin for burgers and world-class onion rings; the Cattleman's Restaurant in your town for steak and calf fries (don't knock them until you try them) and of course the holy trinity in Kansas City of Stroud's, Arthur Bryant's and Winsteads.
All of them are my favorites. I could live well eating my last meal at any of them. It's making me hungry just thinking of them.
Thanks again for all of the good questions again this week. I promise I'll check back again next week.