Big 12: Kent State Golden Flashes
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I know some of you are wondering why I've made it a point of emphasis that Baylor needs a quick start to make its first bowl trip since 1994.
The major reason is that past history has not been kind to Big 12 teams that struggle in the nonconference portion of their schedules.
And with Baylor facing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big 12, it will be critical for them to start fast. Baylor is facing a most daunting schedule in terms of being the only Big 12 team with two opponents from BCS conferences with its opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 5 and a home game on Sept. 19 against Connecticut.
I went back and did some figuring.
Of the 92 bowl teams in the 13-season history of the Big 12, only 10 of them had two nonconference regular-season losses. Only three teams with two nonconference losses have qualified for bowl games among the 46 teams making bowl trips since 2003.
Here's another nugget that might act as an incentive to Art Briles or anybody else in the conference. Of the 43 Big 12 teams that have started the season with a 4-0 record -- occasionally with a conference game thrown in -- all made bowl trips that season.
So that should bode well for the Bears if they are able to run the table in an opening start with nonconference games at Wake Forest and home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.
Here's a look at the Big 12's bowl teams over the years and how they did in nonconference play during the regular season. The two-loss teams are indicated in bold facing.
1996: No losses, Kansas State; one loss, Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska; two losses, Texas.
1997: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; one loss, Missouri.
1998: No losses, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Nebraska; one loss, Missouri, Texas A&M; two losses, Texas.
1999: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M; one loss, Oklahoma, Texas; two losses, Colorado.
2000: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas, Texas A&M.
2001: No losses, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado.
2002: No losses, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas; one loss, Nebraska; two losses, Colorado, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.
2003: No losses: Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State; one loss, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech.
2004: No losses, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas; one loss, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech.
2005: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado, Missouri; two losses, Oklahoma.
2006: No losses, Missouri, Texas A&M; one loss, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech.
2007: No losses, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas A&M; two losses, Colorado, Oklahoma State.
2008: No losses, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Kansas, Nebraska.
Additionally, Baylor has never started a season since joining the Big 12 with four straight victories. The Bears started 3-0 in 1996 under Chuck Reedy, finishing 4-7. And they started 3-0 under Guy Morriss in 2005, finishing 5-6.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's been a long time between bowl trips for Baylor.
The Bears' last bowl trip came in 1994 when they were defeated by Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Current Baylor starting quarterback Robert Griffin was 4 years old when that game was played.
But excitement is rampant along the Brazos River and the Bears are ready to snap a bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest in schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.
Considering that Grant Teaff was coaching Baylor then and Steve Spurrier was directing the Blue Devils, it has been an extensive drought for both schools.
The Bears have their best hope this season and I'm thinking they squeak in. It will be critical for them to win at least one of their first two games against Wake Forest and Connecticut. They also need victories over Northwestern State and Kent State to enter Big 12 play at 3-1.
If Baylor does make that remarkable step, it will likely mean the Big 12 will be able to fill its full complement of bowls. It was unable to fill two bowls at the bottom of its list of partners. But that likely won't be the case this season if the Bears live up to their preseason hype.
Here's a look at how I predict the Big 12's bowl slots will be filled this season with a record nine teams making trips. The last two or three might be 6-6 teams, but there won't be much complaining from any of them.
Bowl bid: Possibly.
Best case: Robert Griffin electrifies the nation with stunning victories over Wake Forest and Connecticut to start the season and the Bears are already at six victories by mid-October. It makes them the feel-good story of the conference, places Art Briles in prime consideration for a couple of top jobs and pushes the Bears into the Alamo Bowl where they last went bowling in 1994.
Worst case: Offensive tackle Danny Watkins can't protect Griffin's blind side and the Bears stumble early with two-straight losses. Those pass-protection problems fester all season as the Bears revert to their losing ways and miss a bowl for another season.
Prediction: Texas Bowl.
Bowl bid: Possibly.
Best case: In a nod to soothsayers everywhere, the Buffaloes indeed live up to Dan Hawkins' preseason "prediction" and win 10 games, claiming a surprise Big 12 title game and ending up in the Holiday Bowl.
Worst case: The Buffaloes don't settle on either quarterback and tumble out of bowl contention for the third time in the last four seasons under Hawkins, making his seat extremely toasty this winter.
Prediction: Independence Bowl.
Best case: The Cyclones become the surprise story of the conference as Austen Arnaud immediately blossoms in Tom Herman's new offense. The defense shows steady improvement under Wally Burnham, providing a surprise trip to the casinos and crawfish boils at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
Worst case: Paul Rhoads is a willing worker, but his new team just never jells with his philosophy. More road woes continue against Kent State as the Cyclones see their nation-worst road losing streak stretch to 22 games as they stay home from a bowl for a fourth-straight season.
Prediction: Home for the holidays.
Bowl bound: Count on it.
Best case: The Jayhawks find a couple of defensive reincarnations of Aqib Talib to help them spring a couple of upsets over South Division powers. Confidence gleaned from those games helps them surprise the South Divison champion in the Big 12 title game and send Mark Mangino and his team skipping into their second BCS bowl in three seasons -- this time to the Fiesta Bowl.
Worst case: Todd Reesing struggles behind a retooled offensive line and the Jayhawks' offense isn't nearly as potent as expected. Without a high-powered scoring team, the Kansas defense is exposed as posers, falling to the Insight.com Bowl for the second-straight season.
Prediction: Sun Bowl.
Best case: Bill Snyder brings the magic back to Manhattan, picking up a couple of upset victories to restore some pride in the Kansas State program from early in the season. The Wildcats ride that momentum for a surprise trip to the Insight.com Bowl.
Worst case: A quarterback never emerges and a struggling pass defense regresses into a horrific unit against the Big 12's high-powered aerial attacks. Those defeats make Snyder wonder why he ever left retirement as the Wildcats finish out of a bowl trip for the fifth time in six seasons.
Prediction: Home for the holidays.
Bowl bid: Possibly.
Best case: Blaine Gabbert provides steady leadership as Derrick Washington becomes the most versatile back in the Big 12. The retooled defense emerges as the Tigers claim a surprise Big 12 North title and end up at the Cotton Bowl.
Worst case: The loss of Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and both coordinators cause the wheels to fall off the Missouri program and they miss a bowl trip for the first time since 2004.
Prediction: Insight.com Bowl
Bowl bound: Count on it.
Best case: Zac Lee is a revelation at quarterback and the defense emerges in Bo Pelini's second season to push the Cornhuskers to a upset victory in the Big 12 title game and into the Fiesta Bowl.
Worst case: The hype for Lee is just that. The new quarterback struggles and the Cornhuskers' defense backslides all the way t
o the Texas Bowl.
Prediction: Holiday Bowl.
Bowl bound: Count on it.
Best case: The young offensive line jells and the defense plays better than expected as the Sooners earn another chance to play in the BCS title game -- restoring order in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17 along the way.
Worst case: The offensive front struggles to protect Sam Bradford and the defense isn't as good as expected, dropping the Sooners to their first visit to the Alamo Bowl.
Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.
Bowl bound: Count on it.
Best case: The offensive triplets exceed expectations as Bill Young cobbles together enough defense to enable the Cowboys to outduel Texas and Oklahoma for their first Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Worst case: The defense still can't match up with Oklahoma and Texas -- and some of the other teams in the South Division either. Those struggles send the Cowboys skidding all the way to the Insight.com Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they play second-fiddle to the Sooners who are playing up the road in the Fiesta Bowl.
Prediction: Cotton Bowl.
Bowl bound: Count on it
Best case: The Longhorns find a featured running back and enough push from the defensive front to make all of the BCS rankings meaningless en route back to another shot at the national title in Pasadena.
Worst case: Colt McCoy gets hurt, the running game struggles and the Longhorns keep playing dropsy with key turnovers chances for another season. Instead, Texas players fumble their way to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego where they munch fish tacos and feed the whales at Sea World for the fourth time in the last 10 years.
Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.
Texas A&M Aggies
Bowl bid: Possibly.
Best case: Jerrod Johnson plays so well at quarterback that Ryan Tannehill moves back to wide receiver full time. The Aggies respond to defensive coordinator Joe Kines' defense with vast improvement through the season, stunning Texas in the regular-season finale to push them into the Alamo Bowl.
Worst case: A leaky offensive line can't open holes or pass block and the Aggies' defense struggles against all Big 12 quarterbacks in another season that finishes without a bowl.
Prediction: Home for the holidays.
Bowl bid: Count on it.
Best case: Taylor Potts exceeds all expectations and the Red Raiders defense plays so well that some start accusing the school of being a "defense-first" program. The Red Raiders don't win the Big 12 South, but they revisit the location of Mike Leach's biggest bowl victory at the Holiday Bowl.
Worst case: The Red Raiders miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree more than expected and skid out of bowl contention for the first time under Leach.
Prediction: Alamo Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
A sports management study group at Texas A&M has come up with an interesting study, crunching numbers and analyzing the overall performance of athletic departments in terms of efficiency.
It might seem a little dubious that Texas A&M leads Big 12 schools in a study produced by an A&M-affiliated group, but facts are facts.
The way the school's Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics (LSIA) figured this out is by analyzing the number of national and conference championships won compared to the athletic budgets of the competing schools.
In a way, this is an "everyman" version of the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup, which clearly benefits those schools with the biggest budgets and who compete in the most sports.
Not surprisingly, the LSIA list is heavily stacked with non-BCS schools at the top of the list. The first 10 schools include (in order): Utah State, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Akron, BYU, Utah, Boise State, Tulsa, Miami (Ohio) and SMU. Oregon, at 11th, is the highest-ranked school from a BCS-affiliated conference.
Maryland at 14th is next, followed by Texas A&M at 15th. The Aggies have won three NCAA championships in the last two months -- winning national championships in men's golf, men's track and field and women's track and field.
The timing of this study is curious, particularly considering the recent cutbacks in the A&M athletic administrative staff that were announced last week. The Aggies' athletic department recently slashed 17 positions to help trim $4.5 million from its budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. That's only part of a $16 million debt the athletic department will have to repay back to the university beginning in November.
No other Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 25 in the final LSIA standings. Oklahoma State is ranked 28th and Baylor is 34th.
Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is facing some difficult financial decisions as he attempts to balance his budget. But at least in one determination, he can take some solace in seeing his programs are getting some recognition for accomplishments done in an efficient manner.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Minnesota coach and former Texas assistant Tim Brewster got himself into some hot water last week when news surfaced about him claiming his record as a head coach and assistant as his coaching record on the Minnesota Web site.
Brewster earlier claimed his career coaching record was 113-61-1, which would be true if you included his record as an assistant and a head coach.
Brewster's current record as a head coach after two seasons at Minnesota is 8-17 with a five-game losing streak heading into the season.
So while Brewster is technically correct, the inference is that the record was generated with him as the head coach.
That controversy got me thinking about examining all of the Big 12 coaches and giving their backgrounds and coaching records a careful check.
Bob Stoops' teams were 6-16 in his first two seasons as an assistant with a 5-6 record at Kent State in 1988 and a 1-10 record at Kansas State in 1989. But his coaching helped his teams improve immeasurably later in his career as an assistant. His last three teams at Florida, from 1996-98, went a combined 32-5. And his final three teams at Kansas State went 28-7-1.
Mike Gundy labored at some struggling jobs early in his career. His team didn't fashion a winning record as an assistant until the 13th season of his career when the 2002 Oklahoma State team went 8-5. But he had some bad previous jobs as an assistant, working at Oklahoma State, Baylor and Maryland before returning to Oklahoma State to work under Les Miles.
But no Big 12 coach has had more fortunate situations than Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who jumped from quarterbacks coach at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1993 to a job coaching defensive backs with the San Francisco 49ers the following season.
All but one of Pelini's teams have had above .500 records in his 14-season career as an assistant. And that one was a 1999 New England Patriots team that went 8-8. In Pelini's final four seasons as a college assistant -- the 2004 season at Oklahoma and 2005-07 at LSU -- his teams were a combined 46-7.
Here's a look at how Big 12 coaches would be ranked if their career records as a head coach and as an assistant were combined. For the purpose of this study, only records at four-year colleges and NFL teams have been included. That determination hurts Baylor coach Art Briles, who compiled a Stoops-like 172-42-4 record coaching high school teams in Texas.
The winning percentages were figures with the determination that ties count as a half win, half loss.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.
Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:
1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami
The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.
2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia
Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.
3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada
The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.
4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette
No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.
5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling
Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.
6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State
The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.
7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi
The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.
8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.
9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico
Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.
10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida
The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.
11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army
Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.
12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech
The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor officials announced today that the Bears' Sept. 5 opener at Wake Forest will be nationally televised by ABC/ESPN.
The game will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Atlantic Coast Conference announced the game will be regionally broadcast on ABC, with a mirror telecast on ESPN2.
"Baylor football is on the rise and our television partners are excited about our program's bright future," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. "Having the Wake Forest game televised on both ABC and ESPN2 affords our program tremendous exposure and we are thrilled with this opportunity."
Baylor's last appearance on ABC came in 1997, when the Bears dropped a 45-14 decision to 13th-ranked Miami, Fla., in Waco before a regional television audience.
Baylor also announced that kickoff for its Sept. 19 home opener against Connecticut will be at 5 p.m. ET and home contests against Northwestern State on Sept. 26 and Kent State on Oct. 3 will both kick off at 7 p.m. ET.
As of Thursday, here's the link to all of the games that are currently scheduled to be broadcast by the ABC/ESPN networks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Like the guys who write copy for the commercials like to say, every game matters.
But some are more important than others, and a specific stretch can be found for each Big 12 team that will determine their relative success during the upcoming season.
Here's a look at the most important parts of the schedule for each Big 12 team during the 2009 season:
Baylor (Sept. 5, at Wake Forest; Sept. 19, Connecticut; Sept. 26, Northwestern State; Oct. 3, Kent State): The first four games of the season will determine if the Bears are legitimate bowl contenders. The first two games are particularly big, considering that Baylor will be playing two teams that beat them last season. It's hard to imagine Baylor making a bowl trip unless it wins three of its first four games. But if the Bears shoot out of the starting blocks and go to a 4-0 start, which would be their best start since 1991, then bowl hopes would seem legitimate. Just as important would be how Art Briles could coax his team back from the ledge if it loses the first two games of the season.
Colorado (Oct. 17, Kansas; Oct. 24, at Kansas State; Oct. 31, Missouri): These three games will likely determine if the Buffaloes can realistically challenge for the Big 12 North title. Kansas will be going for an unprecedented four-game winning streak against Colorado. Coming into the season, the Buffaloes have lost 12 of their last 14 conference road games. And their 58-0 shutout loss last season against Missouri snapped a 242-game scoring streak. If the Buffaloes can win two of three, they likely will go bowling. If they can win all of them, a North title challenge isn't out of the question.
Iowa State (Sept. 12, Iowa, Sept. 19, at Kent State; Sept. 26, Army; Oct. 3 Kansas State (at Kansas City, Mo.): Paul Rhoads' team will need to prove its mettle early. It doesn't get any bigger for ISU than the Cy-Hawk Rivalry against Iowa, especially since the Cyclones have won seven of the last 11 in the series. In their next game, the Cyclones will be attempting to snap a 17-game road losing streak when they visit Kent State. Army has played Big 12 teams tough in recent seasons, losing four of its last five games against the conference by a combined total of 18 points. And the Kansas State game could determine which team finishes the season in the Big 12 North cellar. A fast early start is imperative for the Cyclones.
Kansas (Oct. 17, at Colorado; Oct. 24, Oklahoma; Oct. 31, at Texas Tech; Nov. 7, at Kansas State): The Jayhawks' hopes of making their first Big 12 title game appearance will depend on navigating a tough four-game stretch in the middle of the season. Todd Reesing has beaten Colorado three straight times, but before Kansas' 2007 victory in Boulder, the Buffaloes had won five straight and 10 of their last 11 against the Jayhawks there. Mark Mangino has never beaten Bob Stoops, losing all three games against his old team. Revenge will be big in the Texas Tech game after the Red Raiders' stunning 63-21 victory in Lawrence last season. And Bill Snyder beat Kansas eight straight times at the end of his first stop in Manhattan, allowing an average of 8.5 points in those games. The Jayhawks likely need a split in these four games to contend for a championship. A 3-1 record might cement their title chances.
Kansas State (Oct. 3, Iowa State at Kansas City, Mo.; Oct. 10, at Texas Tech, Oct. 17, Texas A&M; Oct. 24, Colorado): Success in their first four conference games will determine if the Wildcats can shock pundits and challenge for a bowl berth. The Iowa State game will set the tone for both teams in a series where the Cyclones have won three of the last five games. The Red Raiders have beaten them four straight times since 2000. The KSU defense was torched for 544 yards against A&M last season. And after a four-game winning streak against Colorado from 1996-2000, Snyder lost four of his last five games against the Buffaloes. The Wildcats desperately need a fast start considering their last four games are against Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. These games will set the tone for their bowl hopes.
Missouri (Oct. 8, Nebraska; Oct. 17, at Oklahoma State; Oct. 24, Texas; Oct. 31, at Colorado): The Tigers start their conference play after a week off. They'll need it. Missouri has caught Bo Pelini's attention by outscoring the Cornhuskers by a combined 93-23 margin in the past two seasons. The Oklahoma State game is a revenge game after OSU snapped Missouri's unbeaten streak last season. Texas has won the last five games against Missouri and 14 of the last 15 since 1931. And Colorado will be pumped about Missouri's visit after 55-10 and 58-0 losses to the Tigers in the last two seasons. Obviously, this stretch will not be very forgiving for a team with a sophomore quarterback like Blaine Gabbert.
Nebraska (Nov. 14, at Kansas; Nov. 21, Kansas State; Nov. 27, at Colorado): The Cornhuskers could be putting the finishing touches on their first Big 12 title game appearance since 2006 with a fast finish. It will be tough, considering the Cornhuskers allowed a school record 76 points in their last trip to Lawrence. Nebraska has toyed with Kansas State in recent seasons, averaging 64.5 points in their last two games. Additionally, this will be the first head-coaching matchup between old rivals Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder. And the Cornhuskers should bring confidence into the Colorado game considering they have won six of their last eight games there. A 2-1 record or better in these games likely will push the Cornhuskers into the championship game.
Oklahoma (Oct. 17, Texas at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Kansas; Oct. 31, Kansas State; Nov. 7, at Nebraska): As usual, the Texas game will play a huge role in determining the South title. Bob Stoops is 5-0 against Kansas in his coaching tenure. Stoops is 6-1 against his old boss, Bill Snyder, with his only loss coming in the 2003 Big 12 title game. And before Oklahoma's 2005 victory at Nebraska, the Sooners had lost six straight there in a streak that dated to 1987 -- Barry Switzer's next-to-last season. The Sooners have overcome losses to Texas in two of the last three seasons and still won the Big 12 title. It would be hard to imagine them pulling off that feat again.
Oklahoma State (Nov. 14, Texas Tech; Nov. 19, Colorado; Nov. 28, at Oklahoma): The Cowboys could be putting the final touches on their first Big 12 South title with a fast finish against these teams this year. The Red Raiders have averaged 673.5 yards per game in the last two games against Oklahoma State. It will be trying to turn around some bad recent karma in the Colorado game as the Cowboys have lost their last three home finales. And coach Mike Gundy is 0-8 against Oklahoma during his career as a head coach and starting quarterback. The Cowboys need at least two victories in this finish if they are to contend for the South title, if not three.
Texas (Oct. 17, Oklahoma at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Missouri; Oct. 31, at Oklahoma State): The Longhorns' hopes for their first Big 12 title game berth since 2005 will depend on these three games. Mack Brown has quietly taken control of the Oklahoma series in recent seasons, winning three of his last four against Bob Stoops after losing five straight games against the Sooners from 2000-04. Some of the achievement of that streak has been diminished because the Sooners have claimed an unprecedented three straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns have won five of their last six games in Columbia. And Texas has won 11 straight against Oklahoma State, although it has needed comebacks to win several of the rece
nt games, including climbing out of a 21-0 hole on the last trip there in 2007. These three games likely will determine if the Longhorns are national title contenders.
Texas A&M (Oct. 3, Arkansas at Arlington; Oct. 10, Oklahoma State; Oct. 17, at Kansas State): The Aggies' bowl hopes and their chance of climbing out of the Big 12 cellar will depend on these three games. Arkansas has won 10 of the last 15 games in the series that will be resumed for the first time since 1991. A&M has won five of the last six games against Oklahoma State in Kyle Field -- a place where OSU coach Mike Gundy has never won before. And the Aggies had won five straight games against Kansas State before their loss last season against the Wildcats. With some luck, the Aggies could go 3-0 in these games. If they lose one game, they still might have bowl hopes. But 1-2 or worse will mean it could be a long season for coach Mike Sherman.
Texas Tech (Oct. 24, Texas A&M; Oct. 31, Kansas; Nov. 14, at Oklahoma State; Nov. 21, Oklahoma): These four games will determine whether the Red Raiders can make a surprise charge into contention in the South Division. Tech coach Mike Leach has never lost to A&M at home, fashioning a 4-0 record. Kansas players remember a humiliating 63-21 loss at Lawrence last season that pushed Tech's margin to 10-1 in that series. Tech hasn't won at OSU since 2001. And the Red Raiders will be looking to hang a third straight victory in Lubbock over Bob Stoops after last season's 65-21 loss that spoiled the Red Raiders' 10-0 season start. Tech likely won't be challenging for the South title this season, but success in this four-game stretch should point them on a rewarding bowl trip. An 0-4 finish might keep Tech out of a bowl trip for the first time under Leach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the Big 12's new coaches, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads and Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, and their chances of turning around their struggling programs.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|New head coach Paul Rhoads was an assistant at Iowa State in the 1990s.|
Coach: Paul Rhoads
Previous school and position: Auburn, defensive coordinator
Head-coaching experience: None
Iowa State's 2008 record: 2-10, 0-8 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 9, defense 6
What he brings: Rhoads is familiar with the challenges of trying to win at Iowa State after serving as an assistant there under Dan McCarney from 1996 through '99. He later cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000 to 2007 and at Auburn last season and is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. Rhoads, from nearby Ankeny, fits with the Cyclones' fan base and their expectations. In fact, his upbeat nature is reminiscent of McCarney, whom some Cyclones fans might want back after their five bowl trips in a six-season span from 2000 to 2005. They haven't been back since.
Challenges he faces: It seems hard to believe that the Cyclones were challenging for the North title as recently as 2005. The program dropped as McCarney was let go and continued its tumble under Gene Chizik. Rhoads will be challenged to orchestrate a quick turnaround. He inherits the framework of an offense with nine returning starters include tough and productive (but streaky) quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. The big problem will be on defense where the Cyclones were the worst tackling team in the Big 12 last season, ranked 110th nationally in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. Their development won't come overnight. Rhoads has cobbled together a strong staff including offensive coordinator Tom Herman and wily veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. But it will be a big challenge considering the talent they will inherit.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Slim. Most are picking the Cyclones for the North Division cellar with good reason. The defense will struggle against the Big 12's potent offenses. They will be able to move the ball and score, but likely not enough to compensate for their defensive struggles. The Cyclones will be facing a challenging nonconference schedule with an underrated opener against North Dakota State -- a program that has won at Ball State and Minnesota in the last three seasons. With games against Iowa, at Kent State and Army, the Cyclones likely will be pushed to notch a winning record in nonconference play. And their Big 12 action starts with a game that could decide the Big 12 cellar in Kansas City against Kansas State -- a game that was set to be played in Ames before it was moved. After that, the Cyclones will face a tough road stretch with games at Kansas, Nebraska and Texas A&M sandwiched around a homecoming game against Baylor. They then will finish the season with home games against Oklahoma State and Colorado and a road game against Missouri. All three of those late-season opponents likely will have bowl hopes riding on the game. Don't look for that to happen with the Cyclones -- yet.
My prediction: 3-9, 1-7 in Big 12
|Scott D. Weaver/Icon SMI|
|Bill Snyder compiled a 136-68-1 record during his first stint in Manhattan.|
Coach: Bill Snyder
Previous coaching position: Kansas State, head coach (retired for last three seasons)
Head-coaching experience: Kansas State, 136-68-1 during previous stint there from 1989-2005
Kansas State's 2008 record: 5-7, 2-6 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 6, defense 8
What he brings: Snyder earned a likely position in College Football's Hall of Fame during his first coaching stint at KSU. The Wildcats were on the cusp of the BCS title game in 1998 and claimed their only Big 12 football title in 2003. The program has tumbled badly since that championship and it will take all of Snyder's legendary drive and determination to get the Wildcats back into contention again. He returns with a staff stacked with assistants who have worked with him in the past and are familiar with the challenges of winning at KSU. His knack of making something out of nothing and unearthing recruiting gems from the junior college ranks will be vital in helping get them back into bowl contention.
Challenges he faces: The talent has dropped from the level Snyder was familiar back in his coaching days and the Big 12 might be even tougher. Nearby programs Kansas and Missouri have climbed into title contention since he left. And old coaching nemesis Bo Pelini has Nebraska pointed in the right direction. Snyder will have to settle on a starting quarterback after Carson Coffman won the job this spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas during the summer. He'll also need to cobble together a running game and find some productive linebackers in his new 4-2-5 defense. But he has an underrated group of productive performers like wide receiver Brandon Banks, cornerback Joshua Moore, defensive end Brandon Harold and defensive tackle Jeff Fitzgerald.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: It might be better than you think. First, the North Division is going to be relatively even without a dominant team. A surprise team might be able to remain in contention if healthy.
KSU's nonconference schedule isn't too taxing with a trip to visit a rebuilding UCLA team that might be winnable with a few breaks. There are also home games against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech and a road game at Louisiana-Lafayette. The conference schedule starts off with the Iowa State game in Kansas City, a road game at reloading Texas Tech and home games with Texas A&M and Colorado. Their conference schedule toughens later in the season with road games at Oklahoma and Nebraska, but the Wildcats might surprise people if they get some consistent quarterback play and can keep an underrated defense healthy.
Snyder's coaching acumen might help them win a game or two that might be considered surprises. One major national publication is already p
icking KSU to tie for second in the North Division. They do have the most favorable conference schedule in the Big 12 with only one road game in a North opponent's home stadium.
The Wildcats should be competitive among North Division teams. Snyder is a legendary builder and his team appears to have already gravitated to his coaching philosophy. They will play hard and shouldn't have the late-season collapse that marked the program in each of the last two seasons under Ron Prince. It might add up to a bowl trip in Snyder's first season back.
My prediction: 6-6, 3-5 in Big 12
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here is a representative sample of the questions I received during the past week about the Big 12:
Jeff from Austin writes: Tim, thanks for your work at ESPN.com covering the Big 12. I enjoy reading your stuff. But I'm floored by your perspective about Baylor being sixth in the South next year. There is not any way that Texas A&M or Texas Tech is better than Baylor next season. I think Baylor will easily win six games, maybe seven or eight. I think you might be picking according to history, and not looking at the information that is the 2009 season. I don't see how they finish without a bowl game.
Tim Griffin: I did consider history pretty strongly. For example, Baylor hasn't won in College Station since 1984. Their schedule also turns around. Baylor's four toughest games will be at home, but I just don't see them being able to consistently beat teams like Texas, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. All are listed in most preseason top 25 lists. Baylor will be lucky, in my opinion, to win one of those games. The Bears go to Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M and Iowa State for their road games. They haven't won at any of those schools except Iowa State since the Big 12 was formed. Their nonconference schedule eases a little bit, but I still see them as an underdog at Wake Forest. They should win remaining home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.
So even with another year of experience for Robert Griffin and Joe Pawelek's return, it will be tougher for the Bears to improve by two games with their schedule turning around. I think it will be close between Texas A&M and Baylor, but I give A&M a slight edge just because they are playing coach Art Briles' team at home.
Joe from Omaha writes: Tim, some up here are all over you about picking Nebraska to win the North Division. What is your rationale for picking the Cornhuskers to win?
Tim Griffin: I know that many polls are picking Kansas to win the North Division. But I'm thinking that the South Division will dominate the North as before, and Kansas has a murderous South with visits to Texas Tech and Texas and a home game against Oklahoma. That likely will give the Jayhawks three losses right there. It will mean that Kansas absolutely has to beat Nebraska in the showdown game and hope the Cornhuskers lose two other games in the division.
I also looked at how Joe Ganz flourished under Shawn Watson's tutelage and think he should be able to get Patrick Witt or Zac Lee to similarloy develop in his offense. Quentin Castille looked like a monster in the Gator Bowl and Roy Helu Jr. had his moments. The Cornhuskers will have four starting offensive linemen returning. And the Cornhuskers' defense with Ndamukong Suh, Pierre Allen and Phillip Dillard and the secondary with Anthony West, Larry Asante, Matt O'Hanlon and Eric Hagg will be the strength of the team.
If Pelini can find a serviceable option at quarterback, they should be able to cobble together enough wins to win a tight North Division race.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at some tidbits from around the league that are transpiring as teams get ready for games this week.
1. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have added more playmakers to their special teams after recent struggles for both teams covering and returning kickoffs. Bob Stoops plans to add four new members to his kick coverage team that has been blistered for two TD returns, including a pivotal 96-yard return by Texas' Jordan Shipley last week that turned the game around. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino has talked about placing starters like James Holt and Joe Mortensen on his special teams as the Jayhawks rank last in the nation in kick returns. The Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff -- almost three yards per return less than the next-lowest team, Kent State at 118th.
2. Iowa State has inserted freshman Jerome Tiller as its backup quarterback after Phillip Bates left school. Coach Gene Chizik hopes that he can still make it through the season using only Austen Arnaud as the quarterback and keeping the redshirts intact for Tiller and fellow freshman Bret Bueker. Early word is that Bates likely won't resurface at another Big 12 school because it would cost him an additional season in the transfer. A more likely location would be a FCS school where he could play immediately or an FBS school like Ohio University, where his family already has a strong association with coach Frank Solich. Bates' father, Phillip Bates Sr., was a running back at Nebraska who played there when Solich was his position coach under Tom Osborne.
3. Texas ditched using a tight end in favor of a four-wide receiver look as its base offensive formation against Oklahoma. And the unit's success -- 438 total yards and 20 combined catches from Quan Cosby and Shipley -- make it likely to be used more during the rest of the season. Starting tight end Blaine Irby's season-ending injury robbed the Longhorns of their top receiving threat at the position. The four-receiver sets have made the Longhorns lethal in terms of big-play capabilities, but a little weaker trying to consistently run the ball.
4. Considering the recent injury to Lamark Brown, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Josh Freeman emerged as a key rushing threat in the Wildcats' victory last week over Texas A&M. Freeman produced career-high totals of 18 carries, 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. In the philosophy of Kansas State quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero and offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the quarterback is used as more of a rushing weapon. Freeman has gained positive rushing yards in each of his six starts this season. Before this season, Freeman had netted positive yards in only eight of his 20 previous career starts.
5. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is doing what he can to instill discipline on his team, even if it affects its performance in the short term. Key players Michael Bennett and Mike Goodson weren't in the starting lineup last week against Kansas State after discipline issues, paving the way for the Wildcats to jump to an early 27-3 lead over Sherman's beleaguered team. Sherman is hoping that his struggles bottom out as he tries to make the Aggies know they've got a firm leader running the program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
RENO, Nev. -- Sorry for the delay this morning, but the sun was barely creeping over the nearby Sierra Nevadas when I started this. Also, with only four games played in the conference before this evening, most fans should be taking a similarly leisurely game-day routine.
With most Big 12 teams taking a trip to the pastry wagon this week, here are some delectable links almost tasty as the cupcakes being served at most places around the conference.
- The multifaceted Oklahoma offense is described by the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter as college football's version of the Swiss army knife. The Sooners' offensive versatility will be tested by Cincinnati, even if many Sooners don't know which conference the Bearcats are members of.
- Renovated Boone Pickens Stadium is officially a big house -- at least in Big 12 terms -- with 60,000 seats. The new configuration should result in increased reverberation Saturday night against Houston because of the configuration of the new seats.
- New Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp led his team through a Sunday night walkthrough, something that hadn't been done around Austin before. That came after an impressive opening-game victory that had UTEP coach Mike Price thinking the Longhorns had 14 defenders as he watched the game film.
- Texas A&M is seeking redemption this week at New Mexico, despite a frustrating recent history of struggling in nonconference road games.
- Nebraska remains confident in its running game, despite producing the second-lowest rushing total in an opener in 30 years last week and netting 3 or more yards on only 13 of 31 carries. Maybe that's why San Jose State coach Dick Tomey admitted to the San Jose Mercury News this week that he dropped Tennessee and added Nebraska to the schedule because he thought it's a more winnable game.
- Nevada's pass defense shouldn't be intimidated against Texas Tech's high-powered aerial attack, considering the Wolf Pack played four of the nation's top 11 passing offenses last season.
- Missouri fans are excited about the Tigers' home opener against Southeast Missouri State -- to the tune of a record 40,000 season tickets sold. One of the more intriguing story lines today will be who gets the snaps behind QB Chase Daniel once the Tigers get the game under control.
- Baylor players know they can't overlook any opponent, especially after their first-game struggles. Their nine-game losing streak heading into Saturday's game against Northwestern State ties the school's longest since dropping 10 straight in 1998-99.
- The Boulder Daily Camera's Neill Woelk says it's time to forget about the last time Colorado played a Football Championship Subdivision opponent -- even if ESPN the Magazine still expects a rough game for the Buffaloes today against Eastern Washington.
- The Topeka Capital Journal's Austin Meek writes about how a Montana State kicker once converted 17 field goals in a game. I guess that's not a surprise from a school that produced NFL Hall of Fame K Jan Stenerud.
- Times have changed at Memorial Stadium for Kansas games, where Louisiana Tech players who played there in 2005 will hardly recognize the place since the Jayhawks' recent success.
- Iowa State CB Devin McDowell has waited a long time to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, former All-Big 12 CB DeAndre Jackson. His Cyclones are intent on gaining revenge Saturday for last year's loss to Kent State.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Saturday's games.
1. First-start jitters for Baylor QB Robert Griffin: The freshman played well when he entered the game early in the second quarter last week against Wake Forest. Griffin was named the starter for the Northwestern State game the next day. After thinking about it for more than a week, how will he react?
2. How will Texas' defensive line play without Lamarr Houston? The suspended defensive tackle is back home in Austin after his arrest on DWI charges following last week's game. Aaron Lewis will get the start in his place Saturday at UTEP. Pressure inside will be critical to take the heat off Texas' young secondary.
3. Improvement in Kansas' rushing game: The Jayhawks struggled against Florida International, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and producing 128 yards. They need to progress Saturday against Louisiana Tech as they prepare for next week's critical game at South Florida.
4. Texas A&M responds to last week's upset: The Aggies failed to score on eight second-half possessions last week against Arkansas State. It will be interesting to see how A&M's young offensive line grows from those struggles and how it produces against New Mexico's wild collection of blitz packages.
5. Darrell Scott: Colorado's heralded freshman running back appeared to be getting more comfortable in the latter stages of his first game against Colorado State. The Buffs should have plenty of opportunities to build his confidence against Eastern Washington.
6. Iowa State's progress: Gene Chizik hasn't forgotten his ISU debut, a 23-14 loss to Kent State. The Cyclones will again face the Golden Flashes and have the opportunity to use this game as a kind of litmus test of their growth since his arrival.
7. The Oklahoma State secondary: The Cowboys had a big game last week against Washington State, but will be stepping up in class against Houston QB Case Keenum. Look for OSU to try a variety of coverages to confuse Keenum, who passed for a career-high 392 yards and threw for five TDs last week against Southern.
8. Get out your calculators: Saturday night's battle in Reno between Nevada and Texas Tech will match two of the nation's four most prolific offensive attacks. Considering the two teams combined for 1,268 yards last week, this game might last forever.
9. Will Jeremy Maclin and William Moore play for Missouri? Both key players are listed as probable for Saturday's game against Southeast Missouri State. But considering the wide talent gap, it might be wise for Gary Pinkel to allow both key players extra time to recuperate. They shouldn't be needed on Saturday.
10. Sam Bradford vs. the opportunistic Cincinnati defense: Oklahoma's talented sophomore quarterback has thrown only eight interceptions in his career and had only one game where he threw multiple picks. He will be facing a Cincinnati defense that led the nation in interceptions (26) and forced turnovers (42) last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
New Baylor coach Art Briles is a proven winner who has had success in all of his previous head coaching opportunities, most recently taking Houston to four bowl games in the last five seasons. Before that, he directed Stephenville High School to four Texas state high school championships.
But Briles will be facing the challenge of his coaching career in his new job with the Bears. Want to know how difficult it will be? Consider that the Bears are tied for seventh among the NCAA Division I programs in terms of the longest current bowl droughts.
Here's a list of the longest active bowl gaps in college football:
|New Mexico State||1960||Sun|
|Vanderbilt||1982||Hall of Fame|
|Duke||1994||Hall of Fame|
|San Diego State||1998||Las Vegas|
Note: Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida International and Western Kentucky have never made bowl trips as Division I-A members.