Big 12: Larry Fitzgerald
WHO TO WATCH: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. He'll be the best player on the field every time he steps on it, and he'll have a chance to break an impressive record as well. In all 11 of his starts this season, he's finished with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. If he does it against the Wildcats, he'll be the only player in FBS history to do it for 12 consecutive games. That's especially impressive considering the caliber of receivers who couldn't duplicate his feat: Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Michael Crabtree, to name a few. The Biletnikoff Award winner missed one game for the Cowboys, who managed just 24 points in a win against Kansas State. The Cowboys haven't been held under 33 points in any other game, and have scored 40-plus points in eight games, ranking third nationally in scoring offense.
WHAT TO WATCH: Oklahoma State's offense. Dana Holgorsen is headed to West Virginia after the bowl game to become the coach-in-waiting, but he's sticking around through the bowl game to fulfill his duties as offensive coordinator. I wouldn't expect any big differences out of the Cowboys, but it'll be interesting to see if the transition for Holgorsen has been a distraction that manifests on the field.
WHY WATCH: Similar to the Insight Bowl, despite the pair of disappointing finishes, these are still two teams who spent time near the top of the polls this season. Arizona was 7-1 to start the season and a mainstay in the top 15 before the losing streak sent it south in the polls. Oklahoma State was inside the top 10 at the end of the season. Outside of that, these are two of the most exciting offenses in the country. Both teams threw the ball just under 500 times this season, and figure to do plenty of it in the Alamodome on Wednesday night. Arizona's Nick Foles and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden are two of the best around at doing it, and will get plenty of chances.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 28. Arizona doesn't have anybody who can stop Blackmon (not that anyone else does), and the Cowboys' Big Three are too much for the Wildcats to keep up with.
Blackmon caught 102 passes for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns, which led the nation. He also ranked first overall in receptions per game (9.27) and receiving yards per game (151.36).
He was one of just three receivers in college football with at least 100 receptions, and sat out a game in midseason because of a suspension. He's also a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, college football's major national award given annually to the game's top receiver.
Past winners of the Warfield Award have been Desmond Howard, Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. He's the first Oklahoma State player to earn the award.
There’s a natural tendency to overlook Dejuan Miller when considering Oklahoma’s speediest wide receivers.
|Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images|
|Oklahoma receiver Dejuan Miller scored his first touchdown against Kansas State.|
That is, until Miller lines up and actually runs a few routes.
“When people look at me, they automatically think I’m some kind of possession receiver,” Miller said. “But I ran track in high school. I can get out and run when I have to.”
That speed might be a stunner to some defenders. But it’s a natural advantage that Miller likes to spring on unsuspecting opponents.
“It’s fun and I love it,” Miller said. “When they see somebody 6-4 and 224 pounds they think I can just catch the ball. But it’s nice to surprise and shock them sometimes when I run.”
Earlier this season, teammates were mesmerized by his combination of size and speed. Several Oklahoma defensive backs compared him to NFL superstar Larry Fitzgerald because of his bountiful natural gifts.
But despite those tools and a strong effort in fall camp, Miller has had to wait his turn to work his way into Oklahoma’s receiving rotation.
“There was a frustrating point,” Miller said. “It was kind of like climbing a mountain and trying to stay positive every day and have positive outlook. I knew things would fall into place. I just needed my chance to shine and get a chance to play.”
That opportunity finally arrived last week when he produced a career-best nine receptions for 93 yards to help spark the Sooners’ victory over Kansas State.
His first catch was a 23-yard touchdown grab in which he broke several tackles. It was the first touchdown of his career.
Miller also produced three key third-down receptions on drives that led to Oklahoma touchdowns against the Wildcats.
“I feel like this was kind of my coming-out party, a chance to show what I could do,” Miller said. "It was huge because I’ve been waiting for a breakout game like that. I just wanted to showcase what I could do and be a playmaker for us.”
That development provides a capable No. 2 threat behind the speedy Ryan Broyles, who leads the nation with 10 touchdown receptions. The sophomore duo has Oklahoma fans excited about the future.
“Me and Ryan bring something different to the table,” Miller said. “He’s a natural playmaker and I think I bring more of a physical standpoint. I bring the physical and he brings flair and finesse. We kind of feed off each other.”
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones' connection with Miller in Oklahoma’s offense also appears to have grown in the last several weeks. Miller is listed as a first-string receiver on the Sooners' depth chart heading into Saturday's game at Nebraska.
"I always had confidence in him," Jones told the Tulsa World. "I've seen what he does in practice and what he's done since spring. He's a hard-working kid. He's going to make every play for you."
Miller was one of the three top wide receivers who chose the Sooners in the 2008 recruiting class along with Josh Jarboe and Jameel Owens. But Jarboe was dismissed from the Oklahoma squad two days before practice began last season when an expletive-laced rap video he had crafted ended up on the Internet.
And neither Miller nor Owens got much playing time last season as the Sooners preferred to use senior receivers like Manny Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney.
“I was in kind of a rough situation last year because there were a lot of older guys in front of me,” Miller said. “I had to wait on my turn and be patient. I learned patience is a virtue.”
Family members in the Oklahoma City area were the major reason why Miller chose to leave his hometown of Metuchen, N.J., for the Oklahoma program. Among the other schools he considered included Penn State, Florida, Michigan, Boston College and Cincinnati.
But after the first big game of his career, Miller is happy he chose to come to Oklahoma -- even if he had to wait for his chance to play.
"I knew things eventually would get better,” Miller said. “It might be a rocky road, but I wanted to stick with it. I always had a good attitude because I knew it was just a matter of time before my chance would come along.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sproles, Roberson send Stoops crashing to lone title-game loss
Date: Dec. 6, 2003
Place: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Score: Kansas State 35, Oklahoma 7
Top-ranked Oklahoma was on the verge on running the table en route to a perfect season and a trip to the BCS championship game when it entered the title game aiming for their third championship in the last four seasons.
Kansas State had struggled earlier in the year, losing at home to Marshall, the start of a three-game losing streak. A trip to the Big 12 title game after an 0-2 conference start wasn't even a consideration for the Wildcats until they caught fire late in the season.
A stout KSU defense that had allowed only 39 points in its last five regular-season games was the reason the Wildcats claimed the North title. That group would be tested by an explosive Sooner offense keyed by Jason White.
The Sooners looked ready to continue that run after KeJuan Jones scored on a 42-yard run less than three minutes into the game on the Sooners' fourth play from scrimmage.
But when usually reliable kicker Trey DiCarlo shanked a 44-yard field goal to start the second quarter, KSU had an opening. And the Wildcats took advantage of it immediately as diminutive tailback Darren Sproles gashed the Sooners on a 55-yard run on the next play. Quarterback Ell Roberson hooked up with Brian Casey on a 19-yard TD pass three plays later to tie the score.
Roberson, a streaky quarterback during much his career at KSU, gave the Wildcats the lead for good on a 63-yard strike to James Terry 2:23 later. It typified a tough night for Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who had announced several days earlier he would accept the vacant coaching job at Arizona after the championship game.
Oklahoma, which had averaged 56.5 points in its last four games before the championship game, also struggled with offensive mistakes. A dropped pass by Jejuan Rankins killed the next drive on fourth down. And White was victimized on an end zone interception on the Sooners' next possession.
Sproles provided another big play shortly before halftime when he scooted 60 yards on a screen pass for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 21-7 halftime edge.
The Sooners took the opening drive of the second half, but came up empty after a seven-minute drive when DiCarlo hooked a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Kansas State answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 10-yard strike from Roberson to Antoine Polite with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
And with 10:16 left, Kansas State linebacker Ted Sims snatched a White interception and rambled on a 27-yard TD return to ice the victory.
The stunning upset brought the Wildcats their first conference football championship since winning the Big Six in 1934, capping the biggest victory during Bill Snyder's coaching tenure.
They said it, part I: "We just got our butt whipped. I'm not going to sit here and lobby our way into a bowl game. If the BCS says we're in, we're in," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, after his team's loss.
They said it, part II: "Let the little man run it. If they don't respect him, we'll throw it. That's what it came down to," Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson, describing the Wildcats' heavy use of Darren Sproles in the upset.
They said it, part III: "Our D-line was making him scramble all day and really getting to his head. He was so scared," Kansas State linebacker Josh Buhl, describing to the Associated Press the Wildcats' strategy against Jason White.
They said it, part IV: "They put pressure on us and got to us a few times. They hit us where we are weak," Oklahoma quarterback Jason White.
Factoids: Oklahoma's defense came into the game allowing only 234 yards per game. But they were gashed by Sproles, who rushed for 235 yards on 22 carries -- most ever gained against an Oklahoma defense to that point in its history. Sproles also added three receptions for 88 yards ... Roberson did the rest, completing 10-of-17 passing for 227 yards and four TDs and adding 62 rushing yards ... Coming into the game, Oklahoma's defense had surrendered only seven touchdown passes all season ... Kansas State blistered the Sooners for 519 yards on 58 plays, an average of 8.94 yards per snap ... The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak for the Sooners, longest in the nation at the time of the game ... The seven points were the lowest point total ever for a team coached by Bob Stoops ... The victory was the first time that Kansas State beat a No. 1 ranked team in 10 tries ... White struggled with Kansas State's "Purple on White" defensive scheme. He completed 27-of-50 passes for 298 yards, but was intercepted twice. ... The Sooners produced only one score despite advancing inside Kansas State territory four times in the first half ... DiCarlo's two misses came after he had converted 19 of 20 field-goal attempts for the season coming into the game.
The upshot: Oklahoma's upset loss threw the Bowl Championship Series into turmoil when the Sooners fell to No. 3 in both major polls after the game. But they remained No. 1 in the final BCS poll, qualifying for a shot at the national championship against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. But the Tigers claimed a 21-14 victory over the Sooners -- the first of Stoops' current streak of five consecutive BCS bowl losses.
That loss dropped the Sooners to 12-2 for the season as they finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.
Despite the loss against Kansas State, White won the Heisman Trophy the week after the game. He nosed out Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald by 128 points to become the first Oklahoma quarterback to win the award.
Kansas State's victory boosted the Wildcats into the Fiesta Bowl in their first BCS bowl trip in school history. But Ohio State claimed a 35-28 victory in that game, snapping the Wildcats' seven-winning streak coming into the game. Kansas State finished the season 11-4 and No. 14 in the final AP poll, the last time the Wildcats were ranked at the end of the season.
9. Emotional A&M victory brings closure after Bonfire tragedy.
10. Roll left: James Brown guarantees victory and then lives up to his prediction.
11. When BCS meant "Boo Chris Simms" after Colorado's upset.
12. A Buffalo stampede: Six Brown TDs lead CU to first Big 12 title game.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a pa
ssing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
For those of you who have this read this blog for the past several months, you probably know that I can't get enough history.
As such, ESPN Classic is on heavy rotation in my house. Even if my 4-year-old would rather watch Noggin staples like "Franklin" and "Toot and Puddle" than my favored sports classic reruns.
Fortunately for me, I've got the remote control later this afternoon when the rotation of old college football games will start.
And for Big 12 fans, there will be at least one game that should be interesting later today.
Tune in about 4 p.m. ET if you want to see a young Larry Fitzgerald and his Pittsburgh team roam rather freely through the Texas A&M secondary in a 2003 game at Kyle Field in Dennis Franchione's first season coaching the Aggies.
I won't give you any spoiler updates for this game, only to say that it probably won't be considered a classic many places in the Bryan-College Station area.
The Fitzgerald kid looked pretty good in that game, but also keep your eye out for one particular catch from a Pittsburgh fullback by the name of Lousaka Polite.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As the Super Bowl approaches on Sunday, it's interesting to remember who almost became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals the last time the job came open.
The two finalists in 2007 when the job last opened were Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Sherman. Whisenhunt was the hot offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers with no previous NFL head coaching experience. Sherman was the offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans after an earlier head coaching stint with Green Bay, where he led the Packers to four playoff berths in six seasons before he was fired after his only losing season in 2005.
Both were called back for second interviews.
Whisenhunt got the job and faced a massive rebuilding project with the Cardinals, which had one winning season and one playoff appearance in the previous 22 seasons.
Sherman got his chance to become a head coach again 10 months later when he was hired at Texas A&M. It was a place he was familiar with after ably serving as an assistant coach under R.C. Slocum for seven seasons in two coaching stints.
At the time, it could be argued that Sherman looked to have the easier job. The Aggies had been to 17 bowl games in the previous 23 years. Players like Stephen McGee, Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson were coming back.
Compared with the Cardinals, the Aggies' job appeared to be a piece of cake.
Fast forward to January 2009. Whisenhunt has the Cardinals in the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Arizona appears to be the class of the NFC West for the next several seasons with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald poised to become one of the game's transcendent players.
And Sherman's job now has never looked tougher. The Aggies were 4-8 last season, with an unprecedented 0-5 record against South Division foes.
Texas and Oklahoma look to be capable of contending for BCS berths for the immediate future. Texas Tech is coming off the most celebrated season in school history, with the recruiting bump to match. Oklahoma State is a fashionable pick to crack the top 10 in many preseason polls. Baylor has more excitement than in recent memory with coach Art Briles' offense orchestrated by Robert Griffin.
Sherman has lured A&M's most impressive recruiting class in several years this season. But his rebuilding task appears formidable -- to say the least.
Most coaches don't look backwards very often.
But I'm wondering if Sherman is thinking this week about how close he got to the Cardinals' job?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sorry about the late posting tonight. Just chalk it up as one of the most interesting of all travel days.
But here, without fail, are some nuggets that I gleaned while cleaning out the notebook this week. Enjoy them.
- Prior to this season and this month, Texas Tech had played in only three matchups of top-10 teams in its football history. Now the Red Raiders are playing in such a game for the third straight outing (after beating No. 1 Texas and No. 9 Oklahoma State).
- Oklahoma State's victory over Colorado finished off a 15-3 record for the South against the North this season -- tied for the most lopsided in the history of the league. It matched the 2004 season as the most lopsided interdivision record in the conference's 11-year history.
- Iowa State will be attempting to become the first Big 12 Nort Division team since Iowa State in 2003 to go 0-8. The Cyclones have held a lead in only three of their seven Big 12 games.
- Missouri senior William Moore has returned four interceptions for touchdowns in his career, tops among active major-college players. His pick for six last week against Iowa State was his first interception of the season.
- Oklahoma has produced 15 turnovers in its four-game winning streak since Texas game.
- Baylor's 269 rushing yards against Texas A&M last week was the Bears' most in a Big 12 game.
- Michael Crabtree is one game shy of tying Larry Fitzgerald's NCAA record of producing five recepitons and a touchdown grab in 14 straight games.
- Joe Ganz's career-high 95 yards rushing last week against Kansas State were the most by a Nebraska quarterback since Jammal Lord rushed for 109 against Texas A&M in 2003.
- Texas Tech has never beaten Oklahoma and Texas in the same season. "We'd never been 10-0, but we've done that," quarterback Graham Harrell told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
- Texas Tech is looking for its first outright championship since winning the Border Conference in 1955.
- Missouri and Oklahoma State are the only teams in the Big 12 to have their offensive line starters remain intact for this entire season.
- Texas Tech has averaged 16.3 points in four previous games at Owen Field, 23.8 points per game against the Sooners in Lubbock and 38.5 points per game in the other 104 games during Mike Leach's career with the Red Raiders.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Unlike many receivers, Dezmon Briscoe says he doesn't need the adulation or acclaim that comes with being one of the nation's top wideouts.
|J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI|
|Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe is on his way to breaking records -- but remains humble about his success.|
Briscoe prefers to remain quiet and humble, concentrating on honing his receiving skills rather than showy displays. That attitude emanated from his parents and high-school coaches and has remained his credo even after becoming a key wide receiver for Kansas.
"My mom and dad taught me to do that," Briscoe said. "They told me to just stay like I am. Even when I got to college and started playing, they told me to stay humble and not change."
He hasn't -- even after a career game last week. Briscoe broke school records with 12 receptions for 269 yards in the Jayhawks' 45-31 loss to the Oklahoma. It was also the top receiving yardage effort in the country so far this season.
"Every time the ball went up, I had a lot of confidence I was going to get it," Briscoe said. "It just seemed to build as the day went on."
It's not a stretch to think the sophomore wide receiver could have erupted for even more yardage. One catch that he appeared to have made in the end zone was snatched off his chest for an interception by Oklahoma defender Lendy Holmes.
"Honestly, I believe I caught the ball that they gave him the interception," said Briscoe, who has produced 43 receptions for 700 yards and eight TDs this season. "The calls just went their way. But I am kicking myself I didn't get to 300 (yards)."
Another big game will be important for the Jayhawks and Briscoe as they prepare to meet No. 8 Texas Tech. The No. 23 Jayhawks still lead the Big 12 North by a game and control their own destiny as they attempt to claim their first North Division title.
Briscoe grew up in Dallas where he was a devoted fan of the Dallas Cowboys. His favorite receiver remains Terrell Owens, but he's determined to bring different qualities to the position than the Cowboys' star receiver.
"I like the way he plays, but with the way he talks so much, I don't like his mouth," Briscoe said. "I like a guy like Larry Fitzgerald better, someone who just does his job."
That attitude has marked Briscoe's career. He's quietly only two touchdown receptions away from tying the school career record of 17 set by Willie Vaughn and Bruce Adams. And he's only two away from tying Marcus Henry's single-season TD record of 10 set last season.