Big 12: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
NORMAN, Okla.-- Oklahoma got its season off to a terrific start with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here’s how it happened.
How the game was won: Mike Stoops’ defense was simply outstanding in OU’s first shutout victory since 2010. ULM finished with 166 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per play. The Sooners defensive coordinator talked about transforming the OU defense into a more versatile unit and it was on display in the season opener. OU went with a three-man defensive front and used several different blitz combinations to harass Kolton Browning into a subpar showing, as he went 20-of-39 for 128 passing yards in the loss.
Turning point: When the Sooners decided to start running more. OU had seven rushes in the first quarter but they finished the first half with 30. Not surprisingly, all 13 Sooners first-half points came in the second quarter. OU finished with 50 carries for 305 yards as it pounded the ball down the Warhawks’ throats in the final three quarters. It was a stark contrast from the pass-happy Sooners of the past few years.
Stat of the game: 38. The Sooners allowed just 38 ULM rushing yards in their season opener after struggling to stop the run in the final stretch of 2012. Bob Stoops promised a renewed dedication to stopping the run and OU showed it Saturday.
Player of the game: QB Trevor Knight earns player of the game honors because, ultimately, he found a way to get it done. The redshirt freshman had 13 carries for 103 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He struggled mightily with his accuracy but still made enough plays to win.
Unsung heroes of the game: Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon were all over the place for the Sooners defense. OU’s use of its linebackers was under fire all offseason and the Sooners linebacker duo showed why they should have been on the field more often a year ago. Nelson finished with eight tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack, while Shannon finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss.
What it means: Oklahoma takes a bunch of momentum and defensive confidence into its matchup with West Virginia on Sept. 7. Stoops’ defensive changes should help the Sooners against a Mountaineers team searching for consistency at the quarterback spot.
What Oklahoma learned: Knight is a much better runner than passer, at least right now. Most of Knight’s big plays came on the ground and he looked much more comfortable running around in the open field instead of standing in the pocket. Knight did show signs he could develop as a passer as the season progresses, but expect OU to lean on his legs more than his arm when it matters most in the near future.
I'll be here for all of it, so feel free to follow along on Twitter. I'll have some thoughts on the Big 12 Blog after it's all over with.
The last time the Big 12 played a regular-season game on a Friday night? Iowa State stormed the field at Jack Trice Stadium after knocking previously undefeated Oklahoma State out of the national-championship race.
The two other Friday-night games last season were fantastic, too. On Sept. 2, Baylor lost a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead to TCU before regaining it and kicking a game-winning field goal in the final minutes as RG3 kicked off his Heisman campaign with five touchdown passes and went up the road for an appearance on "College GameDay" the next morning.
A week later, Missouri rallied on the road against Arizona State before losing in overtime. A week later in the next Big 12 Friday-nighter, Iowa State went on the road and beat Connecticut thanks for a fourth-quarter comeback led by Steele Jantz.
The stage is set.
A couple quick notes before the game:
- Baylor flew in to Monroe, La., for tonight's game only a few hours ago. It's an unorthodox approach. You don't see teams travel to game sites on the day of the game very often. Ultimately, I think this is a non-story, but if the Bears lose as seven-point favorites, expect it to suddenly be a hot topic in Waco next week. And yes, I think that's stupid, but it's going to happen. That said, I think Baylor takes care of business tonight and does so in somewhat convincing fashion. I picked the Bears to win, 41-28.
- Baylor will be wearing its all-black uniforms for the second time in three games this season. The Bears debuted them in the Sunday night, season-opening win vs. SMU, and they're back this week. I had heard rumors of a matte-black helmet, but BU will be wearing its traditional gold helmets with its untraditional jerseys.
Coverage starts at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Tune in. I'll be tweeting along all night, so follow me if you dare.
Scott was ruled ineligible for the season shortly before the Longhorns’ Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana-Monroe. He was held out of the lineup until becoming academically eligible for the second semester -- meaning he can join the lineup in Thursday’s Citi Bowl Championship Series title game against Alabama.
“It feels really good to be out there,” Scott said. “The academics were a little overwhelming. I stumbled a little bit but I bounced back.I was able to do the things I needed to get back.”
Scott has worked on the scout team all season, mimicking future opponents who would see action against the Longhorns. One week, he showed the playing tendencies of Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis. Another week, he was Nebraska safety Larry Asante for the purposes of the Longhorns’ pre-game practices.
“I felt like I could help the team in some way,” Scott said. “I’m just trying to make our offense better.”
He might get his chance on defense in Thursday’s game, serving as an X-factor because the Alabama coaches haven’t seen much of him on tape.
During preseason practice, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Scott was one of the revelations of camp. Coaches said he was the hardest hitter in the secondary and was thought to be challenging Blake Gideon for a starting job at free safety before he was ruled academically ineligible.
He’s also expected to be a pivotal part of the Longhorns’ special teams, serving on all squads but the field goal and extra point teams. One of his most crucial roles will be as a gunner on punt coverage.
“I was able to practice, but just not able to play,” Scott said. “I never really had a chance to get rusty other than not being able to play.”
The physical nature he brings to the secondary would give the Longhorns a weapon to clamp down on Alabama’s interior running game keyed by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
“I’ve been waiting all season and I’m ready,” Scott said. “We have good coaches and they’re building a good game plan. However they want me, I’m ready to be used.”
The academic suspension has also helped Scott to grow up with a new attitude as he prepares for the bowl game against the Crimson Tide.
“This has changed me a lot as far as taking responsibility as far as classrooms go,” Scott said. “I’m just excited to be back out and playing again.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas players apparently have learned something from hockey players about building team cohesiveness.
Several Texas seniors said Saturday that they don't plan to shave during training camp as the Longhorns prepare for their Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
NHL players have traditionally not shaven during the playoffs. And the Longhorns appear ready to follow suit over the next few weeks.
Colt McCoy already was getting excited about the challenge among his teammates.
"We'll see who can grow the nastiest facial hair on the team," McCoy said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I remember when I was a kid growing up, I was amazed and a little frightened when I first learned about the eerie similarities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy when I was in elementary school. I still recall learning about these facts of the unusual parallels between those two events nearly 100 years apart.
It's left me with the idea that history sometimes can repeat itself.
I still follow how history sometimes continues in some unusual patterns.
And I'm thinking there's a chance at it definitely could happen this season for Texas, which has numerous similarities coming into the 2009 season to when it last won the national championship in 2005.
Here are some of them:
In 2005, Texas had an offense revolving around a playmaking quarterback with striking pass-run skills in Vince Young.
In 2009, Texas has an offense revolving around a playmaking quarterback with striking pass-run skills who the offense revolves around in Colt McCoy.
In 2005, Texas' starting quarterback had five letters in his last name -- Y-O-U-N-G.
In 2009, Texas' starting quarterback has five letters in his last name -- M-C-C-O-Y.
In 2005, Texas had a defensive coordinator who had made his national reputation by leading a Southeastern Conference team to earlier defensive success -- Gene Chizik at Auburn.
In 2009, Texas has a defensive coordinator who has made his national reputation by leading a Southeastern Conference team to earlier defensive success -- Will Muschamp at Auburn and LSU.
In 2005, Texas was building on momentum after a dramatic comeback victory over a Big Ten team in a bowl game to conclude the previous season -- a triumph over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
In 2009, Texas is building on momentum after a dramatic comeback victory over a Big Ten in a bowl game to conclude the previous season -- a triumph over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2005, Texas started the season with a home game against a Sun Belt opponent from Louisiana -- Louisiana-Lafayette.
In 2009, Texas will start the season with a home game against a Sun Belt opponent from Louisiana -- Louisiana-Monroe.
In 2005, Texas' second game of the season was a road game to an opponent where it had never played before -- Ohio State.
In 2009, while quite not as challenging, Texas' second game of the season will be a road trip where it has never played before -- Wyoming.
In 2005, Texas played a Big 12 schedule that included home games against Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas. The Longhorns' road games were against Missouri, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M with a neutral-site game against Oklahoma in Dallas.
In 2009, Texas will play a Big 12 schedule that will include home games against Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas. The Longhorns' conference road games will be against Missouri, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M with a neutral-site game against Oklahoma in Dallas.
In 2005, Texas entered the season with big questions at running back. Ramonce Taylor, Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young shared carries with QB Vince Young.
In 2005, Texas' pass rush received a boost by the transformation of a linebacker into a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end -- Brian Robison.
In 2009, Texas hopes to receive a pass-rushing boost by the transformation of a former linebacker into a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end -- Sergio Kindle.
In 2005, Texas entered the season with its last loss as a disappointing defeat that ultimately cost them a shot at the Big 12 South title and a perfect record -- a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma was the only blemish in the 2004 season.
In 2009, Texas enters the season with its last loss a disappointing defeat that ultimately cost them a shot at the Big 12 South title and a perfect record -- a 39-33 loss to Texas Tech that was the only defeat in the 2008 season.
In 2005, Texas was looking for its first Big 12 championship to stop a string of three Big 12 titles by arch-rival Oklahoma since Texas' last Big 12 championship. Texas won the 1996 title, followed by Oklahoma Big 12 championships in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
In 2009, Texas will be looking for its first Big 12 championship to stop a string of three Big 12 titles by arch-rival Oklahoma since it last won a Big 12 championship. Texas won the 2005 title, followed by Oklahoma Big 12 championships in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
In 2005, the Big 12 championship was played in an NFL stadium in Texas -- Reliant Stadium in Houston.
In 2009, the Big 12 championship will be played in an NFL stadium in Texas -- the Dallas Cowboys' Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
In 2005, the Longhorns entered the season ranked No. 2 behind a talented returning national championship team that beat Oklahoma for the national title the previous season -- USC defeated Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
In 2009, the Longhorns have been ranked No. 2 in most every early preseason poll behind a talented returning national championship that beat Oklahoma for the national title the previous season -- Florida defeated Oklahoma in the 2009 BCS title game.
In 2005, that defending national champion had a quarterback who had previously won the Heisman Trophy -- USC's Matt Leinart.
In 2009, that defending national champion has a quarterback who has previously won the Heisman Trophy -- Florida's Tim Tebow.
And most importantly, Texas claimed the 2005 national championship with a victory over No. 1 ranked USC in the Rose Bowl.
We don't know if Texas and Florida will have a shot, but the BCS national championship game will be played in the Rose Bowl this season.
Coincidence or not, those are some stunning parallels from one season to another one.
Can Texas fulfill the legacy of the 2005 team this season?
We'll have to see.
But if you believe history repeats itself, the Longhorns might have a chance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Earlier this week, I took a look at the nonconference games that Big 12 teams will struggle to win this season.
There's also a set of games that the Big 12 should have no worries about winning. These trips to the pastry wagon can get addictive, but they don't provide much nutritional value. So consider whatever tangible benefits that happen in these games as problematic -- mainly because of the opposition the Big 12 teams will be playing.
Here are the six easiest nonconference games of the season for the Big 12.
1. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12: Want to know how bad Idaho State is? They lost to Northern Colorado last season in a 1-11 season marked only by an overtime victory over Sacramento State. The Bengals ranked as the nation's worst FCS team in total defense and pass efficiency defense, next-to-last in scoring defense and had the FCS's sixth-worst rushing defense. Sam Bradford will be watching this one from the bench by midway through the second quarter.
2. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5: The Division I-AA Bears are 3-31 over the last three years, including a 32-point loss at Purdue last season, a 36-point loss at San Diego State and a 57-point loss at Hawaii in 2006.
3. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26: Watson Brown will be looking for better luck against the Wildcats than little brother Mack Brown has enjoyed over the years. It won't happen on this trip.
4. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5: The Fighting Sioux were a Division II team last year. They are transitioning to Division I-AA status and this game will be their first battle in modern history against an FBS opponent. That won't help them in an opener as Mike Leach tries to build confidence in his retooled offense quarterbacked by first-year starter Taylor Potts.
5. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26: The Bears dominated the Demons in a 51-10 blowout last season and will be even better this year. Considering that Baylor's first two games are against foes from BCS-affiliated conferences -- a feat that no other Big 12 will attempt this season in nonconference play -- gives them a little bit of a mulligan for playing such a weak opponent for their third game.
6. Grambling State at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26: Once upon a time, the Tigers were a virtual football factory for NFL talent. Those days are long gone, but at least the storied Grambling band will be coming to Stillwater -- at least we hope.
And some other dogs to avoid include:
- Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
- Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
- Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
- UTEP at Texas, Sept. 26
- Utah State at Texas A&M, Sept. 19
- Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska, Sept. 26
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
If it's Friday afternoon, it must be time for opening my mailbag.
We received some interesting questions and comments this week. Here are some of the best.
Bob Jackson from Sioux Falls, S.D., writes: Tim, I'm really enjoying your countdown on the top 25 moments in Big 12 history. But one question. Why did you pick the Missouri-Kansas game last year over the one in 2007 that had so much hype involved with it? I'm curious how you determined one from another.
Tim Griffin: Bob, hopefully all of my readers are enjoying the countdown of moments as much as I enjoyed developing the list.
My rationale for picking specific moments over others deals with the "wow factor" of the game. I wanted my top events to be moments that made people gasp with excitement when they were watching them live. It has no correlation to the importance of the game, although big plays in huge games tend to make those more memorable than others.
But I picked the 2008 game over the 2007 one because of those "wow" moments. The 2007 game had much more hype than any Missouri-Kansas game in history, but had trouble living up to that billing. Missouri jumped ahead early and really had to scramble only at the end of the game when a late sack and safety by Lorenzo Williams wrapped up the game.
The game last season had lessened stakes than that one. But it was hard to tell it by watching the game. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter, including the dramatic game-winning score from Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier. The fact that both players were injured earlier in the season and battled back to play in the game heightened its drama, in my opinion. And the fact that Missouri had a chance to tie the game on the final play before a blocked kick only added to the excitement.
Both games were good, but the 2008 game was slightly more memorable to me than the one in 2007 because of those memorable plays. And that's why I ranked them in that order.
Bill Barkley from Waco, Texas, writes: Tim, Just a comment about Art Briles and Baylor. I think Briles is not only one of the best coaches in the Big 12 but he is one of the best coaches in the nation. NOBODY [Mike Singletary included] could be doing as good a job as he has done at Baylor. Robert Griffin is here as you know because of Briles. Put Mack Brown in Waco without Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite and see how many games he wins. Put Art Briles in Austin or College Station and we could be talking a top-5 team in the nation every year. This guy has it as a coach.
Tim Griffin: Bill, I agree with you on Briles' coaching acumen. Look at the job he did dominating Texas high school football before even coming to college. But one concern I might have if I was a Baylor backer and the Bears play as well as some of those rosy preseason predictions. Then, I'm wondering if other more attractive schools might come looking at him as a coach.
Obviously, making a bowl game is his most immediate goal. But if that happens and a football power school wants to hire him, it will then be interesting to see if Briles stays in Waco.
David Clouse from Pacola, Okla., writes: What are you expecting this season out of Oklahoma running back Chris Brown? He could be the most valuable RB in the conference, yet DeMarco Murray receives most of the attention. Brown will be a huge key for OU on third downs this year.
Tim Griffin: Actually, I think that Brown will also be effective on first, second and fourth downs, too.
I think that together, Brown and Murray are the best combination in the Big 12 (Sorry, Nebraska fans). And working together only heightens their value. Both don't face the constant pounding that would be in place if they were both every-down backs. It's not to say that either couldn't fill that role, but just that they are each more effective with the other as a part of the team.
For example, I still think that Murray's presence in the BCS title game might have helped lead to a different result for the Sooners. It would have been interesting to see his explosive running and Brown's bullish between-the-tackles thrusts against Florida.
If both stay healthy, it wouldn't surprise me to again see Brown and Murray both rush for more than 1,000 yards. Neither will likely be in the mix for All-American honors, but their abilities together help make the Sooners one of the nation's top teams.
Ted Padberg of Independence, Mo., writes: I have news for you, Tim. Blaine Gabbert may just supplant Chase Daniel in the Mizzou record books and in the hearts of Tiger fans. He has that much potential.
Tim Griffin: Ted, I'm not arguing with you. Gabbert is coming into the Missouri lineup as likely the most hyped recruit in Gary Pinkel's tenure. He has better size and likely a better arm than Daniel did. He won't have the surrounding weapons - at least this season - so it will be interesting to see how patient Missouri fans will be after the Tigers' back-to-back championship game appearances in the last two seasons.
So there are huge expectations that he will be facing. He might someday do more than Daniel, but he arrives having to replace the most statistically successful quarterback in school history. And no matter how you consider it, those are some huge shoes to fill.
Matt from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Great blog Tim! I was just wondering how long you think it will take Bo Pelini to get Nebraska in a BCS game or national championship game. Will it be within four seasons?
Tim Griffin: Obviously, the quick turnarounds and early success that coaches like Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel have enjoyed have proven that tradition-rich programs can turn around quickly. And Pelini is in exactly that kind of position.
But in order to get into that BCS discussion, he's going to have to significantly improve the Cornhuskers' recruiting. He needs to start attracting a bunch of athletic difference makers that will be needed to enable the Cornhuskers to compete with Texas and Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. They'll need to be in that ballpark to get into the BCS mix.
Can that happen in four seasons? No doubt. But Pelini will have to build on his first season of success and ratchet up the Cornhuskers' program another couple of rungs to get them on that level.
And there still is a lot of work remaining to get there.
Joe Bonds of Dallas writes: Tim, I will agree that Texas' non-conference schedule is extremely weak this year, but could someone please point out that it was not intentionally scheduled this way. Utah backed out, Arkansas backed out and UT tried to negotiate a game with Wisconsin this year. Texas does have some big-name programs on the schedule in the future. Why does no one point that out?
Tim Griffin: Joe, you are exactly right. But the BCS computers or pollsters aren't going to factor in that the Longhorns almost played Utah or that Arkansas didn't want to play them or that Wisconsin couldn't have been arranged.
We can point out who the Longhorns almost played, but it still won't take away the fact that their non-conference schedule includes games against Louisiana-Monroe, UCF, UTEP and Wyoming. Those will be the four games that Texas will be judged against.
And I still think that lack of competition, especially compared to some of the non-conference games that other potential national contenders are playing, could come back to haunt the Longhorns.
The road to a national championship is paved with good intentions. But that weak non-conference schedule remains something that Mack Brown and the Longhorns can't diminis
h. Because it's there.
Kenneth Smith of Houston writes: How will Brandon Banks will play this year? Considering teams know who he is now, will that change how he produces for Kansas State. Also how high will he go into the draft?
Tim Griffin: I've gone on record as thinking that Brandon Banks might be the most underrated player in the Big 12. And even though teams know about him a little more this season, they still have to stop him. And that's more easily said than done.
I've heard rumblings that Banks will have a new role with Del Miller as the offensive coordinator. It wouldn't surprise me to see him used in a modified role of a "Wildcat" where he would take direct snaps from center and perhaps and run and throw the ball a little like Darren McFadden originally did for Arkansas.
If he does that and is successful, it will only boost his national stature.
Banks is one of the fastest players in the country with reputed 4.28 speed in the 40-yard dash. But his professional chances are hampered by his size at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds. Because of that size, I think it's a long shot he'll be drafted until he really tears things up this fall.
Thanks for all of the good questions. We'll check in again next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's good to be the matchmaker.
Texas has made some noise about wanting to improve its nonconference schedule. And that's even before the Longhorns' Louisiana-Monroe/UTEP/UCF/Wyoming trip through the pastry wagon might bite them in the BCS this season.
Alabama coach Nick Saban checked in with reporters before leaving on vacation. Among the topics he broached was the Crimson Tide's upcoming schedule.
The Crimson Tide have a future home-and-home series with Penn State, Michigan State and Georgia Tech. Saban told the Tuscaloosa News that those are games he "likes to play."
Saban repeated a notion about Alabama's future scheduling, saying it would be exciting for his team to play upcoming matchups against five of the nation's top programs, "including ones that have a history with Alabama." He mentioned five potential targets for those games: Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan, USC and Texas.
Ah yes, Texas. The Crimson Tide and Longhorns have plenty of history. Remember Tommy Nobis and Joe Namath in the 1965 Orange Bowl? Randy Braband stopping Wilbur Jackson on fourth down in the 1973 Cotton Bowl? Or Russ Wood's four sacks that Texas still overcame to win the 1982 Cotton Bowl?
The Longhorns are 7-0-1 in their history against Alabama. The two teams haven't played during the regular season since 1922.
Saban told reporters that the Crimson Tide would be willing to play at neutral-site games in the future against top opponents, as well as work them into future schedules in home-and-home series.
Texas could either bow to tradition and play at the Cotton Bowl, or opt for megabucks and bells and whistles by playing at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas. Or play the game in Austin.
There's a history between Saban and Mack Brown. Remember what an Internet sensation it was when Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins and was pictured wearing Longhorns gear during a scouting trip to Austin?
Could that help the two old friends pulling off a scheduling deal?
All of us as football fans can only hope so.
Almost as delicious as the possibility of future Texas-Alabama games are these lunchtime links.
Enjoy them and enjoy Father's Day over the weekend.
- I Am the 12th Man contrasts the strategies for rebuilding a program employed by Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer, analyzing what would be best for Texas A&M.
- Ready for some football? A free video posted on huskers.com featuring some video clips of Bo Pelini in the Nebraska locker room is guaranteed to get your blood pumping for the upcoming season.
- The Oklahoman's John Rohde reports that even 20 years after his forced resignation as Oklahoma's coach, it's still good for Barry Switzer to be "The King."
- The Austin American-Statesman's John Maher ranks the best pep talks in Texas athletic history. His favorite was Jack Chevigny's pregame oration before the Longhorns' 1934 upset at Notre Dame.
- The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff writes that new Kansas State athletic director John Currie wants to rebuild the school's credibility one ticket at a time. And the Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek reports that a new policy will require Currie or KSU vice president for administration and finance Bruce Shubert to sign off on any athletic department contract, whether it pertains to personnel, scheduling or services.
- New Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little can learn something by listening to all the nice things that people were saying about Bob Frederick at his funeral, the Lawrence Journal-World's Bill Mayer writes.
- Former Iowa State football players Bruce Reimers, Chris Washington and Eppie Barney have been selected into Iowa State's Hall of Fame, the Des Moines Register reports.
- Quarterback Justin Gilbert of Huntsville, Texas, has become Oklahoma State's 11th commitment of the 2010 recruiting class, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
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
The season is less than 100 days from starting and it's never too early to start analyzing schedules.
The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel did just that, doing his yearly list of the best and worst of the upcoming Big 12 schedule, ranked 1 through 96.
His top game and mine are alike, as are most of them. His list is heavily stacked to conference games, as the days of reputable non-conference games for Big 12 teams are getting to be few and far between.
Here's Tramel's list of the top 10 games:
1. Texas vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, Oct. 17
2. Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 31
3. Georgia at OSU, Sept. 5
4. Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Nov. 21
5. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 28
6. Nebraska at Missouri, Oct. 8
7. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3
8. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19
9. Missouri vs. Kansas at Kansas City, Nov. 28
10. Texas Tech at Texas, Sept. 19
And here's his list of the bottom 10 games as well:
96. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12
95. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5
94. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5
93. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26
92. Grambling at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26
91. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26
90. Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
89. Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
88. Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
87. North Dakota State at Iowa State, Sept. 3
Oklahoma teams dominate his list. I've got to think some North Division games will be good ones, but they probably don't rank with those he listed involving the power elite of the South.
I've got three underrated rivalries that merit some mention, although they probably aren't in the top ten. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State always play entertaining games against each other, particularly in Stillwater, Okla. Texas Tech and Texas A&M is merely the nation's most underrated blood feud. And I'm curious about the Nebraska-Kansas State game as much for the post-game handshake between Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder -- if it happens -- as anything on the field.
But as you can see there's a lot of feast and famine in the Big 12 schedule this season. But I still can't wait. September can't get here quickly enough for me.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Could we see Bevo and the Texas Longhorns making an appearance in that made-for-television opener at the Georgia Dome one of these days?
The Longhorns have been contacted about playing in a future game in Atlanta, Atlanta Sports Council president Gary Stokan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While I think the Atlanta people mainly are going through the formalities if they think the Longhorns would move a game there, stranger things have happened.
First, Mack Brown has made a lot of noise in the past few months about the Longhorns' schedule. And if the Longhorns' less-than-imposing trip to the pastry trough this season -- Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida -- keeps them out of the BCS hunt, you can be sure that future upgrades will be discussed.
Here's another figure that might make a future Atlanta game at least a consideration for Texas -- the $2.085 million that was paid to both Alabama and Clemson in last season's game in Atlanta.
Obviously, the Longhorns could make much more than that by simply adding another home game. But it likely wouldn't have the scheduling benefits of playing a national power on a neutral field on national television.
And here's another item to consider: Mack Brown's first date with his wife, Sally, came on a trip to the venerable Atlanta institution The Varsity restaurant.
Brown is a sentimental guy in regards to football and his family. Maybe a chance to remember the time he first scarfed down a couple of chili dogs and a Frosted Orange with her might help steer him back to Atlanta with his team some day.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Happy Friday afternoon. Here are some of the more interesting letters I received during the past week.
Adam: Would you care to make any comparisons between Oklahoma State's ultra-talented trio of Zac Robinson/Dez Bryant/Kendall Hunter to other OSU trio greats of Mike Gundy/Barry Sanders/Hart Lee Dykes and Josh Fields/Rashaun Woods/Tatum Bell?
Tim Griffin: Adam, I think it terms of total firepower, the Gundy/Sanders/Dykes grouping was the best, followed by the current group of Robinson/Bryant/Hunter with Fields/Bell/Woods ranking last.
The reason I give the 80s group the edge is because of Sanders. Earlier this week, a national web site said that Sanders was the second-greatest living Heisman winner behind only two-time winner Archie Griffin. His rushing numbers are still mind-boggling.
And it would be interesting to see how much better Hart Lee Dykes would have done if he played in today's era where passing is such an important part. Dykes was by far the second offensive option on those teams and he still had 60, 61 and 74 catches in his three seasons as a starter.
That being said, I think that Zac Robinson could go down in history as the greatest quarterback in OSU history and Dez Bryant's numbers will end up being as good as anybody. But as good as Hunter is, he's still no Sanders.
Chance from Memphis, Tenn., writes: Thanks for the heads up regarding the possible Minnesota home-and-home addition for Texas. Didn't Texas have Utah and Arkansas on the 2009 schedule at one time, and both opted out?
TG: Chance, yes they did. Texas had a planned series with Utah for 2008 and 2009 called off fby the Utes. And after beating the Razorbacks in 2008, Arkansas officials decided they didn't want to play Texas in 2009. Instead, the Razorbacks have asked that game to be pushed back until 2014 as they start a 10-year contract for games against Texas A&M at the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas.
All of this doesn't do Mack Brown much good for this season. He might have to answer for his non-conference schedule which is packed with gooey treats like Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida.
If there's a close race in the BCS standings, something tells me that Brown will be doing a lot of spinning about his schedule during November.
Adam Nettina from Baltimore writes: Tim, Why the heck is Logan Dold moving the safety when he showed such promise as a running back? He was the second all-time leading rusher in Kansas high school history, was K-state's leading rusher in terms of yards per carry among regulars a year and runs the 100 in 10.9 seconds.
Yet, he's being replaced a senior who only ran for 3.8 yards per carry in limited duty a year ago and a redshirt freshmen with basically no on-field experience. So why make the move with Dold and not somebody else?
TG: Adam, I agree that I was a little surprised by the move of Dold, particularly considering his production last season. But I also know that Bill Snyder traditionally has favored small, quick backs like Darren Sproles. I'm wondering if he thinks that Keithen Valentine better suits his philosophy. And I also know that Jarell Childs has been a big surprise during spring practice.
Seth from New Haven, Conn., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a Yale student who just saw that Nebraska's Patrick Witt intends to transfer to New Haven. What should we expect to see from him?
TG: I get the feeling that Witt transferred to Yale more for academic reasons that for a chance to play. He had the opportunity to play at places like Duke and South Carolina and also considered UCLA. But I think his style will suit him at Yale, playing for Coach Jack Siedlecki.
Witt is a big, strong quarterback who has a strong arm for deep throws. Remember, he was the player who Bo Pelini turned to when Joe Ganz was injured for a few plays against Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
I'm not thinking that Witt will be heading to the Bulldogs with any sense of entitlement. And I'm also expecting he will be excited about continuing his career. So I wouldn't be surprised if he really thrived with his opportunity.
Preston Nix from Austin, Texas, writes: Tim, what keeps the Big 12 from trading Iowa State, Colorado, and/or Baylor for Utah, Boise State or other schools that could broaden the Big 12 market and make it a national powerhouse like the SEC seems to be?
TG: Mainly, it's tradition and the relationships that all of the schools have made with the others over the years. Iowa State was in the Big Eight with many of those other schools since 1928. Colorado was a member of the Big Eight from 1948. That's a lot of years for relationships.
And if Baylor hadn't come along with the other three schools from Texas when the Big 12 was formed, it's likely that none of them would because of the Bears' strong political power in the state legislature in Austin. Also, the complete sports programs of those schools - both in men's and women's sports - will be a factor in keeping them together.
I don't look for the Big 12 to break up any time soon. From everything I'm hearing, I think there's greater cohesiveness among the 12 partners who make up the league than ever before.
Joseph Hauss from College Station writes: Tim, I love your blog and read it every day. The 2009 season can't get here quickly enough. I just was wondering what your thoughts were about Mike Leach's comments about Stephen McGee? An A&M student I should be all against Tech. Unlike, many of my colleagues I find Mike Leach to be my kind of guy because he speaks his mind and isn't scared to. That being said, I believe he was actually complimenting McGee on his accomplishment but was inferring that he would have been using McGee's skills in the passing game since he stepped foot on campus in 2005.
TG: I think that Leach's compliment was a backhanded swipe at McGee's previous and current coaching staff. And I've got to think there's a tad of envy for Leach in the fact that McGee, who started two games last season, was drafted in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, Graham Harrell, the prototypical quarterback for Leach's offense went undrafted despite setting a FBS career record for most career touchdown passes.
I've got to wonder if there might be a fear for Leach and the Red Raiders that Harrell's failure to be drafted might hurt the school in returning at a later time. But it seems like top quarterbacks always end up playing for the Red Raiders. It's just that the elite ones might have been more willing to make that move if Harrell had been a higher draft selection.
R.W. Dobbins of Oklahoma City writes: Jermaine Gresham as the best tight end in Oklahoma history? Well considering Keith Jackson was the best tight end in the history of any school, you might be a little off.
TG: I appreciate your response, but remember, I said that if Gresham had a huge year he could be remembered as Oklahoma's greatest tight end. I still think that is the case.
Jackson was a great athlete who averaged 23.7 yards per reception. But he also benefited from defenses which were stacked to stop the Sooners' wishbone offense when he was playing. And also remember that Jackson had 62 catches in his career. Gresham had 66 catches and 14 touchdowns last season.
I realize that football is different today than when Jackson was playing. But Gresham can be just as valuable and could earn All-America status with a big season this year. And he probably deserved it last season.
Benson from Washington, D.C., writes: Tim, I loved following the draft and I noticed that Missouri had more players picked than any team from the Big 12. Has that ever happened before? Also, was their total the most ever picked in one draft for a Big 12 team and was it the most ever for Missouri in one draft?
TG: Benson, you're right. Missouri had the most players picked in the Big 12 with six draftees. But it wasn't the most in school history. That came in 1981 and 1943 when the Tigers had seven players selected. And both of those drafts were significantly bigger than today's current seven-round draft. The NFL went 12 rounds deep in 1981 and 32 rounds in 1943.
The Tigers' haul last weekend still didn't match Oklahoma's Big 12 record of 11 players that were picked in 2005.
Thanks again for all of the letters. Enjoy your weekend and I'll be checking back again next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Mack Brown has been intent in improving Texas' nonconference schedule in the future after a recent run of less-than-imposing out-of-conference opponents.
It sounds like the Longhorns are close to adding an upcoming opponent of some national stature.
The Longhorns and Minnesota are close to agreeing to a home-and-home series, according to veteran Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman.
It would be a matchup between Brown and his former assistant, Tim Brewster. Brewster's son, Nolan, currently is a safety on the Longhorns' roster. It would also give the Longhorns a chance to check out the Gophers' new stadium that will be opening this season.
The Gophers have played in seven bowl games during this decade, but haven't advanced to any bowl game higher than the Sun Bowl during that time. They haven't played on a New Year's Day bowl game since beating UCLA in the 1962 Rose Bowl.
The Longhorns have played one nonconference opponent affiliated with BCS conferences in recent seasons.
Their most recent home-and-home series with a Big Ten Conference opponent was with Ohio State. Their games in 2005 and 2006 were classics and showed both schools were willing to play against the very best opponents nationally.
Playing against Minnesota isn't exactly the same, but it's an improvement over recent and future nonconference games against teams like Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Sam Houston State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Three Texas players underwent successful post-spring athroscopic surgeries and should be back and ready when the team reports for practice later this summer.
Texas trainer Kenny Boyd said sophomore safety Blake Gideon (right shoulder), junior quarterback Sherrod Harris (left knee) and senior linebacker Jared Norton (right shoulder) all have had surgeries since the Longhorns finished spring practice on April 5.
All of the players should be ready to compete when the Longhorns report on Aug. 8, Boyd said.
But the surgeries still are significant because Gideon is projected as a starter in the Longhorns' secondary, Norton was listed as the starting middle linebacker and Harris is set to battle heralded incoming freshman Garrett Gilbert for the backup position behind Colt McCoy.
Arthroscopic surgeries today are considered relatively simple. And having the injured Longhorns take care of their surgeries should result in them being ready when Texas starts the season Sept. 5 against Louisiana-Monroe.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Although some coaches are hesitant to allow prying eyes to watch spring scrimmages, Mack Brown is taking the opposite approach.
The Longhorns' Orange-White scrimmage will be webcast on ESPN360.com beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. And a tape-delayed broadcast of the scrimmage will be telecast nationally at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. Lowell Galindo and Tom Luginbill will have the call.
There was some grousing among those in the Oklahoma program after their spring game was shown in 2005 -- shortly after TCU stormed into Norman and notched a 17-10 upset victory in the season opener later that year.
Something tells me that Brown won't have those fears -- considering that the Longhorns open on Sept. 5 against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
Here's a little perspective about the Warhawks: Charlie Weatherbie's team did notch a stunning 2007 upset at Alabama and dropped a pair of two-point decisions at Kentucky and Kansas in 2006.
But Texas shouldn't fret too much. Louisiana-Monroe ranked among the bottom 20 teams nationally last season in rushing defense (109th), total defense (109th), sacks (108th) and sacks allowed (104th).
So the chance to show off the Texas program shouldn't be too worrisome for Brown and his staff.
But I still bet he keeps the game plan pretty vanilla, nonetheless.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State