Big 12: Lucien Antoine
2009 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense (4), Defense(4) P/K (2)
Top returners: DE Ugo Chinasa, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Hubert Anyiam, S Markelle Martin, K Dan Bailey, P Quinn Sharp
Key losses: QB Zac Robinson, OL Russell Okung, RB Keith Toston, WR Dez Bryant, LB Donald Booker, CB Perrish Cox, LB Andre Sexton, LB Patrick Lavine, S Lucien Antoine
2009 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Keith Toston (1,218 yards)
Passing: Zac Robinson (2,084 yards)
Receiving: Hubert Anyiam (515 yards)
Tackles: Donald Booker (99)
Sacks: Ugo Chinasa* (6.5)
Interceptions: Patrick Lavine (5)
Three spring answers
1. Learning the offense: Oklahoma State looks on schedule in learning new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, one he used to coordinate the best offense in college football at Houston last season. Brandon Weeden is the unquestioned starter after the spring, including a nice finish in the spring game when the junior threw four touchdown passes.
2. Kendall Hunter: New ends, different means. Coach Mike Gundy estimates Hunter will touch the ball around 250 times next season, but he won’t be doing it on the ground. Instead, he’ll be catching the ball in space, using his shiftiness to make defenders miss and pile up yards for the Cowboys. Holgorsen says Hunter is even better than he thought, and they’ll both want to prove it in the fall after Hunter’s disappointing 2009 season.
3. He’s no Lemon. Defensive coordinator Bill Young believes linebacker Orie Lemon is the best middle linebacker in the country, and Lemon had one of the best springs of any player on the Cowboy defense. He missed the entire 2009 season after tearing his ACL in fall camp, and will be ready to get back on the field this fall.
Three fall questions
1. Will Weeden be the next Keenum? At Houston under Holgorsen, Case Keenum threw for almost 1,500 more yards than the second-best in football in 2009. No one’s expecting Weeden to throw for 5,600 yards in 2010 (or throw it almost 700 times), but if he can elevate his status to one of the conference’s best quarterbacks, Holgorsen will have another impressive bullet on his resume and the Cowboys will have a few more wins.
2. Can the O-line assert itself? Will it have to? The offensive line is replacing the NFL Draft’s No. 6 pick and four-year starter Russell Okung, along with three other starters. Will they be good enough to get Holgorsen’s offense humming? With the system’s quick-release passing, it might not have to hold for long.
3. Can the Cowboys exceed expectations in a rebuilding year? After falling short of the South title in 2009 with Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant (at least part of the time) and Okung, expectations are measured in what’s somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Cowboys. They have a great chance to parlay a 4-0 non-conference record into a bowl game, but how many more wins will the Cowboys have in conference? Only the fall knows.
1. Texas (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Garrett Gilbert got a head start on replacing Colt McCoy with his considerable playing time in the national title game, an invaluable learning experience for a young player. The Longhorns return most of the defense that improved in its second season under Will Muschamp. The biggest chores will be for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has to boost running game production and find a replacement for record-breaking wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
2. Nebraska (18 starters back: 8 offensive, 8 defensive, 2 special teams). Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers positioned for a potential top-10 preseason ranking. Most of the offensive weapons will be back from a unit that sputtered down the stretch before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl victory. Quarterback Zac Lee will miss some of spring practice as he recovers from postseason surgery. Cody Green and Kody Spano will get most of the work until Lee returns. Nebraska coaches think the defense can be better this season, even without the up-the-middle strength of Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon.
3. Oklahoma (15 starters back: 9 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Sooners overcame a debilitating run of injuries last season to finish with a flourish, knocking Oklahoma State out of a BCS game and winning the Sun Bowl in their final two games. Landry Jones will be infinitely better in his second season as a starter and Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray may be the best one-two receiving/running back combination in the conference. Bob Stoops will be facing a big renovation on defense where key players like Gerald McCoy and Dominique Franks left early for the NFL draft. Look for Travis Lewis to be the key to a defense that will need to improve by the time Big 12 play begins if the Sooners are to have any hope of claiming a seventh Big 12 title this season.
4. Missouri (19 starters back: 9 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 special teams). The Tigers will miss Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who were arguably the best players at their positions in the conference last season. But Blaine Gabbert is back for a second season as starting quarterback and some talented recruits are expected to emerge on defense. A key for the Tigers’ success will be a more productive running game and consistency from the offensive line. Improvement on both will be critical for coordinator David Yost during the spring.
5. Texas Tech (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Tommy Tuberville immediately will have to sort through a potentially difficult decision at quarterback between Taylor Potts and fan favorite Steven Sheffield. New coordinator James Willis hopes to install a 3-4 defense that should be a haven for athletic linebackers. But the group’s success will hinge on replacing Jamar Wall at cornerback and finding some pass-rushing threats to replace Brandon Sharpe, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard along the front.
6. Texas A&M (19 starters back: 8 offensive, 9 defensive, 2 special teams). With Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Christine Michael back, the Aggies shouldn’t have trouble scoring points, although the line needs to do a better job of protecting Johnson. But the Aggies’ success will depend on the returning starters quickly taking to new coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s teachings. The group was blistered for at least 35 points in seven games last season and allowed at least 30 points in two other games. So needless to say that even with nine starters back, DeRuyter has his work cut out.
7. Kansas (16 starters back: 7 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 special teams). New coach Turner Gill inherits an uncertain quarterback situation, but has the framework for a strong running attack with all of his starting linemen back, along with Toben Opurum and heralded back Brandon Bourbon as running threats. The Jayhawks will need to fill in for the loss of Darrell Stuckey in the secondary, but new coordinator Carl Torbush should find the elements for a blitzing, attacking defense among the returnees. But the biggest reason the Jayhawks might be bound for a bowl game in Gill’s first season is swapping Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor in their cross-divisional schedule.
8. Iowa State (13 starters back: 8 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams). Paul Rhoads returns most of the offensive weapons that led the Cyclones to the Insight Bowl, most notably quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. But the team loses all of its starting linebackers; veteran coordinator Wally Burnham will be challenged to cobble together a serviceable unit. The Cyclones could actually be a better team in 2010 but post a worse record. A tougher schedule featuring nonconference games against Utah, Iowa and Northern Illinois and the addition of South Division powers Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will make last season’s bowl trip much tougher to duplicate.
9. Oklahoma State (10 starters back: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 special teams). The Cowboys must find replacements for key players like Zac Robinson, Keith Tosten, four offensive linemen (including Outland finalist Russell Okung) and six of their back seven on defense. New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen finds an uncertain quarterback situation but will lean heavily on a healthy Kendall Hunter. A manageable nonconference schedule should have them in bowl contention, but this should be a step back from Mike Gundy’s last two teams.
10. Kansas State (15 starters back: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip last season only because they scheduled two FCS teams, but they surprisingly challenged for the Big 12 North title up to their last game of the season. It might be tougher to do that this season, although Daniel Thomas will provide the foundation on offense. Carson Coffman has the inside track at quarterback, but keep an eye out for Oregon transfer Chris Harper at either that position or wide receiver. Players like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and John Houlik will be missed on defense, but all four starters are back in the secondary.
11. Colorado (16 starters back: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 1 special teams). Dan Hawkins’ seat is the hottest in the Big 12 and arguably in college football after missing a bowl for a second straight season last year. Tyler Hansen returns as the starting quarterback, but the Buffaloes need to find some help in the backfield with only three scholarship backs in spring practice. The defense was young last season and should be improved, but will miss the leadership provided by Jeff Smart and Cha’pelle Brown. A bowl trip likely will be necessary to save Hawkins’ job and a tough nonconference schedule featuring games at California and against Hawaii and Georgia will prove troublesome even before Big 12 play begins.
12. Baylor (14 starters back: 6 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 special teams). The Bears’ hopes of stopping the conference’s longest bowl drought will hinge largely on the health of Robert Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2009 season. New offensive lineman “Big” Robert Griffin will have to protect his quarterback if coach Art Briles has any hope of making a bowl trip. Jay Finley and Kendall Wright are underrated offensive threats, but the Bears will miss key defensive leaders like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake who were stalwarts for several years.
Antoine produced two tackles and an assist for the Texas team, which rolled to a 36-17 victory over the Nation at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Several other former Big 12 players participated in the fourth annual February all-star game.
Here's a look at what the Big 12 players accomplished in the game. All of them played for the Texas team.
- Texas A&M FB Jamie McCoy: Rushed twice for 12 yards and produced one catch for 5 yards.
- Iowa State P Mike Brandtner: Two kicks for a 33.0 yard average. His longest was 43 yards and he had one pooch kick inside the 20.
- Baylor S Jordan Lake: Two assists, a shared tackle for a loss and one pass broken up.
- Missouri WR Jared Perry: One reception for 16 yards.
Several players who appeared on game rosters earlier in the week did not participate. Among those who were missing included Baylor wide receiver David Gettis, Oklahoma State guard Andrew Lewis, Texas A&M center Kevin Matthews, Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Sharpe and Texas Tech tackle Marlon Winn, according to the official statistical game book that was posted at the game's web site.
After the game, organizers told the El Paso Times that they were disappointed with an announced crowd of 26,041 for the game. That attendance was down significantly from last season's attendance of 42,000.
Game CEO Kenny Hansmire told the Times the game could be headed for San Antonio or Dallas because of the attendance decline.
The Big 12 will be represented by a group of players looking to make some pre-draft buzz.
Here's a look at the prospects representing the Big 12 schools, who will participate on the Texas team in the game.
WR David Gettis
S Jordan Lake
P Mike Brandtner
WR Jared Perry
S Lucien Antoine
G-C Andrew Lewis
FB-H-back Jamie McCoy
C Kevin Matthews
DE Brandon Sharpe
T Marlon Winn
Former Dallas Cowboys standout Bill Bates and Florida Atlantic University head coach Howard Schnellenberger will serve as the coaches at Saturday's game.
The Big 12 is well represented on the list of invited players, with every team but Iowa State and Texas A&M having at least one representative.
Here's the final list. The late invitations, typically from underclassmen who declared for the draft, are listed in bold.
WR David Gettis
C J.D. Walton
TE Riar Geer
WR Dezmon Briscoe
WR Kerry Meier
S Darrell Stuckey
KANSAS STATE (3)
WR Brandon Banks
TE Jeron Mastrud
CB Joshua Moore
WR Danario Alexander
G Kurtis Gregory
WR Jared Perry
LB Sean Weatherspoon
S Larry Asante
LB Phillip Dillard
C Jacob Hickman
DT Ndamukong Suh
QB Sam Bradford
RB Chris Brown
OLB Keenan Clayton
TE Brody Eldridge
CB Dominique Franks
TE Jermaine Gresham
CB Brian Jackson
DT Gerald McCoy
T Trent Williams
OKLAHOMA STATE (6)
S Lucien Antoine
WR Dez Bryant
CB Perrish Cox
T Russell Okung
QB Zac Robinson
RB Keith Toston
DT Lamarr Houston
DE Sergio Kindle
QB Colt McCoy
LB Roddrick Muckelroy
WR Jordan Shipley
S Earl Thomas
T Adam Ulatoski
TEXAS TECH (2)
G Brandon Carter
CB Jamar Wall
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy got a quick life lesson from his 4-year-old boy, Gage, on how to get over setbacks quickly.
Gage Gundy sliced his foot open Sunday night and received some stitches during a quick trip to the emergency room. His dad can only hope his team is as resilient as it overcomes its loss Saturday to Houston.
“Kids are resilient. I think they overcome things," Gundy said. "He's (Gage) walking around today, he's 4 years old and he doesn't know the difference. I think our guys are the same way.
"It stings now. When you've won and had as much success as we have, they want to win for themselves, for the team and for everybody."
But the loss to Houston convinced the Cowboys they have to return to the drawing board to restore their confidence after their first loss of the season.
Cornerback Terrance Anderson had a simple explanation for what his team needs to do as it prepares for Saturday's game against Rice.
"Go back to work. You've got to go back to work and prepare for the next team," Anderson said. "The season's long still. That was only game two. You have another 12 games to go, so you've got to get back to the next game."
Oklahoma State safety Lucien Antoine had trouble letting go of the loss after it happened -- much like the rest of his team, he said.
"After Saturday, everybody was mad because no one likes to lose," Antoine said. "We were mad, upset. But they're on scholarship just like we are. They came to play and we've got to give them their props."
And just like the lesson from Gundy's son, Antoine said the Cowboys need to forget about their sting and move on.
"What we've got to do is keep our head up because it's a long season," Antoine said. "We've got to go back to work and come ready to play because we know what to expect now. We need to get ready, get better and just go out there and play."
Antoine mentioned defending national champion Florida for a lesson in overcoming early adversity and moving on. The Gators lost their fourth game of the season to Mississippi last season before rebounding to win their last 10 games of the season en route to their second national championship in the last three seasons.
"Last year, Florida lost to Ole Miss and they still won the national championship," Antoine said. "If we look to the past, we're going to keep losing. We have to move on and focus on what's ahead of us because the future is bright. We've got a lot to play for."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- There were concerns all week about how Oklahoma State would react after the Cowboys beat Georgia last week in an emotional victory that boosted them into the top five nationally for the first time since 1985.
Those fears appeared real as Houston took advantage of an early turnover to claim a quick 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
After Kendall Hunter fumbled at the Oklahoma State 16, Houston defensive tackle David Hunter pounced on the fumble.
Case Keenum streaked through the Oklahoma State defense on a 16-yard touchdown run on the first play after the fumble to give the Cougars an early lead.
Keenum appears sharp in the early going and will challenge Oklahoma State's defense. Free safety Lucien Antoine is in Oklahoma State lineup, although Markelle Martin isn't.
Defensive players credited Oklahoma State defensive coach Bill Young for settling their emotions last week against Georgia. We'll see if Young can pull a similar trick today.
Oklahoma State's defense was the major reason the Cowboys notched an impressive season-opening victory over Georgia.
The Cowboys will be facing another kind of challenge this week against Case Keenum, who passed for 359 yards and four touchdowns in last week's victory over Northwestern State.
Georgia was about as subtle as a punch in the stomach as it attempted to bull through the Cowboys. And after an 80-yard drive to start the game, the Bulldogs produced only 177 yards for the rest of the game.
Oklahoma State's defensive could be influenced the status of their starting safeties. Victor Johnson or Johnny Thomas will start at strong safety for Markelle Martin, who is hobbled with an undisclosed injury. And Oklahoma State free safety Lucien "The Punisher" Antoine told me after last week's game that he was sore, but expects to play today.
I just looked at Antoine going through his warmups with his teammates before the game. He looks ready to play.
One key player that Oklahoma State will have to account for is freshman running back Charles Sims, who had a breakthrough game for the Cougars last week. Sims produced six receptions for 128 yards.
Houston offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will likely try to isolate Sims against the slower Oklahoma State linebackers.
If it's a Friday afternoon, it must mean it's time to check the mailbag.
With the season starting, we've got some interesting correspondence this week. Here are some of the more notable missives.
Calvin Kirkpatrick of Kyle, Texas, writes: Hey, Tim. What’s the deal with Colorado sucking up all of the Big 12's television time? Every time it looks like I’ll be tuning in this season they'll be playing somebody on national television.
Tim Griffin: Calvin, I will say one thing for Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn: He’s willing to play on some non-traditional nights to get exposure for his program. Most of the major powers aren’t willing to do that, feeling their games on Saturdays are almost sacrosanct. It hasn’t always been that way. I remember that Oklahoma traveled to Tulsa a few years ago to play on a Friday night. And who can forget Texas’ struggles on that Sunday night in 1994 when the Longhorns and John Mackovic lost to Rice?
But Colorado’s athletic department appears to be the most willing in the Big 12 to take this unconventional approach. It will provide them some additional money from playing in these games. But it also will provide them with the difficulty of playing on five days this week at Toledo. I imagine that Dan Hawkins probably isn’t as enthralled about this idea today as he might have been a few months ago.
But brace yourself for even more. The Buffaloes’ games against West Virginia (Thursday Oct. 1), at Oklahoma State (Thursday Nov. 19) and Nebraska (Friday Nov. 27) all will be played on days other than Saturday.
The game tonight might be the biggest one that Hawkins has coached at Colorado.
And I can’t wait to watch it.
Rusty from Hesston, Kan., writes: Tim, I enjoy your blog and find that I check multiple times each day. I’d thought I’d throw you a curveball in terms of your likes and dislikes. I’d like to know which uniforms you like in the Big 12 and which ones you don’t like.
Tim Griffin: Rusty, I appreciate the kind words. I’ve never been asked about my judgment about fashion, but here goes.
I always have been partial to the traditional, clean look for uniforms. Those worn by Texas and Oklahoma have remained relatively unchanged over the years and are my two favorites in the league. One of my favorite old uniforms was the Texas A&M uniforms from back in the 1970s when they had vertical stripes on the uniforms. I also really liked the Aggies’ helmets back then, as I do any helmet that has the player’s uniform numbers on it. I’m looking forward to seeing Nebraska’s throwback uniforms when they play Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 26.
I don’t dislike many uniform combinations. But I wasn’t crazy about Baylor’s all-white look they sported for the Wake Forest game. It made them look like they should have been delivering Cookies and Cream from the "Little Creamery in Brenham" than playing football.
David from Newport, R.I., writes: Tim, in regards to your grading the offenses and defenses. I like the idea and the comments others have made. How about this idea? Instead of using 1 or .5 points for the touchdown and FG, respectively, why not divide total points by 7 so the missed extra points and two point conversions are also included. Also, why not have a comparison between the offensive and defensive production similar to baseball’s run differential to get an idea how each team has compared to their opponents.
Tim Griffin: David, my offensive and defensive rankings prompted a lot of comments from readers. I appreciate them all. Some blasted them because they were so simple, or because they didn’t factor in strength of schedule or special teams.
I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted an easy-to-measure way to judge the effectiveness of an offense. I thought in terms of a batting average in baseball, which is clear and easy to understand. And using that same thought process, I thought I could come up with something like a batting average. And I think my measure does that, giving us a percentage of how well a team operates by judging its percentage of scoring drives. I wasn't interested in doing much more than that, like grading it on the measure of an opponent or anything like that.
That’s why I decided to go the way I did. I do like your mention of the run differential and might try that out to see if can determine the effectiveness of a team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- When he went back home to Florida the last few months, Oklahoma State safety Lucien Antoine heard a lot of doubters about Big 12 football.
It was understandable. After all, the Big 12 had the reputation for big passing games and pillow-soft defenses.
And considering the way the Southeastern Conference had statement victories in bowl games, few would have thought the Cowboys or any team from their conference could have matched their rival's defensive intensity.
"People were telling me they think the SEC has all the good teams," Antoine said. "We get tired of people saying their conference is better than (ours) just because people think they are more aggressive."
The Cowboys lived up to Antoine's claims with a punishing defensive performance, beating the Georgia Bulldogs in an impressive 24-10 statement victory.
In a sense, they went out and beat the Bulldogs at their own game.
"The game was played very much like what you see in the SEC," Oklahoma State Mike Gundy said. "I don't think anybody would have predicted that."
Coupled with Baylor's victory at Wake Forest and Missouri's convincing beatdown of Illinois, it was a good day for the Big 12 and its much-maligned defenses.
After Georgia went 80 yards for a touchdown on the first possession, the Bulldogs were limited to 177 yards during the rest of the game. They produced 95 yards rushing as the Cowboys forced three turnovers and notched two sacks.
"We play defense just like they do," said Antoine, who earned the nickname of "The Punisher" as a player in junior college. "But I think today, we played harder than they did."
Antoine played up to his nickname and more with a team-high seven tackles. His crunching hit forced a fumble by Georgia redshirt freshman running back Carlton Thomas late in the first half. The turnover helped turn around the momentum of the game, igniting a run of 17 unanswered points that kick-started the Cowboys' finish.
The strong defensive outing surprised Gundy, who was hoping for a big effort but wasn't sure how his team would play.
"I'll be honest with you," Gundy said. "I didn't think we could play this well."
Gundy's concern was understandable. The Cowboys were torched for 61, 56 and 42 points in three late losses last season. And they ranked 93rd in total defense, 107th in sacks and 109th in pass defense.
To restore confidence in his battered unit, Gundy hired former Oklahoma State player and veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young.
Young has the reputation as the “Horse Whisperer” of defensive coordinators, rebuilding shattered units with positive reinforcement. He was a member of Mark Mangino’s original staff at Kansas, leaving there after leading the Jayhawks to a 2008 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
“This is what we’ve been harping on since we got here,” Young said. “We have some talent and some good players. And we’ll be a good defense later in the season.”
It was hard not to consider them as one Saturday. They handcuffed the Bulldogs and held them to a field goal after the early score, forcing turnovers that sparked two scoring drives that catapulted the Cowboys to the victory. Georgia's wide receivers produced three receptions for 10 yards.
“You kind of get what you ask for,” Young said."Nobody has stressed turnovers more than we try to. We teach drills to strip the ball and get picks. We’re happy with three, but we would like four or five.”
The Cowboys did it with a makeshift group missing starting free safety Markelle Martin and starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon.
But they persevered and showed a little toughness while doing it.
“We are a different defense than last year,” said middle linebacker Donald Booker, who filled in with a strong performance in place of Lemon. “Everybody doubted us, but we just fed off it. We proved we can be a physical team, too.”
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The Oklahoma State defense took a hit early in the third quarter when starting safety Lucien Antoine was injured and helped from the field.
Antoine remained down for a couple of minutes before walking to the sidelines under his own power along with Oklahoma State trainers.
It's a big loss for the Cowboys, who are already depleted after sophomore safety Markelle Martin didn't dress out for the game. And starting cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Terrance Anderson have been out of the lineup on Georgia's first drive with injuries and cramps.
It also means that freshman Daytawion Lowe will be pressed into duty in Antoine's spot in the first extended play of his career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- After struggling offensively for most of the first half, Dez Bryant helped jumpstart Oklahoma State into a 10-7 halftime lead over Georgia.
Bryant's awakening came after the Cowboys' defense made some strong adjustments after allowing a touchdown on the first Bulldog possession.
The Cowboys scored all of their points in the last 2:24 of the half after sputtering offensively for most of the half.
The Cowboys went ahead on their final possession after the Oklahoma State defense provided the first turnover of the half when Lucien Antoine hammered redshirt freshman tailback Carlton Thomas, causing him to fumble at the Georgia 10.
But a fourth-quarter touchdown by Zac Robinson from the Georgia 1 was wiped out on a holding penalty on the ensuing possession. Dan Bailey then provided a 28-yard field goal that gave the Cowboys the lead.
After struggling on Georgia's first possession, Oklahoma State's retooled defense played up to the lofty expectations of new coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys stoned the Bulldogs, limiting them to 57 yards on their next five possessions during the remainder of the half.
The Cowboys' defense got a lift from two unexpected sources. Antoine has been all over the field. And middle linebacker Donald Booker, in the lineup only because of Orie Lemon's knee injury, has given the Cowboys a physical presence that was missing last season.
Bryant's huge leaping catch over Georgia defender Bryan Evans jump-started a crowd that had been silent for most of the first half.
Bryant's first catch didn't come until about 3 minutes were left in the first half. And he trumped that two plays later on the leaping snag in the end zone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 defenses are nearly as proficient as their offensive counterparts. But the best teams in terms of defense will likely end up as the conference’s best teams because stopping the high-powered offenses in the conference is so rare.
Here’s a look at how I rank them:
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners return nine starters and are among the nation’s very best defenses. It starts with three-deep talent along the defensive line keyed by Gerald McCoy and Auston English, who was the conference’s preseason player of the year last season before spraining his knee. They might be a little lacking in depth at middle linebacker behind Ryan Reynolds with the injury to freshman standout Tom Wort and Mike Balogun’s iffy status. The only new starters are strong safety Sam Proctor and free safety Quinton Carter, who have both been impressive in fall camp. The Sooners’ substitutes might be better collectively than most Big 12 units.
2. Texas: The Longhorns have arguably the conference’s best back seven, particularly a developing secondary led by Earl Thomas and corners Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams. Sergio Kindle and Alex Okafor are poised to become the primary pass-rushing specialists. Lamarr Houston has developed into an anchor at defensive tackle, but the Longhorns need to find another player at the other defensive tackle position to juice production for their biggest defensive weakness. Will Muschamp’s unit must do a better job after producing only 16 turnovers last season to rank tied for 104th nationally.
3. Nebraska: It all starts with the defensive line, which is among the best in the nation with Outland Candidate Ndamukong Suh and defensive ends Pierre Allen and Barry Turner. The Cornhuskers are young at linebacker where they might start two linebackers, although coaches really like 6-foot-6, 230-pound buck linebacker Sean Fisher and Will Compton. Coaches say the secondary is playing with more confidence, but the group produced only 12 interceptions last season. Boosting that turnover production will be critical in the Cornhuskers’ division title hopes.
4. Texas Tech: This is where the big drop-off starts from the top three teams. The Red Raiders will miss pass-rushing threats McKinner Dixon and Brandon Williams from last season, but have an experienced unit back. Rajon Henley and Brandon Sharpe are set to fill in as the pass-rushing threats and Colby Whitlock can be a terror at times -- particularly against Texas. Brian Duncan is a producer and the team’s leading tackler at middle linebacker. Jamar Wall is one of the better cover corners in the league. But the unit will depend on the improvement of two projected starters: redshirt freshman free safety Cody Davis and strong safety Franklin Mitchem.
5. Oklahoma State: The development by veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young will determine whether this unit has the goods to lead the Cowboys to their first South title and a potential maiden BCS bowl appearance. The biggest key will be producing more sacks from a defensive front that notched only 15 last season. Young has been concentrating on push from his defensive tackles and thinks he has an underrated pair in seniors Swanson Miller and Derek Burton. The loss of Orie Lemon at middle linebacker will hurt, although Donald Booker has been a producer in limited playing time. The secondary will be playing new starters with only Perrish Cox returning. But keep an eye out for senior free safety Lucien “The Punisher” Antoine who was turning heads last season before blowing out his ACL in the second game last season.
6. Colorado: The Buffaloes are faster this season and that should help them cope with the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. The linebackers are deep with Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart as the prime producers. And I really like the secondary, with Jimmy Smith and Cha’pelle Brown among the best pair of cornerbacks in the conference. The biggest concern is along the defensive line, particularly after the injury of heralded freshman Nick Kasa that may idle him for the season. One area to note will be at right defensive end, where sophomore Lagrone Shields and freshman Forrest West are in the two-deep. Shields has played four snaps in his career.
7. Kansas: The Jayhawks need defensive improvement if they are going to fulfill their hopes of making their first championship game. The Jayhawks were crippled last season without a consistent pass rush. They hope junior-college transfer Quintin Woods, Caleb Blakesley and 304-pound Jamal Greene up front along with sack leader Jake Laptad. After losing three starting linebackers from last season, the Jayhawks will retool. I look for them to play two linebackers and a nickel look in many cases. Look for freshman Huldon Tharp to become a producer at linebacker. The secondary is the strength of the defense with All-Big 12 candidate Darrell Stuckey at strong safety and Phillip Strozier poised to continue his late-season development.
8. Baylor: Up the middle, the Bears might be among the strongest defenses in the conference with heralded transfer defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Joe Pawelek and hard-hitting safety Jordan Lake. Baylor coordinator Brian Norwood knows he needs more production from a defensive line that collected only 21 sacks and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of passes for 3,063 yards. Antonio Jones and Antonio Johnson sometimes get overshadowed by Pawelek at linebacker. Junior cornerbacks Tim Atchison, Clifton Odom and Antareis Bryan need to improve or it could be a long season for the secondary.
9. Missouri: Any defense that starts with All-American candidate Sean Weatherspoon won’t be too bad. The Tigers could be a surprise considering that Gary Pinkel has been raving about the speed his unit possesses -- particularly at defensive end and at cornerback. Look for a three-man rotation at defensive end with Brian Coulter, Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith to boost production in the pass rush. The secondary was a huge liability last season ranking 118th in pass defense. Kevin Rutland has shown a physical style at cornerback and Kenji Jackson and Hardy Ricks might be ready to help at safety.
10. Kansas State: New coordinators Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning plan to run a 4-2-5 defense. Their first concern is developing a rush with 2008 first-team freshman All-America pick Brandon Harold out with an injury. While he’s gone, the Wildcats need Eric Childs and Jeffrey Fitzgerald to emerge up front. John Houlik and Alex Hrebec apparently have earned the starting jobs at linebacker. Three junior college players -- David Garrett, Troy Butler and Emmanuel Lamur -- have apparently earned starting jobs for a secondary that desperately needs to improve after ranking 106th nationally in pass defense. The defense ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 117th in total defense, so the new coordinators better boost improvement or it will be another long season.
11. Texas A&M: Whatever happened to the Wrecking Crew defenses from the past? The best indication of the concern that Mike Sherman has for his defensive unit came when he transferred projected starting left tackle Lucas Patterson move back to defensive tackle late in preseason practice to boost production inside. Von Miller was impressive at the “jack” position, but he’ll need some good fortune to hold up consistently rushing against the huge offensive lines in the conference. The Aggies need to improve after yielding 461 yards and 37 points per game and earning the ignominy of being one of three FBS teams to allow opponents to average 200 yards rushing and passing last season. Coaches say the unit is faster and more athletic, but they have to play much better to get the Aggies back into bowl contention.
12. Iowa State: Veteran defensive Wally Burnham has a great reputation and most recently flummoxed the spread defenses of the Big East while at South Florida. The Big 12, however, will be a different story. The Cyclones ranked tied for 110th in scoring defense and 112th in total defense. Coach Paul Rhoads says he’s been frustrated by his team’s lack of tackling techniques. They have a building block in cornerback Leonard Johnson. Burnham and Rhoads know what they are talking about defensively as both were coordinators for top 30 defenses last year. But it will take a lot of patience to help rebuild this unit that needs so much improvement.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Welcome to the heartland, where a blizzard is expected to blow through with 8 to 10 inches of snow Saturday morning.
Luckily, I was warned to bring a lot of warm clothes.
I'm ready, but here are some links before I brave the elements.
- Mike Finger of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News wants to know whether anybody wants to start for Texas at running back.
- Senior wide receiver Deon Murphy and senior offensive lineman Edward Prince have left the Kansas State program, Manhattan Mercury senior writer Mark Janssen reports.
- Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman reports that top Oklahoma recruit Justin Chiasson has been arrested and charged with multiple criminal acts.
- Texas Tech running back Ryan Hale might not look much like Michael Crabtree, but he still wants to wear the Biletnikoff Award winner's old uniform number, Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal writes.
- Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk writes that 10 teams made scheduling allowances to enable the Colorado-Toledo game on Sept. 11 to be set.
- Baby-faced Texas quarterback Colt McCoy grew a beard and gained much perspective last week during his missionary trip to the Amazon Basin, Dallas Morning News Big 12 columnist Chuck Carlton writes.
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman has made a conscious effort to pare down his offensive terminology to one-syllable words to make it easier for his quarterbacks, according to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News.
- Oklahoma State safety Lucien Antoine told the Oklahoman's Scott Wright that the mental aspect of his rehabilitation from knee surgery was more challenging than the physical part.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Here are a few late factoids with kickoff of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State about 30 minutes away.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: An Oklahoma victory will force a three-way tie for the Big 12 South Division title that will be decided by the BCS standings tomorrow. It also likely wraps up a BCS bowl berth for Oklahoma, no matter if the Sooners play in the championship game or not.
Oklahoma State is gunning for a victory that would boost them to a 10-win regular season for the first time in school history.
The Sooners have won five-straight games in the series and Bob Stoops is 3-1 in previous games against the Cowboys in Stillwater. But none of those margins of victory are more than six points.
And Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is 3-13-1 in his career against Oklahoma, as a coach, assistant coach and player.
WEATHER: It's a cold, cloudy night with temperatures in the mid-40s. Humidity is 52 percent and there is no wind. Even though a front is expected to blow through late this evening, there is only about a 10 percent chance of precipitation.
INJURIES: Oklahoma is still missing top pass rusher Auston English (sprained knee) and starting defensive end Alan Davis (sprained knee). Their lack of depth at the position will mean that starters Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal will play more snaps than usual. And Ryan Reynolds, the Sooners' steady middle linebacker, has been lost since the Texas game with a knee injury.
Oklahoma State's biggest injury question is tailback Kendall Hunter, the Big 12's leading rusher, who sustained a quadriceps injury against Colorado in the Cowboys' most recent game. But after eyeing him during workouts, Hunter appears ready to go. If he's hampered, Keith Toston would replace him.
Earlier this season, the Cowboys lost free safety Lucien Antoine with a knee injury. He's been their only other major injury this season.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State