Big 12: Malcolm Jenkins

Picking the Big 12 bowl games

December, 31, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are my picks for the second round of Big 12 bowl games, beginning with Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Clemson 31, Nebraska 28
Dabo Swinney has energized the Clemson program after taking over as interim coach -- a little like Bo Pelini's job with the Cornhuskers from earlier this season. Both of these teams are playing their best football of the season. But I expect Clemson to beat Nebraska with a taste of its own medicine by controlling the clock thanks to a heavy dose of tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. If the Tigers can do this and keep quarterback Cullen Harper out of too many long-yardage situations, I expect them to nose past the Cornhuskers and fulfill a little of their early promise expected of them. It just took a different coach to get them there.

AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Mississippi 20
It will be good for the Red Raiders to get back to football after some of the travails of the last several weeks. But Graham Harrell's surgery and Mike Leach's contract squabbles should be long forgotten by the team that many forgot still earned a share of the Big 12 South Division title. Look for a healthy Michael Crabtree to be the difference in this game, if the Red Raiders can keep a salty defensive front from pressuring Harrell. And even if the Rebels get ahead early, remember that Harrell has directed two wild bowl comebacks in the last two seasons, rallying the Red Raiders from a 31-point deficit to win the 2006 Insight Bowl over Minnesota and a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to direct a comeback in last season's Gator Bowl over Virginia. Houston Nutt has directed a nice renaissance with the Rebels this season, leading them to victories over the last two national championship teams. But the chore of beating Texas Tech will prove too much for them on Friday.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Texas 41, Ohio State 20
After being snubbed for the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will approach this game with a chip on their shoulder. That's not a pretty proposition for an Ohio State team that has been blown out of its last two BCS bowl games by a combined score of 79-38. The key for the game will be the play of streaky Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of tailback Chris Wells. I expect Texas' defensive front keyed by Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller to exert enough pressure to keep Pryor discombobulated most of the game. And if Texas can get receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby open against a tough Ohio State secondary keyed by Malcolm Jenkins, the Longhorns should have the edge on offense, too. This game will be close at the half, before the Longhorns pull away in the second half.

My bowl picks last week: 1-1* (50.0 percent)
My picks for the season: 85-14 (85.9 percent)

* Not including Wednesday's Kansas-Minnesota game

Tough practices prepare Texas for OSU test

December, 18, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- The bruises and blood-stained uniforms after the first few days of bowl practice have become almost a tradition for Texas as it prepares for its bowl games.

They were on display the last several days as the Longhorns prepare for their Jan. 5 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matchup with Ohio State.

So much for any feeling of wallowing in self-pity after the Longhorns were snubbed for the Big 12 title game on a controversial tiebreaker. What better way to hammer those feelings away than with a few more extra "Longhorn Drills"?

That practice activity is a staple for developing toughness. It's a three-on-three conditioning drill featuring a back running behind three linemen against three defensive linemen. The claustrophobic nature is emphasized in a tightly contained area set apart by tackling dummies.

"We've been as physical as we've ever been in practice to prepare for this game," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "But at the same time, we've gone one (offensive starter) against one (defensive starter) every day, because we want to match the speed and the physical part of the game. We've lined up and have just been after each other. The impact of the offensive and defensive line working against each other has been incredible."

After a demoralizing loss to Texas A&M last season, Brown ratcheted up intensity in his Holiday Bowl practices by putting his team through an excruciating run of workouts. The hard work paid off with an impressive 52-34 victory over Arizona State punctuated by four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

This season, the Longhorns are nursing a deeper wound after failing to make the Big 12 championship game -- and ultimately a potential shot at the national championship -- only after a controversial three-way tie for the South Division championship was settled by the BCS standings. Oklahoma claimed the Big 12 South title despite Texas' 45-35 victory over the Sooners on Oct. 11.

Those feelings lingered for a couple of days as the Longhorns moped about their near-miss. But after returning to practice, the return to intense practices has quickly caught their attention.

"I think we've got our mojo back," Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo said. "Everybody is upbeat and very excited about this bowl game. We haven't been in a BCS bowl for a while, so it's a true accomplishment for this season."

The return to physical practices is particularly important against Ohio State, who Brown believes will provide a challenge to the Longhorns in the trenches. Ohio State ranks 28th nationally in rush offense and features a punishing ground attack keyed by a huge offensive line and 237-pound tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"They are huge. Their offensive line is about 300 pounds a man," Brown said. "Beanie Wells is by far the best back that we'll see this year. It's not even close for anybody else or in the same ballpark.

"And then you take (Ohio State quarterback) Terrelle Pryor. We all know how good he is. We recruited him. He's Vince Young, except may be thicker. He can run and throw. They are a physical football team."

On defense, the Buckeyes have standouts like linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins who both remember coming into Austin and snapping the Longhorns' 21-game winning streak early in the 2006 season.

"Coach Brown has really emphasized being physical and hitting each other a lot this year," guard Cedric Dockery said. "He wants that carryover to be in the bowl game. He wants us to be ready for what we're going to see with Ohio State."

And considering Texas' recent success in bowl games, it's hard to argue with the results. Texas, along with Boston College and Utah, are the only teams to have won consecutive bowl games in each of the last four seasons.

So the Longhorns are expecting more of the same intense hitting until they break for Christmas on Tuesday.

"He does that for us to get ready to play in the bowl games," Dockery said. "It's been good for him before, so I don't think he'll turn away from it this year."