Big 12: Mark Helfrich

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

Hawkins returns to his coaching roots

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
5:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- The late departure by former Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to Oregon resulted in a hole in Dan Hawkins' staff that he decided would be better settled with his own personal interest.

Hawkins inserted former Colorado receivers coach Eric Kiesau as his coordinator and will handle coaching wide receivers himself when the Buffaloes report for their first practice of preseason camp on Aug. 7.

"I'm really excited," Hawkins said. "I love coaching and I love teaching. I coached the tight ends when I was the head coach at Boise State. It's always great to be in the trenches. I think every five years, every head coach ought to go back and be an assistant."

Hawkins hopes the new duties will help invigorate his coaching skills as well as provide him with a more hands-on feel for his team.

"Every head coach will tell you that as you go along in this profession, sometimes you wake up and you're not doing as much coaching as I want to," Hawkins said. "In terms of the position, I really like those guys a lot."

Hawkins is expected to have a challenge boosting production at the position, particularly after the departure of Josh Smith. The Buffaloes' top deep threat left the program after spring practice and will transfer to UCLA.

But Hawkins said the Buffaloes could get better production than expected, particularly if junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight blossoms in his role as Colorado's top receiver.

"Obviously, Scotty is a guy who's been around and been battle-tested for us, and we'll rely a lot on him," Hawkins said. "But I do think the young guys have a chance to make some plays for us."

Hawkins will coach Colorado wide receivers in 2009

June, 1, 2009
6/01/09
7:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins made a variety of announcements Monday, most notably that he will be serving as the Buffaloes' wide receivers coach in addition to his head coaching duties.

Hawkins will instruct defensive coaching intern Ashley Ambrose in his transition into becoming a college assistant coach during 2010. Ambrose is a former 13-season NFL veteran who also served as a coaching intern with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.

"I was educated as a teacher and spent the majority of my professional life in the trenches as a teacher-coach," Hawkins said. "My first year at Boise as head coach, I also coached the tight ends. I am extremely excited about rolling up my sleeves and being a position coach again."

Hawkins becomes the first Colorado head coach to also serve as a position coach since Bill McCartney, who directed the Buffaloes' quarterbacks in 1993. Hawkins technically replaces Eric Kiesau, the former Colorado receivers coach who was promoted to offensive coordinator last month after Mark Helfrich left for a similar position at Oregon. Helfrich also coached the quarterbacks, which Kiesau will now do.

Hawkins also announced he has hired Bob Foster, as Colorado's outside linebackers coach. Foster, 68, has four decades of coaching experience and was the defensive coordinator at Californa-Davis when Hawkins was a player and coach there. He has also served as a defensive consultant for Hawkins when he was head coach at Willamette and later served as an assistant at Oregon and California.

Colorado also announced that former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons has enrolled in summer school at Colorado. 

Clemons played two seasons in the Michigan program, including 11 catches for 101 yards last season. He will sit out the 2009 season as a redshirt before becoming eligible next season.

Former Colorado wide receiver Kendrick Celestine has re-enrolled in school and could return to the team. Celestine played in the first two games of the 2008 season and then quit for personal reasons on Sept. 21.

"We take a great deal of pride in mentoring our guys to achieve excellence as a person, student, and athlete," Hawkins said. "Sometimes that comes with some hard lessons to learn. Should Kendrick recognize what he left behind and the opportunities he can have here -- we certainly welcome him back."

Hawkins also announced that seven players won't return this fall to the team for assorted reasons. Two are lettermen, senior guard Devin Head and junior wide receiver/return specialist Josh Smith.

Head, who played in 27 career games with 17 starts, is academically ineligible, with Smith is looking to transfer, likely to a school in California.

Smith told Hawkins he plans to work on furthering both his music (singing and production) and football careers.

Smith set Colorado records for kickoff returns (50) and yards (1,286) last season. He produced 52 receptions for 838 yards (16.1 per reception) and three touchdowns in two seasons.

Redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Wallace has sought his release to transfer closer to his Bowling Green, Ky., home, with sophomore linebacker Lynn Katoa likely to transfer to a junior college. Three walk-ons also won't be back, including junior fullback Matt Burgner, freshman wide receiver Marion Brown and junior offensive lineman Evan Eastburn.

Six items that didn't surprise me this spring

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
4:14
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Spring football across the Big 12 was a series of mundane drills and routine practices.

It gave coaches a chance to take a long look at their own teams as they prepared for the fall.

During the course of the past few weeks, several events played out that weren't exactly a surprise to me. In fact, they should have been expected.

Here's a list of some of them:

Jeff Fuller explodes as Texas A&M's top wide receiver: Ryan Tannehill's injury opened the opportunity for Fuller to become the featured receiver, and Fuller took it and ran and caught with it. He had a marvelous spring game and should be poised for big things this season. But his big spring performance should be taken with a grain of salt -- he won't be able to play against A&M's leaky secondary once the season starts.

Texas' secondary growth: With all of the heralded recruits among defensive backs, competition was expected to be fierce this spring for the Longhorns. And it was. Earl Thomas and Chykie Brown openly talked about winning Thorpe Awards this season. They might have their chance. But with teammates like safeties Christian Scott, Nolan Brewster and Blake Gideon and corners like Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley it could make it hard for any single to player to emerge among the talents of the group. The Longhorns appear to have more ready-to-play defensive backs than at any time in Mack Brown's coaching tenure.

Colorado unsettled quarterback situation: I frankly didn't expect either Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen to separate himself during the spring. The situation is scrambled by Hansen's broken thumb, which will take him the next few weeks to recover from. And the departure of former coordinator Mark Helfrich also adds another dynamic as the decision plays out. I'm betting we won't know the Buffaloes' opening-day starter until shortly before their Sept. 5 game against Colorado State.

The development of Nebraska's tight ends: Mike McNeill already was one of the most underrated players in the conference after setting a single-season record for catches by a Nebraska tight end last season. A beefed-up Dreu Young has developed into a terror as a run blocker. Ben Cotton merely showed the talents that made him a top recruit when he came to the Cornhuskers. Kyler Reed and Ryan Hill also were impressive. All that talent should help abate Bo Pelini's concerns about wide receiver a little bit heading into the summer. Look for the Cornhuskers to play a lot of two-tight end sets this season.

Brandon Harold thriving upon his return to defensive end: Harold was forced inside by injuries to Kansas State's defensive tackles late last season as a freshman. But a bulked-up Harold appears to have kept most of his speed after he moved back to the outside this spring. The results were obvious after he produced nine tackles, four tackles for losses, three sacks and forced a fumble in the Wildcats' spring game.

Nebraska leads the conference in spring game attendance: The Cornhuskers always seem to lead in spring attendance, anyway. But interest and excitement is percolating for Pelini's program after the fast finish, capped by the Gator Bowl triumph over Clemson. And it was seen in the attendance of 77,670 for the spring game -- a total more than 16,000 fans ahead of the spring game attendance for the rest of the North Division combined. That is an incredible statistic.

Kiesau named as Colorado's new offensive coordinator

April, 30, 2009
4/30/09
4:15
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins wasted little time after the resignation of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich by naming Eric Kiesau as his replacement.

Helfrich's departure isn't a surprise after he interviewed earlier this week with new Oregon coach Chip Kelly. He is expected to be in line for the Ducks' vacant offensive coordinator position, although the Colorado release did not mention he had accepted another job.

Kiesau, 36, joined Hawkins' staff during his first year at Colorado from California as receivers coach and passing game coordinator, and was named assistant head coach this past March.

"Eric is a highly regarded coach around the country," Hawkins said. "He has been pursued by other programs several times while he has been with us. Eric is a smart and organized coach who has the respect of our players. We are excited with the growth of the offense, and I am confident he will do an outstanding job leading the Buffs."

Kiesau becomes the second-youngest coordinator in Colorado history, topped only by Helfrich.

He enters his new job with an immediate obstacle.

The thumb injury sustained by quarterback Tyler Hansen in the Buffaloes' spring game last weekend will require surgery. And while Hansen is expected to recover sufficiently for the start of practice in August, the uncertainty likely won't allow Kiesau's to relax that much this summer.

Helfrich's move was triggered by at least two reasons.

First, he's an Oregon native and will be able to be closer to friends and family by joining Kelly's staff.

He's also in line for a multiyear contract with the Ducks, which wasn't possible with Colorado. The Colorado state legislature makes it almost impossible for Hawkins to get his assistants the multiyear deals that are the rule across the rest of the Big 12.

For Helfrich's long-term security, the move was a no-brainer.

But the Buffaloes are fortunate to have Kiesau ready to replace Helfrich so quickly.

"I'm very excited, this is something I've been preparing for my entire life," Kiesau said. "When I got the call when all this was shaking down, it's a natural progression to move in that direction, especially with what we're doing offensively.

"I'm honored that coach Hawkins and [Colorado athletic director] Mike Bohn endorsed and supported me being the next coordinator to lead the offense. I am looking forward to providing direction and guidance as we move forward and continue our journey here at Colorado."

It will mean that Hawkins is in the market for a new receivers coach. Look for him to start moving on filling the vacancy immediately.

Kiesau, 36, is extremely popular at CU, largely because he personally thrives on the teaching and developmental relationship with his players, working on the total person concept in academics, athletics and character. The 1996 graduate of Portland State University is the second-youngest offensive coordinator in Buff history, replacing the man who was younger by 13 months.

Colorado finishes spring practices shrouded by questions

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
5:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado came into the spring as the North Division's mystery team.

Sure, coach Dan Hawkins had plenty of bluster and bravado about how good he thinks his team will be this season. We can tell that by his surprising boast at the end of last season that the Buffaloes will finish 2009 with a 10-2 record.

After the Buffaloes' spring practice and spring game, I'm even more befuddled by how good the Buffaloes can be.

The injury and subsequent thumb surgery for Tyler Hansen scrambles the quarterback situation. It makes me think that Hansen's battle with Cody Hawkins for the starting job will play out during most of Colorado preseason camp. And it's interesting that Dan Hawkins has hinted it could be a similar situation as to late last season, when he alternated his son and Hansen depending on game situations.

An even more pressing concern will be the status of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who could be headed for Oregon and a place on Chip Kelly's staff. The loss of an offensive coordinator after spring practice could have huge ramifications as Dan Hawkins tries to get his staff ready for the upcoming season.

But the Buffaloes showed some good signs in spring practice and the spring game that might indicate they will be vastly improved from last season's 5-7 team -- even if 10-2 might be a little bit of a stretch.

  • The strong running game exhibited in the spring game was the most impressive building block to carry away from the spring. The Buffaloes should be in good shape if they can keep their offensive line healthy. And as Darrell Scott told me last week, the Buffaloes might have the best rotation of running backs this side of Oklahoma. And they proved it in Saturday's spring game as Scott rushed for a game-high 90 yards, while Demetrius Sumler chipped in with 73 yards, Brian Lockridge added 55 and Rodney "Speedy" Stewart produced 52.
  • Scott has started living up to his advance billing with a strong camp after missing much of last season with injuries. But he emerged this spring as the most improved player on the team, earning the Fred Casotti Award given each spring for the most improved offensive back. He even contributed a 48-yard punt during the spring game.

Hawkins was pleased with Scott's strong spring production, where he finally started showing flashes of what made him the nation's No. 1 running back recruit in the 2008 recruiting class.

"He's always been such a great kid, and I've been so impressed with how he handled all the hype and the glitz and all the glimmer," Hawkins told reporters Saturday. "And things didn't go exactly like he wanted them necessarily last year. But he never threw in a towel, he continued to show up."

If he continues that growth, it wouldn't surprise me if Scott rushes for 1,000 yards this season and is the most improved player in the Big 12.

  • Colorado's offensive line should be one of its most underrated strengths. They helped the backs rush for an average of 6.2 yards per carry in the spring game. Sure it was against a defensive front that was playing a generic defense. But that yardage has to catch Hawkins' attention for what his ground game can produce.

I still think the underrated Colorado group that is keyed by tackles Bryce Givens and Nate Solder, guard Ryan Miller and center Mike Iltis can be the best in the North Division if it stays healthy. And that's not even considering a potential return by Max Tuioti-Mariner, who is recovering from knee surgery and might be ready by fall practice.

  • I'm still wondering if the Buffaloes have the kind of quarterbacking to contend for the North Division title. Hawkins and Hansen provide different talents. And while in theory it sounds good to say that you'll play both of them, a team really needs to have one starting quarterback it can count on. What's that old coach's cliche about two starting quarterbacks often end up being two too many?
  • Wide receiver remains a liability after the injury to Scotty McKnight earlier in camp. The Buffaloes had one experienced receiver available at the spring game and it showed.

It means that Hawkins has to hope he can convince Michigan transfer Toney Clemons to come to play for the Buffaloes as well as work heralded sophomore Markques Simas into the rotation. And it also will likely result in the immediate need for production from an underrated group of arriving wide receivers including Jarrod Darden, Terdema Ussery and Andre Simmons. There is playing time available if any of those arriving players can step up.

  • The defensive line remains a big concern, even as coaches spent must of the scrimmage tinkering with a 3-4 front. But the productions of three starters won't be enough to replace the contributions of key players like George Hypolite & Co. overnight. Experienced players like junior defensive end Marquez Herrod, senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor and sophomore nose tackle Eugene Goree will be pivotal.
  • Linebacker Marcus Burton was the biggest defensive revelation this spring and he showed it in the spring game. After producing eight tackles last season, he notched that many in the spring game along with a pair of sacks. That playmaking will be critical for a Colorado defense that often has missed it. His sideline-to-sideline tackling ability will be huge if Colorado employs the 3-4 defense.
  • Even with all of the flux around the Colorado team, the rest of the North Division remains just as unsettled.

For all of the excitement at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers still will be counting on a quarterback who has never started a Division I game, throwing to two new wide receivers. Kansas has the most returning offensive talent but has to rebuild its defensive core after losing three starting linebackers. And the Jayhawks have that pesky South Division crossover schedule that features games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Defending two-time title game participant Missouri has two new coordinators and must replace the most productive quarterback, wide receiver and tight end in its history. The Tigers also lose a first-round NFL draft pick at defensive tackle, a second-round NFL draft pick at strong safety who was the glue of their defense and their top pass-rushing defensive end.

And here's one more reason to like Colorado's chances a little bit more. Their games against Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri all will be played in Boulder. That edge playing in the high altitude at Folsom Field might be enough to boost the Buffaloes into North Division title contention for the first time in Hawkins' coaching tenure there -- despite all of the spring questions.

This week in the Big 12: KSU's spring game tops activities

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
9:17
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Only one team has spring practice continuing, but it still should be a busy week around the Big 12 with a variety of activities.

Kansas State will conclude Bill Snyder's first spring practice since his return Saturday in Manhattan. The Wildcats traditionally drew very well for their spring games when Snyder had the program contending for Big 12 championship and BCS bowls. It will be interesting to see the kind of crowd they will attract for Saturday's spring game and fan fest, which will feature an afternoon of activities including a pregame concert and carnival.

Before that, we'll have the announcement of a new College Football Hall of Fame class Thursday in New York City. The Big 12 was strongly represented in the finalists that were announced earlier this year.

Among the players who could receive the call to the Hall of Fame include Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, Texas A&M defensive end Ray Childress, Kansas quarterback Bobby Douglass, Texas A&M kicker Tony Franklin, Texas defensive tackle Steve McMichael, Nebraska guard Will Shields, Baylor quarterback Don Trull, Colorado linebacker Alfred Williams and Nebraska defensive end Grant Wistrom.

The remnants of the draft will play out with free-agent signings this week after a record-setting haul in the early stages. The Big 12 set a record on Saturday with conference players selected in the first round of the draft. But several top players weren't signed, leading to some negotiation going on early this week for players like Graham Harrell.

And it will be interesting to see Mark Helfrich's coaching opportunity at Oregon play out. Helfrich will interview this week at Oregon for a position on new coach Chip Kelly's staff. It might be hard for Colorado to match Helfrich's offer in Oregon, considering he grew up in the state and would likely have the security of a multiyear contract with the Ducks. Those contracts are rarely -- if ever -- granted to Colorado assistant coaches.

It's not a good situation for a search to be made for an offensive coordinator after spring practice. Colorado coach Dan Hawkins hopes he won't be making that hire if he can help it.

CU's quarterback battle remains in flux after Hansen's injury

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
8:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Cody Hawkins will be the only player at quarterback for Colorado the next several weeks after Tyler Hansen suffered a thumb injury that will require surgery.

Hansen will be out until June recovering from his surgery, although it might not throw him back as far as might be expected.

If Hansen was going to have the surgery, this might be the ideal time considering it comes at the end of spring practice. He had a chance to run the offense through 15 practices and nearly three quarters of the spring game before the injury occurred.

And the entire quarterback situation will be in flux until a determination is made on offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich's place of employment for the 2009 season. Helfrich will interview at Oregon this week and some Colorado reports make it sound like he'll take the job if he's offered additional security with a multiyear contract with the Ducks -- something that doesn't happen for Colorado assistant coaches.

That means that Colorado coach Dan Hawkins might be scrambling for a new coordinator in the next several days. And it would mean the quarterbacks would have a new way of learning things.

At this point, Helfrich told reporters after the Colorado spring game that the quarterback position is far from being decided. He's right, both from his situation and the way the battle with Hansen and Cody Hawkins played out.

If Helfrich leaves, another coordinator with a different way of looking at things will be the one making that call as his starting quarterback. Or in a pinch, Dan Hawkins might be the one calling plays all the time.

So there was no separation in the quarterback battle this spring. And the battle between Cody Hawkins and Hansen will likely play out until shortly before the Buffaloes' Sept. 5 opener against Colorado State.

Big 12 lunch links: Are Texas players too soft for the NFL?

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
1:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

One day and counting to the NFL draft. I guess that means we can still consider players like Michael Crabtree, Jason Smith, Josh Freeman and Jeremy Maclin as Big 12 players for at least one more day, can't we?

Until then, here are a few lunchtime links that are as tasty as the gorditas, turkey legs and funnel cakes that are available in downtown San Antonio right now at the Battle of Flowers parade.

Only about 300,000 people are attending.

Boy, am I glad I don't have to commute down there anymore.   

Here are the links, sans the traffic and parking problems I used to face every year.

  • Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls disputes the notion that Texas players are too soft for the NFL.
  • It wasn't safe for former Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee to attend his old team's practice earlier this week, Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News beat writer Brent Zwerneman reports.
  • The Omaha World-Herald's Lee Barfknecht analyzes the spring practice of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
  • Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman mentioned earlier this week to reporters that the Aggies' opener against New Mexico could be nationally televised. The Bryan Eagle's Robert Cessna analyzes the chances of the Aggies' game being chosen on a busy opening weekend.
  • New Colorado offensive line coach Denver Johnson has helped his group develop by keeping its terminology from last season, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo reports.
  • Former Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith is set to make history as the school's first first-round draft pick of the Big 12 era, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner reports.
  • New Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman has developed a "Wildcat" offensive package that features tailback Alexander Robinson taking direct snaps and quarterback Austen Arnaud as a wide receiver, the Cedar Rapids Gazette's Eric Peterson reports.
  • Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich told the Denver Post's Tom Kensler that there's a "razor-thin" margin separating quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen heading into the Buffaloes' spring game on Saturday.
  • The pundits from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch analyze whether Jeremy Maclin or Michael Crabtree will develop into a better NFL player.

Lack of multiyear contracts could cost CU another assistant

April, 22, 2009
4/22/09
8:05
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will interview later this week at Oregon, becoming the fourth member of Dan Hawkins' staff to interview with another school since the end of last season.

Helfrich, who has coached the Buffaloes' quarterbacks and served as coordinator at Colorado since 2006, would have a chance to return home by joining new Oregon coach Chip Kelly's staff. Helfrich was born in Medford, Ore., played college football at Southern Oregon and served as a graduate assistant for the Ducks in 1997.

Another reason for the attractiveness of the Oregon job would be the ability to receive a multiyear contract.

Colorado typically does not provide that kind of security as the school traditionally has not offered multiyear contracts to assistants -- which is becoming the rule for many coordinators. Oklahoma State coaches receive contracts of up to five years.

But Colorado interim chancellor Phil DiStefano told the Boulder Daily Camera he doubts the school will start offering those contracts -- even with the competition from other schools.

Hawkins has been a staunch proponent of trying to lobby the state legislature about the rule that limits each state institution to six multiyear contracts at one time. Those typically aren't offered to assistant coaches, making it difficult for the Buffaloes to compete to keep their best assistants.

"The problem that comes up, and I've talked to many people about it, is that the head coach has a contract, and if an assistant has a contract and a new head coach comes in, more than likely the new head coach might want to make some changes there," DiStefano told the Camera. "Then the athletic department has to pay two salaries, one of the assistant coach who may be leaving with a contract, and then to bring in another assistant coach.

"I think it's a good policy to make sure the head coaches have contracts, but I'm not convinced it's a good policy for the assistant coaches to have them. I think the athletic department could run into some budgetary problems by doing that."

That attitude might be fiscally responsible. But it isn't practical in modern college football.

Colorado's coaching staff has traditionally been marked with constant turnover compared to many opponents. The Buffaloes have lost at least one assistant coach every year since 1989 except for the offseason between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Camera reported. That trend continued earlier this year when former Colorado offensive line coach Jeff Grimes left Hawkins' staff to take the same job at Auburn -- a position that is more lucrative with better stability.

Compare that turnover with a school like North Division rival Missouri, which had no moves on Gary Pinkel's staff for the first seven seasons before offensive coordinator Dave Christensen accepted the Wyoming head coaching job and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus jumped to the financial windfall of an NFL assistant's job with the Cleveland Browns.

Other than that, Pinkel's staff was stable -- helping provide the continuity for the Tigers' back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 championship game the last two seasons.

Losing Helfrich, one of the most underrated coaches in the Big 12, would be a huge loss for the Buffaloes. It would be even worse for Hawkins, considering it would be a move that would come after spring practice is over while a raging battle for his starting quarterback job continues with Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen.

And it would be indicative that Colorado's legislature needs to step into the 21st century and realize that multiyear contracts are becoming the rule in modern athletics rather than the exception.

Big 12 lunchtime links: Could Marve be headed for OSU?

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some stories from across the Big 12 today. 

  • Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler reports that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has entered the recruiting sweepstakes for former Miami quarterback Robert Marve.
  • Sam Bradford's father said his son has likely already made his decision whether he's declaring for the NFL draft, Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman reports. Bradford has until midnight Thursday to declare for the draft.
  • Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman ruminates on next season's top 10, potential changes in Texas' secondary and the Longhorns' weak 2009 nonconference schedule.
  • The Boulder Camera's Neill Woelk notes the spending spree for assistant coaches across the country. He also notes that Colorado's top-paid assistants -- offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and defensive coordinator Ron Colins -- made just under $218,000 this season while working on a year-to-year basis.
  • John Rohde of the Oklahoman writes that it's strange that Oklahoma was chosen to play the first regular-season game in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington -- before any school from the state.
  • The Omaha World Herald's Tom Shatel writes that the return of All-Big 12 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to college next season keeps Nebraska a North Division contender.

Lunchtime links: 'Tis the season for coaching speculation

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
1:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin:

Ty Willingham's forced resignation at Washington earlier this week has prompted some early stories about potential replacements with Big 12 connections. What a better topping to spice up this lunchtime collection of links?

  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell writes that leaving Missouri for Washington makes little sense for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel -- even if the Husky program once might have been considered Pinkel's "dream job." The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter writes that a more logical candidate might be Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who is familiar with Washington president Mark Emmert and athletic director Scott Woodward, who both worked with him at LSU. 
  • Former Kansas defensive coordinator Bill Young can't get away from the struggles his old defense is facing this season. Young told J. Brady McCullough of the Kansas City Star that playing tougher Big 12 opponents has been a big cause of the unit's sputtering early performance.
  • Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander relayed the grisly details of his Aug. 31 stabbing to Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler. Alexander missed four games but is back in the Sooners' rotation for Saturday's game against Nebraska.
  • Oklahoman beat writer Scott Wright writes that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's dream job is now turning into one of the best ones in college football.
  • Even Kansas State coach Ron Prince's own sons are asking him when the Wildcats will beat Kansas, Wichita Eagle/Kansas City Star beat writer Jeffrey Martin reports.
  • Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has made some noticeable changes after the Buffaloes were shutout last week by Missouri -- the first blanking of a Colorado offense in 20 years.

Big 12 links: A cleaner Folsom Field

August, 6, 2008
8/06/08
9:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's always struck me how different Colorado seems from the rest of the Big 12 every trip I make to Boulder.

The scenery for Folsom Field is breathtaking, making it one of the jewels of college football. And school officials and fans seem intent to keep it that way, too.

Colorado school officials announced Tuesday that they are pledging "zero waste" at home games, hoping to recycle 90 percent of the 10 tons of trash generated at each home game this season. They are even offering valet parking for those fans who arrive at games on bicycles.

Such environmental recognition is refreshing -- particularly considering some of the mounds of empty nacho cartons and liquor bottles I've had to wade through heading out of stadiums over the years. It's commendable, but I'm thinking that only in Boulder can you valet-park your bicycle close to a stadium.

Hopefully, these morning links won't prove to be quite as disposable to my readers. Sorry the links are a little light today. The hamsters powering the wireless at the beautiful Fairfield Inn in Topeka, Kan., must have been tired this morning. Some of the more involved Web sites -- yeah, I'm talking about you guys at the Oklahoman -- were difficult to access.

  • Only three Big 12 coaches grace the cover of their team's media guides this season, according to Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star. They are Kansas' Mark Mangino, Baylor's Art Briles and Iowa State's Gene Chizik. It's particularly hard to believe that Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't found on the cover of the Cornhuskers' guide. At least until he plays his first game, Bo is bigger than the program there.
  • This isn't a misprint. Baylor's offensive line might be a team strength this season for a change, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.
  • Take a number and wait your turn. Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is sorting through reps for six quarterbacks this summer.
  • Like most college freshmen, TB Darrell Scott's introduction to college football is coming with some growing pains, the Denver Post's Tom Kensler writes. Superman has to learn to crawl before he can fly, I guess.
  • Converted WR L.A. Reed is working with Texas Tech's first-team defense at cornerback. Reed has been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders. If he can bring that same desire to covering wide receivers, Big 12 wide receivers better beware.
  • New Texas defensive coordinator Will "Mr. Boom" Muschamp wants to turn up the defensive pressure this season -- even if he doesn't always see many sacks against the Big 12's spread offenses.
  • The Oklahoman's Scott Wright says in a video chat that Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew might be the state's top NFL prospect this season.
  • Oklahoma backup QB Landry Jones isn't flinching, despite the likelihood that he'll be watching a lot of Sam Bradford for the immediate future.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown talked about why playing two quarterbacks will be important this season on "Jim Rome Is Burning." The neatest part of the interview could be seen in the background with the new additions at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium highlighted.
  • Bo Pelini's early emphasis has been on producing turnovers. His Cornhuskers have a long way to go, however, considering they had one forced turnover over the final seven games in 2007. "It's embarrassing," CB Armando Murillo told the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Rosenthal. "I'm not going to lie. It is."
  • Maybe those national title expectations are a pretty good inspiration. Missouri LB Van Alexander returned to practice several weeks ahead of schedule after off-season knee surgery.
  • New Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is a tried and true Jayhawk, according to the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff. Bowen used to sell soft drinks at Memorial Stadium as a kid, hustling to get rid of his first tray and then knocking off to watch the game. Bowen told me an even better story yesterday about how he and his brothers "know every crack" in the stadium from sneaking into the facility at other games.
  • Kansas RB Jocques Crawford admitted to some mixed feelings watching Kansas beat Memphis, his father's old alma mater, for the national basketball championship earlier this year.
  • Anybody in the Sunflower State with a little extra room in their attic? The city of Wichita is threatening to evict the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame from its city-owned home within 30 days, the Wichita Eagle reports. Who knows, you might get a Wilt Chamberlain warm-up suit or a jersey worn by Veryl Switzer in the deal?
  • Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has backtracked a little, saying that Marlon Lucky is still his team's No. 1 I-back. But Watson added that Roy Helu Jr. will also get reps with the No. 1 offense.

Best assistant coaches in the Big 12

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
4:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 UT Photography
 Will Muschamp (left) will be handling Mack Brown's UT defense in '08.

They are the coaches who are becoming more noticeable with increased awareness in college football.

A coordinator or highly paid assistant coach at a top school is a lightning rod for public criticism or praise depending on the success of the program. And the immediate success of assistant coaches like Bob Stoops, Mark Richt, Jim Leavitt, Mike Leach and Bret Bielema in their first head-coaching jobs has led to wide scrutiny from athletic directors looking for replacements for potential head-coaching opportunities.

The Big 12 is as stacked with good assistant coaches as any conference in the nation. Here's my list of the top 12 assistants in the conference heading into the 2008 season.

1. Will Muschamp, Texas defensive coordinator -- His reputation precedes him coming into the conference like a hired gunslinger with the largest paycheck among all Big 12 assistants to boot. But his work will be cut out transforming Texas' recent leaky secondary.

2. Brent Venables, Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator -- His unit's meltdowns have been embarrassing in recent bowl games, but OU's defenses have been rock solid in conference play.

3. Dave Christensen, Missouri offensive coordinator -- As the Tigers' productive offense gets more notoriety, he could be poised to become the first member of Gary Pinkel's staff to get a head-coaching shot.

4. Joe Kines, Texas A&M defensive coordinator -- Veteran coach comes to Aggieland with one of the most sterling reputations in college football, including 10-game stint as Arkansas' interim coach in 1992.

5. Greg Davis, Texas offensive coordinator -- Reviled on some message boards, but keeps developing a productive unit year after year.

6. Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator -- Helps manage Oklahoma's bruising running game, which has been the key to the Sooners' balanced, explosive attacks in recent seasons.

7. Ruffin McNeill, Texas Tech defensive coordinator -- Productive first season as interim coordinator last season, but will be facing immense challenge with heightened expectations riding on his work.

8. Joe DeForest, Oklahoma State special teams/safeties coach -- His special teams have always been consistently solid and he has one of the conference's best reputations for recruiting excellence.

9. Ed Warinner, Kansas offensive coordinator -- Helped transform Todd Reesing from an undersized, lightly regarded recruit into a touchdown-pass-flinging machine.

10. Shawn Watson, Nebraska offensive coordinator -- One of only two holdovers on Bo Pelini's staff from last season kept around because of Joe Ganz's late-season development in 2007. He was known for his diverse offenses at Colorado, where Buffaloes were effective running the ball early in his career and throwing it with Joel Klatt in later years.

11. Matt Eberflus, Missouri defensive coordinator/safeties coach -- Credited for recent development of playmaking safeties like Pig Brown and Willie Moore and overall transformation of Missouri's rapidly improving defense.

12. Mark Helfrich, Colorado offensive coordinator -- Youthful play-calling savant who helped develop Andrew Walter while quarterbacks coach at Arizona State. It will be interesting how he assimilates heralded freshman RB Darrell Scott into his offense with the Buffaloes.

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