Big 12: Massachusetts Minutemen

Big 12 mailbag: Why I flip-flopped to Kansas this week

August, 28, 2009
8/28/09
5:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.

Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.

Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?

Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.

Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.

But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.

Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.

As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.

But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.

The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.

It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.


Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.


Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.

Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.

If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.

I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.


Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.

Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.

Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.

But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.

But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.


David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."

But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?

I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b
e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.

Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.

It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.

It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.

I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.

I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.


(Read full post)

JC transfer impresses Snyder

August, 19, 2009
8/19/09
7:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has been working heralded junior college transfer Daniel Thomas at running back during most of practice.

Thomas, a transfer from Northwest Mississippi Junior College, was considered as a potential contender for the Wildcats at quarterback. But Snyder has played him at running back with the emergence of Carson Coffman and Grant Gregory at quarterback.

"He is really a fun guy to watch," Snyder said of Thomas. "I think he is going to be a good player. As we all know, he is kind of multi-faceted and he can do a number of things, which makes him more than just a single, isolated threat as just a running back."

Thomas is in the mix along with Keithen Valentine, who leads the group and is the most experienced player at the position. Valentine rushed for 129 yards in eight games last season.

Other potential contenders include redshirt freshman Jarell Childs and freshman John Hubert, who both have showed flashes of potential in the Wildcats' early work as they prepare for their Sept. 5 opener against Massachusetts.

"When you talk about depth, you talk about quality depth, and we've got some numbers at running back," Snyder said.

But Thomas, a 6-foot-2, 227-pounder who rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 450 more yards and two TDs, has been one of the more intriguing parts of the Wildcats' offensive work during fall camp.

"He can be utilized in the running game, the passing game, and can become a blocker as well," Snyder said. "But all running backs normally have to be that way, and we will utilize Daniel to do the things he can do best."

Thomas' development and the depth at the position has enabled Snyder to switch his two leading rushers from 2008 to other positions.

Lamark Brown, who led the team with 412 rushing yards, has moved to wide receiver. Logan Dold, who added 333 rushing yards, has moved to safety.

KSU quarterback race still up for grabs

August, 18, 2009
8/18/09
4:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder appears no closer to settling on a starting quarterback for the Wildcats Sept. 5 season opener against Massachusetts than he was 14 practices ago.

Snyder said Tuesday that there is tight, ongoing competition between four contenders for the job. Carson Coffman, Grant Gregory and redshirt freshmen Joseph Kassanavoid and Collin Klein all are hooked up for the starting job.

"No decision has been made and just about every time that I seem to think that someone is starting to pull away, the pack closes the gap on them," Snyder said. "I would say that on any given day they are probably pretty equal at this point in time."

That lack of separation is a trend that Snyder hopes will be ending with six practices remaining.

"The longer it goes it makes it harder and harder because it is human nature to settle into routines and to settle into performance levels," Snyder said. "I am trying to encourage that someone needs to rise above it all and continue to make that kind of improvement. And that doesn't mean that there hasn't been improvement, I'm not saying that, but not enough and not consistently enough for one to firmly establish himself."

Coffman and Gregory were presumed to have a slight edge because of their previous experience. Coffman, a redshirt junior, had 41 passes as Josh Freeman's backup last season. Gregory, a senior, threw 37 passes in the previous two seasons at South Florida as Matt Grothe's backup before transferring to Kansas State this spring.

"They both seem to do some of the same good things," Snyder said. "Carson, having been here in the spring, has had a little more experience. He's had 15 days more experience in this actual system and many more days than that when you encompass the offseason program and all that goes along with it.

"Grant probably has more playing time experience and has been around the game for a few more years with this being his sixth year in college football. Both of them come from football families, are pretty astute, and try to be good students of the game."

Coffman's father, Paul, is a former Kansas State tight end who played 11 years in the NFL. His older brother, Chase, was a record-breaking tight end at Missouri and a third-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Gregory's father Greg, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at South Florida on coach Jim Leavitt's staff before he was fired earlier this year. He now works as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Joey Jones' staff at South Alabama.

Snyder was also pleased with the progress of the two redshirt freshmen, who have both shown flashes of potential.

"Joe and Collin have both done reasonably well," Snyder added. "But, they haven't progressed at quite the same level that the other two have. They continue to make improvement and do good things."

The Wildcats will be on display Saturday at an open practice. It should be interesting to see which one of the quarterbacks takes the majority of the snaps -- or if Snyder chooses to keep them relatively equal as the season approaches.

Big 12 mailbag: Where are the great Texas RBs?

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

If it's a Friday afternoon, it's time to dive into my mailbag.

I received a bunch of good questions this week. Here are some of the best: 

Justin from Austin, Texas, writes: I read your recent post about Texas having the most commits thus far from the ESPNU 150. One thing that interests me is the lack of a top running back on that list. I was curious as to your opinion on why Texas is not THE school to go to if you are a top quality running back, especially considering the Longhorns' lack of a true standout player at this position.

It would seem to me that someone with a lot of talent at the position would jump at the opportunity to come to a high profile school and potentially get 3 to 4 years of playing time right off the bat. Is it because Texas isn't perceived as a good running back school anymore, or are we already too stacked with players (though no "great" ones yet) so that recruits feel they won't get the playing time?

Tim Griffin: Justin, you make an interesting point. I, too, noticed that Texas hasn't attracted a blue-chip running back yet. Of course, Lache Seastrunk from Temple, Texas, would fit into that category. But it seems that Texas has missed out on the perceived great running backs and hasn't had a difference maker there since Cedric Benson graduated.

Maybe it's because of the Greg Davis' recent spread offense making top running back recruits shy away from the school as it becomes more heavily pass-oriented. But I think a bigger reason might be because of the development of spread offense as the de facto choice for many Texas high schools anymore. It means that more top athletes across the state are playing either quarterback or wide receiver.

There aren't nearly as many top running back prospects in Texas as there might have been 15-20 years ago. The days of top running backs like Earl Campbell, Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson now seems a little dated.

But if the Longhorns were successful in attracting Seastrunk, it wouldn't surprise me that Davis could develop an offense with him as a running back with 20-25 carries per game - even with a spread offense being employed much of the time.


Garon McClure writes: Tim, I am a Sooner fan and read your blog and columns almost daily. I was wondering what you thought about the Sooners trying to use Mossis Madu in the way that Florida used Percy Harvin the last few years. Have you heard any rumors or anything like that? I think it would be an intriguing wrinkle to the offense since they say they are moving him to the slot and he is a good runner too.

Tim Griffin: I think the Sooner coaches are tinkering with a variety of ways to employ Madu. His receiving skills, as well as the logjam at tailback with Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, led to his move as a slot receiver this spring. It wouldn't surprise me if they still found a chance to let him run the ball, maybe in a limited role like Harvin did for the Gators last year.

I was very impressed with Madu last season for the Sooners. He came up big for them in the Big 12 championship game against Missouri when he rushed for a career-high 114 yards and three touchdowns after Murray was injured. And I look for him to be occasionally featured as a runner at times in 2009.


Dan Kaminski of Des Moines, Iowa, writes: When most teams are blowing out another team, coaches pull their starting quarterback and put in their backups. Texas did this and Florida did this last season with Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow respectively.

How come everyone talks about Sam Bradford's numbers last season but no one talks about the fact that when OU was blowing teams out by 50 points, Bob Stoops rarely (or at the last few minutes of the fourth quarter only) put in his back-up and thus inflated Bradford's stats?

Don't get me wrong, I think Bradford is one of the top quarterbacks, but his stats wouldn't have been anywhere as impressive as McCoy's had McCoy stayed in and played all games until the end.

Tim Griffin: I think that the usage of Bradford and McCoy assuredly speaks to the comfort and confidence that Mack Brown had in his backup quarterback compared to Bob Stoops with his. But I don't think the scoring was as significant for Bradford in blowout games as you might think.

Late in the season, Bradford played into the fourth quarter against Texas Tech and was needed in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, considering the Sooners were nursing only a three-point lead midway through the quarter.

It was understandable for him to be in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 championship game, his last opportunity to shine for Heisman voters. Still, Bradford accounted for only seven of his 50 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and three of those came in Oklahoma losses or games settled by two touchdowns or less.

Bradford's single-season numbers were the best in Oklahoma history by a quarterback, but I don't necessarily think that playing deep into games was that big a factor in them.


Cecil Wilson from Plano, Texas, writes: Tim, when are you hosting your next online chat? And what does Mack Brown and Co. have to do, besides go undefeated and win the Big XII Championship to get to the National Championship game in Pasadena? Thank you.

Tim Griffin: My next chat will be coming up probably not next week but the week after, likely on the same day as my Big 12 previews appear.

I'll give a couple of days notice when it will be approaching, because I always enjoy receiving all of your questions.

And I don't necessarily think Texas would have to go undefeated to win the national championship. I do think it would be crucial for them to finish quickly and win the Big 12 title game. And they should hope that the other contenders all have a loss or two to help winnow the field and make them stand apart from the rest.

I think if they do that, a Big 12 champion team with zero or one loss is going to have a good shot to make the national championship game. A one-loss team made it last year from the conference with Oklahoma.


Clayton Buehrle from Dallas writes: Tim, concerning the Top 40 teams in the BCS, could you please explain how ESPN expects to "play" the different teams against each other? What teams are playing (Current teams or past teams?)? The whole scenario is fun but seems a bit confusing. My friends and I could use some insight. Thanks.

Tim Griffin: My colleagues took a novel approach of breaking up the 40 teams into four 10-team conferences and then having a playoff. Mark Schlabach's story today spells out how the fantasy would play out.

My favorite part is a yearly relegation that would drop out the bottom feeders every year and replace them with teams from outside the top 40. I know that sounds a little like European soccer, but I think that would really be interesting to see teams jump up a level or drop depending on how they played the previous season.

And that's what makes the whole idea of relegation such a fun topic idea.


Brad Millican of Fort Worth, Texas, writes: How are fall practice schedules set? There seems to be a huge difference in when all the Big XII teams report for camp. Is this regulated by the NCAA?

Tim Griffin: Brad, different coaches have different strategies in how they want to break down the practices as they get ready for the season. Each school has 29 practices from the start of practice to the first game. The first three practices are without pads. But the schedule is
different based on the academic schedule of each school. Some coaches like to have a lot of two-a-days early to immediately challenge their teams. Other coaches like to backload things and test their teams a little closer to the start of the season.


Mark McCabe of Stafford, Va., writes: Tim, growing up a Cornhusker fan and now having lived in several places around the country... I found the recent ESPN poll asking, "What are you most looking forward to in the fall? College or Pro Football (never mind the World Series)." Both the Big 12 (TX and MO the exceptions) and the SEC areas picked college football.

Do you think fan support has a major impact on success or does success lead to fan support?

Tim Griffin: Mark, I noticed the same chart. I've lived in both the South and Midwest for extensive periods and think that the passion for college football is the strongest in those "flyover areas." The lack of competing NFL teams lead to that support. And I do think it has a major impact on success. Recruits know they can pick a school in that area and realize their games will be the biggest sporting events in their states. That's a heady feeling for a recruit and a big reason why places like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Iowa have been able to continue their success over many years.

And it doesn't surprise me that Texas and Missouri aren't as excited about college sports as other Big 12 areas. The heavy influence of professional sports in both states - probably as strong there as any area in the conference - has tempered some of the excitement for college sports in recent years. The fans there still get excited when a team like Texas or Missouri makes a run at a national championship. But the NFL helps cut down some of the day-to-day excitement in college football there.


Kenneth Smith of Houston writes: Who do you think will win the starting QB spot at Kansas State? Also do you think that K-State will be in the mix for the Big 12 North title?

Me personally, I think the Wildcats are going to upset a team this year, maybe Missouri or Kansas. The offense seems to be pretty good with Keithen Valentine in the backfield again and Brandon Banks at wide receiver. The defense last season was OK, but they need to learn just to wrap up to make a tackle. Who do you think will be the two teams competing in the North?

Tim Griffin: I think that Kansas State will be the mystery team in the North this season - even more than Colorado. I've always had huge respect for the coaching acumen that Bill Snyder brings to his program. He'll be facing a huge challenge at Kansas State, but I think his task will be a little easier because so many of his assistant coaches have coached or played for him and are familiar with his demands.

I think Carson Coffman will get the start for the Wildcats' opener Sept. 5 against Massachusetts. But I'm thinking that Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas likely will have chances to play as well. I think Thomas could be the starting quarterback later this season, as Snyder has always favored quarterbacks who were adept at running and passing like Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson and Jonathan Beasley. Thomas fits that mold.

And as far as the last two teams competing in the Big 12 North, I'll go with Nebraska and Kansas. I think the regular-season finales for both teams - Nebraska at Colorado and Kansas and Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City - will have much importance in determining the North champion this season.

Thanks for all of your questions this week. We'll check back again next Friday. 

Three predictions for Kansas State

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
6:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Bill Snyder seemingly was enjoying retirement before he heard the call to return to his old job at Kansas State.

Snyder, who orchestrated one of the most celebrated turnarounds in college football history during his first stint with the Wildcats, will be facing a rebuilding job nearly as steep this time around.

The Wildcats have played in only one bowl game since their 2003 Big 12 championship season. Since then, they have had one winning season, a 7-6 mark in 2006 season.

Snyder is back, saying his zest has returned after his three-season sabbatical.

Here are three quick predictions I foresee for him and his team in the upcoming season.

1. Brandon Banks will emerge as one of the most valuable offensive weapons in the league. Fans saw Banks develop into one of the top receivers and returners last season. But I look for bigger things this season. It won't surprise me if veteran Kansas State offensive coordinator Del Miller uses him in a "Wildcat" formation that will emphasize his game-breaking skills and even see what he can do as a passer.

2. I expect at least two starting quarterbacks for the Wildcats this season and maybe even more. Carson Coffman got the nod on the first day of practice Wednesday and should be the Wildcats' opening-game starter Sept. 5 against Massachusetts. But it wouldn't surprise me if junior college transfer Daniel Thomas gets a start and maybe even Grant Gregory, a transfer from South Florida.

3. Snyder's coaching acumen will enable KSU to claim a victory or two that some might not expect this season. The Wildcats are expected by most to struggle to stay out of the North Division basement. I think they'll be better than that, coming close to qualifying for a bowl berth and sneaking in an upset from one of three late-season home games -- against Missouri, Colorado or Kansas. If they can win two of those games, the Wildcats might go bowling this season.

Big 12 teams should feel slothful after these gooey treats

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
4:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Earlier this week, I took a look at the nonconference games that Big 12 teams will struggle to win this season.

There's also a set of games that the Big 12 should have no worries about winning. These trips to the pastry wagon can get addictive, but they don't provide much nutritional value. So consider whatever tangible benefits that happen in these games as problematic -- mainly because of the opposition the Big 12 teams will be playing.

Here are the six easiest nonconference games of the season for the Big 12.

1. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12: Want to know how bad Idaho State is? They lost to Northern Colorado last season in a 1-11 season marked only by an overtime victory over Sacramento State. The Bengals ranked as the nation's worst FCS team in total defense and pass efficiency defense, next-to-last in scoring defense and had the FCS's sixth-worst rushing defense. Sam Bradford will be watching this one from the bench by midway through the second quarter.

2. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5: The Division I-AA Bears are 3-31 over the last three years, including a 32-point loss at Purdue last season, a 36-point loss at San Diego State and a 57-point loss at Hawaii in 2006.

3. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26: Watson Brown will be looking for better luck against the Wildcats than little brother Mack Brown has enjoyed over the years. It won't happen on this trip.

4. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5: The Fighting Sioux were a Division II team last year. They are transitioning to Division I-AA status and this game will be their first battle in modern history against an FBS opponent. That won't help them in an opener as Mike Leach tries to build confidence in his retooled offense quarterbacked by first-year starter Taylor Potts.

5. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26: The Bears dominated the Demons in a 51-10 blowout last season and will be even better this year. Considering that Baylor's first two games are against foes from BCS-affiliated conferences -- a feat that no other Big 12 will attempt this season in nonconference play -- gives them a little bit of a mulligan for playing such a weak opponent for their third game.

6. Grambling State at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26: Once upon a time, the Tigers were a virtual football factory for NFL talent. Those days are long gone, but at least the storied Grambling band will be coming to Stillwater -- at least we hope.

And some other dogs to avoid include:

  • Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
  • Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
  • Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
  • UTEP at Texas, Sept. 26
  • Utah State at Texas A&M, Sept. 19
  • Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska, Sept. 26

Ranking the best and worst of Big 12 nonconference schedules

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
12:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.

Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:

1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami

The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.

2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia

Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.

3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada

The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.

4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette

No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.

5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling

Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.

6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State

The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.

7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi

The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.

8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.

9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico

Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.

10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida

The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.

11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army

Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.

12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech

The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.

Tags:

Barry Switzer, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Miami Hurricanes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Jarrett Brown, Max Hull, BYU Cougars, Toledo Rockets, Harvey Unga, Colorado State Rams, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, James Casey, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Tim Benford, Bill Snyder, Jordan Sorrells, Kent State Golden Flashes, Bradley Dale Peveto, Ali Villanueva, Baylor Bears, Wyoming Cowboys, Massachusetts Minutemen, Texas Longhorns, Doug Martin, Joe Cox, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, Connecticut Huskies, Juice Williams, Central Florida Knights, Utah Utes, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Missouri Tigers, Rich Ellerson, Colorado Buffaloes, Bowling Green Falcons, Todd Reesing, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, Utah State Aggies, Chip Bowden, Dan Hawkins, Mike Leach, Robert Griffin, Duke Blue Demons, Kansas State Wildcats, Grambling Tigers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Rice Owls, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, Furman Paladins, Northwestern State Demons, LSU Tigers, Watson Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Paul Rhoads, Kansas Jayhawks, Damion Fletcher, Idaho State Vandals, Florida Atlantic Owls, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, West Virginia Mountaineers, Tyrod Taylor, Army Black Knights, North Dakota State Bison, Jerrod Johnson, Shonn Greene, Case Keenum, Lee Sweeney, Alabama Crimson Tide, Taylor Potts, Iowa State Cyclones, Trevor Vittatoe, Mack Brown, Schedule rank 061009, UCLA Bruins, Dezmon Briscoe, UTEP Miners, Bo Pelini, Bobby Petrino, Northern Colorado Bears, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, Houston Cougars, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Jimmy Johnson, Eugene Jarvis, Virginia Tech Hokies, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Ohio State Buckeyes, Jarrett Dillard, Tyler Sheehan, UAB Blazers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Howard Schnellenberger, Chase Clement, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Ranking the best and worst Big 12 games for 2009

June, 5, 2009
6/05/09
11:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


The season is less than 100 days from starting and it's never too early to start analyzing schedules.

The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel did just that, doing his yearly list of the best and worst of the upcoming Big 12 schedule, ranked 1 through 96.

His top game and mine are alike, as are most of them. His list is heavily stacked to conference games, as the days of reputable non-conference games for Big 12 teams are getting to be few and far between.

Here's Tramel's list of the top 10 games:

1. Texas vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, Oct. 17
2. Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 31
3. Georgia at OSU, Sept. 5
4. Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Nov. 21
5. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 28
6. Nebraska at Missouri, Oct. 8
7. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3
8. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19
9. Missouri vs. Kansas at Kansas City, Nov. 28
10. Texas Tech at Texas, Sept. 19

And here's his list of the bottom 10 games as well:

96. Idaho State at Oklahoma, Sept. 12
95. Northern Colorado at Kansas, Sept. 5
94. North Dakota at Texas Tech, Sept. 5
93. Tennessee Tech at Kansas State, Sept. 26
92. Grambling at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26
91. Northwestern State at Baylor, Sept. 26
90. Furman at Missouri, Sept. 19
89. Massachusetts at Kansas State, Sept. 5
88. Louisiana-Monroe at Texas, Sept. 5
87. North Dakota State at Iowa State, Sept. 3

Oklahoma teams dominate his list. I've got to think some North Division games will be good ones, but they probably don't rank with those he listed involving the power elite of the South.

I've got three underrated rivalries that merit some mention, although they probably aren't in the top ten. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State always play entertaining games against each other, particularly in Stillwater, Okla. Texas Tech and Texas A&M is merely the nation's most underrated blood feud. And I'm curious about the Nebraska-Kansas State game as much for the post-game handshake between Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder -- if it happens -- as anything on the field.

But as you can see there's a lot of feast and famine in the Big 12 schedule this season. But I still can't wait. September can't get here quickly enough for me.

Analyzing Rhoads' and Snyder's chances for success in '09

May, 28, 2009
5/28/09
5:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at the Big 12's new coaches, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads and Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, and their chances of turning around their struggling programs.

 
  AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
  New head coach Paul Rhoads was an assistant at Iowa State in the 1990s.

IOWA STATE

Coach: Paul Rhoads
Previous school and position: Auburn, defensive coordinator
Head-coaching experience: None
Iowa State's 2008 record: 2-10, 0-8 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 9, defense 6

What he brings: Rhoads is familiar with the challenges of trying to win at Iowa State after serving as an assistant there under Dan McCarney from 1996 through '99. He later cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000 to 2007 and at Auburn last season and is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. Rhoads, from nearby Ankeny, fits with the Cyclones' fan base and their expectations. In fact, his upbeat nature is reminiscent of McCarney, whom some Cyclones fans might want back after their five bowl trips in a six-season span from 2000 to 2005. They haven't been back since.

Challenges he faces: It seems hard to believe that the Cyclones were challenging for the North title as recently as 2005. The program dropped as McCarney was let go and continued its tumble under Gene Chizik. Rhoads will be challenged to orchestrate a quick turnaround. He inherits the framework of an offense with nine returning starters include tough and  productive (but streaky) quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. The big problem will be on defense where the Cyclones were the worst tackling team in the Big 12 last season, ranked 110th nationally in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. Their development won't come overnight. Rhoads has cobbled together a strong staff including offensive coordinator Tom Herman and wily veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. But it will be a big challenge considering the talent they will inherit.

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Slim. Most are picking the Cyclones for the North Division cellar with good reason. The defense will struggle against the Big 12's potent offenses. They will be able to move the ball and score, but likely not enough to compensate for their defensive struggles. The Cyclones will be facing a challenging nonconference schedule with an underrated opener against North Dakota State -- a program that has won at Ball State and Minnesota in the last three seasons. With games against Iowa, at Kent State and Army, the Cyclones likely will be pushed to notch a winning record in nonconference play. And their Big 12 action starts with a game that could decide the Big 12 cellar in Kansas City against Kansas State -- a game that was set to be played in Ames before it was moved. After that, the Cyclones will face a tough road stretch with games at Kansas, Nebraska and Texas A&M sandwiched around a homecoming game against Baylor. They then will finish the season with home games against Oklahoma State and Colorado and a road game against Missouri. All three of those late-season opponents likely will have bowl hopes riding on the game. Don't look for that to happen with the Cyclones -- yet.

My prediction: 3-9, 1-7 in Big 12

 
  Scott D. Weaver/Icon SMI
  Bill Snyder compiled a 136-68-1 record during his first stint in Manhattan.

KANSAS STATE

Coach: Bill Snyder
Previous coaching position: Kansas State, head coach (retired for last three seasons)
Head-coaching experience: Kansas State, 136-68-1 during previous stint there from 1989-2005
Kansas State's 2008 record: 5-7, 2-6 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 6, defense 8

What he brings: Snyder earned a likely position in College Football's Hall of Fame during his first coaching stint at KSU. The Wildcats were on the cusp of the BCS title game in 1998 and claimed their only Big 12 football title in 2003. The program has tumbled badly since that championship and it will take all of Snyder's legendary drive and determination to get the Wildcats back into contention again. He returns with a staff stacked with assistants who have worked with him in the past and are familiar with the challenges of winning at KSU. His knack of making something out of nothing and unearthing recruiting gems from the junior college ranks will be vital in helping get them back into bowl contention.

Challenges he faces: The talent has dropped from the level Snyder was familiar back in his coaching days and the Big 12 might be even tougher. Nearby programs Kansas and Missouri have climbed into title contention since he left. And old coaching nemesis Bo Pelini has Nebraska pointed in the right direction. Snyder will have to settle on a starting quarterback after Carson Coffman won the job this spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas during the summer. He'll also need to cobble together a running game and find some productive linebackers in his new 4-2-5 defense. But he has an underrated group of productive performers like wide receiver Brandon Banks, cornerback Joshua Moore, defensive end Brandon Harold and defensive tackle Jeff Fitzgerald.

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: It might be better than you think. First, the North Division is going to be relatively even without a dominant team. A surprise team might be able to remain in contention if healthy.

KSU's nonconference schedule isn't too taxing with a trip to visit a rebuilding UCLA team that might be winnable with a few breaks. There are also home games against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech and a road game at Louisiana-Lafayette. The conference schedule starts off with the Iowa State game in Kansas City, a road game at reloading Texas Tech and home games with Texas A&M and Colorado. Their conference schedule toughens later in the season with road games at Oklahoma and Nebraska, but the Wildcats might surprise people if they get some consistent quarterback play and can keep an underrated defense healthy.

Snyder's coaching acumen might help them win a game or two that might be considered surprises. One major national publication is already p
icking KSU to tie for second in the North Division. They do have the most favorable conference schedule in the Big 12 with only one road game in a North opponent's home stadium.

The Wildcats should be competitive among North Division teams. Snyder is a legendary builder and his team appears to have already gravitated to his coaching philosophy. They will play hard and shouldn't have the late-season collapse that marked the program in each of the last two seasons under Ron Prince. It might add up to a bowl trip in Snyder's first season back.

My prediction: 6-6, 3-5 in Big 12

Coffman's KSU starting QB quest still has several hurdles

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
12:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman appears to have emerged among the players currently practicing for the Wildcats, moving past redshirt freshmen Collin Klein and Joseph Kassanavoid during spring practice.

But we shouldn't immediately anoint Coffman as the Wildcats' starter for their Sept. 5 opener against Massachusetts.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported today that Grant Gregory, a backup quarterback at South Florida, will transfer into the KSU program to attend graduate school. Because of that, he will be able to play immediately.

Gregory was beaten out by Matt Grothe for the Bulls' starting quarterback. But he apparently was encouraged to consider KSU by USF coach Jim Leavitt, a former assistant coach under Bill Snyder during Snyder's earlier coaching tenure with the Wildcats.

"I'm going to K-State," Gregory told the Capital-Journal. "We're just getting everything finalized with my admission into the graduate school ... I'll be out there definitely by June 1 if not earlier."

KSU will be Gregory's third career school after he began his career at Indiana. After redshirting as a freshman after a stress fracture of his back, he opted to transfer after coach Gerry DiNardo was fired after that season.

He then moved to South Florida where his career hopes as a starter were scuttled after he sustained a thumb injury early in his first season of eligibility with the Bulls. Grothe eventually emerged as the Bulls' starter and Gregory was his primary backup the last two seasons. Gregory completed 17 of 30 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns during that period.

Snyder has repeatedly said he's already expecting competition for Coffman when junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas arrives in June.

"He's very capable and we'll give him every opportunity at quarterback and if not that at running back," Snyder said.

Snyder compared Thomas' opportunity to that received by Michael Bishop in 1997.

"Daniel will be here in the first part of June," Snyder said. "Michael didn't get here until mid-July, but by the first game, he was the No. 1 quarterback and we had a pretty decent quarterback at that time in Jonathan Beasley. Michael developed in that short of a time."

So it should be an interesting and competitive summer for Coffman and the rest of the Wildcat quarterbacks.

And also leads me to believe that whatever performances we see at the Wildcats' Saturday spring game should be taken with a grain of salt.

Because the real competition for the starting job will begin in June.

Lunchtime links: Texas Tech still looking for a kicker

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
1:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Only a few weeks ago, Matt Williams was watching Texas Tech games from the stadium and wondering where he and his friends would be heading for post-game parties.

But after winning a kicking contest during the Texas Tech's Sept. 20 game against Massachusetts with an impressive showing, Williams now could be kicking for the Red Raiders in their game Saturday at Kansas.

Talk about a wild few weeks for Williams. He attempted to become a walk-on kicker at Tarleton State but quit without appearing in a game.

He caught the attention of Tech coach Mike Leach when he drilled a 30-yard field goal in the in-game promotion, winning free rent for the month from a Lubbock apartment complex. But Williams has turned down that prize because it would have been a violation of NCAA rules, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Tech officials told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that Williams was granted a one-time exception to the NCAA transfer rule because he was neither recruited by nor ever on scholarship at Tarleton. When that information was found out earlier this week, Williams become immediately eligible. Tech officials received the confirmation in writing and cleared Williams on Monday.

His arrival comes after kickers Donnie Carona and Cory Fowler have slumped miserably in the last several games. Tech kickers have had seven kicks blocked so far this season. Leach said (not facetiously) he might consider going for two points after every touchdown because of his team's struggles with placements.

Tech special teams coach Clay Maguire told the Avalanche-Journal that either Carona or Williams will be kicking for the Red Raiders Saturday against Kansas, depending on how they perform at practice this week.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino chortled when he learned of Williams' emergence.

"Hey, in this profession, you gotta do what you gotta do," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "If there are a couple of guys running around our stadium here that could cover (Texas Tech's Michael) Crabtree, we would like them to come down. I think that's great. That's vintage Mike Leach there."

Tech's kicking saga adds another layer of intrigue to what should be one of the most interesting games in the country on Saturday.

Until then, here are a few links from around the Big 12 to get you ready for Saturday.

  • Texas' roster is dotted by many key players who have bounced back from subpar 2007 seasons, according to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  • Mad Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star's latest video leaves little doubt about when Colorado and Missouri will be playing on Saturday.
  • The Kansas student newspaper has recommended two new options for a school chant at football games. The school has taken unprecedented steps to do away with an explicit chant that had been popular at games this season that was lifted from the movie "The Waterboy."
  • Oklahoma State's much-maligned secondary has given itself a nickname "D-Block" to build camaraderie, the Oklahoman's Andrea Cohen writes. But that togetherness will be supremely tested Saturday by Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
  • Despite NFL talent analysts tripping over themselves to hype his draft standing, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford tells Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman that he's not thinking about declaring early for the NFL draft.
  • John Mackovic of the La Quinta (Calif.) Desert Sun -- yes, that John Mackovic -- writes that Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy has caught his attention for one of the most underrated coaching jobs in college football this season. Mackovic writes that he advised Gundy to go back to calling his own plays after watching the Cowboys struggle offensively earlier in Gundy's coaching career.

Resurgent Tech running game blasting through opponents

October, 1, 2008
10/01/08
4:40
PM ET
 
 US Presswire/Icon SMI
 Shannon Woods, left, and Baron Batch have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Texas Tech's rushing game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike Leach delights in the unconventional.

The quirky Texas Tech coach has become a YouTube staple by doing outlandish things like providing dating tips on his television show along with an occasional weather forecast.

In another break with the ordinary, the Red Raiders are developing a consistent rushing game to go along with their typically prolific passing attack.

After four games, the Tech running game is averaging 146.5 yards per game, the most ever for a team coached by Leach. It's boosted some life into a ground game that was ranked last in the nation last season.

"We're doing a little bit more out of our pro splits," Leach said. "We're not doing it just to run it, but mainly because we've got a couple of pretty good guys back there, too. They have run well and they're getting better."

The renewed Texas Tech running game has produced at least 100 rushing yards in each game this season -- a four-game trend that's never happened before in Leach's coaching tenure. And it's enabled the Red Raiders to lead the nation in total offense when their typically potent aerial game is combined with the rushing attack.

Baron Batch and Shannon Woods have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Tech's rushing game. The duo has combined for 516 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 20 receptions for 278 yards.

"We have two good players who have a lot of yards on the air and on the ground," Leach said. "In our case, we're a little overdefended on the pass and that opens up our running game. And with Shannon and Baron back there, we really don't mind it. Those guys have been outstanding for us."

(Read full post)

Kicking winner could be invited to try out for Red Raiders

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
3:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech might have found a kicker after coach Mike Leach was impressed with the performance of a student who won an in-game promotion while the Red Raiders were playing Massachusetts.

Student Matt Williams, a junior education major, was invited to try out for the Red Raiders after he converted a 30-yard attempt at the end of the third quarter of the Red Raiders' victory.

"We're always looking for guys who can come help us," Leach said. "We'll see if his stuff checks out. We don't have a lot of depth there."

Leach has maintained a history of employing walk-on kickers during much of his coaching tenure with players like Robert Treece and Alex Trlica. He invested a scholarship in an incoming freshman kicker Donnie Carona for the first time in his tenure this season with mixed results.

Carona has misfired on four of his five field-goal attempts, including all three tries from more than 40 yards.

Leach was impressed enough to notice that Williams' kick Saturday had more height and power than any of the others who have tried in the promotion.

"I've seen that guy try one kick," Leach said. "But the difference between his and the others is that they barely got off the ground. His got his up right away."

Big 12 Week 4 helmet stickers

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
3:21
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A nice representative class this week on both offense and defense:

Missouri QB Chase Daniel -- Passed for a career-high 439 yards and set the Big 12 single-game record with 20 straight completions to lead the Tigers' 42-21 dismantling of Buffalo. Daniel completed 36 of 43 passes with two touchdowns.

Texas QB Colt McCoy -- Became Texas' career leader in touchdowns after throwing four in the Longhorns' 52-10 triumph over Rice. McCoy passed for 329 yards and added a team-high 83 yards rushing and another TD.

Texas Tech RB Shannon Woods -- Climbed out of Mike Leach's doghouse by rushing for 108 yards and three TDs and also added three receptions for 53 yards to lead the Red Raiders' 56-14 beat-down of Massachusetts.

Colorado RB Rodney Stewart -- Rushed for a game-high 166 yards on 28 carries to help boost the Buffaloes to a 17-14 overtime over West Virginia.

Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon -- Produced 20 tackles, including five solos to key Missouri's defensive effort against Buffalo. Weatherspoon produced three tackles for losses, broke up a pass and was credited with half a sack.

Who's hot and who's not in the Big 12

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a look at a few numbers and statistical trends that struck me while poring over media sheets in preparing for this weekend's games.

Sizzling: Big 12 quarterbacks. Nine of the NCAA's top 25 quarterbacks come from Big 12 teams heading into this week's action.

The number: 497. That's the number of yards needed by Graham Harrell to pass Kliff Kingsbury and become Texas Tech's all-time leading passer. Harrell has 11,933 yards, Kingsbury produced 12,429 yards in his career.

Three of the top four career leaders in FBS career touchdown passes will have a connection with the Big 12 on Saturday.

Here's a look at the players and who they will play on Saturday

TeamSchoolTD passesSaturday opponent
Graham HarrellTexas Tech97Massachusetts
Chase DanielMissouri72Buffalo
Rudy Carpenter Arizona State71Georgia
Chase ClementRice63at Texas
-- Compiled by Brad Edwards, ESPN research

Note: Massaschusetts QB Liam Coen has thrown 75 TD passes to lead all FCS quarterbacks heading into Saturday's game against Texas Tech.

Hot and Not

Hot: Baylor, whose 28-point victory over Washington State was its largest over a BCS opponent since beating Iowa State in 1996.

Not: Iowa State, which moved the ball inside the Iowa 30-yard line six times but produced only a field goal offensively.

Hot: Missouri's defense, which has run back an interception for a touchdown in four straight games.

Not: Kansas' defense, which allowed 31 unanswered points in South Florida's 37-34 victory last week.

Hot: Oklahoma State's defense, which limited Missouri State to 1-for-17 third-down conversions.

Not: Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant, who followed up his nine-reception, 236-yard, three-TD effort against Houston by dropping the only pass thrown to him against Missouri State.

Hot: Texas Tech's offense, which has scored at least 30 points in 19 of its last 21 games, including seven games in a row.

Not: Massachusetts, which has lost nine straight games against FBS teams since beating Ball State in the 1984 opener. The Minutemen's coach for that game was current UTEP athletic director and former Missouri coach Bob Stull.

Hot: Kansas, which has won 16 straight home games against nonconference opponents heading into Saturday's game against Sam Houston State.

Not: Sam Houston State, which has been outscored 165-27 in the last three games against Big 12 teams.

Hot: Missouri QB Chase Daniel, who has directed 13 straight scoring drives.

Not: Nebraska's secondary, which struggled with three pass interference calls last week.

Hot: Missouri's receiving corps, which posted three 100-yard receiving games against Nevada. Jeremy Maclin (172 yards), Chase Coffman (127) and Tommy Saunders (100) all reached the standard against the Wolf Pack.

Not: Iowa State, which has lost 11 straight games on the road heading into Saturday's game at UNLV.

Frigid: Texas' pass rush, which had produced fewer than two sacks in eight of its last 13 games.

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