Big 12: Matt Eberflus

Assessing the contenders: Missouri

July, 14, 2011
7/14/11
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Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorite: Oklahoma.

No. 2 was Texas A&M.

Oklahoma State came in at No. 3.

Why the Tigers will win the Big 12

1. Experience. Missouri returns 105 starts on the offensive line, losing only center Tim Barnes. That's the most in the Big 12 and 11th most in the nation on an offensive line that was fantastic in 2010. Just less than 80 percent of its total lettermen return, eighth-most in college football. That's a lot of guys who have been around, and the Tigers knocked over a big wall last year when they toppled the Sooners. Eliminate Mizzou's curious road hiccup at Texas Tech, and the Tigers would have been back in the Big 12 title game instead of sharing the Big 12 North with Nebraska after a third 10-win season in four years.

2. Dave Steckel. The Tigers' defense has steadily improved under Steckel, who previously coached linebackers under Matt Eberflus. Missouri had its best defense under Gary Pinkel last year, and that could continue this year with a great mix of experience and upside at linebacker, with Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden set to knock around a few folks. Missouri's defense is noticeably tougher under Steckel, and though the Tigers must replace Aldon Smith and both starting corners, don't expect it to take a big jump back. Though Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines lack the experience of Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, they may prove to be better corners very soon.

3. The defensive line. And what's the best way to negate inexperience at corner? How about the Big 12's best defensive line. Brad Madison is arguably the Big 12's best returning pass-rusher, and his counterpart at defensive end, Jacquies Smith, is one of the better ends in the Big 12, too. Missouri also has the best depth of any defensive line, with Michael Sam and Kony Ealy itching to spell Madison and Smith. At defensive tackle, Terrell Resonno could be poised for a breakout year, and blue-chip recruit Sheldon Richardson, if/when he actually makes it to campus, should join Dominique Hamilton at the opposite tackle spot, making sure Missouri's front four are not to be trifled.

Why the Tigers won't win the Big 12

1. The quarterback has never started a game. Sometimes, it's just this simple. James Franklin may blossom into a star at Missouri, but as a first-year starter, he's bound to have a few bad nights. Can Missouri survive them? Its Big 12 title hopes depend on it. If Blaine Gabbert had stayed, Missouri would likely be a top-15 or top-10 team and join Texas A&M and OSU as the chief contenders to knock off Oklahoma. Instead, the Tigers are relegated to a dark horse/wild-card role that depends heavily on how Franklin performs in his first year. The one advantage he has is after Tyler Gabbert's post-spring transfer, fall camp will be more about cementing his role as starter than winning it. Franklin walked in as a true freshman last spring and eventually won the No. 2 job behind Blaine Gabbert. That says a lot, and he earned some playing time last year, but his sophomore season won't be anything like 2010, when he threw all of 14 passes.

2. The passing game is limited. NFL teams knew Blaine Gabbert had a cannon, but he didn't get very many chances to showcase it to college fans last year, and Franklin may be forced to do the same. T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew are a great duo with some of the best hands in the league and a great sense of space, but without a deep threat to keep defenses honest, their production declined late in the season. Danario Alexander and Jeremy Maclin were able to stretch the field for guys like Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker in the past, but Moe and Egnew won't come close to 2010's production if the Tigers can't find someone to haul in a few passes over the top of the secondary.

3. Trips to Norman and College Station are on the schedule. I hear you, Missouri fans. I was there for the destruction of Texas A&M at Kyle Field last year. But that was a very different Texas A&M team than you'll be facing this time around. And the return trip may not be quite as enjoyable. Jerrod Johnson struggled against the Tigers, but the 30-9 loss was his penultimate start and Ryan Tannehill is driving the bus now. Also, don't count on this one being an 11 a.m. kickoff. I'd plan for prime time, and Kyle Field is a very different place at 8 p.m. than at lunch time. Ask Nebraska. Missouri knocked off Oklahoma last year, too, but don't think the Sooners have forgotten the fourth-quarter meltdown in Columbia. Oklahoma gets both of its losses in 2010 -- Missouri and Texas A&M -- in Norman this year, where it carries a 36-game home winning streak, the nation's longest, into 2011.

Ranking the top new coordinators in college football

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

While it's not followed as closely as the changes at the top of the football program, the hiring of solid coordinators can often make or break a program.

And it's a chore that sometimes faces successful programs on a pretty regular basis.

For example, former Oklahoma offensive coordinators Mike Leach and Chuck Long both assumed head coaching jobs after coaching on Bob Stoops' staff with the Sooners. And former Texas defensive coordinators like Dick Tomey, Greg Robinson and Gene Chizik all parlayed their experience coaching under Mack Brown to head coaching positions.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will be facing an unprecedented dilemma -- at least while at Missouri -- as he replaces offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Adding David Yost as his offensive coordinator and Dave Steckel as his defensive coordinator ranks as among the major changes the Tigers will be facing this season.

College Football News' Robert Cirminiello ranks the 20 biggest hirings of offensive and defensive coordinators for the upcoming season. Several have interesting Big 12 connections.

  • 4. Kevin Steele, Clemson defensive coordinator: The former Nebraska assistant and Baylor head coach will be trying to pump some life into the Tigers' defense on Dabo Swinney's staff.
  • 5. Bill Young, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator: The veteran Oklahoma State graduate returns to his old school from Miami intent on trying to bring the Cowboys' defense in line with their explosive offense.
  • 11. Greg Robinson, Michigan defensive coordinator: After washing out at Syracuse as a head coach, the former Texas defensive coordinator has been charged with bringing some life in Rich Rodriguez's group with the Wolverines.
  • 12. David Yost, Missouri offensive coordinator: After working with Missouri quarterbacks in the past, Yost was a natural pick to replace Christensen after he left for the head coaching job at Wyoming.
  • 13. Andy Ludwig, Californa offensive coordinator: Picked up stakes and moved to California after barely having time to memorize the menu at the Hibachi Hut in Manhattan during his 65-day stint on Bill Snyder's coaching staff.
  • 20. Gary Nord, Purdue: The former UTEP coach had a short stint on Howard Schnellenberger's staff at Oklahoma where he earned much derision among Sooner fans when he mentioned that he didn't see a full set of teeth in the state when coaching there.

Lack of multiyear contracts could cost CU another assistant

April, 22, 2009
4/22/09
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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.

Tim's mailbag: ISU will be better, but not bowl-ready

March, 20, 2009
3/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It wouldn't be a Friday without some letters from the readers. Here are some I got this week.

Brandon from Ames, Iowa, writes: Tim, I'll be a Cyclone fan until I die no matter how bad we get, but is there going to be any hope for a good season this year? Rhoads is making us hopeful, but what should we consider a successful season given our current condition?

Tim Griffin: Brandon, I've been impressed during the times I've talked with Paul Rhoads since he's taken the job. He seems very positive and upbeat and realizes how daunting the job will be. I see a lot of similarities between him and his coaching mentor, Dan McCarney, who hired Rhoads at Iowa State earlier in his coaching career.

I was also impressed by his two hires for coordinators. Both Tom Herman and Wally Burnham are both very respected in the business and will help him tremendously.

But the Cyclones' talent is at the bottom of the North Division and it will be a big challenge for them to escape the cellar in Rhoads' first season. I think a more realistic goal would be for them to win a game or two more than last season's 2-10 record that ended with 10 straight losses. Anything more than that, in my opinion, will be extremely difficult to accomplish.


Austin from Houston writes: Tim, I noticed in your March 13 mailbag that you mentioned Oklahoma hasn't lost at home since 2001. Did you forget that they lost to the mighty TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 on September 3, 2005? I know that all of the Sooner fans as well as Bob Stoops remember that day. On a different note, although we are roughly seven months away from the game, who is your "way too early" pick for the Texas/OU game?

Tim Griffin: Austin, thanks for the catch. I meant to say the Sooners hadn't lost a conference game since 2001. I do remember the TCU game -- I was there that day. The Horned Frogs were able to dominate the Sooners at Owen Field. I had never seen that happen before with Bob Stoops coaching. And I haven't seen it since, either.

As far as my Red River Rivalry pick, if you asked me today, I would have to go with the Longhorns, but just barely. I'll reserve the right to make my final pick the week before the game.

Texas obviously will be smarting after failing to make the Big 12 championship game despite beating the Sooners last season in the celebrated three-way tie for the South Division championship. They couldn't ask for more inspiration coming into the game than that whole scenario.

But one thing that struck me when talking with Oklahoma players last week in Norman was the defense's confidence. The Sooners have nine starters back on their defensive unit, missing only safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. The Sooners seem comfortable that their defense will be much improved from last season. I thought the Sooners had a great defensive effort against Missouri in the Big 12 game and a good one in the loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oklahoma's defense wasn't to blame for the Sooners losing that game.

So I think the Sooners' defense will be a little better than most people think this season. It should make for a great matchup at the Cotton Bowl.

Can we play tomorrow?


Robert Holmes from Norman, Okla., writes: Tim, if you were starting a Big 12 team of all the players who are coming back for the 2009 season, who would you pick first?

Tim Griffin: Great question and one that bears a more detailed answer. I'm going to start a daily post on Tuesday where I will count down the 40 most valuable players in the Big 12. I'll have a player a day culminating on May 2, which also coincidentally is the day of the Kansas State spring game -- the last one in the conference.

So start watching for that next week.

And I won't give you my final answer, but it would be safe to expect that a South Division quarterback, like maybe Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford. Keep watching to check who I've picked.


Brandon from Poteet, Texas, writes: Tim, I saw where you were at Baylor yesterday. How do you gauge the Bears' mindset coming into the upcoming season? Is a bowl berth a real possibility? And where did you end up eating on your way home? I would have advised George's if I was you.

Tim Griffin: The Bears seem to be a confident bunch. From interviews with new defensive tackle Phil Taylor to safety Jordan Lake and defensive coordinator Brian Norwood and coach Art Briles, to newcomers like offensive tackle Danny Watkins, I could detect a different attitude from previous seasons. Those players and coaches flatly tell you they will be playing in a bowl game. And it appears that it will be a shock for them if they aren't bowling somewhere in December.

That being the case, the Bears will face a typically difficult South Division schedule. They absolutely must win three games in the nonconference schedule. And a key swing game at Texas A&M on Nov. 21 will be huge for them.

Baylor's 41-21 victory over the Aggies last season in Waco was a convincing one. But remember that the Bears have produced 10 losses and a tie in their last 11 trips to Kyle Field. The last time Baylor won in College Station was on Oct. 20, 1984, when Grant Teaff's team claimed a 20-16 triumph. As of today, that's a string of 8,917 days and counting.

That's a huge gap and won't be easily snapped.

And as far as my meal in Waco, I didn't really have much time after spending a couple of hours finishing my work and getting a late start back home. I hopped right in the car and made it back home in time to eat one of my wife's delicious leftover pulled-pork sandwiches while I switched between President Obama's appearance on Jay Leno and the final minutes of the Illinois-Western Kentucky game late last week.

Maybe next time for George's.


Steve Woodson from Garden City, Kan., writes: Hey Tim. Great blog. I wouldn't think of starting my day without reading it. I've got a quick question for you. Which team would you anticipate to be the "surprise team" in the Big 12 this season? And which team do you expect will take the biggest step backwards from last season.

Tim Griffin: Steve, thanks for the compliments. I think that Colorado is nicely situated with some diminished expectations outside the program after last season's struggles.

I know that coach Dan Hawkins predicted his team would go 10-2 this season, which would be a surprise to almost anybody outside the Colorado program. But I do think if the Buffaloes can stay healthy and have a quarterback to emerge that they've got a great shot to make it back to a bowl game and might even be able to climb into North Division title contention with a few breaks along the way.

And as far as the program I expect to take the biggest step back, I would nominate Texas Tech. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be missed, obviously. But so will players like Brandon Williams, Louis Vasquez, Daniel Charbonnet, Darcel McBath, Shannon Woods and Rylan Reed. That's a big chunk of talent that had a huge p
art in the Red Raiders' South Division tri-championship team last season to replace at one time.

I still expect the Red Raiders to contend for a bowl appearance as I would peg them about fourth in the Big 12 South behind Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I think seven or eight wins is a more likely victory total for them this season rather than last year's 11-2 mark.


Jackson from Telluride, Colo., writes: Which off-season coaching moves to do you think will prove to be the most important in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually nominate three. Obviously, the hiring of Bill Young as Oklahoma State's new defensive coordinator has huge ramifications. Mike Gundy is counting on him to be able to fashion together enough improvement to push the Cowboys into contention. That will be a tall order for him, even with all of his past success at previous stops.

I'm also very curious how the new staff of Bill Snyder works together at Kansas State. I think the hiring of Vic Koenning was a huge get for Snyder. I'm also intrigued to see how Dana Dimel and Del Miller will work together again as co-offensive coordinators. Both have worked with Snyder before. Are there any changes in their coaching since they lasted coached there? We'll see.

And I'm also very interested to see the work of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Both have been with Gary Pinkel since the beginning at Missouri. But both also represent changes that have come to the program after former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left for the head coaching job at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left to become the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach.

Pinkel had never had a change in his coaching staff in the first eight years at Missouri. I'm curious to see how the recent switches will alter the Tigers and Pinkel's schematics, if any.

That's all for this week. Check back next week for more correspondence and keep the questions and answers coming. I appreciate it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Missouri will start spring practice today in Columbia with no official announcement of who will be the Tigers' defensive coordinator.

It would be a shock if anybody but former Missouri linebackers coach Dave Steckel is serving as the group's coordinator when the Tigers start. The vacancy was created when Matt Eberflus was hired as the linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns.

But we'll see who is calling the defenses when the Tigers work today.

Here are some other stories from around the conference.

Why was Maclin's bio on the Browns' Web site?

March, 6, 2009
3/06/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Maybe new Cleveland linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, a former defensive coordinator at Missouri, has more pull with his new employers than I ever would have imagined.

That must be the explanation why the biography of former Missouri wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin was displayed earlier this week on the Browns' Web site, according to the Cleveland-based Web site waitingfornextyear.com.  

Maclin is projected as one of the best offensive players in the draft. He would be just what the moribund Cleveland offense needs.

But don't the Browns have to draft him first?  

Big 12 lunch links: Eberflus excited about new job

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
12:57
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Maybe there really is something about the Dawg Pound and hating Pittsburgh. The devotion of a Cleveland Browns fan really has no bounds.

Former Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter that the chance to join the Browns as their linebackers coach helps fulfill a childhood fantasy. Eberflus remembers watching two or three Browns games per season at old Municipal Stadium during his childhood in nearby Akron.

So when Eric Mangini offered Eberflus a chance to join his organization, it really was a no-brainer -- even after eight years on Gary Pinkel's staff at Missouri and 17 years working with Pinkel at other jobs.

Such a childhood connection is a tough one to overcome.

Hopefully these lunchtime links are earning that kind of attachment, too.

  • Lincoln Journal Star columnist Steve Sipple reports that the main reason disgruntled quarterback Patrick Witt has decided to leave the Nebraska program is that Cornhusker coaches were unwilling to name their starting quarterback for the upcoming season at the end of spring practice. Instead, Sipple writes that Nebraska coach Bo Pelini plans to continue the competition through the start of the season.
  • Kansas State will feature two nonconference road games this season for the first time of Bill Snyder's coaching tenure at the school. Mark Janssen reports that Snyder's team has played 10 true nonconference road games in his previous 17 seasons coaching at the school.
  • Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal-World catches up with 8-month-old Bode Lubbers of Wichita, Kan., famous in internet lore as "Baby Mangino."
  • Recent suspensions and dismissals have turned Oklahoma State's wide receiving corps into a major question mark this spring, Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World reports.
  • After a sparse turnout for a "town meeting" with Colorado students to discuss the school's athletic department, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins had a quick remedy for better attendance, according to Doug Bonham of the Colorado Daily. Just bring free food.
  • Don't be surprised if Texas punter Justin Tucker continues his rugby-style punting with both his left and right foot, depending on game situations, Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls reports.

The week ahead in the Big 12

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
8:54
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The end of the 2008 season is barely six weeks finished, but spring work begins this weekend, among other topics of interest across the Big 12.

Texas, which came only a fraction of a percentage point from contending for the national championship last season, will renew its work when the Longhorns start spring practice Friday in Austin. Coach Mack Brown will welcome a strong returning cast headed by Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy and pass-rushing specialist Sergio Kindle.

Other Big 12 coaches probably wish they were as fortunate to begin their on-the-field work.

Veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder had another roadblock tossed in his way after offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig accepted a similar position on Jeff Tedford's staff at California. Ludwig had been on Snyder's staff for only six weeks.

It means that Snyder will be sorting through resumes for a replacement as the Wildcats prepare for an April 6 start for spring practice. He does get a break in that the Wildcats' start will be the latest of any team in the conference, although Kansas State currently has only one offensive assistant in place.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel appears to have a replacement in hand after Matt Eberflus appears to be close to joining the Cleveland Browns as their linebackers coach. Eberflus' promotion hasn't been announced by his new employer, although he reportedly was working with Cleveland coaches over the weekend at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Pinkel appears set to name Dave Steckel to replace Eberflus, who would be Pinkel's second coordinator to leave since the end of the season. Earlier, former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen assumed the head coaching position at Wyoming.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach returns to work after settling a new five-year contract with the school last week. Leach's first responsibility will be filling in the vacancy on his staff when running backs coach Seth Littrell left to join the staff of Mike Stoops at Arizona two weeks ago.

Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is in the mix for the vacant defensive coordinator position at South Florida after interviewing with USF coach Jim Leavitt last week.

And Baylor will wrap up its final week of offseason work before starting spring practice on March 3.

Missouri's Eberflus could be headed to NFL

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
10:37
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Several newspapers are reporting that Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus could be the next coach to leave Gary Pinkel's staff.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday that new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini is close to hiring Eberflus as his new linebackers coach.

It would be a significant departure for Missouri for a couple of reasons. First, it would represent the second coordinator to leave the Tigers' program since the end of the regular season. Dave Christensen left for the head-coaching position at Wyoming.

These transitions are a little new for Gary Pinkel, who until this offseason had managed to keep his staff together during his entire eight-season tenure coaching the Tigers.

The timing also is bad for the Tigers, who begin spring practice on March 10.

But Dave Matter's blog for the Columbia Daily Tribune indicates that Pinkel has already mobilized in case the position in open.

Sources told Matter that Pinkel would promote linebackers coach Dave Steckel to replace Eberflus. And Missouri director of football operations Barry Odom would begin coaching the Tigers' safeties, a position that Eberflus currently coaches.

It will be a loss from a continuity standpoint. But I'm wondering if Pinkel might consider hiring a coordinator from outside his program to bring some fresh ideas to his program.

The Tigers have won back-to-back North Division titles, but have been overmatched against the Texas-Oklahoma power elite at the top of the conference. And whoever takes the job would be facing a challenge as he attempts to replace standouts like Stryker Sulak, William Moore, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood.

People are talking about the huge transition that Missouri will be facing in replacing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman with the offense.

But I'm thinking the defensive transition could be almost as daunting, particularly with a new coordinator.

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 should again be loaded in 2009. And the spring will feature several key positional battles and holes to fill that will go a long way in determining whether Oklahoma can make history and claim a fourth-straight championship this season.

Here a look at each team and three major items to watch in spring practice.

NORTH DIVISION

Colorado Buffaloes

Spring practice begins: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The health of the team: The Buffaloes' players lost a combined total of 121 games to due to illness or injury last season. Some players like tight end Riar Geer, guards Devin Head, Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Mike Iltis, linebacker Jon Major and cornerback Jalil Brown will be limited during the spring because of past injuries. But others like tackle Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and cornerback Benjamin Burney should be good to go throughout the spring. Coach Dan Hawkins won't push things, but it will be good to have as many regulars as possible practicing again.
  • The return of Darrell Scott: The conference's most publicized running back recruit of 2008 never could get untracked, rushing for disappointing totals of 343 yards and 3.9 yards per carry last season. The spring will give him a chance to show why he was one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2008.
  • Settle the kicking game: After Colorado kickers combined to shank 11 of 17 attempts last season, it might be the last chance for Aric Goodman or Jameson Davis to show what they can do after their struggles last season and the arrival of heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle in the fall.

Iowa State Cyclones

Spring practice begins: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Paul Rhoads' early assimilation: After his hiring last Dec. 23, Rhoads has concentrated on recruiting and building a coaching staff. Being able to work on the field with his team will likely be a relief for him after such a hectic start.
  • Help in the secondary: The Cyclones lose starters Chris Singleton and Brandon Hunley from a unit that ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Rhoads' specialty is defense, but he'll have his work cut out with his new unit.
  • Finding another starter at wide receiver: Darius Darks is back after an impressive freshman season, but Rhoads needs to find a replacement for 2008 leading receiver R.J. Sumrall. Look for Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones all to have their chances at the starting unit during the spring.

Kansas Jayhawks

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Finding starters at linebackers: The Jayhawks must completely rebuild their linebacking corps as James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all are gone from last season. Arist Wright and Dakota Lewis are in the mix because of their experience. A bigger wild card could be converted running back Angus Quigley, who turned heads with his defensive instincts and tackling in work before the Jayhawks' bowl game last season.
  • Get a consistent kick returner: The mystifying struggles of Marcus Herford last season resulted in a drop of more than 8 yards per kick return as the Jayhawks fell from seventh in 2007 to 118th nationally last season. Dezmon Briscoe showed flashes of being a productive returner late in the season, but more work from different players will be needed in the spring to shore up the area.
  • Rebuild the center of the offensive line: Losing starting guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes along with center Ryan Cantrell will be the biggest offensive concern this spring for the Jayhawks. Carl Wilson and Sal Kapra should get a long look at guard and Brad Thorson will given the first shot at center.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Spring practice begins: April 6

Spring game: May 2

What to watch:

  • Bill Snyder's return to coaching: The wily Snyder will be facing the biggest challenge of his professional career after returning after a three-year coaching sabbatical. The Wildcats aren't as bad as they were in 1989 when Snyder originally took over, but the Big 12 is a much tougher than the Big Eight was in those days. And it will test the patience and legendary work ethic of Snyder to get the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention in the immediate future.
  • The quarterback battle: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is one of the conference's most notable hirings after his strong recent work at Utah. Ludwig will be challenged as he looks at Carson Coffman or junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas to replace Josh Freeman as his starting quarterback.
  • Looking for a defensive turnaround: The Wildcats were woeful last season, ranking among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense and 106th nationally in pass defense. It will likely try the patience of new coordinator Chris Cosh, who will be looking for replacements along the defensive front for Brandon Balkcom and Ian Campbell. One potential playmaker could be Jeff Fitzgerald, who started 13 games for Virginia in 2007.

Missouri Tigers

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The changing of the guard on offense -- and then some: Gone are all-time greats like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, along with productive receivers Tommy Saunders and Earl Goldsmith. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has left for the Wyoming coaching job, meaning that Dave Yost takes over as the coordinator along with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, Andrew Jones at tight end and Jerrell Jackson as the featured receiver. Collectively, it will be the largest transformation in Gary Pinkel's coaching tenure at Missouri.
  • Finding a pass rush: Three starters are gone along the defensive front as productive starters Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood all are gone from last year. Look for redshirt defensive end Aldon Smith to get in the fight for playing time immediately, along with holdover Brian Coulter at defensive end if he can recover quickly from labrum surgery. Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton will get a long look at defensive tackle before the arrival of heralded "tight end" Sheldon Richardson in the summer.
  • Secondary assistance: The Tigers need help after losing starting safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore and cornerback Tru Vaughns from last year's team. Considering all of the prolific offenses in the Big 12, this will capture much of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' attention as newcomers like safety Jarrell Harrison and cornerback Robert Steeples will show what they can do.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Spring practice begins: March 21

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The battle for quarterback: One of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles will play out during the spring. Incoming freshman Cody Green arrived in college early intent to battle for the starting job and become the first four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch. Holdovers Patrick Witt, Zac Lee and redshirt freshman Kody Spanos all are in the hunt to replace Joe Ganz. Witt has more experience, but it's not much more than any other contender. It should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson handles the competition.
  • Find starters at wide receiver: The Cornhuskers lose starters Nate Swift and Todd Peterson who combined for 125 receptions last season as the team's two major receiving threats. Menelik Holt has more experience than any other returner, although coaches are salivating about the chance to work with Antonio Bell, a 2008 recruit who wasn't on the team last season while he got his grades in order.
  • Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Powerful blockers Matt Slauson at guard and tackle Lydon Murtha both are gone from last season, leaving a huge void for offensive line coach Barney Cotton to fill. Marcel Jones and D.J. Jones should get the first crack at the starting jobs during the spring.

SOUTH DIVISION

Baylor Bears

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 4

What to watch:

  • Competition at offensive tackle: The Bears will be looking for two new starting tackles to replace Don Gay and Jason Smith along the offensive line. Sophomore Joe Korbel figures to get a look at one of the positions, but beyond him it's anybody's guess who will replace the talented pair that combined for 73 career starts.
  • New starters on the left side of the defensive line: Starting defensive end Leon Freeman and defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes both will be gone after their eligibility expired. The only holes in Baylor's front seven will be found there as Jameon Hardeman and Zac Scotton will challenge at defensive end and Sam Sledge at defensive tackle.
  • Better production in their pass defense: The Bears struggled mightily last season and could never seem to produce big plays when they needed them, ranking 103rd in pass defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses. Another spring learning the concepts of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood should benefit them and perhaps serve as a catalyst for a bowl berth with significant improvement.

Oklahoma Sooners

Spring practice begins: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Help at wide receiver: After losing Juaquin Iglesias, Quentin Chaney and Manuel Johnson from last season's BCS title-game runner-up, the Sooners desperately need some players to emerge this spring. Ryan Broyles assumes the No. 1 position, although junior college receiver Cameron Kenney will help, along with Brandon Caleb from last season's two-deep roster. It will also be noteworthy to watch the work of running back Mossis Madu, who will receive some work at slot receiver.
  • Competition in the offensive line: Trent Williams is the only returning starter from last season for a talented veteran group that will lose four starters who combined for 149 starts during their college career. The Sooners aren't devoid of talent, but it's just untested. It means they need a big lift this spring from players like tackle Cory Brandon, guards Brian Simmons and Alex Williams and center Jason Hannan.
  • New look at safety: Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes seemingly had been at Oklahoma since
    the days of Brian Bosworth. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the Sooner duo combined for 83 starts and provided steady, efficient defense throughout their careers. Quinton Carter and Desmond Jackson appear poised to take over for them, although it will be impossible for the Sooners to match their experience.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Spring practice begins: March 9

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Bill Young's work: Oklahoma State has the offense to challenge for the Big 12 championship. But the success of the season ultimately will be determined by the defense generated by new defensive coordinator Bill Young. The Cowboys return six starters but must improve drastically after last season's late collapse that saw them blistered for 56, 61 and 42 points among their final three games of the season.
  • Help at safety and defensive tackle: The Cowboys lose starters Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham at tackle and starting safeties Quinton Moore and Ricky Price. Those key positions in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense will command much of Young's attention. He's particularly excited about the play of Swanson Miller and Shane Jarka and Johnny Thomas at safety. But other players need to step up when they get their chance.
  • Develop depth at wide receiver: Dez Bryant accounted for a larger percentage of completions than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. His absence this spring as he recovers from knee surgery will enable others to have a chance to play and become acclimated with the first-string offense. The Cowboys' depth at the position is aggravated after Bo Bowling was suspended after his arrest earlier this week. It will provide players like Hubert AnyiamJosh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner an opportunity to work with Zac Robinson while Bryant and Bowling are gone.

Texas Longhorns

Spring practice begins: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:

  • Build consistency in the running game: The Longhorns ranked 41st nationally in rushing last season -- their worst national ranking since 2002 -- and relied on Colt McCoy as their primary running threat. That dangerous strategy has to change this season if the Longhorns have any legitimate national title contenders. Key tasks during the spring will be to build cohesion in an offensive line that loses only starter Cedric Dockery from last season and additional work for Fozzy Whittaker, who struggled with injuries most of his freshman season last year.
  • Rebuild the defensive front: The Longhorns had the nation's most productive pass rush, leading the country with an average of 3.62 sacks per game last season. It will be a challenge to replace key players like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Henry Melton. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked what he saw in limited playing time for players like Sam Acho, Russell Carter, Ben Alexander, Michael Wilcoxson, Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. Those players, along with possibly Sergio Kindle getting more playing time at defensive end, will be key to Texas' defensive hopes this season. And incoming freshmen Dominique Jones, Alex Okafor and Kyle Kriegel all arrived at college early to challenge for immediate playing time.
  • Build confidence with young receivers: Leading receiver Quan Cosby graduated and Jordan Shipley will miss spring work after recovering from shoulder surgery. It will give McCoy a chance to build confidence in some of the younger members of his receiving corps, most notably Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Texas A&M

Spring practice begins: March 26

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 24

What to watch:

  • Additional development of young talent: The Aggies were one of the nation's youngest teams last season as 10 true freshmen combined to see action in 90 games and start in 41 of them. The spring will provide an additional opportunity for those young players and others on the roster to gain much-needed experience.
  • Improvement of the pass rush: The biggest hole on defense for the Aggies will be at defensive end where Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee and Cyril Obiozor accounted for most of the playing time last season from a group that ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 100th nationally in sacks. Paul Freeney is poised to assume one of the starting positions there. The other side looks like a wide-open battle that will play out throughout the spring and into summer camp.
  • Find a running back: Coach Mike Sherman will be looking at Keondra Smith, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens for the role as the Aggies' featured running back -- for a few weeks anyway. Whoever wins that battle may celebrate a kind of pyrrhic victory as heralded running back Christine Michael arrives for fall camp as the Aggies' likely featured back. But Sherman likely will be working on building depth in the spring.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Spring practice begins: March 25

Spring game: April 18

Spring practice ends: April 20

What to watch:

  • Any passing game regression?: Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree rewrote the national record book as one of the most prolific pass-and-catch
    combinations in NCAA history. But yet, the Red Raiders always have always had a potent passing attack with Mike Leach in charge. It will be interesting to see Taylor Potts' development at quarterback and the growth of wide receivers like Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Rashad Hawk and Tramain Swindall as they try to fill those big shoes for the Red Raiders.
  • Find a pass-rushing threat: Defensive end Brandon Williams is turning pro after leading the Big 12 with a school-record 12 sacks last season. McKinner Dixon was a big performer in spot duty last season and could be ready to emerge, as is junior-college transfer Daniel Howard.
  • Rebuild the left side of the offensive line: Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez were the two most decorated linemen in Texas Tech history during their careers. The productive duo will be missed, along with starting center Stephen Hamby. Chris Olson at left tackle and Lonnie Edwards at left guard aren't nearly as big or experienced as Reed and Vasquez. Growth during the spring for the unit will be important as the Red Raiders prepare for a difficult September schedule.
Tags:

Quentin Chaney, Houston Jones, Ian Campbell, Sergio Kindle, Lydon Murtha, Jerrell Jackson, Menelik Holt, Cyril Obiozor, Will Muschamp, Brad Thorson, Ziggy Hood, Nate Swift, Rodney Stewart, Mike Iltis, Brandon Balkcom, Lonnie Edwards, Barney Cotton, Brian Norwood, Christine Michael, Justin Garrett, Joe Korbel, Ryan Cantrell, Andy Ludwig, Josh Cooper, Aric Goodman, James Kirkendoll, Trent Williams, Chris Cosh, Quan Cosby, Tru Vaughns, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Jameon Hardeman, Mike Rivera, Sam Sledge, Ryan Broyles, Roy Miller, Cameron Kenney, Bill Snyder, Kyle Kriegel, Eddie Jones, Sedrick Johnson, Baylor Bears, Chase Coffman, Brandon Williams, Ben Alexander, Leon Freeman, Texas Longhorns, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marcus Herford, Vincent Rhodes, Mossis Madu, Malcolm Williams, Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kody Spanos, Jason Smith, Colt McCoy, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Brandon Caleb, Johnny Thomas, Ryan Miller, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Michael Bennett, Tommy Saunders, Louis Vasquez, Quinton Moore, Cory Brandon, Adrian Mayes, Missouri Tigers, Darrell Scott, Colorado Buffaloes, R.J. Sumrall, Patrick Witt, Jason Hannan, Shane Jarka, Maxwell Tuiot-Mariner, Matt Slauson, Tommy Chavis, Chase Daniel, Cyrus Gray, McKinner Dixon, Zac Scotton, Chet Hartley, Eric Crouch, Devin Head, Dakota Lewis, Robert Steeples, James Holt, Cody Green, Matt Eberflus, Chris Singleton, Dave Christensen, Oklahoma Sooners, Spring what to watch, Andrew Jones, Michael Wilcoxson, Manuel Johnson, Dan Hawkins, Todd Peterson, Mike Leach, Kansas State Wildcats, Russell Carter, Edward Britton, Dan Buckner, Darius Darks, Alex Williams, Michael Crabtree, Juaquin Iglesias, Angus Quigley, Shawn Watson, Marquis Hamilton, Carl Wilson, Paul Freeney, Paul Rhoads, Bradley Stephens, Kansas Jayhawks, Joe Mortensen, Stephen Hamby, Brian Coulter, Sheldon Richardson, Detron Lewis, Bo Bowling, Lendy Holmes, Bill Young, Zac Robinson, Hubert Anyiam, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Collins, Jameson Davis, Antonio Bell, Taylor Potts, Daniel Thomas, Iowa State Cyclones, Alex Okafor, Desmond Jackson, Graham Harrell, Benjamin Burney, Keondra Smith, Brian Bosworth, Lyle Leong, Cedric Dockery, Dezmon Briscoe, Earl Goldsmith, Fozzy Whittaker, Nic Harris, Henry Melton, Brian Simmons, Amos Gbunblee, Daniel Howard, Dominique Jones, Jordan Shipley, Chris Olson, Rashad Hawk, Jarrell Harrison, D.J. Jones, Brian Orakpo, Ricky Price, Jeray Chatham, Swanson Miller, Brandon Hunley, Jeremy Maclin, Terrell Resonno, Tremain Swindall, Josh Freeman, Carson Coffman, Gary Pinkel, Zach Grossnickle, DeMarcus Conner, Kheeston Randall, Aldon Smith, Marcel Jones, Dominique Hamilton, Arist Wright, Rylan Reed, Jalil Brown, Quinton Carter, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

Missouri season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
4:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With Chase Daniel along with most of his offensive weapons and 10 defensive starters back, Missouri was a fashionable preseason pick to contend for the national championship.

And why not? After an 11-2 season, the Tigers seemingly were on an upward swing and seemed to be a good choice for their first conference championship since 1969.

A funny thing happened on the way the Bowl Championship Series. The Tigers never fulfilled early expectations that boosted them to No. 3 in the country after a 5-0 start.

Back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Texas ended those national title hopes. The 9-4 Tigers claimed the North Division championship for the second-straight season, but were humiliated in a 61-21 beatdown by Oklahoma that underscored the problems that faced them all season.

The heralded defense never performed to expectations, ranking 99th in total defense and 117th in pass defense. All-American William Moore notched eight interceptions last season but produced only one during an injury-marred senior season.

The season ended with a thud as the Tigers were blistered for an average of 51 points and 532.5 yards per game in demoralizing losses to Kansas and Oklahoma to finish the season. It will be interesting to see if coach Gary Pinkel can get the Tigers to rebound for the Alamo Bowl matchup with Northwestern.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Chase Daniel. By most standards, Daniel had an outstanding senior season, passing for a school-record 37 touchdown passes. But his passing yards and completions were down and his interceptions up from last season. He remained the inspirational leader for the Tigers and leaves Missouri as unquestionably one of best players in school history. But Daniel will personally remember his 0-4 career record against Oklahoma and winning no Big 12 titles.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Sean Weatherspoon. He started quickly with interception returns for touchdowns in each of the Tigers first two games of the season -- a first in school history. Weatherspoon led the team with 138 tackles, 16 tackles for losses and three interceptions and was second with 4.5 sacks.

Turning point: The Tigers marched to the Oklahoma State 1-yard-line on the opening drive and were in position to score a momentum-setting touchdown. But on fourth down, Pinkel elected to go for a field goal, deflating any momentum in what turned out to be a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys that put an early crimp in Missouri's national title hopes.

What's next: The Tigers are heavy favorites to beat Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl, which would enable them to win a 10th game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. Their biggest off-season concerns are to see whether heralded recruit Blaine Gabbert can replace Daniel and if coordinator Matt Eberflus can put some teeth back into his defense.

Tim's mailbag: Why I like Texas to win the South next season

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
6:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few letters from my mailbag that I collected this week.

Clay from Oakland, Calif., writes: With Colt McCoy's firm announcement that he will be a Longhorn in 2009 (and the belief that Sam Bradford will opt for the NFL) you discuss Texas as a very early favorite in the Big 12 for 2009, despite the number of playmakers they will lose on offense. However, could it actually be Oklahoma State that is in the best position to win the Big 12 South, considering the number of offensive starters that will be returning for the Cowboys? Or, after Missouri's disappointing 2008 campaign, will the buzz about non-traditional powers winning the Big 12 be muted next year until it is proven on the field?

Tim Griffin: I'm putting Texas in the favorite's role largely for the reason that I'm expecting McCoy to play much like he did this season. And I'm not entirely sure that Bradford will be back. It might behoove Mike Gundy to talk to Gary Pinkel about how things are different when you come in expected to do well rather than sneaking up on people. Yes, Oklahoma State will have a favorable schedule with games against Texas Tech and Texas at home next season.
But let's chew on this statistic before we anoint the Cowboys as favorites. Texas has won 11 straight games over the Cowboys. And Texas has won five straight games at T. Boone Pickens Stadium dating to 1997. So I like Texas to win the South because of their historic dominance in the series.


Billy Johnson from Horn Lake, Miss., writes: Just curious, Tim. How would you rank the teams in the North coming into next season?

Tim Griffin: It's a tough choice with what should be a balanced, entertaining conference race. I'm hesitant to pick Missouri to win a third-straight championship because the Tigers lose Chase Daniel and their defense underperformed so much this season.

When in doubt, go with the team that will have the veteran quarterback who has achieved something. So I'll give Kansas a very shaky vote as the favorite, mainly because Todd Reesing will be back again next season. I know they have the tough South schedule next season, but they will have Nebraska at home and I would expect that game would be very meaningful in how the North plays out.


Brian from Tulsa, writes: Tim, I'm honestly getting tired of the Oklahoma-Texas discussion. Everyone talks about how Texas got ripped off because of the head-to-head win over Oklahoma. Has everyone forgotten that it was a three-way tie? And more importantly, if Texas had won the Big 12 Ssouth, any Oklahoma argument would have been that they should have beat Texas (which would be true). Why doesn't anyone say that to Texas fans? Texas shouldn't have lost to Tech. If they took care of business on the field, then they would not be in this situation.

Tim Griffin: Brian, I think you just took care of it. I honestly don't think we'll ever come to an agreeable solution in terms of settling a three-way tie -- except that maybe Dan Beebe hopes to avoid another one through perpetuity.


Jon from Houston writes: Any updates on Mike Leach? I haven't heard anything further about his extension. Is his name still in the mix at Auburn?

Tim Griffin: The talks between Leach and Texas Tech are taking a break this week as Leach visits New York City to the Hall of Fame awards and will be visiting Florida for the awards presentation. I would expect to see him back in New York City if Graham Harrell is deservedly chosen as a Heisman finalist.

But my gut tells me that if Auburn had wanted to hire him, we would have already heard something by now. And with the parade of various candidates emerging, I'm thinking his chances for that job -- if he ever really wanted it -- are growing dimmer by the day.


Matt from Victoria, Texas, writes: Tim, sorry, but you've made an error. Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley has already applied for his medical redshirt with the NCAA and Mack Brown says he will also be back for a sixth year with Colt! You're supposed to know this stuff, right?

Tim Griffin: Matt, I do. But I also know that Shipley was introduced with the rest of the senior class at his final home game against Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago. I realize that Shipley is talking about applying for a hardship case and has an outstanding case, but nothing is certain yet. While it looks like he'll have a good chance of obtaining that extra year, it still isn't certain. And until he receives that official clearance, I'm not considering him back. After it comes, his status will change in my predictions.


Scott from Tulsa writes: I shouldn't be surprised that an ESPN writer is throwing out the dynasty comment again about Oklahoma. How many different programs just this decade have anybody been mentioned as a potential dynasty by ESPN. I guess you didn't step back to consider that the team you're calling a potential dynasty has lost four-straight BCS games. They've also lost three of four games to their arch-rival Texas. Hardly a dynasty. Sensationalism at its best.

Tim Griffin: Scott, I respectfully disagree. I always prefaced my recent comments about Oklahoma in the context of Big 12 play only. I also mentioned some of their BCS failings as well. And I don't think we can really argue that the Sooners are a dynasty in terms of conference play.

Oklahoma made history against Missouri by becoming the first Big 12 team to win three consecutive titles. No other Big 12 team has even won back-to-back titles. Bob Stoops has claimed six Big 12 titles. No other coach has won more than one in the 13-season history of the conference. No other program has won more than two titles in the history of the conference.

That sounds like a Sooner dynasty to me -- at least in terms of Big 12 play.


Jeremy from St. Louis writes: Tim, thanks for the great blog. It's become my go-to for all things Big 12 football. I want to comment on your recent post regarding whether Stoops erred in running up the score in the Big 12 title game. As to your assertion (or your linked assertion), I think Dan Hawkins has the perfect response: It's Division 1 Football!!! It's the Big 12 !!! If Matt Eberflus and Co. don't want to play defense, why is that Stoops' problem?

If Dave Christensen wants to quit running the ball and drag the game out, why is that Stoops' problem? If the shoe were on the other foot, I wouldn't have wanted us to step off the gas. There is too much at stake not to achieve the greatest margin of victory possible.
And frankly, I'm a little glad that Oklahoma kept its starters in so Gary Pinkel could clearly see what an epic fail this defense, and specifically the defensive line, was. Our three games against real opponents (UT, OSU, and OU) showed how far we still have to go. These types of games are good reminders that we aren't there yet. Hopefully, Pinkel knows that too.

Tim Griffin: Thanks for your kind words. I bet your opinion isn't shared by the majority of Missouri fans. And your comments a
bout the Missouri defense are correct, in my opinion. The Tigers have a lot of work to become competitively defensively against the South Division powers.


Ryan from Denton, Texas, writes: Hey Tim, I wanted to start by saying I love your blog, I've always appreciated your unbiased responses. Anyway, I was looking at all the conference's bowl matchups and I am hard pressed to find a matchup where the big 12 teams aren't likely to lose, other than the Oklahoma-Florida game, which is a toss-up. Do you think the Big 12 has the ability to run the table in bowl games this year?

Tim Griffin: The Big 12 is favored in five of the seven games. Only Nebraska and Oklahoma are slight underdogs. Considering that, the conference needs a big bowl season to get some of the criticism about the lack of defense in the conference to subside. The only way to do that is to play well against teams from other power conferences. That always hasn't been the case. But Big 12 teams will have their ability to stifle some of that criticism in the next few weeks.


Stephen Jones from Checotah, Okla., writes: Which Big 12 team do you think will have the most trouble as a favorite and which Big 12 underdog has the best chance of springing an upset during the bowls.

Tim Griffin: I'll say that Missouri will have the most difficulty as a favorite in the Alamo Bowl, mainly because of the way the Tigers finished the season. I'm curious about their mental approach heading into the Northwestern game. I also think Nebraska has the best chance to spring an upset. I really believe the Cornhuskers got a favorable matchup against Clemson in the Gator Bowl. And their chances will be bolstered because Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning left to take the job at Kansas State. That uncertain leadership should work to the advantage of Joe Ganz, Roy Helu Jr. and Nate Swift for the Cornhuskers.


Ramon from Ecuador writes: Tim, I'd like to know your thoughts on Coach Mike Sherman's first season at Texas A&M and how you see the program moving in the future. Will I have to wait until 2009, or can you write on this subject any time soon? Best regards.

Tim Griffin: Ramon, anybody writing from South America deserves an answer.

I think the Texas A&M season was a huge disappointment, particularly the way it finished with a 90-30 combined margin of defeat to Baylor and Texas. I'm sure that Sherman was surprised by how far his team dropped. And the fact that the Aggies went 0-5 against the rest of the South Division for the first time in history indicates that the program has hit rock bottom in that regard.

The departure of Mike Goodson will open a position for Cyrus Gray, who looked good in brief bursts late in the season. Sherman has a strong offensive nucleus with players like Jerrod Johnson, Jeff Fuller and Jamie McCoy and an offensive line that will return four starters. Defensively, the Aggies have a lot of work to do. But I did like the late progress of Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebackers Von Miller and Garrick Williams.

Across-the-board growth will be important because I think the Aggies will be picked in the South Division cellar coming into next season. The competition in the division has never been more intense with two BCS teams, another that almost made it and teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State poised for continued improvement. I would suggest that Sherman better plan on rolling up his sleeves, because he clearly has his work cut out in turning around Texas A&M's program at this time.

Thanks again for all of the good questions. I'll be back again next week to answer another collection of them.

Big 12 pick: Sooners should cruise to record three-peat title

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
7:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma 52, Missouri 31 -- The first rematch in Big 12 title game history from the previous season will take place at Arrowhead Stadium. And the streaking Sooners appear to be ready.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has the offense humming as the Sooners have scored at least 61 points in each of their last four games. They have the balanced kind of attack that will pose problems to a Missouri defense that has struggled this season despite returning 10 starters from last season. The Sooners' offensive balance will prove difficult for Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to contain.

Bradford has a torn ligament in his non-throwing hand that will be braced for Saturday's game. That injury could affect the Sooners' rushing game as he could be forced to take the majority of his snaps from shotgun formations like he did last week against Oklahoma State after the injury. But Bradford should be effective against a banged-up Missouri secondary that will be missing its best cornerback after Castine Bridges went down with a season-ending knee injury last week.

Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has struggled recently with interceptions, throwing at least two in three of his last four games. He can't afford that in Saturday's game as he must be more patient and avoid throwing the ball into tight Oklahoma coverage. The Tigers are going to have to do a good job of keeping Daniel from being pressured against an Oklahoma defense that should be getting top pass-rushing threat Auston English back from injury for spot duty.

The Tigers needs to exploit their advantage in the special teams and will need some big plays for Jeremy Maclin to nab the upset. And they also have an advantage at kicker, where Jeff Wolfert is more consistent and has better range than Jimmy Stevens.

But when everything is considered, the Sooners have too many weapons. And the controversy about their legitimacy of playing in Saturday's game should spur them to a strong performance. A victory will provide them with a shot at a history-making third straight conference title and a likely berth in the BCS Championship Game next month.

My record for last week: 4-1 (80 percent)
My record for the season: 83-13 (86.5 percent)

Final: Kansas 40, Missouri 37

November, 29, 2008
11/29/08
5:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The drive from Oklahoma City was a long one, but was made more tolerable by the radio station I was able to pick up from Bartlesville, Okla., so that I could listen to Kansas' dramatic 40-37 victory over Missouri.

And yes, that hissing sound is the background is the excitement seeping out of the Big 12 championship game next week.

Todd Reesing came up with a masterful performance, directing Kansas' dramatic victory over the North Division champions. Reesing completed the game-winning touchdown pass to Kerry Meier with 27 seconds left. And then the Jayhawks held on as Jeff Wolfert's 54-yard field goal at the buzzer was partially blocked.

The victory is a testament to the pluck of the gritty Jayhawks. After the game, Kansas coach Mark Mangino said that 10 of his starting players couldn't practice earlier in the week. All of them played Saturday, leading them to victory.

Kansas' upset sucks a lot of the excitement out of next week's Big 12 Championship Game in Kansas City. Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has a lot of work between now and next week to prepare for whichever one of the potent Big 12 South offenses his team will be facing.

And Kansas' victory gives the team a boost as they likely head to the Insight Bowl.

Big 12 morning links: Getting ready for gridlock

November, 29, 2008
11/29/08
11:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Today's the last day of the Big 12's regular season. If the finish is anything like the first 92 days have been, we'll likely have a wild ride.

Here are some morning links to get you ready for today's games. They'll likely be much tastier than those turkey leftovers staring at you from the refrigerator.

  • Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News details the scenarios as Saturday's games will finish the Big 12's regular season.
  • Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald writes that Nebraska had to overcome some of Bo Pelini's wacky strategy to beat Colorado -- thanks to a record field goal from Alex Henery.
  • Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman writes that with a big finish, Oklahoma could be judged as one of the greatest offensive college football teams in history. With three potential games remaining, the Sooners could become the first team since 1904 to score 700 points in a season.
  • After becoming bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history, Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tully Corcoran wonders how good Kansas really is this season.
  • Maureen Fulton of the Toledo Blade writes that Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is expected to interview with officials for Toledo's vacant head-coaching position. Other potential candidates include former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney and Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
  • A Texas Tech senior class that has notched 36 victories -- the most in school history over a four-year span -- will finish its home career today in Lubbock against Baylor, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams writes.

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