Big 12: Matt Slauson

Nebraska's all-decade team

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
3:23
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It was an eventful decade at Nebraska where two abrupt coaching changes took place after having only one – and no firings of head coaches – in the previous 38 seasons.

All of the Cornhuskers’ coaches experienced success in their own way over the decade. With Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini, Nebraska was the only Big 12 school to make championship game appearances in the 2000’s with different coaches. And Frank Solich, the Cornhuskers’ first coach of the decade, took them to a national championship game in 2001.

In 2001 Eric Crouch claimed the first of the Big 12’s three Heisman trophies in the decade. And Ndamukong Suh had a great case for one in 2009.

Pelini has the Cornhuskers pointed in the right direction after only two seasons. But here are my choices for the Cornhuskers' best players and brightest moments.

OFFENSE

QB: Eric Crouch

RB: Correll Buckhalter

RB: Cory Ross

WR: Nate Swift

WR: Maurice Purify

TE: Tracey Wistrom

OL: Russ Hochstein

OL: Toniu Fonoti

OL: Richie Incognito

OL: Matt Slauson

C: Dominic Raiola

DEFENSE

DL: Adam Carriker

DL: Ndamukong Suh

DL: Jared Crick

DL: Kyle Vanden Bosch

LB: Carlos Polk

LB: Demorrio Williams

LB: Barrett Ruud

DB: Keyuo Craver

DB: Josh Bullocks

DB: Prince Amukamara

DB: Daniel Bullocks

P: Kyle Larson

K: Alex Henery

Ret: DeJuan Groce

Offensive player of the decade: QB Eric Crouch. Received playing time early in his career as a receiver, but eventually became the most athletic quarterback to win the Heisman this decade. He finished as Nebraska’s career leader in total offense and total offense touchdowns.

Defensive player of the decade: DT Ndamukong Suh. His unique blend of athleticism gave him a skill set unlike those for many defensive tackles. Before his career was finished, Suh left with a legitimate claim as the greatest Blackshirt in history.

Coach of the decade: Bo Pelini. All three Nebraska coaches experienced success in different ways. Pelini gets the nod for his 20-8 record as a head coach and three bowl victories, including one as interim coach in 2003.

Moment of the decade: Eric Crouch’s throwback pass reception in 2001. Not only did Mike Stuntz’ 63-yard touchdown pass to Crouch wrap up a huge 20-10 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, but it also provided a highlight that helped catapult Crouch to the Heisman Trophy.

Dobson reshaping Cornhuskers' storied weight program

May, 20, 2009
5/20/09
3:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Coming into the Nebraska football offices every day for James Dobson is akin to a pianist heading into Carnegie Hall.

Dobson feels like he's carrying on a unique tradition for the Cornhuskers, who pioneered the concepts of a modern strength and conditioning program with Boyd Epley's ground-breaking work back with the programs in the late 1960s.

"This is a very unique place for strength and conditioning," said Dobson, who arrived from Iowa several weeks after Bo Pelini was hired. "Boyd got it started and Mike Arthur really developed strength and conditioning into what it is today here. It's very special to be a part of it."

Despite that lofty and storied history, Dobson has been able to place his own stamp on the Nebraska program after only one season directing the strength and conditioning program.

Charged by Pelini to help develop speed, particularly for players in the offensive and defensive lines, Dobson instituted a plan to help his players in the trenches lose weight.

The result was improved performance in both groups by emphasizing leaner, quicker athletes in his first season. It paid off with a 9-4 record last season, capped by a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson.

That strong finish helped catapult the Cornhuskers through a strong second season in Dobson's program, building on their work of the first year there.

(Read full post)

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
9:25
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

I-back Roy Helu Jr., I-back Quentin Castille, G Jacob Hickman, TE Mike McNeill, DE Pierre Allen, DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, K Alex Henery.

Key losses

QB Joe Ganz, I-back Marlon Lucky, WR Todd Peterson, WR Nate Swift, G Matt Slauson, DT Ty Steinkuhler, CB Armando Murillo

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr. * (803 yards)
Passing: Joe Ganz (3,568 yards)
Receiving: Nate Swift (941 yards)
Tackles: Ndamukong Suh* (76)
Sacks: Ndamukong Suh* (7.5)
Interceptions: Ndamukong Suh*, Zach Potter, Anthony West* (2)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 12 Arkansas State
Sept. 19 at Virginia Tech
Sept. 26 Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 8 at Missouri
Oct. 17 Texas Tech
Oct. 24 Iowa State
Oct. 31 at Baylor
Nov. 7 Oklahoma
Nov. 14 at Kansas
Nov. 21 Kansas State
Nov. 27 at Colorado

1. Zac Lee: There were some serious doubts before spring practice at quarterback, but Lee appeared to dispel most of those fears as he replaced Joe Ganz. Lee looked comfortable in his role as starter, passing for 214 yards and three TDs in the spring game. His development over the spring has clearly stamped him as the most likely starter for the Cornhuskers in August when heralded freshman Cody Green will be more comfortable in the offense.

2. Tight ends: Mike McNeill already was one of the conference's most underrated players after breaking the school record for catches at the position last season. But the Cornhuskers will have outstanding depth at the position after strong springs by junior Dreu Young, sophomore Ryan Hill and freshmen Kyle Reed and Ben Cotton. Their growth at the position might lessen some of the worries at wide receiver. Don't be surprised if the Cornhuskers regularly feature two-tight end sets as part of their basic offensive strategy.

3. Antonio Bell: The suspension of Niles Paul was supposed to aggravate the Cornhuskers' iffy depth at wide receiver. But Bell developed into a strong playmaker at the position and even showed some flashes as a kick returner at the spring game. He'll be in the mix for playing time at the start of the season.

Fall questions

1. Wide receiver: The loss of leading 2008 receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift robbed the Cornhuskers of much of their big-play capabilities at the position as well as a duo which contributed 125 combined catches last season. It will remain the biggest offensive liability of the Cornhuskers. Players like Menelik Holt and Paul will need to add production. Injury-prone Chris Brooks produced five catches in the spring game and much is expected from heralded junior-college standout Brandon Kinnie. And Marcus Mendoza looks to have adjusted after moving to wide receiver from I-back.

2. Right side of the offensive line: The loss of Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha robbed the Cornhuskers of solid producers familiar with playing together. Marcel Jones appears to have claimed the starting job at right tackle. And the development of center Mike Caputo allowed Nebraska line coach Barney Cotton to
experiment with moving starting center Jacob Hickman to right guard. But a bigger question will be replacing the veteran leadership they received with Murtha and Slauson over the last several years.

3. Linebackers: The Cornhuskers are talented but very young at linebacker. Colton Koehler and Matthew May both look to have earned starting positions during the spring. Redshirt freshmen Alonzo Whaley, Micah Kreikemeier, Sean Fisher and Will Compton all had their moments. But a key player in fall practice will be Blake Lawrence, who started quickly but suffered a concussion late in the spring.

Big 12 links: No more booze allowed in Nebraska's skyboxes

April, 23, 2009
4/23/09
1:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It might be a little quieter at Memorial Stadium this season, at least if a directive from the Nebraska athletic department is enforced.

Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reports that skybox holders at Memorial Stadium have received word that there will be stricter enforcement of the campus law that forbids alcohol possession on campus.

No beer or whiskey in those prime seats might lead to a more sedate crowd -- at least in what some Nebraska insiders refer to as "Lexus Lane."

But something tells me that if Bo Pelini's team is as good as expected, the rest of the stadium might drown them out.

We won't know about that until early September at the Cornhuskers' first game. Until then, here are some notable stories from across the conference.  

  • Mark Hasty of Fanhouse.com wonders if the Big 12 can rebound after last season's disappointing bowl performance
  • Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman writes about how Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines has simplified his defensive scheme in hopes of improving the defense's production.
  • Colorado is intent on improving its ability to block kicks this spring, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
  • Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle is sticking to his 6-6 prediction for Texas A&M next season.
  • Backup Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson turned himself into Norman police after a municipal warrant was issued for his failure to pay a previous speeding ticket, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
  • Backup Texas Tech quarterback Steven "Sticks" Sheffield is intent on earning a scholarship to get his parents off the hook for tuition, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams writes.
  • Michael Crabtree and Brian Orakpo are among players who will serve as cover athletes for different platforms of EA Sports' NCAA Football, the Business Wire reports.
  • Former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman tells Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury he isn't looking back at his decision to declare for the NFL draft.
  • John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News profiles backup Iowa State quarterback Jerome Tiller, who has emerged as one of the Cyclones' biggest spring surprises.
  • Lydon Murtha and Matt Slauson hope to renew the reputation of Nebraska's offensive line as a pipeline to the NFL, the Omaha World-Herald's Rich Kaipust reports.

Tim's mailbag: Big 12's most underrated assistants considered

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a representative batch of letters and e-mails I got this week.

Steve Delaney from Wichita, Kan., writes: Hey, Tim, we always hear about Will Muschamp or Brent Venables as the top coordinators in college football. Do you have a Big 12 coordinator who you consider to be among the underrated gems in the country?

Tim Griffin: That's a great question. I think the best example of a coordinator who doesn't get the kind of national respect he probably deserves is Shawn Watson of Nebraska. He did a good job of orchestrating Colorado's offenses in the Gary Barnett era with a variety of journeyman quarterbacks like Robert Hodge and Bobby Pesavento. And he appeared to do the same thing with the Cornhuskers with Joe Ganz last season. It will be interesting how he handles the Cornhuskers' presumed lack of quarterbacking depth and proven production this season.

I also think Greg Davis at Texas does a consistently outstanding job for the Longhorns. I know it's been fashionable for many of the message board fans to knock him over the years. But look at the improvement and the change in Colt McCoy's game over the last several years to indicate how good Davis really is as an offensive coach.


Nick from Hastings, Neb., writes: What have you heard about the Cornhuskers' pro day? I'm kind of interested to know how Joe Ganz did considering he wasn't invited to the combine or any postseason all- star games.

Tim Griffin: The most notable news that came out of Nebraska's pro day were the shots that Ganz took at Patrick Witt, who announced last month he was leaving school.

But as far as on-the-field performance, Lydon Murtha again had good workouts, even though he only went through positional drills. The scouts I talked to love his combination of speed and size and expect him to be an underrated pick.

Matt Slauson had a nice time in the 40-yard dash, but lost some ground when he strained his pectoral muscle during his bench press.

Marlon Lucky had a fast initial 40-yard time, although he pulled a muscle on the second one.

And Ganz took the battery of tests for the assembled pro scouts. I think it's going to be interesting to see where he goes.

I know his measurable (height, weight and speed) don't measure with some of the other top available quarterbacks. But the leadership he showed with the Nebraska program -- best exhibited in his gutty performance against Clemson in the Gator Bowl -- were impressive to me. It will be interesting to see if an NFL team takes a chance on him with a draft pick , although I'm hearing it's more likely he'll end up being a free agent.


Steve Landis from Kansas City writes: Tim, I was interested in your recent study about homecourt advantage. Why do you think Oklahoma has been so strong at home over the years under Bob Stoops?

Tim Griffin: I know the Sooners haven't lost a home game since 2001. And they consistently have played better, with a better record, than any other Big 12 team. Probably the best reason is because they always seem to have some of the conference's very best players.

But here's an underrated reason why I think that Texas' and Oklahoma's home Big 12 records always seem better than everybody else's.

Namely, the Sooners never have to play Texas in Norman and the Longhorns don't face Oklahoma in Austin. I'm not saying that those teams would regularly win on their opponents' home fields. But I still think they would be the toughest Big 12 challenger on a consistent basis and both likely would have won there over the years.

So I'm wonder how much you can quantify Oklahoma's and Texas' home records with the fact that Texas never travels to Normal or Oklahoma to Austin. It's something I think needs to be considered when you look at extending winning streaks for both the Sooners and Longhorns.


Bobby from Fort Worth writes: Tim, do you see Oklahoma and Texas playing to see who represents the Big 12 in the national championship game? I don't see anyone beating either one of these teams. The only thing I'm worried about is if Florida and USC can run the table and get to the championship game if Oklahoma or Texas runs the table.

Tim Griffin: Bobby, I think the Sooners and Longhorns have the best chance to represent the Big 12 in a national title game. Oklahoma State obviously has a better collection of talent coming back and a favorable schedule. But I still don't know if the Cowboys have the defensive depth to contend with the Sooners and Longhorns.

As to your concerns about the Big 12 being left out if there were a multiteam logjam with undefeated teams, here's a little nugget to remember: A Big 12 team with an undefeated regular-season record has always ended up playing for the national championship in the BCS era. And I don't see that ending as long as the Big 12 South is as strong as it appears to be. I think the South's strength should catapult an undefeated winner into a BCS title game.


Stevie U. from Galveston, Texas, writes: Tim, an old Jayhawker, here. What do you think of Kansas' chances of finally bringing home a Big 12 North title after what you've seen in practice so far.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I haven't seen much, but I have kept up with the Jayhawks from afar. Everybody is questioning their linebackers after the departure of James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera from last year. And I think that remains a legitimate concern, particularly in a conference where offenses will be as predominant as the Big 12.

But I'm also a little taken aback at the move of starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and the apparent insertion of converted defensive end Tanner Hawkinson into the mix at left tackle.

I know that Kansas coach Mark Mangino has been among the most successful in plugging holes in the starting lineup with players from other positions.

But I still consider left tackle kind of a sacred spot. Whoever emerges there will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind spot. And Reesing will remain only an unblocked blitz away from a serious injury. So it will be interesting to see who finally emerges there. I think the development of the Kansas offensive line will be the Jayhawks' biggest offensive question heading into the season.


T. B. from Houston writes: Tim, you've criticized the Big 12's fifth tiebreaker for three-way ties a couple times recently. But each time you criticize it, you offer no alternative. Do you have any ideas regarding what may be a better system?

Tim Griffin: I like the SEC rule where a three-way tie is settled by taking the two highest-ranked teams in the BCS poll and then determining a winner by head-to-head results. I think this provides a fairer way to determine the winner. And it also gives the conference a shot at having its top team in terms of BCS with at least a head-to-head chance of playing for a national championship.

I know I've heard some Big 12 officials saying that it is very important to get the team with the highest BCS ranking to move forward. That might be true, but at least in a multiteam tie, the SEC's rule would provide some type of mechanism for a t
eam that might have beaten that team with the highest ranking to receive some credit for it.

But I'm guessing we won't have a three-way divisional tie like we had last season in the South for a long time.

And for that, I bet Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe would be greatly relieved.

Thanks again for all of the correspondence and keep them coming. I'll be glad to answer any and all questions.

Don't always believe those heights and weights

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
6:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

When I was a little kid, one element among my favorites of going to a football game was collecting a game program. I loved nothing better than to scan rosters and check the heights and weights of players as I looked at them through my father's binoculars.

It led me to collecting many programs that probably still are around my parents' house somewhere. I guess I just wanted to add to the clutter of my bedroom.

If I had known then what I know now, I might not have been so diligent about all of the effort. Little boys don't know those heights and weights for their football heroes aren't always correct.

The best way to analyze the discrepancy is by comparing the heights and weights of some of the Big 12 players who attended the recent NFL combine and compare them with what they were listed at during their college careers.

The before is their listed height and weight during last season. The after is what they were measured over the weekend by the NFL.

(Read full post)

What to watch at Big 12 spring practices

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
10:00
AM ET

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:

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Forty-one Big 12 players invited to NFL Combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
2:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's the official list of 41 Big 12 players who have been invited to the NFL combine Feb. 18 through Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.

Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams with eight players invited to the combine, followed by Texas, Missouri and Nebraska with six players each and Texas Tech with five players.

All Big 12 schools were represented with the exception of Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.

All players are expected to attend with the exception of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who was granted an extra season of eligibility and will remain in college. Shipley recently underwent shoulder surgery and will not be able to participate when spring practice begins for the Longhorns later this week.

NFL officials have calculated that players invited to the NFL combine typically are drafted 64 percent of the time. So these players would appear to have the best chance of being picked among eligible players from the Big 12.

Here's a list of invited players listed by their schools.

Baylor: T Dan Gay, T Jason Smith.

Colorado: None.

Iowa State: None.

Kansas: None.

Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.

Missouri: TE Chase Coffman, QB Chase Daniel, DT Ziggy Hood, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, S William Moore, DE Stryker Sulak.

Nebraska: LB Cody Glenn, RB Marlon Lucky, T Lydon Murtha, DE Zach Potter, G Matt Slauson, WR Nathan Swift.

Oklahoma: C Jon Cooper, S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes, WR Juaquan Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, G Brandon Walker.

Oklahoma State: P Matt Fodge, TE Brandon Pettigrew.

Texas: WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DE Brian Orakpo, CB Ryan Palmer, WR Jordan Shipley.*

Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, S Darcel McBath, G Louis Vasquez, DE Brandon Williams.

*  Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.

Big 12 links: New KSU president can help find athletic director

January, 28, 2009
1/28/09
1:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Some interesting topics popped up across the conference this morning. Feel free to digest them with your lunches this afternoon.

  • Austin Meek and Kevin Haskin of the Topeka Capital Journal report that outgoing Kansas State president Jon Wefald said he would be willing to provide the university's next president a head start at picking the school's new athletic director.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler he "likes the quarterbacks we have," in regards to reports linking the Sooners with former Miami quarterback Robert Marve.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel proposes giving players a chance to return to school after they are selected in the NFL draft if they don't sign with an agent or a pro franchise.
  • Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports on the tumultuous year of Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause, who was re-assigned Tuesday to a new role at the school's Olathe campus.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple reports that six former Nebraska players -- Matt Slauson, Nate Swift, Lydon Murtha, Marlon Lucky, Zach Potter and Cody Glenn -- have received invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis.
  • Boulder Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo remembers the playing career of former Colorado quarterback Bernard Jackson, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison last week along with former teammate Lionel Harris last week.

Nebraska recruiting needs

January, 21, 2009
1/21/09
1:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is careful to say that developing a program is "a process," cautioning Cornhusker fans not to get too overly excited about last season's 9-4 record and Gator Bowl triumph over Clemson.

But there's no doubt the Cornhuskers' quick finish after Pelini's first season has provided a boost of enthusiasm heading into the offseason.

The loss of starting offensive linemen Lydon Murtha, Mike Huff, Matt Slauson has made finding depth and some new starters along the front one of the Cornhuskers' two primary offensive needs.

Nebraska also needs to find two starting receivers after Nate Swift and Todd Peterson had their eligibility expire. Swift and Peterson combined for 125 receptions and 14 touchdowns last season.

The Cornhuskers lose starter Joe Ganz at quarterback, but appear to have replacements either inside the program or already a part of their recruiting class. Zac Lee, Patrick Witt, Kody Spano and maybe even incoming freshman Cody Green all could battle for playing time in the spring. It will be one of the most highly scrutinized quarterback battles in the nation during the off-season.

Even with All-Big 12 Ndamukong Suh coming back at defensive tackle, the Cornhuskers need to find more players to build depth in the trenches. The loss of Zach Potter and Clayton Sievers at defensive end makes it imperative that more players are found in case Barry Turner's recovery from a broken bone in his left leg is protracted.

The loss of starters Tyler Wortman and Cody Glenn at linebacker has caused depth to be a concern there. But the Cornhuskers also need to add numbers in the secondary to enable them to play the nickel and dime pass packages that Pelini prefers to play against the heavy passing attacks in the conference.

Another season of strong recruiting should enable Pelini to put more of his stamp on the program. And if his first season is any indication, the Cornhuskers certainly are headed in the right direction.

Big 12 players will be big part of Shrine East-West game

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All right, admit it. You are going through college football withdrawal after seven days without a game.

If you are really missing college football, check out the Shrine East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 from Houston's Robertson Stadium.

The Big 12 will be heavily represented. Below is a list of players and their uniform numbers if you want to give them a look on Saturday. You can find the rest of the roster on the Shrine Game web site.

East: Missouri QB Chase Daniel (No. 10), Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky (No. 20), Missouri DE Stryker Sulak (No. 38), Nebraska OL Matt Slauson (No. 75), Nebraska LS T.J. O'Leary (No. 82),

West: Oklahoma WR Manuel Johnson (No. 1), Texas DB Ryan Palmer (No. 2), Texas Tech DB Darcel McBath (No. 3), Texas A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane (No. 11), Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee (No. 12), Oklahoma State P Matt Fodge (No. 17), Oklahoma DB Lendy Holmes (No. 22), Oklahoma C Jon Cooper (No. 50), Texas Tech OL Louis Vasquez (No. 66), Baylor OL Dan Gay (No. 71), Texas OL Cedric Dockery (No. 73), Texas A&M DE Michael Bennett (No. 92), Texas DT Roy Miller (No. 98),

Lane tips scale at 295 at East-West Shrine practice

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
10:24
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The East-West Shrine Game will take place Saturday in Houston. Several Big 12 players have emerged during practices this week.

Here are some of the highlights, according to Houston Chronicle blogger Lance Zierlein's extensive notes from the workouts on his daily "Z Report."

  • Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has struggled with inconsistency at times. Zierlein reports that Daniel looks short compared to the other quarterbacks, but has lost seven pounds since the end of the season and appears in good shape.
  • Nebraska guard Matt Slauson has appeared stiff in some of his pass protection drills, but looked good against Canadian defensive tackle Etienne Legare.
  • Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson has looked good in catching drills and has been fearless in catching passes over the middle.
  • Texas A&M fullback Jorvorskie Lane weighed in at 295 pounds for the start of practices this week. That weight will be a major liability in terms of his draftability, although Lane has been a productive receiver with several scintillating one-handed catches throughout the week.

Cornhuskers are going bowling, but Pelini wants more

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
2:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

An unexpected surge during the second half of the season has Nebraska playing better than most observers might have expected before the season.

Even with a 7-4 record and a likely berth in a New Year's Day bowl game set with a victory Friday against Colorado, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini still sees more progress needed.

"I'm a guy who's pretty hard to satisfy because I want perfection," Pelini said. "I just feel like we haven't put our four quarters of our best football together. If we put a performance out there like Oklahoma did last week, I'd been pretty fired up."

Pelini has seen the Cornhuskers turn around their season since a 62-28 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 1. That loss capped a mid-season swoon that saw them lose four of six games at one point earlier this season.

But since then, Nebraska has rebounded to win their next two games, scoring 101 points in convincing conquests of Kansas and Kansas State. That spurt has boosted them into second place in the Big 12 North heading into the final game of the season.

"We've come a long way," Pelini said. "I see improvement in a lot of guys individually and I've seen a lot of guys develop. But is this program where I want it to be? No, not yet."

The biggest reasons for the Cornhuskers' improvement this year has been a steady, ball-control offense keyed by quarterback Joe Ganz. That unit has taken much of the pressure off of a young defense that has grown up over the last several weeks.

Ganz remembers his struggles last season against Colorado when a loss in the regular-season finale denied the Cornhuskers of a bowl trip. The Buffaloes claimed a 65-51 victory last season, taking advantage of three second-half interceptions thrown by Ganz to erupt on a 41-point scoring binge over the final two quarters of the game.

"This is an absolute redemption game for me and all the seniors and the guys who were part of it last season," said Ganz, whose turnovers overshadowed a game where he threw for 484 yards and four touchdowns. "That's one thing on our mind is we have to come out and play our best football and do everything we can to keep them out of a bowl like they did to us last year."

Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson was even more verbose, providing some definitive bulletin board material in an interview earlier this week with the Denver Post.

Slauson, who was recruited by Colorado before choosing to go to Nebraska, said the once simmering rivalry with the Buffaloes is no longer what it once was for the Cornhuskers.

"They're in the Big 12 and when you think Big 12 schools you think Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska," Slauson said. "(The Buffs) seem irrelevant."

The banged-up Buffaloes can make the Cornhuskers choke on those words by sneaking out of Lincoln with an upset. According to Colorado athletics, Buffaloes players have lost a collective 109 games to injuries and illness this season, but could turn around their season by winning on Friday and earning a bowl trip.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Rocky Mountain News about the Buffaloes' injury-plagued season. "I knew there were going to be a lot of curveballs and a lot of testing going on. But that's part of throwing yourself in the fire."

Lunchtime links: Touching column on Slauson a must read

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
12:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some links to prime your appetite for the turkey and stuffing tomorrow and some really good football rivalry games over the next three days. Enjoy.

  • Great column this morning from Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald that tells as much about him as his interview subject -- and that's a lot. Shatel profiles Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson, who like Shatel, has overcome stuttering throughout his entire life.
  • Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World reports that Kansas and Missouri officials are "close" to extending their deal to playing their annual rivalry game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for either two or four years.
  • Texas Tech's defense has done a much better job containing opposing quarterbacks in the running game this season. But Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal writes that the Red Raiders will be facing their biggest challenge of the season against Baylor's Robert Griffin.
  • Texas quarterback Colt McCoy will be going for history Thursday night as he tries to slay an old nemesis. The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton writes that McCoy can become the winningest quarterback in school history while beating Texas A&M for the first time in his career.
  • Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford will be looking to become the first Heisman Trophy winner to beat three ranked opponents to finish the season since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter writes.
  • Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star tracks down Ball State offensive coordinator Stan Parrish -- the head coach at Kansas State before Bill Snyder arrived -- for the first time in 1988.

Big 12 morning links: Game day has me hopping

September, 20, 2008
9/20/08
8:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There's a short turnaround time this morning as I'm rushing to hop into my car for my drive to College Station for this afternoon's Miami-Texas A&M game. Rather than miss the kickoff, let's get straight to the links.

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