Big 12: Matt Williams
How the game was won: Texas Tech's offense put up big points like most expected them to, but only played one quarterback for most of the game. Taylor Potts played well and the Red Raiders' offense rolled for most of the game. Instead, it was the Wildcats who went with a two-quarterback attack, rotating Evan Watkins and Kain Colter often but neither found a rhythm to help Northwestern's offense until the Wildcats trailed by 22. Colter ran the ball well late in the game, but it wasn't enough to make up for Texas Tech's early cushion.
Turning point: Texas Tech led 24-6 at halftime, but fumbled the opening kickoff, handing the ball back to the Wildcats deep in Red Raiders territory for the game's first turnover. The Wildcats couldn't capitalize, botching a quarterback sneak and settling for an 18-yard field goal. On the next play from scrimmage, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens broke an 86-yard touchdown run to take a 31-9 lead, the Red Raiders' biggest of the day. Northwestern got to within seven late, but the early lead was enough for the Red Raiders to hold on.
Stat of the game: Texas Tech notched its second 45-38 win of the season in the Cotton Bowl stadium. Back in October, the Red Raiders beat Baylor on the neutral field, 45-38.
Player of the game: Potts. He finished with an impressive 369 yards and four touchdowns on 43-of-56 passing, pacing the Red Raiders' offense that struggled to run the ball for most of the day. He also caught a pass and ran it in for a touchdown, but it was later reversed to a run after officials determined the pass went backward. Northwestern took away the run game, opening up short underneath routes, and Potts capitalized. He had lots and lots of time to throw, a credit to the offensive line, but he was as accurate as he's been all year. Without that, it would have been a very different game.
Best call: Potts threw Austin Zouzalik what looked like a routine screen to the sideline, but Zouzalik tossed it back to Potts, who was escorted into the end zone by a trio of offensive linemen, helping the Red Raiders take a 24-6 lead at halftime. Tommy Tuberville didn't want to run it, but told ESPN heading into halftime that he got outvoted by his fellow coaches.
Second-guessing: Texas Tech strung together an impressive 82-yard drive in 12 plays to take a 38-17 lead, but tried for the onside kick and a possible knockout punch against a Northwestern defense that hadn't stopped them from reaching the end zone on the last four drives. The Red Raiders were offside, however, and gave Northwestern the ball at the 36-yard line. The Wildcats needed just two plays to score and cut the lead to 14, keeping the game still somewhat in doubt. Texas Tech had to punt on its next possession, and Northwestern scored a touchdown to bring the game to within 38-31.
There was a little bit of upside to the curious decision, but with Northwestern's offensive inconsistency throughout, it seemed pretty unnecessary, and cost the Red Raiders momentum.
Record performance: Matt Williams' booming 24-yard field goal that opened scoring is the longest in the history of the TicketCity Bowl. Gotta love inaugural bowl games.
What it means: The exit of Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis from the program days before the game didn't hurt them badly enough for a loss. The Red Raiders looked good early, and though Northwestern's quarterbacks struggled to complete passes with consistency, Texas Tech didn't make it very easy on them. The way the offense played, the defense didn't need a big performance, but they got one for long enough in the first half, and as a result, the Red Raiders held on. They entered Saturday's game ranked 116th nationally in total offense, giving up over 460 yards a game. Northwestern's undermanned offense without quarterback Dan Persa managed just 374 yards.
This time, they held a 10-point lead in the third quarter and lost, 27-24, to Texas Tech.
That's exactly what can't happen for a coach with as much heat on his job status as the Buffaloes' Dan Hawkins, whose team has now lost three consecutive games to open with an 0-3 record in Big 12 play.
Texas Tech kicker Matt Williams hit on two field goals, and quarterback Taylor Potts found Lyle Leong for his second touchdown pass of the day and Leong's 10th score of the season to provide the final score.
The worst part for Colorado is it won't get any easier. They travel to current No. 1 Oklahoma next week, who beat Iowa State 52-0 last week and is warming up now in preparations to face No. 11 Missouri.
Last year, we made it to June.
I don't play college fantasy football. Never have. But these guys do. And they run CollegeFantasyFootballInsider.com, apparently for people like me. They recently released their fantasy rankings, and it's definitely an interesting take on the conference. Remember, these aren't based on skill necessarily, but more of a forecast of production.
In case you didn't know, generally a point is given for every 10 yards receiving or rushing and six for touchdowns. In some leagues, quarterbacks receive only four points for touchdowns. In some leagues, receivers earn a point or a fraction of a point for each reception as well.
Here's how they rank the Big 12's offensive talent:
Quarterbacks (overall position ranking):
3. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
7. Robert Griffin III, Baylor
8. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
11. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
20. Steven Sheffield, Texas Tech
21. Taylor Potts, Texas Tech
24. Landry Jones, Oklahoma
25. Garrett Gilbert, Texas
37. Austen Arnaud, Iowa State
50. Tyler Hansen, Colorado
6. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
8. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
18. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
19. Baron Batch, Texas Tech
25. Derrick Washington, Missouri
27. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State
31. Toben Opurum, Kansas
37. Rodney Stewart, Colorado
5. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
6. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M
25. Hubert Anyiam, Oklahoma State
27. Jerrell Jackson, Missouri
30. Alex Torres, Texas Tech
31. Detron Lewis, Texas Tech
34. Kendall Wright, Baylor
39. Scotty McKnight, Colorado
50. Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M
10. Mike McNeill, Nebraska (The next Marques Colston, circa 2006? Fantasy geeks, you're with me on this one.)
26. Tim Biere, Kansas
38. Barrett Matthews, Texas
42. Brad Taylor, Baylor
43. Andrew Jones, Missouri
2. Grant Ressel, Missouri
12. Alex Henery, Nebraska
19. Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
20. Matt Williams, Texas Tech
33. Justin Tucker, Texas
41. Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
45. Texas A&M
47. Texas Tech
Matt Williams' 43-yard field goal with 6:24 left to extend the Red Raiders' lead to 20-13.
After Baylor scored on its first drive of the second half to extend its lead to 13-3, Tech charged back for 17 unanswered points.
Tech quarterback Taylor Potts struggled early before bouncing back with a strong effort in the second half.
Now, Baylor has one chance to pull back to tie the score.
It will be up to Blake Szymanski to spark the comeback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach likes his chances against Texas by keeping the Longhorns' defense gasping by using a no-huddle offense.
Quarterback Taylor Potts hit his first six passes in the opening drive, marching Tech 56 yards on a drive capped by a 42-yard field goal by Matt Williams.
Leach believes that Potts' style is better suited to keep the game moving along. Graham Harrell was a more analytical player who preferred to read defenses before he made his call.
But Potts likes to keep the game moving quickly. And the first drive looks like it suits him.
One other trend on Texas Tech's opening drive that was notable: Baron Batch made a huge 18-yard run to extricate the Red Raiders from a second-and-20 from their own 21 and keep the drive alive.
It was Texas Tech's longest run of the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I know this makes me sound like a coaches, but I actually think that special teams really does account for a third of a team's success. And I think that solid play in all facets is especially critical in the Big 12 because of the small margin of error in most games.
Here's a look at how I rank the special teams in the conference, giving each team a master rating including all facets of the kicking game.
1. Texas: The best combination kicking game in the league with two-deep talent at both kicker and punter and Jordan Shipley to take care of the returns. The Longhorns always have fast, talented athletes covering kicks as well. And I'm curious to see if Justin Tucker really will be able to produce rugby-style punts with both feet.
2. Oklahoma State:The Cowboys have the best kickoff/punt returners in the conference in Dez Bryant and Perrish Cox. Special-teams coach Joe DeForest always does an outstanding job, although he’ll be in tough spot replacing Matt Fodge as his punter this season.
3. Nebraska: Alex Henery was the best kicker in the conference with a knack for making huge kicks. It's curious that Nebraska coaches would risk that success by having him double up as a punter this season. But he actually came to college as a walk-on punter. Niles Paul will get the start as both punt returner and kick returner. And Adi Kunalic led the nation in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist.
4. Kansas State:I’m basing this as much on past success as anything else -- Ron Prince’s team blocked four punts for touchdowns last season. Brandon Banks is a threat to break a big return on every play and he’ll be doubling as a kick and punt returner this season. Even with Bill Snyder taking over, I’m still thinking this will be a productive unit as they break in new kicker Josh Cherry and new punter Ryan Doerr.
5. Baylor: The Bears have the most consistent punter in the conference with Derek Epperson. Look for improvement from kicker Ben Parks. One key will be boosting punt returns with new returner Krys Buerck after ranking only 118th nationally as a team last season.
6. Iowa State: I think that Jack Trice Stadium might be the toughest facility in the conference because of its swirling winds. Paul Rhoads has some confidence with Grant Mahoney back at kicker and Mike Brandtner at punter. Leonard Johnson is one of the most effective kickoff returners in the conference. But the Cyclones need a boost on punt returns and in covering kicks.
7. Oklahoma: For a team with as many athletes as the Sooners, I was surprised with their difficulties in covering kicks last season. That’s the immediate concern for them. DeMarco Murray was a threat on every return, but I doubt he plays there much because of his recent injury problems. Dominique Franks, Ryan Broyles and Cameron Kenney are expected to contribute in the return game. And Kenney might even push Tress Way for punting duties. Coaches have also been impressed with the improved range of kicker Jimmy Stevens. We’ll see if that holds up when the season starts.
8. Texas Tech: The story about Matt “Lynwood” Williams was one of the best in college football last year as he emerged from an in-game kicking contest to win most of the kicking honors for the Red Raiders. Donnie Carona was a disappointment as a kicker, but may emerge as a punter along with Ryan Erxleben (yeah, he’s the son of former Texas punter Russell Erxleben) as the Red Raiders wait for Jonathan LaCour to come off a Big 12-mandated suspension. Edward Britton and Jamar Wall will be involved in returning kicks, along with many others.
9. Texas A&M: Here’s a stat that shows how far Texas A&M’s once vaunting kicking game has fallen in recent years. The Aggies haven’t converted a field goal of 50 yards or more since 2000. Randy Bullock is back as the kicker and freshman Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood are still battling for the punting job. Christine Michael inherits the kickoff return duties, but look for heralded junior-college cornerback Coryell Judie to be involved some way.
10. Missouri: No Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Wolfert means that the Tigers will rebuild one of their strongest units last season. Their net punting figures to improve after Jake Harry’s strong start. Grant Ressel won the kicking job in a tight battle, but might be pushed this season. Gary Pinkel is sorting through his options in the return game but won’t have anybody nearly as gifted as Maclin. And they need to do a better job covering kicks after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time last season.
11. Kansas: The Jayhawks desperately need some improvement in this category. Jacob Branstetter converted 75 percent of his kicks, but his longest was only 34 yards. Punter Alonso Rojas’ net average was only 33.9 yards. And the Jayhawks ranked 118th nationally in kickoff returns as Marcus Herford accounted for most of the returns. They showed some strong improvement late in the season when Dezmon Briscoe took over.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes had the worst field-goal percentage in the country as they converted only 29 percent last season. They also lose Josh Smith, who set a school record for total kick return yards. Coaches think that Andre Simmons will be able to help here, but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude before I get too excited.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
High Plains Drama: Crabtree's grab stuns No. 1 Texas
Date: Nov. 1, 2008
Place: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
Score: Texas Tech 39, Texas 33
|AP Photo/LM Otero|
|Michael Crabtree's game-winning 28-yard catch against Texas was arguably the play of year last season in college football.|
It was one of the wildest plays in Big 12 history, the kind of play that still resonates after thousands have watched on You Tube.
Michael Crabtree's game-winning 28-yard catch from Graham Harrell did more than merely wrap up the biggest victory in Texas Tech history. It was also a national coming-out party for the Tech program, pushing them to the highest ranking in school history.
To get there, they needed a miraculous play by Crabtree and a strong throw from quarterback Harrell. The Red Raiders got both on the game's last play from scrimmage.
Crabtree admitted he was guilty of daydreaming after Vondrell McGee's 4-yard touchdown run had given Texas a 33-32 lead with 1:29 left. Tech then took over after Jamar Wall returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tech 38.
The Red Raiders dodged a bullet on the play immediately before Crabtree's touchdown. Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon dropped a potential game-clinching interception on a ball that was tipped by Tech's Edward Britton.
On the next play, Crabtree snagged the long pass from Harrell deep along the right sideline before breaking the tackle of Curtis Brown. Crabtree then kept his balance, stayed in bounds and streaked into the end zone for the dramatic score.
Matt Williams added the extra point, but the game wasn't over. Because thousands of Tech fans had streamed onto the field after Crabtree's touchdown, the Red Raiders were forced to kick from their own 7½ yard line.
But Texas couldn't match miracles with the Red Raiders. D.J. Monroe's fumbled return was recovered by Daniel Charbonnet to put away the upset over the No. 1 Longhorns.
Tech had outplayed Texas for most of the game, setting the tone by scoring their first points defensively when Colby Whitlock tackled Chris Ogbonnaya for a safety. They pushed the lead to 19-0 midway through the second quarter when Harrell hooked up with Eric Morris on an 18-yard scoring toss.
But Texas charged back, trimming to Tech's halftime lead to 22-6 on Hunter Lawrence's 25-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Jordan Shipley provided a big play early in the third quarter when he returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown to trim Tech's lead to 22-13. But Charbonnet returned an interception from McCoy 18 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes later to boost Tech back into a 29-13 advantage.
That's when McCoy went to work. Despite battling the effects of a bloody lip, he provided two huge touchdown passes to Malcolm Williams in a span of barely four minutes to pull Texas back into the game.
The first scoring toss covered 37 yards, trimming Tech's lead to 29-19. And on the second one, Williams got behind the Tech secondary on a 91-yard scoring toss to pull the Longhorns within 29-26.
Tech kicker Donnie Carona, who had been relegated to the bench earlier in the season after a persistent slump, tacked on a 42-yard field goal with 5:45 left to cap a 13-play, 55-yard scoring drive.
But Tech's 32-26 lead didn't appear to be enough. And it wasn't as McCoy coolly led the Longhorns on an 80-yard drive capped by McGee's touchdown run.
Crabtree had been hobbled earlier in the game with a gimpy ankle and twice was removed from action in the first quarter. But he was ready on his only catch of the final drive.
Before then, Harrell completed his first four passes to start the game-winning drive.
And after Gideon's drop, the Red Raiders still might have had a chance to win the game on a field goal.
But Crabtree didn't want to leave anything to chance, setting the stage for 2008's most memorable play by charging to the end zone.
They said it, part I: "On the sideline, I kind of dreamed that I would catch a pass and go in the end zone for a game-winning score. I do that in every game, but this time it happened. It kind of shocked me," Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, on his game-winning reception.
They said it, part II: "It was definitely a good win. But, I coached a 13-year-old all star team and we beat Cheyenne one time and I thought that was a bigger win," Tech coach Mike Leach on the Red Raiders' improbable victory.
They said it, part III: "Play 60 minutes. You may have a second to spare," Leach, on his team's resiliency.
They said it, part IV: "All we needed was a field goal, but a touchdown was even sweeter. If you're a quarterback and don't want to be in that situation, you should probably change positions," Tech quarterback Graham Harrell on the comeback victory.
They said it, part V: "They played harder than us. They never quit. They kept fighting," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who was gunning for his 10th come-from-behind victory before Crabtree's heroics.
They said it, part VI: "We had a lot of problems. But to their credit they kept fighting back. All we did was score too quickly at the end. We should have taken more time off the clock," Texas coach Mack Brown, on his team's comeback from an early 19-point deficit.
Factoids: After punting after their first drive, Tech took control by scoring on their next three possessions and four of their first six in the first half. But Texas climbed back in by scoring touchdowns on three straight drives before their game-ending fumble ... Harrell completed 36-of-53 passes for 474 yards, including completions to nine different receivers. Crabtree produced a game-high 10 grabs for 127 yards, while Edward Britton added seven catches for 139 yards ... Texas wide receiver Malcolm Williams, forced into the game because of an early injury to starting wide receiver Quan Cosby, produced four catches for a game-high 182 yards ... It was Tech's first victory in school history against a No. 1 team ... The late loss kept Texas from navigating a difficult four-game gauntlet after earlier beating No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in the previous three weeks. Tech was ranked No. 6 coming into the game ... Tech kicker Matt Williams, who was plucked from the student section earlier in the season, converted field goals of 29 and 31 yards, but was pulled in favor of Donnie Carona after he had a kick blocked in the second half ... Harrell finished by passing for 167 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
The upshot: Crabtree's heroics set up the wildest Big 12 South Division race in history. In the end, Texas, Oklahoma and Tech all finished with 7-1 conference records. The Sooners advanced to the championship game by winning out on the fifth tiebreaker, despite losing to the Longhorns earlier during the regular season.
Oklahoma finished a single point ahead of Texas in the USA Today coaches' poll and six points behind them in the Harris poll. That left it to the computer ratings, where the Sooners came out ahead in four of the six elements of the poll.
Tech's South Division hopes were quashed three weeks later when they were blown out in a 65-21 loss at Oklahoma as the Sooners erupted for 625 yards of total offense.
That loss dropped them to the Cotton Bowl where they squandered an early 14-0 lead in a 47-34 loss to Mississippi. That defeat dropped them to 11-2 and 12th in the final Associated Press poll -- their highest end-of-season finish in 35 years.
Texas went on to win their final four games of the season, capping it with a dramatic 24-21 triumph over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Longhorns finished 12-1 and No. 4 in the final AP poll, and arguably only one second from a perfect record. It was their highest end-of-season finish since winning the national championship in 2005.
3. Superman's leap. Roy Williams' tipped pass provides OU's game-clinching TD over Texas.
4. Davison's dramatic grab keeps Cornhuskers' national title hopes alive.
5. Bamboozled again and again and again. Boise State's gadget plays doom Oklahoma.
6. Yes, Sirr. Parker's' dramatic catches lead A&M to first Big 12 title
7. Crouch's TD catch cements Heisman bid, helps beats Oklahoma
8. Sproles and Roberson stun top-ranked OU, leading KSU to its first Big 12 title.
9. Emotional A&M victory brings closure after Bonfire tragedy.
10. Roll left: James Brown guarantees victory and then backs it up.
11. When BCS meant "Boo Chris Simms" in Colorado's first Big 12 title.
12. A Buffalo stampede: Six Chris Brown TDs lead CU to first Big 12 title game.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks NCAA career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a passing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I've never really been a big fan of EA Sports' NCAA Football. So Sam Keller's lawsuit that would take away the ability to play realistic teams doesn't really resonate as a cause célèbre for me quite like it does for some of my readers.
But I am amazed at some of the realistic elements that are added to the game.
The Web site Dawg Sports includes seven touches that they wish were incorporated into the game. One has a Big 12 relationship. They wished there were thought bubbles over Mike Leach when the Red Raiders are playing. Here's why:
"Just picture it. The Texas Tech quarterback lofts one into the corner of the end zone for his sixth touchdown pass of the game. The camera pans over to Coach Leach, who is busy weighing several of the lesser known critiques of Keynesian economics, and reflecting on why exactly he loves pineapple salsa so much. You know that's how it really happens in Lubbock."
I like that idea and a few more involving the Big 12. Here's my list of features that should be in the game.
- An enthusiastic Will Muschamp bouncing to his team, hurting himself more than his players after chest-bumping a linebacker after big plays. Or maybe he could have a "Boom ......" element for the biggest of defensive plays.
- Flyovers from rival teams for important-late season games. The whinier the better.
- Sideline histrionics by Kansas coach Mark Mangino after his team scores.
- Texas A&M fans remain standing throughout games at Kyle Field -- even when they are being run out of their own stadium.
- Mascots visible along the sidelines -- whether sitting (Bevo), drinking Dr Pepper (Judge), charging (Ralphie), barking (Reveille), hopping (Lil' Red), riding a motorcycle (Willie) or flapping (Big Jay).
- Pregame introductions like something out of the WWE -- especially for home games involving Nebraska and Texas.
- A Bob Stoops visor toss after a disappointing Oklahoma defensive play.
- Extra enthusiasm in the Colorado coaching module for Dan Hawkins. After a big play, my faux Hawkins could chirp "this ain't intramurals." And before the game, the Hawkins character could demand "10 wins and no excuses."
- In a nod to the old days, when Kansas State players are receiving treatment along the sidelines, the other players would ring around him so the camera couldn't determine the nature of his injury.
- Road players at Folsom Field might be subject to occasional blinding from a laser beam flashed from the stands.
- Problem areas for Texas Tech could be addressed by the addition of players from the stands -- just like Matt "Lynwood" Williams.
- And finally, a BCS tiebreaker in the season mode which would give a game player no idea if his team would advance to a championship game or not -- no matter how its season record played out. That would be really cool -- and realistic, too.
Anybody else have ideas they would like to incorporate into our version of EA Big 12 Football 2010?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All spring long, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has openly discussed how his "rebuilding job" is overrated.
Sure, the Red Raiders lose standouts like Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Shannon Woods from last season's team. But Leach saw flashes of promise among the young Red Raiders during the Red-White scrimmage on Saturday that made him pleased as the team finishes spring practice this week.
Backup quarterback Steve Sheffield threw a go-ahead touchdown pass and Cody Davis returned an interception 100 yards for a clinching score to power the White to a 19-7 victory over the Red before about 12,500 people at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Most of the interest in the scrimmage came from the performance of Taylor Potts, who is in line to replace Harrell. Potts completed 20 of 27 passes for 211 yards.
Davis got the pickoff on a tipped pass against backup Stefan Loucks to help ice the scrimmage victory, which came in game-like settings.
Leach typically likes to stretch competition for the quarterback out until shortly before the season begins. But he has shown no indication that Potts won't be the starter for the Red Raiders' season opener Sept. 5 against North Dakota.
"It's really comforting knowing you have the support of your coach and the coach is behind you as well as the other coaches and your teammates," Potts told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "It makes your job a little easier knowing that you're backed by a lot of people on your team, so it's nice."
But the biggest revelation might have been redshirt freshman running back Harrison Jeffers, who produced 21 rushing yards on eight carries and also snagged seven catches for 45 yards.
Leach and the Tech coaches tried to equalize talent as much as possible in the scrimmage. The Red team had six first-team players from the offense including Potts, Britton and Tramain Swindall and defensive standouts like defensive linemen Colby Whitlock and Ra'Jon Henley and linebacker Brian Duncan.
The White's offensive starters include linemen Brandon Carter and Chris Olson and receivers Detron Lewis and Jacoby Franks. First-team defensive starters included linebackers Marlon Williams and Bront Bird.
"I thought Potts played well," Leach told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think we consistently moved [the ball]. But any time you split the teams up, there's going to be breakdowns in execution because you're spread a little thin."
Defensive standouts included junior safety Brett Dewhurst (seven tackles) and sophomore linebacker Tyrone Sonier, who notched eight tackles a sack and broke up a pass.
The offensive execution was a little better than last season, when an angry Leach ordered a difficult practice to finish the spring practice a couple of days after the scrimmage. There's no indication that will happen after Saturday's performance.
But he can't be happy with the performance of kicker Donnie Carona, who misfired on two of three extra-point attempts after struggling last season. Carona also averaged 28 yards on three punts.
Will that mean that kicker Matt Williams will be a revelation after his success last season? We'll see over the summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Spring practice is a time for competition across college football. Clashes for jobs are as much a part of offseason work as gassers and not hitting quarterbacks in inter-squad games and scrimmages.
Some of the spring competition across the Big 12 will be particularly notable. Here are some positional battles that bear watching over the next few weeks.
Nebraska quarterback: Even though Patrick Witt left, there still should be an intense battle between Zac Lee, Kody Spano and heralded freshman Cody Green to replace Joe Ganz. Don't expect this battle to be settled until shortly before the season -- perhaps the major reason Witt decided to leave for another opportunity.
Oklahoma right tackle: Although the Sooners' offensive line should be their most pressing concern this spring, there will be notable competition at one position. Trent Williams has moved to left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. That will leave Cory Brandon and heralded LSU transfer Jarvis Jones battling for snaps on the other side.
Texas running back: The Longhorns have to develop some kind of running threat to keep from using Colt McCoy too much again as a runner. Without a dominant back, it looks like Mack Brown again will opt for a rotation-by-committee setup. Fozzy Whittaker has impressed coaches with his breakaway burst, but must stay healthy. Vondrell McGee will get his chance, but better learn how to pick up blitzes better. Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton has shown flashes of becoming the next Chris Ogbonnaya because of his receiving abilities. Cody Johnson might be the best move-the-pile runner if he can stay in shape. And all of this is before heralded incoming freshman Chris Whaley arrives this summer.
Colorado quarterback: Cody Hawkins arrives as the favorite because of his experience, but burning Tyler Hansen's redshirt last season indicated the need at that point of the season for a change. Both will compete for the job along with true freshmen Clark Evans and Matt Ballenger, who appear to have some of the qualities of both of last season's starters.
Texas Tech kicker: Matt "Lynwood" Williams was one of the best stories in college football when he joined Texas Tech's team after coaches discovered him in an in-game kicking promotion. Williams converted 33 straight extra points, but wasn't counted on to kick field goals very often. Donnie Carona, who received a rare scholarship offer from Mike Leach before last season, could be poised to challenge if he can forget about last season's struggles. And Blinn College kicker Brad Hicks will try to walk-on at the position. Whoever emerges has to boost Tech's kicking after the Red Raiders converted only seven field goals to tie for the second fewest in the Big 12. The Red Raiders' field-goal conversion rate was 54 percent -- second worst in the conference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
While watching the recruiting lists that will be released by Big 12 schools tomorrow, it might be wise to remember some of the players who have thrived without much early recruiting hype. It's also interesting to remember some of the highly touted recruits who struggled once they arrived at college.
Here's a look at some of the more notable hits and misses in the Big 12 the past few seasons which should explain why some of the recruiting hoopla should be taken with a grain of salt.
Hits: The Big 12's two Heisman Trophy finalists in 2008, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Texas' Colt McCoy, both were projected as middle-of-the-pack recruits. Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson was presumed to be a step behind them. All three have developed into players who could end up being among the finest quarterbacks in their respective schools' histories.
Misses: Oklahoma's Tommy Grady never materialized as a prospect from the Class of 2003 and ended up transferring to Utah. And Harrison Beck was a highly anticipated prospect at Nebraska before washing out and ending up at North Carolina State.
Hits: Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter was a midrange recruit before blossoming to lead the Big 12 in rushing in 2008. And Shannon Woods was even more lightly regarded before excelling as a multifaceted back in Texas Tech's offense.
Misses: Daniel Davis was a highly ranked junior-college prospect who was expected to blossom once he arrived from at Kansas State. He never fulfilled that promise after several legal run-ins. Webster Patrick was a tough running back who was compared favorably to the Davis brothers who had thrived in Dan McCarney's offense at Iowa State. But Patrick failed to qualify academically for the Cyclones and ended up at Butte College.
Hits: Juaquin Iglesias was barely recruited coming out of Killeen (Texas) High School, where his track exploits were more widely regarded. He accepted a scholarship offer from Oklahoma and blossomed into the second-leading receiver in school history. Dezmon Briscoe had one catch as a junior at Cedar Hill High School in Dallas, but caught the attention of then-Kansas assistant coach Tim Beck. He produced 92 catches for school-record totals of 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns last season for the Jayhawks.
Misses: Colorado's Tyler Littlehales was a huge recruit for Gary Barnett in the Class of 2002 after playing at the Army All-American Bowl, but never could crack the starting lineup for the Buffaloes. Marquis Johnson was a top national recruit who was counted as a top recruit when he came to Texas from Champaign, Ill., as an All-American high school receiver. He failed to keep his grades up and ended up at Hutchinson Community College, eventually resurfacing at Texas Tech where he caught 21 passes in a two-season career.
Hits: Jermaine Gresham wasn't a top prospect after a knee injury in his junior season of high school stifled recruiting interest. He blossomed in college and is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft this April. Chase Coffman was thought to be a good but not great prospect while playing at Raymore-Peculiar High School in Raymore, Mo. Coffman beefed up from his high school playing weight of 210 pounds and developed into a sure-handed receiver who won the Mackey Award in 2008.
Misses: Josh Barbo appeared to be a prototypical tight end and had the recruiting clippings to match when he arrived at Missouri in the 2003 recruiting class. But Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker took over the position as Barbo moved to defensive line and never got higher than third string on the depth chart before leaving school after the 2006 season. Walter Nickel was presumed to be a key player at Iowa State after arriving from Dixie State Community College, but he struggled with injuries and produced 35 catches in his two seasons with the Cyclones.
Hits: Few could have imagined that Jason Smith would be a key producer when he arrived at Baylor as a 220-pound tackle. But after gaining 85 pounds, he likely will go among the first 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft. Center Daniel Sanders wasn't offered a scholarship by Colorado until the week before signing day after originally committing to Northern Arizona. He developed into a four-year starter for the Buffaloes.
Misses: Jorrie Adams was touted as the nation's best offensive line prospect when he arrived at Texas A&M in the class of 2003 from Jasper, Texas. But Adams struggled and switched to defense before he was kicked out of school after a drug-related arrest. Kyle Riggs was one of the nation's top line prospects when he arrived at Missouri in 2003, but never developed after suffering from an undetermined stomach condition. He eventually became a student assistant coach.
Hits: Texas Tech coaches discovered Brandon Williams playing in a high school basketball game at South Hills High School at Fort Worth. He eventually developed into the Big 12's leading sacker last season. Stryker Sulak's recruiting was almost as surprising. Sulak was set to attend Houston before Missouri coaches saw him in a recruiting film. He eventually bulked up and became a three-season starter for Missouri and an All-Big 12 selection last season.
Misses: Texas A&M defensive end Chris Smith was one of the nation's top prospects who committed to Aggies before his senior season in high school in 2004. He hurt his knee during his senior season and struggled thereafter, posting 12 tackles and not playing in the 2008 season. Xavier Lawson-Kennedy was one of the most heralded players to arrive at Oklahoma State, announcing his decision on regional television as a key member of the 2003 class. Struggles with injuries and his weight kept him from developing into a starter in his college career.
Hits: Sean Weatherspoon weighed 195 pounds when he left Jasper, Texas, as a marginal recruit who picked Missouri over Houston, Iowa State and TCU. He has developed into the Tigers' key defensive player on back-to-back North Division championship teams. Joe Pawelek also received little interest from FBS football schools, but immediately claimed a starting job as a freshman with Baylor. He was a freshman All-American and an All-Big 12 selection by his junior season when he led the conference in tackles.
Misses: Kelvin Flood was one of the top linebacker prospects of the 2002 class. But after the Dallas Kimball player selected Texas A&M, he never cracked the Aggies' lineup and left sch
ool after two seasons. Mike Reed was a prototypical middle linebacker who was one of the nation's top recruits when he arrived at Oklahoma from California's Yuba College in 2007. But Reed had difficulty juggling college with the finances of raising three young children and eventually left school. Reed resurfaced last season at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Hits: William Moore was a midrange recruit who was thought to be more of a wide receiver than a defensive player. But he's blossomed into a standout at safety and a likely first-round draft pick in April. Jordan Lake was a hard-hitting safety at Houston McAllen Memorial who received scant recruiting notice. Lake picked Baylor over Northwestern, Rice and Houston and has developed into an All-Big 12 player with one more season remaining.
Misses: Edorian McCullough was one of the highest-ranked defensive back prospects in recent Big 12 history. But his career stalled at Texas before transferring to City College of San Francisco and ending up at Oregon State. Jason Frederick was one of the top recruits at Texas A&M in the class of 1999, but transferred out of school after only one season. He struggled to earn playing time after transferring to Sam Houston State.
Hits: Jeff Wolfert arrived at Missouri on a partial diving scholarship and tried out for the football team on a lark. He left school as the most accurate kicker in college football history in combined percentage for field goals and extra points. Matt Williams arrived on Texas Tech's doorstep last season after capturing the attention of coaches while converting a field goal during an in-game promotion. Williams converted all of his 33 extra points after claiming the job midway through last season.
Misses: Williams got his chance only because of the struggles of Donnie Carona, who arrived as the first scholarship kicking recruit at Texas Tech in Mike Leach's tenure. Carona lost his chance to kick after missing four extra points and five of his nine field goal attempts last season. Iowa State kicker Josh Griebahn was the highest-rated kicking recruit ever attracted to Iowa State by McCarney. But Griebahn redshirted as a freshman and had ankle surgery the following season. He never won the Cyclones' kicking job.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 received unquestioned national attention this season, probably more than it ever has garnered. It made for the most memorable season in the conference's history.
Here are my choices for my most memorable moments of the 2008 season.
Crabtree's catch: Texas Tech finished a stunning comeback against then-No. 1 Texas on Nov. 1 thanks to a dramatic touchdown reception by Michael Crabtree with only a second left. Blake Gideon's dropped interception on the previous play only makes the memory more searing for Longhorn fans. But it did set up the biggest play of the season, pushing Tech into uncharted territory near the top of the BCS polls for a few weeks, while killing the Longhorns' national title hopes. Because of that, it's the most dramatic play in Big 12 history in my opinion.
45-35 and beyond: Texas whipped Oklahoma on Oct. 11, but the numbers didn't add up as Sooners eventually claimed a Big 12 title berth thanks to a strong finish and a favorable computer ranking. At several late-season games, airplane flyovers reminded fans about the Oct. 11 contest ad nauseam. It only makes the 2009 Texas-Oklahoma game already the most anticipated in Big 12 history.
The pinball numbers continue all season long: With quarterbacks like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Graham Harrell among others blistering secondaries on a weekly basis, offenses were moving at warp speed across the Big 12 this season culminating with Bradford winning the Heisman trophy. It made for a fun season -- until the bowls arrived.
Another Sooner BCS meltdown: The Sooners came into the BCS national championship game with the most explosive offense in school history. They left Dolphin Stadium with their fifth-straight BCS bowl game loss and another sizable dent in Bob Stoops' once-formidable coaching reputation.
The Sooners' late-season best: Although they would have difficulty matching their performance in the season's final game, their five-game stretch before the bowls was memorable. Oklahoma ran off at least 61 points in each game, culminating with a 62-21 blowout victory over Missouri that gave them an unprecedented three-peat of Big 12 titles.
Shipley's return: Texas appeared dead and buried after Oklahoma jumped to an early 11-point lead. But Jordan Shipley's dramatic 96-yard kick return for a touchdown resuscitated their hopes and boosted them back into a game they eventually won.
Pelini's rant: After a demoralizing 62-28 loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 1, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini didn't allow his players or coaches to be interviewed as he took ownership of the loss himself. His coaching ploy worked as the Cornhuskers rebounded on a four-game winning streak that pushed them into the 2009 season with more momentum than any other North Division team.
Reesing to Meier, again and again: Kansas pulled out a wild 40-37 comeback victory over Missouri in the muck at Arrowhead Stadium thanks to two late touchdown passes from Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier, who competed with him for the starting quarterback position before last season. Both were injured late in the season, but rebounded to provide a memorable dramatic triumph over Kansas' most bitter rival.
Griffin's athletic feats: Baylor's Robert Griffin developed into the conference's best freshman offensive player thanks to his running and passing styles. Single-handedly, Griffin helped provide hope for the future for the moribund Bears program. Most amazingly, he was the youngest starting quarterback in the nation.
Kicks from Alex Henery and Matt Williams: Henery's school-record 57-yard field goal provided the winning points in Nebraska's 40-31 victory over Colorado with 1:43 left, knocking the Buffaloes out of bowl consideration. But an even better story was the development of Texas Tech kicker Matt "Lynwood" Williams, who was plucked out of the stands and put onto the Red Raiders' roster by Texas Tech coaches after he impressively won an in-game kicking promotion earlier in the season. Williams converted all 33 extra points and two field goals after joining the team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the questions and e-mails I received this week.
J.D. writes: Hey Tim, what the heck is going on with Mike Leach and his contract extension? I haven't seen anything on it and I know it is seriously "brewing." What's up with it?
Tim Griffin: It's been strange how little information has been coming about Leach's contract negotiations the last several weeks. It seems like it's been squelched. Maybe that's been at the demand of either Texas Tech's chief negotiator, Chancellor Kent Hance, or Leach's agents. But considering how it was after the season when Graham Harrell came out and said he expected to see Leach leave, it's eerie how it's all quieted down.
Obviously, Leach's bargaining opportunities have been lessened because there are no college jobs still open. Unless Leach would make the jump to the NFL. The only way I would see that happening would be at the hands of an extremely maverick owner. So, it looks likely he will remain in Lubbock.
I guess this will be a prime discussion point as soon as the Red Raiders return back from the AT&T Cotton Bowl. At least, I would expect it to be.
Caleb from El Reno, Okla., writes: Tim, I read your top 30 moments for the Big 12 this season with great interest. Great idea and even a better article. How about the interception by defensive back Lamont Robinson for OU in the Texas end zone that was ruled incomplete and gave Texas a field goal? It could have been a huge momentum swing for OU to get the stop but instead Texas added three points.
Tim Griffin: Caleb, that was a huge play, but I had already included several more plays from that game. There seemed to be about 10-12 critical ones. Another one in hindsight I feel I should have included was Texas Tech nose tackle Colby Whitlock's safety on the first Texas play from scrimmage, giving the Red Raiders a quick 2-0 lead in the game. I also should have mentioned the kicking of Texas Tech walk-on specialist Matt Williams, who has made every one of his extra points since joining the team earlier this season.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Thanks a lot for answering my question about Colorado recruiting. I appreciate an insider's view. A follow-up question, though, is whether late recruiting is a good idea? Not only are too many top possibilities gone but recruiting has gone the other direction. Recruits are being sought earlier. Bob Davie has mentioned this over and over in his broadcasts. Coaches are seeking and players committing much earlier these days. Will Dan Hawkins have to change his philosophy or get left behind? Thanks.
Tim Griffin: I think that more and more players like you mention are being recruited earlier. It seems like the very best players are the ones included in this. But sometimes key players can emerge during their senior season in high school. So it isn't an absolute point. But typically, the best players go earliest -- kind of like the best clothes available being picked first at a post-holiday sale. And it would likely behoove Hawkins to become more of a competitor in these early recruiting jousts if he wants to claim the very best players he can.
Ben from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I recently had a discussion with some friends about who was the more valuable player for Nebraska between Joe Ganz and Zac Taylor. Obviously, Zac Taylor was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and led Nebraska to a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, but if you watched any Nebraska games this year it was clear that Joe Ganz was the heart of this team (and put up numbers comparable to Taylor's senior year). Who do you think was more valuable for their team?
Tim Griffin: I'm going to have to go along with Taylor, mainly because he led his team to the Big 12 championship game. Ganz had a great season and was just as good, if not better statistically, but Taylor had an innate sense of leading the Cornhuskers to victories with late remarkable plays. I remember the way he directed Nebraska to victories over Kansas and at Texas A&M during that 2006 season. Those two gutsy performances alone were a big reason why the Cornhuskers ended up winning the division title that season.
I'm betting that Bo Pelini would settle for a player who shares common characteristics with both Ganz and Taylor when he searches for a quarterback this spring to replace Ganz.
More questions and answers will be coming later this week. Keep them coming and have a Happy New Year's Day filled with many football games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
What better way to celebrate the holiday season that catching up with some good stories from across the conference?
Enjoy them and enjoy the holidays.
- Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal catches up with Texas Tech walk-on kicker Matt "Lynwood" Williams, who came out of the stands to earn a place as the Red Raiders' kicker after winning an in-game kicking promotion earlier this year.
- Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel tells the San Antonio Express-News' Bryan Chu that the upcoming Valero Alamo Bowl will be emotional for him as his final college game.
- Good story from the Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple about Nebraska safety Ricky Thenarse's escape from gang violence in his Los Angeles home for a starting position with the Cornhuskers' secondary.
- Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World wonders if a couple of subtle hints might indicate that Sam Bradford will pull a stunner and return to college for another season next year.
- Oklahoma players have asked Coach Bob Stoops to put a nightly curfew on the team when it leaves for the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. "This ain't no party trip. This ain't no vacation," cornerback Lendy Holmes told John Hoover of the Tulsa World. "We're going down there to go win a national championship."
- John Denton of Florida Today analyzes the question that continues to puzzle many outside observers: Are the Big 12 defenses really as soft as national statistics seem to indicate?