Big 12: Matthew Stafford

Burkhead and the Cornhuskers: A match made in blue-collar heaven

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
3:44
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So much for the glitz and glamour of being a college running back.

When Rex Burkhead started lining up his potential choices of where to play college football, he knew hard work would be an important factor in reaching his potential as a player.


Marc Piscotty/Icon SMINebraska running back Rex Burkhead didn't expect to start as a freshman, but has excelled.
And after meeting Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and learning of his determined, tenacious, blue-collar approach as a football coach, it was a match with Burkhead’s hopes for a program.

“I wanted to be at a place where the guys that surround me had drive and a work ethic,” Burkhead said. “It brings out positive atmosphere. When I noticed what they had at Nebraska, it was a big impact on me coming here.”

Burkhead’s early drive has helped him become a capable weapon for the Cornhuskers as a freshman. After missing five games midway through the season with a with a broken foot, he returned last week to rush for a career-best 100 yards against Colorado and was the Cornhuskers’ leading rusher.

His emergence has provided a capable compliment to leading Nebraska rusher Roy Helu Jr. Together, they have developed into the Cornhuskers’ biggest offensive threat going into the Big 12 Championship Game Saturday night against Texas.

“It’s nice to have multiple options,” Pelini said. “To have Helu and then what Rex brings to the table adds even more to what we have. You need guys who can come in and help. It’s developed some depth and getting Rex back helps us.”

Burkhead’s development into a rushing threat has come a little earlier than he expected. He wasn’t sure he would even play this season. But a late charge in training camp, coupled with the dismissal of Quentin Castille created a position for him in the Cornhuskers’ rotation.

After some strong early work, Burkhead appeared to be hitting his stride before he was injured in practice four days after the Cornhuskers’ victory over Missouri. While taking part in a routine drill, he sustained a hairline fracture in his right foot.

After the injury to Burkhead, the offense slid into a funk. The Cornhuskers scored only 17 points in losses to Tech and Iowa State. But they’ve rebounded from there to claim their last five games, entering the championship game with some growing offensive confidence as prepare for the No. 3 Longhorns.

Against Colorado, Burkhead provided a 7-yard touchdown run that helped ice the Cornhuskers’ victory. On the 13-play scoring drive, the gritty 5-foot-11, 200-pounder accounted for nine carries for 55 yards in his most consistent usage this season.

“It was a great drive,” said Burkhead, who had 12 of his 18 carries in the fourth quarter. “The offensive line did a tremendous job of opening up holes left and right. I felt like I was in high school, getting into rhythm. It felt good.”

The biggest transformation for Burkhead has come in areas other than carrying the ball. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has learned about pass blocking, gradually picking up other areas of Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s multi-faceted offense.

"It was about the same, but grasping all the other details was the biggest transition,” said Burkhead, who has accounted for 235 rushing yards in his injury-curtailed season. "I had to learn all of the other details about blocking like picking up the blitzers and reading the blitzes. It’s coming along.”

During his career at Plano High School in the suburbs of Dallas, Burkhead was one of the most celebrated high school players in the state of Texas. He rushed for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, also adding 42 receptions for 594 yards and five touchdowns and excelled at returns.

Those big numbers earned him the Dallas Morning News’ All-Area Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year, joining recent standouts like Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell and Matthew Stafford who have won the award. And it earned Burkhead the nickname of “Superman” because of his exploits in football and basketball.

“Rex is a pretty special young man,” Pelini said. “You look at what he did as a high-school athlete. He’s done it for a long time when he did it in a competitive high-school area. He’s tough, hard-working and is a leader. He exemplifies everything I want to bring into this program.”

Kansas vs. Georgia in mythical test of Big 12-SEC No. 5 teams

July, 6, 2009
7/06/09
6:04
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas (Big 12 No. 5) vs. Georgia (SEC No. 5)

Kansas' record against the SEC: 0-0
Georgia's record against the Big 12: 3-0
Previous series: Never played

Distance between them (according to How Far Is It): 745 miles.
Where they should play: Memphis, Tenn. (385 miles from Athens, 393 miles from Lawrence)

Who wins: Georgia.

Why: Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno might be gone, but Georgia coach Mark Richt has other capable reserves that could make the Bulldogs one of the more underrated teams nationally.

I think that that quarterback Joe Cox, wide receiver A.J. Green and running backs Caleb King, Dontavius Jackson and freshman Washaun Ealey should provide enough firepower to enable the Bulldogs to outscore Kansas' potentially explosive offense.

Eight offensive starters who have started for Georgia over the last two seasons should provide the Bulldogs with the beef to dominate Kansas' suspect linebacking corps.

Kansas will be able to score in bunches with a lethal passing attack featuring Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and Johnathan Wilson. But if Georgia could maintain enough of a pass rush to keep Reesing from feeling comfortable in the pocket, the Bulldogs should be able to score enough to win this mythical game.

The count: Tied, 4-4.

Coming Tuesday: Nebraska (Big 12 No. 4) vs. LSU (SEC No. 4)

Note: Matchups are determined by the most recent rankings of Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin and SEC blogger Chris Low. All cumulative records go back to the 1996 season -- the first of competition in the Big 12.

Deep in the heart of Texas starting quarterbacks

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
3:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There's an interesting story in the Dallas Morning News today written by Chuck Carlton about the preponderance of starting college quarterbacks from Texas high schools.

Carlton surveyed all of the FBS schools in the country and found that 21 of the 119 schools in the FBS are starting a quarterback from a Texas high school.

Included in the list are Robert Griffin of Baylor, Todd Reesing of Kansas, Chase Daniel of Missouri, Colt McCoy of Texas, Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech.

Interestingly, three of the Heisman contending quarterbacks from the Big 12 -- McCoy, Harrell and Daniel -- an underrated leader in Reesing and the two hottest, young quarterbacks in Griffin and Johnson all are from the same state.

Other top quarterbacks from Texas high schools include Matthew Stafford of Georgia, Brian Johnson of BCS-buster Utah and Christian Ponder of Florida State.

Carlton talked to a lot of experts who credit the start of 7-on-7 passing competitions since 1998, the rise of the spread offense and the big-time nature of playing high school football in Texas as the biggest contributors to the recent run of Texas quarterbacks.

Some might think we'll see a continued run of quarterbacks from the state. Which likely is true.

But it's hard to believe that the Big 12 will ever see a better collection of Texas quarterbacks than McCoy, Harrell and Daniel at the top. They might be the best trio of quarterbacks who played in the Big 12 at the same time in the conference's history.

Danielson disparages Texas' passing offense

October, 28, 2008
10/28/08
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

You've got to get up early in the morning to sneak something past esteemed Dallas Morning News sports media reporter Barry Horn, who was listening when CBS-TV analyst Gary Danielson made some interesting comments comparing Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Danielson told Fox Sports Radio Network's Andrew Siciliano that he would pick Stafford over McCoy if he was selecting for an NFL roster.

"I'll take Stafford. He's a 235-pound player; more of a pro... If Stafford played in one of those junk offenses, he'd be putting up numbers just like McCoy. I think he's more the pro body-type, he's more Matt Ryan. I think he's just a brilliant football player, I really do. He's gonna be an NFL franchise quarterback."

Danielson used to broadcast Big 12 games. But I wonder if he's really watched that much Texas football this season when he calls Greg Davis' attack a junk offense?

Big 12 quarterbacks dominate O'Brien semifinalists

October, 27, 2008
10/27/08
6:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Six Big 12 quarterbacks dot the list of 13 semifinalists named for the Davey O'Brien award.

Among those named as semifinalists for the award include Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson, Chase Daniel of Missouri, Todd Reesing of Kansas and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech.

Other semifinalists include Daryll Clark of Penn State, Max Hall of BYU, David Johnson of Tulsa, Mark Sanchez of USC, Matthew Stafford of Georgia, Tim Tebow of Florida and John Parker Wilson of Alabama.

Three finalists will be named on Nov. 24. The award will be presented during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show on Dec. 11.

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