Big 12: Max Tuioti-Mariner
In need of repair
1. Colorado -- The Buffaloes' problems are everywhere, and the gap between Colorado and the rest of the league is enormous. The second-best offensive team in the Big 12 last season, Texas A&M, averaged 5.8 yards per play. The second-worst averaged 5.2 yards. Colorado averaged 4.4 yards. Its 44 sacks allowed were 12 more than any other team in the league as well. The quarterback play from both Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins wasn't very consistent, but when dealing with that kind of pressure, that's no surprise.
2. Baylor -- Baylor's offensive struggles were due in part to misfortune. Freshman Nick Florence played well, but the Bears were without 2008 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Robert Griffin III for all of conference play. In those eight games, the Bears scored only 13 points per game, 5.8 fewer than the 11th-place team, Nebraska. Florence's success didn't loosen defenses enough for the running game to flourish. In conference play, the Bears rushed for just two yards per carry. Barring a rule change providing teams five plays to achieve a first down, that's not good enough.
3. Nebraska -- Most of Nebraska's struggles on offense were self-inflicted. After a home loss to Iowa State that featured eight turnovers, the offense was so conservative, at times it looked like offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had handed over playcalling duties to Rush Limbaugh. The defense allowed just nine points in that loss, and averaged under 10 points a game from that point on. The bar was set, and the offense knew it was low. They won with field position and special teams, but a good offense to go with the nation's best defense a season ago would be other Big 12 teams' worst nightmare.
Here’s a group of questions I received late this week about the Big 12.
Enjoy them and your upcoming football weekend.
From Adam in Lincoln: Tim, how feasible is it for Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh to win the Heisman or at least be considered for it if he keeps up these game changing performances. He is one of the most athletic and versatile players in all of college football. Remember he not only plays nose tackle he has been put in as a full back as well. I can't remember seeing a player at any level that has done more than him in so many facets of the game.
Tim Griffin: Adam, I agree with you about Suh’s accomplishments. He’s been the most dominant defensive player in the Big 12. What I enjoyed watching last night was how quickly he can drop into coverage and make big plays, like his fourth-quarter interception against Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
It will be interesting to see how much that performance on national television last night propels Suh into the talk for the Heisman or at least awards like the Outland Trophy.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini told reporters last night that he had never seen quite a dominating performance in his coaching career.
If Suh keeps making these plays, I think we might see him bringing a lot of hardware back to Lincoln, and maybe even a trip to New York City in mid-December for the Heisman presentation. He's playing well enough that he could be a finalist.
Jack Warner from Sepulveda, Okla., writes: Tim, how much do you think Sam Bradford will help the Sooners tomorrow and the rest of the season if he’s healthy.
Tim Griffin: It’s impossible to discount how much his return will mean to the Sooners. I think if he had been healthy this season, Oklahoma likely would be 4-0 right now.
But with him coming back in the lineup, the Sooners have hopes of challenging Texas for the Big 12 South title. After last week’s game, I don’t think many Sooner fans would have felt that way if they had learned he was staying out for the next several weeks.
David Askew of Findlay, Ohio, writes: Tim, Watching the Nebraska/Missouri game I wonder to myself. why do coaches go for two with 14 minutes left in the game, or sometimes more? The broadcasters say there is no reason to try the PAT. How many times have we seen a team go for two to make it a three-point game, and fail on the conversion? It seems to me they should go for the PAT, and take a two-point lead. If you score another TD, you go up nine after the PAT, making it a two-possession game instead of failing the two-point, getting another TD and only being ahead by eight points.
Tim Griffin: It does seem there’s a new-age, revisionist thinking as far as going for more two-point conversions than in the past. But I think the reason is because scoring has become prevalent that other coaches are coerced into thinking they’ve got to score with a two-pointer because of expectations once the other team gets the ball.
I don’t have much fault with Bo Pelini’s decision of trying to go for two points when his team led 13-12 early in the fourth quarter. The thinking was that if they got two more points, it would force Missouri to kick a field goal to tie the game. And as well as the Cornhuskers' defense was playing, I actually think that was a pretty wise decision.
Steve Robinson of Johnson City, Texas, writes: Hey Tim, really enjoy your blog. Here’s a quick question for you. What’s your favorite rivalry game to cover and why?
Tim Griffin: Steve, as any of my consistent readers know, I don’t complain about watching many games. But my favorite rivalry comes up next week. Something about the State Fair of Texas midway, the corny dogs and the passion on both sides makes Texas-Oklahoma a little more special than any other Big 12 game.
I can’t wait. And it appears with Sam Bradford coming back, the importance of this game in determining the Big 12 South champion will be that much more important.
Rob Nesbitt of Arvada, Colo., writes: Tim, whatever happened to that Colorado running game you were raving about all summer?
It seems like there’s not much “Hawk love” for this team. Are we ever going to win a game with this bunch?
Tim Griffin: I think the struggles of Darrell Scott have been one of the biggest disappointments in the country so far this season. I, like a lot of people, thought that Scott was poised for a breakout season after reports that he was in the best shape of his life. But he’s struggled with health this season, rushing for only 91 yards this season – with 85 yards of that coming in the Toledo game.
Here’s the most interesting stat about Scott, who was the most ballyhooed recruit that Dan Hawkins attracted after he beat out Texas for his scholarship commitment. His durability has been suspect as has had more than 13 carries in only one game in his college career. And he’s never rushed for more than 87 yards in any game.
But Scott isn’t alone in his struggles. The Buffaloes have produced an average of 93.75 yards per game – a struggling total that ranks 109th nationally.
The Buffaloes are averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and have topped 4.0 yards per carry only once in their first four games.
Their woes along the offensive line began in fall camp when Devin Head was lost for the season because of academics. Sione Tau was suspended for the season before the season began. Hawkins hoped that Max Tuioti-Mariner would help provide depth but he’s missed the season with a knee injury. And starting center Mike Iltis missed the West Virginia game with a concussion and might not be ready for Texas. If he can’t go, walk-on Keenan Stevens would get his second-straight start.
It’s fair to say the Buffaloes’ rushing attack ranks as one of Hawkins’ disappointments this season, during a season of many.
And it won't get any easier during the next two weeks when Colorado faces Texas and Kansas. I think it's highly possible the Buffaloes could start the season 1-5 after those two games. With that start it will be very difficult for the Buffaloes to make a bowl trip this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes, a seemingly small item provides a huge benefit.
Texas coach Mack Brown is looking for any edge he can find as he attempts to claim his first Big 12 title since 2005.
It's why motivational guru Jon Gordon stopped in Austin this week to share some of his philosophies with the Longhorns, the Austin American-Statesman's Kevin Robbins reports.
Part of Gordon's philosophy has team members expressing their love for each other. They also talked about vampires.
And he asked the team to think about the process that leads to the championship rather than the outcome itself.
"That's how championships are won," Gordon said to the team. "I'm asking you to focus on your moments. Seize your moments and you're going to love your outcomes."
Gordon has a strong record. He's talked with NFL teams over the years, most recently the Atlanta Falcons before last season. That squad had lost its coach and quarterback coming into the season when Bobby Petrino left for Arkansas and Michael Vick was jailed. But something clicked and the Falcons and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan raced to an improbable 11-5 record and made the playoffs.
Whether Gordon's lessons can help the Longhorns realize their dreams will be interesting to watch.
And if they do claim a championship, the cost of his summer visit will be chump change compared to the overall result.
Here are some other links from across the conference for your lunchtime edification.
- The administrative leaves of Kansas State associate athletic directors Jim Epps and Bob Cavello remain "unchanged," Kansas State athletic director John Currie told Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury.
- Colorado offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner tells Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera that he's strongly considering taking off on a religious mission over the next year. The sabbatical would also benefit Tuioti-Mariner's knees, which have been scarred by three surgeries over the past two years.
- Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy has a decidedly Texas slant on his most thrilling players in college football history.
- Baylor's chances of breaking a postseason drought that has stretched since 1994 are analyzed by the Lincoln Journal Star's Steve Sipple. And Lincoln Journal-Star staffers Curt McKeever and Brian Christopherson and guest Steve Ryan of the Big Red Report analyze whether Baylor will be a "trap game" for Nebraska.
- Missouri players have noted dire preseason predictions for the two-time defending North Division title game participants, the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter reports.
- Chase Daniel can't wait to disprove those who are doubting his ability to make an NFL roster, the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond reports.
- The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson explains why there's a rush to find immediate talent in Iowa State's 2010 class.
- The Denver Post's Terri Frei goes deeper with more information from an extensive recent interview with Dan Hawkins.
- The Tulsa World's John Hoover analyzes Oklahoma's 2009 schedule.
- The San Antonio Express-News' Jerry Briggs talks to former Texas quarterback James Street about teammate Freddie Steinmark's courage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Colorado came into the spring as the North Division's mystery team.
Sure, coach Dan Hawkins had plenty of bluster and bravado about how good he thinks his team will be this season. We can tell that by his surprising boast at the end of last season that the Buffaloes will finish 2009 with a 10-2 record.
After the Buffaloes' spring practice and spring game, I'm even more befuddled by how good the Buffaloes can be.
The injury and subsequent thumb surgery for Tyler Hansen scrambles the quarterback situation. It makes me think that Hansen's battle with Cody Hawkins for the starting job will play out during most of Colorado preseason camp. And it's interesting that Dan Hawkins has hinted it could be a similar situation as to late last season, when he alternated his son and Hansen depending on game situations.
An even more pressing concern will be the status of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who could be headed for Oregon and a place on Chip Kelly's staff. The loss of an offensive coordinator after spring practice could have huge ramifications as Dan Hawkins tries to get his staff ready for the upcoming season.
But the Buffaloes showed some good signs in spring practice and the spring game that might indicate they will be vastly improved from last season's 5-7 team -- even if 10-2 might be a little bit of a stretch.
- The strong running game exhibited in the spring game was the most impressive building block to carry away from the spring. The Buffaloes should be in good shape if they can keep their offensive line healthy. And as Darrell Scott told me last week, the Buffaloes might have the best rotation of running backs this side of Oklahoma. And they proved it in Saturday's spring game as Scott rushed for a game-high 90 yards, while Demetrius Sumler chipped in with 73 yards, Brian Lockridge added 55 and Rodney "Speedy" Stewart produced 52.
- Scott has started living up to his advance billing with a strong camp after missing much of last season with injuries. But he emerged this spring as the most improved player on the team, earning the Fred Casotti Award given each spring for the most improved offensive back. He even contributed a 48-yard punt during the spring game.
Hawkins was pleased with Scott's strong spring production, where he finally started showing flashes of what made him the nation's No. 1 running back recruit in the 2008 recruiting class.
"He's always been such a great kid, and I've been so impressed with how he handled all the hype and the glitz and all the glimmer," Hawkins told reporters Saturday. "And things didn't go exactly like he wanted them necessarily last year. But he never threw in a towel, he continued to show up."
If he continues that growth, it wouldn't surprise me if Scott rushes for 1,000 yards this season and is the most improved player in the Big 12.
- Colorado's offensive line should be one of its most underrated strengths. They helped the backs rush for an average of 6.2 yards per carry in the spring game. Sure it was against a defensive front that was playing a generic defense. But that yardage has to catch Hawkins' attention for what his ground game can produce.
I still think the underrated Colorado group that is keyed by tackles Bryce Givens and Nate Solder, guard Ryan Miller and center Mike Iltis can be the best in the North Division if it stays healthy. And that's not even considering a potential return by Max Tuioti-Mariner, who is recovering from knee surgery and might be ready by fall practice.
- I'm still wondering if the Buffaloes have the kind of quarterbacking to contend for the North Division title. Hawkins and Hansen provide different talents. And while in theory it sounds good to say that you'll play both of them, a team really needs to have one starting quarterback it can count on. What's that old coach's cliche about two starting quarterbacks often end up being two too many?
- Wide receiver remains a liability after the injury to Scotty McKnight earlier in camp. The Buffaloes had one experienced receiver available at the spring game and it showed.
It means that Hawkins has to hope he can convince Michigan transfer Toney Clemons to come to play for the Buffaloes as well as work heralded sophomore Markques Simas into the rotation. And it also will likely result in the immediate need for production from an underrated group of arriving wide receivers including Jarrod Darden, Terdema Ussery and Andre Simmons. There is playing time available if any of those arriving players can step up.
- The defensive line remains a big concern, even as coaches spent must of the scrimmage tinkering with a 3-4 front. But the productions of three starters won't be enough to replace the contributions of key players like George Hypolite & Co. overnight. Experienced players like junior defensive end Marquez Herrod, senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor and sophomore nose tackle Eugene Goree will be pivotal.
- Linebacker Marcus Burton was the biggest defensive revelation this spring and he showed it in the spring game. After producing eight tackles last season, he notched that many in the spring game along with a pair of sacks. That playmaking will be critical for a Colorado defense that often has missed it. His sideline-to-sideline tackling ability will be huge if Colorado employs the 3-4 defense.
- Even with all of the flux around the Colorado team, the rest of the North Division remains just as unsettled.
For all of the excitement at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers still will be counting on a quarterback who has never started a Division I game, throwing to two new wide receivers. Kansas has the most returning offensive talent but has to rebuild its defensive core after losing three starting linebackers. And the Jayhawks have that pesky South Division crossover schedule that features games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Defending two-time title game participant Missouri has two new coordinators and must replace the most productive quarterback, wide receiver and tight end in its history. The Tigers also lose a first-round NFL draft pick at defensive tackle, a second-round NFL draft pick at strong safety who was the glue of their defense and their top pass-rushing defensive end.
And here's one more reason to like Colorado's chances a little bit more. Their games against Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri all will be played in Boulder. That edge playing in the high altitude at Folsom Field might be enough to boost the Buffaloes into North Division title contention for the first time in Hawkins' coaching tenure there -- despite all of the spring questions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's March and college football is blooming across the southern reaches of the Big 12.
The germination will eventually spread north.
Until then, here are a few lunchtime links to keep you stoked for the eventual blooming.
- Hard-luck Colorado offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner will miss spring practice after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera reports. It will be require his third knee surgery in the past two years.
- Oklahoma offensive linemen say they understand why their group received a harsh assessment from coach Bob Stoops before their first spring practice, Norman Transcript beat writer John Shinn reports.
- Nebraska senior safety Major Culbert has been kicked off the Cornhuskers' roster, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Culbertson reports. Culbert has played 29 games in his Nebraska career at linebacker, defensive back and running back.
- Big 12 coaches can relax. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt finally filled his defensive coordinator position, hiring former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, Tampa Tribune beat writer Brett McMurphy reports. Leavitt interviewed coaches from three Big 12 staffs who turned him down along the way.
- Several Kansas coaches were in Reno Tuesday to study Nevada coach Chris Ault's Pistol offense, Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports.
- Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star reads the fine print to explain why Ndamukong Suh was left off the Lombardi Award's preseason watch list.