Big 12: Mike Caputo
Suddenly, it's a very real possibility with a probability that only rose with the team's announcement that leading receiver Niles Paul will miss the Huskers final Big 12 regular season game with a foot injury, and his status for the rest of the season is within doubt.
Only two Nebraska receivers have more than 13 catches this season, and Paul leads the team with 39 grabs for 516 yards and a touchdown. He's also one of the team's fastest players and an explosive kick returner who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. For the offense, that means Brandon Kinnie will need to play well, but outside of tight end Kyler Reed and converted tight end Mike McNeill, the Huskers are short on reliable receivers. Curenski Gilleylen will likely replace Paul at the "Z" receiver position.
Taylor Martinez has been limited in Nebraska's last two games with a sprained ankle, and the Huskers running game, one of the nation's best earlier in the season, has suffered as a result. He's expected to be available on Friday, but it's doubtful he'll be anywhere near his usual self after re-injuring the ankle last week in a loss to Texas A&M when lineman Mike Caputo stepped on his foot as a tried to make a move.
So as much as other receivers will have to fill Paul's void, the real onus for beating Colorado will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line and running backs Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead. Nebraska didn't use much of its Wildcat formation with Burkhead taking the snap against Texas A&M, but with Martinez gimpy and Paul out, it'd be surprising if the formation that was so effective when Martinez sat against Iowa State isn't a big part of Nebraska's game plan.
It's not ideal, but thanks to those injuries, a Colorado upset is a real possibility. Questions about Pelini's sideline behavior and an incident with a cameraman involving defensive coordinator Carl Pelini have provided distractions that may or may not have an effect on what we see from Nebraska this week. At the very least, after conversations with athletic director Tom Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman, I'd expect to see a more docile Bo Pelini roaming the sidelines.
The penalty discrepancy (16-2 in favor of Texas A&M) last week has provided more talking points and motivation for Nebraska, but against a surging Colorado team that's found new life under interim coach Brian Cabral and is one win away from bowl eligibility, getting the win won't be easy.
Few thought that would be the case only a few weeks ago.
Turning point: Taylor Martinez's injury. No question here. Nebraska's offense is hardly scary without the speedy freshman, and offensivelyNebraska hasn't done much without him after he aggravated a right ankle injury when offensive lineman Mike Caputo stepped on it in the first quarter.
Stat of the half: Texas A&M is 0-of-7 on third down. Most of those have been passing downs, and the Blackshirts secondary has said "No, sir!" every time they've come up.
Best player in the half: Alex Henery, P/K, Nebraska. Henery bailed out the offensive line when a personal foul and a false start made a 28-yard kick a 48-yard kick. But Henery split the uprights and put Nebraska on the board first. He's also been solid in the punting game, and like the 2009 Nebraska offense, the Huskers have needed it to play the field position game.
What Nebraska needs to do: Find some offense somewhere, and keep the ball off the ground. That probably means more Wildcat with Rex Burkhead. The offense is going nowhere against an inspired Texas A&M defense that's kept Cody Green at bay for most of the first half.
What Texas A&M needs to do: Keep fighting on the ground and win the game at the line of scrimmage. Testing the secondary is a bad idea that might cost them later in the game. Give Cyrus Gray the ball, work the play action, and try to take a shot down the field every now and then. It's going to be tough to move the ball regardless, but Texas A&M basically has no shot to do it through the air, and that's a high-risk proposition. They might be able to find some consistency on the ground.
- Tim Barnes, Missouri
- Mike Caputo, Nebraska
- Keenan Stevens, Colorado
- Wade Weibert, Kansas State
The obvious thing that jumps off this list is all four guys hail from the North. That's a good sign for running backs like Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu Jr. and Daniel Thomas.
The Rimington Trophy was named for Nebraska's Dave Rimington, who played from 1979-82.
Since Nebraska's Dominic Raiola won the inaugural award in 2000, no Big 12 player has duplicated the feat.
The award is given annually to the nation's top center and is named after former Nebraska star Dave Rimington.
Of the 11 winners in the 10-year history of the award, no school has won twice, but the last Big 12 player to take home the honor was Nebraska's Dominic Raiola in 2000, the first year the award was given.
All five players on the watch list for 2010 hail from the North division.
Here's who to watch for this season:
- Tim Barnes, Missouri
- Mike Caputo, Nebraska
- Jeremiah Hatch, Kansas
- Keenan Stevens, Colorado
- Wade Weibert, Kansas State
Quick note: Of the 37 players on the list, 11 have last names that begin with the letter "B." What's up with that?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Five Big 12 offensive linemen have been named to the initial watch list created for the Rimington Trophy.
Among the nominees include Missouri junior Tim Barnes, Texas senior Chris Hall, Nebraska senior Jacob Hickman, Texas A&M senior Kevin Matthews and Baylor senior J.D. Walton.
Hall and Walton made the watch list last season, which is sponsored by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to support research and treatment of cystic fibrosis and given to the most outstanding center in college football. Last year's winner was A.Q. Shipley of Penn State.
A couple of the Big 12's inclusions were a little surprising. Hickman moved to right guard in spring practice to enable Mike Caputo to work his way into the lineup. And Matthews was among three starting Texas A&M offensive linemen who missed spring practice recovering from injuries.
The Big 12 has had one Rimington winner since presentation of the award began in 2000. Dominic Raiola of Nebraska won the first Rimington in 2000.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 players who emerged during the spring to show they are ready to provide big contributions for their teams during the 2009 season:
Colorado TB Darrell Scott: After struggling with injuries last season, Scott might be ready to return to the form he flashed when he was the nation's No. 1 running back recruit in the 2008 class.
Texas LB Roddrick Muckelroy: Other players receive more notoriety from Texas' defense, but the steady Muckelroy looks ready to build on a solid junior season where he was overshadowed by others in Texas' defense.
Nebraska C Mike Caputo: An undersized battler, Caputo emerged to claim the starting job at center and enable Nebraska coach to move Jacob Hickman to a position of need at right guard late this spring. The tenacious Caputo will scrap against all opponents, but it remains to be seen if he can stand up to bigger defensive tackles he will consistently face in the Big 12 later this season.
Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander: The Sooners' biggest position of strength got that much deeper this spring as Alexander continued his strong development from his freshman season. Alexander produced three sacks in the spring game, capping strong work that helped provide the Sooners with perhaps the nation's strongest rotation of defensive ends.
Oklahoma State DE Ugo Chinasa: Appeared ready to flourish in new OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young's new scheme. If he can bolster the Cowboys' outside pass rush, it will help improve one of their most pressing team needs.
Texas A&M DE-LB Von Miller: Thrived at the new "jack" position in Joe Kines' retooled defense. Miller was A&M's prime defensive playmaker this spring, but could be challenged to attack bulky opposing offensive lines considering his 6-foot-3, 214-pound stature.
Missouri CB Kevin Rutland: Gary Pinkel likes to say that he's got more talent in the secondary than in any of his previous teams. Rutland was a revelation this spring as he was the Tigers' most consistent defensive back and led the team in interceptions this spring.
Texas Tech WR Adrian Reese: After learning more about the Red Raiders' system during his redshirt season, the 6-foot-7, 207-pound Reese blossomed as a capable receiver during the spring. Watch for him to emerge as one of Tech QB Tyler Potts' top receiving threats during 2009.
Kansas LB Angus Quigley: This bruising converted running back showed a quick grasp of Kansas' defense and should be poised to immediately contribute at linebacker -- the Jayhawks' most pressing defensive need.
Baylor DT Phil Taylor: The Bears haven't had a run-stuffing tackle in a long time. Taylor, a massive 340-pound transfer from Penn State, potentially could be among the best in the conference if he up plays up to expectations.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few of the letters and e-mails I received over the last few days.
Dennis from Corpus Christi, Texas, writes: Tim, I enjoy your blogs very much even though I ride you a little hard at times. I still think your blogs are very informative. I've noticed that Mike Caputo, a walk-on from Omaha, has emerged as one of the top linemen in training camp for Nebraska this spring. Walk-ons have obviously been an important part of Husker football for a long time. How much better or worst can a walk-on program help by improving the talent level, player attitude and team spirit of a Big 12 team.
Tim Griffin: Obviously, there are some walk-on players that can help a program. It's as much with team chemistry as anything else because these players can help infuse a program with a different attitude. It's very rare when a true playmaker will come into a program as a walk-on, although standouts like Kevin Greene, Wes Hopkins, Daniel Sepulveda and Joel Klatt all started that way.
And no Big 12 program has embraced the concept of walk-ons quite like Nebraska. Bo Pelini sees the value in it and I think it provides the Cornhuskers with some advantages.
But I don't think a team can count on attracting a starter or two a year with walk-on players. I think most coaches count whatever contributions they get from those players as a bonus.
Sean Murphy from Omaha writes: Hey Tim, I absolutely love your blog. One question for you, why do you think Colorado will have the best offensive line in the North next season?
Tim Griffin: Sean, I just believe that the Buffaloes have been wracked by injuries in the last year or so in the trenches. If they can get guys like Ryan Miller and Mike Iltis back in the lineup, it will help them greatly. And players like Evan Eastburn and Bryce Givens should give them a boost in talent, on top of having four starters back from last season.
And it also would help the Colorado offense look good if Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart got back to health. Both are legitimate threats to rush for 1,000 yards this season if they are healthy. I realize that's a big if, but if they run behind a retooled line, the Buffaloes have a great shot to be a dark-horse contender in the North.
I don't know if they can make 10-2 as Coach Dan Hawkins has predicted, but I do think they are definite threats to go to a bowl game and can contend for the North title if they can catch a few breaks along the way.
Jay from Kansas City writes: Hey Tim! I hate to be the guy that emails you to moan about one of your rankings but I very much think Kerry Meier is far underrated by your blog. The stats speak plenty for Kerry. The fact that he is a playable Division 1 QB as well has to bump him up, in my opinion. Keep up that good work.
Tim Griffin: I labored about where to place Meier in my rankings. He's obviously a valuable player and can becoming that much more of a receiving threat if he was able to concentrate on playing wide receiver all the time. But realistically, Meier is the second most valuable receiver on the team. Dezmon Briscoe can stretch defenses with his deep receiving skills and could become one of the best receivers in college football if he can get back in Mark Mangino's good graces. That's why I placed Meier where I did with Briscoe in front of him. Meier is still a very valuable player, although I don't think he's the most valuable receiving threat on his team.
Shane from Elm Creek, Neb., writes: Hey Tim, any ideas on other possible Heisman hopefuls that are not on the offensive side of the ball, both from the Big 12 and outside the conference? Will the Heisman voters ever change the way they vote? Will they ever stop voting just on the quarterbacks, with a running back in the race here and there. It would be nice if the award went back to its original roots, in my opinion.
Tim Griffin: I don't see a defensive player winning a Heisman Trophy award solely on his defensive merits any time soon. I think most voters think the multitude of awards solely for defensive players already rewards them. Charles Woodson's award in 1997 was as much for his kick returns as his defense. Obviously, I would think that USC safety Taylor Mays, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Big 12 defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska or Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma could be considered as Heisman contenders with a monster season. But it will be an unusual circumstance for it to occur.
Big Steve from Floydada, Texas, writes: Tim, how much is Texas Tech going to miss Graham Harrell this season? Can they still make a challenge for the Big 12 South or make a bowl trip with Taylor Potts in charge?
Tim Griffin: There's no doubt that Harrell will be missed around Texas Tech program. His record-setting numbers attest to his abilities and it's unfair to compare Potts or anybody else in the program to his high standards. But I think people are forgetting the turnover that used to follow the Tech program in previous seasons at quarterback. Harrell was one of the few multiseason starters in the program at quarterback along with Kliff Kingsbury. Mike Leach had a repeated run of one-year starters in B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges over a three-year period from 2003-05. I haven't seen Potts play yet, but from everything I've heard about him, I think he's comparable with any of those previous one-season starters. He's bigger and apparently has a strong arm. So it will be interesting to see what he does when he gets the chance to start.
James Williams from Tulsa writes: I'm curious if you think R.J. Washington will play much for Oklahoma this season? The Sooners have one of the deepest defensive lines in the country, but I think he's just too talented to sit the bench.
Tim Griffin: You might need to convince Bob Stoops because I think he likely believes he can never have too much depth in the trenches. That being said, I think the Sooners could have more talent along their defensive line than any Big 12 team I can remember. And for Washington playinf, he's going to have to beat out Jeremy Beal, David King, Frank Alexander and Auston English.
I think English could really emerge as a breakthrough player -- again. People forget how dominant he was in 2007 before he was hurt late that season and last year. If he is ever healthy, I think he can be one of the best pass-rushing threats in the nation. But I also believe that Brent Venables will rotate his players, giving Washington a chance to get some snaps this season. When he gets them, he needs to make the most out of them.
Adam Bates writes: Hey, Tim, is there any chance that Missouri game is going to be on television on Saturday like it was last season. Or will any of the other Big 12 teams with spring games left this season have their games televised live?
Tim Griffin: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no Big 12 team will have their games televised live during the rest of spring practice from what I've heard.
Please keep the e-mails coming. I'll try to answer as many as I can next week.
Thanks again for your contributions. I appreciate them.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
14:40 3rd Qtr West Virginia 17 2 Alabama 20 7:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech 4 Oklahoma 7:00 PM ET Samford TCU 7:00 PM ET Central Arkansas Texas Tech 7:10 PM ET Stephen F. Austin 20 Kansas State 8:00 PM ET 1 Florida State Oklahoma State 8:00 PM ET North Texas Texas
Final North Dakota State 34 Iowa State 14