Big 12: Nick Foles

Mailbag: TCU/WVU upgrade, home turf

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
4:00
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Thanks for all the questions this week. We heard from plenty of you. Here's where I can be reached if you have more thoughts, questions or cute witticisms.

Ernie A in Austin, Texas, writes: Ubbexander the Great, I watched a video over on the Pac 12 blog today and saw their blogger refer to the Pacific conference as "The Conference of Quarterbacks." Ridiculous, right? I mean, sure they've got Price and Barkley, but the Big 12 can more than match that in my opinion, especially since every team excluding my horns and the Jayhawks have a real, potential difference maker going into the season. So diving off of this--what is the state of Big 12 QBs with the departure of three of the best from last season, and who do you think (besides Jones and Klein) will step up and keep the Big 12's strong QB reputation known?

David Ubben: First off, what are you doing on the Pac-12 blog? I can only assume it's because the Longhorns are plotting an escape to the Pac-16.

We heard the same thing about the Pac-12 last season with Luck, Barkley, Foles and Co., but I'd say it was still pretty clear by season's end that the Big 12 was superior. It took home the Heisman and was a deeper league at the position. The gap isn't enormous, but the Big 12 was better.

This year? You have to remember how well this league develops new passers. Baylor and Oklahoma State lose two great quarterbacks, but Nick Florence and whoever wins the battle at OSU should be solid. All those guys have potential.

Landry Jones and Seth Doege are back, but they're joined by Geno Smith at WVU and Casey Pachall at TCU, the two new guys. For now, the league's reputation as the best quarterback league is safe, even if Barkley will grab plenty of attention at the top this season, and maybe win the Heisman.


Jason in Evansville, Ind., writes: David, looking forward to getting to know your blog. BB and AA have done a nice job covering our beloved Mounties. As far as some game day traditions to see at Mountaineer Field, get to know the 1st down chant. All schools have their own game day traditions in the crowd that give them an identity. FSU does the chop, some schools like VTech jingle keys for "key plays", Pitt sings Sweet Caroline (never understood why), etc....The first down chant kind of started in the student section during my days as a an undergrad and over the years has become a standard game day tradition across the stadium. Pretty simple, here's how it goes. WVU gets a 1st down on any given play. Fans hold their arms straight out and start vocally with "ohhhhhhh" until the PA announcer says" 1st down West Virginia", and in unison the crowd bounces their arms down 3 times and says "hoo-hoo-hoo.....(clap) first down", and points in the direction of the first down. Pretty simple. When the game is a big one and is close the chant gets louder with the crowd and generally gets everyone fired up as momentum builds moving the ball down the field. Hopefully we will continue many more 1st down chants against our new Big tWelVe conference foes. You should start practicing for your first visit to Morgantown. See you in the Blue Lot!

DU: Thanks for filling us in, Jason. I'm curious about all the gameday traditions. I really can't wait for my first game out there. New experiences are always great. I'll keep an eye out for this. I'm sure the other fans across the Big 12 think the same.


Jayhawk in Maryland in Edgewater, Md., writes: Dave, Love the readers' snippets on what to do in Morgantown and Fort Worth for gamedays. Maybe we/you should introduce them to Lawrence, Stillwater, Manhattan, etc. as well. Always good to plan a tailgate.

Mason in Texas wrote: Ubbs, I like the "Home Turf" series for TCU and WVU. A thought though, expand it to all schools. WVU and TCU folks need to know where to go when they visit all of us. Not just that, but I bet a lot of people haven't traveled every and would like to know what's up in each town. Just a humble suggestion.

DU: I heard from a ton of you this week, expressing a similar sentiment. Which means we'll do this for the rest of the Big 12 because a) there are new members to educate and b) we've never done it before.

I'll send out calls for recommendations for each city in the weeks to come, so don't bother just yet. That said, I'm excited for this series. It should be delicious.

Here's the new ones, if you missed them:
Fred Dodge in Annapolis, Md., writes: David, I was extremely skeptical and ready to dismiss your column on the change in the Big 12 "Rivalries will be missed, not results." [I should note here that I am a Cornhusker]. But you know what, you convinced me. The Big 12 is better off, not only do WVU and TCU bring some recent pedigree, they really want to be in the Big 12. Hopefully that will bring some stability.

DU: I appreciate it, and your second point gets lost a bit, I think. There's no question that both schools are pretty enthusiastic about entering the league. We'll see if that spreads.

The league is losing a ton of tradition in Missouri and Texas A&M, and that's sad. A&M will have that rivalry with LSU, but I doubt it will have any others. Missouri's going to have a tough time finding a rival if it doesn't lock in Arkansas as its cross-divisional rival.

Arkansas' been in the league 20 years and still doesn't have a true rivalry that gets fans fired up year-round.

Kansas and Texas will miss their departed rivals. But like I said, the league's in good shape on the field, to maintain, if not exceed, the success.


Grant in Round Rock, Texas, writes: In response to your blog "New Big 12 will miss rivalries, not results". The bottom line is the SEC upgraded with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, while the Big 12 downgraded. If the conference really felt they would be better off with TCU and WVU they would have had no problem losing these two schools.

DU: Not true. Like I mentioned before, that tradition can't be replaced, and that's the biggest reason the Big 12 was sad to see them go.

My point in the column wasn't that the Big 12 made some monumental upgrade on the field. The difference is negligible on the field at worst, and a slight upgrade at best. That's about as good as the Big 12 could expect, considering its recent membership issues.

The money issue matters. Texas A&M and Mizzou have bigger fan bases, but if TCU and WVU sustain nationally relevant programs, the difference in the television deal is probably negligible, too. There's not much reason to believe TCU and WVU will see a huge drop-off in the quality of their programs.

The Big 12 would have loved to keep A&M and Mizzou. It didn't. As a response, it made two great additions.


Gabe in Buehler, Texas, writes: Ubbs, what is your thought on K-State special teams next year, namely Tyler Lockett, both as return man and receiver. I wonder if he had been healthy, would the Cotton Bowl have gone a little different? Not necessarily a K-State win, but pretty darn close! Also, what is your thought on Justin Tuggle moving to OLB? MORE speed to that linebacker corps?!

DU: Yeah, K-State wouldn't have won that game with Lockett, but the Wildcats definitely missed their big-play man. Joe Adams changed that game on special teams, and Lockett could have possibly done the same for K-State. The way Kansas State's offense played, it needed that badly. Tuggle seems like a good move. He's a guy that just wanted to get on the field, and with Collin Klein's emergence, it wasn't going to happen at quarterback. In the Big 12, you can never have enough speed at linebacker, and he should bring that. Instincts and toughness seem like it could be tough to develop in one offseason. It'll be fun to watch, though.

Video: Defensive standouts, QB battle

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
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Todd McShay talks about defensive standouts leading up to the Senior Bowl and the battle between quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Nick Foles.

Big 12 by the numbers: Week 9

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
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Here's the story of the Big 12 this week, as told by calculators:

9: Sacks by Texas' defense, which ranks 109th nationally.

15: Oklahoma State's turnover margin, which is tied with LSU for the best mark nationally.

1: Oklahoma State's total wins decided by single digits, a road win over Texas A&M.

-8: Iowa State's turnover margin, which ranks 115th nationally.

40: Percent of field goals Kansas State opponents have made this season, tied for sixth-lowest nationally.

6: Number of field goals that have been missed or blocked in four Kansas State wins by a total of 18 points.

3: Sacks allowed by Oklahoma in seven games. Only Stanford has allowed fewer.

5: Big 12 offenses in the national top 7.

2: Big 12 defenses in the national top 40 (Kansas State, Texas).

3: Big 12 defenses in the bottom 25 nationally in total defense.

100: Completed passes longer than 10 yards for Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden. Only Arizona's Nick Foles (103) has more.

3: Big 12 teams among the 45 without a missed extra point this season. (Texas, Texas Tech, Missouri)

148: Yards between the Big 12's leading rusher, Missouri's Henry Josey (855), and its No. 2 rusher, Texas A&M's Christine Michael (707).

Big 12 Stock Watch: Week 3

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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BUY! SELL! NOISES! MONEY!

What's up and what's down in the Big 12 after two weeks of games?

RISING

Big 12 QB accuracy: They've all played only one game, but the Big 12 currently has three quarterbacks in the national top 11 in completions percentage. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill completed 80.8 percent of his passes in a win over SMU and is third nationally. Baylor's Robert Griffin III completed 77.8 percent of his passes in a win over TCU and ranks seventh. Oklahoma's Landry Jones completed 74.5 percent of his passes and ranks 11th.

FALLING

Kansas' rushing troubles: The Jayhawks had just 45 rushes of longer than 10 yards last year, ranking 100th in the nation. This year, Kansas has 17 rushes longer than 10 yards through two games, more than any team in the Big 12. That ranks 10th nationally.

RISING

Quinn Sharp's leg: Oklahoma State's special teams Swiss army knife does a lot for the Cowboys, handling kickoff duties, field goals and punting. He's second in the nation in punting average, with 52.4 yards per kick, leads the nation by three with 11 touchbacks on 18 kickoffs, and has made five of six field goal attempts, more than just three kickers nationally. Sharp, in fact, used both legs to convert a fake punt against Arizona with a 23-yard run.

FALLING

Pressure around Iowa State: Did it seem like every time he needed to, Steele Jantz made a play this year? It's because he did. Iowa State leads the nation with a perfect record on fourth down conversions, converting all five attempts. Only Army (6) has converted more, but that came on nine attempts. Jantz extended the first overtime against Iowa with a fourth-down touchdown pass. He also kept alive the final game-tying drive before overtime with a two-yard run on 4th-and-1.

RISING

Brandon Weeden's big plays: Through two games, he has 29 passes of 10 yards or longer, more than every QB in the country except Case Keenum at Houston. Tied with him at 29? Arizona's Nick Foles, who faced off with Weeden in Stillwater last Thursday night.

FALLING

Brandon Weeden's touchdown-interception ratio: Oklahoma State's quarterback has made plenty of plays through two weeks, breaking his own school record with 42 completions against Arizona on Thursday night. He's got five touchdowns, but his four interceptions? No quarterback in college football has more. Tommy Rees at Notre Dame, Austin Davis at Southern Miss, Ryan Radcliff at Central Michigan, Morgan Newton at Kentucky and Bryn Renner at North Carolina all have four alongside Weeden, who also has five touchdowns.

Halftime analysis: OSU 21, Arizona 0

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
9:28
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Time to offer a little analysis of what we just saw.

If your usual stop is the Pac-12 blog, look away. It's about to get ugly.

Turning point: Brandon Weeden stepping onto the field. The Cowboys' 27-year-old passer (older than another QB in action tonight, the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers) is on fire and Arizona can't slow him down. He's completed 28-of-32 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown and shows no signs of slowing against a weak Arizona defense.

Turning point II: Daytawion Lowe broke up a fourth-down pass from inside the 5-yard line in the second quarter to preserve the shutout. The Wildcats marched into Oklahoma State territory on their next drive, but fumbled on a reception. Arizona might have felt a lot better with a 21-7 halftime deficit. Instead, it remained three touchdowns.

Stat of the half: Weeden and his Pac-12 counterpart, Nick Foles, have combined to complete 46-of-55 passes. The QBs have been as advertised, but Foles is playing without top target Juron Criner, who is out after undergoing an appendectomy on Monday.

Best player in the half: Weeden. By far. Justin Blackmon has been good. Joseph Randle has, too. But Weeden's effort is driving this offense.

What Oklahoma State needs to do: It's tested downfield a bit with varied success. Weeden's only two incompletions were deep passes over the top of the defense trying to work the seam between the safeties. He overthrew Tracy Moore and Blackmon dropped one. The Cowboys may want to reel it in a bit and keep feeding Randle and Jeremy Smith, who have both been effective. They've combined for 85 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

Checking in from Stillwater

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
5:58
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Gorgeous night for football here at one of the league's nicest stadiums for a great game.

Arizona and Oklahoma State are still a couple hours away from kickoff, but get ready for plenty of fireworks tonight and plenty of passes.

Nick Foles and Brandon Weeden are two of the best at doing it.

Oklahoma State's last two Thursday night games were classics, including a comeback win by the Cowboys led by Weeden over Colorado in 2009. That was his first meaningful action, but he's had plenty since then and proven himself as one of the nation's best passers.

Last year, Oklahoma State erased a 14-point deficit twice to beat Texas A&M, 38-35 in a game that eventually helped decide the Big 12 South, which the Cowboys and Aggies shared with Oklahoma.

Is there another classic on tap here in Stillwater?

Either way, it'll be fun to watch.
The Big 12's full schedule isn't out yet, but a few teams across the league have released their individual schedules. In no particular order, we'll take a look at them.

First up: Let's take a look at the Pokes of Stillwater.

Nonconference (with 2010 records):
  • Sept. 3: Louisiana-Lafayette (3-9)
  • Sept. 8: Arizona (7-6)
  • Sept. 17: at Tulsa (10-3)
Home Big 12 games:
  • Oct. 8: Kansas (3-9)
  • Oct. 29: Baylor (7-6)
  • Nov. 5: Kansas State (7-6)
  • Dec. 3: Oklahoma (12-2)
Away Big 12 games:
  • Sept. 24: Texas A&M (9-4)
  • Oct. 15: Texas (5-7)
  • Oct. 22: Missouri (10-3)
  • Nov. 12: Texas Tech (8-5)
  • Nov. 18: Iowa State (5-7)
Gut-check game: At Texas A&M. Last year, we didn't know how good either of these teams were at the end of the Cowboys' 38-35 win. It ended up deciding the Big 12 South. Had Texas A&M won, the Aggies would have won the division outright. This season, they'll get their shot in College Station, and the winner of this game could go on to a BCS berth. Texas A&M fans probably couldn't help but ask themselves what would have happened last season had Ryan Tannehill started, instead of Jerrod Johnson, who accounted for four interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown. We'll find out in this early season clash between two possible top 10 teams that will sort out the top of the new, divison-less Big 12.

Trap game: Baylor. The Bears will have two chances to prove themselves before their game in Stillwater at Boone Pickens Stadium. After TCU to open the season and Texas A&M before OSU, the Bears will come off a bye with what they hope is a renewed defense looking to erase an embarrassing lopsided loss on the same field in 2010.

Snoozer: Kansas. Last season, Kansas played pretty well against the Cowboys and kept it close early, leading after the first quarter and trailing just 20-14 at half. Then the Jayhawks were outscored 28-0 in the second half of the late-season matchup in Lawrence. Kansas should be better this season, but nowhere near good enough to make it interesting in Stillwater.

Non-con challenge: Arizona. Laugh if you must, Cowboys fans. But I recall a Nebraska team that laughed when it got matched up with Washington in a bowl game a few months after beating it by five touchdowns on the Huskies' home field. The Cowboys rolled over the Wildcats, 36-10, in the Alamo Bowl, capping off an 0-5 finish for Mike Stoops' team. But his quarterback, Nick Foles, is back. So is his best receiver, Juron Criner, a possible All-American and the best receiver in the Pac-12. It's hard to imagine Stoops, a defensive coach, not learning plenty from the bowl game, and the Cowboys will be facing their first real test of the season.

Must-see date: Oklahoma. Oklahoma State got the best break of any team in the Big 12 with the new nine-game conference schedule. Because of the tweaking to the schedule, the Sooners have to play in Stillwater for a second consecutive season, and last season's game decided the Big 12 South. This season's game, moved to championship weekend and likely set for prime time, could decide the Big 12 or even more.

Analysis: Big 12 teams better get used to unbalanced schedules in the new league setup. That means five road games and four home games, a sometimes overlooked aspect of a nine-game conference schedule. Teams that schedule ambitiously in nonconference play better do it with a home game. Oklahoma State caught a break with the Sooners' return north, but will be one of the league's teams that has to hit the road five times in conference play. A short drive east to Tulsa will be a tougher early season test than it sounds, but it's a solid nonconference schedule and a league schedule that sets the Cowboys up to do well.
Oklahoma State became the first Big 12 team to take care of business in a bowl game this year, and did it pretty impressively. The Cowboys made plays on both sides of the ball and finished the season on a high note. Here's some instant analysis on the Cowboys' 36-10 win.

How the game was won: Oklahoma State did what Oklahoma States does: score points. The Cowboys hadn't been held under 33 points with Justin Blackmon in the lineup this year, and there wasn't much reason to believe Arizona would be the first team to do it. It wasn't, and the Cowboys offensive consistency throughout the game allowed them to pull away while Arizona's offense struggled with turnovers, sacks, penalties and various other miscues kept it from keeping up.

Turning point I: Arizona got off to a great start, forcing Oklahoma State into a quick punt on the opening possession, but the Wildcats muffed the kick, and Oklahoma State recovered. Six plays and 26 yards later, the Cowboys were up 7-0 and that was about as close as Arizona got all night.

Turning point II: Arizona trailed 17-7 in the second quarter and had the ball in Oklahoma State territory, but quarterback Nick Foles didn't have enough zip on an out route to the right sideline. Cowboys safety Markelle Martin picked it off and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. That put Oklahoma State up 23-7 and was the first of three interceptions for Foles.

Stat of the game: Arizona turnovers: 4. Oklahoma State turnovers: 0. Enough said. You won't win many games with a turnover margin that lopsided, and that's especially true when you're playing an offense with as many productive talents as the Cowboys.

Player of the game: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State. Weeden didn't have a huge statistical night (24-of-40, 240 yards, 2 TDs), but he made a handful of big throws, didn't turn it over and completed at least two passes to five receivers. A solid night, and considering the turnovers from Arizona, a ton of offense from Oklahoma State wasn't a requirement to win convincingly.

Record performance: Blackmon caught nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first player in college football history to have 100 yards receiving and a touchdown in 12 consecutive games. Blackmon has done it in every start this season.

What it means: Oklahoma State wins 11 games for the first time in school history in a season that it was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South. Oklahoma State was easily the biggest surprise in the Big 12 this year, and Weeden, Blackmon and Hunter were the biggest reasons why. The biggest offseason loss for the program will be offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who is headed to West Virginia, but whoever replaces him will have plenty to work with even after Hunter graduates and if Blackmon leaves for the NFL. Weeden seems likely to return in 2011, Oklahoma State returns all five offensive linemen, and young skill position talent like running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith and receivers Michael Harrison, Josh Cooper and Tracy Moore look capable of being dangerous in 2011.

video

Alamo Bowl: Three keys for Oklahoma State

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
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1. Keep Arizona from YAC-ing all over the place. Oklahoma State fans will recognize Arizona's offense quickly. It's a close relative of the Air Raid at Texas Tech, not entirely unlike the Cowboys' own offense. Short, quick passes get the ball in the hands of playmakers who try to break a tackle or make a defender miss to move the ball down the field. If Oklahoma State's secondary, corners Brodrick Brown and Andrew McGee and safeties Johnny Thomas and Markelle Martin, and even the linebackers can get receivers and running backs down quickly, they'll stymie the offense and prevent the big play. Forcing Nick Foles to complete as many passes as possible to win is a solid recipe for a win.

2. Seriously, give Kendall Hunter the ball. Oklahoma State's offense has struggled most when Hunter has gotten the ball the least. Most notably, it happened in the first half against Texas A&M and the entire game against Oklahoma. The Cowboys scored 41 against the Sooners, but 14 of those points were non-offensive touchdowns and Hunter got just 13 carries. Oklahoma State ran only 66 plays in that game to Oklahoma's 107 (most in the FBS in 2010), but Hunter needed to have the ball in his hands for more than 13 of those 66. If that happens against Arizona, the Cowboys, favored by about a touchdown, should be fine.

3. No special teams mistakes. Kicker Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker, but he also missed four kicks in the three games before the loss to Oklahoma, including one from inside 40 yards against Baylor. Additionally, punter Quinn Sharp and his long snapper Marc Yerry are ineligible for the game. Bailey might end up with punting duty with a freshman snapping to him. Certainly, the potential for disaster is there. Prevent it, and the Cowboys can keep from giving away points that could come back to hurt them later.
Oklahoma State looked like the Big 12 favorite down the stretch, but lost to Bob Stoops and Oklahoma at home in the season finale, eventually landing in the Alamo Bowl instead of getting a shot at a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. In San Antonio, they've found another Stoops: Mike, and his Arizona team that lost its last four games.

WHO TO WATCH: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. He'll be the best player on the field every time he steps on it, and he'll have a chance to break an impressive record as well. In all 11 of his starts this season, he's finished with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. If he does it against the Wildcats, he'll be the only player in FBS history to do it for 12 consecutive games. That's especially impressive considering the caliber of receivers who couldn't duplicate his feat: Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Michael Crabtree, to name a few. The Biletnikoff Award winner missed one game for the Cowboys, who managed just 24 points in a win against Kansas State. The Cowboys haven't been held under 33 points in any other game, and have scored 40-plus points in eight games, ranking third nationally in scoring offense.

WHAT TO WATCH: Oklahoma State's offense. Dana Holgorsen is headed to West Virginia after the bowl game to become the coach-in-waiting, but he's sticking around through the bowl game to fulfill his duties as offensive coordinator. I wouldn't expect any big differences out of the Cowboys, but it'll be interesting to see if the transition for Holgorsen has been a distraction that manifests on the field.

WHY WATCH: Similar to the Insight Bowl, despite the pair of disappointing finishes, these are still two teams who spent time near the top of the polls this season. Arizona was 7-1 to start the season and a mainstay in the top 15 before the losing streak sent it south in the polls. Oklahoma State was inside the top 10 at the end of the season. Outside of that, these are two of the most exciting offenses in the country. Both teams threw the ball just under 500 times this season, and figure to do plenty of it in the Alamodome on Wednesday night. Arizona's Nick Foles and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden are two of the best around at doing it, and will get plenty of chances.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 28. Arizona doesn't have anybody who can stop Blackmon (not that anyone else does), and the Cowboys' Big Three are too much for the Wildcats to keep up with.

Big 12 on the spot: Alamo Bowl

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
10:30
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Oklahoma State looked like the favorites to win the Big 12 in the final month of the season, but a loss to Oklahoma landed them in the Alamo Bowl. Disappointing for the Cowboys, sure, but all things considered, a pretty good finish. Oklahoma State has a chance to win 11 games for the first time in school history when they play against Arizona in San Antonio.

So, who needs to step up for them to get that 11th win?

The secondary. Arizona's Nick Foles missed two games in 2010, but still averaged more than 290 yards a game in 10 starts, up from just more than 200 last season. The Wildcats have eight -- yes, eight -- players with at least 20 catches this season. None were more productive than junior Juron Criner (big points for the top-notch name), a 6-foot-4, 210-pound target who caught 74 passes for 1,197 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the Pac-10 in receptions and receiving yardage.

Arizona loves the screen game, and Oklahoma State corners Brodrick Brown and Andrew McGee need to shed blocks and make stops to shut down the dangerous Wildcats offense.

The offense is reminiscent of Texas Tech's Air Raid. In fact, Texas Tech is on the only team in the Big 12 to equal Arizona's feat of eight receivers with 20 catches. Baylor is the league's only other team with more than five receivers with 20 receptions.

McGee led the Big 12 in interceptions, with five, but he's not likely to grab one in this game. That's no problem. McGee or Brown racking up tackles typically wouldn't be a good thing, but it might be in this game, depending on how reliant the Wildcats decide to be on those screens.

Safeties Johnny Thomas and Markelle Martin have to prevent the big play. If receivers start reaching the second level of the defense on underneath routes and screens and the safeties are the ones racking up tackles, this could turn into a shootout that takes 40 points to win.

Ranking the Big 12 bowl matchups

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
4:15
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Not sure what to expect with the Big 12's bowl slate over the holidays? It's a somewhat underwhelming slate. Here's who I'd like to see. Those aren't happening, but here's how I'd rank what we've got on the matchup sexiness scale:

1. AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan 7: Texas A&M vs. LSU. They say defense wins championships. That's not always true in beauty contests like these, but I'll take these two disciplined, hard-hitting defenses at Cowboys Stadium over the high-octane offenses elsewhere on this list. Plus, if it's close late ... Les Miles is involved.

2. Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Baylor vs. Illinois. Zone-read enthusiasts, your day has arrived. Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley of Baylor should run it more than a few times. Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel Leshoure at Illinois will do it even more. Expect lots of points from two good offenses, but Baylor's Griffin has a big edge when it comes to putting the ball in the air. The Illini secondary better be well-prepared to face the Bears, who have five receivers with at least 40 catches.

3. Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona. The Cowboys secondary will get a tough test from the Wildcats' Nick Foles-led spread attack. And Oklahoma State fans will get another chance to yell at a Stoops.

4. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut. I can't believe this game is this high, but Oklahoma is really in a no-win situation. Win big, and you do what everyone expected. Win by less than two possessions, and the BCS streak ends, but the talk about Bob Stoops-coached teams in BCS bowls won't. That could provide for some drama late.

5. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30: Nebraska vs. Washington. We may have seen this before, but we haven't seen a healthy Taylor Martinez in a long time. This could be our last chance until next season. Don't expect him to run all over the Huskies, but this defense isn't anything like the ones he faced against Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

6. Insight Bowl, Dec. 28: Missouri vs. Iowa. Suspensions have sapped some of the energy out of this one; Iowa's Ricky Stanzi is running out of talent around him, but the Tigers will see a defensive line from the Hawkeyes unlike anything the've seen in awhile. That could mean trouble, and a one-dimensional offense.

7. TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 1: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern. The same goes for this one. The Wildcats lost their mojo without do-everything quarterback Dan Persa, and somehow it even transferred to the defense. But the 48 and 70 points Northwestern gave up to Illinois and Wisconsin came in a very different manner than how Texas Tech will try to score.

8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Kansas State vs. Syracuse. The novelty of playing on a baseball field was lost a bit during the season, but some snow could make for a pretty old-school game. Daniel Thomas was built for nasty weather.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
11:34
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Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Oklahoma State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Although the Cowboys’ defense made big improvements late in the season, there's no question: Oklahoma State got here with offense. Under new coordinator Dana Holgorsen, the Cowboys have a Biletnikoff Award finalist in receiver Justin Blackmon and a pair of All-Big 12 first-teamers in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Kendall Hunter. All three have been tough to stop every time they've taken the field this season.

Oklahoma State's season came down to one game against rival Oklahoma, but a loss to the Sooners kept the Cowboys out of the Big 12 Championship. The bright side: The Cowboys beat out Nebraska and Missouri in the bowl pecking order.

The Cowboys' already historic season -- Mike Gundy's team won 10 regular season games for the first time -- has a great chance to finish on a high note against Arizona. And hey, if the Cowboys can't beat one Stoops, they've got a chance at another in San Antonio. Bob Stoops has bested the Cowboys every year since 2002, but his brother, Mike Stoops, coaches the Wildcats.


Arizona take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Arizona played two seasons in 2010. In the first one, they rolled to a 7-1 record, high national ranking and looked like a Pac-10 contender. In the second one, they lost their final four games.

Most of that was a quirk of the schedule. The final four games were at Stanford, USC, at Oregon and Arizona State. Still, the Wildcats wanted to take another step in the building of a program. They fell short of that goal because they weren't consistent on either side of the ball.

The Wildcats jumped out of the gate quickly and recorded what seemed at the time a marquee victory over Iowa on Sept. 18. That win included a clutch offensive drive led by quarterback Nick Foles and a dominating effort by the defense. But the Wildcats seemed to be lacking that same fire three weeks later in a home loss to Oregon State.

The Wildcats then reeled off three consecutive wins, including two with Matt Scott at quarterback after Foles injured his knee. But that surge proved illusory when the schedule toughened up.

The running game -- the inability to consistently run the ball and stop the run -- has been a problem for Arizona this year, particularly late in the season. It's what prevented the Wildcats from taking the next step.

Could Big 12 play a part in filling Arizona position?

January, 25, 2010
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Most of the major coaching jobs across the country have been filled in the last couple of weeks.

One of the most intriguing remains open. Arizona coach Mike Stoops is still looking for an offensive coordinator to replace Sonny Dykes, who recently was hired as the new coach at Louisiana Tech.

The Arizona job is an attractive one for coordinators. The lifestyle in Tucson is appealing and Stoops has been able to command a nice salary for his coaches with the Arizona program, which has made back-to-back bowl trips in the last two seasons for the first since 1997-98.

The most intriguing hire with the most splash likely won't happen. That would be if Stoops could reach out to Mike Leach, who he is familiar with after coaching with him on his brother Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma in 1999.

Leach is out of work now after his recent dismissal at Texas Tech. He brings unquestioned knowledge of the passing game and would work well with Nick Foles, who ranked 19th nationally after throwing for 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.

But it's unlikely that Leach would return to college football as a coordinator. Although he is familiar with Stoops and would be running the same offense as the one he made famous at Texas Tech, I can't see Leach giving up a chance to be a head coach. A more likely scenario will be for him to sit out for a year and attempt to get in the mix for coaching vacancies next season.

A more likely scenario would be for Stoops to perhaps raid his brother's staff for an assistant. Former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel has thrived as the Sooners' quarterbacks coach and might be ready for a jump up in responsibility as a coordinator.

Heupel is only 31 and has never been an offensive coordinator before. But he has shown remarkable aptitude in the passing offense so far and might be ready for the jump in responsibility.

Arizona insiders have hinted that the most likely replacement for Dykes is already on Mike Stoops' staff. Former Texas Tech and current Arizona offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and outside receivers coach Dave Nichol could assume the role in a co-coordinator capacity.

But the chance to move the Wildcats forward has Stoops considering making this a major move. And adding Heupel or Leach would certainly qualify as one.

Holiday Bowl instant analysis: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

December, 31, 2009
12/31/09
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Nebraska's 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was much easier than anyone would have ever expected. It pushed the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory in a season for the first time since 2003.

Here’s how the Cornhuskers were able to produce their impressive victory.

How the game was won: Nebraska’s defense dominated the game from the opening snap. But the real reason the Cornhuskers cruised to an unexpectedly easy triumph over Arizona was the return of their offense. Nebraska scored on seven of its first eight possessions as they charged to their most one-sided bowl victory since the 2000 Alamo Bowl whipping of Northwestern.

Turning point: On the third play from scrimmage, Matt O’Hanlon stepped in front of a pass from Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and returned it 37 yards to the Arizona 5. Zac Lee scored two plays later and the Nebraska rout was on.

Stat of the game: Nebraska’s shutout was the first ever posted by a Big 12 team in the 94-game bowl history of the conference since it started play in 1996.

Player of the game: Ndamukong Suh was playing until the end of the Cornhuskers’ victory -- long after the game’s result was settled. But considering the relentless drive and determination that Suh has always shown, it wasn’t surprising he was out with the Blackshirts until the final defensive stop. He produced only three tackles, but was a force on nearly every play for Nebraska.

Best call: Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was determined to juice production in the offense after its struggles against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He had a few wrinkles Wednesday night, like having I-back Rex Burkhead get direct snaps in Wildcat formations. On one of the first Wildcat plays, Burkhead charged in for a 5-yard touchdown run. It helped spark him to a game-high 92 rushing yards on 17 carries.

What it means: Nebraska likely has staked a top-10 position in preseason polls next season. And that’s even without Suh, safeties O’Hanlon and Larry Asante, center Jacob Hickman and defensive end Barry Turner. But the Cornhuskers return 10 offensive starters, six on defense and kicker/punter extraordinaire Alex Henery. Bo Pelini should be loaded for a run at the Big 12 title next season.

Worth remembering: “Nebraska is back and we’re here to stay,” Pelini’s comments when he accepted the winning trophy after the Holiday Bowl.

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